Thursday, 5 April 2018

Portents and omens

Aurora australis on 22 April 2017 - Island Park Reserve, Dunedin
So here we were, just a few short weeks away from the next chapter in our life, about to experience the start of something new and destined, we hoped, to enjoy the magic that accompanies new beginnings. And speaking of magic, with a bizarrely apt sense of timing we were treated to the most stunning display of the aurora australis (the Southern Lights) not long after Lyall's visit. We had gone down to Island Park Reserve, which was about five minutes drive from home, on the off chance that we might get some photos of the lights and were rewarded with possibly the best display we have ever witnessed. Talk about portents and omens! Shakespeare's got nothing on us!

The following day, the Captain was on a mission. The conversation with Lyall had certainly galvanised him into action.

"Now, we have to make sure that we have everything packed and put inside the boat that we need to go up to Picton" he said, "and of course we have to take down the front half of the boat shed..."

I was thinking that it would be quite good if I could get a handle on one bit of information at a time but the instructions just kept coming.

"Naturally, I'm going to have to make sure I have all the tools with me that I'm likely to need. Oh, and I'm going to have to make sure that the camper is ready to go too, so that'll need cleaned and organised. I guess you can do that..."

The Captain finally stopped to draw breath.


"Camper?" I queried. "What's the camper got to do with any of this? Would I not be better off helping you pack the boat instead of faffing about with the camper? And what's this about taking half the boat shed down?"

I got one of those looks that speak volumes - you know, the one that seeks to establish what planet you happen to be inhabiting at this particular moment in time! The Captain spent a few seconds studying me - perhaps quizzically, or maybe it was with a degree of sympathy for the obvious shortcomings in my comprehension of the situation under discussion.

"Well it's obvious isn't it?" he started. "We have to take the front half of the shed down to get the boat out..."

"Yes, I realise that," I responded, "but surely we can't do that now."

"So when do you suggest we do it? When we've moved the boat?" came the tongue-in-cheek reply which might just have been tinged with a tad of frustration.

I took a deep breath and composed myself before going on the explain that throughout the boat build so far there had been an almost obsessional focus on keeping the boat dry but now it was being suggested that we take half the shed down thus exposing a good proportion of the boat to the elements. And according to the forecast, the weather was going to be far from clement over the next few days!

"So all I'm wondering is why so soon? Should we not wait 'til closer to the time...so we know that the weather hasn't caused havoc with the move plans? And I don't know that I have the height or the strength to help you remove the frame without risking damaging the boat in the process. Those steel poles are heavy you know." I knew that I was, somewhat irrationally, close to tears at this point. I also knew I was being rather petulant but somehow I felt completely out of my depth...totally out of my comfort zone...and it wasn't a place I liked being.

How would we remove the frame of the front half of the shed without damaging the boat?
"Awww babe, what's wrong? Come here and let me give you a cuddle." The Captain had clearly noticed what I was trying so hard to hide. "I didn't mean to upset you. I just don't understand why you're so confused. It all seems so straightforward to me. Did you not realise that the boat is watertight now - it has to be for the journey."

It transpired that it had always been the Captain's intention to ask our good friend Al Perry to help take the shed down. He knew all along that we couldn't manage that bit between us. And the camper? Well, once the boat went up to Picton then he would be moving up there too and the camper would be his accommodation until he could move into the boat. It all actually made perfect sense, it's just I was missing a few of the pieces that would have completed the puzzle for me!

And so the next three weeks raced by in something of a haze. The front half of the shed was taken down with the very able help of Al. The boat was packed and the camper was sorted out and cleaned.  We continued to keep a close eye on the weather, keeping our fingers crossed that heavy rain would stay away from our route north and especially the Lewis Pass. The road was prone to slips and slips could disrupt Smoko's travel plans.

As I got into the car to drive home from work on Thursday 04 May I wondered what the next day would bring. The day for loading Smoko was all but here. I was experiencing a mixture of emotions - elation, excitement, nervous anticipation...and maybe just a hint of trepidation. So much was riding on these next few days.

I was still working hard at keeping the 'what if's' at bay when I turned into the driveway that led to the caravan. And there stood Lyall's truck, ready for an early start in the morning. I stopped dead in my tracks - partly because the truck was across my parking space but also because it was now so real - it was actually going to happen.

'...and there stood Lyall's truck, ready for an early start in the morning.'
The Captain appeared from the caravan, a big smile on his face.

"Well, looks like it's going to happen. The crane will be arriving at 8am tomorrow so they can get a good early start on the loading."

Ah yes, the crane. I'd forgotten we needed one of those too.

Friday dawned fine and sunny...but cold. We were up bright and early and busied ourselves doing 'stuff'...you know, those inconsequential things that really don't need to be done but that you turn to when you can't think what else to do. It wasn't long before we heard the sound of a heavy vehicle heading in our general direction

"That'll be the crane" the Captain said, "I'll go and see if he needs a hand with anything." And with that, off he strode.

Now I'd heard a lot of conversations about the crane in the course of the planning and I had a very clear picture of it in my head. Obviously it would look something like this:


I'd asked lots of questions about whether there would be enough room for the crane and wasn't exactly certain why the Captain didn't seem to share my concerns. On that Friday, as I peered out of the caravan window, imagine my surprise when this is what I saw.


Hmmm - not quite what I'd had in mind but it did explain the Captain's lack of concern. Whilst I was still pondering the crane, Lyall arrived and suddenly it was all go. I put my coat on and went outside to watch the proceedings. Lyall and the crane driver were deep in conversation, clearly working out the logistics of the move. In his right hand Lyall had a large strop whilst the crane driver was busy looking through what appeared to be a large tool box on the back of the crane.


Armed with a second strop the pair of them approached the boat. The Captain had built a cradle for the boat to sit in all those years ago when the Smoko was turned and she had sat in it ever since. And it was this cradle that was going to be used to lift the boat onto the truck. The strops were carefully tied onto the cradle. Very carefully the crane was raised just a few centimetres to check whether the boat was balanced...which on that first attempt she wasn't. She was gently lowered to the ground again and the exercise was repeated with different length strops. It was quite amazing to watch the skill and care that was on show with tiny adjustments being made to find the perfect set-up. The process was unbelievably calm - no histrionics, no dramas, just endless patience and absolute co-operation.


And then the sweet spot was found. The Captain was dispatched to the rear of the boat and was given a rope to help steady Smoko as she was raised. In one of those moments of female logic , I did wonder how the Captain - standing barely 175cms tall and weighing in at 80kgs (give or take a bit) - was going to have any influence on a 4 tonne boat but I was sure there would be a perfectly adequate explanation. And then suddenly, Smoko was airborne. It was almost imperceptible at first but then she was raised higher as they started to manoeuvre her round towards the truck.


