Thursday, October 6, 2022

Voyage of CINNABAR - New Zealand to Fiji

Oct 2022

We have been in Fiji for a month and a synopsis of our recent voyage is long overdue:

We were incredibly fortunate to be "marooned" in New Zealand during the worldwide COVID pandemic since December 2019. Immigration had extended our visas numerous times but when the South Pacific cyclone season ended in May 2022, the foreign yachties were informed that our time was up and we must leave the country. After all that time being landlubbers it was a challenging push to get Cinnabar, and mostly ourselves, ready to sail the ~1300 nm from New Zealand to Fiji. 

A few months before we departed, we were introduced to a local sailor who had never done an ocean passage before but was keen for the experience. We met him, liked him and decided that Nathan would be our #3. We waited, and waited, worked on the boat with Nathan's help, and waited some more for a good weather window. Finally, at the end of August, it looked like some good passage weather might be coming up. At the last minute our close friend Ian said he was also interested in the passage. He is an experienced off-shore sailor and has done the voyage before so we said "Heck yeah!!" and added a #4. These guys would prove invaluable to our successful journey.

On August 26 our marina neighbors helped us cast off. Even though they had to get up ridiculously early they wanted to say goodbye. And possibly they couldn't quite believe we were actually leaving.

We left the dock of Riverside Drive Marina, our home away from home, very early in the morning so as to go under the iconic Te Matau a Pohe drawbridge (shaped like a fish hook) at high tide and before it closed for morning traffic at 7:00 a.m. 

Leaving the drawbridge behind us.

Later that morning, after an 11-mile motor down the river, we arrived at Marsden Cove Marina where we were scheduled to officially check out with NZ Immigration the following morning. We spent a pleasant afternoon at the marina enjoying their facilities (shower and dock water) and even got together with some other cruisers (who were also leaving) to enjoy a last dinner in New Zealand.

Getting ready to check out of Marsden Cove Marina

Our first day was thankfully easy-peasy with nice flat seas, a mild breeze and minimal motoring. 

Sailing past the famous Poor Knights Islands. Sun is getting ready to set.

We had departed on a new moon and I was worried that the night would be pitch black, but the skies were clear, the stars were shining and plentiful, and Jupiter was incredibly bright most of the night. 

Twenty four hours later, the wind started picking up and the seas became more boisterous. The second night was very different from the first and we were happy to have crew to help out with the work. Our IridiumGo satphone post after that night read: 

 "Night classes began…install third reef, learn how to heave to (and heave), learn rolling hitch (and why), learn to untangle flogging knotted, lazy sheet from working jib sheet, reeve #1 reef line to #3,practice how to resolve fumes and liquid from leaking petrol can, live enactments of What Not To Do and problem solving."

For the next three days I counted wave trains coming from 6 different directions. Ugh. The cook was not thrilled and any food that was roundish invariably ended up taking a roll around the cabin. I recall chasing a cabbage, hard-boiled eggs, 2 avocados (lost one for a couple of days), some meatballs, apples and oranges. We also got to practice human pinball maneuvers below decks and one acrobatic body fling from the galley all the way across the cabin (Sylvia). Luckily no serious damage but ouch! 

It was actually more pleasant above deck as long as we hunkered down inside the dodger. Conditions were wet with lots of water splashing over the dodger and also waves sneaking up the side and firehosing large amounts of water into the cockpit. 

Looks innocent...

...but NO, a direct hit over the dodger.

After a few days the conditions settled down and we were able to have a very enjoyable voyage. Most of the nights were crystal clear and we were able to identify planets and constellations. Jupiter and Scorpio were our constant nighttime companions.

Nathan takes a turn at the helm. It's still a bit chilly and wet.

We were delighted to be visited by numerous curious marine birds. Ian has terrific knowledge of the various birds and we were able to identify many of them.

We reckoned this was a Northern Royal Albatross.

As usual we were also visited by random flying fish ending up on our decks. One night Ian was on watch and I was preparing to join him. There was a large THUMP! like a drum and when I joined Ian on deck there were fish scales all over the cockpit. A large flying fish had made a direct hit on the taut dodger effectively turning it into a fish drum. 

While still needing jackets at night, the days were becoming warmer and shorts and t-shirts became the norm.

