Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Linda's walk!

An Opua trail....

Happy New Year!

The Toketie crew brought in the New Year in New Zealand last night!  It was a very low key evening with a visit from our good friends Derek & Anthea on Sukanuk.  We ate green lipped mussels, drank bubbly and agreed that none of us knew what tomorrow would bring!
 
So for all you folks still living in the past (behind the international dateline :) we wish you all the best for the coming year! 
 
May your hopes and wishes and dreams come true!
 
David & Linda

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Bay of Islands!

...looks like good cruising area....

Russell

...a very small town with a lot of history....

Chardonnay & Syrah!

...about 7000 plants on a dozen acres....nice setting!

Omata Vineyard

We did a driving tour today!  Took the little car ferry over to Russell and tasted wine at this little vineyard!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On to New Zealand!

Stretching between Tonga and New Zealand are the Tongan Ridge and the Kermadec Ridge. These are mountain chains below the sea. I suspect they are the cause of a lot of interesting water patterns on the surface! In addition, there are volcanoes below the sea, many of which are still active. In fact, we felt an earthquake while anchored of Pangai Island in Nuku'alofa. It was reported later at 7.2 on the Richter scale. We felt it through our anchor chain and recognized it immediately for what it was.

So having decided to make the run for New Zealand, we set a course just slightly West of South. Several people had recommended making Westing early to avoid having to beat into SW systems coming off of Australia. The common theory seemed to be to head SW till you are at a position directly N of your destination and then to head due South. It seems that getting to the top of the North Island of New Zealand by boat is usually a trial as some form of headwinds invariably arise the last few hundred miles. And if you are unlucky enough to arrive as a low pressure system forms, you could get very strong winds and large seas from the direction you wish to travel. The old saying…"gentlemen never go to weather"…..sounds great at the yacht club bar but there are times when you have to crank the sheets in, put the rail down and hang on! This was to be one of them!

In the southern hemisphere, high pressure systems rotate in a counter clockwise direction over hundreds of miles. Low pressure systems rotate in the opposite direction. So when a high and a low come within 500-600 miles of each other, between them you get what is termed as the 'squash zone'. If you draw a picture of both weather systems rotating, you will see that the winds between them are accelerated due to the combining of the circular patterns where the winds blow in the same direction. On a high seas surface analysis or prognosis chart, downloaded over the HF radio to special software on the laptop as a weatherfax, these areas of increased winds show up as parallel lines called isobars and the closer they are to each other, the stronger the wind in the area. We had been warned that such a scenario was developing ahead of us. A large stationery high east of New Zealand was about to be met by a low moving east across the Tasman Sea. We had no way of knowing how strong the winds would be in the squash zone but were expecting they could reach 35-40 knots. And given the locations of the high and the low, the winds should come at us from the SE, which meant Toketie would be going hard to weather. Whether we could lay a course for Opua in New Zealand would depend on how well we could point into the wind and how much the seas would push us off to the west. This was all predicted to occur about three days from now.

It was now day 6 out of Tonga, and we were sailing at about 4 knots with light winds from the east. Over the next couple of days, the log would show winds anywhere from 3 knots out of the east to 30 knots out of the SW. Reef in, reef out, furl headsail, unfurl headsail, staysail up, staysail down were to be the order of the day and night. Another sailboat hailed us by VHF as it passed us on the starboard beam. Four guys on board were delivering a charter boat from Tonga to New Zealand. Their HF radio had quit so they asked us for weather info. We told them what to expect and set up a schedule to talk to them every evening. They could transmit over short distances only and could not download weather files.

By day 8, we were in 20-25 knots of wind, with gusts to 30, from the ESE. On November 10, Toketie put in a run of 150.2 miles over 24 hours, the best we have ever done. That meant we were averaging over 6 knots. This wind was to continue for three days and the seas would gradually build till we estimated them to be 4-5 meters from trough to crest. Despite the condition of the sails, Toketie was in her element! With a fairly steady 25-30 knots and gusts to 35, finally we had enough wind to really sail her and she took to it as she was designed to. This is where the heavier displacement hull really shone. We ploughed through the seas, water running down the lee rail and spray flying right over the hard dodger! The inclinometer sat pretty much on 30 degrees the whole time. We were very glad of the handrails we had installed before leaving as you needed to hang on when moving around down below. Linda used the strap in the galley for the first time to keep her from being thrown back when preparing meals on the stove. We tied up the lee cloths to keep from falling out of the berth when sleeping and used lots of pillows as a cushion. The guys on the charter delivery boat reported that they had an electrical fire on board but had it under control and then their autopilot quit so they were hand steering. The boat was a 42' Beneteau and they worried the mast was going to jump right off the deck! They were hove-to (stopped) to rest for a while.

We, on the other hand, were loving it! We were making good time, finally, and the motion kept us alert but comfortable. As long as nothing broke, we were laughing!

I guess we had paid enough dues because by day 11, the winds started to ease to 15 knots and the seas were moderating. We were still making good time and almost able to make our rhumb line directly to Opua. A strong west setting current was working against us. But with only 120 miles to go, we took the reefs out of the main and began to believe we might actually make it to New Zealand…touching wood of course as we thought this! The sun came out the last day and we motor-sailed in lighter winds to try to make landfall before dark.

Twelve days….not a record passage for sure but considering how the first few days went, we were happy with it. Motoring into the Bay of Islands and up the Veronica Channel to Opua to arrive at the customs dock just as the last light faded to the west was a very satisfying feeling!

We have been here for a month now! We were treating ourselves to a month at the dock in the marina, which is now turning into two months. We love New Zealand! The people are really nice and it is so refreshing to go into stores that are well stocked, whether it is food or marine gear. We are busy tackling a long list of changes designed to make Toketie easier to handle by two people. We have ordered a new jib and a new mainsail. We are scheduled for a haulout in January to paint the bottom and replace the zincs. I have also ordered new instruments to replace the aging and failing original speed, depth and wind. This will entail two transducers being replaced through the hull and lots of wiring. A stainless steel rack is being fabricated to move the solar panels up over the bimini and away from the rail. Linda bought paint and plans to give the interior a much needed face lifting.

And on and on……not sure how we are financing all this so if any of you have connections in the publishing industry, maybe someone would be willing to give us an advance on future adventures! After all, wouldn't we all like to carry this on across the Indian Ocean to Africa? J

Landfall in NZ!

Friday, December 05, 2008

The last leg....

Well, not really the 'last' leg, we hope! But the passage from Tonga to New Zealand was a trial in many ways, both for Toketie and her crew.

We left the anchorage off Pangai Island, Nuku'alofa in Tonga about noon on the 3rd of November. The winds were very light from the East and we motored for about 10 hours to clear the land. Sailing among reef-strewn countries like Tonga is not for the faint of heart. Moving around in daylight minimizes the chance of running into one of the famous and poorly documented 'uncharted reefs' that abound both here and in Fiji. We had a long list of them that cruisers pass along to each other, you have to wonder how they discovered each one, but we plotted them and tried to avoid the areas. As night fell on our first day, clouds formed and lightning filled the sky. This was to be the first of three severe thunderstorms we would encounter in the first few days of the passage. Now I grew up on the prairies and am no stranger to thunder and lightning but nothing prepared us for the power in a tropical thunderstorm. The whole sky would light up for long periods of time and huge thunderbolts of lightning would come down to the water much too close for comfort. Friends of ours sailing within 20 miles later told us they lost all their electronics that night. The worst of the lightning seemed to be concentrated west of us where most of the other boats in our small fleet were concentrated.

About 0800 on the second morning, as daylight popped over the horizon, relieving us of the night bogeymen that the lightning brought, we saw a very dark band of cloud that filled most of the Western horizon. It was hard to tell whether it was a stationery front or a system that could be moving towards us. As a precaution, we put two reefs in the mainsail. That was fortuitous as only moments later the wind and rain hit us like a ton of bricks. We had no time to check instruments to see how strong the wind was but I would guess it had to have hit 60 knots because our jib was caught aback and Toketie went over on her ear like a toy boat in a bathtub. For what seemed like eons but must have lasted a few minutes, we were laying over about 70 degrees on our side. We shipped water over the coaming in the cockpit, lots of water, scary amount of water. We were both in the cockpit at the time and I was behind the wheel and watched Linda slide down the cockpit till her feet were planted on the lower inside of the coaming, in the water! She had been trying to zip the enclosure on the high side closed to keep out the downpour of rain that accompanied the wind. We watched as a cushion floated up and out the lower side and Linda hesitated only for a moment before deciding it wasn't worth reaching for it….hanging on was more important at that stage. After what seemed like ages, Toketie slowly righted herself and the water in the cockpit drained away.