I don't know how the guys felt at this point but I think it's fair to say my heart was in my mouth. There was also something almost balletic about whole operation. Everything that was involved was on such a large scale and yet the movements were incredibly gentle. Smoko continued on her trip towards the truck, with the Captain valiantly holding onto his rope!


Before too long she was hovering over the truck and then oh so gently she was lowered down until the cradle sat squarely on the truck's trailer.


The strops were removed before the rudder and dodger were carefully craned on board Smoko ready for the journey north. Once that was completed, the crane driver's job was over so he packed all his bits and bobs away and left. Meanwhile, Lyall and the Captain were busying themselves strapping Smoko to the trailer so she was all ready for Monday morning.

And then it was all over. Lyall packed all his belongings away and headed home. We had a celebratory coffee with our friends Allister and Claire Perry who had arrived early on in the loading process. Claire had taken on the role of chief videographer whilst Al was providing much needed moral support. By midday the Captain and I were alone. We ventured back outside, feeling at a bit of a loose end. The Captain climbed up onto the boat as it sat on the trailer.


"You looking for something?" I shouted up to him.

"Nah" came the reply. "Just thought I climb up here...well, because I could, I suppose. Doesn't it feel strange. And on Monday, she'll be gone!"

We spent the weekend relaxing. There were things that needed to be done, but nothing was urgent...and certainly nothing was needed for Monday. We both reckoned the Captain had earned some downtime.

When I left for work on Monday, the Captain and I finalised the arrangements around how I would be able to grab photos of Smoko as she made her way through Dunedin. It was very fortunate that the one way system which leads north out of the city goes right past the hospital where I worked. I'd checked with my boss that it was OK for me to disappear for ten minutes or so to take photos, so all we needed to do was work out the logistics of how I would know she was on her way.

Because the vehicle and load were so big, Smoko was going to require a pilot vehicle for the entire journey. And also because of her size, the journey could not begin until 9am. We decided the easiest thing was for the Captain to phone me as soon as the truck left the property. That would give me enough time to get from work to a suitable place nearby for taking photos. It all sounded eminently sensible.

It seemed an awfully long wait for that phone call. I arrived at work at my usual time (around 7.30am) and initially found it easy to busy myself. But as the time approached 9am I was on tenterhooks, waiting for my phone to ring. I checked my phone with alarming regularity - after all I didn't want to miss the drive-by. Nine o'clock came and went, then five past - no call. Ten past nine - still no call. Had the Captain forgotten he was supposed to be phoning me? No - he wouldn't do that. Quarter past nine - still nothing. I started wondering how long I should wait before phoning the Captain...Twenty past nine - still nothing. I decided to start walking outside - I needed to do something! And then it was half past nine. 'Right' I thought 'I'm going to phone'. But just as I reached into my pocket for my phone, the Captain's number showed up on the screen.

"OK - they're on their way," said the Captain. "We had one or two problems getting out of the driveway - had to take the gatepost out and remove some branches from the trees but all good now. They should be with you in about ten minutes I reckon. Off you go."

And with that he hung up. I walked a few hundred metres up the road, trying work out where I would get the best view. I got to what I hoped would be the perfect spot, then stopped and waited. I watched and watched for what seemed an interminably long time...and then I saw her.


The pilot vehicle was travelling behind the truck to stop cars going up the outside lane of the one way system. There was something quite surreal watching Smoko heading towards me that morning. What I was watching represented six years of our life. She seemed to go past me in next to no time. She disappeared along the road and round a corner and was lost from my view.

As I stared down the road after her, a multitude of emotions were coursing though my body. I felt elated and proud...but also sad and more than a little scared. Life was going to be quite different from now on. It was going to be a time of change - and some of those changes were going to be more profound, more challenging than I would ever have anticipated on that late autumn morning. But a person far wiser than I once said 'If nothing ever changed there'd be no butterflies.' That, for me, puts the whole thing into perspective. Bring on the butterflies!



Thursday, 29 March 2018

The best laid plans...


“Who’s that?”

The Captain posed the question as we arrived home from shopping and saw a silver-coloured car parked outside the caravan, but was addressed to no-one in particular. Now I did realise that the question was, broadly speaking, a rhetorical one but I felt strangely compelled to respond.

“I’ve no idea!” was my far from erudite and slightly pointless reply. However, those words had barely left my lips before I heard,

“Reckon it’s Lyall. Do you think it’s Lyall?”

Frankly, I had no idea whether it was Lyall but this time resisted the urge to respond. I watched the Captain stride off towards said car. I could hear the murmur of voices coming from the general direction of the vehicle so presumed that yes, it was Lyall. I busied myself with unloading the shopping. I was sure all would become clear in the fullness of time.

The ‘Lyall’ in question was Lyall Nash, owner of LP Nash Contracting, and, we hoped, the person who would be getting Smoko from Dunedin in the far south east of South Island New Zealand to Picton which is right at the north-eastern tip of the South Island. In our original plans this represented a fairly straightforward proposition – or at least as straightforward as things can be when it comes to moving a four tonne, 36-foot boat the length of South Island New Zealand on a truck. True, at around 700kms it was a fair distance, but the main state highway on the South Island, the SH1, meandered up the east coast and essentially connected Dunedin and Picton.

Where the mountains meet the sea - the Kaikoura Range
But just after midnight on 14 November 2016 all that changed. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit 60kms south of the east coast town of Kaikoura. At a depth of 15kms, ruptures occurred along multiple fault lines in the area with the largest amount of the energy being released north of the epicentre. It generated the strongest ground acceleration ever recorded in New Zealand and caused widespread damage throughout the South Island districts of Hurunui, Marlborough and KaikĊura, closing both the SH1 and the Main North Line railway between Picton and Christchurch. Amazingly, there were only two deaths as a result of the quake.

With close to a million cubic metres of rock and material falling onto the coastal transport corridor, Kaikoura and the surrounding rural communities were isolated - all roads and the rail network in and out of the area were damaged and closed by the slips.

This major event disrupted the lives of many. Homes were damaged and businesses were closed. Farms were left with damaged land and no access to markets for their goods. Communities were devastated by the loss of trade from passing traffic and tourists.

Kaikoura north wharf after the quake
Kaikoura is about 156kms south of Picton so with that area of the SH1 now out of action we needed an alternative. But that wasn’t as easy as it sounds. South Island New Zealand is dominated by the Southern Alps, a mountain range that runs approximately 500kms north east to south west essentially extending along the length of the Island. The name ‘Southern Alps’ generally refers to the entire range, although separate names are given to many of the smaller ranges that form part of it. With the SH1 out of action the Kaikoura Range, the Spenser Mountains and the St Arnaud Range essentially barred any direct route for us between the south and Picton. Our only alternative would be to use what became known post-quake as the State Highway Corridor between Christchurch and Picton via the Lewis Pass.

