Hot showers are now possible on Obelix! But, beware, far from a modern life entitlement, taking a hot shower on our boat is a well deserved reward that comes only after following a precise protocol, involving lots of steps, and a fair amount of pumping, which has, let it be said, the side benefits of exercising both arms and legs, as well as limiting the water usage; to roughly 4 litres, i.e. ten times less than the average 4-minute conventional shower.
Pump water to fill the kettle (foot pump under the sink, approx. 15 up and down foot actions required)
Put the kettle to boil (manually switch on the gas with a long neck lighter)
Poor hot water in the garden sprayer
Pump water to fill the kettle (15 more up and down foot actions)
Poor cold water in the garden sprayer
Pump water to fill the kettle (15 more up and down foot actions)
Poor cold water in garden sprayer – you read correctly, one has to repeat the operation to get the proper temperature, and it’d better be right because there is no way to adjust it once in the shower 😅
Remove the carpet in the head (bathroom)
Pump to pressurise the garden sprayer (approx. 10 manual actions required)
Pull the curtains around you to protect the bathroom (the shower is between the toilet and the sink)
Press the spray (shower position) to get the water flowing
Press the spray to rinse (you might have to pump again to get more pressure at this stage)
Clean up the floor with the shower squeegee to get most of the water down to the bilge
Switch on the electric pump to get the water from the bilge to the bathroom sink
Switch off the pump
Put the dehumidifer on as the bathroom is probably by now full of steam and there is no window!
A ceremony we don’t indulge in daily (we have our french reputation to uphold after all!) but a luxury we really do enjoy when the weather is bad (or we’re lazy) and the stroll to the marina ablution block just feels too much of a hassle. It is also a lot more convincing for the young Padawans, who, at this stage, are not asked to prepare their shower themselves, and we don’t need to look for $2 coins!!!
For a week we deserted Obelix and ran in the arms of Mrs Geriatrix, our Jucy campervan, to embark on a winter South Island adventure, take a breath of fresh air, marvel at Southern Alps dramatic scenery, and teach our kids a bit of Aotearoa geography, which latest conversations with workmates revealed was not necessarily on NZ school curriculum.
After the stressful experience of an early start, unexpected traffic at 6 am on a Saturday because of roadworks on the last stretch to the airport, and the checking of our luggage just two minutes before cut-off time, we finally found ourselves seated on the plane which took off despite heavy weather conditions. The pilot attempted to escape the turbulence trying three different altitudes, to no avail, and while some passengers made good use of the sickness bags provided, the bumpy ride didn’t deter us from enjoying our very own breakfast with home-made french crepes with Nutella, and arrive in Queenstown with a full stomach.
No sooner did we land that Azur exclaimed “Now let’s jump in our van and drive away!”. And so we did, after a shuttle ride to the rental company, a lengthy briefing by the agent, and a pit stop at the nearest supermarket. Slightly overcast, the day was warmer and a lot dryer than any forecast we had checked and allowed us to drive to Milford Sound without snow chains. Still, they proved useful when, venturing in the forest just past Te Anau, we stumbled upon a lonely camper who had gotten his van stuck in the muck. In real professionals, Thomas and I each took a chain to fit on the rear tires, as we had been instructed by the rental agent (during the lengthy briefing), and helped the guy free his vehicle pushing while he was driving backwards. We also made a mental note to come back, as the spot was perfect for freedom camping.
In contrast, our first night in Milford Sound, parked discreetly behind a concrete building out of sight from the main road, but nonetheless blatantly ignoring the no camping signs planted everywhere on the car park deserted in winter, wasn’t so charming, and the cold and fear of being dislodged by the authorities kept me up more than I would have wished. On the flip side, we were the first ones on site the next morning, enjoying the views undisturbed by any tourist and could go on an earlier non-crowded cruise where we saw seals & dolphins, got baptised under waterfalls, and learnt the difference between a sound and a fjord.
After a mere six-hundred-kilometre detour to get to Milford Sound, we owed our kids to do a fun activity when back in Queenstown and so we jumped on the Gondola (the Tiki Trail being unfortunately closed as they were taking down trees) for a few rides on the Skyline luge. After the first one though we had an issue with Azur adamant it was way too scary, that he would not do it again, and claiming that “nothing [was] going to change [his] mind!” However, witnessing how much fun his dad and brother had, and some bribing won him over and he accepted to ride again, but in tandem with me this time. I took it as a personal challenge to let him experience the fast-pace thrill while feeling safe in his mum’s care, and tried my best to be as fast as possible. Us crashing on the curves did scare him a bit but not enough to rub off the huge grin on his face. And to congratulate everyone of their good efforts, we then indulged a decadent afternoon at Fergbaker with lemon meringue slice, apple pie and vanilla ice cream, almond chocolate croissant, caramel eclair, and oh, so good, creamy hot chocolate.
Being a road trip, we didn’t have much more time to dedicate to Queenstown and then drove towards Wanaka, stopping for the night at the Kawarau Bridge, birth of commercial bungy jumping. We managed to convince the kids to hike to the top of Rocky Mountain, with the incentive that if they did it in the 3 hours suggested by the DOC we would have time to go to Puzzling World. And so, full of beans and with a spring in their step, they walked, ahead of us most of time, reaching the summit in no time with rosy cheeks and satisfied sighs and went back down with the same enthusiasm, despite completely soaked non water-proof shoes, as the track followed a stream with no other options than stepping into it more than once.
