Thursday 8th January 2008 - Cartagena, Columbia
It is a new year and we are a quarter of the way around the world!
We only figured that out on the way here from Curacao - when we set off from Malta in July 2006 we were at 14.5į East and on arriving in Cartagena we would be at 75.5į West. However, there would be some interesting times ahead before we reached our destination. The passage from Curacao to Cartagena is supposedly one of the five worst passages in the world - the winds increase around the northern tip of South America (Cabo de la Vela - Cape of the Wind!) and the swells that have come across the Atlantic and the Caribbean sea start to pile up as they approach the shallower waters of Central America. We left Curacao with a reasonable forecast of 20 knot tail winds and this is what we had for the first two days and nights, so we made good progress past Aruba and along the coast of Columbia and it looked as though the passage would only take three nights. As darkness fell on the third night the winds slowly started to increase and the seas started to build. Knowing the reputation of this particular area we reduced sail. As the winds increased to 35 knots apparent and the seas were probably the worst we had seen since crossing Biscay, we reduced sail again to just a small head sail but continued to make good progress. Occasionally an extra large wave would pass by and we would surf down the wave front. On one occasion a large wave hit the port quarter quite hard and the boat slewed sideways down the wave - happily the wind vane steering quickly brought us back on course without any problem.
With the strong winds we were making good progress and it looked like we would arrive in Cartagena in mid-afternoon on 18th December. As we got closer the winds started to die away and the seas reduced considerably. It was at this point that I noticed that the diesel filler cap was not properly closed. It had almost certainly been like this since we refueled in Curacao. Obviously there was some discussion as to whose fault this was and so far no one is accepting responsibility! Anyway, as we had been taking quite a lot of water over the decks there was a good chance we had sea water in the fuel - this is not good if you want to run the engine. I figured the water may be in the tank, but there should be enough clean fuel in the fuel line and the filters to run the engine for a short time to get us into the anchorage in Cartagena. Then, with about 20 miles to go, the wind died away and we were left with the sails flapping in what was now a fairly calm sea. Before starting the engine I decided to drain some fuel from the bottom of the tank to see if there was any water in there. There was - so I drained it off until it appeared clean diesel was coming out and then we started the engine. It ran for a short time and then started to splutter and finally stopped altogether. I drained fuel from the filters on the engine and found a lot of water - obviously draining the bottom of the tank had not worked - probably because there was still water mixed in with the diesel due to the rough seas during the night. We were not in any immediate danger as we were a few miles offshore, but we were struggling to make any progress in the very light breeze. I decided to drain all the filters and fuel lines and see if I could siphon clean fuel from a spare container into the fuel line. This proved to be rather tricky and I could not get it to work. Another option I considered was to drain all the fuel from the tank into the bilge, drain the fuel lines and replace all the filters and add clean fuel to the tank from our spare containers. This would probably work, but would create a huge mess to clean up later. While Al was sailing the boat very slowly towards Cartagena I tried to call the coastguard on the radio to see if they could help - unfortunately I could not get any response. I then called Club Nautico marina with the satellite phone and spoke to John - an English guy who is the dock master there. I explained our situation and he told us that the wind should pick up later in the afternoon and that it should be possible to sail into the anchorage. He also said that he could contact the coastguard if necessary. We decided to continue trying to fix the engine and make what progress we could under sail and if necessary sail into the anchorage - although this is a bit daunting when you have not been there before.
As Al continued to sail, I decided to have one more go at draining water from the bottom of the tank. As we had been in calmer seas for about three hours now, it seemed that more water had separated out from the fuel. I drained off about four litres of water and then started to get what appeared to be clean diesel again. Ireplaced all the filters and drained the fuel lines again. Now it was time to try starting the engine - finally after about a minute of cranking the engine over and much spluttering the engine started to fire. It was unsteady at first with clouds of white smoke coming out of the exhaust but then, as the clean fuel started to filter through it started to sound much better - much cheering!. There was still virtually no wind, so we furled the sails and motored at full speed towards Cartagena. We managed to get here just before dark and drop anchor. Of course we were very happy to be here.
We have been here almost three weeks now - at anchor for the first week and a half and now we are in the marina as we have a few jobs to do that we really need shore power for. Al is going to make a new sunshade to go over the boom and is going to use the old one to make a rain catcher - we may need to catch rain water in the Pacific. We have ordered a couple of additional solar panels - if/when they ever arrive here from Miami, I will have to install them. At the moment I am experimenting with running an equalisation charge on our batteries using our existing solar panels - very technical. Have to keep checking regularly to ensure they do not go into meltdown!
We have met up with a few boats here that we've seen before - Steve and Janet on Bliss (USA), Bill and Amy on Estrellita (USA), Roy on Peggy West (Ireland) and Stuart on Nomad (Brit - not too many of us around here!). We have also met quite a few new boats here - Peter and Connie on Justoo (Canada) and Tom and Colleen on Unplugged (USA), so Christmas and the New Year celebrations have been quite lively with lots of eating and drinking.
