Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rowing on the River

Right, scullers on the Wairoa River near Tauranga, NZ
Below, Bay of Plenty Coast Rowing Club at regatta

Essay from Ellen while waiting for a weather window out of NZ:

Rowing was the sunshine of my life in Tauranga. I found Bay of Plenty Coast Rowing Club online. The club was a friendly, supportive and growing group of seventeen men and women developing their sculling and occasionally, with some groans, sweep skills.
The thrice weekly drive out to the boathouse was a like a tonic to my soul – out into the country, away from the sprawl, the traffic, the gusty harbour, the endless work on the boat. We rowed up the tidal Wairoa river when the tide was coming in, and down the river when it was running out, past green hilly farms, bush-clearing fires, past herds of cows and sheep, kiwifruit groves, lifestyle estates, twittering birds, lush monstrous deep green ferns, autumn leaves, rainbows, magnificent autumn sunsets and full moon risings, watching out for other boats, logjams, flooding, sharp turns, and duck hunters.
My teammates are a hardy bunch. We went out in big rains, near gale winds, whitecaps, tipped over in floods, went out in radically new line-ups all the time. Fall in, get up and shake yourself off. Freezing cold – it’s shorts and T-shirt weather. Who needs shoes? We walk across vast parking lots of gravel in our bare feet. Warm up before a race? Dash from the finish line to the next boat, get in and go!
I participated in three regattas rowing in 8s, quads, and doubles. I even brought home a gold medal. I learned how to respond to “easy!” (instead of “weigh enough”) and to “right” and “left” instead of “port” and “starboard”. Got comfortable with sculling, learned to steer a boat with my foot, enjoyed rowing with the opposite sex, and possibly even made some progress with my technique.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May 28, Opua NZ

In case you are wondering, we are still in New Zealand. May’s been a tough month but it could have been much worse. The retrofit is complete – well, sort of – and the improvements are marvellous -but I’m not sure we will ever forget the blood, sweat, tears, time and money it took.
Or the luck we have had. On May 11, our boat was out of the water “on the hard” for last minute painting and polishing. We were preparing to move the boat back into the water that afternoon when blinding lightning struck. We scrambled off the boat – a 64 foot lightning rod - and drove through hail to the nearby Starbucks for cover.
We returned to find several workers had been shocked not 15 feet from our boat. Over 16 inches of hail fell and sat on the ground for 12 hours. The roof of the local shopping mall collapsed. In the marina, electricity had travelled up into the boats in the water and literally fried everything from depth sounders to DVD players. We were extremely fortunate to have been out of the water, our systems were not touched.
The last month was a blur of endless work in cold biting wind, tests, trials, successes, failures, setbacks, and looming doubt about whether and when it would all come together. With our friends on Asylum, we started the tradition of the “Unhappy Hour” where, on particularly bad days, of which there were many, we cried on each others’ shoulders over a stiff rum or two or.... At some point we would feel better and be able to face the next day.
On Saturday, May 23, having just completed our punchlist, we set sail for Fiji with crew Chris Shepard. Chris is a University of Arizona grad who has been living in Wellington where he makes his living playing online poker, hones his skills as a sailor and golfer and recently won the New Zealand Ultimate Frisbee team championship (he is also a national champion in Denmark). He is a fearless technophile – no fear of pressing buttons – a skill we deeply appreciate with our new electronics and our various computers and marine peripherals.
May 23 was a bright sunny day, and the southwest wind built into gale force as the day wore on. Our new sails sped us towards our destination at a magnificent 8 knots, double reefed. However, several pieces of brand new equipment were not working properly and another big storm was brewing, so we re-entered New Zealand at Opua, in the Bay of Islands, 30 hours into the trip.
We quickly set to work resolving the problems. We hunkered down for the storm that dumped 4 inches of rain in about 12 hours on Tuesday, installed a new part and did a sea trial Wednesday, and were chomping at the bit to take off Thursday, which the forecasters had been promising was going to be a good time to take off. Not to be. Late Wednesday night we got the message that a huge storm was in the offing for the weekend, delay departure plans until next Tuesday. Who knows when we will leave NZ?