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They just don’t make it easy

Monday was sail day. On reflection I was half regretting the decision to drive up to Whangarei while Sam was on his way so I decided to take my laptop and check in regularly.

I’d woken up at stupid O’Clock, well before my 5:30am alarm call so after checking the internet and having breakfast I was off fairly early. I reached Whangarei at 8am and took the sail into the sailmaker and discussed the problem. They said this was very typical wear for a catamaran and they see it often. I guess the problem we fixed with this new sail (ie, the flat and ineffective top third) now made the sail a typical catamaran sail that would come into contact with the shrouds more and take more wear. We’ve already adapted our behaviour to compensate.

After seeing the sail maker I checked online and at that point there was no news from Sam, Ben or Amy who were all at Newark airport to see Sam off. I picked up propane and headed off to the marina where I ran into the kids and Dan from Division II as well as Bruce and Alene from Migration. I checked online again and this time messages were flowing in. Ben and Amy had been trying to call but couldn’t get a response. I tested my phone, it was working. I’d just missed a chance to chat, it seemed, as I was powering off previously and they’d had to act to resolve a problem thrown up by the airline.

A decade or so ago one could buy one way tickets anywhere and run into few difficulties. This was frequently abused by folks who would end up in a country with insufficient funds to move on. The hosting country would then bear the burden of repatriation. These days the airlines have to shoulder the responsibility and cost (if they don’t) of ensuring folks have the means to travel onwards from their destination. A return ticket to your country of residence is the standard test but not everyone does this. We had difficulties returning to our own boat from the UK but the airline had an escalation process that helped us deal with this.

Anticipating possible problems with Sam we consulted New Zealand Immigration several weeks back to understand what supporting documentation Sam would need to allow him into the country knowing he was leaving on the boat. They gave us some guidance which we followed sending Sam a letter proving he was joining the boat as crew, that we were taking responsibility for him and that the boat was legitimately in the country.

American Airlines, it turns out, have there own policy which is tighter than the destination country and don’t have an escalation process to resolve rare cases. They refused Sam onto the plane unless he had a return ticket or a visa. They refused to accept the documentation provided and refused to escalate to NZ Immigration who, as in our case, would have provided consent.

So the only options were to not travel or buy a return. A refundable return leg was priced at $3,400 and a non-refundable ticker was about $1,300 and the desk clerk gave the impression that the refundable ticket may not be, in all circumstance, refundable. Sam couldn’t cover the cost and Ben could only cover the cheaper ticket so they made the right decision to buy the return ticket and get him on the plane.

It is quite annoying to have gone through all the due diligence this end to ensure Sam would be welcome in the country to have the airline policy to be both more restrictive and have insufficient flexibility to handle this case.

I learned all this while sitting at the Town Marina and chatting with the folks from Migration I learned this was not uncommon and seems to be more and more one of those financial hazards of a cruiser and their crew.

On the upside Sam had had no issues with extra baggage. The duffle bag Helen had ordered to take the microwave and all the other spares ordered turned out to have been perfectly sized. The kids had done a great job packing and weighing as it came in at 50.0lbs. Spot on. Sam was on his way.

By 11am I had our repaired sail and was on my way back down to Auckland thinking through our new problem. $1,300 is a lot of money and almost twice the price of his ticket here. We’ve blown more than 3 times that amount blowing out a sail so this may just end up in the realm of the marine life burning through cash. After all BOAT is well known to stand for Break Out Another Thousand. But we’ve got to try and as ever, it’s best to start sooner rather than later.

Back in Auckland I parked the car near the boat and lugged the sail back to the boat. I made a second trip to get the rest of the stuff from the car. I then set about trying to get the right contact info to start an appeal with American Airlines and to get further information, hopefully some supporting documentation, from NZ Immigration while Helen made a couple of trips to retrieve my phone and to pump the meter.

My call to NZ Immigration was unusually less than helpful with the woman simply spitting out the same information I originally was given. I decided at that point the personal touch would be more effective so as the immigration office was near the car hire depot I decided to return the car then visit the office. At the immigration office they appeared much more sympathetic but the boss, who would be the one to help if anyone could, wouldn’t be in until today.

Back on the boat I pursued looking into the appeal process with American Airlines. We have a non-refundable ticket which we won’t use which we want refunded. After finding someone to talk to by calling the Australian American Airlines call center I was advised to contact their customer relations department. Looking at the AA website the only way to do this is via web form so I lodged my first appeal there.

I then had a beer. I needed it.

