Seaforth - The Holiday of a Lifetime

A pair of Kiwis who realised that life isn't a dress rehearsal and its time to go see the world.

01 July 2017 | Susui, Vanua Balavu, Fiji
12 June 2017 | Port Maurelle, Vava'u
10 June 2017 | Ha'apai Beach Resort, Pangai
09 June 2017 | Ha'apai, Tonga
04 June 2017 | North Minerva Reef
02 June 2017 | South Minerva Reef
10 May 2017 | Orokawa Bay, Bay of Islands
02 May 2017 | Opua, NZ
26 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands
26 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands
09 April 2017 | Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands
05 April 2017 | Gulf Harbour
24 March 2017
08 February 2017
25 January 2017
23 January 2017
22 April 2014
22 December 2013 | Smokehouse Bay, Great Barrier Island, NZ
21 December 2013 | Smokehouse Bay, Great Barrier Island, NZ
20 December 2013 | Smokehouse Bay, Great Barrier Island

The Extraordinary Becomes Ordinary

01 July 2017 | Susui, Vanua Balavu, Fiji
Let’s face it, blogs are usually read by friends or family who feel some obligation to keep up with what people are up to, or by bored office workers who are cruising the ‘net, vicariously living their daydreams. I’ve been that bored office worker.

The challenge for me for writing this blog is that I’m busy experiencing stuff and forget to write about it so that you lot can read my thoughts. Part of me finds it completely incomprehensible that anyone could find my experiences, my thoughts or my life in any way interesting, and part of the challenge comes from the fact that as humans we are adaptable, so things that previously would have been completely novel quickly become “normal”.

Take last night for example. Last night we were anchored inside a beautiful tropical reef that surrounds an island called Vanua Balavu in Eastern Fiji’s Lau group of islands. The bay that we were anchored in was just off a small village called Daliconi (pronounced Dalli-thoni) and, because the entire group of cruisers had been accepted by the village, we were invited to partake in a feast and an evening of music and dance put on by the villagers to entertain us and to thank us for visiting.

So, initially you would think that being immersed in a Fijian village feast, rich with local produce, seafood and meat, serenaded by harmonious singing and entertained by exotic dance could be a little overwhelming. It was a fabulous evening, to be sure, and proved to be entertaining for cruisers and villagers alike. My guitar was loaned for the evening to the band and the boys certainly seemed to enjoy playing a 12 string guitar. The cruisers were welcomed generously and in return the kava we provided was prepared and shared by all who wished to partake.

The fact that we were in a foreign country, experiencing foreign foods and customs became completely irrelevant. It was an inclusive, good natured night of fun - a fantastic night of genuine happiness, community participation, sharing and caring. It didn’t matter that we might have been 1200 miles from our place of origin. It didn’t matter that the songs were previously unheard or that the language was foreign. The extraordinary sights, sounds, smells and tastes all became irrelevant because as extraordinary as it was, it was our present reality. We were immersed in it and the foreignness of the experience was forgotten as mere details, because it felt just how people should behave and should treat each other.

Wow …. Maybe that kava was stronger than I thought.

Pangai, Uoleva, Matafonoa and Vava'u

12 June 2017 | Port Maurelle, Vava'u
Ok ok, so we're a bit behind on the blogs! The last time I posted we had just cleared Tongan customs into Pangai. We then spent the night outside the Ha'apai Beach Resort, and enjoyed a few well deserved drinks ashore at the bar. The next morning dawned grey and we were worried we couldn't move without sun to see the bommies, but by noon it had cleared enough and we moved down to Uoleva where we anchored in front of the Sea Change Eco Resort. After a long walk up a pristine sandy beach lined with coconut trees (see Facebook for photos), we headed to the bar for happy hour. We had a great evening, even though we got "stuck" there for a while with torrential rain 😉. The next morning we took a yoga class at the resort, and then walked to the other side of the island to do some snorkelling. It was quite shallow, but we managed to escape any coral cuts and then headed back to Ha'apai Beach resort for more customs stuff. We had a quiet(ish) night on another yacht (to be fair, they don't drink!), and an early night for once!

