Friday, 15 September 2017
Thursday, 14 September 2017
Sunday, 10 September 2017
We've now had a couple of days across the Arafura Sea with the wind forcing us south into the wide bay until it eventually went east and we gybed out towards New Year Island. It's quite entertaining to be sailing through a landscape of dates, some more memorable than others. Back in the Torres Straits someone even swapped the names of Thursday and Friday Islands so that they would run in sequence with the previous two days of the week.
I have just read "Any Human Heart" by William Boyd in 24 hours. Quite gripping and, on a different intellectual level, a bit akin to "The One Hundred Year Old Man who climbed out of a Window" in its parade of famous people that the central character meets though his life. The very personal insight into one man's hopes, loves, sexuality, mistakes, loneliness and death was rather voyeuristic, but left me feeling very bound up in it. I have a sad feeling that if my life comes down to no more than a series of journal entries, then I should strive to make them as interesting as possible. Carpe diem. When occasionally penned, my private journal rarely dares to be as candid as his. But then it is not intended to sell as a novel. Rare attempts at exploring my feelings on paper leave me aware that I have sown a mine field which an unexpected reader would detonate. This blog is about as candid as I get, normally.
More to the point this reinforces my knowledge that what counts in life is not the journal entries, which provide for later revival of lost memories, but the vibrancy of family and friendships and how one contributes to them. So I apologise, to all who care for my company, for vanishing to sea for two years, and am intensely grateful to everyone who has been able come to share the long blue sea-time of the soul aboard Tin Tin.
Thursday, 7 September 2017
As dawn broke we could see many islets around us, and passed Stephens Islet and wondered whether one of our seafaring relatives had been here before us. About midday Toby caught a large Wahoo on the line, and I decided to anchor at nearby Layoak islet for lunch, where we found a sandy bit through a gap in the coral. Calculating our remains 75 miles I decided to stay there till sunset, so that we would arrive in Thursday Island at dawn.
Mark and Toby swam ashore, but I thought better of entering the water with my bleeding leg wounds in case I attracted sharks. In the last weeks two mosquito bites and two knocks to my shins have gone septic and horrible.....not something that has happened before on the trip.
Ashore Toby found a packet of oat & raisin biscuit washed up which said "Uncle Toby" and so the island has been renamed in his honour! The bird life was interesting, with a hundred frigate birds motionless above the islet in the gale, whilst at sea level a similar number of noddys flocked low searching for food. Mark flew his drone and was attacked by a white bellied sea eagle, getting some spectacular video of the bird. I watched the pair of Eagles fishing, and being mobbed by a cheeky frigate bird trying to steal some food.
We had a moonlit night sail and arrived at dawn as planned, sailing between Tuesday and Wednesday islands, and through a convoluted channel to reach Thursday. Here we anchored in strong wind and tide to await the officials and clear in. This all was very straightforward, but in anticipation of our fruit and veg being taken, suggested that Toby put a big pot of vegetables on to boil.
Once our quarantine flag was down we motored over to a more sheltered spot off Horn Island, and from there we caught a ferry back to TI. The town had a few shops and cafes, a new and high quality local arts and crafts exhibition centre, and a rather drab hotel overlooking the bay. Once we had replenished the fruit and veg stock, and had a few beers at the hotel we caught the last ferry back to the boat at 6pm. We were surprised to see a man sitting in a dinghy tied to Tin Tin and it turned out that he's a single handed sailor with a dodgy outboard motor. When it stopped he was lucky to float past us and grab on before being washed out to sea. He didn't have any oars...... and after two hours waiting was very grateful for a lift back to his boat.
The following day we had a morning excursion to TI and enjoyed the exhibition of art, where I bought a print depicting the winds of the Torres Strait and a CD of local music by Seaman Dan. Then a quick dash to catch the 11:00 ferry before we set off towards Gove and Darwin. Looking around we saw such a diversity of bird life with Australian pelican, ibis, herons, darters, cormorants, plovers, terns in profusion. As we motored out I saw a long light brown body curve through the water and thought of a seal, but then realised it must be a dugong. Toby spotted another a few minutes later.
The tides run fiercely here between the islands and we made 11.5 knots out into the shallow aquamarine Arafura Sea. I set course for Gove, assuming that the strong trades would keep our speed up, but the wind was too light to get to Gove at a sensible time and the following day I decided to alter course direct for Darwin as I can't afford any further days of delay. There are repairs and maintenance to be done before we head off on the 6000 mile trip to South Africa.
Sunday, 3 September 2017
We met Daniel from France, who has been single handing his OVNI36, Goyave, for the last eleven years, and Joao from Portugal who has been cruising for seven years focussing on finding the best surfing. Our social life included an invitation for drinks by long term houseboat resident and sailor, Brian Hall, where we met his neighbour Jeannetta Douglas and a visiting friend, Alyssa. Lots of interesting conversation about PNG; Alyssa's chocolate business sourcing the best flavoured types of plant; Jeanetta's history with her husband establishing a local airline of 30 small planes; Brian's work starting in PNG as District Officer in 1957. He showed us a fascinating movie made on location in 1955 which he said was a pretty accurate portrayal of his life and work there. Justin was awake for the beginning and end of the film!
