11 November 2016 | Tonga
Jane, warm and sunny
Our last stop before heading for New Zealand was the Kingdom of Tonga. The oldest and last remaining Polynesian monarchy and the only Pacific nation never brought under foreign rule. Tonga has 171 coral and volcanic islands, although only 36 are inhabited. Tonga is one of the few absolute monarchies in the world, and Tongans revere their King. All land is owned by the monarchy and no foreigner can own land. However with approval one can lease land up to 50 years, which thankfully discourages huge hotel development. The king gives Tongans two plots of land, one to live on and one to grow food on.
We started our visit in the archpelago of Vava'u, considered Tonga's sailing center. Our plan was to join the Blue Water Festival, but first we wanted to join friends for a traditional Tongan Feast in one of the anchorages and have a day out together to swim with the Humpback Whales. The anchorages in Vava'u are all numbered as their names are pretty longwinded, so it was at number #16 that David put on an amazing dinner on the beach for us. Tongan's love feasts (they are big people) and a whole pig is roasted over an open fire as the main dish, although there were lots of fish, chicken, beef and vegetable dishes too. It was a wonderful night, shared with a delightful family and other cruisers.
Our day with the whales was also fantastic. The morning was spent trying to swim with a mother and calf, but every time we went in the water she swam away - I think she was teasing us. She would breach, put her tail up, etc.. but in the end we gave up and went in search for another mother and calf. The next ones we found was much more friendly and we had a magical few swims with them. At one stage I thought we were a bit close as it looked like the mum was coming straight at us, but even with her bad eyesight I think she must have seen us and turned away at the last minute. Exhilarating for sure as they are HUGE.
We then went into Neiafu, the capital of Vava'u, situated in a large protected harbour where the rally was being held. Our friend Tony from Tactical Directions had asked us to crew for him in the race being held on the Wednesday. However, sadly by Tuesday I was suffering from a very bad stomach bug. In the end I was sick for 11 days and ended up seeing the Doctor and going on antibiotics. Aparently the local water now has bacteria in it. Quite a few of the cruisers got sick. I was lucky as I have heard that in 2012 there was no Doctor in town and a fellow cruiser died of blood poisoning, that could have been prevented with medical help. So I was not in party mode and in bed for most of the rally. Russ did crew for our friend and they came first which they were thrilled about. Tony won a terrific prize of a free haul out and seven days on the hard, so he was a very happy camper.
Neiafu is a lovely village, with a great market and lots of bars and restaurants. What I found interesting was the Tongan's traditions. The pace is slow, dress is conservative and church, family and friends form the society's core. Tongans wear distintive waistmats, called ta'ovala, wrapped around their waists. They are made from woven pandanus and in Tonga are the equivalent to a coat and tie. We noticed that some schools wear them as part of their uniform over long skirts, for both boys and girls. On formal occasions they are always worn.
Like all of the islanders across the Pacific the Tongans are happy, relaxed and welcoming. They love singing and dancing. Their homes can be very simple as they do not value material wealth. We understand that there is very low crime, we saw no begging and no one goes hungry as there is plenty of food. Family and the community looks after each other. Nearly everyone goes to church and the Sabbath is a sacred day of rest with most places closed.
The sailing around Vava'u is gorgeous. With 42 anchorages to chose from you often have a bay to yourself. You can walk beaches for hours, snorkel some stunning locations, dive or just chill out with friends. Sundowners and pot lucks by a beach fire, became a regular event. A favorite spot for us to snorkel was Swallows Cave. We visited the huge cave by tender in the late afternoon. It was magical with shoals and shoals of small fish, and coloured coral on the walls. The sunlight made the crystal clear water a wonderful turquois blue colour. Quite spectacular.
It was soon time to head south as we wanted to make sure we were ready for a weather window to get to New Zealand. We wanted to visit the Ha'apai group, the Happy Islands as we nicknamed them on our way to Tongatapu to check out. However we decided to stay in transit and just stop off at some of the western islands which are mostly uninhabited. The snorkeling was excellent and the islands stunning. We did visit one island with gifts and we were amazed at how many pigs there were. Like all the islands, pigs wander freely around the town or village, but here there were more pigs than people and some were huge. Apparently they can bite too, so we kept our distance. Sadly there were a lot of mal nourished dogs and puppies, not sure what that was about and did not want to ask. Most islanders do not speak much english and they never say the word "no" so conversation can get interesting.
Getting down to Tongapatu was not easy as the weather turned on us and the wind went south, the direction we were going in. We were told in Vava'u that we could not check out of the Ha'apais, which we have since found out is not true. Could have made our lives a lot easier, but we did enjoy visiting some beautiful anchorages, so all good.
