A Motoring Odyssey

May 10, 2018| 0 Comment

Monday, April 30th – The second attempt to certify the engine is on for 10:00. Out into the harbour we go, rev up and check the engine. Up at max speed, the tweaking of the prop just keeps us in the acceptable zone. This will allow our new engine to be certified. We can now use the engine. We can sail. We can leave!

But …. leave for where? When we canceled this year’s plans for French Polynesia, The Captain sent out an email to Denarau Marina in Fiji requesting a berth for 2 months starting at the end of July. They emailed back that the earliest they could take us is August 23rd. That does not fit our plans at all, for we are determined to return to Telluride for the months of August and September. Marinas are scarce throughout the South Pacific, and they do fill up. We knew this and, prior to this, had always booked our slot with them 5 – 6 months in advance. This time we are much closer to the busy season and are suffering the consequences. We are a familiar boat to the marina and respected customers. They tell us that we are on their wait list with preferential treatment if a slot does open up. That’s good, but now what do we do? The Captain then sent an email to the marina in New Caledonia, but he knows that is a long shot since they have a very limited supply of transient yacht berths.

We are not going to give up our two summer months in Telluride. No way! Since the marina does not have a long term slot for us in Fiji, we would have to sail back to New Zealand in July. We have been to Fiji 3 times already, and if we were to go back to Fiji again, we definitely want to do some extended cruising in the Lau Islands. For that alone, we need 6 weeks.  There is not enough time for that.  We have no desire to make two 7-day passages up to and back from Fiji for a relatively short stay there. A very discouraging thought occurs to us. We might not be going anywhere this year!

We tell granddaughter Berlin, who had been expecting to visit us in Bora Bora this year, that we’re working on Fiji and New Caledonia, but if nothing opens up, would she like to visit New Zealand? After we warn her that it will be winter here in New Zealand, that there will be no swimming, but that there are lots of other land-based activities we can do in between the cold and rain, we get a less than enthusiastic response. She does want to visit New Zealand, but what she really wants to do is return to the warm waters of the South Pacific to swim, snorkel and use the new Standup Paddle Boards we have just bought. We don’t blame her. We feel the same.

Tuesday, May 1st – A whole month behind schedule, we finally leave the marina and head out into the glorious Bay of Islands to test all the new apparatus on Avante. Our new beds had been in storage for weeks while work on the boat was happening. We had them delivered in the morning, and shortly thereafter, we dropped lines. Our first anchorage is off Roberton Island which is not far away at all. Our main objective is just to get the boat out on the water where we can check things. On our way to Roberton Island, The Captain finds the first problem. Though the new engine is running perfectly, the main boat batteries are not being charged. He finds that a voltage regulator is not operating. Hopefully, it’s just that something has not been wired correctly. When we anchor, he will have to trouble-shoot the problem.

The new hydro-generator is deployed. It works perfectly. When The Captain calculates its input into our batteries, he is pleased. The new solar panels, always in the on position, are doing their job, too. Working together, these two will cut down on the amount of time we have to run the generator to charge the batteries, especially when on passage.

After anchoring, The Captain turns to the battery charging problem. Tracing wires, he finds that a wire connecting the voltage regulator to the ignition has not been connected. This connection was previously made at the rear of the engine control panel. The new control panel is electronic, and the wires behind it are tiny. There are little notices taped to these spidery wires which say that tampering with anything will void one’s warranty. He makes a call to Seapower, but they are not sure where to make the connection without seeing it. It is decided that we will head back into the marina Thursday afternoon, and one of Seapower’s electricians will connect the wire Friday morning.

Being at anchor that evening is heavenly. There is little wind, no clouds, and the bay is calm and quiet. There’s a full moon looking down on us. Oh, what a great night this would be to be on passage! There’s nothing more reassuring than a full moon at night at sea, but it’s pretty neat to have it above us now. We head to bed for what becomes one of The First Mate’s worst nights ever! The new mattress topper is a tempur-pedic, but it is way too hard for her. She feels like she is camping out in a tent. Her hips, her lower back, her neck – this is no good at all! She eases out of bed in the morning moving like a crippled old lady. Two phone calls are made. The first to Peter, the one who made the mattress topper. He tells her not to worry. He can and will remedy the hard bed. The second is to Mike, the man who runs the company that painted Avante’s bottom and to whom Peter had given the old foam pad we previously had on the bed. Just in case, can we have the old pad back? Sure, no worries.

