Making our bubble great again

Free-range kids

As lock-down 2.0 was announced on August 13th, Auckland schools closed, and we retreated back to our bubbles, we decided not to add any complexity to the ever changing and (sometimes) absurd rules that governed our strange world, and let our children be free-range. No virtual hui. No homework. No schedule. No pressure. Except to let us work in (relative) peace, and help with the daily chores. And so they were left to their own device, although mainly off device*, free to explore being alive, get bored, and find things to do. Play outside, play inside, play some music, make huts, play Pokemon battles, climb, jump, run, row, swim, cook, bake, draw, write, read. They’ve really impressed us by demonstrating initiative and being totally able to entertain themselves (involving neighbouring kids and parents at times), while consolidating knowledge and learning new stuff in the process. Proud moment.

The bubble expands

We were also fortunate to be offered to stay at our friends’ house, while they were away from Auckland, enjoying freedom at the mountain. So, still in Bayswater, we became landlubbers for a few days, and indulged the luxury of space, a human-sized fridge with freezer (and even a mini door-in-the-door leading to the dairy compartment), a bath, a desk each, a trampoline, a veggie patch with abundance of fresh greens, a near home-cinema set-up, games galore for kids and adult alike, a view on Auckland skyline, and no need to bend to get to the kids room, with the risk of bumping a limb or our head! A very enjoyable stay overall, even though I must stay I struggled to get a decent night’s sleep away from my trapezoidal bed, the gentle rocking of the boat, and the sweet sounds of marine life popping underneath.

Spring clean

And finally, I took advantage of the whole family being away from the boat to undertake another paint job with Azur who relished the opportunity to assist me. We did a good job at lightening up the saloon with some more white (#cestmieuxenblanc). And back to the boat, every idle time was spent cleaning, polishing, or varnishing something, to slowly restore Obelix to her former glory, as they say. A never-ending task, but showing visible progress nonetheless with tidy bathroom cupboards, a leak-proof prism, a brand new emergency tiller, shiny brass fair-leads, and a vintage Sestrel compass promising to bring some cachet to our cockpit.

All in all we did our best to make our bubble great again, but let’s admit that this second time round wasn’t as pleasant as the first. The weather didn’t play ball, and the whole thing had a bitter taste of dejavu.

*However Thomas kindly reminded me that they actually spent a couple of very miserable days in the marina lounge with him, each on a screen, drawing on Paint 3D, watching scientific videos from NASA engineers, and, yes, playing video games. And now that I think of it, Azur even remarked that this second lock-down was way better for them because they were allowed to play Farmville 2, which he vouched was teaching them ‘stuff’.

Scrapes, scratches & sliver linings

“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):
    • tidy-up
    • 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
    • fail
    • 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.

Boys on the roof

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…

Meeting Obelix’ two dads

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.

In Erwin Haag’s home office

“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.

‘Family’ picture in Erwin’s garage

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”.

Obelix in front of Rangitoto

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.

Getting Design No. 22 drawings
Thomas & Uwe examining the plans

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!