Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and more recently, 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 the boat (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 are now enjoying Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. In 2018 we cruised up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and back. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Kiwi Road Trip!

Time for some camping and hiking and sightseeing! (Karen here.)

After sailing around the edges of islands and countries, we thought it was a good idea to see the interior of New Zealand.

We just love Kiwi road signs.  Kilometers-per-hour makes us American drivers feel so sporty and fast.  Wouldn’t you like to fling yourself around this corner going 85?  Okay, never mind.

Let’s not beat around the bush.  Kiwis are direct about the consequences of carelessness on these twisty roads.  One of the most compelling signs was “The faster the speed, the bigger the mess.”  By far the most dangerous thing we’ve done in the last 2 years has been to drive in traffic.  Kiwis are good drivers and generally more courteous than many we’ve seen elsewhere, but they tend to drive fast, and most roads are winding, narrow, and minus shoulders.  Cruising sailors who haven’t driven in awhile need to take it very carefully.  Our new mantra in NZ has been “Left is the new right.” 

Gas is expensive outside the USA.  Considering the $8 billion in subsidies paid by the US government to oil companies each year, it should be no surprise that we Americans pay less at the pump than almost anywhere else.  Here’s what we paid on the South Island for ¾ of a tank for our Toyota rental:  At $2.07.9 NZ per liter being common, do the math and compare the costs. I calculated $7.87 NZ per US gallon, which converts to about $6.73 USD per gallon.  It made us more grateful for having installed the solar panel on Sockdolager.  That’s a lot of fuel saved.

Kiwis have a delightfully wacky side, which we’ve thoroughly enjoyed.  Take this shark photo-op outside a tour operator’s office in Pahia, for example.

Later on, we saw this cryptic and very old sign on Stewart Island.  Got any guesses what it means?

Land birds:  We have been traveling overland since April 9, and on the South Island since April 14.  Now we’re back aboard the boat in Tauranga, but thought we’d share with you some of the highlights.  We visited the pest-free island sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi, between Auckland and Kawau Island, and saw some spectacular birds, including a rare sighting of a Morepork owl sitting in a tree fern only 6 feet from the trail.  Their calls really do sound like someone cooing, “More! Pork!” They are often heard near forests, but are so reclusive it’s rare to see one.

Morepork owl
This bird below is a flightless relic that’s unchanged in millions of years, and there are only about 150 of them left.  It’s a Takahe (TAH-kah-hay) and there was a set of parents with their chick feeding unconcernedly only 10 feet away.  What a thrill!

Takahe on Tiritiri Matangi Island
Happy Reunions:  We had a whirlwind of visits on the North Island, including reunions with brothers Nick and Alex aboard Saltbreaker in Tauranga, Alison and Stuart in Devonport, Kirsten and Patrick aboard Silhouette in Marsden Cove, Doug and Zuleka aboard their new steel boat named Suleka in Opua, Pat and John Gans of The Rose, in Pahia, and Bruce and Marcelle aboard Adventure Bound in Whangerei; also with Sue and Richard Gillard at the ever-comfortable Kereru Cottage in Whangerei. 

Our friends Ann Adams and Bob Johnson of Charisma got married in Whangerei on April 13 at a lovely garden ceremony presided over by a Maori celebrant, and we enjoyed the reunions with still more cruising friends. 

From Whangerei, everyone seemed to scatter to the four winds.  Charisma, Orcinius, Blue Rodeo, Bright Angel, Legacy, and Gato Go are heading for Fiji, Silhouette is sailing east, possibly toward Chile and Patagonia, and our friends Don and Deb of Buena Vista are already in Australia, and Adventure Bound is staying in NZ.  If you’re interested in the boats and crews who crossed the Pacific in 2012 and who’ve since crossed to the western Pacific, read the Pacific Puddle Jump 2012 recap here.  

Our friends Vicki and Mark of Southern Cross and Livia and Carol of Estrellita are in French Polynesia, Shane of Clover is in American Samoa, and Don and Kathy Feher of Wild Rose are in Acapulco heading for the Panama Canal.  Let’s see, who did we miss?  So many friends out there! 

Jim with the ultimate seasick remedy.
The Cure:  The ultimate seasick remedy can be bought (or ordered from stateside) from the Pahia Pharmacy.  It’s a two-pill combo called a “Pahia Bomb,” and according to sailors for whom nothing else works, this one does.  Take the blue pill an hour ahead of time and the white one a half hour ahead.  One pill contains an antihistamine and the other is a combo of scopolamine and caffeine.  They’re $3 per dose.  Pahia Pharmacy has sold them worldwide for decades. 

South Island: On April 14 we flew from Auckland to Queenstown on the South Island, where we picked up a small campervan.  There’s a nice arrangement rental companies use, called “relocation,” and basically it’s a one-way rental where you usually return the vehicle from wherever you picked it up back to Auckland.  You can get free or ridiculously cheap rentals this way and several companies will pay your Cook Strait ferry crossing fare, but those usually require you to get back to Auckland in 4 or 5 days.  We wanted more time, so Jim found a campervan rental company that would give us a month at $24 per day, including insurance with a high deductible, but we paid the ferry crossing, about $228NZ.   This means we can use the vehicle (a new Toyota) here in Tauranga while we’re hauled out, and return it next week.