We were fortunate that the wind and waves had settled down because it enabled us to make a mid-ocean stop at South Minerva Reef for a couple of hours for lunch. 

Our track from Whangarei, NZ to Fiji. Note the black dot, more or less the location of South Minerva Reef where we stopped for lunch and showers

It's amazing to be able to enter a reef in the middle of the ocean. We had stopped at North Minerva Reef on our way down from Tonga but we had not visited South Minerva. Neither Ian nor Nathan had been to either of the Minervas so we were keen to pay a visit. One must enter these reefs very carefully as there are numerous coral heads. With Ian on the bow as lookout, Nathan and I on each side and Tom driving, we carefully negotiated the pass and looked for a place to drop the anchor. 

Outside the reef looking for the narrow pass. We had it on our navigational devices but we still have to eyeball it. 

Both Minerva Reefs
(Credit: NASA, Wikipedia)

C-Maps Chart - note the narrow pass.

Looking for coral heads, bommies and other navigational dangers. Luckily we had perfect conditions, clear sky and a high sun overhead.

With the anchor down we were able to enjoy a blessedly calm lunch and showers on the back deck. Everybody had been doing a superb job of remaining clean and tidy but oh my did those showers feel good! 

A day after leaving Minerva Ian put the fishing line out and we caught a mahi-mahi, one of our favorite and tastiest fishes. Our afternoon plans, watches and evening meal were completely sidetracked while we landed the beautiful fish, filleted  and packaged her and put the fillets in the freezer. That evening we enjoyed an appetizer of fresh fish roe on crackers and meal of blackened mahi-mahi on Jambalaya.

Ian, Tom and Nathan with their catch.

Good to witness the fair weather South Pacific sunsets again.

By now we were closing in on Fiji. Nathan was the first to sight land and a "Land Ho!" was officially issued.

We see Fiji!

Ian raises the "Q" (quarantine") flag on the starboard spreader while Nathan gets the Stars and Strips ready on the port spreader. After we officially check in we remove the Q flag and raise the flag of Fiji in its place.

As we entered the harbor of Savusavu on the northern island of Vanua Levu we were greeted by our friend Rob from the vessel Shindig. (We had done the Pacific crossing on Shindig in 2017, the year after we did it on Cinnabar.) We had some supplies for Shindig that we carried up from New Zealand. It was fabulous to get such a friendly greeting upon our arrival. Technically we could not let him board or give him his supplies until we checked in but it was great to see him.

The next few days were a flurry of activity as we had to do all the various "check-in" tasks, biosecurity, customs, immigration, etc. We were also keen to clean the boat, visit the town of Savusavu, and do a bit of sight-seeing.
Cinnabar on her mooring in Savusavu, Fiji.
(46 months after arriving to NZ)

After several days of exploring and enjoying land it was time for our fabulous crew to leave Fiji and fly back to their native New Zealand. We all agreed that on balance it was a pretty fantastic voyage. Everybody was immaculately tidy, there were no ego trips and we all worked together well to make the most of our trip.

Taxi arrives to take our wonderful crew away from us.

Thank you rock stars Nathan and Ian!

Our IridiumGo track and daily updates can be found here: CINNABAR IridiumGo

Trip Summary:
Total Distance Made Good:     1340 nm
Total Duration:                         7.8 days   (187.5 hrs)
Average Boatspeed:                 7.14 kts
Engine Motoring:                     3.5 hrs
Genset Munning:                     16.2 hr 

  • Sailed conservatively due to this being a defacto sea trial of the 2.5 year boat refit.
  • Incredibly, all major systems worked well (standing rigging, rudder bearings, autopilot ram, refrigeration, main water tank, etc.) . 
  • Used reefs 2 and 3 much of the time; we had good breeze (15-25 kts) on (predominantly) 90-150 deg apparent wind (tradewinds are usually E to ESE TWD).
  • We waiting patiently for a good weather window and got lucky that it held throughout.
  • The Fisher-Panda genset, which broke 4 years earlier, ran perfectly well with its newly installed Kubota engine (1 cyl, EA-300) replacement.
  • The Icom SSB radio could receive well enough but transmit (at certain duplex freqs - 7.5 MHz) caused resets. We later discovered that transmit at simplex freqs ( 8.752 Mhz) works fine.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

OMG I started this post ONE YEAR ago!!...Pulling the Rig on CINNABAR - February 2019

April 2020
New Zealand Lockdown Day 15 - All is well with us and the boat.