Wednesday May 2 – Sitting in a bag right in front of the dodger for over two weeks is the jib which had to be slipped off the forestay when we removed the forestay to haul out the boat. We would like to raise it this morning, but the wind is already over 10 knots.  We start the engine and head off to find a more sheltered location.  We motor into Opunga Cove. Though more sheltered, the wind is gusting, and the direction is variable.  It takes time to raise this sail. As The First Mate hand cranks the winch to raise the sail, The Captain unfolds it and feeds it into the groove on the forestay. It is a slow process, and a calm day is what is needed.  Flapping wildly in strong wind or even gusting wind is not what one wants one’s sail to be doing.  There’s no debate. We know we should wait for a more benign opportunity. We motor out of Opunga Cove and head out of the bay, going out through Albert Passage.  We turn east along the coast, heading for Oke Bay.

After anchoring in Oke Bay, we decide to launch the new dinghy. The OC Tender is made of fiberglass, a much harder and stiffer material than the usual rubber tenders. We have to make changes in how we secure it on Avante and how we lower and raise it out of the water. It is slightly trickier to handle. We are on a learning curve with The First Mate’s OC Tender, which she has christened “The Princess” because it is pretty and because it needs a little extra care. The old nickname of “Dingbat” which we called all our old rubber dinghies just doesn’t fit her. “And just like a princess, she was twice as expensive!” complains The Captain, but even he is beginning to see some of its merits.  He sure likes the new Tohatsu motor we bought for her. We lower the Princess into the water, but before taking her out for a run, The First Mate heads below to make lunch while The Captain figures out how to best stow and secure the tender’s oars. To our dismay, clouds start building up during lunch and very shortly it is raining. We have missed our “fine spell” for the day and hunker down in the boat for the rest of the afternoon.



Thursday, May 3 – Up early, we raise the jib before the wind picks up. The First Mate even agrees to delay her cappuccino until after this task is done. With the jib installed, we will raise the mainsail for the first time and sail back to the marina. After coffee, we take the new tender to the beach. There’s is not a thing that The First Mate does not love about her new tender. Just look at it on the beach!






So that Avante does not feel outdone by her new little companion, we take a photo of her floating serenely in the bay, pristine and shining in the sun.








From the water, a photo is taken of the Watt & Sea hydro-generator in the upraised position. It can be positioned in the two white holders on either side of the stern depending upon which direction the boat is leaning with the wind. When the arm is lowered into the water, the propellor at the end spins creating electrical current that helps top up our batteries. This will allow us to generate electricity while we are under sail. It truly is an ingenious device for an energy guzzling boat like Avante.

Later in the morning we ready the boat for sailing.  Everything is secured below while The Captain gets the outside of the boat ready. When he climbs up to unzip the new sail bag, he gets a surprise. There is no slide on the zipper, and the zipper is open for the first third of its length. It appears that the top of the new bag was too tight at its forward end, and the zipper slide has popped off. It is nowhere to be found.  This is Peter’s, our sailmaker, canvas  and mattress man’s, domain. He now has 2 things to look at tomorrow morning while we’re in the marina. We decide not to open the sailbag so that Peter can see exactly what happened with the zipper.

We motor back to the marina where we drop anchor just off the Q dock. We are only going to be here one night and plan to be off by midmorning after everyone has attended to Avante’s needs. There’s no reason to fuss with getting into one of the marina’s berths where the narrow fairways, adverse wind and strong current often make that a dicey operation. On land, we run into electrician Chris, who knows of our issue and says he’ll be out first thing in the morning around 8:30. Peter, for the mattress and sail cover, says that he’ll show up after a short meeting at 10:00. Super! We’ll be back out in the bay by noon. We had seen Lyn and John heading out in their boat on our way into the marina. Yelling across the water, we learn that they are headed to Opunga. We’ll meet you there tomorrow. Join us for dinner. Perfect!

Friday, May 4th – Nobody is on time! We wait most of the morning for the electrician and into the afternoon for Peter. After the wire finally gets connected and Peter sees what he needs to fix, it is 2:30 by the time we are heading out into the bay. Fortunately, Opunga Bay is not that far away. We’ll be there in time to cook a roast on the Baby Q and to enjoy a bottle of champagne, brought by Lyn and John, to celebrate Avante’s much delayed return to cruising.

Oh, what happens when great minds get together! The discussion naturally gravitates to everyone’s cruising plans for the season. The Martins want to return to Fiji, but new project and work commitments are getting in the way. They may not want to take their boat all the way up there for what is becoming a relatively short time. They are used to spending from April until November in the tropics, not less than 2 months. We tell them our issues with obtaining a berth in Denarau. John then proposes an idea. What if The Captain and his mate sail to Fiji as soon as Avante is ready and cruise until the third week of July when Lyn and John will fly in to join them? The four of us will then cruise for a week to get them up to speed on Avante’s idiosyncrasies. When we then leave for the States at the end of July, they will stay with Avante to cruise Fiji until our return. Upon our return, the four of us will sail back to New Zealand. What a great plan! No need for us to worry about a marina berth! No long, cold winter brooding in New Zealand for the Martins. Fun people with whom to enjoy Fiji, and two more watch standers for the passage back to New Zealand! And don’t forget Berlin! She will be thrilled to be returning to Fiji. From everybody’s perspective, the plan is a win. There are few people other than Lyn and John, with their years and years of sailing and cruising experience, to whom we would entrust Avante. In fact, The Captain fully expects to learn a few things. 

