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Wintering at Nelson

Opua was far less crowded than in the Spring, but more tense, as cruisers waiting to head back to the islands fretted about the weather and spent most of their waking hours looking for their 'window'. Ironically, we were now looking for a window to go in the other direction, back to Nelson. We had happy reunions with a number of cruising friends and tried to repay some of our debt of gratitude to the Opua Cruising Club and OCC Port Officers Nina and Tony Kiff by giving a brief talk, with slides, about our cruise in Fiordland and Stewart Island. A night of 40 knot winds, confirmed our feeling that the weather in the North was wetter and just as windy as in the South, so we took the first possible opportunity and to head for North Cape on 14 May.

Though the passage looked like turning nasty at several points, in fact it was very fast and mostly enjoyable, despite being wet and bouncy at times. We were very lucky to take SWlies up to Cape Reinga, where the wind obligingly went NW for a day. We made good westing with this fair wind, so that when the wind went SW again and got up to 30-40 knots, we were still able to sail just free or better for the remainder of the trip. Despite a fright from the engine when the wind quit at Farewell Spit, we made it into Nelson, our winter destination, only 3 1/2 days out of Opua, 520 miles away. After 4000 miles of sailing since our arrival in New Zealand in October, it was strange to contemplate several months in one place. However, aided by the wonderful Nelson climate we soon settled down to a different pattern and pace, dedicated to ripping large parts of 'Sunstone' to bits, before putting them back together again. Our plan for the refit grew to a six page spreadsheet. At one point, the total number of person hours required for the in-shed phase amounted to significantly more than those available, even assuming that we worked 20 hour days, seven a week. Eventually the plan was reduced to workable proportions and we actually began. Off-loading all the cruising gear from the boat produced the usual revelations - so that's where it's been hiding! It also revealed, as usual, the depths to which we had sunk, literally, as the boot-top rose an improbable number of inches - no metric, please, we're British. By 22 May the mast was out and we were removing deck fitting at a furious rate, praying that the gunge with which we filled the many holes would exclude the occasional shower until 'Sunstone' was lifted into the Dickson Marine shed. By the first week in June, the deck looked like it had been attacked by a salvage crew, but worse was to come.

On 10 June we were installed in Dickson's modern shed and the next day began the task of removing the 35 year-old teak from the deck. Dickson's had agreed that we would undertake the unskilled and unpleasant task of removal, after which they would do the skilled work of laying the new teak. Then we would do the caulking, finishing and refitting of all the deck hardware - all this under cover. As the old teak had been fastened in true belt and braces style - glued, screwed and nailed, the only effective way to remove it was to turn it to dust. Over the next seven days, Tom used an angle grinder to create nearly two oil drums of teak dust and ground away the tips of several hundred bronze scews, while Vicky extracted nearly 2000 stainless steel nails. The plywood was then sanded, having been found to be sound, with only three or four small patches which required attention. The ply was then sealed with two coats of an epoxy-like product, Everdur, and declared ready for Dave Tudor and Mark Little to begin the skilled part of the operation.

Living aboard, while ashore is never very pleasant, but during this massive dust-creation programme, it was pretty vile. We had considered moving ashore for a period, but staying aboard did give real motivation to get the worst over with and ensured an early start each morning, as the yard started its usual fairly noisy activities at 0730. Though Vicky was frustrated that her war on dust creeping below had to be renewed each day - always unsuccessfully - we managed to keep the accommodation fairly civilised. At least we had some company. Malcolm and Joan Dickson, having built up the yard from scratch, had just sold out but were still living on site in a caravan. They were working equally hard to complete the hull and deck of their new 55' cruiser, in which they hope to make their bid for freedom in the autumn of 2001.

It was both a pleasure and an education to watch Dave and Mark tackle the laying of the new deck. They not only planned their work meticulously, from the matched layout of the butts to the use of the available lengths of teak, but were also exacting in their standards, both in selecting wood and in occasionally rejecting and restarting their own part-finished work, if they felt dissatisfied with it. We had agreed that the new deck would not have mechanical fastenings, but would be epoxy glued only. Dave and Mark laid two full deck lengths of new planks each day, alternating sides so that they could dry-fit the next day's planks. While the epoxy set over night, the planks were carefully wedged in place to hold them in their considerably bent positions, while they were held down with lead pigs, borrowed from Malcolm and Joan and awaiting melting for their keel.

