Monday 8 June 2015

Land Ahoy!

The month since my last blog post has been packed with change. I’ve held off writing this post until now because our plans for life after our sailing trip were uncertain and I wanted to wait until final decisions had been made before sharing them. Firstly, Dave and I decided to put Desolina up for sale. While she has been a amazing home to us for the past two years and we think she is an awesome boat, we don’t have any definite sailing plans for the immediate future.

The obvious next step would be to do an offshore sailing trip, but I have to be honest and say I’m not sure how enthusiastic I feel about doing long passages. We think it would also be prudent to get some experience crewing on someone else’s boat before we took on that huge responsibility for ourselves. Now having gained some experience of owning and living on a boat, we’ve also developed and refined our opinions about what we would want, and look for if we were to buy another boat in the future. While Desolina is a perfectly capable offshore cruiser, we’ve now got a list of features we’d look for in another boat. Of course no boat is perfect and you’re always going to have to make compromises, but I think owning Desolina has given us the opportunity to develop some opinions about what we think our perfect boat would look like.

At the helm, Bay of Islands
At any rate, it seemed sensible to put Desolina up for sale, since we have no immediate plans for her. Too many boats lay abandoned in marinas, with their owners only sailing them a handful of days per year and we didn’t want to be one of those owners. Not to mention the money we’d be haemorrhaging on maintenance and marina fees on a yacht we wouldn’t have the time to use when we’re back in full time employment. Funnily enough, living aboard in Wellington wasn’t on the top of my list of accommodation options for the coming year.

Rainbow Falls, Kerikeri
Amazingly, Desolina sold 38 days after first listing her! I think that must be some kind of record. Luckily the right person came along at the right time. It was bittersweet selling her; although we are happy to have sold her so quickly, it’s also sad to wave farewell to our first home. It’s nice to know she will be put to good use with her new owner though, who plans to take her cruising around the Pacific Islands. The timing of the sale also couldn’t have been better as we handed over ownership the day after we moved off the boat.

Desolina in all her glory!
Once we knew the sale was definitely going through, we took her out for one last farewell sail and night on anchor in the Bay of Islands. It was a wonderful last trip out on her. We had a beautiful sunset in a still anchorage all to ourselves (everyone else had already packed up because it was COLD!), a downwind sail to return to the marina with our spinnaker sail up, and a very brief ‘hello’ from some dolphins during the last hour of sailing before heading into the marina for the final time.

Last night at anchor. It was certainly getting cold!
Final sunset from the boat
We previously made a trip back down to Wellington at the start of May for a friend’s wedding, and to retrieve our car so we could move our personal belongings off Desolina. Since then, we’ve driven A LOT of miles, from Wellington up to the Bay of Islands to pack up the boat, and then driving all the way down south to Queenstown, where we are going to be living for the next 10 weeks over winter.

It’s a bit of a shock to the system coming from a long summer on the boat to full on snowy winter conditions in Queenstown. However it feels good to be back on the South Island and we’re ready to start the next chapter in our lives. I’ll let you know how life is going in Queenstown in the next post, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with some photos of our last few days sailing around the Bay of Islands.

Panorama of our final anchorage, all to ourselves

Friday 8 May 2015

The final leg

Our MacBook is finally fixed! And now for a very belated post about the final leg of our journey up to the Bay of Islands. We departed Great Barrier Island almost a month ago now. It’s hard to believe how the time has flown by since then. We picked up the anchor in Bradshaw Cove shortly after sunrise and set off early for the ten hour sail back across to the mainland. We had a bit of a rolly sail across with 20kts of wind behind us. Dave says I was pretty grumpy that day, but a visit from a few dolphins along the way and a decent lunch helped pick up my mood.

Our anchorage at Urqharts Bay
Our first destination was Urqharts Bay, just inside the head of Whangarei Harbour. The entrance to Whangarei Harbour is visually spectacular with the steep hills and cliffs of Bream Head looming overhead. There is also some decent walking in Bream Head scenic reserve that we enjoyed. We ended up staying in Whangarei Harbour for four nights; two nights at anchor and two in Marsden Cove Marina while we waited for unfavourable weather conditions to pass us by. We even hired a car for the day to explore the bright lights of Whangarei, and made a trip up to Whangarei Falls, which was well worth a visit. 