The Lewis Pass is the northernmost of the three main passes over the Southern Alps and at 864m, it is the second highest of those passes. It winds its way through extensive areas of native beech forest and whilst it makes an awesome journey for sightseeing it was not designed for low-loaders with 36-foot boats on board! But following the quake this became the main route for all freight between the Picton and the south of South Island. And this was the route that Lyall would have to take...assuming he agreed to take the job on.

...and whilst it makes an awesome sightseeing journey it was not designed for low-loaders...
I think it's fair to say that the prospect of that journey was not exactly filling Lyall with joy.  We had had several discussions with him before his current visit and I suspect, deep down, he hoped that perhaps we could wait until the road was open again before moving Smoko. And of course, that was an option. The Captain and I had definitely contemplated that idea. But the timeframe for the re-opening was being put at December 2017 at the earliest and here we were in early April. Could we really countenance waiting for another eight months before moving Smoko? And what if we decided to wait and then the road didn't open in December? I'd said I didn't want to spend yet another winter in the caravan...And so the reasons for not waiting mounted. Logic dictated we had to go.

The sound of a car driving off brought me back from the mildly catatonic state that, for me, generally accompanies putting grocery shopping away. A few seconds later, the Captain appeared in the caravan. I tried to scrutinise his demeanour for any hints as to the outcome of his conversation with Lyall but in the end abandoned subtlety in favour of the direct approach.

"Well?" The Captain looked at me somewhat quizzically as if uncertain why I would be asking him a question.

"Well what?" he queried.

I attempted to stifle the sense of irritation I was feeling at this point.

"I'm assuming that was Lyall...?"

By now the Captain was engrossed in writing things down and generally busying himself with 'stuff'. Several seconds passed with no reply. I was about to ask the question again when he said,

"Errmmm, sorry! What? Did you say something? I was just writing things down whilst I remembered...what did you say?"

Exasperated, I took a breath ready to revisit my original question but before I managed to say anything the Captain continued,

"That was Lyall. He's had a good look at the boat..."

The Captain stopped again and wrote something else down. I couldn't help myself.

"And...? Blimey, you're so frustrating! Are you not able to multitask?" The Captain looked really wounded by my apparent sudden bout of unreasonableness.

"Of course I can't multitask" he replied, "I'm a bloke! Anyway, enough of that. The boat's heading up to Picton on 08 May. That's just about three weeks from now. Lyall will load it up the previous Friday so it's ready for an early start on the Monday. Pilot vehicle's all organised. Now all we need to do is to make sure everything is ready to go. Oh yes, and make sure Geoff is ready for Smoko's arrival in Waikawa...and hope the weather behaves so there are no issues with the roads. So what did you want to know?"

I was stunned into silence by the news - sort of relieved, excited and nervous all at the same time - so I simply smiled and shook my head to indicate I had nothing more to ask.

"Oh - and don't forget to book that Friday off as a holiday" he added. "We need someone to take photos of the move. And I'll ask Claire to do a video."

I wanted to say I didn't really want to be there - like I hadn't been there when the boat was turned - but how could I do that to the Captain. However, I didn't need to say anything because by that time he was busy scribbling away again and as we've already established, multitasking isn't exactly the Captain's forte!

So there we have it. We have a date. Things were finally moving. Let the fun begin.

Anticrepuscular rays - Tunnel Beach, Dunedin


Monday, 17 April 2017

A serious case of deja-vu!


So here we are, a little over two years since my last post, and I think we can safely say the end is nigh. Yes, yes, I know you've heard it all before, but this time I really mean it...I think! The Captain maintains that he's been saying he hopes to have finished the boat in six months for about three years now. Let's face it though, according to the law of averages, at some point in time that statement has to be correct. Just maybe, this is his time to be right.

Now there is a good reason for my current sense of optimism. "And that is?" I hear you all cry (metaphorically-speaking anyway). Well, we heard the news today, oh boy (and now I have got 'A Day in the Life...' stuck in my head!), that Smoko will be heading up to Picton two weeks today. And the reason for her trip to Picton? She is going to be rigged, wired and keeled (don't worry, I haven't suddenly gone all techie - those are the Captain's words). Oh yes, and she'll also have all her upholstery done up there. All we have to do now is to keep our fingers and toes crossed that the weather behaves appropriately and doesn't delay those plans.

But for now, dear reader, I will save you from my usual ramblings and instead let the the pictures tell their own story. They will do it so much more eloquently than I ever could.

 
 
















So there you have it. I don't know about you, but I reckon the Captain's done a pretty awesome job. It may have taken a wee tad longer than we thought (hmmm, on second thoughts, perhaps that's a little bit of an understatement) but the wait has definitely been worth it. She is so nearly complete...although you might just have noticed that the hull still has to be top coated. We're not really going for the 'distressed' look! There are so many holes in the shed now that the Captain decided it would be wisest to get this done in Picton whilst she is having her rigging done. And actually, that's possibly not a silly idea and will certainly help preserve his sanity...well, what bits there are left of it at any rate!

And never fear, the inane babblings will return - probably after I've got over the stress of watching Smoko being craned onto the truck ready for her trip north...


Monday, 19 January 2015

The end is nigh...perhaps!



And so summer hurtled inexorably towards autumn. The race to get the deck glassed before the onset of the cooler winter weather appeared to be being won. But whereas cold weather was the enemy of glassing, in the perverse world that boat-building seems to inhabit, hot weather is the enemy of sanding said glassing. So on those days when neither glassing nor sanding was possible or when boredom was threatening to set in big time, there was plenty the Captain could work on inside the boat.

It was during this time that I experienced a very strange phenomenon. It all started innocently enough.

"Do you want to come and see what I've been doing?"

This question greeted me soon after I had got home from work.

"Hey, yeah, that would be great."

I put my bag down and went out to the boatshed.

"Right, so I've finally worked out how we can make the bed base work properly so we can use underneath it for storage without having to disrupt the bed..."

A solution had been found for accessing storage under the bed base...
There was a pause in the conversation whilst this new revelation was demonstrated.

"...and I've also started to do the seating for the saloon. And I've done the bed base for the spare cabin. See - look!"

So the work from the past few days was looked at, scrutinised and generally admired.

"Hey, that's brilliant," I ventured. I fell short of asking if he was pleased with it in case I was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response again (note to reader: this is irony. The end of the previous blog may need to be re-read for it to make sense!).

And so the days ticked by with avid reports of new advances so that by the time the weekend arrived I was really excited about the changes I would see. This time it was me who initiated the conversation.

"Let's go and look at the boat."

There was a kind of muted, non-committal reaction from Howard as we trundled off into the boatshed and I thought I heard him say, '...but there's nothing much to see'. I dismissed it thinking I'd clearly misheard him.

'Let's go and look at the boat...'
I climbed the ladder to the sugar scoop, full of eager anticipation but as I reached the top of the ladder I stopped, stunned into a state of inertia by the sight that greeted me. In fact it seriously had me doubting my sanity, my ability to tell fact from...well fiction! Even more terrifying was the notion that perhaps Mr Alzheimer was paying me a somewhat premature, and very unwelcome, visit.

