A Capella of Belfast Blogs

We have popped our bubble!

Like most of the rest of the world we have been in a lockdown as a result of coronavirus for the past six weeks. We always knew that sailing around the world was going to be an experience and there would be difficult times, but never did we imagine we would spend an enforced six weeks in one place and never venture further than we can walk or cycle, and we will most likely spend another year in New Zealand. Like everyone else we have adapted to this new lifestyle and some of this enforced isolation has been quite liberating in many ways.

Popping our bubble with Bill and Zoe from S/Y Into the Blue

In New Zealand we have been in lockdown bubbles, and finally last Monday we learnt that we could pop our bubble and adapt to the new normal at Lockdown Level 2. Social distancing continues but internal travel, work, schools, shops, restaurants are all open. Jacinda Ardern, the PM, has rightly we feel, received much praise for her handling of CV 19. New Zealand did have the advantage of learning from Europe, and being relatively isolated, but to be fair, Ms Ardern has made the most of New Zealand’s favourable position. The lock down at level 4 was very strict, basically do nothing unless essential. While this seemed harsh at times, it was clear and has delivered. Jacinda and the Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, delivered the latest updates on the situation at one o’clock each day from the Beehive (NZ Parliament building). These were short factual addresses with no egos, some thank yous but no unctuous praise, no tedious explanations, no tests, no milestones, no confusing messages or banging on about “roads to recovery”.

Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield in action

In the mornings we listen to the PM Programme on BBC Radio Four and the briefings from Downing Street, and we download The Times newspaper each day. It has been interesting to contrast the different approaches and reactions as between the UK and New Zealand. This is such an incredibly difficult time and we think of home often and all the terrible difficulties being experienced in the UK. Of course it is easier when there is good news, but we have found the direct, clear, no fuss approach of the New Zealand Government very refreshing. We do feel incredibly lucky to be in New Zealand at this time. Many of our fellow cruisers have found themselves in very difficult locations where they have been unable to leave their boats, but also having no where else to go.

Our boat was launched just before lockdown and we are in an excellent marina near a small town called Ruakaka. There are probably about 20 boats here like us, and even with social isolating we have a good community. Initially there was talk about onward travel to Tonga or Fiji before the Southern Hemisphere’s winter sets in, but this has all died down. We might get some winter sailing, but most people are preparing their boats for the colder and wet weather ahead.

As anyone who has cruised knows there are always boat jobs to do. During lockdown there have been no excuses for any quick fixes, and in many ways this has been an excellent opportunity to really make sure the boat is up to scratch.

Julian has taken the electronics to a new level with various improvement projects, and these are getting more ambitious and possibly just a little eccentric. We now have a comprehensive bilge alarm with coloured lights indicating the presence of water in any of the three bilge areas. The electric head (loo) flush is now operated by an infra red proximity switch linked to a timer which saves that tiresome business of pushing the button for 15 seconds! A mysterious earth leakage problem when the printer and TV screen were both switched on, has been resolved. Our friend Bill from S/Y Krabat is joining us tomorrow for a few weeks and he and Julian have even more ambitious electronic projects planned.

The new infra red operated loo flusher in prototype mode
Bilge alarm (uses Darlington pairs of transistors and SCR latching switches)

I have improved the boombag and it now has a rain water catching system and a new cover for the sail mast slides. I have also made a new set of fender covers now in black (they were previously grey). The last project has been making hatch covers both to protect the glass from UV damage, but also to allow us to put insulation underneath to stop condensation in the winter months. My sewing skills are improving rapidly.

Boombag improvements – new cover for sail mast slides, and new water collecting arrangement (pipe hanging down just to port of the mast)
Making fender covers
New insulated hatch covers

We do practise “keep Sunday special” and Julian has taken to cooking Sunday supper, and we try and have an extra long walk. Lamb shanks have proved excellent but there has been beef pot roast and lasagne, and I am glad not to have to cook. Leftovers usually last for a day or two.

Lamb shanks with roast vegetables

We are close to two great beaches. Our favourite is just by the marina and it has the most fabulous array of bird life. We have counted 14 different species and they all seem to mingle together. We walk there most days and nearly always see something different or interesting. I have taken on a project to draw all the birds we see. This is quite a task, but very enjoyable, and I have quite a few still to record. Our other little outing is to the supermarket. It is about 6km away and we cycle. The lack of cars on the road has made this a pleasure. As NZ comes back to life this might not be so enjoyable.

