Holiday Greetings from the Gromiteers!
As we left Huahine Island in French Polynesia last July, we had a plan to spend the cyclone season, which starts in November, in a country near the equator where cyclones don't go. Some options we were considering were, 1) the Solomon Islands near Papua New Guinea, 2) the Kiribati and Marshall Island Groups which span the equator north of Fiji, 3) Fiji, even though it is not outside the cyclone belt - it has some fairly secure cyclone holes (safe spots) and 4) the much lobbied for by the kids, New Zealand.
In the beginning, the Solomon Islands were the number one choice, but, of course, we were keeping our options open! Over time and after some research, we decided that the Solomons were not where we wanted to go. Next, we seriously considered the Kiribati and Marshalls, but decided against that direction, too. Fiji posed too great a risk, as many of the cyclones originate in or around Fiji. And New Zealand was too far in the wrong direction for us, who want to sail to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand next spring. What to do??? Well, as usual, we flip-flopped many, many times, but in the end, New Zealand won out. But we only made our decision about 1 week before we left. Yes, just a little last minute! So here we are in the land of the Kiwis! Our last few months reads like a good mystery novel; lots of twists and turns and suspense, but not for the purpose of knowing "who dun it", but rather, to find out where the Gromiteers were going to end up!!!
We left Fiji on Michael's birthday , with the strongest winds we've ever sailed in. In the first 24-36 hours we saw winds up to 52 mph (75-88 km/h), but mostly the winds were in the 35-45 mph (50-70 km/h) range. It was very bumpy and uncomfortable sailing, because we had to sail close hauled, which means the bow of Gromit was pounding up and down into the waves. Most of our sailing so far had been more or less with the wind behind us, not on our bow. The winds eased and the next 5 days of sailing were the most beautiful, 'doesn't get better than this', kind of sailing we've ever done. But, in the end, during the last two days, we got slammed again. I've dubbed this passage the "hearty whole grain peanut butter sandwich" passage; hard and crusty on the outside (beginning and end), and smooth as silk in the middle!
So, we've been in NZ for two weeks now. We arrived in the town of Opua on North Island. Check-in was quick and easy. NZ is very strict about what is brought in, so we lost all our fresh food and any meat in the fridge and freezer. We didn't have much of either. They also took away our popcorn, dried beans and anything that can sprout, as well as our honey.
We left the quarantine dock around 2pm and anchored and tidied the boat a little before going to s/v Riada II for dinner. We had been sailing with Riada II and Solara since Makogai Island in Fiji and we all left Fiji together. Riada II arrived in NZ a day before us and as soon as they were finished checking in, they headed out into the Bay of Islands to go fishing. They had emailed us a dinner invitation while we were still out on the ocean. We marvelled at their energy, because we are usually exhausted after a passage and take a day or so to rest up. Not the crew on Riada II!
What a dinner! Mussels in oil and vinegar, a huge plate of sashimi, mussel fritters, scallops cooked in their shells with garlic and butter, fish soup with scallops and then came the main dish; two pans from the oven! One, with tender, white fillets of fish topped with a breadcrumb-cheese crumble and the other, a whole fish dressed in lemons. Rice. And pumpkin pie (made by Zoe), for dessert. Oh!My!Gosh! Every bit of seafood was fresh from the bay, that day. What a feast! I can't even find the words to describe how delicious everything was. Thank you, Dave and crew!
The next days were spent getting the boat back into order; organizing a surprise belated birthday get together for Michael, with Solara, who arrived a day after us and a bunch of our friends who had also come to NZ; organizing a birthday party for Maia's 11th birthday and going shopping for some FRESH food! The highlights in the 'fresh' department were the strawberries and whipped cream and lettuce. We hadn't had strawberries in years. Boy, were they delicious!!! Not complaining though, because we've had mangoes, papaya and pineapples!
Maia had her biggest birthday party ever! There were about 20 people there, all friends we've met since leaving French Polynesia. Zoe baked Maia's birthday cake; chocolate with mocha icing and we had snacks and juice and fun and games. We celebrated at a large picnic table at the marina with lots of room for the kids to run and play and the adults to chat and get caught up on all their adventures. We hadn't seen some of our friends since Suwarrow and American Samoa! It was a great day and one of the few where the sun came out!