Another long day of driving took us from Wanaka to Mt Cook where a short walk to Kea Point lent itself to a photo session with views of Mt Cook National Park mountains and glaciers as the background and no one else in sight. Well worth the trip, as per a lady passed on our way who advised that before Covid one couldn’t even enjoy the views because of the number of tourists.
We drove back to our exclusive freedom camping site next to Lake Pukaki, aptly named “The Pines” after the number of pine trees surrounding the area. Except they had all been chopped down! When life brings you lemons, make lemonade, and when it gives you wood, make fire. That’s what Thomas thought anyway, and I’m impressed he found the energy, after such a long day, to light up a very reluctant fire. This led to a spontaneous fire dancing show improvised by the kids who lit up sticks and waved them around, with amber glowing in the night in all sorts of shapes.
That was quite timely as it started raining shortly after and it didn’t stop until the morning. Our drive to Tekapo the next day confirmed that what was rain in the valley, was actually snow further up, and a white lining was covering the fields. We jumped on the occasion to stop by the side of the road for a snowball fight with fresh powder. After which we had to warm up somehow, and what better place to do that than in a hot bath… at Tekapo Hot Springs (where everyone had had the same idea, and the network being down, it felt like queuing at Disneyland).
We also managed to get a private tour of the Tekapo Observatory after mentioning Thomas had engineered the composite dome and hit the road again for our final stop in Hakatere Reserve in Ashton, an hour and something South of Christchurch where we were due to fly the next day.
The morning was glorious, with a bright blue sky (couldn’t the clouds have vanished before, so we could do some stargazing in one of the darkest place in the planet, go figure!). A stroll on the pebbles beach let us observe a seal playfully surfing the waves and waving his flipper as if to say bye-bye. Not before one last stop to have lunch with an old-time friend settled in Lyttleton.
With a coast to coast road trip totaling around 1,400 kilometres and six nights of freedom camping where peeing at night involved the excruciating mission of stepping out of the campervan into the freezing cold, these were not the most relaxing holidays, but creating memories isn’t a relaxing business, is it?
Eager to find out, we organised Azur’s birthday party at the marina, with no other plan B than using Obelix and the marina lounge for shelter in case of extreme weather. Needless to say that as the week-end approached, and, with it, its sub-optimal forecast, the weakness of our plan B kept me up all night, worrying about how to handle all these kids’ energy on a rainy day, and coming up with ideas of activities that could be done in the rain, keeping kids warm and entertained. Parents were also warned to bring rain jackets as we would hold the party outdoors not matter what (no way I would stay indoors for two hours, in a confined area, surrounded by thirteen kids!).
Fortunately the sky gods were with us and not a single drop fell between 2 and 4pm, which allowed us to make the most of the marina settings and offer our thirteen Padawans, aged 5 to 10, a rather unconventional program.
We started with trolley races on the green, which took an unexpected turn when us parents raced each other and the excited kids begged us to be next to jump in our trolley given how much faster we were going compared to their friends. However the fun was cut short due to both our limited level of fitness. Then we took a walk on the wrong pier to look for Obelix (I had mentioned to Zephyr we might have moved the boat for this), and after finally spotting the boat from behind, the kids ran to the correct pier for a brief visit of our floating home. One Padawan required a bit of convincing to jump onboard observing that it ‘moved’. After taking a few pictures as proof, we invited the kids back on the green for a scavenger hunt where they had to collect clues, drawings by Azur carefully slid inside ziplock bags and behind which I had written where to meet next: the marina lounge. We then had the much expected afternoon tea where a Yoda green apple and an Ewok coconut were safely guarding the rest of the Star Wars-themed snacks that Thomas had spent his Friday off preparing. Red and green grapes light sabers disappeared in a flash, the somewhat overcooked Wookie cookies didn’t deter the kids, and there was a queue to paint jumbo marshmallows with chocolate sauce and turn them into edible Storm Troopers. When everyone was sweetened-up, we had a crazy pinata session outside the lounge, with a pinata so full it was already bursting open and needed to be taped before proceeding, followed by fair and square distribution of the lollies, and finally opening of the presents.
The entire afternoon was a great success which didn’t warrant any of the worrying of the night before. A worthwhile investment considering Zephyr comment “I can’t believe how quick two hours can go”, and Azur who had “his best birthday party ever” and has been busy since, building his Star Wars lego kits while wearing his new Jedi outfit.
The evening was spent winding down in front of a movie: Star Wars episode III.
In the last few weeks, while I was indulging my parallel life as a dance addict (3 classes and 3 social dancing events of salsa, bachata, kizomba, tango and african dance in the last week alone), Thomas has been hard at work, coordinating and finalising the install of our new marinised Lister Petter engine. And on Sunday, when I was out (needless to say dancing, to wrap up a frustrating week-end of domestic chores, and witnessing a couple of failed attempts at adjusting the throttle control which took almost a day each), he texted me saying “it’s done!”. Of course I shared his excitement from a distance, nevertheless I had to hear it for myself, so, when I got back at 10:30pm, I didn’t wait for the morning and switched it on to check. Then we could celebrate.
I feel guilt and shame (emotions I now know to be on the lowest end of the spectrum of human consciousness according to Dr. Hawkins, as quoted in a workshop at NZ Spirit Fest) for my lack of involvement, but hey, at least I wasn’t much in the way, and nor were the kids who were at a holiday camp for the best part of last week.
