Moonshadow Update, Road Trip Logs

The days are getting longer, the weather warmer and the gardens are in blossom. It can mean only one thing, Christmas down under! 

I have received a lot of email from friends asking what I’ve been up to the last few months and how is Moonshadow progressing. It’s about time I got off my bum (butt) and did some writing.

Moonshadow: The repairs to her hull are nearly complete. I expect that they will begin to replace the furniture in a week or so and then begin the monumental task of replacing all the electrical wiring. The mast was damaged beyond repair so almost everything above the deck will be replaced. The new rig has been specified and ordered and will be installed in January. The boat will go into the paint shop just before Christmas and will be completely repainted, top and bottom. Then she will go into the water for the remaining commissioning. The interior teak will be refinished and the main salon will be reupholstered. I have been selecting updated communication and navigation electronics to be installed. We will also replace some other dated components such as the anchor windlass, deck hatches, dinghy and outboard. The entire sail inventory has been lofted and will be checked and repaired (including the spinnaker we blew out during the Pacific crossing). I expect to be cruising Moonshadow version 2.0 in New Zealand by some time in February.

Sailing: I have been doing a lot of yacht racing in regular events sponsored by the Ponsonby Cruising Club and Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (temporary home of the America’s Cup). Occasionally I have been filling in as crew on one of two all women’s boats in races sponsored by the Royal Akarana Yacht Club. It’s a dirty rotten job, but. . . All in all, the racing here is very competitive, intense, fast and heaps of fun. I could write a book alone on some of the characters I’ve met during and after these races. These are a breed of men and women that you just don’t find in the States. I was on a boat last weekend with three others who between them had combined sailing experience of 130 years! As I mentioned the racing is competitive and intense and contact between the boats is common. One group of guys has stickers that they proudly display on their hull for each “kill.” A little red boat sticker means you hit another boat, and a little green boat sticker means you were hit. All the yelling and ranting and raving on the race course quickly turns to warm, lighthearted humor back at the club after a few rum & cokes. Some of these guys have been racing against each other for thirty years. Sometimes the owners swap boats, sails or crew just to make the event more interesting. Sailing to the Kiwis is as common as football or baseball to us “Yanks.” It is required elementary school curriculum in many parts of New Zealand.

Road Trips: In October, my good friend Laura popped over from the States to accompany me on a road trip to the South Island. The only word that can truly describe the awesome beauty of this unspoiled New Zealand island is unbelievable! I’ll do my best to tell you about just a few of the highlights of our journey. Some photos of the trip are in an attached file for you to download and view at your convenience.

On our first day out, we took a leisurely drive to Napier in the famous Hawke’s Bay wine region. Napier, which is situated in middle of the east (Pacific) coast of the North Island, was flattened by a major earthquake in 1931 and beautifully rebuilt in the art deco style of the era. The warm breezes blowing across the land from the west make for good wine growing and give the town a lovely resort feeling. We sampled some wines from the local vineyards and enjoyed the beautifully maintained architecture of the city center. We did a “home stay” with a lovely couple who had very comfortable house on a hill overlooking the ocean. A room and breakfast for two was about US$ 35. 

The next day we followed the Pacific coast south to Wellington, the nation’s capital. It was a gorgeous day, and a beautiful drive. The deep blue Pacific Ocean to our left, green hills and snowcapped mountains to our right, and a narrow winding road ahead. We arrived in Wellington, at the southern tip of the North Island, in the mid afternoon. Wellington is called “the Windy City.” For about four months a year, the westerly “roaring forties” winds whip through the narrow Cook Straight, between the bottom of the North Island and the top of the South Island producing near gale force winds almost on a daily basis. The locals, being a hearty lot, don’t seem to let it stop them from their penchant for outdoor activities. Wellington is the political and cultural center of New Zealand. It has just one city center, unlike other cities that have smaller centers in the suburbs. The result is that everybody seems to come into town to shop, dine, enjoy cultrual activities and socialize. With only about 350,000 residents, it still has an opera, symphony, ballet, national museum, lots of great restaurants and a lot of other amenities of cities ten times it’s size. It’s the biggest small city or the smallest big city I’ve ever visited.

