Baby Onboard: Braca’s First Ocean Passage

What makes this particular passage of interest to most is the little mini crew member affectionately referred to as “Powder Monkey.” In the 1800’s, Powder Monkey was the term used on war ships for the young boys who ran gunpowder from storeroom to gunnery. While we are void of powder stores and the machinery that requires it, our youngest qualifies as he is fast learning how to scurry about our ship, albeit on his belly.

As all parents know, there are small and large fears that lurk in the recesses of our minds when it comes to our offspring. As wardens of their welfare, it is easy to consume oneself with the “what if’s” of happenstance. While we have marched forward with determination to see our cruising lifestyle continue, it wasn’t without some trepidation that we watched land fade from sight. My biggest fear was seasickness as dehydration in an infant would be a major issue. Given there is 1,000 miles ahead of us on this trip, there would be no fast solution if Braca became ill. My second concern was knocks, bumps and falls, as the last thing a boat at sea offers is a stable surface. I’m sure a different set of parents would have a different list of concerns, but these were my two big contenders when it came to my son’s safety.

I am pleased to say that we’ve come through the other side after confronting these fears to no ill effect. Braca was unfazed by Atea’s osculating surfaces and fair seas left managing him on Atea a rather stress-free affair.

We sped along at 8 knots in quartering seas during our first 24-hours, putting 183 miles behind us in one day. It was a fast sail, and our biggest test during this passage was Braca’s ability to handle the seas. He was, fortunately, the only to appear unaffected. Even myself, yet to be seasick, felt queasy in the big rollers that slopped over our stern side. My number one fear was quelled in the first day – if that didn’t shake him, nothing would.

Fortunately, the rest of the trip has been remarkable from a mother’s protective eye. We’ve had wind on all fronts, so not always ideal from a sailor’s standpoint. The initial southwesterly wind that swept us forward eased mid-passage and turned toward the north finally swinging back around to the west on the fifth day. Though we were the last of the fleet depart Opua by several hours, we’ve quickly made good of the weather and positioned ourselves in the middle of the fleet. We cast our jerseys and woollies on the second day, enjoying the warmth of the tropics as we gained headway north. And so, my second fear was thus appeased by the amicable weather.

Life onboard a ship with an infant requires certain alterations. We’ve baby-proofed the interior so that Braca has a safe spot forward, mid-ship and aft. Our aft quarter bunk has a lee-cloth that turns captain’s quarters into a queen-sized playpen. We have a mosquito-proof baby tent that doubles as his cot that takes up half of the pilot berth, the other side a nappy changing table. In the saloon we have a porta-seat attached to the table, a reclining chair that is cushioned in place on the floor, and swabs that turn the side of the settees into padded walls for a safe tummy-time zone. In the cockpit we have a baby-seat come commander’s chair, and washboards that turn the cockpit floor into a kid-friendly zone. Every locker, drawer, and cabinet is stuffed to the brim with a sizeable collection of baby toys, and the bookshelf holds its own section of Dr. Zeus and Harry MacLary. Add in the stroller tied on deck, a baby backpack stowed forward and the nappies hanging on a line in the cockpit and we’ve fully transformed Atea into a Plunket-approved ship.

Cleaning nappies was a question often asked, and we’ve come up with a workable solution. Soiled cloth nappies are tossed into a mesh bag that is permanently fixed to the aft rail. We hang the nappies over the side for an initial rinse cycle, then they go into a bucket for a fresh water wash. The nappies are cleaner than any of the washing machines we’ve used ashore, which is particularly beneficial as they’ve turned into a permanent fixture in the cockpit, hanging like Christmas garland above our heads.

While Braca isn’t able to give an indication of his particular like or dislike for ocean sailing, he has certainly shown no signs of discomfort or disturbance. Life continues on Atea much as it did in the marina, with the addition of his father as another constant playmate. The added noise of rushing water, the occasional drum of the engine, the constant clatter of the drawers as they open and close to the sway of boat, the pots and pans that randomly rattle about don’t seem to bother him. Surprisingly, he has continued to develop his mobility while at sea, starting to add knees into his forward propulsion and learning, slowing, to crawl. He has also sprouted three upper teeth during the passage so his smile is starting to look less of an infant and more of a toddler, and of course with it, the shock of an occasional bite.

As I finish this we are 50 miles south of Aneityum, just visible on the horizon. We are sailing along at 6.5-7.0 knots, and will be in just before dusk at this rate. We will conclude our passage north from New Zealand in a few more hours and set our anchor down on new shores. Tonight we will celebrate – a toast to the 1,000 nautical miles of ocean behind us and to the first of many islands to come.

Tonight we will also celebrate the completion of Braca’s first ocean passage on his seven-month birthday, Thursday 17th of May.

