Farewell New Zealand, we fell in love …

We thought about this moment for so crazy long! Even with half her face hidden under a mask, and after nearly 3 years of absence, we SAW Maddi! A flooding of love was pretty evident in that small KeriKeri airport. Anyone with PDA issues must have fled the scene.
Travelin’ clothes.
After a protracted amount of clinging and crying in the airport, we drove a few miles to a cafe and continued with more of the same.
I pretty much always want to be an octopus, but would have especially liked more arms to wrap around Maddi on this joyous day!
We’d been watching the weather and had little time to get quite a lot of preparedness items checked off the list. Maddi jumped right in and sewed a tough sail repair.
Beautiful AND strong! (The repair AND Madison!)
Here we go! Foulies on, this is HAPPENING!

Passage to Fiji

Words we used to describe this passage upon arrival in Fiji when asked by the manager of Vuda Marina (pronounced Vunda): boisterous, lively, bumpy, rambunctious. Our passage was probably pretty typical, as good as you could reasonably expect from Opua to Vuda Point, Fiji. We left on the very day our fourth consecutive visitor’s visa finally expired! New Zealand took such good care of us throughout Covid, but the time comes when even the most charming guests need to be encouraged to abandon the couch and find some new friends. We departed on the end of a passing front, which meant strong (up to 42kts) SW winds kicking us on the tail. Diana posted these notes via Iridium to our tracker.

“You would have thought we were eager to leave NZ – the way Allora shot out of the gate and rode the tail end of a ‘low’ with 3+ meter waves and up to 42kts of wind! We’re now 24 hours and 175 nautical miles in, and the seas are showing a trend toward easing with the wind. Currently on a port tack paralleling our rhumb line. The guitars have just come out and “I Can See Clearly Now!” Highlights: bioluminescence, Albatross, slightly warmer temps and Maddi as crew (just one night watch each, woohoo!”)

Must have been strange for Maddi to have just flown in to NZ not a week before, and then to be sailing away? It was such a kindness on her part, to use her precious down time to help us get Allora to the tropics. As for us, this moment resonated somewhere deep inside and both Marcus and I processed this significant Aotearoa goodbye quietly. It was almost too big to put words around. New Zealand took dear care of us both.
Indeed, every time I looked at our chartplotter and saw the symbol of Allora inching away from NZ, and Haley and Liam, I felt a mini gut punch.
Conditions were big at the start since we left Opua on the tail of a system, taking advantage of the associated winds. When it’s like this, it’s time to connect with the rhythm of the ocean, not battle it. Maddi and Marcus tend to be able to handle just about anything the sea dishes up without needing meds. I was ‘patched’ up!
What a treat – hot cuppa tea, thanks Mad!

Passages are so good for the soul. Where else can we slow down quite like this? It’s almost a meditation retreat, with a little core workout thrown in!

Homemade Roti?! Oh, yes, we would, thank you!
Marcus rigging fishing lines since we were expecting a period of calm water.

We hoped for maybe a day of wind to push us along, but we were lucky as the winds held out for almost two. You hear about the occasional passage with wind the whole way, but the horse latitudes aren’t called the horse latitudes for nothing… well actually there seem to be a quite a few theories about why they’re called the horse latitudes, only a couple of them to do with the paucity of wind. The basic idea is that this is where the easterly trade winds peter out, but is also the normal limit of frontal systems and westerlies in the mid-latitudes. Makes sense if the wind is going to switch from West to East that there should be some dead space between. We motored for just under twenty-four hours (we thought it might be as much as two days) using our 80 horses to get us through. We’re not big on running the engine (the noise gets tiresome and makes guitar playing tough), but we did enjoy the calmer seas, and the increasingly warmer night watches.

Offsetting the sound of our engine with a little music on the deck.
Our Kevlar, light wind sail, the Code Zero.

Hard to get my fingers moving freely enough in the brrr, cold!
These two have always enjoyed conversation over early morning coffee.
Navasana – supported boat pose on a moving boat!
PhD thesis work in becalmed seas.
Nice to still be enjoying green crunchy things at this stage of the passage. One benefit of the cool temps!

On my watch, just after dawn, just as I was about to shut the engine off and rally the troops to hoist the code zero, the engine made a loud screech and shut down without any warning beeps or anything. What followed was a gorgeous day of sailing in light beam winds with the big sail out that was a bit sullied by time spent trying to figure out what was going on with the engine. We suspected a transmission problem as there have been signs of impending doom for a little while, but we didn’t want make things worse and break something further, by trying to start it up until we could eliminate the possibility of water in the cylinders. I exchanged a few texts with the Yanmar guy in Lyttelton, Brian, who by good fortune happened to be at his shop on a Sunday, and he talked me through what to look for. Our mechanically minded sailor friends Ian in England (previously mentioned in this blog as the man with a plan) and Mark from Starlet both responded promptly to our SAT phone email with gearbox advice that was invaluable. I’m sure anyone can imagine how good it feels when you’re hundreds of miles out to sea, to have friends like this to turn to. Later, the Fijian mechanic showed us pictures of the main bearing in the gearbox which had literally blown up (which more than explained the problem.) Why is a longer story, which I’m happy to share with anyone interested in the gory details. I promise not to take the fifth. Luckily, we didn’t need the engine until well inside the reef at Fiji. By some miracle it held together long enough to get us into the marina.

Not too fun to troubleshoot engine issues underway.

Such joy!
Maddi made an inventive, phenomenal curry tweaking an Ottolenghi recipe to adapt to what we actually had on hand. Memorable!

The rest of the sail, the wind was on the beam or just ahead of the beam, consitently over 20 knots with 3 to 4 meter very confused seas for the first day, which slowly moderated a little (though the wind did not) and became more regular.

