08 October 2017 | Yasawa group, Fiji
03 October 2017 | Makogai Island, Fiji
28 September 2017 | Vanua Levu, Fiji
08 September 2017 | Vava'u Tonga
01 September 2017 | Alofi, Niue
20 August 2017 | Palmerston Island, The Cook Islands, South Pacific
10 August 2017 | Mauphiaa, French Polynesia
02 August 2017 | Bora Bora, French Polynesia
26 July 2017 | Tahiti, French Polynesia
21 July 2017 | The Tuamotus archipelago, French Polynesia
11 June 2017 | Ua Pou, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
07 June 2017 | Daniels Bay, Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia
03 June 2017 | Nuku Hiva, The Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
28 May 2017 | Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
27 May 2017 | Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
26 May 2017 | Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
24 May 2017 | Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
23 May 2017 | Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

Rendevous in the Yasawas

08 October 2017 | Yasawa group, Fiji
In the Yasawa Island group on the western side of Viti Levu we had arranged to meet up with long time friends Cheryl and Karen on Interlude whom we haven't seen for a few years but when we did we had as much fun as we always do . They must like Fiji (and who wouldn't?), they've been here for four years. Also we caught up with friends on Kapai and Eudora and so what did we do? We found a few villages and ran some glasses clinics. Kapai and Eudora had helped us before in Niue but hadn't done any work in the villages, which is where we normally operate and were keen to do so. The crew of Interlude knew of our work but had never actually had the opportunity to participate and so gladly put their hands up to help. We managed to visit three villages in total and left 130 people with better vision than before we arrived. All the team did a wonderful job yet again. The girls on Interlude showed what an asset they are to our goal of better vision for everyone.

As an aside: It is always interesting to watch people when they have the opportunity to engage others in the way we can as Eyeglass Assist. I suppose it's based around helping others less fortunate than yourself but it's also about communicating with someone who is outwardly quite different but is in fact a person with whom you have a great deal in common. It's about travelling and meeting different people in a way that is meaningful and beneficial for every one concerned. And we all enjoy it very much indeed.

Makogai Island (pronounced Makongi)

03 October 2017 | Makogai Island, Fiji
We had only two weeks to spend in Fiji so we weren't going to see much in the time available. We had to make our way to Lautoka in the west of the country, through the reefs, to allow us to check out for New Caledonia, which would take some time. En route to Lautoka we stopped at Makogi Island where we took our dingy loaded with glasses and associated gear around to the village located on the windward side of the island (thus a wet trip) and ran a glasses clinic there. The people there were the lucky recipients of our last pairs of sunglasses. The village had been devastated by Winston but had been more or less rebuilt, the small school had been blown away and had subsequently been rebuilt by a US based organization called Sea Mercy which uses yachts to achieve their goals. We have encountered them previously and they do a fantastic job in the Pacific countries they work in, often concentrating on vision issues, even to the extent that they utilize the services of ophthalmic surgeons to perform cataract operations. Nice job Sea Mercy.

When we attempted to weigh anchor – it was not possible. When the foredeck hand said in a loud voice “we had five metres to go” (in 15 metres of water), everything came to a grinding halt - the windlass circuit breaker dropped out which meant something was wrong. The only solution was to dive on the anchor which revealed we were anchored to the bottom via another anchor that was itself connected to the seabed via a thick rope! It was missing a vital part but was most likely used as a mooring for a smaller craft which at some time in the past but had lost it's usefulness and was now just junk on the seabed. By tying a line to it with a slip knot, and then lowering our anchor, we managed to disentangle ourselves. All's well that ends well we say.

NOW THAT'S A MARKET !

28 September 2017 | Vanua Levu, Fiji
After two and a half weeks in Tonga it was time to push on west, the next stop is Fiji 400 miles away.

We always say that the two things that govern what we do are the weather and visas. Visas are a known factor but not so with the weather and therefore in the week leading up to any intended departure date, we start to study the weather patterns, looking for wind from a favourable direction which is not over 25 knots. Simple ! As you can imagine, it's not that simple, but that's what where we start. Another important factor is to take into account the expected duration of the passage and what conditions we're likely to encounter near our destination. These considerations of course only apply if the passage is going to be for a few days, any forecasts longer than this must be taken with a grain of salt and it's important then to take into considerations historic climate data (i.e. cross our fingers but be ready none-the-less). In reality wind is the only thing that matters to us, rain and sea conditions are just taken as they come.