White Fronted Terns socially isolating
The Red Billed gulls do paddling presumably to bring up creatures to eat
New Zealand Kingfishers which seem quite common
Royal Spoonbills, Herons and even a small Dotterel
Drawing of the dainty Pied Stilts which we see regularly on the beach
Drawing of a greedy Red Billed Gull who came and begged when we stopped for coffee and sandwiches
Drawing of a Cormorant which again we see regularly
A coffee stop on our favourite walk along the beach

We left the marina on the boat for the first time yesterday and motored to Urquharts Bay to anchor overnight about five miles away from the marina. This is the first time we have anchored since we left Minerva Reef last October. Here we checked that the generator and water maker were working. Thankfully they were. Today we have finished puting on the sails, all the reefing lines, sheets, preventers etc. It just seems amazing, that despite looking at all these ropes many, many times, remembering exactly how they go is not that easy. The boat is now ready to go.

We had a lovely nine mile walk this afternoon up Mount Lion and down to Peach Cove car park and back with Bill and Zoe. This did make us puff as walks along the beach do not substitute for a good hill walk, but great views and we will sleep well tonight.

View from Mount Lion looking towards Whangarei
Lunch stop photo shoot at the top

Our onward plans are going no where. All the country borders nearby are closed and the Southern Hemisphere winter is closing in. We are planning to stay in New Zealand for another year subject to visas. So hear goes for winter in New Zealand. We are looking forward to what this might bring, but winter walking, some winter sailing and even some skiing are on the agenda all being well.

We really do appreciate how lucky we are to have found ourselves in New Zealand during the pandemic. We send our very best wishes to all our friends in the UK and elsewhere in the World, and trust that you are all keeping safe and well in these very difficult times.

A very different World

It seems incredible that we have gone from touring in the South Island of New Zealand to global lock down and thousands in deaths in Europe and elsewhere in just a few weeks. I have been slow to write the blog as everything just seemed so awful, and a blog did not seem appropriate.

We lifted our boat out of the water back in November last year. Since then we have toured the North Island, been back home to the UK and visited the South Island. We arrived back on the boat on March 8th. Living on a boat out of the water is thoroughly unpleasant. Given the current situation how thankful we are, that we were launched last week and are now floating again. A Capella is ready to set sail but we have nowhere to go to. We listen to the BBC 18:00 hrs news in the morning, followed by Radio New Zealand. As they say unprecedented times. I guess we are all getting our minds around the coronavirus situation, and so many people have emailed wondering how we are getting on. Thus we have concluded that a new blog would be a good thing. The blog is our record of our trip and is a great way to sort the photos. Additionally, in these difficult days, it has been good to remember better times.

New Zealand is in lockdown now for at least one month. There are relatively few cases here, and it all seems very civilised, so if we are really lucky, things may improve here (and elsewhere hopefully) quite quickly.

A Capella of Belfast being re-launched at Norsands boat yard on March 16

We flew back to NZ at the beginning of February after having a great six weeks home in the UK. It was wonderful to see so many family and friends and the hospitality was amazing. Thank you all so much. We returned to an arid New Zealand on February 5th.

It just seems so long ago but we checked our boat on our return from the UK, and then fairly quickly headed off for the South Island. There is no doubt about it, this is a magnificent country and we had a great trip down the East coast to Dunedin and then back up the West coast enjoying the vast, varied scenery. We quickly learnt that New Zealand is a sophisticated tourist destination and keeping our wallets firmly shut most of the time was very necessary. We opted to hire a car and to stay in Airbnbs after deciding this was a cheaper and more flexible option than our previous favourite, booking.com. This proved a good choice and we stayed in some lovely places and met some delightful hosts. We also stayed with an old school friend of mine, Debbie Holmes, for a couple of nights near Christchurch and we had a great time reminiscing and catching up. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo, but I can confirm neither of us had changed too much.

Arriving on the ferry in Picton, South Island
Accommodation in a 1970’s Airbnb “space ship”. The orange, and purple decor was quite hard to live with, but definitely different!
Enjoying a little Pinot Noir at our off grid Airbnb. Our favourite, this place had so many delightful quirky features.

Some highlights from our tour

We were staggered by the scale of the vineyards around Marlborough. We must have driven for 50 miles through non stop plantations. The vineyards do get pampered with irrigation, huge fans (which look like small wind turbines) to push through frost and netting to stop the birds. It does make wassailing look a little amateur. We were surprised to see enormous irrigation machines for grassland as well. And yes, we did check the quality of the wine, and it was very good.

The vast vineyards of Marlborough – note the white frost fans
A necessary visit to Cloudy Bay!

We stayed on a beef, sheep and deer farm in a little shepherd’s cottage near Hamner Springs, and Debbie organised a visit to a friends of hers who farm beef and sheep near Mount Somers. It was interesting to learn and see New Zealand farming in practise. Acreage and animal numbers are measured in many, many thousands and the on farm handling systems look amazing, but again the pasture was just so dry.

