Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What I did on my summer vacation

I've been in New Zealand for over five months now.  I like it here!

In my last blog posting, in December of last year, at one point I said:
"I've only been to a few of the anchorages now, but it is a beautiful, easy area and I think I'll be here for several months, at least."
Its been a little over five months now, and I have yet to leave the Bay of Islands.  I'm currently prepping Luckness for our passage back to the Tropics.  My visa expires in early May and so I'll be looking for a weather window starting in around a week or so.  The current, longer range forecast is showing what might be a nice pattern developing in a little over 10 days - I may hop onto that system and head north again.  Its about time - things are starting to cool down here, autumn has arrived.

I won't go into an event-by-event rehash of my time here.  NZ is a fun, easy, friendly, beautiful place to hang out.  Some of my cruising buddies explored NZ extensively, buying cars and traveling around.  This is somewhat typical I think and was one of the possibilities I saw for myself when I arrived.  My stay has been somewhat different from that however.

I've been wondering a little to myself "what is cruising anyway?  am I still doing it?" and have decided that cruising is whatever we want it to be.  Some sailors I know did the traditional thing sailors do when arriving in NZ: fly back home for a while; head back to NZ; buy a car; travel around seeing the island(s); return to their boats and see some more of the area.  They had a great time.  Some other friends left their boat in Fiji for cyclone season and flew to NZ and pretty much followed the pattern above except that they visited their friends who had their own boats in NZ rather than exploring on their own boat (s/v Estrellita.)  Carol and Livia were kind enough to visit with me for a week and we explored the Bay of Islands "Charter style" as Carol said, moving daily.  So, these two didn't even sail to NZ but I would say they were definitely still "cruisers" while away from their boat in a different country, exploring.  I stayed within about 12 miles of the town where I arrived into NZ for the entire time I've been here - what kind of cruising is that?!  I'd argue, its a good form of cruising.  I've had a good time, seen some beautiful areas, and feel my time was productive and am looking forward to the sailing I have in my future.

So, ok, I feel a little defensive about my not seeing the rest of the country.  Lets move on.

In answer to the question: What I did on my summer vacation - it was to find beautiful anchorages in the Bay of Islands (mainly two or three), hang out at anchor until my food ran out.  Head back to Paihia, reprovision, stop at Opua, do laundry and boat chores and then head back out until my food ran out again.  It was a nice pattern and I repeated it over and over, like a kid who can watch the same movie a dozen times.  While I was at anchor I was exercising - walking and swimming - as well as working pretty much full time on a software project which is now nearing completion.

I could say that I've always enjoyed software development, that's almost true.  There were a few years there where I grew more and more burned out and by the time I left my job at Autodesk/Alias I was ready to not see any software again for a long time other than as a user.  I thought I might be done with software development.  That gradually faded away and my enjoyment of creating something from literally nothing is back.  Developing software is pretty unique - in late November I started with an idea for a new GRIB viewer and a blank screen, and over the next five months I created something, piece by piece, which now looks like I imagined it would.  When you sit in front of the app and use it, its real - something has been created out of nothing.  Its a cool process - you start with a blank screen and then start researching/designing/implementing/testing.  There is some trial and error, a lot of satisfaction in seeing the pieces start to work together.  There were lots of little puzzles to solve along the way and it turns out that the project I chose touches a lot of interesting domains.  I've had the opportunity to implement a new data model which supports incremental update and undo; work with math again (cubics!  derivatives!  yay!); interpret the GRIB standard and implement an importer that can read GRIB1 and GRIB2 files; design and implement a simple framework for data visualization; create a UI (sorry, UX) for the app using a bunch of new stuff Apple released in their latest version of OSX.  This is now my third app on the Mac, its a nice platform to work on.  The app isn't perfect, I'd like to speed up its graphics by using OpenGL along with some other things I'll change at some point in the future, but I think its a pretty good effort for just under five months work.