Our Customs clearance was delayed, by non-appearance of officials on Friday, but Andrew arrived apologetic on Saturday morning, and we were free to set off at about 15:00 to motor to a little island, Morombasa, before leaving at my planned time of midnight. To our surprise, once out of the shelter, the wind was blowing Force 9 (40-50 knots) and we could hardly make headway under engine.
Eventually dropped anchor off a sheltered sandy beach, and Toby swam ashore for a "ciggie". He was welcomed by local residents throwing a birthday party for a sixteen year old girl, roasting a pig in an Umu, over hot rocks. Toby was then taken off in their high speed skiff to the mainland stilt village and shown round, and then brought back with a nice red snapper for supper. Such friendly people!
At 23:00 we raised anchor and, setting a triple reefed Genoa, headed through Basilisk Passage out of the reef into a turbulent sea.
Next stop Thursday Island, Australia in two days. Farewell to the wonderful, friendly Pacific islands we have explored. I hope I can return one day!
Wednesday, 30 August 2017
We caught a nice tuna today, and as it is my day on chef duty I produced a Harissa and sesame coated seared Ahé served with a sun dried tomato, onion and cannelloni bean salad, enlivened by a second salad of thinly sliced cabbage, dressed with sesame oil and cashew nuts sprinkled with cayenne pepper.
For supper I cooked Banana Lime Fish, and marinated the tuna in lime juice, garlic, grated ginger and chilli with chopped bananas. After two hours in the fridge it was quickly pan fried before sealing it in a tin foil package to steam in the oven. (I would have wrapped it in banana leaves and placed these on a hot stone oven, or Umu, if we'd been ashore.) This was accompanied by orange and white sweet potato slices with chopped onions baked in coconut milk. It seemed to get a thumbs up from the crew, and Mark said it was the best tuna he'd tasted, which was nice.
Just before supper we aimed to put up the spinnaker pole to windward in anticipation of a midnight downwind run towards Port Moresby. Unfortunately as we raised the pole the end suddenly snapped off, and shot through the mainsail, leaving a foot long tear. To prevent the rip spreading we quickly rolled the main down to a third reef. Now I hope I can get a spare Harken part flown up to Thursday island , or more likely, Darwin. The sail repair we will try to effect with needle and thread and a bit of spare sailcloth, until we can find a sailmaker.
On investigation the part that snapped had been badly bent at some point, although we can't recall any incident that could have done that. Perhaps it was damaged when we bought TinTin. It was lucky that it happened when it did and not when under full load under sail in a gale, and that no injuries resulted.
Tuesday, 29 August 2017
This morning we have been watching boobies snatching flying fish on the wing. They hover to windward pad of Tin Tin and when we send a flush of fish spurting out of the water they swoop down as a trio flying at the same height as the fish, skimming the waves, hoping to catch one before it folds its wings and dives back in. It was wildly exciting to see such flying skills and the chase inches above the water as they followed the contours of big breaking seas.
The boobies show great perseverance in trying to land on the wildly gyrating mast at nightfall, very rarely managing a brief foothold before sliding off. However at midday we had a more successful visit from a Noddy, with its dark plumage and white coot-like patch on its forehead, about the size of a small dove. It perched on the rail, preening itself unperturbed by us all trying to take its photo. The last time we had a bird sit on the rail was in Colombia during the night of 55 knot winds, whence it was eventually washed off by a big wave which also took our Danbuoy and life belt. Fortunately Emily stayed secured to the boat.
Having chosen to divert a little from our direct course to visit The Loiusades archipelago at the eastern most end of PNG, I was mightily relieved that we managed to arrive at 14:00 with enough time to enter the lagoon and drop anchor for a few hours. Any slower and it would already have been dusk, which would have made it impossible. As always, planning and managing the speed and angle of voyage to be there at the right time is a challenge which is very satisfying if achieved.
During the night we had the alarming prospect of a seeing the lights of large ship bearing down on us with no AIS signal to identify it. I got it tracked on radar and was relieved to see that it would probably pass astern. Nonetheless I called the vessel on Channel 16 to ask if they had seen us, and to ask why they had no AIS (mandatory on vessels over 300 tonnes). The reply in an American accent was " This is Coalition Ship Six. We have you on our screens and will pass two miles astern". Hmmm......a US warship heading north.... I wonder where that's going? Guam probably.
It is exciting and a little nerve wracking approaching land in high seas and low visibility, with rainstorms sweeping through. With Mark at the helm, we found the pass through the reef and sailed through into calmer water. Ahead the outlines of hills were like layers of blue grey through the mist and cloud. As we sailed the 3-4 miles across the lagoon, the nearest hills became clearer with rounded grass covered slopes, and some red earth cliffs. The water's edge below the grass parkland was dark with a margin of trees. A bit Dorset in the mist and drizzle. We cut between various areas of breaking water on reefs, and turned into a bay bounded by high forest to the left, and with the green grass areas to the right. Through binoculars I could just make out occasional thatched huts under the trees along the shore. One or two white skiffs were anchored off the largest village, and we dropped anchor about half a mile off, prevented from getting closer by coral. As well as h
uts we could see a large blue notice board on green lawns under a grove of coconuts, with some more modern buildings behind.
