13 August 2019 | En route to Tonga
07 August 2019 | En route to Niue
02 August 2019 | Rarotonga
02 August 2019 | Avatiu, Raratonga
27 June 2019 | Cooks Bay, Moorea
11 June 2019 | South Pacific Ocean
11 June 2019 | South Pacific Ocean
08 June 2019 | South Pacific Ocean
03 June 2019 | South Pacific Ocean
31 May 2019 | South Pacific Ocean
30 May 2019 | South Pacific Ocean
29 May 2019 | South Pacific Ocean
28 May 2019 | South Pacific Ocean
Sailing with Whales!
18 August 2019 | Tonga
Especially for Nikki Foot our position at the moment (which should also be shown on the Sailblogs map) is 21.07.51S 175.09.71W
We had a pleasant but slightly frustrating crossing from Nieu to Tongatapu. On the one hand it was warm and dry and we a beautiful full moon to guide us through the night - and fabulous broad reach sailing in 15 knots of wind in the day time but sadly the wind would die after 10pm and only start to fill in pre dawn. This meant is was going to be touch and go whether we would get into Nuku Alofu before nightfall - as it turned out we sailed through the Pia Passage under spinnaker with whales breaching all around us. The pilot book told us to be wary of the Pia Passage as currents can run up to 4 knots and there are a few dog legs to be wary of. Fortunately the breeze held and we handed the spinnaker before sunset and anchored off the main town just as night fell at 1900 hours but having lost a full day as we have now crossed the Date Line to enter Tonga. Tonga's motto is 'Where Time Begins'! As we were approaching Tongatapu I called repeatedly on channel 16 on the VHF to try to get hold of customs to see if we were able to clear in that evening - Friday - as we feared they would be closed for the weekend and without clearing customs we would be unable to step ashore which would be extremely irritating! There was a NZ yacht who had arrived just ahead of us and after some discussion we decided to anchor just outside the harbour and try again first thing in the morning.
We went into rather a challenging harbour at 8am - whilst it was deep enough it was very unclear where you could tie up we did consider going alongside the ocean going tugs as Stephen thought that might attract some attention! There was an option of doing a med stylei mooring onto a grassy verge but we were put of by the sight of a mast sticking out of the water and nothing else just where we thought we might go! Eventually we decided to go alongside a fisherman's rather rusty key - luckily on the dock was an enthusiastic local taxi driver who was keen to get our business. It appeared that Customs do not operate a VHF radio they only respond to telephone calls - all well and good but no yacht can a local phone signal without first going ashore to get a local sim card. The satellite phone wouldn't work as we had no idea what the code was so thankfully our friendly taxi driver called them on his phone and persuaded them to come to us even though it was a saturday. By this time we had two other yachts that we knew alongside us also waiting to clear so they had a busy morning! We were then visited by a selection of enormous, but delightful, Tongans representing Customs, Health, Immigration and lastly environment. By this stage, we seem to have understood the system (contrast with the Galapagos) and ended up with the environmental person taking our garbage bag and nothing else. We now know to have no fresh fruit or vegetables on boat and have only cooked meat and mark everything else including alcohol as 'ships stores'. Sadly the young guys on the Danish boat next door weren't quite so lucky and lost of huge bag of onions and a fridge full of fresh fish!