Smugglers Cove, Bream Head Scenic Reserve
Walking near Whangarei Falls
Eventually we got a little impatient and set off for Tutukaka Harbour in gusty 30kt southwest conditions. It was probably made worse by the fact that we wanted to stick fairly close to the coastline to make the journey shorter. Sailing about a mile offshore, we were subjected to fairly severe williwaws (winds accelerating off the land for non-sailors reading this) gusting 35kts down the steep hillsides just north of Bream Head. The sudden heel of the boat from these gusts elicited a few nervous squeals from myself and prompted us to put the third reef in our mainsail for the second time only on the entire trip. With the third reef in the mainsail we felt a lot more comfortable with a lot less heel of the boat. On the plus side, being close to land with a offshore wind meant we had virtually no sea to deal with.

We had a fairly quick sail up the coast to Tutukaka Harbour, taking about 3 hours. I have to say I was a little disappointed with Tutukaka Harbour. It was pretty enough but we have definitely had much more spectacular anchorages and there was only one short walk out to the lighthouse on the peninsula to do. I guess the main appeal of Tutukaka is as a gateway to the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve. Unfortunately the anchoring around Poor Knights is not so good for yachts and best saved for calm weather (which we didn’t have). We stayed two nights in Tutukaka so we had one full day there and then continued northwards up the coast to Whangamumu Harbour while we still had decent wind to eat up the miles.

Whangamumu Harbour was a beautiful anchorage and is the site of an old whaling station. It’s also only a few miles south from Cape Brett, and therefore a short hop around to the Bay of Islands, our final destination. The weather for the last stretch of coast into the Bay of Islands was fine and sunny with light winds. We had a very slow sail up to Cape Brett with our spinnaker billowing out in front of us, but we were reluctant to turn on the engine for the final few miles. Reaching the Bay of Islands has been our goal for the last five months, and is a major milestone and one of the biggest highlights of this trip. We both felt elated that we had finally arrived after the many months and miles of sailing, but also a little sad as it signalled that the end of our trip is near.

Spinnaker sailing up to Cape Brett
Cape Brett lighthouse
Coming into the Bay of Islands
Many of the yachts milling around the Bay of Islands at the beginning of May were waiting for good weather conditions to depart for the Pacific Islands, leaving winter in New Zealand behind them. We were more than a little jealous that we weren’t preparing to set sail for more tropical climates too. But in the end reason won through, and we rationalised that both the boat and us were not prepared and equipped to make the journey this year. We’ve learnt so much during our coastal journey over the past few months; we’ve gone from complete novices to feeling like bonafide sailors. Still, we feel we’ve got a little more learning to do before we could take on the challenge of offshore sailing. In the meantime we’ll do our best to cherish our last few weeks on Desolina in the Bay of Islands before we put her to bed for the winter and head back to work.

Calm conditions at our anchorage on our first night in the Bay of Islands

Sunday 3 May 2015

Sailing Gadgets (by Dave)

So this will be the first post written by me (Dave). For those of you that know me well, I do have a bit of an inner geek, so this post is going to be of a technical nature. There are lots of opportunities to geek up a boat, and I thought I would go through some of the gear we have on Desolina that we have found particularly useful, and others that have turned out to be less useful than we first thought.


We don’t use a huge amount of power on board, but it does run quite a few key systems so it’s important to make sure we always have enough of the stuff. When we bought the boat, the previous owner had recently installed 4 new batteries to supply power to all the gadgets (440Ah in total, with a separate battery just for starting the engine).  We have a big inverter to supply the boat with AC power, although we very rarely use it. The majority of power use is DC, and is mostly made up of:
  • Running the fridge 24/7 to keep the beers cold
  • Charging our laptop, phones, iPad and Kindles – including watching a film most nights on the TV now the days are getting shorter.
  • Lights, fans and water pump
  • Navigation and VHF

To keep on top of our energy uses, we use a bunch of solar panels (210W) and the engine alternator (80A) to charge the batteries. The solar panels have been great, and overall probably supply us with most of our power. Certainly in the middle of summer we could stay on anchor for days with the solar panels keeping pace with our power use. We love not having to run the engine at anchor but now that summer is fading and we have less sunlight each day, we find after a couple of days we need to go for a motor to top up the batteries. For out-of-summer cruising I can really see the benefit of a wind turbine… Perhaps my next Christmas present Ruth?

We have four solar panels mounted on our bimini. Two solid ones at the rear, and two flexible ones in front which we bought to help keep the weight down. These are all wired into a MPP controller (fancy pants charging system)


The boat came with a couple of handheld GPS’s, an older chart plotter with radar, and a bunch of instruments that worked sporadically. Before we left Wellington, we made quite a few upgrades to the instruments. We put in a Raymarine i70 display with all new wind/speed/depth/temperature transducers (sensors). This has been really useful, and when at anchor we always set shallow and deep depth alarms to help warn us if we’ve dragged the anchor, as well as a wind alarm to warn us if the wind gets up in the night.

