All Together Again
July 5, 2012, 11:44 pm, Musket Cove, Malololailai Island, Fiji
Bula from Fiji. We arrived in Musket Cove on Wednesday where we joined up with the rest of the fleet. Although we saw quite a few people while we stayed at Port Denarau Marina on the island of Viti Levu, this is the first time we have all been together in a very long time. It has been great to reconnect with everyone!
Port Denarau Marina was a great place to stay. It was a very nice marina with beautiful docks, lots of facilities, great dining and shopping. What fun! We had the sails taken to a sail maker for some minor repairs and to get a thorough inspection. We also had the rigging inspected and our rigger, Bruce, found a shroud (one of the metal wires which holds up the mast) with a crack in it. Bruce also went up the mast to inspect the rigging everything there. We were happy to have the shroud replaced instead of having it break while we were at sea! We also had a couple of coats of Cetol (varnish) put on the teak toe rail. The hot weather has really caused the teak to wear very quickly.
We were able to do a little shopping while in Denarau at the nearby town of Nadi (pronounced Nandi). The prices were much better than what we have seen in French Polynesia for many things. Mark and I also decided to buy traditional Fijian outfits to wear at one of the nice events at Musket Cove with the rest of the fleet. I spread a rumor among the men that everyone was buying the traditional sulu to wear. I even took several men to the store to help them purchase them. There is no easy was to say this but a sulu is a skirt for men. We have seen them in the last three places we have been - American Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. Ted (s/v Glamorous Galah) took me to a very nice tailor and I was fitted for a chambra which is the traditional dress for a Fijian woman. Here is a picture of Mark and me in our outfits. The men who wore the sulus earned a lot of points from the rest of the fleet, mostly for their bravery.
Sadly, we did bid farewell to Magali and David (s/v Ensemble) who are returning to Australia. Their boat is being sailed there by hired crew with the hope that the boat can get the repairs it needs. We went to a fantastic dinner with them right before they left. We will miss them very much. Another two boats are leaving the rally in Fiji while three other boats have joined us here. Approximately six other boats will be leaving us between now and Australia. Several people will be staying for another year in this area or making a detour to New Zealand. If only we could!!!
While in Musket Cove we did have a great afternoon of sports. We formed teams, played volleyball, tug of war and a rather interesting game of bucket brigade. Our team tied for first place for the tug of war and won the bucket brigade. I skipped the tug of war which left almost everyone quite sore the next day.
We are quite sad to say good bye to Fiji. We spent quite a bit of time working on the boat and not enough time enjoying Fiji. We would love to find a way to come back to Tonga and Fiji and do some more exploring. They are magical places. We have a three day sail to Vanuatu starting tomorrow morning. We will then depart from Vanuatu for Australia on July 17, 2012.
By the way, we received the amazing photographs that Shadow Van Houten (s/v Zoe) took of us in Mariner's Cave in Tonga. Look under the Tonga photo gallery for the additions.
Malo e lelei from the Kingdom of Tonga
June 21, 2012, 10:47 pm, City of Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga
A view of the city of Neiafu from the top of Mt Talau
After several weeks of difficulties, we are happy to report that Tonga has brought us safe anchorages and sunny skies. As Wendell Ritchie, a colleague of Mark's from Baystate Health, wrote to us, "Even though you've had some bad weather and exciting (stressful) experiences, as you already realize, the memories and friendships you are making along the way will be so wonderful in the future. The rainy days (or weeks) and anchor slippages will melt away into the glistening ocean views, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets and times enjoyed with your fellow travelers." Tonga has done just that for us!
Tonga is the oldest and last remaining Polynesian monarchy and the only Pacific nation never to be brought under foreign rule. The total land area of the Kingdom is only 691 square km although the 170 islands are spread over 700,000 square kilometers. The population of Tonga is approximately 100,000 people with half living from subsistence agriculture, fishing and collecting. Both men and women in Tonga wear a traditional woven mat around their waist called a ta'ovala. The men secure theirs with a coconut fiber cord while the women wear a kiekie waistband. The dress is conservative in Tonga with women covering their shoulders and wearing skits that cover their knees. Religion is a very important part of life in Tonga. We went to a Catholic church service while we were here. Much of the service was sung and all of it was in Tongan. Everyone was dressed very well to attend church. The people here are some of the kindest we have yet encountered on our journey. It is an exceptionally relaxed and happy lifestyle.
