Q&A: Liz Alonzi owner of Mercury Rising
Liz Alonzi is a Westhaven customer who a year ago this month purchased a Warwick Stratus 747, Mercury Rising, which she has lovingly restored and is now racing and cruising, single handed.
Where are you from?
The short answer is Chicago, USA. The long one is: I was born in Chicago, and grew up in the suburbs, as well as Rochester, New York; Tampa, Florida; and Iowa City, Iowa; before moving to Chicago for work after uni. After two years in the city I moved to Melbourne, Australia, then spent five months traveling (and sailing, of course!) in Thailand and Malaysia before moving to Auckland.
When did you start sailing?
Summer 2014 in Chicago. I took a five-week training course with a local yacht club and joined a crew for Wednesday night racing. I fell in so in love with the sport that I moved to Australia that autumn instead of enduring a winter off the water.
What made you decide to buy a boat, and to make Westhaven its home?
Almost as soon as I started sailing, I had a five-year goal to buy my own boat. After a year in New Zealand (so, three years into that five-year plan), I got ahead of myself and went for it. I'd done a decent amount of short-handed racing and local cruising around Auckland by then and felt fairly confident that I could handle the conditions, plus I was getting itchy feet watching my friends take their boats out on a whim. Westhaven was the obvious choice, as I am a member at Richmond Yacht Club, and I live in Ponsonby and don't own a car.
Why did you choose a Stratus 747?
I started my purchase process with a short list of requirements: something fast, cruise-able, with a built-in head (my male mates teased me for that), and around 7 to 9 metres for comfort and confidence building my singlehanding skills. A friend sent me the TradeMe link when this one came up for sale, and I could tell immediately from the listing that it would tick all those boxes. Another friend had previously owned the 747 Zilch, so I rang him up to get an idea of the boat. Based on his comments and info from some other friends, I was really interested. When I saw the interior in person during my walk-through with the owner, I was sold. The cabin has been lovingly constructed following the original plans, and even under 18 months of mould, I could tell it would clean up beautifully, which it has!
Are you having fun?
Haha, great question. I'm learning heaps, which I find fun. I would be lying if I said there haven't been some very trying times, but on the whole, I have had an absolute blast this past year (I celebrated one year of ownership on 7 June).
What are the challenges?
The boat had been left on the piles for 18 months when I bought her, meaning I have tackled a wide range of challenges. Some were physical: scraping a half-metre thick ecosystem off the hull, spening three days cleaning the mould out of the interior, and even learned some basic carpentry and fibreglassing skills, all from little to no experience. Other challenges were mental: re-learning how circuits work for the first time since I took physics in high school and re-doing the electrics (twice now, which says a lot about my first attempt), and figuring out who to purchase what parts from and how to install them.
Then, after all the get-the-boat-functional tasks, I had to learn how to sail solo, too! I've been crewing 1 to 3 times a week since I started sailing, but before that I'd been on a sailboat maybe three times in my life, and never out solo. In fact, my first singlehanded race last summer was my first solo sail in my life, so just getting through that race was an enormous challenge. There was definitely a moment when I lifted the outboard out of the water and thought, "right, well, I guess I'm going to go sail this boat around by myself for the next six or so hours..."
I would say the learning curve has definitely felt more like a cliff face at times, but I'm starting to feel like my perseverance through some seriously hard work is really starting to pay off. Sometimes I even go sailing!
Are you racing? Cruising? Tell us about what you are enjoying doing in your boat.
I am both racing and cruising. I had a fantastic time doing the Vining Marine Singlehanded Series with RYC this past summer. I almost didn't make it, and I really can't say enough good things about the support I got from the fleet in getting me to my first start line. I've also entered Merc into the occasional Richmond Summer/Winter Series race when I haven't been able to hop on friends' boats, but I do try to keep my club racing to crew positions so I can continue learning.
As for cruising, I will admit I didn't do as much as I expected to, mostly due to the boat knocking herself somewhat out of commission with a dead battery over the summer, but I have had the chance to take friends out for day and weekend trips, as well as get in some solo cruises. Some notable memories:
- Learning to fly and gybe the spinnaker by myself. Tony McAlwee (Wild Oats) convinced me to do it on my third solo sail, a return trip from Rakino. I probably looked a bit silly practicing bare-pole gybes in the anchorage to build my confidence before weighing anchor! It was blowing 5 knots from the north, and this was while I had no battery, so no electric tiller pilot either. I used a bungee cord and crossed my fingers, and even nailed my first gybe! (just don't ask about the second one...) To date, I think that is the moment that's given me my greatest sense of accomplishment. I love being on the foredeck, so to hold that position on my own boat is really special for me. With a bit of practice, I've reached a point where I can comfortably fly extras solo whenever conditions are favourable, and I'm very proud of that.
- I took a friend out to Issy Bay over New Year's Eve. We hiked to the top of Rangitoto and watched the Skytower fireworks from the lookout at midnight. It was a really unique way to ring in the new year, and we had such a fun time.
- Some friends from Melbourne came to visit and we entered a Richmond Wednesday night race. It was blowing over 20 knots, so I got to reef for the first time, which was exciting!
- Sailing solo from Kawau to Onetangi, Waiheke, in perfect conditions on Easter weekend. At one point I was joined by dolphins and it was magical.
- In April I did my first fully-solo (that is, not meeting up with friends) multi-day cruise. The goal was Great Barrier, but unfortunately my tiller pilot died and I wasn't comfortable hand-steering the whole way. After a few hours of troubleshooting, it was raining and getting late, so I gave up and headed out without a working TP. I gave myself a good scare going forward in the dark (I was clipped on, but once again helming with the bungee in 15kts of wind and rain), so decided to wait out the storm off the eastern side of Motuihe. I woke up on the second morning to clear skies and light winds, and sailed to Cactus Bay (under spinnaker) for the night. The next morning, I returned to Auckland via a stop at Oneroa for lunch, where I got the chance to practice dropping anchor under sail. It was amazing and so peaceful to have every bay entirely to myself, after a summer of cruising through them when they were jam-packed with boats. I'm still holding onto the goal of Smokehouse Bay and hope to make it up there sometime this winter.
I see you are doing the SSANZ series? Who are you sailing with?
Josh Scarrow, a former crewmate from Revolution Blues, is joining me for the first race, and Jason Christini-Crawford (the new owner of Rock Lobster) will be onboard for races 2 and possibly 3. I'm really looking forward to the chance to cover some bigger distances. I took my boat out for last year's third SSANZ race, but other than that, my max distances have been 15-20nm!
I understand you have some other 747 owners berthed close to you in the marina?
Yeah! My neighbour Abinsi is one of them, and Rock Lobster and Zilch are nearby too. John, who owns Abinsi, has done a great job bringing his boat back to life, and been really supportive of me. We chat a lot when we see each other. I met Jason off Rock Lobster while I was packing up after Easter weekend. He's new to sailing and super keen to get involved with the Singlehanded Series. Every Stratus is pretty unique, so we won't exactly be one-design racing, but it will be cool to see how I measure up against an almost-identical boat. I'm really excited to have the competition. Finally, I've only briefly met Zilch's new owner, but he too mentioned wanting to race her. It would be great to see the quarter-tonner fleet pick up again -- I've heard it used to be pretty big.
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