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Levuka & Suva 23rd – 31st July

Levuka was situated in a beautiful setting, a backing of a high amphitheatre of jungle covered hillside with rocky peaks. It was the original capital of Fiji and was were the secession to England was signed. The capital was transferred to Suva later when limits of space made themselves felt here.

Nowadays it feels like a slightly down at heel  township although the Tuna cannery seems to be doing well, there is slight smell of canned fish permeating the town. It was a bit strange to be back in a place with roads, cars shops and resteraunts after my time on the islands.

I walked south down the coast to the place of secession  marked by a bronze plaque and the original treaty house, now looking sadly neglected with vast patches of the thatched roof missing. Inland I climbed up the 199 steps of mission hill and carried on up the valley to a small waterfall where the towns water supply comes from. There were nice views over the town from here and many little shacks where everything had to be carried up by back.

Levuka – view from mission hill steps
Sea Bear at anchor at Levuka

 

After a few days I decided to make the trip to Suva. It was too far to go in daylight hours so late afternoon saw me weigh anchor and sail out through the reef entrance for an overnight passage. The wind was very variable mainly S/SE so to go S meant a lot of tacking. One tack to stand out eastwards from the coast and then a long tack S/SW almost going in the desired direction, gradually closing the coast until a mile away from the reefs then tacking out again. It was a  wearisome business but eventually  the lie off the coast turned around the corner so to speak and I could lay the desired course. Gradually I could go from hard on the wind to a beam reach then a broad reach and finally a run as I rounded the reefs off the SE corner of the mainland.

Eventually I came into line with the leading marks for passing the reefs to enter Suva harbour and could gybe to sail in. As befits a major harbour used by big ships, the beacons marking the reef edges and the leading marks were good, Once in I made my way across and anchored off the Royal Suva yacht Club by early afternoon. Only 75 miles but it had taken me 22 hours.

Sunset at Suva

Next day I walked into town. Suva is big and bustling and there are a  number of department stores where apart from the cliental you could think yourself back in the UK, such a stark contrast to the islands. I shopped at  the excellent fruit and veg market, had a nice curry for lunch and caught the bus back to the RSYC.

Chinese quarter Suva
Chinese quarter Suva

We had another trough come through when I was anchored here, high winds, plenty of rain and a choppy sea which confined me to the boat  for 24 hours.

Another day in town saw a visit to the botanical gardens, which I found a little disapointing.

Misty day Suva

Much better next day I took a bus out to Colo-i-Suva rainforest reserve. Had a nice walk around here, there were some nice waterfalls and pools including one with a tarzan type rope swing.

pool in rainforest
Rope swing

 

The path I took out was steep ‘rooty’ and muddy. Heard lots of birds but they are very hard to spot amongst all the trees.

Rain Forest track

After several days I felt it time to leave the harbour is busy full of ships, many rustbuckets and wrecks and the water is dirty and polluted. I weighed anchor and headed out one morning, next stop 100 miles along the coral coast.

Suva harbour

Tavenui – Qamea – Nairai – Gau – Ovalua: 9th-22nd July

At first I was the only yacht anchored off Vacaia Bay, Taveuni, but later more yachts joined me there including a family I had met in Katherine bay. They had caught a Mai mai that morning and like me and unusual these days had no fridge so they gave me some generous sized fillets. Good eating this. It was a beautiful spot here. I walked to the supermarket past the airstrip at the tip of the island for bread and stopped for a beer on the way back sitting on a lovely veranda overlooking the bay.

Vacaia bay

Ilil who I had briefly meet in NZ and then bumped into again, joined me for a couple of days as I said I would give her a lift to Qamea. Had a good sail around the north of Taveuni but just as we were about to go through the reefs to Qamea the cloud mist and rain came down. Fortunately it only lasted a little while. According to the charts the reefs were supposed to be marked with beacons but they were missing, probably wiped out by one of the cyclones. Anyway safely through we proceeded until we could safely turn into Naviivi bay. The reefs halfway in are at least marked and we could anchor beyond them. Two guys in a boat came out to talk to us, went away then returned shortly with a note from his Mum who was an Auntie of someone on Taveuni that Ilil had got to know. We were invited to visit so putting on my sulu and grabbing a bundle of kava we were ferried ashore in the school boat, made sevusevu with the headman of the village and then went to visit Angela and family.

