Follow by Email

Friday, March 29, 2013

TRAVELLING TO GREECE TO RETURN TO ENVOY

Tonight we’ll sleep aboard Envoy for the first time in 2013, on the hardstand at Lefkas marina. Our first impressions are that Envoy is much how we left her last October. The only damage noticed so far is to Envoy’s aging storage cover, which is wearing thin and has split in two places, apparently during a recent hail-storm.
Here in coastal Greece it’s early spring, and the locals say it’s been an exceptionally mild but wet winter and has rained constantly from December until just a few days ago.
Quite a lot of the work planned for Envoy during winter has been done, and importantly the source of the leak in one of the fuel tanks has been found. We meet with engineers today to find out how they plan to weld a repair in this difficult-to-access tank. I’ll post more on Envoy in a few days.

Emirates offered the best airfares, and also have a generous luggage allowance at 30 kg each. Only problem is the Auckland to Dubai flight is over 19 hours (including a brief stop in Sydney) making the first leg a very long haul, so we stopped in Dubai overnight to break the journey before our flight to Athens.
Coming back to Envoy we always have quite a bit of luggage as we procure things in NZ we can’t easily get where Envoy is located. When checking in at Emirates we were 7 kg over weight and were told it would cost us NZ$455 in excess baggage charges. After I explained we were away for eight months the check-in clerk took pity and reduced the charge to NZ$325. Fortunately our cabin baggage was not checked as that was over-weight by several kg too (you are allowed 7kg plus a laptop, plus a ladies handbag).
In Dubai we moved some weight into our already-bulging cabin bags and avoided any further charges for our nearly six hour flight to Athens.

From Athens we needed to catch a bus for the 5.5 hour trip to Lefkas, and during our taxi ride to the bus station near downtown Athens we noticed how little traffic there was. The driver told us that with the economic crisis, around 30% unemployment and increased taxes on petrol many people can no longer afford to use their cars, and there’s been a big shift to public transport. He added that crime has also increased and he’s been robbed twice while driving his taxi at night.
Waiting for about two hours at the very run-down Kiffisus bus station we were approached by numerous street vendors trying to sell goods including perfume, paper towels, cheap toys, cigarette lighters, sunglasses and pictures. They ranged from young children to the elderly and included a pregnant mother – the only person we bought something off - for one Euro. Since arriving in Lefkas several people have told us how bad things are for many Greeks, and that the general situation is expected to be worse for this year compared to last. Really there is no ray of hope for an improvement in Greece any time soon.
Greece has a close affinity to southern Cyprus, and there is much feeling here for the Cypriots who are losing something like 40% of any bank deposits over Euro 100,000. Of course there are also super-wealthy money-launderers from various countries (notably Russia) with large deposits in Cyprus, but the sorrow is for older people who’ve worked all their lives to save money for retirement only to lose a large part of their nest-egg in this way.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

THE THINGS YOU REGRET ARE THE THINGS YOU DIDN’T DO

“THE THINGS YOU REGRET ARE THE THINGS YOU DIDN’T DO” are the banner words of Kadey-Krogen Yachts’ advert in Passagemaker magazine, along with “Working hard is one thing, living your life to the full is another. You get only so many spins around the sun – what will you do with yours?”
I was pretty impressed with these words, nicely summing up why Diane and I are cruising at this stage of our lives. Of course it doesn’t have to be living on a boat, just living your dream, whatever that is.

Diane and I get back to Lefkas marina next Weds 27 March, and regular Envoy blogging starts again. For the blog last year we mostly worked on more and better quality photos integrated into the text. This year we’re going to work on including some video clips too. Interesting subjects coming up are visiting Montenegro and Croatia and reports on using marine iPad apps.

Meanwhile here is the completion of our cruise to Auckland’s Great Barrier Island aboard Consort.
Returning to Consort after a great late afternoon ashore smoking freshly caught snapper we found a pod of dolphins leaping playfully from the surrounding waters. We donned our wetsuits to join the dolphins, who seemed to enjoy our presence and approached us almost close enough to touch, providing a magical and memorable experience.
Like much of NZ the Barrier has some thermal activity, and we met some shore-based friends and walked about 90 minutes to the Kaitoke Hot Springs to soak ourselves in a hot water stream surrounded by dense forest.