Spraying lambs – super quick
Spreading lime kiwi style by plane
Off to work
There were plenty of Hereford cattle
Permanent on farm shearing set up – very organised
One farm, vast acreages

I was particularly keen to see some Yellow Eyed penguins. Despite the many sign-posted locations these proved elusive in the wild, and it turns out they are really quite rare and solitary. We did see them and some baby Blue penguins in a sanctuary in Dunedin. They really are the sweetest things. We also saw albatross pairs with their chicks . We were particularly lucky to see them in the air as they swopped parenting duties. Their wing span is enormous and, of course they are very graceful, although their sheer size and speed does make them slightly scary.

Feeding yellow eyed penguins. The little shy chap at the back is a Fiordland penguin
Very proud Mum and Dad albatrosses

The walking proved great with well signposted tracks and fabulous scenery.

Cape Foulwind named by Capt Cook – he had a point
Otago Peninsula
The fantastic lace-like lichen near the Lewis Pass
A New Zealand hawk at the top of Mount Isobel
Just so dry
Beach art in Hokitika
On the west coast – a little wet

We generally don’t enjoy visiting towns but we found Christchurch very interesting. You will remember that there was a devasting earthquake there in 2011 and it was fascinating to see how the city had recovered and changed. There was a strange juxtaposition of very modern shopping centres and the like, next to damaged buildings, and plenty of car parks where buildings once stood. We had a great tram ride, and we did find it super trendy with plenty of street art but I think the developers are doing a great job. We did come across an organic hairdresser. Do tell me what is an inorganic hairdresser?

The lovely Tram in Christchurch
Christchurch Catherdral
Modern Christchurch

We were not going to visit Queenstown (much to touristy for us), but our Airbnb host suggested that we would enjoy it. Queenstown must be the adrenaline junky capital of the world. There is nothing scary you cannot do and it is fun to watch the brave. We opted for a more sedate cruise on the beautiful historic steamship, Earnslaw. All the working steam engines were on display and I really thought Julian might join the stokers! It is a beautiful setting and a really fun place.

An array of adrenaline junky trips In Queenstown
A shark ride. This thing also goes underwater!
The beautiful Earnslaw steam ship
Julian studying the steam engines
Queenstown- A beautiful setting
No – we did not have a go!

New Zealand is a practical/farming country and we did see plenty of lovely old machinery. There were two highlights. The first was Hayes Engineering works in the Otago region. The displays included a typical early nineteenth century machine shop. This had a lethal series of belts and pulleys and was first powered by wind and then electricity from a home built hydro electric plant. Ernest Hayes invented the smooth grip wire strainer in 1924. These were sold around the world and I suspect can be found on most farms in the UK. There was certainly one at Leadon Court. The second was an amazing display of old Seagull outboards at the Hokitika museum near Greymouth. Older sailors and cruisers will remember them with some affection. Those of us who were passengers in the dinghy will remember that lethal starting rope!

A display of old seagull outboards
The Hayes workshop
Chain grab wire strainer
Not sure where this is, but Julian is pleased that the big squeezy tomato sauce dispenser is alive and well in NZ. Much better than disposal plastic sachets.
Beautiful Picton on the day we left the South Island

Onwards plan

Our onward travels are looking difficult but relative to many other cruisers, we find ourselves in a very favourable position. We are safe in an excellent marina and New Zealand is not a bad place to be stuck. One of our friends is floating around in the Indian Ocean with nowhere they can go, even to provision. All the possible destinations have shut their borders. Their (Swedish) embassy has told them to be innovative!

We originally had planned to head to Indonesia but after some reflection, we changed our minds and decided Australia and onward to South Africa and back into the Atlantic was a better option. We are waiting for our Australian visas but are not really very hopeful of an early departure from NZ. To enjoy favourable weather we need to leave New Zealand by June at the latest, as after that we are in the Southern Hemisphere winter. Currently all possible destinations have closed their borders so a June departure does not seem very likely. There may be a window of opportunity in October/November time to leave NZ for Australia but after this it will be May/June of 2021 when we can depart from here.

We are now in lockdown for at least a month, but we are in a good marina in a fairly remote location, and close to two large beaches where we can walk. The cockpit tent is up (for the first time) and so we have a conservatory. Julian and Bill (from Krabat) made it into workshop for a day. One new bilge alarm, courtesy of Bill’s hard work (on the day before lock-down) has been constructed. We will have to be creative and inventive for the next month to keep ourselves occupied, but things could be so much more difficult. We have little choice but to wait and see.

The projects begin
The new Conservatory!

Thinking of you all at this very difficult time. Keep safe.

Land based and visiting in North Island, New Zealand

We are just waiting in the airport for our flights home – boy, have we come along way – it is 36 hrs home by plane.

Four weeks ago we were ready to leave the boat and go exploring in New Zealand’s north Island. We had about three weeks travel time. Many people hire or buy a camper van but we opted for a car and using hotels and possibly camping. Swopping one small place for another even smaller space just did not seem attractive, and we have found that it is easy to find very reasonably priced accommodation at short notice. Yes, definitely fans of booking.com, but New Zealand is such an accommodating place, and well set-up for the touring tourist.

