Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


 September 3:

 

      One of the hardest parts about living on a boat is the lack of pets.  There are a few sailors out there who keep a cat or a small dog onboard, but the customs regulations that one must follow regarding bringing an animal into a country can be daunting...and they change with every country.  New Zealand and Australia are particularly harsh:  all imported pets must be quarantined for 6 months to make sure they aren't bringing in diseases like rabies.  The owner must pay for regular monthly inspections by a veterinarian and the animal can't leave the boat until the period is over!  These issues are only compounded by our propensity to fly home for months at a time.  How could we leave a family member behind?  How could we go through a quarantine all over again when we return?

      So despite being militant dog lovers, Uliad's crew has not picked up any strays on our journey.  That is if you don't count a gecko that appeared in Panama and graciously ate insects all the way to French Polynesia where I presume he jumped ship sometime while we were in the boat yard in Raiatea.

      Lately, Emmett has been getting his pet fix at the marina.  There have been three different dogs on other boats and Em has so far managed to wheedle dog walking/pet sitting jobs out of at least two owners.  And then there are the geese. 

      Riverside Drive Marina seems to have two unofficial mascots:  a pair of grey geese who nest in the bushes around the parking lot.  Now geese mate for life and the funny thing about this pair is that they're both female.  Yes, lesbian geese.  I wonder what Pat Robertson would say about that?  Anyway, they were here last October when we arrived and they're still here when we came back.  One laid a clutch of eggs and sat on them for a good month or so, but being "unfertilized", nothing ever hatched.  The other mother goose took her role equally serious of being the man of the house by loudly honking and flapping to chase away any cars that tried to park too close to the nest.  The owner of the marina shook his head and muttered about this happening every year.

      Anyway, these geese looked pretty dumb to me, at least with regards to junior high biology, but lately I've been changing my opinion.  Emmett and Kathleen have given them names (Cocoa and Latte) and fed them stale breadcrumbs on a few occasions.  Well it took them about twice before they learned that the big blue boat has food, so they started making a nuisance of themselves by swimming up and making a bunch of racket every time they got hungry.  So I finally went up and waved my arms and tried to chase them off a few times.

      Now they've figured out that, to get the bread crumbs, they have to keep it down.  So they swim over and tap their beaks against the stern of the boat, then politely wait for Em to bring up some bread.  And they've started eating it out of his hand.  So although Emmett has no pets of his own, the geese seem to be getting closer every day.  I don't know what the customs regulations are like for trying to bring a pair of lesbian geese across international borders, but it sure would be a hoot to see the look on that customs official's face when the question was asked, wouldn't it?  (JOKING!  We are NOT taking these geese with us!)   

Emmett's new pets: Cocoa and Latte

 

September 5:

     Since we're planning to stay and explore New Zealand for a while, there has been a natural inclination to start making all sorts of little connections to shore life here.  It started with library cards, then a video store membership.  Before long we were looking into a second cell phone plan and a second hand car. 

      I'll admit this is all a bit unsettling to me.  I love the freedom that the sailing life brings...the idea of being unconnected and ready to head for the horizon as soon as this place loses its shine of newness.  And I know from experience how every little connection will at some point become a complication that blocks us from untying those dock lines.

      Perhaps I exaggerate.

      Anyway, we went looking for a secondhand car, rationalizing that we were here to travel the countryside and explore New Zealand, and it would be cheaper and give us MORE freedom to explore if we had our own car.  But inside I worry that those 10 minute bike rides to the grocery store or those family walks to the library will suddenly seem inconveniently far when our own car is sitting right there in the marina parking lot.  I can feel myself getting back in better shape from this healthy car-free life of the past month, will it all end?

      Now car shopping in New Zealand is a bit different than in the US.  There are still a few used car lots and newspaper ads around, but most used cars are sold quickly and conveniently through auctions.  The process works like this.  A seller brings his car to the auction house, and is given an estimated value.  For a few hundred dollars the auction house puts the car on their lot, shines it up and lets folks test drive it for a few days.  Then on Saturday at noon, the car gets auctioned off to the highest bidder.  The seller can set a reserve price and if it's not met, it goes back on the lot for the next auction. 

      The other nice thing about buying a used car here is that every vehicle must get inspected every 6 months or so to be issued a "Warrant of Fitness".  So this gives you some reassurance that even a very old car has been maintained to a reasonable degree of safety and probably has working brakes, etc.  So Kathleen and I went around to several auction lots in town this week and took a few test drives before coming up with a plan as to which cars we'd try to bid on and how much we were willing to spend.  Then on Saturday morning, she left it to me to bicycle all the way across town to attend the auction.