However.... this brings me to an observation regarding a modern trend which we (the crew of Monkey Fist) have difficulty with. There seems to be more people now who are choosing to do their passages, in sailing boats, when there is NO wind – they prefer to run their engine rather than subject themselves to the discomfort associated with sea conditions that generally accompany 20 to 25 knot of wind. I understand that sometimes there is no choice because of other factors but nowadays the preferred “weather window” is all too often chosen for the calm sea conditions. Luckily the majority of us still relish “the press of the wind” but Frances and I do struggle with “sailing the world” courtesy of fossil fuels, for us it defeats the purpose of doing what we do. We should all keep in mind that there are still people out there sailing who do not have a motor on their sailing boat but they are rare now as hen's teeth but they do eventually reach their intended destination and they deserve a tremendous amount of respect. And, after all, isn't it all about the journey?

Our passage to Fiji was yet again difficult to better, experiencing winds from behind us at generally 15 to 20 knots with calm seas. Who could ask for more.

There are currently no ports of entry in Fiji in the eastern part of this island nation so one is required to sail through the Lau archipelago without stopping and thus enter at either Savu Savu or Suva well to the west. What this means is that if you want to head back to the Lau group you need a weather windows that will allow you not to bash into the often strong trade winds for a 100 miles or more, and they are not that common. What this all too often means is that people can't or aren't prepared to do it. If sailors these days are not wiling to sail upwind to Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas (35 miles) they are certainly not going to do this upwind passage. Fiji is very strict and we know of boats that have been fined for failing to provide advanced notice of arrival as well as other yachts that have not been allowed to officially enter the country because they have been seen going ashore prior to clearing in, which is fair in our books. However my point is that as from next year during the sailing season the government has said they are going to base the relevant officials at Susui in the Lau group to allow yachts to check in there which will dramatically increase the number of yachts visiting the group. So more people will visit the Lau group – it's a good and a bad thing but we did hear that the local people were driving this to happen as they felt it would help with their economic development, which no doubt it will do.

We entered at Savu Savu, a place we have always enjoyed which was devastated by the very intense cyclone Winston in 2015 but which now showed little signs of having done so. During our few days here we caught the local bus up to Labasa (pronounced Lambasa) which is located on the north west coast of Vanua Levu. The bus ride lasted 2 1/2 hours and cost $4Aus. Why go to Labasa? Because of the market, of course. It is pretty big and it was significantly bigger than the last time we visited in 2014. The stall holders are a mix of Fijian's and Indo-Fijians. The north west coast of Vanua Levu is known as “the Friendly Coast” and it's a well deserved name and reputation. It would be easy to spend an entire day just walking around the market and chatting with the stall holders. The Indo Fijians enjoy their kava as much as the Fijians do and, as it was Saturday afternoon and early knock off at the market - some stall holders were enjoying a quick Kava party under one of the benches which we were invited to join! The price of kava has risen significantly in Fiji and Tonga in the last couple of years and now it sells for up to $100Aus a kilo and I guess at some stage it may become affordable. Also the price of spirits in Fiji is such that it creates a veritable state of prohibition - a litre bottle of bottom shelf spirits, which in Mexico was less than $10Aus costs around $70Aus in Fiji. We estimated that the cone of kava in the photo on the left would be worth more than $1,000 Au.

Whistle Stop Tour of the Pacific - Tonga

08 September 2017 | Vava'u Tonga
The 252 mile nautical passage from Niue to Tonga was excellent with 15 to 20 knots (albeit from astern) , which we covered in a day and a half. We've become very good at goose-winging (for the non-sailors – mainsail out one side and genoa or other headsail poled out on the other).

Whistle Stop Tour of the Pacific - That's what it feels like anyway and after Tonga we still have two countries to go until we reach Australia. We had decided that due to time constraints we would only visit the Vava'u group in the north. This the third time we have been to Tonga since 2005 and I'd have to say very little has changed in that time. One thing that is changing slowly is that many of the villages are now getting solar power. We have always felt that this simple improvement can provide a significant improvement in the quality of people's lives in such countries. As with Fiji, the solar system can generally only supply power for lighting. Each house is provided with a solar panel, a battery and fitted with a small number of LED or low power flouro bulbs and they pay a monthly fee for the use of and to cover any maintenance issues. People in Tonga have houses built with western materials and at a casual glace one could be forgiven for thinking they live pretty well. But the truth is that the village people have very little, they are generally subsistence farmers. Inside the houses there is little furniture and up until recently after dark, there wasn't any lighting. Also I was surprised that many of the people in the villages did not speak English but perhaps I shouldn't be, as they would rarely have any contact Palangi (white people).