Cartagena is a really nice city - a large old town in the centre surrounded by modern high rise blocks many of which are home to the more wealthy Columbians. The old town is the most interesting part with enough bars and restaurants to keep us happy for a long time. It is not as cheap here as Venezuela, but it is still very reasonable when compared to the UK. It is safe enough to walk around most places during the day and at night which makes a pleasant change after Trinidad and parts of Venezuela. We have not encountered any banditos or any cocaine barons (as far as we can tell).
We are planning to stay here for a couple more weeks yet so that we can get our jobs done. Will do another update and upload some more photos before we move on.
Thursday 13th March 2008 - Balboa Yacht Club, Panama
We have had a fairly busy time since our last update and we are now on a mooring ball at the Balboa Yacht Club in Panama City - in the Pacific Ocean!
After about six weeks in Cartagena we set off for the Islas Rosarios (a small group of Columbian islands about 25 miles away) on 24th January. We had just left the anchorage and were about a mile offshore when our next exciting incident occured. The Columbian coastgaurd called on the radio and requested our position which we duly gave. Five minutes later a fast coastguard launch approached and asked if they could come aboard. They had guns, so we decided to say yes. We were then boarded by two of the coastguards and a drug sniffer dog. One of the guys sat in the cockpit with Alison while I accompanied the other one with the dog as they went through the boat from bow to stern. They opened lockers and lifted floorboards and had the dog sniffing everywhere. They were very courteous and we were not too concerned as we knew we had no drugs aboard. However, there is always a nagging doubt as you do hear stories of drugs being hidden aboard boats with the crew being completely unaware. After about an hour they thanked us for our cooperation and left as quickly as they had arrived. Feeling quite relieved we carried on and dropped anchor Isla Grande in the Rosarios.
We spent three nights in the Rosarios, and then did a couple of short day sails to Tintipan in the San Bernardo Islands and then on the Isla Fuerte. All these islands are Columbian - they are holiday destinations for wealthy Columbians, some of whom have houses on the islands. The locals are fairly poor and are keen to sell you necklaces and take you for tours around their island - for a fee of course. There are no cars on the islands and everyone walks or goes by donkey - quite a change from Cartagena.
Our next passage was overnight as we left Columbia and headed west to Panama. We arrived in Isla PiŮos just after daybreak, dropped the anchor and then slept until lunchtime. We were now in an area of Panama known as Kuna Yala which is the home of the Kuna Indians. The only way to get here is by boat or small plane and the Indians still live their traditional lifestyle. They live in huts made from wood brought from the jungle and thatched with large leaves. In many villages they do have running water, but there is no electricity - except for the occasional small generator to power a small TV. The men fish from dugout canoes and harvest coconuts and bananas from small plantations that they maintain on the mainland. Most of the women wear very colouful traditional dress and make leg bracelets using very small beads and stitch molas by hand. Molas are colourful panels of cloth with layer after layer added to form both pictures and more abstract patterns. They wear the bracelets from the ankle to the knee and use the molas as part of their traditional dress. They also sell them to the visiting yachties. It really is a fascinating place and by far the least developed place we have been so far.
In Isla PiŮos we went ashore in the afternoon and were taken to meet the village chief. We gave him some paracetamol as he had hurt his foot and paid the five dollar tax that every visitor is charged. Next we went to Ustupu - the largest Kuna village where it would be quite easy to get lost amongst the huts. Both these villages are very traditional and get only a small number of visitors each year. They are very friendly and it is impossible to walk anywhere without the small children waving and shouting "Ola". The brave ones would sometimes run up to hold our hands before running off giggling to themselves.
We spent a night in Bahia Golondria which is a quiet anchorage completely surrounded by mangroves. We were the only yacht there and we bought four large langoustines from a Kuna that came out to the boat in a dugout canoe. Only $2 - but I did have to kill them and then we had to work out how to cook them. We eventually fried them with butter and garlic and ate them with pasta and a creamy/spicy tomato sauce - great!
We continued our way between the reefs and along the coast to the San Blas islands - still part of Kuna Yala but there are more yachts in this area. There are loads of small islands here - all with golden sandy beaches and coconut palms. We stopped at Isla Tigre then spent a couple of nights in Rio Diablo where we took the dinghy up the river into the jungle. Apparently there are alligators up the river but we did not see any. We saw plenty of sticks and small logs floating around - maybe these were alligators that were hiding from us! We spent three nights in Green Island where we met up with Peter and Connie on "Justoo" (Canada) and Tom and Coleen on "Unplugged" (USA). We had met previously in Cartagena, so it was good to meet up again out in the wilds. We then made our way out of the San Blas islands via the Coco Banderas, the West Hollandes and Chichime - all very nice but the golden beaches and palm trees do begin to look very similar after a while.
Our first stop after the San Blas islands was in Portobello - a nice bay with a smalltown. The town may be small but they have electricity, roads with cars and buses, supermarkets, bars and restaurants. Quite a change from life with the Kunas. We stayed in Portobello for a couple of nights before sailing the short distance along the coast to ColÚn where we would get ready to leave the Caribbean and pass through the Panama canal to the Pacific Ocean.