      About a half-mile before I got there, the back tire on my bike got puncture by a nail, so I had to walk it the rest of the way.  Now I was really motivated to win the auction--I sure didn't want to walk all the way back!!  So there were a couple of cars there that we were interested in: older sedans with plenty of room for road tripping and a decent size engine to get up all these hills.  But at the last minute, I decided that a third car was worth another look.

      We had been told that it was wise to buy a Japanese or Korean car here, because spare parts were much cheaper than ones shipped all the way from Europe or the USA.  So that's why we had our eyes on a Nissan and a Holden (which is a General Motors model made in Australia).  But for about the same price there was an old BMW 525 sedan sitting next to them that also looked pretty good to me.  We never gave it a second look when we were test driving, but now with a flat tire on my bicycle I thought a back up plan was in order.  I lost the auction on the Holden when the price went above our plan.  Next up was the BMW.  Should I bid?  Or wait for the Nissan to go on the block?  What would Kathleen say if I come home with a car that wasn't part of the agreed plan?

      Nobody was bidding on the BMW.  Nobody at all.  Finally the price had dropped to what seemed absurdly cheap for me so I put in a bid.  Now someone else took courage and raised me.  Damn!  I raised the bid.  He raised.  I raised again.  He bid an amount equal to what Kathleen and I had said would be our max...  Oooh.  Now what?  I rationalized the cost of a cab if I didn't buy a car today and raised him another $100.

Our new car...

      Next think I knew, I was driving home in a BMW with my bicycle in the trunk.  And so far Kathleen has been a good sport about it, saying that she likes it.  It's got a few rattles.  It's got a lot of miles.  But like the paint on our mast, it looks great from 20 feet away.  So hopefully it will last another 6 months without needing any spare parts or I'm sure I'll be getting an "I told you so." 

 

 

September 10:

     I've been spending the past few weeks wading through bureaucracy.  This all started months ago with my initial inquiries into getting a medical license here.  This led to request after request for more information and verification from the New Zealand medical authorities.  I suppose it doesn't help that I've moved around so much in the past few years.  Now a simple request like: "have each licensing authority that has credentialed you in the last ten years send us a certificate of good standing..." now required me to contact the Medical Board of 4 different states and ask each of them to send a letter to New Zealand.  So after all that, letters of reference, offers of employment, work history forms, and on and on my application was complete.  And then it was referred to a second committee for further evaluation.  It seems that my lack of full-time employment for the past few years kept me out of the fast track.

     Finally, it all got done and I was declared eligible for licensure and invited to schedule the final step in the process:  a personal interview.  So my soon-to-be employer was kind enough to arrange this for me on the same day as my appointment with the Immigration Officials to get my work visa.  And after verifying everything through letter after letter, they now asked that I bring my original medical school diploma and board certificate to the interview for them to examine.  Well.  First of all, my diploma is professionally mounted in a frame that must be at least two feet across, and it's buried in my brother's basement back in the USA.  So fortunately they offered as an alternative that if my original diploma was destroyed, lost or "unavailable", an original letter from your medical school would suffice.  They also wanted those "certificates of good standing" from all 4 states at the interview, but after confirming that they were already sent directly to the New Zealand Medical Council many weeks ago, I was OK to interview without them.

     So finally I got the original letter confirming my diploma FedEx'ed from the University of Minnesota, made it to my appointment, filled out a form and was handed a small booklet about the medical system in New Zealand.  "Home free!!", I thought.   The day after the interview I got word that those "certificates of good standing" were required to be issued within 90 days of my interview and since the Medical Council had requested them from me months ago, two of them were now 4 days out of date, so could I please have new ones sent before my license to practice here would be issued.  All this for a part time job at an Urgent Care Clinic!!

     Fortunately at this point, the representatives from the clinic where I was to start work were even more indignant than I and started making phone calls and asking to speak to supervisors.  By the end of the day it was agreed that no more documents were required and my credentials would be issued.

     So now I'm all set to put on work clothes again tomorrow morning and start orienting to my new job at the White Cross clinic here in Whangarei.  I have mixed emotions about it.  On one hand, I'm excited to learn more about another country's medical system, and glad to be adding some money to the piggy bank to help pay for more sailing.  And of course I really do love being a doctor.  But there is a part of me that stands here befuddled and feeling a bit short changed.  What happened to this year's cruising season?  Why am I working again already?  And why are we not on some tropical beach by now sipping cold drinks under a palm tree.  I guess we'll get there.  The cruising life, like getting a New Zealand Medical License, takes a bit of perseverance at times.