We spent all of our time in Tonga in the island group of Vava'u. It is one of four major areas in Tonga. Vava'u is known as the most scenic region and we were not disappointed. In Vava'u alone there are about forty pristine anchorages with beautiful white sand beaches. We spent much of our time in the city of Neiafu and then went on to several of the recommended anchorages.
Two of the most interesting things that we did while here was visit two caves with entrances on or under the water. The first cave was Swallow's Cave on Kapa Island where we took the dinghy into the cave. The caves had many bats on the ceiling and a magnificent rock formation. We took this picture of At Last from the entrance to the cave. The second cave we visited was Mariner's Cave on Nuapapu Island. We had to swim through an underwater tunnel to get to the cave. You swam down about six feet then across about 12 feet to the opening of the cave. Many thanks to Dave (s/v Southern Cross) who was the first one into the cave and led the way for the rest of us. It was incredibly worth the effort and anxiety once you were inside the cave. Shadow (s/v Zoe) took some amazing pictures with her underwater camera and a video of us swimming out of the cave. She is getting them to us and we will post them in the near future.
Another highlight of our trip was the anchorage off Tapana Island. There was a floating art gallery there called "Ark Gallery." In addition there was an excellent authentic Spanish restaurant called Le Paella. There were 16 of us from the fleet who went one night for dinner. We had a delicious meal of croquettes, Spanish tortilla, gazpacho soup, and a huge dish of paella. There was also a very friendly dog and a goat who was happy to give a little head butt to anyone who was willing to do the same to him. They even had a helmet available. After dinner, the chefs surprised us by donning instruments and singing some beautiful Spanish music. We liked the paella so much we ordered some from the restaurant and picked it up the next morning. It is now in the freezer ready for the passage to Fiji.
I cannot believe how much we did here. We had a fantastic hike to the highest point in Vava'u. We had a rousing game of Liar's dice one night on At Last with Steve (s/v Southern Cross), the entire Zoe clan, Mark and me. We had two trips on At Last with a whole crew of people from three other boats to visit the caves. We did some amazing snorkeling at a place called the Coral Gardens, which is a perfect name for such an amazing place. We went to a dance performance which was a fundraiser for a local dance group.
But probably the biggest news for the trip to Tonga is a status on our hair. Odd thing I know but here is the thing. Mark's hair is now in a ponytail. Not a big one, mind you, but a ponytail none the less. Several people in the fleet have commented on how it suits him. My, how things have changed. I also got my hair cut for the first time in eight months. We found a delightful woman named Fatima who has a hair studio in Tonga by the same name. She is married to the nephew of the couple who own the Le Paella Restaurant. She sat me in a chair and told me my hair was a mess - a truer statement could not be made. I told her I was open to whatever she wanted to do as long as I could put it in a ponytail. She made me a redhead again and I love it. I was growing tired of the plethora of grey hair on the top of my head and the bleached out blond hair on the bottom. Five of us from the fleet got our hair done that day by Fatima and we ended up there for most of the day. It was so much fun to be pampered for the first time since the spa in St. Lucia.
We are quite sad about leaving Tonga. It is a beautiful place and we have had an amazing time. We would love to figure out a way to return. We are leaving tomorrow for a three day passage to Fiji. We will be reunited with the rest of the World ARC fleet there. We will be there until July 7th when we leave for Vanuatu.
By the way, we crossed the International Date Line on the passage to Tonga. We actually skipped the day June 11, 2012. It is lost to us forever. It is now June 22, 2012 for us and June 21, 2012 for you. We will catch up to you again as we do time zone changes from here back to the Caribbean.
McDonald’s, Costco, and a Real Laundromat
June 8, 2012, 5:54 pm, Pago Pago Harbor, Tutuila Island, American Somoa
Everyone arrived in Somoa safely and Ensemble had no difficulties on the trip over. We feel so relieved and today, as I am writing, their boat is being pulled out of the water. It has been a long two weeks for everyone. It has been amazing to watch the fleet come together and come to the aid of Ensemble. Everyone has been so sensitive to each other's needs. We even had the crew of Eva come to our boat yesterday because our outboard motor wasn't working. They gave it a full servicing and got it working. I paid them with a plate of brownies.
