Inflating a 44-year-old life raft for fun and education purposes
After a full week-end saving lives, I am exhausted! Ok, this was all pretend play, but I swear that NZ Coastguard /MedAire coastal medic course is not for the faint-hearted. Between gore pictures and videos of a femoral artery gushing blood (albeit very pixelated, thank God), de-gloving fingers (I learnt a new word), or wounds with protruding guts to name but a few, and dramatic scenarios to role-play as practice exercises, I wondered whether the true purpose of the course was, like the advanced sea survival one, not to put anyone off boating altogether. It certainly challenged my thirst for adventures and questioned whether I would not be better off staying home, comfortably binge-watching movies or series on Netflix, curled up under a fluffy blanket, and pecking pop-corn for the rest of my life!
Thankfully, our instructor, a former ICU nurse and sailor herself, was highly engaging, fun and capable of getting a laugh out of us while discussing the most tragic of circumstances. She was also excellent at explaining the why behind any recommended action or treatment. As a result, I learnt how the heart worked, and even understood the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. The former due to constricted coronary arteries, the latter being caused by an electrical dysfunction of the sinoatrial (SA) node, which I like to remember as the heart spark plugs, an analogy that didn’t convince all my fellow trainees but that a quick online search corroborated.
Meanwhile, Thomas and the kids were casually getting on with their life (think DIY, swinging off the mast, playing in the mud, visiting friends, eating crêpes), as if none of the above would ever happen to them. And that’s precisely what I wish.
“Eew! It takes a special kind of person to do all that stuff” commented my workmate Josh when I told him about my week-end. Yes, maybe, I don’t know. It is a Cat 1 requirement for one, and, anyway, I wanted to gain confidence and feel equipped to deal with different trauma and medical situations were they to occur on land or at sea. And what I thought during the week-end was, it takes a special kind of person to deliver these trainings day in day out!
That being said, next week-end I’m getting one step further with the offshore part of the course, hoping that my newly acquired knowledge will never have to be put to practical use.
Imagine paying a visit to your old neighbourhood, meeting long-time-no-see friends, and doing a bit of treat-shopping… by boat. That’s what we just did last week-end, taking Obelix for the first time to Saint Heliers Bay!
Not as exotic as many places in the Hauraki Gulf, for sure, but an idea that kept nagging me, seeming both simple, and yet unreachable. Indeed, with too many other destinations for casting off, anchoring in St Heliers never quite competed, or, just as the previous week-end, the universe did not agree to our plans.
But with a bit of perseverance (and me vindicating it was dear to my heart), we got there. The trip was well worth it too. Perfect conditions: sun, clear sky, and southerlies propelling us to the bay in less than an hour, not to mention Zampa who joined the party and raft up with us, having made her way from the opposite direction, out of the Tamaki River.
Kids could talk and play Pokemon while the dads motivated each other, in a manly demonstration of bravado, to dive in the icy-cold water in order to attend to beardy propeller and such, and we had lunch on the foredeck, before a trip to shore to stretch our legs and meet with the rest of Zampa’s family and our old next-door neighbours.
Apart from a slight hiccup with a wave setting the two boats in motion in opposite phase, which resulted in a snapped fitting where the lines were attached, no big drama. I even surreptitiously disappeared for a while to collect a well-deserved booty of bargained french, spanish and italian products (50-cm long chorizo, sourdough bread, fluffy brioche, 2kg olives, 4 jars of jam, biscuits, and cheese, you know) from our beloved Fruit Delicatessen. So that we had a glorious afternoon tea of brioche and quince jelly while motoring back to Bayswater.
A well rounded trip, topped up by an aced slow-mo mooring at the marina. That completely made up for the failed attempt of the previous weekend (and somewhat anti-climatic celebration of end of lockdown).
Happy level 2!
Oblivious to the world’s turmoil, Obelix is soaking in the peace and quiet of the marina. Silence, and stillness, with the reduced traffic on the motorway, and the absence of wind and ferry wash.
Every now and then, some boatie walks up and down the pier, smartphone in hand, discussing the current lock-down situation and its alarming implications on their business or lives, illustrating what seems to be our modern rallying cry “I communicate therefore I am”.
And it is hard indeed to resist the urge to reach out to relatives and friends, or keep up with the influx of information pushed from all directions, make sense of it all, and prevent the brain’s cogs to get out of control. Yet, I try hard not to get distracted by the outside virtual noise, and draw inspiration from one of the ‘growth mindset mantras’ pinned to our bathroom bulkhead: “I am safe. I am calm. I can handle this.” as a counterpart to the government’s message “Be kind. Stay home. Save lives.”
But I admit that I never thought a trip to the supermarket would be a high risk activity for which you’d need to queue to wait for your turn as if you were about to bungy jump, and, when, going for the daily walk or bike ride, we meet other people in the street, people we might know, I have this surreal feeling of being like a dog, held on an invisible leash, unable to get too close to them, or stop for too long to exchange greetings and make small or philosophical talk.