Brian and Penelope left the boat after being cleared by customs and are continuing their travels in Fiji and Ethiopia., where they at least shouldn't need oilskins! Stephen and I then took off with Inoke our friendly taxi driver to explore the town and more importantly to fill our depleted gas bottles. Inoke also does a laundry service so three large bags were also given to him at a fraction of the price of laundry in Bora Bora - the laundry costs in Bora Bora were significantly in excess of the value of Stephen's clothes .... he is now rescuing various items from the rag bag to wear, and we washed everything by hand there! We then went round the fascinating markets full of interesting fruit and veg we hadn't seen since Tahiti. Fantastic whale bone and wood carvings and tapa (cloth made from wood) which forms an essential part of Tongan dress. The national dress of Tonga is a skirt called tupena, worn ankle length by women and knee length by men, in addition women wear a highly decorated waistband of sort of tapa or string known as a kikie. On formal occasions or curiously also when working both men and women wear a taovala - a woven mat tied at the waist with a woven sennit cord. This dress is also school uniform with the tupenas being blue but generally they seem to be black. The taxi driver said this was if they had a recent death in the family but as far as we could tell they were nearly all black! On Saturday night another boat came and rafted up alongside us - this time it was Australians James and son Sean from Love Child whom we hadn't seen since they were clearing a poo pipe in Shelter Bay , Panama. Lots of catching up on routes, highlights and dramas!
Tonga is a very religious country and literally everything shuts down, and even on Saturday there is a lot of preparation for Sunday everyone seemed to be busy with garden rakes and when we remarked upon this they said they were preparing for Sunday! All children seemed to be either raking or playing with rugby balls! We decided to go to church and after our recent experience at the protestant church in Rarotonga where we had absolutely no idea what was going on, we opted for the large catholic church just across the road. Everyone was in traditional dress and the singing was beautiful, the service was led by a rather charming cardinal, and although we couldn't understand the language the format was very familiar and gave us an incredible insight into the culture of these wonderful people from the 'Friendly Isles'!
We leave you know having barbecued a spatchcock chicken just of Big Mama's Yacht Club on the tiny island a mile off the town. This is a south pacific paradise!!!
13 August 2019 | En route to Tonga
Our last blog described our water ingress and how we managed to fix it. This one focuses on one of the most delightful places, with the most delightful people, we have come across in our travels.
It started at 0730 on our first morning, when we had a huge humpback whale breach about 50 yards away from us in the mooring field. Next at 0800, the commodore of the Niue Yacht Club (who also doubles as one of the islands chief tour guides) was standing on the dock wall with fresh bread and croissants for our breakfast. When we eventually got the outboard running (it had been soaked in salt water once too often), we collected them and arranged clearance into the island. Rather than us have to slog off to the officials, they came to the town key and we sat in their van to complete admin procedures. It took 10 minutes. After that, Keith (the commodore) took us on a mini tour of the island - introducing us to the Yacht club, getting us a hire car and pointing out all the main spots on this island.
He was also able to point out some of the damage from the last cyclone that struck the island - about 15 years ago - which destroyed the actual club and much else besides. The island is still getting to grips with this calamity, coping with fact that all Niueans hold NZ passports and so there is mass emigration and they cannot get insurance on the island any more. The cyclone itself had sustained wind speeds in excess of 300 km/h, and was throwing boulders of a couple of tonnes up the cliff face (about 100 feet) and destroying everything it landed. All quite sobering.
We spent the rest of that friday clearing up the boat, fixing leaks and recovering from our passage. By the evening, we were ready to go ashore and this was our opportunity to use the dinghy lift on our own for the first time. Even in calm weather, getting out of the dinghy is challenging due to the huge surge. You cannot leave a dinghy tied up there (for the same reason) and so there is a small crane that everyone uses to take dinghies out and leave in the car park. When you come to leave, you simply reverse the process. By the time we got ashore, the recommended restaurant was full and, being friday night, probably would have meant being very late, so we went to the local Indian restaurant. there we met Raj, our 8 year old waiter. We ordered some food, which Raj decided wasnt really what we wanted and substituted what he considered to be a better starter. He was right, but probably should have told us what he had done. When he took the order for our main courses, he asked if we wanted it mild, medium or spicy. Feeling slightly tentative, we asked for the medium. Raj was appalled that none of us would take on a spicy one and looking me fair and square in the eye simply said "scaredy cat", That did not move our decision, and we think it was wise - or the movement could have been more ours!