First stop Auckland. Not the capital but the biggest city. Here we stayed with relatives Chris and Jane Ireland. Great hospitality, super comfortable bed and a bath! Very interesting tour of the waterside district of Auckland and inspection of the old America’s Cup boats.

We took the opportunity to visit Josh and Sara Tucker and family in their lovely home by the Stillwater Creek. Josh and Sara were with us when we crossed the Atlantic and we cruised and raced together in the Caribbean. It was great to catch up with Sara, Josh and their boys.

Next stop was Lake Taupo which sits on the central volcanic plateau and is New Zealand’s largest lake formed 27,000 years ago after the gigantic Oruanui eruption, and the lake is the caldera. On balance I think Lake Taupo, although a lovely setting, was probably a bit too touristy for us, but it did make a good spot for exploring the mighty River Waikato, and the many very interesting but strange geo thermal sites which we were keen to visit. These are not volcanoes but places where steamy hot water, sulphur smells, and various salts appear from the bowels of the earth. Sort of spooky. We also visited and walked along an old timber trail through the Pureora forest. This was off the beaten track and the flora particularly the lichen and ferns were just amazing. Oh, and Julian was able to “drive” a dead crawler tractor. We have also really enjoyed seeing the New Zealand agriculture on our way. Huge dairy herds, Hereford cattle and sheep all enjoying this great grass growing country.

Now that Julian did not need to worry about the batteries and charging on the boat, he took a keen interest in the renewable energy generation systems in New Zealand. The New Zealanders generate 84% of their electricity requirements from renewable sources. The mighty river Waikato has three hydro power plants and provides the cooling for two geothermal stations. It is also very beautiful and we enjoyed walking the various paths. When we were in the Lake Waikaremoana area we came across a small hydro plant (one of three in this setup,) installed in 1929 and still pumping out 60MW of continuous power. How incredible is that? Sadly we were not able to actually visit inside any of these plants but we think this could be a new tourism opportunity.

We were very keen to walk the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing so next stop was the Tongiraro National Park. This area is a dual World Heritage site. Yes, I am not really sure how you become a dual site as opposed to just a site, however it is a dramatic volcanic landscape, dominated by the perfectly shaped volcanic cone Mt Ngauruhoe and snow clad Mt Ruapehu. The walk was 19.4km and hard but the different views and changing landscape do make this a fabulous experience. Unfortunately it is very popular and thus very busy. We also had some lovely walks in alpine herb fields and beech forests past rusty streams from iron deposits and white streams of silica. Finally we had afternoon tea at the Chateau Tongariro. This was lovely and I haven’t had Battenberg cake for a very long time, but we were rather surprised to find that the actual tea was an extra on the bill – definitely cheeky.

Feeling a good bit fitter, and determined to use our camping gear that we had brought all the way from the UK, we decided to do a NZ Great walk, so we headed to Lake Waikaremoana in the Te Urewera area. This is very, very remote and deep in Maori country. We had a long drive on the magnificent Taupo to Napier road, followed by another steep twisty road and then onto gravel roads. This was a five hour drive which we are never enthusiastic about, but the scenery was fantastic. The return journey to Rotorua was yet another experience with one and a half hours travel on gravel roads through the forest.

We have enjoyed backpacking in the UK but at home you have the relative luxury of more sophisticated campsites ( proper loos and showers!) and local public houses for supper. This time we had to carry all our food, and the facilities are basic; definitely no hot showers, just the Lake for the hardy, and we did not fall into that category. The walk was great as described – very scenic, amazing flora and fauna, and extremely remote. We had four days walking, one night in a hut, and two in our tent. It was quite tough with the backpacks but, believe it or not, the dried food really is not too bad, or perhaps we were just hungry. That said we did make sure we were booked into a decent hotel with a good restaurant when we had finished and I think we deserved it. It was then hot foot back to Auckland, to a very comfortable bed and great hospitality again at Chris and Jane’s house.

Finally we headed back to Whangarei and A Capella to pack for the long trip home. Our friends from the Pacific seem to be drifting around and we were able to catch up with Steve and Katherine from s/y Sunset Gemini, Paul and Sally from s/y Bagheera and had an excellent supper on Karma of the East with Graham, Jonnie and Tim from s/y Larus. All is well with the boat, and she is left in the capable hands of Chris at Norsands. We are planning to relaunch in mid March after returning from the UK, and visiting the South Island.

Undressing A Capella of Belfast

Now we are safely in New Zealand (Whangarei) our plans for A Capella are to stay out of the water for the next few months while we, and the Norsands Boat Yard employees where we are now, undertake the necessary work for the long journey home. We, and all our cruising friends are finding that the wear and tear on the boats while doing this long distance sailing are considerable. We have now travelled over 20,000 miles since leaving Cherbourg in October 2017. New Zealand is well known for having excellent boat yards and workmanship and so we are taking the opportunity to make sure that A Capella will be in the best possible condition before we leave. It will probably take three years to sail home and unplanned repair stops in remote or non yachtie places are not much fun, and so we are doing all we can to avoid this.