Comatose, ear plugged and cocooned in pillows, Di utilizing the patented ‘foot hook on the lee cloth’ method, no pea would hinder this sleep! NEVER too many pillows!! There are no words to adequately describe the heaven that it is to be allowed your off watch slumber! Of course, with Maddi on this passage, our shifts were MUCH easier than our previous couple passages, so we felt seriously indulged.
Running the sheet for the code Zero from the bow back to the cockpit, Maddi’s also tethered to Allora along a ‘jackline.’
Music, music everywhere!
A splashy sunrise kind of morning.
I missed capturing the full wave over her head, but you can see the dousing on the cockpit floor. Mad’s coffee even got salted! Good Morning!

Maddi posted this note for Day 5:

“Poseidon has changed his mood, with boistrous seas catching us abeam and wind aplenty. With our course now set for Nadi, the Allora crew has spent the day either laying down or holding on tight. It’s incredible how tasks that were easy in the weekend calm have now become ludicrously challenging: making coffee, putting on pants… just want to take a pee in peace? Good luck! We keep thinking things are calming down, but perhaps it’s just our imaginations (and wishful thinking from unsettled tummies). Allora, for her part, seems to bounce joyfully over the boisterous seas, carrying us northward. The warm air, puffy trade wind clouds, and occasional flying fish among the leaping waves remind us that we’re back the tropics. We managed to brave the splashy cockpit for some music today, and only one of us took a full dousing! Heading into the night a salty crew, with gratitude for the wind and hopes for mellower seas tomorrow.”

Ok, this MAY be a re-enactment of the real scene, but it’s truly how we move about down below to avoid getting thrown from starboard to port!
Rigging the preventer so we don’t accidentally jibe!
Seconds later, I got swamped by a wave, but my inner super hero showed up and I saved the guitar!
We kept trying to sit on that side because it was easier, but time and time again, we’d get soaked! Time to get THERE – we’re getting punchy!
‘Land Ho!’ Always two mighty fine words!
Our track from A to B! We were hoping to make a stop at Minerva Reef (S), but the engine troubles made that a no go.

Though our speed through water was usually pretty stunning, it was all such a sloppy mess that our actual distance made good suffered. Still we logged a couple days over 170 miles, coming in at 7 days for the whole passage. After a rowdy, tumultuous, brisk and challenging ride, the calm water inside the lagoon felt surreal, the welcome song at the quarantine dock seriously touched our hearts and the Covid tests brought actual tears to our eyes!

Allora tied up at the Quarantine dock in Vuda Marina, Viti Levu, FIJI!!! It was here that about 25 crew came walking down to greet us, guitar and flower wreath in hand, singing their BULA welcome song! What a way to arrive in a new country! We had filed tons of paperwork before leaving NZ, then called when we were a ways offshore letting them know that we’d be actually arriving on this day, 7/7/22. We didn’t wait long at all before a series of lovely officials came and cleared us and Allora into the country. Quite a bit nicer than standing in those long airport lines!
We had to take a Covid test before we left NZ and upon arrival in Fiji. Once clear of that, we had biosecurity come and take any of the items I was silly enough to offer up (read: too many), we let go of some honey, nuts, grains and fresh vegetables … anything which could have pest issues. Being vegetarian helped, as they’d have confiscated our meat, too, if we had any. Customs and Immigration also made their stops and within about an hour, we were all cleared in, cruising permit in hand.
Miles and miles of smiles and memories – ta, Mad.
Vuda Marina (pronounced, ‘Vunda’). Lots more about this neat little marina in further posts. We ended up spending almost a month while waiting for our engine replacement parts to come from the States. During this time, we also secured a cyclone pit here for the upcoming season, from Nov. to April.

Maddi’s time in Fiji was already going to be pretty short, after waiting in Opua for weather, so we just couldn’t stand the idea of hanging out in the Marina, working engine or not, even though that would obviously be the prudent choice. We hadn’t seen the blown bearing yet, so blissfully ignorant, we decided that we would sail out to the reef for a couple of nights. We picked a spot that looked like we could sail onto anchor, and off, if we had to. Namo (our dinghy) was also standing by to push us along if all else failed. The wind cooperated (which is lucky because the engine quit again just after we got out of the marina and got our sail up), and though we didn’t have to sail onto anchor, we did have to manually drop it since the rough seas of passage had managed to drown a supposedly waterproof fuse box on the windlass. 

Our ‘Obi Wan Sknobi’ survived the passage!!!! She rocks! We had her in the gimbaled oven so she wouldn’t get tossed around quite as much as we did, since we heard they don’t like being ‘agitated!’ Who does?! Anyway, we are still able to have our daily Kombucha, yahoo!!! Scoby Doo!!!
We have 2 guitars, a uke and now a RAV VAST drum on Allora!
Another boat on a mooring off Namotu Island in the Mamanucas.
Namotu Island Resort has just 11 ‘bures’ and caters to surfers; the world famous ‘Cloudbreak’ is just offshore here. We watched some spectacular launches off these impressive waves and stuck to snorkeling with ‘not enough time,’ as our convenient excuse! This particular resort chooses to keep exclusive and they ask that ‘yachties’ don’t come ashore, while other places seem to welcome the extra company and business and go out of their way to be inclusive. Either way, we were free to enjoy the surrounding waters and just enjoy being on anchor in the fresh breeze.
Being on anchor at sunset is probably one of the most obvious things we missed while living in the marina in Lyttelton, NZ. It was sweet, too, but just not the same thing.
Maddi’s always keen to get on the paddleboard, making us glad we have it still.
Time to relax – after a lot of paying close attention to all things boat safety related. Thanks for being so mindful, Captain.
Thought she might go right on into the orange spot!