The force of the wind in the jib was what pushed us over. And eventually one of the jib sheets parted, easing the pressure and allowing the jib to fly free. This of course took the pressure off but now we had a headsail flapping wildly in the wind with her sheets flying while the wind and rain beat on us. As we could not budge the roller furler, that winds the headsail up, we took the line to a winch and slowly cranked the headsail in to relieve the strain on it. We managed but it was pretty obvious that the sail had suffered considerable damage in the process.

We lost one of the dorade vent scoops off the cabin top. A large puddle of water found its way inside and was pooled in the galley under the stove. This is where the new laptop that wasn't secured on the chart table landed and was destroyed! Water found its way through the hatches in the cockpit into the lazarette as well and made its way to the bilge, stopping briefly to soak anything in its path.

This experience, called a 'knockdown' because of the extreme angle of heel and was the only time in our travels that we felt that we did not have control of the boat. We both admitted later that it was unnerving, scary as h… might be a more appropriate way to describe it.

When the adrenaline settled, along with the passing of the squall, hours later, we surveyed our situation. We motored in very light winds for the rest of the day and into the night, finally turning the engine off at 0400 to sail slowly in a more or less southerly direction. News came over the cruiser net that Obama had beaten McCain…it felt good to know that something might be improving somewhere on the planet!

The next day was sunny and the winds and seas were light so we unfurled the jib and pulled it down and back into the cockpit to survey the damage. There were five major areas of damage, including seams that had parted and the leech (outer edge) having frayed from the wind. One of the sheets had broken and the other had run free to combine into the biggest Gordian knot I've ever seen! As this was our only headsail, other than storm jibs and a drifter we could not hank on since we installed the roller furler, we pretty much had to fix it or we'd be out here for months. Linda had put together a fairly comprehensive sail repair kit before we left and now we hauled this out and both of us spent the entire day in the cockpit pushing this huge sail around while Toketie steered herself slowly SW, more or less towards NZ. The duct tape we had bought at Lee Valley Tools in Vancouver proved a godsend. This is not your ordinary hardware store brand duct tape and cost a small fortune when we bought it but the glue stuck even where the sail was not completely dry and on the worst seams, we hand stitched it to both sides of the sail. By dark we had a headsail again, though we had no idea how long the repairs would last. We had 800 miles to go to NZ. We were exhausted, physically and emotionally.

The 4th day arrived with clear skies and light winds and seas again and we began to discuss our options. It was then that we discovered the two top slides that hold the mainsail to the mast had broken off, likely in the knockdown. Added to this, the engine had been making an unfamiliar noise and as we did not carry enough fuel to get to NZ, it was beginning to look like we would have to turn back to Nuku'alofa and attempt to replace or repair the sails.

Another option was to work our way NW to Minerva reef and attempt to repair the main ourselves. I thought I might have one spare slider somewhere on board. As we were too tired and discouraged to make a decision, we decided to sleep on it and set a course half way between due West and Minerva reef. In effect we were going further from NZ! This was undoubtedly the lowest point in our travels.
 
But it is amazing what reserves you find when necessity drives you.  The next day, Neptune was kind and as we sailed slowly NW under the greatly reduced trysail and the newly repaired jib, we unhooked the boom from the mast and dropped the entire mainsail off its track to get at the broken slides. I found the one spare and we lashed it on with webbing and sewed the webbing tight. Later the sailmaker in Opua would comment on it and offer me a job as a sailmaker….

So we now had a jib, held together with duct tape, a mainsail with a reasonable repair to it and the engine was a big question mark!  We decided that turning back was not an option. I think we both knew that if we pulled into the harbor in Nuku'alofa, we might never get out of it again. So we turned south once more and laid a course directly for Opua, NZ. It was now over 850 miles due to our lack of progress.

Next episode….the squash zone!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

sky

Opua, NZ

Sorry for the long delay in blog entries! It is a long story and I shall unravel it in time. Suffice it to say that we have arrived safely in Opua, NZ and it feels great to have made it! The laptop crashed the second day out after flying across the cabin and landing in a puddle of water. That was because the sudden squall with god knows how many knots of wind in it knocked Toketie on her ear and as we watched cushions float out of the cockpit and Linda slide to the lee side eventually standing
on the coaming, we thought hmmmm this is interesting....and why are we doing this again? But we got through it and almost had to turn back due to damage to sails but we persevered and sewed miles of duct tape (thank you red/green) on the sails, jury rigged the rest that was broken and turned south once more to do the 800 remaining miles to get here! Easy to say now that we are here but a bit trying at the time.
But the welcome we received by our friends on Sukanuk and Wyntersea outweighed any doubts we entertained about the reasons for doing this last challenging leg to NZ. And it was challenging! Toketie performed like a trooper and when the chips were down, we buried the rail and drove her through mountainous seas, spray flying over the dodger as she ploughed through the waves. It was awesome!
Feels strange to be at a dock after so long at anchor. Long list of boat chores to attend to before we can explore the cruising grounds here. For now, must get some rest! Cheers

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Anchor aweigh!

We received McDavitt's weather routing plan and the worst thing on it seemed to be some light wind and some motor sailing. So having no excuse to linger, we upped anchor Monday morn and are now just clearing the bottom of Tongatapu! Wind is fair forward of the beam and Toketie is making close to 5 knots with all sail set. We are heeled moderately to starboard and the seas are not uncomfortable so far. But we expect conditions to vary a lot along the way so more sail changing and course monitoring
perhaps!
I will begin posting our position reports today on winlink and Yotreps. For those who have not looked it up, go to their 'position reporting' site (google will show you the way) and find VA7DXF on the list. That will show a chart of our last reported position!
New Zealand here we come!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ready Set Wait!

Tuesday was 'fuel' day! An early ferry into town, making the rounds of the Port Captain's office, customs and BP fuel depot were the steps involved in lining up delivery of 200 litres of dutyfree diesel to the wharf. Then ferry back to Pangaimotu and bring Toketie back to town to take on the fuel! It would have been much easier if we could have tied up to the wharf to do the paperwork but the only mooring is med style and with the breeze across the harbour it would have been more trouble to set
that twice than taking the ferry in! But we managed and then rafted to a catamaran, pumped the diesel out of the drum into our jerry jugs, lugged them across the catamaran and siphoned them into our tanks. Fortunately the rain held off for those two hours! Back to the anchorage in time to catch a special ferry back to town to go to an Italian restaurant for dinner with four other boats.
Wednesday was paperwork day again and we went in and cleared out of the country officially! But don't tell anyone as we are still here, waiting for the right weather window to leave. Tomorrow is All Hallows Eve and a party will be held at Big Mama's and Saturday night Big Mama has invited all the 'yachties' in the anchorage to a barbeque to celebrate her son and her husband's birthdays. So if we don't get out of here for a few days, we should be busy.
We also sent the water jugs in by ferry to be filled and transported them back on board. The infrastructure in this port is pretty bad. There are no taps for water at the dock and no pumps for fuel. It all has to be trucked down and loaded by hand or pumped out of the tanker truck in the case of a larger quantity.
But in spite of all this, we like Nuku'alofa and are glad we stopped here. Some boats left directly from Neiafu and passed us yesterday without stopping but a squall hit them and turned three or four of them back 100 miles to do some repairs in Nuku'alofa.
So other than the final stowing and lashing, we are ready to go. We are expecting McDavitt's weather report and routing plan in the next few days and will then head south to Opua, NZ!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Preparations!

Last night was the 'bring your own'meat barbeque at Big Mama's! Lots of boats in here now, counted 26 yesterday and they are still arriving from the N islands. There were about 12 when we arrived a week ago. The theme for the Barbeque was 'pirates', kind of an early Halloween. We cobbled something together and had fun!
But there is an underlying tension here as everyone plans for the last 1000 miles to NZ. As I may have mentioned previously, this passage is less predictable weatherwise. Because it can take 8-10 days to complete it, the weather systems coming off the coast of Australia and moving E over NZ can develop in 4 or 5 days time so your best guess when you leave can change radically by the time you approach NZ. We have engaged Bob McDavitt who is the local weather guru to do a prognosis for us on the
best departure date. At this point we are targeting sometime in the first week of Nov! Meanwhile we have to figure out how to do the paperwork for the dutyfree diesel. As we have not taken fuel on since French Polynesia, we can now take 200 liters and the savings are about 1/3 the cost. As we will need to go into the harbour to top up our water tanks, we will top up the fuel tanks at the same time. It is complicated though because they will not issue the dutyfree form until you clear out of
the country and then they expect you to leave. We plan to do the formalities and then wait for our weather window with everything stowed and ready.
Repaired the windless! It was a terribly corroded wire under the foredeck which was difficult to diagnose, difficult to access and almost impossible to repair! But it's done and works and should last to NZ where I can replace the whole plug. The cooling water coming out of the engine exhaust vent hose on deck is not so easy. The checkvalve must have failed and I cannot replace it here. So other than pouring water down the side deck when we motor, there does not seem to be any harm in leaving
it till NZ.
Provisioning has begun, a couple of trips into Nuku'alofa, using the small launch from Big Mama's as a water taxi, has us about 80% ready. We will go in tomorrow (Mon) and get the rest of what we need for about 2 weeks of meals. Linda has it down to a science now where she figures out what we need and I just lug the heavy bags around in the hot sun!
Spent a couple of hours in the water with a plastic scraper lashed to a stick, scraping the growth off the bottom of the boat! Brian next to us was doing the same when he decided to quit after a 2' black tip reef shark was taking an interest in him! I carried on oblivious!
So life here continues! We work and party and visit with other cruisers we have met along the way, meanwhile hoping the weather down S is settling down for our arrival in NZ and no cyclones are developing up here before we depart! When we do leave, I plan to update the position reports along the way so all those vicarious voyagers can follow our progress. I will also log into Opua Offshore, a HAM radio net out of NZ daily to report where we are and what the conditions are like.
So pray the weather gods will be gentle with us.....15-20 knots on the beam would be nice!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nuku'alofa