The app is going to be called LuckGrib, it can download GRIdded Binary (GRIB) weather data from NOAA and then visualize it.  Its able to download hundreds of different weather parameters, many of which have no meaning to me at all, as NOAA's weather models are enormous.  These are the GFS models that are used world wide by many (most?) weather forecasters as one of the pieces of data they use to interpret and then forecast the weather.  The familiar parameters such as wind, waves, barometric pressure, rain and so on are present of course and they are what most sailors would use.  The app is fast enough to animate reasonably sized GRIB files in real time - this will be improved in future versions of the app.

For those that don't know me very well; yes, I'm a bit of a nerd.  I love this stuff.  There is a bit more on the app at the very end of this posting.

Anyway.  Cyclone Pam passed by NZ around a month ago, that was a little freaky.  At the time it passed I was thinking that I had to leave this area and return to the tropics in 6-8 weeks - and wondering if that was safe.  The official end of cyclone season is the end of April.  Of course that's not a law of nature, just a statistical guideline.  I had been planning on returning to Tonga and making my way up the island chain back to the Vava'u area I left last November and then heading over to Fiji.  My current loose plan is to head north to Vava'u a little faster so that I can be close to what I think is a very good harbor if some strong weather was to pass through.  After a month or so, sometime into June, I'll think about heading over to Fiji.

A few photos follow.

This is a "Christmas" flower, the islands were full of them during December and into January.

Here are a few LuckGrib screen shots:

LuckGrib beta testing:

If you've read this far, and have a Mac which runs 10.10 (Yosemite) and are willing to try out my new app, send me an email and I'll send you a link you can use to download it.  The beta is time limited, it will expire in 6 months, but I expect to have the app up on the Apple App Store  way before then.

If you download the beta, please realize that this is unreleased software.  If there are things you don't like, things that don't make sense, things you can't figure out, things that you really like - please let me know!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

First month in NZ

I've been in New Zealand for over a month now.  I like it here!

When I first arrived in NZ I was a few days ahead of a strong weather system, and after checking in and moving over onto a mooring, the wind blew and blew for a bit less than a week.  In that episode, I was experiencing winds of around mid 30 knots in strength, in Opua, which is a pretty well protected little bay.  Following these winds the weather has been generally very nice.  It warmed up and the sun came out which made enjoying the area that much easier.

I arrived in Opua a few days before the start of the All Points Rally, which is a free rally offered to all yachts leaving from anywhere and arriving in Opua.  There were probably something like 50 cruising yachts in the area during the rally, and it was a fun, social time.  The local businesses sponsored many BBQ nights, there were seminars on various topics ranging from polishing your diesel to which of the local kiwi candies are the best.  It was a fun time and I encourage anybody who is planning on arriving in NZ to attend, there is really no downside - its all good!

After spending two weeks in Opua I wanted to get out to start exploring the local anchorages.  Opua is in an area called The Bay of Islands, which is one of the premier cruising areas in NZ.  I've only been to a few of the anchorages now, but it is a beautiful, easy area and I think I'll be here for several months, at least.  At the start of my exploration of the area I was pretty well provisioned, not to the standards I would have done for a long passage but I had quite a lot of food onboard.  After 10 days I had eaten my last onion, I had no more wraps left, my peppers were long gone and I was down to a couple carrots - so it was time to return to civilization and buy some food.  There are two local towns used for provisioning, Pahia and Russell.  As I went past them toward Opua I decided to keep on moving as it was rolly at both locations and I had grown to like being able to be in a calm anchorage, so I continued on to Opua and anchored toward the back of the fleet.  I spent a couple of days in Opua, ordering some parts, visiting with some folks and buying a few onions.  A couple of days later the forecast was for variable 5 knots of wind, followed by NE 15 and stronger the following day, so I moved along to Pahia, three miles away, and made three trips to shore buying food.  I managed to spend over $500 in those three trips, one of the dangers of being close to civilization after having spent some time in the wilderness...