Maddi watched this Banded Sea Snake for awhile as it exhibited some strange behavior, almost trying to get aboard Allora. We learned later, they’re highly venomous, but generally don’t strike unless provoked. No temptation there.

The night before we had to take Maddi back for her flight, I woke up feeling pretty sick. Diana was feeling a bit off, too. She thought it was the rolly anchorage, I thought it might be bad food. By morning I was slammed. So Diana and Maddi brought Allora back without my help.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a scrap of wind, so they motored the whole way, with Diana in deep psychic communication with the Yanmar 4JH80, to keep it together until she could get all the way in the narrow marina entrance and tied up to the circular quay at Vuda. I watched from below – first the palms of the channel drifting by and then our neighbors’ masts as she wedged Allora into her spot, bumper to bumper with boats on either side. Flawlessly executed. We realize we really need to trade jobs now and then, just to practice for occasions like this. ~MS

The minute I pulled Allora in to the dock, I felt a flush of sickness and within minutes I realized I was actually quite sick, too. I kept thinking of that Rilke quote: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going.” Maddi had to see her parents gravitationally challenged on her last day, and she was the only one who could ‘keep going.’ She tended to us with grace and positivity, then took a cab to the airport all by herself and was off, whoosh, back to Bozeman. Marcus tested negative for Covid and we both felt fine the next day so I didn’t even bother checking. Bizarre end to some sweet days. Go well, Mad. You are lit like bioluminescence and we miss you big already!

 

Arohanui South Island! Passagemaking Northward.

Leaving Tory Channel, entering Cook Strait. Tough leave, South Island … we’ve felt HELD by you! Arohanui Haley and Liam!

Picton to Opua via Napier and the East Cape (duh, duh, duh)

Diana’s last log entry on the first leg of this passage: “worst passage ever.” Maybe, I’m not sure, but I confess to getting seasick, for only the third time ever. Even so, I think the hardest part was leaving the South Island in dead calm with the threat of drizzle. After two and half years, it felt like leaving home, not least because we were leaving Haley and Liam, and knew it would be a while before we could get back.

Fueling up, (which for some reason is always a little stressful for me), was extra stressful knowing it was the last thing to do before saying goodbye. After multiple hugs and lots of tears, there was nothing to do but cast off the lines and pull away. 

We were on a bit of schedule, running out of time to get to Opua before Maddi arrived from the States. Also, it was crucial to time our exit from the Tory Channel for a reasonably favorable current, the basic recommendation was leave on high tide out of Picton. We led that by an hour or two to try to avoid encountering head winds in Cook Strait. It was pretty mild to start and Diana made some super yummy wraps for lunch (she is the undisputed Empress of wraps in my book). As seems to so often be the case sailing around New Zealand, there was no chance of entirely missing the wind shift, and about halfway across we were sailing close-hauled. At least the seas, at that point weren’t too bad, not stacking up against current or anything. I went down to take a nap, and missed Diana logging 13 knots surfing on seas that were getting pretty steep. In fact, we wandered into the edge of an area of rip tides and overfalls, ‘Korori Rip,’ that was pretty dramatic. As it got dark the wind was on our beam and so were the steep seas. Diana was feeling pretty awful, and then I got sick too. This might have been where Diana logged “worst watch ever,” – she was really feeling bad and then the rudder on the hydrovane (our wind vane steering system) came off and started pounding on the stern. It took Diana a couple minutes to figure out what was going on, what the loud noise was. I donned a PFD, clipped the harness in and took a knife out onto the swimstep, hoping that I could cut the safety line off without losing it. It was pretty wet, but I didn’t want to take time to put on boots, so I opted for bare feet. Anyway, it actually wasn’t that bad, Diana has set up holder for a good sharp dive knife and a pair of pliers under the lid of the lazarette where they are super handy (she’s pretty good at coming up with that kinda stuff). I took the next watch and Diana tried to sleep off her seasickness. Once we cleared Cape Palliser things improved dramatically.

Another way through the Tory Channel and across the Cook Strait … bet they have a smoother ride? (Our food may be tastier?)
Exciting though it was, it was also time to stop taking pictures and turn away!

No doubt timing arrivals, departures, capes and channel entrances can be the trickiest part of sailing. You’re always trading one ideal for another. The next challenge of this passage was the East Cape, which is massive and takes a couple days to fully round. The forecast was for 4 meter seas and forty knot gusts… not super inviting. We liked better the sound of a snug marina slip at Napier to wait for the weather to ease up a bit, but that meant arriving at midnight, which is something we are loathe to do if we’re not really familiar with the layout. It’s never nice to feel like your options are bad or worse. As it turned out, the wind in the harbor was still and the passage in, though shallow, was well marked and very well lit. We glided to the visitor’s berth next to the travel-lift, easy peasy. The quiet and calm felt glorious.

We really like the Art Deco town (stayed awhile on our way south in early 2021) and I wished we had more time to stay; I made a provisioning run to include my favorite health food store, Chantal, a freezer stock up of ready made yummy meals from Mylk and had a dinner date night with Marcus at Three Doors Up in Ahuriri, near the Yacht Club. There’s a phenomenal Astanga studio here, with Peter Sanson teaching, but our tight schedule wasn’t creating the space for a deep breath, let alone 2 hours of it!
We’re back out and it’s CHILLY! A hint of a smile goin’ tho …

Waiting for the gale at the East Cape to ease came with a trade off — the near certainty that we would have to pass through a frontal system to reach Cape Brett. Yeah, I know, a lot of fretting about capes, but there’s a reason so many of them are given awful names by sailors (Cape Fear, Cape Runaway, Punto Malo, Cape Foulwind), they really do run the show. In the meantime, that lay two days in the future. We rounded the East Cape in the early morning, jibed and then enjoyed a glorious daytime sail headed northwest, pretty as you please, even got the guitars out for a little music.