Unfortunately the excitement didn't end when we reached Somoa. The night we arrived, we all decided to celebrate by going to the Sadie Thompson Bar and Restaurant. This would be the future location of Janet and Shadow's (s/v Zoe) karaoke rendition of "You've Lost that Loving Feeling" later in the week. While at the restaurant, a call came out over the VHF that several boats anchors were dragging. We were aware that this anchorage was not that good holding. Unfortunately, a tsunami hit the island approximately three years before and many things ended up in the bottom of the harbor. Several boats pulled up old buckets, a bike, a barrel of hay on their anchors. Fortunately, the boats that slipped were okay and did not hit anyone. After everything we went through in Suwarrow, this was not how we wanted to start our stay in American Samoa. Again, many of us needed to re-anchor and keep watch to make sure we stayed put. And again, the rain was pouring in and the winds were blowing. This wind and rain did not stop the entire time we were here. Let's just say we were wet every day.
American Somoa is a Unites States territory and the only US territory south of the equator. In 1951, American Samoa was run as a naval base but with military advances it became obsolete. In order to replace lost income from the base closure, US companies were encouraged to build tuna canneries in the territory. Both Chicken of the Sea and StarKist can their tuna here. Unfortunately, Pago Pago Harbor smells like a tuna canning factory most of the time. The two tuna factories employ one third of the work force here. The Government of American Samoa receives annual subsidies and grants from the United States.
As a result of being a US territory, American Samoa has many of the conveniences that you would find in the US. They have two McDonald's, one being open 24 hours. The McDonald's has a dinghy dock and free internet. These are two things that are very important to boaters. Mark and I have gotten our fill of French fries and real diet coke.
I was thrilled to find a Costco like store called Cost U Less. It actually had Kirkland products. I was dancing down the aisles, carrying real diet coke which I have not had since Panama. Coke Zero and Coca Cola Light are just not the same. I also was able to get Lysol Wipes, paper towels and Bisquick. I am sure this is hard to understand, I know. Anyway, we spent almost $1,000 restocking the boat with much needed supplies. The store even delivered everything to the dinghy dock for us. Four boats had gone to the store together and there we all were in the pouring rain loading tons of supplies into our dinghies trying desperately to keep everything dry. I was so happy with my purchases, I hardly noticed. Okay, maybe that is a slight exaggeration.
Another wonderful thing about being in American Samoa is that they have a laundromat. I don't think I have ever really blogged about the laundry situation but let's just say that it has become a major budget item. When we did laundry in Bora Bora we were charged $26 per load. Almost every place we have been since leaving the US does your laundry for you then charges you by the pound or by the load. For about four loads of laundry we have paid anywhere from $30 to $125. Mark did graciously buy me a hand crank laundry "machine" which I have begun to use more and more frequently due to the high cost of doing the laundry. We have also been amazed by how much our clothing seems to be getting ruined. Rips and stains seem to be the norm for our clothing. Luckily, being boaters, the dress code is quite casual. So while here, I took everything off the boat that could be washed and went to the laundry mat with my huge bag of quarters that I saved before I left. Since it has rained every day since we arrived everything was wet and getting quite smelly. I washed everything in about two hours and came back to the boat with everything wrapped up in trash bags because yes, it rained as we were returning the laundry to the boat.
Due to the rain, we haven't done much exploring of the island. We did take the local bus to the Cost U Less which was about a forty five minute trip around the island. Because of the great stores and services, we spent much of our time here restocking and fixing things. It has been a tough time for many of us due to the weather difficulties which have changed our plans, the damage to Ensemble, the terrible anchorages we have been in, and the overall stress of keeping our boat and ourselves safe. Mark and I actually had a conversation about whether we were happy and wanting to continue the trip. Regardless of the difficulties, we feel that this has been a once in a lifetime experience. And in the end, we will be able to say that we sailed around the world double handed. Now, that is truly amazing!
We are headed off to Tonga tonight. We will be sailing with six of the eight boats that came here with us. We should arrive in approximately three days. We stayed a couple extra days in American Samoa to wait out another weather system. The weather is quite favorable for us now. We should be able to catch up with some of the fleet in Tonga. We are hoping for safe anchorages and sunny skies in Tonga.