Diane relaxing in the Kaitoke natural hot water springs surrounded by forest

To visit the springs you anchor in idyllic Whangapapara

The minerals contained in the natural spring are said to have healing qualities and we certainly felt calmed and relaxed in a scene that was totally tranquil except for the calls of native birds. Here in the wilderness we were thankful that NZ has no snakes or poisonous insects.
One day we visited artist and potter Sarah Harrison’s rustic studio in Tryphena Harbour, and had plenty of time to admire her work, chat and meet her family. Sarah makes unique pottery mugs with wide bases providing ideal stability for use on boats, and we ordered some to take back to our own boat in Greece.

Local artist Sarah Harrison with her children in their fascinating studio

Laurie outside Sarah's rustic studio set in the bush by Tryphena's waters-edge

After four years cruising the eastern Med we found it interesting to compare that experience with this. The Med is a very large area with quite diverse areas but here are some observations:
- Summer weather – Auckland’s climate is based on constant ridges and fronts moving in from the sea. Med summers are longer, warmer, generally more stable and less windy. NZ’s air is cleaner and therefore clearer, providing a more distant visible horizon and more beautiful sunsets
- Cleanliness – although we find the Med’s seas largely litter-free, sadly this is not the case ashore, whereas it’s very unusual to find much litter in NZ either on beaches or generally. The waters of the Med though are considerably clearer than we found around the Barrier.
- Points of interest – although the Barrier has fantastic natural scenery, so do many parts of the Med, while at the Barrier and generally in NZ there is little of real historical interest to see (the oldest building in NZ dates from 1840). In the Med we are fascinated by still-standing buildings centuries old and ruins dating thousands of years.
- Sea life – here there is no comparison and the Barrier wins hands-down with its variety and quantity of life. Snorkeling in the Med you rarely see any but the tiniest of fish whereas at the Barrier you see many species of good size and quantity. The NZ fishing is excellent whereas it’s poor in the Med (most fish being caught with nets).
- Anchorages – are excellent at the Barrier and also in most parts of the eastern Med. We find it more “atmospheric” anchoring in the Med, and surprisingly anchorages there are generally less crowded (although this would not be the case in the western Med)
- Support and safety – is much better in NZ with weather now-casting, VHF marine radio trip reports and the availability of Coastguard to assist in the event of problems. In the Med there is little observance of collision regulations or much use of common-sense with regard to dangerously high speeds in proximity to other vessels. The typical NZ cruiser is far more aware of these issues.

,,, and you can surf at one of the Barrier's several famed beaches, here Medlands

Consort is an outstanding example of a 12 metre planing cruiser, and kept us safe and comfortable for six superb weeks. Now though, we’re accustomed to the more sedate cruising style of our passagemaker and have not been converted away from that.
All too soon our sojourn enjoying Consort and the unique character of the Barrier came to a close, but at least we had April to November cruising aboard Envoy back in the Med to look forward to.
GETTING THERE
The Barrier can be reached by scheduled flights or ferry from Auckland, but by far the best option to fully indulge in what the Barrier has to offer is to visit by boat.



