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Allan and Rina's Sailing Adventure
The travels of S/V Follow You Follow Me Continue....
Passage to New Zealand - Day 8
10/16/2009, Minerva Reef

We are still here in Minerva enjoying our quiet time being that there's still only one other boat here with us in this huge reef. The winds seem to be picking up. It's really weird, sitting out here in the middle of the ocean, especially at high tide, the reef disappears and the wind waves make their way over the reef and into your boat. You really do feel like you are anchored in the middle of the pacific. It can be uncomfortable at times and I (Rina) have a hard time not getting up in the night constantly to check the anchor (habit I guess). Of course, when I do get up, all is fine, it's all water & wind noises with an occasional anchor chain clank. Food & other provisions seem to be lasting fine (as any of you that know me.we won't starve on my boat!). It was interesting shopping for this trip, not knowing if we were stopping here in Minerva, staying for how long here, and if we were passing it up, how much food were the authorities going to take away at our check-in. New Zealand Agricultural/Quarantine has a very long list of foods that you "must" remove from your vessel at time of arrival. It's long, but here's just a few (which you know I had a lot of on board!) - Pasta, Rice, Beans, Seeds/Nuts (snack ones, also whole seeds from your spice cabinet), Flour, Fresh Meats (canned too), Fresh Fish(canned too), Poultry, Eggs, Fresh Vegetables, Fresh Fruits.Frozen or Fresh, it doesn't matter.oh, and my honey. yikes! Just can't wait for a "real" grocery store. Finding decent food items along the way has been trying at times, especially if you are used to cooking even in the simplest way. You have to modify your menus over and over again just to work with what you can buy. The largest store that we shopped at with the best selection was back in Papeete, Tahiti. They had most of what you could or would be looking for. The other islands, back to the Marquesas, Tuamotos, some parts of the Society Islands, Niue, and Kingdom of Tonga were the most diffi cult to re-provision. All of the cooking on the Follow You has been fine, I had a couple of prepackaged mixes go bad, but for the most part, we've done ok. When we do get to Opua, we'll be back on boat maintenance and some down time from our passage. This last part of the passage has the reputation of being a pretty difficult one. Hopefully it won't be as hard as it sounds. We've seen some weather in our cruising days, so I'm sure that we can handle it. It's been working fine with just the two of us without crew. Sometimes I do miss the extra hours of sleep. It's been nice taking a break here in Minerva Reef, but I can't wait to get to our final destination in the South Pacific. We'll visit the Bay of Islands for a few weeks, then back home for the holidays! Hopefully we can catch-up with some of you when we are home. - Rina

Total miles covered: 0 (still awaiting weather window) Miles to go: 842 Winds: 10-15 Avg. Speed: .01 on anchor swing in the wind. Sea Temperature: 73 (we moved to the other shallower side of the reef)

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Passage to New Zealand - Day 7
10/16/2009, Minerva Reef

Yesterday was Minerva Reef Walk day.. I joined Richard and Mark from Kaumoana walking the 1.2 miles from the inside to the outside of the reef and back. They originally took a fishing pole over to see if they could cast into the ocean side and get some sushi but the surf was a bit treacherous for such an endeavor. Instead we explored the reef, awash in shallow tide pools at low tide. The reef is pretty flat, with mostly compressed dead coral, with sparse examples of reef fish trapped in the shallow pools. In a few cases, larger fish, 6-8", were trapped in some of the deeper pools, and as we approached would gather in a clump, sort of looking like a rock, and would only scramble as we got very near, and in some cases flitting over rocks to try to find the next deep enough pool to escape into. Richard was last at Minerva 20 years ago and says the difference is dramatic. Where he saw 90% live reefs previously, we now see 90% dead reef. Since the nearest land upwind and up -current of this reef is almost a thousand miles away, it's hard to argue that direct and overt pollution has killed this reef, like we have seen at some populated reef areas in French Polynesia, but the evidence is pretty compelling that we have impacted the environment here..Reefs have otherwise thrived for millions of years. with no fossil record that indicates anything like what they are experiencing now. Same goes for the heavily studied Great Barrier Reef of Australia, which is predicted to largely die out in the next 20-40 years given current trends. Is this a normal environmental fluctuation or a man-made impact.draw your own conclusions. [further political ranting excised to help lower my blood pressure ;-}]

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Passage to New Zealand - Day 6
10/15/2009, Minerva Reef

The weather gods (and Bob McDavitt) have spoken. Over the last two days we have been working with Bob to create a passage plan from Minerva to NZ, but kept running into a moderately nasty low coming out of the Tasman Sea. Our first pass would have had us with 35 knots on the beam for 18 hours. Didn't like that. Second pass the next day had us motoring *into* 30 knot winds for 30 hours, making 3 knots of headway.. I can hear Follow You shuddering at the prospect. We knew the nice window of SE winds to get us down to that area would be closing soon, and today it did. If we left tomorrow, we would hit the remnants of that front 2-3 days out and it would make life tough, motoring into 25 knot winds while trying to get west. So instead we will hang out here at Minerva for 3-5 days while the front passes to the east and wait for the next window. We've got plenty of food, plenty of water, plenty of wine LOL, plenty of fuel, so we're good to go.