There are no roads on this island and the children  go to school by boat.

Naviivi Bay

 

Next day on the way for a walk towards another village we past a group of 7th day adventists who had just finished their morning service. They invited us to lunch with them and would brook no refusal. So we sat down in the shade of their church cum shelter crosslegged around some big straw matts with vast bowls of Fijian fare.  Resuming our walk was up a steep narrow overgrown and very muddy track, plenty of slipping and sliding. I turned and and returned at the top of the hill.

Naviivi bay from on high

Ilil left to stay at another village and I set off for the long trip to the island of Nairai. The winds were light and sometimes non-existent for this 90 mile passage so it took me over 30 hours .

I anchored off the village of Tuvo Lailai in Green Mound bay. Next day I went ashore to make my sevusevu with the headman. This the main village on the island was very small and there are no roads or vehicles on the island at all. They live by farming and fishing. 

Green mound bay, Nairai

The day turned out rather miserable, completely overcast sky high winds and rain and kept that way all night and into the next morning. The anchor had dragged a little in the night so I wasn’t happy at this anchorage. Late morning the weather looked to be clearing a little so I took the opportunity to weigh anchor exit the reef and head over the the nearby island of Gau where after entering the reef at the middle passage I anchored in Heralds bay.

Herald bay, Gau

This might be some version of paradise, crystal clear waters yellow coral sand beaches, coconut palms and a steep hillside behind. I saw turtles and you didn’t need to snorkel to see the brightly coloured fish and soft corals – just row to the beach.

Coconut point, Gau from Herald bay

 

No-one lives in this bay though they visit it to fish or gather coconuts. The village of Sawayake lies in the next bay around the corner. Next morning I found the track that led there through the forest. Once again dressed in my sulu I made sevusevu with the headman and was welcomed to the village. The headman had lived in England a while, at Catterick camp when he was with the Royal Signal Corps.

Sawayake village Gau

Wandering about I was invited in for tea and many people wanted to talk to me. Walking back I was thrilled to see my first Fiji parrot close up, brilliant red and green. Back on the beach with the dinghy was a man and two of his sons. We sat and chatted and they gave me green coconuts to drink, delicious and refreshing. Some women were fishing from their bamboo raft. It was a glorious day.

Fishing from bamboo raft

All change in the night, high winds and rain and from the S or SW so bringing some swell into the bay so the boat had swung through 180 degrees.  It was unpleasant and slightly worrying. All next day overcast sky, wind and occasional rain.

Neither of these bad weather spells had showed up on the long range forecast, all these while it was supposed to be fine – so much for forecasts.

Next morning there was some breaks in the cloud and the wind had eased a little though still strong. I had had no bread for days and was right out of fresh vegetables being away from shops for so long and anyway it was time to head west so I weighed anchor and headed for Ovalua. I still had 20 -23 knots of wind at first and moderate to rough seas but with the wind on the beam, 2 reefs in the main , staysail and partly furled yankee Sea Bear made good speed. I thought the 30 mile passage might take 7 hours or more but within 6 we were in through the reef at Levuka and safely at anchor.

Levuka, Ovalau

To Rabi island and elsewhere

Eventually the forecast was looking better and I left Savusavu. First hop was just about 5 miles down the coast to anchor by the reef just past Costeaus resort.

Anchorage at Cousteus
Anchorage at Cousteus

It meant the saving of about an hour on the next day a day to round passage point and head east along the coast. It meant motoring most of the day but I did a couple of hours sailing in the middle of the day before the wind died. The entrance through the reef to Fawn harbour had a dog leg but visibility was good and safely inside I crossed the lagoon to anchor. A very peaceful tranquil place this, just the distant roar of surf on the reef. I stayed the next day having a peaceful but lonely birthday.