Monday, May 7th – Just like a new car, our engine is subject to initial inspections. The first one is at 50 hours. That’s a lot of engine hours for a sailboat whose prime mode of locomotion is sailing. Knowing that there is no good place to get that service done in Fiji, we are determined to put those 50 hours on the engine before we leave New Zealand. Now that we have a workable plan to head to Fiji, we really want to get those 50 hours done soon. However, Saturday was cold and rainy, and the weather did not clear up until late in the afternoon on Sunday. Neither of us felt like thrumming up and down the coast in those conditions.



Today is sunny and calm. With no wind, seas are minimal. If we have to put hours on the engine, conditions are perfect for us to begin our motoring odyssey. Weighing anchor, we leave Opunga Cove. Our destination is Whangaroa Harbour, about 40 miles up the coast.





Six hours later, with The Captain at the helm, we motor into Whangaroa Harbour. The harbour is wide and welcoming with several bays going off in different directions offering shelter from wherever the winds are blowing. Today is calm and quiet under blue skies.









To use up some more hours, we motor down the harbour to the town of Whangaroa where signature St Paul’s knob overlooks the town. We anchored below this peak last December with the Martins, made pizzas on our Baby Q and then headed ashore for some ice cream in the little town.







Turning around, we head back out the harbour to our favorite anchorage below the very impressive peak called the Duke’s Nose. We do not know who the duke was, but we sure can see why the peak was thus named!

We now have 17 hours on the engine. Just 30 more to go.




Tuesday, May 8th – Mist hangs over the harbour as we depart, but with sunny, blue skies overhead, we know it will burn off quickly. In fact, by the time we reach the entrance to the harbour, the mist is gone. Our destination today is the old whaling station on Whangamumu Bay. That’s over 40 miles down the coast and another good 6 hours of motoring. It is another calm day, and we motor serenely along, grateful that we are not fighting wind or heavy seas.






In under 5 hours, we have crossed the broad expanse of water between Whangaroa and Cape Brett. Looking back, we can pick out the famous Hole in the Rock.







We reach Whangamumu before 2:00, but both of us think this is too early to stop. We continue down the coast for another 10 miles to Miniwhangata Bay. There’s even a bit of excitement to this venture, for this will be our first time at this anchorage. It proves to be a wide-sweeping bay, and because much of the area has been designated a preserve, there are no homes or buildings off our anchorage. Just a few cows grazing on the hillside make this a quiet, bucolic, peaceful spot to spend the evening.

We now have 25 hours on the engine. Halfway there.

Wednesday, May 9th –Exploring further down the coast, we venture into Tutukaka. What a pretty spot, though the bay is definitely an area one doesn’t want to be exploring without charts or very good local knowledge! The channel bends at the narrow entrance to the harbor where rocks line both sides as well as the land around. Though our charts indicate that the bottom is mud in the shallower area where there are boats on moorings, one would suspect that underneath Avante’s keel are plenty of rocks and boulders.





We watch the depth meter diligently as we motor around the bay. In every direction we look, there is something inviting to visit and explore. It is such a pretty spot that The First Mate would love to stay here, but the objective today is engine hours, not savoring a new spot.



The Poor Knights Islands are 14 miles off the coast from Tutukaka. We have sailed past them several times as we have gone up and down the coast over the years between the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Islands, but we have always been well off and have never taken the time to explore them. Today we have time. These islands are the remains of ancient volcanoes. Inhospitable, craggy, sharp-edged lava rock is what they are made of, though The First Mate reads that as late as 1823 they were inhabited by a Maori tribe who somehow were able to raise pigs on their island as well as crops. They traded with other tribes who managed to get out there in their canoes. The story goes that another tribe came over to trade for some pigs. Not only were they refused pigs, they were threatened with violence if they so much as landed. Feeling wrongly treated, the tribe left, but sometime later upon learning that the men of the island had gone off to help a neighboring tribe in its war against another tribe, the aggrieved tribe swarmed the island killing all but about 10 people who managed to hide out in caves. When the chief returned to discover the massacre, he was so heartbroken that he gathered up the remaining people of his tribe and left the island for the mainland after placing a tabu on the islands for all future occupation. The islands have not been inhabited since then, and today the islands are designated a protected nature reserve where permits are required to anchor or land on the islands. It is also a renowned spot for diving with plenty of sea life and a fascinating underworld of caves and arches to explore.