The next day we did a few boats jobs (cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic locations!), and then went for a snorkel at a reef just near where we were anchored. Great snorkelling again with huge clouds of blue/green fish, but the water was a little cloudy from the recent rain, so photos didn't really come out very well. We then cleaned up and prepared for the much anticipated "Pirate Party" at the Ha'apai Beach Resort. We got ashore, with some of us wearing rather skimpy clothing, to find the local school brass band playing for us! I think we provided far more entertainment to the school kids than they did to us - I'm sure they thought we were all quite 'debaucherous' 😈.

We were one of the last to leave (again .... yikes) and awoke to winds turned to the west and a very rocky rolly lee shore! We unfortunately had to venture away from the boat to take some pain meds ashore as the resort owner's dog had been hit by a car overnight and had a broken leg - Twink's unused Codeine tablets came in handy as they had plenty of antibiotics but not much in the way of strong pain meds and there is no vet in Ha'apai. It was not the first time they'd had to deal with such injuries by themselves, and had a vet on the phone back in NZ for guidance, so hopefully he'll be ok. The situation really did highlight that as much as it's nice to get away from 'society', when the brown smelly stuff hits the air rotation device, it's nice to have help just a phone call or a short drive away.

We then headed north and had a white knuckle entry into an anchorage filled with coral heads. Although they were all against white sand and therefore fairly easy to see, it was still nerve racking and we ended up with a coral head about a boat length or two off our stern once we anchored. The wind was due to swing and rise, so we took turns staying up to keep an eye on things. By 1am the wind had swung as per the forecast but had dropped and settled, leaving us well clear of the bommie and free to both go to sleep.

Just before 8am we got woken up by the VHF bellowing "time to go folks" so we bolted out of bed, upped anchor, and were gone before we had time to think. We managed to navigate our way out following the others and with Steve on the bow giving directions to keep us off the coral heads, and pulled up the sails and set our course to Vava'u. We had winds varying from 15-25 knots, and boat speed from about 6.5-9.5 knots! There were some reasonable swells too, which we surfed down at a peak of 10 knots. Even though it was a bit rocky and rolly, it was still a great sail as it was fast and we covered the miles a lot quicker than we thought we would, and anchored up in Port Maurelle in Vava'u by 6pm.

Time for dinner (or is that breakfast/lunch/dinner) and a G&T!

Tonga bound

10 June 2017 | Ha'apai Beach Resort, Pangai
By the first night of our Minerva to Tonga passage the wind had lightened up and we had to motorsail once again - spirits were not high and we were concerned about not having enough fuel again. By the next day though the wind started to pick up and swing to the south east - the trade winds had finally arrived! They kept building until we were having a cracking sail. Unfortunately we calculated that we would arrive in Tonga at midnight which is not a good idea for somewhere with charts dating back to Captain Cook. So, we put two reefs in the main and put away the big genoa and pulled out our little old mouldy staysail. We're coming to appreciate our ratty and tatty little staysail - it really punches above it's weight. We were still rocketing along at 6+ knots - our target speed to arrive in Tonga during daylight was only 4knots! We partially rolled in the staysail until we achieved the desired speed. The swell was increasing along with the wind, which was moving more easterly, which meant we were tight reaching. Because of the sail combo we were relatively upright but scorching along and having a ball. Every now and then waves would splash up over the boat, so we did get very salty, but Seaforth was just loving it. It's times like this that we appreciate what a well designed and solidly built boat she is. It was a shame to have to slow her down, but we figured that was better than hoving to and bobbing around in the ocean waiting for the sun to come up. In the end we could have arrived a bit earlier as the charts were quite good, but it didn't really matter as we anchored up in the tiny little Pangai port and welcomed the medical officer and two customs officials on board. Ten minutes or so later, we were all finished with passports stamped, and were given a one month visa - such a shame that we were delayed 3 weeks because of weather and will only get just under two weeks in Tonga.

The Practicalities of Passagemaking

09 June 2017 | Ha'apai, Tonga
When discussing the concept of sailing on long distance passages, people have asked us in the past “What do you do at night? Are there places to stop?”. Of course, the answer is that we just keep the boat sailing and we take turns sleeping.

Because there is just the two of us onboard, we run a 3 hour watch system …. that’s 3 hours on and 3 hours off, and in theory that allows you 12 hours to sleep, albeit in small chunks. In reality, it works out a little different, however, it does work well for us.