On arriving in Tongapatu we spent a day checking out, provisioning, topping up with fuel and making water, before we went to the bar for a sundowner to say goodbye to various friends. Quite a few boats had left that day and four others were leaving with us, all of us trying to catch the perfect weather window that was ready for us. We look forward to returning to Tonga next May and spending more time getting to know this fascinating country's culture and again visiting its gorgeous islands. Thanks to Sonrisa, Echo Echo and Russell for some of the pictures that are in the gallery of photos on the right hand side of this site. Enjoy
Cook Islands and Niue
10 October 2016 | Cook Islands and Niue
Jane, warm and sunny
We had some wonderful sailing from the Society Islands to Tonga, about 1,500 nm. As we average about 150 miles per day it took us, yes easy math, about ten days with four stops enroute our best day was 215 nm. We even managed to fly our parasail for a few days. We had a bit of everything, but managed to avoid some nasty squalls and lightening and made some terrific mileage, however our last day out of Tonga was dead calm. The sea was like glass, with no horizon to be seen at night, the stars were reflected into the water and with all the phosphorescence it was magical. However the iron donkey (motor) was put on to get us into Vava'u, as no wind was forecast for five days. Although we were having fun we were impatient to finish the trip.
The Cook Islands are affiliated with New Zealand. The islanders are very proud of their Kiwi passports and many have family living in Auckland, which is only 3.5 hours away from Rarotonga. Russell loved the down-under banter, which he misses, as most people speak English with a strong Kiwi accent although their first language is Cook Island Maori.
New Zealand handles the Cook's foreign affairs and defense, and subsidizes finances. Their flag has 15 white stars in a circle on a blue background. Each star represents one of the islands scattered over a vast area of 750,000 miles. We visited three, although most cruisers only manage to visit one on their way west.
The Cooks are fun-loving people who are very proud of their islands and they make a lot of effort to make sure visitors are well looked after. Like most Polynesians the girls all have long dark hair. They are attractive with a ready smile. We did not notice as many tattoos, although being Maori they are still often seen mainly on the males.
The people are very religious and Sundays are looked upon as a day of rest. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens on Sundays. It would be highly frowned upon to arrive or depart by boat on the Sabbath. When we were in Aitutaki we went to the oldest church in the Cooks dated 1821 it was a Sunday. The town band with different uniformed groups (including very small children) marched up the main street and accompanied the singing at the beginning of the service, spectacular, especially as the church is known to have the best acoustics in the Cooks. The singing often went back and forth between males and females, young and then old. It was a wonderful experience.
All graves are covered in cement (so bodies can't escape we were told). Although flooding in the rainy season might be more of a reason. We saw a lot of graves in the front yards of homes. Some had flowers, often plastic, and some even had lights on at night. They say they do not need to cremate their dead as they have plenty of land in which they can spend their eternal rest.
The first island we visited was Rarotonga. We had a spectacular display of whales on our arrival at the pass, but sadly were so busy sorting out the boat we did not take pictures. There were a few more off the reef while we were there making their annual migration. Stunning creatures. Rarotonga is the main island of the Cooks and a friend of ours, who we had not seen for 35 years, lives there. It was terrific to link up with Trish after so long, she was great and helped us with a boat part that we had ordered, never an easy job we have found over the years. We had a fun, traditional, down-under BBQ at her delightful beach property and met a lot of Kiwis there who have retired to the island.
Rarotonga is smaller than Salt Spring, but with its Saturday market, music, arts, crafts and laid back feel it felt very similar. Obviously it is a tad warmer than Salt Spring and also has a shallow reef all the way around, giving stunning surf on windy days. We loved the way so many people wore crowns of flowers in their hair, or flowers behind their ears.
Sadly the harbour is not so great. There are plans to build a marina, but we cannot see it happening soon. Getting on and off the boat was a challenge and when we arrived it was pretty rolly, even for a Catamaran. We can understand why it is not visited by many yachties. However we had a great time and are very glad we got to visit such a delightful island.
We went a couple of times to a fantastic curry restaurant near the harbour. In England we used to go once a week and it is something we miss, so we were happy bunnies and ordered enough for left overs. We also enjoyed the local hang out Trader Jacks close by, where they have music at weekends. A highlight was a terrific educational and cultural evening we had at 'Highlands Paradise'. The old lost village is up in the hills. We were picked up, got a tour around the area, had a traditional umu feast and authentic entertainment; which included drumming and dancing as it has changed through the years. If you ever get to Rarotonga we would highly recommend going.
One thing we learnt was how Warriors were rewarded land as appreciation for winning battles and how to this day the land is handed down from one generation to another. No foreigner can buy land in the Cook Islands. What a great idea, it would certainly help the housing market in Vancouver. We were also informed that many of the cook islanders still use every fauna on the islands for medical use. Very effective apparently, we are all for it. Evidently a huge amount of Polynesians left the islands in Vevas (they look like old fashioned Catamarans) in the 13 hundreds. It is thought this was due to fish poisoning. They then came back in the 16 hundreds. The Vevas sailed from all the islands in the Pacific at up to 18 knots, so were very efficient. Sadly fish poisoning is coming back, in fact there are huge problems in the Oceans with worldwide warming. It is a real concern especially for the people who live on these islands.
