Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ixnay on the Ijifay

Up until this point, Peter has been in charge of making Sereia safe for us to live aboard. He’s been fixing leaks, making sure the head and the stove work, and keeping electrical fires out of the bilge. Every time he looked at the bent compression post, he started babbling incoherently about hiring engineers and jacking up the mast, so we tried to keep things manageable. We avoided talking about what it would take to make Sereia safe for coastal cruising, or ocean sailing, because we didn’t want Peter’s head to explode.

And now we’ve moved on the boat. Sereia is safe for living aboard. And Peter’s head is exploding.

The problem isn’t that any one system is broken. Sereia is a thirty year-old boat, and she’s been held together with duct tape and dreams for some time now. Before I met Peter, when I first noticed that my chainplates were rusting out, I hired a rigger to take a look at the problem, and he said:

“Well, you’ll probably be fine. It’s probably just surface rust.” He was a very cute rigger, and he had an Australian accent. I wanted to believe him. But I had to ask.

“What if it’s not? What if it’s deeper?”

“Then you might lose your rig. But you wanted adventure, right? And that’s when the adventure begins, mate!” Then he charged me fifteen hundred bucks, and I realized it would be cheaper to get a husband.

Since then, Peter has drilled out the rusted chainplates and replaced them, and he’s upgraded our boat in countless other ways. But we’ve also cut plenty of corners. Sereia’s rudder, for example. Sereia has an enormous barn door rudder, held on by massive gudgeons and pintles that look as though they could bolt an elephant to the hull. Unfortunately, they are frozen shut, so the rudder can’t be removed and inspected. We know there’s water in the rudder, but we don’t know how much. Over the years, Peter and I have dealt with this by drilling small holes in the fiberglass, allowing sea water to drain out for a couple of days, then shooting the holes full of epoxy and calling it a day. “Ha, ha,” we’d say nervously. “If we lose the rudder, then that’s when the adventure begins, mate!” Then we’d have another beer, and talk about how we might dangle a wooden door overboard, to use it as a steering device.

Ha, ha. Side-to with no steering in massive South Pacific waves. Trying to save our own lives with a piece of a door, bobbing on the end of a line. While the baby is screaming down below. Getting rolled. Losing the rig.


As you may have gathered, the problem here is cultural. Now that we are parents, we are raising the bar for acceptable safety levels at sea. Safe play areas, clean drinking water, and PFDs are all good. Broaching in large seas without reliable steering on board is bad. So are brain-eating worms. And busted masts.

Last night, we made a list of everything that needs to be done on board Sereia for her to be safe for a family at sea. Then we estimated how long each project should take, and whether or not we can be living on board Sereia while we do it.

The list looks something like this:

And the conclusions we have reached are as follows:
1. It is going to take between a month and six weeks of hard work to make Sereia ready to cruise.

2. By the time she is ready to sail, it will be too late in the season to go to Fiji. Even if we pick a good weather window, we would then have to spend the entire hurricane season in the islands, and we can’t be out of New Zealand that long without losing our visas.
On the other hand, by mid-September, the weather will be getting warmer in New Zealand. By October, it will be gorgeous. And we have tremendous cruising grounds, right here! We could sail to the Far North, check out all those hundreds of little emerald-rimmed islands that sparkle along the coast, practice fishing, learn a little Maori, explore this new country that we are adopting as our own, and maybe sail all the way down to Nelson and Cook Strait!

Then, come April, we’ll be very well-placed for a safe and timely trip to Fiji.

Our plans are changing. Stay tuned for lots of posts about rudders and compression posts. I expect there will be a few about Vegemite, as well.

It’s going to be a rough winter.


  1. Several observations:

    1) about 15 years I sailed thereabouts and delved into getting NZ/OZ status such that I could work. Bottom line... too many restrictions to be worth the trouble for an American. Sure, Turks, Pakis, etc. will jump thru those hoops, but things weren't then nor are they now, that bad in the U.S. (don't take the present "news" at face value...there's a ton of cavets to all the negative news that's reported).

    2) Boats take alot of maintenance, especially when you cross oceans. That takes time, energy & MONEY. It would be so much easier to just cruise Mexico, or NZ. Once you need to cross 1000 miles of open ocean ...such as the N.Z.-to-Islands stretch.... one needs a whole other level of readiness from coastal crusing. (Hint, on average, it's easiest to get to Noumea from N.Z, rather than Fiji or Tonga).

    Finally, you're past the easy (training wheels) cruising of Mexico. Sure the Islands offer some great cruising, however the next easiest (most mexico like) in your immediate area is Queensland. Want warn,sunny,good anchorages ---mexico like carefree cruising....think Queensland.

  2. I do think it's safe to say that Peter tossed off those "training wheels" when he singlehanded, non-stop, 2,700 miles from Tahiti to Whangarei. Thanks for your advice, though!

  3. Antonia - you had my husband and I rolling on the floor with your observations. I especially liked your comment about it "being easier to just get a husband."
    good luck to you. Peg & Erik sv Queasy Dog