WINTER SOLSTICE NEW ZEALAND

 21st June and the shortest day of the year.  Its wet and cold in Auckland and work on Truce has declined to a snail’s pace.  My casual job at Burnsco, travel for Marine Consultancy work and the short daylight hours all conspire to keep me off the boat for days at a time.

From now on the days will get longer and hopefully more productive.  I have a long list of maintenance jobs I want to complete this winter before my next summer of adventure.  The boat needs painting inside and out, the mast needs refurbishing, the rigging needs replacing and there are a thousand and one small jobs on the radar.  One of my major tasks is to skim off the top layer of the deck and apply new epoxy and glass fibre cover.

To keep the decks dry and protected I have put a plastic shrink wrap over the boat.  It cost a few hard-earned dollars but is a lower cost option than hauling out into a shed and allows me to work on the boat at the dock.

Inside Shrink Wrap. Photo, Ray Penson
Inside Shrink Wrap. Photo, Ray Penson

Boat Cover and Access Door. Truce.nz
Boat Cover and Access Door. Truce.nz

So far this winter I have refurbished the toilet area or head to give the correct nautical description.  Everything looks nice and clean with crispy new white paint and sanitation pump.  I am also in the process of painting the inside of various lockers and cupboards, a very time consuming, messy and convoluted process.  A small leak in the filler hose for the Dickenson cabin heater had caused the outside of the ply tank to become saturated with diesel.  I will replace the old tank with a new aluminium one and the previous lingering diesel odour in the wardrobe will be no more.

Refurbished Head. Truce.nz
Refurbished Head. Truce.nz

 Next week I will be travelling to Saudi Arabia for a short job, it should be quite warm and put some heat into my old bones.

 After that I am looking forward to getting stuck into the refurbishment and planning for the next seasons trip to the South of New Zealand.  At the moment my idea is to sail up the East Coast and around North Cape before heading down the West Coast to Golden Bay.  From there to Fiordland and Stewart Island before returning up the East Coast to Auckland.  My plans are pretty sketchy at this stage but one thing I don’t want to happen is to have any deadlines or schedules – just go with the flow.

TRUCE HAS A NEW HOME

Since arriving back in New Zealand at the end of September last year Truce has temporarily been moored in Bayswater Marina in Auckland.  A perfectly good marina and close to the city – but more of a car park for boats than a local spot with character.

Westpark Marina at Sunset. Photo Ray Penson
Westpark Marina at Sunset. Photo Ray Penson

Truce always looked a bit out of place among the mainly modern plastic boats moored around her.

Early in February we moved further up the harbour to Westpark Marina or Hobsonville Marina as some call it.  Where, I have finally bit the bullet and bought a marina berth.  Truce in now happily moored among boats of all shapes, sizes and vintages, she seems more in place.  Westpark also has a haul out and yard facility which I will need in a few months when the time comes for hull cleaning and painting – which is already overdue.   Even more convenient there is a ferry direct to downtown and a pub onsite for those times when a beer is needed to assist problem solving.

Now that Truce is securely moored in her own berth I can start to plan for the future.  Before the next adventure Truce will need some work done to bring her back to top form.  The hull and topsides are looking tired and in need of a new coat of paint.  The rig has had a hard couple of years and really needs new standing rigging.  The mast paint is showing sings of fatigue – I will need to take the mast out and do a complete overhaul.  So quite a bit of work to be done in addition to all the other general and preventative maintenance.

The sails are in pretty good shape.  I have had the jib and staysail patched up with the local sailmaker.  The staysail probably only has another campaign left in it – a pity, its my favourite sail.

It’s a little strange how the individual sails seem to develop their own personalities.  The jib is like a stroppy female factory worker, when she is trimmed correctly and the working conditions are just right, she works hard and doesn’t complain.  When the wind drops or the trim isn’t correct she shouts, flutters and flaps about making a great commotion, upsetting everything.  The staysail is a bulldog of a sail, never complains no matter how badly its trimmed.  It just wants to work and pull – nickname is Billy after the tank engine.  The mainsail is the boss, he calls the shots and when the jib and staysail get their act together he drives everything along in perfect harmony.