I stepped off the ladder and onto the boat, hoping that somehow it would look different once I was actually on board. It didn't! Finally, I managed to speak.

"It's all gone. Please tell me there is a sensible explanation! The bed, the seats, the spare bed...they were all there...please tell me they were!" I continued to stare in disbelief.

Now, for centuries, or so it seems, people have pondered time travel. HG Wells dreamed up his time machine, Edward Mitchell had his clock that went backwards, whilst Samuel Madden had a guardian angel travelling back in time (seriously!!). Stephen Hawkins, on the other hand, as befits such a preeminent scientist, champions the wormhole hypothesis when it comes to pondering portals to the past or future.

The Milky Way as seen from Brighton beach on a moonlit night.
And wormholes...? Read on, dear reader, read on!
And now,strangely, here I was pondering the same. Had I fallen through some mysterious wormhole? Mind you, if I had I hadn't noticed any evidence of a giant hadron collider which Stephen suggests is a necessary adjunct for his wormhole theory. Just what was going on? I had no idea but somehow, in our boatshed just outside Dunedin, it appeared that time travel had abandoned its theoretical premise!

"What I'm looking at now is what I saw two or maybe three weeks ago...isn't it?"

I now completely doubted my ability to actually recognise or recall what I had seen...what had really been there.

A wry smile crossed the Captain's lips.

"You absolute dork," he said which, although it may sound quite harsh, was possibly quite a polite turn of phrase in the circumstances.

"Didn't you realise that I had only put all those in for fitting? They all have to be taken out again to glue them and finish them ready to be put in permanently."

Needless to say, it was one very relieved Cabin Boy who climbed back down the ladder again and onto terra firma. And so it continued, with the boat apparently travelling back in time on a very regular basis...but at least I was safe in the knowledge that I didn't have to watch out for wormholes - or Mr Alzheimer!

Typical March (autumn) weather - and a good time to take our holidays
March, and more importantly, our holiday was fast approaching. Although in the Southern Hemisphere the advent of March also brings with it the start of autumn, it does tend to correspond with a pretty settled spell of weather. As a result, this is generally when we choose to take two weeks' holiday, carefully avoiding Easter if that also happens to fall in March. And with our holiday this year, it went without saying, would come boating, fishing and of course, the Marlborough Sounds

"Is there anything we need to do to get Dark Star ready for our holidays?" I asked some time in early February.

"Ahhh!"

The single word response made me nervous. You didn't need to be an Einstein to work out that it did not auger well for the next bit of conversation.

"Ahhh, what?" I queried possibly with a wee hint of irritation in my voice.

"I'd been thinking that we'd take the campervan instead this time and..."

I very rudely cut Howard off mid-sentence and I have to confess to succumbing to an inexcusable outbreak of sheer petulance.

"I don't want to take the campervan! I want to take the boat. Why would we want to take the campervan? I thought we wanted to go fishing and spend time on the water. And there's no point saying we can go surfcasting" I added, trying to anticipate Howard's possible rejoinder, "because we never catch anything when we go surfcasting!"

Howard waited patiently for me to draw breath and then tried to reason with me.

"You know that we both dread getting Dark Star on and off the water. Yes, it's fabulous once we're out there but I'm over the pressure of launching and retrieving. I thought instead we could take the campervan and go exploring on the West Coast."

Damn it! He was right of course. And I am slightly ashamed to admit that in the twelve years that we have been in New Zealand we have only been to the West Coast once and that was only to a very small area of coastline between Haast and Jackson Bay.

"But I thought we had to go and collect some things for the boat from Geoff." I was clutching at straws...and I knew it.

"I'd been thinking that we'd take the campervan instead this time..."
"Yes, we do, and I didn't actually say we wouldn't go to The Sounds, did I? I just thought that we could go via the West Coast for a change. OK?"

Early March saw the campervan all packed and our trip to the West Coast begin. I had to admit that I was really excited about the prospect now. It was a hot and sunny day as we drove along the shores of Lake Hawea on the first leg of our journey.

"Hey, did you see that sign?"

I was driving and had hoped that Howard had read it. All I'd managed to do was get the general jist of what it said.

"What sign?"

OK, so that solved that one then. We were going to be left with my general jist!

"It said the road would be closed at Makarora from 6.30pm until 7.00am I think. What time is it now?"

"It's 4.15pm. Why?"

What did he mean 'why'? Wasn't it obvious?

"So how long will it take us to get to Makarora then? Should we stop here and go through in the morning do you think?" I asked.

"Hang on and I'll check. Did it say why it was closed?"

"Not that I saw." I felt like reminding the Captain that I had been driving at the time but resisted the temptation.

"OK, so it looks as though it's about 70km and we have over two hours to get there. Reckon we should just go for it, don't you?"

Much to my relief we made it in plenty of time and some distance beyond Makarora found the cause of the road closure was work being undertaken to deal with a massive slip. We carried on down the Haast pass, passing over the Gates of Haast Bridge. At Pleasant Flat we decided to stop for the night and were treated to stunning views down the Haast River to Mount Hooker.

The last rays of the sun shining on Mount Hooker
Early morning mist over Pleasant Flat
After absorbing this amazing scenery whilst eating breakfast we got on the road again. We had no particular plans as far as our next destination was concerned - we'd just see where the mood took us. We crossed the Haast River and began to head north. We passed Lake Paringa and were suddenly in brand new territory for us. We had been travelling inland since Knights Point but as we headed towards Bruce Bay we could finally see the sea again. We parked the car and went for a walk. Through magnificent stands of rimu and tree ferns we caught tantalising glimpses of the sparkling blue river beyond. 

'Through stands of rimu we caught tantalising glimpses of the sparkling blue river'
We were very tempted to stay but it was far too early to consider looking for somewhere to camp. So we decided to carry on up to Fox Glacier (the town as opposed to the geographical feature). Whilst I was driving Howard studied the map. Not too far away from Fox Glacier was Gillespies Beach and according to the information we had, the fishing there was supposed to be pretty good (yes, the fishing rods had come with us despite my petulant outburst!!). We stopped at Fox Glacier for a look around and a coffee - or in my case, a tea - and then set off on the drive to Gillespies Beach.

The first eight or so kilometres of the journey ran along the flood plain of the Fox River to the confluence with the Cook River. At this point, the road takes a sharp turn to the right and heads into the typical native bush-fringed, winding gravel roads that New Zealand does so well. We had only gone a couple of kilometres along this section of road when we noticed a car coming towards us, lights flashing. As we got closer, we could see the driver was the sole occupant. She gestured for us to stop.

"There's a campervan come off the road just along there a bit. It's ended up in a ditch so please drive carefully." She studied us closely before saying, "Maybe you would be able to help them."

