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Saturday, January 30, 2010

December 2009 - “Where have all the dollars gone?...Turned to boat parts every one. When will we ever learn? When will we e-e-ver learn?”

Once back at Destiny, the putting back together of our engine, toilet, generator and sails resumed.  Activity flurried around us, as again I felt like a foreigner on my own yacht.   Thankfully, the engine and generator repairs were not major (cleaning fuel injectors, exhaust valves and replacing a solenoid), although as I mentioned previously the prices were over the top for everything we had done but the toilet repair. Frank just whipped out his wallet and let the dollars fly.  At some point, he mentioned to a fellow cruiser, "I will leave a trail of green when I depart Opua. With all the money we spent here, they will be able to track us for miles".

By the third week of Dec., we were ready to head out with Earl and Marsha (Mahurangi) for the top of the North Cape to await a good weather window for sailing to the South Island.  Our friend, Billie Biel had invited Frank and I to spend the Christmas holidays with her family at their beach house on the Coromandel Peninsula, even offering us our own cottage.  It killed us to say "No thank-you", but if we didn't set off for the northland now, we would never make it to the South Island this year, and that was our big goal.  First stop, only a couple of miles away was Russell, which was the very first capital of New Zealand.  Our first night at anchor, the four of us set off in Destiny's dinghy for the Boat Club wharf, with intentions of going to the Duke of Marlborough Hotel for dinner. As I was putting one foot on the dock, a powerboat's wake rocked the wharf, causing our dinghy to pitch away from the dock, tossing me into the water.  One of my legs was still in the dinghy, my arm still holding the painter, and the other half of me got rammed up under the slime and oyster encrusted dock.  I surfaced to whimper, "Somebody help me".  Earl sprang into action, hauling me out and onto the dock.  I was a little banged up and covered in filthy muck.  My foul weather jacket was indeed foul!  We sent Earl and Marsha into the bar, and then Frank turned us back to Destiny so that I could clean up and change.  We got about halfway across the anchorage when our brand new motor began sputtering and losing power.  We barely made it back to the boat, where thankfully, Earl and Marsha had tied off their dinghy.  We took theirs back into shore and proceeded into town for one of the best T-bone steak dinners I've ever had.  Little did we know that this would prove to be the beginning of a nightmare for the new dinghy motor and us.

We made a run for Whangaroa – a very large, beautiful bay toward the northern part of the North Island, where we had arranged to meet Bob and Kim DeMattia of Northern Winds.  We spent two awesome sailing days getting up there.  This area is absolutely one of the best sailing and fishing grounds about.  We hiked several fabulous trails with spectacular views, dug for clams and mussels, picked fresh oysters right off the shore and also had the pleasure of being given 6 fresh-caught flounder from a local named David.  We had big plans to go diving for Crayfish (New Zealander lobster).  We had lots of big fun plans that got foiled by the faulty new dinghy motor.  It is a long a weary story.  The short version is that we got stranded in the middle of this very, very large bay several times. We would be riding along and then the darn Yamaha would just lose power and die, then would seize up so that it could not be restarted. Our dinghy is large and heavy, and extremely difficult to paddle when in waves, winds and strong currents.  This bay was all of the above. Frank, Bob and Earl spent countless hours trying to figure out the problem, changing fuel lines, spark plugs, and so on. Finally we admitted defeat.  Frank spent countless more hours  - and about $50 of mobile phone Pre-pay minutes talking to the Dealer (Chris) who was located back in Opua.  Of course it is Holiday Season and most services are closed through the 1st week of January, so we got him on his cell phone, asking him to please replace this "lemon".  He did not want to do that. The thing had less than 2 hours run time on it, isn't even broken in yet and the guy is arguing with us over this?  Finally he tells Frank to just bring it in and he will take a look at it, still unwilling to just give us a new one. Frank agreed and then realized here we were in a bay with lots of villages, couple of resorts, and no rental car agency.  We asked Chris to please come pick it up.  "No."  So Frank and the boys borrowed a car from a local, loaded up the motor and took it to Opua.  As fate would have it, Chris's grandfather died and the shop was closed, so Frank got his home address, and then all he could do was drop the motor off at the man's house, returning with no motor, no refund, just a hope that Chris would honor his product.  Earl and Bob both carry spare 3 hp outboards so we used one of those and got on with our holiday plans.

