We are now in Auckland tied up at Westhaven Marina. We have been busy since arriving in Opua on the 8th of November, a good excuse not to write this blog, the journeys end blog, the start of the rest of our life blog, I can't put it off any longer.
On the 7th of November at 4am we crossed our outward track, 32deg 58S 174deg 19E, 27 hours from Opua. Cold, rough and windy, similar to our outward passage. We had asked Jim Pasco back to crew from Tonga to NZ it seemed fitting that we have the same crew for the two passages, leaving and arriving New Zealand albeit 41/2 years apart.
Tuatara had taken us safely to 45 countries across 12 seas and 3 oceans, and some 35000 miles. We have also visited 19 countries by land. In this journey around the world I have to mention Talitha the lovely little boat that took us to Asia in 2007 and helped us decide that we liked the offshore life and a circumnavigation was possible. So our journey really started over 6 years ago and I can add another 3 countries visited by land. Tuatara has now completed her third circumnavigation which is very impressive, a well designed and built NZ yacht.
Our passage down from Tonga via North Minerva reef took 10 days 16 hours that included a 2 day stop at North Minerva. The wind was on the beam for most of the trip and except for a few hours of motoring we enjoyed the sailing the only distraction was the 24 hours of 30 knots. After months of tropical weather crossing the Pacific the cold weather saw us seeking out jerseys, coats and leggings. I did manage to keep bare feet until 2 days out of Opua.
At around 3am Friday morning I spotted the Cape Brett light, the wind died so we completed the last miles under motor. As the sun rose we motored past the Ninepins across a mirror calm sea, fog clung to the hills, hiding Russell and channel markers.
Tuatara motored down the channel dressed in the flags of all the countries we had been to. As we pulled up the front halyard of flags one of the ties gave way half way up so there was a small string of flags streaming from the mast and the rest sat on the deck, a dejected wet bunch of material. Alan shimmied up the mast to pull down the halyard to rejoin the flags and there was just enough wind to turn the wet bunch of material into colourful flags. After Paihia the fog descended and we couldn't see a metre in front of us, luckily we knew where we were going. Alan took us close along the moored yachts, past our old mooring and once the Opua wharf appeared out of the fog we could see our way easily into the Quarantine wharf. 7am 8th November 2013 Circumnavigation complete.
Flags flying in Opua Marina.
Bacon and eggs, a tot or two of rum for breakfast, Bailey flavoured coffee, photos and then it was time to see the officials, fill in the forms, give our rubbish and excess food to the quarantine officer, the meet and greet lady gave us our welcome to Opua pack then onto a marina berth. Some of our first visitors were the Yindee Plus Crew, Chris, Sue, Wilf and Sid, from England, we had sailed on and off with them for nearly two thirds of the world. More Bailey flavoured coffee to celebrate. Amanda and Patrick from Egret called in and the Baileys bottle emptied a little more.
A present from the Yindees to celebrate our circumnavigation. Embroidered by SId
Eventually we got tidied up ready for the family to visit for the weekend.
Florence spent her first night sleeping onboard, the first of many we hope. A little small for such a big bunk.
Over the next week we watched the yachts stream into Opua, some mornings there were 10 boats waiting to clear customs and once they cleared more arrived to take their place on Q dock. Across the Pacific we had been part of the Southern Cross Net on the SSB but in the marina we could not hear it so each morning it was interesting to see who had arrived.
A lovely card hand made from Isabelle and Jim of Sonsie of Victoria
It seemed that most had had good passages, there had been a variety of conditions but as far as we know not many had been "slammed". Across the Pacific we had constantly heard, "everyone gets slammed on the way to NZ" We had always said," no not necessarily, just watch the weather." Pleased we weren't proved wrong.
2 weeks later we turned into the berth at Westhaven and realised this really was journeys end.
We have shared our journey with lots of people, made many friends, visited amazing places, taken hundreds of photos and so we have memories to last a life time. We hope some of our friends will visit us in NZ and we hope to travel a bit more and visit around the world. So although journeys end is a little sad we have plans!!