Map showing Hobsonville Marina

The next adventure – I am thinking about exploring the south of New Zealand.  Stewart Island and Fiordland in particular are areas where visiting and exploring by boat are the only real options as they are so remote.  I am thinking about it.

SUEZ TO INDIA

Cruising down the Red Sea, beautiful weather and a gentle following wind.  Such a relaxing ride after the bumpy Mediterranean and chaos of the Suez Canal.  Time to catch breath and take advantage of the weather which is set for a couple of days more

Route, Suez to India Ray Penson
Route, Suez to India

The crew are also happy to have good weather and are setting about preparing the ship for the upcoming transit of the piracy area.  Razor wire is being strung along the ships side and measures are taken to prevent any unwanted persons gaining entry to the ship.  Anti-piracy and security drills are carried out and systems tested.  Most of the crew have been through this procedure before many times – a sad element of modern seafaring.

Towards the bottom of the Red Sea we have a rendezvous to collect a couple more security guards and weapons before heading through the Bab el Mandab (Gateway of Tears), the narrow strait between Yemen and Djibouti that leads to the Gulf of Aden.  Due to the current conflict in Yemen Bab el Mandeb is now considered a high-risk area.  I planned to transit this area in daylight, but adverse winds and head seas slowed us, we passed by during darkness instead.  Pirates in their small boats can’t operate during bad weather so a night-time transit didn’t have much risk involved.  Warships, helicopters and military activity aplenty in this area.  In the past I have spent time in Yemen, both on the coast and in Sana, it’s a strikingly beautiful country.  It’s very wrong that a few people’s greed and thirst for power is causing so much suffering to the already poor people.

Picking up Security Personnel and weapons. Photo by Ray Penson (1)

As we headed out into the Gulf of Aden the wind backed around to the West and headed us again, slowing our progress.  The headwind and head seas continued all the way to Ras al Hadd in Oman.  The windy weather reduced the chance of any pirate attack, but we maintained all anti-piracy measures in place with double lookouts.  In the history of recent piracy in this area no attack against a merchant vessel has been successful when armed security has been on board and no boarding’s have been recorded on any ships that can travel at 18 knots or over.

We continued up the coast of Oman, past Salalah where as a young man I had delivered stores onto the beach for the British Army as local bandits shot ineffectually at us from high ground.  Salalah is now a big town with an airport and large container port.  Past Masirah Island where we used to drop supplies for a small Royal Air Force contingent who were based there.  I remember the anchorage at Masirah for the fantastic fishing, the poop deck of our ship resembled a trawler, we quickly filled the freezers with fresh fish.

Once around Ras al Hadd the wind reduced and calmer weather remained with us all the way to India.  It was interesting for me to go around Ras al Hadd, but disappointing that we couldn’t get close to see the coast in detail.  The traffic separation scheme around Ras al Hadd now takes the northbound ships out over twelve miles distant – too far to see anything interesting.

Around 1997 Ngozi and I toured Oman by 4WD, we visited Ras al Hadd on our way to a turtle beach to the south, where we camped.  During the night we were able to watch the turtles coming ashore and lay their eggs – and by day see the spectacle of hundreds of hatchlings struggling to get to the sea as birds picked off the many unfortunate ones.  A memorable experience and we have many fond memories of Oman and the friendly people we met there.

Our voyage continued past Muscat and up to a rendezvous off Fujairah in the UAE where we dropped off our security guards and their equipment.  Then it was the final leg to India with just the eight ships crew on board.  During the next days we celebrated Christmas and made sure the ship was shining like a new pin for the new owners.  Pre-arrival India there was also a mountain of paperwork to complete – multiple forms, frequently requiring duplicate information.  The obsession in India for needless and mindless paperwork is world leading.

 The arrival in India went well and we were securely berthed by mid-morning, engines shut down and formalities underway.  Once the formalities were complete it was time for a beer – but – Gujarat state is dry, I had to wait a further two days until Delhi Airport  to taste the amber nectar.  Everybody on board was happy to have finished the job, 3,600 miles from Suez, and to get home before the New Year.

Safely alongside - Job Finished. Photo by Ray Penson
Safely alongside – Job Finished. Photo by Ray Penson