With only a couple of hours before we had to set sail again, we brewed a cup of tea, and, as I'd hoped, were soon visited by an outrigger canoe. This was a bit different from ones we had seen previously with a nicely carved prow, and a platform built on the outrigger supports. The carved top rail was sewn onto the dugout hull, and the methods of securing the outrigger were the usual diagonal struts into the log.
The crew were three tiny boys in filthy T-shirts. The eldest, aged 14, was Julian looked hardly bigger than a six year old, and seemed malnourished. His younger cousin, Paul (12) was even smaller, and little Massaman aged 6 was tiny. All were shivering with cold, and Massaman's teeth were actually chattering. I don't normally invite locals on board, but these boys were up through the gap between dinghy and transom very quickly. Julian spoke excellent English and explained that he attended Greywalls(?) Primary School to which the blue notice board belonged. He told us that both his parents were dead and that he lived with his sister, presumably Paul's mother. He very politely asked if we had an empty plastic bottle with which he could make a bailer to empty his sinking canoe. We found him a tin, and then he asked if there was a biro or pencil he could have. Once these were found, he followed up with a request for a writing book and a rubber. Sadly I had given all of our s
tore of pencils, crayons and exercise books away in Vanuatu. They would have been much appreciated in PNG where I had the impression of much greater poverty. Polite suggestions for other useful things kept coming up, including specs (already given out in Vanuatu), an onion, reading books (none suitable on board). Toby produced an old T-shirt which they appreciated.
Mark had been flying his drone to get an overview of the area, and they clearly knew what it was, waving at the camera, and later being delighted to see themselves on his phone screen. Julian showed good spatial awareness by being able to identify his landscape from the high aerial shots. From the air it was clear that there was a well laid out village out of sight with tin roofed buildings. As they left with handful of sweets Julian gravely gave us a very small coconut, to my surprise saying "this is a hybrid coconut." Should have asked him to explain, but he said it was good to drink. They retrieved their anchor, which was a heavy swivel wheel off a trolley, and paddled back to the village into the teeth of the near gale, looking very tiny and frail.
Another canoe intercepted and then came on to see us. There were two teenagers and a small boy, wearing little more than a large Ivory cross and a silver St. Christopher medallion. The teenagers seemed grey and unwell, with bad skin. Their jagged teeth were dyed deep red from betel nut, which gave the unfortunate appearance of having just dined on the last yachtsman. Raymond, Francis and Nicholas asked if we had any spare T-shirts or clothing to trade, and Toby dug out another one in return for a beautiful necklace handcrafted from little shell beads. Satisfied they said goodbye and paddle home upon which we finished our tea, upped anchor and motored back out to the pass.
As we crossed the lagoon Justin produced an excellent dinner of battered Mahi Mahi, mash and peas which we ate in the shelter of the reef, and then hoisted sail as the sun set at 18:40, and roared off into the boisterous seas making 8-9 knots. Much to Mark's disgust I had to reef in to slow us down a bit to avoid arriving at midnight in Port Moresby, three days hence.
Sunday, 27 August 2017
I woke to another lovely Trade Wind Sunday, with a steady wind and fluffy clouds rolled by. I celebrated with toast and marmalade for breakfast - I've still got one cherished pot of my Trotton marmalade hidden in a locker somewhere. Later that day we clocked up 20,000 nautical miles in Tin Tin - the Earth's circumference is 21,600 nautical miles so we have nearly sailed a full circuit even if we are not home yet.
Justin saw a whale arching through the water today, heading in the opposite direction. Having not got engaged in fishing much on the trip, I found myself gripped by the Cruisers' Fishing Guide, which hitherto had seemed too technical, with most of the first section taken up with detailed equipment specifications. But today I'd started in the back looking for recipes, and then found it very readable on the tricky subject of how to catch fish reliably. We set about applying some of this knowledge, and just as Justin was about to reel in the Yoyo at supper I said " Hang on a moment- this is feeding time". At that instant the line jerked in his hand and he had hooked a nice big dorado, about 4feet long weighing in at 5kg. Toby, who was in the middle of preparing supper quickly incorporated Mahi Mahi fillets into the menu.
I altered course slightly. Northwards towards Tugalu Island in the Louisades, hoping to arrive there at midday tomorrow, and explore briefly before sailing on to Port Moresby. If. We had carried straight on we might have arrived at midnight, so the diversion should avoid that and also give us sight of these interesting islands.
We are crossing a route between Japan and Australia so there have been a couple of ships passing ahead of us today. I called one to reassure myself that they Can see us on AIS - they can.
As night fell boobies began to circle us looking for a perch for the night. We ended up with one on the masthead and one on each of the cross trees, but without much grip and a wildly swaying mast they soon slid off with a squawk! Meanwhile terns circle the boat being very vocal - rather like a rubber toy that squeaks badly when squeezed by Monty dog!
Saturday, 26 August 2017
I have been very engaged with the book that Emma brought me. It is the GCHQ Puzzle Book, and although at first defeating me, I have eventually begun, with help from Justin, to decipher it. My great triumph on night watch was to crack the GCHQ Christmas Puzzle, for which no answers are given the book. If one submits the result to GCHQ it takes you on to another level.