Here is the new engine arriving a couple of days before Thomas’ birthday all suitably wrapped up, and all the action I missed as I was snorkeling in Kelly Tarlton’s fish tank in an attempt to tame my fear of sharks:
It took a few extra weeks to find time between the mechanics and us to:
adjust the mounts to fix it to the boat
connect the new dashboard
change the fuel lines entirely (which involved cutting new paths for the bigger pipes and switching to two returns instead of one, allowing us to run on one tank only should the need arise)
clean the hardly accessible fuel tanks (an entire Wednesday night squatting on the floor equipped with a dish brush circlipped to a wooden stick, a funnel, a bottle of kerosene and a Alemlube pump, and head torches, transferring all the fuel from one tank to the other, trying to dilute and ‘vacuum’ all the dirt at the bottom, and repeating the operation for the second tank)
get new fuel filters, from a friend who, bless serendipity, happens to be one of the biggest clients for this brand of engines and add some spares
manufacture and install a bracket to mount the new fuel filters
fix the electricity (the first time they tried to start the engine the engine battery wouldn’t work while the switch to emergency paralleling blew a fuse)
switch and adjust the two alternators
manufacture and install a new exhaust
add priming pumps on each fuel line
adjust the throttle control (final tweaks done last night while I was out dancing, again, to make sure the idle position was at reasonable low rev)
It’s been a long time coming, but after three months of forced sedentary life, the gaping hole in the engine room is no longer, and Obelix is all set to go out to sea again!!!
Dan (a friend with lots of equipment borrowed from his boat builder dad, it helps, a lot)
Time: 10 hours (excl. prep work the days before)
Remove all secondary bits from the engine block while still in place (injector pump, )
Spray CRC/WD40 on bolts holding the engine to the gearbox and hull – every evening during the week preceding the operation
Wake up early-ish
Put on blue overalls, ready to roll
Loosen the bolts that needs undone (easier said than done, fortunately no knuckles were harmed in the process)
Build a structure to secure the gearbox (horizontal beam fixed to holds screwed on the engine room walls)
Secure the gearbox so that it doesn’t collapse when free from the engine (using the aforementioned structure, strap, and wooden blocks)
Remove bolts on gearbox (x12) and screws fixing the engine legs to the boat (x8)
Grind the one bolt that refuses to give (near miss: a towel used as rag nearly caught fire)
Jump in the car to get Dan’s scaffolding equipment stored in our friend Gaspar’s garden
Build a makeshift crane in the cockpit
Jump in the car and rush to the nearest construction site to collect some additional wooden bits to brace the scaffolding with diagonal beams.
Secure the engine to the chain-block
Move the engine horizontally front to back to come free of the gearbox shaft (involves crowbar)
Lift the engine through the cockpit hatch
Remove cockpit awning and metallic structure holding it
Slide engine backwards rolling the metallic tubes
Rotate engine sideways
Build a second makeshift crane hanging from the boom for transfer on the pier (using main halyard + jib halyard as backup, and reef line used as out-haul)
Wait for the rain to pass (includes preparing and drinking hot chocolate, and ordering some takeaway pizza in anticipation of the evening celebration)
Secure engine to the second crane
Put back engine room lid
Lift engine enough to clear cockpit walls and winch
Push boom to the side
Lower engine in trolley
Once again I couldn’t hold my cry of elation when the whole operation ended successfully. Dan’s family heard us a few piers away and immediately joined the party, followed by our friend Max (who conveniently came to offer his help once everything was over ;P). I escaped to get our pizzas, which must have been waiting to be collected for a good couple of hours (I was resolutely optimistic about the time it would to complete the job). And as I returned with our large luke warm Il Giardino and Sotto il Mare (from Toni’s), and our kids who had spent most of the day watching cartoons and playing computer games in the marina lounge, we were offered extra pieces of pizza left over by our pier neighbour Rod. We must have been hungry by then (~7pm) as the pizzas all disappeared in a flash, while Dan and Max were busy discussing Classic Yacht Association related stuff…
Departing from the idyllic Okahu Passage is not an easy thing, but we’ve been promised wonders in the Cavalli Island and the much praised Whangaroa harbour, so, as soon as we’re up, we hoist the sails to venture further up North, and when the Cavalli Islands are in sight, we see in Kahangaro Island, the quintessential miniature deserted island bound to satisfy our Robinson Crusoe desires. We can’t resist the sight of the tiny white sandy beach, surrounded by scenic rocks, ornamented with a few (non native) phoenix palm trees to complete the picture, and alter our course for a closer examination, even though it is not flagged as an anchorage on any of our charts. And, as it turns out, as soon as we drop anchor, I can see rocks behind us, beneath the surface that make me very uncomfortable and completely rule out my leaving Obelix to go ashore. I make the call to bugger off. Too bad for our Robinson Crusoe aspirations!