Anchored off Paingamotu in Nuku'alofa! This was probably the best passage we have had to date! A steady 15 knot breeze on the beam carried Toketie along comfortably at an average of six knots. Not bad for us! We are tired though and the windless won't work and salt water is coming out of the air vent hose to the engine...oh well I needed something to do anyway...tomorrow!

Friday, October 17, 2008

At sea again

Sailed out of Vava'u at dawn. Now underway with very comfortable 15 knot wind on the beam. Sun and clouds and not very big seas make for a pleasant passage to Nukualofa...so far!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On the move!

The turkey was great! We had five good nights in the lagoon of Hunga Island, got to know one of the locals, and met the schoolteacher and many primary school children who knocked fresh mangoes out of the trees for us to eat!
But we have checked out of the Vava'u Group of Tonga and plan to jump the 165 miles directly down to Nukualofa, the capital of Tonga. We are preparing to go to sea again after almost two and a half months in Vava'u. Nukualofa will be the last stop before NZ. So I am busy studying the weather patterns down south and they can be very interesting! As the stormy season comes to a close in NZ, the typhoon season begins in Tonga and we will try to time it to avoid the worst of both! There is lots
of weather information available fortunately and many other boats planning the crossing. The only concern is that once you set out on the ten day (for us anyway) passage, the situation can change in NZ when you are half way there. So the strategy is to pick the most favourable conditions and then pray!
Meanwhile the weather up here has been stable and the forecast is good for our passage down to Nukualofa. If I get a chance, I will submit a position report!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gobble Gobble!

Thanksgiving is near! And we are prepared to give thanks, Canada style, from Tonga! We found a really nice turkey and shared the small fortune it cost with Anne & Barry on 'Cat's Paw IV'. 'Tarun' may be in the neighbourhood on Monday as well so Brian & Cathy along with their current NZ guests may join us for the feast.
Meanwhile after three nights in Neiafu Harbour with the 100+ other boats, we were more than ready to depart for quieter places. Water tanks are full again, gas for the outboard, laundry done, provisions....etc.... So yesterday we sailed around the outside of the Vavau'u Islands,to Hunga Island on the Western side and ducked into a tiny opening through a reef at high tide to find ourselves in a large, well protected lagoon and only two other boats way off on the far end! This morning we drift snorkelled
the pass at low tide and can see why they advise coming in at high tide! Lots of nice fish and the ubiquitous black and white striped coral sea snake just to keep Linda on her flippers!
The sun has been out for days now and although some clouds darken the horizons, we are enjoying warm weather with a gentle breeze for a change. In the afternoon we took the dinghy through another reef at high tide into the "Blue Lagoon"! Lots of interesting coral reefs and wave action from the exposed SE side. Some resort huts on a beach, very secluded. A walk on soft sand, a giant turtle checking us out.
So enjoy your Thanksgiving Feasts wherever you are and we will raise a toast to the friends and family we miss so far away.
Special greetings to Doug and Karen....our hearts are with you.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More news from Tonga!

We did the Tongan feast again and this time it was wonderful. Participated in a kava circle, sitting around on mats on the ground as the sun set. Several musicians playing guitars, a banjo and traditional drums from a log. Very relaxed atmosphere and friendly group. I had three bowls of the kava but felt no effect at all. The young dancers were very energetic and talented. Especially two young boys, maybe about 12 years old, who danced a traditional Tongan dance where they lunge with their
spears. One of the boys had lots of 'attitude' and seemed to really enjoy it. The girls that danced were also well decked out in beautiful clothes and jewellery and their enthusiasm was contagious. Then they piled the food on the long table and it was varied and bountiful! All sorts of seafoods, from octopus, clams, fishcakes, marinated raw fish to some less recognizable varieties. Packages of pork or lamb or beef all wrapped in leaves and tied with vine. And different kinds of taro and breadfruit,
bananas, etc... No cutlery or plates were used, everything was served wrapped in nature's bounty and eaten with fingers.
So we have been back in the Tapana anchorage for over two weeks again and rode out another squally night with high winds, heavy rain and lightning, though not as dramatic as we had when Abe was with us. We are finally getting restless and will probably wait till after the weekend to go back into Neiafu and take on water and butane before checking out to head down to the Hapai'i Group of Islands about 60 south of us. They are supposedly more remote and have small villages with fewer visitors. We
have had sunshine for two days in a row now so managed to get over to the small island around the corner and snorkel on the reef. It was interesting but not spectacular. The beaches and islands and clear turquoise waters make it a very beautiful place though. Yesterday we actually blew up the two kayaks, first time since the Tuamotus, and paddled around the bay, following the shoreline where the coral is visible only a few feet below you.
We have managed two great parties lately with 'Cat's Paw IV', 'Tarun' and two bachelors who are singlehanding at the moment; there is Ernst on 'Accord' who is from Switzerland and has spent time in more remote areas and even a year in Japan, and Mike on 'Kokoamo' who is shares his year between his home in Scotland and New Zealand. We play dice and pigs and dominoes, drink a bit and laugh a lot. Linda made her famous Red Snapper fish soup last night and it was well received by all.
So rumours that we are bored and don't know what to do with ourselves are greatly exaggerated and some days we even do more than read a book!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Holy Crap!

Thanks Emma! Gramma really laughed when she saw your comment on the blog! "That's so like Emma", she said. We are not sure if it was the sea snakes or the lightning that got your attention but it was a fun time for sure!
Meanwhile, we seem to have settled down at Tapana Island. The weather cleared up for almost a week and we did some swimming and exploring by dinghy. Now it's rainy again so we try to keep busy. Linda walked into Neiafu the other day, a little over an hour walk and she got a lift in part of the way. I think the wine was the priority! I spent a half day in the water under Toketie with a young local fellow scraping the growth off the bottom of the boat. Was trying to arrange a haul out but even
though there are two rails to haul boats out in town, one only wants to do multihulls now (I think the sides that hold up the monohulls are rusted out) and the other is jammed in among the bars and restaurants so we are worried we would get rats or cockroaches on board....so we cleaned the bottom as best we could and hope to make it to NZ for a proper haul out.
We walked into the small village today to try to send some pictures to the blog but the internet in Vava'u is down again. We picked up some bread and milk and garlic! On the way back to the beach where we left the dinghy we met the young couple who were preparing for the 'other' Tongan feast tonight, the Ano Beach one! They seemed really nice and were willing to include us at the last minute as they said they had 34 people coming and lots of food. So we will try it again and hope it is a better
experience than the first one!
It's cloudy and muggy and I am trying to figure out how to catch rain water so we don't have to rush back into Neiafu's noisy crowded harbour. The Ark Gallery has taken a couple of our water jugs and has offered to fill them from their roof. Lots more rain is in the forecast over the weekend so we should be able to figure something out.
The days and weeks are flying by and soon we will have to start seriously thinking about the 1200 mile trek down to New Zealand. But today there are still good books to read and a feast to starve for.....

Friday, September 12, 2008

Gunk holing!

