The voyage from Marsden Cove to Raivavae started well. We’d loaded Island Prism with fuel and water, loaded ourselves with coffee and carrot cake and finished customs formalities. Our journey down to the mouth of the Whangarei River was choppy and slow, as the wind and tide were against the flow of the river, but once we were out to sea we enjoyed low swells and a good breeze to set us on our way.
We quickly fell into our 6 hour watch rotation. Days were uneventful, and the clear nights gave us spectacular views of the Milky Way and the waxing moon. There seemed to be a different treasure each night for the first few nights- moonbeams reflecting in pale gold off the ebony sea, a moonbow circling the full moon like an otherworldly halo, as light refracted through the thin hazy covering of cloud. One night Jim saw a swarm of bioluminescent jellyfish glowing with an eerie blue-green light- other than a couple of freighters, they were the only life we saw during the passage.
About five days in, the weather changed. The winds picked up and the swells grew. Headwinds saw us pounding into large waves- not a comfortable experience, especially for days on end. Changing course let Prism take the waves on the beam. It was a smoother course, but very rocky- something like being in a washing machine strapped onto a funfair rollercoaster. We stopped using the front bunk and set up the lee cloths in the main cabin so that both settees were usable as berths. I grew very attached to whichever bunk was leeward, as the higher side gave a nauseatingly corkscrewing view which oscillated between sky and waves.
For the next couple of weeks, we seemed to alternate between rough seas and high seas, with the occasional moderate day to give us a breather and let us catch up on sleep. We tacked a few times as wind and waves dictated, and alternated between the main sail and the small heavy weather trysail. I tried drawing on the calmer days, but the angles made my head spin more and there was no way I was going to manage to use watercolour without painting the boat as well. I stuck with sketching thumbnails and impressions, to fill in and work from when we reached Raivavae. Most of the time, I buried my head in a book and was very thankful for my well-stocked kindle.
Cooking was a bit of a challenge too. I’d cooked up batches of chili, Bolognese and Israeli couscous salad before we left Marsden Cove. When they were gone, we made curries and minestrone soup if the sailing was smooth, or pasta and boil-in-the-bag meals when things were rocking. Every so often a rogue wave would launch things from the galley- a plate from the rack, tins and Tupperware, the entire kitchen drawer and, spectacularly, an open tin of pasta sauce which was in Jim’s hand when a wave decided to smash against the boat and jerk it from his grip. It managed to lavishly baptise the floor and our wet weather gear, and of course clean-up becomes complicated when the things you are trying to clean are moving too.
Jim was having a whale of a time. I would love to say the same, and to be the kind of sailor who relishes in taking on the elements- but really I just wanted to get to our destination. I wasn’t sick, but the rocking and rolling made me feel like I had a constant bout of vertigo, and I was happiest when curled up in the bunk. Prism was making good speed though, and it was satisfying to watch the miles tick by. Even our tacking to handle the waves didn’t slow us too much. Jim’s brother Bill sent us regular detailed weather updates, we usually managed to receive the weatherfax broadcasts issued by New Zealand, and had weather guru Bob McDavitt on the other end of the satphone for when we really needed an expert opinion. We especially appreciated his advice when an ominous low pressure was heading towards us, and we weren’t sure whether to hold back or try to run in front of it. We’d just come through the tail end of a high with 50 knot winds and 5 metre swells, and the low looked like it had potential to give us an equal battering. Instructions came to ‘go!’ and we shot north- avoiding being trapped in a ‘squash zone’ between the two pressure systems.
Eventually the morning came when land was in sight. Rocky peaks rose out of the sea, surrounded by a turquoise lagoon. Waves beat against the fringing reef, sending up huge plumes of spray. We tacked towards the channel, Jim lowered the sails and we motored into the sheltered waters of Raivavea. The anchor was retrieved from one of the cockpit lockers, the chain was fed through the windlass and we dropped the hook. The wind was strong but it was wonderful to have the rolling stop, to catch up on sleep and to sleep in the front bunk again. The following day we would go ashore to start immigration proceedings and to explore the island we’d travelled over 2000 mile to reach.
The final load of laundry is done. The anchors are stowed, the water tanks are full and I've checked all our safety gear (see above for the first page in my passage sketchbook!). Our weather guru is working on our last departure forecast as I type... and we'll be off by noon tomorrow!
People often ask how we get by at sea, so I thought I'd answer some of those "Frequently Asked Questions'!
That's me signing out for the next 3 weeks or so- but do check our Facebook page or my feed for progress maps and trip updates! And hopefully I'll get lots of sketching done in the meantime!