InColÚn we anchored in "The Flats" anchorage along with many other boats waiting to go through the canal. The anchorage is a 20 minute dinghy ride from the Panama Canal Yacht Club which is where all the yachties meet up and you can get help with all the formalities of checking in to Panama and organising the canal transit. We used Tito (very nice guy) as our agent and he took us around ColÚn to all the various offices and the bank that need to be visited and gave us dire warnings about not walking around in ColÚn and that we must always use taxis. ColÚn does have a reputation of being a very dangerous town for foreigners to wander around so we took his advice and were careful about moving around. We took taxis to the supermarket and spent most evening in the Yacht Club bar which was cheap and did great food - no reason to go anywhere else.
InColÚn we met up with a number of old friends - all planning to go through the canal - including Estrellita, Bliss and Peggy West - all of whom we met originally in Venezuela. For most people, taking a boat through the canal for the first time is quite daunting. The locks are huge and there is often a lot of turbulence as the locks fill with water. Small boats like ours are tied alongside each other - two or three together to pass through the locks. Each boat has to have four line handlers plus the skipper along with an advisor who works for the canal authority and it is common for the yachties to help each other as line handlers.
We went through for the first time with Bill and Amy on Estrellita - we were line handlers along with Eric and Javier - two local guys that work for Tito and have been through the canal countless times. The advisor was dropped off by the pilot launch just before dark and we set off immediately for Gatun Locks. After hanging around outside the locks waiting for a large ship to clear we rafted up alongside Bliss - this was the only scary moment as there was some confusion between the advisors on each boat and the local line handlers as we tried to raft together in the wash of a passing pilot boat. The danger here is that the boats masts can collide as the boats rock but fortunately there was no collision and once rafted up we proceeded into the lock. As we had two local guys with us Al and I did not have to do any real line handling and were able to watch and learn in preparation for our own transit. The passage through the three Gatun locks lifts us up the the level of Gatun lake and went fairly smoothly. As we left the final lock we separated from Bliss and motored a couple of miles to moor alongside a large buoy. Here we had dinner and the advisor was picked up by the pilot launch. After a few hours sleep a new advisor was dropped off and at 0700 we set off across the lake towards Pedro Miguel lock - about 28 miles away. This is not like a canal at all and is quite picturesque. The trip went smoothly with the engine revving faster than normal in order to get to the lock in time for our slot. Again we tied alongside Bliss before entering the lock. Descending in the locks is much smoother with little turbulence and soon we were motoring, still alongside Bliss to the final two locks at Miraflores. Then at about 1400 we left the final lock into the channel that leads out into the Pacific. We said goodbye to Bill and Amy at the Balboa Yacht Club where we took a taxi to the bus station and then a bus back toColÚn.
A few days later and it was our turn. We hired the four long lines and ten tyres that are needed as extra fenders from Tito. Wetook two of Titos guys with us - Eric who we knew from the transit with Estrellita and his mate Naldo. We also took Michael and Linda from Besheret (USA) who we had first met in Curacao and seen at various times in Columbia and the San Blas islands. We went through the locks alongside a slightly larger boat called Jezebel and all went smoothly. We had only one incident when a strong side current threatened to push Jezebel against the lock wall as we were entering - by using both engines together we managed to pull away without any contact. We made it through to the Pacific side in mid-afternoon, the advisor was picked up and we dropped Linda, Michael, Eric and Naldo off at the Balboa Yacht Club fuel dock before picking up a mooring. Quite a relief to be through.
We have been out in Panama City a few times - it is much nicer here than ColÚn and in most areas it is safe to walk around. We have found two Indian restaurants here and an English Pub! We went to try the pub and The Masala restaurant a few nights ago with Roy and Irene from Peggy West (Ireland). The pub was rather boring - probably a bit early in the evening, but the restaurant was excellent - first curry for ages.
We have been here a couple of weeks now and are getting ready to cross the South Pacific en route for New Zealand - another big challenge! Most days we are visiting one of the large supermarkets and stocking up with loads of rice, pasta and hundreds of tins - not sure where we are going to put it all yet.That is all for now - we have some new pictures to upload, but our free Flickr account is full. We are working on a solution but it may take a week or two.
Saturday 12th April 2008 - Balboa Yacht Club, Panama
We have now been here in Panama City for about seven weeks and we are finally almost ready to leave for the Galapagos Islands - our first planned stop en route for New Zealand. Most of the jobs on our lists are complete - just some last minute shopping to do tomorrow and we should be ready to set off at first light on Monday morning.
The passage to the Galapagos Islands will take us across the equator into the southern hemisphere for the first time. This also means passing through the doldrums - an area notorious for very light winds. The forecast for the first few days shows reasonable tail winds so we hope to get off to a good start - after that we will just have to make the best of whatever wind there is.
That is all for now - will do another update and add some more photos next time we can get internet access - not sure when that will be, but hopefully in the Galapagos Islands.
Friday 2nd May 2008 - Wreck Bay, San Christobal, Galapagos Islands
Our passage down to the Galapagos Islands went well - we had strong tail winds for the first two days and managed to cover over 300 miles really quickly. After that we had light winds and periods with no wind at all and currents running against us. Despite the light winds and counter currents we made it here in just under nine days and had only motored for about 48 hours. Other boats that set off a couple of days after us had much worse conditions and were struggling to get here in less than twelve days.