Ok, we are being very lazy! I admit it. Rather than scheming to move to the more remote areas and smaller atolls out there, we are pretty much hiding in the old harbour of Vava'u in Tonga, doing some boat chores and relaxing. Maybe it is the sudden realization that we have close to 10,000 miles under our keel since leaving Victoria in August of 2006. Or maybe 'racing through paradise' is just too tiring! I don't know but we have the luxury at the moment of being lazy so we are taking every advantage
of it! Our friends on 'Tarun' are down exploring the next group of islands in Tonga, the Ha'apai Group and another couple on 'Pacific Star' got itchy feet and headed for Fiji the other day. Meanwhile we had this bay to ourselves the first night, probably because the pass is inconvenient to access as you navigate with charts that are about half mile off and not completely accurate in marking reefs and coral heads. But with a small amount of hair pulling to find the small floats that mark the entrance
to it and perseverance driven from an overwhelming need to stay away from the crowded and noisy main harbour in Neiafu, we managed to get here and are quite comfortable anchored on the edge of a reef near the small village of Makave that none of the tourists seem to bother with. And today we discovered it is only a short walk into Neiafu if we really need supplies we can't get here, like tonic water to make the gin palatable.
Two other boats have now joined us in our isolation. A very small pocket cruiser, a Contessa, named 'Mamiti Vava'u' (the name of the native woman that Fletcher Christian married when the Bounty mutinied)....you all knew that though....and another young couple on 'Madeline' who have come through the South Pacific via the Panama Canal and the Galapagos. They are both very relaxed and also seem to be enjoying the solitude in this bay.
So until the water tanks run low, we intend to sit here and re-charge our batteries, both literally and figuratively and if I don't send too many updates.....well it's probably because there isn't much to say!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Cruising Tonga!

Well, our crew member has gone back to that other world! About 36 hours each way was a really long way to go for a three week holiday but we are sure glad that Abe made the journey. Although we did not get to do all the things we had planned, due to weather (more about that later), I think he had a good time overall and we managed to work in a few experiences one usually only reads about!
We found some reasonably interesting reefs to snorkel on, had whales blowing in the bay we were in on two occasions, were chased out of the water by sea snakes twice, managed a couple of hikes and resolved most of the world's problems over several bottles of rum!
But the weather, assisting another boater in trouble and the yacht race were memories to carry away to that other world.
A high pressure system, higher than any on record (1040 on the barometer), formed East of Australia, and a low pressure system north of us combined with the South Pacific Convergence Zone to give us some very interesting weather. None of the local forecasts seemed to capture it accurately but you just had to look out the window to see something unusual was going on. I think we were playing scrabble one night with the wind howling in the rigging when Linda thought she saw a light flashing out the
porthole. We ignored it for a while but eventually it got our attention and looking out the cockpit we saw what looked like broadsides from HMS Surprise off in the distance. The clouds would light up then blackness would swallow it. Strange! Couldn't be lightning? An hour or so later the sky lit up like broad daylight, sheet lightning everywhere, fairly constant and obviously getting closer. Every now and then a bolt would come to earth and we began wondering whether we might possibly be struck!
This went on all night! I have never seen anything to compare. Then the rain came and although we had the full enclosure in the cockpit, it came down so hard the zipper seams leaked! All this time the winds had been slowly building till at one point our neighbour registered 47 knots. We had seen 42 knots which was impressive enough in a sheltered anchorage! Fortunately the moorings we were on were sound and because we were tucked in behind and island, we had no seas to contend with.
The game was interrupted again by the sound of a sail flapping violently in the wind! About two boats over in the anchorage, we could see several people under lights on the foredeck trying to wrestle with an obviously out of control headsail! Not able to resist an opportunity to help out, Abe and I jumped in the dinghy and hoped our 4 horse Johnson could hold its own in the wind and waves! About six of us fought for two hours to try to get half of a fairly large headsail under control. Seems
they had fouled the furling line somehow when they came into the anchorage. We won but not without some bruises and bleeding knuckles. The boat, Gecko, was very grateful and thanked us again the next day! Further on in the bay, another boat dragged anchor, their engine failed and when they attempted to sail back to anchor, they struck the reef! I don't think too much damage was done but it was a wild night!
Can't remember who won the scrabble game.....
For his last night in Tonga, we took Abe into town and he got himself on to a sailboat named 'Macy' for the Friday yacht race in Neiafu Harbour! It's a fun event that occurs every week and ends in the Vava'u Yacht Club's Mermaid Bar for beers and tall stories! They took third place and had great fun doing it!
We were sorry to see him go, wishing he could have stayed for the next 1000 miles to NZ, but duty calls and I guess his PHD is a higher priority at the moment than bashing around the ocean! There is always the Indian Ocean Abe....and at the rate we are going, you may have your degree by the time we get there!
So here we sit, the weather has calmed down, a quick trip to town to renew our visas today, buy some beer and cheese (cruiser staples), and relaxed visiting with friends nearby.
Not sure where we will go from here, too early to head for NZ as the weather down there is still unpredictable. More to explore locally and another island group south of us to check out. Will keep you posted!
Cruising Tonga!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rain & Wind

Hunkered down behind a small island, 20 knots winds howling overhead and forecast to increase over the weekend. Lots of clouds and rain too! But we are well provisioned and have managed to explore all the reefs here. Today we walked a trail up the hill to find what used to be a resort but has been abandoned for some time. We picked a few coconuts and hacked them up with a hatchet to get at the juice inside!
Had hoped to do more sailing but weather is making it a challenge! Reading lots of books!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

King George Tupou V

Crew arrived after 36 hour odyssey via Fiji!
King arrived as well to great celebrations in the streets, along with singing in the church and lunch in the school! We escaped to the quieter more secluded anchorages nearby. Only a couple of hours away, we had the place to ourselves briefly before another boat showed up. Snorkelling on the reef between two motus! The navy showed up late at night and were very busy erecting some structure on the spit of white sand. A couple with a child in a dugout came by to sell us some carvings and told
us the king was coming to the beach for lunch! Sure enough, a small procession of boats arrived and to great cheering and singing, the king stepped off onto the beach to be greeted by the locals. The navy boat hung out all their flags and hovered nearby! We took some pictures and moved to another anchorage!
Have booked a Tongan feast for Saturday night!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mt Talau

Sure is nice not to be rolling! This harbour is so deep and sheltered that even though the breeze finds its way through it, there is no swell. So after a great night sleep, we were out exploring the town of Neiafu. A kingdom of 170 islands, of which 134 are inhabited, and 101,000 people, Tonga has been independent since the mid 70s. The combination of high volcanic and low coral forms gives them a geology all of their own. But this is a very unstable area of the Pacific. There are volcanic
islands below the surface of the sea that still erupt regularly and islands that magically rise and sink periodically. Makes for interesting navigation! There are three groups of islands, the Vava'u group that we landed in, the Ha'apai group which is mostly reefs and coral atolls in the center and further south, the capital of Nuku'alofa is in the Tongatapu group. It is apparent that the best cruising and anchorages is in the Vava'u group. We managed to talk the Moorings charter base into selling
us a copy of the guide they provide to their customers, listing all the special places to explore. Places like the Swallows Cave where you can take the dinghy in to find a large cavern full of swallows. And Barnacle Beach where the traditional Tonga feast is held, complete with Kava ceremony. And then for the more adventuresome, there is Mariners Cave which has some challenges! There is no anchorage near it so someone has to drop you off or keep the engine running while you go over the side and
dive down, find the opening , then proceed to swim about 20 feet underwater, always looking up for the opening, to emerge in what sounds like a magical cavern! We'll see whether we get to attempt that one! And of course, coral gardens and pristine beaches etc etc....I know, sounds pretty boring but hey, it's a hard life out here!
Meanwhile back to town, the new King was coronated recently and arrives in Vava'u this weekend for various ceremonies. So lots of cleaning and painting going on and the brass band seems to be practising around the clock! The people really are genuinely welcoming and it's not hard to see why they have been called the 'friendly islands'. Added to this is a layer of relatively new commerce, mostly New Zealanders, Aussies, and some Americans, and one Austrian baker, most of which is welcome to cruisers
but I suspect it has driven the economy up. For instance, bars and restaurants have prices not that different from back home which is incongruent here! If you go to the local market, you can find produce and crafts very reasonably priced and today we found where the fishermen sell their catch and bought a nice red snapper for 7 Pa'anga which is about $4Cdn.
So needing exercise, today we did a short hike up Mt Talau. It was only about 2km out of town but a most scenic walk through parts of the village where the Tongan people live. Wild pigs and chickens ran around everywhere, then a fairly steep trail on mostly coral with ropes in places to pull yourself up to several paths radiating from the top of the hill to give views in all directions of the islands. There were banded Iguanas and geckos as well as various birds but we only heard them and could
not spot them. It was a good hike and we got some lazy muscles working again.
#1 son arrives Saturday with our mail which will also be welcome!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

TONGA TONGA!