Fawn Harbour
Fawn Harbour

Leaving through the tricky entrance then east again, a flat calm so more motoring. I headed for the reef entrance of Vivani then carried on around the SE tip of Vanu Levu and up to the narrow mangrove lined bay of Naqaiqai. The wind was back but anchoring in 6m the holding in mud was good and the water sheltered. Next day was blowing hard so I remained here.
Next place to visit was Bucca bay, passing Kioa island where they were out fishing from their outrigger canoes. It was calm when I got to Bucca but no sooner having dropped the hook the wind sprang up blowing from the NE. The bay is open to this direction so a chop soon built up. Nevertheless I did go ashore for a walk. I thought that since there was a wharf that a ferry went from served by a bus from Savusavu there might be a shop, I could do with fresh bread but there was none. I did get some pink bananas though and some nice ginger.
It wasn’t really on to stay overnight on account of the wind and chop so I ups anchor, retrace my track to Kioa island. Entering the bay by the village I thought better of anchoring here, I couldn’t find anywhere suitable shallower than 20 m and the bay wasn’t sheltered in the prevailing conditions. I nipped back across to Naqaiqai. I would have liked to visit Kioa, the inhabitants are from Tuvalu, 800 miles to the north, displayed to here when their own island was threatened by sea level rise from Global warming.

Somosomo
Somosomo

I crossed the Somosomo strait to anchor of Somosomo on the island of Taveuni. A couple of the world ARC boats were anchored here. The anchorage doesn’t have a lot to recommend it apart from giving easy access to the shops. I bought a new sim card for the phone, had a chicken curry and bought fresh vegetables and bread.
The weather forecast was for a trough to arrive bring strong winds rough seas and much rain. Time to seek some shelter, the best prospect seemed to be Katherine bay on Rabi island. I had a bit of a rough passage back across the strait, winds gusting to 27 knots and breaking seas. The fringing reef of Rabi is about 4 miles offshore, the passage in not marked so some tension. Once inside the reef I had hoped the reef would break the waves and calm the seas but the reef is not shallow enough so it was rough all the way in finding a careful way between the inner reefs. Once inside the bay although the wind was till strong the seas were much calmer and I anchored in 9 m much relieved to be in.
Rabi although part of Fiji is populated by Banaban Islanders from the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati). Their island was made uninhabitable by the extraction of phosphate a tragic and heartbreaking story caused by corporate greed and British government connivance.
You are supposed to report to the Rabi police here so according I took the morning bus, a 4wheel drive truck with bench seats, to Nuku the capital. There is just the one road on Rabi, well a dirt track really that runs through the jungle and along the coast. Nuku is not much of a capital, a village with just a few official buildings. None of the official building were occupied but enquiries pointed me to the policeman’s house- it was the one with the police bike outside. One oh his sons raised him from a nap and I presented him my papers and he made a few notes in a note book. It hardly seemed worth the effort. It was now about 11 in the morning, the next truck back I was told was not until 3. There was nothing to do in Nuku, so I decided to set off walking.

Road on Rabi
Road on Rabi

It’s always a nice way to see more of a place. Past a few small villages where the kids always waved and the adults greeted me with Mauri, the traditional greeting. I was the only white face around. The people are different from Fijians much more like Indonesians I thought.

Drying palm fronds Rabi
Drying palm fronds Rabi

I ended up walking all the way back, took me over 4 hours the last hour in heavy rain. Not one piece of traffic passed me in all that time. Passing by a house in the last hour as the rain came down I was called over to the veranda where gathered about 8 or 9 menfolk. A big bowl of grog (kava) was being passed around so I was pressed to partake, there is a fairly strict equiquette to this the cup is handed to you by the person on your left, you are supposed to drain the cup in one whereupon everyone gives 3 soft cupped hand claps. The elder here said he must sing for me so he sang and performed a meke dance partly in English partly in Kiribarti. He said there must be 3 songs and 3 bowls of grog. It was entertaining and enjoyable. Then I resumed my trudge back in the rain to the dinghy and so to the boat. Back aboard I stripped off in the cockpit so as not to take the wetness into the cabin.
The bad weather had certainly arrived but the anchorage was snug and secure.

Katherines bay
Katherines bay

Some days later I moved around to Albert cove towards the north of the island. Getting in here was a double reef entry, first an outer reef then an inner reef to gain entry to the cove itself. All reefs unmarked of course, I was glad the light was good enabling you to spot the shallow water, even so it is a bit nerve wracking.
The cove was a lovely spot, yellow sand beaches backed by coconut palms. Only a couple of people live here to harvest the copra, there is no road or track access, just by boat.