Tomorrow we're on the hunt for lobster, which are rumored to be making a comeback after the population was ravaged by commercial interests several years ago. We'll re-inflate the dinghy and explore the entire reef - all two miles of it, and enjoy the fact that there is only us and Kaumoana here. Clark Gable and Geminus must have kept going. It will be interesting to hear on the SSB net what kind of weather they hit in the next day or two as they encounter the front that we didn't like.

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Passage to New Zealand - Day 5
10/14/2009, 407 Miles Southwest of Vavau

After 3 days at sea, we entered the churning pass at Minerva yesterday. Since our weather window does not look great, we are going to stay at least one more day before continuing our passage. This place is too cool. a circular reef two miles across out in the middle of nowhere.. The clearest water we have seen, warm and great weather. The crew of Kaumoana came for dinner tonight and we obsessed over the float plan provided by Bob McDavitt, coming to the conclusion that we can do better. whether tomorrow or in 5 days.If we left tomorrow we would be in 40 knot winds 200 miles off NZ. not fun.

In the pic above, we traversed the narrow pass into Minerva in 3-4 knots of current, where if you don't keep the boat pointed right into the current, you can easily find yourself on a reef. Nice butt huh? I'm talking about the boat.

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10/15/2009 | Sandy & Chris
Allan & Rina! We are following your progress and happy to hear you are safe and comfy in Minerva Reef. Keep watchin' that weather and don't leave until you are absolutely comfortable with what's coming up!
We bought a small (27') travel trailer for our "summer cottage" and have one more week to freeze here in Portland before we go back to San Carlos. Who knows? Maybe we'll see you again in Mexico this winter?
Stay safe!!! Sandy & Chris
10/15/2009 | Dalia
Hi Guys!!!! Have a safe trip! I cant believe where you guys are! We are back on land and without a boat. I am sooo happy you are living the dream! Fair winds!
Bisous, Dalia
Passage to New Zealand - Day 4
10/13/2009, 23 39.7'S:178 54.6'W, 407 Miles Southwest of Vavau

Well, decisions made. based on a weather report that said there would be plenty of overnight wind, we made a dash for Minerva Reef. Winds built all night, along with a bunch of rain, as the South Pacific Convergence Zone threw its best at us. Wind waves continued to build behind the boat, pooping us several times, with 4 inches of water spilling into the cockpit from behind. The crew and boat handled it well, however, given our experiences coming out of Bora Bora a couple months ago. Things got interesting around 2am, however, when the winds, while still strong, shifted direction by more than 20 degrees back and forth several times. In a flash, we went from a well controlled boat to total chaos. The 22 knot winds gusted to 27 knots and backwinded the main. The preventer held, but a fairlead blew, allowing the main to shift enough to spin the boat around in about 10 seconds. The seas were big enough to toss the boat around, throwing Rina and I around the cockpit as w e tried to tame the mainsail. I was at the helm and Rina was centering the main and preparing to reef. For the life of me, I could not get the helm to answer, and the boat stalled. I quickly started the engine and tried to point into the wind as Rina fought the furling line. Unfortunately it jumped off its winch at the base of the mast and I had to quickly attach a tether to the jackline and climb on my hands and knees to the mast and thread the furling line on the mast winch in the driving rain and wind. The furling line went on easy enough and I crawled back to the cockpit as Rina furled the main. I pointed the boat downwind once again and under reefed main we began sailing again. In a matter of 10 minutes we went from calm to chaos and back. The only difference was the adrenaline pulsing through our systems.

We traversed 65 miles of rain and strong winds overnight and into the morning as we neared Minerva. Amazingly, during the afternoon, the skies cleared and as we neared the reef, the sun broke through the clouds and finally blue skies prevailed just as we needed it to help traverse the pass inside the reef. A 3 knot current made it interesting, but once inside, the calm blue waters were a vibrant contrast to the conditions outside the reef.

