Semper Gumby

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Opua, New Zealand

So there we were (doesn’t every great story start that way?) in Coff’s Harbour and little did we know that this would be the end of our Australian East Coast Adventure.

We were doing a bit of work at a hostel in exchange for accommodation, deciding what our next move was going to be and looking at the boats available on  Huh.  Imagine that!  There was a boat in New Zealand looking for a couple of crew to help deliver it to Australia!  We got in touch with the owner, who was willing to pay us to fly out to his boat so he could get it delivered to a transport ship in Brisbane and sent back home to the US.

He seemed like a decent guy on the phone and since he paid for the flight, we decided to take a risk and were off back to New Zealand!

And it was awesome because on our Air New Zealand flight we got to see yet again why those Kiwis should teach seminars on branding and advertising.

Thanks to The Telegraph & Air New Zealand for the best safety video we’ve ever seen!

We met the boat in Opua, New Zealand which is way up on the North Island tucked up in what is known as The Bay of Islands.  To us this was the mythical land of New Zealand’s best protected cruising grounds.  Despite covering a solid 75% of the country on our great kiwi roadtrip we’d never been up there, but the stories we heard made it out to be an amazing place.  Once we got there we began to understand why.  It has everything the recreational sailor needs – grog, groceries, gear, greenery and gregarious people!  Give a sailor a port that meets all these needs and they’ll be a happy camper…or sailor…whatever.

(Tiffany actually wrote that last line and it is of endless amusement to Greg that she, being who she is and where this was, failed to mention the main thing…gratuitous amounts of warm weather.)

Opua is both a beautiful (if a tad chilly 😉 place to be and one that has everything you need to outfit a cruising boat for a long haul.

One other thing that Opua had that we didn’t previously realize was a cruising yacht club.  As we walked around the docks, we saw people and boats that we recognized from our trip across the Pacific – we must have counted at least 6 boats that we knew well, and quite a few more that had names we recognized from radio conversations.  It was amazing!  It felt so strange to be back amongst these same people after we’d been out of the community for 6 months, but it was great to catch up again.  Part of the reason so many of them were in Opua at that time is because they were all headed back up to the Pacific Islands with the changing of the seasons.  Like we said, boats move in flocks.  Most of the boats were joining in the Micronesia Rally.  It’s a 6 month trip that happens each year and visits different places each time.  Had we known about it sooner, we may very well have headed out to Opua to look for a ride on one of the yachts making the trip.

Unfortunately for everyone in Opua who was planning to depart (such as our boat owner and the entire rally fleet) a big nasty storm was coming down the coast of New Zealand, and we all had to wait it out.  For us, it just meant that the delivery location of our yacht had to change.  For the rally fleet, it had a much greater impact.

When boats go on a long, multi-day offshore passage they want to have adequate crew onboard.  Boats under 50 feet can usually get away with just 2 people on board, but it can be a pretty grueling trip.  Especially when we’re talking about the far South Pacific Ocean which is not always known for being calm and friendly.  (Our friends on S/V PROXIMITY told us that the NZ/Tonga run was the most extreme trip of their sailing lives.)  So most people like to have a few extra hands on board to help stand watches so everyone can enjoy the passage more.  Therein how the whole “volunteer crewing thing” actually works in the first place.

The difficulty comes in when the majority of the people that get recruited for the journey have jobs to return to and plane tickets home from their anticipated final destination.  This can be a problem when the weather doesn’t cooperate.  We spent 2 weeks in longer in Opua than we originally planned and by the time we took our boat south to an alternate location, the rally was still waiting for a good weather window to head north.  Boats were losing people left and right and unhappy crew were having to cancel flights they would never make in Tonga or head off back to work after sitting at the dock for days.  We’re not sure how many boats were scrambling for crew at the last minute, but it was definitely happening.

Lesson here for all of you looking to do the volunteer crew thing:

Be flexible!

Freedom of time is critical when working with a boat.  Never set your plans on a precise schedule and always leave room for the unexpected.  Booking flights departing the day after your boat is supposed to be in port is a finically high risk activity.  Two weeks is a pretty exceptional delay but as you can see, such things occasionally happen.  If you are working on a limited time frame have a bail out plan ready to go or at least some travel insurance to watch your back.

On the other side of the equation, our flexibility is what landed us this particular job in the first place.  The owner’s main question for us was “can you be on a flight tomorrow?”  When we said, “sure” we got handed the job.  In the world of volunteer crewing a lot of opportunities happen exactly like that.  One of the crew we knew in La Cruz, MX was stressed because he hadn’t found a ride.  The very next day we heard he had met someone looking for a crewman, agreed, and was already underway to Tahiti.

While we don’t recommend jumping into something you’re unsure of and do insist that before accepting a boat you’re always absolutely positive of your own safety, you also need to be prepared to make decisions quickly.  You need to be prepared to leap on opportunity but unconcerned about waiting for the right thing.  It’s a delicate balance.

For those of you wondering about the title of this article, it comes from the unofficial motto of the US Coast Guard (and, we’ve found, most of the rest of the US military).

Thanks to, who evidently contest that Gumby is a leatherneck…

Sometimes you hurry up, sometimes you wait…and sometimes you hurry up to wait out the weather.

The upshot of all this rain was we finally managed to find a place that made some decent Mexican food in this country…the illustrious Burger Fuel!

You know what, if the Mexican joints over here think burritos are supposed to be squares at least the burger joints make up for it by making their burgers taste like tacos…

Return to how to crew page


About the authors

Greg and Tiffany are traveling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures.  If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, 3-day delays for wine tastings, getting pooped on by seagullsopening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out!


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