We spent much of our time in Neiafu on the net working on our Solomon Islands Project but managed to catch up with dear friends Marcus and Michaela on Alita whom we haven't seen for several years. They are on their way up to Alaska and Canada so we gave them a few tips on salmon, crabs, prawns and bears and compared a few home brewed beers.

In Tonga we did manage to go to visit a number of islands where we conducted some Eyeglass Assist clinics with the help of Steve from Duende. Needless to say we were well received. One island we went to was Taunga and spent an afternoon with the people fitting everyone with glasses, having a few laughs and trading a few stories. The pastor, Saya was kind enough to correct the flaws in my coconut husking technique. One thing we did see here that we haven't seen before is people cooking and eating puffer fish, which unfortunately we don't have a photo of. Puffer fish are poisonous. In Japan only elite specially licensed chefs are permitted to cook them but here we were in Tonga with a pot full of the whole animals being boiled over an open fire. So how can they be safe to eat and how did they find out? Beats me. There are one or two species that aren't poisonous so perhaps these were one of those or perhaps hours of boiling broke down the poison...

We encountered a rather large sailing boat in Vavu'a's Neiafu harbour and we were invited on board for a visit. We had run into the operations manager of the research/aid organization (that had temporary use of the vessel) in the market, whom we had previously met in Majuro several years ago . Apparently their aim was to do research on plastic pollution in the sea as well as running basic first aid in the villages. The vessel itself is 120 ft (40m) long, weighs 200 tonnes and is made of concrete ! Yep, concrete. The owner/skipper claims it's the biggest concrete sailing ship afloat, a fact which I wouldn't dispute. The owner has plans to motor the vessel to the Marshall Islands for a refit and then travel across the North Pacific and transit the Northwest Passage. You may notice I haven't used the word “sail”. At the time we saw the boat the sails were in tatters so it motored everywhere. To be honest, in my option the whole boat had the appearance of being in a pretty poor state of seaworthiness. There is often a good reason for a hull that is painted red or orange (to hide the rust stains), the large inflatable dingy had one pontoon that was deflated more often than not and the rigging, which was galvanized, was also too rusty for my liking. As for taking the boat through the Northwest Passage: Not for me thank you. In my experience concrete boats don't like running into things. They have a tendency to hole and then sink ! Good luck to him.

There were at least 20 volunteers with the aid/research organization most of whom were young females. I mention this fact because this particular arrangement resulted in their also being at least two solo male sailors constantly following the vessel as it moved around the islands. The standing joke on Monkey Fist was that they were “trying to cut one out of the herd” and in fact we were reliably informed that the two gentlemen sailors were indeed successful in doing so.

The island nation of Niue (pronounced “New-ay”)

01 September 2017 | Alofi, Niue
We've done pretty well so far this year with our passages and the Palmerston to Niue one was no different, we had wind all the way. At one stage we had a super yacht pass us, visible only on the AIS and not with the naked eye. It was from Australia and one of the crew, or the skipper, called up and said hi - nice. He also said there was "a blow" on the way and so they were heading further upwind so they could run off when the wind came. If a super yacht with a huge mast and sail area was worried about the conditions then I guess I should be even more worried. That got me thinking, what have I overlooked ? Panicked briefly and then said "whatever". The wind didn't get any stronger than the low 30's we were having at the time and I later found out that the boat was a motor boat (i.e no stick) which rolled very badly with a beam sea. We covered the 395 miles in 2 ½ days which was pretty good time.

The anchorage is only a roadstead and the swell can wrap around the ends of the island so it can be rolly. If the weather comes from the north or west then you have to leave and that's one of the issues as the nearest islands are Tonga and they are to the west - 250 miles. Anyway it didn't happen so it wasn't an issue.

We'd arranged to conduct our Eyeglass Assist program here through Keith at the Niue Yacht Club. I think I'd go back to Niue just to see Keith again, he's one of those people who does whatever he can to help others, nothing is too much bother. We knew we'd have to keep an eye on the weather so we had to complete our EA program as soon as possible - we didn't want anyone to miss out. We often like to see if other cruisers would like to get involved and so we asked Kapai and Eudora's crews, both kiwi yachts, if they'd like to help. Which they did, and they did very nicely indeed.

