Home in New Zealand




After a brief period for recovery from our nine-week passage across the Pacific, we headed from Opua down to Auckland, with the aim of catching up with friends, picking up some marine hardware and services as well as throwing a belated 50th Birthday Party for Sunstone. We had been thinking for some while about whether the time had come for us to consider a change to a smaller boat, less demanding in both weight of gear and maintenance than Sunstone. A single inspection of a potentially suitable 35 footer in Gulf Harbour soon put this stupid thought to rest. Perhaps in a guilty reaction, we then lavished more than usual expenditure on gear for our 50 year-old, including new anchor chain and several hundred metres of new running rigging. Apparently this was enough to sooth any incipient feelings of betrayal, especially when we also promised her a complete refurbishment of the topside varnish come the Autumn.













A very few weeks are quite enough for us in the big city and in any case it was time to head for home in Nelson. We made our way back north to the Bay of Islands with only a brief stop at one of our favourite anchorages at Whangamumu, near Cape Brett.


As we  motored gently up the coast toward Whangaroa Harbour the following day, we found an email in our Inbox from Bill Cook of the CCA (Cruising Club of America) Awards Committee. He asked that we telephone him. The timing being right for both, and Skype available on the smart-phone, we rang. He kindly informed us that the Club had decided to award us their Blue Water Medal and hoped that we would be able to attend the award presentation dinner in New York in early March 2016. After a speechless pause, we stuttered our thanks and said that of course we would be honoured to attend. We wondered whether there had been any similar occasion when the medal recipients had been informed when actually underway afloat.


Duke's Nose, Whangaroa Harbour




After this our mostly pleasant passage home was something of an anticlimax. We picked up a somewhat constricted weather window, which gave us an easy passage around the top of the North Island, followed by light close reaching and motor-sailing to get into Tasman Bay and home to our marina berth in Nelson only a couple of hours before the advent of a vigorous front, bringing strong southerlies. Sunstone had been our home again for seven months. We spent one more night aboard, before heading to our other home on the hills overlooking the marina.


Cape Reinga




Shy Albatross


Pintado Petrel - Vicky's Favourite





As anyone who has been away from their home for seven months knows, there is plenty to do when you get back. Cars to re-licence, services to restart and neglected gardens to tend. This is quite apart from catching back up with neighbours, friends and all the aspects of local life. We also felt desperately unfit. When we left in April we had both been at pretty high levels of fitness. The best part of a year without serious aerobic exercise had put us well below the levels we like to maintain. It was time to get back to the gym and onto our bikes!




Good to be home.






Fortunately we were also back in time for the final of the Rugby World Cup. We had been keeping up with the All Blacks progress intermittently during our travels, and had hoped to be back home for the final. A glorious final it was with stellar performances from the whole team and particularly from the retiring 'greats'. We celebrated the team's back-to-back win with the rest of New Zealand.



For years Vicky has been hatching a plan to go to Antarctica. Though we cruised Patagonia, day-sailed around Cape Horn and visited the Falklands, we never planned to head to the Antarctic Peninsula or South Georgia, much as we wanted to visit them. We knew that to do so we would have to sail through ice - perhaps heavy ice. Though Sunstone's hull is as strong as any, except perhaps a very heavily built steel or aluminium boat, her planking would be left in a terrible state after any serious sailing through ice.


With the prospect of a summer in 2016-17 with no serious sailing, we decided to plan ahead and book passage on a small (100-passenger) cruise ship to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. We knew that it was necessary to book well ahead, so started to do so in mid-November 2015 for a cruise in Jan-Feb 2017. We thought we would be in plenty of time. As it turned out, we managed to reserve the very last cabin available on our chosen ship. Fortunately, we are not spending anyone's inheritance, as we have no heirs; this is not a cheap outing! However, we are looking forward to this non-yachting, ocean cruising experience.








Having celebrated Sunstone's 50th with our friends in Auckland, it was only appropriate that we did the same with our Nelson friends, at the same time celebrating both Sunstone's and our home-coming.