Might have to start calling him, ‘Hendrix.’
Allora meeting the waves. The hint of orange that you can see ahead of our mast is our Stormsail, rigged on the bow to deploy just in case of really high winds. It’s essentially just a reefed down version of our jib/normal headsail. You’d have to go up there to run the sheets and then to hoist it up using a topping lift at the mast, so gladly, I can say, we haven’t had to use it. Later, on our Fiji passage, we sort of wished we had. The sea has so many moods …
Haley (right) and Liam made this awesome sign to welcome Maddi (left) to Aotearoa/NZ! These two hadn’t seen each other in 3 years! They met in Wellington for a few days of solid catch up! Plan: Maddi then flew up to Opua to meet us and crew to Fiji (next post!). We received this sib pic while on our northward passage and it cut right through the chilly temps to warm us through and through!
One more sister shot, because it’s so happy making!
All shades of blue. Oddly enough, there’s a deep sense of grounding while floating on the ocean??!
You can look out and think you see nothing but ocean and sky, and then a blatant reminder that there’s always more!
For instance, these cheery friends!!!
Huddling contentedly, staying warm-ish.
Another night of quiet and watches. NOT!

The squalls started with darkness (naturally). Note to self: frontal passages are not to be taken lightly! Also I’m going to try to remember that the forecasts don’t really represent true wind speeds in these conditions. These are more like what you get with squalls in the tropics (sudden doubling of wind speeds) but over a much more sustained area and time period. Soon we were double reefed on main and jib, taking big seas over the whole boat.

Once again, Diana took the hardest watch (you might accuse me of scheming here, but I swear this is just a matter of chance). Her words from the log: waves over bow, raucous, deluge, still dumping. Mine: rain, clearing, wind finally calming. At least I tried to make up for it giving her a longer watch off, putting in four hours to clear Cape Brett. All the while looking forward to the forecast easing and a swing of the wind for a quiet sail into the Bay of Islands. No such luck. Wind died, and then the engine died, 8X according to Diana’s notes. At 5AM I was back on, and eventually the mystery of the engine was solved. I was so focused on the last engine issue back in Fiordland (which was entirely electrical) that it took me a while to realize that the current problem was oil pressure. I’d checked the oil, but with a heeling boat, the reading was off. I added oil and the engine was happy again. More engineering-inclined-sailors than I have expressed skepticism about black boxes (computers) on marine diesel engines, but for the less mechanically minded (yours truly) they can actually be a life saver. Better the engine shut itself down than damage something, though it’d be kinda nice if the $1000 panel offered something a little more elucidating than “CHK ENG.”

Dawn came quietly, and it worried me a little to see fog along the coast, but it dissipated as we arrived, and pulled into a quiet slip in the Bay of Islands Marina. ~MS

Our radar shows Allora smack dab in the middle of a front – and yet so close to our destination of Opua! Logbook entries say, ‘Wild ride, just took a couple intense waves over the whole boat!’ We also had a series of engine issues in the morning while rounding Cape Brett before arriving in Opua. Plenty of excitement, but NONE matching that of seeing Maddi the very next day!!!!

 

Passagemaking: Milford Sound to Abel Tasman National Park, South Island/NZ

It was a bit spooky sailing out of Milford at midnight without a moon. We had our inbound tracks on the chartplotter to follow, but it’s pretty amazing how disorienting darkness can be, even for feeling whether to turn to port or starboard to follow a line. Also with the steep granite walls, we didn’t feel 100% confident in our GPS. Diana went to the bow, and I stepped away from the helm to try to orient myself every few minutes, as we moved cautiously down the fiord. Though the GPS did seem to have a decent idea about where we were, it was also reassuring to have radar confirming the distance to the rock walls on either side. But what helped me relax most at the helm, was when Diana shouted that the dolphins had come to escort us out. I leaned over the rail and could just see and hear them splashing off our port headed for the bow. It was hard not to feel like they’d showed up intentionally to reassure us.

South Island of NZ and our sailing track. We spent 3 months in that lower SW corner and then dashed up the whole island on the west side in 3 days!

One of the many challenges of the passage from Milford up around Cape Farewell into the Cook Strait, is that there is only one place you might possibly stop, but that requires negotiating a river bar entrance at Westport (just north of Cape Foulwind!), which is safe only in decent weather. Otherwise, it’s a solid three day run (if you keep your speed up), which just barely fits into the cycle of weather shifting from South to North. The weather window that presented itself to us seemed pretty typical, catching the end of a southerly, motoring and motor-sailing through variable winds in a race to meet the Cape with relatively light winds rather than the usual NW or SE gale.Leaving sooner, we’d have had more wind to sail with, but we’d risk arriving too early for the switch of winds at Cape Farewell.

Diana took the first watch just after 2 AM after we cleared the hazards on the north side of the entrance to Milford and could head more directly north. “Really cold, icy hands,” she wrote in the margins of the logbook. “Overcast skies heading further out to clear Arawua Point/Big Bay Bluff.” Just after sunrise on my watch, I got a glimpse of the mountains south of Mt Aspiring, which reminded me of Wyatt’s 100 mile run the length Aspiring National Park. I wondered if he could have seen the Tasman Sea from any of those lofty ridge lines he traversed?