And then she was gone as quickly as she'd appeared. So we started off again, taking our time expecting to find some sort of campervan carnage any moment. We drove on...and on and just as we had decided that they must have got themselves sorted out, we found them. The campervan was well and truly in the ditch, its four occupants standing on the road looking shocked and bewildered. Another car, travelling in the opposite direction to us, had also stopped to see if they could help. As we gently ground to a halt we could see all eyes on our trusty winch. Howard got out and went to check out if there was any damage to the campervan. It was sitting at a very jaunty angle in the ditch. The driver had obviously tried to extract himself from the ditch by revving hard which had served no other purpose than to spin his wheels and excavate the ditch further. There was no disputing the fact that the campervan was well and truly stuck.

After a few moments studying the situation, a plan was hatched. We drove the truck forward and turned it round so it was facing the direction we had come from. We used a strop to anchor our ute to a handy tree before running out the winch cable and attaching it to the stranded campervan. Howard then gave instructions to its driver about what he needed him to do to help extract the stricken vehicle. As I looked on, it became very apparent that English was not this gentleman's first language. A look that seemed to be a cross between blind panic and total confusion spread across his face. As luck would have it, the driver from the other car that had stopped to help, offered to go behind the wheel of the campervan. Initally the campervan simply rocked backwards and forwards but flatly refused to leave the ditch. Then slowly, millimetre by millimetre the campervan began to creep forward. The winch groaned under the strain, and the tree that was anchoring our ute started to creak rather alarmingly. And then suddenly the campervan was free. There was applause all round from four extremely relieved tourists each of whom insisted on coming up to us over and over again, shaking our hands and thanking us profusely.

Once we knew they were OK, we left and continued on our way. We reached Gillespies Beach without any further incidents or stranded tourists, parked the ute and got out to have a walk along the beach. It was a busy wee place and didn't really 'do it' for us - whatever 'it' was! As we headed back to the truck, the four tourists that we had rescued came onto the beach. We were greeted like long lost friends and the thank yous started all over again. They looked much more relaxed than when we had left them back along the road but the level of their continuing gratitude was quite overwhelming. When it seemed polite to do so, we left them and returned to the ute.

A crystal clear Lake Mapourika\
It was still reasonably early so we decided to drive back to Fox Glacier and then kept heading north for a while before deciding to camp for the night at Lake Mapourika. We settled down and made ourselves at home. Tea was followed by a walk along the shores of the lake. The lake was dead calm and crystal clear, and an optimistic dalliance with the fishing rods followed. As the light faded, we gave up on the idea that we may catch any trout and headed back to the ute and bed.

The following morning dawned fine but a light mist shrouded the hillsides that surrounded the lake. Even though it was still quite early, fishermen were already out on the lake, puttering slowly up and down, ever hopeful of hooking an elusive trout.

The wake from these little boats was the only thing that disturbed the mirror-like surface
For the most part, the wake from these little boats was the only thing that disturbed the mirror-like surface of the lake. But very occasionally you would see the tell-tale circle that was the only obvious manifestation of a rising trout. I resisted the urge to try fishing and returned to the campervan. By this time the Captain had finally surfaced, so we ate breakfast and planned the day ahead. By mid-morning we were back on the road.

"OK, so I reckon we should stop at the first place we see that looks as though it may sell coffee."

"Suits me," I said. "You have the map - is there anywhere coming up?"

"Well, if we hang a left just up ahead we should end up in a place called Okarito. Fancy giving that a try?"

Okarito Lagoon and wharf
It was fine by me, so that's what we did. As we drove past the wharf and into the village we spotted a coffee sign outside the Okarito Nature Tours kayak hire building. We went inside, ordered our drinks and settled down in the comfy chairs to see what we could find out about this place. Built on a sand-spit within Okarito Lagoon, the village lies between the Tasman Sea and a natural landscape of wetlands and rainforests which is dominated by the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, including Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. Home to only about 30 people, it is synonymous with the Okarito brown kiwi and the kotuku or white heron. It sounded like our sort of place.

"Hey look, there's a boat tour of the lagoon that's due to leave in a couple of hours." I hoped that Howard would find the idea as appealing as I did. "Do you reckon we should see if we can book onto it?"

"Sounds like a good idea to me," came the reply.

The boat trip was magical but far too short of course (yes, we did know it would only last an hour). By the time Swade returned us to the wharf we had decided that we were going to stay in Okarito for the night and then hire a canoe the following day to go and explore the lagoon further. It was a good few years since we had last been in our canoe, but we reckoned we could still manage a four hour paddle without any dramas.

Evening descends over the main street of Okarito
We took ourselves off to the campsite and settled in. Once we'd eaten, we set off for the beach, fishing rods in hand (we're nothing if not optimistic). After a very frustrating couple of hours without so much as a nibble, we packed up our gear and went for a walk along the main street. Evening was falling and the lights in the houses were starting to twinkle. It felt quite magical.

The following morning we duly turned up to collect the canoe. We were taken down to the wharf and after loading the canoe with our emergency gear and our lunch we paddled off across the lagoon. The feeling of absolute freedom was tremendous - we had forgotten just how much we enjoyed canoeing.We explored the open water of the lagoon before heading up into one of the river channels that led deep into the heart of the rainforest. As we paddled farther along the channel the tree canopy completely closed over our heads. It was like stepping back in time into a land that time had forgotten.
Heading up into one of the river channels that led us deep into the heart of the rainforest
Rimu and kiokio perfectly reflected in Deep Creek
The water was crystal clear, the only disturbance coming from or paddles as they gently sliced their way through the water. The rimu, tree ferns and kiokio (blechnum novae-zealandiae) which adorned the banks of the river were almost perfectly mirrored in the dark waters of Deep Creek. It was so peaceful and serene. We followed the channel until our progress was blocked by a jumble of fallen trees. Reluctantly we turned around and started to make our way back.

We arrived back at Okarito Nature Tours mid afternoon but somehow we still didn't want to leave. Tomorrow would be soon enough to get back on the road, we decided.

The following morning we reluctantly took our leave and continued on the journey northwards. The end point of the journey that day proved to be Punakaiki but the tourist attraction of Pancake Rocks held no real appeal for us after the peace and solitude of Okarito. We opted instead to spend time on the beach, exploring around the Pororari Lagoon.

Sea stack near Pororari Lagoon
The obligatory coffee stop the following day resulted in us finding the little gem that is Charleston and we spent some time exploring the various bays and headlands that make up Charleston. We momentarily considered making this our stopping place for the night but realistically it was far too early to contemplate doing that. So on we went, passing through Westport and the mining communities that surround it. Just after crossing the Mokihinui River we turned onto a gravel road and followed it down to the shoreline. We tucked the campervan in amongst the sand dunes, happy in the knowledge that we had found our perfect stopping place for the night. 

