A Weekend at the Barrier

Great Barrier Island, New Zealand

By: Kerry

Since we’ve been back, we’ve been living on the boat at Marsden Cove Marina. The Marina is part of a larger canal development, which has been built by a developer, Leigh Hopper, who we’d seen coming and going in his helicopter when we were here last year. Leigh has a 65-foot game fishing boat that he parks outside his Marsden Cove canal-front house and he invited us out for the weekend, to head over to Great Barrier Island (about 50 miles away) for a raft up with a bunch of other ‘stink-boaters’.

We like to think our boat is quite quick – hey, we averaged 10 knots over 24 hours. Ha ha. On Leigh’s boat, we were doing 35 knots, planing and kicking up a huge rooster tail. So what if it burns 250 litres of fuel an hour!? (By contrast, we carry 1000 litres in total and that got us from Tonga to New Zealand. 1000 litres would get Leigh’s boat to Great Barrier and back). More to the point, he throws it around like a little jet boat (he also likes rally car driving), shooting through narrow rock clefts and backing it into rock holes like reversing a car into a garage.

Great Barrier Island is very beautiful – it reminds me a bit of Pittwater. It was a fun weekend, with around a dozen boats all rafted up together. A couple of boats had been diving for crayfish and shared those around and we went fishing for snapper – caught about a dozen in a couple of hours, including a couple up around the 5kg mark.

We stopped at ‘the Mokes’ (Mokohinau Islands) – an extraordinary outcrop of rocky islets that I’d love to go and explore further – on the way back to Marsden Cove. Leigh squeezed the boat between some boulders and dropped anchor for lunch. The boat swung around on the anchor and we could – literally – touch the rocks off the back of the boat, but that seemed to be no cause for concern! It made us feel like right muppets, since we’d never have the audacity to take our boat into somewhere like that… but also gave us a bit of a confidence boost: maybe one day??

I’ve attached a couple of pix of the weekend here.

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A Pretty Good Idea of the WHAT, if not the WHY…

Whangarei, NZ

By: Kerry

At the time of the dismasting, we released both the cap shrouds and the starboard lower shroud (D1) to free the broken mast and get it overboard. But the port lower shroud was nowhere to be seen: all that was left was two neat holes, the size of the chain plate bolts, in the cabin top gel coat.

So we had a pretty good idea of WHAT caused the dismasting, but not the WHY…

The Loss Adjustor quickly established that the lower shroud giving way was the cause of the mast coming down: once the mast was unsupported in the middle section, it bent like a noodle and snapped.

With a fair bit of effort, we extracted the U-bolts (the ‘chain plates’ which attached the lower shrouds to the cabin top) from both sides and it became clear that both sides of the port U-bolt had sheared off at the point where the thread of the bolt meets the smooth metal of the ‘U’. That point was exactly half way – 25 mm – through the 50mm thick deck. It made no sense at all.

The Loss Adjustor said he’d never seen anything like it in 40 years, and ordered tests be done by a metallurgist.

The metallurgist’s report stated that it appeared the bolt sheared as a result of ‘minute cyclic movement’: there was just the tiniest bit of movement under load and, over the 10-year life of the boat, this had weakened the bolt until it snapped.

So one small fitting – probably worth about $40 – one giant headache.

Since the amount of the repair bill is going to have a lot of zeroes in it, we were a tad concerned about the response from the insurers, to say the least.
Thanks goodness for Mike, our very-experienced Loss Adjustor who went in to bat for us.

After an anxious wait, we heard from the insurers, who agreed to honour the claim.


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S**t Never Happens when the Sun’s Shining.

Marsden Cove, New Zealand

By: Kerry

And so, we ended the season as we started: dealing with ‘enhanced trade winds’. We’d asked Bruce, our weather man, to find us a weather window to head back to NZ. The winds in the last week had been pretty strong – there was a squash zone between two weather systems that were pushing the trade winds up to 25 knots. Bruce said that, if we left on Friday, we’d have 36-48  hours of fairly boisterous conditions, but then it would be a smooth run all the way to NZ.

Sailing lore has it that you WILL get smacked by a cold front and/or low pressure system somewhere on the trip from the tropics to NZ: the lows come rolling through from the Southern Ocean and the Tasman about once every 5-8 days, and since it usually takes around 8 days to do the crossing, you’ll meet one somewhere. The best you can hope for is that you hit the front north of 30 degrees south, when it is less intense….