So, to relax after a day split between working, home-schooling, and tempering dark thoughts, I do some reading. The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood. Not sure it is wise to escape a dystopian reality by reading a dystopian novel, but it put things in perspective. And I can’t help thinking: at least we can still wear what we want, read, write, play and listen to music, dance, prepare food we like, talk to each other freely and relish our creativity.
And actually, life in lock-down is very different, yes, but we also take notice of all the positive changes it forced, or decided, us to make:
- Waking up with the sun (or upon kids stompy footsteps) – no alarm clock
- Yoga on the deck (almost) every morning with Thomas (and sometimes Azur)
- Less time working + less time escaping to the fragmented bubbles of my life = More focus and mindful parenting
- Zephyr mentors Azur and teaches him maths, origami and spelling
- More frequent video calls with our family and friends in France
- More french spoken by the kids!!!
- New yummy cooking & baking experiments
- More family discussions around the table, as we eat all meals together
- Kids taking turn to do the dishes
- More DIY tasks getting ticked off, and providing knowledge sharing opportunities (I taught Zephyr how to divide big numbers, while working on a pattern for a bbq cover)
- New activities on or around the boat: swimming at the local tiny beach (high tide only), climbing or swinging around the mast, laps walking around the boat on the rub rail while holding onto the life lines, dinghy fishing trips at sunset, and even putting on a talent show to compete with our friends on Calypso…
And nearly a week on, we even have some good news: our pier neighbours have kindly agreed for us to use their boat Mahanui’s cockpit as our home-office, we’ve received the Wifi repeater and (most of the time) can connect from within our lovely submarine, and the marina ablution blocks have re-opened which means we could treat ourselves to a real shower!
What if we enjoyed our time confined as a family?
Covid-19 lockdown – Day 0
After navigating in troubled waters for the last few weeks, witnessing from afar one country after the other placed under lockdown, it is our turn to set foot in Terra Incognita, a foreign world where we can’t hug or kiss or dance with our friends to celebrate life, with no idea of the impact it will have on our physical and psychological wellbeing, nor how to mitigate this yet unknown impact.
I reassure myself that as foreigners we have an advantage, having been through the challenge already, of having to adapt quickly to a new environment, learn new social rules, and find a way to blend in, or even thrive.
However, we’re both curious and fearful about what we’ll discover in this brave new world and questions abound:
What lesson will governments draw from this global-scale human experience? Is it time to hypocritically buy Air New Zealand shares or should we bet and invest on a company committed to a more positive redesign of our society? Will we be able to wander on the dinghy to go fishing off the break water? Do we have enough supply to last for the self-isolation period? Or will we need to replenish stock and venture to the supermarket? And if we have to go, will there still be what we need which was depleted when we stocked up? Will they increase their prices to take advantage of the situation? Should we sail away and wait for it to pass (looks like a no as we would not be able to work and Thomas is way too loyal and committed to Gurit)? Will the marina Wifi allow us to work from the boat (not as it is so I’ve just ordered a repeater to hopefully alleviate the painful intermittence of the weak wifi signal, and Thomas used his mobile phone as a hotspot for part of the day)? How many hours of work can we honestly achieve with two
wild animals boys on board (I have brought my hours down to a more reasonable 16 per week at the end of today)? How changed will we be on the other side? Who will blow a fuse first (I would have bet on me initially, but with my now reduced-hours, might reconsider and say Zephyr)? Will liveaboards be allowed in the common facilities like toilets, shower, and laundry (answer came earlier today – No, the bathroom blocks will be locked)? Great, how will we do the laundry then, let alone shower??? How many liveaboards will be around anyway*? But above all, HOW LONG will it truly last for?
On a positive note, Azur woke up this morning announcing happily “first day of school on the boat!” and the home-schooling quickly turned into “self-schooling” following a schedule we had prepared together the evening before, and which, although not respected to the letter, provided a good beacon to see us through the day. The kids particularly enjoyed climbing up the mast between two showers, doing ‘hard’ (as opposed to boring) maths, with Zephyr explaining powers and square roots to Azur, building huts in the V-berth, playing soccer with a volleyball in the saloon corridor, and, with a bit of persuasion, dressing up for a photoshoot at sunset (cf. top pictures). We’re betting hard on our creativity to en
durejoy this weird, forced, ‘recentering’ retreat, and take it as a good practice exercise for an ocean crossing…
And speaking of sailing, I’m so glad we took Obelix for a wander in the gulf last week-end and intently savoured the dizzying freedom bliss before this whole madness. Although the lunch in Calypso Bay, our swim in crystal clear water, our walk in the bush with Tuis carelessly serenading us, our swinging under a big Pohutukawa tree on the white sandy beach of Snapper Bay, our 3-star dinner with fellow sailors in Blackpool, our morning yoga session on the deck, followed by our diving off the boat and sailing back to Bayswater all seem a long way away, they are memories we will hold onto tight until we’re on the other side.
