Alan and Jean sharing our cruising news with friends, family.

20 July 2015 | Rabi Island Fiji
29 June 2015 | Suva Fiji
18 December 2013 | Auckland
05 December 2013 | Auckland
27 October 2013 | Vavau Tonga
12 September 2013 | Samoa
24 July 2013 | Moorea, Tahiti
19 July 2013 | Papeete
19 June 2013 | Nuka Hiva
02 June 2013 | Pacific Ocean
29 May 2013 | Pacific Ocean
24 May 2013 | Eastern Pacific Ocean
19 May 2013 | Western Pacific Ocean
16 May 2013 | Western Pacific Ocean
13 May 2013 | Isla Isabella
06 May 2013 | Isla Isabella
08 April 2013 | Shelter Bay marina, Colon.
28 March 2013 | Belize
27 March 2013 | Belize
03 March 2013 | Panamarina, Panama

Leatherback Turtles

23 May 2012 | Hamilton New Zealand
We have recently flown from Trinidad, over the clear waters of the Bahamas a short stopover at Miami and then across the continent to LA. A long trip made smoother with the help of American Airlines. When we last flew anywhere, a little over a year ago, people around us were reading actual books and papers. For this trip everyone had gone electronic making me feel like a complete dinosaur reading a paper book and watching the in flight movies. Fellow passengers flicked their fingers nimbly over touch screens watching their own personal movies, playing games and catching up on office work. I felt quite jealous of the kid across the aisle playing games on his mother’s Iphone. It was tempting to lean across and ask for a lesson. Our laptop was safely stashed under the seat, I left it there as using it suddenly seemed very old fashioned, after all it is 2 years old!! Besides which we had forgotten to charge it in the last minute packing up of Tuatara. I feel the need to acquire at least one touch screen for our return flight.

We sailed into “Trini” four and half days after leaving Puerto Rico. We then spent a week dodging rain showers drying sails, cleaning, storing covers and ropes all the while trying not to drip too much sweat on clean surfaces. We hauled Tuatara and settled her comfortably in Power Boats big yard. Hurricane season is about to start and although Trinidad is just below the hurricane belt they still get strong winds and with the changeable weather patterns you never know where hurricanes will veer off too. So we have taken off all the loose things and mould proofed the inside. Every experienced Caribbean cruiser we sort advice from seemed to have a different method of hurricane/humidity proofing their boats so we took a little from here and there. The proof in our success or lack of will be shown when we open the hatches on our return in October. In between settling Tuatara we organized our things for the trip home and the transition into winter clothes.

We only left the Chaguaramas area for one exciting incredible wildlife experience. A night excursion across the island to the east coast to watch great Leatherback Turtles haul themselves over the white sand to lay their eggs. At this time of the year Jesse James, the yachtie friendly tour operator, takes weekly tours over to watch these amazing creatures, the largest of all living sea turtles. Jesse knows as much about the turtles as the volunteers who keep an eye on the turtles and sightseers. By the time we stumbled along the beach in the dark we knew quite a lot about what we hopefully would see.
As we got out of the van Jesse got a message to say there was a Turtle laying a few metres down the beach. Minimal lighting can be used as the turtles are phased by white lights and can turn back to sea if disturbed before they lay their eggs. Only red lights if any can be used. There is a 10 minute window of opportunity for photography when the turtle is laying her eggs as she goes into a trance like state and white lights do not affect her. The volunteer guide gently moved aside a massive back flipper to show the growing pile of round white eggs. The Leatherback lays around a 100 eggs in each nest and only about 80 to 90 percent get safely past all the predators.

