07/21/2012, Passing North of New Caledonia
We haven't blogged since our arrival in Tanna, Vanuatu, which seems like years ago now - so much has happened! The volcano was spectacular as expected and I hear they are restricting access now to ensure the safety of tourists. The evening we went the visitors were scattered in panic by a huge lump of molten lava which landed a few meters behind where we all stood. When we arrived it was still glowing red - nice to see lava so close up; not something we experience every day, nor would we want to...
The gift giving ceremony in Tanna was wonderful and it was great to see a new Vanuatan friend of ours (he had invited us to a cava ceremony the night before) wearing one of my favourite old t-shirts not ten minutes after the gift exchange! We also managed to donate Heather's old Sony Vaio laptop to the school (their computer screen is on its last legs) for which they were very grateful. We left Tanna feeling warm and fuzzy and headed for Dillon's Bay on Erromango Island. The village chief there also wanted to have a gift ceremony, which nobody had warned us of, so we had a frantic search for anything we could afford to lose from the boat. It was difficult as we'd already done quite a thorough job in Tanna, but we did manage to find our old digital camera and underwater case, which the chief's son was thrilled with. More warm fuzzies and some spectacular snorkelling before we made an overnight passage to Port Vila.
We were pleasantly surprised to be awarded third place in our division for the crossing from Fiji, especially as we had guests aboard so the sailing was definitely more about comfort than speed. Port Vila seemed very cosmopolitan after the Southern islands of Vanuatu and we had a wonderful time there. Philippa and Jari's son Finlay even managed to complete his open water diver (PADI) certification whilst there - at ten years old no less. I was the only one from matilda to do the waterfall abseiling, which was very cold but immensely fun.
Sadly we bid farewell to Philippa and the boys as we left the marina in Port Vila. We've had a much better crossing than expected so far, with a day of parasailing, a little motoring and the last couple of days on a fast beam reach. The conditions promise to last till at least Wednesday, so we may be putting in to Mackay earlier than expected - hooray! Not that we've been roughing it aboard; both of us have been getting plenty of sleep and today I had a BLT sandwich for lunch - a real treat.
Mackay will be a very busy stop for us as we have a lot of work to get through, plus the usual ARC functions and my sister and her family will be joining us for a week of cruising. We are looking forward to welcoming Anne, Barry and Amethyst aboard for a week sailing through the Whitsundays to Townsville. Heather will sadly be abandoning me there for two weeks back in the UK. :(
07/10/2012, Resolution Bay, Tanna, Vanuatu
The last week in Fiji was spent at Vuda Point having matilda's bottom scrubbed and anti-fouled. This proved relatively painless thanks to Doug of Yacht Services. The marina itself was small but very friendly and we had a wonderful apartment overlooking the boats with a great balcony for chilling out at sunset time. The only other ARC boats there were 12 Moons and Southern Cross, but there were a few other familiar faces around such as Seazen and Seafaulk. We also got to meet a lovely couple who had been following our escapades on our blog - it came as a bit of a surprise that there are other people out there other than family and friends following our progress - fame at last...
We also met up with Caroline and David from Peat Smoke to do a little sightseeing via car on the Sunday, although most things were closed on Sunday. However we did manage to find some hot springs that were apparently a local village's micro-finance project, and spent most of the day in a series of mud holes (some classic photos of Dave and Jonathan wearing same) and hot ponds - way nicer than I am describing it. It reminded me a lot of the Japanese Onsen without having to be starkers and wear a nappy on your head. We finished off with a massage beneath the large trees - lovely. In the evening we went to Denerau Marina where there were heaps of other ARC boats and a whole range of shops and restaurants. I am really glad we went that night because we managed to catch up with Magali and Dave (Ensemble) who were leaving to go back to Australia before the Musket Cove reunion. It was great to have a proper chance to wish them well, although I am sure we will be getting together when we make it back to Sydney.
The Musket Cove rendezvous was great fun and a really nice resort. We peaked too soon on the first night thanks to the complimentary rum punches (they sneak up and ambush you) which meant the following night at the official gathering was a relatively well behaved affair for us. Just as well as we had to do a real muck out of the boat for our visitors. I think the hardest part was converting our sail loft back into a v-berth fit for human inhabitation.
The Boardman-Sternbergs made it to the island without any major mishaps and settled in really well. I am still trying to get my head around how quickly boys grow up and how much more sophisticated they seem these days. Fin (10) seems to take everything in his stride and Ethan (all of 7) wants to be an app writer when he grows up.
The passage to Vanuatu at last gave us wind just where Matilda likes it, giving us a speedy crossing. Unfortunately it also meant that the boat was not as stable as it could be and all our guests were sick at some point - poor Philippa suffering the worst. The boys were amazing, they either slept it off or were really well behaved in the cockpit.
We arrived in the wee hours this morning, really surreal watching the volcano in action as we approached Tanna. I am so looking forward to visiting the volcano, which should happen tomorrow afternoon/evening, not to mention the waterfall abseiling at the next port of call. Sadly Vanuatu will be a little bitter-sweet as we will be saying goodbye to a few boats who are going on to more extensive touring of the region. I know we will really miss you guys.