When we arrived last Wednesday morning we saw Frank on "Morning Light" - he had already been here a couple of weeks. Before lunchtime we were joined in the anchorage by Roy and Irene on "Peggy West" and Peter and Gill on "Mr Percival". This is a really quiet little island and Frank was amazed at so many boats all arriving in one day.
On our first morning here we were visited first by Fernando and then by the Port Captain who completed some initial paperwork. Fernando seems to be the guy here who organises everything for the visiting yachts. After the Port Captain left, he was back again to take us to the agents office in town where we arranged to have the rest of the clearance paperwork done. Next he took us to see his nephew who could arrange snorkelling and diving tours for us. Then on the way back to the boat he arranged to deliver diesel to us the following day. The diesel arrived as promised in 20 gallon containers and was quickly siphoned into the tanks.
Along with our friends on "Peggy West" and "Mr. Percival" we explored the small town and found plenty of small shops where we could get fresh provisions. Of course we also found a number of bars and restaurants aswell. On our third day here we all went for an island tour with Carlos the taxi driver (arranged by Fernando of course). Carlos has a four seater pick up truck so this meant that two of us were in the back - initially this was Peter and Nige. This is not quite legal and after being passed by a police car who blipped his siren at us, Carlos left the main road and we continued our tour of the island using much smaller and bumpier tracks. The highlights of the tour were visiting the Giant Tortoises and watching the Marine Iguanas sunbathing on the rocks. The animals here are not at all frightened by humans and it is easy to get quite close. Lunch was included in the tour and this was at Fernandos house (what a surprise!) where his wife and daughters looked after us and Fernando showed us his visitors books with entries from visiting yachts stretching back about twenty years.
One of the other great attractions here are the Sea Lions - we do not even have to leave the boat to watch them. They swim around the boat and sleep all over the dock and the seafront. After we had been here a couple of days, one of the smaller Sea Lions decided that our bathing platform would be a good place to sleep. We had quite a shock when we first saw his face peering in through the open hatch in the aft cabin! He is now a regular visitor and sleeps here every night. This is OK but it can be noisy when he snores and burps and fights off other Sea Lions that come to investigate.
A couple more boats that we know have arrived now (Michael and Linda on "Besheret" and Peter on "Sayonara") and Peggy West has gone off to another island - Santa Cruz to get their radar repaired. We are thinking of moving on again - probably on Tuesday next week. We are stocking up with fresh fruit and vegetables and on Saturday morning we are having water delivered (Fernando again - he must be making a fortune!).
Our next destination is The Marquesas - a group of islands in French Polynesiaabout 3000 miles away. This passage will be our longest so far - slightly longer than crossing the Atlantic so we are hoping for fair winds and calm seas.
Will try to get this update onto the website before we leave the Galapagos, but am not sure whether this will be possible yet. Hopefully will be able to do our next update from The Marquesas.
Tuesday 11th June 2008 - Atuona Anchorage, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands
Well, we made it to French Polynesia after 25 days and 6 hours at sea - but not without a couple of incidents (more about that later).
After weighing anchor and motoring out of Wreck Bay we soon had the sails up, the engine off and were sailing on a broad reach towards the open ocean. We quickly got into our routine of three hour watches and for the first week we made really good progress. The winds were lighter and the seas much smoother than our Atlantic crossing eighteen months ago. After our bread ran out, Al started baking every other day. We started fishing and were quite optimistic as Peter on "Mr. Percival" had given us a lure and some fishing instructions. Sure enough, after trailing the lure for about an hour and a half we caught our first fish - a small Dorado (also known as Mahi Mahi or Dolphin fish). We managed to get the struggling fish aboard and tried to subdue it with our freshly prepared spray bottle of Brandy (cheap spanish version). Next we had to convert this fresh fish into something we could eat, so following the instructions we had, we cut off the fillets from both sides. Al then skinned the fillets while I washed the blood and guts from the deck with buckets of water. Large haddock and chips from the chippy is a lot easier than this! Anyway, we enjoyed pan fried fillet of Dorado that evening and a spicy fish pasta the following evening. Later in the passage we caught a couple more Dorado - the largest being about 1 metre long, and Al discovered a rather good recipe for fish chowder.
During the passage we would look forward to listening to the "net" on the SSB radio. We only have a receiver and cannot transmit, but each morning we would listen to other boats chatting on the "Flying Fish" net and in the evening on the "Nautical Nomads" net. We knew a number of the boats as we had met them in various places between Venezuela and Panama, and so we joined in by sending emails to a couple of boats using our satellite phone and then our position would be read out during the net.
The Pacific is a huge ocean and we did not expect to see any other boats during the passage. As it turned out we saw two commecial vessels - one passed in the opposite direction about two miles off during the night. The second one looked like a research vessel and was stationary with no signs of life - we nearly sailed straight into it. We spotted it when it was about half a mile away and we had to furl the jib so that we could alter course to pass astern of it. We also saw and spoke on VHF radio with four other yachts, so it was fairly busy out there.