To further stay in party mode, we were also co-hosts, with Colin and Liz Price for an RCC Meet in Feb 2016. Usually these are primarily sea-based events, but with only three boats available in Nelson, we decided that a mostly land-based event was more in order. We had a delightful three days getting to know visiting RCC Members, including Henry Clay, the Commodore and his wife, Louise.


Fortunately Nelson has plenty of options for activities. Visits to the Museum of Wearable Arts and the Lighthouse were followed on the last day, by cultural education at the local Marae, where we all were taught the basics of the Haka, with explanations of both its history and cultural importance to local Maori.






Liz Price put on an amazing and delicious dinner, which was followed by the only on the water contest of the event, a race - of sorts - between the Cosmo Price's 'Steam Boat Willy' (toy boat) and that of the Commodore. The Race took place in the only available venue of appropriate size - the bathtub!













Christmas and New Years passed quietly for us. One of our primary concerns during January and February was preparing for Sunstone's major refurbishment, as we planned to haul her out of the water almost the moment that we arrived back from the USA in the third week of March 2016.


At the same time we finally started to see some results from our efforts in the garden. The tiny seedlings we planted in November began to overflow our two raised veg boxes. The mandarin tree began producing and the apple tree promised to do so in weeks rather than years. Even Vicky's cumquat produced a couple of diminutive fruit. The olive trees grew to such an extent that they blocked part of our view and Vicky threatened them with extinction if they couldn't restrain themselves. All this was blessed with one the driest and most perfect summers Nelson has had for some time.














In the last week of February we flew to the USA, both for the CCA awards dinner and for the opportunity to catch up with Tom's sister, brother and their families. For the most part we have been lucky with these long-haul excursions. Unfortunately, from the very beginning on this occasion we were not. Cancellations, delays and miss-timings meant that a trip which should have taken less than a day from door to door took closer to two. Things could only get better - and they did. The CCA kindly put us up in a beautiful and comfortable room at the New York Yacht Club (NYYC). Though the dress Vicky had planned to wear for the dinner was still on a hanger in our bedroom in Nelson, we found a much more beautiful one in New York.



Olin Stephens' Dorade




Though the CCA has no clubhouse there are sufficient associations with the NYYC that it can stage events there. The NYYC Model Room is a spectacular venue. The room easily seats over 200 for dinner and the walls on all sides are covered with very beautiful half-models. When not in use for dinners there are also full models of all the America's Cup Defenders and Challengers - except that the progression ceases at the end of the 12 metre era! The dinner is an annual Club event and so includes changes of flag officers and a number of awards for which only Club Members are eligible. The presentation of Blue Water Medals is saved for last. We say medals, plural, as Jon Sanders, the amazingly prolific solo-circumnavigator also received one of the rare Blue Water Medals 'Without Date', while ours is that for 2015.






The Flag Officers and Members of the Club were extremely kind, both in the presentation and in the welcome we received. We were suitably overwhelmed by the occasion. We had been cautioned that Medal winners were expected to say a few words, which we did, mostly about Sunstone. (See below) Fortunately we had had an opportunity to meet other award winners, flag officers and committee members the previous evening at an informal dinner, which made the presentation dinner a somewhat less daunting experience. We were fortunate that we had our own cheering section, as Inge, Rob, Chris and Susan were able to attend, along with Inge's son, Tyson and his partner Erica.




"We like to stay with tradition for an occasion like this, so we have a number of 'Thank-Yous' to express. All of them have to do with our boat Sunstone, which has moulded not only Vicky and my sailing lives, but the whole pattern of our two lives together. When we bought her as our second floating home in 1981, we were keen, but very inexperienced offshore sailors. Sunstone taught us that you don't have to be new to be fast on the race course and you don't have to be complicated to be comfortable and safe when cruising or on passage. She also taught us that being self-reliant is a pleasure not a burden.

Living aboard Sunstone while racing her seriously taught us how little you need to feel truly at home. We also learned that there is a price for everything and that if you really want something, you pay the price. Sailing Sunstone in all weathers on all oceans also taught us about each other and how each needs to complement and trust the other.


Finally, sailing Sunstone taught us that you can't buy time, but you can make a life feel much longer by going sailing all you can.


