No hummus at sea!

And other lessons learnt from a memorable maiden voyage on Obelix

We were excited about this week-end, the stars had aligned and all the conditions were gathered for us to bring back Obelix safely from Whangarei to Auckland with the family:

  • low tide around 10:30 to allow smooth motoring out of the river with the receding tide in the morning,
  • light winds and sunny weather for a calm sea and stress free sail,
  • an experimented friend to join as crew for the delivery,
  • and friends who could drive our car down to Auckland while we were sailing.
First voyage on Obelix – before the drama

But this was largely because our optimism clouded our judgement and prevented us from double-checking those assumed perfect conditions…

Trying to to cut a long story short, we’ve learnt quite a few lessons the hard way, on a 9-hour navigation that took us from Whangarei Cruising Club to Sail Rock, back to Marsden Cove marina (½ hour drive South of Whangarei only), where the whole family emptied their stomach, and I got injured enough to warrant a change of tack and a trip to the emergency department.

  1. DEADLINES: We knew it, sailing should never be motivated by a deadline, a tight schedule or any time bound agenda. Here bringing the boat this weekend meant we were on schedule to make our move during the school holidays and the boys could start next term at their new school. We genuinely thought we had made the decision to bring Obelix back this weekend irrespective of this agenda, but was it really the case?
  2. PREPARATION: My take away here is that preparation doesn’t stop when the decision to go has been made. Even though we can say we prepared for this trip (gear, food, first aid kit, charts, devices, weather forecast, etc.), we missed a crucial part which was to get an update, just before going, on the weather and sea conditions, the estimated time to arrival, the condition of the gear and equipment, and how everyone was feeling about the trip. Everything seemed approximate, rushed, and unquestionable, where I feel we should have reassessed the situation on a regular basis.
  3. CREW ROLES/ACCOUNTABILITY: We also failed to assign clear roles to each crew. With two kids aboard, we needed someone to look after them, someone to helm, and someone to help with maneuvers. We took turns on a completely ad hoc basis and lacked someone to clearly be in charge. When I became out of action due to sea sickness, it wasn’t clear how to share the duties between looking after me the kids, and the boat and we had nobody to make those decisions and communicate them. In fact we had two skippers, Thomas, boat owner and experienced sailor with offshore experience, and Borja, our friend who had the most nautical miles under his belt having sailed from France to New Zealand a few years ago. But we hadn’t spelt out who was “the skipper” on this trip.
  4. COMMUNICATION: We all observed the sea was a little more rough than anticipated as soon as we left the estuary and probably felt this wasn’t the easy delivery trip we were expecting, yet no one dared to suggest we went back, until I got injured. I wish we hadn’t waited for that extreme condition to call off a trip that didn’t feel right. Next time, we’ll make sure the communication is more open, and while we have designated a skipper to make the decisions ultimately, all feel free to share their concerns.
  5. ELECTRONICS: Too many unchecked devices is worse than one reliable device fully charged. Can you believe we had a handheld GPS, a tablet and 3 mobile phones with GPS and navigation app, and a power bank, nevertheless, after a few hours four out of the five devices were out of batteries. And we turned off the last working mobile to save its power for when the night came. This added considerable stress and anxiety (yet we carried on).
  6. FOOD: Picking the right food before and during a voyage is key. First to ensure it stays in the body as much as possible and provide the necessary energy, second to make it as painless as possible if it does go out. Hummus is definitely crossed off the list, maybe because of the garlic, but it’s way too heavy on the stomach. According to a coast guard on my sea survival course last year, the best food is strawberry yoghurt: it tastes the same both ways.
  7. FIRST AID: Let’s not assume everyone has done a first aid course and a quick recap as part of the safety briefing before leaving could be beneficial. When after falling (while losing my balance coming back in the cockpit after getting some fresh air in an attempt to dissipate my nausea), I saw blood dripping all over the cockpit floor, I asked for someone to help press on my forehead to stop the bleeding, I received no help because Thomas was helming, and Borja had no idea what to do. Fortunately they changed roles quickly after that and I managed to collect myself and press on my wound myself until Thomas bandaged me.