We are now a two boat family, Alan is going to sail a Young 11, Road Runner, in the Trans Tasman Solo race next year. Something he has wanted to do for many years. So he will be busy with that and I will help where I can. So life goes on just in a slightly different direction. I think I will keep up the blog to keep account of the next few months getting Alan and Road Runner ready for the race.
Happy to be home.
10/27/2013, Vavau Tonga
Revisiting Tonga after 22 years.
We have now been in Tonga a month, time seems to have flown past. Time spent revisiting places we anchored and cruised as a family in 1991 on our yacht Sousa. The kids have grown and are well into grown up lives of their own, the size of our yacht has increased and there have been some changes in the Kingdom but there are still many things the same.
We arrived in Nuiatoputapu after an overnight sail from Samoa. Nuiatoputapu is one of the most northern Tongan islands 170 miles north of Vavau . The island is flat and difficult to see however the neighbouring island, Tafahi, is a high profile volcano with its steep slopes easy to spot from miles away. The pass into Nuiatoputapu was eventually spotted, the two outer markers a little bent and rusty marked the way. The electronic chart a little out, gave our friend Kevin a fright, he was looking at us going over reef. We called him out on deck to see us eyeballing our way in past markers and reef into the calm anchorage outside Falehau village.
Looking ashore we soon spotted some changes there was some newish housing and there where vehicles moving around the village also our VHF crackled into life and we were asked to identify ourselves. In 91 there were only a couple of tractors on the island the main transport was horse and cart, there was no VHF contact from ashore and the village houses along the shore was a bit dilapidated. The modern world had come to the island. When we cleared out of Nuiatoptapu on Sousa to sail north to Wallis we waited a day for the officials to turn up eventually we gave up waiting and Alan borrowed a push bike to go the few miles into "town" to do the paper work. Unfortunately the bike only had one pedal, he eventually mastered the one pedal bike, paper work done we set off to Wallis after taking two days to clear out.
This time we were clearing in and we arrived at 11 am, plenty of time to get our clearance done on the same day...well you would think so but no. Sia our VHF contact ashore said she would contact the officials. By 3pm we were pretty sure we weren't going to get ashore or see officials that day. We filled in the day with a swim, snoozing and chatting to Bruce and Dinah on the NZ Cat, Margarita. They had left Apia before us so filled us in on all we needed to know about the modern Nuiatoputapu. We also scanned the shore with binoculars spotting the changes.
The next morning Sia called early and told us to watch out for the white ute on the wharf which would hold the officials.
"come in and pick them up with your dinghy''
Eventually the vehicle was spotted and officials transported out to Tuatara. A lovely lady from Immigration and a polite gentleman from Quarantine arrived , the Health man was sick! There was a small fee to pay, we could not pay these people direct we had to go into the office and pay. This was when we started to find out how much had changed on the island and why. The main catalyst for change had been the 2009 tsunami which destroyed many houses, official offices and the schools. There were even two new villages built closer to the hill. Luckily the tsunami struck at 7 am so there was minimal loss of life. Government offices and schools were empty. Later in the day when we walked the hot 4km into pay our money we passed the empty place where the school had been. I remember as a family we caused quite a stir as we passed the school, the teachers lost control as the kids rushed to the open windows to say hello to the palangi family as we walked past. All the government buildings in Hihifo had been destroyed so now the new school and government buildings are all a little more inland and grouped together. Here we paid our fees and met Sia the yachtie contact.
Sia offered us a ride back to Falehau which we gratefully accepted it was a long hot walk back. We didn't mind the slight detour to her in laws where a lunch time umu was just being uncovered and a small pig was roasting over an open fire.
"We will have lunch and then I will take you back, it is my sons 18th birthday."
A hot walk back or sit in shade and have an interesting lunch...no choice really. We also soon learnt Sia commanded rather than requested, in a nice way.
I had already heard from Sia , in a roundabout way, while still in Apia. Knowing yachts called in on their way from Samoa to Vavau, Sia had emailed Claire in the marina office at Apia with a shopping list. Could some of the boats bring these things.... a longish list. Apparently the supply ship had not been for several weeks and was not due for several more. That was a familiar story. In 91 "the Kings Ship" as it was called then had not been for about 2 months. The island was desperately short of everything. We met a woman who had come from Tafahi to have her baby and could not get back because there was no petrol or diesel left. The village lights went out early or rather never came on, nothing to run the generator. The baker was having an enforced holiday as his flour had run out.