NZ’s wild west.
Hard to sail away from that remarkable corner of the universe. Allora always seems up to the task, even if we’re a bit reluctant.
I’m afraid we have a stowaway!
He looks about as eager as I did for this passage.
His ‘foulies’ are cooler than ours!
There are mountains in them thar clouds!
Sunrises and sunsets don’t go unnoticed out here.

Also in the logbook, I see a lot of scribbles in these notes about fuel rates, and estimates of actual fuel burned for miles ‘made good.’ Allora carries 190 gallons full which is more than enough for the distance as long as the weather is reasonably cooperative, but it makes a difference if you’re burning 1.5 gallons/hour or pushing the engine and burning 2.5 gallons/hour. The extra gallon doesn’t double your speed. People better at the maths would probably be able to calculate exactly what fuel rate is most efficient. I settled upon 1.6 or 1.7 as an nice compromise of efficiency, speed (to make our date at Cape Farewell) and comfort.

We had rain. We had current steadily set against us. We had dolphins streak by in the night leaving comet trails in the bioluminescence. We fussed about the wind, almost-but-not-quite-enough to sail, ever creeping up on the nose. We almost lost a batten in the mainsail. Then later, Otto, our autopilot made a sudden decision to turn hard to starboard out of nowhere. The switch for the high pressure pump on the watermaker heated up and set off the smoke alarm (naturally at night-while I was off watch). We saw no other boats besides the occasional fishing boat working closer to shore. We caught a glimpse of Aoraki (Mt Cook) at sunset, and at Cape Foulwind a couple of seal lions waved as we passed by.

And my lil’ camera could not capture how stunning this scene was!

On the last night, as seems to be a theme lately, Diana drew the toughest watch of the passage. There was just no way to completely avoid a patch of heavy winds slated to meet us as we approached the Cape, straight on the nose. We tried to time it for the least possible, but Poseidon wasn’t going to let us off feeling too clever. For her whole watch, Allora slammed into 20 knots on the bow clawing her way up the last bit of coast to Cape Farewell. Finally, after calling Farewell Maritime radio to try to find out whether it was generally considered advisable to cut the corner at Kahurangi shoals (which they weren’t really able to commit to), we decided it probably wasn’t, so we slogged on. Diana went off watch and very soon after, we were able to fall off the wind. Just five degrees made a big difference. Pretty soon we were motor-sailing and by Diana’s last sunrise watch she was able to shut the engine off and sail along Farewell Spit, an amazing 25km sandbank off the northwestern corner of the South Island at the opening of Cook Strait. The winds were light but sweet. Finally! ~MS

We had to ‘hot bunk’ which (sounds better than it is), means sharing the same berth in shifts because the boat is heeling too much in one direction to utilize the other side. I left Marcus a chocolate on his pillow to further sweeten his off watch experience!
Gotta love modern times – ship captains of yore didn’t used to provide their first mates with latte’s as a wake up! Feeling grateful …
First light on the last day of our passage.
Oh hello dawn, we see you!
The same sunrise unfurling.
Allora and her crew get some sweet, smooth motion before finally rounding Farewell Spit and finding an anchorage.
Allora seems to keep a steady pace, but her crew at this point can feel like horses heading back to the barn, anxious to just GET THERE! It’s definitely a lesson in savoring what IS!
Before we even tucked into Abel Tasman, my phone started ‘bleeping’ frantically, the first Wifi messages in nearly 3 months came flooding in. I have to say, both sides of the phone equation are awesome – putting it away, disconnected from the world and then THIS! Siblings reunited for the first time in 3 years! Love in pixels!
And Grandma Elizabeth sandwiches are always delicious!
Marcus’ reaction when I shared these pics.
Bark Bay, our first anchorage in Abel Tasman. We contemplated getting Namo off our foredeck and exploring that little sweet beach, but instead, we just sat on deck and savored the stillness.
This gull landed as we were just feet away on deck.
Grey skeletal remains of wilding pines (invasive conifers in NZ).

 

Caswell/Tai Te Timu Sound – the 45th parallel – Fiordland

Pretty little welcome rainbow as we get set to enter Caswell Sound.
There are a number of rocks studding the entrance to this fiord and caution was definitely on our minds. Often we can see that there’d be gorgeous coves to explore, but not in Allora!
How do you REALLY feel about that entrance, Marcus?!
Shirley Falls, dropping 365 meters from Lake Shirley on Caswell’s southern side. There is supposedly evidence of an old marble works that ran between 1882 and 1887 here, but I suspect it’s quite overgrown!
Ooh, let’s go look at THAT one?!!
And then this sweet, unnamed waterfall, one of a zillion that show up after each deluge. Thank you sun, for lighting her up!
We may have chosen to skip Caswell were it not for the Stillwater River at the head. It’s a gorgeous fiord though, with steep shores and rugged peaks and we spent 3 lovely nights here.
This boat, Ponowhai 3, came by to offer us some fresh fish, and I missed the shot where they were holding up the enormous Grouper (they say Groper here in NZ, same fish), but they passed over a downright SLAB which ended up being 4 meals for us two. Gratitude to the boat folks AND the grand fish.