We plan to do some visiting and travelling in the North Island before flying home in mid December for six weeks and then we will visit the South Island on our return. We will be in Northern Ireland over Christmas and the New Year, and Herefordshire in the first half of January where we have rented a holiday cottage near Bromyard to stay in from the 6th to the 17th. We do hope to catch up with our Herefordshire friends then. A Capella will be relaunched in March and we will do some sailing in New Zealand before heading north (location to be decided) to the warmth as it will be approaching into winter here, and our six month visitors’ allowance in New Zealand will be up.

We are now land based and the proud hirers of a car for 50 days before we fly home. Having not driven for so long, there was a brief novelty of “popping” to the shops, as opposed to walking, but this wore off quite quickly. Whangarei cannot be called a tourist destination and is quite industrial but for the time being that is just what we want. Julian is thrilled by the quality of the marine and engineering shops. There appears to be every conceivable type of engineering, metal working and widget making facility. Julian has offered that Donovans, just by our boat yard, is the “best ever” tool shop. Given the number of tool shops that Julian has visited he would know, so this is high praise. His only sadness is that Angus is not here to also enjoy. This is not doing so much for me, but I have purchased a very cheap polisher which I am delighted (if one can be delighted by polishing) with, and had my hair cut. Female cruisers are certainly not fashion victims but hair cutting is tricky. My last hair cuts have been in French (Tahiti) and Spanish (Panama.) Google translate is good, but this is a stretch.

Heading up to Norsands and Whangarei

Best ever tool shop!

Favourite marine shop

It seems everything engineering can be found here.

The weather for the first two weeks in Marsden Cove Marina was windy and very cold but since then we have seen the sun and it has been lovely. On the social front we were sad to say good bye to fellow yachts Bruno’s Girl and Zigzag, but had great suppers with them both. We said hello and goodbye to Greyhound who we last saw in Panama, and had an excellent supper on Larus who’s crew Tim and Nancy are staying in Whangarei. We travelled by car up to Opua to see Bill and Moira from Krabat, celebrate my birthday and benefit from Bill’s expertise/essential skill in mending the Torqeedo outboard.

Birthday lunch

We have mainly been hard at work sorting out the jobs that need doing, sourcing various supplies and “undressing” A Capella. Most of the work being done is servicing, rig checking and the like, but we are investing in a new freezer. This will be water cooled and therefore more energy efficient and also more accessible than the old one. We have just learnt that our generator will be replaced under warranty following the exhaust manifold failure and subsequent salt water damage that happened while crossing to the Marquesas.

Three sails packed away

Washing the ropes. Do we really need so many?

Checking the sails. Very different to doing this in the Galapagos

The boat has been hauled out at Norsands Boat Yard which is just up the river from Marsden Cove. This was done using a trailer and waiting for the tide to go out, as opposed to slings and a lift which we are used to, but it all seems to work very well. Since then the rudders, centre board, and propeller have come off in order to check and re do the bearings etc as necessary. I have polished and put on UV protection on the deck and canvass. Living on a boat out of the water is not much fun, and we are just about finished out jobs for now.

The trailer going in

High and dry

Centre Board out

UV protection on the canvass

Rudders off, anodes off, and propeller off

We have really missed some good walking so have been keen to try out the much heralded New Zealand tramps. These have really lived up to expectation and we have enjoyed the magnificent coast around Whangarei and done the Waipahu’s Coastal walkway, Busby to Smugglers Bay and the Whananaki walkway.

Looking towards Whangarei past the oil refinery. This reminds us of Milford Haven

Looking inland on The Whananaki Walkway

The fabulous New Zealand flax on the Waipu Coastal walkway

Whananaki walkway (Julian needs a haircut)

Officially, half way around the world!

We have crossed longitude 180 degrees west are now at 175 degrees east in New Zealand. Heading home, albeit some way to go!

I am starting to write this blog on my final night watch while heading into New Zealand. We are about 60 miles from the coast and have about 70 miles to run until we reach Whangarei our clearing in point, and destination in New Zealand. Part of me is sad that this will be the last night watch for sometime. While I cannot say we look forward to night watches, I think we have now become so used to it, that after a few days our bodies become acclimatised to the disrupted sleep. Night watches can be a magical time with fantastic skies, in your own little world. The sensation of whizzing through the water under sail into darkness or under a big moon is wonderful. We all have our own strategies to help stay awake and my favourite is singing (with all the hand movements) to “Mama Mia here we go again.” A little job when we have some good, cheap broadband is to down load some new musicals to improve my repertoire! It has to be said that the empty Pacific Ocean does make night sailing relatively relaxing. Sadly tonight we are under motor as the wind has died, and this just is not so good, but we have had a fantastic day’s sail steaming along at 7 to 8 knots which will ensure we arrive tomorrow for lunch.

