05/26/2012, Suwarrow, Northern Cook Islands
If all things were to go to plan, we should be heading for Niue in about an hour or so (10am Sunday 26th May). We decided yesterday we would have more wind for longer, if we use some of the tail end of the unsettled weather here to make some progress South. The first of the expected unsettled weather hit the anchorage yesterday evening, and caught a few of us off guard...
It wasn't particularly bad, just 25 knots or so, but it came from the 'wrong' direction - blowing us all onto the shore from where we had originally anchored up to a week ago. So about half the fleet had to hastily up anchor and move to deeper water, i.e. away from the nasty breaking swell pushing us towards the shallow reef and coral beach, not to mention other boats. It was all very exciting and we discovered we were wrapped around several coral bommies (large boulders of coral) so it took some negotiating out. Just to add to the fun, when we did find a suitable place with sea room the swell was so bad that it broke our snubbing line on the anchor and the anchor chain ran out to its full length with only the last bit of line and shackles remaining; all very nerve-racking as we could have lost lost our main anchor and chain! As it is now, we have a lot of chain out wrapping round goodness knows what in 35m deep water.
We were fortunate to have the boys from Glam Galah nearby to help us out. They came over in their dinghy and helped Jonathan get some line around the end of the chain so we could lever it up (although Jonathan ended up snorkeling in the black waters to do it) - the snorkeling was fine, but the torch light reflected back lots of little eyes in the darkness, which was a bit unnerving! We then set up temporary snubbing lines and back-up snubbing lines (six in total!) and nervously watched the anchor drag alarm for most of the night. Thankfully we both managed to get a reasonably decent night's sleep though. We have heard this morning that a number of other boats here snapped their snubbing lines, so it's nice not to be the only one. (btw, a snubbing line is a soft but strong length of nylon rope which ties the end of the chain to the bow to provide some elasticity and shock absorbance; if only chain is used the noise is dreadful and the stress on the bow can be damaging).
Sadly though, our problems were minor compared with Ensemble, who did hit the coral and were holed in a few places. A team of volunteers has been working through the night to pump the water out and make repairs - it must be heartbreaking for David and Magali. Daytime has brought somewhat calmer conditions so we are all teaming together donating our repair materials, pairs of hands etc. to assist. Next decision is where to head for more permanent repairs, and whether to take the whole fleet as support.
Latest weather from Mike on Wind Dancer is that we may be holed up here till Wednesday now! There are lows developing all over the place between us and our next destination, so the conundrum remains - what to do?
Must get on as we have a lot to do and Jonathan is hoping to go over and help on Ensemble.
05/21/2012, Suwarrow, Northern Cook Islands
Along with Glamorous Galah, we decided not to leave in a hurry with the other Group 1 boats. The next weather information advised us to stay in Suwarrow until the weather system developed and passed, as it could cross our path to Niue with some challenging wind speeds. So we HAD to overstay our three days in Suwarrow, oh tragedy - we are now rapidly in danger of turning this place into a holiday camp.
The rest of the Group 2 boats arrived shortly after the Group 1 boats left and it has been barbecues on the beach every night (that's five nights in a row so far...). A non-ARC boat arrived a few days ago full of lads from Byron Bay who had caught a massive Marlin on the way over. This has fed the entire fleet for 2 nights in succession, aided wonderfully by some amazing marinade put together by the Galah boys. You can't teach the Aussies much about BBQs.
On Tuesday night Zoe decided to put on a drive-in (or dinghy-in) surfing movie by projecting it onto their sail and afterwards we were serenaded by the musicians on Royal Leopard. Peat Smoke put on a whisky tasting (now that they were out of French Polynesian waters and they could break the seals on their whisky stash) that led to a few sore heads the following day - the hospitality here is amazing.
Not that the days have been boring. Wind Dancer very kindly let us come with them and Ensemble to Bird Island - a series of small motos absolutely teeming with birds (mainly Frigates on the Island we got to). What a day. It was so still and the water went from emerald to sapphire to aquamarine with clarity so good we could easily see 20m+ down. We had packed a picnic and sat on the beach watching the comings and goings - particularly endearing were the baby Frigates, all fluff and attitude but with faces only a mother could love. Afterwards we decided to walk to an old wreck further along the reef. This turned out to be much further than anticipated and walking got quite hard work as we were wading along a coral shelf, albeit in very shallow water. This attracted baby black tip reef sharks and moray eels who thought we were fish in trouble. Very funny watching them come in to attack, then realising their mistake and fleeing even quicker. On the way back we motored through gin clear water among the most beautiful coral bommies, so agreed we must come back the next day to snorkel. So yesterday, along with the Sapphire crew we snorkeled back there and then did some drift snorkels along the entrance pass (whilst Glam Galah, the younger members of Zoe and Beatoo surfed in the distance). Today we are going out to snorkel a reef where two manta rays were seen yesterday. If this keeps up we will be developing webbed feet.
