Our goals of doing boat maintenance, exploring sustainable solutions, and travelling in New Zealand seem incompatible, until we meet Miss Nissy.

Whangarei – Auckland (NZL)

“We can put on another layer of paint today”, Floris says drily while looking at the weather forecast on his phone. “It’s a going to be a sunny day.” Summer is in full swing, but rather than exploring our new home’s shores, we are doing boat maintenance. The weather forecast no longer dictates our sailing schedule. Instead, dry weather means eliminating rusty spots on the deck. But the paintwork is just one of the many items on our long maintenance list. Yet at the same time, we would like to document a new series of sustainable stories. And see something of the country. The question is if we can fit it all into six months, as that is how long our visas are valid. At first sight our goals for New Zealand – boat maintenance, documenting sustainable solutions, and cruising – seem incompatible.

First Things First

One thing is clear: while we work on Luci, we cannot take her out to sea to explore New Zealand’s shores. On the other hand, if we do all the boat maintenance first, we miss the summer months, which is the best time for touring the country. Ivar is the first to bring some structure in our thought process: “New Zealand allowed us to come to do essential boat maintenance, which Luci really needs” he argues. Indeed, sailing 29,000 miles across the oceans over the course of nearly five years have left visible marks on our classic steel lady. She brought us here through inhospitable corners of the planet. She defied ice, coral reefs, and storms. We are especially grateful to her for all those safe miles and want to get her back in top condition for the rest of our journey. “Let’s first remove the rust on deck and then reassess our options”, Ivar suggests and Floris agrees.

Removing rusty spots is a time-consuming job. We first mark the spots with numbers and end up with over 100. Steel never disappoints in that regard. One by one, we grind the spots down to the bare metal, then prepare it for painting, and finally put on five layers of primer and two finishing layers of paint. When the weather isn’t ideal for painting, we contact local tradesmen about the many other boat projects on our long list.

Setting Projects in Motion

One of those projects concerns the rigging. It has been on our boat for 15 years and over the course of the past two years we have had to replace five damaged shrouds. It’s high time to replace them all. Removing all shrouds at once will also give us the opportunity to take off the masts for inspection and minor repairs. We speak to fellow sailors to get recommendations for riggers, meet some of them to discuss the options and pricing, and contact a crane operator to discuss unstepping the masts.

Another project is the anchor chain. It is so corroded that it slips through the gipsy, making it nearly impossible to pull our anchor up with the windlass. Unfortunately, we cannot restore it to its former glory, but with its length of only 45 meters it was always on the short side. Deploying two anchors in tandem usually did the trick when the depth was more than 9 meters, unless the wind really blew. We learned the hard way that in those circumstances, it was not always safe to go on deck to extend the anchor chain with a line. That’s why we have decided to order a new chain of 100 meters. However, that means we will also need to expand the anchor chain locker in the forecastle. A boat builder at our marina inspects the forecastles and agrees to help.

High on the list of things to do is painting the hull. We might get away with doing touch ups of the blue hull above the water line, but we’ll definitely need to repaint the hull below it. That means Luci will have to be hauled-out. Furthermore, we will have to install a new autopilot drive, get a new life raft, repair our sails, and do engine maintenance. We realise that we cannot do it all at once, or by ourselves, so also depend on the availability of others. It’s quite a puzzle to get it all sorted.

Settling in in Whangarei

While our work on the boat continues, we settle into life at the marina and in Whangarei. We meet other sailors, like Martin and Ellen from SY Acapella, our very nice Dutch neighbours, and single-handed sailor Barry from England, aka the Old Seadog. His videos on YouTube are so popular, that he can be considered somewhat of a celebrity. We also reunite with Hans and Sonja from SY Ikinoo, whom we got to know at an event organised by Zeilen Magazine shortly before our departure in 2016. Like many other international sailors, they have been stranded in New Zealand for over a year now because of the pandemic. We get to know them and the others cruisers better at our marina’s Sunday barbecues. Everyone brings something different, which makes for an ever-changing but always delicious buffet. Ivar’s butter cake proves quite popular, too.

With so much food available, it’s essential we also do some exercise. Right on our doorstep is a circular run along the river, the Hatea Loop. The 4.5-kilometre track is popular with the locals and we soon get into a routine of running it every other day. Along the route we stop to work out using public fitness equipment, even if that causes a bit of muscle ache. But we need the break; we are quite out of shape after spending all that time at sea. Being able to do these runs is one of the advantages of staying in one place for a little longer.

We also discover Whangarei’s growers’ market on Saturday mornings, where local farmers offer their produce. We are immediate fans of the diverse offering and the friendly vendors. It’s amazing what grows in the region: apples, pears, bananas, berries, avocados, vegetables, even pineapple. It also feels good to buy directly from the people who work the land, so we gladly support them to make quality products that have environmental and social benefits. (Didn’t we dedicate a sustainable solution item on that topic? Indeed: The Social Benefits of Buying Local).

Kiwi Hospitality

We get a welcome break from doing boat maintenance when our friends Kerry and Daan invite us to spend the weekend at a “bach” (Kiwi speak for beach house, pronounced like “batch”) on the coast around Tutukaka. It’s a pleasure to spend time with them in such beautiful surroundings. When they take us to the beach, they convince us to swim in the ocean, which at 21 degrees Celsius feels warm to them but chilly to us after the tropical waters of French Polynesia. We also meet their friends, twins Claire and Stephanie, who take us to their nearby house. Their parents and another friend all join in for drinks and a barbecue. Everyone treats us like part of the group, which makes us feel so very welcome. When we later discuss with Kerry how heart-warming that was, he has a simple explanation: “That’s the Kiwi hospitality!” We can certainly get used to that.