As ever final preparations for a trip of this type take a little time and we spent a week in the anchorage by Big Mama’s Yacht Club a mile or so’s boat ride from Nukalofa, Tongatapu. Big Mama’s is not a yacht club in the conventional sense (or any sense actually) but they have been very helpful in a typical relaxed Tongan kind of way. The menu was the same two choices for both lunch and dinner and this did not change all week, and I am not sure it ever does, but the food was quite good.

Big Mama and Mary

Waiting for the little ferry to take us to Nukalofa to go shopping

A visitor. Welcome as long as he doesn’t chew anything

The boat hull was scrubbed again, and all outdoor equipment, dinghy and anchor locker were cleaned for entry into New Zealand. On scrubbing the dinghy I could not help to notice that the lovely “chaps” we had made in Bequia were beginning to suffer from the abuse of the numerous dodgy dinghy docks which have used. I spent a good day patching the little holes and rubs and it all looked really quite smart, but frustratingly the dinghy then managed to spear itself on Krabat’s self steering while we were in Minerva reef. Despite a temporary”get you home” patch the dinghy is looking a little sorry for itself on the davits. Another job for New Zealand.

Julian, splicer extraordinaire, did yet more splicing in order to protect the reefing lines against the constant enemy, chafe. Chafe happens when our ropes, which can often be in the same spot for days, move ever so slightly on each other or another part of the equipment and cause damage to the rope. This will untimely weaken the rope if action is not taken.

We (Julian) always climbs the mast before such a trip, and particularly when in a place like Tongatapu where there are no yacht facilities, it is always a relief to find all is well. Unfortunately for our friends on Krabat they found that one of their shroud ends was badly cracked. Shrouds are part of the system which holds up the mast. While this was very bad news, how much better to find out while safe, then when at sea where it might fail completely. Julian and Bill, with help from Big Mamas and welding advice from our son Angus back in England, set off to Nukalofa in search of some welders. This, as ever took some time but to be fair to the Tongans, although the facilities were very basic, a good stainless steal welder was found and a great job done. The mended shroud was replaced and given additional support with a jury rig made of dynema rope and it was deemed good enough to complete the journey. Bill was developing monkey like tendencies climbing the mast, as he went up, so many times. Phew!

The crack in Krabat’s shroud

The welders do a good job

Finally a weather window came that was suitable for the 1,000 mile trip from Tonga to New Zealand. The weather conditions can be tricky for this trip. We are leaving the relatively reliable easterly trade winds and entering the westerly depression zone which sweeps over New Zealand similar to UK weather. At this time of year these depressions can be vicious and result in serious storms with 30 knot plus winds. There also tend to be doldrums where the two zones meet and in between the depressions. Oh, and we really prefer the wind on our side or behind us. All this is made a little more difficult as the trip is nine days and long term weather forecasts become less reliable over this long a period. Given the parameters, a perfect window is unlikely.

Looking at weather. We will give this a miss.

Our trip south necessitated a stop at the Minerva reef. This is a very convenient, and amazing reef in the middle of the ocean about 250 miles south of Tonga. We were really quite pleased as to pass by would be a pity. There is no land and the only visitors are small boats heading north or south to Tonga. It is quite strange as you approach you can see nothing but some anchored boats just sitting in the middle of the ocean. By breaking the journey here, it is possible to ensure a safer trip as the weather window required to get to New Zealand is that much shorter. There were 10 boats in the anchorage, in the middle of the huge ocean. We stayed at Minerva for three days, did a few jobs, debated the weather, socialised and went snorkelling on the reef. Quite bizarrely we had a visit from the New Zealand airforce. What a photo – thank you Bill and Moira.

Minerva reef

Super smart winch covers made in Minerva Reef

Ready to go snorkelling on the reef

As was always likely this trip has not been the most comfortable. Too much time spent motoring, or to windward but at least no storms, nasty weather or breakages. We managed to watch a whole series of Mad ad men – a suitably non taxing drama. It has got cold and the thermals have had to come out of hiding and that is definitely a change. We arrived after 7 days on a Sunday, and were cleared in within an hour. Super efficient.

We were delighted to see Bruno’s Girl just ahead of us in the Marsden Cove marina. The marina manager organised and took Julian to pick up a curry, some beer, and fizz and he even found an affordable bottle Laphroaig! How good is that.

Yes, hello New Zealand, it feels like we have landed.