We settled at anchor to a gorgeous sunset and prepared the boat for the continuation of our passage to Opua, transferring fuel to the main tank, fixing a frayed mainsail and cleaning the detritus of 3 days at sea. BBQ'd burgers and home-made fries for dinner and a movie, followed by a good nights sleep. Yum!

Total miles covered: 407 Miles to go: 842 Winds: 18-32 from all directions Avg Speed: 5 knots Sea Temperature: 71

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Passage to New Zealand - Day 3
10/12/2009, 22 18.6'S:177 40.9'W, 300 Miles Southwest of Vavau

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions. Passages are all about trade-offs... rhumbline course vs boat speed, when to motor, at what rpm to preserve fuel, crew comfort over night, predicting how weather, wind direction and speed play into all the above. All of which makes for quite the equation, which changes daily. Our current conundrum is whether to motor to make Minerva Reef by dusk tomorrow. Currently it looks like we'll be laying over for a couple of days waiting for a better weather window to approach Opua. But the current weather is not cooperating. We're in squally weather with fluky winds which have backed from the SE around to the N and died, when they were predicted by Buoyweather to stay strong all night. We'll need to maintain a 5.5 knot avg speed to make it before 17:00, but at what cost in fuel? So far we've used about 25 gallons, or 14% of our fuel, and we have covered 300 or 24% of our total miles. Not bad, but with winds dying tomorrow, that difference will be burned up. So the question is whether to take any available wind and get to Minerva when we get there or power on in before dusk. If we're going to stay for a couple of days anyway, preserve the fuel. the thought of a quiet night at anchor is alluring however.After discussing with Rich on Kaumoana, we deferred that call until the morning, when we will know how much sailing we got in over night.

Otherwise, it's raining, seas are pretty flat, with long period 2M swells and the ride has been comfortable. One piece of decadence on board is the plastic side panels that completely enclose the cockpit. We put them up tonight just in time, as it's coming down in buckets and Rina, on watch, is nice and comfy at the helm. Dinner of garlic spaghetti and coleslaw, a family favorite tonight.yum!

Total miles covered: 300 Miles to go: 929 Winds: SE 12-18 turning to NW 18-22, then N at 11 Avg Speed: 5 knots Sea Temperature: 70, down from 75 at Vavau

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Passage to New Zealand - Day 2
10/11/2009, 20 40.4'S:176 21.7'W, 183 Miles Southwest of Vavau

Sun, smooth seas, and light winds yesterday gave way to a decent Northwest breeze today, turning to squalls later in the day, slowing progress. We are tracking well towards Minerva Reef, some 200 miles ahead of us. We're now 4 boats, joined by Ian on Geminus, within 20 miles of Follow You, Kaumoana and Clark Gable. Rina has prepared a bunch of meals that only require a quick reheat in the microwave. Making meals in a heaving galley is no fun..Last night was vegetable chow mein and tonight was chili, made by Tess at the Crows Next in Vavau. she make great provisioning meals for cruisers along with her great Indian food and bakery items.

Total miles covered: 183 Miles to go: 1051 Winds: NE 12-18 turning to SW 15-18 Avg Speed: 4.5 knots

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10/11/2009 | Dan
Have a great trip to NZ. Thanks for sharing your adventure. I've enjoyed all of your trip.
Passage to New Zealand - Day 1
10/10/2009, 19 29.2'S:174 44.1'W, 72 Miles Southwest of Vavau

With some sadness we said goodbye to many friends this morning as we headed out of Neaifu Bay for the last time. Under clear skies, flat seas, and a welcome Northeast wind, we motorsailed South in the company of Rich and Suzanne on Kaumoana, friends from way back in Mexico, and Terry and Amanda on Clark Gable, new friends who are jumping to New Zealand at the same time. It's funny how new (to us) cruisers quickly become friends when there is a common passage planned. The 3 of us are taking advantage of the benign conditions to get to Minerva Reef, some 400 miles Southwest where we will make the call to either continue the 800 miles to Opua, or wait for a better weather window, aided by Bob McDermitt, a weather router from NZ.

It's all about timing.. Several boats are getting whacked 100 miles North of New Zealand right now with 40 knot winds and 6 meter seas. drogues and sea anchors have been deployed, apparently.. Several others decided to wait out the offending low in Minerva until it passes to the East.

We should get more wind tomorrow as the Southeast Trades kick back in, then we'll traverse a mild low, where winds are less consistent but squalls will keep us on our toes. If all goes well we'll be in New Zealand on the 20th.

Preparing for this passage has clearly turned us into weather junkies (if you couldn't already tell) given the stakes of getting it wrong.. Time will tell!