We hired a bike to explore Rarotonga and ended up buying some wonderful pieces of art and for Russ a hand made Ukulele. One artist was Kay George, her work is online and we hope to buy more. Trish our friend has her work all over her home. We lucked out one night as Laura Collins and the Back Porch Blues Band were on the island. They are from Wellington, but play worldwide. They were fantastic, it was such a treat to find them in the Pacific.
The next island we were fortunate to be able to visit was Aitutaki. Not many boats are able to get through the narrow, shallow pass. We had an interesting entrance as not only is the pass very shallow, but for a Cat it is also very narrow. I was at the helm with only four feet either side of Ta-b with beautiful, but deadly coral ready to potentially do us serious damage. Luckily it was calm, but it made the passes in the Tuamotus seem a doddle in comparison. We were the only boat anchored in the wee harbour and the local kids thought we were their new playground, until they were told to give us a bit more privacy.
The people were super friendly with the health official inviting us to his house for the evening to watch the All Blacks against Argentina. It was a great game, especially the first half.
It is a gorgeous small island with a huge shallow lagoon with lots of beautiful Motus. We went to Honeymoon Motu a couple of times to learn kite boarding, a perfect place for the sport, we learnt a lot and look forward to practicing more in Tonga.
One thing we noticed was that there are no dogs on the island. Apparently the story goes that the Princess was bitten many years ago and so they are now banned.
Our next stop was Palmerston Atoll with its six sandy islets scattered along the coral reef surrounding the large lagoon. It has a unique history. The 60 inhabitants are all descendants of a patriarchal figure, William Marsters, a Lancashire sea captain who settled there with three women in 1862. He fathered 26 children and divided the islands and reefs into sections for each of the three "families" and established strict rules on intermarriage. English is the first language spoken and we heard very little Maori. There is a school for the 23 children with five staff; two who were from the US and are housed in the beautiful schools buildings. There is a clinic, an admin building, and a telecom building, all of which are run and used by one family. Amazing.
Bill's family hosted us. They are descendants of number one wife and own the middle part of the island. A truly beautiful family with delightful kids and a grandmother called Grammy who captured my heart. We spent every day with the family who shared their lives with us and made us delicious lunches. We had a very emotional departure. Grammy cried as she gave us leis of flowers to wear around our necks that she had made. It was hard to give her a final kiss goodbye. Bill was overly generous and we left with enough food to last us a couple of weeks, our numerous gifts to everyone in return could never thank them enough. We would love for Bill to host friends following us; he has one very well maintained mooring buoy only, which he will not accept payment for. He suggests emailing his wife, Metua at email@example.com as they have no VHF radio, but they will come out to greet you if they know an approximate arrival time.
We also saw whales on our arrival, and our first night one came alongside our boat and made a massive noise, yikes, it was amazing as they huge. Humpback whales visit the islands from June to September to calve and can often be seen with their young. There are strict rules about interaction and to be honest we made sure we never went close to any, as when they breach they could sink Ta-b.
We stopped at Niue, known as "The Rock" as it is composed of coral limestone, which rises from the sea in two tiers at 100' and 200' with no surrounding lagoon. It is deep and 20 mooring buoys have been laid for passing yachts, all well maintained by the Niue Yacht Club. The only Yacht Club in the world to have no yachts apparently ☺ A unique way of getting onto land was to hoist your tender, via a crane onto the hard, had its pluses and minuses as the crane was a bit temperamental. However once on terra firma there are many caves, caverns and arches to visit, but no streams or rivers. Therefore the seawater has no sediment and is crystal often with a visibility of 230 feet. It is a small island with only 1,100 inhabitants although at one time apparently there were 45,000 people. The last to leave was after Cyclone Heta in 2004, which caused a lot of damage to the island with waves destroying buildings on top of the cliffs a 100' from the sea.
We hired a motorbike one day (there is no local transport) and explored the southern part of the island. We noted that every five hundred yards or so there would be a grave or group of graves, then there were the abandoned buildings everywhere, an interesting history. Another day we went off in a van with friends and checked out the northern part of the island. There is only one resort, which caters mainly to divers, conferences and hikers. The hikes down to the caverns, caves, chasms, pools, etc. were spectacular; it really is a gorgeous island. Moving on was a problem as there was no wind in the forecast for about ten days, so we grabbed a very small window of wind knowing that it would not last long, although it did stay with us most of the way to Tonga and we had an excellent trip just having to motor the last day.
We have put up two gallery postings, as we have so many pictures we wanted to share. Thanks go to fellow cruisers Sonrisa and Echo Echo for their contributions and also Russ as my camera is not working well and my go pro has its limitations. Enjoy
Tahaa to Maupiti
05 September 2016 | Societies
Jane, warm and sunny
From Huahine we crossed to Tahaa and Raiatea, two islands that lie within the same coral reef. This is where one can charter a boat to sail around French Polynesia. The Raiatea marina there is very efficient. We had a small welding job done costing us only $10 and our friends who hauled said the place was excellent and prices fair.