I started this post one year ago, almost completed it, then got busy/distracted and never finished. Boat maintenance and repair is likely of little interest to "normal" people, i.e. non-yachties, but it is a large part of our lives so if you think living on a boat is all about sunsets and happy hours, (how we wish it were), it is NOT. 

MAY 2019: Riverside Drive Marina and boatyard, CINNABAR's tented home for the southern hemisphere winter (aka northern hemisphere summer)

February 2019 - Before beginning CINNABAR's spa treatment in the boat yard (where she still is now April 2020) we decided to pull her rig (remove the mast) so that we could inspect it closely and service, repair, refit as necessary. There was nothing wrong with the mast or rigging, but after six years of cruising and nine years since it was last removed (before the 2010 Pacific Cup Race), it was time for some routine maintenance.

We interviewed and hired a professional rigger to help us out. Matthew, who owns C-Spar Rigging, was highly recommended to us and he is an impressive guy. He's been around the world four times competing in the Whitbread round-the-world races (afterward renamed the Volvo Ocean Race and now named The Ocean Race).

With CINNABAR's deep draft (3 meters) we would have to travel to Matthew's shop during high tide otherwise we would get stuck in the mud. The plan: motor to the boatyard at the beginning of high tide, pull the mast, and then motor back to our marina near the end of high tide, hopefully making it back before it got too shallow. Would we be able to pull the rig in two hours? If not we would have to wait to return until the next high tide later that night, ugh.

We made it to the boatyard at 12:30 p.m., the beginning of the high tide. The big red crane was in position and ready to start lifting CINNABAR's boom and mast.

We hired local boat-builder Glenn (left) to help us out. He and Matthew (right) remove the boom.

We hoisted Matthew up the mast to attach the lifting strap (thank you electric winches!).

Matthew (L) tends the lines as Glenn and I wrap the bottom of CINNABAR's mast to protect it and to keep all the hanging bits together.
The crane starts lifting the mast. Even though made of carbon fiber, it is still a heavy mass.

CINNABAR's mast is off the boat.

Matthew balances the base of the mast on a dolly preparing to put it on two rolling saw horses.

CINNABAR's mast ready to move to its storage location.
(manually wheelable on the two specialized dollies)

Luckily we got the boom and mast removed from CINNABAR by 2:00 p.m. so we were able to make it back to the marina on the same high tide. We had plenty of inches (not feet) under our keel for the trip back to the dock.

The mast is ready for Tom and Matthew to start working on it.

Later, Tom and Matthew removed the rigging and Tom trailered the rod rigging to Auckland (2.5 hr. drive each way) to replace some of the parts. 

Tom used ALCYONE'S van and Matthew's trailer to take the rod rigging to the special service shop in Auckland. Matthew approves the load.

The machinist at excellent KZ Marine  in Auckland with the special cold head machine, dies, materials, and expertise to service the rod rigging.

Overall, the fittings and standing rigging were in pretty good shape. None of the rods or rod heads showed any wear or cracks and were still well lubricated when disassembled and inspected. Most of the hardware was readily removed from the spars without breakage or corrosion. We considered switching to another system for the rigging, like wire or synthetic fiber, but in the end, it made the most sense to stick with the rod rigging. It has definite benefits and has worked well. The rod rigging is original at 17 years of age. General recommendations vary, but some say major inspection is every ~6 years with replacement at about 12 or 18 years of age or 30,000-60,0000 nautical miles sailed, depending on use. Since the Nitronic-50 rod (extra strong and durable SS) was in such good shape, we have not sailed excessive distances, and we have the rod-screw length to do it, we elected to do a mix of retain some rods, replace some, and head/re-head all, effectively refreshing all of the standing rigging. 

(Some reference details: 
11 total rods/segments. 4 new rods, 7 re-used rods, all headed or re-headed. 
- Forestay (1 rod, -30 (was -25); replaced)
- Backstay (2 rods), -17; lower replaced)
- Capshroud uppers (2 rods with spreader bends (V2/D3), -22, replaced)
- Capshroud lowers (2 rods (V1), -30; reused)
- Diagonals (2 upper, (D2) -30; 2 lower (D1), -30); all reused)

* Forestay replaced because of general abuse by furler, headfoil, high loads.
* Forestay size increased (to -30) because original size (-25) no longer available
* Capshroud uppers replaced because is area of highest loads
* Capshroud uppers cannot be re-headed due to spreader bend/'bushing'
* There are a total 22 rod heads (and 2 spreader bends) doing the essential task of keeping the mast upright.
* Nitronic-50 dash num (e.g. -30) is min. breaking strength in 1000 lb units.

