Looking back through Southern Star’s blog- WOW it has been almost a year since our last post. Working life gets in the way of boat life. Life’s routines change from watching for weather windows to checking ferry schedules. The work week fills our time, interspersed with weekends, where we hope to do some boat chores.
Overall life is good. We are both healthy and doing well. We are currently living on the boat in Bayswater on the North shore of Auckland, catching the 0750 ferry to town, and the 105 bus (for me) to Garmin NZ office- Mon-Wed-Friday. Jenny walks from the Ferry terminal to her office on Queen Street- a 5-minute walk. The commute is okay. We both enjoy the ferry ride which takes about 15 minutes. If I miss my 1643 bus from Garmin- then I miss the 1720 Ferry to Bayswater, and have to wait an hour. I have an alarm set on my laptop, to avoid this. We both work from home (boat) several days per week.
The weather is getting us down. Seems like its been a long winter- wet and windy. Bayswater is open to the south southwest, and the boat is buffeted by the cold SW winds. There’s been a lot of rain all over NZ. We wash the boat once a month, to get the green off the decks. But forecasters are telling us that we are in for an El Nino (warm and dry summer). We do have our fingers crossed.
We have spent part of the year house/cat sitting in a gorgeous Herne Bay apartment for our friends Gordon and Liz either when they are at their properties in Otago, or overseas. When we are based there I walk to work MWF, and then go to the boat on Tuesday and Thursdays. Jenny walks to her office most days if the weather is good, otherwise it’s a quick bus ride. Gordon and Liz are back from two months in Scotland and the US – and are now staying around Auckland for a while. So, we are now full time liveaboards again.
Jenny and I both hit 65 years old this year. We both applied for our Gold Cards and are now receiving our Superannuation payments. Plus we get to ride public transport (including Ferries) Free in off peak times. So our ferry ride and my bus now costs us 5.80 inbound and it is free returning. We have enjoyed the extra income from working full time for the past three years and have managed to put money back in the bank, into the cruising kitty.
The plan- returning to cruise mode.
We are now in the planning stages for a return to the cruising lifestyle. I am ending my employment with Garmin at the end of the year. I plan to change from AIS Subject Matter Expert into boat slave/husband. Jenny will switch to remote full time working from the boat and continue to earn; I’ll draw my measly pension and get to do projects on the boat.
This will free us up from staying in Auckland. And we will likely leave Bayswater after the New Year, and do some local cruising. We are thinking of trying to get down to the top of the South Island, to the Marlborough Sounds. This will give us some long trips to shake down the boat, and to make sure that all is well, before we head to the South Pacific for the Winter 2024 season.
We are thinking of New Caledonia, at the moment. And are doing some research on this destination. For a taste check out this website link.
We have a lot to do, until then.
Firstly, there is the Christmas season here in NZ. We are planning to stay local around Auckland, Waiheke, and the Coromandel. Many of the JAFA (Just another flicking Aucklander) head up to Great Barrier and the Bay of Islands over Xmas- so these places get crowded. Last year we did the Great Barrier- Northland trip and spent most of the time tucked up with weather in Whangaroa.
After Xmas- Jenny will go back to work, and I will haul the boat for its bi-annual maintenance. With an eye toward the stabilizer/thruster/hydraulic hoses, etc. – for the long run to the isolated Pacific. Hopefully some PM (preventative maintenance) to make the 6-7 day run to NC routine and wishfully, boring.
As part of our departure plan, we have taken the big step of re-flagging Southern Star.
This is a big step, and sort of a sad one. I have done lots of research on departing New Zealand for International waters. A NZ registered vessel (Southern Star is currently) must meet Cat 1 requirements. These are a raft of required items, most that make good common sense; such as life raft cert, fire extinguisher checks, etc. But others are very subjective and dependent on the Surveyor’s interpretation of the standards. For instance-Southern Star went onto Cat 1 with Robbie and Jo, the previous owners, when they left NZ in 2013. They were experienced sailors- Robbie having owned a Sportfish boat for years in Australia. But the Maritime NZ (MNZ) surveyor required them to get more offshore sea time, before he would allow them to get Cat1. (They sailed around the North and South Island to Milford Sounds in the bottom of the South Island) to meet his requirements.
Jenny and I have over 15,000 nautical miles on Southern Star, including a five day passage from Delaware to Nova Scotia, but who knows if the surveyor would require more. Plus, the logistics can be trying, depending on weather; e.g., the boat must be hauled and inspected by the surveyor within 30 days of departing NZ. And the list (and many unknown items) goes on. Getting Southern Star into Cat 1 (and this must be done before every International Departure) will cause a lot of stress, and unknown amount of money, depending on what the surveyor requires. We have heard of costs of $5-$20K to meet Cat1 standards for other boats.
So, we decided to drop Southern Star from Maritime NZ, and are in the process of re-flagging her in the Cook Islands. CI is a flag of convenience, much like Cayman Islands are. But we, as foreign vessels, are free to depart as we like- only must get a standard customs clearance . We are very safety conscious and will have the boat surveyed at the next haul out (for insurance purposes). But this will relieve a lot of stress and pressure when we do decide to depart for the Pacific.
We will keep the same NZ ownership structure, for the Cook Islands registration, so this means there is no tax implication with NZ Customs. Southern Star is tax paid (and paid) and this will follow the ownership of the boat, which is unchanged.
One of the major issues with going remote is the ability to stay in touch with the real world. This is important for weather information, which determines when and where we cruise. And as Jenny is going to continue working remotely, we needed a reliable and fast source of data.
We have previously, in our US/Bahamas/Canada cruising- relied on cellular communications. Using SIM cards and cellular routers to keep connected for comms, safety and weather. And until recently, that is what we used for our internet here in Auckland. We used a cellular router that connected to the 4/5 G cell system. And it worked well in Auckland and was okay in most of the areas we cruised up to Northland.
About three months ago, I installed a Starlink Satellite system on Southern Star. This is a new technology that I have been watching for a while now. And it has received raving reviews, including here in the Southern Hemisphere. I am thrilled with the performance of the Starlink so far. We have the standard satellite dish, called “dishy” which is only about 22”x 5”. It has two motors installed internally, and is powered by the router. The dishy uses the motors to find the LEO satellites (Low Earth Orbit) and maintain contact. The internet info is streamed up to the satellite and to ground stations in the area to connect us to the internet. https://www.starlink.com/technology
I have found that the connection is very stable-and it is 8-10 times faster than the cellular system was. It is slightly more expensive- $160 compared to $99 (this is the simple one position plan). When we go cruising in NZ we will need to order “Regional” Roam for $199. When we go Global this will go to $340 per month. It ain’t cheap – but staying connected is extremely important. The old Inmarsat technology (also satellite) was $thousands of dollars and was very slow. So thank you Elon Musk for the new technology.
And so we look forward to the end of 2023, with our rekindled cruising plans. It’s a busy time of year anyway, and I am sure this time will fly by, and soon we will be off, cruising local New Zealand waters.
We will stay in touch more frequently now, as we get ready to get out feet wet again,
We wish all of you the best for the holiday season and for the New Year. Be happy and stay safe.