Albert cove
Albert Cove
Net fishing Albert Cove
Net fishing Albert Cove

After a while here I decide to go back to Somosomo, I was long out of bread and fresh veg. Good light is needed to get out of the cove so an early start is ruled out, the sun needs to be well up in the sky to see the reefs clearly. It limits your sailing time to say between 8.30/9.00 am until 4 pm
I didn’t have enough time to make it in one hop so stopped again in Katherine bay.

Katherine bay looking towards Taveuni
Katherine bay looking towards Taveuni

Back in Somosomo I was disappointed – there was no bread. Apparently no flour on the island because the ferry to the island from Suva had stopped running. I didn’t get the full story whether this is temporary or full time.
The anchorage at Somosomo is I find too rolly for comfort so I moved about 6 miles to the north of the island. Matai was recommended in through the reefs with flat water but the light was poor when I arrived and I didn’t like the look of it so went back half a mile to another anchorage off a beach.

Savusavu days

It was good to recover and relax after the passage and do a little exploring around.

I walked out along the coast to the end, Passage point, visiting on the way the Flora Tropical gardens. I wandered around the timber walkways amongst many endangered palms, a tranquil and beautiful place.

Mangroves near Passage point
Mangroves near Passage point

I also took a bus ride to Labasa, this took me along the coast, up into the mountains and the rainforest then down through pine forests and through vast areas of sugar cane.

Bus trip to Labas
Bus trip to Labasa

Labasa is a very Indian town with shops full of saris and curry houses. The Indians originally arrived as indentured labourers for the sugar plantations. Now it is reckoned they make up some 40% of Fijis population and their influence is plain to see.

Labasa market
Labasa market
Taro
Taro

There is a good market in Labasa, I always delight to wander around markets see all the goods on offer and I bought some kava so that I may make sevusevu when I visit outlying villages.

Kava
Kava
Buying Kava
Buying Kava

I had a nice curry for lunch then later caught the bus back. This bus ride was great way to see other parts of the island.

Fiji mountains
Fiji mountains

Another day I took the bus out to the Copra pressing plant where they extract coconut oil from the copra. Unfortunately they weren’t pressing oil that day so I could not see the whole process. Had a long hot walk back.

Coconut plants
Coconut plants
Extracting copra
Extracting copra
Fiji village
Fiji village

Meanwhile my friends Jan & Richard had arrived from New Zealand in Morpheus. They had had a rough and worrying passage and trouble with their engine so they arrived under tow.

The weather has been unsettled with lots of dark clouds and rain and strong winds so I am waiting for an improvement before heading off anywhere else. Because of all the extensive and largely unmarked reefs in Fiji, navigation is a bit of a challenge and you need good light and visibility so you can see the reefs underwater.

Kava drying on roof
Kava drying on roof

Another walk took me over the hill behind the town and down to the south coast. The tide was out so the sea a long way from the beach over the reef, but I love these wanders looking at the house and villages. 

Passage to Fiji

All ready to go it was a matter of waiting for a good weather window for the passage to Fiji.

Following the passage of a front with a bit of a blow, the  forecast looked good. Time to go and indeed apart from a windless departure when I had to motor for 8 hours we had good winds.

At some some stage with our rate of progress I reckoned we would arrive in Fiji on a Fri eve or Sat morning. With the Fijian authorities charging overtime, minimum 3 hours at weekends at 100F$ per hour, a weekend arrival is to be avoided.

Anchored at Minerva reef
Anchored at Minerva reef

So although I had not planned to stop over at Minerva reef I now did thinking to stay just 2 nights. However I arrived with one of those squeezes  between a tropical depression to the north and a high to the south. The wind soon picked up and didn’t slacken below 24 knots for 5 days. Anchoring here in these conditions was anything but restful. After 4 days I was fed up of the situation and headed out, leaving later risked another weekend arrival.

I did wonder the wisdom of my decision with 27 knot winds and gusting higher and rough short seas, but Vancouvers are such good sea boats, 3 reefs in the main and staysail she just ploughed on.

Booby aboard

 

Dawn of the 15th day since leaving Opua revealed the island of Matuku, the first of the Fiji group. I would have liked to stop here but you must check in at a recognised port of entry so had to keep going.

