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, March 22, 2013

Dreams and Magical Places

Sockdolager is in Port Fitzroy at Great Barrier Island, NZ.  We’ve been volunteering our time at the Glenfern Sanctuary for almost two weeks.

A view of the anchorage at Port Fitzroy from the mountain.  Glenfern is a rare place; more on it below. 

Author Henry Miller wrote, "Strange as it may seem today to say, the aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.  There is no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy.” 

Scott and Emma, the managers of Glenfern, also sail this storied old beauty named Ruakuri. 

Miller also wrote, “Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls, and interesting people.  Forget yourself.” 

When Jim created this graphic of our track to date, it kind of took my breath away.  Have we really come that far?  I (K) have wondered about how setting out on a small, some would say tiny, boat to voyage across an ocean in modern times, when there are perfectly good airplanes for that, might be construed by others.  Is it a crazy stunt?  Some think yes and a few have told us so point-blank.  Are we brave?  We don’t think so.  We wouldn’t have risked it if there was doubt that either we or the boat could make it.  A lot of comments from non-sailors go like this:

Non-sailor:  Wait… you sailed a 24-foot boat from Seattle to New Zealand?

Us:  Actually, we left from Port Townsend, but yes.

Non-sailor:  You’re so brave!  Weren’t you scared? How was it out there?

Us:  It was big.

There are lots of ways this kind of thing could be construed.  Some family members, who have evidently been holding their breaths for several years, let out a collective sigh of relief once they learned we are heading home.  Although most have been supportive and kind, one mentioned being glad that I have finally “come to my senses.”  Does coming to one’s senses mean that a living dream should be put in past tense?  Absolutely not. The dream will go on.

Then there’s the responsibility angle.  Are people who go cruising around in boats selfish or indulgent?  You know the world is so full of problems, some say, so why aren’t all you cruising people back home somewhere, working your butts off like the rest of us and being useful?  Um, well, aren’t dreams useful in a life?  Why dream if you can’t work toward living it?  Dreaming is good; to live a dream is one of the best things any human being can aspire to.

Sailing our Dana 24 across the Pacific to New Zealand is the dream we set out to live, but now that we’ve done it and brought you along with us vicariously, well, on reflection it does seem like a blind stab at optimism in a half-crazed world, doesn’t it.  And the part about forgetting yourself isn’t so much forgetting yourself as forgetting the relative size of yourself, seeing your true place in the context of a big, still-beautiful world with an awful lot of decent people in it.  That’s how I’d interpret coming to one’s senses.  Sort of a feeling that perhaps enlightenment really means a shared intimacy with all living things.

On the way to Great Barrier Island, we saw seabirds in huge variety.  It makes such a difference to have a bird guide along, or other critter guides, so you can read about the animals you encounter.  For example, I would not have guessed upon seeing a black petrel that there are only 1300 breeding pairs left in the world, that the entire lot nests on Little Barrier Island (with a few now coming to Glenfern,) that they drink salt water and snort the salt crystals out their “tube noses,” that they can live to 29 years, and that in winter they fly all the way from New Zealand to South America—how amazing is that!   They are New Zealand’s most endangered seabird.

Photo credit:  Wikipedia

Here’s a black petrel chick in its burrow, way up the mountain at Glenfern. 

Photo credit:  Glenfern Sanctuary

And here is a night camera snapping an image of a black petrel as it enters the burrow to feed its chick.

Photo Credit:  Glenfern Sanctuary

Below is an Australasian gannet.  These guys are heavy-bodied but good fliers, and when they plunge into the water after a fish you can hear it across the harbor.

Here’s a fluttering shearwater preening.

Here’s one taking off.  They use a lot of energy getting airborne.

Finally, when they pull out of the water they often have to run across it if there’s not enough wind to get airborne right away, leaving "footprints."  This bird is a sooty shearwater.

A Magical Place:  We’ve spent the last 2 weeks here, and want to share it with you.  Glenfern Sanctuary, in Port Fitzroy on Great Barrier Island, is 240 hectares (about 600 acres) of privately-owned land, and is a fine example of what a wealthy person with dreams beyond status and more accumulation of wealth can give back to a community, a country, and the world.  Yachtsman and businessman Tony Bouzaid bought this property and began restoring its native bush (forest and meadow) about 20 years ago, but he did a remarkable thing.  He and his staff convinced the other landowners and the community that a pest-proof fence across the entire Kotuku Peninsula, followed by intensive efforts to eradicate rats, would make a big difference in the ability of endangered wildlife to recover, and he was right.  It’s worth noting that in New Zealand, except for bats and marine mammals there are no native terrestrial mammals; all were introduced.  That’s part of why, especially on some islands, the bird diversity is so astounding.