After a 3 night passage from Niue, we are now anchored in Neiafu, Vavau, Tonga and flying the Tongan flag that Phoebe made for us while visiting in Mexico!
The passage was pretty good, as far as passages go! The first 24 hours were very light in wind but we managed to maintain steerage and sail, if only at 3 knots for the most. The following two days, the wind gradually filled to 25 knots and we had to slow down on arrival early this morning so as not to arrive before dawn. There was no moon and the night was very black. This combined with wind and seas made for very poor visibility. And rumour had it the charts were off by a mile or so!
But we found it and made our way in, did the paperwork today or most of it anyway, seems the 'Health' department was not available so we have to look for them next week.
So far the people have been really friendly and there seems to be lots to explore. More to follow when we have rested and launched the dinghy.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Hair cutting ceremony

Kind of like a Niue-an bar mitzvah....a rite of passage or coming of age ceremony! As it was explained to us, in the old days when neighbouring groups came by to raid your village, they killed all the men and made off with the women and children. So what the locals did was grow male children's hair really long to give them a slight advantage when trying to escape from the raiding party. When they reached a certain age they had a ceremony to cut the boy's hair and then he became a man. Of course,
attending this 'hair cutting ceremony' today, we found it was not quite as simple as that! Seems it was also a very complex bartering or banking system. Invitations had gone out and relatives of the boy, yes there still was a young boy with long hair at the center of it all, had come from as far away as New Zealand to take part in the ceremony. And everyone contributed something. We got there around 10:30 in the morning and we missed the pig sticking event. Many had brought pigs as their contribution!
And they were live when they arrived. They were slaughtered en masse and stacked in a pile with some palm leaves over them (pictures to follow). We arrived as the fish were being unloaded from the pickup trucks! And what a load of fish! Sailfish, marlin, tuna, even a moon fish! Most of them taller than me! These were duly strung up by their tails from poles suspended over the pile of pigs. Then there were countless boxes of frozen chicken parts...not sure where they came from but I guess
it was easier than plucking the hundreds of chickens that wander loose over the island! Also there were bunches of taro root, about 100 square feet of it that apparently had been grown especially for this ceremony. There was a grandstand area, with chairs decorated with the family coloured prints and someone with a microphone introducing members of the community, speeches of course. Two people sat at a table with a large ledger book and recorded the donations. At the end of the day they would
carve up all the food and distribute it back according to what had been donated. Money was also acceptable! Then a priest and a grandmother and an uncle and countless others would each take a lock of the young lad's hair, tied with a blue ribbon. It was a fascinating experience actually and while we sat on log stumps under the coconut trees, members of the family circulated with trays of juice and fresh baked goodies.
Back to the yacht club for a beer! Some groceries, laundry in the tub and showers and we are back on board and ready to fire up the barbeque. Seven boats in the bay now! Weather is fairly stable, sun and clouds, the odd shower of rain. There had been a swell coming in that caused us some discomfort as the boat never stopped rocking but that seems to have died down now.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Togo Chasm!

Day 2 of exploring Niue by car! We drove over to the more rugged East coast of the island and explored a couple of smaller 'sea tracks' down to the reef. Then we parked and hiked in for a half hour to Togo Chasm. The first part was a walk through the forest on a fairly good trail. But this was no forest we've ever seen before. The woods were thick with deciduous trees and ferns, along with the occasional coconut grove. At our feet, we walked on a thick bed of leaves but under this thin layer
of rotting vegetation is coral. And if you look off the trail to the side, you see large jagged lumps of coral everywhere among the vegetation. And the only life seems to be the tiny lizards that dart off the path as you walk. Very few birds and nothing else! The canopy almost blocked out the sun. At the end of the forest trail, the view opened up to the pinnacles of coral with huge crevasses running among them. But the locals had made a trail among them and you could pick your way down with
the occasional rope to help you descend. And half way down, you looked into a chasm at an oasis, complete with sand and palm trees, completed surrounded by high dark cliffs. A sturdy ladder dropped about 50 feet straight down to the bottom where you could scramble among the jumble of coral pieces into small caves that led to the ocean. Here, on the windy side of the island, the surf pounded in and exploded up the cliffs. It was quite impressive really!
On the way back we stopped in a small village and drove down to the water where we donned snorkelling gear and swam out to an opening in the reef. Lots of fish and we saw quite a large sea snake, black and yellow banded, and apparently one of the most venomous in the world! The locals assured us they were not aggressive though but watching it swim by about twenty feet below me was still a little unnerving.
Ice cream cones at the local video rental store, beers at the yacht club, showers down by the dock and back on board. Last night one of the whales was back. In the middle of the night I could hear it grunting and snorting and blowing about a boat's length away from us. It was dark with no moon but I could see the white on its flippers and tail.
The weekly plane flies in and out tomorrow (Friday) so Thursday night is beer and sausages night at the yacht club. The handful of tourist on the island, most of which we have met in our exploring with undoubtedly by there. We've requested lamb sausages if possible!
Meanwhile the sun is shining and there is a nice breeze blowing from the East so we are starting to think about the last 250 miles West to Tonga!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Whale song!

I was up reading a book at 3AM (don't ask) when the whales came by and serenaded us from under the boat. It was an incredible sound. Long low pitched hums and high pitched notes, and then pops that sounded like bubbles bursting. It went on for a long time and the sounds filled the boat. I like to think maybe a calf was being born!
Today we rented a car, along with Brian and Cathy off 'Tarun'. We managed to explore the North end of the island. This involved many stops with hikes down to the most incredible caves and pools at the ocean's edge. In two of them, we donned our snorkelling gear and cooled off in the refreshing fresh water that flowed into them to mix with the salt water washing over the reef. In one, you had to walk through a cave system of stalactites and stalagmites that were still forming as we went past them,
huge columns of minerals dripping from the ceiling and forming columns 20 feet high.
Beers at the one resort operating on the island, where the heads of state for the Pacific Rim will stay when they meet here in a few weeks, then on to a small restaurant for fish and chips, wahoo in this case, and more beers.
It was a cloudy, drizzly day mostly but the sun came out off and on. We have the car for two more days if we want it, so plan to explore the other end of the island tomorrow.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jewel of the Pacific

We are enjoying Niue! The clearing in formalities were so simple. The people are very friendly and genuinely happy. The population is now down to about 1500 people. After cyclone Hetta struck in 2004, several thousand residents moved to New Zealand. The devastation is still visible. Complete houses wiped off the cliffs, nothing left but a concrete pad. But they are slowly recovering.
We have joined the yacht club and obtained driver's licenses...not only very colourful but necessary as we intend to rent a car and explore the many caves, chasms, and 'sea tracks' as they call the trails leading down to the edge of the reef. The island is a large, more or less flat, lump of coral and volcanic rock. Beneath it are billions of gallons of fresh water that is pumped up for use by the population. Although a coral reef surrounds the island, there is no lagoon, just very deep water
outside the reef and a shelf up to the edge of the land. Caves have formed from the erosion in the limestone cliffs and the seas boom into them and cast spray high into the air. Small patches of sand are hidden in tiny coves at the edges.
We met Ernie who is in his eighties and came down to the wharf to show us how to operate the crane to lift our dinghy up onto the concrete pad. Then we met Jim and his wife, Mamata, who run an ice cream and beer place at the yacht club. Keith, the Commodore, drove us around and showed us the airport, the jail, the golf course and the school that was all decorated with Canadian flags. It seems the Canadians were very generous with the relief effort after the cyclone and added a section to the school
as well as supplying gear for fishermen.
The currency is NZ dollars and the prices are very refreshing after French Polynesia! Saturday we hiked down some trails to the water for exercise and Sunday we hitchhiked to a small village about 9km down the coast to the 'Washaway' cafe where we sat in the funkiest bar you can imagine with a billion dollar view of the setting sun and ate fish burgers on foccacia bread and drank Spaits NZ beer. We met Willie, the owner, who is also a mechanic and used to run the bakery but gave it to his brother.
He joked about looking up some recipes in the back of some woman's magazine and opening the restaurant. It's a wonderful place and we shared it with a handful of Australians and NZers staying at the only resort down the road and some Germans off a catamaran, plus a couple of locals.
There are humpback whales in the bay. We see them every day and they swim by our boats, sometimes quite close. They come here to have their young, maybe the same whales we saw frolicking in Banderas Bay, Mexico! And yesterday I saw the biggest turtle I've ever seen. It was swimming by the boat and stuck its huge head up to look at us. The depth sounder registers 93 feet below our keel and the bottom is clearly visible, even to the detail of rock formations and little fish swimming around. Apparently
there is no sediment from the island so the water stays clear. No sign of the little venomous sea snakes but we know they are down there!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Niue

