08/16/2012, Townsville, Australia
I only have two jobs left to do from the Townsville list, so it was a very productive week spent there. I even got to fly down to Coolangatta for a couple of days and catch up with my parents and my sister Jane, which was wonderful. Kelsey had a friend of hers from Melbourne, Doug, up visiting for the weekend so we also had a great evening out in Townsville before we left for Cairns on Monday. It took a couple of days to get up to Cairns, but we had a bit of wind towards the end which saved some diesel.
We spent 24 hours in Cairns to provision and catch up with friends (thanks again for a great night David & Caroline) before setting off up North yesterday morning. We also topped up the fuel and water, but after a full day without wind yesterday we have made a dent in our diesel supply. We made it 53 miles up to Cape Tribulation, and we are now moored in the bay beneath Mount Sorrow - sounds a miserable place but it's really very beautiful. It's quite remote, but I saw people on the beach yesterday evening and more this morning at 7am, so I guess there must be some accommodation around here somewhere.
Another fish was caught about half an hour before we reached the anchorage here, so dinner last night was BBQ fresh fish fillets and a nice Greek salad. Not sure what type of fish it was, but our UK fish guide (the only one we have aboard) seems to imply it might have been a mackerel. Whatever it was it was delicious - I'm not much of a fish eater, but this one was amazing. It's a little pathetic, but it took me an hour or so to get over the act of having to kill the poor little guy. Too much empathy is my problem...
Heather is still in the UK, where she celebrated her birthday on Tuesday. She shares a birthday with Caroline from Peat Smoke so she was sorry to have missed the big party in Cairns. Heather is having a great time at home with her family though, and we should have her back aboard matilda early next week in Thursday Island. Kelsey has been aboard for about a week now and it is working well - having good sailing experience and making good company is perfect for the passage North.
We plan to do a day/night/day sail today and stay somewhere overnight tomorrow night. Not sure how far North that will get us, but we may need to do another day/night/day after we get a good night's rest tomorrow night. I'm looking forward to seeing Heather again after a couple of weeks apart, so roll on Thursday Island!
08/07/2012, Townsville, Australia
We arrived in Mackay on Friday 27th July and cleared customs and quarantine without having anything confiscated; in fact it was a very smooth and friendly process so we were pleasantly surprised. It was one of the easiest port entries we have experienced so far, and the officials even came aboard and completed the forms for us!
Anne, Barry and Amethyst arrived on the Saturday and we prepared for the cruise through the Whitsudnays. We saw whales, some as close as 20 metres away, caught a lovely tuna for the BBQ and frolicked on Whitehaven, the most beautiful beach in the world. Our guests had a fabulous holiday and we even managed to squeeze in a visit to Magnetic Island on the last day. To top it all off, we ran aground in the entrance to Townsville marina, which is not something you experience every day! It's a long story, and of course the skipper was not at fault in any way... (it was a slow, sludgy, spongy grounding, so we didn't even damage our new anti-foul!)
Heather flew out this morning for the UK and a birthday spent with her family. I will be sailing matilda up the coast with the help of one or more of the Zoe girls - it should be a nice passage. We plan to set sail on Monday 13th August which gives us over a week to get up to Thursday Island where Heather will be back aboard.
In the meantime, I am spending some quality time with matilda, taking care of the long list of odd jobs which have been accumulating over the last couple of months since our Fiji haul-out.
We have reluctantly made the decision to sell Matilda after our circumnavigation is complete. We will probably put her on the market when we arrive in South Africa with a view to selling her either in the Caribbean or back in the UK. It's going to be difficult to see her go, but as we both have to get back to work it's the only sensible thing to do. We'd just hate to see her languish in a marina when she really should be crossing oceans.
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.