We’re a bit faster than most of the cruising boats to which that ‘lore’ applies. But this was also a pretty exceptional window – it didn’t look like we’d hit a low anywhere, as long as we left by Friday. “Cool,” we thought. “That’s gotta be an improvement on the trip up here!”

So we set off and made really good time. The first 24 hours we had steady 25 knot SE trade winds and we were were flying along on a beam reach – the boat wanted to be going a lot faster, but with a 2.5 metre swell and us not wanting to bang the boat (or ourselves) around, we had two reefs in both the main and the headsail. Still, we did 241 miles in the first 24 hours. That might not sound much if you’re thinking land travel, but most cruisers dream of doing – but rarely do – 200 mile days, so it was pretty damn fast, and we were pretty happy with how things were going.

Everything was fine. Right up until it wasn’t.

It was Saturday night, around 9.30. Black as the inside of a cow outside. We do three-hour watches at sea, so I was asleep, while Damian was on watch, sitting at the chart table. There was an almighty crash: our mast had come down.

Just like that.

The next three hours or so were fairly torrid. The mast broke into three pieces (as far as we could see in the dark) but they all remained linked together by the mainsail, which is on a car system that runs on a track right up the mast and held at the top of the mast by the halyard. The middle section of the mast was bent back toward the boat, the sharp end of it being driven into the hull by the wind and waves and the downward drag of the top two thirds of the mast which was submerged, still loaded with the bulk of the mainsail, and sinking under the boat and in danger of fouling props and rudders.

Our main concern was to avoid being holed by the broken mast – losing the rig was one thing, sinking was an altogether less attractive option…

I won’t go into the detail here as it would all sound too scary (especially the part about Damian getting into the dinghy to release the gennaker from the prod) and too technical, but if you’re interested, you can read the full, four-page story I wrote for New Zealand Boating Magazine, here:

Dismasted 925 Miles From Home

Suffice to say, our beautiful sails, our new radar, and two of the three sections of mast are now at the bottom of the Tonga Trench (think Marianas – about 4000m down).

We didn’t sustain any major injuries and were able to get cleared up and underway by about 12.30am. The interesting bit then was whether or not we had enough fuel to get home… This happened 925 nautical miles NW of New Zealand. We could have turned around and gone back to Tonga, but that wouldn’t have solved any of our problems: one way or another, we still had to get the boat back to NZ, and since we were already 300 miles out and it looked like we would have good weather most of the way home, we decided to press on.

We notified NZ Search and Rescue and kept them updated twice daily with position reports. We had to estimate our fuel consumption – fortunately, Damian is totally anal about keeping records of such things, so we had a reasonable idea, and were reasonably confident we could make the distance (having filled the tanks just before leaving Neiafu). So we became a motor boat and motored for the next 7 days straight – very grateful, once again, for being a catamaran and having 2 engines, rather than having to rely on just one!!

Our last night at sea we encountered a cold front that pushed the winds back up to 25 knots and we had a few ‘issues’ with engines and autopilot, which we didn’t really appreciate at that point, but nothing insurmountable. The smoke stacks of Port Whangarei appeared on the horizon in the early hours of Saturday morning and by 11.30 we were tied up on the Quarantine dock at Marsden Cove: our home away from home. We were greeted by Bruce, the local Customs officer, Karen, the manager of the marina and another friend, Ian – bearing food, flowers and a bottle of Bombay Sapphire! Since then, we’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of everyone here – they have been tremendously supportive.

The boat is pretty banged up – the solar panels are smashed, the forebeam that joins the two hulls is twisted (staggering force required to do that); the mast and boom have had it, sails gone, stack pack torn, hole in the cabin top, lots of scuff marks, dents and grazes. Amazingly, there is little damage at the waterline – we think there must have been some sail between the hull and the sharp end of the broken mast.

We spent six hours yesterday with the insurance assessor and have, we think, identified WHAT happened, if not WHY.  The U-bolt holding the D1 (inner shroud) to the cabin top sheared off, about 20mm below the surface of the deck. Once it let go, the mast (which was carbon and had no spreaders) was unsupported in the middle, so warped like a noodle and snapped.

The Assessor, who has 30 years experience, has never seen anything like it. So it will be interesting to find out the “WHY”, which will involve having the bolt examined by a metallurgist.