We spent most of our time in Tahaa as there is an incredible coral garden between two motus on the western side. Here the fish ate out of our hands. The yellow butterfly fish especially liked bananas and I managed to get some great footage with my new go pro - such fun. We also visited the pearl farm closeby, fascinating how they make the black pearls, so many different variations - gorgeous. Sadly the weather became overcast and windy, not the best conditions to see the two islands. We would certainly consider chartering a boat one day, as we did not really get to know the two islands.
Our next island was Bora Bora, with its spectacular volcanic peaks surrounded by an extensive lagoon of varied hues of blue. It is known as one of the world's most beautiful islands and we can understand why. Sadly though tourism has taken over and the motus are covered with hotels that seem to spread for miles. Apparently there are approx. 2,500 palm covered rooms over the water. We managed to find a quiet area, but with the winds the water had become murky so snorkeling was left to cleaning Ta-b's hull. Dissappointing, however we did have fun.
The Mai Kai marina has become very popular with cruisers, possibly because of their wonderful happy hour and amazing band that plays on Tuesdays and Fridays. We had a couple of terrific evenings ashore with friends. We also went to the St. Jame's gastro restaurant with another couple for their six course meal with accompanying wines, yummy. A real treat; especially when a Manta Ray entertained us when attracted to the dock lights. At this point I should mention shoes. Over the last six months I have hardly worn shoes, well maybe some flip flops or sandles for going into town. So out came my favourite shoes for going out. To my horror not once, but twice, the second time at a five star restaurant my shoes literally fell apart (see picture of second pair). Luckily our tender was right at the dock where we were seated so I did not have to walk anywhere. Living on board has certainly distroyed my wardrobe, the humidity, salt, rust stains and rotting have taken their toil.
Our last island we feel is the jewel of the Societies - Maupiti. This island of only 1,200 people lies 27 miles northwest of Bora Bora and is the most western of the islands. It is a remnant of a volcanic peak and its highest point at 1,250 feet is near the center of the island. We hiked to the top one day, well the last bit of cliff and rope I gave a miss, but the views from close to the top were magnificient.
We were fortunate that the locals were having a party the Friday we were there. Most of the boats at anchor went and we were treated to memorable evening. The games consisted of opening and emptying coconuts, teams of three, to see who could do the most in five minutes. Three teams, including one with women who did a fantastic job. Another game was husking coconuts. This is what they do for work each day, so they are amazingly efficient. Then there was the weight lifting. Seven guys competing, although they got some of the cruising guys to try to lift the smaller rocks. The locals managed 146 kilos each, well six of them did, incredible. What to do for entertainment instead of watching TV. The buffet was local fair with a dance troupe finishing off with wonderful singers and a band for dancing. So much talent in such a small community, fantastic.
We would have liked to have stayed much longer. The snorkeling was excellent and watching the huge Manta Rays at the cleaning stations near the pass was magnificient, they are such stunning creatures. There was even a fabulous sand spit for kiting, but sadly the wind was not in our favour. A lot of people do not visit Maupiti as the pass has a poor reputation, because in rough conditions it is hazardous to enter. It is a shame as it is a delightful place, very clean, with warm, charming locals who make visitors very welcome. There are a few pensions for tourists and even an airstrip. We can understand the pass having a bad name as we had a very sporty entrance, the wind suddenly came up from the wrong angle, but the pass was luckily still just attainable. We however had a very boring exit, taking the opportunity to leave before the next bad weather came through.
It was sad to leave French Polynesia. A truly stunning location to cruise around. We certainly recommend that our friends following us allow more than one season in the area; which we have now found is possible and well worth the time. We now sail to the Cook Islands where we will no longer have to try to speak French and Polynesian - phew. Looking forward to a new culture to explore and experience.
Tahiti to Huahine
19 August 2016
Put the Marquesas and the Tuamotus together and you get Tahiti and the Society Islands. Lush green islands with stunning steep-to mountainous backdrops ringed with reef coral crowns, giving protected anchoring and fantastic snorkeling. Paradise. The only downfall is that the more popular islands are full of tourists, charter boats and large hotels. Luckily all hotels are low level with a lot over the water, thatched with palm fronds, so quite attractive. We certainly understand why these islands have become a favourite holiday spot.
Captain Cook named the Society Archipelago when he landed in 1769. There are two groups of islands the Windward and the Leeward. Four in the windward south including Tahiti and Moorea, and nine in the north, not so large with Bora Bora being the most popular.
Our first stop was Tahiti, famous throughout the world. More than half of the inhabitants of French Polynesia (120,000) live in and around Papeete the main city. It has the only big port and international airport for French Polynesia, and is the administrative center.
