Terra Firma

After spending a month in Vanuatu, the reintroduction to civilization in New Zealand was a bit of a culture shock. Striding through a well-stocked grocery store, we marveled at the variety of products on offer. We were barely able to contain our glee at the assortment of quality meats and the reasonable price of milk that most people would find unremarkable. I am certain that the amazement will wear off, but one of the benefits of maintaining such a spartan existence as cruising requires is that it has opened my eyes to the tremendous abundance that I always took for granted. Even the sight of white people caused a momentary surge of recognition as I unthinkingly would begin to wave before I realized that I was no longer in an exotic country where the few Caucasians were bound by a unique cultural experience. Following months of standing out because of the pale color of my skin, it was oddly unsettling to suddenly blend in and I missed the attention that being different aroused. On Tuesday, we were informed that the biggest horse race of the year for Aussies and Kiwis was taking place that evening. We hiked over to Paihia to find a suitable bar to watch their version of the Kentucky Derby. Sipping a pint of Mack Gold, we joined in the festivities by each placing a $2 bet on a random horse. Anna drew horse number 22 and I was given horse number 24. Fortune may favor the brave, but it didn’t favor us. At the time of writing, Anna’s horse was still running and it is hoped that it will finish by Christmas. My horse did even worse. It didn’t even show up. Literally. In a 24-horse field, my horse withdrew and didn’t make it as far as the start line. This was to prove the beginning of a streak of bad luck. With a haul-out scheduled in Whangarei, roughly 85 miles south of the Bay of Islands, we were eager to get moving. Originally, we had planned to break the trip up into two daysails, but this proved inadvisable as we had to hunker down for a storm that struck the north island on Wednesday and Thursday. The winds were reported to have exceeded 40 knots and even the protected anchorage was uncomfortable. On Friday, the weather cleared and we decided to sail overnight so as to arrive on Saturday. This plan challenged the widely-held sailing superstition that advises never to leave a harbor on Friday. As expect, flouting sailing conventions did not amuse the Gods. The overnight passage went smoothly most of the way. In light winds and with plenty of time to reach our destination, we slowly glided southward. The trouble began on Saturday morning as we approached the entrance to the river leading to Whangarei. Due to the large tidal range, the 20-mile river has strong currents and the depth through the channel varies by roughly 10 feet from low to high tide. In order to enjoy a favorable current and to ensure deep enough water to accommodate our draft, it was important to time our entry correctly. We had taken the timing of the tide into account and had reached the mouth of the river just as we would have the current with us and a rising tide. Surrounded by lush green rolling hills, we prepared for a scenic motor up the river. Unfortunately, when we went to turn on the engine, the motor refused to start. As always in these situations, I hurled an assortment of unrepeatable abuses at the infernal machine, followed by repentance, prayers, and desperate promises. Nothing worked. After exhausting my initial impotent rage, I attempted to rationally assess the situation. Considering that the engine had functioned fine throughout my travels across the Pacific and suddenly refused to start as soon as I had entered the frigid waters surrounding New Zealand, I wondered whether the extra effort required to crank the engine when cold was too demanding for my tired old batteries. Believing that recharging the batteries using solar and wind power might provide the necessary power to start the engine, we turned off all of the instruments and anything that could draw power from the batteries and began sailing back and forth across the bay. We also called the boatyard by VHF to notify them that we would be unable to arrive in time for our scheduled haulout. Anna, demonstrating her strong command of English, noted that the failure of the engine to start this last time (after reliably starting every single time for over a year) was a good example of “irony.” I rewarded her mastery of English by teaching her some new words that she had never heard before and would be wise not to repeat in the presence of respectable company. As we meandered around the bay killing time and gathering power, the manager of the boatyard put out an announcement to boats in the area requesting help. Within an hour, two motorboats arrived with fresh batteries and attempted to jumpstart our engine. Despite having adequate power, we were still unable to