*I overheard a discussion between Zephyr and Azur this evening speaking about our pier neighbour Carmen: Azur sadly commented “she’s living in a house now, so that’s the end of the world” to which Zephyr placidly replied “at least the end of the world as we know it”, and I silently thought “If only!”…
So fear not for us, but feel free to leave a comment, would love to know how everyone is doing 😊
“It’s alright mum, our boat isn’t badly damaged, just a few small repairs and we’ll be off again”, wrote Zephyr on the day of our incident… (cf. Obelix on the rocks)
The small repairs took three weeks, and, thankfully, no one dared tell me at the time it would take so long!
Apart from the minor scratches on the keel, the damage of the rudder needed serious repairs, all undertaken by professional boat builders (Brin Wilson) and covered by insurance (minus excess) to much of our relief. Besides, to optimise the time on the hardstand, Thomas threw in some evening and week-end sweat to assist the smooth running of professional operations, and carry out additional maintenance jobs, so that Obelix is sleeker, safer, and stronger than ever.
*WARNING* Reading the following DONE list might urge you to yawn or even take a nap to recover from the induced exhaustion:
- Water blast hull (Brin Wilson)
- Switch boat from “house” to “boatyard” mode (Thomas):
- remove all carpets
- cover all floors with cardboard
- remove all bedding from the kids room
- protect bench and lounge table with newspaper
- Repair scratches on the keel (BW)
- Repair rudder (BW):
- manufacture new bottom part that was ripped (probably wet/rotten before)
- repair cracks from the bottom bearing (one was an existing crack which had been repaired before, sign that someone else must have hit rocks at some point, just saying…)
- re-skin very tip and trailing edge, where the old skin had cracked
- Reinstate rudder (Brin Wilson):
- service rudder bearing (changed packing in stuffing box)
- apply Propspeed on bottom of bearing and propeller shaft bearing at the exit of the stern tube (areas covered with barnacles due to anti-fouling failing to adhere to stainless steel)
- Service propeller shaft stuffing box (Thomas):
- change packing (which meant ½ day bent upside down over the engine to remove the old one, and then ½ day to put the new one)
- Failed attempt at removing the propeller shaft to inspect it (Thomas):
- soak shaft with lubricant
- hammer taper-lock nut & washer with big spanner
- get them loose
- try to break taper grip on shaft
- re-tighten everything
- Full diagnosis and change of the fuel line circuit (Thomas & Brett):
- buy new pump to suck diesel @ 8L/minute (fits on a drill)
- transfer diesel from front tank to aft tank
- suck diesel from all points of the fuel system, including removing the floor boards to reinspect the pipes
- remove all parts of the fuel line to suck through them individually
- find out valves were ok on close position but leaky when open (by blowing through them like a trumpet)
- change both valves with similar model as original, although these are supposed to be gas and not fuel fittings
- remove Racor separator filter
- clean Racor filter
- change fuel filter on engine
- change impeller in saltwater pump
- clean saltwater sieve
- realise the end fittings (where the hoses clamp to) were corroded
- change sieve
- re-tighten 3 out of 4 belts (saltwater pump + 2 alternators)
- rig saltwater hose to a bucket to be able to start the engine
- bleed engine
- successfully start the engine
- Sand bottom of the keel, inaccessible last time it was on the hard (Thomas)
- Inject resin in delamination pockets at the bottom of the keel (Brin Wilson)
- Tidy up bilges (Thomas)
- Apply antifouling around waterline (Thomas)
- Remove jib port winch to clean (Thomas)
- Measure hull humidity level with moisture meter, to enable monitoring of osmosis going forward (Thomas)
- Clean deck, cockpit, carpets and vinyl floors from all the antifouling marks (Thomas)
- Switch boat back from “boatyard” to “house mode” (Thomas)
- Fill diesel tanks (Thomas)
And just as every cloud has a silver lining, once again I felt blessed with the unfolding situation. First, the repairs were mostly covered by our insurance, second, Thomas turned into a competent project manager supervising the whole operation, and last but not least, we found new friends that offered us much more than a place to stay!
Indeed, with the boat being immobilised, we needed to find a new home quickly and preferably a local one to minimise the disruption to our life, with kids going to holiday program at Bayswater Primary School, and us going to work every day in opposite directions. And after a few phone calls and messages in a bottle, we found an overwhelmingly generous offer (Thomas nearly cried on the phone) to stay at Ines and Raul’s place (one block form the school), and pitch our tent in their garden for what I initially thought would be a few nights, but soon turned out to be an indefinite period of time. We barely knew them from school, and having looked after our kids on play dates a few times, and not only didn’t they seem to mind having us, but on the contrary appeared quite happy to welcome us into their home. And what a perfect fit! Similar values, education, and activities, we couldn’t hope for more.