Beach just north of the Mokihinui River - perfect for a spot of fishing
The fishing rods came out. We sat patiently waiting for a bite but actually we didn't really care whether we caught anything or not. It was hot and sunny. We had the beach to ourselves. Everything was right with the world.

The following morning dawned sunny and warm again. Whilst I was waiting for Howard to wake from his slumbers I took the cliff walk to Gentle Annie Point. It was unbelievably beautiful although the track was a little 'interesting' in places thanks to a combination of slips and erosion.

Looking back to the Mokihinui River and our campervan (can you spot it?)
from the Gentle Annie track
As we took to the road again we knew that today was going to be the day we would get to see the Oparara Basin. Described as an area of  'impressive limestone formations and surrounded by truly magnificent bush' this was the one place that had been on our 'must see' list. The photos we had seen were simply breathtaking.

We stopped at Karamea for lunch and then continued north for another half hour or so before arriving at the car park for Oparara Arch. We parked up and followed the Oparara River through amazing bush and past some smaller caves (which we did stop to explore) until we reached the Arch.

Looking out of the entrance to one of the smaller caves
Part of Oparara Arch
We were not disappointed! It was phenomenal. The largest natural rock arch in the southern hemisphere, it is reputed to be 219m long, up to 79m wide and 43m high. We were awestruck by the enormity of it, and just stood there taking the magnificence in. Eventually we decided to move on. We went back the way we had just come and on to Moria Gate Arch (yes, the name was inspired by Lord of the Rings!). Somehow this was more impressive than Oparara Arch even though it was actually significantly smaller at 19m high by 43m wide.

Moria Gate Arch as seen from the walk in
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the entrance is narrow and descends down some rather slippery rocks so its magnificence is not immediately apparent, but wow, it was so worth the effort to get into the cave. This river cave is spacious, its floor covered in pure white sand which has been deposited there by the Oparara River as it flows through.

Moria Gate Arch. Careful scrutiny of the right-hand side of the photo
will reveal Howard which will give a sense of scale to this amazing feature 
Moria Gate Arch
We were struggling to tear ourselves away. However, time was not on our side and we still needed to find somewhere to stop for the night. We walked slowly back to where we had parked the campervan in quiet contemplation, absolutely blown away by the beauty of our surroundings.

We need not have worried about trying to find somewhere to stop for the night because less than 5kms from the road end that leads to the Oparara Basin we found a perfect spot. We sat on the beach watching as the sun sank towards the sea. We were two very contented travellers.

'We sat on the beach watching as the sun sank towards the sea.'
The following morning dawned warm but misty. This was in stark contrast to the heat and sun of the previous few days, but somehow it all added to the charm of this part of the South Island of New Zealand. I walked along the beach to where Mossy Burn tumbled over huge boulders and down onto the beach.

Mossy Burn tumbling towards the beach near Kohaihai
The hillside which kept the road to Kohaihai pressed hard against the shoreline was perfectly reflected in the peaty pool that was formed by the outflow of Mossy Burn, its moodiness accentuated by the swirling, delicate veil of mist.

'The hillside...was perfectly reflected in the peaty pool...
its moodiness accentuated by the swirling, delicate veil of mist '
Once we'd eaten breakfast, we drove the few kilometres to Kohaihai. This represented the end of the West Coast trip for us, but for many who venture to this point of the West Coast it is the starting point of the Heaphy Track.

We drove back to Karamea and the seemingly obligatory coffee. From Karamea we would be re-tracing our route as far as Westport before turning inland and following the Buller Gorge with our ultimate goal over the next couple of days being to reach Golden Bay.

"Did you notice if there was a petrol station anywhere in Karamea?"

I had just noticed that we were beginning to run alarmingly short of diesel, and although I knew we would be able to refuel in Westport, I wasn't hugely confident we had enough to make it that far.

"I'm sure I saw a sign for fuel when we came through yesterday," the Captain offered, helpfully, "but I'm not sure where exactly." OK, so that was less helpful!

Fortunately Karamea is not huge and we eventually found the petrol station. Howard filled the ute and I went in to pay.

"Lovely day!"

The pleasant lady at the checkout was very bright and bubbly, and yes, she was right, the mist that had been around early in the morning had now lifted and the blue skies and warm sunshine had returned.

"Yes," I agreed with her, "it's beautiful isn't it?"

"Thought we might be going to see some rain today," she continued "especially with that cyclone coming through. We really need the rain. It's been so dry and all the farmers..."

My brain had stopped processing the conversation almost as soon as the word 'cyclone' had left her lips. What was she talking about 'cyclone'. This was the South Island of New Zealand... I was suddenly aware she had stopped talking and was studying me.

"Did you say there was a cyclone coming through?" I asked, still somewhat bemused.

"Oh yes. Haven't you heard? It's ex tropical cyclone Lusi (I discovered this was the spelling a few days later - at the time I thought she meant Lucy!). Supposed to be getting a bit wild and wet. Hard to believe isn't it - there's not even a breath of wind out there."

"Maybe they've got it wrong?" I ventured.

"Sounded pretty certain to me," she said. "Reckon it's going to hit Nelson/Marlborough pretty hard. Hope we get some rain though. Did I say to you that we really need it. Been so dry up here..."

So we were travelling right into Lusi's path. Great!!

"There's a cyclone coming," I informed Howard when I got back into the ute.

"Ha,ha,ha - very funny. It's sunny and still..."

"I'm not joking - you've heard about the calm before the storm?"

And with that we set off, wondering what Lusi was going to throw at us.

Between Karamea and Westport - still no sign of Lusi!!
For the first few hours of the journey we were still accompanied by sunshine and blue skies. The Buller Gorge was spectacular. We stopped for lunch at Berlins before continuing on our journey. By this time, the sky was beginning to cloud over but there was still no real wind to speak of. Just past Gowanbridge we pulled off the main road and drove the short distance down to the Buller River. We tucked the camper into a pleasant, secluded grassy area and decided this would do nicely for an overnight stop. And how could you be this close to a river without trying the fishing? So out came the rods.

Needless to say, fish was not on the menu for tea that night. As we settled into the campervan, we were beginning to hear the pitter-patter of raindrops and the wind was definitely increasing.

"I'm still not convinced about this whole cyclone thingy," Howard said.

I think the best way to describe that statement was famous last words! As the evening wore on the rain got heavier and the wind got stronger and so it continued throughout  the night. With daylight we could see through the rain-soaked windows that the river had turned from a crystal clear stretch of water with gentle rapids into a brown, seething turmoil  of angry water. The rain was still pouring down and the wind was howling. Simply walking from the back of the campervan to get into the ute and we were absolutely drenched. We left the Buller River to follow the Hope River on the road that would ultimately take us to Motueka.