There have been many more birds in evidence today with lovely White Tailed Tropic Birds, and flocks of 20 Sooty Terns circling shoals of fish nearby. Our fishing lines were out hoping to catch a large fish prying on the smaller shoals, and this afternoon that is what happened. Toby was holding the rod as we passed within yards of a swirl of Sooty Terns, and suddenly there was a big strike, and he was fighting to reel in a big fish. Suddenly the rod snapped (sorry Kyle) and Justin leapt to help haul the fish in wearing gloves of course. He and Toby fought the monster for a while, and then the line went dead. As they hauled in the slack it suddenly struck with great force again and the line snapped. Possibly a much larger fish helping itself to the hooked one!
Having said that everything was working smoothly, of course things didn't. Our masthead navigation lights have failed, and then our steaming light. Luckily we still have deck level nav lights. Our six month old batteries, bought in Panama, are also a problem. We installed 450Ah, expecting to get half of that between charges. In fact we only ever got a quarter when new, and this has drifted down to only 50Ah before the voltage is too low to operate equipment. So we have to run the generator every 5 hours at night, although the solar power keeps us going all day. I think a Watt& Sea brand water generator sounds like the answer as, according to various boats we have talked to, it can produce enough power whilst sailing to run everything.
Thinking of you all - do drop us a line on email@example.com
Friday, 25 August 2017
The temperature has warmed up noticeably and it's rather hot and sticky. No more fleece and long trousers on night watch...in fact I even resorted to a blanket in the cockpit a couple of nights ago.
I emailed the Royal Papua Yacht Club in Port Moresby and got a nice reply (albeit with one of those colourful logos that took 4 hours to download!). With more than 3000 members and 130 people living on board their yachts it sounds like quite a busy place. I'm looking at the Louisades, an easterly PNG island group noted for its remote culture, and wondering whether we will make enough time to drop in for a day en route. The wind is expected to pick up strongly tomorrow so I expect we will race along.
Mark served the last of the wahoo as couscous-coated goujons for lunch today - so we need to start fishing again.
Thursday, 24 August 2017
At last we caught our first Wahoo, a long streamlined zebra striped torpedo with a lot of teeth. Justin's latest fishing purchase, a bright red and yellow lure, was successful and Toby had a struggle to haul in the Watamu Yoyo line. Yesterday something big took the hook and all the line on the fishing rod reel......
The catch was timely for Justin's cooking night, and we enjoyed the meaty white flesh served with pumpkin and sweet potatoes.
We have seen a lot more birds today, something that seemed very strangely la King at sea round the islands. The elegant white tailed tropic bird has circled us, followed by brown boobies. Sooty terns in pairs have bounced past with their curiously buoyant wing strokes, and storm petrels have reappeared fluttering across the waves, paddling little black feet in the water as they hover. The look like Leach's storm petrel, with black body, legs and wings, with a white rump patch and some white below the tail, but that isn't meant to be south of the Equator.
Everything seems to be functioning well on board, and we are enjoying Toby's company. He is one of the lucky few who don't get seasick!
As we left Vanuatu I had a crisis moment, fearing that I was making a terrible error not to stay another year in the Pacific. The wind was fair for New Caledonia, and I actually set that course for a while while I thought it over again. In the end I was able to have a long helpful talk with Anne by satellite phone and resolved to stick to Plan A and return to the Caribbean as planned. Now that we are on course towards Darwin I feel happy and contented again, but it was a difficult decision to turn north and leave the magic of the Pacific islands behind.
Tuesday, 22 August 2017
Monday, 21 August 2017
Friday, 11 August 2017
The track up to the highlands was rough and took us through wonderful countryside and villages. Great banyan trees were frequently seen, putting down a forest of roots, often trained to make a room in which men gather to drink kava. As we climbed, the villages had more traditional huts, with woven walls and thatched roofs, with neat compounds and gardens.
At Lowenia, we were invited to join half a dozen other visitors sitting on benches under a shelter at the edge of a clearing with a beaten earth floor. At the far side a group of bearded men hung around wearing nothing but grass penis sheaths. Across from them, under the banyan tree, were bare breasted women, wearing long grass skirts, and displaying handicrafts on mats. Our host was a well spoken educated young woman, wearing a second skirt as a a modest cape, who was the spokesperson for the village. We were entertained to dancing, and invited to join in, stamping feet hard to make the world tremble, and clapping hands at knee level with a sharp cracking noise. Then the men showed us how to make fire, rubbing a stick hard along softer wood to create saw dust which smoked and glowed. Once scooped into wine dried coconut husk fibre it was soon aflame. Having tried unsuccessfully to do this in the Las a Perlas Islands, I was keen to try the technique. Kneeling in the dust and rubbing the stick back and forth with maximum pressure I soon had it smoking.
Before we left we were shown the vegetable gardens, which are very fertile in the volcanic soil. For example, "water taro" produces tubers. One lifts the whole plant and cuts off as many as required and put the plant back in the hole. Kitchen taro is different; one cuts off the whole root, and replant the leafy top! There was also cassava, or tapioca, ground nuts, pumpkin, beans, a kind of bush called spinach and chillies (eaten mainly by the men) and kava.