06/23/2012, Nananai Island, Fiji
It's been almost 2 weeks since our last blog from Tonga, and now we are in Fiji. You may remember that I had just started with a nasty cold, which I am almost over now. Unfortunately Heather contracted the cold and suffered quite badly with it. She is on antibiotics and it seems to be on the way out at last.
The last few days we spent in Tonga were a little traumatic. A 50 foot Bavaria that had been moored next to us, Navillus, smashed into an island on the way to Australia with two lives lost. We had spoken with the guys aboard the day before, mainly because one of them blew onto us in his dinghy when cleaning his hull and we towed him back to Navillus. We timed our departure until after bad weather had passed through, but they decided to go the day before as they didn't think it seemed too bad. This meant a nasty choppy sea with the wind on the nose for them - we're not sure why they could not have waited 24 hours. It was all very sad, listening to the rescue efforts on the VHF radio each day. Apparently they managed to send a mayday message to relatives in Australia via sat phone that they were breaking up on the reef by a (well charted) island, which alerted emergency services. The island is a volcano (called Late Island) many miles from the nearest settlement, so just getting there takes hours. NZ search and rescue flew by at first light and boats were sent out, but all that was found was lots of debris (a few of the ARC boats passed bits of debris on the way to Fiji). Jonathan made a statement to the rescue services as he was the only one who knew for sure that there was a dinghy attached to the deck and could identify the make and model (as he had towed it back and it was the same make as ours). This gave some hope since the dinghy had not been found, nor had any bodies (the life raft had been found - it had not been deployed - but you would probably not have time to launch the life raft if your boat was breaking up on a reef). Sadly we understand that since then the search has been abandoned.
So we left Tonga on 17 June and had a bumpy 3-day passage to Savusavu in Fiji. It was three full-on and exhausting days at sea (although we did get some great wind at last). We both had to contend with the stinking cold/cough at the same time which made the crossing more of a chore than it should have been.
When we arrived in Savusavu, Fiji we were surprised the Health officer allowed us to stay - with both of us still sneezing and coughing away. But we have found the Fijians are lovely and the checking in process was very easy. At last we are in a place where things are reasonably priced and, due to the number of people of Indian descent, we can get a decent curry!
Sadly we could not stay long in Savusavu. We are keen to see a little more of Fiji before hauling out next Tuesday, so thanks to a long term cruiser called Curly who gives advice out on where to go in these parts, we have a four-day cruising plan from Savusavu to Vuda Point. We left Savusavu yesterday morning in the teeth of more strong winds and made it to Makogai Island last night just after dark, which was a little harrowing. Yesterday's sailing was a bit of a challenge (especially with the remnants of our horrible cough/colds) - we had up to 30 knots on the nose for half the day, pounding through the swells, but it ended well in an idyllic anchorage at the former leper colony of Makogai Island. Today's sailing was amazing; lovely wind, flat sea and cruising along the most magnificent coastline of the main Fijian Island. We are currently anchored opposite a mangrove swamp with some lovely little islands around us and some seriously posh houses about.
Over the next two days we will have two short (30 mile) day sails to Vuda Point. We will be threading our way through the reefs around the north side of the main island and down the West Coast. We are looking forward to staying in a hotel for a few days at Vuda Point Marina while matilda has her bottom scrubbed - it will be like a small holiday! We are also looking forward to welcoming Philippa, Jari, Finlay and Ethan aboard when we reach Musket Cove, as they will be joining us for the leg to Vanuatu.
06/11/2012, Vavaú, Kingdom of Tonga
We are still in lovely Vava'u, Tonga and still in love with the place.
The rally get-together was another great night with a truly memorable welcome ceremony (despite Cava being involved - and we are not talking sparkling wine) followed by some good local music and really stunning local dancing by participants of all ages. The nice thing was that all monetary appreciation for the performance went to the local schools scholarship fund.
As expected, the prize giving must have been a bit of a nightmare to organise and as a result there was some truly 'interesting' categories. Peat Smoke won one for the best musical show given by a boat on arrival to an anchorage (to the tune of Sweet Caroline on arrival in Suwarrow). We actually got a first for our division, but we are completely ignoring the fact that we and Glamorous Galah had effectively created our own division when defecting from Group 1 boats to Group 2, courtesy of the storm forecast in Suwarrow. So we won division 1 and a half, narrowly beating the Galah boys, the only other boat in our division!
Since the Tonga rendezvous the boats have now divided into those from Group 1, who have already had a bit of time here, heading for Fiji to avoid possible bad weather on Wednesday/Thursday, and the rest of us who have been exploring the many good anchorages on the little islands and inlets around Vavau - and what beautiful place this is.
