I've avoided this blog for as long as possible but alas we are home and slowly starting to settle back into our old lives. The small things of sleeping in a big bed, endless power and water supply, phones, super fast internet, great coffee and yummy restaurants make life easier to adjust. Couple that with being surrounded by friends and family and slowly Sydney is becoming home again.
We want to thank a few people for making our twenty-month adventure such a wonderful experience. Hugh's parents, Lynne and Fred, who were our point of contact for each passage and for when we needed some boat part couriered to a remote part of the world. Our friends and family, for the support you gave us. We were trilled to see so many of you at our homecoming party where we had lots of fun catching up and meeting the cute new additions to some families. Our fellow cruisers whom we met along the way, we wish you continued safe sailing. And to you, our blog readers, for following our experiences and writing comments.
None of it would of being possible without Whippersnapper, a superb boat for the trip. At no stage did we ever feel unsafe or in over our heads. Whether in big seas or calm seas, beautiful anchorages or transiting canals, racing other yachts or cruising around you never let us down. You took it all in your stride and came out the other end looking as good as ever. Funnily enough looking after Whippersnapper felt a lot like looking after our baby!
Finally thank you to an extremely safe and capable Captain Hugh. Your knowledge and intuition of boats and sailing are among the best in the world. I had no problem putting my life in your hands. Thank you for being a terrific partner and travel partner. I know my personality is not the easiest to get on with which made your tolerance all the more impressive. It's special when we can live in such close proximity for 20 months and come out the other end. I love you with all my heart and look forward to our next adventure.
We did it!
10/29/2012, Coffs Harbour
8:30am (Eastern Standard Time) in the midst of a chilly southerly Whippersnapper docked safely in Coffs Harbour International Marina. We've since cleared quarantine, customs, immigration, had a big brekkie at the local yacht club and are generally feeling pretty chuffed to be on home soil. We're back in the land of flat whites (Mike's happy), fresh milk (Hugh's happy) and tonight we're having Coff's famed fish and chips. Sydney is now just a short hop south so it feels like we've the hardest part done!
Mike wrote in his last blog of the challenges with weather on this last passage, being the highest latitudes we've sailed in since the Canary Islands. To be honest it feels like we dodged a bullet, there was only a small gap in the weather and we were the only yacht brave, or foolish enough amongst our friends to leave when we did. It was a wet and wild ride but we didn't get anything above 30 knots, nothing broke and we all enjoyed ourselves. I lie about nothing breaking actually, both shower screens took falling bodies but they'll be easily renewed in Sydney. The famed EAC (east Australian current) never really appeared until we were less than 70 miles from Coffs and we experienced counter currents before then but with all the wind we still had a relatively quick passage.
I think we'll depart here tomorrow morning for a brief stopover in Clareville to see my (Hugh's) family and then we're onto the CYC in Rushcutters Bay for our homecoming drinks on Sat at 3pm... everyone's welcome, hope to see you there!
A quick note to our cruising fraternity, we found the formalities here very quick and easy, though we're to finalise the importation with a broker later on.
Our final passage to Australia is proving a little tricky. We always knew it could because of the huge lows that build up under Australia and move up the eastern coast. We had planned to leave last Friday but today a few hundred miles off Australia's coast is 35knot winds that had we left we would have hit, making it very unpleasant. It has been a waiting game with our friends on Just Jane, Ganga and Happy Cat as we frequently check the weather to see if any windows open up. The common sense approach would be to wait until Friday when the front has passed but we have a little party to attend on the 3rd of November so are trying harder to find an earlier window.
Both Fred and Pip (Hugh's dad and his friend who are joining us on this passage) are in great spirits and liken the situation to being snowed in! We pass the time moving around to different anchorages, relaxing and generally having a great time. Noumea has to be the windiest place we've visited so far with over 20knot gales most days. Hugh and I find it cold in the evenings and Hugh has even gone as far as wearing jeans one night. I'll not give in yet!
Our emotions are truly mixed now. We are excited to see family, friends and Sydney again but also a big part of me doesn't want the adventure to stop. It's getting close to that time where unfortunately we have to grow up again.
We've spent the last hour analysing weather and decided we're going at lunchtime. It's not ideal but then again it never is. Wish us luck and see you in Oz.
10/19/2012, Noumea, New Caledonia
In Noumea we met up with my Mum and Dad and their longtime friends Pip and Pam Woodman. I've known Pip and Pam all my life and it was great to see them again. The four chartered a Hanse 400 called Draken from Noumea and we had ten days to cruise alongside them in the southern lagoon (Dad and Pip are then staying on with us to do the last legs to Coffs Harbour and Pittwater).
What followed was a most hilarious week as Mike and I baby-sat the "oldies". We'd planned an itinerary that would take us to the famous Ilot Amedee lighthouse, the picturesque "5 Iles" and of course the Ile des Pins with a few stops in between. It was good sailing with a spirited upwind run to Ile des Pins and a fast downwind run back to Noumea. Unfortunately the weather wasn't perfect for us, see above photo, but we all had a wonderful time, each night taking turns to host drinks and BBQ's on board and sometimes just sheltering from wind and rain in the saloon and playing cards.
While on Ilot Amedee we were amazed to see so many sea snakes slithering around, Mum and Pam let out yelps a few times when one crossed their path or swam over inquisitively. I've been playing with the sea snakes a lot since Niue as they're not aggressive or scared by humans but after hearing a few stories of bitings I've been a little more respectful of them. Pip got a surprise on Ilot Matre when he stood up and discovered one had been nesting right under him!
Iles des Pins was breathtakingly beautiful, we anchored in bays full of turtles and we even saw a dugon one afternoon. In the small capital of Vao we met the women's president and general island organiser, a well-travelled Kunie, Marie-Jeanne, who, in addition to her own native language, speaks English, French, Italian, Czech and Polish! Marie-Jeanne organised a great tour of the island for us with Rafael who drove us around in his 4WD for the day.
Now we're all back in Noumea and Mum and Pam fly out tomorrow, the weather incredibly looked spot on to leave today as we'd planned but as of this yesterday a big southerly is being forecast around Coffs Harbour so we're most likely going to delay our departure almost a week! We'll write again when the window clears and let you all know when we're heading off for Oz :)
10/08/2012, Fayaoue, Ouvea Atoll - New Caledonia
As the saying goes "True gentlemen don't sail to windward" I think the reference is to the healing and bumpy motion of close hauled sailing... it tend's to spill the champagne. Well sometimes it's just not an option, when you're up in Espiritu Santo, you want to head almost due south to Noumea, a southerly's blowing and you're meeting family in a few days you just have to go.