Poor Knights is made up of 2 larger islands with several smaller islets to the south. The first of these islets we come to is Sugar Loaf Island, and from the distance its white form shows why it was named so. Its vertical sides hint that the waters are quite deep around it, and as we circle not far off, our depth meter shows a secure 300 feet below us.







From there, we cross to another small group called High Peaks Rocks.  There is no mistaking how that name came to be either.







There was no mention in The First Mate’s reading of which islands the Maoris called home. It’s doubtful anyone lived on High Peak Rocks. She can readily see how caves and fissures would have been well-concealed hiding places, but she fails to see how crops could have been grown or on what pigs could have survived in those early years. The bottoms of her feet hurt just thinking about walking around up there!





When we reach the first larger island, there are some small islands just offshore with fascinating caves where the ocean has battered holes through the rock. There is a passage where we can motor between these islands. Though our guide shows an anchoring spot, at 50 feet in depth, there is not a lot of room for a boat to swing so near those unfriendly shores. It also looks like a place where your anchor could easily get wedged between the rocks lying below. With all the caves, arches and tunnels located throughout this area, it takes little imagination to understand how underwater this would be an amazing place for aquatic life and for divers to explore.



It is on these larger islands that we see land that might have offered an area to build a shelter and plant a field. “Those Maoris sure must have been rugged souls,” ruminates The First Mate. From a distance, it looks welcoming, but so very isolated, exposed to the elements, how did they protect themselves from the sun and heat in summer and the cold, rainy New Zealand winters?





Fissures, crevices, caves, tunnels and sharp edges make up most of the islands of the Poor Knights. Scrubby vegetation, having found foot-holds in tough surroundings, spreads across the few flat areas or clings tenaciously to the rocks. Steep, vertical sides plummet straight-down into the seas. We see few areas where inhabitants could land their canoes. What a formidable place to call home, but at the same time, what an admirable place to defend in case of an attack! The Maoris built their defensive forts (Pa) on high points with steep sides. Of all the Pa we have seen in our travels around New Zealand, this one has to be the most impenetrable — as long as the group did not leave it undefended as the former inhabitants did so many years ago.


We finish our tour of this fascinating area. One of the benefits of this enforced motoring odyssey is that we are exploring areas we had not formerly taken the time to do. As often as we passed the Poor Knights, seeing them only as vague shapes in the distance, we never veered off our migratory path between the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Islands. What a “silver lining” these islands proved to be!

We now return to the coast, heading for the old whaling station at Whangamumu Harbour. The Captain declares that this is one of his favorite anchorages.  It is well protected, and the surrounding land is beautiful and uninhabited. There are some great hikes nearby, but we don’t have time for hiking.  We need another 15 hours on the engine.

Thursday, May 10th – With our sights now set on possibly leaving for Fiji at the end of next week, we want to return to the marina later today to remove the sail bag so it can be modified to reduce stress on the zipper and to get our mattress topper softened. We also need to have somebody from Seapower figure out why The Captain has found a broken bolt underneath the new engine. Before heading in, however, we need to get some more hours on that engine. We motor back to the Bay of Islands and then head for the western shore. It is an area we explored on land several weeks ago, but we have not been there by boat mainly because the wind has to be coming from the north for any of the anchorages to work. On land, the area is quite beautiful. The sweep of coastline view is dramatic, and one of the longest beaches on the north coast is located here. In the previous blog, we mention a boutique resort, The Landing, where Barack Obama had stayed on a recent trip to New Zealand. We also talked about the breathtaking views across the islands from the Rangihoua Heritage Park. Now we are in the same area, but looking up from the water rather than down from the land.




We first circle around Whale Bay. From our land trip, we know that this area is fairly secluded and remote. It also appears to be quite exclusive. An isolated house on the hillside catches our eyes. Contemporary in design, its windowed expanse has certainly been crafted to make the most of the spectacular view.








Continuing on, we motor towards Rangihoua Heritage Park. Circling below the park, we can just pick out the famous cross built to commemorate that first Christmas Service in 1814.








Further around this bay, on a commanding sweep of land with a full view across the islands, are the lovely buildings of The Landing. What a perfect name for such a lush spot! Recalling the recent harsh landscape of the Poor Knights Islands, The First Mate cannot help but think that, in contrast, this is an area she certainly would have no problem calling home!




By 2:00 we are back in the marina in our old berth, B28. As The First Mate turns off the engine, she notes 40 hours on the engine.

All that remains is the engine  bracket, those mysterious bolts, the sail bag and the mattress topper. If all goes as planned, (“Isn’t that a unique thought?” interrupts The First Mate.)  To continue with that thought: If all goes as planned, we will be on the ocean road to Fiji in a week. Please, please, please! No more bad luck!

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