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January 2008

Mansion House Days, life in the days of lawn croquet might have seemed gentler, but I sure would have hated spending my days in long dresses.

Dear Friends:

Our duel life style, though keeping us very close to the sea at almost all times, definitely opens us to some mind bending contrasts. Just when we became comfortable living in close proximity to several million people, driving on the traffic laden highways of Southern California, hearing the buzz of jet aircraft overhead at all hours, day and night, we tucked Taleisin safely away to fly back to our island home base in New Zealand. This is a country as large as all of Great Britain and almost 1800 miles long with only 4.1 million people in the whole place. Our base in this lightly populated country is far from the city, on an offshore island with a total year-round population of about 80 folks and with no roads.  Aircraft sounds are a rarity, the noisiest thing we hear are definitely the array of birds in the bushes and trees around us.

The music and view from the Verhanda were totally elegant

Even though we have electricity provided by underwater cable, few people leave lights burning after dark. There are a few solar lamps which mark the ends of their jetties or the pathways to their cottages so the night skies are dark and star lit. Only by sailing out into the gulf outside our bay do we see the glow of city lights 30 miles to the south. With its small population, this country is definitely a participation sport – i.e. each of us really can see the difference we make. Within a week of our return Larry and I were seconded to act in the local dinner theater production when two others had to drop out, then I was seconded to participate in the local history day – churning butter and handing out fresh bread, butter and jam to mainland visitors who came to visit the Mansion House Museum, home of the first governor of New Zealand, which is two miles by water, six miles by track away from our boatyard/cottage.

Larry and I enjoyed the camaraderie of rehearsals with islanders from other coves (folks we usually see only once or twice a year as there are no roads on the island)  All of us were delighted when a capacity audience actually laughed at the lines we spoke.

Bobbing for apples, stilt walking, croquet on the lawn, rope skipping were just some of games played that day. A 140 year old Box piano had been restored and donated to help complete the furnishings of the house/museum. It arrived just in time for the History day and was and played for the first time that afternoon. Combined with the lovely sound of waves lapping the shore just a few feet from the main room, children’s laughter from the lawns outside, the occasional cawing of the peacocks on the lawn, the sound of the old fashioned piano and a fine singer in a truly classic setting was superb.

Instead of a travel lift, we use the local work barge to relaunch the boats that were stored for the winter here at our home base, mini-boatyard, Mickey Mouse Marine.

Almost as old fashioned was the feeling of we had as once again we spent Christmas with Doug and Helen Schmuck on their 25-acre farm (complete with a dozen cattle, four horses, two dogs and a cat) 100 miles north of us near the Bay of Islands.  Doug is an old friend from the US who flew down to visit us soon after we found our home base here, 22 plus years ago. He then went back, finished outfitting his 28-foot Bristol Channel cutter Puffin then sailed it through the Pacific to rendezvous with us just before we left New Zealand bound for Africa on board Taleisin in 1990. During the month he spent here at our place, he met a lovely Kiwi gal. A year later they were married and a year or two after that Doug ended up with a boatyard in Opua. He is not the only single handed sailor to get hooked up with a Kiwi girl!  As has become a tradition any year when we are in NZ for the holidays, I make a big lasagna and we get up to Totara Farms (Doug and Helens place) for Xmas eve and a few days with these special, almost like family, friends. They usually invite interesting visiting overseas cruisers join in for Christmas Eve. This year it was Larry and Carmen Stuckel, an American couple on a 40 footer called Watermusic. Larry and Carmen raved about the fine time they had sailing along the tradewind routes. Their descriptions of the Galapagos Islands made us drool. But just as good were their memories of our favorite haunts in the outer islands of French Polynesia and Tonga.

The Tui that lives in the tree in front of our terrace is addicted to sugar water.

It seems that things don’t change that much in the islands, especially if you get just a bit off the beaten track. They, like many cruisers who spend a year or two in the middle latitudes, found their voyage from the tropics to New Zealand tested them and their gear. Watermusic encountered 35 to 40 knot winds and her crew had a rude shock when the roller furling headstay broke, the wire inside the foil failing just where it entered the swage fitting. This left them without a headstay and they jury rigged one using spare halyards.  Then their steering failed. They hove to until the winds abated and used the rudder on their windvane self-steering gear to sail the last 400 miles under reduced canvas.  Good show you guys.

The birdbath is supposed to be for the tui, but the local ducks have found it too.

We did get Thelma out sailing for New Years day. The gulf around us was filled with people sailing, fishing, waterskiing and diving for scallops.  Summer had been slow in arriving, but when it did it turned absolutely lovely and the people who have summer holiday homes here on the island arrived in flocks.  Surprisingly, very few overseas cruisers seemed to sail through this year. Almost all have tended to arrive in Opua, arrange for a mooring or marina berth then fly back to their home countries, or buy a cheap car and tour inland.  They are missing some of the finest pleasure sailing grounds and friendliest folks we have seen in all our voyaging. On the other hand, as the folks on Watermusik said, by the time many get here they have a long list of maintenance items for their boat, then they want some time off the boat and away from the sea before sailing onward before winter arrives in the southern hemisphere.

. A big event for all Classic boat lovers was the re-launching of two famous boats, which have undergone major refits. Big Thelma, at 56 feet was originally launched in 1898.

With summer visitors dropping in, a new video project in the works and the newest edition of Storm Tactics handbook being final proofed before it goes off to the printers, life is pleasantly full. We, like most folks in NZ, are on half-day summer work schedules with time off for any interesting diversion that summer may offer. Diversions include watching the kingfishers feed their young in the nest between the cottage and my office, watching the tui’s bath in the little pool on the back deck (tui’s are a native bird with a wonderful range of song), chatting with neighbors who kayak by.

Her rig is massive, with a mainboom that is almost 35 feet long. These are the deadeyes to secure and adjust her shrouds.

It has been really fun getting the new edition ready as we have added about 45% more or new information and nine new chapters. On the other hand, chasing little demons (as I call the typos, caption mis-numbers, and other small errors that seem to creep in to the proof pages) then describing them to the book designer so they can be changed, is becoming a bore. But in about three weeks that should be behind is and in ten weeks we should have the printed results in our hands.

Gloriana, 34 feet on deck and built in 1892, is a 2-1/2 rater just like our little Thelma. Gloriana was built and designed by the Logan Brothers. Our Thelma was designed and built by their fiercest competitors, the Bailey Brothers. These two boats, though built only three years apart and launched in the same harbor, have never actually sailed alongside each other. That is set to change in the next few weeks.

Re-reading this letter makes summer down here sound bucolic – and it has been. A fine contrast to the hustle and bustle we know await us in April when we return to Taleisin and the friends we’ll see at the Sail Pacific Show. We plan to introduce the new edition there as, from April 18th to 20th we help BAADS (Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors) run their annual raffle to earn funds to maintain their specially adapted boats.

Happy New Year to all of you,

Lin and Larry
at Kawau Island, New Zealand

Sailor on Horseback, amazing how comfortable Larry is in a saddle. He and Helen had a fine ride on Boxing Day (that is the day after Christmas Day, celebrated in England and British Colonies as the day when the hired help got to enjoy their holiday dinners.)






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