On Saturday we started our round island tour by car - getting to a village on NE side of the island at 0730 - we were told it would be over by 0800. Really fun to see all the locals out in the annual market. There were more land crabs for sale than we have ever seen before and lots of arts and crafts things. Unable to get breakfast there (it was a full blown meal or nothing) we travelled back to the main village for one of the best breakfasts we have had. Suitably fortified was went an aamaznig array of caves, snorkelling venues around the coast and eventually ended up back on the boat as it was getting dark.
That evening, i thought we should donate one of our old burgees to the Niue Yacht Club, and wishes to mark on the flag some indication of our gratitude etc. I took an indelible pen and wrote my words onto the flag without realising how threadbare the flag actually was. It can only be described as unfortunate that the chart of the S pacific Ocean was under the flag at the time of its engraving. Distinguishing between newly formed atolls in this highly volcanic part of the world and indelible marking on the chart will, no doubt, provide lots of amusement and head scratching as we head to NZ.
Sunday was much the same, but included treks through rainforest, views of caves and a small Oasis that had been formed after one of the recent cyclones. We were supposed to take the hire car back on Sunday evening - but were told to keep it so we could do a shop in the supermarket on Monday morning. As it turned out, we paid for a 2 day car hire, picked up the car on Friday evening and returned it mid morning on Monday. The car hire people were just grateful we could pin point the nasty noise from the steering.
On Monday, we took the boat out for a spin around to check that we had dealt with our leak (yes!) and then had a boat day. In the evening, we had suggested to the Yacht Club that we might use their building for an impromptu drink between all the yachts in the bay. They countered and told us they would get the BBQ working and so we ended up with a pot luck supper as well.
And so now it is back to sea again. We left at 0900 this morning and reckon that our trip to Tongatapu will take about 55 hours. There is little wind at moment, but it is forecast to fill in. It does at least give us the opportunity to charge up batteries and get some sleep. Once in Tonga we will pick up Charlie and Fergus and then head slowly North.
Safe in Niue
11 August 2019 | Niue
Our last Blog was written immediately after we had left Rarotonga en route for Niue. What we didnt comment on in our last message was about the harbour in Aviatu. It was quite the most uncomfortable one that I have been in for a very long time - with a big surge coming even in pretty calm weather. The surge would then bounce off the sea wall and reflect back into the harbour. That meant that the bow and stern were slamming continually for the first three days of our stay and only stopped when the wind died completely. The slamming gave us a few uncomfortable nights on board - but more serious implications came out later.
The trip overall to Niue was difficult to say the least. First of all we had no wind for nearly 24 hours and made slow progress - our first 24 hour run of less than 120 miles. On the second night, the autopilot failed - yet again - and we were back to manual steering. Nothing we could do that night made any difference and it wasnt until the morning that we discovered that one of the cables to the drive unit had parted in all the rain we had had. Once found, it was quickly repaired. Problem one dealt with.
Then it started to rain and got cold. So cold that the only difference between sailing here and in the North Sea was the colour of the sea and the fact that the nearest land (excluding the sea bed) was about 200 miles away. By that point we hadnt located all of our wet weather since putting it away after the Atlantic crossing. So we just got wet and cold.
The following day - by which time we were just under half way to Niue we found rather a lot of water sloshing around in the bilges. The float switch on the automatic bilge pump had evidently not worked - meaning that the pump wouldnt trigger - and this seemed fine as we could drain the bilges quite quickly. At that stage nothing to worry about. About 1/2 hour later, Grace reported that there was a lot of water sloshing around down below. This was more than a case of the bilge pump not working. We clearly had a major leak somewhere, which was a serious threat to us all. We had no idea where it was coming from and could have ended with us sinking. We knew we hadnt hit anything (whale, containers, logs etc etc) so no obvious source of a problem.
That evening we joined the SSB Radio net - which links together yachts doing the same thing as us - and found that the best reception we got was from two of the yachts about 2000 Nm away from us. We reported our difficulties and between the net, they passed on our challenges to the local coastguards in Tahiti and New Zealand. As we were getting to the limit of French Polynesia, the radio station in NZ took over responsibility for arranging any consequent search and rescue operation in the event that we might sink. We werent actually calling a MayDay, but pretty close to it.
