Thursday, February 26, 2015

Back to the Bay of Islands...Or why we love Russell boating club

We've been gradually creeping up the East Northland coast here with a new adventure in mind.  It didn't take us long to realise that we weren't going to want to stay in this corner of New Zealand until we head back to the UK for a bit and we certainly weren't going to get a car like most overseas sailors do once they get here.

It started after about a week looking around the beautiful bay of islands.  'This is lovely but wouldn't it be something to see the fjords...' The seed was planted.  So we've been getting ourselves ready, together with seeing a bit of the area.

Someone else with their spinnaker up near Great Barrier Island.

Whangamamu harbour, an old whaling station.  Rather gruesome to read about but a lovely walk across the peninsula.

Just shows I can still harbour double standards since we were delighted to catch this kingfish just after we rounded Cape Brett.  We got changed and washed the cockpit down a bit before the photo.

From the top of Motuarohia island.

This area of Northland is famed for it's beauty and clement weather and as such is something of  a holiday destination.  But with a boat and all those islands to chose from you can still find yourselves a quiet corner. There's also loads of scallops, mussels and oysters around to supplement your dinner.


So, whilst we've been enjoying our sail back up the coast and around the islands, we've been thinking about how we need to be prepared for our forthcoming trip.

We've started to rebed our portholes.  They all need their rubber seals replacing where they open and close and this is much easier to do when they are out of the wall.  Some of them were dripping a bit occasionally so we'd like to get them all redone before we leave the boat in a couple of months time.  A good time to give the wood behind some TLC too and a little shine doesn't hurt though don't count on the eighth one getting this attention!

 This is the really big job.  Since it might be quite windy down around the bottom of South Island we feel we'd be pushing our luck to solely count on our 40 year old main sail to stand up to it.  We wanted our spare ready to use just in case.
 When we bought Impetuous she came with an old and a new main sail.  Brand new never been used with the name and number of the boat on it. Imagine our surprise when we hoisted it for the first time and found that it didn't fit.  We puzzled for a bit as to what we'd done wrong, we'd built our new mast taller than the original but we couldn't work out why this would make any difference...
In the end we couldn't find any other explanation other than it was wrong and we'd need to change it significantly before it could be of any use.  So we paid a sailmaker in Guatemala to recut the leech shape and remove the foot, add a new panel and reshape it.  We'd left it at that all this way but here we will need the reefs when our old sail finally gives out.  So we removed the old reef patches and eyes (except one which we could make work) and very carefully measured where we wanted the new ones to be.


So we made new strengthening patches.  6 layers starting small and getting bigger to spread out the strain on the material.  Then onto the sail so when we were sewing them under the leech tape that made 9 layers, we were so pleased that our machine could just about manage it, the material is very tough (9oz dacron).

Next we had to add the eyes through the patches to do the work.  We'd bought the equipment to do this in Panama so we were ready, we just refreshed our minds by watching the sailrite youtube video again.  Cut the hole with a stanley knife, punch holes where the stitches will go and then sew the brass ring on.  Two rings of stitches of different sizes for added strength (a la Moitessier).  Once it's finished, hammer on a grommet for the ropes or hardware to run through.



So this is why we love Russell boating club.  The people are friendly and helpful, they have a hot shower, a bar open 3 evenings a week, a big dinghy dock and a lovely big space where we could work on our sail.  It's all done now so we're leaving this afternoon, sailing round the top at Cape Reinga then heading straight for Milford Sound.  The wind may not let us go straight though as we're likely to pass through a patch of variable and light winds but we'll hope for the best.

The other reason I love Russell boat club is that it has a community garden.  It's lovely to potter in a garden and get your hands in the soil. Contribute and you can share so we've got some beautiful chillis, lettuce, chard and a few little carrots for our trip.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Budget Bonanza

It's a topic many blogs broach and people often wonder about so we thought we'd toss our hat into the ring.

On Impetuous we don't have a budget as such. We just try to make our money last as long as we can whilst having what we value. Though we did try to guess how much we might spend this last year and made that our goal to save up whilst we were in England. As we've been sailing for a year now I thought it was high time we work out how much it really has cost us.

We rejoined Impetuous in the third week of January 2014. Between then and now (the end of January 2015) we have spent exactly £7,829 on living on Impetuous. That's $11,978 (USD), €10,177 (Euros), $15,814 (NZD) or INR745,869 Indian Rupees at todays exchange.

Is that a lot or a little? We have mixed views on this. It's less than we'd thought, but we always think we could live more frugally. Lets run through what this year entailed.

