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For us the flight back to NZ could have been a space flight depositing us on another planet - except that astronauts probably have more room to move around. When we arived in Auckland on 12 December, it was summer again, all sensible people were also sailors and the news programs actually covered stories in addition to developments of Afghanistan. 'Sunstone' looked a little lonely, but none the worse for our lengthy absence and on the 15th we all got a treat when we set off to sail down to Tauranga via Great Mercury Island. The treat was short lived, as we had booked to come out of the water on the 19th so that we could make a start on our major job of taking off more than a decade of antifouling and other paint from the bottom. This job was the usual delight, leaving us both looking like Dickensian chimney sweeps at the end of each day. Fortunately we had good neighbours in Ron and Bebe from 'Hannah', who helped us take brief respites on Christmas and New Years Eves, with the help of remarkable numbers of bottles of Kiwi wine.

We finally got the bottom back to bare wood in sections because we didn't dare leave the whole lot uncovered for too long, for fear that splines would start popping. Even though it was a wet cool summer by NZ standards, there were still enough hot dry days to be a threat. We decided that this time we would give the wood a slightly more sophisticated treatment than mere primer. We used a Kiwi product, since adopted by International, called Everdure. It is a very thin two part sealer, which we used and were impressed by on the plywood under the teak decks. Since it is clear we tricked a number of interested onlookers into thinking that we had decided to varnish the bottom as well as the topsides! This was short-lived as we then put on numerous coats of grey primer, foillowed by yet more black antifouling. In the midst of all this we also managed a variety of other jobs, some urgent and some pressing. Included in the latter was installing the new steering pedestal. We also set up the Monitor vane-steerer in anticipation of our long passages with a control line right back to the cockpit and the outrageous indulgence of a remote for the autohelm tiller pilot which we use to steer the Monitor in moderate conditions. After last minute panics over a keel bolt, which turned out to be fine, we launched 'Sunstone' back into her element on 3 February. Both the boat and we were much relieved.



In the midst of all this work Vicky could not resist the temptation to indulgence. She had seen adverts for a women's sprint triathlon locally. Since we had been biking everywhere since our arrival she was in good training for the cycling element of 10 km. The running was not new to her, and at 2.5 km little more than a sprint. However, the swimming, even at only 400 metres was a challenge. A month of training brought her to peak fitness, though 'freestyle' would be a generous description of her mixture of swimming strokes. Nevertheless, they proved effective. Supported by a team of trainers, fans and paparazzi, she made her successful debut, with a very respectable time of 45 minutes and 20th place out of about 80 in her age group.

Though there were times when we regretted not having headed for the familiar peace and quiet of Nelson, Tauranga is an excellent place to get work done on the boat. Bruce runs the Bridge Marina haul out facility with great efficiency and professionalism, putting in amazing hours to keep everyone happy - even hauling and launching on Saturdays and Sundays. The port is extremely busy and has all the facilities and services you might expect in such a maritime centre. Tauranga Bridge Marina is one of the best run that we have berthed in. The facilites and security are excellent and the staff could not be more helpful. There were down-sides to Tauranga. It is a resort area, famous for the excess of the 'huons' (young tearaways) who come for the Xmas and New Year's festivities. Generally these characters also drive cars from which the exhaust systems have been removed and whose state of tune leaves a good deal to be desired. The noise produced is entirely satisfactory to them, but not to most of the local residents whose average age is somewhere over 90. Unfortunately the driving habits of the huons seem to have infected everyone on the area. As a result cycling in Tauranga is only slightly safer than sleeping on the railway lines out of Victoria Station at rush hour. However, our stay was made pleasant by the good company of a large number of cruisers from Europe and the States. While the generosity of Roger Young, owner of 'Ballerina', in loaning us his berth, car and telephone line made our stay almost sybaritic. The car particularly turned out to be a major blessing.


Unable to resist the temptation to go racing we went out on a new friend's Ross 930, a light-weight one-design with minimal fittings and winches. During a practice spin take-down, Vicky was determined to ease rather than run the guy. Unfortunately it had other ideas and only stopped moving when Vicky's hand was pulled to and part way into the turning block. Normally the air turns blue when this kind of thing happens, but it was clear in this case from the silence that things were not quite right. So it proved when an xray showed two cracked metacarpals in her left hand. The addition of a cast eliminated any temptation for two-handed work and for Tom had the unusual advantage of making him indispensible - at least for important matters like shoe lace tying and meat cutting. As we had already revised our likely departure to early March, the initial prognosis of 3-4 weeks for recovery seemed to fit in fairly well. In the event this was optimistic, with 5-6 weeks being more realistic.

In the midst of all this excitment we did manage a trip up to Auckland, mostly to say goodbye to Vicky's God Parents, Mary and Les Wright, and to a variety of cruising and Kiwi friends - all of whom we hope to see again some time. We also took the opportunity to buy yet more bits for the boat and wonder at Deaken and Cate's courage, while admiring their part-completed new 'Yankee'. We rounded off our land cruise with the ultimate in Kiwi entertainment - short of a sheep-shearing contest - watching Kelvin and Joy Smith's herd of Friesians being milked. The party in the evening was pretty good too!

The enforced extra few weeks in Tauranga meant that items on the job list which dated back into the 80's have been crossed off. It has also given us a chance to see a couple of games at the start of the Rugby Super Twelve season, so that Vicky can cheer on her heroes. Naturally at about the time that Vicky's cast came off and we made optimistic predictions about leaving, the easterlies set in and a queue of interesting lows has been forming in an orderly manner to the NW to make our potential departure exciting. But then every challenge is an opportunity - they say. . . . Our next report will be from a good deal further north.