Our main problem was that we didnt know where the leak was coming from. We checked all the skin fittings and they were all fine. ie anywhere there was a hole in the hull to let water in/out - which would include the galley sink drain, loo inlets and outlets, engine/generator cooling water intakes etc etc. there was no problem with any of them. there was no clunking around the keel, so no evidence of keel bolt failure and so the options were either then the ingress was either catastrophic failure of the hull or something happening at one end of the boat or the other. Not knowing was a major worry for us.
What was equally a major worry for the rescue authorities (they were on Mayday standby) was that we then had a problem with our SSB. I can now admit that this was pilot error (I hadnt realised that we had jumped off the Upper Side Band and were on AFB instead) and thought we were transmitting when we werent. It was only the following night when I was on the radio and Grace asked me to double check that we had all the right settings on the new frequency that i realised we were not broadcasting at all. I corrected the "mode" on the radio and heard a blaze of "where is Water Music/ has anyone heard from them since the problem was broadcast". You could hear the sighs of relief when we were able to break in and stress that we were OK. Interesting to note that our signals were best picked by yachts as far away as North of Hawaii and West of Australia - a range of some 4000 miles. Fortunately NZ coastguard were also listening and so they knew we were OK. We agreed to report in to them on an hourly basis to assure that we were still surviving.
Our pumps worked and were able to contain the leak - although we couldnt find it. The pumps consisted of the boat's automatic pump (we knew the automatic bit wasnt working, but the pump was), a handheld bilge pump and an electric crash pump. So we knew we were OK. Things did get worse as we started to sail faster - but at least that meant we were getting to safety quicker. We also knew that we were being monitored by rescue services, so if we needed to abandon ship the NZ authorities (albeit some 1500 Nm away) had some vague idea of where we were. We also knew that a yacht bound for Niue from Palmerston Island (also in the Cooks) was only 100Nm away. So the chances of rescue from our liferaft were reasonably good.
To cut a long story short, you will imagine our relief when, just before sunset, we saw the distinct shape of land as we approached Niue. It looked like we were going to make it after all. At that point we were being monitored by the Puddle Jump network, the NZ authorities, the police, yacht club and rescue services in Niue. The latter were on the point of launching their rescue boat for us.
At 2300 local time (most people are asleep by 2000) we were guided in to a mooring buoy off the main village in Niue by one of the concerned yachts in the bay. The relief was enormous as we were still taking in water and having to trigger the electric pumps almost continuously. A huge sigh of relief followed that we could now swim to safety if need be and so we reached for some food and the whisky bottle. Food - I forgot to mention that at the height of the crisis we had a double tuna strike on both fishing lines. By the time we landed them one was drowned (when we knew would live, it tasted delicious) and we threw the other one (still alive) back.
No sooner had we stopped moving, the ingress of water also stopped. The bilge was dry and remained dry throughout the night. Not only did that mean we got a night's sleep, but it also meant that the problem could not be in the hull, but had to be at one end or the other - which would only be under water when the boat was moving.
The following morning, we filled the watertight anchor compartment with sea water. It held and so we knew the problem was at the back of the boat. Brian (the oppressed bosun) stripped out the lazarettes and immediately found a split 2" pipe. This pipe was underneath a 20l gerry can of diesel that had been bouncing around on top of it in Rarotonga and had severed it. The pipe was designed to take any gas leak straight out of the boat - as it turned out it was acting as an open hole in the bottom of the boat.
Fixing it, once diagnosed, took very little time. We had the spare pipework on board and were able to fix the problem. We now have a great many friends to thank throughout this trying period.
The next blog will describe in more detail the wonderful reception we have had in Niue - from officials, yacht club and fellow yachties.
We are delighted to be here - not just because it is such a beautiful place. We are also in awe of the reach and breadth of the rescue services and fellow yachties as to how far they will go to provide help and assistance.
