Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Friday, 15 September 2017

Watch "The Horror of the NightWatch" on YouTube

Here, rather belatedly, is my picture story drawn on the Atlantic crossing in response to a challenge by Rebecca

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Wonderful outrigger canoes

In Erromango i was delighted with the large number of beautifully made outrigger canoes. Children came to welcome us when we anchored but there was no pestering or any request for gifts.  Every household had a canoe and they were in constant use, out fishing with lines, or laying out seine nets.

Canoes are made from rhe large white-trunked trees seen throughout the forested hillsides. They are soft wood easily worked, and these days the slot is cut with a chainsaw before traditional adzes are used.. i was pleased to find that the outriggers are supported with grown "knees" using plants with an appropriately angled root.   The canoes are generally painted to preserve them, but we saw lovely new ones in fresh wood. Paint is something people would appreciate as a gift here..

Sunday, 10 September 2017

New Year Island & the long blue sea-time of the soul.

We finally crossed the Gulf of Carpentaria and rounded Cape Wessel, that long low finger of aboriginal land pointing north like a knife. The wind had dropped to a steady 18-20 knots and we flew the Parasailor until supper time, hauling us along steadily at a great pace as we gazed at the sandy shores and low cliffs topped by the tall tower of the lighthouse. I'd contemplated flying the "kite" during the clear moonlit nights, but it's just as well we didn't as it blew up to 30+knots and it takes at least three to get it down safely.

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

Across the Arafura Sea

We entered the reef strewn waters of the Torres Straits at night, rounding Eastern Cay in big following seas, and then welcoming the flatter water in the shelter of the Great Barrier Reef. I wasn't sure what level of shipping we would encounter, but in the event there were relatively few, and we sailed just outside the channel to keep clear.

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

Meeting the Locals in PNG

We had a busy couple of days at the Royal Papua Yacht Club, getting the mainsail repaired and trying to source parts to repair the spinnaker pole, and to order new nylon bearings for the swivelling mast track, downloading tide tables, charts etc

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

Breaking Bad!

It's lousy weather. Grey, rainy, strong winds, steep seas and the current against us makes them even steeper. The curious thing about ocean currents is that there are well established streams that should help to shove you along in the right direction, but which in our experience set in the opposite direction. So the South Equatorial Current which is meant to sweep westwards and up the Gulf of Papua seems to be in reverse.

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

Fish and Ships

When Justin took over the watch from Toby and me at 03:00 this morning he was suddenly thrust into the busiest shipping channel we had seen since Panama, with seven ships closing on us from north and soup through a narrow reef channel that provides a short cut between Australia and Japan. We called the 280 foot long Yasa E Mehmet to make sure they were aware of us, because with our speed varying from 7 to 9 knots in the gusts, our closest point of approach was often less than a tenth of a mile. In the event they passed just under a mile ahead, but their lights could be seen either side of our bow, and I stood by with Justin to change course if it all got too close.

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.

Encounter with the Natives

The Louisades, Papua New Guinea 28 August 2017

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

Badly Balanced Boobies

Last night I had a lovely satellite phone call to St. Mawes, finding that Anne and all our four daughters, their partners and our six grandchildren were there for the week. The weather sounded absolutely glorious, and it was easy to close my eyes and imagine the scene hanging over the wall above Tavern Beach to watch the Toppers, Oppy, canoe and other boats being happily paddled, sailed and capsized all over the bay.

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

Ferocious fish

After a full 24 hours with the Parasailor flying, it feels like the perfect sail for these conditions. The wind, almost dead astern, is blowing 12-8 knots and the spinnaker flies steadily without flapping or collapsing. The seas are pretty smooth which helps. An increase in wind is forecast for late tomorrow, so I shall risk flying it another night I think. However with only one person on night watch it can be a problem if it needs to come down, so another crew member has to be woken.

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 paul@myiridium.net

Friday, 25 August 2017

Flying the Parasailor across the Coral Sea

The wind had dropped a bit overnight, so after breakfast we furled the White sails and got out the Parasailor. With 17-22 knots of wind it set perfectly and we picked up speed behind its straining bulge, with the big orange smile of the parafoil holding the spinnaker wide.

