Delivering Tarapunga - PassageMaker

Delivering Tarapunga

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Those who say their boats don't roll are liars...or they never leave the marina. Rolling is a fact of cruising life, especially on offshore passages.

And when a boat measures 88 feet LOA, with a 20-foot beam and a draft of 6 feet, and has a wheelhouse 21 feet above the waterline, then you just know she's going to be lively enough to roll the legs off a centipede.

Such a boat is Tarapunga, a former Royal New Zealand Navy inshore survey vessel. My brief was to deliver her from Auckland, New Zealand, to Vancouver, British Columbia, to be refitted as a private trawler yacht by her new Canadian owners.

To enhance the pendulum effect, Tarapunga also had 6.5 tons of extra fuel added in double-bottom tanks forward and 4 tons of lead trimming ballast aft.

What she did have going for her was top-quality construction and machinery, which had been professionally and conscientiously maintained throughout her working life. Everything that had been done to the boat was documented in drawings and text, and the main operating systems were labeled and marked, which made the ship the perfect platform from which to begin a pleasureboat conversion, or, as in my case, a delivery voyage.

A Navy Vessel

Whangarei Engineering Co. built her steel hull and aluminum deckhouse in 1980 in northern New Zealand.

Tarapunga and her sistership, Takapu, had served as hydrographic survey vessels until 2000. When the navy contracted out its charting work, the ships were sold into private ownership. Tarapunga's new owner, Brent Gervan, had met Takapu's owners while visiting New Zealand. He was impressed by the work they'd done to convert their navy survey craft to a liveaboard trawler yacht. They told him about Tarapunga, so he decided to buy the cashiered hydrographic vessel and fulfill a dream to cruise the Pacific-and take her back to Canada at the same time.

I joined Tarapunga in Auckland as delivery captain in March 2004. I spent a hectic week preparing for the trip with Brent and his wife, Nielda, before the crew- Bob and Glenis Jackson; Brent's brother, Mike; and Jim Henderson- flew in from Canada.

None of them had been to sea before except for a few bareboat charters and some cruises around Georgia Strait and the Canadian Gulf Islands in Mike's and Jim's trawlers. Jim had some experience as a sawmill engineer, so he could help with engine upkeep. Terry Vernon, who had worked on Takapu, joined as mate.

We loaded provisions (8 people x 43 days = a small mountain of basic foodstuffs), stowed and lashed down gear, had safety briefings and exercises, and used Tarapunga's HIAB Seacrane to lift a pair of truck tires aboard for use as drogues if it got really rough.

A C-Map charting program was loaded into the shipboard computer-backed up by a small pile of paper charts-and a Sailmail modem was installed so we could send email via the SSB radio.

Finally, Tarapunga was fueled and ready to go. The 6,400 miles of open Pacific Ocean between Auckland and Vancouver was on all our minds as we motored slowly down Auckland Harbor past the Devonport naval base, Tarapunga's former home, to clear customs.

Customs clearance from Auckland on March 30 was a protracted affair, while two rather befuddled officers decided whether or not Brent should be charged sales tax. We finally got under way, heading toward Vava'u in northern Tonga, just at dusk.

Rolling Begins

The 1,240 miles to Tonga were...well, rolly. With Tarapunga's two KT115 Cummins engines (355hp at 1800 rpm) rumbling at a leisurely 1200 rpm, the slim survey boat managed a comfortable 8.5 knots. After we'd picked our way between Great and Little Barrier islands-the two outermost land masses of Auckland's Hauraki Gulf-we made good progress during a day or two of light winds and gently rolling seas. Then the wind settled into a consistent 15/20 knots easterly, right on the starboard beam, and Tarapunga began to roll. Surprisingly, seasickness wasn't a problem for us, but the motion wasn't conducive to the hearty meals for which we had provisioned.

Onboard life became a round of struggling to stay in our bunks, wedging ourselves in a wheelhouse seat on watch or grazing from the galley. A box of frozen meat pies from New Zealand proved popular, although some of the braver crew members attempted to cook more complex meals. The lower accommodation decks experienced significantly less motion than the captain's cabin aloft, and I spent off-watch hours clinging to my bunk with all four extremities, like a gecko on a roller-coaster ride.

The main topic of conversation at each change of watch was about how far the clinometer had traveled in the intervening hours. The small, bronze arrow, pointing to an arc engraved with degrees of roll, was reaching improbable angles. The record was 55 degrees either side of the centerline-rolling through 110 degrees! A high-frequency (HF) radio antenna on the wheelhouse roof objected to the sometimes-violent rolling and broke loose, but Terry's keen eyes picked it up before it caused any damage, and we refastened it in place.

A one-gallon container of toilet cleaner took a dive and began to leak its contents into the bilge, so I donned breathing apparatus to go in and mop it up. The only other mishap for this leg of the trip was a slow water leak where the port generator cooling water discharged into its exhaust pipe, requiring a change to the starboard generator.