However yesterday had to be one of our top experiences when we snorkeled Mariners Cave. This cave can only be accessed by surface diving and swimming underwater, probably the equivalent of your boats keel, into what looks like a black hole under the surface. Needless to say, it is initially a bit of an act of faith. Fortunately I am married to my very own crash test dummy and Jonathan checked it out first before punters from Sapphire, Peat Smoke and yours truly attempted it. Inside it is magical and makes the blue grotto in Capri look a bit of a side show. The colour of the water is stunning and the clarity of the water (as it is illuminated by another underwater opening below) makes you feel as if you are floating on air. Then the weirdest of sensations, the whole cave goes misty and your ears pop, then a moment later it clears in the snap of the fingers - apparently swell has just passed. I am not sure why this phenomenon happens, but I have never experienced anything like it and was truly grateful for the opportunity.
The only thing to mar the enjoyment of the last few days however has been Jonathan contracting a bad cold and the effects of swimming the cave meant he had a truly awful night so we are going to take it easy over the next few days, which means missing a get together organised by Beatoo at a nearby anchorage that boasts a Spanish Restaurant.
Last night we came back to the town to watch a screening in a local restaurant of the first of a series of films on Vanuatu produced some time ago for the BBC by a British expat who now lives here. The first was chiefly about the John Frum cult in Tanna (where we will be visiting shortly). The Americans on the fleet must see this film, I think they may get a kick out of coming from a place that is so worshipped and revered.
Speaking of which, we witnessed the arrival of At Last, Zoe, Sophie, Southern Cross and Eva today and understand Samsara and Windancer are not too far behind - hurrah. I managed to catch up with At Last (the first proper conversation since Tahiti) and look forward to being a complete fleet again in the not too distant future. It would have been a terrible shame if they missed this place for having done such a good deed as escorting Ensemble to Samoa.
06/06/2012, Vavaú, Kingdom of Tonga
Vava'u is truly living up to being part of the Friendly Islands. Everybody always appears to be smiling, and bearing in mind that most people do not have a lot here, it makes you wonder what we are doing wrong in the 'first world'.
The rest of the fleet are all here safely and it has been great catching up with some of the guys we haven't seen since Tahiti or even before. This has led to some great evenings, but I think last night had to top the lot. After the skippers briefing we decided to have dinner and then go to a bar that had the Lei Girls performing.
How to describe? Basically the Lei Girls are cross-dressing men (which appears to be quite common in Polynesia) who during the day run a local hair salon but at night are transformed into the most seriously glamorous women performing a range of dances incorporating the traditional to the downright sexy (but not X rated). In appreciation you are expected (which I found quite uncomfortable) to show your appreciation by pinning/sticking notes about their person. Apparently this is an acceptable thing to do for any performer in this part of the world, not just the Lei Girls, and both local men and women were carrying this out as being perfectly natural.
I think my abiding memory of the evening will be of David from Peat Smoke trying to place some money on a 6 foot+ bespectacled dancing diva who in real life one might have thought was a well built accountant, if one overlooked the gold sequined off the shoulder mini dress being nearly worn complete with fishnet stockings and kick-ass stillettos. Ahh the memory.
06/05/2012, Vavaú, Kingdom of Tonga
Following the bad weather and assisting with Ensemble's repairs (it was amazing what was done, especially those guys who spent the best part of a day and a half in the sea repairing the holes underwater - I don't know how they did it), we at last managed to get underway to Niue. It was tinged with some sadness at leaving those who were going on to American Samoa with Ensemble. We really miss you guys and look forward to when we can all get back together again in Fiji.
All went well initially with lovely wind on the beam, but of course that didn't last and it eventually went to nothing, so on went the motor. However we were not too downhearted as wind was forecast, but of course when it came it was the wrong kind, squalls meant that you either had 4 knots or 24 knots from different directions in the twinkle of an eye. We seemed to be putting reefs in or taking them out every five minutes - exhausting with just the two of us especially as we have to go up to the mast to do it. Just to add to the fun, in these conditions any sort of autohelm struggles to cope so we ended up hand-helming most of the time. When the consistent wind finally filled in it came straight from Niue, together with a pretty strong current, so it was tack tack with no real progress and to put the tin hat on it, a lot of boats were using their engines to plough through, but when we tried it the propeller shaft started to make the most horrendous noise so we had to sail it - AARGH!
Funnily enough this didn't put us too far behind the other boats and we all arrived in Niue on the same day, but unfortunately we arrived too late for the arranged barbecue. The following morning, after a very roly and uncomfortable night on the moorings, we were still really exhausted and realised that, due to losing a day crossing the dateline, we would have to set off the following day to get to Tonga in time for get together. It hardly seemed worth the hassle and cost of setting up the dinghy, going through customs etc etc and whats more, the wind looked perfect for a great sail. So with a heavy heart at not seeing Niue we made the decision to set off again and was fortunately repaid by a day of great winds just where we like it, on the beam.
Coming into Vava'u, Tonga I am sure will remain one of our most enduring sailing memories. We made our way into the inlets around 3am under a full moon. It was like sailing on a silver lake with the most stunning backdrop and we had it all to ourselves. We had so much fun tacking around the islands (it was so bright I thought we might get moon-burnt) that when we reached the anchorage we were sorely tempted to do another turn.
The following day, thanks to Suzanne, getting cleared into Vava'u held no dramas and we are now happily moored (how I love mooring buoys) and looking forward to all the luxuries that civilisation can give us after the last few weeks away from it all.