After my second run into town buying food I decided to update my weather forecast.  The NZ Met service was now announcing a Gale warning, with the wind in my area increasing to 35 knots by the evening.  It was time to finish my time at Pahia and move along to somewhere with some weather protection.  Pahia has a good BBQ restaurant, and Indian, a Pizza and craft beer place - all of which I was hoping to sample before leaving, but with gale force winds arriving, it was time to move along.

The distances in the Bay of Islands are never very great, and 6 miles away was a little harbor which is a popular place to hang out in a gale.  I arrived at around 5pm and anchored in light winds.  By that evening the wind was blowing and the Met service called the following 6 days perfectly.  The following day the winds were to go light and then switch around to the S and SE, so I moved across the bay in light wind to get a little more protection.  Then there were 4 days of 35 gusting 45, 40 gusting 50 and so on, with almost constant rain.  The winds may have been that strength in open water, but with my surrounding protection I mostly saw winds in the low 20's with gusts up to low 30's.  I've been boat bound for 6 days now.  Yesterday evening the winds fell off, as forecast, and today the winds are much lighter and the sun has peeked out.  I'll move along to find some more hiking tomorrow as I have plenty of food left and I need to start working on my fitness again - there are some good hiking trails in the islands, and I have another one I want to explore.

I start the pictures below on my trip between Tonga and New Zealand.

On my way to New Zealand from the Tropics
Could you ask for better conditions in which to tow a vessel?  Flat seas, no wind.   Perfect.
Luckness at the Opua Quarantine dock.  Large and easy.
Quarantine dock 'cleats'.  These were a bit of a surprise...
Some boats had a harder time 'out there' on the open ocean.
This is the second jib I've seen torn to shreds on this trip
As is somewhat typical of me, I didn't take a single photo during the two weeks I was in Opua attending all those seminars, BBQs and social events.  I resume the photos after leaving Opua, going to start exploring the Bay of Islands

Robertson Islands.  My first anchorage in the Bay of Islands

Robertson Island has a little hill, with a path leading from the shoreline to its top.  The first time I walk up the hill I was out of breath and my heart was pounding like it wanted to escape my body.  The second day I did the walk twice, and it felt a little better.  By the fourth day it was time to move along to find a longer walk.
Looking NW from the top of Robertson
Luckness at anchor
The view from my companionway, one calm day at Robertson
Cruising boats tend to arrive somewhere, anchor well, and then stay for at least a day.  Often we stay for many days at each anchorage.  The Locals seem to arrive, stay for a few hours and then move along to another anchorage which is often less than a mile away.  I woke in Robertson Island's anchorage alone one morning, and then over the day 15 boats arrived and had left by that evening, leaving my alone again overnight.  During the time when all the boats arrive, things can get a little crowded.  Also, many boats seem to simply throw an anchor out followed by some rode and 'call it good', without setting the anchor to know whether or not its going to hold.  I've started to relax when seeing this, as I know they will likely be gone in an hour or two.

I moved to Army bay after leaving Robertson Island.  Army bay is on an island which has a track (trail) which circumnavigates it.  The track is something like 7km with some up and down.  I built up to walking the trail twice a day before leaving.  Its really nice to be able to improve my fitness level a little.

My second anchorage: Army Bay.
A different perspective on the square rigger I had seen earlier at Robertson Island

Two boats, neither of which is Luckness, at anchor
Luckness at anchor, one fine morning.  Taken from s/y Sheer Tranquility
That's the end of the sailing photos.  I'll update the blog again when I've gathered some more photos, but probably not for a while.


I re-started my programming hobby while at Beveridge Reef and have been continuing with it ever since.  I'm currently working on what may become a suite of cruising related software.  The first piece of the puzzle I needed to solve was to create a base map widget so that I could provide geographical context to the other things I want to work on: weather, passage planning, position reporting, and other stuff.  Being holed up inside Luckness for 6 days straight, not being able to get to land due to the high winds and rain, provided a good opportunity to get some good software development in.  This is the best hobby ever...if you happen to be an introvert software developer.