After buying a little souvenir we were treated to a taste of "lap-lap", a cassava pancake with spinach. It was fascinating to meet these people who lived a peaceful simple life. I worry that exposure to tourism may change their self-perception to that of being a dancing troupe. Clearly some of the younger women were becoming shy about the traditional costume, covering their breasts. The men were friendly, and seemed relaxed and kind to the little children who sat with them or on their laps.
That afternoon we set off to the volcano up a much better road, which rose through the highlands or "MiddleBush", until it reached the ash plain. Along the way we entered a region of dense tree ferns, growing twenty feet high, and later on the ash plain it changed to a yucca-like plant with mangrove-like roots, the pandanus. Eventually the vegetation ended and we raced across the flat expanse of the ash below the volcano, which was rumbling deeply and belching smoke. In a cluster of vegetation we came to the park entrance where we watched a ceremony to placate the volcano, and a dance troupe which clearly did not come from a kastom village, wearing board shorts under their grass skirts.
Then a drive almost to the top of the crater, which we reached with a 10 minute climb up a steep path. Here on the rim the deep noises of the volcano sounded like a giant steel factory, with occasional explosion and deep rumbles that really shook the ground. As light fell we circled the rim to a high point where we could see right down to the glowing vents. There was a constant shower of sparks, with regular explosions that sent boulder sized gobs of molten rock high above us to crash in a shower of incandescence on the crater walls. I watched one above me getting bigger and bigger, and not deviating left or right, and got ready to step smartly out of the way. Thankfully it crashed into the rim below me.
It was a remarkable experience, free of most health and safety restrictions. So free in fact, that despite the supervision, I was concerned that older or younger visitors might lose their footing on the rim and plunge down to the inferno.
Saturday, 5 August 2017
We made landfall in the old capital of Fiji, and cleared in with friendly officials. The old capital is a World Heritage site and preserves its old colonial buildings combined with a clean, fresh painted laid back feel.
From there we sailed north around the main island of Viti Levu for four days, anchoring in various bays but, in the end, never engaging with a village in the sevusevu kava ceremony. We spent one night anchored at the little island of Nananu-I-ra where we went ashore and enjoyed the peaceful low key resort, which was a few modest bungalows, without hot water. However there was a bar, which enabled us to watch the sunset through the palm trees in the approved manner.
We went snorkelling on the reef and found an amazing landscape of corals and fish, unlike any before. Phil was always fishing and consistently hauling in a wide variety of colourful reef fish by day and great long scary fish by night.
A huge fire was burning in the hills, and the thick smoke had been irritating us all the day. Eventually we arrived at Lautoka City, and anchored off the wharf, out of the smoke at last,mouth suddenly beneath the plume of the sugar refinery, which covered us in black ash overnight, from the burning bagasse. Our anchor kept dragging in a strong breeze, and Justin and I stayed aboard while Siobhan led a shopping trip ashore. Eventually we got the anchor to hold as darkness fell, but I had a restless night checking our anchor frequently.
The following day was 26th July and we made it in good time to Vuda (pronounced Vunda) Marina. With a strong crosswind the narrow channel carved through the coral was a bit daunting, but once through to the circular marina pool we were sheltered from the gale and, with the help of the marina launch, easily managed to moor bows to between all the other radially moored yachts.
Vuda was a welcome stop which provided everything I needed for repairs and maintenance. We were able to repair the mainsail and sprayhood, change the water pump on the generator and adjust its tappets, and attend to the chart-plotter which had been getting frozen and then rebooting all the time. We were there for 8 days while we worked on the boat and managed the crew change. We're sad to say goodbye to Phil, who had been so helpful in tackling various mechanical problems en route, and the most amazing fisherman. Then Justin and Siobhan left for a few days on land, and although very sorry to say farewell to Siobhan, we will soon see Justin again in Vanuatu.
Despite our best efforts we didn't manage to get out for any serious exploration of Fiji, as each set of engineers seemed to only be available on different days! However we did get into the neighbouring town of Nadi (Nandi) and Lautoka city, and to save on taxi fares I hired a car which was invaluable for provisioning and other errands. I also bought 23 meters of black netting, from which Mark and I fashioned mosquito nets for each hatch, and for the cockpit, in anticipation of malarial mozzies in Vanuatu and beyond. We found a seamstress in Lautoka, who sewed up all the covers, which I had tacked together to fit.
Vuda also provided a very nice restaurant and bar overlooking the sea and, because we were moored between boats, we soon got to know several of our fellow travellers after the day's work.
On the 2nd of August the McAdie family arrived, and the following day we cleared customs and immigration, filled with fuel and settled all our bills before departing at 14:00. By 17:30 we were heading out through the reef on the 470 mile trip to Vanuatu. As we did so we were delighted to see the super yacht Annatta sailing in. I called on the radio to congratulate skipper, Fabien, who we had met in Papeete. Annatta originally had the tallest mast in the world at 87 metres, but is now the second tallest. She has had a very long time in dock and the crew must be thrilled to be sailing at last.
