Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Things continue to be very quiet on Stewart Island for Team Galactic. We just spent two nights in a lonely anchorage at the head of Paterson Inlet, listening to the wind blow, catching improbable fish (a barracuda! a shark!) and tending the family garden. We went ashore for a walk and found the track to be lightly used and rough. At first it looked like a disaster family outing - Elias suddenly howling and crying about "Stupid bushwalks" and "Stupid tracks!" the way that he sometimes does, and the track in fact looking much too narrow, hilly and root-obstructed for the safe passage of a two-year-old. But for some reason everything came good. Elias turned things around, Eric calmly put up his arms as a signal to be carried when the going became too difficult, and the whole family enjoyed our brief stroll among the ferns. With the kids, it's the mood, not the setting, that determines the success of the day.

It's easy enough to concentrate on the hard stuff at times - the constant effort to keep the boat going, the kids getting antsy, and on my nerves, when they've been cooped up on the boat too long. But really, our time on Stewart has been exceptional. We've been getting the endless family time that is the great benefit of raising your kids on a boat, we go for a walk every day, we have Elias' schooling to give each day a bit of structure, and we only know the day of the week because we have to organize a quarantine inspection with the Department of Conservation before we go down to the Aucklands. And meanwhile we are poking around Stewart Island, slowly getting a feel for the place.

It's a nice way to start off in this new country - to delay our introduction to it in a way, to just concentrate on the familiarity of family life for a week or two before we dive into New Zealand.

So now we've made the hop down to Port Adventure, and are nestled in Abraham's Bosom (see the map to the right), waiting for a forecast northwesterly blow. A little fishing boat, the Tequila, a one-man show, as they say in Alaska, is sharing the anchorage with us, and the skipper very kindly threw us a plastic bag full of blue cod fillets before picking up his mooring for the night. I don't think he sees boats from Alaska in here all that often.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Sailor's Favorite Thing To Do... to watch the weather forecast, of course!

That's what we're doing - watching the weather and weighing up our chances of getting down to the Auckland Islands without drama. We may have let a prime chance slip by, as it looks like going today would have been ideal. But yachts going down to the Aucklands must satisfy a few quarantine requirements, and we were lulled in by a now-vanished forecast for good conditions later this week, and so didn't push as hard to get everything organized for our departure as we might have.

Besides - after crossing the Southern Tasman with a two-year-old, who feels like pushing anything?

So we're here in Patterson Inlet, biding our time while we enjoy Stewart Island and (mostly) enjoy living our version of enforced familial togetherness.

(I admit that mornings with the family have been very hard for the Captain lately. There's nothing that the Captain likes to do in the morning so much as wake up very gradually over many cups of coffee. There's nothing that our boys like to do in the morning so much as fight over toys and call each other 'idiot'. Whoever said that hell is breakfast with other people might have had our boys in mind.)

We're still delighting in the family-friendly walking tracks of the area, and are slooooowly learning a few things about the area. Today we met a woman who did a fine imitation of bonding kiwis calling on the beach at night, and so learned that the call we heard last night was not a kiwi.

More soon.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Under the Radar in New Zealand

It's a funny thing - it feels like we've been in New Zealand for quite a long time, and Australia seems well in the past. But this is only our fifth night in this new country.

Our ignorance of New Zealand is astounding. We don't know what party is in government. We don't know the exchange rate. We haven't read a newspaper. We haven't even spoken with all that many New Zealanders. We've just sort of retreated into our family life and a routine of home school, moving the boat from here to there, and bush walks ashore on the great tracks that we have stumbled on.

We're at Stewart Island, which is just south of the South Island, and which I think is one of the jewels of En Zed. But we know nothing about the place, save a chance mention from a friend that Port Pegasus is meant to be pretty worthwhile. When we're ashore we're astounded by the new birds we see. But of course we haven't got a field guide to identify them. We didn't get anything like that before leaving Tasmania, and Bluff wasn't very forthcoming with guidebooks and such. There was no bird field guide to be had in the town, and when I asked at the library if they had a copy of the Stewart Island cruising guide, I was advised that the best way to gather information might be to go to the pub and chat up fishermen.