After my fall, with my forehead bandaged, the right side of my face all swollen and covered in blood, and still severely retching despite a resolutely empty stomach, I was feeling like Bruce Springsteen in his Streets of Philadephia, “bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt, I was unrecognizable to myself, I saw my reflection in a window, I didn’t know my own face”, but deep inside I was relieved we were going back to land and my seasickness nightmare would be over soon. Now that I’m all stitched up (6 external stitches just above the right eyebrow), I wonder what I will look like after I’ve healed, although all my friends and family assure me a pirate scar will only make me look more legit. Unfortunate timing a few days before the tango festival, but, hey, who knows, my physical appearance may act as a deterrent on the dance floor, or on the contrary, as a good conversation starter…

Obelix in Marsden Cove

On a positive note, all systems are go on Obelix, the boat behaved incredibly well in the messy waves, we had immensely joyful moments getting out of the estuary, Zephyr in the cockpit steering between the red and green channel buoys like a true captain under the guidance of Thomas, Azur sitting on my lap at the stern, smiling, his hair flapping in the wind like thousands of little wagging tails and telling me how he liked the movement of the boat that jumped in the waves like a dolphin. We had a smooth arrival at the marina, a nice dinner at the Land & Sea cafe before I got taken to hospital by the ambulance. I was very well looked after, got a chance to catch up with family and friends on WhatsApp when waiting on my hospital bed for nearly four hours, and then got back around midnight to a caring partner, comfortable boat and kids deeply asleep. They are not even traumatised by this somehow dramatic turn of events. Zephyr was almost disappointed when we said we would adjourn the delivery trip and leave the boat in Marsden Cove for now. For us grown ups, the uneventful Sunday was very welcome.

Sea sick crew back at home

Obelix lift seen by Azur

I wish I could share more of Azur’s drawings but they’ve all stayed on the boat, I have just managed to take a picture of that one which I thought was too good to withhold. Seeing our journey through the eyes of our kids is precious, and insightful. For example, it made me realise that at their age I probably had no idea what a propeller was, nor that every boat with an inboard would have one, hidden underneath somewhere, however, it systematically features on all of Azur’s drawings…

Obelix lift by Azur

Note that I had to draw his attention though (excuse the pun) to the fact the spreaders on his drawing were the other way round, wider on top of the shorter ones. He wouldn’t trust my word but checked by himself in the morning and came to see me and confirm I was right, the small ones should be on top…

Obelix can swim!

It feels like a cosmic realignment, as though the universe was a bit more orderly now, as though a wrong has been righted: a boat has returned to where it belonged…

June 21st might have been the shortest day of this year 2019, but it certainly wasn’t the least glorious. The boys must have felt the excitement and woke up at dawn claiming “it’s not the night, mum, it’s the morning when it’s dark”. After yet another sleepless night filled with nightmares and what ifs, I can’t say I was full of energy when the morning came (with daylight that is), but I looked at my phone and there was a message from the crane company saying “lift today?” to which I replied absolutely and noticed it was already 8:45am. I so desperately wanted to have the vinyl signs on for the lift (planned around 10:30) I jumped outside and got started under the drizzling rain. I started by admiring my topsides, freshly painted in Kumeu White the week before, removed the masking tape, dried the hull with old towels, cleaned the surface with meths, and applied the vinyl decals as best as I could (spot the error if you can on the pictures).
By 10:30, still no sign of the crane, we rang, they were running behind schedule and all we had to do was wait. We were inside the club, trying to dilute our impatience watching the kids entertain themselves with paper stars they were throwing in the air. I was motionless, as if any movement could delay the imminent arrival of the crane.
Around 11 we noticed some people around our boat and rushed outside to welcome the riggers. Everything went very fast from there (twice faster than initially quoted, a few hundreds dollars saved in the process), and the emotional levels peaked first when the boat was lifted off its cradle, and a second time when it was finally freed on the water, Thomas and the kids jumping on board immediately, while I stayed behind taking dozens of pictures.
This lifting the boat operated on us on a metaphorical level too, as it seemed to take away a heavy weight we were carrying on our shoulders for months. Ensued huge smiles on everybody’s face, high fives and fist bumps that I pass on replay in my head ever since.

After settling on our new pontoon berth and making sure no water was getting in, we took the family to a nice luncheon by the water at the town basin. I don’t think our exhilaration went unnoticed from waiters and patrons alike as we definitely had the most agitated table of all.
One thought was still clouding our mind though: what about the engine? Thomas wanted to start pulling it apart asap as advised by the mechanics, I wanted to put everything back together and give it a try ourselves, just in case. Back at the club around 4 pm I happened to bump into a club member discussing with Womble about our engine issue. He claimed to be a marine engineering and he didn’t buy the story of an issue with the injector pump. He had seen the engine running the year before, just after the oil had been changed, and was both curious and generous enough to have a look with his own eyes. He and Thomas spent the next half hour by the engine applying a good dose of magic and, in equal amount, marine CRC, while I was in charge of operating the throttle and kill switch back and forth, and up and down. We finally gave a it a go, they left me the privilege of turning the engine key, and the engine …
… drum rolls …
… was RUNNING!!!
Our happiness couldn’t have been more complete. I let out a huge scream that could be heard from the other side of the marina, as our new sailor friends Mike and Jeanette reported later that night when we had dinner with them.
Elation. Relief. Freedom.