We made it! 1100 miles....not much by plane or driving but if you think about crossing an ocean at 5 miles per hour...well its different that's for sure! The adjustment of leaving those safe anchorages, sleeping through the night, doing town stuff, hanging out...and then just lifting the hook and pointing the bow west. Oh, we did our weather homework but its all speculation; weathermen must be right up there with economists in terms of credibility! Anyway, you pick your window and then take what
you get.
As it was, the passage was probably one of the best we've done so far! After a frustrating start with light winds and some motoring, it filled in and we had great sailing, with constant winds from the right quarter and we flew through the water. Unlike our friends who went north to Samoa, they were beat up a bit with 40 knot winds or more. "Little Wing" was knocked down and busted their mast. But we think they all arrived safely, maybe with a longer list of things to fix. Threw out the hook
on the last day and something struck it but when I reeled it in there was only a small piece missing from the hootchy!
Seeing land after a passage is always a good feeling. We spotted Niue, a long low dark line on the horizon, about 25 miles out. The sky was clear blue with those fluffy white clouds like in the opening credits for the Simpsons.
But that is now and back only a few days we were coasting along in the inky black darkness before the moon came up. Hard to know where the sea ended and the sky began, except for the million tiny dots of light, like someone poked a needle in the canopy of the heavens and allowed a trickle of brilliance to leak through. Then the moon would rise, directly in our wake. It always caught us off guard, even though we were waiting for it. That moment when you glanced back and saw this strange yellowish
light on the horizon and had an instant of panic, worried some ship was bearing down on us. But it was just our old friend and constant companion, so welcome in the long dark nights.
So here we are! Tied to a mooring, an open roadstead on the West side of the island, unsafe if the winds should shift to the West, but not likely this time of year.
Tomorrow we will launch the dinghy and do the official clearance procedure. Should be interesting, because of the constant surge on shore, they put in a concrete wharf with a crane on it and we have to hoist the dinghy up so it does not break up on the wharf!
Billed as 'the smallest country in the world', Niue so far is a very friendly place. Rumours of caves and hot springs and motorcycles to rent! Also told that if you look down into the hundred foot deep water, you can see the bottom! And along with the bottom, you can see myriads of tiny sea snakes! And whales are in the bay, diving under the moored boats and breaching nearby!
Anyway, I'm sure this is very boring compared to what you all are doing........so I'll try to spice it up....tomorrow!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sloppy seas!

For those who have been aboard Toketie, picture me wedged in on the starboard settee, the heater at my feet (not heating of course), the lee cloth strapped tight on my left side and the cushion on my right. Pillows at my back, a cushion on my lap supporting the laptop. The inclinometer hovers between 15 and 25 degrees of heel and occasionally touches 30 degrees as we slide off a big swell coming up from the south! It's not too bad actually but you do have to be careful walking around as our little
world is moving unexpectedly at times. In the cockpit, Linda is up on the high side with a foot braced against the arch to keep her from sliding down. The full enclosure has been on for days now and just as well as the seas wash over the foredeck and rush down the side decks, occasionally Toketie buries the lee rail. But we are making good time and more or less on the rhumb line to our waypoint at Niue. With a steady 25 knots of wind that gradually backed around to a close reach, we average between
6 and 7 knots speed! With two reefs in the main and half the jib furled up, Toketie flies in this kind of wind!
Sorry for the long silence but the first few days of a passage are always more tiring and the first couple of days of this one were frustrating with light winds and heavy rain and too much of the iron genie (that's the engine for you landlubbers). Linda managed a lasagne yesterday that should keep our bellies full for a few days. Don't know how she does it. Keeping things from flying around down below is a challenge under these conditions.
The weather reports are favourable so with any luck this breeze is expected to hold for a few days at least. We maintain radio contact with several different groups. There is the 0300Z Pacific Seafarer's net of course that tracks ships all over the Pacific and post their positions and weather to Yotreps. Then we have a brief contact, usually just listen in, with a group of mostly American boats heading N to Samoa. Another smaller group is en route SW to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and our friends
on Tarun left Bora Bora today and are following us to Niue then Neiafu in Tonga. It is useful exchanging positions and weather conditions with boats in the area, also a little chitchat and review of weather forecasts. Other than that we are very much alone out here. We have not spotted another vessel since leaving Bora Bora. But we still maintain a visual watch in the cockpit around the clock. At night we find 3 hours to be about the limit to staying awake and the bunk is very welcome.
But we have found the rhythm now and we are clocking along and doing what chores are required along the way. For example, yesterday, before the wind filled in we were drifting about for a few hours so used the time to transfer 40 litres of diesel from the jugs on deck into the tank below. And the starboard jib sheet winch was acting up so I stripped it down and cleaned and greased the gears inside it. Wish I had transferred water from the jugs on deck as that extra weight topsides on the lee rail
is not welcome at the moment but don't know when we'll have another quiet moment.
But we are happier now with wind in the sails and the miles are flowing under the keel. Have heard great things about Tonga so look forward to it. Number one son (by 5 minutes) is planning to join us there for a few weeks before school starts so we are motivated to get there.
As for French Polynesia, it was overall a wonderful experience, though it had its trying moments. It cost way too much for everything, except diesel because we had a tax discount, and are told it is $10/gallon in the Cooks. We will miss the pamplemousse the most but fortunately stocked up from a street vendor just before leaving.
That's all for now, file getting pretty big for uploading! Wish you were here :)

Monday, July 14, 2008

to Tonga!

Left Bora Bora after waiting two extra days for weather to settle down! Very light winds but we are headed West with possible stop at Niue!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Au Revoir French Polynesia!

We have not actually left yet but since we are down to 7 francs we think maybe it's time to move on! That is about 10 cents in real money and won't buy you anything here. Even the beggars would turn their noses up at it....of course there are no beggars, even the locals drive new SUVs!!
But we treated ourselves to dinner at the famous Bloody Mary's and though we did not get to sit at the same table Johnny Depp sat at, we did get the lowdown from the waitress on which of the many famous people who graced the place were born without personalities! More on that over drinks some day....
We also took in another night of the dance festival. The last night was a performance by solo male and female dancers. They were truly spectacular! And the accompanying percussion was outstanding! If you are planning a trip to French Polynesia, be sure to be in Bora Bora in July. The dancing, singing and drumming is well worth it!
We also found Ben's Tex Mex burger joint and had a great fish burger! He ripped us off for the beers though!
Having done the visit to the gendarme to have our exit papers stamped and lined up at the bank to get our bond money back in NZ currency, we are now ready to depart! We anchored on the reef overnight hoping to do some last minute snorkelling but the weather turned cloudy so we opted to hitch a ride into the village and spend our last 2,242 francs on two decent bottles of wine!
So now all we need is the wind! Boats ahead in Samoa reported 45 knots, which is a bit much, but we are not going that far N so may be able to avoid it. Weather patterns here are different and we have to study the high and low pressure systems and convergence zones, keeping an eye on the South Pacific Convergence Zone which can be very active this time of year. Bottom line though, we pick our weather window and once we leave we are committed for about two weeks to cover the 1400nm to Tonga.
Once we start moving, we will be posting position reports on Yotreps and Winlink sites for those who have been following that little dot on the ocean....just look up VA7DXF and you can see our progress!

Monday, July 07, 2008

A swim with the rays!

We had dinghied out on the reef to look for the area where we heard people swim with stingrays and sharks...but had no luck finding it. So the next day, yesterday, having spoken to someone, we watched for the small tour boats that bring the hotel tourists out about 10 each morning and when we saw them anchoring on the reef, we jumped in the dinghies and headed for them! We anchored nearby and proceeded to swim towards them but were quickly warned to remove our fins and walk. The water on the reef
shelf was about waist deep and had a light layer of sand on the coral. So we slowly waded towards the group of tourists who were in the water with their guides and feeding fish to the stingrays! As we approached the rays were all around us, huge creatures with three foot wingspans or more and long dangerous looking tails! But they were friendly enough and when one of the guides came over and offered one of us a fish to feed them, they sucked it out of the hand and swarmed around us. With my goggles
on, I stuck my head in the water and noticed about a five foot reef shark circling the outside of the group! Probably why we were asked to stand upright and not splash around. It was a very strange experience, eerie in some ways as these things were capable of hurting you, not to mention the sharks, but they were very friendly and liked being patted.
Today we moved around to Baie de Povai, in front of the famous "Bloody Mary's" restaurant! If you all send one dollar, we might be able to go in for a drink!! Actually the place looks pretty nice and they were very friendly. We have tied to a mooring out front and they say we are welcome if we patronize the place. The list of people that have graced its tables reads like a who's who of Hollywood and other famous people! Everyone from Bill & Melinda to Johnny Depp!

Bora Bora looms!

