01 March 2015

Volvo Ocean Race: Anticipating the arrival to Auckland

After 22 days at sea, SCA crew member Annie Lush anticipates the team's arrival to Auckland with a mixture of excitement and nerves.

"With less than 400 miles to go to dry land, I'm anticipating new sights (as a first time NZ visitor), and most importantly a bed (oh, and a glass of wine)! The distance seems like nothing: five more watches on deck, one more night of darkness to battle through, three more freeze dried meals to endure. We've covered over 6,000 miles already on this leg from Sanya aboard our pink V65. That totals over 50,000 miles we've sailed on her, so 400 is a walk in the park, right?

It might be only 400 miles but don't be fooled, much is still to happen. As I sit here typing we're moving along nicely, pointing at Auckland at about 15 knots. But we know by nightfall this will all change. Our breeze is dying, the top of the island is going to be tricky, with currents, transitions and patches of no breeze at all (never good on a sailing boat). This means endless sail changes, no sleep and plenty of coffee required.

We still have a lot to fight for. The leaders of our fleet have stretched away, getting into the new breeze first after our exit from the doldrums, but we're expecting them to slow down before us as we approach Auckland. This gives us an opportunity with two boats in our sights that we're determined to pass before our much anticipated arrival.

The atmosphere on board is electric. People are restless, trying to grab a last few hours’ sleep but not able to settle with the knowledge of what lies ahead. It feels like we've been dreaming of this stopover forever.

We'd barely left Sanya before talk of what our arrival to Auckland might be like had begun. Will there be people doing the haka? What should we eat first? How many spectators will there be? Which bar will we go to? It was the only thing keeping us going in those first few treacherous nights, as we fought upwind through big winds and slamming seas out of China.

But as much as I long for the comforts of civilization I always have a slightly anxious feeling approaching land. We've been out here for 22 days, just us, the sea, the sky and our competitors. There's been no phone calls, no emails, no weekends, we don't even really have day and night. Life is four cycle: four hours on deck, four hours 'off' (if you're very lucky), with only thoughts of how to go faster and how to outsmart your competitors at every waking moment. There's no bills, no Facebook and no TV. The only screen I watch is the glow of our competitors’ tracks on the map. That's very rare in life.

It’s also rare to see every sunset and every sunrise for 22 days, (probably not something to aspire to if you like sleep, but it's worth it).  Each sunrise experienced on deck is magical, it's as if a great weight has been lifted and a new leash of life injected into the sleep-deprived crew. The orange glow of the lit compass numbers slowly fade and as the dark, muddling veil of night vanishes, suddenly everything becomes easier.

You can see the waves you're driving through, the trim of your sails, or even where you left your water bottle in the flurry of the night’s racing!  In contrast sunsets have a calming influence on board. On our journey we've seen many and they never fail to impress. Red slithers of sun rays cast across the sky lighting small wispy clouds and turning the sea gold.  Even dolphins jumping in the foreground, you name it we've seen it.

I often think if you were to paint these scenes or take a photo people would think you'd altered them, but it does exist and it's enchanting. That's probably why as the sun sets each day, even on our toughest days, there is a sense of euphoria on deck.

Everyone's eyes are smiling, no matter our position in the race. I guess it's because we know
that while we might be lacking sleep and real food and days off, out here in the middle of the ocean we're experiencing something very few humans have the chance to. We're the lucky ones."

Team SCA sailed into Auckland in the early hours of Sunday 1 March, only seven hours behind the winner of the leg, MAPFRE (ESP).
Visit the Team SCA gallery for all the pictures of their arrival. 

27 February 2015

Volvo Ocean Race: The highs & lows of sailing the open seas

The Volvo Ocean Race Village for the Auckland stopover of the gruelling round the world event opens in Viaduct Harbour today, with the first of the race yachts expected to sail in tomorrow. While many of us will be soaking up the sun, sounds and champagne of the Race Village in Auckland's Viaduct, for the teams taking part, there's very little downtime.

In this guest blog, Corinna the on board reporter for all-women Team SCA tells us more about the highs and lows of sailing the open ocean.

“Ex-American President, John F. Kennedy once said: ‘all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea-- whether it is to sail or to watch it-- we are going back from whence we came.’

This is a quote that feels near and dear to me. The salt water, the sea, the ocean (whatever you want call it) heals all: cuts, broken hearts, and stress.  It is a place of magical inspiration for stories-- written, photographic, or video. And the sea is a place I am extremely fortunate to go back to every day.

A life on the ocean is not necessarily easy. You are at the mercy of the elements: waves, extreme heat, extreme cold, and wind. Racing around the world is no easier - you are constantly concerned with the weather and the whereabouts of the other boats.  It's so easy to forget where you are and what beauty you're surrounded by, simply because of the competitive element. But when the days begin to blend into one, the sunsets all look the same, your position has not changed and nor has the weather, that's when the magnitude of the sea and the ocean begins to settle in. You have that: 'oh my' moment and suddenly the ocean's power makes you feel very small and insignificant. Suddenly, you feel very human.

