Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and our Bigfoot29 powerboat, "Raven," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, sailed to Mexico, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded Sockdolager (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016, Sockdolager found new owners, and we began cruising on Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. In 2018 we cruised up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and back. But in 2024 we had the chance to buy Sockdolager back (we missed her), so we sold Raven. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Livin' La Vida Landlubber

We have been enjoying the lubberly comforts of living in our little rented New Zealand flat for the past few weeks, and are still getting used to the idea that it’s summer.  It’s been a nice combination of relaxing, touring, relaxing, boat projects, relaxing, bicycling, relaxing, writing, and relaxing.  DID YOU KNOW that on land, hot water comes out of a faucet and it doesn’t run out?  Holy mackerel.   Jim is having a little trouble getting used to doing dishes so fast.

The view from our porch adds to the relaxing part.  Here’s Ngataringa marsh at low tide.

And here it is at high tide.  All kinds of birds are here, including Tuis, Australasian harriers, reef herons, paradise shelducks, mallards, Pukekos (a purple swamphen), gulls and terns of various species, Eastern rosellas (a parrot), kingfishers, welcome swallows, thrushes, blackbirds, sparrows, mynahs, starlings, tiny passerines I haven’t yet identified, and that’s just the birding from the back porch!  The birding in the Hauraki Gulf is sublime.

This is good medicine.  While there have been some episodes of frequent and tiring heart palpitations, Karen’s doctor pronounced the condition to be benign at this point, and with the medications it’s mostly under control.  Plus, the added dramatic improvement in cholesterol levels made us all happy.  So we went to Auckland's famous Sky Tower, and here’s how we celebrated that and a belated birthday:

Just kidding.  We took an elevator and merely indulged in a Schlocky Shameless Tourist Photoshopped Photo-Op.  We also had dinner in the rotating restaurant, and it was good.  We watched actual jumpers leaping, though technically they didn’t go head-first on a bungee cord.  They were harnessed in and strapped between two guide cables, and seemed to fly rather than fall the 190+ meters to the ground.  Here’s what the gear looks like at the start of a jump.

And here’s a jumper starting down, seen from the ground with a telephoto.  Look closely at the rim of the tower.

It costs $250 to jump, it lasts about three seconds, and you have to sign a few sternly-worded forms.  In Karen’s humble opinion, a root canal would be preferable.  This little dealie-o, below, standing on a glass floor 190 meters above the street, was plenty weird.  We know what you’re thinking:  Huh?  This from a pair who crossed the Pacific on a 24-foot boat?

Lean out a little for a thrilling street view:

Here’s the view we like best, from the deck of the ole Sockdolager at good old reliable sea level:

And here is the New Zealand courtesy ensign, with the silver fern flag for extra credit.

The venerable and friendly Devonport Folk Club welcomed us, and Karen sang a couple of tunes as part of the evening's open mic performances.

It’s a WW2 bunker atop an extinct volcano called Mt. Victoria, and was converted to a listening room and folk music library in the 1970s.  Boy is it a nifty place.

The Devonport Folk Club probably has the most spectacular view of any folk club in the world.  This is looking east-southeast toward the Coromandel Peninsula.  The DFC is also one of several organizers of the Auckland Folk Festival, where we’re headed next weekend.  We’ve rented a camper!

We also wandered through the maritime museum and saw the original HMS Bounty’s anchor in a setting of excellent exhibits that included these two treasures.

Is that a labor-intensive but beautiful frame, or what.  And Brion Toss, this one’s for you:

Boat projects included repairing the galley’s saltwater tap, which had jammed.  It was clogged with pumice.  Jim checked the engine’s saltwater intake filter, and sure enough, pumice was in there, too.  Below is a photo of what he found.  Anyone sailing from Tonga to New Zealand should be aware that you’ll be sailing not too far from an active undersea volcano, and pumice floating in the water will likely be a problem for your saltwater intakes.  Jim and Tom saw floating pumice all the way from Minerva Reef almost to New Zealand, which amounts to a thousand miles of floating rocks and bits.  Some pieces are large, grapefruit-sized, and others are tiny.  Some have been colonized by sea life, including small crabs!  To the volcanologist who contacted us on the Tonga to NZ post, Jim’s going to be writing to you shortly.

To continue the ongoing theme of exploring familiar food products with exotic or wacky packaging and reporting back to you, here is a box of NZ ice cream with a label that reminds us all to please, read labels slowly to avoid the startle response.

And another, with an insectivorously-worded announcement that should warn Lyme disease patients away and cause others to hope the contents aren’t too crunchy.

The extreme weather in Australia that resulted in a new color, purple, being added to its weather maps has not affected New Zealand to similar extremes, but it has been hotter, muggier and windier than normal, according to locals.

A few more weeks of living on land and then we’ll be off again to explore the Hauraki Gulf for some coastal cruising.  The photo below is proof that Jim has figured out how to sit in the rain, eat potato chips and drink a beer all at once, by steering with his toes.