Photo Credit:  Great Barrier Island Trust

The pest-proof fence is 2 kilometers long and cost half a million dollars to build.  What’s the big deal, you wonder?  Have a look at this video to see what millions of rats do every night of the year, and then imagine the wildlife and birdsong we’d all have if this wasn’t happening.  The differences on either side of Glenfern’s pest fence are dramatic.  Inside it, where intensive rat control continues (because a few still swim to the unfenced portion from across the bay) you are surrounded by endangered birds that are able to nest and feed unmolested.  You can read the account of how this huge fence was built here.  

Feral cats and house cats have also been a problem.  In the US, a recent scientific report details the toll taken on birds each year by pet house cats.  No one knows the toll from feral cats, but on islands where they exist, the air does not ring with birdsong.  The numbers are staggering, more than a billion birds a year killed by house cats in the US alone.  Anyone who doesn’t put a bell on their cat contributes to the loss.  That’s why this pest-proof fence had to be so high, with a big flange at the top.  

Let’s have some fun.  Take a walk on the wild side, with us up the mountain.  First we'll see a duck pond with a family of Pateke (brown teal) thriving in it.  Pateke are considered the most endangered waterfowl in New Zealand.

 Next is Sunset Rock, Tony Bouzaid’s favorite place.  Sadly, Tony died in 2011, but Scott and Emma, the managers, are carrying on his work along with their enthusiastic 5 year-old daughter Pippa.  The family had his hat bronzed, and it sits atop the rock as a memorial.

You can cross a swing bridge into the crown of a 600 year-old Kauri tree, way up high, in a valley that has never been logged.  The structures are tied around, not drilled or screwed into, the tree.

Once you’re way up in the canopy of that ancient Kauri tree, I dare you not to hug it.

Not far from the Kauri is a big nest of Giant Weta Bugs.  You know, the ones that weigh three times more than a mouse and eat carrots, and if you pick them up and stretch them out, their legs can span two feet.  Check out the photo in this article. They will bite if you ask for it by picking them up (Scott, Glenfern's manager, has proven this over and over.) Like I’m going to follow suit and pick one up, ya sure yabetcha. 

To continue on the trail you have to duck under this log, which is full of Weta Bugs.  Go fast.  Later on, I was crawling around in so many Weta Bug nest areas trying to find petrel chicks that I decided to just not think about them.  It’s not that I don’t like Wetas, I just prefer them with a little more distance. 

There is so much to see on the loop trail, which is about a mile.  But come with us as volunteers and we’ll show you more.  This is a quad track, off limits to visitors, but used by staff and volunteers.  It leads steeply up to the ridgeline, where I was given the task of finding and feeding an abandoned baby wild parrot with the Maori species name of Kaka.  Eventually I named it Sparky.

Along the way you’ll see occasional tubular “rat tunnels” set out.  They're about 2 feet long and 5 inches high, and contain these inked and baited tracking strips below.  The bait, a peanut butter mixture, contains an anticoagulant targeted at rats, and the ink gets on the feet of whatever goes in there.  You can see the tracks.  Whenever you see tiny dots and no rat prints, it means they’re Wetas, which is a good indicator of no rats in the area.  Patrolling and monitoring miles of bush transects laid with rat tunnels is part of the intensive pest control.  One rat can destroy an entire year’s worth of chicks in burrows, so constant vigilance is necessary—and expensive.  If the entire island was free of rats it would be much easier, and bird populations would rebound even more.

If you go in one direction and scramble through steep overgrown forest with Dana Cook, a 24 year-old volunteer seabird biologist from Vancouver BC (and who will be looking for a biological job when she returns) you’d find nest burrows, some for black and others for Cooks petrels.  Dana is distantly related to Captain Cook, after whom the petrels are named, and we love the circularity of his descendant working to save these endangered birds.  Here’s a photo of a Cook’s petrel chick.

And another, during a weighing session where you can see its developing wings. No way they would survive in a rat-infested area. 

Here’s Dana operating a remote camera that bends around corners and is about five feet long.

And here’s the image on the screen—success!  A little Cooks petrel chick is in there, and the disturbance was minimal!