It would only to be a three day passage but the 15 knot southerly forecast (manageable) on Monday would strengthen to 30 knots on Wednesday morning (unmanageable). Our thought was to head for the Loyalty Islands (part of New Caledonia) which is two days away, wait out the strong winds on Wednesday/Thursday then continue down to Noumea.
So with this plan we cast off into a horror of a passage, the 15 forecast was really 20 knots (we should have known) and it was right on the nose. The closest we can sail to the wind in a rough sea is around 34 degrees apparent and at that angle we're "on our ear" (as Mike calls it) with the toe-rail awash and the bow pounding through the waves. Plumes of spray shoot out with each wave and you lose your footing if you're not holding on. Originally we thought we'd make the town of We on Lifou but watched with dismay as our heading fell further and further westward.
We don't normally end up in locations different to what we set out for but that how we ended up in Ouvea Atoll, what a place! After 19 or so months of cruising this is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places we've seen. A stunning atoll of aquamarine water, white sand, largely free of threatening coral bomies and offering total protection from the swell. On Thursday (Wednesday was too windy to leave the yacht) we had a beautiful lunch ashore at La Porte de Paradis (see photo above), wonderfully simple food (we shared a roasted snapper) and a sublime setting, one place we'll remember always...
10/07/2012, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
"The Millennium Cave is a raw and unspoiled experience. If you are a health and safety freak, this may not be the thing for you... The Millennium Cave tour is an unforgettable experience and a must-do if you are willing to enjoy nature in its original form and minus the plastic wrapper of 'western' safety regulations."
-- local tourist mag
This less-than-reassuring puff-piece was entirely accurate, and sets the tone well for Espiritu Santo, the largest island of Vanuatu: (http://goo.gl/maps/CWtlY). Chock full of friendly native villages, stereotypical South Pacific beaches, relatively few tourists and minimal infrastructure, WWII shipwrecks and downed aircraft in the mountain jungles - it's pretty great. But more on the Millennium Cave later.
I was fortunate to be invited back onboard Whippersnapper for the third time. The guys keep Whippersnapper in fine form, he looked and felt as tight as it did 13 months ago in the Med. With huge smiles and impossible tans, the guys welcomed me in warm summer rain at Luganville airport after a short flight from the utterly-missable Port Vila. A quick stock up on food, beer, reef shoes and fishing supplies (leading to an awesome Wahoo catch by Mike later in the week) and we were soon on board and navigating into nearby Oyster Bay. Hair-raising to get into - we scraped by with 0.5m clearance at one point - the benefits became clear: a protected bay, a friendly resort with cold beer and an awesome chef, and free wifi that our collection of devices flooded.
With clear skies and blazing sun, we set out for the famed Champagne Beach the next day. To my complete delight we were joined by a pod of very playful dolphins, which helped distract me from the seasickness caused by the rolly waves. Champagne Beach is the stuff of South Pacific postcards. A pure-white arc of sand backed by palm trees and jungle-coated cliffs, leading to gentle, crystal-clear aquamarine waters. When the cruise ships drop-in, the locals trade in thatched-roof huts at sands-edge. The only locals present for our visit were the farmers' quite reticent cows.
We moored and kicked off our daily Monopoly Board Domination Comp in the neighbouring Hog Harbour, so-named because it's a pig of an anchorage due to rolly waves. As it turned out the winds weren't our biggest problem; it was the nasty coral bommy that gave us no end of grief when trying to untangle the anchor the next morning.
Once untangled, over about 4 hours we sailed up to Port Orly, billed as a "Mediterranean -style harbour village". Not quite: Vanuatu is very poor, and this village also suffered being wiped out in a cyclone some years ago. We did find; tasty coconut crab, lobster, beers, and warm smiles in an unbeatable beachside setting at the Paradise restaurant.
I got a taste of Whippersnapper at (near) full tilt and slamming into the waves on the 6 hour sail back to Oyster Bay, thanks to a strong headwind. I also got a taste of the "1 big tack vs. multiple small tacks" debate between the guys that doesn't look like it'll end anytime soon.
And so, back to the Millennium Cave. Thwarted by an earlier attempt to do it due to heavy rain, we were all keen to experience it. From Luganville, a one hour road bash in an ill-equipped Hiace took us to meet a local highlander who would be our guide on the 4 hour trek through muddy, slippery jungle paths, rotting bamboo bridges, and mountain villages with the only modern concessions being mobile phones (and the odd "mobile phone tower" - a bamboo structure to climb up into for better reception).
The Cave's impressive 30-40m high entrance is framed by ferns in a small gully, with a fresh river flowing into and through it into pitch darkness. Armed with ineffective torches, our guide led us - often single-file, holding hands to stay upright in the current - through the 500m cave. Overhead hundreds of swallows and bats threatened to get into our hair, spiders leapt across our fingers as we grabbed the walls to stay upright in the current, and there was even a waterfall descending from high up in the 60m chamber.
(If you see the photos of us with face painting, each symbol relates to an element of the Cave - including the waterfall).
Emerging back into daylight, the next phase began while our guide's sister and children carried our bags back up through the jungle. It was billed as a "float" down the river in life vests to the next jungle path, sort of... The "float" lasted about 2 minutes. And was rapidly followed by slippery rock climbing, squeezing into gaps flooded with torrents of water, swinging down on metal chain links hammered into rock walls, navigating strong currents in water tunnels, and generally having a ball in a simple life vest and no liability waiver. 4 hours later we collapsed back into the Hiace - exhausted, covered in mud, blisters, scrapes and smiles all round.
Mike and Hugh: you've outdone yourselves again. Thank you for this (third!) round of wonderful memories.
See you on the shores of Sydney.
We had a nice overnight sail from Tanna to Port Vila where we even managed a little race towards the end with our friends on Just Jane. We arrived in just enough time to check in, wash the boat and collect our Aussie friend, Rick, from the airport who was spending the next ten days with us.