Friday, 21 July 2017
Thursday, 20 July 2017
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
This shows that we are exactly 180 degrees opposite Portsmouth on the chart, albeit closer to the latitude of Tenerife. Temperature is not at all tropical at 25 degrees and cold enough at night to wear long trousers, jersey and my Musto Ocean jacket!
Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.
Monday, 17 July 2017
I'm on watch at 03:00 and we are approaching the southern Lau group of islands on the eastern edge of Fiji. The quarter moon is giving a dim glow so that I can see the waves as the rise astern. The wind has dropped to 25 knots and to maintain speed I have let out a couple of reefs in the genoa, which is poled out to port as we are rolling along downwind. I'm aiming to arrive at the unlit Oneata Passage just after dawn so that I can see our way through.
It's frustrating that we are forbidden to stop in the outer islands until we have cleared in on the mainland. I may take a chance on a breakfast halt if I can get into the Lagoon at Oneata.
I've been reading the Lonely Planet guide to Fiji (free on Kindle!) and it seems that there is very little contact with the outside world in these remote areas. So quite how the islanders would report my presencevindont know. Butchers is a policeman on Lakeba 20 miles north!
Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.
It's been a rough sail overnight with 30-40knots of wind and large seas which has made a few of the crew rather queasy. But Siobhan served up a Thai curry which was enjoyed. I am trying to control our speed to arrive at dawn at the Oneata Passage through the outer Lau group of islands in Fiji. Beyond that is another 24 hour sail to another unlit passage which would be safer in daylight.
This morning the sun shone and we put out the fishing line on Antony's rod and at midday Mark reeled in a good sized dorado or mahi mahi which raised the spirits of the fishermen!
Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.
Saturday, 15 July 2017
We had a last minute panic whether Customs Official who had promised to be there at 3pm to check us out appeared to have gone home. It being a Saturday I was expecting to pay overtime fees of T$120 so was surprised and dismayed, because it would delay our departure till Monday.
However he had been taken out to a super yacht, and was eventually returned in their big tender to where we were required to be, grinding uncomfortably up and down alongside the commercial dock. For a very large man he was surprisingly agile, and dressed in formal civil service black dress wrapped with a mat and girdled with a rope, all topped off with a hi-viz jacket marked Aus Aid.
After umpteen forms filled we were given our clearance documents and enabled to set sail for Fiji.
Friday, 14 July 2017
Thursday, 13 July 2017
Saturday, 8 July 2017
Then we were amazed to see flying whales, silhouetted above the horizon as they leapt clear of the water before smashing back in a gigantic wall of spray. Again and again they repeated this, and I wished that we could have been closer to see it happening nearby.
Then we were delighted to catch the biggest dorado yet, which Mark struggled to play and wind in. Justin skilfully filleted the fish and that evening served mahi maui with ginger pak choi and noodles.
We eventually found Kelefesia and made our way in rough seas between white water breaking over reefs to drop anchor in a sheltered area behind sandstone cliffs. To our left a pointy promontory reminded us of Gibraltar. This dropped into a fringe of coconuts backed by thick forest before rising again to higher cliffs. A white sand beach stretched out into a sandbar surrounded by pale blue water.
Mark and Philip explored ashore and found some beautiful cowrie shells. Two dogs appeared and, beyond Gibraltar, they spotted a small fishing boat.
The following morning was rainy and grey again, but we snorkelled from TinTin into a magical area of huge columns of coral topped with the broad think plates like acacia trees. Deep between these there were canyons of white sand. I came across a huge colony of pale pink sea anemones which were about 20 feet wide in a shallow dome, with their tentacles gently swaying in the current. One darker anemone near the centre housed a clown fish.
We got rather cold and I produced Lake Soup for lunch to revive everyone. Then while Philip and Mark had another go at solvingbthe generator problems, I went ashore with Siobhan and Justin. We waded round Gibraltar to find a fisherman's camp guarded by the two dogs and a large black pig rooting away under the trees. Fish were hung out to dry on frames, which was rather futile in the rain. Earlier we had watched a little fishing boat set off into rough seas, probably making for the village of Nomuko 15 miles to the north. It seemed a perilous journey for such a snall boat with low freeboard better suited for a calm lagoon!
Our beachcombing trip quickly brought the delight of a large brown speckled cowrie shell and many others of smaller size. We also found large blocks of layered sandstone in the water with deeply carved Tongan names.
Back on board I was ecstatic to find that Phil and Mark had solved both the current leakage from the generator, and also the problem that kept tripping the fuse so that it wouldn't start. That's taken three weeks of great anxiety off my mind!
It was my cooking night so I celebrated by producing an egg, cheese, ham, chilli and garlic potato soufflé cake coated in breadcrumbs. This was served with ratatouille and fresh cabbage steamed with nutmeg, cumin seeds and ginger accompanied by a cold Chilean Sauvignon blanc. Pudding was bananas baked with muscovado sugar and flambéed in Mount Gay rum, served with hot custard sprinkled with nutmeg.
Tomorrow we hope the weather clears for our sail north towards Ha'afeva island.