Sunday, March 17, 2013

CRUISING ABOARD CONSORT PART 2

A CRUISER’S DELIGHT
We spent the first few days relaxing, fishing, swimming and exploring some of Barrier’s magnificent sheltered anchorages, and soon found that a couple of hours fishing still got our adrenalin rushing and provided a delicious dinner. Our bodies had become used to the warm waters of the Med, and although we found the Barrier’s 18 degree (65 dF) sea temperature a little chilly we enjoyed swims in the clean water most days.
The mid-summer weather was dry, fine and sunny, but unusually windy conditions prevailed, and most days we encountered over 20 knots. One night exceptionally strong winds were forecast, but the Barrier has many sheltered bays with good holding, and even though we experienced winds well above 40 knots none of the many visiting anchored boats reported major problems.
The Barrier doesn’t exactly have a busy social calendar, but one not-to-be-missed event is Port Fitzroy’s Annual Mussel Festival. Dotted around the Barrier are several commercial mussel-growing farms and the Festival promotes mussels as a delicacy able to be prepared in a wide variety of mouth-watering ways, much like Forrest Gump’s shrimps. Most visitors to the Barrier are easily identified by designer t-shirts, shorts and caps, while many of the locals look like they got lost after Woodstock and just turned up there. We enjoyed wandering around some of the market stalls, listening to local musical talent, and washing down sumptuous mussel fritters with cold beers.

A great armosphere among the stalls at the Barrier Mussel Festival

Much as we enjoy spending time aboard boats it’s great to go ashore for a change, and we often had late afternoon drinks on different beaches while listening to music from our ghetto-blaster and smoking fish using a portable smoker; the taste of freshly smoked fish on bread and butter with a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc is hard to surpass. The unique smoky flavour is provided by heating up sawdust from native manuka shrubs, which abound on the Barrier.
An excellent place to meet fellow-boaters ashore is Smokehouse Bay, where land has generously been made available by the Webster family to build a communal bathhouse, fish smokehouse and open-air laundry. The facility stems from times when cruising boats were much smaller than today, and few had such luxuries such as hot water or showers. Swings are provided for the kids, and boats can replenish their fresh water here and use a sturdy grid during low tide for hull cleaning or below waterline repairs.

Smokehouse Bay has a grid for cleaning hulls at low tide and a bathhouse

The rustic bathhouse
 
 
Diane uses the primitive but effective laundry facility


Enjoying some time ashore with Consort in the background

A BBQ ashore on a gorgeous sandy beach

Several years ago heavy rain caused a landslide that destroyed most of this facility, and thankfully a small band of enthusiastic volunteers quickly re-built it using donated materials and services.
One day as we loaded gear back into our tender from an excursion ashore a curious stingray glided towards us with wings flapping gracefully. These generally shy creatures are not aggressive, but their spiny tail can cause injury so we gently prodded our visitor away with a stick … more to follow.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Marine Traffic ("AIS") iPad app

An excellent iPad app is Marine Traffic at $3.99, and if you don’t have AIS this could be useful to have. The app is a community service project hosted by the University of the Aegean, Greece. Volunteer base stations around the world equipped with AIS receivers use PCs to load the AIS info to the app via the internet. The app displays the data on a very good quality map (not a marine chart), for most worldwide coastal regions, e.g. all of coastal USA (the limitation being VHF radio range). The map can be zoomed in or out and has excellent zoomed-in detail. An option is to display the information on a satellite map, which then includes features in the sea. Any vessel using AIS is displayed on the map as an icon with the vessel’s name, and by clicking on the icon a pop-up appears showing considerable detail about the vessel, and in most cases one or more photos. You can display the vessel’s track on-screen, but not the current course and speed (although the pop-up displays the vessel’s max and cruising speed).

You can activate another pop-up which will list all vessels using AIS within about 10 miles from your position, showing their actual distance and bearing. Then you can display more details about those vessels if you choose to.
There is also the option to filter out different classes of vessels.
The map also displays many (but not all) navigational aids, and by clicking on their icon a pop-up appears with their details, and in many cases photos.
Wind direction and strength can also be overlaid on the map both for the present and for the forecast next 24 hours in 3 hour increments.
You can also track vessels out of range of your own AIS, in fact anywhere in the world that is covered by the app.
Your constantly updated position is displayed on the map, but your position is not being advised to AIS equipped vessels.
Now here are the disadvantages. The app is not displaying the information from the AIS transponder in real time, as an AIS receiver does. It is being relayed through the internet, and is several minutes behind real time (the app says up to maximum 1 hour behind real time but I’ve not found this to be so, and typically just a few minutes). Also you must be able to go on-line.
This is not a substitute for AIS, nor is it supposed to be used for navigation, but if like me you don’t have AIS this is an excellent second best, a useful back-up or portable system, and a means of tracking out-of-range vessels. See marinetraffic.com for more details.
I don’t have any connection with this app other than being a user.