Way back in August of 2010, when we sailed into Huahine, we met a family, Phillip, Unilda and their daughter, Mishell, on their boat called Xtazy. Our plan was to sail to NZ with them, but of course, that didn't happen as we decided to stay in Huahine. On one of the evenings we spent together on Gromit, fishing for dinner, Phillip said to us that he had a business plan that he wanted to run by us. So we listened. He wanted to offer cars to cruisers arriving in NZ, with a guaranteed buy back when they sailed away again in April/May. It sounded good to us, so we gave him a 'thumbs up'! We met up with Phillip in the first few days after arriving in NZ to find his business thriving and him exhausted. October, November and December, when most of the cruisers arrive, are his busiest months. He and Unilda invited us to their beautiful home overlooking the rolling green hills of NZ. We ate a fantastic meal and enjoyed hours of 'boat talk' and New Zealand news. It was a great evening! Thanks, Phillip, Unilda and Mishell!
We left Opua last Tuesday with Solara and Mystic, on our way to rendezvous with Riada II at Great Barrier Island. We arranged with Dave on Riada II, who is from Auckland, to meet here on the 17th to do some fishing and mussel and scallop collecting. Dave has been coming to the Barrier, as they call it, for years and he knows 'all the good spots'. Yesterday, we went out on Riada II and did some drift fishing, Michael and Liam speared some fish and Dave dove with scuba tanks and found some crayfish, which are just like lobsters, but without the claws. He also got some scallops and abalone. Can you imagine the feast we had!!!! Oh!My!Gosh! Again!!!!!!
Today we were going to set up 'long lines' to catch fish and fish with bait to see if we could get some snapper. The weather has turned cold and rainy again so we aren't sure if we'll do that today.
After Great Barrier Island, we are going to sail to Auckland - about 80 km away, and celebrate Christmas Eve in our usual way on Gromit, with a chicken or turkey dinner, and all the fixin's. Then we'll open presents and go to bed in hopes that Santa finds us sometime in the night! On Christmas Day, we have a Christmas Day lunch invitation in Auckland from a long-time friend of Michael's, whom he hasn't seen in over 20 years. We are all looking forward to that.
So, that's the update.......cold but happy in New Zealand!
We wish you all a very peaceful and happy holiday season.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!
I just posted a whole bunch of photos (see the photo gallery).
I haven't had time to do much writing.
We've been moving every few days and the
kids have been doing school most days, so
no time for blogging!
Since Savusavu, we've been at Makogai - 5 days,
Levuka - 2 days, Naigini Island - 2 days, Nananu -I -Thake
Bay - 1 night, Vatia Bay - 1 night.
Now we are on the outskirts of Lautoka - Fiji's second largest
city. We'll spend a few days here and then off to some smaller
islands to do some exploring and snorkelling.
We left Savusavu almost a week ago and sailed, well motor-sailed, to the island of Makogai about 45 nautical miles south.
Makogai was a leper colony from 1911 to 1969. There were over 4,500 patients here including many from other Pacific Island groups. In 1948, an effective treatment for leprosy was introduced and then the colony was phased out over the next 20 years.
The day after arriving, we went ashore and did 'sevu sevu', which is presenting Kava root to the chief. He accepted and gave us a tour of what remains of the facilities of the former colony. Today, the island has a clam farm. They raise giant clams and reintroduce them into the wild.
Makogai is truly a beautiful island. Very lush with a protected anchorage. The kids have been doing school in the mornings and then kayaking, snorkeling and exploring the island and beaches with their kid-friends on s/v Solara. Michael and Liam have done a bit of spear-fishing, but haven't had a lot of success. We've all done a good amount of snorkeling and have seen lots of live and stunning coral and fish. The coral here in Fiji is in a much better state than anything we've seen so far - anywhere in the Pacific!
Today, we will leave here and sail about 17 miles to the nations former capital: Levuka. It is situated on the island of Ovalau, which sits just to the east of Fiji's biggest island of Viti Levu.
When I have internet again, post some pictures.
Sunday, October 9 - Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Early Sunday morning, before the crack of dawn, Michael and I got up and pulled anchor and watched as the island of Niuafo'ou grew smaller and smaller behind us. In front of us were 300 nautical miles to Fiji.
Not far from Niuafo'ou Island, we noticed that there was quite a swell coming from the south. At anchor, we were on the northwestern side, so we were basically in the lee of the island, protected from swell and the predominant trade winds that come from the east/southeast.
The farther we got away from the island, the brisker the winds became. We were surprised, because our weather information was different from what we were experiencing. We were happy to have the wind, but the seas were confused with the swell and wind driven waves that were hitting each other from different directions. As the hours passed, the wind settled in to a nice breeze of about 6-8 knots and the swell lessened, so we sailed along pleasantly for the next 36 hours.
