Obelix on the rocks

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.
And bump.
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…

Love and kindness message from Zephyr
Boats rule

Fare-whale decade!

Recipe for the best day of 2019

Ingredients

  • 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)

Directions

  1. Wake up at 5 a.m. and realise it is still pitch black
  2. Wait for some light and start the engine
  3. Raise anchor
  4. Celebrate the engine endurance (cf. Christmas in the engine room)
  5. Hoist sails
  6. Watch sunrise eating breakfast in the cockpit
  7. Greet young sailors as they wake up
  8. Check speed with engine on neutral
  9. Switch off engine
  10. Sail!
  11. Plug autopilot
  12. Help young sailors as they vomit their breakfast
  13. Lift their spirits inventing stupid knock-knock jokes
  14. Take pictures and videos
  15. Spot a whale squirt and flip fins
  16. Try to spot other marine animals
  17. Sail. Sail. Sail.
  18. Watch coastline getting closer
  19. Find iconic bay and anchor (e.g. Smokehouse Bay)
  20. Get a surprise spotting some friends bright yellow ‘Goldfinger’ boat
  21. Have lunch and soak in the feeling of achievement
  22. Get visit from Goldfinger’s crew and have drinks onboard Obelix
  23. Get interrupted by Zephyr all excited that someone is calling us on the radio
  24. Struggle with VHF poor reception to make plans with friends who were indeed calling us from another bay
  25. Jump on dinghy to go ashore
  26. Watch kids have fun on the swings and take hot shower
  27. Greet other friends as they’ve made it to Smokehouse Bay
  28. Go back to Obelix altogether
  29. Dress up
  30. Dance tango on deck
  31. 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)
  32. Go back to beach and socialise
  33. Watch Thomas’ fire poi dance
  34. Retreat back to the boat well before midnight
  35. Snuggle under the blankets
  36. Hear the final countdown in the distance
  37. Smile
  38. Sleep

Reviews

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!

Christmas in the engine room

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.

Eyes set on Great Barrier Island
Ad Hoc’s crew on Obelix

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…