While all this was going on, the two of us tackled the numerous other tasks of our refit. Vicky painted and varnished anything which didn't move for a perceptible time - Tom only just escaping once or twice. Tom replaced fastenings, dowels, splines and a section of bulwark, installed more cockpit drains, as well as servicing the steering, Monitor vane-steerer and the much-loved, but now odorous Baby Blake loo. Meanwhile, Jeff Golding, whom we had met in Fiordland, made us a new pushpit and warp reel, as well as altering or refurbishing many of our other stainless steel fittings. Anchors and chain were sent for re-galvanising, bronze fittings for re-chroming, injectors for testing and cleaning and so on. We checked practically every system on the boat and serviced most of them. It is at times like these that we are grateful that we have kept things relatively simple. Though the water tanks might need cleaning, at least there are no pressure or hot water systems to service or water-maker to worry about. The simplicity of 'Sunstone' was emphasised for us by sharing the shed with a big Swan, whose decks had also been reteaked. Her refit had begun when we first visited Nelson in March. Originally envisiaged as lasting no more then three months, the work on her grew and grew until she was eventually relaunched in September.



In just over three weeks, by 19 July, Dave and Mark had finished their work and we began our 'boys from the black stuff' work, cleaning, priming, taping and caulking the seams with Sikaflex. When we did the cockpit three years previously, we had used the normal manual gun for filling the seams. Thankfully this time we had the use of the yard's pneumatic gun. With air pressure doing the worst of the work, the bulk of the job was completed in just over three days, followed by a further three days of sanding and tidying. To a sailor's eye there are few things so beautiful as a pristine, newly laid teak deck. It was gorgeous!

Imagine then the trauma of drilling the first hole to start refitting the deck hardware. Fortunately most of the fitting could be fairly easily relocated into their original holes, but in a few cases nervous guesswork was required to establish the right positions. We also took the opportunity to make a few minor alterations in placing fittings. Despite a slightly more cluttered appearance the newly chromed hardware if anything enhanced the new teak. By 8 August, we were ready to move out of the shed. We believed that we were water-tight, but inevitably the first rain proved us wrong and we had to rebed one of the genoa tracks. Fortunately the deck itself showed no sign of leaks, nor did some newly installed opening ports. After more than two months out of the water, having done virtually nothing but work on the boat for over two months we were desperate to get back afloat and slow the pace a bit. Though the weather was not altogether cooperative, we sped through the final work on the bottom, restepped the mast, having thoroughly checked and serviced the rig, and replaced the stanchions and lifelines. To actual sighs of relief on our part and an imagined one on 'Sunstone's', she was relaunched on 17 August and we both got our first really restful night's sleep since May.

We continued work, crossing jobs off the list until we reached the point that those that remained were no longer essential to motion or excluding water. Though it was a little late, we gave 'Sunstone' her 35th birthday party on 27 August, attended by about 40 local friends. We still needed to get out for a couple of days of serious sail trials to make sure that everything worked properly, but otherwise we felt just about ready for our passage across the Tasman Sea to Australia. During our final weeks in Nelson, we were already looking ahead, not just to our passage to Australia, but also to the Sydney-Hobart Race. We renewed our first aid qualifications and had the radio installation inspected. Most of the crew had already been signed up. We had planned to have any work on our sails done in Australia, until by chance Ken Rose, the retired chief designer for Banks Sails wandered into the yard. He kindly worked his wizardry on our spinnakers, reducing them in size, but maintaining their beautiful cut. Then he and his wife Jan escorted us out of Port Nelson and waved us on our way to Oz.

Our account of this phase of our cruise could not be complete without a rave review for New Zealand, New Zealanders, Nelson and Dickson Marine. Dicksons was a wonderfully fortunate choice for us. Everyone there was helpful and friendly and did everything they could make our time in the yard both pleasant and productive. The yard manager, Dave Pinker, ensured that we had access to all the advice and hardware we could use - as well as occasional use of his car. The original quotation was held to impeccably and the only minor delays which occured were not the fault of the yard. We couldn't have been happier. As many New Zealanders themselves have found, Nelson is a delightful location. The climate, even in winter, is pleasant and drier than most of the rest of the country. The town has excellent amenities and marine services. Its setting is beautiful, with mountains surrounding Tasman Bay. We made many friends, particularly among the many local live-aboards and the members of the welcoming Tasman Bay Cruising Club, whose Commodore, Pater Faulkner and wife Jane, have done so much to make our stay enjoyable.

As New Zealanders would say, we have been 'rapt' with New Zealand. It is a beautiful, mostly empty country, whose striking scenery has only been exceeded in its impact on us by the warmth of the welcome we've received everywhere we have gone. New Zealanders talk of themselves as being negative, but we have never seen this. They are lively, positive and interested in others and the world around them. Most strikingly, New Zealand is the most egalitarian country we have visited. Not only is there equal opportunity, there is a genuine feeling that no one is automatically worth more than anyone else. Everyone looks everyone else in the eye. This does not mean that excellence and achievement are not appreciated, far from it. Achievement of all kinds is seen as worthy, not just that which makes money or earns fame. We really like Kiwis.