Late on Monday afternoon, we noticed some menacing clouds behind us and realized that there were squalls on our heels. We checked our radar and it showed that they were heading for us! We battened down hatches and prepared for the rain and changing winds that squalls bring along. Usually, they are relatively short lived and pass quickly. Well, these ones didn't. In fact, they turned from squalls into a storm. The gentle breeze turned into a 25-30 knot wind and whipped up the seas in no time. This was now a problem for us because we were within 50 miles of the Nanuku Pass, which is a safe, reef-less passage from the Pacific into the Koro Sea of Fiji.
Of course, we had no idea how long this storm was going to last. We had reduced our sails to slow down, but still we were moving too fast and as a result we were in danger of arriving at the pass entrance during the night and even though the pass is very wide, we try never to arrive anywhere at night!
We turned from west to north hoping to just hang around in the area, but we soon saw by our speed, that we would get too far from the pass in even a few hours, so we had to do something different. Michael suggested that we turn Gromit about 180 degrees, retrace our route for a while and at the same time, stay at least roughly at the same angle to the pass. As we did this, by luck and good fortune, we found a new way to 'heave to' -- this is the process of setting up the sails and rudder so that forward movement of the boat is minimized. We remained hove-to throughout the night and in the morning, the winds lessened and we turned Gromit back 180 degrees and set our course for the pass.
Again we had wonderful conditions during the day and made good progress. However, around 1 am, Wednesday morning, our wind completely died, so we started the engine and motored the last 12 hours.
As we were approached the town of Suvasuva, we called the Harbour Master on our VHF radio, but got no reply as we were still 4 or 5 hours away. When we radioed again an hour later, to our surprise and great pleasure ,we heard the voice of our dear friend, David, on s/v Rhythm, a Canadian catamaran with David, Peggy and teenagers, Olivia and Joey aboard. Zoe, Maia and Liam were thrilled - - yahoo, Rhythm is in Savusavu!!!!!!
David had heard us hailing and explained that there is no Harbour Master and that the marinas take care of incoming vessels. David gave us instructions on how to get into the anchorage and he let the people at the Copra Shed Marina know that we were on our way.
Upon arrival, around 1 pm, we were led to a mooring ball by one of the marina staff. The marina also arranged for the quarantine officer, customs and immigration and the health officer to come to the boat to get us checked in. By about 5 that afternoon, all formalities were finished and we were free to go ashore.
David and family aboard Rhythm, who were living ashore for a week in a house they'd rented, invited us for dinner that very evening, so after our showers at the marina, we jumped into a taxi and spent a wonderful evening getting caught up on all our adventures since we had said good-bye more than a month before in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
We lost track of time and when I finally asked what time it was, I couldn't believe that it was nearly midnight! We couldn't get a taxi that late, so the very kind owner of the house lent David his truck to drive us back into town. We were all pretty tired and had a great sleep, becalmed and securely moored!
Niuafo'ou (50 square km) is a collapsed volcanic cone once 1,300 metres high. Today, the north rim of the caldera reaches 210 metres. The centre of the island is occupied by a crater lake, Vai Lahi, nearly five km wide and 84 metres deep. It is 21 metres above sea level. From this lake rise small islands with crater lakes of their own -- lakes within islands within a lake with an island. Two days ago, Friday, Michael asked me if, I'd ever imagined that I'd be kayaking around a crater lake on an island in the Kingdom of Tonga. I had to admit that, no, I'd never imagined this. When we checked in here in Niuafo'ou, a couple of days ago, we asked about the lake and the police officer who was taking our info said he could get us a ride to the lake that very day. The kids and I jumped into the back of the shortbed truck that pulled up a little later and Michael sat inside with the driver and the police officer. The main roads are quite rough here on the island. When the driver turned off the main road to head towards the lake, I had serious doubts as to whether this old truck with completely bald front tires could manage the rough, rocky, coconut strewn road, but it did. We were dropped off around 10am and set a pick up time for around 3pm. It was a fantastic day of relaxing and kayaking. The weather was warm and sunny and we had picnic lunch overlooking the crater lake on a sort of land bridge that cut the lake into two parts. The sand was pure black and hot! On our way back through the main village, the policeman gave us a basket full of mangoes as a thanks for the flour, sugar, pasta and diesel fuel we had given some of the villagers. The monthly supply boat has not come to Niuafo'oa in over 3 months and the people are very low on many supplies.