Our biggest incident occured on the last night at sea when we were about 75 miles from Hiva Oa. We were sailing along quite happily and looking forward to getting to the anchorage the following day when we both heard a loud bang. We looked around the boat with torches and could not see anything amiss - the mast was still there and the sails were where they should be. I decided to go up to the mast and have a look around - it was then that I spotted the broken baby stay (small wire stay in front of the mast that supports it at the lower spreaders). We decide to lower the sails to reduce pressure on the mast and thought we would just motor the final few miles to the anchorage. The engine started without problem, but when we tried to motor forward we were not gaining any speed. We tried reverse - that worked fine. After checking the gear linkage itself we decided that the gearbox had a serious problem and we would have to continue sailing depite the weakened mast. After rigging a couple of ropes to help support the mast we set a small Genoa and continued to sail on towards the anchorage.
After a while it looked as though the mast was going to hold up OK, so we felt that we would be able to make it to Hiva Oa. The problem would be getting into the anchorage without forward gear. We had email addresses for a couple of boats that we knew were already in the anchorage so we sent off an email explaining our problem. The next morning we got a call from Jeremy on "Astra" and chatted through the problem. This was a big relief - Jeremy said that they would listen for us on VHF as we approached and would organise a few dinghies to tow us into the anchorage whenever we arrived. In the end everything went very smoothly - we sailed almost to the breakwater and were met by a fleet of four dinghies. They, along with a large catamarran that was coming in at the same time towed us in and helped us anchor.
We have been here just over a week now and have been working out how to fix the mast and the gearbox. The Marquesas are a long way from anywhere and they do not have shops selling gearboxes or rigging. We did however get chatting with Peter and Judith on their catamaran "Camille" - their steering failed 200 miles out and they were towed in by another boat. They had just received spares from Holland and the US by FedEx, so it is possible to get stuff shipped out here, but it is slow and expensive. They were waiting four weeks. We have ordered a new gearbox and this should have shipped from Miami today - should be here in a week or two! We are also in touch by email with a rigger in England so hopefully we will make some progress towards fixing the baby stay soon. We have already rigged a temporary stay using some blocks and rope, so we should be able to move on once the gearbox arrives and we get it working. Tahiti is just over 700 miles away and there are yacht workshops and repair facilities there if we still need them.
The anchorage here is a bit rolly but seems safe enough and the views of the surrounding hills are stunning (will try to post some photos soon). The shops are well stocked but quite expensive - £2.50 for a 0.5l bottle of beer in the supermarket and I think we just paid £1.40 for a small cucumber at the fruit and veg van. A small beer is £4 in the bar - we are staying in and drinking our cheap beer from Panama! We can getfresh french bread every day which is rather nice.
As we will be here for a while we are catching up with a number of friends on boats that we have met previously between Venezuela and The Galapagos Islands. A few have gone on ahead now, a couple are here at the moment and we expect more to arrive during the next week, so we are not short of company or things to keep us occupied.
That is about it for now - more news on our repairs in our next update.
Wednesday 2nd July 2008 - Baie Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands
Just a short update this time as the internet connection here is rather slow.
Our new gearbox arrived just over a week ago and I managed to fit it without sinking the boat or even much swearing too much, so we are now mobile again.
The day after we left Hiva Oa and sailed overnight in light winds to Oa Pou - about 65 miles away. The temporary stay on the mast seemed to hold up quite well, so we have decided to have the replacementsent out to Tahiti and continue with the temporary stay until we get there. We spent just one night in Oa Pou anchored off a small quiet town with fantastic volcanic mountain scenery in the background and set off the next morning for Baie Taiohae on the island of Nuku Hiva. We were just leaving the anchorage when our friends Michael and Linda called on the VHF and said that they were on the way to Daniels Bay - the next one along on Nuku Hiva. We decided to divert and join them there.
Daniels bay is totally enclosed with a small beach at one end and towering cliffs at the other. We spent two nights here and did a five hour hike inland to see a waterfall - supposedly the third highest in the world. The waterfall itself was rather disappointing as the volume of water flowing down was really just a trickle. The walk and the scenery however were excellent. Most of the way things were fairly easy, but we had to cross two rivers along the way. This meant removing boots and trousers and exposing skin without any insect repellent on it. This is not a good idea and we all got a number of nasty "NoNo" bites. Al in particular lhas bites all over her legs - very itchy, but getting better now.
We are now in Baie Taiohae - a bit rolly but otherwise OK. We have met up with a number of old friends here and I (Nige) have been getting up early to do the bread run with the "old guys" (Michael on "B'sheret" and Peter on "Mr. Percival") - they see me as a bit of a youngster as I am still under 50! We have stocked up with some fresh fruit and vegetables which is not always easy here - cucumbers seem to be in short supply at the moment. Al's brother Julian has shipped our new babystay to Tahiti (thanks again Jules), so as that is on it way we will be leaving tomorrow to sail the 750 miles or so to Papeete. We will be taking it easy because of the temporary repair on the rigging, but we should be there in about a week.
That is it for now - will try to upload some more photos next time.