We spent the first 5 days involved with the program where we fitted over 300 pairs of glasses, all we saw of the island for most of the first week was the wharf, the hospital and the road in between but it was worth it as we made plenty of people very happy.

And I would have to say that Niue is the most expensive country we've ever been too so far but no doubt there are others more so. French Polynesia has had a reputation but Niue overshadowed that without a doubt. Some things were reasonable, like rental cars and beer ($20 a carton). I was told that you can buy holiday packages with airfares and accommodation from New Zealand for a reasonable price but haven't checked. Petrol was expensive at $2.25 a litre; the market was so expensive we couldn't afford anything there. Tomatoes in the supermarket I worked out were 900% more expensive than we were to buy in Tonga. We did buy a lettuce here for $5.50 which stretched the budget. A small loaf of white sliced bread was $5, forget multigrain or other fancy stuff. I can now see why all the locals have to grow their own fruit and vegetables otherwise they couldn't afford to live here.

I managed to have one dive with Jevon and Tracey on Eudora in the very clear waters surrounding Niue (as there are no rivers). Here they have the black and white banded sea snakes or kraits, which are very inquisitive but more or less harmless (photo top right). And the jail (photo bottom left) is a sort of standing joke. The fence is only half a metre high and it's right next to the golf course. The locals will tell you that if someone goes to jail and they can't play golf then by the time they leave they are experts! Mind you I did speak to someone who had been a police officer on the island as well as prison guard and I asked him when the last murder was on the island which was apparently some time ago. He told me it was another prison warden who shot a prisoner after an argument. I'd like to hear the full story.

The whales come right into the anchorage but regulations are so restrictive these days in many countries I'm surprised that we're still allowed to even look at them. You're not allowed to go anywhere near them in a yacht let alone dive with them, the fines are very high. However, licensed operators are permitted to facilitate your swimming with them. If it was all about looking after the whales and making sure you acted appropriately then, as a private boat, they should educate and license us appropriately . I doubt very much that the licensing course for commercial vessels is long or complicated and a cynic might be forgiven for thinking that it is primarily designed to help the local economy.

I don't suppose there will ever be less regulations, will there?

Don't forget to check out our website at www.eyeglassassist.org for our Solomon Islands project next year.

In the middle of nowhere - Palmerston Island

20 August 2017 | Palmerston Island, The Cook Islands, South Pacific
After leaving Mauphiaa the choice is then whether to take the course via the Northern Cook Islands (usually via Surrawow and then on to Samoa) or via the southern Cooks via either Rarotonga, Aitutaku or Palmerston Island or a combination thereof. The only place with a decent and protected anchorage is Aitutaki which has a shallow channel and a very small shallow lagoon once inside (all too shallow for Monkey Fist). Also the clearance fees here are a little steep at $400 so most people are reluctant to spend this money for a short stay. Recent reports of mooring “Med style” in the harbour at Rarotonga have reported conditions bordering on untenable, so we decided to head via Palmerston Island which only has a roadstead anchorage suitable in reasonable weather from the southeast. Still our good friend Matt Cronin on Polo Flat recommended it to us which was all the encouragement we needed.

Palmerston Island is about 540 nautical miles to west of Mauphiaa and, as has been the case so far this season, we had excellent wind for this passage – between 15 and 25 knots either from abeam or astern so it was another good speedy passage (I'm touching wood as I type this). Considering many people we have spoken to have not had such good wind this season then we consider ourselves very lucky. It has been a very inconsistent season it would seem for wind.

The population of Palmerston is 51 people everyone either descendants of or married to a descendant of William Marsters who arrived there in 1866 and had three Polynesian wives. The people don't have much in the way of material possessions but they are well looked after by the Cook Islands government. They make a little money by charging yachts to use moorings but most income is from reef fish fillets that they freeze and send to Rarotonga, but still the income is minimal. They do have a solar power station and they do have a small but well equipped health clinic staffed by a registered nurse, internet and telephones but it is very isolated – the only way to and from the island is via the unreliable trade boat that arrives every few months. Isolation is one of the key criteria in deciding where we conduct our Eyeglass Assist program and so we arranged in advance with one of the residents (via email) to service the community.