The upside of it is that he said we did a ‘superb job’ of handling the situation – that we’d done everything possible in advance to make the boat safe, to prevent it happening; and that we did everything right when it did happen. There was nothing else we could have done either to prevent it or to salvage anything. So that’s good for our confidence. The flip side of that is, we did everything right but it happened anyway – don’t know what the odds are (one in ten thousand?) but how unlucky can we be?

At this stage, there seems to be no reason why we won’t be covered by insurance, but we won’t count those chickens just yet…. We have a huge job ahead of us to make the boat right again – it’s feeling pretty daunting at the moment, but we’ll be able to find the help we need – NZ is probably the best place to be to do the work and of course, after our experiences last year, we know all the local contractors…

We were due to fly to Europe to visit Damian’s family and our friends, flying out of Sydney on November 29. Not sure what we’re going to do about that trip yet – we need to get some timeframes around getting a new mast (might have to come from France) etc. Obviously, we want and need to be here to oversee the work, but yards close over Christmas and it may take some time to get all the bits and pieces we need.

At this stage, we’re still feeling a bit stunned – we wake up each morning and have to remind ourselves what has happened. But we are fine, and we’re safe and that’s the main thing.

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We’re Off!

May 28, 2013

Marsden Cove, NZ

Only a year later than expected, we are finally sailing out today, headed for Tonga. Down to the wire – our NZ ‘visa’ for the boat expires tomorrow, but we’ve had a few more challenges, and only just got them (well, most of them), resolved in the last day or so, plus we had to coordinate with a good weather window. The stars are finally all aligned (we hope) and we’re off.

Definitely time to go – there was ice on the dock this morning and the weather the last few days has been VILE, but it’s sunny today and we should get a good run. Not sure when we’ll get in to Nuku’Alofa, but probably around the 5th of June. Don’t panic if you don’t hear from us, though – we may stop off in Minerva Reefs for a few days if the weather is good. I’ll send an email when we get in and get connected to internet.

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Like Frogs in Boiling Water

April 30, 2013

Marsden Cove, NZ

By: Kerry

I’m sure plenty of boat owners can relate to the following conversation and course of events.

It’s the old ‘frog in boiling water’ scenario: things start out pretty cool in the pool, but the heat’s turned on, and it’s increased incrementally, inexorably, until all of a sudden, you realise the water’s boiling and it’s too late to hop out: you’re cooked.

It’s a process we’ve experienced in various guises over the last year, and the conversation goes something like this:

Us: ‘Our generator isn’t working – it was working just fine when we left the boat four months ago, but now it’s not. Can you fix it, please?”

Mechanic: “Oh, that’ll be the exhaust elbow – it always is, it’s my bread and butter. I’ll pull it off and sort it out.”

Us: “How much will that cost – we’d really like an indication before we start, so it doesn’t get out of hand.”

Mechanic: “$1500, tops.”

So Mechanic pulls generator apart, looks at exhaust elbow and pronounces it ‘f**ked’.

Mechanic: “I could spend a bunch of time cleaning it up, but you’d be better off getting a new one. That’d have to come from the US, though.”

For a country that supposedly has the highest per capita boat ownership on earth, it’s astounding that no-one seems to keep any inventory of spare parts, at least not for our boat – just about everything has to be shipped in from overseas and it always takes at least a week and costs a bomb.

So we wait for a week or so for the elbow to arrive. It’s installed and… nothing. Generator still won’t start.

Mechanic: “It must be the valves. I’ll pull the head off and we’ll get the valves machined and the injectors cleaned.

“I’ll have to send them down to Auckland. That’ll take a week, but they don’t look that bad, so I’m absolutely sure it’ll start then.”

So the head’s sent to Auckland, valves are machined but they’re pronounced ‘pretty f**ked’.

Mechanic: “Well, you’ve got about 70 per cent seal, but you’re better off getting a new set of valves, guides and seals.”

And the inevitable: “We’ll have to get them in from the US.”

Us: “How much will that cost?”

Mechanic: “I reckon about $4000.”

Of course, we have no choice at this point, so we groan and say, ‘go ahead’. But then Easter gets in the way and a week turns into two and then the new valves get put back in and… nothing.

So then Mechanic performs a compression test (probably should have been done at the outset) and declares, “It’s definitely a compression problem. The only solution is to pull the head off, pull the engine out, get it on the bench and pull the pistons out.”

