Pacific voyager calls into Golden Bay
Currently berthed in the Tarakohe marina and hard to miss is the tall ship Alvei.
The gaff rigged, three-masted main-topsail schooner registered in Port Vila is undergoing its annual maintenance and provisioning in Golden Bay before it departs in mid-April on another round of Pacific adventures.
This time it will be a four week voyage to Fiji where it will spend two months island hopping before heading to Vanuatu for another two months and finally to Brisbane where it will be slipped to have its three yearly scrape and repaint of its hull.
Captain Evan Logan goes with this ship which has been his life mission since he bought it for 100,000 Krona (around US$13,000) in Norway in 1987.
Built in Montrose, Scotland, in 1920, the 38m-long steel ship had in its early life served as a herring drifter and minesweeper in the North Sea before ending up in the Norwegian fjords dredging sand for construction.
When Logan bought it after getting the hull sonic tested, it was not a sailing ship but rather sported a rear superstructure and a low pressure hydraulic tripod mast and boom. To say his plan to transform it into a sailing ship was ambitious is a massive understatement.
He recalls; "I thought maybe I'd spend $US150,000 and take two years. It ended up $228,000 and eight years. Looking back, I didn't quite appreciate what I'd got myself into."
The first part involved gathering materials around Scandinavia, including milling all the deck construction timber and cutting down the fir trees selected for the upper masts.
All the work got carried out tied up to a wharf in the river town of Vila Nova de Gaia in Portugal, just across the Rio Douro river from Oporto.
Logan spread his dream and got helped by a core group of enthusiasts and supporters, around a 100 of them in all over the 8-year "transformation" period. Some of these remain paid-up shareholders in the ship legally owned by a non-profit sailing co-operative.
The job for them all was massive. Twenty tonnes of railway iron ballast had to be added internally, another 15 tonnes added externally as a new ballast keel.
Essentially the whole ship got stripped back and remade from the hold up. Whole new steel lower masts and steps for them had to be attached.Everything below decks including six double berth cabins and four saloon berths plus Captain's Cabin had to be configured and a new deck put over.
It's 22m to the top of the main mast, and all the maze of synthetic rope rigging was configured by Logan. One feature of the ship is the strongly raked-back masts, a feature he personally chose because "it looks and performs better like that". The Alvei's auxiliary engine is a thumping 160Hp 2-cycle twin cylinder Wichmann diesel which is used for tight manoeuvring and coming in and out of ports.
Since coming out to the Pacific in 1997 the Alvei has mostly operated on a half yearly schedule, island hopping for around six months and laid up the rest when it undergoes essential maintenance, refitting and re-provisioning.
Rolling crews (maximum 16) are recruited mostly through the boat's website on the Internet (www.alvei.org). Logan's first crew member for the coming trip arrived this week.
The arrangement is that crew pay their own way, around US$300 per week during the sailing season, all food included, which goes down to just US$100 when the ship is laid up in port for maintenance.
After serving 11 months all ongoing charges are waived. The age of crew recruited to date ranges from late teens to 76. Some crew members come on as specialists in their field.
Aid missions, contracted to the likes of Project MARC (Medical Aid to Remote Communities) and GVI (Global Vision International), now provide a firm focus for the voyages. Medical participation is by the use of doctors, dentists and nurses who come along, and helping out with health infrastructure including clean water and sanitary waste projects.
The ship has become well known around the islands on its visits.
Logan obviously runs a benevolent yet tight ship, inducting every crew member in sail training and other tasks such as tarring of the rigging before they get assigned to a more experienced crew member. As new crew come on board, it all falls into place.
When they are sailing, three or preferably four crew are rostered to do watches four hours on and eight hours off, around the clock. Coming back from Vanuatu last February took 62 days, a voyage which was completed with only four crew, but that was relatively hard work compared to sharing tasks around a full complement crew.
Even raising the anchor with the manual windlass can take six people an hour. But there's also time to kick back. In a 17 minute promotional video filmed in Nelson, crew member Kim talks about the best place to hang out is on the net under the protruding bowsprit where you can "watch the sea and the dolphins go past." For most, sailing on the Alvei is the experience of a lifetime.
Logan chose Tarakohe to lay up this year because berthing fees are nearer to half what they are in Nelson which is around $50 a day there now for a ship the size of the Alvei. "Only a couple of years back it was $50 a week, it's happening everywhere, it determines where we end up in many ways."
After sifting through two big photo albums, one the saga of the ship and another all the peopIe who have sailed on it, I leave Logan to his work, on an angle grinder reshaping a new plate of steel which he will later bend perfectly to fit with a 20 tonne jack. It's the same one he used back in Portugal for bending all his steel plates and beams when he was transforming the boat.
Before he got the sailing bug this versatile and very able-bodied ex-Californian was a sculptor, glassblower and teacher of his arts. He gave up that life to spend seven years circumnavigating the world as a crew member on the three masted gaff top sail schooner Sofia.
"By the time I got to Tahiti, that was it! I was hooked. After the Sofia I went and bought the Alvei and here I am now. One thought I share with my crew is that life is a learning experience and that's why we are here."
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