Very soon it was time to head over to Pier 21 to meet up with John and Pam from Passages. We hadn’t yet heard from Sam as our remaining worry was his transfer at LA onto the flight to Fiji. His plane was running an hour and a half late but his stop over was just under three hours. He should make it. We also learned he didn’t have to recheck luggage which sometimes happens. As what one airline accepts, another may not it was a relief to know this was not another potential problem or delay. So I took my laptop with us to Passages. At Pier 21 we checked the wrong pier and ran into Gary from Inspiration Lady with the Jacksters who’d all just arrived. Bumping into old friends is the best and it helped lift my spirits after the long day. We’re hoping we can all get together on Wednesday evening but that may not be possible. We’ll see.

We were soon aboard Passages with a beer in hand. I checked online and Sam had relayed a message via one of his friends that he’d reached the gate for his onward flight. There could be no more problems to respond this that evening so I could relax. After our beers we headed over to Squashbucklers, a local hangout for more drinks and something to eat and, of course, more sailors yarns. It was a nice place with a great atmosphere, good beer and food. I needed it.

Now it’s the next morning. Sam should have landed in Fiji and in some ways we don’t care if there are any problems. He’s in the right corner of the world. Whatever happens we can work it out (sing along), we can work it o-out.

Apart from an automated acknowledgement I have no response to my initial appeal from AA. I will make more attempts to contact them once I know to what level NZ Immigration will support us. Another visit to them today is planned after Sam arrives and we’ve polished off the bubbly in the fridge.

The large scale weather patterns don’t call for a departure for Fiji this month. There is one low pressure system heading this way that looked to give us a possible kick up north but there is then several hundred miles of a high pressure ridge (and hence low winds) to subsequently cross. Not encouraging. The next low a week from now which is project to be further south shows more promise. You can be sure I’ll be watching how the forecast develops.

Parua Bay

As you can tell from the title of this blog there is no suspense regarding our outboard parts and whether or not we escaped Whangarei. We made it out but here’s our day in a little more detail.

Early morning, Brendan from the Palmer Canvas came round to adjust the straps for our blinds. They had been made a little too long and needed an extra attachment to keep the straps tidy when the blind is rolled down.

Steve from True Companions took me out to sell off the power tools the French techs had bought and to fill up our propane tank. I got a few $$$ for the tools but nothing exciting. They were all bottom of the range and at best could be sold half price. And the store needed to make a profit so we got enough for an evening meal. Without wine.

The propane store was a little more picky than usual about our non standard propane tank. But they filled it anyway so we were set.

Upon my return I called the outboard shop to see if our part had arrived. Not only had it arrived but the outboard had been fixed. Yay. I lowered the somewhat flaccid dinghy and paddled over to the outboard workshop on the other side of the river. I paid the bill and we manhandled the motor onto the dinghy. The engine fired up, the throttle moved easily. Things were looking up.

Back on the boat Helen was busy washing the deck knowing that we were fast running out of time to use the dock water. I paid up our dock bill and handed in the keys.

Helen took a break from the washing to do a last minute shop. While she was out I sorted out our vodafone dongle so we had ways to access the internet once out of the harbour.

I then headed off to Palmer canvas to pay our bill. I was delighted to find the work came in under 30% below the quoted price. Full praise to Palmer for a job well done and at a great price.

After some last minute rinsing we were ready to go. Alene from Migration was passing by and offered to throw lines for us. Just at that point Dan and his kids from Division II arrived in their dinghy. Paige told us not to go. They had drawn some pictures for us to say thanks for letting them play on the XBox. That was very nice.

With the kids helping, Alene threw off the lines and we backed out of our slip, turned around then headed down the river.

We soon learned how sheltered it is in the town basin as further down the river we were encountering 20-25 knot winds and choppy water. Once we made a turn and had the wind on our beam I put out the head sail and turned off the engines. We kept going this way until we approached the entrance to Parua Bay. The entrance was tight with shallows to navigate and a dog leg off to the right into ‘The Nook’ before entering the bay proper. In 25 knot winds we picked a spot to anchor, dropped the hook and were comforted to feel it bite and set immediately.

In 25 knot winds we were not going to be going ashore so we settled in for a quiet afternoon / evening generally relaxing. We ended the day watching the movie Hugo which was very entertaining. The good news is that with all this wind, the wind gen is earning it’s keep.

The weather forecast is barely encouraging. Winds will soon switch to easterly but they’ll settle. The seas are currently rough. Around Sunday the winds are forecast to come from the northeast which may give us an opportunity to get out to Great Barrier Island. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to make it south to the Auckland area for the departure of the Volvo race this coming weekend. Pity. But we’ll keep our eyes on the weather. It’s a fickle thing.