Friday 18th July 2008 - Papeete, Tahiti
Our passage from Nuku Hiva with the temporary babystay went fine for the first three days - then I developed quite bad toothache. This meant that I did not enjoy the rest of the passage very much and was not able to eat much solid food. Of course this meant that Al's life was miserable too! Still, we managed to make reasonable time with two reefs in the main and a small headsail. We passed through the Tuamotos (also known as the dangerous archipelago) without any problems and then the wind died away to almost nothing. We had about 150 miles to go and as I wanted to get to a dentist as quickly as possible, we started the engine and motor sailed the rest of the way.
We arrived in Papeete in the morning of Wednesday 9th July and after negotiating the pass in the reef, moored bows to a floating dock at the Quai des Yachts. We checked in with immigration and with the port authority and then went in search of the dentist recommended by the friendly Gendarme in the immigration office. We found the dentist and expected to make an appointment fro the following day, but there was no hanging around. I was in the chair after a 15 minute wait having the nerve removed from my tooth - followed by an x-ray, a temporary filling and an appointment to go back the following Tuesday for a permanent filling. So most of the pain had been removed from my mouth but my wallet was hurting a lot - everything is expensive in French Polynesia and the dentist was no exception. I have now been back for the permanent filling and although my mouth is still sore, it is slowly getting back to normal.Papeete is a fairly big town and far more sophisticated than the smaller South Pacific islands - there is a Champion supermarket and two large Carrefour supermarkets, so we are stocking up with provisions to get us down to New Zealand. We visited the black pearl museum (they cultivate a lot of pearls here) and one evening we went to the "Heiva". This is a competition involving traditional songs and dances that troupes from various islands take part in. Each dance troupe consists of 120 dancers in traditional costumes, so it was quite spectacular - unfortunately photography is not allowed so no pictures to show. Another evening we went to see something that was advertised as "Men carrying fruits" - we were very excited as you can imagine! This was in fact a race involving men carrying poles with bunches of bananas and other fruits at each end - unfortunately no photos again as it was too dark. We also managed to sit at a bar, drink a few beers and watch a band (rockin' rather than traditional) - a great night out at "Les 3 Brasseurs".
Our replacement babystay arrived in Papeete before we did and we finally managed to get it through customs six days later. Once we had collected it, we moved off the Quai des Yachts and we are now anchored a couple of miles along the coast off Marina Taina. We have now fitted the babystay and all seems OK, so we'll be heading off to Moorea and Bora Bora in a few days time. We have also met up with a couple of old friends here in the anchorage - Bill and Amy on "Estrellita" and Steve and Janet on "Bliss". Steve and Bill have both had tattoos done in Nuku Hiva. In fact, Bill liked his so much he had a second one done. Amy has promised that she will get one done if Alison has one, so we are now under a bit of pressure to get them aswell. We have not committed to doing it yet - I think the toothache gave me enough pain for a while. We'll keep you informed of developments!
Friday 15th August 2008 - Bora Bora
Well, no tattoos yet - in fact, not much of interest has happened since our last update. We have anchored in various beautiful bays and walked through magnificent countryside to stunning viewpoints. We have been swimming and read loads of books and done plenty of socializing on numerous different boats - that is what most of the yachties seem to do here.
After leaving Tahiti we sailed about 20 miles across to Moorea and anchored in Cook's Bay for about a week. Whilst there we did a rather long walk around the mountain to the next bay and then around the coast road back to the boat. A couple of days later we did another walk up to the Belvedere viewpoint with Michael and Linda ("B'sheret"), stopping for freshly squeezed pamplemousse (grapefruit) juice at an agricultural college on the way back.
Our next stop was Huahine - a nice little town but the anchorage was busy and with lots of coral heads to wrap the anchor chain around. We spent a very windy and gusty night there followed by a struggle to get the anchorup in the morning. Once free of the coral we sailed downwind along with "B'sheret" to Tahaa where we sailed through the gap in the surrounding reef and into Haamene Bay. We spent seven nights in the bay with a few other boats sheltering from some quite strong winds - we had hoped to be in Bora Bora for Al's birthday on 6th August but the weather was not too good for getting there. Instead we spent a very enjoyable evening on a 64ft American boat called "Szel" with all the other cruisers in the anchorage.
On the 8th August we left Tahaa in quite light winds and had aspinnaker/cruising chute race with Peter and Gill on "Mr Percival" to Bora Bora. We had agreed the night before that we would set off about 0700 the next morning. At 0600 we were awoken by the sound of "Mr. P." weighing anchor and sneaking off early! (Peter's excuse was that his boat is smaller and he needs a head start). We eventually got up and started off about an hour later and had great fun trying to catch up. In the end we entered the pass through the reef in Bora Bora about 20 seconds behind "Mr. P."
We spent the first few nights here on a mooring ball outside Bloody Mary's restaurant where we went for sundowners one evening - obviously we had to try their Bloody Mary's which were rather good. We spent a night anchored off Toopua, one of the small islands in the lagoon, before moving to the anchorage off the Bora Bora Yacht Club. The anchorage off the Yacht Club is rather deep - we anchored in about 28m. We have never anchored in water anywhere near this deep before and had to extend the anchor chain with 20m of warp (rope). The holding was pretty good though and we stayed there for a couple of nights in winds gusting up to 30 knots.