Matuku Island Fiji

Closing with my destination and it seemed likely that I would arrive on a Thursday eve  just after dark. Not liking this idea I decided to slow down so as to arrive at first light Friday. Down to just a staysail though I was still going too fast, around 4 knots. Ironic how sometimes you struggle to achieve that speed with all sails set! Still once past Koro island with a decent amount of sea room all around I hove to for few hours. Letting draw later I arrived with good light to spot the pillar marking the reef of the point, rounding this, another few miles in the bay to arrive at Savusavu,

Approaching Savusavu

I picked up a mooring buoy at 09.30, perfect for normal working hours for the authorities.

Savusavu

Checking in was quick and painless, here they come out to your boat, Health pratique, Biosecurity, Customs and Immigration. Given permission to land it was time to find an ATM, pay the relevant fees and then the reward of a cold beer.

Passage of 1257 miles

Round Walk -Opua, Russell, Pahia

Whilst waiting for a good weather wind to leave for for Fiji I took the opportunity for a little walk. I took the vehicle ferry  from Opua to Okiata, walked though the bush and by bays to Russell (3 and half hours). Took the passenger ferry to Pahia then the coastal track back to Opua (2 hours) A nice little leg stretch with some good views.

Shake down cruise to Opua

So I decided to head back north making use of the southerly winds to hop back up the coast.
SW 20 knots was forecast which was almost ideal although would have prefered a more gentle 15knots. But the first leg was about 40 miles so with 20 it should be speedy.
I weighed anchor and left at first light from Kawau bay, out through the north channel and was soon rounding Takatu point and could set corse northwards. The worst part of the journey was the last two miles when I seemed to hit nasty conditions of wind over tide at the entrance to Whangarei harbour but anchored OK in Urquharts bay.

Bream Head
Bream Head

Next day just a short hop up to Tutaka harbour, quite a narrow entrance between rocks to this but good leading marks to help you in and very sheltered inside. I had wanted the objective for the next anchorage to be Minywatter bay but the forecast was for wind to go around to NW in the evening so not ideal and I carried on to Whangamumu.

What a beautiful landlocked and sheltered harbour this was. No roads no houses just the ruins of and old whaling station. I had noticed that I had a problem with the engine charging so a spot of careful trouble shooting led to the discovery of a broken earth wire from the alternator fairly easily fixed but it lead to what if thoughts.
I rowed to the old whaling station and after a wander around this.

Old whaling station plaque
Old whaling station plaque

then another beach where I left the dinghy and walked up steeply to the ridge and part way down the other side towards the Bay of Islands, the promintory being quite narrow here. I was hoping for good view but got only tantalising glimpses through the thick tree cover.

Whangamumu
Whangamumu
Whangamumu harbour
Whangamumu harbour

I stayed a second night at anchor here sheltering from rain and occasional high winds.
From Whangamumu just a short hop around Cape Brett.

Cape Brett
Cape Brett

I had been unable to get a weather forecast on the VHF so discovered it was still blowing hard outside and was around 30 knots on the nose with quite a sea, far from pleasant conditions and I got quite splashed. I put into Oke bay for awhile but later in the afternoon when the weather had calmed somewhat and the wind gone around to the SW I went on again through the Albert channel to Waipora Bay for the night.

Later the next day I carried on the remaining miles to Bay of Islands Marina where I had booked a berth.
As well as a small modification necessary to the new mainsail I had decided to get an alternator as a spare. I fact I fitted a new one keeping the old as spare and also changed the charging set up, fitting a dual voltage VCR unit and switches.This will cope with the 2 different batteries I now have better. I had bought this ages ago, originally for Dansa but never got around to fitting it and it had sat almost forgotten in a locker on Sea Bear for the past 5 years.
Also time to get some laundry done, restock on provisions and do the paper work for leaving New Zealand and heading for Fiji.

Back in the Water and on the Move.

At last I was about ready, jobs done sails and running rigging fitted, it was time to launch. Hoisted in slings overnight there was time to dab on some anti-foul on where she had been sitting all this time.

Ready for Launching
Ready for Launching

Then early next morning Sea Bear was lowered into the water, First thing to check for leaks and a little adjustment on the stern gland that I had repacked with stuffing and deliberately left a little loose. Adjusted too tight runs the risk of excessive wear on the propshaft and damaging the stuffing, a controlled drip is the thing to aim for. All well then a short motor to tie to a pontoon, time to get used to being afloat.

