Opua – A Chaotic Pause

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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.

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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.

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