We were on the ferry to the South Island early the next morning. The three hour trip from Wellington northwest to Picton on the South Island was very comfortable, relaxing and scenic. The ferry has all the amenities: cushy lounge chairs, bars, restaurants, a movie theatre, casino, a travel agency, children’s play area, and even a quiet room where you can plug in your computer and work. The last half of the trip through Marlborough Sound is quite picturesque. Sitting on a boat watching the beautiful scenery going by made me long to be back aboard Moonshadow.

Ferry tied to the dock, it’s “gentlemen start you engines” and on the road again. We cruised through kilometer after kilometer of rural farmland and small towns on our way to Christchurch. The locals abbreviate it ChCh. We saw lots of sheep. Then more sheep. Then lots more sheep. Many of the small towns have a BIG icon as you enter. One had a trout fish that had to have been fifty feet tall. Another had some assorted fruit with pieces that were easily twenty feet in diameter. Every town has a clean public restroom in the town center. What a concept! And they all seem to have a little cafe that serves excellent food. We’re not talking burgers and fries, but real fine dining! All of the larger towns have a staffed tourist information center where you can get maps and directions or the staff will arrange accomodations or activities for you. And the people are soooooo nice. Laura and I constantly looked at each other in amazement at how friendly and helpful everyone was to us. 

Christchurch is a very quaint English style city. Sort of a Stratford-upon-Avon in the middle of the South Island. There is an interesting blend of old and new architecture, great pubs and restaurants, and a beautiful lush park with a great botanical garden, and of course the “Wizard” of Christchurch. This colorful character lectures outside the cathedral, seemingly endlessly, about all sorts of issues, but I think one of his favorites is about the “South Up” theory. Most modern maps and charts depict North as up. He disagrees with this and will be happy to tell you why and sell you a map depicting Australia and New Zealand near the “top” of the map. He is articulate, interesting, highly opinionated and usually draws a pretty good crowd. We rented bikes for a little exercise and a nice tour of this gem of a city. On our last evening there, we hooked up with Vernon, an old friend from the States who is lecturing at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, and his lady friend Gabriella who is a major account manager for a local office supply company. It was fun to catch up with Vernon and compare notes with Gabriella. For those of you who just tuned in, I used to be in the pencil and paper clip business.

Heading south from Christchurch towards Queenstown, the terrain becomes more mountainous and even more beautiful. Most of the open land looks like a well manicured golf course anyway, so give it a bit of relief and it becomes spectacular. And they say this was a drought year? The roads get narrower and one lane bridges become the norm. Some even share the one lane with the railroad tracks. This is also gold country and there are quite a few historic little towns to explore. There are thousands of rivers and streams, and they all flow to the sea or some beautifully placid lake. And did I mention that there are heaps of sheep? The baby lambs are so cute you just want to hug them.

We hit Queenstown in the late afternoon. Queenstown reminds me of Tahoe without the sprawl. It is the outdoor activity capital of New Zealand. Sort of like an adult Disneyland. There are more fun and exciting things to do here than you can shake a VISA card at. Let’s see, there’s skiing, luge, paragliding, jet boating, bungee jumping, fishing, hiking, climbing and anything else you could possibly do when you have water, mountains and lots generation X’ers who are avoiding “reality.” Oh, and quite an array of excellent hotels, restaraunts and bars. We opted for a scenic flight/cruise to Milford Sound and jet boating. 

The next morning blessed us with beautiful weather. We jumped into the six seat Cessna and took off from the local airport which was mostly turf. It looked like it had been designed by Robert Trent Jones. After climbing out between rugged mountain ridges we leveled off a few feet above the mountain tops and a few feet below the broken cloud layer. In a half an hour, we were on final approach inside the spectacular fjord called Milford Sound heading for a runway that would have given an aircraft carrier pilot sweaty palms. Having defied what appeared to be imminent death, and heart rate back down to the aerobic zone we boarded a bus to the boat terminal for a “three hour tour.” We boarded a modern tour boat and proceeded to enjoy a few hours of gorgeous scenery. Cruising past sheer rock walls plunging into the sound, we poked our nose out into the Tasman Sea, glided by numerous multi-hundred foot waterfalls gushing their runoff and witnessed all sorts of wildlife, all while we enjoyed a light lunch of wine and cheese. At one point, the boat went right under one of the waterfalls. Beats a brush and a hose, I guess. We returned to Queenstown on a different plane, by a different and more scenic route that took us by the spectacular Sutherland Falls and over the calm, blue Lake Wakatipu.

