Time Bandit

23 October 2016
18 October 2016 | Jonas and his 27 footer astern
14 October 2016 | Pic courtesy of Vagabond paparazzi who snuck up on us in our moment of rest
11 October 2016 | Our crazy Swedish friends gettin' down to Abba at the end of rally dinner (Randivag.se)
07 October 2016 | Cruiser Conga.
02 October 2016
30 September 2016
28 September 2016 | Anne doing the kava ceremony
22 September 2016
20 September 2016 | The Robert Louis Stevenson Pad
17 September 2016
13 September 2016
10 September 2016
10 September 2016
07 September 2016
04 September 2016
26 August 2016
23 August 2016
23 August 2016

Oceaneering Again

23 October 2016
Tonight is our last night in or at least on, the Pacific islands. Tomorrow, crack of 9 we up anchor and leave the Kingdom of Tonga for New Zealand 1,300 miles away.

To celebrate, or commiserate, we walked on into the sunset to the Serenity Beach Resort for a candle lit dinner joining a family of Kiwis on their last night.

This time tomorrow, they will be in Auckland. This time tomorrow we will have knocked off the first 50 miles. It's looking,like a long slow trip as the Roaring Forties are pretty exhausted by the time they get up here to the tiddly twenties. Relax and enjoy is the mode d'emploi.........and I'm really good at that.

Highs and Lows

18 October 2016 | Jonas and his 27 footer astern
It's all about timing. Like moths to a flame the New Zealand bound Pacific cruisers are all congregating either here in Tonga or Fiji, all poised to make the leap south into the wild oceans.

Wild if they weren't flat calm for the first half of the 10 day, 1,200 mile trip.

Timing is everything. As previously mentioned the highs and lows come barrelling across the Southern Ocean, turning north to cross the top of New Zealand, right into the cockpit of us lot trying to get south.

Get it right and leave on the top of an incoming high and you have a jolly reach in the sun down to Minerva Reef where you wait for the next system, anchored in the middle of the ocean. Remember the rim if the tea cup analogy? Well, apparently Minerva's rim is, other than on dead calm days and low tides, permanently awash and you can't tell where reef begins and ocean ends. Other than writing off any chance of a coffee and wifi ashore, with luck, on calm days you can walk on the reef. On rough days you get washed into the ocean and eaten by sharks and if it's really rough, the anchorage gets untenable with the ocean just washing clean over, pounding the anchorage and you get washed onto the reef, and, well, get eaten by sharks.

So, confusingly, the supposed best passage plan is to head for Minerva in one's nice high and wait there while the Front ahead of the following low passes overhead. Now, to me, a Front means bad weather yet the experts say to go and park yourself in the middle of a shark infested reef strewn "tea cup". Sounds a bit like being told to go and stand under a tree when there's lightning coming.

So, like pretty much everyone afloat here, or everyone except Jonas, the single hander from Sweden who doesn't have a radio and can sail off in his 27ft Allegro at any time in blissful ignorance, at 08:00 every morning we're gathered around the wireless like its September 1939 and we're waiting on the scratchy broadcast from Gulf Harbour Radio, down in New Zealand to give us the latest on the Front.

However, knowing the upper level trough, which reaches from the Australian Bight to Vanuatu that is driving the quasi stationery disturbance into to the inter tropical Squash Zone isn't a busting lot of help. To me anyway.

So, after spending hours on the laptop downloading weather files and studying their progression as the systems move across the ocean and seeing how the animated graphic showing our little boat moving across the isobars at our plugged in estimated 6 knots we're still none the wiser.

I think we'll just follow Jonas.

Save the Piggy

14 October 2016 | Pic courtesy of Vagabond paparazzi who snuck up on us in our moment of rest
Keep this quiet but we've checked out of Vava'u and should have left two days ago but right now, we're "under the radar" cruising around the couple of dozen anchorages that make up the Vava'u group. Today we are in Number 16 and tomorrow we are heading for Number 32. It's not the most imaginative of naming strategies.

And tonight, unless my Save the Piggy campaign works, another poor wee porker cops it. Having had the anchorage to ourselves, us and our two buddy boats that is, a small fleet from the Net cruisers have descended and in about an hour, about 20+ folk will head for shore for another Tongan Feast. With dancing. Tongan I hope and not daft adults. I think there's 8 different nationalities, young and old, from 10 to, well, the more mature adult.

Vaka'Eitu island where we are is a typical palm fringed coral sand beach with surrounding reef. Perhaps the most spectacular coral so far. Unfortunately one has to swim out through the surf to get to the "coral garden". Anne wasn't really in her element and despite her best efforts failed her audition for Baywatch getting several breakers in the face before retiring to the safety of the beach, and back to Time Bandit where we had a wee rest before dinner.