End of reference)

These are some of the rod heads, stemballs, and tip cups after cleanup with a grey 3M Scotchbrite wheel. They were still well-covered in lube (Tef-Gel or Teflon grease)  with zero signs of cracking or corrosion. We elected  to  re-head some of the rods and replace others.
The insulated backstay to enable it to be used as the antenna for the HF/SSB radio. The delrin components of the insulator, assembled left, disassembled right, isolates the lower backstay segment from the upper segment which is connected to the HF radio's antenna tuner. This keeps humans on deck from getting shocked by radio transmissions.
Dual stainless steel chainplates per side, with some recent known leakage through the deck, caught before any significant corrosion could occur. They will be cleaned up and reused.
(Port side, inward/unseen faces)

The base of the mast has a dense fiberglass shoe with large alignment holes  (for the mast step posts) as well as an internal hydraulic mast ram (mounted inverted and rated to 10,000 psi / 30,000 lbs!) to lift the mast onto the spacer plates and tension the standing rigging.

All lines and hardware stripped from the spars and organized into bins for storage. It is surprising how the weight all adds up - each bin was very heavy to lift.

Matthew and Tom (and I helped too) got our boom and mast prepared for winter storage as we would not be putting it back in until 2020. There was not room in CINNABAR's tent for the mast so we stored it at Matthew's location at another boatyard called Dockland 5.

Fast Forward to February 2020 - We returned to New Zealand in December 2019 and were immediately up to our ears in various boat refit/repair projects including repainting the deck and hull, as well as the mast, which resides at a separate boatyard. Over time, the old mast paint gets severely oxidized and chalky, so even though it looked OK (not great), it was time to have it repainted. To prep for this job we had to remove most of the remaining bolted-on hardware.

We subsequently cleaned and polished every single part and screw that was removed. You can't put ugly, dirty, and/or corroded parts back on a beautiful new paint job!

We used a variety of tools to remove all of the mast hardware, Everything came off except the mains'l and spinnaker pole tracks. There is a lot of work and very little value in removing these long tracks..

A not-flattering shot of Sylvia removing the storm trysail track. Most of the stainless steel fasteners readily unscrewed from the carbon fiber mast, thankfully. However, there always have to be some that are problematic. With a manual impact driver and penetrating fluid, all but about 4 of the reticent screws come out. The 4 broken ones will have to be drilled out.

The masthead tri-light housing had turned into a spider condominium during the NZ winter. The spiders were NOT happy to be rousted. 

We had to remove the spreaders and prep them for painting as well.

After removing the hardware we had to  move the mast into a big shed so it could get painted. Inside the shed, the painter had to build a plastic tent (spray booth) to keep dust and other flying debris off the wet paint.

After the mast got painted we started putting all the hardware back on the mast, but we only got a few pieces installed when New Zealand went into lockdown. Here's a look at the glossy new stick:

AwlCraft 2000 Acrylic Polyurethane paint, Matterhorn White, with 2 coats of UV inhibiting gloss. 

RESULT OF LOCKDOWN: Dockland 5 closed its gates and we are not allowed back in until lockdown is over, so all boat work at that yard is postponed until we can get back in. CINNABAR is at Riverside Drive Marina which is still open because yachties live on their boats there, so luckily we can continue our work on the boat. Also, since the boat is just across the street from the house we are renting and is in a tent this work area is firmly contained within our "bubble". Yes, we do see other yachties at the boatyard/marina but everyone is careful to maintain appropriate social distancing.

OUR CURRENT SITUATION: We are halfway through New Zealand's mandatory 4 week (at least, TBD) lockdown which seems to be working well here. Good news...our tourist visas were automatically extended through September 25, 2020 so that is no longer an immediate concern. Will we be able to sail to Fiji as planned? Who knows? All the yachties are in "wait and see" mode as regards border closures. But for the moment we are in a good place and we have a good support system.