We got extremely lucky with the weather too and for three weeks, apart from the fact we all had to work during the day, it felt like being on summer holidays with our best friends, with long meals on the deck, philosophical discussions, and kids screaming in the background. The boys were thrilled to have their friends Julian and Marco to go to school and play with every mornings and evenings, and the parenting was made easier by having four adults between whom to juggle schedules and alternate cooking dinner every night. There was even a huge palm tree for the tropical vibe, a swimming pool to splash in, a cat to pat, a roof to climb on, and plenty of bikes and scooters to go on evening missions before getting to bed. What’s more, after a week, we upgraded to the garden shed as Ines and Raul got a new bed and relocated their old one there. Comfort + connection, what else?
With that new experience of happy community living, we had mixed feelings when Obelix got all fixed up and made it back in the water, ready to welcome us back on his board…
It’s not a beautiful boat, but it’s a good boat!Uwe Tolks
Obelix is the brain child of Uwe Tolks, former Master Mariner & Marine Construction Engineer, and Erwin Haag, Naval Architect, both German established in Whangarei, New Zealand, since the 70’s.
“December 1976, he comes to my office and asks can you draw me a 12m boat?” says Erwin Haag as soon as I step into the room adjacent the garage through which we’ve entered and which looks like his office – maybe from back then even!, on this sunny Saturday morning, after a 2-hour drive and a last minute pit stop at the supermarket to get some nibbles. We’ve shaken hands a few minutes earlier on his garage doorstep, he’s introduced me to Uwe and has put away the wine bottle* we’ve brought as a token of gratitude for arranging this meeting. Thomas is trailing behind with the boys, as we’ve parked in front of the wrong number and they couldn’t catch up with my impatient pace, but he doesn’t wait for them to arrive, he’s ready to get down to business.
The two men, who I wrongly thought were in their 80s, seem a lot more alert than I had feared, they stand tall and their handshake is firm, Uwe’s especially. I wonder for a minute what’s in it for all of us, but it soon becomes clear that there are a lot of stories that want to come out. Nostalgia indulgence, legacy safekeeping or desire to put the record straight, whatever it is, we’re keen to hear it all, cherish the early memories of our adopted child, and perpetuate the legend of Obelix.
We briefly mention our incident with Obelix the past weekend but they either don’t hear or politely ignore what we’re saying. Instead they dive straight in the core of the subject, unsure as to where to begin. I quickly get lost in technicalities of the different types of resin used for lamination, between orthophtalic, isophtalic, or vinylester, approved by Lloyd’s or not, so quite organically, Thomas settles with Erwin over his desk (where he’s pulled out the full Obelix file, including original brief, early drafts, quotes and calculations, all elegantly handwritten on thin checked paper), to go over the what, i.e. the boat’s design, and I sit at a meeting table with Uwe, listening carefully to the bittersweet story of the why. Their initial plans to go on a medical survey expedition in Papua New Guinea with his doctor wife Renata and a couple of crew (which explains some of the design choices), that they had sailed to New Zealand all the way from Denmark, had their daughter, Tiare, in Papeete, a perfect blue-eyed blond little Tahitian who now lives in Devonport, and that because it wasn’t safe at the time to go to PNG, they settled in New Zealand in a “waiting state”, that the name of the boat “developed while [they] were building it, with its big belly”, that their son Teva was born half-way through the project, with a heart condition that compromised the whole PNG mission, and that soon after launching the boat, Teva passed away on the operating table at age 5, which resulted in a double break-up with the wife and the boat. No wonder, then, that when we show him pictures of Obelix under sail in front of Rangitoto, he is more interested in the shape of the volcano behind, which he was trying to replicate from memory on a pastel drawing for his grand-daughter, and asks us if we could send that picture “to his computer”.
Erwin pulls all the A3 drawings of his No. 22 design, which are orderly stacked on hooks against the wall. He also takes pride in showing us and the kids the wooden boat he is building with his grandson and whose hull lies upside down in his garage, before shooting off in his modern blue Volkswagen Beetle to a friend’s farewell, leaving us with Uwe to carry on our conversation for a bit longer.
All the while, the kids are drinking apple juice and eating macaroons, cherries and chocolate we have brought for morning tea, every now and then attempting to interrupt us to comment on the many boat pictures, drawings and models that crowd the room. We have asked in the car if they had any burning question they wanted to ask but they wouldn’t come up with anything. On the other hand, we have a long list of questions, regarding both specific features of the boat and its history, and we make sure that at the end of the meeting there is no stone left unturned.
Approaching noon, Uwe kinda concludes “it is not a beautiful boat, but it is a good boat”. By then we’ve satisfied our curiosity, exhausted the subject for the time being, and feel it is time to excuse ourselves. We exchange email address and phone number and head towards Waipu Cove, to digest all the information we’ve received while soaking in the summer vibe.