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


Two days out from Vanuatu, and we are sailing directly downwind towards Papua New Guinea. The wind is brisk and we have our sails goose winged in 25 knots, giving us between 6-7 knots towards our goal. We've been swept south a bit by 1 knot of current too.

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

Ambrym Dancers


Last experiences in Vanuatu

Our route took us to Havannah Bay, and then as the sun set we sailed out through the fringing islands for the sail north to Malekule and the Maskelyne Islands.  We had a brisk wind astern and made good speed to arrive after breakfast.  My first choice of anchorage was rather too exposed, so we tucked in behind Awae Island, where we soon met people paddling their canoes to and from their gardens or fishing grounds.  

The following day we set off the 30 miles to Ambrym Island which was clearly visible with stream issuing from its three volcanoes.

From Ambrym, where we witnessed traditional dancing, and enjoyed sharing kava in the evening with locals, we set off again to Malekule Island.  Here we anchored off Uripiv Island where a sandy beach fronted the village.  We were shown round by a young islander, Colin, who showed us his house, built of women palm mats on a wood frame, and thatched with palm leaves. He had built a sweet little playpen for his 3 month old son.  The village was very neat and tidy, and their water supply was a well, dug into the coral, which delivered a steady supply of fresh water.   There were other wells for the 600 inhabitants, but only one was consistent fresh.

That evening we sat and drank kava and chatted with locals, including a couple of Peace Corps volunteers. Very peaceful, but I don’t seem to register any effect of kava, unlike the locals who were all spitting at the bitterness of the liquid.  Supposedly it numbs ones mouth and makes one calm.  I felt the calm…..

We said farewell to Uripiv and sailed overnight to Luganville to clear out of Vanuatu.  Our schedule has slipped a couple of days because there are no Customs and immigration facilities on the weekend, and we missed getting there on Friday.

Now the weather has changed and it’s rainy today.  We are trying to get another gas canister to fit the boat, as our European ones cannot be filled here, and we are rather short of gas for cooking now.

Next stop could be Port Moresby, unless the weather and timing are right to push on through the Torres Straits toThursday Island, where we must clear Customs.   Biosecurity is very strict and we are concerned at how much of our ship’s stores will survive the inspection….


Our final stop in Vanuatu at the northern island or Espiritu Santo, where we finalised formalities and did some last vegetable shopping.  It's a windy stretch of water ad clearly the pilot boat didn't survive the last cyclone.

Next stop could be Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea before tackling the Torres Strait towards Darwin.

I have updated the calendar so that you can see the current schedule.

Port Vila,Vanuatu

We rather reluctantly said goodbye to Erromango, where we had enjoyed meeting the villagers and were impressed by the lovely canoes in constant use.   

We arrived in Port Vila at 07:30 after a good overnight sail in starlight.  The port was very busy with yachts and other ships.  We had to squeeze under overhead power lines, with a clearance of only about 3metres. and then picked up a mooring off the Yachting World marina.   Not a pontoon marina, but with a few stern-to moorings along the wall.  The Waterfront Grill provided an easy place to relax and watch the boats go by.

As it was Saturday we rushed to get to the Museum before it closed at noon. It was well worth it. There was an extraordinary collection of masks and headdresses, some excellent canoe figurehead carvings and lots of quirky information about the history of the islands.  

We then met Edgar, who did wonderful sand drawing, played various flutes and a bamboo tubular bells instrument and told stories.

We then headed down to the market where  we found a spectacular display of vegetables for sale.  We also found food stalls, where we eventually settled on Anna's kitchen for fried fish and rice, whilst Robert and Francis chose curried fish from a nearby stall.

The following day the McAdie family packed up and went ashore, while Justin and Toby arrived.  That afternoon we did a big shop up at the large supermarket, and stowed it all aboard.

Monday dawned and I went to get my cruising papers at Customs over at the cruise ship dock, and then back across town to Immigration, where I succeeded in completing paperwork before they closed for lunch. The team had meanwhile stocked up on fresh vegetables, and in due course we were ready for sea.  It just remained to get our Australian visas on line, and to submit advance notification of our arrival.    At this point I had a horrible shock, when I got a message saying "Visa denied. Please contact our nearest consulate. "  

The good news - there's one in Port Vila.  The bad news - its closed on Tuesday as its a public holiday!    I then realised that I had made a mistake with my passport number, starting with 009 rather than 09, so obviously they wont let a Double O into Australia. :-) When I resubmitted my application, to my great relief, I got a visa letter by return email......