Monday, March 11, 2013

CRUISING ABOARD CONSORT PART 1

This blog is specific to cruising aboard our Nordhavn 46 passagemaker, Envoy, and we have so far chosen not to deviate from that format or include coverage of our activities while away from Envoy.
During the northern hemisphere’s winter we’ve been back in New Zealand (NZ) for their summer (yes we’re fortunate to get the best of both worlds), and spent six weeks coastal cruising around Auckland’s stunning Hauraki Gulf, mostly at Great Barrier Island aboard a 12 metre (40ft), twin sterndrive-powered, planing cruiser called Consort. As the bulk of our Blog readership being North American and European may enjoy reading about Great Barrier, we’ve decided to post details and images of this cruise onto our Blog in three parts.

This Salthouse Corsair - Consort, was our home for 6 weeks

GREAT BARRIER ISLAND – A CHARACTER-FILLED SUB-TROPICAL PARADISE
Firstly imagine a sub-tropical island paradise, described by Sir Peter Blake as his favourite island in the world, with a population of only 500, no electrical power, no traffic lights, abundant sheltered anchorages, some of the world’s finest surfing beaches, pristine waters for swimming and diving, and where every day you’re virtually guaranteed to catch your own dinner from the sea. This is Great Barrier Island (locally known as “the Barrier”), about 50 miles north-east of Auckland, and so-named by Captain James Cook in 1769 because the island protects the mainland coastline from the rollers of the mighty Pacific Ocean.
Then imagine you have a long-standing friend who rarely uses his magnificent boat, and happily loans her to you for six sunny mid-summer weeks exploring this paradise.
Well that’s exactly what happened to us, and I was thinking this was too good to be true as we cruised to the Barrier aboard Consort, a 12 metre Salthouse Corsair motor vessel capable of well over 20 knots, and quite different to our passagemaker we live on most of the year. Consort is owned by Auckland Coastguard-legend Graham Reiher, who spent several days with us last year aboard Consort around some of the Greek Ionian Islands. Although we’ve spent many happy times at the Barrier previously, it had been several years since our last visit, and we looked forward with great anticipation to visiting some of our favourite spots.

Consort anchored at the Barrier's stunning Broken Islands

FROM ANCIENT MAORI WARRIORS TO THE PRESENT
The Barrier has a rich history ranging from original Maori occupation over 700 years ago, to the arrival of Europeans in the 1840s who commenced whaling, kauri timber milling, gold mining and shipbuilding. World War 11 fortifications abound, and there have been numerous shipwrecks including that of the Wairarapa claiming 121 lives in 1894. The world’s first regular airmail service started here in 1897 using pigeons to carry messages to the mainland until a telephone service commenced.
Nowadays the Barrier is home to many alternative lifestylers, artists and potters, and even has its own “Barrier time” system, meaning nothing happens on-time or in a hurry.

THE BARRIER’S ATTRACTIONS
Sea life around the Barrier is prolific and we regularly see whales, orcas, small sharks, dolphins, stingrays and penguins as well as being able to fish for several delicious edible species, and dive for lobsters and shellfish such as mussels and scallops.

Sharron and Doug with a large John Dory

Carol holding a kahawai caught trolling

Diane with two good-sized NZ rock lobsters caught scuba diving

Alice and John enjoy delicious mussels fresh from the sea
 
Diane holding two snapper - the most common species caught and delicious eating

With spectacular beaches, native forests, and a rugged interior ranging up to Mt Hobson’s 621 metres, the Barrier is a mecca for outdoors enthusiasts enjoying hiking, mountain biking, sailing, fishing, diving, surfing, kayaking, camping, and horse-riding, while less adventurous folks can spoil themselves in boutique lodges, enjoy spectacular scenic drives by rental car and visit some of the island’s few but rustic and quirky restaurants, bars and cafes ... more about the Barrier to follow.