 

September 15:

     Made it through my first few days of work at the medical clinic here in New Zealand.  Monday morning I managed to get up to an alarm clock, put on some respectable clothes, and get to work on time like the rest of the world.  How quickly one comes to appreciate not...

Off to my first day of work

      It is definitely different working in a country with "socialized medicine".  I've always been a big proponent of some form of universal health care in the USA.  It just seems too unjust and unnecessary that in America, the most common cause of personal bankruptcy is the unfortunate fact that someone got sick or injured.  It seems wasteful that there is so much litigation over workmen's compensation, medical errors, and accidental injury.

     On the other hand, it has been a bit of a shock to be thrown into the antithesis.  New Zealand has universal government sponsored health insurance, as well as universal accident insurance.  If I twist my knee or get hit by a bus while walking to the clinic, all my medical care is fully covered.  If the bus driver was grossly negligent, the government is tasked to get after him, but there will be no need for me to sue for any loss (in fact I can't).  A portion of my lost wages will be covered, as well as all the necessary rehabilitation, wheelchairs, whatever...  Of course not everything is covered by the government plan.  As a primary care doctor, there are a whole list of medications I can't prescribe, even when they're clearly indicated.  I have to refer to a specialist...and an appointment with them may take 6 months to get.  If that twisted knee keeps bothering me, my family doctor can't order a CT scan...the only scanner in the government system is at the hospital and only the specialists on staff there can order them.   It will take many months for me to get an appointment with the orthopedist, and then quite a few weeks after that to get in for an MRI of that pesky knee.  Of course if you're willing to pay cash, or have private insurance, all these barriers drop immediately.  You can have it all done today.

     The clinic where I work is adequate, but certainly nothing fancy.  Not like the US where clinics compete for business and constantly strive to have a fancier, more high-tech, brand-spankin' new building to attract more business.   Here it seems, every doctor is as busy as he/she wants to be, because lots of New Zealand's doctors go abroad where the pay is better.

     But as difficult as it is to tell a patient that according to the government approved protocol for your condition, you should go home and just wait for this pain to pass...and if it hasn't gone away after 14 days then we can get you to a specialist to get that test done...  I still can't argue the fact that you never see a sign on the wall here for a pancake feed to raise money for some little girl's cancer treatments.  And nobody's losing their home because they couldn't pay the hospital bill.  And the odd thing is, people really seem to accept that the trade off is that, in health care, they can't have everything.  Are New Zealander's just different that way?  Or is the American health care consumer just taught to presume that they can and should have everything with no pain, no waiting, no risk,  no matter what the cost?  This promises to be interesting.

 

 

September 17:

     Today marks 4 years now since, as the old song goes, 'I left a good job in the city, workin' for the man every night and day.'  People often ask, and I've never regretted it for a minute.  Well, OK, once and a while I wish I still had a big salary that allowed us to waste money on frivolous things.  But for the most part I've come to understand that money can't buy time, and in the end, time is all we have.  I'm happy to be dividing it up amongst the things I love most.

    In the past 4 years, Uliad has travelled over 16,000 nautical miles and visited 21 different countries.  (Although that number varies a bit depending on whether you count St. Martin, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Polynesia as one country--France--or several autonomous territories.)  Which leads me to our recent adventure of getting our passports updated.  With all the entry and exit stamps (46 and counting) filling up our passports, Kathleen and I were quickly running out of room.  I have heard that some countries will deny you entry if you don't have adequate room in your passport book for their stamps, so we didn't want to take any chances. 

    So that led to my trip to the US Consulate in Auckland, or what I shall refer to as "Fortress America."  Embassy security is no laughing matter these days, although in a benign place like New Zealand you might thing it still could be.  No way.  The consulate takes up the entire third floor of the Citibank building in downtown Auckland, but if you arrive during their lunch hour (like I did) the elevator won't even stop on the third floor.  Back in the lobby a small metal plaque explained the process, which basically boils down to "if you don't have an appointment, don't come here.  If you're a US citizen with an emergency, call this number after hours:..."

    I decided to be persistent.  The forms I had downloaded online to have pages added to our passports didn't address how to pay for the service outside the USA, so I was pretty sure I needed to talk to someone in person.  At 1:05pm when the "3" button in the elevator worked again, I was met by a security officer as the doors opened.  I explained what I needed and she reached behind her to hand me the same forms I had completed at home.  "But the form says to mail a personal check or money order to this address in the USA, I want to pay for the extra pages here."  She made a quick call on her walkie talkie and then invited me to enter Fortress America.  Which would require me to leave my cell phone, car remote, and any other electronic devices I might have with her for safe keeping.  Then walk through the magnetron just like at the airport.  All the time a second security guard observed the proceedings from behind a thick glass wall--presumably to notice if I should try to power my way past the security lady. 