So we thank Olin Stephens and his team at S&S for Sunstone's wonderful and unusual design. We thank the craftsmen of McGruer in Scotland for the quality of her construction which has held her together despite consistent abuse over 200,000 miles. We thank our racing crews for their cheerful ability to perform while cold, wet, hungry and frightened. We thank all the many sailors we have met who have helped us learn every day about our sport, the most complex and fascinating there is. Finally we thank all the kind people who when seeing Sunstone have said in many languages, 'Nice boat!' It does make all the varnishing worthwhile.


Sunstone was 50 years old last year. The award of the Blue Water Medal is as much or more hers as ours. We thank you for the honour of this award, though we are frankly overwhelmed to be following in the much broader wakes of so many of our sailing heroes and we thank them too for their inspiration."








The following day, we had a further presentation. The Commodore of the OCC (Ocean Cruising Club), John Franklin had attended the awards dinner and so took the opportunity to present us with The OCC Award. We had already indicated that we wouldn't be able to attend the OCC dinner in England in April, so it was very kind of him to take this opportunity of an informal presentation with a few American OCC members who were also in New York.



Exhausted and overwhelmed by all this attention, we beat a retreat successively to visit Chris, Susan and Elizabeth in New Jersey and then Inge and Rob in Rhode Island. It was a pleasure to catch up with Chris and Susan as well as with Susan's father, Bill, and we soon realised that we would have to sharpen up if we were to stay in touch with Elizabeth's rapidly developing knowledge and intellect.


A visit to Princeton, gave Tom an opportunity to reminisce about his ill-spent youth at the University and two years spent in the gothic delights of Dodd Hall.


There was also an opportunity to sample Tom's favourite and appropriately named American beer - Arrogant Bastard Ale!











We had seen photos of Inge and Rob's beautiful new home in Bristol, but they could not do justice to the reality. Though it is not yet fully landscaped and will probably never be quite complete to Rob's satisfaction, it was still very elegant while still comfortable and home-like. It was a pleasure to see them so happy there.





Our three weeks in the USA were gone soon enough. Fortunately our flights home were blessed with regularity and we even had time to stop off for a couple of days to see friends in Auckland. However, after the glory it was time for pay-back! Two days after our arrival back in Nelson, we hauled Sunstone out of the water and set her down in Alspec's yard. The same day Jack and his crew, from Nayland Scaffold, threw up scaffolding  around the boat and proceeded to shrink-wrap the lot. Inevitably, two days of fierce rain followed, finding any and all possible ways to wriggle through the white plastic. However, despite the problems of rigging, we were soon fairly waterproof and got to work.







Vicky is a practiced hand with a honed triangular scraper and heat gun, applying just enough heat to lift the varnish and not enough to burn the wood. After this, any stained areas were treated with oxalic acid and then thoroughly washed. Tom followed with a half-sheet finishing sander with three successively finer grades of sandpaper. The coarsest grade is used almost like a planer to take away just enough of the bleached surface wood to bring back the more natural pink/brown colour. Even in the cooler temperatures of Autumn we can't leave the wood bare for longer than necessary, as it dries out too much and splines start to give way. As a result we bared only the starboard side at first. Once we had it fully prepared we put on five coats of varnish in four days, without sanding between coats. This covering is enough to stabilise the wood, so that we could move on to give the port side our attention.





















Once the port side was also covered with five coats, we could turn back to the starboard, which by then also had its yellow cove line and name. We sanded this side with two fine grades of sandpaper and then applied two more coats. The port side then received the same treatment. While both sides hardened off enough for a final sanding, we sanded and painted the bottom and completed one or two other jobs, including one of Vicky's delights, painting the bilge! The final, eighth coat went on both sides on the last day of reasonable temperatures with dry weather. Once the coat was dry, the weather, which had been perfect for weeks, finally broke, bringing rain and cooler temperatures.

















The last time we did this job, 13 years ago in Sidney BC, it took far less than the five weeks it took this time. However, we felt very satisfied, if thoroughly exhausted. More to the point, 'Sunstone' looked beautiful again - though inevitably the beauty of her topsides now shows up all the other varnish that still needed attention. There really is no rest for . . .boat owners!