From a skipper's perspective, I know i have made mistakes. the only answer I have had from officials has been "that is what we are here for" and from fellow yachties "you would do the same for us"...
Back at sea again
07 August 2019 | En route to Niue
After a week in Aviatu on Raratonga it was time to move on again. Our timing on the capital of the Cook Islands could not have been better as we had arrived some 24 hours after some new friends from NZ (Ross & Cindy Sutherland) who had a guest house on Raratonga and knew it really well. In addition to having people to show us around, we arrived at the beginning of a week of celebration leading up to Flag Day - which celebrates independence. That meant that there was dancing and singing every night in the Cook Island National Stadium - a 30 minute walk from the harbour. The crew were in their element and went three times in the space of a week - leaving Stephen to deal with a stomach bug that he had contracted. The dancing was again very different to what we had got used to in French Polynesia and showed what we understood to be much stronger connections with the modern Maori and less to do with the French Polynesian. In addition to the cultural events, we found cafe's, bars ad even restaurants that were even open in the evening. This would be our first (other than in Papeete) pretty much since leaving Galapagos some 4 months ago. To add to the general feeling of arriving back in the W world, there were well stocked supermarkets (even selling something called Marmite) and a couple of very good wine shops. That supermarket in Panama was a long time ago! We also had the chance to drive around the island, climb up to a waterfall and get bitten by lots of mosquitos.
Our last afternoon was spent watching the racing at Raratonga sailing Club - fortunately won by our host, Ross, & then back to their house for a bbq in the evening. The conversation flowed fully about the wonderful places we would see in Tonga, Fiji and finally in NZ. With each passing story of adventures in store, Grace was showing increased signs of anxiety. Stephen - as ever - completely oblivious to these as he has become completely accustomed to them. It too our host to comment - "Stephen, you seem to be sailing everywhere with the handbrake on. Why not let the handbrake off and have some fun...." The skipper has no idea what he was referring to.
On the Sunday morning, we went to the Cook Island Christian Church for their weekly service in the oldest church on the islands and the original one founded by the Missionary Society. A great display of the .locals in the finest - but a pity that we couldnt really take part in the service as we were tucked away upstairs with the other visitors.
Immediately afterwards, we set sail into very little wind - heading for Niue. This, we understand, is the smallest island state in the world - measuring some 60km around the outside of the island. It is some 600 Nm mile away and should take us 4 days - if we get any wind.
02 August 2019 | Rarotonga
Thank you to everyone who has pointed out that we haven't changed the date on the blogs!
We are now in Rarotonga which is like a different world from French Polynesia New Zealand style bars and restaurants everywhere, coffee shacks, lots of NZ tourists and second homes, spas, gyms and yoga studios. We've been incredibly lucky to have met Ross and Cindy who have a guest house on the beach in Bora Bora as they have been wonderful on the local knowledge and finding the sail maker and fabric to get the mainsail repaired again!
We couldn't have arrived on a better week as it is the Maeva Nil festival which is the equivalent of the Haeva here. So we are about to embark on our third night of dance performances . Brian is now an expert on all steps and also an authority on the competition categories!
We are still very much in Polynesian culture although the second language is now English rather than French and Cook Islands Polynesian is different from French Polynesian although phonetically quite similar. Our language skills have stretched to Kia orana for hello and meitaki for goodbye, and moana for ocean (the name of an awful lot of boats here!) One thing that is the same here is the tradition of burying your deceased family in your garden in enormous elaborate graves which are often equal in size to the house, and then usually a further house and further graves are put on the plot, estate agents are few and far between as Polynesians are generally against selling their ancestral home and can trace ownership back hundreds of years, although some if the big hotel chains have sufficient cash to persuade some to sell they often have a grave yard to protect in the contract.