View from our living room windows and back patio, Hatea River, Whangarei. The masts in the picture are in the Riverside Drive boatyard/marina where CINNABAR is.

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Quick CINNABAR Update

We are in Whangarei, New Zealand. We are fine (so far). We apologize for the lack of blog updates but we've been crazy busy putting CINNABAR back together. If you recall, we hauled the boat out of the water one year ago. Since then we, and professional local tradespeople, have been working on her to repair/refit a variety of issues. More on this work later in another post.

With all that is happening in the world regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and being away from home we are super concerned for our friends and family back in the states and other places around the world. On one hand there is the feeling of "I want to go home right now!" On the other hand we feel fortunate to be in a country where most people, including the Prime Minister (PM) seem to be sensible and kind. We'll see if those traits manage to be upheld as the health situation worsens here.

On 23 February the first known infected person entered New Zealand via airplane. That individual was tested 2 days later and tested positive. Yesterday there were up to 66 tested positive (total so far) and today the official number has reached 102 positives so far. Most of those cases had traveled out of New Zealand, but now (not surprisingly) they are seeing some testing positive that are community infected, i.e. the individuals had not traveled out of country. So far most of the infected seem to be in highly populated areas such as the capital city Auckland. 

In our yachting community many of us are returning to our yachts from overseas. Our friends who returned from Italy stayed quarantined on their boat for 3 weeks just to be safe - good for them! In our boatyard/marina some friends made it back from the Netherlands the night before the NZ border closed. They are quarantined on their boat which is out of the water and high on stands. The boatyard installed a Porta-Potty under their boat which only they can use, a wonderfully proactive idea which keeps them out of the public facilities. But we have also heard that some returning yachties are behaving in a cavalier fashion and not respecting the self-isolating as instructed. It's extremely worrisome to know that people in our direct circle of friends could be a health hazard. Especially since most of us are retired, ahem... "older" folks. 

Today New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern announced that the entire country would be in lockdown starting Wednesday. For us this means that all the tradespeople and vendors that we utilize will not be available to us for at least 4 weeks.

We're going to miss the help we get from local boat builders. Alister and Tom fit the anchoring hardware onto the sprit.

Hopefully we (as in Tom and I only) will be able to keep working on CINNABAR but we won't be able to purchase anything else if we need it until lockdown is over. 

We yachties are like migrating birds and here is our migration schedule: 1) typically the yachts sail out of NZ and north to the tropical island groups in May or June when cyclone season ends; 2) then we return to weather-safe NZ (or Australia or somewhere else out of the cyclone belt) when cyclone season begins in November. Tom and I are here on visas which expire on May 30th. Our plans were to sail to Fiji before that but with all the border closures sailing anywhere may not be an option for us this year. CINNABAR also has a visa (of sorts) and hers expires November 15, 2020. (Yes, humans can only stay 3 months and get a special extension for another 3 but boats get TWO YEARS automatically!) If we can't sail to Fiji this year we'll have to get special permission (if possible) for the boat to stay in NZ past November. We're working on this now but Customs and Immigration NZ is SWAMPED with phone calls and email queries. They got over 50,000 calls last Thursday. 

All the boats that were planning to sail from the US/Mexico/Panama to French Polynesia this year are having to change their plans. If they haven't left yet they are advised to stay put. Boats in transit will either have to remain in their first port of call (usually The Marquesas) or possibly have to sail directly to Tahiti. No inter-island sailing will be allowed. Our friends already (or still) in French Poly are concerned about their next moves. Currently they cannot leave their boats to go ashore and there is talk about them having to leave their boats in Tahiti (or wherever) and flying home.

On March 17 a group of us went to the movies and then an Irish Pub to celebrate St Paddy's Day. As with all over the world, those times have changed. It just took a little longer to get to this island nation.

With fellow yachties at the pub, Tom took the picture.

Today we are scrambling around making lists of everything we think we might need to buy for the boat because tomorrow will be our last opportunity for a month. After that we will either make do with what we have or just wait until we can get boat supplies. The inconvenience is well worth it to keep us all safe and healthy.

VIRTUAL hugs to you all.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

March 2019, Diving in Lake and Sky - Lake Taupo New Zealand

OMG Tom what are you doing???? Read on to find out.