Port Vila was a nice town with a superb produce market where almost everything was $1 each. However, except for the fruit and veg, we quickly realised that Vanuatu prices are much higher than Fiji and more similar to Sydney prices. Oh well it was nice while it lasted. We spent just the one night in Port Vila as we were keen to get to Lamen Bay on the island of Epi, which was a three-day hop away. We enjoyed trade wind 15-20 knot sailing and Rick was in his element steering Whippersnapper. The days were consumed sailing, fishing, snorkeling and playing blokus. The evening's playing cards and drinking the only cans of beer that they sold in Port Vila - VB.
We arrived in Lamen Bay on the Thursday very excited at the possibility of seeing a dugong. Dugong's have the head of a hippo and the body of a dolphin - strange but yet very cute looking creatures. We quickly went for a snorkel to see if we could find them but alas they weren't there. We did see huge turtles that were very happy to allow us to swim with them. That evening after a few sundowners we went into the village for dinner. On the way we stopped at a Kava Bar to introduce Rick to the local brew. Hugh and I told Rick the story of our experience with Kava in Fiji and how weak it was so Rick had two cups while we had one. Gosh it sure was different to Fiji - so strong. Poor Rick ended up having an altercation with a tree and the tree won. I'm sure we provided lots of entertainment in the restaurant. The next morning as we were about to leave the bay a couple we met the night before pointed out the dugong to us so in we jumped and swam with her. A wonderful experience and even though she moved fairly fast we still got a few good photos and were pleased with ourselves.
Next stop was Banan Bay on the island of Malakula. Our guidebook said we should try to get to see the Custom Dance as its very authentic in this particular village. Luckily for us there was already an old expedition vessel in the bay with 17 guests onboard and they had organised a visit to the waterfall in the morning and a Custom dance for the afternoon and invited us to join them. It was fantastic. The waterfall was a 2.5 hour trek each way inland with the locals. We had lots of opportunity to chat with them along the way and learn about their country and traditions e.g. they finish school at 13 and marry when they are 21 years old. The waterfall itself though not the largest we've seen was lots of fun as there was about 20 locals swimming with us. These people are just so happy in themselves with the biggest smiles, it was very refreshing to see.
The highlight was the Custom Dance. Not knowing what to expect we were a little gob smacked when we were brought to the Nasara (a place where you have to be invited too, where the men hang out and local women & kids are not allowed) to see approximately 30 men wearing only Nambas - basically a vine leaf and a piece of string. They welcomed us to their Nasara and did a few dances for us. You must watch the video we've uploaded in our photo gallery. Then we were taken back to the village to where the women and kids were and they performed a few dances for us too. They do the Custom Dance during celebrations like weddings and promotions of Chiefs and its very sacred to them.
As we were keen to get some diving in before Rick departed we decided to leave after the dancing to do an overnighter to the island of Espiritu Santo. Rick was trilled with this and did some of the night watches with us. We booked two dives for the following morning on the famous SS President Coolridge wreck and Million Dollar Point. The SS President Coolidge was a luxury liner built in 1931 that was purchased by the US Navy and converted for active service in WWII. It sank in 1941 when it hit a 'friendly' mine. The Captain had over 5,000 troops onboard and a cargo hold full of jeeps, tanks, ammunition and medical supplies. He ran the vessel aground and to his credit he saved all onboard except two. Within 90 minutes and luckily once all the crew and passengers had disembarked, the Coolidge slipped back off the reef and sunk. Today it lies just off the beach as one of the world's best wreck dives in 20 to 70 meters depth. Million Dollar Point is where the Americans at the end of the second world war after asking the locals whether they wanted all their diggers, bulldozers and jeeps, got no reply pushed everything out into the sea. So stacked in 15 to 40 meters depth is 134 diggers, bulldozers and jeeps piled up on top of each other making for great diving. The two dives were so unique and awesome. Even though our Padi cards don't permit us to go that deep, it doesn't seem to matter around here. They actually don't even ask to see your card!
Now we anchored in a very protected bay at the Oyster Bay Resort and said our farewells to Rick today. It was great having him onboard and we're delighted he had some truly amazing adventures with us. With good internet we plan to hold tight here until Monday when another good friend, Lane, arrives.
Oh what a rough passage we had from Fiji to Tanna! One day of HEAVY rain followed by two days with 25-35 knots of what they call "reinforced trade winds". It was a wild ride with Whippersnapper bouncing all over the place and lots of white water on deck, the only way we could sleep was to wedge ourselves in bed between walls of pillows to stop our body sliding around. At least it was a fast passage with the boat speed averaging over 8 kts for extended periods, a predicted four days was soon three and we'd arrived in Tanna.
Tanna is an island in Vanuatu and special because of Mt Yasur, one of the worlds most accessible and active volcanos. I had actually visited as a young boy in 1982(?) on a family holiday and I was interested to see how much I would remember. On arriving we were welcomed into Port Resolution by a small fleet of canoes happily distracted from their fishing, proper dugout ones made without nails, glue or paint just a hollowed log and other beams held with twine to make the outrigger. We chatted to a few before getting our dinghy down to chat to the other 3 yachts in the bay. It's great to get the low down on a new place from other yachties; who to know ashore, what's good and what's not worth it. Mike's especially good at starting up a conversation with anyone. One interesting couple we met were Amy and Eric (both 30) on their yacht Super Agent Man who sail around offering the villagers their services as handyman and agriculturist.
Ashore we met the village chief Sam and his wife Jocelyn. We were enjoying talking with Jocelyn but were rather taken aback when she started describing how neighbouring islanders had killed her eldest son with black magic because they were jealous of his luck... how do you respond to that? Regardless of their belief in black magic (common throughout Vanuatu apparently) like a lot of the pacific islands missionaries have left behind a strong Christian following. We were duly invited to attend church on Saturday (Seventh Day Adventists). The service was gruelling, it went on for hours and even included two breaks on the grass to digest and discuss the teachings. Along with Eric and Amy we were special guests and asked to speak about the ways God is present in our lives at sea, hmmm... fortunately we were able nominate Eric to speak for all of us and he did admirably. I used the time to mull over in my head why it is that Vanuatu is such a happy place, ranked number 1 in 2007 by an international statistic. The villagers have a real sense of community, land and close family ties, a simple life in an inspiring location. They are extremely poor by our standards but they appear to want for very little either. The villagers sleep in huts made from woven palm fronds, eat locally grown foods and spend much time sitting in green grass playing and chatting with their neighbours and family. Laughter is a constant, a really genuine and contagious laugh. I decided it certainly wasn't because of their church services!