We are now anchored along with "Mr. P." and "B'sheret" inside the reef on the north east side of Bora Bora in beautiful azure blue seas. It has been overcast and raining today - which is why I am writing this. I have also refilled the stern gland greaser and this morning I serviced the aft head (toilet). It is not all lazing in the sun doing nothing out here in paradise!
We are planning to leave French Polynesia in the next few days. On Sunday we will be checking the latest "Weathergram" from Bob Mc Davitt (New Zealand Weather forecaster). Depending on what he says and looking at the latest weather forecasts, we will then be heading for either Samoa or Tonga.
Friday 26th September 2008 - Neiafu, Kingdom of Tonga
Bob McDavitt said do not take the northern route when heading west, so we took his advice and set off for Tonga - a passage of about 1300 miles.There are a couple of small islands on the way that we could have stopped at - Palmerston and Niue. As things turned out we did not stop at all - we had a couple of days of very light winds that slowed us down and then the forecasts were predicting a period of very strong winds. We checked our progress and decided it would be best to get to Tonga as quickly as possible. There would be much better shelter there than in the small islands en-route. We rounded the northern island group of Tonga (Vava'u) at about 0200 on Saturday 29th August with squalls and 35 knots of wind blowing us along. Once on the western side of the islands things were much calmer and we hove to until daybreak before heading into the anchorage. We dropped anchor off the main town of Neiafu right next to our old friend Frank on "Morning Light" - we had last seen him in Hiva Oa in The Marquesas.
The northern part of Tonga is a great cruising ground for yachts - the seas are calm and there are plenty of anchorages. There is a fairly large yacht charter operation in Neiafu and a lot of cruising yachts stop here for a while. This popularity means that even though Tonga is quite a poor country, there are a number of bars and restaurants catering for all the yachties. Most are run by Aussies, Kiwi's, Americans or Brits - they all employ the locals, but it seems a shame that very few of the businesses are run by Tongans. However, it does mean that there are plenty of places to go out and, as it is much cheaper than French Polynesia, we have been out quite a lot.
Shopping for provisions here is more difficult than French Polynesia - there is no Carrefour supermarket supplying everything you need. We go to the market for vegetables - need to check each stall to see who has the best tomatoes, lettuce etc. No one ever seems to have cucumber. We then go to another four or five small supermarkets buying differerent items in each place, and then we go to see "Pete the Meat" to get frozen chicken or pork chops.
We have now been here almost four weeks and have split our time between the town anchorage and various other small anchorages - none more than about ten miles away. When in town we do the provisioning and visit the bars - usually The Mermaid, but sometimes The Bounty Bar and Tonga Bob's. When in the smaller anchorages we relax and swim and sleep a lot - very lazy! We did one trip in the dinghy to Swallow's Cave - about a mile and a half fromanchorage #7 in "The Moorings Guide". (The charter company here is called "Moorings" and has numbered all the anchorages because some of the names are difficult to pronounce). Driving the dinghy into the cave was great but is a bit noisy and quickly fills with exhaust fumes if you do not turn the outboard off.
Another highlight of the week is the "friendly" cruisers yacht race that is held every Friday afternoon. I have participated twice as crew on "Morning Light". The first race was pretty good - Frank had about 10 crew aboard and we managed a respectable 4th place out of 10. That was a pretty good result considering that many of the boats were much bigger. The second race was hilarious - Frank had befriended some of the local Tongans and in a drunken moment asked if they would like to go sailing. When we arrived at the Mermaid Bar for the race briefing, five Tongans were waiting there for us. Most Tongans are quite large people - it is part of the culture - they aspire to be big people and our prospective crew were no exception. In addition to that, the two ladies were wearing full length dresses and the three guys were wearing traditional Tongan dress which includes a calf length skirt and a sort of wrap made from woven matting. They were not exactly dressed for climbing in and out of dinghy's. Two of the guys were extremely camp and more interested in posing for photographs than anything else! (Men dressing as women is quite common and accepted in many South Pacific countries) We eventually managed to get them all aboard and compete in the race - we finished 8th out of 13 and were pleased that we had not lost any of our new Tongan friends overboard.
That is about it from Tonga - we cleared customs this morning and will be leaving tomorrow for Fiji. We hope to be inSuva towards the end of next week.
Saturday 18th October 2008 - Royal Suva Yacht Club, Fiji
On the passage to Fiji we had a real mixed bag of weather - light winds, no wind, loads of rain and then loads of wind which made for an interesting time. Anyway we made it here safely into Suva harbour on Thursday 2nd and anchored in the quarantine area to wait for the health and quarantine inspectors. After being deemed healthy, we re-anchored near the Royal Suva Yacht Club where we are now temporary members. It sounds posh but the club is quite down to earth with a friendly bar where you can get a half of Fiji Bitter for F$2 (about 60p). The following morning we walked into town and eventually found the immigration and customs offices hidden away in the commercial docks.