Monday, 21 August 2017

Dancers on Ambrym

Having anchored in Craig's Cove we organised a trip to a remote village to witness traditional dances and magic. These old men made  a powerful dance on the sacred village dance floor, shielded from womens eyes by high hedges.  The tam-tams witnessed the age old ceremony in a row.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Lobster lunch

Walking through Unpongkor I met Mali who asked whether we would like some lobsters.  If turned down an offer in Fiji, but with a crew who likes them I agreed. In return Marlow asked for fishing line, and when he arrived at night with a sack of 6 spiny lobsters I was able to provide 120 metres of 59lb breaking strain line plus about 25 big fish hooks.

We had our first delicious lobster lunch on Tin Tin!

TinTin donates her old Cornish ensign to Unpongkor Yacht Club, Erromango, Vanuatu

We anchored for three days in Dillons Bay, Erromango where David Tahumpri welcomed us to the Yacht Club he is building.  He already had an impressive array of flags decorating the room, to which we gladly donated our old Cornish flag duly annotated and signed.  We also provided a bundle of books to start off a book exchange.  All he needs now is a fridge full of cold beers, which are in the plan.

Erromango 9th August 2017

We set off early from Tanna before 7 for the day trip to Erromango , the next island north,  and were able to wave to the Besleys at breakfast as we passed White Grass Resort.  Then  we had our closest encounter with a humpback whale which was exciting.  By 15:00 we had dropped anchor in Dillon's Bay, amongst three other yachts, and to our delight were soon being greeted by several beautiful dug-out canoes full of children. Later a grey haired man, David, paddled out bringing us a gift of fruit, which we reciprocated with some powdered milk. 

The following day David invited us to do a tour with him, and led us to a beach about two miles along the coast.  Here we found a rock shelter above the beach, and higher up a series of caves used to bury the dead. The first contained members of David's family, one of whom had been laid on a rock slab , and his belt buckle still lay there amongst his bones. Another cave, much higher up a cliff contained the skulls of two previous chiefs and three of their wives.

Later we went to the yacht club that David was building in his village of Unpongkor.  We found a charming garden and a simple room, hung with flags, to which we contributed our old Cornish ensign signed by us all. To Rhoda, David's wife, we handed a bag of clothes including things from Emily and the McAdies, plus some books to start a book exchange shelf. I showed them my sketches and gave crayons and sketchbooks to the children there. Later I gave Roger at the dispensary a number of sets of spectacles plus school materials to distribute as he saw fit. 

From there we had a leisurely stroll through the village ending up at a large fresh water pool where we had a glorious swim. On the way we met many people who chatted happily with us.  Later we visited a lovely site where an Eco-lodge was being built overlooking the river.  We scrambled through thickets along a cliff edge to reach the site where missionary John Williams body was laid on a and his out,one incised in the rock.  He had interrupted an important kastom ceremony and lost his life.  Later missionaries and other visitors brought smallpox which killed 60% of the 20,000 population so that in the early 1900s there were only 380 people still on the Island.  The population is now 600. No kastom villages remain, since the missionaries successfully stopped any traditional life.  Other invaders from Hawaii and other parts of Polynesia came to take all the sandalwood trees, but were repelled, but eventually trade emptied the island of the species.

The island was visited by two battered trading vessels while we were there, landing sacks of rice and other stores on the beach to be shouldered up to the village. There is only one vehicle on the island, but there is an airport giving access to hospital in Vila.

Naked Villagers and Volcanic eruptions 8th August 2017

Through Peter, a local agriculturalist Mark met who is working at Tanna Coffee, we were given the phone number of his cousin, Berry, who took us to the volcano, and through John we arranged a visit to the kastom village with driver Sam.

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.