Opua – A Chaotic Pause


All good trips are best started with great comedy. At least, that’s one way to look at the week spent in Opua. Others might say different, choosing to look at oneself as the fool, but why burden ourselves with such an image when we can claim the character of jester instead?

Opua was intended to be a short, inconsequential stay between leaving Auckland and leaving New Zealand – idle time we expected to spend chumming with fellow cruisers in the ICA rally.  “Rush rush” – the chaos leading up to our departure from Auckland. “Wait” – the pause in Opua while the fleet gathered for the joint departure north.

Our first few days we were kicking ourselves for the mad rush out of Auckland. The ICA itinerary for the week in Opua left a lot of gaps to be filled. As the weather wasn’t going to allow us to depart on our intended date, scheduled events were pushed back and the first few days in Opua were empty ones, filled with our last indulgences: flat-whites and chocolate brownies, last minute tidy-up items on Atea, and a slow lull-about the marina and its premises. Rush rush wait………

The tides turned for us on Thursday, and things got hectic. That morning we filled our tank with duty free diesel, pumping 800 litres into the tank before we noticed diesel pouring into the bilge. Atea was purchased without a fuel gauge so we had a sight-glass professionally installed over the summer to end the continual guesswork and the constant risk of running empty. We were marking the new glass in increments, so we were fortunate to have the floorboards up and were able to see the leakage in the bilge. Had this not been the case, we’d have filled the tank to capacity and sailed off towards the blue horizon, only to realize a few days out that the entire contents had leaked into the bottom of our boat and we were to spend another passage north without a running engine and a repeat of last year’s fiasco.

The following day Atea was put up on the hard, and tucked into the Opua boatyard for her repairs. Fortunately a colleague of John’s had invited us to dinner the previous evening and when Rachael and Blake heard of the change in our living situation we were invited to stay as long as we needed. Being sailors, they understood that a boat in the yard is not inhabitable. A boat in the yard would mean a climb up a ladder while balancing infant on hip, his naps continuously disrupted by electric hand tools, a boat filled with toxic diesel fumes, and a cabin dismantled to allow access the belly of the boat.  We owe  them great thanks for sparing us that particular inconvenience. We’d already confiscated their car keys on arrival, and not two hours after arriving for dinner we confiscated their house keys as well and stayed for a week. Their gracious hospitality was heaven-sent and turned a fiasco into a mini-holiday for Braca and I, and relief to John that we didn’t have to negotiate a boat repair around the needs of our child.

Blake and Rachael – if you read this – again, thank you. Not only for saving our a*%$, but for offering your friendship. I so enjoyed our week together; evening meals and late night banter was such a treat for both of us… not to mention all the indulgences that came along with our stay..

While Braca and I were enjoying life ashore, John was spending full days working in the boatyard. Atea was lifted out on Friday, 4May, then he and a local engineer drained the diesel out, dismantled the cabin floor to access the tank, found the leak (due to an incorrectly installed sight glass), put the tank top back in place, refilled the tank and we were lifted back into the water on Wednesday evening. The departure of the fleet had been pushed back to Thursday morning and we worked hard to get Atea ready to sail with the fleet.

After a very expensive week in Opua, we were finally on our way at 12:00PM on Thursday, 10 May. The weather reports in our favour, we set sail as the last boat in our fleet of fifteen and pointed our ships bows towards her next destination: Aneityum, Vanuatu.

Captain’s Log:

I enjoyed staying with Blake and Rach, but my god, other than that, having the boat ashore in Opua was an expensive fiasco.

Just like last year (when lack of a $5 washer gave us fuel/water problems all trip), this sight-glass repair was one where a small error cost us a huge amount of hassle and money to put right.  If the original installer had put the sight-glass 1 inch lower it would have been perfect, but being 1 inch too high it was above the upper level of the tank and therefore a leak waiting to happen.  It was such an unnecessary expense.

As Kia has said above, the best thing about this whole business is that we discovered it before we departed – being at sea to find all your diesel has leaked into the bilge would not have been a good moment.

I must confess though, there was one comic episode in the diesel saga which was entirely our own error. During the repair, we’d pumped all our diesel into a portable tank on wheels beside the boat.  When the time came to refill Atea’s tank from the portable one, the temporary tank had emptied so quickly that we jumped to the wrong conclusion that all out diesel had been thieved whilst in storage in the yard.  I was in the foulest of moods, bemoaning the Northland locals as we went back to Caltex to buy another 700 litres of diesel – well, it made their day at least.

Back at the yard, we started filling again, and soon discovered the location of Atea’s missing diesel – it was already safely in the ships tank, which was now very full (which is why the level didn’t show on the glass).   I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so chose to laugh at my own stupidity.

After reselling the extra diesel at a significant loss, I was done with Opua.  Let’s get going north, let’s get sailing.  As always, it’s a huge relief to drop the dock lines, head out of the channel and put the bows to the open ocean.