It seemed 22 years later things hadn't changed too much the supplies were late again. Although there was obviously still lots of fuel left this time seeing all the vehicles running around. Sia wanted less essential items but still important. The high school had a seventh form for the first time ever , Sia's son was in line to be dux. A grand graduation ceremony and party was being planned and the shopping list was for this celebration just in case the cargo boat didn't come in time. We bought the material needed for the celebration lava lavas. Sia was in a good position to get/ ask for bits and pieces from the yachts when they arrive. She and her family lived in the anchorage village of Falehau with a clear view of the yachts coming and goings along with working in the Immigration office Sia almost knew what we were doing before we did it! It was hard to by pass her to talk to and help some of the other people. I think I managed a little bit but she still managed to know everything that was going on.
Somewhere in storage at home I have photos of ladies soaking the long thin pandanus leaves in the sea before putting them on the washing line to dry and sitting in the afternoon shade weaving the dry white leaves into mats and baskets. I now have similar photos, digital this time. The process is the same, the place in the sea, in front of the village, where the leaves are soaked has not changed.
The pandanus leaves are tied together in bunches and put in the sea with rocks holding them down and left to soak until they turn from green to white. Each lady somehow remembers where their leaves are, at low tide they check their bunches, turning and rearranging the rocks. When they are happy with the whiteness the water laden bunches are hauled home and put on the washing line to dry. One morning I took my camera ashore and asked if I could take photos. Everyone was happy and also happy to see the results, they laughed at the videos between sloshing their leaves around.
I got talking to two young ladies about their families , they had a sister in Auckland who the youngest had visited. They giggled when I asked if they were married.
"No not yet.''
I think I got the gist from the following conversation that there weren't enough young men to choose from on the island and like young people all over the world the big city was the place to go. In this case Nukualofa or if dreams came true, Auckland.
The oldest sister asked if they could come out to the boat, so we hopped into the dinghy arriving back at Tuatara to find Alan and Kevin doing the breakfast dishes. A surprising domestic activity for young Tongan ladies to see men doing! We had a nice visit, a hot chocolate breakfast for them and a guided tour of Tuatara I then found some bits and pieces for them, some frivolous and some practical before I took them back ashore.
That afternoon we chatted to Sia on the VHF.
"You had visitors to the boat this morning."
"Yes a nice way to say thank you for the photos I took."
Sia knows everything!!!!
After a few days it was time to sail down to Vavau the wind was easterly promising a good trip, unfortunately 36 miles from Vavau the wind changed to a strong SE, right on the nose. We eventually motored in past islands melting into the dark night and anchored in Port Maurelle where we stayed two nights before going up to the shops and internet at Neiafu.
Neiafu has changed, bars and restaurants have sprouted up along the water front servicing the vastly increased yachtie visitors. Years ago we anchored Sousa down below the Paradise Hotel, the kids swam in its pool and we walked to town. These days the Paradise is silent, left to deteriorate. There are lots of moorings and dinghy docks closer to town and the internet reaches out into the harbour. A new Hotel dominates the waterfront but it has been poorly built with Chinese money , what could be a asset to Vavau is an empty blot on the picturesque harbour. The habour is a good place to come to for supplies, internet and social activities. We took part in the Vavau regatta which was fun and have been out and about in the anchorages. Nothing much has changed in the anchorages they are still referred to by number something started years ago by the Moorings guide for their yacht charterers. Number13, the Hunga anchorage is in a huge crater lagoon the narrow pass is shallow and ..well narrow. A nervous few minutes of "have we got the tide right" and you pop into a calm anchorage.
Number 8, Nuku, has a couple of gorgeous beaches which are the picnic beaches for visiting dignitaries and royalty, most of the time enjoyed by the crews of a few yachts. There are 41 anchorages in the Moorings guide even opposition guides quote the Moorings numbers.