It was magic, after four months at last we could find everything we wanted, or nearly. We enjoyed HUGE supermarkets with incredible yummy French food, at a high cost, but oh so wonderful after being without for so long. Pig out, you bet, and we will probably see the extra love handles in the next few months. However, live for today is our motto and with our lifestyle they will no doubt disappear before we get to New Zealand.
We anchored off the Tahiti yacht club and got to spend time with several other boats we had not seen in a while. Catch up time, tall stories to share over a beer or two or three, was in order. It was a great place to spend a week with friends.
The whole of July in French Polynesia is spent celebrating Heiva. This is where all the islands compete in a dance and music competition, plus outrigger racing. Each island has a team of up to 100 dancers with an orchestra of approximately a dozen drums. The dancing is done to pulsating drums and singing.
We went to one competition and the talent was incredible, synchronized with not one person out of step. All the dancers were decked in elaborate costumes made from natural fibers, with large fancy headdresses. The females had layered skirts with hip bustles and coconut/leaf bras; the males were bare chested and looked great with all their tattoos. Polynesians are large people especially as they age and not all of the dancers were young, your imagination is required here, but needless to say it was quite the spectacle. After each song everyone changed into new and even more beautiful outfits. The men dressed as warriors doing the scissors step with bent legs, while the girls flipped their hips until their leaf bustles were a blur and began to fall apart. It was wonderful to experience the energy and pride that the Polynesians take in their heritage, a memorable evening. Sadly no pictures are allowed so we are unable to share the experience, although I am sure one can find some on the Internet.
We were also lucky to enjoy Bastille Day while we were in Papeete with lots of parades, flower competitions and races which included running whilst carrying huge 52 kilo banana plants - crazy. To be closer to all the festivities we decided to splash out and dock at the Town Marina. What a treat, we even ended up getting eight nights for the price of five, so spent lots of time immersing ourselves in city life. It was a great marina, not noisy, as we had thought, with free wifi another treat after being so long without. I loved visiting all the pearl shops, the black pearls here are gorgeous and of course I now have some new jewelry.
While in Tahiti we rented a car with friends and spent a day driving around the island. We went to the Tahiti museum where they were having a cultural festival, which included javelin throwing, other games, and more dancing. We had lunch down at Teahupoo, the famous surf beach, on the south coast and on the way back stopped at the Trois Cascades (lovely waterfalls) for swimming.
In Tahiti we learnt that the locals see themselves very much as Polynesians and not French, even though the majority speak French. In fact the French are not liked as many Polynesians lost their grandparents due to the nuclear testing that happened in the islands. The local people are very proud of their history and the art of tattooing ones body is seen everywhere. With the colour of their skin and being part of their culture tattoos seem to blend in and are a part of the people who live in these islands.
After a few more days at anchor it was time to have our last meal ashore, at "The Trucks" with about a dozen of our friends, before leaving for Moorea. The Roulettes, or Trucks, are where locals serve food from a Truck with seating all around. Outside the marina there were only two with about a dozen tables, however in Papeete there is a whole square on the quayside filled with at least twelve trucks serving a variety of food. Our favourite was one that sold fish with the most delicious rice done with garlic, coconut and cheese.
Moorea, what a truly beautiful island. We have heard it called Fatu Hiva on steroids, a perfect description. Our favorite anchorage was off Coco and Dream islands (what great names) with friends on Ednbel with Tony of Tactical Directions joining us. We had a lot of fun together with beach fires and BBQs, a night out at the Intercontinental to enjoy their spectacular Saturday night entertainment and lots of shared dinners. Our days were spent playing with the ever-friendly stingrays, kayaking and snorkeling. We even got to swim the underwater Tikkis at the anchorage where we spent our last couple of nights.
Next stop the less touristy island of Huahine. We had an excellent overnight sail and spent our first night in the town anchorage of friendly Fare. There is a large supermarket, with local veggie stalls with fantastic produce. Then a quick catch up with email before we headed south to Avae bay to link up with our friends on Tika. What a wonderful spot, even though the weather was not so great. Fantastic Marae on the SE side, there are lots on Huahine; which used to be quite populated. Apparently the large stone platforms were used for human sacrifices in days gone by. Delightful. I found a Polynesian guy who specialises in massage and joint manipulation, so had to try him out. My friend Greer was in heaven after she saw him. He managed to sort her out after years of pain and treatment, got to love the natural touch.
We hid out the worst of the weather just outside the large bay of Bourayne. Huahine is in fact two islands with a bridge that connects them and Bourayne is the western bay. It was a fantastic sheltered spot with great snorkeling, beach, and hiking to panoramic views. We came across forest-covered ruins and found out that there used to be a large hotel with 43 cabins just behind the beach from 1995-98 when it was flattened by a cyclone. The only thing apart from the odd stone staircase and vine-covered walls left were the flowers, I now have a lovely tropical arrangement on Ta-b.