Arriving in Vanuatu. 7th August 2017

After three days sailing from Fiji, with the wind picking up after a gentle start, we sighted Futuna Island, and slowly closed with it all day, finally passing about 5 miles off at midnight.  Futuna looked like a perfect volcanic cone, with the top cut off.  At dawn we gybed and sailed up the coast of Tanna, seeing the 3000' mountain sticking its head into the clouds.  To our delight there were humpback whales breaching nearby and before anchoring we motored out to get closer. The anchorage at Lenakel was far from promising, feeling very exposed, but we tucked in behind a small curl of surf on a reef point, and found it quite peaceful, although it was tight with another small yacht already there.

Ashore we found a rather battered concrete wharf, with jagged reinforcing bars making it a dangerous dinghy dock.  I set off to find Customs, but found the official had gone to Vila for a two day conference. However, to his credit the Inland Revenue man, Alain Roger, organised our clearance by phone with Adrian, in Vila.  It's a strange feeling landing in a new country, unsure of how things work.  Lenakel looked very third world, with dust devils blowing up the road, run down shacks, and people looking quite impoverished.  Somehow people reminded me of Papua New Guineans, with different features from Fiji.  I was helped by various men who spoke with me and guided me to places in excellent English.  French is equally used as this is a Joint Condominium.

At the bank I found a long queue snaking out of the door. The ATM only took cards from ISI BANK, so I queued with the locals to exchange our limited amount of foreign notes -£20, 4,500CFP and $111.  However a man called Stanley insisted that I step into the room and someone else eventually arranged for me to be seen at the Foreign Currency Exchange desk.  I apologised to the queue, and they were all very gracious and I was soon out into the hot sunshine carrying 19,350 vatus.

There were two activities that we wanted to try on the island; visiting a "kastom" village, and going up the volcano, Mt. Yasur.  It quickly became apparent that we only had enough cash to get a taxi to the volcano, but not enough for the 9,750 vatu/head entrance fee.  So I took a 3,000 vatu taxi trip with Robert and Francis to the nearest resort that accepted credit cards, accompanied by a local, Peter, who runs a Labour recruitment office sending agricultural workers to Australia. We bumped and crawled along a crude track weaving in and out of the forest alongside a new road being built by the Chinese. From the depth of the surface on the road it looks as though it will only last a year or so.

At White Grass Resort, to my great pleasure, we were greeted by Justin and Siobhan, who coincidentally had come to Tanna to visit the same attractions. Justin kindly bailed us out by lending a big wedge of cash.  We sat on the elegant  terrace surrounded by bougainvillea, with a fine view of the sunset, enhanced by a cold beer and the sight of breaching humpback whales!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Farewell Fiji

We absolutely adored Fiji, mostly because everyone we met was unreservedly welcoming and friendly. From the port officials and tuna fishermen who invited us to drink kava in the port offices in Levuka, to the sugar cane train drivers who invited me into their cab for a breakfast kava drink.

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


Phil caught a good sized Spanish Mackerel today as we motored north to Viti Levu through the reefs.  It got released as being less good eating than mahi mahi.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Hurricane Winston

As we moored in flat calm along the eastern shore of Ovslau island we came across this ferry washed bodily ashore in hurricane Winston last year.  Beyond the village stands of tall pine trees remain standing stripped of their foliage. The coconuts however seem to have mostly kept their crowns.

The original building in which the Council of Chiefs sat until recently. Surprisingly unaffected by hurricane Winston on 20 Feb 2016.
 Next door is the new provincial government building.

Lovely laid-back Levuka!

I went ashore this morning and completed the formalities. Everyone SO friendly and helpful. It was so much easier than I'd been led to believe.  When we arrived yesterday I called the port on channel 16 and got an immediate reply. We were directed to anchor 100-200m north of the wharf.....Slightly nervous on a off shore with a vigorous breeze blowing but it worked out OK.  Then i was requested to await the Health official, so we had lunch and within the hour Mr Aquila arrived. An imposingly large man, who I collected from the dock in a sloppy sea and got aboard with difficulty.  Once he's fumigated the boat against Zika virus bearing mozzies we returned ashore to deal with Customs and immigration.  This was handled by two charming friendly ladies in the Customs House on the wharf, and I was able to nip round the corner to an ATM to get cash to pay my bills - F $168 for Health and $5 for Ports.

As it was by then 4:30 I had to wait till today to deliver personal passport forms for the crew and walk 10 minutes to the Provincial Government offices for my cruising permit. Although they had to fax details to their offices in Suva I had my permit within 30 minutes and then my clearance from Customs to proceed.

