Even after travelling through the South Pacific,
New Zealand's Bay of Islands is a standout cruising destination with many sheltered anchorages,
walking trails to viewpoints, and several nearby towns for provisioning or enjoying a
in the Bay of Islands, was our first landing in New Zealand
1,200-mile run from
The crossing has a reputation for rough seas, but we had a pretty easy run between two low pressure systems. New
Zealand has strict biosecurity regulations, and entry there was the most
difficult of every country we've travelled to in the South Pacific. But it
wasn't as bad as we were expecting.
We knew that we couldn't bring in any fresh produce, but had heard
rumours that Quarantine would take our flour, rice and even spices. They
mainly, however, confiscated any honey, ginger, garlic, eggs of any form
(powdered, cooked or fresh), popcorn kernels and any meats (cooked or raw) not
in their original packaging. We were surprised to able to keep some
USDA-approved meat from Hawaii. The most difficult aspect of clearing through,
of course, was having to
put our cat Spitfire into quarantine. He's never spent a night off
the boat since we took delivery, and Dirona felt empty without him.
They took good care if him though, and he was back on board in ten days. Spitfire is now an official New Zealand resident, and can
stay longer then we can.
After clearing through, we spent a few days exploring and reprovisioning at the
nearby towns of
Russell, and enjoying the water-view pubs and restaurants there.
We also explored the Paihia area by dinghy, to
Haruru Falls along the Waitangi River and suprisingly far up the
We later spent a few nights anchored in and exploring the Bay of Island proper.
The New Zealand Department of Conservancy maintains excellent walking tracks
throughout the country. We're really enjoying the tracks here--the scenery and
views they provide access to are amazing.
And about 25 miles north of the Bay of Islands is Whangaroa Harbor, with excellent protected anchorages and
even more impressive views from several tracks.
The picture at the top of this post was taken from
Duke's Nose while we were anchored at
Rere Bay. The pictures below
were taken from
Whangaihe Bay and
St. Paul's Rock.
Click the travel log icon on the left to see these locations and more on a map,
with the complete log of our trip through the Bay of Islands.
On the map page, clicking on a camera or text icon will display a picture and/or log entry for that location, and clicking on the smaller icons along the route will display latitude, longitude and other navigation data for that location. And a live map of our current route and most recent log entries always is available at
One of our
eight Lifeline AGM GPL-8DL batteries recently went into
thermal runaway, and we've had
a few questions on the nature of the problem and why we chose to replace the
full house battery bank.
The lazarette smoke/CO alarm had gone off at 3am, and upon investigating we found a rotten egg smell
(hydrogen gas) and a lot of heat in the lazarette, with water dripping from the ceiling. We dug around a bit more and found two batteries
were at 170F on the outside of the case, and probably well over 300F inside. A normal battery temperature on our boat is around 80F. Two of the
batteries were boiling their electrolytes out--one of our eight batteries had gone into thermal runaway and taken its pair with it.
A nice Nordhavn design feature is to have battery isolation switches for every pair of batteries. We can turn a switch
to isolate the failed pair, and the boat continues to operate fine, just with less
house battery capacity. That night, we turned off battery pair #3,
the batteries were cooling, and went back to bed. The following morning they were still
at 131F. One question sent to us was what if that had happened at sea? We would
probably have seen it sooner with more frequent engine room and lazarette
checks, but otherwise there would be no difference: we'd just turn off the
battery pair isolation switch.
All our chargers are multi-step smart chargers. They go
through three phases: 1) bulk charge where current is as high as can be
delivered and the voltage rises as charge goes up until it hits a max of 28.6V,
2) absorption where the voltage is held constant at 28.6V and current drops as
the battery gets more full, and 3) float where the voltage is maintained at
26.6V. These voltages are assuming 77F batteries.
The battery problem occurred while on float charge.