We had a great sail up from Leigh to Tutukaka. Prism sped along on a beautiful beam reach, the squalls dumped their rain around us but not on us, and we were met by a wonderful welcoming committee on the Tutukaka Coast! They spent half an hour escorting us in exuberant fashion. My only regret is not catching the moment when one splashed Jim with a huge tail lob!
After a few glorious days, we're now pinned down on Waiheke by the remnants of Cyclone Debbie. She's no longer anywhere near cyclone strength, but is strong enough to make things a little uncomfortable here, with gusty winds and lots of rain!
In poor conditions, we like to hole up in a safe anchorage. We look for good holding- a mud or sand bottom where our anchor won't drag. We also want the wind to be blowing from the direction of the shore. This reduces our risk of getting beached if something DID go wrong with the anchor, and limits the distance that the wind has to build up waves, giving us a safer and more comfortable stay.
We're currently staying at Matiatia Bay, near the main ferry terminal. We've got a good spot and it's pretty secure, though the wind is still strong enough to swing us about a bit. There's not too much of a swell, so at least things aren't being hurled about the boat! I struggled to sleep last night, more from clanging anchor chains and rattling rigging than the motion of the boat. It's not making me look forward to our passage to French Polynesia- en route to Vanuatu I hardly slept, and the thought of three or four weeks of insomnia is exhausting by itself!
What to do when stuck on a boat in stormy weather? Make art! I've been working on a couple of lino cuts, though I may need to wait til the storm is over to share them (my attempts at in-cabin photography so far have been on the dingy side as it's a grey and gloomy day!). I did pull out my Wacom tablet too, and have been creating some more dinosaurs! I feel like my dinos have had a long hiatus, but got the bug again whilst drawing a pirate T-rex for Jill's son Ethan. He took it into his daycare, who photocopied it as a colouring book! I didn't keep a copy of that one, but read on for a free Easter dino download!
Stegosaurus of love is my favourite, but I did a cute little Easter brontosaurus too. I think he'd be cute as stickers for a sugar-free Easter treat! You can find him here on Redbubble, and he has a sister too. Below the picture you can find a download link for a free Baby Bronto colouring sheet! It's in PDF format and will print out nicely at A4/ letter size. Grab the crayons, pull out the paint or start collaging! Your little monsters might like to get extra expressive by designing a background, creating a pattern on the dinosaur or adding in some friends!
I popped down to Auckland for the weekend, and next thing I knew, Jim and Island Prism had sailed to join me! It's early Autumn, which means we get four seasons in one day (if you don't like the weather, look in a different direction!). The light was interesting so I filmed the trip- look out for a very fast sail-by from the newest America's Cup boat (it kicks up quite a wake!). It was wonderful to see Aotearoa, the waka moana, sailing past downtown Auckland and the hulking mass of the Emerald Princess! Ocean cruising past and present... Whilst I wouldn't mind a buffet and a pool, I'll stick with the slower-paced way of doing things- it feels like more of an adventure. I wonder if I'll be saying the same thing after the passage to the Austral Islands?
Our departure date gets closer and we are gradually ticking boat jobs off of our to-do list. Having the windvane up and running is a game-changer for long ocean passages with only two of us on the boat. Hand steering for three weeks would become very arduous. The windvane allows us to set a course and then relax, hands-free. We still need to keep watch, and if the wind changes we have to manually adjust the sails and vane to stay on course, but it gives us a bit more freedom during our watches. Our windvane also has the great advantage of using the wind to power it, saving energy. I've made a short video about how it works (it's a very rough guide!).
My idea of heaven would probably be a sketchbook that I could use underwater. But then you'd never get me out of the sea. This is one of my post-dive day sketches from out at the Poor Knights. I'd love to get out there again but boat maintenance has been getting in the way (on the plus side, the cockpit lockers are much more watertight).
We have, however, been round to beautiful Whale Bay, wandered up to Tutukaka Reserve and lazed on lovely Matapouri Beach. I've been learning how to use my Wacom tablet with Photoshop via Skillshare and preparing some more designs for Redbubble. We'll eventually drag ourselves away, I'm sure, but this is a wonderful place to be.
Boats like to break. Fixing them could be an almost full time job. Water tanks, drainage pumps, the dinghy engine, the traveller for the main sheet... sometimes the list of things awaiting fixing feels endless. And Jim holds the title of Chief Mechanic aboard Island Prism.