Tuatara and crew have enjoyed the anchorages we have visited but it is time to head back to Opua. Yachts are steadily leaving for places south and west the moorings in Neiafu are easier to come by now, the restaurants are starting to work shorter hours and weather forecasts dominate the conversation. We have to avoid what John from Island Cruising Assn calls, "analyses paralyses". Too many different weather window opinions and you can get frozen in the headlights. So we have decided tomorrow is the day, Jim Pasco our crew has arrived no need to delay. One last big passage to go and Tuatara will soon be cruising past the Nine Pins, waving to Paihia and Russell before tying up in familiar Opua.
Time to write a catch up blog, its been a while since I wrote so a little bit to catch up on. Raiatea through to New Zealand. Yes we are back home, no it wasn't a quick sail home. We took the easy option, 4 hours by plane from Apia, Samoa. A couple of weeks at home to see our new granddaughter, Florence with the extra bonus of being able to watch the TV coverage of Team NZ sailing the Americas Cup. So what has been happening since Moorea?
After an overnight sail from Moorea to Raiatea we anchored in Faaroa Bay. Faaroa Bay is where some of the Maori Waka sailed from on their ancient journey to New Zealand. I looked around the hills and up the huge fertile valley and wondered what was it that made them leave this lovely place. Was it over crowding or just a whim to explore the outside world. Leaving the beautiful blue waters of the calm lagoon for the deep blue outside the reef must have been a hard thing to do. At the head of the bay a river meanders through luscious greenery of banana palms, breadfruit trees and mangroves. We took the dinghy through the cool shade up into the valley such a different world than the coral and blue water of the outer reef.
On the way to Apooiti marina where we needed the sailmaker we had a close encounter with' A' the worlds third largest privately owner superyacht. We have been sharing anchorages with A since the Med, I don't think they remember us but we sure cant forget them.
We spent a couple of days near Apooiti marina anchored in clear water not far from the reef, while our genoa was resewn. A quick efficient service from the sailmaker had us moving across to Bora Bora sooner than we had thought. We had allowed 10 days to get the sail fixed it took 3 days so for once we were ahead of time. A good wind across to Bora Bora soon had us looking over the reef at the gorgeous colours of the Bora Bora lagoon. As we stood on the pilot house admiring the scenery something caught our eye ahead of us.
"Wow look at that! "
"Did you see that?"
Right in front of us a huge whale leapt straight out of the water, nose to the sky, tail on the water. It took our breath away, we were still a little stunned when another whale did exactly the same thing, straight up into the air. We had to have sailed nearly all the way around the world to have a close whale experience. I had moaned across the Atlantic and all the way from Panama to the Marquesas about the fact everyone else except us seemed to see whales. But now within a short time we had had two fantastic encounters, as well as our Bora Bora welcome we had had about 5 whales surge past us on our way from the Tuamotus to Tahiti. The whales came from behind and they swam past us, one coming so close it turned on its side and looked me in the eye before it disappeared into the swell in front of us.
Bora Bora is a mix of mountain greenery and lagoon blue as well as rich and poor. Expensive resorts on the motus of the outer reef bring in jetsetters from around the world however little of those riches seem to filter into the locals on the big island. The town of Vaitape seemed to be the poorest as well as the most expensive that we had seen in the Society islands. The anchorage near the town is very deep and most yachts take up the moorings that are available. Unfortunately when we wanted a mooring they were all full as the windy weather had chased everyone in from anchorages. We found 24 metres where we could anchor and had a comfortable night. Many yachts coming from America and Europe have very little anchor chain so have to either take up moorings or spend ages hunting for a shallow spot, some even sail past lovely places because they haven't done their research about anchorage depths in the Pacific and think that 30 to 50 metres of chain is enough, when closer to 100 metres is what is needed. Luckily the East side of Bora Bora is shallow with lovely clear water anchorages along the out reef amongst the expensive resorts. We were able to have a free view of what the jetsetters pay up to $US1000 a night for.
We carefully motored over some very shallow patches and anchored outside the St Regis hotel. We had a gorgeous view of Bora Bora and a front row seat to watch jet skiers, dinghy sailors and exclusive resort ferries moving about over the blue green lagoon. The wind had blown away the clouds and we could see the rocky mountain tops of Bora Bora. A young French friend of Andrew and Gemma is working at the St Regis so we made contact and Alan picked up Svetlana , being careful to use the staff dock, for dinner on board Tuatara. We had a lovely evening and were comforted to know that even Parisians think French Polynesia is expensive.