In the bay locals in canoes were always dropping by to see if we could charge batteries, lend some tools, fix something etc. In exchange we were brought whole stems of bananas, baskets of lemons, pawpaws and other veggies. All very welcome though in quantities far greater than we could consume.
Saturday evening we'd arranged a visit to Mt Yasur, there is one vehicle in the village (a 4x4 ute) and it's about a 45 min drive along a dirt road to the Volcano. Mike and I were the only ones going that night but the driver's whole family came along for the ride. It's a steep climb up the side of the volcano but in no we're time standing on the rim looking down, no guard-rail, no safety notices, nothing. Kaboom!!! blobs of red hot lava shoot out of the centre, some flying well above our heads before landing with a pitter-patter, inter dispersed with bigger thuds for the larger pieces, as the newly formed rocks land on the crater. We loved it, the sounds and danger were thrilling. We were also happy because we took the DSLR Tina left with us and next to us on the rim a professional photographer adjusted a myriad of settings to ensure we got some great shots. We also took some video which hopefully I'll be able to upload to the gallery.
After five days on the hard, we slipped a gleaming Whippersnapper back into the water with a huge sigh of relief. While everything went exactly to plan and we were really happy with the quality of work (a big thank you to the guys at Yacht Help for a great job), it is still a little daunting when wind gets up during the night and the boat starts to sway knowing you are only being held upright by six posts. In fact one night we felt the boat swaying a lot more than usual and found out the next morning that one of the posts had moved a foot leaving Whippersnapper hanging on by the minimum of margins - scary!
Once back in the water we were keen to get going again so headed straight to the Malolo islands and the famous Musket Cove. We heard it was a nice place but were overwhelmed by just how good it was, so much so we ended up spending the next five nights there. Musket Cove is a resort built by a cruiser with cruisers in mind. It has everything from a marina, to mooring field, swimming pools, bars, cafes, restaurants, golf course, supermarket, dive shops and an airstrip. Upon arrival the captain pays $1 and each crew $5 for lifetime membership, which gives you access to all the facilities. Being a resort you can open an account and pay for everything at the end of your stay. A typical day would be spent snorkelling in the outer reefs, relaxing in the pool during the afternoon and then onto the sunset bar for a bbq. They had huge open fire bbq's that they lit at 4pm every evening and welcomed cruisers to bring their own food to cook there. A simple but brilliant idea that so many other places should take up. The supermarket even provided bbq packs with meat, roast potatoes, yummy garlic bread and juicy salads.
There was little wind during the week but on Friday it started to blow for a few hours so lots of kite boards appeared out of nowhere. We grabbed ours and headed to a tiny sand bank with ten other kites. It was a wonderful sight to see and Hugh had a great time on ours. Unfortunately the wind got up too much and the sand bank disappeared with the tide so I didn't make it out. I'm way behind Hugh in experience now so have a lot of catching up to do! Hugh still has a big smile on his face from the day.
Yesterday we headed back to Port Denarau to meet our friend Elizabeth (Liz) who along with her friend Nicole flew in from Auckland to spend the weekend at the Hilton resort. We had a great evening catching up on old times with a few too many drinks. Great fun was had. We're actually lying by their hotel pool now as we urge Liz and Nicole to join in on the pool aerobics. Fiji has been one of our favourite countries since leaving the Med last year but time has come to check out tomorrow and sail to Vanuatu. It's a four-day passage to the island of Tanna, where we hope to climb the active volcano and then onto Port Vila to meet our friend Rick on the 10th - very exciting.
08/26/2012, Vuda Point Marina
The Fijian people have this lovely habit of joyfully singing/whistling a high note if they like or are impressed by something. We guess it's like we would say "ah" in appreciation but it sounds much more melodic. It really is true how friendly and welcoming the Fijian's are and we can't help but smile back at this sound. Already we're talking about sailing back here one day.
After the village we headed over to Nananu-i-ra for a bit of kite-boarding. Nananu-i-ra is known as 'adventure' island in Fiji because of a handful of backpackers / kite schools but we found the place extraordinarily quiet. At the one kite resort we visited there was only about 4 guests and while nice there was just no atmosphere. I had a kite boarding lesson with a really nice Dutch guy but the conditions weren't great so soon after we moved on. This central north coast of Viti Levu is a bit bland and the nearby city of Lautoka ugly but we're making our way towards the western coast where all the best known fijian islands are.
Right now we're in a marina called Vuda Point (one of the gateways to the western islands). We've hauled out to renew the anti-fouling paint and polish the white topsides. We'd booked in weeks ago but everything is very relaxed here, our booking was lost, then found, "yes you can haul out tomorrow", "actually we don't have any supports for you, could you wait until another yacht is finished?" Finally the big day arrived and we were moved from our berth to a holding mooring near the travel lift (big crane to lift boats out) at 8am only to wait there until 3pm to be lifted! In what we're sure would be massive breach of workplace safety laws we got to stay onboard during the lift out of the water, great fun!
We'd always assumed we'd paint Whippersnapper ourselves to save money but the labor component is so cheap we can have the job done professionally for about the same price we could source just the paint ourselves (and seeing the amount of work involved very thankful!). Polishing too is a real treat as it would cost thousands in Australia but here it's just a few hundred. The polish is slightly abrasive and will remove any oxidisation/stains from the hull making it bright white again and then a wax will make it glossy and protected from UV. We have a team of 4 Fijian workers all friendly and working well. Mike also spent a full day yesterday cleaning and polishing our brass propeller, it's now gleaming and sure to improve our fuel economy. All in all Whippersnapper is going to be very handsome and even more slippery through the water.
The usual gang of yachts have all arrived now, Ganga, Virigo's Child, Island Fling and Happycat, making sunset drinks in the bar very enjoyable. We plan to be back in the water on Monday and it's just a short sail out to see the beautiful islands of the Mamanuca Islands and the Yasawa Group.
08/14/2012, Navunivi Village
OK we can report in now on our first sevusevu... quite fun really though I still have the tingle of Yagona in my mouth.