In the evening, after a laid back dinner at the Yogi’s Bar & Eatery in Gulf Harbour, we pay a visit to Obelix, planning to stay the night on board. However, the dizzying height at which it is perched on its cradle, the ferocious attack of mosquitoes when we climb in, and the stuffiness inside with the smell of chemicals used to remove the rudder all deter us from staying another minute. So we just collect a few clothes, school papers and squabs, and off we go again, driving back to Bayswater to spend the night at the tent we’ve set up in our Guatemalan friends’ garden. What a day, now good night!
No it is not the name of the latest trendy cocktail, although I wish.
This is how I miserably ended an otherwise gorgeous long week-end sailing with friends.
I’ve tried to find myself excuses, or blame others, or circumstances for the accident, nothing softens that overwhelming feeling of shame and guilt. I was at the helm and steered us way to close to the coast until we felt a bump slowing us down, and another one, and another one, while I was steering away from the hazard.
I still don’t understand why none of the indicators raised the alarm in my brain, between a coast awfully close, a depth sounder falling under 3 meters, and Thomas who expressed his concerns which I too easily dismissed. All I know is that I had lost the ability to think straight, put the whole boat and crew at risk, and still beat myself up for it.
The only clue to my lack of judgement, is my stress levels escalating beyond measure during the week-end, due to a series of events which unfolded one after the other, domino-like, to eventually culminate in the regrettable incident.
We had friends on board, one adult, two kids, for the week-end, which meant an additional pressure to ‘perform’ and provide them with a good experience. We had gone out the night before to celebrate with other boaties the 160th Mahurangi Regatta,and stayed up a bit too late for my already depleted energy levels. On getting back to the boat we were welcomed by an angry neighbour who was righfully upset we were anchored too close, and demanded we move right away. So we did, re-anchoring by night for the first time. I then spent the night feeling guilty about this whole drama. In the morning, we received the visit of accomplished sailors who a) intimidated me and b)provided us a good reality check, stating the obvious that if we were to leave for the island this year we still needed to check and fix all the crucial bits which was probably a good three-month full-time work. We then spent the rest of the morning entertaining the kids with a makeshift swing hanging from the boom and only departed after a late lunch when the river had already been vacated by most of the hundreds of boats who were there for the rallye. And this got me upset. We were upwind and the customer experience was not as satisfying as the previous day where Obelix was cruising flat, 15 knots down wind, all on autopilot, while we were indulging in a mediterranean buffet of rockmelon, prosciutto, cheese, home-made hummus, broccoli and carrots sticks, and sourdough bread, with an upbeat soundtrack provided by our guests. Things got worse in the afternoon, when I gave the helm to my friend to go down to prepare the watermelon, and on a misunderstanding we tacked and had to go backwards to tack again to then realise all the fishing lines were tangled up underneath the boat. Thomas decided to stop the boat sheltered behind Tiri and dive to get those lines sorted but we had a heated argument about it because I was scared, and thought it wasn’t safe enough, I yelled at him. It made me feel terrible. I thought I had tamed the dragon inside me but this proved me otherwise and I couldn’t stop thinking I couldn’t be relied upon, I wasn’t psychologically stable enough to consider blue water sailing. My whole dream was getting out of reach. During the whole ‘tidy-the-fishing-lines’ operation, we drifted quite a bit and lost ground, so my hope to reach Gulf Harbour Marina early-ish (by 6:30pm as stated to them earlier on the phone) vanished. Sea conditions were deteriorating by then as we were getting in Tiri channel with wind against tide, waves forming and I could feel the whole crew quieting down therefore betraying their discomfort. As a considerate hostess, I switched on the engine committed to get us to the marina as fast as possible but the crossing of the channel was dragging, kids were asking how much longer it would take, motion sickness was around the corner. And I couldn’t quite make sense of a couple of marks on the tiny GPS plotter and asked Thomas what it was, but he was on deck tidying up the staysail halyard and couldn’t hear, he just gestured to stay clear of them. I did, but then came back closer to the shore, thinking I was clear and that way I’d get away from the bigger waves and make people feel better.
I got paralysed at the helm. Thomas quickly went inside to check we were not taking in water. We made our way to Gulf Harbour Marina, Thomas taking the helm for a bit realising I was in shock and couldn’t handle the situation properly.
I still managed to pull myself together to assist those kids who were feeling unwell, helping them through another layer of cloth as the sun was going down, suggesting they stand at the helm with Thomas to look at the horizon, maybe making some jokes even. It worked.
I took the helm back to get us into the berth as usual, as Thomas was on deck preparing the fenders and grabbing the hanging line with the boat hook. We got in perfectly. At least that I knew how to do.
Later, when I was sobbing on the pier, Zeph came to me and said “Mum, you’re better than most mums, normally it’s the dads who drive [the boat]”.