On the up side the sun is having a go at shining at it’s not raining. The wind is still up but the bay feels like it’s beginning to calm. Perhaps we can go ashore later today.

Not all going to plan

A little less satisfying day. Somehow we stayed busy but progress didn’t seem so apparent and there were a few set backs…..

I had a morning trip out in the rental car. I visited the auto shop and picked up 3 x 5 litre bottles of distilled water – one to give back to Peter on Nymph. Next I picked up a stiff 5 litre container for my water maker project. Final stop was the other side of town to visit scrap metal merchants who picked up my old motors (not the ones I first visited). NZ$127 is not a fortune but it all helps. A good bit of news is that they offered $5 per kilo for my old battery cable – a lot better than the $1.20 the first lot offered. Still not a good price but it’s not an insult.

Back on the boat I took a look at the placement for my new container for the water maker project. I realized it wouldn’t be high enough and my current idea won’t fly. I came up with another couple of ideas for placing the container but both require a fair bit of extra work. Not sure how badly I want this done now.

Dan, who’s helping build the battery box, was interested in a lot of our old battery cable ended up taking quite a lot. This will help pay for his time on the box and gel coat work. It’s not an easy task fitting a strong box to a curved hull and I’m glad we’ve hired him for the work.

Just before lunch I lowered the dinghy and fit the outboard to test it out. It started ok but the throttle had seized. Specifically it looked like the cable (very much like a bicycle brake cable) had seized. I sprayed in some WD-40 to see if that would sort it out over lunch. Unfortunately it didn’t. When I started to take things apart a screw head sheared off. At that point I decided I needed a professional on the job.

So I drove round to the folks who serviced it last year and discovered they’d moved elsewhere. The folks next door turned out to service outboards and I told them of my dilemma. They told me to paddle over in the dinghy at the next high tide so they could take a look. That turned out to be the following day. Given that they may have to order parts and every day counted I decided to bring the outboard over in the car. Which I did. All fingers and toes have to be crossed on this one as this could delay our departure until next week.

I’m a bit peed off by this. I should really have tested the dinghy as soon as we were in the water and perhaps saved a day or two on this. Oh well. We needed the weekend off.

Joel and Bertrand popped by on the way to the airport to drop off our warranty and to say a final goodbye. It was nice to see them again. I gave them a DVD of the pictures I took while they were working.

We still turned out to have a couple more slow leaks on our fresh water circuit. I decided that enough was enough and put in our pressure reducer. Now the leaks have all gone but the showers aren’t so much fun.

I reread the manual for our sail drives resulting in a return to the auto shop so I could buy a foot pump and hoses necessary to blow the oil out of the sail drives. Got all this done for about $30 so I was quite pleased.

A couple of successful tests. I managed to send and receive email over the single side band radio in the evening. So that’s looking good. Even better, the radio doesn’t interfere with the new stereo. The last one used to make all sorts of buzzing sounds when I used the short wave. There’s even signs there may be better reliability at lower frequencies. In the past the USB serial device used to disconnect when I used lower frequencies. It hasn’t happened yet. Could just be luck but who knows. Something to watch over time.

I also tested our final handheld GPS (previously buried in junk) on my new nav station setup. It powered up and communicated fine. Great stuff.

Helen continued to clean and reorganize the boat. It’s hard work. She even made me reorganize my cluttered desk top by the nav station.

In the evening we had (Division II) Amy and Dan’s kids over to play on the XBox/Kinnect. They’d given us a lot of their monthly internet bandwidth to download one of the games that came with the kinnect. I didn’t realize it had to be downloaded as otherwise I would have sorted it all out in the Uk. Here it is a pain. I’d done the download along with everything else on Monday. Unfortunately the USB stick I’d put the 4.6GB game onto had gone corrupt so that turned out to be a waste of time. Because the kids will get a little less video for the next 3 weeks I had promised to make up by letting them play. Despite the setback I still owed them this. They had a fun time jumping around in front of the kinnect and they ended up going back nearly an hour late. With the way things are going we may have them back again before we leave.

We had a nice surprise after they left when Petr from Endless popped by to say hello. He was visiting the next door boat and saw us. So he came over for a quick meet and greet. Turns out we have similar plans for this year so that should be good.

The last set back for the day came when I headed down to our berth at the end of the day with my laptop. I dropped my wireless mouse and now the buttons are a bit stuffed and the wheel won’t turn. I’ll have a go at fixing it today but I’m not sure about it. We’ll see.

The goal is to get out of here

As much as we like Whangarei, the rest of the world is out there to discover. But to get out of here, we’ve got to get our work done. So it was back to getting busy.

So, in no particular order, here is what we got up to.