We’re back at the ridgeline now, so let’s take you up a trail in the other direction (it’s pretty steep, be careful) to the top of the ridge, where the baby Kaka is. 

The little Kaka was weak and wobbly, perhaps not far from starving when we found it and began feeding it. This photo was taken with a telephoto setting.

For awhile we fed it sugar water, but switched to a high protein mash-and-fruit diet, which it gobbled hungrily. 

But it needed two such meals a day if it was to make progress, and a big storm was coming, so one day Jim and I went up the mountain, gently put the Kaka in a padded box, and carefully brought it down to a holding cage next to the aviary that everyone was working at top speed to build.  Here’s the work crew.

At last the aviary was ready!  I had been taking care of two birds, the Kaka and also a Tui that is almost ready to be released back into the wild.  Time to release the Tui into the aviary, where it can practice flying and landing in the trees inside. 

The Tui joyfully took a bath and flew to the top of the tree, where it looked so happy it made us all laugh.  Then it was the Kaka’s turn.  I carried it from its holding cage into the aviary, and gave it some water and food.  Parrots have sharp bills and it’s a good idea to wear leather gloves, though Sparky was pretty calm through the whole thing and didn’t try to bite me. I must admit that I felt humbly honored to be so entrusted with the care of these birds. 

The children are Pippa and two of three siblings from a visiting yacht whose parents were also volunteering their time.  It wasn’t long before Sparky could climb up a low perch and try his wings. He/she is only 2 1/2 months old and has not learned to fly yet.

Sparky is now being expertly cared for at the Great Barrier Bird Rescue, and the Tui, named Milo, is awaiting a time later in the season when territorial behaviors of the dominant male Tui in the area stop.  After that there will be no danger from that male, and Milo can be released.  For more information about the ecology of Great Barrier Island, try visiting the Great Barrier Island Trust web site and read a few of its newsletters. 

Fruit trees on the property are bent over with their heavy late-season loads, and dozens of birds are gorging.  There are iridescent Kereru (NZ giant pigeon,) adult Kakas, white eyes and silvereyes, Tuis, several other species, and an exciting new visitor, the melodious Bellbird. 

We really meant it when we said we want to share all this with you.  Glenfern Sanctuary needs volunteers, as its entire budget comes from grants (a shrinking resource in these cash-strapped days) and what private funds the Bouzaid family can give.  If you’re interested in volunteering, go to Glenfern Sanctuary's web site and contact them.  Volunteers are unpaid and you must provide your own food and transportation to Auckland, but the SeaLink Ferry to Great Barrier will pick up the cost of transporting volunteers out to the island.  You can volunteer, or just stay in the 112 year-old, five-bedroom Fitzroy House, which is available to rent.  Go to the Glenfern web site for details.  

Here’s the library and part of the living area.

Or the three-bedroom, more modest Seaview Cottage is available to rent.

Of course, these are for paying guests.  Volunteers are normally housed in less fancy quarters, at the former gallery that has been converted to a simple cottage. 

We are feeling the press of the season, and will be heading away sometime this week, for Great Mercury Island and a harbor or two on the Pacific side of the Coromandel Peninsula before sailing to Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, where we will begin readying the boat for shipping to San Francisco Bay via container ship.  It’s hard to express how good it’s been to volunteer our time here.  We got much more than we gave, and may fly back some day to spend a month.  We will miss the friends we've made, and the beautiful scenery.  This place, it kind of grows on you…

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Out and About in the Hauraki Gulf

Sockdolager sails out of Auckland in a spanking Southwesterly breeze.

Bye, Auckland!  We’ll miss you!

Waiheke Island, New Zealand:  We have “eventfully” circumnavigated the entire coast of Waiheke island (okay, it’s small) and are at anchor in Oneroa Bay, waiting for some funky weather to clear before crossing the Hauraki Gulf to Great Barrier Island, 40 miles to the NE. 

Great Barrier has some excellent hiking trails and interesting ecology, not to mention loads of seabirds, so we’re excited to see it. 

After 10,000 miles, our lovely tanbark sails remain in excellent condition.  We can’t recommend highly enough the careful work of Carol Hasse and her crew at Port Townsend Sails.

To catch you up on the “eventful” part, we said goodbye to our good friends Stuart and Alison, whose Devonport flat we’d rented, and left Auckland’s Waitemata Harbor in the arvo (afternoon) of a blustery day.  We sailed past our much-loved Devonport, waving at our friend Jocelyn, then whisked past dormant Rangitoto volcano and Motutapu Island, did two gybes to clear Motukorea Channel, and came thundering into Owhanake Bay under sail to meet our buddies Don and Deb on Buena Vista. 