 

Baie Tapuamau, Ile Tahaa

 

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Bora Bora

About 25 miles round to the West side where the only pass allows entrance to the reef surrounding Bora Bora. A steady 15 knot breeze eventually died out and we motored the rest of the way, arriving in time to line up at the bank to order our bond money to be refunded in NZ currency. They said it should be ready on Wednesday!
That night we ate shrimp on skewers from a truck vendor on the side of the road and then paid for grandstand seats to view the entrants to the dance competition that night. The locals had brought blankets and chairs and surrounded the soccer field sized area of sand where the performances were held. As the evening's competition was to go on for over two hours, we opted to pay to sit in the seating area behind the judges. Two local groups put on a spectacular show of choral singing and hip shaking
dancing. Brightly coloured costumes and lots of energy made it a spectacle worth seeing. One group told the story of the first people to come to Bora Bora and how the name evolved. The saga was repeated in English, French and then Tahitian before the dancers took over to enact it.
Earlier in the day, along the side of the main road we saw crowds gathered and poked our way in to find dozens of local men wearing the traditional wrapped cloth around their lower half and clutching a bunch of long narrow sticks! A coconut was suspended on the top of a pole at least 200 feet in the air and the contestants then proceeded to underhand chuck the spears at the tiny target! A few of them found their mark! Guess they have to keep their spear chucking skills up in case they ever decide
to take the country back and start eating the tourists! Not likely as the economy would take such a hit they could no longer afford the new SUVs and scooters they all drive!!
We left the anchorage off the village today and went around behind a small motu to drop in a quiet little bay where there were fewer tour boats racing by and the water was cleaner for swimming. A short trip by dinghy to the reef did not reveal much but maybe we were spoiled after the coral garden on the last island. The weather seems to have cleared again. It is hot with fluffy clouds and a nice breeze!

Coral Garden!

Yesterday we moved to the neighbouring island of Tahaa. Having filled the propane bottle, with butane for about $50, I then transferred the four Gerry cans of diesel from on deck into the aft fuel tank. About a three hour motor in no wind inside the reef took us to Baie Tapuamau where I carried the jugs in to fill with diesel and then did another trip to fill four jugs with water. Picking up the ubiquitous baguette from the little store, we were all set to throw another lamb roast on the barbeque!
Today we took the dinghy out to the edge of the reef that surrounds both the island of Raiatea and Tahaa! From Baie Tapuamau, where we are anchored, it was about a half hour ride to the three small 'motus' on the edge of the reef. We had heard about some great snorkelling and were not disappointed. We pulled the dinghy up on the sandy shore among the palm trees and hiked down a narrow path to the outside of the lagoon. Here, a shallow depression in the reef allows a weak current to flood into
the lagoon from the ocean. Donning masks and fins and using our flip flops on our hands, we drifted through a channel and over the most amazing collection of coral you can imagine. Myriad colours and lots of strange looking sea life with no fear of us whatsoever. Long pointed narrow little fish, almost transparent, not much bigger than a pencil, hovering an inch below the surface so hard to see unless you look up at them. Bigger, funny shaped fish with small mouths and teeth! I hoped they were
not going to nip at my ankles, like some piranha! Lots of tiny brightly coloured fish and camouflaged rockfish as well as sea urchins and the big clam shells with the brightly coloured lips, as if they had just put on lipstick. It was stunning!
The current pulled us along and we could just barely swim against it or hang on to sections of brain corral. At places it was so shallow we risked scraping it but managed it all with no injuries. Other places were too deep to touch bottom. It was like flying over small canyons. The water was crystal clear and a beautiful aquamarine. The sun beat down on us and as there was no wind, it was a perfect day in the water.
The legendary Bora Bora looms on the horizon.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Raiatea

Saturday we sailed the 20 mile passage to Raiatea Island. This is the second largest and most populated, next to Tahiti, in French Polynesia. There are two haulout facilities and this seems to be the main center of boat maintenance in the S Pacific. But we have decided to postpone our haulout and hope to make it to NZ and do a major refit there.
We had a 15 knot tail wind and sloppy seas but managed to get in behind the reef and motor down another 5 miles to Baie Faaroa, a deep bay with a river at the end and lots of houses along the shores. Moorings and/or Sunsail have mooring balls in the bay as well where they park their charter boats, mostly catamarans from what we can see. It is a large bay though and we anchored off the mouth of the river in brown silty mud. The holding is good and just as well because the wind came up overnight
and funnelled through the bay at 30 knots or more. We swayed around and listened to the hum of the rigging but held fine. Today was cloudy with showers and the wind continued till mid afternoon when it stopped completely.
So we did boat chores and read books and relaxed. Tomorrow we go in search of propane!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Huahine

Moorea was nice but Huahine is very nice! Maybe it was the head cold or the strong winds that kept us boatbound but we were ready to leave Moorea. We skipped the next bay over where you can swim with the rays and sharks because it was too crowded.
So we hauled the anchor around noon and planned an overnighter for the 90 miles to Huahine. We had nice sailing for the first half, interspersed with heavy showers and gusty squalls, but then the wind went very light and we motor sailed the rest of the way to arrive at the S end of Huahine at daybreak. Tried three times to anchor on the shelf inside the reef, in about 15' of water, but we gave up and dropped the hook in front of the village in deeper water but with something on the bottom the anchor
could dig into! On the reef shelf, there was only a very fine layer of sand so unless the anchor hooked on coral, it just dragged. With the winds we had just experienced on Moorea, we would not get any sleep unless we knew the anchor was set.
It is quite nice off the village. The boat streams to the W due to the current that constantly runs out of the pass behind us. This is because the swell coming up from the SE breaks over the reef and fills the lagoon to overflowing. There is just enough breeze to make the hot sun bearable and the water is clear for swimming.
We have met up with Brian & Cathy on 'Tarun' again and Barry & Ann on 'Cat's Paw IV' are here as well. So we had our traditional celebratory beer before noon and settled in to relax for a while.
We are beginning to realize that we are drawing to the end of our French Polynesian experience. They gave us 3 months and that will be up July 21st. We are also hearing rumours now of boats who landed illegally in Fatu Hiva (like we did), being fined $200US for not clearing in properly first! Guess it pays to be the first ones in! There are only two, maybe three, islands left to visit before we clear out of the country. The next, Raiatea which we can see in the distance, has haulout facilities
and services for fixing broken gear. We seem to be in fairly good shape (touch wood), so will skip the bottom painting here and hope to make it to NZ for a major refit. After that is the jewel of the S Pacific, Bora Bora, and we are looking forward to seeing it. This is where we do our final clearance out of the country and retrieve the bond they made us post on entry. This amounted to about $3200US and guaranteed to them that we had the means to leave the country if necessary. I guess they
don't like foreign hippies becoming a burden on them! After Bora Bora, there are two small islands we were told we could stop at on our way by. We may visit one of them, Ile Maupiti, if conditions are favourable.
Our destination after French Polynesia is the Cook Islands but which island is still under discussion. We are leaning to Rarotonga but Aitutaki is on a more direct line to Niue which would be our next stop after the Cooks. I doubt we will do any exploring in the Cooks as the islands are small and do not seem to offer much. From Bora Bora to the Cook Islands is about 500 miles and from there to Niue looks like about another 400 miles so the legs are getting longer. After Niue comes Tonga and then
a decision whether to go directly down to NZ, a 1000 mile passage that requires careful weather routing to avoid the depressions that move constantly from the Tasman Sea going E to NZ, or continue further W to Fiji or even New Caledonia, where you get a better angle on the long leg S to NZ. Time and weather will influence those decisions.
But for now, we relax in Huahine! Yesterday we went into the village and found a stage set up in a covered area where bands were playing in a music festival. Sipping on a cold fresh coconut and enjoying the music, which was a mix of French and Polynesian songs with guitars, electric keyboards and voice. People were sporting their best straw hats with lots of flowers wound around them and the tattoos were much in evidence. Then walking back to the dinghy we came across the weighing in of a fishing
competition which saw giant mahi-mahi and swordfish hoisted up on block & tackles to see who got the prize!
Sunday today and maybe we'll drop the dinghy anchor on the reef shelf and see what kind of coloured fishies are out there!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On the reef!

No, not literally....well not quite anyway! Today we moved out of Cooks Bay to a spot just inside the pass through the reef; just off to the side as you enter the bay. Unlike the end of the bay where we have been anchored for a week now, the water here is crystal clear and has that beautiful turquoise colour you expect in these kinds of places.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, yesterday we rented a car and drove around Moorea and this morning after coffee; we hiked up the road and around the point to visit the 'juice factory'! They have a large production processing plant where they make pineapple, coconut, papaya, orange, banana and various blends of juices. They also make some with booze in them and have a sampling bar.....so we hiked up to check it out. It was very touristy and in fact as we tried to get near the bar to have a sample,
we would be overwhelmed by a truckload of folks fresh off the cruise ship anchored in the next bay! But we had a nice walk and when we returned to Toketie, it felt like time for a change so we dragged the anchor out of the mud...with great resistance...must have been those 40+ knot gusts....and moved to the head of the bay.
Completely different world out here! After setting the hook in the deep part, we backed down onto the sandy surface inside the reef. Here it is only about 10-12 feet deep but our anchor is over the hill into the deep part so we should hold ok...as long as the wind keeps blowing from the bay! The winds seem to have settled down finally and the forecast is for light wind tomorrow. We are hoping for a quiet night!
On arriving at the new anchorage on the reef shelf, we immediately donned snorkelling gear and jumped into the water! The plan was to scrub the waterline, which we accomplished, but with many distractions as we swam off to view the stingrays and other sea creatures around us!
Much more relaxing out here!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Prisoners of the wind!