Big Fish

a big fish lived here
under this rock
in this sound
70 meters of water
down down down
finning the murky fathoms
there must be something it is like to be
a big fish
broad tail to the tide
jaw slowly moving, gills filtering
oxygen and salt from darkness
listening to the strange whirr of a prop churning distantly overhead
scent in the current
vibrations of much younger, much smaller, more foolish fish
everyone makes mistakes
joy to the world!
big fish on!
the breathless mystery of something deep
that unremitting pull of an invisible line
uncompromising bite and stick and metal barb
is there hoping it might break free
what is it like
to be another’s flesh and dinner?
exhausted thrashing on the surface
searing bright light and fierce dryness
the gaseous, ethereal world
where white birds like cherubs flitter and follow
where albatross glide like shadows of another understanding
what is it like, big fish?
now that two men hold you in firm hands
knife wielding hands
careless hands
is this the dance?
waves surge against the rocks
seaweed starfish worms green saltwater alive
o’ fish shaped wave
these men call you big fish
men who came to find things to take
big trees all in a row
is there something it is like
to be a man holding a gray dead fish
for a picture
flesh stripped from her ancient bones ~MS

 
‘Stay put,’ we always say as we zip off to check out the Stillwater River on this grey and soggy day.
Our big adventure: get Namo upstream just far enough to pick up the scenic track along the Stillwater River which leads to Lake Marchant. We had to be tide conscious though, as there were 9′ tides here!
This is the two bunk hut run by the Department of Conservation (DOC), mainly used by hunters, but we were there just past the season, so were able to burn a bit of our paper trash in the fireplace before setting off toward the lake. Caswell sits on the 45th parallel and Wyatt’s NZ friends/roommates, Tanya and Ben had just been there in February raising funds and advocating for women suffering from domestic abuse. They scrambled, ran and traipsed the entire 45th as it crosses the South Island in NZ, from where they were dropped via helicopter at the ocean entrance to the sound to Oamaru on the east coast. We had heard from Wyatt about their effort and knew that they had planned to be exclusively off trail, but ended up coming down off the staggeringly high ridge to seek shelter from a massive storm for 3 days in this hut. The river, just below in this pic, was so high – they were worried that it would flood and the cabin might be washed away. Indeed, we were there just following a big rain, and the flow was anything BUT a still river! It would have been terrifying to be in their situation, truly. You can read about it here: https://runliketanya.com/athlete/challenges/the-45th-parallel-traverse/ I think Ben might be putting together a documentary on their arduous mission? We found their entry in the logbook which all DOC huts have and made our own, too. ~DS
The most humble DOC hut we’d ever seen.

Such a happy place.
Gorgeous hiking!

Perchance some fish thoughts, hmmm?

Nearing the lake, we had to slog through some boggy ground.

Plenty of water to be had and squeezed from our clothes!
Marcus had to be super sneaky and crawl around so as not to be seen by the fish at the glassy lake edge.
Stealthily casting to fussy fish.
Fish on! I had to run from this vantage point all the way slopping through the marsh to get there for a pic!

Several nice fish in the shallow water’s edge, but they were super spooky.

 

Brown Trout from a brown lake – not easy to spot! This one took a small nymph.
Back at it! Tying on a fly in sandfly country means there are sacrifices which must be made and sometimes you just have to hope it’s a male that lands on your face and finger (the females are the biters).
Neat place to be just hanging out. I heard the ‘pffft’ of a startled deer as I was taking some pics in the grasses, but never saw it.
Thistles throw a gorgeous flower to seed.

Going to have to do some research to learn about this fungi?!

Oh, I see your whimsy, Nature!
And your complexity, too.
Sweet spot, captivating to us both.
Another exquisite purple.

Took our face protection down for a pic and see, I’m just about to get bit. Their sensors are spectacular!

Through the droplet glass.
Moody and broody and time to go back!

Allora just waiting for us!
We saw no real wind here but got plenty WET. Waterfalls appeared all around our boat!
Had to bail Namo out and secure her up on the davits with the drain plug open!

Leaving Caswell in sloppy conditions, but arguably easier than Ben and Tanya’s method!

 

 

 

Northward to Charles/Taiporoporo Sound, Mesmerizing – Fiordland

We glided through Thompson Sound early in the am so as to avoid forecasted weather and seas on the outside.
On our way out to open ocean. Had to go check out this unusual formation?!
What looked like snow was actually bare white stone under shallow rooted vegetation (including trees) which ‘slide’ in big rains.
This mauve color was authentic and WOW!
The rocks at the fiord ‘mouth’ are always treacherous and we keep PLENTY of distance. This weather is more characteristic of the area than the gorgeous month + we’ve been wildly lucky to enjoy.
Of all the fiords, we only skipped Chalky Inlet and Nancy Sound. This was the narrow entrance to Nancy and although you can’t see it in this pic, it looked sufficiently tight and rough to make us feel ok about our earlier decision to give it a miss (based on our need to get to Picton for some much needed boat work before our Fiji passage in June).
Charles Sound/Taiporoporo. It had rained the day before, and often we are on the lookout for debris, but this downright tree wasn’t going to be missed! Later, we did hit a log at full speed and never saw it, just heard the dull thud on Allora’s hull 🙁

Charles Sound doesn’t have quite the extensive ‘tentacles’ as Doubtful or Dusky – there are only two! We chose Gold Arm and found such a dear spot for Allora just through this narrow gap, behind Catherine Island. There was a fisherman’s line in place, so we pulled right up alongside it and secured Allora at all 3 cleats, Voilá! (No anchor.)
Birdsong and sandflies aplenty!
The shoreline of Charles is entrancing!

Seaweed left high and dry on display at low tide.