Kiwi hospitality
Kiwi hospitality at Claire & Stephanie's

Miss Nissy

Back on the boat we pick up where we left: doing maintenance. Yet getting the first glimpse of New Zealand’s stunning landscapes in Tutukaka opened our eyes. As January progresses we decide not to let the chance slip to experience the country during its warmest season. As Luci is in no shape to go out to sea and public transport in NZ outside the big cities is patchy, we come to a simple conclusion: we need to get a car. 

“Do you think Tesla will lend us a car again?” Floris asks Ivar. “Brilliant idea, let’s ask them!” Ivar responds. In addition to Tesla, we write to a handful of electric car dealers. When we receive answers from the car dealers politely declining our requests, we focus on the second-hand market. In the affordable segment we do find some used electric cars from Japan, but with a radius of about 100 kilometres they are not suitable for our purpose. Charging stations on the South Island are simply too far apart. The charging infrastructure is still in its infancy, especially outside the major cities, so our hopes for an emission-free tour of New Zealand are crushed.

Floris continues his research, but now looks into camper vans. As an added benefit they allow us to freedom camp, meaning that we can spend the night in them without having to pay for a campground. “Look at this one!” Floris exclaims one afternoon. “It ticks all the boxes!” It’s relatively young, has decent mileage, a high roof and extended wheelbase (essential for Ivar), is well-maintained, and attractively priced. We are the first to respond to the ad and immediately make an appointment for a viewing. The next morning, we jump on the bus to Auckland to view it. Less than an hour after our arrival we are the proud owners of a white Nissan Caravan, which we nickname “Miss Nissy”. We are thrilled to have wheels, although it means that we have an additional DIY project. As if Luci was not enough. Ivar gets to work on installing an inverter and building extra storage space while Floris sews new curtains. Yet we are careful not to overdo it – the boat remains our priority. Once finished, we test-camp in the parking lot of our marina. When we wake up the next morning and it rains, it’s a bit of a hassle to prepare breakfast, squeeze orange juice, make coffee, and do the dishes inside the van. “It’s so much smaller than the boat” Floris assesses. “Let’s hope for good weather on our trip.” “That’s why go now and do the rest of the boat maintenance in April and May”, Ivar smiles. In other words, it’s decided: now is the best time to take a break and go on a road trip!

Urban Gardening

Miss Nissy’s first stop is in Auckland, where we stay with our friends Jonna and Bob. “This used to be the driveway,” Jonna points out while we walk over mulch piled up next to the house. “We are going to plant apple trees here.” They live just outside the centre and have big plans for their garden. “We took a permaculture course and are now putting theory into practice. We’re turning the front garden into an orchard and we’re planting vegetables in the back garden” Jonna explains. “For our and our children’s health we think it is important to eat fresh, spray-free fruit and vegetables.” It’s music to our ears. “I love the idea of living in the middle of a city but also growing your own food!” Ivar beams. “In that case you can get started right away” Jonna suggests and hands him a spade. 

Jonna and Floris continue the tour in the back garden. Jonna explains that when they bought the house, the back garden was all grass. “We thought that was a shame, because you can do so much more in a back garden. So we removed most of it and put in a vegetable garden and chicken run.” There is also room for a trampoline and sandbox for the children. While Jonna explains which herbs and vegetables she grows, one of the children picks a ripe cherry tomato. By having fruits, herbs, and vegetables in their own garden, the children learn at an early age that growing their own food is something natural. What’s more, they taste how delicious home-grown food can be. 

Not everyone has a garden to grow their own food. What if you live in an apartment, for example? In the centre of town, we visit Daldy Street Community Garden, a stone’s throw from the America’s Cup village. The first things we see when we get there are large planters. Each of them is unique and managed by someone as their little garden. Some have fruits and vegetables, others are full of flowers and ornamental plants that attract bees and other insects. Like at Jonna and Bob’s, here, too, Auckland’s biodiversity is enriched. In New Zealand, community gardens are on the rise. They can be found in every major city, so we have dedicated a separate sustainable solution item to urban gardening.

Happy Reunion

Our next place to stay in Auckland is with Vivian, Bram and their daughter Flora. They sailed to New Zealand in their steel ketch SY Duende years ago and inspired us to choose the classic route to the Pacific Ocean: via Patagonia. We haven’t seen them in years and are very curious to find out how they are doing. It is soon evident that they are happily settled in a beautiful house in a nice part of town. Flora has friends close by and is over the moon about Petey, a newly adopted kitten. We go on hikes with them in the countryside outside the city. While we marvel at the stunning landscapes, we discuss sailing, life after a long journey, cultural peculiarities, life in corona-free New Zealand, and sustainability challenges. We are enjoying it to the fullest and look forward to visiting them again on our way back. 

Our road trip has officially started. We are happy with our decision to take a break from the boat work and make the best use of the weather. Staying with friends in Auckland meant that the first stops were exceptionally luxurious. We will now need to get used to more basic facilities, like the back of our little van for sleeping, a portable stove for cooking, and public areas for overnight stays. How will we cope and which sustainable solutions will we find on the way?

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