A Terrible Night
May 31, 2012, 4:32 pm, Island of Suwarrow, Cook Islands
The following is the full story of what happened the night we arrived in Suwarrow. I wrote this when I was on anchor watch between 3:00 am and 6:00 am the following morning.
When we arrived in Suwarrow, we were anchoring in the rain but there was little wind. By the time we were done anchoring we were soaked and the anchor chain had wrapped around a coral head before we could safely back down on the anchor to make sure it had dug in. We decided to let out more chain and wait to see if we would break free from the coral.
We began to start our regular post passage duties, putting everything on the boat back together. We began to look forward to a quiet night on the boat and a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be. As I write this blog, I have only had four hours of sleep in the past 24 hours and it doesn't look like either of us will be getting much more sleep soon.
The wind picked up in the anchorage around 5 o'clock and we quickly realized that we were much too close to another boat in the anchorage. They kindly asked us to move and luckily we had Mark and Pau from Beatoo and Gavin from Sapphire on the boat for a visit. We began to take up the anchor and the wind starting blowing about 28 - 35 knots. As we were picking up the anchor we started moving much close to the neighboring boat, Peat Smoke. The guys on the boat threw out fenders while Mark continued to bring up the anchor. I was at the helm of the boat trying desperately to get away from Peat Smoke while Mark kept pointing that I needed to move closer to them to get the anchor up. After a bit of a struggle and one close call, the anchor was up and we quickly moved to deeper water to figure out what to do next.
Gavin from Sapphire suggested a spot to anchor given that another boat had left that spot today. We moved into position and the wind was now consistently at 30 knots and the rain was coming down in sheets. We dropped the anchor in sixty feet of water which we understood was as good as it would get in this anchorage. After some questioning of whether we were holding, we determined that the anchor was set. We were bobbing up and down greatly which made us feel as if we could spring loose at any time.
As we finished, the VHF radio was active between the boats as about half of the boats in the anchorage began to reanchor. Some were concerned about their location while others felt they were dragging. The most concerning call was from Magali on Ensemble asking for help because their boat had dragged and was now on a coral reef. As we looked over to their boat is lay abeam of the wind as several other World Arc members raced to their boat to help.
The next few hours were incredibly stressful as we began to contemplate our situation and Ensemble's crisis. Mark commented on how Lee (s/v Samsara) had read to us from a guide book that stated how Suwarrow was an anchorage which should only be used in good conditions. The evidence of this statement being clear as one can view abandoned boats wrecked on the coral reefs around the atoll. We began to discuss all we could do to keep the boat safe.
We had set a waypoint (a big "X") on our GPS unit when we dropped the anchor. We knew that we were approximately 237 feet from where we dropped the anchor. Ideally, we would have about 300 feet of chain out but we only have 250 feet of chain. We put out all put five feet. Wind was also blowing us toward the island instead of away from it. So we had no protection from the wind and approximately 400 feet between us and the shallow waters and the coral. It felt like it was about five feet. We kept the engine on for the first several hours in case our anchor began to drag. Mark also has a neat app on his IPAD which is an anchor alarm. He entered the latitude and longitude of hour anchor and then set a distance that our boat should not exceed from that spot. If the distance were to be exceeded an alarm would sound. Finally, we decided that one of us would have to stay awake at all times through the night to make sure the boat was safe. Thus, I fixed us dinner and we began anchor watch. At least we could sit down below and watch the GPS screen which will transmit onto our television. I decided to bake cinnamon buns and brownies so I could deliver them to Ensemble in the morning. We also used the lap top to watch movies. If you have to stay awake all night, it's not a bad way to go.
As we were making these preparations, we learned over the VHF radio that Ensemble was off the coral reef but was taking on water. There were requests for more people to help and they were asked to arrive donning their PVDs. There were requests from Ensemble for pumps and any other equipment that would help them. We had a collision mat (a mat that you can put around your hull to stop the water from entering the boat) and some plugs (to plug holes in your hull) that were quickly picked up by another boat and brought to Ensemble. There continued to be requests over the next five hours for all sorts of help. We felt completely helpless in that we couldn't leave our boat to go help. Luckily, numerous people sent help while others stayed on their boats to keep watch.