Back in water at RDM
Back in water at RDM

 

After a few days it was time to leave. A little shakedown cruise in order and to see a bit more of NZ by sea. The problem of the van was solved by Mark offering to store it on his land so looks like I will be heading back to NZ next cyclone season, and why not still plenty to explore there. It felt a little strange slipping away from Whangarei on the top of the tide and heading down the river. I have spent so much time there over the past year and a bit it almost feels like a second home to me.

Whangarei
Whangarei

The weather didn’t seem quite as forecast as I neared the river mouth. Much stronger winds than expected and my proposed anchorage at Urquharts bay not as sheltered as hoped for.  Still I tucked in amongst the other boats at anchor and used the new windlass for the first time, out rattled the chain, the new anchor bit right away and there I was bobbing on the briny. I stayed there the next day to give a chance for wind and seas to moderate.

Urquharts Bay
Urquharts Bay

It was a longish haul to my next destination so with a scant 12 hours of daylight I was up at 3am hauled in the anchor and away. Motoring as no wind but the channel out to the clearway buoy is well lit. Some wind arrived with the dawn so all sails were set and being new they looked well. I was hard on the wind but could almost set the course I wanted south down the coast. I had to make a few tacks to round Cape Rodney though and then across Omaha bay to Takatu Point. Here the wind died but it was just a fairly short motor through North Channel then around the corner to enter Bon Accord Harbour, Kawau Island. My hunch proved correct and I spied Morpheus of London with friends Jan & Richard at anchor here. True to form they invited me to join them ashore at the Kawau boat club for drinks.

Smelting Cove Kawau Island
Smelting Cove Kawau Island

I stayed at anchor here for a few days, we had a high over NZ with very light winds and I dont like motoring much. I went for a couple of nice walks across to Mansion house bay and to the old copper mine.

Mansion House bay Kawau Island
Mansion House bay Kawau Island

It was quite and peaceful here with just a few boats but Easter arrived and with it the crowds, at quick count  there was over a hundred boats at anchor here.

Rain and wind last night when that clears over next day I will move on. It’s getting close to time to head north to the Bay of Islands where I will wait for a suitable weather window to head off on passage to the Islands.

Not (quite) all work no play

They say a man can’t live by work alone so it’s not been all work and no play. More work on Sea Bear yes, a SS bash plate for the bow. I thought the existing anchor a little on the light side so a new 15kg Manson supreme anchor with 50 m of 8mm graduated chain and 50m of 14mm anchorplait rode to complete the new anchoring arrangement. I replaced a lower shroud which was mysteriously bent. Stripped re-painted and re-assembled the pumps for the heads and cleaned and regreased the seacocks. Stripped and overhauled all 8 winches.

Bash plate
Bash plate

For a break I headed north in the van up to Maitai bay on the Karikari peninsular. I had been there before but such a beautiful place and good campsite it was worth a second visit. A lovely spot for a swim and I also took a long walk along a deserted beach then a track up to Tapakakeno hill with great views up and down the coast.

Maitai Bay
Maitai Bay

I also visited Puheke beach and walked up Mt Puheke again good views. I hadn’t been my intention but I found myself drawn to visit Cape Reinga, almost the most northerly point of North Island. It is wild empty country up there.

Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga

A steepish gravel road for which NZ is famous for took me to a campsite at Tapotupotu beach.

Tapotupotu campsite
Tapotupotu campsite

Next morning it rained so I headed back south but stopped awhile at the Te Paki giant sand dunes, the rain stopped and I had an exhausting climb up the highest dune, one step up then sliding backwards in soft sand.

Te Paki sand dunes
Te Paki sand dunes

Resumed working on the boat, much cleaning, some revarnishing. I fitted some lazy jacks to help handle what would be a very slippery and stiff new mainsail. Refitted the stripper rope cutter to the propshaft. Rebuilt the spare autopliot with new drive belts. Eyespliced a chain hook to a length of 3strand rope for an anchor strop. Stripped and greased furling system.
Checking over the engine, I replaced the water pump hoses, decided I needed a new water pump for it. Took off the monitor self steering for a crack in the tubing to be repaired.
More cleaning, cutting back and polishing the gelcoat of the topsides and cabin so Sea Bear looking much better.