Three hours is a long time in the middle of the night to be awake, alert and to be managing the boat. On the other hand three hours is not a long time to sleep … and for the off-watch person, that three hours is often not actually three hours. By the time you’ve given the person coming on watch a chance to wake up and get themselves oriented, briefed them on what’s happened over the last three hours, taken the opportunity of two of you on deck to make any sail changes or adjustments, had a chat (because otherwise you don’t see much of each other), got out of your deck gear, got below, had a wash, cleaned your teeth, sorted yourself out and hopped into bed, you’ve probably now only got about 2-2 ½ hours available for sleeping.

And while we’re talking about sleeping, there’s a lot to learn there too. I’m normally a side sleeper, and on land (or in a quiet bay) it works just fine, but on a boat that is sailing over large waves in mid-ocean, side sleeping is just not practical … you get thrown around in the bed. I very quickly developed a new sleeping position that I call “the starfish”. This is essentially lying on your front and spreading your arms and legs out to try to make yourself as stable as possible (remember, your partner is up in the cockpit trying to stay awake, so the risk of being told off for taking up too much bed is very small). It works well in moderate seas, however, when things get a bit rougher there is a variation I call “the octopus” …… its like the starfish except that you jam your feet and knees up against bulkheads etc, and hang on with your hands, all in a bid to stop being tossed around in your bed.

And speaking of boats bouncing around and practicalities, there’s the entertaining business of doing your business to consider. If it’s difficult to find stability in bed at sea, it’s even trickier when you’re trying to sit on a loo. Luckily, the heads on most boats are quite small spaces so you can jam your elbows and knees and feet and hands against things to stay perched on the throne, but there’s always the worry of the unexpected lurch just as you’re at your most vulnerable … with your pants around your ankles.

Even the simplest things can become adventurous and acrobatic experiences.

Pit stops

04 June 2017 | North Minerva Reef
After the beautiful sunrise, we jumped in the dingy and went "ashore" for a look around. I use the quote symbols because it's not quite land as such, but more like shallow coral with a bit of sand on top. We waded in in knee deep water to the highest point which was not quite completely out of the water. The outside of the reef - a sheer drop kilometres deep - had breaking waves and is an impressive sight. The tide was coming in so we didn't hang around and waded back to the dinghy and then went to borrow a couple of jerry cans of fuel off a friend who had plenty left. We put all our jerry cans into the tank and got back up to a more healthy 200 L. (Because if all the motoring, we arrived at the reef with only about 40 L left!). The wind was picking up and the water getting a bit choppy, but we persevered and grabbed our snorkel gear and took off in the dinghy and headed to the entrance. We'd heard the bommies around the entrance were great and they were not wrong! (See Facebook posts for photos). It was well worth the effort and choppy conditions. My prescription mask was fantastic and even allowed me to spot the shark before Steve did. We both floated motionless and waited to see what he did. Because the water was so incredibly clear, he was a fair way off and didn't seen to take any interest in us at all, and thankfully swam away.

We both started getting cold and the occasional cramp in the leg, so headed back to Seaforth. We upped anchor (after clearing the chain from around a small bommie) and moved to the northern side of the reef for some better protection for the forecast front coming through. We battened down the hatches and had an early night. The front came through just before midnight with rain and gust just touching on 30 knots. By morning the wind was back down to 10-15 knots, so we headed out and motored towards North Minerva. We wanted to get a fish on the way so had the trolling lines out. We hooked a fish, but unfortunately he won and took our lure. We replaced it and then hooked something else just coming up to North Minerva, but this time one of the crimps failed and that fish also took our lure. So far the score is Seaforth 1, Fish 2.

It was a frustrating flapping-sails kind of a sail, so loosing a second fish was even more annoying. We had an 'interesting' passage through the pass with 1.5-2 knots of current - we've heard reports of up to 11! We anchored up, made dinner, had some wine, and watched a movie. Hopefully tomorrow would be a bit better.

The next day dawned and after discussions with fellow cruisers about the gribs, we decided to get on our way to Tonga. We had to wait while a yacht with a fishing net wrapped about its prop sailed into the reef entrance with 3 dinghies in the water to assist if necessary. He managed it just fine and anchored up to effect repairs. We headed out to a big swell and lumpy seas, and headed around the northern side of the reef to try and get an elusive fish. Steve was manning the rod this time and maybe he was doing something different than me because he hooked and landed a small yellow fin tuna. Although catching a mahimahi still hasn't been ticked off the bucket list, it was a nice way to start our 3 day passage to Tonga! 😀 We also saw a pod of whales about an hour into our passage. They looked like smallish ones - pilot whales maybe. Now all we need is enough wind to keep sailing! ⛵️

Passages are strange things.