The plus side of our ignorance, if there is one, is that we are free to discover the place for ourselves. No preconceived notions and received opinions for us! This must be some sort of pure travel, where the onus for discovery is squarely on us.

Months from now, reading a book somewhere in the more populous middle of the country, I can picture myself learning about some remarkable feature of the natural history of Stewart Island, and realizing how close we were to seeing it for ourselves...

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Six Days Across

Well, we're hot to get down to Stewart Island, and I'm not going to spend too much of this beautiful day online.  So the elegiac descriptions of our passage across the lonely Tasman will have to wait - for now, I'll just share the eye-candy...

I'll begin with the tooth that brought in six dollars – Australian dollars, nonetheless, which are worth more than the dollars from a certain God-fearing nation that we all know.

I asked the Tooth Fairy about this price, and she defended herself by saying a), that it was his first tooth, and b), that he is six years old.  Make of that what you will.  The good news is that Elias also lost his second tooth on this passage, and he was very happy to find "only" one dollar under his pillow for that one.

And, how's this for yachtie kid worldliness.  Elias, excited at putting the first tooth under his pillow, says to his mom: "I wonder what currency the Tooth Fairy will pay me in!"

Us, motoring away from Hobart.  Eric is looking fine here...

...but he soon went green.  The poor kid starts every passage with a glass stomach.

And so the drink rack in the cockpit soon sported anti-nausea meds and pedialyte.

But after those first two days he came right.  The sea was still calm, and the boys played through the days in the cockpit.
Knights on horseback, pursuing a dragon.

The boys' happiness, though, takes constant tending by two sleep-deprived parents.  Alisa gave me permission to post this less-than-flattering photo - I think it captures the parental vibe pretty well.

On the best afternoons, as I stood in the cockpit watching the always-the-same, always-changing scene around us, I felt enormously privileged to be in the Southern Ocean.

 White-bellied storm petrel (I think we saw black-bellied as well).

 Buller's albatross.  I think these might be "mollymawks" in New Zealand.  It was Alisa who ID'ed these guys.

 White-headed petrel.

 White-headed petrel.

 The wandering albatross, grand eminence of southern waters.

As we approached Puysegur Pt., the southwestern corner of New Zealand, the weather went a bit rough - and in a way that's a good thing, as Puysegur Pt. is that sort of place where you're quite glad to have weather that's only a bit rough.  Poor Eric started puking again.  For a two-year-old, he's quite good at hitting the bucket.

 Our first view of New Zealand - aka Aotearoa.

 And dawn the next morning, just outside of Bluff and north of Stewart Island.


And, well, that's all for now.  Pictures really are such poor things for telling a story, but they are certainly quicker than words, and we're off for a sail.  More soon, and we'll continue to update our position with the tracker...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In Port

Just a quick note to say that we arrived in Bluff, New Zealand this morning, a few hours short of six days since we left Hobart. We had some rough weather on our last day out, but otherwise had a fine crossing. More details to follow in the next day or two!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

What the Tooth Fairy Got Up To

The sea has been gray and empty. And for now, still. Normally we'd be happily making four or five knots in the light southerly breeze that's blowing. But we've left the engine on and for the first time ever since leaving Kodiak we're motorsailing under jib and main. This gives us anything from six and a half to seven and a half knots, sometimes even eight. We're flogging it, and I'm very pleased at the speed that we're making. A front is meant to be crossing the southern end of the South Island some time on Thursday, and even though it isn't forecast to be a particularly strong front, I'd rather not be hanging around to see for myself.