Back to the town of Fare where we enjoyed company with other cruisers and a night out on the town listening to Steve of Leeward and his band play at the "Yacht Club". Can't believe we have already been here a month in fact over 90 days in French Polynesia. Luckily having EU passports we do not have to leave like many of our friends who only have a 90-day visa. Our plan is to spend up to another month before we head off towards New Zealand.
The Beautiful Tuamotus
20 July 2016
Jane, warm and sunny
Russell and I have promised each other that one day we will return to the beautiful Tuamotus. It will not be the same without our beloved Ta-b, the atolls were very hard to leave. The French have kept pretty quiet about this stunning group of 78 islands, with all but two being coral atolls. They spread in a NW-SE direction over 1,000 miles. We have friends who have spent a year or two in the area and we can certainly understand why. We were luckier then most cruisers (having British passports allows us to spend more than three months in French Polynesia) and were able to enjoy a magical five weeks in the area before it was time to continue west.
The atolls are known as the “Low and Dangerous Archipelago” although we lovingly nicknamed them the “Tomatoes”. The motus (islets) on the reefs ring most atolls like crowns. They are clustered on the northern side with palms and grass, but the southern sides are normally awash with coral and often pounding waves. Being only a few meters high they are difficult to see until one is within 8 miles. No atoll is like another ranging in size from 4km to 75km in length. Some are completely enclosed, although luckily there are 30 that have deep cut passes that are navigatable. The currents run up to 8 knots in and out of these passes and often have large standing waves. They make for interesting sailing between the atolls. Timing becomes very important to try and enter/exit lagoons at slack tide; especially as all information available is often out by a few hours We did not always get it right, sometimes we were very slow or very fast entering/exiting a lagoon – exciting stuff and not for everyone; which is possibly why so many cruisers seem to spend very little time in the area.
The Tuamotus were found before Tahiti and the Society Islands probably because they are the largest Archipelago in the world. There is 6000km of sheltered lagoons and the whaling in days gone past was apparently excellent. Many of the atolls are uninhabited, but those that are normally have a small village. There is a supply ship that visits some of the larger islands once a week, but fresh food is hard to find and most locals live off fish, rice and coconuts. There are a few small resorts on the main islands, but otherwise there is no tourist industry apart from the cruising boats that sail through on their way to Tahiti. Until recently most boats only visited the northern atolls, nowadays with electronics, pilot books and boats assisting each other the cruising area has extended south. We visited five atolls.
Our landfall was Raroia after a great sail from Nuka Hiva having to slow ourselves down to catch slack water at first light. Another boat was leaving and we thought our friends on Tiki had just entered ahead of us. For our first pass we clocked 5 knots of current against us, but eventually we got in with both engines working hard. Later we found that in fact Tiki were behind us, not in front, another lesson learned. We went across the lagoon avoiding lots of boomies (large coral heads) to an anchorage off Kontiki island to join four other boats there. When moving around the lagoons it is important to travel when the sun is high in the sky so one can see and avoid every coral patch. We have heard of boats suffering from a lot of damage when accidentally hitting coral so we were very careful.
Raroia was a perfect spot to spend time, with BBQs ashore, snorkeling, diving the pass and boomies, reef exploring, all with great company around us. We got to watch the film with friends about Kontiki who landed on the Motu next to us so many years ago – a fascinating documentary and all the more interesting being anchored right where they arrived.
Our next Atoll to visit was Makemo. Highly recommended by sailing friends and diving/snorkeling the northern pass was an experience I will never forget. The water was crystal clear with a shallow reef and cliff face, home to hundreds of different colourful fish, then deeper down larger fish including numerous reef and black fin shark. Diving the pass is normally done only on an incoming slack tide, we luckily got to experience it three times and it was certainly a highlight of our time in the Tomatoes.
Sadly my underwater camera is no longer working and I did not get my go pro when Edwin was unable to bring it to the Marquesas, however our friends from Tiki managed to get some great footage; so we can share a few pictures.
Makemo has a small delightful village and the locals are charming and very friendly. We were given coconuts and were able to buy fresh bread and pasteries, lucking out with some vegtables and other fruit from the supply boat that had been in harbour a few days before. Sadly though we did have a bad experience. The day we left we went in to pick up some bread and a local dog decided to attack me. He was on a very long leash and totally unprovocked ran across the road. I was bitten on my lower left leg quite badly and was immediately taken to the local clinic, thankfully there was one as there are only a few amongst the islands. I was well looked after, but even with antibiotics, etc. the wound being so deep became infected; which tends to happen in the tropics. I was pretty sick for a couple of weeks, but eventually I came right and am now able to walk without a limp. I was thinking of having a tattoo while in the Pacific, but maybe I will stick with the scar I have been left with ☺
Our next atoll was Tahanea, an uninhabited marine park where one can anchor miles away from anyone else. Sadly the weather while we were there was not great and I was sick so we did not experience the island like we would have liked. Even so it was a safe and beautiful place to be and we are glad that we stopped there on our way to Fakarava.