02 June 2017 | South Minerva Reef
The first night you're so excited about actually being on your way that you don't sleep much (same with the night before departure too actually). We did 3 hour shifts, so by the time you come off watch in the early hours of the following morning - after being on watch 9pm-midnight, and then 3am-6am - you are pretty tired. You sleep as much as you can while not on watch, and by the second night you're getting into the swing of things. It amazes me how fast your brain adjusts and gets to understand that it better sleep while it's allowed to, because otherwise it'll be another 3 hours before it'll get another chance.

By the third night the whole thing seems completely normal. It's kinda surreal, but having the boat constantly sailing seems like the most natural and normal thing in the world. Sitting in traffic and working 8 hours in an office on the other hand, well, that's just madness! 😆

By day 3 you also start noticing other changes - you don't need to rug up so much for the night watches. Plus, you strip down during the day and lie in the sun, soaking up with warmth and trying to build up that tan to protect yourself naturally. Day 3 also saw us catch our first fish. We'd known previously that dawn is a good time for fishing, so we put a lure out at about 6.15am just after the sun came up. By 7am we landed our first - a skip jack tuna. Only a small fish by tuna standards, but enough for 4 meals. I know others use them for live marlin bait, or cut up for bait for snapper, but boy they are also great to eat. The flesh is very dark and when cooked so still pink in the middle, they smell and taste just like a really good quality tender steak!

Day 4 saw our second visitor (the first - a small dead squid on deck - was found when the lure was put out. Goodness knows how he jumped up high enough to clear our topsides, but luckily he didn't ink on our teak deck!). We'd heard reports from other boats of swallows coming for visits and we got one as well. He/she sat there for a while, refusing the fresh water given, and just seemed to want somewhere to rest for a while before continuing on its way.

Day 5 dawned with some excitement as we'd calculated we would arrive at South Minerva reef just after lunchtime. We finally started seeing flying fish (the fishing lure was out again all the way but no luck this time), and the day was warm (after a shorts and t-shirts night). We had been sailing in company with 2 and sometimes more other boats so would have regular chats during the day on VHF. Today's chats seemed to focus on entrance to the reef along with fuel burn rates as we'd been motoring/motorsailing for 3 days by then). We were quite nervous, but watched others going in via AIS, and by the time it was our turn, found it relatively easy, especially given waypoints to follow. There was a bommie to avoid to port on the way in, but once in we easily found a spot and anchored up. Steve dove in to check the anchor has set and check for any surrounding obstacles that we might swing into. He came up reported none, but commented on the clarify of the water - 20 metres and you can still see the bottom. I had a refreshing swim too, but minus the prescription mask, couldn't see anything. We'll go for a proper snorkel tomorrow. After sundowners (that first beer tasted fantastic!) on our friend's cat "Panthera", with plenty of fresh fish on offer (they caught a GT, and friends off another Davidson caught something that looked a bit like a kingie), we headed home exhausted and were in bed by 8pm.

It's now the next morning as I'm writing this while sitting in the cockpit and watching the most amazing sunrise. We'll head over to the enclosed part of the reef (it's a figure 8 shape with only an entrance into one loop) via dingy for a snorkel soon - its reported to be stunning in there.
(See our Facebook posts for photos!)
Vessel Name: Seaforth
Vessel Make/Model: Davidson 47
Hailing Port: Auckland, New Zealand
Crew: Steve & Ade
About: So we're a couple in our 40s and we've decided to abandon a responsible life with careers and stuff, sell the farm and the cars and go sailing instead. Stuff it, I might die before I get to retire so let's have fun now .... there might be time to work later.
Extra: Oh yeah ... we've got 2 dogs as well .... border collies (cute!). That's gonna make life interesting on a boat isn't it? Oh and in case you were wondering, that isn't a photo of either of us in the string vest ... or anyone we know either.
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Seaforth's Photos -


Who: Steve & Ade
Port: Auckland, New Zealand