On our second day out I was a bit stunned by the fragility of everything, the temerity of setting out on such a big crossing with young kids. I struggled with the lack of sleep and barked at the kids when I thought they weren't being careful enough. But today found us back in our passagemaking groove. The boys played delightfully in the cockpit this morning while Alisa slept, riding horseback on the cockpit coaming, fully kitted with helmets and capes and swords and shields, chasing after dragons. Alisa says that we are lucky to be living like this right now, able to spend so much time with the kids, and she is right.

Elias lost his first tooth yesterday and the tooth fairy left him six Australian dollars for it. I haven't asked, but I can only assume that the tooth fairy was glad to get rid of some lingering Australian currency, without pausing to consider the precedent she was setting for the remaining 30-odd teeth. I wonder if the tooth fairy is seeing this largesse in a new light now that a second tooth is suddenly threatening to fall out before we reach New Zealand. If she's hoping that I have a few Australian dollars hanging around, she's going to be disappointed.

Elias, meanwhile, is mesmerized by my story of children wrapping strings around loose teeth, tying the other end to a door knob, and slamming the door.

Now, the peace, and musty-headedness, of nightwatch awaits.

D' Tasman

Writing this at 0100 local time, just after waking from my two and a half hours off watch. Never sure if it's a good idea to post while so groggy!

Here we find ourselves, pounding along in the southern Tasman Sea, a bit more than 36 hours into our crossing.

So far at least, this hasn't been one of those "ineffable peace of the open ocean" passages that some people write about in their sailing books.

First off, we've been motoring ever since we've left the dock, with only brief pauses to top up the oil (leaky old British engine!) or to pump coolant from the overflow tank back into the header tank. (This one is a mystery - if we run at 2200 RPM, we don't lose any coolant at all. If we run at 2500 RPM, we lose a liter in about three hours...)

So we've had the engine noise as a constant so far, which keeps things from being peaceful and reflective on board. But we're not dallying on this crossing - the whole idea is to be safely in Bluff, drinking the bottle of wine that our friends on Triddar gave us as a goodbye gift, before the weather has time to get up to anything inventive.

Eric has been through his initial bout of seasickness, puking up a ham sandwich the first day out and an offering of green stomach fluid this morning. That will keep the parents involved jumping for a bucket, and thanking the sea gods that they didn't decide to leave when there was a five meter swell forecast. He seems to be over it now, though, and eagerly watches for dolphins or albatross, or points ahead and says, "New Zealand there?".

Motoring away from Hobart was also enlivened by the appearance of water in the bilge, source unknown. That really gets your attention at the start of a passage. As near as I can figure, the port water tank has sprung a leak that declares itself only when the tank is pressed up full. So that'll be something to occupy me in New Zealand.

Really, we're just feeling our way into the shipboard routine. We each got about five or six hours of sleep last night, and then had the two antsy or seasick boys to parent all through the day, and the effort of that, along with the stress of this particular crossing, colored the day. Alisa very kindly let me do all the napping yesterday, and I feel like I'm just starting to get into the sleep-interrupted rhythm of our at-sea lifestyle. Hopefully I'll start to enjoy the trip a bit more tomorrow. If nothing else, we've had a good selection of pelagic seabirds passing by, and I might work up the energy to photograph them tomorrow.

Last night I watched the glow of Hobart, over the horizon, slowly disappear behind us. We have little moon, and have agreed to wake each other if the southern lights make an appearance. We are enjoying the improbable going away gift of 20 professionally-done chicken and wallaby tamales from our friends Gabe and Brie. I am cautiously optimistic about the speed we have been making so far, and tomorrow we hope to pick up some wind and start sailing without the aid of the donk.

More later.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Here We Go

Classic timing - we waited and waited for weather on the trip to New Zealand, and now we might have waited a day longer than absolutely ideal.

But, no matter - we're ready and eager to be at sea and of course, as with the start of all big passages, a bit nervous.

Our time in Australia has been great, and now it is nearly in the past.  We look forward to what our time in New Zealand might bring.

Customs is due to check us out of the country at 9 tomorrow morning, and then we'll be off.  I've added a map to the sidebar of the blog that should have our location updated regularly, so you can follow our progress across the Tasman.