Other than the couple of hours when we went ashore to see the Tahitian dancers, we have been boat-bound due to the wind! A fairly steady 30 knots with gusts over 40 knots is keeping everyone watching their anchors. It funnels through the valley between two mountains and is concentrated in Cooks Bay, where we are anchored. The bottom is sticky mud and seems to be fairly good holding and although a couple of boats have re-anchored due to dragging or not being set properly but we seem to be holding
fine so far! We have 260 feet of chain out and about a 30 # kellet keeping the scope on that low!
They are forecasting this system from the S to affect us through the weekend so we may not be doing any exploring in the next couple of days.
But it is a beautiful place and we can always find chores to do on board. Having recently acquired the new weather fax schedule, I have been downloading various weather files to understand the patterns locally.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Surf's Up!

There is an area on the SW side of the big Island of Tahiti that is said to be where the world champion surfing competitions are held! It is also supposedly a very dangerous place to surf because of the reefs. Needless to say, the surfers are converging on it!
We are safely tucked into Cooks Bay on the NW side of Moorea and with a large swell forecast from the SW, we are glad to be here. Boats were clearing out of the anchorage in Papeete behind the reef where we were. The swell was already coming over the reef and we felt it the day before we left. Boats are reporting today that they could not sleep last night and there were standing waves in the W pass. This is part of a weather convergence zone south of us that is expected to bring a change in weather.
The sky is overcast and we have had several small showers so we can see the change coming!
Today we stayed on board, mostly because the Captain was nursing a head cold! Although now that I've finished the Sudoku book (thnx Y) and have no crosswords to do.....it will be only a matter of time before we go exploring. Fortunately we ran into a pile of trashy novels recently that helps keep the boredom down!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Moorea

Anchored in Cooks Bay after a short but 'spirited' sail from Tahiti, hitting 8.5 knots at times! This is a very peaceful and beautiful place, especially after a week in the city! Tonight we dinghied into the local bar/resort to see the Tahitian dancers. They showed a lot of energy and enthusiasm! No swell here so should be a restful night!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

black pearl farming

 

RiriFatu

 

atoll

Papeete, Tahiti

Anchored around the NE side of the Island, past the airport and away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Looking out to the sunset, huge rollers break on the reef only a few hundred meters away. In the distance, Moorea looms! It is a beautiful setting. A short dinghy ride to a marina gives us access to 'le truck' which takes us downtown. A ten minute walk to the 'Carrefoure' which is the French equivalent of Walmart.
The sun is shining and the breeze makes the heat and humidity almost bearable. Tahiti seems like a crossroads for ocean travelers. From here boats are bound N to Hawaii or E to the Panama Canal or W to Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand. French boats, Dutch boats, English boats, Canadian boats, American boats, Polish boats etc... And everyone of them has tales to tell, the common bond being the oceans we've crossed and the ones we gaze ahead at. From the largest sailing yacht in the world, the 'Maltese
Falcon' moored downtown to the grubbiest little derelict still afloat, you see them all here.
And among them, Toketie bobs gently, pulling on her anchor chain...almost to say...'where to next?'....and we ask ourselves the same question. This feels like a halfway point and we take a deep breath before taking the next step across a very big ocean.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Tradewinds

This is what it is supposed to be like! A steady 15-20 knot breeze from the same direction, in this case ESE, with occasional gusts to 25 that drive us off course, clear blue skies with big fluffy white clouds! As forecast, we have had probably some of the best sailing so far since we left Fakarava atoll. In keeping with the old sailing superstition, having mentioned how great the wind is, I am 'touching wood' that it will hold to Tahiti!
Tahiti! Just the name conjures up romantic images of the South Seas! The largest island of the Society Islands, with high, spectacular, sharp peaks, is surrounded by a coral barrier reef from half to two miles off the coast with many passes allowing entry through the reef. With luck we will spot it at first light tomorrow! The main port and administrative center is Papeete, with all the hustle and bustle of the largest city in French Polynesia. The change should be interesting. But we have
provisioning to do, fuel and water to take on and a few maintenance issues to address.
Meanwhile, 'Merlin', the monitor wind vane, steers us round the clock as the large ocean swells from the SE roll under us and Toketie logs the miles under her keel!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Goodbye 'Tomatoes', Hello Societies!

In spite of the painfully slow passage getting to the Tuomotus and the bumpy ride entering our first one, we are sure glad we took the time to visit them. The two we stopped at, Kauehi and Fakarava, had very different characters but both were charming.
Early this morning (Sunday), we cleared the pass at the N end of Fakarava and set a course for Tahiti! The weather reports, both grib files and French Polyniesian report were favourable indicating 15-20 knots of wind from the East for the next 3 days. It is almost sunset and so far it has been glorious sailing all day. Let's hope it continues!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Anchoring in coral

We lifted the anchor today, after watching several boats that have been here over a week unwind their anchor chains from the coral heads on the sandy bottom! It was stuck but with a little gentle persuasion it popped off whatever it was hooked on. We moved into slightly deeper water for an early morning departure. The weather reports indicate 15-20 knots of wind from the East and that would suit us fine for the 250 mile run to Tahiti and the big city of Papeete. We have loaded up on fresh baguettes,
had our final swim and loaded the dinghy on deck so hopefully the weather gods will be kind and we can get through the pass early in the morning.
Fakarava atoll has been a very seductive place to hang around but it is time to move on!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fakarava

We are glad we stopped! Each atoll has its own charms. This one, being second in size only to Rangiroa, is quite large, 32 miles long by 15 miles wide, and has several villages along the East side. It is obviously wealthier with a greater population. The bay we are anchored in at the edge of Rotoava village is gorgeous! Today, after a walk in town, including a visit to the bakery for fresh baguettes and a few carrots and some local beer at the store, we blew up the kayaks for the first time.
We paddled along the shore, sandy with palm trees, among coral heads for about 2 miles to the point. Sting rays darting ahead of us along the sandy bottom and small black tipped reef sharks doing whatever little sharks do! The sun was baking us so badly we had to go for a swim!
Still not enough wind to convince us to move on to Papeete and the big city lights! Just as well....the gentle breeze is enough to make the heat bearable!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pearl farming!

Turns out the owner of the only operational pearl farm left on Kauehi, also the owner of the local 'magazin', and the town's newly elected mayor gave us the tour personally! A 20 minute ride in the back of his pickup with stops at the new airport (plane coming in this PM apparently), where he also has the concession stand, and another stop where a local entrepreneur was in the final stages of building a 'pensione' or bungalow to rent to tourists. Quite a nice place on the water! The pearl farm
was very interesting. Our timing could not have been better as he had two young Chinese girls employed for two months to seed the oysters. We were taken through the entire process from growing the 'naissan' or young oysters, harvesting them to implant the synthetically produced bio-chemical nucleus with a dab of irritant taken from another oyster to cause the pearl to form. Some are rejected by the oysters but most become pearls and are harvested after twelve months hanging in the sea. He then
brought out his big 'treasure' case and spread out two piles of black pearls on a white cloth. He was charging 1500f (about $20) for the larger ones and 1000f for the smaller. The other three boats bought quite a few but we only picked out a half dozen. Then he gave everyone a handful for free and had everyone close their eyes and pick one at random from a pile.
Back in town, his wife asked if we would be interested in a dinner! Talk about your pizza deprived yuppies....and she only wanted 700f per person (about $10) so we agreed to return at 7 to their house. Getting in to shore in the dark, navigating around the coral heads, was interesting but we managed, along with three other boats and were treated to two kinds of very nice fish, chicken, a salad of sorts, rice, juice and pears for dessert! It was fun and a nice change from cooking and cleaning on
board!
Met our fisherman friend, RiriFatu on the road in town and the grandmother had woven hats for both of us out of palm leaves! This man was a pleasure to meet and we will miss him but tomorrow we have decided it is definitely time to move on!
We had planned on a direct route to Papeete but after raising the anchor at first light and motoring out the pass (no trauma this time).....we found no wind at all. We motored 30 miles to the next atoll, Fakarava, and pulled in for the night, determined to wait for wind to sail the 200 miles to Tahiti.