This morning Thomas dived to assess the situation, there doesn’t seem to be any structural damage to the keel however one part of the rudder has been snapped, the rest has splits and needs repair. Judging it unsafe to sail back to Auckland we’re stuck here to start getting the boat hauled out, inspected, and repaired asap. Today being a public holiday, we can only set things in motion tomorrow…
Recipe for the best day of 2019
- 1 handsome multi-talented man
- 2 kind, fun, resilient boys
- 1 sturdy sail boat
- 1 pinch of wind (not too strong, not too light, and preferably in the right direction)
- slight sea
- 1 whale
- 1 island (not too far, not too close, and preferably with an iconic bay)
- friends (as many as required)
- Wake up at 5 a.m. and realise it is still pitch black
- Wait for some light and start the engine
- Raise anchor
- Celebrate the engine endurance (cf. Christmas in the engine room)
- Hoist sails
- Watch sunrise eating breakfast in the cockpit
- Greet young sailors as they wake up
- Check speed with engine on neutral
- Switch off engine
- Plug autopilot
- Help young sailors as they vomit their breakfast
- Lift their spirits inventing stupid knock-knock jokes
- Take pictures and videos
- Spot a whale squirt and flip fins
- Try to spot other marine animals
- Sail. Sail. Sail.
- Watch coastline getting closer
- Find iconic bay and anchor (e.g. Smokehouse Bay)
- Get a surprise spotting some friends bright yellow ‘Goldfinger’ boat
- Have lunch and soak in the feeling of achievement
- Get visit from Goldfinger’s crew and have drinks onboard Obelix
- Get interrupted by Zephyr all excited that someone is calling us on the radio
- Struggle with VHF poor reception to make plans with friends who were indeed calling us from another bay
- Jump on dinghy to go ashore
- Watch kids have fun on the swings and take hot shower
- Greet other friends as they’ve made it to Smokehouse Bay
- Go back to Obelix altogether
- Dress up
- Dance tango on deck
- Eat festive dinner (e.g. salmon toasts & cream cheese stuffed chili peppers for starters, duck confit and fried potatoes for main, and scorched almonds for dessert)
- Go back to beach and socialise
- Watch Thomas’ fire poi dance
- Retreat back to the boat well before midnight
- Snuggle under the blankets
- Hear the final countdown in the distance
Well worth throwing up breakfast for.Zephyr
♫ This is gonna be the best day of my life, my li-i-i-i-i-ife ! ♪Cover by Zephyr & Azur
Mum: Are you ok, Azur? What are you doing?
Azur: Yes I’m fine, I’m playing the best game ever…
Mum (intrigued): Oh, cool, what is it?
Azur: Spot the marine animals!
Tuesday 24th December 2019 6:00am. We’re raising anchor from Bon Accord – Kawau, perfectly synchronised with our friends Marion & Borja on Ad Hoc, ready to sail to Great Barrier Island for Christmas. We’ve set our alarm early to strategically leave at dawn, kids still asleep in their cabin, sea still undisturbed by the sun’s energy. Despite its grey cloudy sky and chilly air, this is the day I’ve longed for. The one gift I’ve ordered Santa this year: sailing to Great Barrier Island. Close enough that you can see it from the mainland when the sky is clear, yet far enough that the passage qualifies as a crossing, with a sea that can get messy, and the land being a mere rumour when you’re half way there, in the middle of the water, with no other boat on the horizon. My rite of passage in a way, the much awaited proof we can defy the elements as a family, and get out the other way strong and proud.
The anchor is nearly all the way up when suddenly the engine stops without warning. Holly sh*! Thomas promptly hoists the mainsail to get control of the boat in a bay fairly full of other vessels, while I’m thinking, let’s go and try to figure something out on the way. We’re on a sail boat after all and only need the engine to maneuver in and out of anchorage. Now that it’s broken down, we’ll have to anchor by sail anyway, whether it is right now to stay on Kawau, or in a few hours to anchor on Great Barrier. Besides, if it has to do with a low battery, it should have time to charge with the solar panels during the day and we could try again later and decide whether to carry on or turn back if is still not starting. (*yesterday we couldn’t start the engine because the engine battery was down and we had to charge it while plugged on Ad Hoc’s alternator, this is apparently an issue with both service and starter batteries plugged in parallel by mistake, an issue we’ll have to sort out). So off we go, with Ad Hoc following us closely behind. We communicate on VHF channel 6 explaining to our friends what has just happened and our intentions. They don’t seem so optimistic about our plan, explaining that the wind could die off half way through the crossing in which case we’d be a dire situation with no engine to propel us. Fair enough. We finally decide to anchor in Vivian Bay with Ad Hoc moored raft-style, and try charging the battery to the max as we did yesterday. An hour or so later, the battery is at its fullest yet the engine still refuses to start. Either there is something wrong with the battery system or the problem is elsewhere. It is still early in the day with plenty of time to find a solution. We bid our friends farewell as they set sails to Great Barrier as planned albeit a few hours delay in the initial schedule.