Our new i70 display next to the old ones. The i70 can be programmed to show any data that is available to it on the network. The screen shown is dispaying the apparent wind speed and angle, depth and speed.

The old chart plotter that we have works fine, but we don’t have any of the NZ charts on it as they’re quite expensive. So for navigating on Desolina we have the following:
  • A little netbook computer (eee 900) with Navigatrix and OpenCPN
  • Our MacBook with OpenCPN
  • iPhone and iPad with SeaIQ

Navigatrix and OpenCPN are both great free packages, and the SEAiq app is only $40 (and the only app that allows you too use your own charts instead of buying them for a premium). With all of these we use the free marine charts from LINZ. We used to always have the netbook running when we were sailing, and connected up to our TV screen, which we could quickly turn on whenever we wanted to check our position. The netbook is also wired into our instruments and AIS (more on that later), as well as our wifi onboard so we have all the information we could ever want. Recently however, we’ve found that we’re using the netbook less and less and predominantly using just an iPhone with the SeaIQ app for checking our position when out sailing. For journey planning we normally use OpenCPN on the MacBook. We’ve found the iPhone is so much easier to use as we just keep it in a pocket and can have a quick check of our position really quickly. Even when navigating through tight passages we’ve found even with the phone’s small screen it’s fine.

OpenCPN running on our TV screen, powered by the netbook which is safely hidden away under the shelfs on the left. OpenCPN is also re-transitting all the data to the wifi which is picked up SEAiq on the iPad and iPhone. Major geek points.

And of course we have all the paper charts (bear in mind that these are exactly the same as the digital copies we have) for where we’re sailing but come on, who uses those anymore!

Two things that I had never used before (or heard of for the latter) are radar and AIS. For the uninitiated, AIS or Automatic Identification System, is a system that uses VHF radio to transmit a ship's position (as well as speed, call-sign and dimensions) and is mandatory for all large vessels. We don’t have an AIS transmitter, but our VHF radio can receive signals from other boats. This means that from either the VHF screen, or the computer if we have it running, we can see the positions of all the big ships around us and can see if we’re going to get close to any of them. When going through tight passages with blind corners, at night, or in a busy harbour, AIS is awesome. The main VHF unit is down below at the chart table, but we have a remote unit for it that has a small screen which displays the AIS targets like on a radar screen and we keep this up in the cockpit so we can quickly check on nearby vessels.

This is a screenshot of OpenCPN whilst connected up to the boat instruments (showing wind and depth in the right) and the VHF radio showing the AIS targets. The day we took this we were heading towards Opua and the line of boats you can see passing in front of us was the ICA rally.

Radar as well is something that I now would never venture too far without. It’s proved invaluable when sailing in poor weather or at night. Our radar screen is on the binnacle (where the steering wheel is...) so you can only see it when you’re stood behind the wheel. This has been great when manoeuvring at close quarters, for example leaving an anchorage before sunrise, or entering a marina at night, but is a bit of a pain when sailing along with the autopilot engaged, like during night passages. On nights we’re normally huddled under the dodger at the front of the cockpit and if we want to check the radar, we have to scramble around the wheel to the back of the cockpit. Moving the radar screen to under the dodger would have its advantages.

Our iPad running SEAiq with GPS and AIS data from the boat wifi along side our radar. For those with a keen eye, you can see the AIS target we have just passed on the iPad, and its radar return (yellow blob at the 5 o'clock position on the second ring from centre)


Our autopilot is called Geoffrey (aka Raymarine ST5000+). Why you would go sailing for more than a few hours with a shorthanded crew without a Geoffrey is beyond me. Who wants to sit at the helm steering in a straight line for hours on end! We have a small unit attached directly to the wheel, but it’s powerful enough to sail us in most conditions. Geoffrey does struggle a bit in big waves but apart from that has been an essential third crew member. He’s also clued up on what the wind’s doing, so can sail us on a constant wind angle which has been a lot more useful than I first thought. Coming up the East coast we were going into headwinds a lot more than we would have liked, but Geoffrey did a very nice job of keeping the boat on a perfect angle to the wind and thus keeping the sails at their optimum; a lot better than we could do after sailing nonstop for several days! He also sounds a little alarm if the wind direction changes too much to warn you that you’re now potentially sailing off course.

We’ve also got Alfred, a wind vane steering system (Cape Horn) that uses the power of the wind to keep the boat on course. Alfred is a bit of a dark horse and has so far been reluctant in his helming duties. The mystical art of wind vane steering has so far eluded us (although we haven’t tried all that much), and at-the-touch-of-a-button Geoffrey has always been the go to helmsman. I suspect Alfred would be much more useful out in the deep blue with more constant winds and where a little weaving in course wouldn’t end in ship wrecking.