Papatara Bay, Cavalli Islands – where my heart nearly stopped
Instead we carry on to Papatara (Horsehoe) Bay, bigger, sheltered and lovely, except the sand is grey, and coarse, and there is already a zoom-zoom (my affectionate term for fizz boats) anchored there. Not the same free and adventurous feeling. Anyway, in no time Thomas is off exploring the underwater world to bring us lunch, so it won’t make much of a difference to him, and we’ve got a mission of our own: baking Kakahu Road cookies. A few batches to go through, in our tiny unevenly-temperature-regulated oven, before heading to the beach. Every now and then I pop my head out to see where Thomas’ got to. I can now see him a few hundred meters away from the boat, near a reef. All of a sudden I can see big arm movements. He waves at us frantically once. Then a second time, then nothing. I wait, but his body barely moves, I can’t see what’s going on. My brain starts wondering why he’s trying to get our attention, why he’s not clearer about his intentions, and wonder how would someone in trouble call for help from the water, what is happening that I cannot see. It has to be beneath the surface. My heart accelerates, I oscillate between panic and reason, nothing bad is happening, otherwise I would hear screams, or would I? But in doubt, I don’t want to be the wife who stayed behind, baking her cookies while her partner was in distress, getting attacked by a shark or something, alone in the water with no one else to call for help. So I resolve to rush to him, switch off the oven, jump in the dinghy with the boys, and off we go, my heart pumping faster than it ever has. When we get closer, I can see Thomas’ body lying at the surface, face down in the water, not moving, awful sight if you ask me, so I scream at the top of my lungs “THOMAS!”. His head suddenly lifts up, he seems surprised to see us. I explain to him trembling what went through my head, and he explains he’s chasing a fish hidden in the kelp, but a seagull keeps assaulting him for being too close to his nest, so he was just trying to scare it away… Pointless fright, now I need an uneventful afternoon to recover from it.
Owhatanga Bay, Whangaroa
The entrance in Whangaroa is as described on every blog, fjord-like, no more white sand and friendly beaches, instead, when turning North towards lane cove, we’re transported in a very different atmosphere, more mystic, almost hostile, with murky water, abrupt hills, covered with lush green forest and dark grey rocks erected like Easter Island statues. Indiana Jones is hiding nearby, I’m sure. We motor around before deciding to stay the night in Owhatanga Bay for its calm, peace, and prolonged sun light.
Being anchored in Owhatanga bay next to Rainbow II was a real honour, as Azur solemnly declared when I read out loud this classic old lady’s curriculum and how, with multiple races won during her 50-year tenure on the water, she was an iconic figure of New Zealand boating history.
13 January: Whangaroa marina, Whangaroa
Azur’s complaining, The rock’s too high for walking, The view’s worth it though.
14 January: Whangaihe, Northland
What do you do when you spot an idyllic little bay tucked away and vacant, but you still have a little way to go to your next destination? You make a mental note and say, on our way back we’ll stop there. And if you’re lucky, sometimes you return indeed, to find the same little bay vacant all the same, waiting to be checked out and declared the greatest anchorage of the holidays (until dethroned by a new one).
15 January: Opito Bay, Bay of Islands
Tina for dinner, What a treat, and an honour, Joy, smiles, and laughter.
16 January: Paihia / Roberton Island, Bay of Islands
Deep Water Cove, Bay of Islands
Who said sailing was not a sport never practiced the art of acro-cooking, consisting in preparing dinner on Obelix sailing at 7 knots, leaning on a reasonable angle, wedged in the galley, legs spread wide against the cupboards so as to secure a standing position despite the jolts, rushing to get every handful of chopped veggies to the saucepan before they fly away everywhere, with a kitchen knife taking every opportunity to slide away on the other side of the workbench. My reward for practicing my sea legs with determination, if not poise, is a delicious meal followed by a gorgeous sunset.
17 January: Deep Water Cove to Kawau, sailing by night
Wakey, wakey, rise and shine, the menu of the morning is packed! We go onshore to stretch our legs on a portion of the Cape Brett track, until the kids decide it is enough, and we wrap up our Bay Of Islands visit with one last snorkeling session.
Then we’re off for our longest navigation to date on Obelix, an estimated 20 hours to cover 90-100 nautical miles and reach Kawau Island the next day at sunrise. Unless we change our mind and carry on to Tryphena despite the South-West announced for the rest of the week, which would make our return to Auckland a tad tricky. No, Kawau it is, or we can always decide later. The first part of the trip is quite exhilarating with 2 to 3 metre high swell and decent Northerly winds, the boat goes well, above 7 knots effortlessly. Clearing the Poor Knights on the East, we discover the hidden face of the island, which presents an intriguingly large black hole, like an open mouth in the rock, says Zephyr.
By then we’re heading straight towards fog and rain. We quickly close the cockpit to protect us from the elements and after a few showers with very poor visibility, it clears again and a magnificent rainbow forms behind us. The sun is slowly going down, time to get some supper, put the kids to bed, and start night watches. Thomas gets the first one. The conditions are not what you call comfortable, so unsurprisingly the boys struggle to fall asleep. Azur asks for a bucket just in case, and while Thomas gets a couple from the lazarette, (one for us too, just in case), I invite them to come back in the cockpit for a bit. I can hear from by bunk that Thomas treats them to a bedtime story in the dark wilderness. After which they settle more easily. The next morning when I ask them, they are enchanted by this experience and the opportunity to stay up late and navigate by night. According to Azur “It was really dark, and it was fun because we didn’t know where we were going”.