In Obelix’ bowels

First Friday off without having to drive up to Whangarei (getting fined on the way): let’s take some time to post pictures of inside Obelix…

Antifouling ✓

Another weekend, another mission ticked
Here we are with a fully covered bottom! After Thomas and I finished the last of the 14 coats of epoxy/fairing/primer/antifouling on Sunday, you might think we kissed languorously, hugged each other, and jumped in the air, arms up high in large victory signs. I wish. Instead, I somehow had mixed feelings, and the relief and pride were offset by disappointment (realising what a sh@%$! job we had done with the fairing), burn-out, and the daunting list of jobs that still needed to be done to “restore [Obelix] back to her former glory”, to quote the ad from the broker.
And indeed, during our digestive walk after lunch that day, we could only admire, and be jealous of, the mirror-polished hulls of the Riverside marina fancy yachts. Looks like a lifetime away for us!

Next: help us answer a crucial question
Given our initially selected Sunbrella Azure is not available in our region, what colour should we choose for our new spray dodger ?

Antifouling part I

Or when you learn the difference between epoxy and antifouling paint

Just the antifouling left…
So we were done with our seven coats of epoxy and, “only”, had to apply the antifouling. Two coats of primer, three coats of antifouling that is, but no mixing to do, no sticky sleeve to change every so often, no time pressure to apply wet on wet: easy-peasy, that’s a week-end’s job at most, fingers in the nose!

Devil is in the details, or in the tech sheets
Well, not so fast did we learn from the spec sheet: unlike epoxy, recoat time for primer and antifouling (at least for our selected brand Jotun) was 8 hours this time (6 min. according to the rep we called to double-check), and actually primer needed to be mixed and left to settle for 30 minutes before painting! It doesn’t take long to calculate that there are not that many coats you can do in a day, in fact 2 is the absolute maximum if you start the first one at 8-10am and the second around 4pm (with a sunset around 5:15pm). Conclusion: two days were not going to be enough. To which my competitive self replied “Nervermind! I’ll come up on Friday by myself, will apply one coat of primer and we will have Saturday and Sunday to finish the job with Thomas”. In my immense optimism, I had even invited our friends Elodie and Nigel to partake in the painting mission and celebrate with us afterwards. (No, let’s be realistic for a moment, I knew we needed help, if not physically, at least mentally)

Nig and Elo in action

Ready, set, go!
Thomas and Claire had agreed to look after our kids for the week-end so everything was going to be easy! I’m glad to say, by the time Thomas had finished his day’s work and dropped the kids on Friday night, I was done with my first coat of primer after getting some extra sleeves, painting the bottom of the topsides, removing the masking tape, putting new masking tape in place to cover the topsides, mixing the primer, and covering the ~43sqm (yipee!). That is, a good hour after sunset, finishing under the bright light of the blessed streetlamp (which in all other occasions I dearly curse as it disturbs my fragile sleep while staying on the boat).

Sweet antifouling…
On Saturday, with four people, the painting job (one coat primer, one coat antifouling) was relatively smooth and I must add that applying a coat of super covering smurf-blue antifouling on a white primer is an experience of an orgasmic nature.

I love Thomas, I love my boat, I love antifouling (but I’m bloody tired all the same)

However of course there were unplanned “small” jobs to carry out like fixing the fairing pieces at the bottom of the rudder, sanding the latter and catching up with a coat of primer, etc. which meant that there was not so much time to twiddle our thumbs, and actually I had blisters on both… We had a much deserved glorious dinner at the Parua Bay Tavern and came back early to keep some energy to tackle the next day.

Sun outage
After a poor night’s sleep, I made a late appearance in the saloon to discover Thomas and Elodie, idle having a chat as if nothing was pressing. And I realised our energy-depleted bodies had been offered a rest by a lenient Tāwhirimātea who had opted for an indisputable rainy day. We still sent Thomas up the mast to fix the main halyard which Azur had pulled form the mast a few weeks before, we tidied up and left rainy Whangarei without looking back late that morning, stopping for an amazingly tasty brocoli and choko soup at my beloved Eutopia cafe in Kaiwaka.

Thomas on top of the mast trying to put the halyard back in