Suva is the largest city in the South Pacific and the population is a mixture of Fijians, Indians and Chinese. The hustle and bustle of the town makes a nice change from all those idyllic anchorages with golden beaches and coconuts! The great thing about having such a mixed population is that there is a variety of reasonably priced cafes and restaurants - we have already been out for Indian, Chinese and fish and chips - just like home!In the coffee shop at the MH supermarket they sell "Mutton Rolls" - these are like sausage rolls but filled with something similar to a spicy lamb kebab - great! Nightlife in Suva is also pretty good - there are plenty of bars and nightclubs in the centre of town which have provided us with a couple of very lively Friday nights out.
We haven't just been hanging around town eating and drinking - we hired a car for a couple of days so that we could see some more of the island. Our first trip was around to Lautoka on the Western side of the island and it was interesting to see the countryside changing from very lush jungle vegetation here in the East to much dryer conditions on the Western side. It is also noticeable that Fiji is still quite a poor country when you get away from the main towns. For our second day out we planned to head up to the Northeast but had to turn back when the main road (The Kings Highway) deteriorated into not much more than a cart track! We had hired the cheapest car we could find (Toyota Corolla) when we really could have done with a four wheel drive.
We now need to start heading south and out of the tropics as the cyclone season will be starting in a few weeks time. We were hoping to set off for New Zealand on Monday butthe weather forecast does not look too good so we may end up hanging around here for a few more days. It shouldn't be too bad - might be able to fit in some more fish and chips and maybe another curry. We'll need to get out to sea again then so we can lose some weight!
Wednesday 19th November 2008 - Opua Marina, New Zealand
We made it here to Opua in the north of New Zealand on Friday 7th November after an interesting eleven day passage from Fiji. On the second night out of Suva we encountereda gale - 35 knots plus, so we sailed for a while with double reefed main only. Al was seasick, so when I got tired we hove to for about 12 hours.We both managedto get some rest and then carried on. Later in the trip motored for about 20 hours to get through a high pressure system where there was no wind at all. Next a cold frontpassed over us bringing our second gale. This time we kept sailing with a triple reefed main downwind, Al was fine this time and we made some good progress. Following the gale we had 25knots on the nose and really big seas - this slowed us down a lot - we spent about 24 hours sailing very slowly into the wind and sea. The passage finished really fast with 20 knots on the beam for the last 36 hours. Despite the gales and the rough seas it was actually quite an enjoyable passage. It is nice to know that we can cope with those sort of conditions when necessary.
After clearing customs and having all our fresh fruit and vegetables taken away by the quarantine officers we berthed in the marina. It is great - our first marina since Cartagena in Columbia. We have shore power so we can use our electric kettle. We can also use our fan heater which we need here - it was only 11įC this morning - rather chilly after six months in the tropics!
We have spent our time here relaxing and doing a few jobs on the boat. We have also met up with friends that we have not seen since French Polynesia. Mike and Linda (B'sheret), Peter and Gill (Mr. Percival) and Peter (Sayonara) are all here in the marina. We have had a number of evenings together eating, drinking and chatting about our experiences in the South Pacific including a party at The Blue Water Bistro to celebrate Gill's birthday.
Tomorrow we will be setting off again to make our way slowly down to Auckland where we plan to spend Christmas and New Year. It is only about 130 miles, but we plan to stop in a few of the anchorages on the way down there.
Monday 29th December 2008 - Auckland, New Zealand
We left the Marina in Opua as planned and then spent few days anchored off the small town of Russell in the Bay of Islands. A picturesque little town and the original capital of New Zealand. We then day sailed down the coast stopping to anchor for a night or two at Whangamumu, Whangaruru, Tutukaka, Kawau Island, Islington Bay, and Putiki Bay on Waiheke before heading into Auckland. The scenery is great and much like parts of the UK but it is much quieter - not so many people.
So we finally made it to Auckland on 12th December and spent our first three nights in Westhaven marina before moving across the Waitemata harbour to Bayswater marina where we are now booked in until early March. There is not much in Bayswater itself but the marina is nice. We can get the bus to the nearby towns of Devonport and Takapuna or take a 10 minute ferry ride across to Auckland, so we have been out and about exploring. It is great to be in a big city again - loads of bars, pubs, shops and restaurants. The people are really friendly and helpful and of course they speak English which makes life here really easy for us. We can also get fish and chips, great pies and theymake great beer and wine here - will have to watch the weight! Westarted to sort out the work that we needed to do on the boat but the locals were starting to wind down for Christmas which coincides with the summer holidays here. Oh well, jobs can be done next year!
Our friends from Nottingham - Ashley and Melissa came out to New Zealand for a couple of weeks holiday over Christmas and New Year. It was great to see them again and we spent time together in Auckland and then stayed with them over Christmas in their really nice villa overlooking Oneroa Bay on Waiheke Island. They went off to the South Island for a few days and then we met up again to celebrate New Years Eve in Auckland. A great night visiting a few pubs and a restaurant in Vulcan lane then watching a really good band at the Northern Steamship pub whilst watching the fireworks being let off from the top of the Sky Tower.
So that brings us to the end of a great year - hope the next one is as good.