It Never Rains But It Pours

11 October 2016 | Our crazy Swedish friends gettin' down to Abba at the end of rally dinner (Randivag.se)
As Eco cruisers we don't have a water maker. OK, maybe just mean but it also means I don't have to spend hours fixing them.

Consequently, we are dependent on either shore water or rain water. The shore water here and throughout most of the islands is basically chlorinated rainwater and I don't like that in the tanks, the chlorine that is. Consequently we have become dependent on rain and we got that in bucket loads yesterday. I think it rained from about 3am until 5pm. When we woke we scurried around putting up our rain catcher and giving the decks a quick clean thinking we'd maybe get a few litres before it stopped. By lunchtime we'd put over 500 litres in the tank, filled all our Jerrycans, assorted buckets, had a wash and shampoo on deck, soaked and scrubbed the cockpit and still it came. We left the taps open and just let the tank overflow finally saying goodbye to some water we've probably carried for thousands of miles.

Today it's almost back to normal. A bit overcast but the sun is peeking through and finally, were thinking about breaking loose and heading down the island chain. Us and the 40 other boats gathered here waiting on the elusive weather window to make tracks to New Zealand, 1300 miles away across shark infested, stormy seas. But right now, flat calms and the boats that left last week are out there motoring! So, we will sneak south, biting off the first bit of the elephant by cruising the offshore islands of the Vava'u group then down to the Haapi islands and finally Nuka Lofa.

From there, it's listen to the weather and pick your moment.

Right now, it's coffee time.

Conga in Tonga

07 October 2016 | Cruiser Conga.
As part of our killing time strategy we went to the annual school fete to watch the winkies perform their much practiced dance routines. And the muppet cruisers doing their interpretation.

The school is a one room shack with somebody's old sail as a shade fir the "patio". Old tyres are the playground and last year the cruiser community paid for a fence to keep out the local wildlife.

Finally our Tesco school materials found a home. It's seemed daft carrying what seems like the equivalent of "beads and mirrors" when the locals all seem to carry smart phones however this school patently needed some help. (Not that I like to talk about it).

There's the making of a tropical depression to the north of us. No, not run out of gin. Depressing weather with 4" of rain forecast for early next week. With luck we can fill our tanks so at long last I can have a shower and get welcomed back into the social scene.

Meanwhile it was a visit to the flea market this morning. Very disappointing as not a flea to be seen anywhere.

Another MURDUR!!!!

02 October 2016
There been ANOTHER murdur!

Well, nearly. The guy on the catamaran right next to us runs his on deck, Honda generator all day every day. He fired it up at 07:00 this morning and little does he know it but he nearly joined Vava'u's murder statistics.

It's the start of the Vava'u Blue Water Rally week here so consequently the bay is full of yotties all honing their boats and bodies for the last trip to head south out the cyclone zone before mid - end November. Anything to keep the insurance valid.

As part of the honing our bodies element an exercise and nutrition programme has been developed by the sponsors. Firstly, for the exercise element, one needs to row ashore, largely as ones Suzuki outboard is kaput, and for the nutritional part of the programme, indulge in the unlimited bacon, egg, tomatoes and toast in the morning with Happy Hours every night.

Tonga is one of the two options for jumping off to New Zealand. The other being Fiji. The challenge is that the weather patterns that roar and scream along the underside of Australia in the 40's and 50's latitudes respectively, bend north across New Zealand right into your path thus making getting south a bit of a pain. The key apparently is reading and interpreting the weather files accurately and getting the weather window spot on so that's now the new religion; checking in daily to see what's coming from above and below the horizon. Either that or we'll just follow Trevor and Jan who know what they're doing. (Come back soon guys!).

Anne has gone for the spiritual option joining a few other cruisers to visit yesterdays Sunday service, or Sing-Alonga-Tonga as it might also be known. I stayed behind to slap on some more varnish and these guys could really pump out the volume. In the end I had to just sit back and enjoy the sounds......for a couple of minutes, then I whacked on Meatloaf on my iPod. Much more to my liking.

Anyway, back to the Rally. Other than the social events we've had the New Zealand bio-police here giving us a talk on what we can and can't bring into the country. Fortunately, if it's in a tin you're OK and that's our style and indeed expertise as far as cooking is concerned. The marina operators are touting for business and offering helpful advice on their location and wide range of repair services so you can take your ocean battered boat and equally battered wallet and leave them to it.

Vava'u is filling up with familiar faces, cruisers we've met along the way, either in anchorages, boozers or like all good Silver Surfers, in the virtual world via the daily Nets. It's quite the reunion for all those who've conversed on the daily Nets and bumped into and socialised with each other for the last 9 months or more.

It could be a hard week.

Murder in Paradise

30 September 2016
Murder in paradise.

There's quite the community here in Vava'u, Tonga with a bay full of yotties and a village full of Pelangies, aka white incomers who run many of the local businesses. Every morning there's a half hour radio Net of Who's New; Who's Leaving; What's Happening; Services available, Weather and of course, the Market Report.