Here are a few screen shots of my base map widget in action. I'll build on this with more pieces over time.  The widget scrolls and zooms smoothly, on my 2011 Macbook Pro.

The World
The Pacific Northwest
The base map doesn't have enough resolution to navigate by, which is ok, that isn't my goal.  When the next gale roars through, which likely won't be all that long of a wait, I'll be ready to get started on the next piece of the puzzle!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Passage to NZ: finished!

I arrived on the customs dock in Opua, NZ, at 4:30pm, Nov 10th.  That makes this passage 10 days 7 hours in length, from start to stop.

In my previous post I was writing about the sailing conditions turning slowly lighter and lighter.  By around 12:30 on Nov 10th the wind was blowing at around 6 knots and the boat was making between 2.5 and 3.5 knots.  I was still happy with that as I would be at dock the following afternoon.  Then the wind started to veer (clock) around and I was no longer able to sail to my destination.  I was something like 30 degrees too far toward the west of my destination.  I could have continued, but then I would need to tack at some point in order to get there, and that would add time, and I was sooo close!  Anyway, I turned on the engine while 40nm away from Opua and started motoring at around 1am.  I like to sail but I'm not a sailing purist.

I was motoring along comfortably, the seas light.  I saw one set of navigation lights behind me and to my port, a second set ahead and to my port, but they were each at least 3 miles away and so I was comfortable going through my sleep cycles.

The sun rose in the morning and it was a beautiful blue sky day.  I could see NZ clearly on the horizon and in fact had been seeing it for hours as there was close to a full moon lighting the night up.

At around 8am I was hailed on the VHF by a cruiser that I had met in Mexico over two years ago.  They were coming in from Fiji and had been motoring into the wind for three or four days and finally ran out of fuel.  I said that I had a full fuel load onboard, including 15 gallons on my deck in gerry jugs and volunteered to head over toward them and drop it off.  They were sailing slowly toward Opua and as I headed their way the wind finally died off.  Luckily they had a dinghy on davits and they were able to lower it into the water to make the transfer easy.  I arrived at their location within 45 minutes and we were able to get the fuel onboard their vessel by 9am.  I said I would wait around to make sure their engine started before continuing my voyage.  After 1/2 hour the engine still wasn't starting, and the owner started working the problem by taking the fuel hoses off one by one trying to find the problem.  He was able to contact a friend on shore for some advice, followed it, and still the engine wouldn't start.  By 11am we had to make a call.  The coast guard doesn't tow vessels around here, but they were able to supply contact information to a service which did this - at $250/hour with likely a 8 to 12 hour charge.  Yikes.  I thought I could tow him at around 3 knots toward our destination, and that it might take up to 6 hours to get there, so by 11am it was time to get that started.  I arranged a bridle, he arranged a tow line and we started the tow.  This was my first time towing another vessel and the conditions were perfect for it.  There was almost no wind by this time and the seas were pretty calm, maybe a two foot well spaced swell.  I was surprised how difficult it becomes to maneuver when towing, it probably doesn't help that the other boat was around twice the displacement of Luckness.  Luckily the owner of the other vessel was continuing to work the problem and around 2 hours later he got his engine started!  Yay!  We stopped the tow, and I followed him into Opua.

The final few miles into Opua were beautiful.  Its a busy place with lots of boats enjoying their waters.  It felt a bit like rush hour after the sailing I had done in Tonga, where there just weren't that many boats around.  I arrived at the customs dock at 4:30pm and was able to talk the customs officers into letting me stay on the dock that night and be checked in the following morning - score one for NZ hospitality!  They came by the following morning, checked me in, I spoke with the marina and arranged a mooring, went over, got settled down, ate a little food and went back to sleep.  Wonderful.

