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!