It is whale season in this part of the Pacific. They come from Antarctica to calf because the water is too cold for the babies to survive there. We had not yet seen anything other than a flipper sticking out of the water or bit of water spraying up. But, yesterday while we were eating lunch in the cockpit, Michael said that it would be nice to see a whale and guess what, within 2 minutes about 200 feet from Gromit along came a whale. It stayed at the surface for a couple of breaths and then it dove down. It did this 3 times very near the boat, so we all grabbed our snorkeling gear and floated around behind the boat. The current was causing us to drift away so we thought we'd better swim back. Everyone was facing Gromit swimming when I took a look behind and down low in the water and saw a whale coming up towards us. I can't describe my excitement. I started yelling to Michael and the kids to look down because the whale was coming to check us out!!!! It was as interested in us as we were in it. He swam by and then came back for a second pass. We guessed him/her to be about 30 feet long and we have yet to check our book to see if we can identify him/her. This was so exciting. Not only did we see a whale, but we swam with one!
We prepared the boat for leaving around 5pm, but the wind died down again so we thought we'd get a good night's sleep at anchor and head out early in the morning. We got up at 5am and were on our way by 6. The wind was stronger than the first half of the passage and the seas were quite bouncy. Not bad, but not nearly as nice as our first three days. We expect to be in Fiji by Tuesday (Monday for you -- we've crossed the international date line).
We are flying our jib and mizzen sails and making about 5 - 5.5 knots; about 300 miles to go. Michael will be posting a position report in a bit.
Please check out the new photo album in the Gallery entitled: Niuafo'ou Island.
We had a great 3 day sail to Niuafo'ou. To stop here was not in the plan. We had thought, because of our time constraints, that we wouldn't have time to stop in Tonga, but the weather decided for us! The winds were lighter than expected upon leaving Pago Pago, so we were not able to make the distances that we'd hoped, so we knew we would not make it to Fiji on a weekday to check in.
We arrived yesterday around 4:30 pm and spent over an hour anchoring. The sun was pretty low in the sky already, so it was hard to see what kind of bottom we were dealing with in terms of having our anchor set. Our chart shows an area of shallow water, shallow being a relative term around here, so we did about 4 exploratory circles around the 'shallow' area and tentatively decided on a spot. I was not satisfied with not knowing what our anchor would land on so I put my mask and snorkel on and went down our swim ladder at the back of the boat. Michael was at the wheel slowly driving around while I hung on to the ladder, face in the water, looking at the bottom. Black, it was all black. Black sand and black lava. Niuafo'ou is a volcanic island but is presently dormant. In 1853 and 1929, lava flow emanated form fissures on the outer slopes of the caldera and destroyed the villages of 'Ahau and Futu. In 1946, which really isn't so long ago, the main town of Angaha disappeared under lava, so the government evacuated the 1,300 inhabitants to a neighbouring island. This explained why I was seeing only black. It wasn't a huge surprise, because the whole shoreline is black volcanic rock. With my mask, I was hoping to find an area of sand, which I did. So, Maia got on the wheel, Michael was up at the anchor, Liam was on the back deck and I was in the water hanging onto the swim ladder. When I saw a patch of sand, I yelled to Liam, my relay guy, to tell Maia to put the engine into neutral. Then I yelled to Liam to tell Maia, who was wearing a head set to tell Dad, who was wearing the other head-set, to drop the anchor. By this time, we had already overshot the patch of sand, so Liam had to yell to dad to stop the anchor, which had not yet reached the ground and then yell to Maia to reverse Gromit. She did and when we were over the sandy patch once more, I had Liam relay that message via Maia who relayed it on to dad and down went the anchor. It was to late in the day to go and check the anchor to see if it did in fact land in the sandy patch, so we'll do that today. Michael tied a buoy to the anchor, so that if it gets caught on coral hopefully we'll be able to free it.
Here's a little snippet of island history from our Moon's Handbook; Pacific Islands:
Niuafo'ou is Tonga's northernmost island. Despite the airstrip that opened in 1983, Niuafo'ou remains one of the most remote islands in the world (I'm not sure I agree with this, but that's what the book says!).The supply ship calls about once a month, but there's no wharf on the island. Landings take place at Futu on the west side of the island (this is where we are presently anchored). For many years, Niuafo'ou received its mail in kerosene tins wrapped in oilcloth thrown overboard from a passing freighter to waiting swimmers or canoeists, giving 'Tin Can Island' its other name. In bad weather, rockets were used to shoot the mail from ship to shore. Early trader, Walter George Quensell, doubled as postmaster and brought fame to Niuafo'ou by stamping the mail with colourful postmarks.
Today, we plan to get the dingy in the water and get to shore to check in and explore a little. We hope to be able to see the crater in the middle of the island, that I described in my last post. Also, I want to go to the post office, if there is one, and see if there are stamps. I'm not sure if an island of roughly 700 people will have a post office.