We spent this past week in Auckland, docked at Pier 21 in the Westhaven Marina, doing boat jobs and preparing for our sail to Fiji.
Boat jobs? Yes. Lots of them.
Back home in San Francisco, I belong to the Olympic Circle Sailing Club, which has a fleet of over 50 boats that are always ready to sail thanks to the dedicated management and fleet service teams. I just show up, get the keys, complete a quick inventory checklist, and go.
This trip to New Zealand has given me great insight into boat ownership – from setting up a newly purchased boat, to repairing and maintaining the boat, to preparing for an ocean passage. I’ll write more on this topic later. For now, I’ll just highlight a few of the boat jobs we did this week. And these are *very* minor jobs, versus what we could have been doing...
One afternoon we spent cleaning the bilges. A bilge is a compartment in the lowest part of the boat, below the waterline, that collects seawater and/or rainwater as it drains from other parts of the boat. We used a hand pump and bucket, and lots of sponges and paper towels. We were also inspecting the compartments to make sure there were not clogs or gunk that might cause a problem when underway.
Another afternoon we spent on the deck inspecting the storm jib and trisail. These are small sturdy sails that are used in severe weather conditions. While we don’t expect to need them on this passage, we wanted to make sure we knew how to use them – just in case. We practiced hoisting the trisail and rigging the sheets.
We also rigged a “preventer” for use when sailing downwind. Attached to the end of the boom and running up to the bow and back to the cockpit, the preventer helps keep the mainsail and boom from banging around (and even more importantly prevents us from doing an accidental jibe).
There were so many other little jobs: hoisting Rick halfway up our 60-foot mast so that he could change a light bulb, taping up vents with duct tape to prevent entry of water, organizing and securing the items in our forward compartment, installing protective seat covers, etc.
Over the last few weeks, we've had some experts come aboard to do repairs, inspection, and maintenance. (Think mechanic, electrician, and plumber.) This week, the most significant task was getting our engine-driven water maker working. Yes, that’s right, SV Avalon can now convert seawater into fresh drinking water at the rate of 40 gallons per hour! Amazing!
The best part of the week was taking Avalon out for a couple of shakedown sails. We wanted to test the different repairs, upgrades, and maintenance activities that have gone on these past few weeks. We also just wanted to practice the operation of the sails and systems. Even when everything is working, sailing a boat this size is a coordinated, orchestrated effort only successful with teamwork and communication.
Both shakedown sails turned out to be pretty non-eventful – which is what you want in a shakedown sail. The engines worked, the charging worked, the sails worked.
At the end of the week – well, today actually – we headed to the grocery store to buy provisions for the boat. We must have set a record for provisioning. In just under 2 hours, we filled 3 giant shopping carts, paid the cashier, took a van taxi to the boat, unloaded the bags, and stowed everything on board.
Contrary to what you might think, it is very easy to eat well (and healthy) on a boat. I know first hand that Skipper Tom makes some great meals when cruising. However, for this particular passage, we dumbed down the provisions quite a bit. It’s going to be four guys, in potentially tough conditions, so we kept provisions simple – breads and spreads, soups and oatmeal, frozen pizza and vegetables, pastas and sauces, cookies and crackers.
Now, some of us are optimistic that we will catch some fresh fish during our passage. Skipper Tom (proud of his sleek boat) says we’ll be moving too fast for the fish. I think there is a gentleman’s bet in the works as to whether we’ll be eating sushi one evening.
The other activity that has been going on all week is meteorological in nature: watching and analyzing the weather (in particular the movements of high and low air pressure systems, the resulting wind strength and direction, and, in turn, resulting sea state). I am still learning this critical bit of sailing know-how that is frequently forgotten. But Skipper Tom has been studying the weather daily, and collecting all kinds of input from different sources – friends, weather services, locals. We are looking for a weather window that has decent wind, in a favorable direction, but without a rough sea state.
This week has not been all work. After 10 days in Whangarei, it was nice to return to the ‘big’ city. We have enjoyed a few nights out at our favorite spots – Swashbuckler's for ice cold cider, the Asian Food Market for cheap eats, Ponsonby Street for trendy cafes and bars, and The Fiddler Irish Pub for live music and a few games of pool.
That said, with the haul-out, boat jobs, shakedown sails, and provisioning done, we are ready to go! We will leave tomorrow morning and sail north up to Marsden, stopping at Kawau Island for an overnight anchor.
Once in Marsden, we will continue to watch the weather, waiting for a window to open -- then we will check out of New Zealand, and sail north to Fiji!