As for us, we decide to relocate to Algies Bay on the mainland, opposite Kawau to be closer to shops would we need anything or anyone’s help. We get hold of a marine mechanics who can sell us a brand new battery. The issue might be completely different, but we said we could do with an extra onde anyway and this will allow us to completely rule out the battery route. He’s open until midday which puts a bit of pressure given the very little wind blowing exactly from where we’re trying to go. Our internal clock is ticking loud and clear with each tack and at 11:30am, we’re finally there, anchoring for the second time under sail. A couple of rides on the dinghy later, Thomas brings the new battery on board, plugs it in, still no luck with then engine. Damn! Looks like there won’t be any Great Barrier for Christmas.
As a friend kindly reminds us, an engine needs three things to run: air, fuel and power. We’ve ruled out power, we quickly check the air way is not blocked, and an inspection of the tanks confirms we still have plenty of diesel. There must be something that prevents the fuel from making it to the injectors. Faulty injector pump or airlock? Let’s get our hands dirty and find out for ourselves. Given it’s Christmas, we have more than two days ahead of us without any hope for professional help anyway.
After having fed the hungry family, we still have to balance our lack of sleep (we got up at 5:30am this morning), our low morale (of all considered scenarios for the holidays, none featured Christmas eve spent alone at Algies’Bay in diesel fumes), and the kids’ need to let their energy out of the confined space, quickly cluttered with newspaper, tools, and rags everywhere. Christmas Eve isn’t celebrated as we’re used to with an orgy of decadent food, alcohol and chocolates. Instead we force ourselves out of the boat and onto shore late that 24th December afternoon, after many failed attempts to bring the engine to life. Thomas and Azur have a splash in the water, after which we treat ourselves to a hot shower at our friends Chris and Anne’s batch, conveniently located right on the beach, opposite where we are anchored. We’ve brought everything to fix ourselves a couple of home made pizzas eaten in between a game of cranium.
I don’t know how we gather the energy to wrap up the presents that night, write Zephyr and Azur a letter each, and hang Santa’s marshmallow legs from one of the hatches to surprise them in the morning, but I’m glad we did. For one they let us sleep in, and when they do wake up, it is with a merry energy, Zephyr announcing cheerfully “Santa’s been” and Azur quickly hurrying along to witness with his own eyes. They only have a couple of presents to unwrap each, yet they’re ecstatic about Santa’s accuracy, who’s brought Azur a handful of Pokemon cards, a couple of candy canes, and a Christmas jokes book, exactly as he’d asked for. And in a simliar fashion – Santa isn’t very creative this year, nor was he helped by Zephyr’s letter which evasively stated he’d be grateful to get about anything, or maybe he ‘s aimed for fairness and reached it with clockwork precision, Zephyr gets a handful of Pokemon cards, a couple of candy canes, and a book: “The Hundred Mile An Hour Dog” which he reads three times on Christmas day, a couple more the following one, and encourages his brother to read it too.
After the morning celebration accompanied with moist and fragrant italian Panettone, we resume our work in the engine room. And I quickly fall in to a cyclic pattern of hope-frustration-anger-despair with each try and failure. Haven’t we deserved to have a smooth sail after all the work we’ve put in? Thomas spending evenings and week-ends tidying up the engine, replacing corroded anodes, fixing a broken leg, getting a new leak-proof exhaust pipe, and painting the whole thing shiny silver to make it look nice (would we ever have to work on it further). Me taking care of the provisioning and end of year celebrations, making several trips to the supermarket, fruit and veges shops to buy staples in (what seemed to me) astronomical quantities to sustain us for three weeks, plus some treats for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. True we also had the self-imposed mandate to learn as much about the boat as possible, and break anything that was about to instead of in the middle of nowhere … But why now? Why not just a little later???
Fortunately we have access to a private 24-hour-7 mental support/personal coaching/diesel engine helpline which we use and abuse, calling our friends Thomas and Claire time and again. All in all, it takes us four days, no less than 20 phone calls, and a prayer (yes a prayer, hands clasped and all, as I’ve collapsed on the couch, taking a break from my mechanical duties, crying, and begging whoever is listening to make this engine run and soon, please) to diagnose the issue and find a viable solution to resume our cruise. All the while keeping a semi-interesting summer holiday program for Zephyr and Azur who’ve been extra patients, allowing us to work every day until 3 pm before begging us to go play ashore.
We haven’t completely identified where the air leak is and just bypassed a few parts in the diesel lines, running on one tank, with two less diesel/water separators before the fuel filter. Good enough for the couple of weeks cruising we’ve got left. She’ll be alright! In the process, we’ve also understood and fixed the issue of parallel batteries (the initial set up was smart with an emergency paralleling switch, although it got hijacked with wires plugged from both batteries directly on the solar panels regulator, putting the batteries in parallel permanently), got a clearer picture of our whole diesel system: input, filters, return, etc., and I can name all the parts of the engine and bleed it in the right sequence!