Time to get some sleep.

Peace/out, Mike

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


(I've had this post in the back of my mind for a while.)  

Think of two brothers growing up together on the family sailboat.  First, there's the beautiful ideal:

Then, there's the more ordinary reality:

(Some day, Elias will have to forgive me for posting this picture!)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Too Swell

Well, that's the problem with paying a weather expert to tell you the right time to leave port - he might also tell you that it's the wrong time.

Our momentum was building for a Sunday departure to New Zealand.  The weather forecast looked good.  We had coordinated with the local Customs office for a weekend checkout.

(Aside:  Three Customs officers came by the boat the other day to say hello - and caught me on the dock, in exam gloves, giving the inside of one of our head pumps its annual clean out.  Sorry I can't shake hands, I said.  But you really don't want to shake my hand right now.

First time I've ever seen folks from Customs look just a little nervous when they were talking to me.)

As I said, we were gathering steam to leave Australia on Sunday.  But then we got Bob McDavitt's advice - don't go now, swell will be too big for a comfortable crossing.

So we're holding off.  It's easy for me to look at the various swell forecasts online and think that things wouldn't be too bad.  But of course we're thinking of the boys, and there's really nothing rushing us, and the reason we're using a weather router for the first-ever time is to get an informed outside opinion on the best time for the crossing, so we're happy to listen to that opinion.

The sea still awaits.  But we're going to wait a little more.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

All Swell

The car sold two days ago, and Alisa closed out our post office box yesterday.  That just about wraps up our tangible connections to Tassie.  We've been in Hobart for a year, but we didn't settle in.

Yesterday we bought 677 liters of diesel fuel, topping off all three of Galactic's tanks.  With our young crew, we'll be very happy to tag along on a high-pressure system across the Tasman, even if it does mean days of motoring.

Just our sort of big fat high appears to be approaching from the west right now.  We had nearly made the decision to leave on this coming Sunday, but our weather guru Bob McDavitt counsels patience, pointing out an inconveniently large Southern Ocean swell that will be around early next week.  We're pretty keen to go, but also happy to take the advice we're paying for.

Sunday's forecast - that might be our high, coming in from the west. 

I was incapacitated by a migraine on the night of our unplanned, cyclone-enforced stay in Melbourne last week when we were flying up to Queensland.  Something about getting four hours of sleep the night before we left, finishing up boat jobs and packing, and then the next day shepherding two little kids through the exigencies of a cancelled flight and the resulting patched-together day in a city we didn't know must have been enough to trigger it.  It was the first migraine I've had in a year, would have been a very bad development halfway across the Tasman, and was a good reminder of the importance of being well rested when we set off for New Zealand.

So I've put a moratorium on starting any new boat projects in the days before we leave.  There will be plenty to do just with getting everything ready for sea and taking care of a few of the little jobs that keep the boat moving.

The sea awaits.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Vacation Disassociation

Everyone around the marina in Hobart has a third-hand horror story about awful weather that befell someone on a Tasman Sea crossing.  So when you're dock-bound it's easy to think about what might go wrong - marinas are like that.  But now that the actual event is close at hand (we hope to leave some time next week), the crossing is starting to seem like a more reasonable.proposition.  There have been long windows of good weather lately, and the first boat that we know of to make the crossing this summer left Hobart a day or two ago.  We've been getting the boat well prepared, and we've enlisted Bob McDavitt, the sailors' weather guru in this part of the world, to help us to call the weather.  Aside from the part that entails parenting while being sleep deprived, I'm quite looking forward to the trip.

So the Tasman Sea is in our near future.  But meanwhile we're still up in Queensland, visiting my folks and getting in as much swimming as the leftover surf from cyclone Oswald will allow.

While we're still here it's pretty hard to think of the whole adventure - the remaining boat jobs, and dealing with customs, and troughs and lows and fronts and sea state, and what we'll find when we get to New Zealand.  Time enough for thinking about all that once we get home to the boat.