Along the way, a new method of navigation was invented. 

Jim:     A bit windy, isn’t it?

Karen:  I want a chart in the cockpit for reference, but yeah, it’s awfully windy.

Jim:     Why not use the cocktail tray?  It won’t blow away.

Karen:  Oh, brilliant idea! 

The photo below may be historic, the first example in which “navigation by cocktail tray” has ever been successfully tried.  Karen’s thumb denotes the boat’s precise location.  You saw it here first, folks. 

Time flies when you’re with Deb and Don.  They are two of our favorite people.

 First we hiked, then took a bus trip around the island, then beachcombed, after which both boats sailed up to Onetangi Bay to watch the annual horse races, a century-old tradition. More than a hundred boats showed up to watch and jammed the anchorage.  We anchored our boats away from the action and took our dinghies to near the surf line, but later were invited aboard a finely-built, comfortable catamaran named Master Blaster.  Mark has owned the boat for 30 years, and circumnavigated New Zealand’s North and South Islands in it.  Here are the horses dashing down the beach. 

And here’s the whole gang aboard Master Blaster.  Gotta love that name.

But oh myyyy, the most exciting event of the day completely upstaged the horse races.  There is a new class of amphibious boats called “Sea Legs,” that in the water look like boats with wheels…

…but upon reaching the shore, drop their wheels, switch from outboards to inboards, and become slow beach cars. 

Forgive us for our slack-jawed amazement at these overgrown dinghies.  We’ve never seen them before.  You can buy one of these beauties for oh, starting around $140,000.  Six of them, captained by teams of adrenalin junkies, raced a course that started Le Mans style, on the far end of the beach, then splashed into the water, pulled up the wheels and started the outboard, then roared around the turning buoys at 50-60 mph, then hit (literally) the beach again, started the inboard and sedately wheeled back to the start line.  Twice.  Boy, was it exciting.  Here they are racing around the buoys.

Here they are hitting the beach.

Here they are going lickety-split past the spectator fleet, which suddenly felt awfully, awfully close.  The problem happened at the first turn, when the lead boat banked too steeply and nearly flipped.  It didn’t flip, but the co-pilot was thrown clear, landing in the water right in front of 5 oncoming speedboats.  The Coastguards went into action and alerted the fleet, the crewmember climbed back aboard his boat, and the race continued.  Big sigh of relief.

These boats go so fast that they swamp themselves when they slow down suddenly in shallows to engage the wheels.  Here’s one boat swamping itself…

…followed by a second, which threw up so much spray that neither boat was visible for a few seconds.  These boats were about 50 feet from us. 

We think this was the first event of this type, and we bet it’ll be run a bit differently next year.  There was definitely an out-of-control feel to it.  But nobody got hurt, and it was fun, in a slightly scary way. 

Time to dial back the adrenalin.  Sockdolager and Buena Vista continued on, sailing east in company in light winds. Here’s Buena Vista after she passed us (well, she IS 46 feet long.)

 Ahhh, a view from a bronze porthole is always good.

This beauty, a 55-foot Herreshoff Marco Polo schooner, sailed alongside us for awhile. 

In Chamberlin Bay on Ponui Island at Waiheke’s east end we bid a sad goodbye to Deb and Don, who are going to Australia and leaving their boat in Whangerei while they get settled in their (new) home country.  While anchored off a lovely vineyard at Ponui Island, we made the unpleasant discovery that no visitors are allowed ashore anywhere on the island, and signs warn that you will be arrested and prosecuted and fined a thousand dollars if you venture beyond the high tide line.  So much for buying wine from that vintner.  Time to move on.  Pine Harbour, midway down the south coast of Tamaki Strait, was next, and a pleasant stop while a 35-knot front blew through.  Walking to town, Jim decided to try the incognito look. Since no vintners came after us, we figure it must have worked. 

Fast forward to now, and we’ve just had a good visit with Port Townsend’s own Kaci Cronkhite and her Waiheke-based friends Meriel and Jo.

And a laugh-a-minute reunion with our friends Mike and Karen Riley from Beau Soleil (see their cookbook on our book review page), along with two Kiwis named Mark and Phil, who are sailing their cold-molded sloop Icebreaker around New Zealand getting ready for offshore. 

A fisherman on a 100 year-old launch stopped by and gave us a lovely snapper. 