Tonga – Ha’apai and Tongatapu

We are finally at the bottom of Tonga, on the last island Tongatapu, waiting for a weather window to head south to New Zealand. This should be an eight day trip, although weather conditions can be tricky. We are hopeful that there may be an opportunity next week. Virtually everybody in the anchorage, by Big Mama’s, is heading south to New Zealand so there is much preparation activity and talk about weather. We have all had a fantastic time in the Pacific but it would be fair to say that a Pacific crossing takes its toll and it seems, like us, most boats and crew are looking forward to some first world luxuries. I mentioned the boats because we will have sailed 10,000 Nautical Miles, and that is at least 10 times and probably closer to 20 times the distance an average UK boat would sail in one season. This is on top of 10,000 NM last year. A Capella of Belfast is looking forward to some TLC in the excellent boatyards of New Zealand. There is a sort of “end of a really magical, good book” feeling. We have so many happy memories of an amazing trip but are very much looking forward to arriving in New Zealand, going home for Christmas, and starting a new part of our journey possibly to New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Indonesia next year.

Tonga is hard to describe. It truly ticks along at its own, very slow pace – it seems that virtually nothing tourist related happens here unless it is organised by an outsider. The very few, tiny beach resorts seem to be run by New Zealanders or Australians, and the shops by the Chinese. There are numerous aid projects sponsored by the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China.

In the capital – Nuku’alofa – the main activity seems to be Government. Culturally it is very different and it seems church life, family and community are the motivators for the Tongan people. Whale watching is really the only tourism activity and the people, especially the children, just seem happy to see us. The children always wave and say “bye” and if you stop they will nearly always want to practise their English by asking your name. Their confidence and smiley nature is really lovely.

We moved on from Vava’a and spent some time in the Ha’apai group of islands. These are atolls with lovely anchorages, clear water and great beaches. Sadly plastic waste and rubbish is an issue and there is no proper rubbish disposal system. As is the way in remote Tonga, life is simple – the houses are small and basic, there is a small but good cafe, some chaotic grocery stores, a little market run by the ladies, many large churches, and the pigs and piglets roam free. The world is even quieter on Sundays except for bells and impressive singing coming from the churches.

We finally decided to go swimming with the humpback whales. This is only done in Tonga. The humpback whales come to this area to give birth and nurture their young, before going back to the cold feeding grounds of the Antarctic. There is some controversy that swimming with the whales upsets their feeding patterns. Thus we were a bit reluctant; but in the end we felt that the whales really could move away from the swimmers if bothered. The general interest in whales by the tourists that this activity creates, probably does more good than harm in ensuring these amazing animals (and indeed the oceans) are better protected. It is quite an experience to be in the water with such a massive creature. Since then we have seen many whales swimming and breaching even very close to our current anchorage. This always creates excitement but a decent photo is hard to come by.

We thought we would give the Tongan feast another try. This was organised by a small beach resort. I do not think “feast cuisine” will ever be my thing and the best bit of the piglet roasted on the spit is the skin; the meat is very chewy. We were then, and I am afraid the word must be “subjected” to some traditional Tongan dancing for tourists. Julian described it as like going to a kindergarden nativity play – everybody is trying very hard, and there is lots of smiling. It was somehow very Tongan!

Nuku’alofa the capital is busier but not unpleasant and to date we have seen no pigs, but I am certain they are not far away. The anchorage is at least a mile from the town so we need to use the ferry to get there. Our outboard motor has broken so we are now using Krabat’s electric motor which Bill and Moira have kindly leant us. This outboard is quite fragile and really does not do long trips. Big Mama’s is a basic cafe/resort but the owners are very helpful with all things yachtie. This is important as there are no yacht facilities here and even refuelling is done by filling jerry cans unless you want large quantities when you can order a tanker.

Some final photos from Tonga.

Tonga – last stop before New Zealand

Tonga consists of 170 islands, of which 36 are inhabited. The total land area is small but spread over a vast expanse of sea. The country is divided into 4 distinct regions – Niua group, Vava’a group, Ha’apai group and Tongatapu. The population is just over 100,000 and 60% live on the main island, Tongatapu.

We were sad to leave Samoa but the good weather opportunities wait for nobody so we set sail for the very northern islands of Tonga, a short 24 hour sail south. We spent about a week in Niuatoputapu in the Niua group, before moving on to the Vava’a group of islands another 24hr sail south. Our sail to Vava’a was really unpleasant but we did catch a 1.4 metre mahi mahi! This was quite a beast but I am afraid filleting it quickly brought on the dreaded seasickness but Julian finished the job and we managed to get it safely into the fridge. We have not had a decent fish for sometime so we were rather pleased with our efforts. We will stay in Vava’a for another few days and then move further south to the Ha’apai group of islands and then to Tongatapu, the main island where we will wait for a weather window in order to head to New Zealand.