This done we set out to explore Levuka.  It's a UNESCO World heritage site and rightly so as it retains the unique style of early 19th century colonial days.  The shop fronts along Beach Rd are freshly painted with the high square frontage carrying the names of the owners...Gulabda's, Morris Hedstrom, Ivans Hot Bread Shop, Patel's Tailoring & Radio Merchants. Inside are densely stocked emporiums staffed by families of indian descent. Everything from sari silk to radios, pots and pans to watches, lights to put under your car to machetes.  There are a small number of restaurants along the front too. The Whale's Tale, Sea Site Restaurant and Horizon; some licenced, some BYO.  Cyclone Winston's devastation showed in many places where buildings were still being repaired. The Category 5 hurricane unusually headed out to Tonga and then turned back. Levuka was completely open to its force from seaward.

Today we strolled back streets, enchanted by the shady verandahs and clapboard buildings, mostly fresh painted increases, white or pale blues and greens. Only the shop fronts were pinks, reds and yellows. Everyonebwe passed greeted us with a cheery "Bula!".  Once for each in our group.

We passed large elegant school buildings with grounds and sports field alive with playing children. The occasional whistle blast showed that the games were often controlled; girls practising netball moves ends 8 year old boys working hard at very physical contact rugby, perfecting moves and playsnthat were impressively done.  We stopped at Levuka Public school and looked in at the cream painted colonial buildings chatting to the Vice Principal and various children.  

From there we strolled up the valley road toward the steep mountain wall behind the town. Neatky laid concrete paths andvsteps led off in differentbdieections snaking around from house to house, rising high above the bay. Benches had been placed at intervals for the elderly to rest. We met a young man who cheated to us for a long while and ttold us of his previous job as a long line fisherman, lettingnout up to 60 miles of baited hooks to catch tuna. He said that wages were about F $3.50/ hour -about £1.

We climbed up to a waterfall that marked the coĺection point for the town's drinmibfbwatet and then down the to the sea front again for a sandwich at the Royal Hotel.  This grand colonial building was absolutely charming with rooms preserved since the 30s, dark lounges, a great billiard room and ceiling fans maintain a breeze. Out of the rear lounge through white psinted turnedvwoodeb window bars we could see teenagers practising rugby and hockey  in the lovely afternoon light.

Before the shops shut at 5pm we bought various essentials  and pushed a trolley back to the dock.  Here we found Mark in the Port Authority office and were oeomptlyninvited to join in their Kava session.  A largeborabge buoy had been cut open to create 're kava bowl.  The youngest member, Samson, was mixing five F$2 bags of ground kava into water and straining it through a cloth.  He pouredvitbfron a heiğtbinto the bowl and listened to the splash  to judge its strength and consistency.   Then he brought me a bowl, rtimesemembering the protocol, I clapped once and drank it down in one. Everyone then clapped three  and so did I. The taste was a bit woody and mildly earthy.
After between 10-15 circuits of the room conversation was flowing and the fishing crew left to go to sea again, waving enthustically as they moored out.

We too took our leave to ferry goods to Tin Tin in the dinghy.  However the stern anchor was firmly lodged on an obstruction on the seabed.  To our surprise a man on the Jetty handed his long thin cigarette to a child and dived in, surfacing in the gloom of dusk with it in his hand.  He then leapt into a long skiff worth his three children and sped off alkbf the lagoon.  I shouted "Vinaka buku levu!!!"  Thankyou very much! After him.

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The other side of the World

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

Last minute Tonga

Just before leaving Neiafu I managed to buy the essentials for a visit to any Tongan anchorage.  It is apparently obligatory to seek permission from the village chief to anchor in their waters, and to do so one must go through the ceremony of sevusevu, by which one can be accepted by the community.  This involves presenting half a kilo of kava root to the chief, which if accepted will be pounded up and made into the kava drink.  The chief partakes amidst a ceremony of works and clapping, which we have to learn and participate in.   However the price of kava has gone up a lot and more and more it is sold as a powder.  I was able to buy 6 packets of 50grams at T$10 each - about £20 in total.  This apparently is about right for the ceremony.  We will see....... I'm not Really looking forward to drinking this drug, but at least it's preparation no longer involves the roots being chewed by old men and spat into a bowl to create the brew.