I’ve quite enjoyed learning about marine electronics and it’s quite satisfiying when they all work together (for anyone contemplating doing DIY marine electronics, the key phrase is NMEA 0183, which is the “language” most of the devices use). But of course all electronics can suffer in the marine environment. Our Macbook being the latest fatality. I think the hard disk finally had enough of being constantly moved around! I’m currently writing this blog post up on our little netbook, which although is about twice the age of the Mac, has handled life afloat quite well!

Thursday 23 April 2015

The Barrier

We’ve spent the last 12 days enjoying Great Barrier Island. Since the clocks changed at Easter the days are noticeably shorter, with sunset just after 6pm and the weather has also gotten noticeably cooler. We’ve been putting our jeans, jumpers and socks on in the evenings for the first time in a few months. Although the weather has been very showery over the last week, we’ve had enough dry spells to get out and explore the island.

Port Fitzroy harbour, Great Barrier
We spent the first few nights anchored in Smokehouse Bay, which is a very popular anchorage with boaties.  As the name suggests, there is a smokehouse on shore to smoke fish, a bathhouse with water heated from a wood burner, and sinks with old-fashioned laundry presses. The facilities were pretty rustic but it was a treat to have a hot bath. They were kindly donated by the Webster Family for visiting boaties and they rely on donations to assist with their upkeep.

The Bathhouse, with woodburner at Smokehouse Bay
Doing the washing old school
We spent several nights at Smokehouse Bay sheltering from the southwesterly gales that blew through on our first few nights at Great Barrier. The anchoring in Smokehouse is in deep water and it was the first time our anchoring skills were really put to the test. We’ve got an oversized Rocna anchor, which is reputedly very good, with 60 metres of new chain and another 60 metres of nylon rope spliced to the end of the chain. We also installed a new anchor winch (windlass) just before we left Wellington. For the first time on this trip we have frequently been letting out all 60 metres of chain and getting into the rope section having anchored in 10+ metres of water and having 30 knots of wind blow through the anchorage. We were very glad for the electric windlass as pulling up 60 metres of chain without it would have been a mission!

A large part of the island is owned and managed by the Department of Conservation, and there is an extensive network of walking tracks to explore. Unfortunately a few of these are still closed after storms in June 2014, the effects of which can still clearly be seen with the amount of forest debris strewn all over. 

Storm debris still evident along the tracks
More storm debris
We managed to do quite a few walks from anchorages in Port Fitzroy harbour, the best of which was a 3 hour return from Kiwiriki Bay up to the Maungapiko lookout which had spectacular views over Mt Hobson and the east coast of the island. We also rented a “dent” for the day courtesy of North Barrier car rentals to allow us to explore more of the island.

View from the Maungapiko lookout
Our rent a "dent" for the day
The east coast has beautiful sandy beaches but is very open to the elements and so best not explored by sailboat except in the calmest conditions. It was great to have the car for the day and access some of the walking tracks that are not along the coast. We walked up to the viewpoint in Windy Canyon, which was quite dramatic and true to it’s name, very windy.

Viewpoint at Windy Canyon
View of coast from Windy Canyon
We also walked to the natural hot springs that were very stinky and sulphurous, but pretty novel, as we have only been to commercial hot springs in New Zealand before. We’ve also noticed a lot more birdlife on the island than on the mainland including seeing plenty of Kakas (native woodland parrots) and a Morepork (Ruru – native owl) on our ramblings.

Bradshaw Cove, Kaikoura Island, our anchorage for our last night at Great Barrier
Later in the week, we went back to Kiwiriki Bay, as it was such a picturesque anchorage, surrounded by cliffs and forest, plus our guidebook claims that “the kelp beds on the coastline here can produce Snapper up to 6kg, which can be a fisher’s lifesaver in bad weather.”  We’ve not had the best fishing track record on the trip so far, but the description in the guidebook sounded promising so we decided to give it a go. We must have spent a good hour, if not two, dinghy-ing around the bay trying to identify where these legendary kelp beds and giant Snapper were, without success. Eventually we gave up, went back to the boat and lazily chucked a line off the back “just in case”. It was a nice evening so we cracked open a nice bottle of red and some cheese we had been saving for a treat, and boom, fish on the line. We reeled it in to find a nice sized Snapper on the end and Dave cooked it up in a delicious curry for dinner. This just confirms my suspicions that there is no skill involved in fishing, only luck, well at least for us anyway!