When my watch comes, it’s another story. I have barely closed an eye as it was so bumpy, I’m still exhausted from the day, in a bad mood and my stomach not quite as settled as I would like it to be. The wind has changed direction advises Thomas and we’re now sailing 5-6 knots upwind, which explains the creaking of the lines I heard when he trimmed the genoa. I quickly appreciate I’m not up for a couple of hours in these conditions on my own, so we agree to reduce the sail area, replacing the genoa by the stay sail, then putting the genoa back only a it furled, to manage our speed and stabilise the boat. He goes to bed and I’m trying to find a comfortable position to listen to podcasts (from the list recommended by Maria Popova in her post “9 podcasts for a fuller life”). I start with “The Secret History of Thoughts” and have to stop after a few minutes, as I realise that the gore images that run through my head, on hearing about someone’s dark and uncontrollable thoughts of stabbing his wife, are not going to help my unstable stomach. So I switch to one podcast on creativity, with interviews of Sting, Elisabeth Gilbert and Dame Gillian Lynn. It proves very inspiring, and I love listening to their life stories while staring at Orion’s belt outside, monitoring our course on the tablet from time to time. Nonetheless, the bucket in the corner of my eye is also trying to grab my attention and finally wins the battle. Fortunately I stay relatively operational. Azur wakes up at one point to go to the loo, undisturbed by the crazy movements of the boat, but he can’t fall back to sleep because of the croaking of the autopilot, so I take back the helm for an hour or so. Being at the helm by night doesn’t have the same calming effect as during daytime, I can’t see a thing, except black all around me, and white foam crashing against the hull, which is scarily hypnotic. I find it extremely difficult to focus, and at one point I get a fright looking at a light I hadn’t seen before, thinking it is a very close vessel, when it’s just a star, quite low on the horizon. And how paradoxical that I should deploy so much energy fighting the urge to doze off when on watch, and desperately trying to get some sleep when I’m off them. Still, each time I hear the sound of Thomas getting prepared down below, I celebrate in my head the imminent arrival of my saviour!
18 January: Bon Accord, Kawau Island
The sun rises without me witnessing it the next morning and taking my last watch when it is already daytime comes as a relief. The strong breeze is building up again. We’re almost there. I attempt a tack on my own to enter Kawau Bay but it wakes Thomas who comes to the rescue. We finally reach Schoolhouse Bay around 10 am, and although poorly sheltered, we stay there for a nap, and a dinghy mission to the pub (think togs and rain jacket, knowing we’re going to get drenched with the waves crashing on our small inflatable) to get a lunch and take a professional video call.
18-20 January: Burgess Bay, Kawau Island
On hearing about our arrival on Kawau, our Calypsoian friends invite us to meet them in their newly found paradise, and Kawau’s best kept secret: Burgess Bay. We stay there three nights, finally taking some time off sailing to relax, explore the beach, take shelter from the occasional shower under rocky caves, miss the visiting dolphins while taking a nap, meet seasoned sailors and listen to their stories, surf, see a shark fin while being towed by Dan’s dinghy trying to surf, promptly request to be helped out of the water, have a blind taste of three types of fish caught by Dan and Thomas on a spearfishing mission (rock cod, butterfish and snapper). And on the last morning, be the only boat left in the bay. Yoga on deck, skinny dip, pancakes, sails up, weighing anchor with bare hands. Our Robinson’s dream at last.
21 January: Mullet Bay, Motutapu
Calypso have left early, concerned the wind would drop, whereas this is not on our radar, we’ve taken the morning easy, and on the contrary the wind seems to rise way beyond forecast. And indeed, when we look at the now casting, after a rushed lunch in sub-optimal anchorage off Tiritiri Matangi (Fisherman’s Bay), it reads 37 knots peak. It feels adventurous, yet comfortable. Azur is sleeping, Zephyr is wedged in my favorite spot just above the companion way. I’m at the helm while Thomas is having a rest, the music is pumping with my singalong playlist in shuffle, and I can barely believe my ears when it plays, out of 96 songs, these three one right after the other: “Wind of change”, “Wonderful life” (which first line goes “Here I go, out to sea again”), and “Le vent” (“The Wind”). Serendipity, I like the sound of you!
When we arrive in Mullet Bay, a little cove which doesn’t leave room for many boats, we try to sneak in and anchor between the beach and the other two or three boats already there, but switching the engine off leaves us unconvinced. The wind whirls down the hill, we don’t feel sheltered enough, and we look at the rocks on our left with skepticism. Azur then pops his head out to assess the situation, he asks “Mum, is it high tide or low tide?” I advise the water is nearly fully in, so he carries on “Mmmh, these rocks might be an issue when we’re at low tide”. And we can only agree with his wise words so we leave once again. heading to Waiheke, Let’s slowly reconnect with civilisation we both agree.
On departing Mullet Bay, Thomas announces we’ve lost our dinghy. I immediately feel guilty imagining a knot not tied properly, but nope, the line is still there very much attached to Obelix, however there is nothing on the other end except the stainless steel buckle usually attached to the dinghy. A quick call to the Coastguard provides hope, as we’re told a dinghy corresponding to our description has just been found by the maritime police. We then ring the police, and get through their call centre, who know nothing, and after a lengthy phone conversation and the feeling nothing will ever come out of it, we call back the coastguards who pass our number to the maritime police, who send us an email, we look at the pictures of our supposed dinghy, it’s loading, suspense, suspense… That’s not it, not even close, not even warranting us pretending it is ours. We definitely lost our dinghy somewhere between Kawau and Rakino (in a video shot before passing the Rakino channel, I can see the dinghy is already missing), probably drifting towards Great Barrier by now.