We've sailed over 10,000 miles this year. We left Guatemala for Belize in March then had a month in Cuba. We then spent a few months in Panama seeing some of the San Blas islands and Las Perlas on our way out into the big blue. Over three months spent in French Polynesia were a joy; sailing most days and visiting some of each group; the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society islands. We then moved on through the Cook islands to lovely Tonga before heading down to New Zealand for the cyclone season.

So what were our main expenses?

The Panama canal was a big deal for us and cost us £650 ($1,000). You can pay more but we did it without an agent; standing our own bond, doing the tiny amount of paperwork and avoided hiring help by taking backpackers through as line handlers. It was a great experience for all. The officials were a joy to deal with and we think, on reflection, that it was great value for money.

Checking into and out of so many countries adds up, but we were saved financially by both French Polynesia and New Zealand being entirely free to us lucky Brits. We estimate around £700 (just over $1000) going on such fees this year. We may have had to pay to be in Cuba (around £150) for a month but it was a wonderfully cheap month where we were able to replenish our rum stocks for £2 ($3) a bottle and a roadside pizza cost the same as a roadside icecream; 12.5 pence (20c).

We filled up our diesel three times this year. Firstly we'd left it empty in Guatemala, then again before leaving Panama and lastly in Bora Bora where they offered duty free fuel. We'd had some windless times around Panama and then the Societies particularly while we were trying to show Chris and Jean (Duncans' parents) a good time. We've still got over half a tank left of this. That's £500 ($750) a surprisingly large amount to us; given how much we avoid motoring and rely on solar for all our electricity. The price of fuel was almost exactly the same at all three places, about £2.60 ($4) a gallon.

We use on average a 9kg gas bottle about every 6 weeks, that's £130 ($200) largely used to make an inordinate amount of tea. We've never paid for water though others certainly do sometimes. We only stayed in a marina that one time in Panama ($50 for one night... still spitting feathers) and we paid for a mooring buoy once in Tonga (12 Panga, £4) – then moved to anchor the next day.

This total also includes a fair amount of cash going to the marina in Guatemala where we'd left Impetuous for 5 months whilst we were back in England visiting family and friends, and earning money. This was $110 per month US for an excellent service; a clean boat and monthly email about how beautiful she still was (thanks Burnt key). Whilst still in the Rio Dulce we paid a sailmaker to recut our new main (which had come with the boat but didn't fit). He quoted for the whole job; re-stitching and three new reef points but we baulked at the price and decided a better investment would be to buy some sailmaking equipment and hardware for a fraction of the cost.

About £500 went on the boat; filters, varnish and said sail adjustment stuff. We were ahead on this; though we didn't leave Texas with a finished boat, we certainly left with a dependable one given all the work we'd done on her.

We have third party insurance for Impetuous. At £200 a year we think it's important. If she drags her anchor and ploughs into a superyacht the damage (to it) is covered. Also morally we want it, lest we accidentally injure anyone else. The responsibility for our own health and the boats wellbeing falls to us.

So that leaves about £4,800 (£100 or $150 per week) for flour, fishing gear and fun; pillows, pasta and peanuts; bouncy balls, bacon and beer. Our biggest spending months on these were in Panama stocking up ready for expensive French Polynesia and now we're in New Zealand where our stores are intentionally low and the availability of nice things is high.

Of the people we've met we're certainly at the more frugal end, though some do spend less. We eat really well on Impetuous. If it was a problem we could save money by buying less vegetables, no meat, less olive oil, capers, olives, whole spices, chocolate, butter and milk but we don't want or need to. We've purposefully not estimated the proportion of this total that goes on alcohol... make of that as you will!

What probably helps to keep our costs down is that we always cook at home. We never feel the urge to eat out unless there's something new to learn and it's cheap. In the Marquesas one of the main local favourites is 'Poisson Cru' which we tried at roadside stalls a few times; trying to learn the quantities of lime and coconut in which you eat the raw fish, so now we can have it at home; delicious. About 10 different kinds of dried beans, 3 different lentils, various flours, rice and pasta provide a backbone to an endless variety of meals aboard Impetuous. We love visiting local markets, trying to find foods growing wild and attempting new things; of course this results in plenty of disasters along with the triumphs.

We do every job we possibly can ourselves on the boat. We both share an interest in how things work and enjoy learning new skills even if this means making mistakes sometimes. After spending so long restoring Impetuous we really value the confidence we have in our own work and understanding her simple systems on which we rely.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Finally Fidget Sails

Finally, after what's been a very long time in the making, our nesting dinghy; fidget, has been sailing for the first time.

We started off, still in America by making cardboard models to scale. Finally happy with the appearance, we roughly cut the ply needed, storing it under the forward berth; which didn't make for a very comfortable bed.