One of the pulley blocks on the traveller had exploded in a shower of ball bearings as we rounded Cape Brett, affecting the smooth working of the mainsail. When we returned to Mimiwhangata, Jim set to fixing it, and I decided to do my homework for Veronica Lawlor's class at Sketchbook Skool- drawing a moving figure. I trailed Jim as he sawed, filed and drilled. Swear words not included.
I am pretty sure that sawing through metal rods whilst balancing them on your thighs is NOT recommended procedure. Do not try this at home.
I mainly used my Platinum maki-e brush pen. Slowly but surely I've been gaining control with it and am really falling in love with its expressive lines. I pulled out some neopastels too, to add some colour- they gave a nicely expressive line and I used the for the sketch of Jim drilling holes.
There was one occasion when I thought Jim was going to tumble headfirst into the cockpit locker. Boat maintenance is never easy, and Jim rarely does things the easy way anyway.
In the end, we gained a nicely working traveller, Jim didn't tumble into the bowels of the boat and his legs escaped unsawn. It won't belong until he gets something else to work on- after all, cruising is travelling to beautiful places to work on the boat.
We had fluctuating winds from Mimiwhangata to Cape Brett. When we approached the cape, and the famous 'hole in the rock', I handed the helm to Jimmie and grabbed my sketchbook. The real name of the hole in the rock is ' Piercy's Rock'- a pun by Captain Cook. Looking at my notes on the sketch reminds me that I was going to look up the Admiral's first name (it's possibly George). The Maori name for it is Motukokako. Motu means island, and a kokako is a beautiful grey bird with purple wattles. Nomenclature aside, it's a pretty spot popular with tourists and fishermen, with the scenic rock on one side and the dramatic cliffs of Cape Brett on the other. It's also notorious for head winds, which get funnelled around the Cape, and make forward progress very difficult in a sailboat.. Guess what we got.
My attempt to fill a second page in my sketchbook was abandoned as we began a series of short tacks in confined waters, the wind decided to pipe up, the boat heeled over and pretty much everything in the kitchen decided to throw itself on the floor. Trying to guess which object was making which clunking sound kept us entertained as we zig zagged round rocks and between other sailboats. As we rounded Cape Brett, we found that the wind was still on the nose, we hadn't caught any fish (despite the water apparently frothing with the things) and one of the blocks on the traveller which helps the mainsail to move from side to side had exploded in a fountain of tiny ball bearings. We continued our zig-zagging path- the track on our GPS looks like we'd been at the rum.
After a very long afternoon, we we pleased to veer into the pretty harbour of Russell, pirate a mooring buoy and tuck in to a big plate of spaghetti. I then attacked my poor neglected journal page with Posca paint marker, brush pen and biro. It may not be pretty, but it's a fairly accurate record of a frustrating afternoon's sailing!
(No kitchen objects were permenantly damaged in the execution of this tacking war, though the saucepan lid somehow made it to the bow).
Christmas in Tutukaka was lovely. We spent Christmas Day with our friends Karen and Alex, their daughter Tilly and Karen's parents Jean and Ian. In true Kiwi fashion, we lazed in the sun and shared a magnum of bubbles whilst helping Tilly construct Lego planes and supermarkets. Lunch was roast lamb and an array of delicious salads, dessert was a pudding-shaped rocky road with cherries, maltesers and marshmallows, and a splash of white chocolate over the top. We made sure to brush our teeth well that night!
Boxing Day saw us raising the anchor and taking Prism out for a spin amongst plunging gannets and wave-skimming petrels and shearwaters. We didn't get too far, but returned to Rocky Bay for lunch. Karen, Tilly, Ian and I braved the water for our first swims of the season. Refreshing may be the best word for it- it certainly washed away a few cobwebs, and the sun warmed us up enough to get ice cream from Lickety Split afterwards!
We picked up provisions from Whangarei (grocery shopping isn't called grocery shopping when there's a boat involved). Back in Tutukaka, Karen and I explored the treasures in Toot Sweet and the Tutukaka Gallery. The gallery is well worth a look if you're in the area- it's currently full of incredible work by local artists Steve Moase, Paul Duflou and Shane Hansen. I tried to convince Jim that Island Prism NEEDS one of Shane's beautiful bird cushions from Toot Sweet, but he invoked a two cushion policy on the boat. I'm not convinced, and will be pulling out the Island Prism rule book to verify this. And hey- I'm the captain, I'm allowed to change the rules!
Art-wise it's been a few days of watercolour washes and Lexington Grey ink in my Noodler's nib creaper. Lots of blues, greens and pale ochres on this sun-drenched piece of coast. With Christmas over and provisions purchased, it was then time to head farther north, so we said a temporary good bye and turned the wheel towards the Bay of Islands.
An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.