21-23 January: Oneroa, Waiheke
Where have the three nights we stayed on Waiheke gone, I still wonder. We spend them slowing down even more, reducing to a bare minimum the number of daily activities, as if to retain the passing of time which inevitably draws our holidays to an end. A couple of picnics and dinner with friends. A visit to the library. A movie, Back to the future III, the last of the trilogy and it’s Sunday morning, time to go.
24 January: Back to Bayswater Marina
After 31 days away, being back at the marina at exactly two to two on Sunday, ready to jump in the car to get up the road to Julian’s birthday at 2pm, that’s what I call a meticulous timing.
Now we’re grounded for the next foreseeable future. A diesel leak that worsened throughout the summer got Thomas busy watching countless YouTube videos in an attempt to fix it. But when everything was back together, the engine wouldn’t start and the mechanics who paid us a visit last Saturday advised it wasn’t worth spending more time, effort and money on repairing an engine that didn’t compress well anyway. After nearly 45 years, it looks like our Perkins 4108 did its time and needs to be replaced… With the new lockdown just announced, what a timing!
Memories of bliss times on the water slowly recede, while the tide brings back the daily routine of land-bound life. Let my heart not sink but stay buoyant, by recalling the vivid impressions of heightened senses, absence of commitments, and communion with nature.
500 miles, 34 anchorages, 12 islands, 7 hikes, 1 night navigation, 1 lost dinghy, and countless encounters with marine life, and human beings in an exquisite summer cruise along the Hauraki Gulf and Northland, celebrated in images, haikus and prose.
24 December: Owhanake Bay, Waiheke Island
Southwest spiraling Christmas feast with friends missing Morning skateboard stunts
25 December: Carey Bay, Waiheke Island
Three whanau tahi Frolicking in sea and sand. Best holiday vibes!
26 December: Port Jackson, Coromandel
Obelix and crew Claiming the long sandy beach Until the wind rose.
26 December: Colville channel
After the morning stillness which, determined to get to Great Barrier that day we had to disturb by the thrum of our engine, the breeze, although on the forecast, has taken us by surprise. Despite white caps proliferating on the water, our hair floating horizontally, and the impossibility to hear each other because of the whirling wind, we maintain our composure getting the dinghy back on deck to get away as soon as we can, taking two reefs in the main and opting for the stay sail. No sooner are we venturing in the open sea, that we hear the VHF calling ‘Obelix, Obelix, Obelix for Cirrus, we can see you!” What a pleasant surprise, and a relief. Someone knows we’re here, and the boat we distinguish in the distance, the only one, is sailed by friends and not pirates! I still look back regularly to make sure we take the untamed waves – that come crashing from behind – in a decent angle and don’t send the boat flip-flopping too much, but I’m afraid I miss a few times, and everything inside the cabin that can fall does so with a loud bang. No rest for my adrenal glands though, as if the wild waves were not enough, I soon find myself exclaiming “A whale!”, quickly followed by “Shit, a whale, what should I do?”. Which inspired the following haiku:
Smooth whale back bobs up ahead. Swiftly bearing away. Adrenaline rush
No time to grab the camera, the boys just manage to pop their head in the cockpit to glimpse the shadow of the massive marine mammal swimming away on starboard. The rest of the trip is spent eyes glued to the tablet to monitor our speed which peaks above 9 knots at times, when I manage to get Obelix surfing the waves. An exhilarating feeling but tiring nonetheless. So much so that when we arrive in Whangaparapara, I formally request a break to flush the adrenaline from my system.
26 December: Whangaparapara, Great Barrier
No track, only tombs. Winds can’t you give us a break We deserve a rest.
27 December: Smokehouse Bay, Great Barrier Island
Some things don’t change and just deliver on their promise, year after year. This is the case of Smokehouse Bay which Zephyr has been eagerly waiting for. We even manage to sneak in and secure the best anchorage, a stone’s throw from the beach.
Ochre, teal promise Pizza, shower, swing, shop and mates, Social oasis.
A view, two, or three, Take my mind and breathe away. Magnificent sea.
New Year’s Eve in Smokehouse Bay
Bis repetita Of the past year’s favourite bit, Friends dancing on deck.
French new year’s greetings After a short night sleeping, Splash, pancakes, sails up.
1 January: Miners Bay, Great Barrier Island
Secluded, abrupt Bay, fine for spearfishing and new year’s beach clean-up.
2 January: Burgess Island, Mokohinaus
Boil-ups and pebbles, Lighthouse keepers worst nightmare, Remote, grand and bare.
2 January: Smugglers Bay, Whangarei Heads
Anchored in the dark Awesome morning paradise, Crystal clear water.
Look in the water Once. And soon you’ll become a Serial snorkeler.
3 January: Parua Bay, Whangarei
Maddening sand banks Navigating up river, Pfew! Pub for dinner.
4 January: Ngunguru, Northland
Surfing dream inlet, Rolling all night, right and left, Most popular beach.
5 January: Tutukaka harbour, Northland
6 January: Poor Knights, Tutukaka
Majestic arches Myriad fish nibbling my hands Black echoing cave
6 January: Mimiwhangata, Northland
Morning skinny dip Harvest of tuatuas, Familiar feeling.
7 January: Whangaruru, Northland
Grey misty morning, Crepes and back to the future, Not dwelling longer.