Thermal runaway can occur in most battery types including flooded lead acid, valve regulated lead acid, and even non-lead/acid designs such as Lithium-Ion. The general condition is when increased temperature cause more energy to be released which yields yet more temperature and a feedback loop develops. In flooded lead acid batteries, this can be caused by plate warping or plate material sulfating, and sloughing off to the bottom of the battery. The warpage or sloughed off plate material can cause a plate-to-plate connection, which generates heat, which leads to more warpage, more current, and more heat. Absorbed Glass Matt
(AGM) batteries like our Lifelines are not prone to plate shorting from sloughed off plate material, and plate warpage causing shorts is not a common fault, but they still can suffer from thermal runaway. Fortunately, it’s not a very common failure mode. Usually batteries just get old, lose capacity, and quietly fade away. But, thermal runaway does happen and, when it does, the energy released is somewhere between amazing and scary.
Dirona's Lifeline AGM batteries are rated for 1,100 cycles down to no
less than 50% charge. They have seen far more than that, so we were getting
close to replacement time anyway. We could just change the two damaged batteries
since the rest continue to operate fine. But, with the use they have had, the
bank was due for replacement some time back. We expected that we'd need to
change them in Hawaii, but they tested fine at that time
Midtronics MIDMDX-640 Digital Battery Analyzer).
We now need eight Lifeline GPL-8DL batteries that list for a booming $8,264.
And they are 156 lbs each, which each means we'll be changing a half ton of
With one string of two batteries disabled, we are down to 75% capacity but otherwise there is no change.
So fortunately we don't need to be in a rush to replace them.
Last Friday we hauled out at Norsand Boatyard in Whangarei, New Zealand for bottom paint, zinc replacement and other minor work. This was the first time Dirona has been lifted on a rail-trailer, where the boat is pulled ashore while it rests on a track-mounted trailer. All other times we've used a TravelLift, that lifts and carries the boat on two straps around the hull. TravelLifts are much faster for the yard, but the rail-trailer might be easier on big heavy trawlers in that the weight is more evenly distributed along the keel, and the sides of the boat don't take load. And there was an incident a few years ago where a Nordhavn 47 was destroyed when the TravelLift sling parted durin the lift. This isn't a design failure with the TravelLift, but it shows no lift mechanism is without risk. Having experienced both haulout systems, either appears to work well with experienced operators.
The haul-out area is tide-constrained, so much so that when we explored the area by dinghy at low tide, we couldn't find more than 1.7' of water. All haul-outs are done at high tide. We first tied off to a small dock below the ramp, where the Norsand crew ran lines ashore bow and aft. The wind was blowing 25 knots, so they held one the upwind stern line with a forklift.
With the lines in place, we moved the boat forward into the trailer-mounted cradle that Norsand had pre-prepared to match our hull. Once Dirona was in the cradle, some final adjustments were made to ensure a secure hold, including adding some blocks on each side.
At that point, everyone disembarked and the trailer was pulled slowly up the ramp. The entire assembly is pulled up using a hydraulic winch the size of a car, which began life on the back of a tugboat running the tow line. The power for the winch comes from the wheel loader you can see below. The hydraulic pump on the wheel loader drives the winch. The second picture below is looking towards the winch from the trailer after the while loader has moved away.
Here's a video photo sequence of the entire process:
Vanuatu, a small country in the South Pacific previously known as New Hebrides, is home to the world's most accessible active volcano. Mount Yasur, pictured at the top and bottom of this post, regularly erupts in a fireshow that is amazing to experience firsthand.
From Fiji, we travelled 475 miles southwest to Analgawhat in Vanuatu, our furthest point south so far in Dirona. We landed at Analgawhat mainly because it was a convenient place to clear through in order to visit Yasur Volcano to the north. But we quite liked the anchorage and ended up staying for five nights. Several villages are strung along shore at the anchorage, connected by a foot path. Some more modern construction techniques were in use. But many of the buildings, particularly the homes, were in the traditional style. As in French Polynesia, all the yards and pathways were well-kept, and many with nice gardens.
You'd think Analgawhat would be a secluded and little-known place, but in fact 6,000 people visited while we were there. They came to tour nearby Mystery Island from the cruise ships Pacific Dawn, Carnival Spirit, and Pacific Pearl. We walked ashore there pre-cruise-ship--well-tended walking trails circled and crossed the island, with frequent interpretive signs. Overall, the infrastructure was quite tastefully done.