After three nights of gorgeous views and shallow water we crept over the sand and made our way back to the deep water outside Vaitape. A couple of days of, don't look at the prices, laundry and provisioning before we continued west across the Pacific The weather forecast as well as Bob McDavitt indicated a good weather window for our 700 mile sail to Suwarrow. While many dithered about the weather, analysing it so much they missed the opening, we took the favourable 25knot wind and had a great sail, only using the motor for 10 hours. Those that dithered missed the wind and motored for days.
Suwarrow is one of the most northern atolls of the Cook Islands, only a few miles off the course to Samoa. Suwarrow was made famous through the book written by Tom Neale, An island to Oneself. Neale, part Cook islander part Kiwi lived a hermit life there from 1952 until the late 70s. The Cook Islanders have mixed opinions about him on one hand they respect his ability to have lived and survived on an isolated island by himself but on the other hand they do not like that he abandoned his family to do so. His family apparently consisted of 29 children from 3 different woman.
Today Suwarrow is a marine reserve visited mainly by yachts crossing the Pacific. During the season 2 Rangers live on the main island of Anchorage Island signing in cruisers to the Cook Islands and giving tours around the atoll as well as keeping an eye on the safety of both cruisers and the reserve. The Rangers stay between 6 and 8months they bring all their food and petrol etc with them and do not get any more supplies during that time. The only contact to Rarotonga is via a daily report via Satphone. Contact with the yachties is always welcome plus a few extras from us is always welcome. Petrol is always in short supply as its needed for the tours as well as fishing and for their generators.
There are several islands dotted around the atoll most with nesting sea birds and at least one with coconut crabs. The two rangers this year are Harry and Charlie. The chief ranger Harry is serving his second year as chief ranger he comes from an island near by ...well not that near a 100 miles or so, but he still feels that he is in home territory. Charlie his assistant takes yachties for a tour across the atoll to see birds and crabs as well as helping with anchoring, bbqs and coconut wine tasting! Charlie grew up on the atoll so know his way around. They advise against swimming on the outer reef because the tiger and grey sharks are dangerous but the black tip sharks that swim around the anchorage are harmless. I wasn't entirely convinced about the black tips but they did seem to swim away when people were in the water. I made sure there wasn't one in sight when I had my quick dips.
Being Kiwis we got a great welcome as NZ provides the majority of the funds for the reserve and being Cook islanders the men have many family connections with New Zealand. Charlie was pleased to get one of our old Silver Fern flags to fly in the Welcome and sign in area.
There is a BBQ area ashore where yachties can gather for meals and sundowners as the sun sinks into the west. The rangers host bbqs especially the night before cruisers leave. Yachties can stay up to 2 weeks, some come for a day or two but find the place so beautiful they inevitably stay longer. Gerry, arrived a couple of days before us intending to stay a night but was still there when we arrived and stayed a week, we stayed 5 days instead of 3. The weather was beautiful. For once we got it right we had the wind for the passage arriving at Suwarrow in time for several days of calm and left again as the wind came back again. We loved Suwarrow, Alan swam with manta rays, Charlie took us to see Frigate chicks and nesting terns as well as a Robinson Crusoe island where we drank out of cool coconuts leaving the flesh for the numerous coconut crabs. Charlie took a couple of guys fishing and that night we had a bbq with the delicious Wahoo they had caught. The big fish fed twenty of us.
We were reluctant to leave but we had been telling the family at home we would be coming home "soon". We had been saying this for weeks and the pull of a little baby to meet meant we sailed away to Samoa saying, "we will be back"'. With a little effort we could easily come back up from NZ.
"Good bye Kiwis" came from Charlie and Harry across the VHF.
Yes the Pacific is beautiful and friendly, the best in the world. I will be interested to see how many of the cruisers we have met coming across the Pacific stay longer than they think, those ones that say ,
"We are only staying one season in the Pacific next year we are going to South Africa/Asia. "
In Asia and Europe we met many cruisers who came to the Pacific/ New Zealand "just for one season and stayed 3 (4, 5, 6 or more)seasons" many wished they could stay forever.
The Pacific weaves it magic spell over everyone including us.