SV JOANA’S Refit Experiences in North Island NZ (November 2015 to September 2016)

My wife and I built our own steel hull Roberts 53 “JOANA” in Canada and left to go cruising in May 2009. After crossing the South Pacific in 2015, by the time we reached Tahiti we were convinced that we would spend the South Pacific hurricane season in Whangarei New Zealand. In addition to seeking a “refit” location, we were also looking for a safe place to leave our boat. The experience has been very favourable and I’d like to pass on our experience to other cruisers.

Published 7 years ago, updated 4 years ago

When in the Caribbean, we often returned to Canada during the summer, which coincided with hurricane season. However, in the South Pacific, things are upside down (for North Americans) and the Canadian summer coincides with prime cruising season – South Pacific winter.

We arrived in Opua in mid-November 2015 and after a few weeks, left for Whangarei where we stayed until October 2016, intending to return North to Opua and then on to Australia.

NZ costs practically nothing to enter or leave, the biosecurity/Immigration/Customs officials are easy to deal with – and nearly everywhere you can make GST free purchases (certainly true with all of the marine shops/contractors I’ve listed below). We did have several packages sent to us (by courier and by USPS) and if you ensure that the supplier includes a copy of your NZ Customs TIE (Temporary Import Exemption), you will likely have not have any problem with “Yacht in Transit” shipments.

While in Opua, we dealt with:

Bay of Islands Marina – we stayed at a berth for two weeks.

Cater Marine – an excellent chandlery with good prices. Very good with special orders.

JB Marine Services (the Volvo dealer) – replaced our flexible coupling, that has been plaguing us for years.

Harold Sails – Ross Harold repaired our mainsail and staysail and built us a new job. Very good work at very good prices.

NZ Yacht Services – Paul Smith (Buddha) is a well respected mobile yacht rigger.

Trans Marine – Cam helped us to source and install a Balmar Duo-Charge for our bow battery.

In Whangarei, we used the following services (in alphabetical order):

All Marine – they operate two retail outlets offering good prices on nearly everything you want from a chandlery.

Alloy Stainless and Marine – we brought many SS and aluminium welding projects to Terry.

Arnold Franks – a short walk from the Town Basin, a good source for plumbing bits.

Brian Craig Engineering – we took several machining projects to them.

Burnsco – another good retail chandlery (they also have a store in Opua).

ChillTech – we bought new Isotherm refrigeration components (compressor and evaporator plate).

DCAPS – Tony spent half a day with us to clean our diesel and tanks.

Diesel Maintenance Limited (DML) – reconditioned our diesel injectors.

EM Power – Scott helped us to relocate our inverter/charger.

ENZED Hydraulics – we had our hydraulic steering cylinder overhauled, replacing all the seals.

International Yacht Services – Tom and Lilly are the distributors for Corrosion X. We discovered and bought Rust Reconverter (to fix rust spots). We also bought NZ made yacht rope at prices that were noticeably less than American rope and the cheapest in NZ.

Mini-Tankers – we had tax-free diesel delivered to our boat when on the hard, the day before our launch and departure from NZ.

Mitre 10 – an excellent home improvement retailer (equivalent to Home Depot), walkable from the Town Basin.

Ray Roberts Marine – the Volvo dealer in Whangarei. Q-Marine (in Auckland) – replaced our Autoprop bearings.

SeaMac – we bought neoprene foam to replace hatch and door seals.

Snow Brothers – we bought electrical wire, end connectors, a battery charger and a Victron 240/120 Transformer.

Town Basin Specialist Centre – not related to the boat. I was seen several times by Dr Bruce Cottee for skin cancer lesions. The appointments were quick and easy to get, his care was the best I’ve had in nearly 20 years of follow-up by Dermatologists. Only a 5-minute walk from Whangarei Marina in the Town Basin.

Whangarei Marina (the Town Basin) – we stayed at the Marina for 6 months (at the monthly rate) and enjoyed 25% discounts when we were rafting.

Wynn Fraser Paints – we bought lots of epoxy, polyurethane and consumables. The staff are very knowledgeable and helpful.

Port Whangarei Marine Centre (PWMC)

Before we went to Canada for the summer (June to September), we hauled and left our boat on the hard at Port Whangarei Marine Centre (PWMC). We were attracted to the yard because of the size of the lift (100T at the moment and a 560T lift is coming), the ready availability of skilled workers and two advertised “specials”: namely “free haul/launch” (if the yard painted the bottom) and a 50% discount for “winter storage”.

Time on the hard in NZ – in storage or when the boat is being worked on – is noticeably more expensive than anywhere else we have previously lifted (Kingston-Ontario-Canada, Beaufort-North Carolina-USA, Port Canaveral-Florida-USA, Trinidad & Tobago), so any discount was well received.

At PWMC, we had two sea chests cut out and replacement plates/inlets welded in place and had the bottom completely done (wet sandblasting, epoxy and Coppercoat). PWMC have excellent cradles. The travel-lift operator and crew are careful and efficient. Instead of a ladder, we were provided with sturdy steel stairs.

They have a “courtesy or loaner” car ($0.80 per km) available, free bicycles, free wifi and unmetered electrical. Most of the staff are courteous and welcoming. There is a small “store” on site with paint, and consumable supplies on hand.

Most boats are stored on a sealed hardstand, so you’re not walking around in dirt and mud. Although it is a sealed hardstand, you’re not permitted to discharge grey water (sink and shower water) but PWMC does provide a good crew rest area and kitchen (with stove, BBQ, microwave and two refrigerators).

Although we had no personal experience with this issue, we were aware that yachties bringing in outside contractors had to pay “a premium”. Apparently, outside contractors had to bill the yard, who then added on additional service charges and subsequently billed the yachties. Not surprisingly, this unorthodox invoicing has made some contractors refuse to work in this yard.

Important final note:

If you have work done on your boat in NZ, understand the legal difference between “an estimate” and “a quote”. A quote is a fixed price quotation for materials and labour. If your quote is for $10K, and the work is done correctly, you will pay $10K. Alternatively, if you have an estimate for $10K, you will pay the actual cost for materials and labour, and the bill could end up being much higher. However, the NZ Consumer Guarantee Act (CGA) protects your rights as a consumer and limits the maximum invoice based on an estimate to “as much as 15% more”. In the end, try hard to make sure that the job is completely understood by both the yachties and the supplier, and note that from a yachtie’s perspective – a “quote” is always preferable to an “estimate”.

Wade and Diane Alarie 

SV Joana

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