Our campervan near the Homer Tunnel, gateway to Milford Sound. 
Our campervan was named “Ney Tiri,” after the lead female character in Avatar.  We were especially pleased with the name after seeing other campers with names like “Lord Crum” and “Chuck Norris.”

To anyone thinking of doing this, be aware that in many areas of NZ, “freedom camping,” where you just pull off the road somewhere, is prohibited altogether.  In the areas where it’s allowed, you can only do it if your campervan is self-contained, meaning you have a toilet aboard.  Ours doesn’t, and there are fines for illegal camping, so this means staying in DOC (Department of Conservation) campgrounds or commercial holiday parks each night.  DOC charges $10-15 per person per night and commercial holiday parks charge around $18-20 per person per night. 

Sky Kings:  Once through the mile-long Homer Tunnel, we arrived at Milford Sound and went for a walk to see what options were to tour the place.  The local airport appeared on our left so we went toward the sound of a helicopter, figuring this was way outside our price range but what the heck, let’s look anyway.  Turns out it was indeed way outside our price range, but the owner saw us leaving, pointed to the helicopter with its blades whirring, motioned for the pilot to wait a minute before taking off, and said, “Why don’t you hop in?” 

“Ha, ha, good one!” we answered.  “We’d love to but it’s a bit too dear.”

“Just go,” he said. “The pilot’s going to the Homer Tunnel to do a lift, and you can ride with him.”  Jim and I looked at each other.  The blades were whirring.  Gas was being burned.

“Wait,” said Jim, “Are you saying we can go for free?”

Just then the owner’s wife or assistant came out, and said, “You’re not going to let them go for free, are you?”

“One-twenty each,” said the owner.  That was less than half price.  For some reason having nothing to do with financial sensibility but everything to do with spontaneity, we shouted, “DONE!” and ran for the chopper.

We rose.  We swooped.  We swayed.  We laughed.  Then the pilot said, “I’m just going to drop you off on top of this mountain over here, while I run over to the tunnel.  I’ll be back in twenty minutes.  We landed.  On the shoulder of a mountain that was, oh, probably three or four thousand feet straight down in every direction but the summit.  He left.  “What the hell just happened?” said Jim, gazing after the disappearing chopper. 

Here is where he dropped us, as seen from the Milford side of the Tunnel.  See the flat shoulder on the mountain in the middle?  We were next to where it connects with the slope to the summit.

Here’s a topo map of where we romped across the spongy tundra like a couple of mountain goats while thinking, okay, if we have to spend the night here, we’ve got plenty of fresh water…

…but climbing down wearing crocs is gonna be a bear.  Happily, the helo returned, picked us up, and swooped us back to earth.

Milford Sound is spectacular.  We chose the smallest tour boat and avoided the crowds.  Here’s a waterfall where rainbows actually fall into the water!

We wish the albatross we saw were as friendly as the blackflies.  These little insectivorous 4-bladed sawzalls really bite and raise huge welts. 

At Bluff we were nearly as far south as one can go on New Zealand.

And boy is it windy here.  How windy?  Well, this photo was taken on a calm day.

There are hundreds of one-lane bridges in New Zealand, and amazingly, many are made of wood covered by a layer of chip seal.  This is a fancy one with lights and a walkway, but most are simply narrow lanes.

It’s so windy on the southern end of the South Island (no land between here and Antarctica) that sheep farmers grow these enormous tree-windbreaks.  The reason for the windbreaks being so ubiquitous is that in order to have enough lamb for supermarkets to sell for Christmas, lambs must be born in August, in the dead of winter, and more would die if they couldn’t find shelter. It gives pause to the carnivorous appetite.

The ferry ride across Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island was “lumpy.”  The captain told us they never cancel unless the winds are over 70, and then only from the east.  Winds were easterly about 25-30.  Foveaux Strait is regarded as one of the roughest places in the world, mostly because it’s so shallow where two oceans meet.

We spent 3 days on Stewart Island, which is a fabulous place.  The ferry did double duty as a tour boat into Patterson Inlet, where we went ashore on another bird-rich, pest-free island, called Ulva.

This Stewart Island robin was so fearless that it stood 3 feet away as I took this photo!

The photo below is of a young tree.  (I forget the species name.)  Behind it is an adult tree, same species.  The leaves on the shorter youngster are tough and inedible.  The leaves on the much taller adult tree are succulent and tender.  The reason for such a disparity in leaf tenderness at different ages is mind-boggling:  according to speculation, this was a defense evolved to keep the succulent leaves from being eaten by… giant moas.  Remember those flightless 12-foot super heavy ostrich-y birds that went extinct 500 years ago?  Those guys.  So the conversion from tough to tender in its leaves occurs only after the tree is about 12 feet tall.  To protect it from an extinct species.  Wowser, are plants cool or what.