     "Go to window 4", I was told with a smile. 

     Anyway, I made it through security and around a corner to come upon three rows of cheap plastic chairs, mostly filled with brown skinned people who looked like they had been waiting for hours. Window 1,2, and 3 all looked deserted.  I slunk past the chairs to window for with the full expectation that I would be told to go sit down and wait my turn like everyone else.  But no.  Line for was the special VIP line for US Citizens.  A consular official jumped from her desk and greeted me warmly, and gathered up our passports and documents.  She reassured me that the pages would be added and the passports returned in the express mail envelope I provided in only a day or two, and I could now go down to Window 2 to pay our fees.  With my back to all the non-US citizens, my transaction was again efficiently rung up and I was back collecting my cell phone and car keys at the fortress walls only a minute or two later.

The fat & tattered passport of a world voyager

     What at first seemed like an onerous process turned out to be a breeze.  So for all those taxes we pay, at least we get great service at the US Consulate office.  And hats off to Hillary Clinton for such a smooth running State Department!!  But as I strode for the door past all those blank faced people in cheap chairs I was reminded how fortunate we are to have amassed a whole book full of visas with relative ease in the past few years while these folks were wasting their whole day against steep odds in the hopes of getting that one precious visa to come and visit the USA. 

 

September 22:

     The scooter saga continues.  Ever since we moved into this marina--located just a block away from a skate park, Emmett has fancied himself the next Tony Hawk, only with his kick scooter rather than a skateboard.  Since there doesn't appear to be much drug dealing going on over at the skate park and New Zealand has that whole free accident insurance for everyone thing, I'm all in favor of it.  But as Emmett's skills have grown, his old folding "Hot Wheels" scooter has shown itself to not be up to the task of flying off jumps and ramps.  The free welding job he finagled from the boat yard metal shop lasted about two weeks before he showed up back at Uliad with his scooter in two pieces again.

     After a few hours of tears and moping, I decided that it was time for me to guide him through that all-important fatherly lesson.  Namely that of, "you cannot always expect your parents to come to your rescue...If you want something, figure out what you need to do and then go out and work for it."  Before long, a chart had appeared taped to his door listing the amount of money he had and the amount he'd need to buy a new heavy duty made-for-skate-park-abuse scooter.  And then he was gone.  I found him down at a friend's boat, who had recruited him to do some grunt work around his boat to help him get ready to sail to Fiji.  Returning home with cold, hard, Kiwi dollars in his pocket, Em was convinced of his plan.

     Not wanting to let the momentum be lost, I looked around Uliad for a job I could "hire out".  My first inclination was some general boat cleaning chores, but that's already expected.  I could already imagine a decade of "how much will you give me?" every time I asked him to do the dishes.  But then I didn't think he was ready to be turned loose on any major repair projects on Uliad.  "It would be great if he could learn how to varnish well," I thought, "but I just don't want him learning on MY boat."  Unfortunately, the crew on a rusty old fishing boat being refitted at the far end of the dock weren't interested in Emmett's offer to be hired on.

     Finally, I thought of the floor of the forward head.  The paint has been slowly chipping off underneath the teak grate of that floor since before we bought the boat.  But the cosmetic problem has been mostly hidden by an otherwise lovely looking grate, so it's been something easy to ignore over the years.  I decided that it would be the perfect job for Emmett--a chance to learn a skill onboard without too many opportunities to cause any real harm.  So he set into a routine of a couple hours of chipping, sanding, priming, or painting each day after school during time that had previously been devoted to riding his scooter.

Head floor before...  Floor of Emmett's head...after

     That was followed by several hours each day of researching scooters online, talking about new scooters, and presumably daydreaming about when it would finally be his.  The bathroom floor is now done, so we've moved on to repainting the inside of the lockers underneath his bunk.  For his part, he's decided that his dream scooter is the Razor Ultra Pro model that, despite a lot of shopping here and in Auckland, does not appear to have made it to the New Zealand market yet.  So today we placed an order from a shop in Australia to pack one up and get it heading across the Tasman.  By the time it gets here, by Emmett's calculations, the lockers should be finished and his chart should have reached that magic number that he's been working for.

     For our part, it's great to have a kid who's really motivated to work.  And also great to cross off a few of those boat jobs that I just never seem to have the inclination to get around to.  I was thinking how much I'm going to miss that when the scooter is here and paid for.  But now Emmett has let us know that there are accessories available for scooters that he's started thinking about.   

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                   

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