Boo! We are long overdue on a post and even though we've been in the USA since mid June let's look back in time and catch up on some of the things we did in our action-packed week in Lake Taupo, NZ this past March.

DIVING IN LAKE: In March a group of friends and acquaintances from the USA flew out to New Zealand to compete in an international freshwater spearfishing competition.This competition was put together by our friend Mike McGuire (he and his family own Casa de los Suenos in Baja where we visited during our 3 years in Mexico) and Darren Shields, President of Spearfishing New Zealand (his family owns and runs the WETTIE dive shop out of Auckland). This was the second annual world competition, the first being in 2017, Lake Mead, Nevada, USA.

In the midst of all our boat work in Whangarei we were able to take a week off and drive down to Lake Taupo, located in the middle of the North Island, to rendezvous with the McGuire family (Mike, Stephanie and Savanah), our friends Mati and Tova, and to meet the rest of the divers.

The dive teams from the USA, representing California, Colorado, Hawaii, Utah, etc. who all take themselves way too seriously.

Lake Taupo is the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand. It reminded us a lot of Lake Tahoe in California and is, in fact, bigger at 238 square miles compared to Tahoe's 191 square miles of surface area. Lake Taupo fills the caldera left by a massive volcanic eruption 26,500 years ago. Some say Taupo is still active because of all the fumaroles (steam vents) and hot springs around the lake. Technically Taupo is considered "dormant", but most definitely NOT extinct.

Some of us from the USA shared a fabulous house with views of the lake. In the week leading up to the competition the divers went to the lake everyday to scout for fish and practice their free-diving skills.

The competition was basically a catfish cull, trying to rid Lake Taupo of as many invasive catfish as possible. The competitors were only allowed to kill catfish, not any of the trout species in the lake.

The non-divers (Mati, Tova, Stephanie, Tom and I) would either sight-see, do our own thing, or help drive divers to their scouting spots.

Sylvia, Mati, Tova and Tom (taking picture) hike up the Waikato river to Huka Falls.

The Waikato river which feeds into the lake is a popular place for kayaking.

Powerful Huka Falls. 

In the evenings Tova, Stephanie and I would coordinate group dinners and many of the other divers would come over to socialize and strategize about the competition. We hosted the USA teams as well as some of the other international divers including a very fun team which had come all the way over from Italy.

Post dinner strategizing amongst the divers with Brandi (USA), Tom, Bruno (Italy), Gino and Alberto (IT) talking to Mike (USA).

Lake Taupo is a tourist destination and there was plenty for the non-divers to do. One day Mati, Tova and I went on a boat tour to some famous Maori rock carvings. Mati booked us on the Ernest Kemp, a very cool replica steam boat built in the early 1980s as a tourism vessel. It's got all sorts of cool features such as the steering wheel which was a hose-winding reel from an old horse-drawn fire brigade and the steam whistle from an old bush steam locomotive.

The big draw for this tour is the large, spectacular rock carving which towers 10 metres above the water. It took Maori artist Matahi Brightwell and his team of four artists, wearing nothing but goggles and speedos (!) four years to complete the carvings.

Hard to believe this huge rock was carved by hand.

We tried to get Mati to climb the rock in his speedo but he refused. Killjoy!!

The night before the competition began there was an official first-night meet-and-greet and welcoming ceremony.

Divers (and non-divers) mingling before the welcome ceremony.

Sylvia connecting with Paola (Italian diver) and Brunella (Gino's wife).

Darren had arranged for a traditional Maori greeting by some of the local Iwi ("people or "tribe") Ngati Tuwharetoa, and he warned Mike that if he (Mike) broke eye contact with the scary-looking tattooed guy during the greeting he'd get smacked in the head with a stick. Say what? Luckily Mike performed well and NO smacking was involved.

After some loud and scary posturing outdoors, we followed the greeters into the clubhouse and received a very warm, personal greeting.

Darren, Mike and Mike's dive partner Ralph with the welcoming members of the Ngati Tuwharetoa. This Iwi still owns the bed of the lake and its tributaries. They grant the public free access for recreational use.

Competition Day #1: Mati, Tova, Stephanie and I enjoyed some more sightseeing while the competition took place, but we had to be back at the clubhouse before the divers returned because Mati was the official Catfish Counter.