On the positive side, though, a luckless marlin fell for one of the lures that trailed in Tarapunga's wake. Brent hauled the thrashing fish up to our stern while I worked the engine controls and Terry called the shots from the deck with a handheld VHF. We cut the line, and with a final flick of his tail, the majestic fish fled back to the deep.

Seven days out of Auckland, Tarapunga motored into the relatively calm seas leeward of Tonga, and we wound our way down the deep channel through the islands of Vava'u to the archipelago's capital, Neiafu. Berthing time at the government wharf was 2030, but quarantine officers, keen to earn a bit of overtime, came aboard straight away. Customs and immigration clearance, though, involved 2 hours' work the next morning, before we could move out to anchor in the harbor.

Neiafu was meant to be an R&R stop, and our crew members became famous for their conscientious effort to boost beer sales at the harborside Castaway Bar (cheeseburgers highly recommended), while I kept busy doing a few small repairs and maintenance needed to keep Tarapunga on track. The generator exhaust problem proved to be beyond the capability of the local engineering shop, so we bought the island's entire stock of exhaust cement, slathered it over the offending pipe work and bolted it back in place.

We'd started out from Auckland using a Swedish rotating-watch system, which meant that each person began his or her watch at a different time each day. But that system only produced a team of tired people, so I decided to revert to the traditional merchant-ship system of watches: 2400/0400; 0400/0800; 0800/1200, and on through to midnight with two people on each watch.

Three days later, we motored out of Vava'u's winding waterways as the sudden tropical dusk draped itself over the islands behind us. Pago Pago, American Samoa, lay about 300 miles farther north. About 36 hours later, the harbormaster there directed us by VHF radio to a berth alongside the customs wharf. A gang of surly customs and immigration officers did our paperwork and relieved us of a fistful of American dollars before we moved out to anchor.

Tuna Capital

Pago Pago is the tuna cannery capital of the Pacific, and a constant stream of purse seiners and longliners clear in, discharge their catch, bunker up with fuel, and steam out again for another few months at sea. There's little spare dock space for a boat in transit.

It costs $25 U.S. to move a vessel from point to point within the harbor (from anchor to fuel berth, for example), and the only anchorage has holding ground composed of decades of fish-factory slime with a layer of plastic bags on top. In addition, it was Good Friday, and we wouldn't be able to buy fuel for another 4 days. A ragtag collection of liveaboard sailboats swung in the steamy atmosphere of the basin.

We anchored about two cables (1,200 feet) off a huge, tin shed filled with clattering diesel generators, all hard at work pumping out the amperage required to run the island. I leapt out of bed at about 0200 to drop our spare anchor as the shoreline began intruding inside the proximity-alarm ring on the radar.

So the decision was easy: Apia, in nearby Samoa, was the place for us. After 24 hours in Pago Pago, Tarapunga got under way and rolled her way across to Samoa. The only drama of the trip happened as we steamed up Samoa's northern coast at about 2130. An accumulator tank for the starboard engine turbocharger split and sprayed hot oil on the exhaust manifold. Acrid smoke billowed through the engine room as Jim, Brent and I climbed down the access ladder. We stopped the engine, removed the tank and plugged its oil-feed hose.

We fired the Cummins up again, just in time to line up the lead lights and motor through the narrow reef passage into Apia Harbor. I nosed Tarapunga up to the town wharf against a backlight of floodlighting and berthed between two island freighters about the same size as our ship.

Customs clearance was slow here, too, and Tarapunga lay at the wharf for the first 2 days of the week-long Easter holiday, with the quarantine flag flying, before we were given permission to go ashore.

The ship's two engines and a generator were sucking through her 4,750-gallon fuel tankage at about 250 gallons a day, and the 3,000 gallons we needed to top off the tanks still wouldn't be available for another 4 days while the devout Samoans observed Easter. But Apia is one of the Pacific's top spots for friendly locals and stunning scenery, so the days passed quickly. Terry left for home, and watches were reshuffled to make up for his absence.

Calm Seas Anticipated

In between, we serviced the main engines and the two Cummins generators and did some general maintenance work. The next leg, 2,400 miles to Hilo, Hawaii, was to take us about 11 days. We expected much of that to be in pooltable seas of the doldrums and light airs around the equator.

Line handlers on the wharf gave a cheery wave as we left Apia and idled out through the reef. I wound the Cummins up to cruising revs, eagerly anticipating warm days on deck under a beach umbrella and lengthy cocktail hours spent scanning the horizon for the fabled green flash that many cruisers have seen in the tropics at sunset. (We'd taken on several cases of Samoa's excellent beer, Vailima, to help in our quest.)

Murphy's Law, in maritime mode, prevailed again, though, and a few days out of Apia, at about 5 degrees south of the equator, we ran into 15 knots of northeasterly winds (which felt suspiciously like the NE trades), and carried them the whole distance to Hilo. Tarapunga butted her way into the short seas, which was slightly more comfortable than having them on the beam, but the waves that cascaded down the side decks would have washed out any dinner parties on deck, so we settled easily into our watch-and-sleep routine.