8 January: Whangamumu, Northland
Old whaling station, Waterfall hike, bronze whaler, Grilled fish for supper.
9 January: Okahu Passage, Bay of Islands
We are so thrilled by the beauty of the scenery when we arrive in Okahu Passage that we immediately call our respective mums to share our delight, and show them the idyllic sandy beach which we have almost to ourselves, the crystal clear water, the glittering sun, the fish and stingrays that swim around the boat, and the boys getting dressed for yet another snorkeling session. We have left Whangamumu at dawn, as per usual before a long navigation, so that we can have a few hours of peace before the boys wake up, enjoy the sunrise a cup of tea warming our hands, and arrive early-ish to our next destination. It is just about breakfast time and we’ve already filled our stomachs with cake. Ready to jump in. A morning routine to be repeated ad lib.
Crystal clear water I even see our anchor, Puffer fish, stingrays.
9 January: Russell, Bay of Islands
What a welcoming committee when we arrive in Russell: We anchor next to Calypso, right before the start of the Tall Ship regatta, and just in time to have lunch with our friends Julia & Eric who are leaving Bay of Islands that day. And to top it off, we gather for dinner around a gigantic maori hāngi followed by a ball with live music, with hundreds of yachties, among whom we have the pleasure to count many friends, Bayswater school parents, ex-colleagues, ex-fellow Bulgarian choir singers, or people who helped us renovate Obelix back in Whangarei. Blessed serendipity. Highlights of that evening feature Zephyr standing up on Thomas shoulders, hands dyed purple, as he is picking mulberries from a tall tree, eating many in the process, distributing some to intrigued or skeptical people who are not sure they’re edible, and keeping the rest for the pavlova we’ve promised to have for dessert the next day, as a celebration of our arrival in Bay Of Islands.
10 January: Omakiwi Bay, Bay of Islands
Retreating at night To a much quieter bay, Tranquility found.
11 January: Okahu Passage, Bay of Islands
What these three black dots at the surface of the water on the last picture? Thomas supervising the kids having a go at Dan’s “hubble-bubble”, a.k.a Hookah Diving System, which allows them to breath underwater without tanks. They loved it!
Back in paradise, Diving, sunbathing, shooting A glorious sunset.
Time to farewell 2020, a full-on year on so many accounts…
Despite unexpected global circumstances which culminated, in New Zealand, with a couple of lock-downs, near-closed borders, and ever changing game rules, we’ve managed to make new friends, reconnect with old ones, sail the Hauraki gulf quite extensively, get Obelix a new jib, staysail and lazybag making our cruising times even more enjoyable, install new batteries and solar panels able to power a fridge while sailing (yoohoo!), perform many other home improvement jobs, co-found a tree climbing club with fellow nature-enthusiasts Ines and Ann, celebrate Zephyr’s 10th birthday, see Azur & Zephyr’s first dance show with Pockets Rockets, learn some new Cuban salsa (rueda to be precise) moves with Thomas, and even, for me, start kizomba, take my girlfriends sailing, change jobs and qualify as a Waterwise instructor. Pfew! Exhausting just thinking about it. Luckily we’ve got a whole month cruising to reset before attacking 2021.
But before turning the page, I want to share one of the highlights of my year, which would have deserved a post right there and then, had I dedicated more time to writing; a moment precious in its precariousness, as it would never have happened without a good dose of serendipity, and stands out like a desperate cry to remind me that I was born under a lucky star.
Imagine a grey Saturday, with occasional showers on the forecast and a storm coming later in the evening, and a tired crew waking up early at the marina, and deciding nonetheless to head towards Waiheke where our friends Ines, Raul & Co are spending the week-end on U Choose. We could have done many other things but we feel like honoring our friendship with a meeting on the water, and the decision is strongly seconded by Zephyr and Azur who not only go to school but are best buddies with Ines and Raul’s children Julian and Marco. So we set sails, and anchor in Blackpool around 2pm after finally spotting our friends’ boat but not them (they’re out walking), casually enjoy a late lunch waiting for them, and witness what appears to be the tight finish of a sailing race. A quick check on my phone confirms it is the Around Waiheke Island race, which, guess what, our other friends Tito and Rowena are taking part in. I send them a line to see if we could catch up with them too. Without waiting for an answer, we go ashore to stretch our legs (leaving the phone behind), as Ines family is back, and the kids are too happy to be reunited and play under the upside down dinghies on the beach. We spot a magnificent Pohotukawa tree waiting to be climbed on, only to realise that right under it is a tent, next to which is a bike, indicating someone is home. And indeed, almost instantly, a man comes out of the tent. He is rather short, tanned, with long black lustrous loose hair, dark eyes, wearing a turquoise blue indian kurta, wooden beads bracelets, and a wide smile, beaming as if he is wearing happiness as his main attire. We exchange greetings, his name is Somen, “So-many-men” he says for us to understand. He politely enquires about us, before we ask about the bike and the tent. That’s when we learn he has been travelling the world by bike since 2012, visited 150 odd countries, and is on a mission to raise awareness about AIDS, but has gotten stuck with Covid, unable to obtain a visa for his next destination (Fiji if I recall correctly) and complete the thirty or so countries he has left on his list. As we grow curious about his adventures, he shows us his portfolio of pictures in different parts of the planets and next to various politicians. The conversation carries on as we finally give in our urge to climb the Pohotukawa tree (Ines, Leo and myself that is), us from above in the tree, Somen from below. A shower barely distracts us, as we just take shelter under the tree or the upside down dinghy. I finally kayak back to the boat to start cooking dinner, and find a message from Tito and Rowena saying they are literally in the bay next ‘door’, and could come over to say Hi. So when Thomas and the kids retreat back too, and Thomas has convinced Somen to come fill his water bottles from Obelix’ voluminous tanks, there is already a party going on, with Tito and Rowena sharing their excitement of having won the race on Champosa, beating the record in the process. The music is on, salsa of course, and that’s when we decide we need to dance. So here we are, Thomas, Tito, Rowena and I, dancing on Obelix fore-deck on La Vida Es Un Carnaval by Celia Cruz, trying not to trip on hatches and ropes, and Somen captures the moment on Rowena’s phone. Shortly after oir guests leave while Ines’ family joins us for dinner which we wrap up with lotw of laughter during a game of mafia briliantly led by Leo. An oddity in this crazy year, with friends and strangers gathered on a boat, dancing close, sharing food, celebrating freedom, coincidence and spontaneity.