After Analgawhat, we visited Yasur Volcano on Tanna Island, then spent a few days on Erromango Island. We stopped first at Dillon's Bay on the west shore. There we did an excellent dive right off the boat, and explored the area by dinghy, including going up William's River.
Dozens of trails crisscrossed the area At Ponomias Bay on the north end of Erromango Island. We followed one that was reasonably well-trod and climbed up steeply, hoping for a view down into the anchorage. We couldn't get near our cove, or the water even, but did get some nice views across the island.
Our final stop in Vanuautu was at the capitol, Port Vila, our furthest point west in Dirona. There we got cellular connectivity, prepared for the run to New Zealand, and sampled a number of the city's restaurants.
The Iririki Resort near our anchorage had an pretty decent fire dancer show:
But the real fire show in Vanuatu was Yasur Volcano on Tanna Island. The half-hour truck ride to the volcano with other boaters from our anchorage at Port Resolution was an adventure in itself. The road was narrow, bumpy and steep, with sections nearly washed away in places:
Yasur is the world's most accessible active volcano--its hard to imagine being much closer to one and living to tell about it.
Both calderas erupted often as we were there, tossing up large globules of bright orange molten lava. In the explosion sequence below, if you look not particularly carefully, you might be amazed at how close to us the molten lava is landing. We certainly were.
It's incredible to be standing on the edge of a caldera of molten lava that every minute or so explodes and shoots lava hundreds of feet over your head.
As night fell, the erupting volcano became an incredible fireworks display. We thought seeing the lava flows close-up on the Big Island in Hawaii was impressive, but this completely topped it.
||Click the travel log icon on the left to see these locations and more on a map, with the complete log of our trip through Vanuatu.
On the map page, clicking on a camera or text icon will display a picture and/or log entry for that location, and clicking on the smaller icons along the route will display latitude, longitude and other navigation data for that location. And a live map of our current route and most recent log entries always is available at http://www.mvdirona.com/maps/LocationCurrent.html.
From Yadua Island, we visited Namena Marine Reserve and Makogai Island on the eastern edge of Bligh Waters. We stopped first at Namena for three nights and dove several times. Namena has some of the best diving in Fiji. The hard and soft coral life was amazing, in particular Dendronephthya in all colors of the rainbow. And the visibility was on par with the Tuamotus.
But the real standout for us at Namena was a dive site along the outer reef called Grand Central, pictured with a dive group at the top of this post. The reef wall there goes straight down for several hundred feet. Even with the excellent visibility, we still couldn't see the bottom. It was clear how the site got its name: thousands of fish swarmed the wall, ranging from large pelagics to tiny reef-dwellers.
This video shows a huge school of Jacks swimming past us off the wall at Grand Central:
A little south of Namena, Makogai Island is home of a mariculture facility that breeds giant clams and sea turtles. We presented sevusevu (a gift of Kava root) to the head of the Mariculture Centre, who did a brief acceptance ceremony and gave us a tour of the grounds. The facility grows clams and turtles in shoreside tanks until they are large enough to be placed in the wild to repopulate Fiji's reefs.
Makogai Island was a leper colony from the early 1900s until 1969. Over 5,000 people lived there in a substantial settlement now mostly in ruins. The first picture below is the remains of the projection room for the colony's cinema. The graveyard in the second picture below is one of several on the island--the graves reach way up the hill. In the foreground is the grave of one of the French missinaries who worked at the colony.
Partway along the trail from the mariculture center to the island's native village, we found a bluff with excellent views into our anchorage and the main anchorage off the mariculture center.
And we had an excellent dive just outside the entry channel through the island's barrier reef. The visibility was quite good, with plenty of fish and healthy hard and soft coral life:
||Click on the image at left for a live map-based version of our complete trip log through Fiji.
On the live-map page, clicking on a camera or text icon will display a picture and/or log entry for that location, and clicking on the smaller icons along the route will display latitude, longitude and other navigation data for that location. And a live map of our current route and most recent log entries always is available at http://www.mvdirona.com/maps/LocationCurrent.html.