But one of the biggest highlights was seeing albatross.  We saw two species of mollymawks, which are smaller albatrosses, and a huge Northern Giant Petrel swooped past the boat, too.  Here’s a Buller’s Mollymawk in the water.  Notice the yellow on its bill.

Buller's Mollymawk
And a lovely adult White-capped, or Shy Mollymawk.  Notice the water droplets on its feathers, and the yellow tip on the bill.

Shy (white-capped) Mollymawk

Here’s an immature Shy Mollymawk about to make a turn.  These birds can lock their wings and glide for days.  They spend the first five years of their lives at sea, scooping up squid and circling Antarctica in the Southern Ocean; they only come ashore on remote islands to breed every other year.

Immature Shy Mollymawk

In this photo, a Shy Mollymawk is folding its wings, and you can really see how long they are. 

Shy Mollymawk folding its wings

Groups of albatross follow fishing boats, especially long-liners, and they dive for the bait as the hooks stream out behind the boat.  Unfortunately, too many albatrosses still get killed this way, because not all countries who fish the Southern Ocean use excluder devices to prevent this from happening.  The populations of the 9 different species are mostly just hanging on, because of a combination of rat, feral cat and stoat predation on chicks, and fishery bycatch. 

Another species, the sooty shearwater, is still plentiful but under pressure from traditional aboriginal (NZ Maori) subsistence hunting of fattened chicks by taking them from their burrows.  This traditional practice, on several islands, is called “muttonbirding.” About 250,000 sooty shearwaters are harvested each year, and conflicting reports exist on its sustainability.

Sooty Shearwater.  Credit: NOAA
We spoke with people who enjoy muttonbird pie, widely sold in this part of New Zealand, and all agreed the taste took some getting used to.  We didn’t want to try it.

Sign in Bluff, NZ
The gale continued, and even the harbor at Oban, Stewart Island’s main town, got very rough.  That's a sailboat on a mooring at the right side of the photo.

Rough day in the harbor, Stewart Island

On to Dunedin, where we enjoyed a walk around the city and a visit to the Otago Peninsula to see the largest albatrosses in the world, from a special viewing platform with one-way glass.  Here is a Royal Albatross chick on the nest, waiting for its parents to come back and feed it.  Jut down from it is a colony of Stewart Island shags (cormorants.)  This chick will fledge (fly for the first time) in September, and can live to be more than 60 years old.  Royal albatrosses with their 11-foot wingspans can fly fast—about 70 mph.

Royal albatross chick with Stewart Island Shag colony below

Off again to the west coast, where the Tasman Sea whipped itself up to crash on the shore.  This is a limestone formation called the Blowhole, where seas crash underneath the rock ledges you can stand on, and come shooting up through holes and cracks with great force.  It was stunning to watch, and at times we could feel little "seaquakes" as a large wave hit the rock bridge.

A stop in the Nelson area, to see Abel Tasman National Park and Cape Farewell is a must.  We found a lovely cottage and enjoyed the best beach of the whole trip. 

The drive to Picton was via Nelson and the best beer pub in New Zealand, the Sprig & Fern, with 18 craft beers on tap, and then through the wine country of Marlborough, where Karen went a little crazy buying wine.  But we topped off our South Island stay at an excellent Irish pub in Picton, pictured below.  Karen joined the local entertainer Stevie K onstage and rocked the house for a couple of hours, playing harmonica and singing harmonies to oldies and cover tunes. 

We are now back aboard the boat in Tauranga:  After drying and folding and stowing our sails (main, genoa, storm trysail, staysail) belowdecks just before a gale hit, we will haul the boat out of the water tomorrow. 

This was a big storm, with the lowest pressure we’ve seen the entire trip--989.9 millibars.  Glad to be safely tied up at a marina!   Ignore the temperature at top left, we were cooking dinner and the baro is not far from the stove.

Around May 17 we are going to load Sockdolager aboard a container ship, boarding the same ship ourselves as passengers, and “sail” the 8,000 miles back to San Francisco Bay.  We hope to be able to post position reports where you can watch a Dana 24 going to windward at 19 knots.  But if we can’t, we will put a link to the M/V Hugo Schulte of the Hamburg-Sud line on our position page so that you can see where we are. 

We will try to do one more post before we ship out for San Francisco.


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  2. Visiting NZ and Australia are definitely on our list of future travel plans. Sounds like you had some great fun touring around - you always run across the most interesting places, people, animals, etc. Lucking into a casual discount on a helicopter trip, fabulous! (Too bad the wife caught you heading out for free. LOL) I know it did not end as anticipated, but I do look forward to the novel. :)

    1. The novel will be coming, Amy! And don't heitate to visit NZ, it's a wonderful country.

  3. Happy 'sailing' back to the US! Yesterday I sailed 'Pelagic' for the first time: can't explain how happy I am to sail a real boat!

    1. Woo-Hoo, Richard! You're on your way! The horizon is yours to sail over.