At this point we baulk. We start to wonder if we’d be better off just buying a whole new generator. We get quotes, but a new one is about $9 000, on top of the $4 000 we’re already up for. We get a second opinion, but it’s inconclusive.

And then we realise: We’re cooked.

So we tell the mechanic to go ahead. He pulls the head off, declares the pistons ‘aren’t too bad’ (salt damage is the culprit, he says) but the rings are seized.

Guess what? They have to come in from the US.

So another week, more cost, and finally – after six weeks and a bill that’s equivalent to four fifths of a new generator – our generator is singing like a bird and charging like a rhino.

But we’re feeling like boiled frogs.

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A Great Barrier Adventure

April 10, 2013

Great Barrier Island, NZ

By: Kerry

We are off the dock at last!

The Wednesday morning before Easter, we finally motored out of Marsden Cove on a picture perfect morning, intending to anchor in the next bay, but turned right and decided, ‘what the hell, let’s go to Great Barrier Island instead’.

The No Plan Plan was underway!

There was no wind, so couldn’t sail, but it was glorious sunshine and flat seas – even got the ‘kini out and pretended it was the tropics!

GB is about 50 nautical miles east of Marsden Cove and a fave hangout for the NZ yachtie set, local fishermen, the odd hippy and – in the holidays – the JAFA brigade (Just Another F**king Aucklander – fortunately few of them over Easter). It’s really beautiful, with lots of little broken-off islands (some actually called the Broken Islands); safe anchorages protected in any weather, forest-covered hills, great fishing and great walking. Like the more famous Bay of Islands but less people and smaller.

We met up with our friends on Kalida, Derek and Allison, who have spent a lot of time there over the last few years and know all the best walks etc. We’ve done some beautiful hikes, to high vantage points with views over the bays and wider ocean and the weather has, for the most part, been lovely (though I haven’t been brave enough to dive in – it’s not freeeezing, but I’m sure it would shatter my illusion of us being in the tropics).

It’s been a fantastic exercise in getting to know the boat – some forward steps (we have our anchoring routine down pat, pretty much) and a few backwards (since our generator is still in bits, we’re reliant on a combination of solar power and the main engines, and we’re having some problems with the alternator/regulator… can’t quite figure out what the issue is, but it’s causing much frowning and chin scratching by D).

The learning curve has been particularly steep for poor Damian – since we didn’t have any hand over when we bought the boat, added to the fact that all the instruction manuals on board were in French, the boat computer’s operating system was in Spanish and the on-board systems are very complex, he’s been doing an awful lot of reading, studying on-line forums and downloading manuals.

Last week he graduated as marine electronics expert, having finally got our navigation instruments to talk to each other (when the local marine sparky had given up trying). This week he’s studying to be an auto electrician, trying to work out why the main engine alternators are doing inexplicable things regarding charging the house batteries.

But despite the challenges, it does feel pretty damn good to finally be on our boat and out of the marina. The first evening we sat in the cockpit in a gorgeous anchorage, with the sun going down, G+T in hand, not a breath of wind, water mirror calm, and we had to pinch ourselves – FINALLY we’re doing what we set out to do a year ago!

And then next morning we went fishing at dawn (gotta love late daylight saving – it didn’t get light until 7.30, so you can sleep in and still go fishing at dawn). Just went out in the dinghy into the pass between the broken-off islands, where as soon as you drop a line, you get a bite. We pulled in about a dozen snapper in an hour, but only kept three ‘pannies’ as the locals call them (ie pan-size) – minimum size is 27cm, measured from the deepest part of the V of its tail to its nose, which is bigger than the Oz limit, I think. Nevertheless it was dinner – and they were delicious. We’ve been fishing a few times since, with similar results: the fish are verging on suicidal.

Sunday looked a good day for a sail back to the mainland, so we set off early, heading out through the narrow pass on glassy water, with tendrils of cloud laced around the surrounding hills. And so our inaugural solo sail was a cracker – moderate winds, next-to-no swell and beautiful sunshine all the way home – couldn’t have asked for better. We anchored for the night in the bay we were intending to stop at the day we left Marsden and I cooked dinner of mussels that had been discreetly liberated from the anchor chains of the mussel leases on Great Barrier.