We had a wonderful time in Fakarava, even when the weather again decided to get windy and rainy on us. Our first stop was by the pass, a worldwide must for snorkerlers and divers alike. You drift dive/snorkel up to a few knots over hundreds and hundreds of sharks with huge basse, rays and other numerous reef fish. The sharks also wait in the shallows for scraps from the restaurant, or are feed by hand, they are very tame. We took our tender numerous times to the entrance and then pulled it along behind us all the back to the anchorage and Ta-b. It was the most amazing experience, slightly frightening at times when a shark got close and curious, but one I will never forget.
We then went to Hirifa in the SE corner when the wind came up and hardly felt it. Great place to wind surf and kite, but totally protected with a lovely family living there. Lisa was like most Polynesians, very large. Every day she would huge me into her huge chest and I must admit I really enjoyed the wonderful warm embrace. We had a lot of fun meeting up with old and new friends. Each evening we enjoyed parties, pot lucks, cards and meals ashore which Lisa prepared for us. A very special place and well worth a visit. From there we went back for a last couple of days diving the pass, and to enjoy the best pizza we have had in a long time with friends, before we moved up north stopping at the anchorage midway to spend a night with friends Lumiel before hitting the big smoke of N Fakarava.
Fakarava is the second largest Tuamotu and is 32 miles long. Its northern part is the most direct route from Panama to Tahiti and it is one of the most visited atolls. The town however is not big, with only about 700 people, but it does have a couple of supermarkets, restaurants, etc. We found it very quaint and easy going.
Our last atoll was Toau before we grabbed a perfect weather window to sail to Tahiti. We met Vanessa, Lisa’s sister, who put on another feast for us beore we left. We were truly spoilt. Most of the time we were in the Tomatoes we travelled with our delightful friends on Tika, they are a family from Perth and we have become great cruising buddies. We have also met numerous other boats, one of the delights we have found crossing the Pacific is how close the community is. Never before have we made so many friends so quickly. With the daily Poly Mag Net on SSB about 25-35 boats are constantly in touch with each other. We always check in when we are sailing offshore and it is good to know that friends are watching out for us. We heard in the last few days of a solo sailor who went up on a reef in the Tuamotos while on his way to Tahiti. He did not arrive when due and a search party was sent out, sadly he was found dead on board, it is thought he suffered a heart attack. Unfortunately many boats are lost in the Tuamotus and there have been quite a few this year.
We are not sure how long we will be in the Society islands as there are at least six more that we would like to see. Completing our last leg to NZ from Tonga will be sometime around mid November so luckily we have plenty of time. We hope you enjoy our latest blog and pictures. A big thanks to Tika, Lumiel and Jackarander for their photo contributions.
Panama to the Galapagos Islands
18 April 2016 | Isabella, Galapagos
Jane, warm and sunny
Home alone after an incrediable five weeks. First Amy, with Kevin and Jason, joining us to go through the Panama canal to Galapagos, then Jamie and Frankie visiting us in Santa Cruz to go to Isabella. Wonderful memories and a ton of fun. The only downside was five days ago when we heard that we had lost Gypsy, Russell’s beloved Mum. Two weeks ago she was on top form, but a fall broke her pelvis and she did not recover. She will be dearly missed, she would have been 92 next month. Sadly we were unable to get Russell home in time for her funeral; which is in fact today as I write, she left behind beautiful memories for us. Bless her, she will now be happy with Eddie who she adored.
Onto a happier note. Tomorrow we leave the Galapagos for the Marquesas. There will be just the two of us on a passage of over 3,000 nm which hopefully will not take us more than 20 days. Obviously we have mixed emotions at the moment, excitement and slight apprehension. We have prepared ourselves as best as we can and we are looking forward to hopefully kind winds and seas. We can be followed on our InReach tracker https://share.delorme.com/JanePoulston
We can also post the odd message on Facebook; which we will do a couple of times on our way. Otherwise it is wonderful to get news from friends and family, especially when we are offshore as one can feel quite cut off so far away. My brother Jamie has kindly offered to forward messages to us via our Ham Radio so please email him a note or two via Jamie@pride.me.uk - thanks.
Last night we were on Tsunami watch, one was due after the large earthquake on the mainland at 6pm. In the end we hardly felt it and have still not heard the latest news, but we understand that it caused a lot of damage and death on the mainland. Thankfully Jamie and Frankie were still in Santa Cruz.
Back to Panama. After a crazy few weeks at Shelter Bay marina prepping the boat, and spending two days line handling (to get a bit of experience) for a friend’s boat, we set off. Amy with her friends on board made the trip a ton of fun and they got some great footage with their go-pros. They are going to edit all the footage they took onboard and make a film for us – we can’t wait. It was an amazing experience transiting the canal, made more special by sharing it with Amy, Jason and Kevin. Not often does one traverse between two seas and two major continents, with a huge tanker loaming down on you.
