Tuesday, 4 December 2007

I can't believe I did it!

Panama to NZ in 9 months, that’s 9000 odd nautical miles, 10800 statue/road miles for you land lovers! At an average of 5 knots it’s a lot of ocean & I can only think of 2 perfect passages, unfortunately they were some of the shortest ones.
For once I’m speechless! What an achievement, I can’t believe I’ve done it! A novice sailor (in truth, no prior sailing knowledge what so ever!) has sailed on a 41foot boat from Panama to New Zealand. Of course I couldn’t have done it without Bobby who had the boat & also knew how to sail – pretty crucial items! ; )

It’s been a roller coaster of a trip; with amazing experiences & memories, highs & lows & ups & downs. Despite the scary bits we made it with everything in one piece & together. Neither of us will pretend it was easy, even for the most rock solid of relationships this lifestyle pushes it to its limits as nothing else ever can, never mind a brand new relationship. He has been an amazing teacher & partner. Both he & this trip will always have a special place in my life.
I’m heading home to the UK for a holiday & to catch up on some much needed family time. Bobby will return to Fiji for alone time with Barraveigh (it’ll be back to being a boys boat in no time!) Before all that we have a few weeks to explore New Zealand by land! Bobby will also get corrective surgery on the broken finger that rehealed itself at a strange angle.

You will have to wait & see what 2008 holds for me but I still love the nomadic life & the adventures it brings so not ready to return home permanently just yet! I hope to catch up with as many of you as possible when I'm back. For those of you who I don’t know in person but have sent emails & messages full of support & enthusiasm a huge thank you. I really am amazed at how many of you have been following the adventure.

Hope to see you all here again in 2008!

Happy Christmas & a Happy New Year to you all.
Suzi x

sailing to NZ

The last you heard I had just jumped on Golden Opus. It was fantastic to experience the open ocean onboard another boat. As well as having some luxury, it makes you appreciate some of your own boats plus points & we realised that even the big boats with open cheques book policies were having system failures. The trip across the South Pacific has been hard on all the fleet. Couple that with a serious lack of equipment, tools & specialist contractors on the majority of island chains most boats are limping along to their final destination for 2007.

The trip to NZ isn’t easy. Everyone heading down there expects some of the big stuff so boats are prepared beforehand, sails are changed, reefed down & everything is doubly secured to the deck. Majority of yachts pay for a weather router who advises them of the best route depending on the boats specifications, namely speed & what date you leave. It’s expected to be that bad!
I was apprehensive of the passage but looking back it was nowhere near as bad as I had anticipated. Don’t get me wrong we did have some of the “big stuff” but on a bigger boat, with more crew, more sleep & having already had the nightmare sail to Palmerston under my belt, this one was enjoyable.

Life onboard Golden Opus was certainly golden! Bobby & I had our own cabin with a double bed. Not so great in rough weather when the boat is leaning at a 30degree angle. It may well have been a nice big bed but until we found the lee cloth (see photo gallery) we were squashed into each other on one side of the bed or attempting to cling onto the mattress with our fingers & toes to stay put! Very humorous! We also had our own bathroom (head to you sailors) with shower or at least we did until the bathroom in the bow became unusable, not mentioning names any names….John & Cookie!! ; ) The first 2 or 3 days were fantastic. Good winds, the seas were calm & the weather fantastic, the galley was well stocked & the crew, consisting of 3 kiwis, 2 ozzies, 1 yank & 1 brit, were in good spirits. Off shifts were spent lazing on the stern deck reading & relaxing under the warm sunny rays.

It wasn’t to last, the weather changed, the sun disappeared & the seas picked up with big swells & 6-8 foot waves. The head & main sails were reefed & we all begun putting on layers, including thermals, gloves & foul weather gear. I wore everything I had packed, plus anything I could get my hands on & I was still cold, my British blood must have thinned in the humid weather over the last 11 months! In large seas & heeled to starboard it begun to get harder moving around the boat, that’s when I appreciated Barraveigh’s small spaces. A small boat does have some advantages. It’s never far to slip or slide onboard Barraveigh! Should you ever be sat on a toilet onboard a boat healing over with the nearest wall well out of arms reach you’ll understand – just take it from me its not easy to stay put! ; ) Golden Opus isn’t just a much bigger boat than Barraveigh she is also heavier which makes for a nicer ride in the bad stuff. She ploughs through the seas at a steady 7-10 knots, which is a totally different experience to Barraveigh. The high centre cockpit rarely gets soaked by waves breaking over the bow or sides & was the venue for many intense conversations on religion, politics & many other controversial topics! Bobby, John & Cookie were certainly putting the world to rights!

With poor batteries & no generator, power was in short supply, the autopilot was out & hand steering was in. Having managed to get across most the Pacific without hand steering (we love our auto pilot) it was yet another learning curve (that’s for you Dad!). No problem on the calm sunny days but when it got rough in the night I had my only wobbly moment & became too nervous & scared. Overcame it in daylight after some calming lessons from Mike, the captain. I actually begun to enjoy steering the boat through the big waves, it’s a bit like a fairground ride but you’re holding the controls.

The batteries & generator weren’t the only items on the broken list. The gas alarm, which detects a gas (propane) leak, began sounding & wouldn’t go off. I don’t need to tell anyone how bad a situation that is. Luckily for us it was a problem with the alarm & not the gas connections but it did result in the cooker being out of order for some time whilst “the leak” was investigated, also not a good situation when its cold & everyone wants hot drinks & food! The hatch in one of the forward cabins begun letting in water, so bad that it you could have stood under it & taken a shower! Poor John went to his bunk in all his foul weather gear! & finally coming into Auckland harbour the water pump decided to break. An hour from land with 7 smelly members of crew wanting fresh water showers I think Golden Opus decided she had had enough & was well over due her refit.

The highlight of the passage was our final shift. Bobby & I were approaching Auckland. It was still dark & suddenly dolphins, lit up in the sea by the phosphorus, surrounded us. It was amazing to watch them playing in the bow trying to keep up with the boat. The phosphorus was so strong I could see school’s of fish lit up in front of us as they became startled by the boat. The dolphins chased the fish & had a spot of breakfast. It was, as always magical; I never get bored of watching such beautiful animals & to see them playing in the wild just meters from you is spectacular.So many memories from this trip & some very good friends. A huge thank you to the rest of the crew for your fab friendship & fun times. A big congratulation to Mike who completed his circumnavigation at the age of 29, an incredible achievement, which he celebrated in style with a lampshade on his head & a frozen flying fish! ; )