Miles covered: 72 Miles to go: 1171 Winds: NE 7-12 Avg Speed: 6 knots

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Palongi's in Paradise
10/09/2009, Vava'u

Rina and I are wrapping up more than seven weeks in Tonga and heading to New Zealand tomorrow. Our time in Vava'u has been very special. The comfort of company from the states, many good cruising friends, and the ability of music to bridge cultures has created opportunities to hang with the locals in what is otherwise a pretty closed society. I don't pretend that we've gotten inside the culture, but just hanging with Tongans and playing music for seven weeks with them has opened doors that I don't think get opened much.

For most of the time here, I have been lucky to play Djembe with the Ano Beach Band. Ano Beach puts on a Tongan Feast every Saturday night and I brought my drum one night and got invited back to play every week. The music is mostly Tongan folk style, requiring a steady bass beat and not much else. Luckily, the band also backs up a father/son fire dance, so we get to rock the house with fast Polynesian rhythms and it has been a challenge for both my chops and learning the beat. Straight 4/4 it is not. Eventually I learned the chants that preceded breaks in the beat and how to anticipate what was next... It's something I always wanted to learn...and it was very cool when I eventually got tight with the rest of the rhythm section.

This last week I got a call on the VHF from Maka, the patriarch of the Ano Beach village, asking me if I wanted to join the village at a festival, where they would compete with all the other villages in Vava'u. We ran across the same thing in Bora Bora. (See Drum Corps in Paradise, in the blog archives) I told him I was honored to be invited and he said he would pick me up Friday night. Luckily I was able to play a gig with Hipnautical at the Vava'u Yacht club earlier in the night, before Rina and I headed over for the festival.

In Tonga, a Palongi is a foreigner or white person. In some cultures it is a racial slur, but here it is simply how the Tongans identify the many foreigners that live amongst them. When we arrived at the festival, Rina and I were the only palongis among the 2000 or so gathered to watch. It was very much a family affair. While each village put its best dancers on the basketball court stage, it was clear that the closed Tongan culture revolves very much around family. A quick read of "Making Sense of Tonga" helps visitors gain some insight into the Tongan ways and gives an appreciation of how strong family ties bind the culture. As I first entered the stage area, it was clear that it was way out of the ordinary to have a palongi participate... Rina, sitting along the periphery of the crowd, noted that the chatter going on around her included the word palongi many times.

In all, the Ano Beach band played 3 different times, supporting their own plus another village's dancers. Throughout the festivities, people from the crowd would come up and slip 1 Panga (Tongan dollar) notes in the collar of the various performers. It seems that family and friends do so to recognize the efforts of the performers. In our last performance, I was surprised by a tug on my collar, and as I looked up, an elderly gentleman in a tie, who was one of the master of ceremonies, slipped a 1 Panga note in my collar and smiled, thanking me for performing. Afterwards, Maka explained that it was quite special to be recognized by somebody high up in the hierarchy, recognizing that not very many palongis make the effort, or if they do, don't always feel comfortable within the culture. I very much did.... Music kinda does that for me.

The night was certainly special, and a great way to make our exit from the tropics... Now it's on to New Zealand, where we will be hanging out in Opua and the Bay of Islands for several weeks before heading home for the holidays in December for 6 weeks. We've been in the warm South Pacific for seven months now, and we will be in for a shock as we head south of 30 degrees Latitude, where water and air temperatures are both in the 50's as Spring has just barely sprung down under. Cold weather clothes and foulies will be the order of the day...

We will blog often during our passage to New Zealand, which has historically been one of the more challenging ones given the extreme weather that spins out of the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand... We are in good hands, however, having hired a weather router to help watch our backs as we move South, giving us advice on how to best avoid the nasty stuff. Stay tuned....

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10/09/2009 | dennis / penny / jaimie
Nice cultural bridgework... I bet you keep that "dollar" forever.
10/09/2009 | Ruth
This is the first time I've read your blog, That truely is a unique experience. It sounds like you had a wonderful time.
10/09/2009 | Sandy & Chris
Allan & Rina...What an amazingly special opportunity! Look at all the wonderful experiences you've had in the South Pacific. We were so happy to have been given the opportunity to cruise with Dietmar & Suzanne & see some of those exotic ports but really didn't get to be part of the community like this. It is surely something you will always remember! Sandy & Chris
10/10/2009 | Phillip J. faillers
I hope this seminal to your journey as would be for me had an opportunity and occasion.
Gallery Updated
10/09/2009, Vava'u

Gallery has been updated and commented with pics from a very special night with the Ano Beach Band at a local festival.

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Who: Allan & Rina Alexopulos
Port: Sutter Creek, CA
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