The skippers are having a meeting this morning to discuss the weather situation and it seems likely we will get away either tomorrow or Saturday. However I will never resent the extra time spent in Suwarrow; a very very special place.
05/20/2012, Suwarrow, Northern Cook Islands
We didn't have particularly high expectations of Suwarrow, in fact we almost decided to go to Rarotonga instead, but we're so glad we didn't. Once again we have found another "best so far" destination. The water is even clearer, which we wouldn't have thought possible, the fish and sharks more abundant, and the parties more fun!
When we arrived yesterday morning (19 May) we were the last boat to enter the anchorage from our group. Luckily the other 7 boats traveling with us held off until last night for a big barbecue and party. We helped the guys from Glamorous Galah get the fire going and explored the old cabin left over from WW2 "watchers" and subsequently occupied by Tom Neale of "An Island to One's Self" fame. The rest of the fleet joined us ashore at about 4pm and a wonderful Aussie Barbie was had, including a huge eel which had been caught by the Galah boys earlier in the day.
After a few hours of eating and drinking on the beach, including a game or two of Kub (a Swedish game like quoits with wooden blocks - great fun) we all retired back to Anastasia, the big cat on the fleet. Phil and Andrea were wonderful hosts and we drank and danced the night away while the reef sharks circled in the crystal clear water below.
We both woke today with nasty hangovers, which we cured with a snorkel into the island and more exploring ashore. It really is a fascinating place; a paradise which shows us how many of these islands must have been before modern human settlement, farming and over fishing. The abundance of sea life is stunning.
The less we say about the crossing here from Bora Bora the better; the wind was yet again not on our side, although it seems the second fleet are having even worse luck with the winds. The first boat from the second fleet, Sapphire, should arrive later today, in fact we've already had a chat with them on the VHF. The rest of the first fleet seem to be planning to leave today due to some weather information they have, although we are having some trouble understanding the decision to leave early... We will hang around until at least tomorrow, or perhaps Tuesday morning, when I think the winds are forecast to fill in a little more. We will be sailing once again in the company of Glamorous Galah, if we can keep up!
05/07/2012, Taha'a, Society Islands
This morning we at last got the boat pet we have been yearning for; no, Jonathan hasn't succeeded in adopting another cat or dog - but a turtle named Tilly. Don't believe us? We have the pictures to prove it.
Yesterday evening we ended up at the Hibiscus restaurant, bar, boat moorings, and rather oddly, turtle sanctuary. After tying up we went in for a meal and got talking to the owner about his 8 green turtles in a holding pen. This elderly French gentlemen has been buying turtles from local fishermen, usually from the Tuomotos, for some years. This saves them from the pot and he then brings them back to health (if needed), tags them and sends them back into the wild. They are usually older juveniles (under 9 years old) as they are the ones that get stuck in the nets (it doesn't happen to the larger or smaller ones because of the size). So far he has saved around 1500 of them. For a donation, you can adopt one and if you are up to it (ie have a boat and can handle a turtle) you can take one that is ready and release anywhere on the surrounding reef. How could we resist? This morning we were up bright and early to collect our turtle.
It turned out to be a healthy chap or chappette (difficult to tell until they are mature apparently, although if they are anything like tortoises, I would be pretty confident this one was male) we named Tilly, who was seriously pissed off at being captured and handled with so little dignity, and a bit sore from the tagging. We managed to get Tilly in the dinghy and into the cockpit of our boat and off we went to a part of the barrier reef that had moorings on the North East Corner of the island. It was an uneventful journey, and provided we were sailing, Tilly was OK with it and seemed to genuinely like being tickled under the chin, but strangely enough not splashed with sea water (Tilly also hated the engine and kept trying to swim across the cockpit floor when it was on).
Once we got to the mooring we decided to use the outboard to take Tilly to a swim platform near a luxury hotel to release. It was a shallow sandy area with the odd coral bommie but close to deeper waters with lots of coral and weed gardens - in other words pretty much turtle heaven. We have a video showing the release that we will attempt to post on YouTube. The minute Tilly realised we were going to put him back in the sea he got so excited, flippers flapping so he could hit the water surfing and, once in, took off at an impressive turn of speed but sadly without a backward glance. We now miss the little guy but so pleased we could play a small part in what we hope will be his long and happy turtle life.
What else to report? Yesterday we also visited a vanilla farm run by another former French foreign legionnaire (what is it with these guys and South Pacific islands). This time he was Danish and a bit of a legend in Denmark, they have even done a TV documentary on him. He now runs a vanilla farm and was kind enough to pick us up from the dock and show us around. It is a fascinating but slow, labour- intensive process producing organic vanilla, but the smell and the produce was sensational. However a word of warning for would-be vanilla farmers out there - apparently after a while you stop smelling the wonderful stuff, what a bummer.
Tonight we are staying at the reef moorings, hoping to catch a glance of Tilly, but so far only seeing a few large manta rays. Tomorrow we intend to head over to the western part of the reefs for a snorkel drift on one of the motos, stock up with water and anchor in a nearby bay ready for our sail over to Bora Bora on Wednesday.