Hearing this last item my ears pricked up ever hopeful that my star stock picks, Dell and Worldcom had miraculously made a return, but no, instead of " the Dow is up 10 points" it was, we've got fresh carrots, cabbage and some tuna.

"And following on from the price of carrots, this is the Vava'u police, can anybody help us apprehend an absconder?"

The absconder who had allegedly murdered his wife on board their yacht a couple of months ago after being seen and heard having a bit of a domestic on the dock escaped from prison last night. Well, apparently he broke his word of honour ( from a guy apparently facing a potential death penalty?) and left the police station where he'd been allowed out his cell to get a bit less heat and a bit more space, crept through the village and got back to his Crime Scene taped off boat, Sea Oak, and sailed off into the dark."

When the cops arrived at the station after breakfast. Ooop's! Where'd he go?

An ocean chase ensued and the cops caught up but the police announcement this morning was that he was resisting arrest with knives, an axe, a flare gun and a petrol bomb. "Anyone who can help please call......,.to help bring back boat and body."

The last word more driven by poor translation than fact. (I can imagine our pal Huw already taking notes) as we know he's still at large.

All very exciting in a sleepy island. This was almost the last we heard until our tour guide happened by as we wandered down the street to the plantation for our 10am tour.

He was just back from delivering his rifle and bullets to the police as his contribution to the big chase. Unfortunately in a Key Stone Cops scenario the forces of law and order ran out of petrol and yer man sailed off over the horizon and hasn't been seen since!

Murder polis as they say in Scotland.

Anyway, today was Torment-The-Whales.com day kicking off at 06:45 on the tour boat dock. The good news is that in Vava'u you don't need an alarm clock. If the barking mental dogs don't wake you and you mentally hit "Snooze", next up is the church bells. All of this before 5am. Punch Snooze again but last up is morning prayers and of course their 200 person choir giving it laldy!

So, prompt at crack of the dawn chorus we joined four others and headed out to sea. It wasn't before long that " Thar she blows" had us near capsize the wee tin can with 200hp as all six went to one side to see where a whale might have been.

We did this a few more times then finally, a giant flipper appeared just ahead and old Jonah set too smacking the surface with a lot of noise and slapping of his, well, arms, whatever the call them.

Next up is, "right guys, in the water". (Anne's favourite bit).

And so we swam off to intercept mum and baby as they floated around. Eerily, through the depths you could hear the whale song, the high pitched tweets of the young and the rumbling moans if the adults which reverberated so loudly you could feel it loosening the muck in your chest. A spectacular sight and sound show but I couldn't get rid of the feeling we were just tormenting them. However, I guess they were happy our boat didn't have either a grizzled, bearded seaman hanging onto a 15 foot harpoon on the bow and our boat didn't have Japanese writing on the side.

Tonga is supposed to be the only place in the world where you can swim with whales. I suspect that's just cause the environmentalists haven't caught up yet. Hopefully we didn't do any harm, perhaps caused some interest in their otherwise dull long days and if one of my three cameras had worked, you might even have got a pic!

One of our NBF's onboard with a camera the size of a football is sending me a copy so that will follow soon.

Poor Little Piggy

28 September 2016 | Anne doing the kava ceremony
Long time ago at the start of my career, or as our pal Chris would say, "when I was working class" I worked for a company that printed postage stamps.

Little known fact. The company actually printed the worlds first self adhesive stamp. Wow! (Yawn) 35 years on, it's still a new trend in stamps. Anyway, I digress. One stamp we printed was for Tonga and, for the proofing run, the King himself was coming to sign it off. Now, the King, like many Polynesians, was a big lad. This and Royal protocols meant a special large butt chair had to be commissioned. It was still in the chairman's office when I left to join the corporate world where, guess what! I ended up managing a stamp printing business. How spooky is that. (OK. Not very but there's hee haw doing right now).

So, how do you breeze through immigration and health in Tonga?

Park the boat at their dock at low tide and when the "big lad" from Health appears look up expectantly then look down at the gap to dark waters then suggest we do this in his van.

Much easier.

So, checked in and all legal we picked up a mooring and settled in to see what we could find out about the islands. First tour was to "My Tongan Home" a pig roast, dancing, eating and the ritual kava ceremony. This involved sitting in a magic circle, clapping chanting and drinking of a fairly revolting crushed root.

Nice grub though. Shame about the wee piggy.

Vessel Name: Time Bandit
Vessel Make/Model: Island Packet 45
Hailing Port: Largs, Scotland
Crew: Anne and Stuart Letton
About: ex dinghy and keelboat racers now tooled up with an ocean going boat and cruising around aimlessly, destination Nirvana...
Extra: 2016 Transited Panama Canal early February '16 bound for Galapagos (March), Marquesas, Pacific Islands and New Zealand for November '16
Home Page: http://www.sailblogs.com/member/timebandit/profile
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