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Thursday, 6 July 2017
Monday, 3 July 2017
The town has grand government buildings with egg cosy shaped roofs in red, which echo the royal Palace on the sea front, in its intricate Victorian white. Some of the churches also point red spires skywards, giving a themed roof line. The main streets are busy with people and vehicles, but no scooters or bikes. General stores are well stocked with a wide range of goods, and the market has a great variety of fresh produce. Everything seems to be in urgent need of maintenance and repainting,, with a few exceptions which gleam.
We hired a car £15/day and explored to see where Abel Tasman landed in 1643, driving along good roads through well tended villages. Little roadside shops have the fronts barricaded off with grills through which transactions take place, the shelves behind all arranged so that everything can be seen easily, stacked with Punjas Breakfast Crackers, CheeseBalls, and other staples. Roadside vegetable sellers display piles of yams or taro. Dogs wander everywhere, often limping from encounters with cars. Large pigs and their piglets graze the roadside or cross purposefully on a mission. Cows are often tethered under a tree.
Graves are very prominent and colourful in village cemeteries, with big signs proclaiming Happy Fathers Day Papa, quilts or bright cloths draped over the graves or hung on frames. Our explorations took us to the blowholes in coral cliffs where the swell blasted great snorts of spray and millions of tons of water into the air. Further on we found Tonga's Stonhenge, Ha'amomga na Maui, where two massive blocks of coral support a huge cross piece which fits into carved slots. Three avenues radiate through the woods from the stone to the sea, through which the sun shines on 21st June (the shortest day) the Equinox, and the longest day. Two hundred metres away an imposing slab is reputed to be the backrest for the massive blind King who built this in 1200AD, where he could protect his back from assassination attempts, and wave his stick in front of him to keep people at a distance.
Monday, 26 June 2017
Niue had been a lovely few days, where we picked up a mooring off the wharf along with about ten others. Going ashore was an adventure as one had to hoist the dinghy out with a crane to store it on the wharf. A short walk up the hill brought us to the Main Street which seemed crisp and clean, with low buildings widely spaced along its length offering a variety of services. The most impressive service was from Niue whose little office was open 24/7 as it was also the switchboard for the island's 1600 inhabitants. Here one could buy wifi time, and we were impressed with the ease with which it all worked, unlike French Polynesia.
We walked along to the Niue Yacht Club to pay our mooring fees, finding a friendly welcome from Alexi and a charming room full of people reading, doing internet stuff, and enjoying cold beer or wine from the cooler.
Nearby the Niue Visitor Centre was most helpful, ringing car hire companies and offering to drive us there. Eventually we hired a couple of cars for a day and explored the island. I found the roads very charming, although badly potholed, they we overhung with flowering red hibiscus, palm trees and other lush vegetation, and seemed to sway round the coast line without ever trying to be in a particularly straight line. Tracks led down to the oceans edge periodically, descending the coral cliffs to little inlets. In one we found twenty one outrigger pirogues on a slipway, all covered with palm fronds. Some were made of glass fibre, but most were hewn from a tree trunk p, and were dry, thin and light, with the adze marks still evident inside. The outriggers were mostly thin logs, cross braced with thin aluminium tubes to aluminium cross members, and all lashed tightly with thick fishing line. Al had broad bladed paddles, shaped to a sharp point, and one had a Y shaped fishing
We met a boy of about 12 years coming out to practice rugby kicks in front of the blue and white church. Mark chatted to him about the game, and it turned out that he is a Lions fan, and could discuss every game they had played and hold forth on the merits of each player, and critique the strategy. His name is Pele Bourne. Wonderful!
Monday, 19 June 2017
To my surprise I found that the reef was like a short spiral and we curved round into the lagoon through a wide reasonably sheltered channel. Then we motored into the teeth of the gale to an indicated anchorage position just inside the reef, where the water changed from Bombay Sapphire in 12metres to pale aquamarine in 3metres over white sand.
Our anchorage was secure, if a little choppy and buffeted by the endless roar of surf and wind, and we stayed for the night.
Despite the gale we took the dinghy right up to the reef edge to snorkel, and were very glad we did. The water was so clear that s the vital watermaker has slowed from 90litres an hour to 30litres. So today Mark is running a full cleaning programme with alkali and acid solutions and I hope to see it restored.
Next we set sail for Niue, 120 miles directly downwind in this game, before heading to Tonga. It looks as though this wind will remain unabated for the next week, so it will be a rough ride.
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Sunday, 18 June 2017
We had refilled the boats tanks from our diesel cans and were lucky to get help from Aquila who took me to his gas station to refill 260 litres and then delivered me back to the dock. People are so kind!
Now after three windy says of sailing in big 4metre waves we are approaching Beveridge reef which has been recommended for a stopover en route to Niue. However it's not an atoll but a semi submerged ring of coral, reputed to have an entrance to a lagoon with great snorkelling. However with the cold wind from the South and vigorous weather and big seas I am reserving judgement till we get there. The challenge has been to time arrival to be in good daylight. Above 7 knots we would arrive on Day3 or we'd need to go slower at 5 knots and arrive on Day4. So far it's been a mix of 5 to 10 knots and I think we should be there mid afternoon on Day 3 in 10 hours time.