05/02/2012, Raiatea, Society Islands
Yes, we are still alive and kicking; we've just been a little busy hence the lack of blogs from matilda lately. We sailed from Rangiroa to Papeete in two days, and of course we had the second half of the passage without wind as usual!
Tahiti was good, but very wet. In fact it didn't really stop raining from the moment we arrived until just a day or two ago; so the better part of a week of rain. The ARC get-together was great fun, especially the dancing. This was made even more entertaining by the inclusion of one of Zoe's crew, Kelsey, who we were afraid might not leave Tahiti after the experience (the male dancers paid her quite a lot of attention...)
We did the tour of Tahiti, which was arranged by the ARC and would have been great if we had seen anything. Pretty much everywhere we went the rain was coming down in sheets, so we saw very little in the way of views. The visits to museums and the water fall and blow hole however made up for it; everybody had a blast (literally) at the water fall. We also spent a fair bit of time at the Carrefour stocking up for the next legs, so we should be pretty much fine now until Fiji (at least).
The crossing to Raiatea from Tahiti was a little daunting. We did it overnight so we could arrive in daylight, but we had a 6-mile squall engulf us and stay with us for hours. It didn't matter what we did, we just couldn't escape it - if we managed to slow down to the back, the wind would increase and push us back into the middle. If we managed to outrun it and ease out the front, the wind would die and we would be back in the middle of rain in all directions for three miles. And this was serious tropical rain; like solid water, so we couldn't see much even on the radar. It was great when we did finally escape, and Raiatea has been very fruitful, so we're glad we came (although unfortunately we had to miss Morea to get here in time).
The main reason for coming to Raiatea was to get our wind, speed and depth instruments fixed. A local expert by the name of Cyprieu worked his magic - he's not cheap, but he did get them all working properly again. We thought about asking him to look at some of our other electrical issues (SSB, engine, etc.) but I don't think our budget could handle it!
We have been staying here at the marina Apooiti (very cute name) in the visitor's berth, and we plan to head off tomorrow. The weather has finally cleared up for the past two days and we have got loads of work done. The marina here is absolutely gorgeous, and we have managed to explore the town and enjoy ourselves despite having so much work to do on the boat. We have met up with Kel, a Danish guy and his friends aboard an Elan 42 called "Freedom" - and they have been great company. We also bumped into Paul and Suzanna, our World ARC liaison team at the restaurant here last night, and we had a great evening chatting with them.
Our next stop will be the river at the south of Raiatea, where we can moor and dinghy up the river - supposed to be very beautiful. We will then visit the other islands nearby, including a Vanilla plantation, before heading for Bora Bora on 12th or so. We will be leaving Bora Bora in the second wave on 16th May, so we still have a week or so to enjoy the delights of French Polynesia. Fingers crossed that the fine weather continues for us; we feel like we deserve a little R&R after the last week of work!
04/16/2012, Rangiroa, Tuomotos
Greetings from matilda.
We arrived safely in Rangiroa after some great sailing but a challenging pass entry - we went in way too soon but it made it nice and exciting. Gunvor wisely left it for a few hours afterwards. Sad to have missed Zoe who were leaving in as we were coming in.
Almost immediately invited to an evening of Polynesian delights at the nearby ultra luxurious Kia Ora Resort with the crews from Gunvor, Anastasia, Peat Smoke, Southern Cross, Sapphire and Serendipity - a lovely evening with some curious interpretations of hoola dancing. Last night we organised another ARC 'do' at Josephines place, a lovely elderly French lady who can cook up a storm which helped make for another very special night. Jonathan fell in love with yet another kitten but just managed to stop him from smuggling it back on board.
However this mad social whirl wasn't getting any diving done so rectified this today by diving the eastern pass. What a dive - up there in my personal top 10. Challenging initially as there is a lot of current and have to be very aware of buoyancy and trenches to duck into etc. However this was made less formidable by a very skilled and lovely dive guide. The clarity of the water was excellent (much to our surprise as there have been strong winds and choppy seas for the last few days) and I lost count of the number of sharks, albeit in the distance, some quite big but very shy. What else, where to start. A Napoleon fish, a flock of eagle rays, a distant dolphin who didn't want to play today, a myriad of the usual reef fishes, a stone fish (that I nearly put my hand on) morays etc etc. Stefan from 12 moons had done this dive yesterday but didn't rate it as highly as the pass dive in Fakarava, so really regretting not getting to dive there. Tomorrow we do an outer reef dive where the dolphins are supposed to be very friendly and love to play. In the afternoon we are going to the Western pass - hopefully that will be as interesting.
Most of the ARC boats have now gone on to Papeete, mainly to get various maintenance issues sorted. For once there is nothing ultra pressing for us (touch a lot of wood) so will head off probably on Monday, perhaps we will challenge Gunvor to a race (ho ho).