At a Turtle’s Pace

We are at the start of our second season on Atea, and so time to get the fingers tapping and some of the stories of recent activity recorded. After the conclusion of our first expedition in September 2011, we settled our waterlogged roots in Bayswater Marina, Auckland, for a Kiwi summer as we charted new territory as a fledgling family.

We were graced with six full months ashore amongst our whanau and I feel such gratitude for our friends and family who’ve turned Braca’s arrival into such a spectacular celebration, and for the support in making our transition into parenthood a smooth and joyous one.  Thank you for all the generosity, the fun, the love, and the connection. In parting, I already look forward to our return!

As the kiwi season turns to autumn, the days get shorter and the nights colder, we prepare for our journey north. Prior to the pace of preparations hitting it’s apex, Braca and I packed our bags and headed for the States, leaving John to do the hard labour. Again, it is my firm belief that most wouldn’t be able to accomplish what John has been able to pull together to get Atea ready for the demands of our upcoming season. Over the past several months John would cast suit as a PM during the day and don grubby garb in the evening as PM on his own personal campaign: Readying Atea for the 2012 season, and whatever lay ahead for us beyond that.

My return to New Zealand was planned around a 1st May departure from Auckland to meet up with the ICA, a rally of cruising boats heading through several island groups together. Braca and I returned to a flurry of final preparations and farewell parties and then the three of us set sail four days later for the Bay of Islands to meet up with the group. Caught half way with poor weather and an unknown amount of diesel in the tank, we sheltered at Kawau and began our feeling of a mad rush to wait. Through the next few days we kept chanting the mantra, “Rush Rush Rush Wait.” We rushed out of Auckland to wait out the weather in Kawau, then rushed up to Opua to find ourselves waiting again. We’d left in a mad dash to arrive in Opua on the dates specified by the ICA to find little activity and another delay in departure due to weather conditions. Rush rush wait. Our intended departure from Opua to Anatom, Vanuatu was planned for the 5th of May, pushed back to the 9th of May, and currently set for the 10th of May. Due to certain unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances, we may not even make that timeline. Stay tuned.

Skippers Notes – “Why is a ship called ‘She?’”

So if Atea needed a quiet summer to rest and recuperate – she got it. Not so my wallet though, and it seemed that our budget for boat work needed to be continually revised upwards.

Firstly, there was the maintenance identified during the trip south – salt water in the diesel meant the injectors and fuel tank needed cleaning, and a valve was installed to prevent future water ingress. The genoa roller furler needed replacement, and the BBQ (washed overboard on the way south) needed repair.

With those vitals taken care of, we turned our attention to enhancements identified during the previous season. The cockpit was often too hot, so we put in a hatch for ventilation. The batteries took a hammering and discharged very quickly, so we replaced those with new ones. Continuing on the electrics, we made a serious upgrade to the solar panels. The new ones are not only ample for our power needs, but we received an added benefit as it casts a significant amount of shade over the aft deck where we spend much of the time.

Since the little stowaway is now out of the oven and increasingly active we’ve installed a travel cot and tie downs, and seemingly every drawer I open is filled with toys to keep the boy entertained. We also have a 30-meter roll of safety netting to install later in the passage. Since Braca is just beginning to crawl, we must tie the netting around the guard rails before he learns to move too fast. To keep the grandparents (and other interested parties) informed of Braca and Atea’s progress we upgraded the electronics so that we have the ability to send and receive emails at sea, which will also allow us to update our position on the blog daily.

To keep the adults entertained, we added a new stereo and cockpit speakers, so can now crank up the sounds and frighten off the seagulls. Santa provided a clever new VHF radio, so hopefully our cruising colleagues can hear us too. Legislation in Singapore waters requires us to have an AIS transponder… another $800 gone. The alternator needed reconditioning, the mainsail has been serviced, the water pumps needed replacement and so the list goes on. Those who own boats will understand this, and the old adage of “a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money” has never seemed more apt.

And finally, in the week before departure, we’ve carried onboard six vast shopping trolleys of stores – aiming to have all the basics for a seven-month voyage. Unlike last year, we are also well stocked up with grog. The tins, bottles and bags have finally disappeared into lockers, bilges and other secret stowages, and I think we’re ready. With all this weight of food, fuel, water and wine, Atea is lower in the water, but I think she is in good shape and her systems are enhanced to keep the three of us in safety and comfort. It’s time to go. Time to stop spending money, and start sailing.

Post script: We found a leak in the diesel tank five days after leaving Auckland, so Atea is in the boatyard for repairs. I am reminded of the following quote: “Why is a ship called ‘She’? Because it’s not the initial cost that breaks you, it’s the upkeep.” We are feeling this acutely and hope there are no more delays before departure.