Navunivi Village is in a big bay on the main island, Viti Levu. We stopped here overnight on the way to Nananu-i-ra Island, to visit what we were told was a very nice village and experience sevusevu. We were asked to wait on the yacht until 5:30 when the Turanga Ni Koro (mayor) would be back and more elders in the village. We had numerous visits from small boats in the afternoon. At 5:30 a son of one of the elders came past to bring us in. He took us to his family and we talked with them briefly before the sevusevu. I've never seen such smiley and happy children all giggles and white teeth.
The village was beautiful with green grass and paths between buildings lined with hibiscus and Ti plants and the beach was the blackest sand I've ever seen. I think we were expecting to be ushered into grass huts with a very serious looking chief. Turned out that the houses while mainly one room were brick and concrete (Cyclone proof) and the chief was away so we took sevusevu with the Turanga Ni Koro and about eight other elders. We went to a large open deck and sat cross legged on the floor on woven matts. There is protocol to follow but it was most informal and friendly, Michael was very good in presenting the kava root, presenting ourselves and saying things like "we would be honoured to visit your village, share your culture and join you in sevusevu". Next the Yagona was prepared in a large carved bowl and with much hand clapping we took turns in drinking the yagona from half coconut shells. The men called it grog and even made faces like we would after drinking a shot of whisky though Mike and I can only report a slight tingling of the lips and tongue. My best description of the taste would be 10 parts water, one part mud and 1/2 part minty toothpaste. Between rounds all the men would talk and discuss their day and ask us questions. They were particular amazed at how (comparatively) young we were to be sailing around the world. We sat through six rounds before making our excuses (we'd been warned it can go on all night!).
This morning we've been invite back to have tea with the Turanga Ni Kora.
We had an enjoyable 410nm passage from Tonga to Fiji with good consistent trade winds. However with a much quicker pace than planned we passed through the Lau Group of reefs at night and arrived at our destination of Savusavu at midnight in pitch darkness - both of which were a little unnerving. The anchorage in Savusavu bay is in a very narrow channel with boats moored everywhere so we gingerly made our way through to find the last available buoy and claim it for the night. All the time oblivious that only an hour earlier the town had experienced their first earthquake tremor in years. Thankfully there was no damage.
The next morning we moved to the Copra Shed moorings (a bargain at AU$5 a night) and they started the clearing in process for us, which proved very simple and well organized. This was actually one of the main reasons we chose to clear-in in Savusavu instead of the capital Suva where we had heard bad reports. We quickly learned the greeting Bula (pronounced buuuuulaaaah J) and went for a walk around town. The one street town was busy with very friendly locals. The Indo-Fijians who were first introduced during British rule to work in the plantations seemed to be more commercial than the ethnic Fijians and tended to own the shops and restaurants. It was heartening to see quite a few staff wanted notices in shop windows, something rare in many other countries these days. To our delight our biggest surprise came when we went to Joseph's Decked Out Cafe for dinner to find they had the fastest internet connection we've experienced since leaving Europe and main courses for only $6 each. Did I mention that we love Fiji!
Before arriving we read in our Fiji Compendium that if we wanted to learn where to go cruising in Fiji we should try to meet the local character, Curly, who is a tall long grey bearded and hair (kinda like Dumbledore) NZ expat living in Fiji for 40 years. By luck we were able to sit in on one of his presentations and wow was it an experience. Hugh mentioned in his last blog that boats in Fiji are ones that have either touched the reef or came close to it. We learned from Curly its no joke. He said approx 100 hit every year and he personally knows of 40 already this season. We paid great attention to his presentation and came away from it with a set of waypoints to follow for every route we intend to take.
Curly also explained the important tradition of Sevusevu to us. To visit many anchorages and villages requires a Sevusevu or offering to the village Chief of kava root. This tradition isn't just for visitors; it is also done by Fijians amongst themselves. The sevusevu should be done as soon as you arrive at the anchorage and before even swimming in the water. Curly explained you go to the village and ask to speak with the Turanga ni Koro who is second in charge and suggest to him that it would be our great pleasure if he would introduce us to the village Chief. If he agrees he will ask you what you want to learn from the experience e.g. about their culture or how they are educated etc. You will then be taken to the Chief and asked to sit in front of him but not to speak directly to him. Then you give the kava root to the Turanga who gives it to the chief's helper (the Turanga and the Chief are not allowed to talk to or touch each other). If the Chief takes the kava root we can breath again as it means we carried out their tradition successfully and will be adopted into their village for the duration of our stay. At this stage we can ask questions and chat directly with the Chief while the kava gets ground up and made into a drink called angona. The angona is poured into half coconut shells and passed around between the Chief, the Turanga and us. Before taking the shell we must clap once then drink in one go and all clap three times. We have to do this at least three times or until it is all gone. Seemingly it can go on and on for hours as they keep refilling the shells so it is recommended to have a good excuse ready to make a quick getaway. Hugh and I bought our kava root at the Savusavu market and hope to visit a village in the next couple of days so we will let you know how we get on!
We're at Namena Barrier Reef now, which is supposedly the fourth best snorkeling and diving site in the world. After spending hours upon hours snorkeling we can definitely say that it's very very good. We even got the opportunity to fulfill a long time wish of ours to swim with whales today. Gosh it was awesome.
After the shock of having a 12 year old boy aboard, Tom and his endless stream of "why?" questions, we've had a very relaxed week here in Tonga slowly making our way through the many anchorages. The anchorages here are actually numbed (a good idea when no one can pronounce the names) and there's 42 of them! We only made it to around 9 but got to see the main areas. Our favourite ended up being number 8, it just had a really pretty island with a white sandy beach and a small town across the bay. Another memorable one was 16 were we found the best coral but to get to the reef we had to swim through breaking surf over just 1-2ft of coral, needless to say we got a few coral cuts. The snorkelling in most of Tonga has been disappointing (mainly because we were told it was so good), most of the coral is dead and colourless but number 16 at least had great coral formation though still lacked the vivid colours I remember as a child.
We've also spent a fair bit of time in Neiafu (the main town), after we dropped Kate and Tom off last week and this weekend. Neiafu is a little grubby and certainly third world though there is a little charm about the place. We've really enjoyed the pizza's at Aquarium cafe and watched some of the Olympics on their big screen, including the opening ceremony which we both thought was excellent.