Playing on the swing at Bradshaw Cove
On one of our last nights at Great Barrier we were joined in Port Fitzroy harbour by a tall ship (Spirit of New Zealand) and a New Zealand naval warship. They both made for quite a spectacular sight! We’ve since left Great Barrier and are now tucked up at Whangarei Heads waiting for some northeasterly gales to blow through. The weather at this time of year is definitely a lot less settled than it has been in the past couple of months. Winter is coming.

Spirit of New Zealand in Port Fitzroy, near Smokehouse Bay
Naval Ship, in Port Fitzroy near Smokehouse Bay

Sunday 12 April 2015

Easter at Kawau Island

After our week in the Coromandel and my mum’s departure, we packed up the boat again and set sail for Kawau Island. Unfortunately we were on a timeframe and there wasn’t much wind so we motored most of the way there. We had previously visited Kawau Island, and having met the owners of the boating club there, agreed to return for Easter weekend to help out. The boating club was in disrepair but had been taken over six month’s previously by David and Robyn who have turned the place around. 

Our first shift was for the Thursday curry night, which is very popular with the locals, and rightly so having tasted Derek the chef’s amazing red beef curry and lamb shank curry. We did five days work over the Easter weekend, serving drinks at the bar, waitressing and helping out in the kitchen. 

Dave, David, Robyn and me outside the boat club
Bon Accord harbour was packed with boats over the long weekend, and we were blessed with gorgeous sunny weather, which no doubt accounted for the 400 or so boats anchored there.  We were glad that we were able to use a mooring in Smelting House Bay as we were tucked well into the bay away from the worst of the crowds and we didn’t have to worry about other boats anchoring too close to us while we were working. We did hear about some other boats getting their anchor chains tangled due to the number of boats packed into the harbour.

View from our mooring in Smelting House Bay after the Easter crowds had gone.
At the end of the Easter weekend we had some friends from the UK, Anna and Brad, who are currently working in Auckland, visit us for a night. We had a good couple of days together, circumnavigating Kawau Island and doing some of the local walks. Neither of them had done much sailing before but I think they enjoyed learning the ropes while they were with us.

Anna and Brad getting to grips with sailing Desolina
We found some dinosaurs on our walk...
But they were only little

After Anna and Brad left we started to plan our crossing to Great Barrier Island. We wanted to stock up the boat on food, water and fuel as it had been a week since we left the marina. We were able to put in an order through the boating club to have some fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to the island and the club itself sells a few key essentials like milk. They also have fuel and water at the dock outside the boating club so we thought we were sorted. Unfortunately, the day before we planned to leave the boating club realised that they were virtually out of water after the high demands put on their well during the Easter weekend. They were forced to ration water to the bare minimum so were no longer able to fill our tanks there. Fortunately after asking around and checking our guidebook we found there were a couple of places we could get water on Great Barrier Island.

After the calm sunny weather over Easter we also had a few days of strong winds and rain showers so we were watching the weather quite closely for a good opportunity to make the crossing. We departed Kawau on the Saturday morning and had a very fast sail across to Great Barrier with 20-25kts of southwest winds behind us. We thought the crossing would take us around 6 hours but we ended up doing it in 4.5 hours instead with reefs in both the mainsail and headsail. We arrived at Great Barrier with only a few litres of water left in our tanks. We pumped out the remaining fresh drinking water from our main tanks into small jerry cans and filled our tanks with stream water that was available from the wharf in Port Fitzroy. Unfortunately it’s probably not safe for drinking without boiling, so we’re glad to have a separate safe supply of drinking water to save on the gas. We’re now hunkered down in Smokehouse Bay for a few days waiting out the worst of the southwest gales and thundery showers that have been coming through.

Approaching Great Barrier Island after a fast crossing

Monday 30 March 2015

A week on land in pictures

We had a fantastic week in the cottage we rented in the Coromandel. Rather than write another long blog post I thought I'd document our week on land in pictures instead. Here are a few highlights from the week...

Beautiful waterfall off the 309 road

A stand of old Kauri trees on the track off the 309 road

Tree huggers - this one is about 500 years old. We couldn't even span half way around the trunk.

Stunning Coromandel Kauri forest off the 309 road

View of the Coromandel Harbour, Coromandel Town

Kennedy Bay, Eastern Coromandel

Burning our bums at Hot Water Beach - the thermal spring water is about 60 degrees celsius

We finally managed to dig a decent pool after the massive breaking waves subsided a little - we had to build ourselves a good breaker wall though

Golden sandy beaches near Cathedral Cove

Mid tide at Cathedral Cove