This was to be our first Christmas on Destiny and we intended to enjoy it to the max.  I had bought and decorated a very small fiber-optic Christmas tree, and put up garland and Stockings for us.  We wrapped gifts for each other and for our friends on Mahurangi and Northern Winds. We had a huge potluck dinner on Northern Winds, trading gifts and carrying on as though the 6 of us were one big happy family.  How Blessed we are to find such precious friends out here cruising.  After Christmas, we continued to phone Chris, sending our sympathies to him for the death of his grandfather, but persisted in our plea for a new motor.  He claimed that he could find nothing wrong with it.  Isn't this just the way it goes?  We've all been there.  By now we had given up our plans to be in the South Island by New Year's and made a booking for New Year's Eve dinner at the Kingfish Lodge.  The chef is renowned and the food is rumored to be absolutely top shelf.  We were resigned to just let go of worrying over the dinghy motor and enjoy our time in Whangaroa until something got resolved. In the meantime, we hiked, read books, watched movies, and ate tons of fresh seafood.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2009 Thanksgiving in Virginia

Frank and I had not planned another trip home this year – especially during the winter months.  In fact we had not planned to go back to the States for at least another 12 months.  After some serious soul searching, however, we made a relatively last minute decision that we needed to at least see our parents.  Frank's mother, although amazingly spry is 88.  My parents, still living in Houston, are in their 80's, and are slowing down quite a bit.  And we missed our children and siblings too much to let another year pass without seeing them.  Here's the rub; we only had about 2 ½ weeks to make the trip if we did it at all, so we called everyone – my parents, my sister, our children and my cousin Darlene who is like a sister to me.  We pleaded with them to meet us in Virginia at Tom and Mary's home.  We gave them the dates we would be there and then sat back and prayed and crossed our fingers.  Everyone made it except Frank's son Bill, and my brother Scott and his family.

We found a fantastic airfare on V-Australia airlines, but soon realized why it was so fantastic.  From the time we left the Auckland airport, it took us 41 hours to arrive in Washington's Dulles airport.  41 hours is a long time to travel.  I don't know if we will ever do that again.  It was worth it though, to have the precious time that we did with our families.  There were 24 seats at our Thanksgiving table, plus Tom and Mary's 2 infant grandsons.  I hogged my cousin Dar because she was only there for 2 days and although I had not seen her in nearly 10 years, it was like yesterday.  We always pick up right where we left off the last time.  Frank and the guys, and my sister of course, spent most of the time overdosing on football games on the big screen and you know the rest.  My daughter, and grandson flew in the next weekend, and we spent 3 treasured days with them.  Trace has grown so much!  Can't believe he is 6 years old already.

We had many tear-filled goodbyes over the course of our visit and left wondering when our next trip home will be.  Leaving VA, we flew into Los Angeles, spent one night there and then 2 in San Diego filling the spare duffel bags to the brim with items for the boat.  We upgraded our tickets for the flight home, for two reasons: one was comfort for the very long flight back, and the other was for the extra baggage allowance.  Sadly, while in San Diego we suffered two disappointments.  One was that it rained like the devil the whole time we were there, but at least we hadn't been planning time at the beach.  The other came in the form of information.  We hooked up with Erik and Gisela Gosch, whom we had me in Fiji through Christine and Jaime (Morning Light), when they crewed with them on the passage from NZ.  Erik and Gisela are IP 485 owners as well.  We met them on their yacht over at Shelter Island and then went for dinner.  During dinner, Gisela asked us what we thought when we heard that Jaime and Christine were shipping ML back to the States in January 2010, and had asked Gisela and Erik to secure a berth for them at the marina.  WHAT?!?!?!  This was the first we'd heard of that.  We had not been in touch with them since leaving for this trip home, and were blown away by the news.  When they left New Caledonia for Brisbane, in October 2009, we thought we would be meeting up with them again in the next cruising season.  We never imagined they were hanging up their life preservers.  The thought of not seeing them out here anymore was enough to make me cry.  We knew this was a very big and difficult decision for them, but selfishly we are wishing they were sticking it out.

So, we suffered the return trip, and to our delight, Earl and Marsha (Mahurangi), met us at the airport to give us a ride back to Opua.  We spent a frivolous night at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Auckland and supped at our favorite Italian restaurant on Parnell Street, and then moseyed back to Opua and Destiny.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nov 6th – 18th, 2009 Opua, New Zealand

Being back in Opua was like a homecoming.  The place was the same and the marina personnel were the same but most of our former "classmates" had either moved on, or had returned home – literally.  Just a few of our former cruiser friends returned to Opua.  Coming in now were the newest group of "Puddle Jumpers".  Boats who had either left the west coast as we had done in 2008, or who had come through the Panama Canal.  We could tell how bonded together they were and could feel their excitement at having made it this far.  This is a long way from home and indeed a very long way to sail!

It took us no time at all to get the cell phone card charged up and to begin making calls to vendors who would happily take our money in exchange for: repairing the generator, repairing the engine, re-stitching our sails and replacing the UV covers, repairing the broken toilet (dirty job!), stripping the external varnish (we have decided to go gray!), and having a new companionway board made to replace the one that went overboard.  There was a parade of tradesmen on and off the boat beginning early each morning for days on end. 

I tried to stay away as much as possible so that I would not have an anxiety attack watching the mess being made of Destiny, and also so that I would not embarrass Frank every time I heard a price quoted, by exclaiming something like…"You want $5,000 just to strip the varnish?  That is outrageous!". 