In Neiafu the local yacht club runs the weekly Friendly Islands Friday night yacht race, we've raced twice now and both times were great fun. The first time there was but a breath of wind and we did very disappointingly. Whippersnapper does not have sails for such light conditions (gennakkers not allowed) and our cruising spec did us no favours. We held our own on the upwind passages but our genoa was too heavy to maintain any shape on the downwind legs and the smaller yachts and those with lighter genoas drifted ahead of us. The second week with better but still light winds we improved to finish in third place. The emphasis from the organisers was for a "fun, non-competitive race" but despite all the good intensions in the first week while on starboard tack we were put about twice but a yacht on port who should have given way and again this week a yacht on port just as we were crossing the finish line. It was a great experience to race away from those super-competative Sydney types but sailing in close quarters with those who don't know the rules can be just as alarming.
The really good news is also that Winter is over, well it only lasted about two weeks but after Niue and the first few days here in Tonga Mike and I were terrified the cooler weather was here to stay! Well it just turned out to be "cooler" for a few days and we're back to our preferred shirtless days and doona-less nights!
Today we're off to Fiji, it should be only a 2-3 days passage though it's a tricky one because we pass by many reefs and islands along the way, normally on passage it's just empty ocean so this time we'll need to be especially vigilant. We've even a list of coordinates for "uncharted reefs" though most of those we'll pass well north of. They say in Fiji there's two types of yachts, those that have hit a reef and those that are about too. Well before our family's have conniptions let us just say we've discussed this passage with a number of other experienced sailors here who've done it before and they all assure us those sayings were only popular in the days before GPS, chart plotters and radar!
We left for Tonga just after lunch on the Tuesday. It was Tom's first time out in "the big bad ocean" (as Mike called it) so it was with some excitement that we watched the long low mass of Niue disappear over the horizon. The winds were still very light and we cruised along in light seas with just a gennaker. On our first night Hugh helped us on our first watch and showed us all the instruments, Tom shuffled through the screens about every 15 minutes of our watch which helped to pass the time. The boys trolled for fish constantly and after two very near misses with juicy looking fishes, we finally caught a beautiful big tuna which Mike butchered very impressively (and we feasted on it for many dinners). That night the boys let us do a night watch alone, the only excitement being when the man overboard alarm went off (in error) and it was reassuring to see Hugh up on deck counting heads within 2 seconds. No seasickness to report but a certain amount of pills were popped just in case!
Before we set of from Niue, John, an American who runs offshore sailing expeditions, came abroad for a look around "Whippersnapper". He was struck with how neat and clean the boat is compared to other ocean-going boats. He's right - this boat is immaculate, the boys keep it beautifully and everything is well thought out and neatly in its place. Hugh knows how to use a label machine! They have turned their spare cabin into a fantastic pantry and there's no clutter or mess anywhere. It's very comfortable too, at night we ate dinner on deck by the light of small table lamp and in the evenings it was great relaxing in the spacious saloon.
On Friday we arrived at Port Refuge, Neiafu and were met at the customs dock by three very official-looking gentlemen to clear us through customs and quarantine. Then we moored in front of the town and set out to explore. A united nations of yachts were aligned along the bay, with many Australians and New Zealanders along with Americans and Europeans. The port town was colourful and slightly rundown looking, with painted wooden houses and a romantic Spanish mission-style cathedral atop the hill. There are shops, cafes, banks and markets. Schoolgirls wore a vibrant orange tunic and Tongan adults wore a belted skirt, which was sometimes made of fabric and sometimes out of woven seagrass matting - it looked a little prickly when sitting down!
The next day we set out to explore the Vava'u group - of which there are 34 islands, only 21 being inhabited. Most are covered with lush and green tropical jungle and "inhabited" sometimes means as little as one wooden house on the shores. The islands are made of dark volcanic rock and at low tide they bulge out above their waterlines like enormous pillows. Many have fringing reefs and some have white sandy beaches - the water colour at the edges is a lovely turquioise colour and the water is very clear. We spent a glorious week sailing between anchorages and snorkelling over the reefs.
A highlight was visiting the Mariner's Cave, an underground cave which is accessed by swimming through an underwater tunnel. I have to say I wasn't thrilled with the description of the entrance - an opening in the rock wall underwater which you got through by swimming 2 metres down and four metres along before surfacing (one hopes!) in the cave. It seemed wisest to let Hugh go first and make Mike keep an eye on him. We all had a go and the cave was brilliant - the light filtering through the entrance sparkled a spectacular blue/green once inside. A local legend has it a young warrior hid his lover here for weeks so she could escape her nasty chieftain bridegroom. (He must have been pretty nasty )
On Tuesday night we booked an evening at "La Paella", a Spanish restaurant over looking the bay where we had moored for the night. This authentic-looking taverna was run by a Spanish couple who set sail for the Pacific, and were still in Tonga 22 years later. It was a lovely meal, gotten off to an interesting start by meeting the resident goat standing next to our table. Another expat couple who never returned were the Amercians in "The Ark Gallery" nearby, a floating artist studio for Sheri and Larry her husband.
Sailing, snorkelling and visiting beautiful islands is all very well, but as evenings approached we got on with the real point of our trip: never-ending tournaments in card games. The Serisier family still has a bad case of Contract Rummy mania which Hugh and Mike gave to our kids the summer before they left, plus there was a new one to learn - "Turbo Hearts"! Tom bravely upheld the family honour most evenings before surcumbing to Mike's Irish luck. (Unfortunately Tom's cheeky antics saw him thrown off the boat a couple of times also.)
Whippersnapper, we love you
We had a great passage to Niue from Palmerston, one of the few we've had wind the whole way!
Lying on the direct route from French Polynesia to Vava'u in Tonga, Niue is one of the smallest island states in the world with a population of less than 1500. They exist as a self governing nation in free association with New Zealand and citizens all have duel citizenship. A coral atoll that has been uplifted above sea level (normally atolls are sinking) which makes Niue quite unique in the south pacific. The ancient coral forms limestone (hence nicknamed 'the rock') and fossilised coral is visible all over the island. The porous limestone leads to numerous fresh water springs, caves, caverns, chasms and the most amazingly clear water you've ever seen. Visibility underwater is up to 80M! Despite all the beauty it's not perfect for visiting by yacht as the anchorage is super rolly and because of a surge at the dock there's no easy way to get ashore and to prevent damage we need to hoist our dinghy out of the water with a big crane.