For the record – One very fine fish

It would be fair to say we are not completely enthused by Tonga but perhaps this will come. By way of a little social history: Tonga is the oldest and last remaining Polynesian monarchy and the only Pacific nation never bought under foreign rule. I mention this because so far it appears that the Tongans have a very, very relaxed attitude to commerce and work. Tonga is friendly enough but is seriously unpolished and nothing happens fast or even at all. The only tourist or service businesses seem to be run by foreigners. Our guide book tells us that the economy is in the doldrums, reliant on limited tourism, agriculture and fishing and yes we can see that. Here Church, feasts, sleeping and relaxing seems the order of the day. It is actually unlawful to work or trade on a Sunday and the whole place becomes very quiet. A significant number of the population emigrate and the largest source of income is from cash remittances from relatives living abroad.

We spent about one week in Niutoputapu in the Niua group. This is very remote, definitely rustic and the 700 or so people living there simply subsist together. Only 28 sailing boats have arrived in Niutoputapu this year making this quite a remote destination for cruisers. The pass into the lagoon is narrow and we were very pleased to see some excellent leading transit marks on the land – a rarity in these parts. Clearing in was a unique experience. The quarantine/customs man requested beer from each of the four boats that had arrived. It was 10am and he was thoroughly merry by the time he had finished.

Transit marks and posts at The pass

Niutoputapu was hit by a tsunami in 2009 and most of the housing is now small prefabs in little gardens. There is no mains electricity and the place is dark come night time, which at this latitude starts about 6:30 pm. There is a solar project on the way and we were told this would bring electricity to all the homes by Christmas. This looked very unlikely given the size of the solar array and current state of readiness.

Pigs, horses, hens and cattle roam freely and rather bizarrely there are quite a few cars and trucks but only about 10km of road. We were told that many people earn money working on farms in New Zealand and we can only assume vehicles are a status symbol. The ladies make a reedy weaving material used for making waist mats or ta’ovala. The Ta’ovala are traditional garments unique to Tonga and are the equivalent of a coat and tie and worn by both males and females. These can be plain or fancy depending on the occasion.

Sorting and wrapping up the weaving material

Some lovely ladies celebrating wearing their waist mats.

The weaving material drying

Our merry quarantine/customs man organised a feast for us, given there were a few boats in the lagoon. The deal was he would provide the pig and some traditional vegetables and we would provide some side dishes and very importantly the beer! The pig turned out to be a very small piglet, but it was roasted in the traditional way which was fun. One chap shimmied up a coconut tree, with his machete in his mouth, to get some leaves to form a table cloth and this was impressive. In reality we felt that the feast was primarily a way to extract as much beer and wine from the cruisers as possible, for the official and some of his mates. Nevertheless it was a fun experience. We were hassled by some young lads on shore for beer, and the kids were certainly up for begging for lollies and cash. This is probably a reflection of the reality of living on a remote island with virtually no entertainment, and we should not criticise, but it is the first time we have seen this, and it left us feeling a little sad.

One well roasted piglet. The crackling was excellent.

A new trick. Not to be repeated at home.

No fish for the BBQ, but happy to come for the beer!

The feast. I think even the cook is wondering how far this piglet will go!

The next island group Vava’a is home to the cruising community in Tonga and we were surprised to see quite so many boats in the main anchorage Neiafu. Both Sunsail and Moorings have a small base here and there are many small, delightful anchorages. In Neiafu there are a few small shops, restaurants and a small market for fruit and vegetables. The island has run out of eggs despite there being many hens so no pancakes and cake. We do sometimes dream of Tesco’s and easy provisioning! The pigs happily trot around town.

Neiafu Harbour

Dreaming of “Tesco Finest”

The scenery is very different and more like Cornwall with palm trees. As opposed to an atoll which we are very familiar with, this is an uplifted coral island, with volcanic ash on top. The agriculture is a little more sophisticated and we have seen some basic Massey Ferguson tractors and small plots of ploughed land. Harvesting seems to be done by hand. Once again pigs and cattle roam free and horses are tethered. The houses are small and the boundaries are often decorated primarily using old tyres as planters, but on the whole it is quite scruffy and, I am afraid there is litter everywhere.

A well decorated boundary but is the third structure from the left a swan?

A common mode of transport

Something ploughed and planted

Harvesting by hand. We think this is yams.

Just like Herefordshire but with palm trees.

Doing our bit to support to support the local economy.

We have spent nearly a week in the very quiet, but lovely bay of Malafakalava with one or two other boats nearby. We have cleaned the hull in preparation for New Zealand and hopefully we will also go a little faster, always pleasing; done general boat jobs and planned for New Zealand and next year. It has been lovely to go ashore, across the rough fields and have a walk most afternoons. We have been delighted to see the flying foxes. These are large bats and hang upside down in the trees. Photographing them is not easy and has occupied a few evenings, hopefully there will be an appropriate photograph next time. We are also very hopeful that we will see the humpback whales that migrate here for calving each year.