 It was quickly converted to fish & chips, beer batter style. 

Update on Windigo:  On more somber note, an anonymous commenter (thank you) posted this note on our blog: 

“…thought id let you know windigo has recently washed ashore by a recent cyclone where i live near coffs harbor Australia , traveled all that may i have no idea how far that navigation hazard has traveled , looks as though it has capsized and been battered about the mast has broken off and the stern has suffers some severe detachment and damage , probably on being wrecked ashore i suspect.” 

He/she also provided this link to a video taken by New South Wales Police: 

While it’s a sad ending to the all-round misery of this yacht abandonment episode, along with the extra expense the owners will probably incur in having it removed from that Australian beach, it’s also good to know that the derelict no longer poses a risk to other mariners.  And while we aren’t pursuing this thought further because the answer will never be known, we cannot help but wonder what it was that our friend Rob hit between Fiji and Australia that sank his lovely wooden yacht.  He never saw the object he hit because it was a dark night and Rob, a singlehander, happened to be below when he collided.  As we’ve written before, there is a lot of stuff floating around at sea; some is flotsam from wreckage, other bits are jetsam that have fallen off or been thrown off ships (think “jettison.”)  To add to it by not sinking one’s own boat when abandoning it and thus creating a floating hazard for several months along a major sailing route is unconscionable.  Most experienced mariners agree on this one difficult thing:  if you have to abandon your boat at sea, sink it.

A lighter note on a Waiheke beach:  While wandering the tide line, we found a real live mermaid, surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting!  They graciously allowed us to take a photo, then broke into giggles.

Time for some more wackily-named foods.  Raise your hand if you’re a fan of bacon butties.

How about a nice mussel burger? 

In New Zealand, eggs are commonly added to sandwiches.  For example, you can get a McLamb at McDonald’s (or not, they’re horrid) garnished with a fried egg and slices of beetroot. Beetroot!  AAAAA!  Run awaaaay!  The weirdest egg add-on we ever had was in Nuku Hiva, though, where the local pizza parlor dropped a raw egg in the center of every pizza just before putting it in the oven.  Pizza with an eye, who knew?

An announcement:  We’re coming home.  It's been a fabulous experience to sail all this way in this tiny boat, and we've had a lot of fun, but we are ready to come home now, for many many reasons, not the least of which is homesickness. We wanted to make sure the arrangements were possible (putting the boat on a ship) before we let you know, and we have been successful in making them. 

Maori tapa cloth

The heart issue does figure into our decision but is not the primary reason.  It's under control with medication, but does go all floppy sometimes and makes me (Karen) a bit tired. All of our many reasons blend together to make this feel like the right thing to do.  We look forward to sailing locally and spending summers in our beloved Salish Sea and northern waters.

We've been working with a shipping agent to book the boat as cargo on a container ship and then hop aboard the same ship ourselves as passengers, rather than fly home.  The only one where we can do both will take us to Oakland, California, which means we still have 800 miles to sail Sockdolager up the California, Oregon and Washington coasts to Port Townsend. We’re not quite ready to end the voyage yet, and this would be a nice way to do it.  Other shipping companies could take the boat closer, like Vancouver, but they don't allow passengers, and we'd be flying instead of having a nice 18-day cruise across the Pacific with our little boat on deck.  You know how much we love a good story, so we're splurging on this watery option.

The ship leaves around May 18 and arrives in Oakland, California on June 6.  We'll re-rig, visit with friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, and start heading north, harbor-hopping to see the places we missed going south. 

Basically, shipping the boat involves welding a custom cradle, hauling the boat and lashing it to the cradle, then lashing boat and cradle onto a "flat rack," a container-sized base.  The mast will be unshipped and stowed alongside the boat on the flat rack because it’s under 40 feet long.  The whole assemblage is lifted onto a truck that drives it to the shipyard, and the ship’s cranes then lift boat, cradle and flat rack aboard and into a container-sized space called a "protected stow." The boat would be loaded last, and likely offloaded first on arrival. A marine surveyor will supervise the lashing and loading process. We will be snapping photos and reporting back to you on how all of this goes.

We've chosen Svenson's Shipyard in Alameda. Keep your fingers crossed for this all to work out!  Although we are enjoying New Zealand and have more adventures in store, we are also excited about coming home.  Two years away will be enough.  Funny how things evolve. 

Much love and many hugs,
Karen and Jim

A small constellation of sea shells