Niueans though have to be the friendliest people we've met, locals have gone out of their way to help, offer lifts and befriend us. Keith (commodore of the Niue Yacht Club - of which their are more members worldwide than residents) is a most obliging fellow and has basically acted as our tour guide to ensure we got the most out of our visit. On hearing over the radio, for example, that we were collecting two crew (my sister Kate and nephew Tom) here in Niue he jumped on the radio to offer us a lift to the airport that afternoon if you just walk along the road cars slow to offer a lift there's no crime, it's brilliant.
We met my eldest sister Kate and her son Tom at the airport and we've been having a great time since, all the swimming pools and caves are wonderful to explore, The photo above is of Limu Pools, one of the beautiful places we stopped to snorkel. It's interesting snorkelling because there is a fresh water spring and a layer of cool fresh water floats above the warmer sea water, it's chilly floating on top but if you dive under it's nice and warm. We really enjoyed snorkelling around the anchorage too as we saw, sea snakes, sharks, moray eels and loads of fish. Mike and I also saw a humpback whale. Underwater there are cool limestone formations making caves and tunnels you can swim through. The clarity of the water is just amazing, never seen anything like it.
Now we're watching the weather for our next passage with Kate and Tom to Vava'u in Tonga. Unfortunately it looks like light winds again, possibly we'll leave tomorrow. Tonight we're going out for 'pot luck' dinner with the other cruisers at the yacht club.
I almost forgot about the biggest luxury here in Niue free internet!!! French Polynesia we had to pay for internet horror!!!
Arriving at Palmerston Atoll, with the pass being too shallow to enter the lagoon and the reef outside that comes up dramatically from 30m to 2m, anchoring is not an option. We radioed ahead for permission to pick one of their six mooring buoys and a fellow named Simon Marsters (Alpha Serra as he is known locally by his call sign) took the call and welcomed us to Palmerston. As it was Sunday and the locals all at church we would have to wait until Monday morning to check in and visit the island. We were the only yacht there and later found out that we were the 18th to visit this year.
Palmerston has a population of 65 people, 63 of which are direct Marsters descendants and the other two residents being teachers from NZ and the UK. So it was with fascination that we wanted to learn about their way of life and how they manage being so remote from everything. Simons brother, Edward the Policeman, collected us the next morning, told us he would be our host for the duration of our stay and took us ashore. As we walked through the palm trees to his house we passed the wreck of the yacht called Ri Ri who unfortunately broke their mooring line during the night and was beached on the reef. It was a sad sight to see and a reminder of how dangerous these shores are.
At Edwards house he introduced us to his mother, wife, sister-in-law and nephew John who were all very friendly and welcoming people. Four year old John took us to feed leafs to the pigs and coconut shells to the hens. Afterwards Edward took us for a tour of the island. First stop the school. We were impressed with the quality of the buildings and classrooms, which thankfully the NZ government pays for. The principal was a lovely lady called Yvonne from NZ who explained that she started a system like home schooling where each of the 27 students work individually. They set goals for themselves on a daily and weekly basis then progress through the year when all their work is completed. Next on the tour was the graveyard to see the grave of William Marsters. Its not many graveyards that you go into where all the headstones are of one family name! Then onto Main Street, which just happened to be sand and palm streets like the rest of the island but in a more orderly manner and finished off the tour with lunch back at Edwards house.
During lunch Edward explained that instead of paying cash for the mooring buoy (which are NZ$10 per night) maybe we had something on our boat that we didnt need and they could use. We thought this was a great idea until he asked for our new 15hp outboard. After politely explaining that we will need it for the rest of our trip he was more than delighted with the old snorkels & masks, fishing lures and AA batteries that we gave them. They also were delighted to be able to download movies from our hard drives which his wife spent most of the night doing.
What a great experience the visit has been. One quickly forgets how remote they actually are. They have regular day jobs like most of us, ride around on scooters, carry mobile phones, surf the internet and they even have one communal TV with sky satellite channels to watch English soccer games. The world is a smaller place these days!
Much discussion takes place between cruisers on which route to take from Bora Bora to Tonga/Fiji because of its reputation for being the 'dangerous middle'. It is not uncommon to experience continuous winds of over 35 knots for this c1300 nm passage or worse still squalls that bring sudden and violent opposite wind changes. Unfortunately the wind is only one issue and whether you decide to take the northern route and make a halfway stop at Suwarrow or the middle route with its stopover at Palmerston or the more braver southern route of Raratonga (braver because winds tend to be stronger the further south one goes) these tiny Cook Island atolls which have little protection from westerly's have caused havoc for cruisers in the past. In fact only last month we heard that a boat, which we got to know during the ARC crossing last year, got caught in a storm while on anchor in Suwarrow and ran aground. Hugh and I made the decision months ago to take the middle route and go via Palmerston and Niue. Weather permitting we plan to stay a few days at each stop and pick up Hugh's sister and nephew in Niue on the 13th.
While in Bora Bora we checked the weather daily and four days out from our departure 25kts was forecast, which really means over 30kts when out in the middle of the seas; it's going to be a rough passage! Three days out we were somewhat relieved to see it was reduced to 20kts making for a nice and quick passage. Two days out we were disheartened to see it reduced again to 15kts. One day out we decided we shouldn't look at the weather forecast anymore as we estimated that we would only have good winds for the first couple of days then they would die out; luckily or unluckily it looks like we would be robbed of experiencing the dangerous middle at least for this 1st leg from Bora-Bora to Palmerston.
As I write this we're only 12nm's away from Palmerston or 650nm's into our 1300nm's passage. The weather forecast for the past six days was bang on. We had a squally 20 knot first night but since then the wind has only averaged 12kts, eventually dying out yesterday for 6 hours but thankfully coming back again. Overall it has been a nice passage with calm seas and we've managed to average over 5kts speed. We're looking forward to stopping in Palmerston as only 50 boats get the pleasure to do so every year and the tiny place has a unique history with all the islanders descendants of a William Marsters from England who arrived on the island in 1826 with his 3 wives.
07/01/2012, Bora Bora
We met the Graham's (my elder sister Tina, her husband Ed and their four children; Georgia, Anna, Sarah and Harry) on their catamaran "Ohiti" at Apooiti marina in Raiatea. It was great to see them all again, it had been 14 months since we'd all seen one another and the kids have grown!
