"Arctracer" Letters

Last Weeks in New Zealand, April-May 1999

It is finally time to say goodbye to New Zealand. We have finished our boat preparation and will launch and depart soon if the weather still looks good. This letter brings you up-to-date, and looks back at our stay in NZ to comment on some of the things that we will remember.

We got out of the water on April 26, spent much time checking the steel plates of the hull for weak spots, got two patches welded on, and applied many layers of the best paint money can buy both inside and out. We did a thorough job, and believe this paint will protect the steel extremely well, and will help us avoid future problems. In addition we bought a new jib for light winds, to complement our new roller- furling jib, and took care of a long list of little things. "On the hard" is always a strain, and the work to be done is just part of the problem. Once out of the water you cannot use a marine toilet or sink, so we have to make more frequent trips to the marina facilities, and use a pail for dishwater and nighttime necessities. Planes roar overhead and the trucks rumbling by on the busy highway often shake the boat on its stand. There is dust, dirt, noise, and paint so dangerous that rubber gloves and gas masks are needed. We ended our stay in this boatyard by throwing away the clothes, which accumulated most of the paint. It's over for another year!

Selling the car is a story in itself. We bought the 1986 Mazda 626 at auction for $1050NZ when we arrived here in November. It carried us all around the country, including the long trip to the south end of the South Island and over mountain passes. It never let us down. We advertised in the local paper, and got several people to look at it priced first at $1650NZ, then $1250NZ, and finally "$1000NZ or nearest offer" when we were about to leave. A fellow came one morning when Jerry was deep in the sail locker with a pail of paint and gave Nina $800NZ for the car without even a test drive. She was slightly concerned that he didn't ask for any paperwork, and as he left she asked "Are you sure you won't get into trouble?" He assured her that he would be back after the weekend, when papers could be processed at the Post Office (which handles vehicle registrations). Only later we started thinking about the possible problems for us. We are responsible for any speeding tickets or accidents until the paperwork is completed, and we don't even know the guy's name! Count on Nina to trust people completely. It's one of her endearing qualities. We both have active imaginations, so we conjured up many disaster scenarios. Fortunately, most New Zealanders are good people. He finally came back five days later and filled out the papers, so we're feeling more comfortable now.

The weather must be "right" for leaving NZ, in order to avoid stormy weather on the way up to the tropics. The right time is just after a front passes. That means that a low-pressure area is moving away to our east, a high-pressure area is moving in from the west, and winds will be from the south for several days. (Circulation is clockwise around a low and counterclockwise around a high in the southern hemisphere.) At this time of year the cruising boats are getting ready, and each weather "window" sees a new flock sailing north. We listen to some of the others talking about weather conditions and forecasts on the short wave radio, and that information helps us decide when to leave and which sails to use. The possibility of storms drops dramatically north of 25 degrees south, so all we need is fair winds for a few days to cross into the tropics and those steady trade winds. It is much easier to avoid storms leaving NZ than when approaching NZ, so we do not anticipate any scary gales like those that passed near us last November. Right now there's a very slow-moving high right over NZ, a scary low way south of NZ, and a smaller but deep low off to the northwest near New Caledonia. We are waiting for all this stuff to move to the east so we can ride southerly winds of moderate velocity up to Tonga. Maybe Tuesday? Meanwhile we are resting up and tending to little details.

We will miss some of the expressions the friendly Kiwis use, such as "No problem," "Good as gold," and "Is that the lot?" We'll miss the prompt invitation for tea every time we visit our friend Welby's shop. He's a 75 year old mechanic and welder who helps the local fishermen and has a shop full of used marine stuff. He has been a good friend during our stay, and has fixed a few things for us. With the NZ dollar worth only 55 cents US, there are many bargains for us in the stores. It's wonderful to have a full range of groceries and produce very competitively priced in several big local supermarkets. We know we will miss the NZ cheeses, honey, kiwifruit @ $1.20NZ per dozen, used books @ 3/$1NZ, and all the other good foods that are so easily available here. Even marine stuff seems cheaper here. We bought the identical brand of bottom paint here for $109NZ per gallon that we bought in New Hampshire a year and a half ago for $200US, and it is a US company. We think the paint companies really gouge boaters, but we don't know how to make our own paints so cannot escape their annual toll any more than we can escape income taxes.

This is the longest we have ever spent in a marina. "Arctracer" hasn't moved from the Tauranga Bridge Marina for six months. There are real advantages, such as long hot showers any time; shore power to plug in the battery charger and enjoy unlimited computing, lights, etc.; a safe place to leave the boat unattended for long periods; many dock lines to keep us secure if strong winds blow; washers and dryers. Our location on the edge of a little city gave us access to email; a wide selection of restaurants; jazz festival and other cultural events; a local newspaper; shops and services of every kink we might need. The disadvantages include cost of the slip (but here it was quite reasonable compared to back home); noise; dust; dirt; traffic overhead and on the highway; wakes from fishing boats, tugs, and container ships; odors from the fertilizer factory and enormous mounds of wood chips ready for export; and cold weather. Cold weather is probably the greatest deterrent to a return visit next season. We get so used to marvelous tropical weather that wearing long clothes and covering up with two quilts plus a wool blanket at night seem to be real hardships. Do we need to invest in a heater?

So where do we go from here? Tonga and Fiji are the two closest sets of tropical islands and we haven't seen them, so they are the current targets. Samoa isn't far north of them, so it is also under consideration. Visiting those places could easily consume the whole season. For next hurricane season we have several options: 1) NZ, 2) Australia, 3) equatorial islands such as Canton or the Gilberts. Going to Australia makes visiting Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and the Solomons an upwind battle, so we should not go to "Oz" until we see those places, probably next year. So the real choice for November is to either return to NZ or go north of the cyclone region. We don't know which we'll do. Coming to NZ will let us see more of the America's Cup (on tv as on the water will be ridiculously crowded), but isn't that much of a big deal to us. We would spend most of the time exploring NZ's offshore islands, and might even go to the South Island's Marlborough Sound. It would be a different experience from this past season for sure. We'd also try to leave earlier!

(view New Zealand photos)