In Guatemala we shaped and glued up the hull between torrential downpours. A word of warning from this; if you're trying to build a nesting dinghy, obviously it must nest, but when you glue the hulls to the mating surfaces, bolt the surfaces together so they will definitely mate later!

Some more progress was made before we left; we scoured a timber yard for wood suitable to make into a mast, gaff and boom for our Gunter rig. Knowing we wouldn't have access to a table saw for a while, a bolt rope run was made in the gaff with this and an inverted T shape router bit. I used a 1” radius roundover bit to route the shape from the square stock (we made our oars the same way). If you ever do this don't attempt a perfect circle, leave enough wood for the bearing of the bit to run along. Then knock off the edges with a plane. The gaff jaws were made with offcuts of plywood.

That's where the progress stalled. At first we hoped we'd have her sailing around the enchanting San Blas islands in order to visit exotic villages in tucked up spots. It was not to be.

When that opportunity sailed by we dreamed of having the rudder, sails, mast and daggerboard ready as we visited the coral encrusted Pacific islands. We set to in Taiohae bay, Nuku Hiva, first concentrating on the buoyancy chambers. Progress was made, but a disproportionate amount of time was spent wrestling fenders on, trying to stop her beating up Impetuous as she swung around in the swell of that rolly anchorage. That cemented her name 'Fidget'.

As we left for the Tuamotus we still hoped we might explore shallow lagoons with crystal clear water, swept by the refreshing trades; mask and snorkel in hand, in our own little bug. There were always more islands and atolls coming up in the future. We dreamed of her sails providing the tranquil power we have grown accustomed to, gliding across the large open stretches of brilliant colour; Impetuous safe at anchor in deeper water. But, it wasn't to be. To be honest we were having too much fun being fleet of foot to concentrate on the task.

When we arrived in Auckland for Christmas we turned to each other and agreed we should really use the opportunity of inactivity amongst joviality to finish the sailing part to the dinghy. So, between partying, we set to work.

The vision I had always had for Fidget was a smaller version of the mirror dinghy. To that extent no plans for fidget ever existed beyond the cardboard model. How the mast, sails, rudder fitted together as well as its general appearance draws from my happy memories of sailing a mirror dinghy as a child.

Buoyancy, seemed the first place to start, no point putting in all this effort to have fidget sink on us the first time we capsize. This was simply a question of sealing up the inspection hatches.

We had been given an old dinghy sail which Ruth set about converting in to main and jib. The boom is particularly high cut as it exactly follows a seem in the original sail. It has the added bonus of not hitting our heads as we tack. The jib tack has since had to be further reinforced where we were delighted to find our sewing machine could manage 6 layers of heavier sail cloth with a run up and a following wind!

The rudder pivots up into the stock so we can land ashore without fear of tearing off the gudgeon’s that are bolted through her transom. These are made from offcuts of teak strengthened by stainless steel. The whole arrangement is topped off by the tiller, perhaps douglas fir from the bowsprit; we have so many offcuts.

'Life is too short to splice wire', Bernard Moitessier reputedly once said. This didn't deter Ruth from spending a couple of days learning how to splice eyes in some old guardrail wire to make a fore stay and two shrouds. Frequently piercing her fingers in the process, the result was not as neat as she'd have liked but will be strong and saved us $60 in cable clamps. Perversely, this took about as much time as making all the stays for Impetuous. A wise chap, that Moitessier.

Of course, as you would expect for her maiden voyage there was scarcely a breath of wind. We did manage to sail around the headland of the bay and far out of sight of the grown up Impetuous.

Despite having all sailed thousands of miles across the Pacific, sailing Fidget brings out the inner child in us all. We had barely finished our morning tea and had scarcely thought of putting on some clothes when the rasp of our neighbours outboard alerted us to Jean-Michels' imminent arrival, gleaming like a child on Christmas. Soon he was reaching across the bay in the light winds of the morning. Other friends are keen to get sailing and we've even had a race challenge.

At last we are able to explore to our hearts content under sail, as we did exploring Great Barrier island. Fidget may not be the prettiest dinghy but she fits perfectly under our boom and is very roomy for guests and shopping. It takes us about 20 minutes to get her from lashed down to intact in the water and another 10 minutes to get all her sailing paraphernalia in place. But she is still light enough for us to pick up and walk up a beach, just. Finally, with all the offcuts stuck together and only an unfinished table leaf to contend with, we sleep a lot more comfortably.

Ingredients for our sailing nesting dinghy;

4 sheets 1/4” marine ply
Cable ties and epoxy
Fibre glass to tab the joints
Offcuts of wood for various reinforcements
Various small offcuts of stainless steel (from an old stove)
10 metres of 2”square softwood
Rigging (old lifelines)
Donated old sail
Miscellaneous bits of rope