“turn off all cameras” with that direction our guide moved us back into the shadows and the 400kg (approx) Leatherback turned its back flipper into a delicate spatula like utensil to scoop layers of sand over the eggs. Each layer of sand was given a gentle pat until the deep hole was filled in. She then gradually hauled her hefty body away from her nest. The Leatherback has flat wide front flippers that propel them through the water at 11/2 feet per second or 20 knots. On land the female uses these strong flippers to flick sand over the area around the nest to camouflage her tracks as she moves further away from the nest, the beach is returned to …well a smooth sandy beach. When she is satisfied she is far enough away from the real nest the big flippers dig another hole, a decoy nest. Once our Leatherback mum was satisfied with her decoy nest she slowly turned and eased herself down the slight incline of wet sand towards the dark roaring foaming surf. Once in her natural environment the turtle was soon out of sight, heading out to find another male to mate with and start the laying process over again. The mating/laying/nesting process is done several times in a season on the same beach they struggled down as a tiny cute baby turtle. At the end of the season these great turtles head back to the cold waters of the high latitudes where they live and eat the large jelly fish they love. Many of the Leatherbacks which nest on Trinidad have been tagged and traced back to the cold waters around northern Canada . A few have been traced down in the southern ocean and around to Madagascar. They swim thousands of miles for a few weeks in warm waters to mate then back to freezing cold waters, no laying on the beach enjoying the sun drinking cocktails for their tropical break.

As we walked back along the beach in the dark, accompanied by a crescendo of croaking frogs in the trees, roaring surf and with several more massive dark shapes emerging from the foam I felt like we were in the middle of a nature film with a whispering David Attenborough about to appear from behind the palms. Our small group tried to merge into the shadows as these turtles searched the beach for the spot with the right temperature for their precious eggs. Unfortunately one of these impressive creatures had been mutilated, both back flippers had been cut off, perhaps after being caught in a net the fisherman cut the flippers off rather than cutting his net to free it. Instinct was driving it to dig a nest, the stumps were vainly trying to dig a hole. What a sad and moving sight. Jesse called one of the volunteer guides on the beach who came and dug the nest for the turtle. Hopefully she would successfully lay her eggs. At a certain stage in the process her urge to lay the eggs becomes so strong that no matter if the nest is ready or not she lays them. On this one occasion someone was there to interfere in possibly a positive way but I thought of all the many many times no one will be there to help, all those eggs wasted, no wonder these are another endangered species. We moved further along the beach to watch another turtle using its back flippers like huge spoons to dig into the sand. The muscles of each back flipper rippling to prepare a perfect hole, all done on instinct, during the complete process she never looks at her hole, never sees her egg filled nest.

In 60 days the eggs hatch and little turtles dig themselves out and run the gauntlet of waiting predators to get down the beach into the sea and then if they survive even more predators in the sea they will eventually return to this beach to mate and lay eggs. We didn’t see this happen but many do watch but cannot help them safely into the sea. The babies must feel and smell the beach, so that they remember to come back to their beach, their sea, many years later. The instinct to return starts as soon as they are hatched.

As I watched fingers flip across touch screens on our flights across America I reflected on all we had seen 2 nights previously. No electronic device, no app, no software can be as impressive as mother nature, as impressive as the design of creatures like the Leatherback Turtle manipulating massive muscles to gently cover eggs, to instinctively navigate to a beach thousands of miles from their feeding grounds. Tracking devices can be attached to many so researchers can learn more but nothing has yet been invented to stop a fisherman chopping off flippers because they value their nets more than these impressive creatures of the sea. I just hope that all those volunteers, all those children and adults I saw on the beach in Trinidad will somehow get the message of protection across to everyone else. We can all do our bit, recycle, refuse plastic bags and excess wrapping when shopping. Pick up rubbish on the beach, don’t walk past it. Plastic bags are another enemy of all sea creatures especially Leatherback turtles as floating bags look like those large jelly fish they love to eat.
Vessel Name: Tuatara
Vessel Make/Model: Alan Wright 51
Hailing Port: Opua NZ
Crew: Alan and Jean Ward

Sailing in the Pacific

Who: Alan and Jean Ward
Port: Opua NZ