When on the 27th the engine has been running for a good hour (by the way, we are so exhausted by then we don’t even bother celebrating, not even a high five, although I later express my sincere gratitude gratitude to both our friends making them listen to the sweet hum of the engine, and to whoever heard me and answered my prayer in a few hours, why didn’t I pray earlier? ), we finally leave Algies Bay for North Cove, Kawau which we reach in less than an hour. All is not lost, the sun is shining, the water crystal clear, we make good use of Bentzon camp’s slack line and playground to stretch our legs, and kids from a nearby boat are quickly tamed and invited onto Obelix for a game of Catan with ours. And we still have more than two weeks ahead of us to fulfill our (my) sailing-to-Great-Barrier-Island dream! Although we’re taught patience once again, as strong winds and rough seas are all that is forecast in the coming days…
And crew on edge…
More than a month has passed since Obelix’ last sailing adventure and this meant countless week-ends watching, with envy, surrounding boats vacate their berth for a few days, and their crew coming back on Sunday with a tan and a beaming smile, while we were stuck at the marina with either no anchor, or an engine into pieces, or, anyway, tons of work to prepare for our three-week holidays and first extended cruise.
The to-do list was long but we’ve chipped at it diligently (mostly Thomas) and knocked off the most crucial items, so we now have:
- a newly galvanised anchor and anchor chain (that hopefully won’t get jammed in the hawse pipe as often),
- a freshly vacuumed, and bleached V-berth
- an on-board VHF in working order (which just needed to be switched to international wavelengths instead of its default USA setting)
- relevant paper charts for the trip
- a new life-jacket cartridge (the last one had popped when the life-jacket was thrown a bit too violently in the dinghy),
- a cockpit with flash varnished (epoxied) wooden slates to give it a classic look
- LED strips in aluminum channels, with switches (but still temporary dodgy wiring)
- and last but not least: a refurbished engine!!! On hearing the humming of the engine when switching it on on Sunday afternoon, we were obviously delighted, but Azur not so much “Are we going? – No we’re just testing the engine. – Good! I don’t like sailing”. With Zephyr we agreed he might have landed in the wrong family ;P
We’ve even managed to throw in some fun and educational activities in the mix. Some to keep us sane, others to entertain the kids and leave Thomas undisturbed while sweating hard, cooped up inside the engine room in his blue overalls. These included:
- a 9th birthday celebration learning how to make chocolate from roasted cocoa beans with Zephyr’s best friends at Chocola,
- a visit from Juli, my 15-year friend from Montreal, and her digital nomad partner Matt (check out his movie about Kiribati: Anote’s Ark)
- learning the ropes with our pier neighbour Rod, who volunteered to help us optimise Obelix spider web for easy mooring next time we land at the marina (unlike the Sunday he witnessed us panicking as Obelix was drifting away from its berth and menacingly towards the rocks and Vicky had to tow us to let the boat pivot back in the right direction for us to regain control of it).
- 2-year old Tara’s birthday party
- a special camping trip with our Big House family, which led to another golden comment by Azur who helped me set up the tent: “I thought it would be boring to mount the tent with you mum, but it was actually fun. I like tents, you can take them places like boats, but they don’t move from side to side”,
- an afternoon cycling to Narrowneck beach and back, where the kids spent the afternoon in a pattern of rolling in the sand and washing it all off with a swim. It made me wonder why we go at lengths in an attempt to take them to exotic places where New Zealand fit the bill and they seemed perfectly happy here.
- flying the Tello drone Zephyr received for his birthday, taking our first aerial view of the marina and successfully managing a hand landing,
- a concert of Skylark at Tiny Triumphs
- a well-deserved nap after checking the engine, alternator, etc. were all working
- a musical barbecue at Rocio & Gaspar’s
- an arts & crafts session (yesterday before dinner) to create a Christmas tree, much to Azur’s relief, who was becoming very anxious Santa wouldn’t visit us for lack of tree signposting where to deliver the presents…
Tapapakanga camping trip
So no sailing lately but a lot going on, so much that we are on edge and exhausted before even starting our summer sailing adventures. No need to say that, during that time, the rule of having the boat tidy and ready to go within the hour was thrown out the window. Instead, we evolved in an uninterrupted state of chaos, with visual and physical clutter everywhere in the boat, with tools, parts, origami by dozens brought back from Kelly Club (after school care program), and makeshift Christmas trees and huts tirelessly built by Azur using any items found in his cabin. We’re slowly reining in the mess and sending love & kindness messages to our overloaded brains, that everything gonna be alright. And since we’ve finally made sense of the on-board VHF (yesterday eve), I believe we’re safe indeed.
This culminated though with an episode on Monday morning where I woke up profusely sweating, dizzy, the world spinning around me, and extremely nauseous (although when trying to empty my stomach I could only puke the glass of water Thomas had offered me a few minutes before when I told him I was unwell). Could be food poisoning, heat stroke, or vertigo due to sustained stress, I’m not sure. It went away with a few hours extra sleep, and fortunately, as we feel reasonably ready now, going forward it should be smooth sailing…