Hilo is a huge, manmade port on the east coast of Hawaii, separated from the open sea by a long, low breakwater. As we approached the entrance, Jim and Mike called home to Canada on their cell phones and alerted their families to watch our arrival on the Hilo website via a webcam that covered the harbor entrance.

Most shipping there consists of cruise ships and daily tug and barge fleets to Honolulu. Tarapunga found berthage tied stern-to to a quay in the small boat harbor, with her 80kg (176-lb.) Bruce anchor dug firmly into the harbor's muddy floor.

Or so we thought. About 24 hours later, though, a 40-knot squall ripped through the anchorage, causing almost every boat in the basin to drag anchor. Tarapunga, with her high wheelhouse windage in the bow, was no exception. It looked as though her 112 tons of steel would make fiberglass pancakes out of the fleet of cruising sailboats in her lee. Luckily, we had doubled up stern lines, and by motoring gently ahead against these, we kept her bow into the wind while we took slack in on the anchor chain and waited for the storm to abate.

Two days later, as we gingerly lifted our anchor up from amongst the anchored sailboats, it came to the surface with a 24-foot-long tree trunk stuck in its maw. With this fine example of the local flora dangling from the bow, we motored out into the main harbor where we had room to drift while we cleared it away.

Another 4,000 gallons of fuel were pumped into the tanks, and Tarapunga headed northeast once more, with only another 2,600 miles between the boat and her new home port. The wind stayed obstinately in the northeast, and the boat butted her way into it day after day, steadily clicking off the miles. We quietly thanked the top-quality construction and first-rate maintenance program that Tarapunga had enjoyed during her navy service, as the vessel and systems gave continually trouble-free service.

Neiafu was meant to be an R&R stop, and our crew members became famous for their conscientious effort to boost beer sales at the harborside Castaway Bar (cheeseburgers highly recommended), while I kept busy doing a few small repairs and maintenance needed to keep Tarapunga on track. The generator exhaust problem proved to be beyond the capability of the local engineering shop, so we bought the island's entire stock of exhaust cement, slathered it over the offending pipe work and bolted it back in place.

We'd started out from Auckland using a Swedish rotating-watch system, which meant that each person began his or her watch at a different time each day. But that system only produced a team of tired people, so I decided to revert to the traditional merchant-ship system of watches: 2400/0400; 0400/0800; 0800/1200, and on through to midnight with two people on each watch.

Three days later, we motored out of Vava'u's winding waterways as the sudden tropical dusk draped itself over the islands behind us. Pago Pago, American Samoa, lay about 300 miles farther north. About 36 hours later, the harbormaster there directed us by VHF radio to a berth alongside the customs wharf. A gang of surly customs and immigration officers did our paperwork and relieved us of a fistful of American dollars before we moved out to anchor.

Tuna Capital

Pago Pago is the tuna cannery capital of the Pacific, and a constant stream of purse seiners and longliners clear in, discharge their catch, bunker up with fuel, and steam out again for another few months at sea. There's little spare dock space for a boat in transit.

It costs $25 U.S. to move a vessel from point to point within the harbor (from anchor to fuel berth, for example), and the only anchorage has holding ground composed of decades of fish-factory slime with a layer of plastic bags on top. In addition, it was Good Friday, and we wouldn't be able to buy fuel for another 4 days. A ragtag collection of liveaboard sailboats swung in the steamy atmosphere of the basin.

We anchored about two cables (1,200 feet) off a huge, tin shed filled with clattering diesel generators, all hard at work pumping out the amperage required to run the island. I leapt out of bed at about 0200 to drop our spare anchor as the shoreline began intruding inside the proximity-alarm ring on the radar.

So the decision was easy: Apia, in nearby Samoa, was the place for us. After 24 hours in Pago Pago, Tarapunga got under way and rolled her way across to Samoa. The only drama of the trip happened as we steamed up Samoa's northern coast at about 2130. An accumulator tank for the starboard engine turbocharger split and sprayed hot oil on the exhaust manifold. Acrid smoke billowed through the engine room as Jim, Brent and I climbed down the access ladder. We stopped the engine, removed the tank and plugged its oil-feed hose.

We fired the Cummins up again, just in time to line up the lead lights and motor through the narrow reef passage into Apia Harbor. I nosed Tarapunga up to the town wharf against a backlight of floodlighting and berthed between two island freighters about the same size as our ship.

Customs clearance was slow here, too, and Tarapunga lay at the wharf for the first 2 days of the week-long Easter holiday, with the quarantine flag flying, before we were given permission to go ashore.

The ship's two engines and a generator were sucking through her 4,750-gallon fuel tankage at about 250 gallons a day, and the 3,000 gallons we needed to top off the tanks still wouldn't be available for another 4 days while the devout Samoans observed Easter. But Apia is one of the Pacific's top spots for friendly locals and stunning scenery, so the days passed quickly. Terry left for home, and watches were reshuffled to make up for his absence.

Calm Seas Anticipated

In between, we serviced the main engines and the two Cummins generators and did some general maintenance work. The next leg, 2,400 miles to Hilo, Hawaii, was to take

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