There we are, we finally left new Zealand and are on our way to Vanuatu. At the moment of writing some 150 miles off Mystery Island, cruising at a steady knots in 10 knots of breeze.
A lot has happened in the last months in New Zealand. After the rudders where fixed Ah Ma was finally ready to leave Opua. The Opua marina feels like one of those black holes, once it sucks you in it seems harder and harder to leave. But Linda had flown in from Macau for some cruising down the cost of the North Island, so it was time to hang out the dirty laundry (sails) and finally get moving.
But New Zealand summer had a different idea. On the day before Linda’s arrival hurricane Gabriel crossed over New Zealand, crippling the North Island infrastructure and flooding the airport. The days that followed were full of rainfall and road blockages. So the first days we were still stuck at the Opua Marina K dock.
At the Marina we met a great many new friends. My daily ritual included an almost daily visit to the Opua yacht club to meet the local crowd and complain about everything and anything. Among the complaining people there were two yacht owners with whom we planned our departure from New Zealand. There is Dani, a 60 foot ketch, skippered by Chris, a veteran skipper that has had circumnavigated three times. And there is the Spirit of Michaelmas, which we call Micky Mouse, a 45 foot catamaran, skippered by Wayne and his lovely family.
As the rains cleared and summer was finally taking shape, it was time for the first sea trails to see if everything was working as advertised. To get Linda more comfortable with Ah Ma we hired an instructor to take her out and teach her some basic maneuvers and navigation skills. Better that instructions come from a stranger than from me I thought.
For the next couple of days class was in session. Martin, the instructor, a friendly German guy that had sailed many different yachts, was pleasantly surprised by the light weather performance of Ah Ma. With hardly any winds in the canvas she pulled up to an easy 5 to 6 knots. He showed Linda (and me) different corners of the Bay of Islands. And in a short three day masterclass Linda was ready to take Ah Ma out for a cruise as skipper.
Our friends boats were already waiting for us at the anchorage of Matauwhi bay at Russel island. We though we would anchor out for the evening and have some good times ashore on Russel. But after half an hour on anchor the fleet decided to head out towards the Kerikeri river.
After an evening in Kerikeri, visiting the yacht club and having a wonderful change of menu, we left for Whangharoa. It was a smooth sail up to the inlet of the natural harbor. For the first time in many moons Ah Ma could stretch her legs. And stretching she did, leaving the ketch and the cat far behind. We did find some ‘little things’ that would need attention before we could leave NZ shores but nothing too serious.
We stayed at Whangharoa for about a week waiting on favorable winds to return back south. The natural harbor is a wonderful display of nature. During wartimes the harbor was used to hide the New Zealand Naval fleet. I could see how that would work, as there are many arms to the inlet with good depth and towering cliffs to hide ships from plain view.
We entertained ourselves with visits to the fishing club for food, coffee and drinks, and a day of fishing of the back of Wayne’s catamaran.
As winds turned we headed out back south towards Whangharei. We skipped the Bay of Islands and found shelter for the nights in various bays along the way.
In Whangharei the last big job was scheduled for Ah Ma, the changing of colors. We would have the boring white hull ‘wrapped’ with a sparkly anthracite grey marine vinyl. For this work the Marsden cove Marina would be the best spot. The haul out facility uses a Roodenberg trailer, just like in the boatyard in Curaçao. And the boat is stored on the hard on blocks, so the topside is not obstructed. This way the vinyl wrap can be easily applied across the full length of the boat.
But the Marsden Cove Marina and yard are very busy. Mostly because the Opua Marina has increased their prices by over 70 percent over the past 2 years. As a result we had to book for six weeks in advance before we could have our spot on the coveted hardstand.
While waiting for our spot, Linda flew back home for her parents’ wedding anniversary. I stayed with Ah Ma on a mooring in Parua bay, a secluded bay on the opposite side of the river. The weeks flew by and quickly. Summer came as quickly did she disappeared. Most days in Parua were in or in between storms, making the dinghy ride to shore an interesting and often very wet experience.
The time in Parua gave me the opportunity to find some crew for the trip over to the islands. We found a Dutch lady that was working at the local cafe that we frequented. She had no experience sailing, but was very motivated to learn and experience. She would only join us up to Vanuatu though. Through the interweb we found a hitchhiking French girl with some experience that wanted to come along all the way to Asia.
On a sparsely clear day we took them both out for a short sea trail to see how they would interact and if the personalities were a fit. It all seemed alright, but as we would learn later, not everything is what it seems to be.
On another rainy and cloudy day I made the trip over to Marsden cove. I went together with Dani as he would need to do some bottom work before leaving New Zealand. So I would help him and he would help me getting into the Marina and into the haul out trailer. The French girl also came to help out.
As Ah Ma was lifted out of the water for the third time in a year, the bottom was spotless, but six weeks in the Parua bay did take a toll on the beautiful red rudders and the bottom of the dinghy. Within an hour of her being put in her spot, the scaffolding was erected around her. And within 24 hours she was converted into a sleek modern shiny gray yacht that would make many heads turn. I took the time on the hard to clean up the dinghy and mark the anchor chain.
Unfortunately, during the wrapping of the boat there has been an incident with the dinghy winch in the transom garage. The workers though the remote for this operated the transom, and had jammed the winch solid. Luckily it did not do any structural damage to the bulkhead, but the winch and it’s mounting plate had to be replaced. Another job we had to finish while on the hard.
That sleek and shiny hull is now plowing through the waves of the Tazman, North towards sunshine and blue waters..