Frank hooked up with Earl May from Mahurangi and went running around for Guy Boat Things.  One day he returned to tell me that he had bought a new dinghy motor and that we would finally be getting rid of that horribly heavy, unreliable fancy Honda.  I was beyond asking what it cost, I was so happy!

I spent a fortune in time and money getting laundry done at the marina laundry mat, but was thrilled to be doing my own laundry once again, and to know that it was done in hot water with soap and that I would get it all back.  I dropped another small fortune getting a hair cut and color.  Once again, my hair turned out black and slightly purple, but not as bad as before.  I used a different gal this time.  Then Marsha (Mahurangi) and I went shopping for Girl Boat Things. 

We had lots of get-togethers with old and new friends and then before we knew it, it was time to fly home.  Of course that is a relative term, since Destiny is our home.  We had made arrangements to fly to Virginia and had asked our children and my siblings and parents to join us there.  We only had time for a quick Thanksgiving trip and knew this was a hardship for them, but we hoped that they were missing us as much as we were missing them and could swing it.  Besides, it would be like a big slumber party for us all at Tom and Mary's home, which is large enough to accommodate us all comfortably.  We are so blessed to have such a close-knit family!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nov 5th, 2009 - Thank you, God, for another safe passage!

Yes, we made it to New Zealand.  I guess if anyone is reading this blog I left you hanging.  Frank did at least post the part about us making our final approach and docking in Opua and gives an interesting account of our last day on the water.  In fact, as is usually the case with us, our arrival was not without some excitement.  This is my version… We reached the North Cape to find that the normally turbulent waters were so calm that the shoreline reflected as if in a mirror.  We could see the pectoral fins of Sunfish as they floated along, and dorsal fins of various sharks.  It was an interesting and beautiful experience for us.  Still buddy sailing with John and Lyn on Windflower, we got a call from John on the VHF letting us know that due to the excessive amount of motoring, they were running frighteningly low on diesel and were requesting any spare fuel that we may be carrying in jerry cans.  Sadly for them we reported back that we do not carry extra fuel as Destiny's tanks hold 1,000 litres, therefore we are usually well set for any passage.  We tried to figure out some way to get fuel over to them but decided in the end that we would just slow down and hang with them in case they had need of a tow into Opua.  Along came a whisper of wind and Windflower tried to fill her sails.  We in turn killed the engine and attempted the same.  We were going nowhere fast.  We had literally never seen the waters so flat calm.  Lo and behold, when Frank attempted to crank the engine back on nothing happened.  We could not get her going again!  So he dove down into the engine compartment while I sat bewildered in the cockpit waiting for his instructions, when out of nowhere came a very intimidating looking military warship heading straight toward us!  Windflower came on the radio telling us that a NZ Navy warship was hailing us and suggested we respond.  Duh!  We had forgotten to change the radio channel back to 1-6 after our last chat with John.  I quickly changed the channel back and asked the hailing ship to come back.  They indicated that we should prepare to be boarded.  I apologized to them with a quick explanation that we didn't hear the call and that we were dead in the water.  They were so cool, responding that along with Customs, MAF and Immigration Officers, they would send over a couple of engineers to look at our problem.  I ran downstairs, told Frank what was about to happen, grabbed my camera and tidied up as fast as I could.  In no time flat, under full power, the warship had launched a large Zodiac full of crew that took off like a rocket toward us.  They arrived in full riot gear with helmets and big black boots!  They very kindly asked permission to board, removed their shoes and helmets and piled into the cockpit.  Frank presented our papers and answered questions while I snapped pictures.  While this was occurring 2 mechanics scrambled down the companionway and began to disassemble our engine.  This made Frank a little nervous!  We told them about our friends on Windflower who were low on fuel.  Two remaining Navy personnel in the Zodiac took off to deliver some fuel to John and Lyn.  Now I defer to Frank's version for further details of our "rescue".  Summing that up, we were very impressed with the professionalism, and generous hospitality of the New Zealand Navy.  They even returned to bring us trinkets, postcards with pictures of their ship, pamphlets and other goodies, welcoming us to New Zealand, before they took off at warp speed in search of the next approaching yacht.


Now that Windflower had fuel and we had a working engine, we made a beeline for Opua.  We arrived in the wee hours of the morning on Nov 5th.  As soon as we got docked, John and Lyn popped over with their Champagne ready to party and I was so tired I felt like I was walking around in a gelatin world.  We got down onto the Q-dock had a quick toast and I crawled into bed for a blissful few hours of sleep.


It felt like my head had just hit the pillow when we heard someone knocking on the hull and climbing up into the cockpit.  Frank and I startled awake, looked at each other and said, "Oh my God!  Customs is here!".  We threw on some clothes in time to greet them.  As before they were very friendly.  The only thing that I gave up which really broke my heart was a bag full of garlic.  At the time it didn't mean so much until I saw that fresh garlic was $28/kg in New Zealand!