By the time we reached Motueka it was definitely time for lunch, so we parked up and sloshed our way along the pavements to The Red Beret cafe. Once we were suitably replete it was back to the truck. The next part of the journey would take us over Takaka Hill. By this time the rain was teeming down and the wind had worked itself up into a frenzy. As we approached the hill we were assuming that the road would be open and passable - there was certainly nothing to indicate that it wasn't - but the conditions were atrocious. Having successfully negotiated the hill we decided to head for Pohara to sit out the rest of whatever Lusi had left in her arsenal.

Early evening and it was all over. The rain had stopped and the wind had eased enough for us to go for a walk along the beach. The sea, which is usually sparkling blue, was brown and angry whilst the normally pristine white sand was covered in vegetation that had been carried there by the wild weather.

Pohara Beach and the amazing cloud formations the morning after Lusi
By the following morning the wind had completely dissipated. The day was warm and the cloud formations in that early morning sky were amazing. I did wonder at the time whether they had anything to do with the tail-end of the cyclone, but whatever, they were pretty spectacular.

Part of the reason for heading to Pohara was to visit Tarakohe Marina which is on our list of possible places to moor once the boat was built. It was a perfect day to explore the marina and we had to admit that we were very tempted...but time will tell.

Tarakohe Marina. Might this be home in the future? Only time will tell
And then it was on to Picton for a couple of days to collect some new gear for the boat. As per usual we booked into Parklands Marina Holiday Park and then went down to Waikawa Marine and Rigging to visit Geoff and his crew. We have a somewhat uncanny knack of always managing to arrive just as they are about to have their tea break, so once again we were coerced(!) into having a coffee with them. We chatted about this and that before going and checking out the winches that Geoff had got for us. 

Waikawa Marine and Rigging
"Will you guys still be here tomorrow afternoon?" Geoff asked whilst we were walking through to the shop.

We agreed that we would be.

"Well, there's a 17metre ketch coming in that needs both its masts stripped, painted and re-rigged. I'll be removing them tomorrow afternoon and thought you might like to watch."

He paused for a moment.

"It could be a bit tricky with the main mast though. It's 25 metres high but I can't get the big crane I need - it's away on another job for a while and I don't have time to wait. The mizzen will be fine but I'm going to have to modify what I do with the main slightly...going to have to use the top spreaders instead of lifting it out from the top of the mast. I'm just going to have to keep my fingers crossed that it's not windy."

Howard nodded knowledgeably. As for me? Well I was lost. I knew the mizzen was the smaller of the two masts and was usually behind the main mast and spreaders were the bits that stick out from the mast but quite how this was all going to work I had no idea. I was intrigued to find out.

Early afternoon the following day and we were back at WaikawaMarine and Rigging. The show had already started. The crane was in place and I could just make out a figure resembling Spiderman (well, apart from the blue overalls that is!) about three quarters the way up the main mast. Closer scrutiny revealed the so-called lucky black and red socks, so that confirmed for me that it was Geoff.

'I could just make out a figure resembling Spiderman
about three quarters the way up the main mast'
He was carefully placing a strop around the top spreaders. Once this was done he was lowered back down to the deck of the boat and Geoff, Geoff #2 (very confusing when they're both called Geoff) and the owner released the shrouds (for the non-boaties amongst you, those are the pieces of wire that run down both sides of the mast essentially to stop it falling over) before un-stepping the mast (unbolting it and then lifting it off the base it's attached to).

Releasing the shrouds and undoing the bolts that hold the mast on
Un-stepping - or lifting - the mast
The crane very slowly and slightly ponderously started to lift the mast away from the deck - this was the part of the operation when Geoff didn't want the wind to pick up. The tension was palpable as the mast was eased higher and higher. Once there was sufficient clearance it was swung carefully away from the yacht before being lowered, base first, towards the ground where Geoff #2 was waiting to guide it onto the trolleys that would support it. These would then be used to wheel the mast round to the workshop.

The main mast was swung carefully away from the yacht...
...before being lowered base first towards the ground.
The main mast was then supported on two trolleys...
There was an almost audible sigh of relief as it was finally settled safely on its two trolleys. After a wee bit of re-organisation, Geoff was again hoisted aloft by the crane, this time to remove the mizzen mast.
Preparing to remove the mizzen mast
The same process was repeated until the mizzen also lay safely on the two trolleys that had been designated for it. Geoff was a very relieved and happy man (and so too no doubt was Geoff #2!).

The same process was repeated...
...until the mizzen mast also lay safely on its two trolleys
The following morning it was time to turn south and head home. Once back in Dunedin the work on glassing the deck resumed together with the seemingly interminable sanding and fairing. With the beginning of winter now only a couple of months away, the amount of time available for completing this work before it became too cold was certainly diminishing. Fortunately, a friend 'volunteered' to help (thanks Ian) and the glassing was all completed just in the nick of time.

The seemingly interminable sanding resumed
The winter of 2014 was actually a fairly mild affair, although I suspect that when you're working ostensibly outside, or at least in an unheated environment, it's hard to accept that it is actually quite warm for the time of year. Howard's working day seemed to be interspersed with ever more frequent coffee breaks in an effort to maintain the circulation in his fingers! In fact, some days he would only manage fifteen or twenty minutes before having to return to the caravan to thaw out - very tedious. And this was in spite of having temporarily put most of the windows in the boat and having made the cockpit doors. All this, combined with the use of heatlamps to help with drying the glued areas, was intended to make the environment a little more tolerable, even though the end result wasn't exactly tropical.

Anyway, in spite of the trials and tribulations of the cold, the inside came on apace although the time warp phenomenon was still present as different areas were fitted out only to be disassembled and removed again. They would then be glued and finished before being put back in. As spring approached with its promise of increasing warmth the progress that had been made throughout those chilly winter months was really quite impressive.The settees had been completed for the saloon (lounge) and hinged lids had been fitted to them giving us plenty of storage.

The settees with their hinged lids had been completed
and the shelves for the cupboards behind the settees made and fitted
There are going to be cupboards behind the settees and the shelves for these had been made and fitted. The shelves had also been fitted for the cupboards in the guest berth area. The area for our water storage tanks had been prepared. The cupboards and shelving for the galley (kitchen) had also been fitted and the frame that was to house the fridge, freezer and double sink had been made and fitted. And the chart table had been completed and fitted. So all in all a pretty impressive achievement.


And the chart table had been completed and fitted
It was a pleasant spring day early in September and I'd just returned home after work. I walked into the boatshed to see how things were progressing.

"Hiya," I shouted above the racket of the sander. "Would you like me to go and start making tea or aren't you ready yet?"

The sander by now had fallen silent and a rather dusty Howard appeared in the cockpit.

"That would be great. And then when we've had tea I want you to help me put the cooker in."

My heart did a little skip. Did this mean the boat was farther on than I had thought it was?

"Yeah - no worries," I replied. "Any thoughts on what you would like for tea?"