Abstracts

My favorite of Diana’s photographs from Fiordland are the “abstracts,” which she discovers by looking in a very careful, unique way, at the tidal line along the rocks, that magical transitional space between the hidden world underwater and the green, vibrant life-on-fire world above. Bare stone, stained and painted with time and color, bent and reflected by the still, secret, freshwater shimmering over the tide, the infinite, creative capacity of nature. Diana uses framing to share this vision, to point out Nature’s mastery of abstract art. It’s no surprise (and no accident) that these images feel so profoundly connected to her mosaic work. Most of the time these photographic expeditions are her solo meditations, which she shares with me when she gets back to Allora (after hours in the kayak!). But I’ve also been with her, paddling Namo gently into position, sitting right next to her, appreciating the wholeness of a beautiful place but without quite seeing what she is seeing. These images, for me, represent a particular (and particularly magical) collaboration between Diana and this very, very special world we are navigating in Fiordland.~MS

 

We heard dolphins exhale RIGHT beside Allora, so donned our goofy outfits, lowered Namo off the davits and went out around the corner to see if they’d still be about. A visual feast: the bush, the shoreline, dolphins and the water, ahhh!!!
There were 6, and they were nonplussed by us. (I just went down a Wifi wormhole reading about how ‘nonplussed’ is a contronym!)
See the dorsal fin shape in the intertidal zone, too?!

After that glorious evening light, we settled in for what would be torrential rain all night. We saw 38.5 knots of wind as our max, but from the N/NW – a good direction for this location.
In the morning the water was chocolate colored and there were gushing waterfalls EVERYWHERE!

We had hopes of taking Namo up the Windward River at the head of the bay, but it was a raging ‘NO!’

Sinuous lines, ‘tidelines’ of foam where two currents meet.

Instead of moving Allora over to Emelius Arm, we left her tucked by Catherine Island and ventured 5 miles with Namo in the FREEZING early morning! Visibility was almost nil, but we went slowly and visualized a log free path!
By the time we arrived at the head of Emelius Arm, the sun had started coming up over the peaks, so we knew we’d be warm soon! It’s always harder than we imagine to find where the river (which comes from up high in the canyon ) flows into the sound. Sometimes our guide books showed an approximate position, but not always. We were tempted to follow these shadow arrows, as they seemed to be pointing the way!
Found the Irene River, though at this early stage it was as still as a lake. Our plan was to take Namo up as far as we could and then hike up beyond that until the tide dictated we return.
Hallelujah for the sun!
Sun makes us all so warm and fuzzy!
Through a narrow little offshoot, trees all around, we took Namo back and in (following the sound and a glint of white water) and look what we found?!

 

Looked it up on our favorite (offline) app, NZ TOPO 50, and learned that this beauty is Marjorie Falls!

 

Super hard visibility for seeing the myriad snags. It was gorgeous, but took intense focus getting upriver.

Time to hike/fish and let Namo rest.
And to the cicada’s surprise, two new creatures showed up!

Happy to get in the forest on foot and lay some hands on these wise elders!
Marcus didn’t end up seeing any fish, but it was such a pleasure: gravel beds, a reasonable trail on the true left bank, deer sign and a sun dappled forest.
I left this for Marcus so he might see it on his way back down river. Glad I took the pic, because he didn’t!

A fine, fine day!
Had to tear ourselves away and still we left about 1.5 hours after our intention, so the water was REALLY ‘skinny’ for our return.

We negotiated snags the whole way and had to walk/pull Namo out the last 200′!

What a beautiful sight, to see Allora peacefully resting just as we’d left her! Phenomenal day!
Left Charles Sound at 10am – 3 days of solitude and bliss.

 

Broughton Arm, Breaksea/Te Puaitaha Sound, Captivating! – Fiordland.

Drying out the PRADA on Allora’s lifelines!
Moving from Wet Jacket Arm to Breaksea Sound.
Reflections
Being at sea, on the sea, there is always a close and present awareness of the line which divides the landed world and the underwater universe, though normally, the waves demand our attention and keep that parallel universe well hidden, and away from our thoughts. The eerie sense of depth creeps in at odd moments when something reminds you of the rocky bottom and the multilayered world of fishes below. In tropical water sometimes the bottom is visible at enormous, ludicrous depths, as the time we motored into the Gambier on a glassy sea and Diana could see sharks clearly in the pass a hundred feet below us. But in Fiordland, the water is usually hundreds of feet deep within just a couple boat lengths away from the “shore.” The water is not murky but light barely penetrates. Stillness is legendary here, also the shimmering layer of freshwater floating atop the tide, that looks like heatwaves in the desert. You can peer straight down and see golden leaves tumbling in the current above the darkened depths. But most of the time, the Sounds keep their secrets well hidden and the water mirrors back the soaring peaks and luxuriant waterfalls and exuberant beach and fern forests, doubling the awe. As stunning as it is, the obvious trick of the mind is to delete the bottom half of the image as “merely” a repetition. Sometimes I had to be reminded to see it another way. Perhaps because she was photographing these landscapes, Diana learned to see these reflection even more vividly, to delight in the ubiquitous natural Rorschach.~MS
Neat that this stunning landscape so often gets a glimpse of itself!
Wile E. Coyote
One of the handful of times we were able to actually pull a sail out – too much or too little winds to work with.
We’re not in the islands anymore!
‘Real Journeys’ run tour boats through some of the fiords. They never stay put for long.
Approaching the ‘head of the bay,’ to anchor, we’d have to be really cautious about the typically steep sided, silty sandbank which gets created by the river outflow.

We were primed to love Broughton Arm. Tony, a New Zealand sailor we met in Tonga (from an Auckland sailboat building family) got there ahead of us and posted his impression, the humbling sense of privilege he felt to be in the remote presence of such mighty granite walls and peaks. “Paradise found!,” he exclaimed. It’s hard to think of a way to convey the heart sense of moving through pristine and unpeopled areas like this, the sense that goes beyond the imagery, the waterfalls, and magnificent trees, the wildlife. The sense of living stone and water and place. You look at one of the these peaks soaring above the the fiord continually stunned by the mass and energy represented there, and then by the bounty of life exuberantly, vividly greening those granite flanks. And water, water, water everywhere. ~MS

When the sun shines overhead, the sandbank (and its’ creatures – see the ray?) are super visible and too shallow for Allora’s 2m draft.
We found a deeper edge (50′) where we dropped our Australian made Sarca Excell anchor. Started with one shore line and added another later when the wind picked up.
The fog came flooding out of the canyon head early in the morning and I ran out (coffee in hand), jumped in Namo and started rowing into it to take some pics. Didn’t realize I was still in my warm fleece onesie and had no sandfly protection. Totally worth it.