Derelicts, Duty, and Dumb Luck

As you might have noticed if you read our recent post called “Drama (and obligation) on the High Seas,” there was a lot of interest in the subject of abandoning ship and safety.  As there should be.  Good, safe seamanship is in everyone’s interest, and most agree that it extends beyond the bounds of one’s own hull, to at least not creating hazards for one’s fellow sailors.  This applies whether you’re anchoring responsibly in a crowded harbor, or facing the ultimate nightmare of having to abandon your boat.

I’m sorry to report that there have been a couple more abandonment incidents, one west of the Canary Islands on an Atlantic crossing (a 55-foot ketch in otherwise perfect condition was buttoned up, abandoned and left to drift when its steering failed) and another, in the same area, that warrants listing in the Guinness Book of the Infuriatingly Bizarre, if such a thing existed.  We have no other details on the first; this post addresses the second.

The "notorious," 16 cubic meter Aqua-Dice.  Photo credit:  Blouin Artinfo

In the name of art, which, being art lovers we usually support, a colossal sized pair of dice has been dumped into one of the Atlantic Ocean’s most heavily traveled sea lanes, to drift and create what artist Max Mulhern calls “a visually stunning ode to chance and luck, the greatest floating craps game on earth.”  He dumped them into trade wind seas off the Canary Islands at noon on 12/12/12, admitting that, “…basically, the dice are illegal because you’re not allowed to put an unattended object in the water or go to sea if there’s not a constant watch on board.”  He added that the probability of doing damage to another boat is “just about zero because the dice are designed to collapse on impact.”  He said he hopes the dice become “notorious” to the boats plying those waters.  According to publicity materials, this artist grew up around boats, is a student of “dumb luck,” and has expressed his deep love of the sea.  I will get to the ironic part of that shortly, but did find it interesting that not even Las Vegas casinos would sponsor him.

At about eight feet to a side, painted brightly but unlit, the dice should be visible in a calm sea.  But most people know it’s not always calm, and, news flash, nights are dark.  According to the New York Times, the artist had them designed by a naval architect and constructed of plywood, pine, PVC and epoxy by a shipbuilder who normally builds fishing boats when he hasn’t lost his mind.  Plywood, pine boards, PVC and epoxy are not known as lightweight materials.

Let’s look at how “little” damage these enormous dice could do to a small yacht.  First, although the dice have GPS transmitters in them and as of early January had separated to about 60 miles apart, and though there is a web site where you can get the dice locations, it doesn’t do a small boat at sea much good because most, even if they have single sideband radios, don’t have access to the internet at sea.

Second, imagine surfing down a large wave at 10 knots, which was a fairly common occurrence for our Dana 24, and would be even more common on larger boats.  Imagine colliding with a 16 cubic meter object made of plywood, pine boards, PVC and epoxy at that speed, at night.  It would stop our boat cold.  Imagine the difficulties and danger of untangling that mess in the dark.  Imagine the dumb luck of not having a crewmember injured by an impact-generating fall, of not losing your mast or tearing a sail, of not damaging the hull or deck fittings from the impact.

Third, imagine having to sail on with a damaged boat, only to have the dumb luck of paying for repairs yourself, because there is no mention of either liability or damage offers in the artist’s publicity materials, which amount to an homage to dumb luck.

It’s kind of hard for me to get behind a so-called “art” project that has been deliberately designed to put mariners at risk in someone’s artificially-concocted “game of chance.”  Sailors are not chess pieces for the amusement of others.

The materials in the dice have been declared “recyclable,” but to do that you must actually recycle them, not dump them in the ocean, which has enough plastics and man-made debris in it already.

Plastic results of a trawl in the Pacific's "garbage patch."  Photo credit: Algalita Marine Research Foundation.   More here.

I looked but have not found any statement of intent by the artist to recover the dice and actually recycle them.  He has placed contact info and poems inside the dice.  But it’s disingenuous to imply it’s a green project, because it’s not, and when the dice eventually wash ashore they will likely be somebody else’s headache.

There is very little about this boondoggle that does not offend me, not least of all being the likelihood of copycats with money to burn to appease equally colossal egos.  It comes too soon after the recent “ocean fertilization” project, also illegal, off Canada’s Queen Charlotte Islands, now known as Haida Gwaii.  Someone decided to dump enough iron sulphate to “fertilize” several hundred square miles of ocean so that more fish could be caught in one particular area.  The affected water was visible from space.  Scientists were alarmed and are still unsure of (and debating) long-term consequences versus short-term benefits.  While that had nothing to do with the Aqua-Dice, it is another example of a dawning new era of breathtaking hubris.

Maybe by writing this post I am helping the “notoriety” of this artist, and maybe that’s just what he had in mind: to see indignant ripostes from people who prefer to leave a clean wake to show their respect for the sea, and the mariners who sail it.  May the notoriety he wishes for never be tainted with injury to others, or loss of life or property.  May he one day try going to sea for real, and have himself a nice big queasy helping of humble pie.