Sometimes the stars align, and all you need is to be outside to witness it. Like spontaneously casting the lines after work on a Friday, to honor the gentle breeze, still water and clear skies, with no other reward in mind than, trying our new jib, leaving the hustle and bustle of the week behind, and escaping the craziness of the world. And yet, a couple of hours later, the sunset astounds you when it paints the sky with remarkable shades of fluorescent pink, and almost simultaneously, a glowing amber crescent spotted on the horizon turns out to be the full moon beginning its ascend. The kids, who are called immediately on deck to have a look, are as ecstatic as me in front of the natural spectacle, Azur insisting on taking the ‘perfect’ picture, despite the swaying of the boat, and dusk dim visibility.
Realising that we’d anchor by night, even if stopping at the closest bay (Islington Bay), we have decided earlier, with Thomas, to take watches (for the first time) and push to Man O’ War, on the Eastern end of Waiheke Island, taking all the wind we could while it lasted, instead of motoring the next day when it was forecasted to have died off, and I smile, pleased that the Universe has for once agreed with our impromptu plans, offering us full visibility under the stars.
And so we sail, slowly but surely, alternating between helm and berth. On my watch, I feel the utter importance of the three souls I am responsible for, balanced by the calm, silence and peace that engulfs us all. At times the GPS is not detecting any movement and although we’re not making any progress, nothing would make me break the spell of this idyllic night.
When off duty, I relish the warmth of the blankets, the clement rocking of the boat, and the soothing sound of the water caressing the hull, yet I’m caught up in a constant battle, trying to slow down the gush of thoughts that assail my brain, to no avail. I’m still no good at finding sleep on a moving vessel.
By 2:30 am it is my turn again to extricate myself from the comfort of my bed. During his debrief, Thomas mentions a tide about to turn against us in the middle of a narrow channel with little to no wind and the need to anchor soon. A quick look at the chart shows we’re only a couple of nautical miles away from Man O’ War, so we finally turn on the engine to finish off the first leg of our circumnavigation of Waiheke in a rumble. By 4am we’re finally sound asleep in Man O’ War where half a dozen boats are also anchored.
The next day, after an early rise at 7am, the kids agree to prepare crepes, which Thomas cooks with Zephyr, while we have a quick kayak and yoga-on-the-beach adventure with Azur. When we think life cannot get better, we receive a call from our friends Mathieu and Elodie interested in our whereabouts, as they’re on the water looking for a worthy destination. It takes them less than an hour to zoom to Man O’ War on their 160HP power boat and join us for tea and coffee. We spend the afternoon together, visiting a nearby private sandy beach, and going fishing on Te Kakahi (though the fish are smarter than us).
Such a summery vibe has to be extended to the Sunday, and Te Kakahi crew decides to come back, only earlier, and with more friends, so we end up being six adults and five kids. The more the merrier. After a brave ladies swim in the icy cold water, we indulge ourselves with a leisurely lunch at the local winery, followed by tea and coffee right on the beach, courtesy of Thomas who even thought of bringing sugar and biscuits. Kids are having fun while adults digest, soak in the sun and wrap up the day with a game of Molki. When our ‘guests’ depart, Thomas and the kids try their luck going fishing at the mussel farm once more, but all they catch is a starfish. Regardless, dinner is ready (our very own Mediterranean platter, directly inspired by the winery menu). What a week-end!
The Safety at Sea rep I called, to enquire about our life raft, nearly choked when I advised him when it was manufactured (1976) and last serviced (1991). He confirmed my suspicions they didn’t service life rafts that old, and with that information, I finally convinced Thomas it was time to part with our dodgy safety piece of equipment. But not before giving it a fair try on the water.
So, on Sunday morning, as the sun was shining, the water glittering, and the sky still bright blue and fairly non-threatening (we got rinsed shortly after our mission had completed), we took our venerable life raft for a tour at the beach nearby to inflate it one last time (if not the only one), for education and entertainment purposes, as well as offering it a decent end of life.
This life raft will be remembered for the successful morning full of suspense, surprises, and laughter it provided the whole family (and possibly some Sunday strollers too).
Then, we brought it (albeit very reluctantly) to the dumpster, and had a celebration lunch at Corelli’s in Devonport.