Starting to think of the coming sailing season it was time to review my stock of charts. Another trip in the campervan down to Auckland to visit the chart agent and buy some charts and pilot books. I took the opportunity to visit the Waitakere Ranges to the west of Auckland, I had been rained off here last year. It was a shame that quite a few of the tracks were closed due to Kauri dieback disease but did get a nice walk in through the forest. Off then to Piha beach, a great west coast beach famous for its surf, Walked up Lion rock.

Piha Beach from Lion Rock
Piha Beach from Lion Rock

Another walk up the Kitekite valley to get to the Kitekite falls. The plunge pool at the bottom was just too inviting so a bathe was taken – refreshing the verdict.

Kitekite falls
Kitekite Falls

Next stop was Karekare beach, a short walk through trees to the black sand beach. The sand was just too hot for my bare feet. It’s a big empty beach with wild surf and dangerous rip currents so I didn’t swim here. Back over to the East coats and Snell’s beach then up to Goat Island marine reserve. The idea was to swim with the fishes but soon after arrival a rain squall turned up, heavy rain and a choppy sea. A section of gravel track over the hill took me back northwards, this one not dry and dusty but muddy slippy and running with water and it rained all the way back to Whangarei and most of the next day too.
Good weather soon returned though, it is still very warm here in the day, still shorts and vest weather but you can feel a gradually change of the seasons, the nights are drawing in and the odd morning is a little chilly at first.

I thought that by now I would have already been back afloat, but there is still awhile until the end of the southern cyclone season and the time to sail away from NZ. Most of the work is now done on the boat but there are always little jobs like checking the navigation lights still work – ah well then lets check the deck plugs, ah a bit of corrosion, a broken wire sounds simple but takes hours to fix, my soldering iron is not working so a visit to the second hand tool shop for one, new plug needed – off to the chandelery for one, before you know it the day has gone.
I swarmed up the mast today to check all the standing rigging swages, clevis pins and split pins and lubricate the halyard sheaves. The climbing know how helps here and a harness and a shunt on a tied off halyard makes it safe enough.

Work on Sea Bear

Sometimes when you are working on a boat, progress seems painfully slow but gradually it gets done. Progress was not helped by the long Christmas break that some business in NZ take, but after all it is the middle of their summer and they want to take their summer holidays, escape to the beach or whatever. So I was held  up waiting for parts and rather than getting one job finished I had about 3 or 4 jobs on the go at once, all waiting either for bits or for someone else to do something.

The fitting of a new log was one of those that should have been simple but… it was a NMEA200 instrument so required a backbone cable installing, thicker wires so that the existing  holes that the wire passed through had to be enlarged. A new through hull fitting installed, again a bigger hole needed. I could just swop the log with the old log but instead had to use the old depth sounder position, moving that to a new through hull fitting on the other side of the hull and the wires for that re-routing. Of course the instrument head needed a bigger opening in the instrument console and of course to route the new cables the hatch garage had to be taken off and also 3 of the cabin ceiling panels and the switch panel radio panel and plotter AIS panel. With half the lockers having to be emptied as well the inside of the boat was in turmoil whilst this was underway. To compound matters  work was underway to install the windlass so all the forward stowage area was emptied out. The inside of the boat and the cockpit was like Steptoe’s yard and made living a bit difficult. Still it will be a good incentive to get rid of some stuff.

Installing the windlass provided its own set of challenges. 2 big holes had to be cut through the foredeck. Not having the required hole saws and they being expensive to buy for just one use I got Bruce to do this for me. Lots of measuring, use of a made up template and pondering before the holes were cut as it wouldn’t do to get this wrong. 

Holes cut in deck for the windlass
Holes cut in deck for the windlass

Once the holes were cut the edges were sealed with epoxy and glass-fibre tape to safeguard against water ingress to the plywood deck core. Reassuringly the deck is almost an inch thick, they are solidly built these Vancouvers.

With the windlass all fitted time to fit the solenoid, circuit breaker, up/down cockpit switches and foot switches. Then it was just a matter of wiring it all in, not a simple matter routing two 25mm battery cables from battery to the windlass solenoid plus the switch wiring, much head scratching was required but at last all done. Low and behold the windlass runs. I just have to make good the deck where that old hawse pipe ran.