We left the marina together and headed to the north end of Tahaa for our first night. Our plan was to stay one night there, then straight to Bora Bora for four nights after which Mike and I would stay in Bora Bora and Ohiti would head back to spend one night on Tahaa again then back to the charter base in Raiatea. The passage to Bora Bora was only around 4 hours but it's open ocean and we heard from Tina and Ed that Georgia, Anna, Sarah and Harry all threw up multiple times and spent most of the trip lying on the cockpit floor! Sounds like perfect family fun once safely inside the Bora Bora lagoon though they perked up and by the time we were moored they were all smiles again.
The conditions were perfect for a few days of lazy sailing, snorkelling and relaxing. We spent our first night moored off the famous Bloody Mary's restaurant where we had a nice dinner. The next few days we hoped to explore the eastern side of Bora Bora, there are some very shallow passes to get around the east side and our cruising guide recommends no yachts with a draft greater than 2.1M, well Whippersnapper is 2.05M so we had at least 5cm up our sleeve. Ohiti only has a 1M draft so we sent them first and asked Tina and Ed to radio back their depth readings 2.5M was the shallowest but it's very unnerving because when the water is so clear 2.5M looks like 1M and there were frequently coral heads we had to navigate around.
We found some beautiful anchorages, clear water over white sand. Bora Bora is overrun with bungalow over the water type hotels but the views looking back at the jagged peaks are breathtaking. The kids especially loved the Lagoonarium, a fenced area of lagoon stocked with sting rays, reef sharks and fish. The coral in Bora Bora is not brilliant but the amount of fish certainly is, snorkelling with hundreds of thousands of fish in the coral gardens made us feel a little like we were swimming in an aquarium. We also found a special spot where manta rays swim in a small pass to be "cleaned" by other little fish, we enjoyed snorkelling with them so much we went twice.
It was a sad goodbye but Mike and I remind ourselves we're only four short months from Sydney now!
After another week back in Papeete it was finally time to leave for good, just one hour before our departure though our good friends on Båten Anna arrived into the town quay from Tuamotus. It was great to see Aliv and Emili again but after a quick coffee aboard Whippersnapper it was time for us to join the start of the Tahiti to Moorea Saiing Rendezvous. Hopefully Båten Anna will catch up with us again shortly but probably not until Fiji now, we miss them.
The Tahiti to Moorea Sailing Rendezvous is a 3 day event including short rally from Papeete to Moorea. It's organised by a group called the Pacific Puddle Jump and acts as a welcome of all cruisersiers into the South Pacific region. The Puddle Jump is a rally across the Pacific, mainly for Americans departing La Paz in Mexico though open to anyone no matter your departure point. In a way it's like the ARC we did across the Atlantic but much more flexible. There's no official departure date but rather it's a way of getting in contact with other cruisers completing a similar voyage. In Papeete on the Friday night there was a welcome drinks with Tahitian dancing and a blessing of the skippers, to be honest it felt a little more like a hazing, we were stripped to the waist and made to dance Tahitian style in front of our laughing crews!
The next morning we all gathered outside of Papeete port for the start of the rally to Moorea, they call it a rally but it ended up being very competitive! We had a wonderful time because we had a very close race with two other yachts and it was the best sailing conditions we'd had in a long time. We just beat our two close rivals, Water Music and Cuttyhunk, and ended up 6th overall out of 27, not bad when you considering we were the first monohull under 50 feet to cross the line and there was no handicap.
Once in Moorea a number of Tahitian activities and sports were planed. We raced outrigger canoes in teams of 6 (2nd overall thank you very much), ran in a relay carrying bamboo poles weighted with hands of bananas and tried speed husking coconuts. Most of it was very silly but we enjoyed hanging out with our friends on other yachts and meeting new yachts we'll stay in contact with.
In other new's our new D1's are safely installed, our mainsail repaired and we finally have a replacement depth sounder! Thank you very much to Dad and Tina for organising a care package from Australia with a multitude of hard to find bits and pieces we needed.
A little note on our mainsail repair, we have an inmast furling main with vertical battens, the tear occurred when a batten got caught while furling in a squall. When speaking to the sailmaker he frankly said "I don't want to repair this, if you keep these vertical battens it's just going to happen again". His suggestion was to seal off the batten pockets and cut the roach out of the main so as to be a normal inmast furling mainsail. This was actually a solution we'd enquired about while in Croatia last year but were told it was a major alteration, well it turned out to be the same cost as repairing the tear so it was an easy decision for us. The vertical battens have been nothing but trouble and have no place on an ocean going yacht. The risk of jams and broken battens is high and we were always weary of getting the mainsail caught out in a squall and not being able to furl it away. Now after sailing with the new main in a variety of conditions we can say it's just brilliant, certainly no discernible loss of performance and it is so much easier to furl now. We keep saying to ourselves, if only we'd done this in Croatia.
As I write this we're enroute to Raiatea to meet up with the Graham's (my elder sister Tina and her family), they're chartering a cat and we're going to cruiser around Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora together for a week, really looking forward to seeing these famous islands and spending time with family again.
We've had beautiful week in Moorea, a world away from the hustle and bustle of Papeete. We spent our time in Opunohu Bay which is one of two main bays in Moorea, the other being Cooks bay named after Captain Cook though Cook himself actually stayed in Opunohu Bay. Opunohu is the prettier of the two and has a lovely white sand beach, we anchored in 10M and could easily see our anchor on the bottom the water is so clear. There's not much live coral in Moorea Lagoon but we saw stingrays, leopard rays, dolphins and reef sharks.
A famous attraction in Moorea is feeding the stingrays in the lagoon. We guess the tourist boats have been feeding them for years because the stingrays were very tame and eagerly approached us. We got some great video from our camera (I've just uploaded it to our gallery), feeding them was hilarious, they're such unusual creatures! They would shimmy themselves right out of the water to get at the food (tuna sashimi we prepared for them). They're incredibly soft to touch but it's hard not to feel anxious around the sharp barbs on their tails, we were told they only really attack if you stand directly on top of them but Mike's been stung before (in Sydney) and talking around a couple other cruisers have been stung too, all claim it's the most excruciating pain and with memories of Steve Irwin we took great care not to step on any!