After the usual somewhat fruitless debate over what we actually might want for tea, I wandered off into the caravan in search of inspiration. I was also trying to work out how to find out why we were going to put the cooker in without risking looking too disappointed if the answer wasn't quite the one I was looking for.

A short time later Howard appeared and sat down, waiting to see what would turn up for tea. I took the opportunity to start the conversation about the cooker.

"So why did you want to put the cooker in?" and then before I could stop myself, "is the build really that far forward?"

And was it? In a nutshell, no. Apparently it was temporary and purely to make sure that the cooker fitted correctly. After tea, we went and retrieved it from the container. We had seen the cooker at the 2013 Boat Show and decided it was just what we wanted - and the rest, as they say, is history. Now this is not your little two burner portable job that you could fit in a rucksack. Oh no. It's a four burner gas cooker, complete with good sized oven and grill. What's more it's made out of solid stainless steel to withstand life at sea. And it was because of life at sea that we were having to try fitting the cooker. Let me explain. Unlike your normal household cooker which doesn't usually have to contend with the vagaries of weather and movement, a marine cooker has to cope with a mobile environment whilst at the same time trying to avoid ejecting your cooking all over the floor if the sea is choppy. So instead of being fixed, it has gimbals which allows it to swing and keep it upright with respect to the horizon even though the yacht may be pitching and rolling. So the placement of the supports for the gimbals is really important. This was what we were about to test out.

Once we had carried the cooker from the container to the boatshed we met our first challenge. The only way onto the boat was up the ladder to the sugar scoop and, for me at least, that usually required two hands. However, both my hands were now full of cooker.

"How are we going to do this bit?" I asked, hopeful that Howard had already thought this bit through.

He hadn't but eventually with quite a lot of struggling on my part we managed to get the cooker onto the sugar scoop and from there into the cockpit.

"Phew! At least that should be the only tricky bit," I said. When will I learn!! It was a tight squeeze getting it in through the cabin door (it's a good job I have small hands - that's all I can say) and interesting getting it down the steps into the galley. And then, of course, we had it facing the wrong way round so needed to reorganise ourselves.

"OK, so you can see the bracket on your side that you have to slot the cooker into can't you?"

"Yup."

"Right, so it's really straightforward. We'll just lift it up, trying to keep the cooker level and then just pop it into the brackets - it's that easy. Happy?"

So I followed the instructions and Howard was absolutely right, it just popped onto the bracket. Well, mine did anyway! Howard meantime was still messing about trying to get his on.

"Just lift it off again please," he said to me, a tad testily, "and then we'll try and get it onto both brackets at the same time. Right?"

So we lifted it off again. I peered down the gap between the cooker and the bracket, watching carefully.

"OK - I'm all lined up now. How are you?" I asked.

"Yup, I'm good."

So I put mine on the bracket again and let go but Howard was still struggling.

"It's no good, we'll have to take it out whilst I try to work out what's wrong. We'll put it in the guest berth."

So out it came again and we put it, as directed, on the guest berth.

Howard studied the set-up for a while, muttering that he couldn't see why it wouldn't work. And then he suddenly went quiet.

"I'm just going to get my screwdriver," he said eventually.

"Have you worked out what the problem is?"

"I've put the bracket on upside down!" he admitted.

I resisted the temptation to burst out laughing, choosing instead for the safer option of, "Ah, that'll do it!" 

The cooker was duly fitted and the gimbals tested to make sure it could swing freely without hitting anything. I had to admit that it looked pretty impressive. It was just a shame I couldn't use it!

It was not your little two burner portable job...
The cooker in situ
As September hurtled to a close it was time again for our annual pilgrimage to the Auckland International Boat Show. This year we had a sizeable list of things we wanted to look at and investigate. Being at the stage of the build that we were meant that we needed to think about things as diverse as door handles, wind generator, lighting, chart plotter, battery banks, radar, watermaker, solar panels, autopilot and flooring (and lots of other stuff besides). At the end of the three days we were suffering from information overload but had plenty to think about.

The Ferry Terminal, Auckland
It was whilst we had been researching wind generators before we went to the Boat Show that we had come across Neptune's Gear. Neptune's Gear is an online store, based in New Zealand, that is owned and operated by Matt and Jo Paulin. Matt has an immense amount of sailing experience and as we investigated various products we - or to be strictly accurate, Howard - had many conversations with him. Matt just seemed to love talking about boats. And then after one particular conversation about things in general but nothing in particular, we received an invite from Matt to go sailing with him and Jo for a weekend on 'Island Time'. 'Island Time' was their 38.5ft Farr Phase 4 yacht built in Australia around 1988. What a fabulous opportunity! We couldn't believe our luck. So we sorted out dates for the end of October/beginning of November so we had less than four weeks between leaving Auckland after the Boat Show and returning again to go sailing with Matt and Jo. 

Those four weeks went incredibly quickly and almost before we knew it we were boarding our flight at Dunedin Airport to return to Auckland. We had chosen to go up a few days before we were due to go sailing and take the opportunity to explore a part of New Zealand we had never been to.

Looking towards Rangitoto
We based ourselves slightly north of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula at a place called Mahurangi. I think the thing that surprised both of us was just how populous this whole area is. It suddenly made us realise how quiet the South Island in general and Dunedin in particular really is. We did enjoy our time exploring but there was no disputing that the highlight of the trip was the sailing. 

Island Time at her berth in Gulf Harbour

We met up with Matt and Jo at Gulf Harbour on the Friday evening and set sail on Saturday morning. Once we'd cleared the Whangaparaoa Peninsula we headed north for Kawau Island. It was absolute bliss. Accompanied by gentle breezes we arrived there mid afternoon and took the dinghy ashore to explore the area around the Mansion House. After spending some time ashore we returned to Island Time and settled down to enjoy the evening. As the light faded from the sky the wind dropped away completely.

Evening falls over Kawau Island
The next morning dawned fine and still. The plan was to sail down to Tiritiri Matangi Island and then from there back to Gulf Harbour. With absolutely no wind we had no option other than to use the motor but we were hopeful that as the day progressed the wind would pick up. We approached Tiritiri Matangi Island and dropped anchor before taking to the dinghy again and heading for the beach. We secured the dinghy and went off to do some more exploring. Fortunately by the time we returned to Island Time the wind had started to pick up and we were able to abandon the motor in favour of the sails.

The wharf at Tiritiri Matangi Island
All too soon it seemed, we were back at Gulf Harbour. The trip had been short and sweet but had served as a huge boost to both of us. All we wanted was to be on our own boat and experience that immense sense of freedom. We knew that Howard would be working with renewed vigour and enthusiasm when we returned home.  

The cockpit is virtually complete
And now, at the beginning of 2015 that enthusiasm and vigour are still there. Huge progress is being made with our boat. The cockpit is virtually complete and waiting to be glassed. The sugar scoop isn't far away from being finished and again is waiting to be glassed. Finally we are beginning to believe that the end is perhaps in sight...