Next, it was on a bus to the Shotover River for jet boating. After donning a rain suit and being instructed not to stick our hands or heads out the side of the boat, we were off for a, well, E ticket can’t even come close to describing this ride. If you’ve ever gone river rafting, just imagine doing the same run in a power boat at 45 miles per hour. One moment your in six inches of water, the next the entire boat is airborne, the next you are going through bends in the river just inches from rocks strewn along the sides and bottom. Every now and then, the driver, who I would describe as young, good looking, highly skilled and certifiably insane, would throw in a 360 degree turn for the heck or it. This is a ride that will never be replicated in some theme park. It takes about an hour for the grin to wear off your face when it’s all over.

Leaving the fun, and excitement of Queenstown, we drove up the west (Tasman Sea) coast by Mount Cook and the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. It is quite spectacular to see these glaciers work their way down so close to the sea. We continued to work our way up the coast to the Pancake Rocks, which is a small area with a very interesting layered rock formations, right along the coast. The sea has carved out some pretty cool blow holes in the area. The evening was spent in the seaside town of Westport and after dinner we had a long chat with the publican (pub owner) who told us all about the history of the area and stories about some of the local characters. Again, we couldn’t believe how nice all the people were.

The following day, we drove along a very windy road through the mountains, across the island to Nelson (named after the famous British admiral) and on to Blenheim and the Marlborough wine region. We did some tasting at a couple of the local vineyards and then enjoyed, hands down, the best meal of the trip at a small restaurant called “Corral.” Rack of lamb to die for! And, of course, the people were so nice.

Up early the next day and on the ferry back to Wellington. We popped out of the ferry and drove up to Lake Taupo, in the middle of the North Island. Taupo is similar to Tahoe, as it is two large volcanic cones joined together. Very pretty and good fishing, skiing, boating, tramping (hiking) and only a few hours drive from both Auckland and Wellington.

Returning to Auckland the next day, I looked at the odometer and noticed we had done over 3500 kilometers or about 2200 miles. New Zealand is not as small as it looks!

I later had a chance to do a couple of quick trips up to Russell, in the Bay of Islands and out to the Coromandel Peninsula. Coromandel is like Monterey/Carmel, with better weather, fewer people and a lot of offshore islands. These are both prime cruising areas, so I will fill you in more when we get there on Moonshadow.

If this hasn’t yet cured you of insomnia, I’ll leave you with a few more tidbits.

Kiwi Advertising: The Kiwis being the innovative lot they are, have some fun and creative advertising and company names. Here’s just a few. A lawn mower shop called “Mowtown.” A sign company called “Signing Up Rocket Signtists.” A fish company with a slogan “our fish are so fresh, their next of kin haven’t been notified.” A service to surfers and divers called “Down Under Wetsuit Repair.” A bar-b-que called the “Captain Cook.” A wholesale produce company called “Lettuce Deliver.” A cat kennel called “Catsablanca.”

Speaking of cats (^..^)~ MaiTai is doing well and will be returning to Moonshadow next May. Thanks Barbie! She just had an identifcation microchip installed and I wonder if she got a sticker that says “Intel Inside.” 

More KiwiSpeak: Girl=shiela, bird or blouse. Guy=bloke. Smart mouthed=cheeky. Sidewalk=foot path. 7up=lemonade. Candy=lollies. Cookies=buscuits. Fanny=female genitalia. Jerk=wanker. First thing in the morning=sparrow fart. Pint of beer=handle. Wrench=spanner. Die=pop your clogs. POM or POME=British person, an acronym for “prisoner of mother England.”

Kiwi Trivia: Over half of all Kiwi households have at least one moggy (cat). Two-thirds of all Kiwi households are occupied by their owners. Handguns are illegal in New Zealand. Private yachts leaving New Zealand must be seaworthy and have reasonable safety gear before they will be granted clearance.

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