Wiring to solenoid and windlass
Wiring to solenoid and windlass

With the forward stowage empty I repainted it with white bilge paint.  Horrid process, hot, cramped, airless and very fumy. It was like painting the inside of the black hole of Calcutta white.

An interlude from working on my boat was to give Noel and Mark a hand to pick up some timber for the new boat that Noel is building. Noel’s boat was very near mine in the town basin marina when I first arrived in Whangarei, it is a beautiful 50ft something wooden ketch that he built and which he sailed around the world including Cape Horn. He has decided as he is getting older (he is my age)  he is going to downsize so building a new 35ft boat. Mark is restoring an old wooden boat next to me in the boatyard and it has been fascinating watching the work progress. 

Anyway Noel was buying some Oregon Pine for his topside planks so we drove up to Russell in the Bay of Islands to pick it up. Now the biggest was a serious bit of timber 20” wide by 8” thick by 40 foot long and it took some handling to get it out of the stack and on to the trailer.

Its that bit with the yellow spot at the bottom of the stack we want
Its that bit with the yellow spot at the bottom of the stack we want
Winching the wood onto the trailer
Winching the wood onto the trailer

2 more pieces 10’’ wide by 8” thick by 40 foot long completed the load. Offloading at Noels plot of land where the boat will be built was thankfully easier.

To tackle the replacement of the cutlass bearing I had at first  to remove the rudder so that I could draw the propshaft. With the rudder off I could replace the delron rudder bushes which where showing signs of wear. One of the great things about re-fitting in Whangarei is that you can source most everything so a visit to a bearing shop soon supplied new bushes which were easily fitted.

New rudder bushes
New rudder bushes

Drawing the propshaft revealed a badly worn shaft. It had obviously been once repaired by grinding down and building up again, this had failed big time. Nothing for it but a new shaft. Mark told me the man to see and soon I had a new shaft machined up at  what I though a bargain price. 

Removing the cutlass bearing proved a little tricky but careful investigation revealed the grub screw which held it in place and then careful work with a hacksaw blade to make 2 lengthwise cuts and out came the old bearing. A new one was soon fitted. Meanwhile I had taken the opportunity to check over the engine, I like these careful checks as you can often spot potential problems, in this case a partially cracked & perished fuel return hose. I also replacing the sacrificial anodes in the engine and repainted a few rusty spots. The bilges were also cleaned with the bilge pump hoses removed and cleaned. In the process I found a screwdriver lodged in the bilge pump hose, one that I knew I had dropped into the bilges at some time but had been unable to find and had forgotten about.

old cutlass bearing
old cutlass bearing
new cutlass bearing
new cutlass bearing

Before refitting the propshaft  I repacked the stern gland.

Inserting the new prop shaft
Inserting the new prop shaft

Refitting the rudder was a little tricky on my own as it weighs a fair bit and you have to align the 2 rudder pintles and the heel bearing but a little ingenuity saw it done.

refitting rudder
refitting rudder

The sorely neglected outboard engine was due some tlc. But I was pleased that with a clean spark plug and some petrol it started and ran and even cooling water flowed through it. It was looking rather tatty though so after a partial disassembly I scrapped of the flacking paint and primed and painted it so it looks respectable again.

One major job on my long list was to redo the copper coat on the hull which was wearing time in places. This was a job  that I didn’t feel able to tackle myself so I employed Bruce to do it. After a light sanding of the hull Bruce and his 2 helpers put on 5 coats of copper coat in one day- each fresh coat has to be applied whilst the previous coat is still tacky and the special epoxy, hardener and copper particles carefully mixed in smallish quantities as the pot life is only about 20 mins and the copper must not be allowed to settle out. I helped with the mixing but watching them work I realised that i had made the right decision to not try it myself.

Mixing the copper coat
Mixing the copper coat
Finished 5 coats of copper coat
Finished 5 coats of copper coat

Ronnie is making a new spray hood and is just putting the finishing touches to it. I suppose the old one has done well but I didn’t think it had another season left in it.

Ronnnie making a start on a new spray hood
Ronnnie making a start on a new spray hood

There is still much to be done before Sea Bear is ready for the water again but I feel all the major stuff has been tackled and we are getting there.