We are back into our watch regime with Emily and Julien taking one together. The quality of cooking has been amazing. Last night it was too wet to eat in the cockpit so we had the rare pleasure of sitting round the saloon table. It felt véry civilised even though the boat was surging along at maximum speed in big waves and it was hard to keep the food on the plate!
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Monday, 12 June 2017
I have been reading the Journal of Captain Cook as he made his way to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus across the sun in 1769. Mostly he notes weather, and navigational issues such as position fixed by the sun and moon and stars. Occasionally a sailor falls overboard and is drowned, but no one gets scurvy due to his insistence that everyone eats the antiscorbutic diet of sauerkraut and where possible fresh vegetables. To get the sailors to eat it he first serves it only to the captains table and then of course everyone wants it. Once in Tahiti his journal becomes much more interesting in his careful description of the people he meets and their customs.
Having read so much about Cook's astronomical observations I got out our two sextants today and Julien and I practiced taking sun sights. However the process of calculating the sight reductions to get our position still requires considerable study and practice.
After three days sailing the wind has come dead ahead, and then died so, much to our frustration, I resorted to the engine in order to keep to arrive at Aitutaki in daylight. After seeing no one for days we were called on the radio by yacht Salty, and spoke to Nic and Donna, who had supped with us a few nights ago. They are not visiting the Cook Islands because the cost of administration is significant, and hence are sailing on awaiting better weather to head west. I have budgeted NZ$500 just for the formalities of clearing in and clearing out of port authorities.
As I write the wind has backed to the south and the engine is at last silent as the boat heels to a freshening breeze, or maybe as Cook put it - a Genteel breeze.
Talking about Cooks, Julien demonstrated an iron constitution by cooking a delicious lasagne in rough conditions, heeled hard over in a horribly lumpy wave pattern. I still find that I get a bit hot and queasy when cooking.
Thursday, 8 June 2017
Wednesday, 7 June 2017
As Emily and Julian were going to be off scuba diving we pumped up a second dinghy so that they could be independent. Mark and I had various things to deal with in the yacht club, while it poured with rain, and then after a bite to eat we sped round to the town to find the gendarmerie, where I spent a long time filling in forms to leave the country. With luck they will al be approved tomorrow so. That we can leave on Thursday morning for The Cook Islands. However it necessitated scooting back to the yacht club to photograph and email the documents back to Papeete, to a generally unresponsive harbour master. By the time that was over it was nearly 5 pm.
Meanwhile Emily and Justin met Nic and Donna - all thirty somethings- and we ended up having supper together on board TinTin, which was great. They are absolutely inspirational adventurers, and for the last seven years have cycled from California through South America, crossed Mongolia alone on horseback for six months, and motorbiked from Malaysia to the UK. Now they are sailing from South America to Australia and are keen on getting their on boat to explore further and even raise a family on board. Extraordinary!
On our left the thin strip of inhabited land slid by, with the coast road linking communities. Behind it rose the mountains up to 550 meters, cloaked in various textures of green. The acacia trees give a wonderful layered mantle to the slopes, with elegant white trunks showing bright and dividing into an fan of pale branches under each canopy. Then there are feathery trees that climb the hills giving patches of grey green vertical texture. Amongst these there are patches of vivid green from a broad leaf tree, that make a vibrant scalloped surface. Along the coast, and occasionally in clusters that venture up the scalloped valleys, rise the palm trees, shiny In the bright sunlight, with yellowish green leaves and highlights of orange at the focus of the fronds where the nuts cluster.
Our course was well marked by red and green beacons warning of dangerous coral heads, but for much of the to ewe we in inky blue water 100 feet deep. Looking out to the reef where the swell rears up and then curls over in a long tube of collapsing surf, it amazed me that all that energy is dissipated by the coral fringe, and no hint of swell disturbs the lagoon, despite the furious deep roar of the ocean hurling itself into foam. While we sailed Mark zoomed around in the dinghy taking photos.
Having navigated safely round to the next pass we dropped anchor for lunch in 10 feet of pale blue water over white coral sand. Across the reef beyond some Palm clad motus, or reef islands, the astonishing shape of Bora Bora rose in a jagged peak to 750 meters, seeming close and huge despite being over twenty miles away.
Knowing that we need to be in harbour whilst still light, we hurried out to sea, and with a fair wind of 16 knots raised the spinnaker and were soon making 6.5 knots in the right direction, rapidly overhauling a large catamaran ahead. We hadn't put the spinnaker up for ages, so Mark took to the dinghy again to get some rare shots of us with the ParaSailor up as we approached Bora Bora.
I felt relaxed enough to enjoy sketching the approaching island, which was a dramatic study in greys and indigo shadows under orange-grey clouds and curtains of rain, with intense evening sunshine breaking through the gloom to light a path on the water.
Just before sunset we motored through the wIde pass into the lagoon and picks up q mooring at the Bora Bora Yacht Club. It was my turn to cook, and as rooted through cupboards and lockers seeking inspiration until I ended up making a lightly spiced couscous topped with butter roasted asparagus and followed by a lemon sponge cake served with Fromage blanc and apple purée. The unused tins of spinach, sweet corn and a fig compote remained on the side to puzzl the rest of the crew.