Our journey here was quite rough and uncomfortable but the wind has now died so sadly we have decided to miss out on Palmeston island and head straight for Niue a approx 4 night crossing then another hop to the northern Tongan islands. This will be a disappointment to some ex Palmeston residents who have been active in engaging with us on the dock trying to persuade us to transport various goods or people back there! It is an unusual island everyone is descended from a William Masterton who had three wives and fathered 26 children and divided the island between the 3 branches of his family, the middle one being in charge!
Some Land Time
02 August 2019 | Avatiu, Raratonga
The last blog saw us safely inside the reef at Maupiti - some 30 Nautical miles to West of Bora Bora. It was an exciting entrance into the pass - some 30 yards wide, a strong current and a dog leg in the middle - and we were wondering what the passage out would be like. We found out!
With High Water at 1200, that should have been the best time to leave as, on the face of it, there should have been no ebb current through the pass. That would have meant far less swell on the pass and we wanted to avoid as far as possible as any ebb was going to be met by the full force of the South East Trade winds - which admittedly hadnt started blowing by that stage. On further investigation, it appeared that at slack water through the pass, there is about 3-4 knots of ebb flowing already and so we decided to leave early in the expectation of picking up some foul tide in then pass. Whilst this would have slowed us down, at least the sea would have been going in the same direction as the wind and so the height of the swell much less. As it turned out, it was a good decision. We still had a couple of knots of ebb current (3 hours before HW) and they kicked up substantial standing waves of about 5-6ft. It wasnt the height that was exciting - more the fact that they were pretty much vertical. After an exciting 25 minutes we popped out into the Pacific Ocean once more and breathed a collective sigh of relief that we had done our last pass in French Polynesia.
The sail down to Rarotonga was fast but very wet. With between 20 and 25 knots of wind most of the way, it didnt take us long to discover a new weak point in the aging mainsail and so we had to shorten sail down to 3 reefs. (this has now been repaired again and, in doing so, we had to use some old sail material with a sponsor logo on it. Photos to follow...) At one point it got so wet that the autopilot gave up altogether - we believe this time down to dampness in the cables- and so we resorted to manual steering (again!). every time we thought we were just about to dry out, a big wave would come over from the side and go straight down the hatch. Cushions, bedding, pillows, clothes etc all soaked in salt water......
We did manage to get the fishing lines out. In no time at all, the new rod had caught some tuna. Sadly it turned out to be the tin that our lunch had come from. Unperturbed by that, we continued fishing and got a double strike. One dropped off and we were just about to land the second one (a treasonable size tuna) and we lost that one as well. So back to Lamb stew, beef stew and lots of different pasta dishes. Life at sea is not always that hard.
After three wet nights and a squirt of WD40 for breakfast, the autopilot started working again. That was just in time to see Raratonga in the distance and help us in to the small harbour. Avatiu is a delight - although the harbour itself is possibly one of the worst i have been into. A constant swell runs into the bay - meaning that we anchored off with lines ashore and bounced around all the time. Even at the time of writing, the wind has dropped to nothing and there is still swell in the basin. Where does it come from?
Rarotonga - in spite of the harbour - is a delight and very different to anything we have seen before. Still Polynesian, but with a very strong New Zealand flavour. Cafe's and bars everywhere and things going on in the evening as well. They even have a couple of large stores selling a wide variety of wines - so for the first time since Panama, we can stock up on a few bottles of wine and replenish our depleted stock of Chilean white (the red ran out long ago). Our timing has been fortunate as we seem to have arrived in the run up to Constitution Day celebrations and that means dancing competitions every night in the main stand in the Islands. We are all making the most of our land time - using Ross & Cindy's Guest house on the other side of the island for laundry etc.
With no wind, we have decided to stay here until Monday and then leave directly for Nuie. that will mean we miss out on Palmerston Island - but the alternative would end up with us motoring for most of the 600 miles on to Nuie. So tonight we go to the finals of the dance competition, tomorrow we go to the fruit market at dawn and then to the local sailing club. Sunday is probably church and an explore of the island.