We spent four days at anchor at La Playita getting our rigging sorted (Mike the rigger was fantastic, a Kiwi of course), celebrating Kevin’s birthday, doing a final shop at Pricemart and getting some other odd jobs ticked off the list. We had two fantastic drivers one called Roger who loaded up his van and roof top with booze for us (don’t ask how much) and Carlos who spent our last morning taking us from shop to shop, $8-10 an hour was joke so they got decent tips from us.
We did manage a couple of days in Isla Taboga where we hiked up to the top of the island and had our first swim in the Pacific. However, we did not make Las Perlas as a weather window appeared and we had to grab it to cross to the Galapagos. There had not been much wind for weeks, so all the boats were ready to leave.
What a fantastic sail we had, full moon nights, perfect wind and slight seas it does not get better. Our six day sail was done in five and a half with everyone on board having a blast. We stopped a hundred miles out and had a swim off Ta-b in deepest water yet. It was crystal clear and we gave the hull a quick wipe as they send a diver down to make sure we have a clean hull when we enter the Galapagos. Jason helped us as King Neptune crossing the equator and we celebrated with Beer Bongs and Champagne, with Neptune of the sea getting a wee drop. The only blip was our …. Generator. Yes ongoing problems and the kids had to learn what it was like to be at sea with no water maker and only a camping stove. It has been a stressful problem, but as I write it is … working.
Our landfall was San Cristobal. Our agent Bolivar met us as we motored into the anchorage, we had let him know of our noon arrival, and our check in could not have been more efficient. We had about six officials on board and although we had a fumigation certificate from Panama we were asked to leave the boat for four hours as they smoked out Ta-b at a cost of $100. We were able to warn other boats behind us, as the grease left behind was horrible. We spent the extra $$ to be able to visit more than one island and stay longer, an excellent decision which we would highly recommend to other boats.
One has to check out of immigration in Santa Cruz as it is only possible get an international “clearing out Zarp” in Isabella. Sadly some boats arrived in Isabella thinking they could check in and had to leave within 24 hours. One left yesterday who had spent 12 days getting to Isabella and are now on their way to the Marquesas after only a night in the Galapagos. At least we gave them a good evening as we celebrated my birthday a few days early before Jamie and Frankie left. We had 26 on board for the evening including two musicians; it was a wonderful evening that I will always cherish.
We loved San Cristobal, even though we had to fortify the boat so that sea lions did not come into the cockpit. There have been stories of them even getting into the salon and one set of friends had them in their cockpit where they coughed, pooed and vomited all over the place. Love them, but not when they do that ☺
A wonderful week was spent there, getting to know other boats, enjoying the incredible wildlife with the highlight being a tour we managed to privately organize with Manuel of Sharksky to Kicker Rock and Punta Pitt. Hopefully the photos will tell their own story. We saw nesting and courting red footed and blue footed boobies along with hundreds of other birds, including male frigates with their red throats. Snorkeling through Kicker Rock and later off Punta Pitt we swam with more huge shoals of different fish then we have probably ever seen. These islands above and below water are exquisite.
It was time to move on and we lucked out with a fabulous days sail to Santa Cruz, the most touristy island, but a fun one nonetheless. One of the trips we did there was to a farm where the huge Tortoises roam free. There we saw one couple mating (they take up to three hours and it was obvious, with the noise and movement that the male made, that we were just in time) an amusing experience. We also went underground into some of the lave tunnels, another fascinating event. Then the kids (yes they are still kids to us) had to leave. Jamie and Frankie arrived the day before and so we were all able to spend some time together. Very special as Amy had not seen her English Aunt and Uncle for six years.
More guests, but this time sadly only for one week. More trips were enjoyed, but the highlight was certainly The Tunnels in Isabela. Sadly my “new” camera died on me and so I do not have many pictures. The surf ride over the lava reefs and into and around the tunnels was breathtaking. Snorkeling the nearby lagoon we saw tons of huge turtles, golden rays, lots of sharks especially white tipped and even a beautiful sea horse. Manta Rays were seen on the trip back – huge. It was a magic day.
Frankie said her aim was to swim and take pictures of the Sea Lions. Well two pups obliged and spent about an hour frolicking with her under our boat. She was certainly one happy camper and we got some great pictures for her. Here we have also seen the famous Galapagos penguins and have had to be careful not to upset all the sea lions and large iguanas that take over the dingy dock.
It will be difficult to leave these beautiful islands. We were hoping to stay a bit longer, who knows maybe we will return. However the Pacific is beckoning and we are dependent on the weather. We are full of fuel, water and food in the deep freeze and stores. We are ready to go. We look forward to hearing from some of you and will update our blog probably somewhere in the Marquesas. We are meeting Edwin, and his girlfriend Iva, on Nuku Hiva on the 23rd May, another event we are looking forward to.
Keep happy and healthy, with much love Jane and Russell
A special thanks for some of the photos from Amy, Jamie, Frankie, David and Russell