There is currently some weather moving across the area, I've had gusts up to 35 while on the mooring.  I've been to shore once, and will head in again tomorrow when the forecast is for the winds to start dwindling.  I have wifi on the boat and am seeing download speeds in excess of 1MB/sec.  I haven't seen this type of internet since leaving Seattle.  I bought a month of internet for $40NZ ($30US) with a limit of 6Gbytes and have already burned through it updating the software on my computer.  As a tech-geek, this was one of the things I missed.

The anchorage in Opua is surrounded by absolutely beautiful green rolling hills and I'm looking forward to getting out and exploring the trails (tracks.)  On my trip into the Marina I met a lot of sailors I knew from earlier in the season.  There is a week of festivities planned next week as part of the All Points Rally, which was a loose knit rally for people sailing to NZ.  That should be a social and fun week - the start of many I think.

That's about it for now.  Its so nice to be here.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Passage to NZ: day 9

Date: Nov 9, 2014
34° 15' S 174° 34' E
24 hour run: 99nm
Previous 24 hour run: 113nm
Water Temp: 62.6
Log: 16625
Distance to go: 64nm

If all goes well, this will be my last night at sea before my arrival. If everything remains relatively constant, I should be there tomorrow afternoon. Yay!

After going through the trough, as I mentioned, its been an upwind bash. Yesterday the winds started to mellow, but I remained as high into the wind as I could point. The current wasn't helping, it was pushing me west when I wanted to make east. This morning, the wind turned even lighter and then finally faded to 6 knots - which was not enough to make headway in the seas. I was pondering on my next move, still, 20 minutes later, when the wind arrived. It arrived from a new direction - it had backed by 40 degrees which was perfect for the course I wanted to run. I trimmed the sails for a beam reach, which was wonderful, and started moving faster and faster. The winds built from almost nothing to 20-25 knots within a hour. Reefed down to a double reefed main and my double reefed genoa I was sailing comfortably, making good time to Opua. The wind has kept the same direction, more or less but has fallen in intensity all day.

Its currently just after sunset where I am, the seas have been mellowing out over the last 6 hours, I'm sailing at 5.5 knots through the almost flat water in 10 knots of wind, wind at 60deg relative, port side. This is what the sailing literature is full of - absolutely wonderful sailing conditions.

Behind me, by roughly 150 to 200 nm, the winds are blowing 25 to 30+, and have been for a little while now. There are a few boats I'm in contact with via the SSB net back there. I'm really happy with how this weather window has worked out for me.

Through this passage, I have come across 4 freighters so far, but I haven't seen any sail boats. This afternoon I heard two boats hail each other on VHF. VHF doesn't have a very great range, its meant to be 'line of sight' although sometimes goes a bit further. At around 4pm someone hailed 'the sailboat on their starboard side' and the signal sounded super clear, so I answered but couldn't see them. Turns out they were 20 miles east of me. Later they hail a different boat they see, and again the wrong boat answers - that's at least 5 boats now, all headed to Opua and all within VHF range of each other. For a while I thought I may have been one of the only boats on the customs dock when I arrive. Now I'm hoping there's room for me!

I'll try to send an update out once I arrive. That may happen after I sleep, as I'll be up for a while dealing with a close coast, then a channel into Opua, then docking, then waiting for customs, then dealing with customs, then moving off the dock to find a mooring or somewhere to anchor. I'll be looking forward to shutting the boat down, after checking in and sleeping without my timer going off.

All is well onboard.

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---- Update Nov 12, 2014

I try not to edit the posts I send in while underway.  There are plenty of mistakes in them, my writing about the wind backing when I mean veering, spelling mistakes, poor grammar and so on.  Its part of the passage - you get a little more tired and editing your writing is more difficult when the sailing is more difficult.  This post was sent out without a title.  I've edit it to have one now.  Oops.