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

Tonga farewell

Our sail from the Ha'apai islands to Vavau was dotted with whale encounters, many quite close.  The northern islands appeared eventually and have a very different aspect to the low lying Sandy reefs further south.  Thickly wooded mushroom islands with undercut cliffs and hardly a beach or reef anywhere.  However we found obe lovely spot and anchored in a blue lagoon and enjoyed an unusually sunny day.  We were invited ashore to the Blue Lagoon restaurant to partake in freshly caught red snapper with local spinach, pele, in coconut cream.  The resort has 3 or 4 brightly painted cottages built out of the cliff and supported on tall spindly legs over the Blue Lagoon. The resort isnt yet open, but chef Otto made us very welcome and regaled us with stories and photos of swimming with humpbacks in the lagoon.

That night the heavens opened and it rained hard for 30 hours. We motored up to the main port of Neiafu in lousy visibility with steep wooded banks either side rather like the River Dart on a wet day accentuated by lots ofbyachts on moorings.  I had to bucket 120 gallons of rainwater out of the dinghy before going ashore to deal with Customs and Port Authority. 

 Later we were surprised to spot another OVNI 455CC motor in and I recognised Alita. I had corresponded with Marcus in New Zealand when we first acquired Tin Tin, and so we enjoyed exchanging visits to compare notes. He and Michaela have made Alita immaculate as their cruising home. 

That night we succumbed to Mango, the nearest cafe to our mooring, and warmed up with hot food and bright lights. Tomorrow we clear out for a 3 day sail to Fiji.  

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Adventures in Tonga

We finally set sail from Nuku'alofa on a grey windy day to head 45miles north to the first of the Ha'apai group of islands. As we passed our through the reefs into the open sea we were delighted to have several close encounters with huge humpback whales. A mother and calf crossed right in front of us, diving to avoid collision as we pounded along close hauled with two reefs in. Another huge whale broke the surface right alongside and the huge knobbly back arched out of the water giving us a real sense of the enormous mass of muscled animal next to us. The images of those close encounters keep going through my head because they were so huge and immediate.

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.

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Tin Tin Fashion!

A certain sense of style.

Whales and limestone caverns

Mark, Phil and I explored more of Tongatapu by car, ending up descending deep into limestone caverns carved out through the ancient beds of coral. Spectacular stalactites and stalactites reached towards each other often forming thick pillars that must have taken ages to grow.  As we descended with our guides we could bear splashing and shrieking, and it soon became apparent that there were fresh water lakes down there. Two expat Tongan families visiting home from Hawaii and Texas were back g great fun leaping in.  Neither of my companions fancied it, but as we left I found another set of steps leading down to water and, reluctant to miss a wild swim, I stripped off and went in.  The water was surprisingly warm and delicious. I explored more of the cave u til I joined up with the families who all were thrilled to find a new area.

The next day was mirror calm so we took Tin Tin out through the reef to look for whales and were thrilled to come across several groups with mother and calf gently cruising along.

Phil, who is a determined fisherman has just lost his lure to a very big fish strike in the reef pass, so the whales were a nice compensation. We anchored  lose inside the reef and had an exceĺlent snorkel amidst completely new coral scenery, reminiscent of spreading acacia trees on the Serengeti plains.  The trees were two or three feet across and were vivid lime green,  copper, and purple and blue.  Fish didn't seem as abundant but there were shoals of lime green "leaves blowing in the breeze".

The next day Justin and Siobhan arrived and we had the whole boat shipshape after our maintenance work.  That evening we anchored TinTin off the Big Mama Yacht Club again and enjoyed the sunset together over a drink.