This photo of Mati counting catfish was in a National Geographic article here: GOODWILL HUNTING (Photo Richard Robinson)

Kathy (from California) and Savanah (Mike's daughter from Colorado) with their catch. They ended up taking 3rd in their division.

Gino and Mario from Italy got a lot! They eventually took 2nd place in their division.

Mike and Ralph, is that all?

Some of the teams got a lot of fish and some got just a few. It turns out that less than a month before there had been another national catfish cull in Lake Taupo which accounted for the dwindling supply of catfish which, I guess, was a good thing for the lake.

Competition Day #2: The second day of competition was jam-packed. First was the actual competition and again the divers were up early for that, the second activity was the weigh-in, and the third activity was the awards ceremony and dinner. Whew!

Nat and Moss from NZ got a LOT of fish. I think they took first place.

Somehow Mike coerced fellow event-coordinator Darren into this goofy pose.

The tubs of catfish were taken to local farms to be used as fertilizer.

We say goodbye to Team Italia

Team USA (and a couple of interlopers) at the awards dinner. We took home a few trophies.

DIVING IN SKY: A day or so before we were supposed to depart Lake Taupo Tom had gone for a run and discovered a couple of tandem sky-diving companies at the nearby airport. Somehow he got it into his head that jumping out of a plane would be a fun thing for him and Savanah, aged 17, to do. Tom didn't really think Savanah would agree, and mom Stephanie gave her approval because she didn't really think Savanah would do it either. But...on the morning of our departure from Lake Taupo Savanah announced she was up for it!

Tom couldn't back out now. We all drove over to the airport and Taupo Tandem Skydiving so Tom and Savanah could sign up, do their pre-jump briefing/training and get geared up. 

Mom and dad signed the waivers. 

Savanah, Tom and their "handlers" took the training very seriously. Joking aside, the Taupo Tandem Skydiving operation was very professional and impressive.

The plane was full of jumpers with most of them jumping out at 15,000 feet, but Tom and Savanah went for the 18,500 foot jump with over 75 seconds of freefall. Yikes!! (In the USA the highest one can jump from is 18,000 feet.)

So high that oxygen was required.

Mike, Stephanie and I waited on the ground for what felt like a long time as we watched jumper after jumper open their chutes. Finally the last two tandem pairs jumped out, first Tom and then Savanah.

Always nice when the chute opens.

Aiming for the landing site.

From the perspective of those on the ground.

Excited much?
Both down safe and sound.


Needless to say both Savanah and Tom were "walking on air" after their exhilarating jump. 

See Tom's Skydiving video HERE. 

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE: Wouldn't you think that jumping out of a plane would be enough excitement for one day? wasn't even noon yet, and even though we had to drive to Auckland that day, the world famous Tongariro Crossing hike, aka "New Zealand's Best Day Hike" wasn't THAT far out of the way, so of course Mike, Tom and Savanah decided they had to do it. 

The trek is 12 miles long, covers volcanic landscape and typically takes 6-8 hours to complete. Stephanie and I dropped them off at the trailhead around 1:30 p.m. leaving them maybe just enough time to do the hike. They had flashlights and headlamps just in case.

Mike at the top of the trail.

What a view!

Savanah and Tom feeling pretty hyped up after their jump. Check out the fumaroles (steam vents) in the background.

Catch your breath because you'll be jogging the rest of the way!
Savanah takes the "Move quickly" sign to heart.
While Tom, Mike and Savanah hiked Stephanie and I did a bit of sightseeing and then drove to the end of the trail to wait for them. We watched literally hundreds of hikers come streaming down the trail and board the buses bound for the trailhead parking lot. As time passed fewer and fewer hikers straggled out, the sun got low, and we hoped our three would come out before sunset. They eventually came down the trail tired (they had to jog the last few miles) but happy because they had missed the crowds.

Sylvia and Stephanie once again waiting patiently.

The sun was setting and we still had to drive back to Taupo (1 hr.) to pick up our car and then drive to Auckland (4 hrs) for the night. Tom and I had to drive home (to Whangarei) the next a.m. as we were scheduled to haul CINNABAR out of the water the following day. The McGuires would stay in Auckland and continue sightseeing for a few days before driving up to visit us in Whangarei.

All in all it was a fun and action-packed week in a stunning location.

More Photos Here: TAUPO
Unless noted otherwise, all photos by Sylvia, Tom, Mike and possibly others.