It's now 6:00 am on Saturday morning. Since yesterday at 6:00 am, I have only slept three hours. I am running on adrenaline and honestly don't feel that tired. As Mark put it, we have sold the house, this is our only home and we need to protect it. Well said.
Three days till we arrive in America
May 30, 2012, 6:30 pm, 13 39.8'S:165 11.9'W, 322 miles west of American Samoa (aka Pago Pago)
The evening of the day that we arrived in Suwarrow and strong squall blew into the anchorage causing a 180 degree wind shift with over 30 knots of wind and steep waves. The rain was horizontal and was stinging our skin. A dozen boats had to re-anchor to avoid being blown toward the shore and onto a coral reef. At Last successfully re-anchored. One boat was not so fortunate and was blown onto the coral reef. It suffered major damage. Three long holes were in the hull and she was taking on water. Everyone in the fleet came to the rescue with pumps, buckets and patching material. Two days later the repairs to the hull were completed, to the extent that the boat could travel to the nearest marine facility to be hauled out of the water and permanently repaired. The story of the incident and the team work demonstrated by all to keep the boat afloat and repair her is remarkable. But we don't have time to share this now. We will post it to the blog at our next port when we have an internet connection. No one was injured.
The nearest port with marine repair facilities is Pago Pago, an American territory 450 miles west of Suwarrow. Seven boats, including At Last, are sailing with the damaged boat, escorting her to Pago Pago and ready to lend assistance along the way should problems arise. We left Tuesday 5/29 and should arrive Saturday morning. We will stay in Pago Pago for a few days to provision and refuel. Most important, we understand that there is a Costco store there. Janet is so excited to be able to restock the boat from Costco. Her list of items to buy is growing by the hour.
From American Samoa, the boats will sail to Tonga to rejoin the rest of the fleet sailing to Fiji. Stay tuned for more updates once we reach American Samoa.
Arrived at An Island To Oneself
May 26, 2012, 4:50 pm, 13 15.11'S:163 06.38'W, Island of Suwarrow, Cook Islands
We have arrived in Suwarrow which is a small atoll in the Cook Islands. After six days at sea and a detour from our original destination of Niue we were very happy to arrive today. The last few days of the trip where beginning to show the signs of the low pressure system which is developing nearby. This low pressure system is what caused our diversion to Suwarrow instead of heading to Niue. Although we had very little wind, there were huge squalls all around us for the last few days of the trip. We even had to wait outside of the passage entrance for most of the morning waiting for a large squall to pass before we could safely enter the pass into the atoll.
Once inside, we were warmly greeted by a dozen or so World Arc boats which were already in the anchorage. Their stay was extended beyond the planned 72 hours in Suwarrow because they have been waiting for the low front to pass before leaving for Niue.
This island atoll has been made famous by a man called Tom Neale. He lived alone on the island for over 17 years between 1952 and 1977. He wrote a book titled "An Island To Oneself" in 1966 which described his first six years living alone on Suwarrow. The book can be downloaded as a pdf from the internet free at www.privateislandsonline.com. It is worth the read and has pictures of the island, which is a territory of New Zealand and a national park with no full-time inhabitants. A care taker comes to the island each year around this time and spends a few months maintaining the homestead of Tom Neale and the island. Though the island is beautiful, I believe we would not be here were it not for Tom Neale and his book.
We will be here for a few days till the low pressure system passes then we are off to Niue which is 525 miles away or a 4 day sail.
The best laid plans.....
May 21, 2012, 3:49 pm, 17 09'S:156 12'W, On the way to Niue, no make that Suwarrow
Everything is fine aboard At Last. We have no wind so we are using the engine a lot for the past day. In our last blog post we said that we were skipping the stopover in Suwarrow and heading straight for Niue. Well our plans have chaged. For those of you who are looking at the Wolrd ARC web site and tracking our position, you will see a course change on Monday 5/21 4pm eastern time after travling 230 miles southwest to Niue. We are now heading northwest to Suwarrow to avoid a potentil low pressure system (storm) that is developing and is predicted to cross our path on Saturday from the northwest to the southeast. We are 465 miles or 3 days from Suwarrow. If the storm does not develop we will change course back to Niue. If the storm does develop, we could stay in Suwarrow till it passes. Don't want anyone to be concerned about the reason for the course change.