The sun reached the highest peaks and it only morphed the fog into yet more beautiful iterations.

This is a close up from the lower left corner of that last photo!
And the last wisps were seen at 11:15!
Whitebait are eaten whole with the head, tail guts and the lot still intact – most often fried, the tiny, delicate nature of the fish make them a highly sought-after dish. We were generously given these and they were described as if they were a truffle, so I was hoping they’d taste like lobster!
Been vegetarians for a couple years, but pescatarians, really, since we live on the sea and can catch FRESH fish. These were only attempted because they were a gift.
RoShamBo: fish beats butter, sadly.
Prepared/Disguised as described by the local fishermen, in eggs, but they were a no go for me. Marcus ate them but said he wouldn’t walk across the street to get some more.
My kakak excursions were often 2-3 hours and almost a meditation with the slow movement and extreme focus on details. Instead of covering distance, I got into just looking closer and closer at EVERYTHING!

It had rained the night before, so everything was drippy and bathed with fresh water. The top 10 metres or so of the fiord is freshwater. The area gets 7-9 meters (22-29′) of rainfall every year, emptying into the sounds via its many rivers and waterfalls. On its way, this runoff picks up tannins from plants and soil that stain the freshwater the colour of tea.
Even the boulders share their world with lichen.
Suddenly 10 of these HUGE 1 meter (3-4′) fish darted all around me! They had a shark like, predator attitude and I only learned later that they were Kingfish, or Haku/Kahu in Māori. It definitely broke me out of my close focused, serene mental state!

Saw this and had to go closer to see if I was imagining a ray shape?!
A New Zealand/Australian Eagle Ray (Myliobatis tenuicaudatus)! (Looked it up later – I have never seen an eagle ray like this).

I did a double take on this daisy, as it was the ONLY one I saw in Fiordland, EVER! Must have been early or late season?!

Time to head back to Allora when this is what I’m seeing!
Time to get yet another perspective!
Bird’s eye view!
Not the easiest thing to pilot from aboard a sailboat, but at least we’re at anchor!
A much clearer view of that sandbank we need to avoid.
Another phenomenal day dawns in Broughton Arm.

We’ve had to carry all of our trash since leaving Oban in Stewart Island, so we clean and cut any plastics, smash our aluminum cans and stack paper. Talked about making this a weekly practice, but usually we’d wait till the buckets were overflowing!

More kayak time.

See the face?!
And the kind of Kokopelli-esque shadow?!

 

How ’bout Narcissus seeing his own reflection?!
Hehe. Couldn’t resist. (Marcus, in sandfly attire, was actually looking at fish!)

Heading from Broughton Arm to Vancouver Arm.

Still Going Strong!

(Why the title of this post? Well, that’s what the young guy working at the airport said when I picked up my own duffel bag! Yeah, he figured I was ‘still going strong’ just to be able to DO that! Poor kid, you can imagine the reaction I gave him?!)

We left Allora in Neiafu, Tonga on a mooring (always a bit disconcerting), and dashed to San Francisco for my brother’s wedding! After that three day, joyous whirlwind, we shot over to Bozeman, Montana for a couple weeks of catching up with friends. We had two indulgent stays: at the Lawson’s whimsical loft and Katy Hood’s historic Southside home (giant thank you’s to both of you) and soaked up some much needed love with our dear ones. I wasn’t quite in the photo mode, so there are only a few here and much else is left tucked in a corner of our hearts. Thanks to Lori (and maybe others?) for a few of the family/wedding shots.

 

Stevens/Stevens Rendezvous Society Islands

In May we had the chance to buddy boat with my brother Doug and his family and friends. They flew from Washington and chartered a catamaran big enough to accommodate eleven people on board. We kept a pretty busy schedule touring Raiatea and Bora Bora, hiking, snorkeling, sailing, diving, SUPing and kayaking. A few of us fit in an epic, muddy climb to the top of the peak of Bora Bora. It was great fun to sail alongside my brother, beat him sailing to windward and then watch him blow by us like a ghost ship with the wind behind the beam. He hailed us on the VHF sailing to Bora to tell us that for the comfort of his crew and to keep up with us on the windward leg he was turning on the engine. I said, “That’s awesome (I never expected to be able to beat that catamaran) he said, “Great for you, Marcus…”  Evenings onboard Kiwi will probably stick with us the longest. I guess sunsets are like that. After a long day of whatever and wherevering (usually in the water) their ridiculously spacious Bali 46 was a great place to hang out with no particular agenda, sip a little rum or scotch, a glass of wine or a dark and stormy and enjoy the warm tropical breeze and another delicious meal. ~MS

 

Sweet Tuamotus, Last round through …

 

The majestic Humphead/Napolean Wrasse. This guy is 3.5 feet!

I’m going to ask Marcus to wax poetic about our final weeks in the Tuamotus. Suffice it to say that this region of French Polynesia is most definitely a favorite of ours and I even heard Marcus say he could live there. If fresh produce was available, I might be on board! For the time being, these pics can be a placeholder. These are shots from Tahanea, Fakarava and Rangiroa.

I shot a gazillion shots to finally snag this one! Thanks, Katie, for holding such enthusiasm!