get the engine to turn over and we resolved to call the Coast Guard for a tow. One of the boats gave us a tow over to a bay where we planned to wait for a tow up the river. Before he left us, he came aboard with one final idea for fixing the engine. As we cranked the engine, he hit the starter motor a couple of times with a large metal wrench. Miraculously, the engine suddenly fired to life. Apparently, a circular brush in the starter motor had become stuck and refused to turn fast enough to allow the engine to start. By hitting the cover of the brush, he had managed to free it enough to spin. Elated, we opted to leave the engine running and to race up the river to the boatyard despite the adverse current and unfavorable tide. First, we profusely thanked the fisherman and showered all our blessings on Mack Murphy, the man who saved the day. Still, we had 20 miles to go and less than four hours until sunset. With the motor roaring and all sails up, we fought against nearly 3 knots of current and flew towards Whangarei (pronounced fong-a-ray). The scenery was spectacular, but our focus was such that we zoned in on the task at hand. Our progress was adequate and we continually calculated whether we would arrive before dark. Thanks to strong winds and the motor mercifully running without stopping, we approached Whangarei with about a half hour of light remaining. However, as we neared our destination, the depth dropped rapidly. We were forced to slow our speed down to a slow crawl as our depth sounder registered less than 10 feet of water. Arriving at dead low tide, we anxiously monitored the depth as we motored up the river. Since Audentes draws six feet of water, we held our breaths and waited for the jolt as the depth sounder plummeted to 6.1 and then 6.0 feet. Still, we continued forward and managed to keep moving. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the sign to the boatyard came into view. With just 200 feet to go, the boat finally went aground and we came to an abrupt stop. Fortunately, the bottom was mud and we had been going slowly, so no damage was done. We simply turned on the lights and sat stationary in the middle of the channel until the tide rose to float us free. This took about 15 minutes before we again motored towards the boatyard. This time, we got within 20 feet of the dock before we again ran aground. At this point, we were close enough that we could tie ropes to the pilings and slowly pull ourselves towards the dock as we floated free. After a long, stressful day, we prepared tea and enjoyed cookies on the bow as we gradually tightened the ropes pulling us ever nearer to our final destination. Finally, around 10:00 PM, we reached the dock and tied up. It wasn’t pretty, but we arrived. The next morning, the travelift came and hauled the boat out of the water. The bottom was cleaned and we were placed in a cradle in the boatyard. We celebrated our arrival “on the hard” with steak Roquefort and wine. The next several days were spent cleaning, packing, and preparing the boat for hibernation. On Wednesday, Anna and I took a bus to Auckland where we visited the New Zealand Maritime Museum. I then proceeded to the airport and Anna checked into a hostel to await her flight to Poland on Friday morning. After enduring the rigors of passages, the flight back to the U.S. was almost pleasant. Unlike a sailing passage, on the flight home I enjoyed being served food and drinks, watching movies, and not worrying about getting hit by a tanker. Departing Auckland at 7:50 PM on Wednesday, I arrived in Atlanta at 9:00 PM on Wednesday. Thus ends the second year of my sailing journey. The past year has been full of personal discoveries. I have learned that fear smells like diesel, that the initial stages of seasickness tastes like Ramen noodle broth and that if you know that you will vomit, it is best to eat oranges since they taste the same coming up as they do going down. During the last twelve months I have been fortunate to see beautiful places, to experience fascinating cultures, and to meet interesting people. Traveling roughly 15,000 miles, the boat has performed admirably and I am thankful to have been blessed with such a solid vessel. Anna has returned to Poland where she will pursue her PhD in geology at Warsaw University. It has been a pleasure sailing with her and having her as crew worked out far better than I ever could have hoped. She truly did spoil me and it will be difficult to resume sailing without her helpful presence. I have returned to the US and plan to seek gainful employment to finance future adventures. Journal entries will switch from weekly to monthly updates. To all of the readers that have faithfully followed my travels, I appreciate your interest and invite you to continue to monitor the website for future updates.

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