Getting Ready for an Offshore Passage

Apr 24, 2012| 0 Comment

Thursday, April 5th – After spending the winter at home in Telluride, we return to Avante in the Opua Boat Yard. This was Avante’s second year stored in the boat yard, and she looks great with freshly waxed and polished hull and topsides. This year, we did not have much done on her while we were gone, but that does not mean that she is not getting any maintenance or upgrades. The Captain has brought back a bunch of new electronics to install.

Last year, we participated in a rally to Tonga run by John and Lyn Martin and found that we liked some of the conveniences of the rally like simplifying clearances in and out of countries. We also liked the social events and getting to know the crews on other boats. This year, they are running a Western Pacific Rally going in a big circle to Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, the Louisiades, Australia and back to New Zealand, and we have decided to join the rally for some of the legs. We will start by sailing with them for the passage to Vanuatu and stay with the rally for some of the planned events in Vanuatu.

The target date for the rally to depart for Vanuatu is a month away on May 5. Our plan is to be in the marina for the first 10 days getting the boat cleaned up and doing maintenance. Then we will go out cruising in the Bay of Islands and some nearby areas before returning to the marina for the last week prior to departing for Vanuatu.

The Captain has brought back two small trunks full of boat parts. Some are spare parts, but many need to be installed before we depart New Zealand.  There is a water alarm system for the bilge and sail locker which requires removing many floorboards and panels to install the wiring.  This alarm should alert us if the water level in either location gets too high. Twice last year, we had problems with a bilge pump not starting to pump when the water began rising, and the water level got fairly high before we were aware of the problem.

The most difficult job is a major electronics upgrade with the installation of 2 new chart plotters and an AIS system which will allow us to “see and identify” boats out at sea.  Its main purpose, though, is to identify boats on a possible collision course with us.  The AIS gets installed but does not work.  Why?  It appears that one of the components is not working.  Several hours later, the culprit is discovered to be a defective power cable.  The Captain is unable to take the cable apart to fix it without damaging the cable, so he is on the phone and email to the dealer back in the States.  They have never seen this problem, but they arrange to have a replacement cable sent via Fedex from the manufacturer in China.  Two, not one, replacement cables arrive two days later.  One of them is installed, and the AIS works.  How nice to be doing this in New Zealand where we can communicate and get parts easily!


Not only does The Captain have to get all these systems wired in, but he has to get them all “talking” to each other.  What he is doing is intense and demanding and not something that he has done before.


Our friend, Stephen Everett, also has his J/160, Salacia, in the Opua Marina. We get together one evening and Stephen, who lives near Brisbane, inquires about our plans for sailing to Australia this year. We have not yet done a lot of research for that portion of our trip, and The Captain outlines some of our early ideas, most of which came from information we had heard from other cruisers. Stephen is helpful. “No, you don’t want to do that. You want to…….” Soon paper charts are spread out on the table, and Stephen is mapping out our trip based on his years of local knowledge. What a great value this provides us! Stephen has a similar boat and similar interests to us. He helps develop our plans and provides us with a fantastic itinerary, recommending places that we may never have found otherwise. The next morning, he returns with some good guide books for Australia that we can borrow.

Stephen also tells us that we probably can leave the boat in Nouméa, New Caledonia while we go home to Telluride for August and September and gives us the name of an agent who can find us a berth. This would be much better for our schedule, but we had heard from other cruisers that it was very hard to get a berth in Nouméa for a duration longer than a week. We email the agent, and within a week, he has found us a spot. We are in luck!

Thursday, April 19th – With all of our new equipment installed and working, we head out for a shake down cruise to test everything on the boat before our 1,100nm passage to Vanuatu.    We had hoped for a restful cruise in the Bay of Islands, but it turns into a working run.  The Captain still has a lengthy list of to-do’s, and a few more are added as we check out systems that could not be checked in the marina.  We anchor in Paradise Bay where The Captain spends 1 1/2 hours getting our Yamaha outboard for The Dingbat (fond name of the dinghy) to start. Finally, he has it running.


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Friday, April 20th – We have a bad start to the day. First problem is the cursed outboard engine to the Dingbat. Now that he had the engine running, The Captain takes the Dingbat out for a test run. Around the bay he zips for 10 minutes, and then it stops dead and will not restart. He is beside himself with frustration! Sitting in the Dingbat, he starts working on the engine again.


Second problem occurs when our anchor washdown pump will not operate.


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Neither of these issues keeps us from heading out to the Cavalli Islands, but to add a little misery for The First Mate, the weather is anything but balmy and delightful.


Weather is still poor when we reach the Cavalli Islands, so we just keep on going to Whangaroa Harbour which is much more sheltered.

We spend the weekend in lovely Whangaroa Harbor enjoying some slightly better weather and being out on the water, but we still have a lot of boat maintenance to do to get Avante ready for passage. The Captain takes apart the non-working washdown pump and finds corrosion as expected. He cleans up the corrosion and seals everything in silicone, but he does not expect it to have a long life. After all, this is the warranty replacement for the washdown pump we bought in the Galapagos and which only lasted 5 months. We have a new spare pump, but The Captain installs the repaired one with the hope that it can get us through part of the year.

The Captain has no success with the Yamaha outboard. After removing and cleaning the carburetor 3 times, he gets it started, but it will not run smoothly at low speeds.  He cannot get one of the jets out of the carburetor to really clean it, and he finds a cracked linkage in the gear shift that must be replaced.  He decides that the engine needs to go to a Yamaha dealer for service.

Third item to fail is the water maker.  It starts up and appears to be running nicely until The Captain discovers water leaking out of the Clark Pump. This is not good.  This pump is 10 years old and is leaking internally. Leaks in watermakers just get worse, so the Clark Pump should be rebuilt before we can head north to the islands.  This is also a dealer level repair.


While The Captain is so intently involved, The First Mate works on the frustrating issue of how to build a shelter to protect from wind, rain and cold on passages. It has to do all that while, at the same time, not interfere with the winches or the classic, sleek lines of Avante. An idea begins to germinate. Why not something like a lean to attached to the end of the dodger and running down to the deck of the boat. It would not be big or roomy like so many of the plexiglass and canvas cabins built on other boats, but it could provide just enough shelter. That’s all she wants. Playing with the idea, she builds a prototype with the canvas connector. It’s sloppy, but at least it will give The Captain an idea of what she is thinking. She knows there is no time to have something like this made now, but maybe when we get to Australia. Just maybe …..


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Monday, April 23rd – With our scheduled departure just under two weeks away and two critical items which need to be serviced by dealers, we cut short our cruise and return to the marina. On the way, we stop in Waiiti Bay, an anchorage off Motukawanui Island in the Cavalli Islands.


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By now, most of the boat is in good working order, and we enjoy an invigorating sail down the coast on our return to the Bay of Islands. One of our most consistent offenders, the outboard motor, is just behind The Captain doing what it does best, riding on the rails of Avante.


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Nine Pin Rock stands out strikingly against the blue sky as we round Cape Wiwiki to enter the Bay of Islands on our way to Opua Marina. We hope to be passing it again soon when we depart for the passage to Vanuatu.

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