In the end we only two and a bit days in Palmerston due to weather considerations. We could have stayed longer but it would have meant a delay of another week at least and and as we were already behind schedule our time was limited. So most of the short time that we spent there we were running one of EA program and managed to help everyone on the island who needed glasses.

One thing that always becomes evident when visiting such communities is, without exception, the people's sense of humour. Everybody is quick to see the funny side of things and have the ability to laugh at themselves. And the people of Palmerston have a wicked sense of humour. We always have a great deal of fun and there is plenty of laughing and joking and it is a very positive experience for everyone involved. And so it was that only 48 hours later we were yet again on our way.

The photos: It's difficult to see but the bottom photo is of a yacht that was wrecked on the reef in 2011 at Palmerston when the mooring line chaffed through (the owner of the yacht's fault). The locals salvaged what they could and dragged what was left of the hull onto the island. Such a sight always makes you stop and think about your own situation.

Mauphiaa - the old stomping ground

10 August 2017 | Mauphiaa, French Polynesia
130 miles WSW of Bora Bora is Maupihaa, an atoll made up of one large motu and a few smaller ones , it is a little over four miles long and with a navigable pass and it offers excellent protection from anywhere but the southwest. The pass is daunting but if hold's one nerves it is straight forward, it is narrow and the outflowing current is over 4 knots. Our visit here in 2013 that we shared with 6 other yachts left us with indelible memories of the place. At that time there were 13 residents living here, all engaged in collecting copra. The population has now grown to 20. And by the way, the water is crystal clear and the colours are amazing.

We visited everyone on the island and fitted 7 pairs of spectacles and everyone ended up with a pair of sunglasses. There was one Italian girl now living on the island which rather surprised us. The story was that she had met a guy from the Tuamotus on a dating website and subsequently moved there from Italy. That arrangement had not worked out so the original guy had recommended her to his mate who lived on Maupihaa so here she was living a very simple life with her new male friend on a very remote island in French Polynesia. She gets full marks for being adventurous.

And then there's Hina. We met Hina in 2013 and playing music, together with a group of yachties and locals whose appetite for a good time seemed insatiable, led to night after night of fiesta, with a few days of copra processing thrown in. On walking up to her house she recognized Frances and I straight away, not bad after four years. Hina's English had improved markedly as had my command of French, other than that not much had changed. She was still collecting copra She remembered all of the people on all the other yachts from four years ago, which is pretty impressive. Due to weather considerations we stayed longed than planned, 9 days in all and made the best of the delay in this beautiful spot.

The photo on the top right is when Hina and two friends, Edgar and Oh Poo Poo came out to Monkey Fist for dinner one night, eating coconut crab and watching music videos on the big screen. I suppose one day Frances will grow up....but then I guess I will have to too, so maybe next year.

Eyeglass Assist sessions - French Polynesia

02 August 2017 | Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Well we've made it to Bora Bora and our 90 days in French Polynesia are just about up. We haven't posted any photos of our Eyeglass Assist sessions and you might be wondering if we have done any, and the answer is most definitely yes. We managed to run 9 sessions on four different islands fitting over 250 pairs of spectacles plus dozens of pairs of sunglasses.

While the people in French Polynesia enjoy a higher standard of living than most other Pacific nations, prices are very high as well. Their standard of health care is good and on a reasonably regular basis an ophthalmologist attends main centres in the archipelago and if the villagers can make their way there then there is no cost for the examination. The trouble is that the glasses must be ordered from Tahiti and they are so expensive that the vast majority of people don't bother consulting the eye doctor as they know they can't afford the glasses. We regularly made the point with people that visiting the doctor would pick up any medical problems that exist, if they were having issues with their vision. It was interesting to overhear the message as it was being passed around a village about our presence, the first question was always “how much do they cost?”. The reaction is normally a mixture of hope and skepticism until everyone realizes that, yes, we are telling the truth. As you can see from the photos, we left some pretty happy people behind.

Don't forget to check out our website at www.eyeglassassist.org and our planned project for the Solomon Islands next year, we need your donations to make it happen.
Vessel Name: Monkey Fist
Vessel Make/Model: Jeanneau 43DS
Hailing Port: Darwin
Crew: Paul and Frances Tudor-Stack
About: After spending over 20 years in the NT Paul and Frances returned to the sea in 2008. Their first trip was into the Pacific via West Papua and over the top of PNG and then back to Australia where they sold their old traditional boat "Sea Spray" and bought "Monkey Fist"
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