Since then we’ve been back in the marina – we had to go back to get our generator fixed. We arrived back very early Monday morning (Damian very proud of his docking effort!). Mechanic showed up to finalise the generator fix and…. nuthin. Doesn’t work. There’s still no light at the end of that tunnel. We actually got a second opinion today, but no-one has a clue what the problem is – defying all logic and sense. So we’re a bit stuck.

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Back at the Ranch

February 20, 2013

Marsden Cove, New Zealand

By: Kerry

Corinne June Lorimer, March 14, 1932 to January 4, 2013. RIP.

Corinne June Lorimer, March 14, 1932 to January 4, 2013. RIP.

We’re back on Sel Citron, after four months back in Sydney.

My mother, Corinne, was diagnosed with secondary cancer last year, just as we’d bought the boat, stopped work, rented out the house and were preparing to leave. They gave her six months to two years. We were torn – wanting to stay, but geared to go. Mum was adamant that we went – and so we planned to get her out to the boat in Fiji as soon as we could get there.

We had twice-weekly Skype calls from the boat and, as we were hit with one delay after another, we watched on screen as Mum’s health steadily deteriorated.

I went home for two weeks in August, at which time she was still strong enough to take on the bush turkey destroying her garden at Hawks Nest, and the two of us shifted about a tonne of dirt in the process of dismantling his nest mound.

But the continued rounds of chemo were taking their toll – and the cancer continued to spread.

Damian and I gave up on the idea of getting to Fiji, and started making plans to go home to be with her. She wanted to maintain her independence as long as possible, which we respected, but when I suggested that Damian doing a yacht delivery would be good timing for me to come visit, she agreed.

When I arrived home, she’d just been admitted to hospital with pain in her hip. That hip subsequently fractured and the medicos recommended a partial hip replacement, which seemed ludicrous at the time. We thought we were going to lose her at that point, but 40 years of yoga stood her in good stead and she made a remarkable recovery.

After 44 days in hospital, we brought her home and Damian and I moved in and endeavoured to spoil her rotten for the next seven weeks. She’d been on chemo throughout the year, so she’d either had no appetite or food actually tasted bad. But chemo was finished and her taste buds had revived, plus she was on Dexmethasone which (as a side effect) stimulates appetite.

Ironically, she was feeling so much better than while she was on the chemo, so we had a great, ‘gourmet’ time. All through her life she’d watched her figure and been careful about what she ate (in the photo, above, she’s 78). Bugger that! With nothing to lose, chocolate was on the menu at any time of day. (Chocolate-coated strawberries for breakfast, anyone?).

I was cooking all sorts of gastronomic delights and Damian was in charge of gin and tonics and ‘pudding surprise’ each evening, when he’d turn whatever goodies he could find in the fridge/cupboard into some, er,  ‘exotic’ dessert delight. Always good for a laugh, but always delicious, too.

Corinne was very frail, and it wasn’t long before she could no longer stand or feed herself – but, undaunted, she could still suck a G+T through a straw!

Fortunately, Damian and Corinne always got on really well – truth to tell, I reckon she actually flirted with him – and she always had a great sense of humour, which stood her in good stead through all the awful indignities of her illness.

We had so many great belly laughs – tears streaming down our faces – at the most ridiculous, stupid things, and it was those that got us through and, while it was a terribly sad time, it was also an incredibly special time, one that we will treasure, and I am so grateful that we were able to be there for her.

On New Years Eve she was struggling to swallow, and we were advised to get her into hospital in case something went wrong over the public holiday. She was admitted that afternoon and I think she decided she’d had enough.

She died on January 4.

The next month was just a blur as we sorted through 46 years of ‘stuff’ and two houses. We renovated both houses (family working bees), ready to go on the market, appointed agents and did all the things you have to do in such circumstances.

We were under added pressure as we have to get the boat out of New Zealand by the end of May, or face importing it (and a tax bill of NZ$100,000 or so) – but we’ve only sailed the boat for a total of about three hours. So from a safety point of view at the very least, we’re desperate to get out on the water and get to ‘know’ her before we head offshore.

As of today, our new navigation equipment is delivered, but not yet functioning – before we left in October, the marine electrician installed it, but couldn’t get it working. We thought the chart plotter might be a lemon, so we sent it back to be bench tested while we were in Oz and it’s now back on the boat with a clean bill of health.

But the sparky is still scratching his head…

And, just to add to the fun, the generator – which was working perfectly before we left – won’t start, no matter how nicely we talk to it.

Here we go again…

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