The doldrums, or the area of no wind on either side of the equator, is the one of the best places for this. The doldrums, and the Southern Ocean. There is a stillness in the doldrums that exists nowhere else on earth - unless you know of a spot on the beach, where you can watch the sun set, are completely alone, and put ear plugs in so you don't hear a sound except your own breathing. The world stops in the doldrums - literally and figuratively. There is hardly any satellite coverage to receive news from the outside world and there is NO wind. But the doldrums, in this place of stillness, offer a place of reflection - a place of experience, to understand the ocean's beauty and power.

The Southern Ocean is the exact same, except bitterly cold and with more wind and waves than one person needs to experience in a life time! Here, you experience the ocean on another level. Instead of peaceful reflection, it's more like: knock you off your feet and get smacked in the face with all of the ocean's power behind it!

Folks we meet say we are mad to race around the world on 65ft carbon sail boats, without showers or real food, but I think we're the luckiest group of sailors on earth. Our work place is in the elements, in the force of nature, at the mercy of the ocean's powers. Some days are incredibly challenging: you're wet, cold, and tired - you want to be anywhere other than where you are currently. But that's when it's vital to stop and think outside the 65ft carbon racing machine and really see, feel, and experience your surroundings.

The salt on your skin may sting and create a nasty rash with time, except it is healing what's below the surface: a stressful day’s racing, a bad position report, missing family, a nasty cloud that sucks all the wind. The salt water cures everything - problems disappear and allow you to really enjoy what could be miserable experience. The ocean opens up your heart and allows you to feel. JFK was correct when he said we are a part of the sea, because without it, without the opportunity to see and experience the world on such a powerful magnitude, I know I personally would feel lost and incomplete. And if you don't agree, then go for a swim in the ocean as soon as possible and experience the sea's unleashed power!"

Keep up to date with the crew's progress on the Team SCA website.

Find out what's happening at the Volvo Ocean Race Village for the Auckland stopover.

Images courtesy of Team SCA.

13 February 2015

Sweet Kathleen: a love story for Valentine's Day

This Valentine’s Day we've chosen one of the most romantic objects from the Museum's collection to share with you – a Merchant Navy sweetheart brooch – and like a good Valentine’s Day card its origins are a little obscure.

This brooch is made of silver and enamel, and bears the insignia of the Merchant Navy. It has been customised with the addition of a woman’s name, ‘Kathleen’ and a pin so she could wear it proudly on her jacket for all to see. Who Kathleen was (or is) and the identity of her sweetheart is unknown, but this small token of affection still has stories to tell.
Merchant Navy sweetheart brooch,
New Zealand Maritime Museum (2007.108.3)

Brooches like these were especially popular in wartime, given by men serving in the armed forces to their loved ones – girlfriends, sisters and mums included – as tokens of love and remembrance.

Worn with pride, (just like Mrs Balfour is doing in the photo below) these brooches were symbols of love, support and personal sacrifice. They always bore the insignia of the regiment the soldier or seaman was serving with, and were usually personalised in some way. Many, like this one, are completely unique.

Our sweetheart brooch also tells a story of the Merchant Navy – a symbolic title for the diverse collection of ships and sailors responsible for transporting men and supplies across the oceans during wartime at great personal risk.

As a civilian force, they usually didn't wear a uniform - only their ‘MN’ badge identified them. Their work took them right to the front lines of battle and many vessels and men were lost.

The bestower of this brooch may have been one of the several thousand New Zealanders who served with the Merchant Navy in World War II.  Perhaps he was among the 140 who lost their lives. The Maritime Museum hosts ‘Merchant Navy Day’ every September to celebrate their incredible contribution.

Mrs H B Balfour wearing a Merchant Navy sweetheart badge. 
Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1955/1309-F. 
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 

Neill Atkinson, ‘Hell or High Water: New Zealand Merchant Seafarers Remember the War’, HarperCollins, 2005

09 February 2015

Waitangi Day: a brief history of NZ

The celebration of Waitangi Day is intertwined with the stories of migration across the seas to Aotearoa New Zealand, and the Museum’s galleries tell that story.

The voyages of discovery of Polynesian and European explorers and the immigrants who followed them are the stories of those who loved the sea and whose livelihoods saw them living and working on the water. You can also see the conditions aboard an immigrant ship – and appreciate the endurance test of this mode of travel and the relief of arriving on New Zealand’s shores.

Until road and rail networks were completed in the 20th century, waterways were the highways of New Zealand. Travel by boat was a crucial part of the transport network for both Māori and Pakeha.

In 1840 after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the establishment of the first capital in the Bay of Islands, Governor Hobson realised that a more accessible site was needed for the centre of his administration.

Auckland was chosen 175 years ago and it’s easy to see why. The Waitemata Harbour connected the settlers with the east coast. A short walk to the Manukau Harbour linked the town with the West Coast. Access to the Waikato River to the south provided key links to inland Māori settlements.

Trade, travel and recreation on the sea is still crucial to this country today, whether it is a ferry ride between the more than 600 islands which make up New Zealand, the movement of more than 90% of the nation’s cargo or as one of the thousands of Kiwis who love to get in on or under the waters of Aotearoa New Zealand.