This morning I had everyone up early for  busy day.    I set old with Mark at 07:30  to spray paint Tin Tin' s logo onto the wreck by the yacht club, then got everyone to immigration at 09:00 in order to sign on the new crew and get our clearance to head north to Vavau. J&S then set off to explore Tongatapu by car whilst we lads restocked with vegetables and other groceries, and filled up with fuel before returning the car.  Of course here one must take it to a carwash first!  Driving anywhere was slow today as the streets are full of processions of trucks pumping out music, decked out with flags and balloons and laden with people waving flags in readiness for Saturday's rugby match vs Fiji

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Monday, 3 July 2017


It's almost a week since we arrived in Tonga and the days since then have been occupied with some exploring, saying farewell to Emily and Julien, and welcoming Phil.  Tin Tin has shuttled from anchorage off the Royal Island, Pangai Motu, to the anchorage off the port of Nuku Alofa. Going ashore there in the dinghy, we tie up to the most ramshackle, decaying and badly built dinghy pontoon that I have ever seen.  It's the sort of thing I made a raft out of  when I was a Boy Scout with oil drums, and timbers roughly nailed together with 6" nails, most of which are protruding dangerously to puncture inflatables,. Many of the pontoon bits are half sunk as the oil drums have popped out, and attached to them are old boats, many of which are themselves half submerged in a swirl of plastic rubbish.  Depressing.

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

The island of Niue

Arrived in Tonga after two day sail from Niue, and anchored in the main bay by Pangaimotu island, where there were ten other yachts already, just off a stilted shack proclaiming itself the Big Mama Yacht Club, in large white letters on the bow of a rusting wreck. Other fishing and cargo boat wrecks lay around the bay.

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

Beveridge reef

This morning we could see the wreck of a motor boat away to our left, which we had  taken for a block of coral last night.

Here's the view of the distant breakers across the blue lagoon.

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

Desolate sanctuary

With strong winds gusting 30 knots we arrived at Beveridge reef at 13:00 on Saturday 17th June. Invisible until quarter of a mile away, there was suddenly a line of white surf ahead backed by a vivid slash of aquamarine. At night, unwarned, we would have been wrecked in 5 minutes. As it was I had to gybe in a hurry, and sailed along the line of surf about 100feet away, until we rounded the northern tip of the reef and entered more sheltered water. We had been given coordinates for an entrance to the lagoon, but it was so rough that I doubted whether we could safely enter. As we motored round the reef just outside the breakers, the sight was dramatic as the strong wind tore the heads off the rollers.

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.

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Aitutaki friendship

Emily, Mi'i and Julien with TinTin in the background. Mi'i made Emily this beautiful hat.

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

Looking for a reef

We set sail from Aitutaki on 14/6/17 with a wonderful farewell from Mi'i and Richard, who had been so kind to Emily and Julien. They brought us gifts of fruit from their garden in a superb bag woven from palm leaf, and a most elegant hat for Emily in pale green also woven from palm and decorated with lovely red hibiscus flowers. Richard had been in the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya as well as many other parts of the world, and Mark and I enjoyed our chat with him.

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!

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

Monday, 12 June 2017

in Cook's wake

Now we have set sail for Bora Bora towards the Cook Islands, of which very few offer a safe harbour except Aitutaki where the US military have blasted a narrow channel through the reef which is only 2 metres deep - our keel will have to come up to get in.

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

Blue lagoons

We anchored just inside the pass through the reef at Tahaa, by this little motu.   There was a very happy party going on with a floating thatched hut and I enjoyed sketching this to the sound of infectious laughter across the water.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Bora Bora

The Bora Bora Yacht Club turned out to be an excellent spot to moor our dinghy, dispose of our recycling and general refuse, and above all to connect to fast wifi.

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!

Sailing round Tahaa lagoon

To reach Bora Bora we had to go round the island of Tahaa, and luckily we were able to do so inside the lagoon under sail. It was a rare treat in these rather windless days to hoist all sail and heel to the wind and hear the water chuckling under the forefoot. Imagine a clock where we had entered the lagoon do the outer sea at about 5 o'clock, and had the choice of sailing clockwise or anti clockwise to reach 7 o'clock. Everyone was keen to go round the long way, and we had just enough time to do so.

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.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017


Heres thr mainsail going back onto the roller boom after various minor repairs  

Re rigging the genoa

We sent the sails off for repair in Tahiti. Here's the genoa neatly folded before fitting it back on the forestry  

The perfect tropical island

Emily & Julien find land

This perfect little island on the barrier reef at Tahaa was where they went to watch the sunset

Huahiné (and badly drawn outrigger canoe)

I was surrounded by lots of small boys passing me the coloured pencils and advising me.  So the canoe was their request, but it paddled off so fast that I didn't sketch it well