We called in a local supplier to provide some roll up blinds for the back of the boat. In the past we have often had to hang sheets at sun down to prevent the sun from going into our eyes. The new blinds will block 90% of the light but let us still see out. They will also help against chilly winds. Good down here. We’ve left this job a little late and may have to have the blinds delivered to Auckland.

I visited the bank to pick up our Vanuatu dollars. Only it turned out they’d cocked it up. Should now get the dollars on Wednesday.

I removed the old AIS unit and cleaned it up ready to sell to someone.

In the middle of everything we noticed that the bilge alarm was beginning to go off. This involved a big hunt for cause. Turned out the tee on the hot water line that goes off to the washing machine was dripping from two places. This may have been a very small issue for a long time but with the pressure from the town coming into the boat the drips were sufficient to set off the bilge every few hours. I tightened up the hose clamps and all was good. This triggered off a bilge cleaning session which was not on our list.

I raised the house batteries from beneath the guest bunk setting up all twelve on top of the bunk in the arrangement they’ll be eventually boxed. In their new configuration I needed to divide two of my old battery cables into two. I was able to get this done at All Marine before lunch time. With them all easily accessible I topped them all up. I ran out of water with four cells left. Fortunately was able to borrow a bottle from Pete from Nymph.

I took Dan from Division II to the wood merchant to order the marine ply and have it cut to the spec Dan drew up for the new battery box. Dan spent some time throughout the day touching up a few gelcoat splats we’ve found since leaving the yard and building the new box. Progress was good. He took the new box back to his boat to seal it up with resin in case any battery leaks.

We visited Norsand to see if our second motor had been taken by the scrap merchant. It hadn’t but when called, they promised to pick it up soon.

I paid a visit to the local Yanmar dealer to pick up spares for the motors. Enough to handle one change of everything. As ever, the local prices are 2-3 times that which I can source equivalents in the US. Having got the parts I spent some time looking up alternates in the US that Sam can bring with him.

I looked for parts for a water maker project I have in mind. I want to install an automatic cut off. The way we’re set up I need to create a vessel into which the water will rise when both tanks are full and then trigger the float switch I have. Spent a small amount of time looking for such a vessel but had no luck. May need to come up with a new idea here or get creative.

I made two attempts to test the single side band radio. They weren’t very successful but this is fairly normal for short wave radio. Particularly in town. I did manage to connect to one email station but not well enough to send or receive any traffic. May have to try a few different times of day and/or test away from the electronically noisy town.

At the end of the day I transferred all the fuel from our seven jerry cans into the port fuel tank. The fuel has been in these cans for a year so I had to use the filter as some crud had grown. It was a bit windy so the job got a bit messy.

Helen spent a lot of time cleaning and reorganizing. She also cooked up this years supply of chilli paste to add to curries and whatnot. Seriously vital and life enhancing work. This was topped off with a fine curry.

We finished the day off watching a movie. I had to wait up afterwards to call the Uk so it’s a bit of a surprise that I woke up so early this morning. Helen is still asleep and I await her arousal so I can fire up the generator to do this mornings wash and, more importantly, get the heating on.

Balancing Act

As the bad weather came through we did manage a fair bit of down time on Saturday. However, we did spend much of the morning being fairly busy. We moved the rest of our disconnected and spare batteries from the front cabin area to the rear. We also shifted all our jerry cans of fuel and spare anchor to aft. The combined effect of this weight redistribution lifted our bow water line out of the water.

We managed to lay the anchor down inside our under seat locker in the rear. The fuel is not so easy to place. We’re thinking that for long trips we’ll simply keep the spare fuel in the cockpit area and transfer it into the main tanks as that fuel is consumed. The empty cans can be stored forward without a problem. It’s probably good to keep cycling the fuel through the cans.

I spent some time with Dan from Division II who is going to help me next week put in a new floor and battery boxes below the stern guest cabin. After some discussion we have it all worked out. I then spent some time with all my various batter cables figuring out what lengths I need to keep and some to cut to make up our new battery bank. The new bank will sit further down and be more accessible than the last. We will also get some additional storage space.

I ran into Rod and Elizabeth from Proximity at one point in the marina. They’re here too. They knew we were here as they saw us coming up the river on AIS. That’s a good test. In fact I am very pleased with the new setup. Right now I can see four vessels at Marsden point over 10nm away and not line of sight. Great stuff.

We treated ourselves to sushi for lunch which we ate on the boat. The afternoon was mostly R&R. I pulled out the XBox and played for a few hours while Helen read. Outside the wind howled and it alternated between sunshine and downpour every 10 minutes it seems. A good day to be inside.