A Capella of Belfast Blogs

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.

Samoa – something very different

We had no idea what to expect in Samoa, but we have thoroughly enjoyed being here and have stayed for nearly two weeks. Samoa has been full of surprises. There is nothing flash or sophisticated about Samoa. The people are proud of their culture and the way of life often referred to as “the Samoa Way” or Fa’a Samoa. There are plenty of helpful legends and ancestors but the culture is very much built around the family, community and church. Geography and culturally, this small nation is considered the heart of Polynesia. I am not sure we would really describe Samoa as a tropical paradise, rich in natural beauty and unique attractions as per the quide books (compared to French Polynesia) but it is certainly unique (to us) and we have really enjoyed the new experience. The people really make it – they are so welcoming, and smiley.

Our first surprise was the Apia Harbour. This is really quite built up and dominated by the Catholic Cathedral and huge government buildings. The officials have to be fetched and carried to the boat, wear skirts (known as lava lavas,) sometimes have man beads (our term) and flip flops! They were all delightful and we all happily flogged through the paperwork and repeated the information many times before heading to immigration and yet more paper. Our knowledge of rugby was found to be a little lacking – did you know there is a Rugby World Cup in Japan? We do now. These are big people and we can understand why they love and excel at rugby.

The town is busy but the buses really steal the show. Sadly we never had time to try one out, but they look very crowded and apparently the timetable is changeable! Julian was thrilled to find an excellent Indian restaurant – the first we have had for a very long time. We tried fish and chips at the fish market but sadly our fish turned out to be chicken – something got muddled somewhere, but we were intrigued to find that the benches for selling the fish in the morning convert to tables at lunchtime. We were warned in the guide books that Sunday is very much seen as a day of church and rest so we joined the locals and went to the Cathedral service in English. The singing was first rate – it is the first time I have heard the Lord’s Prayer in harmony, the sermon robust to say the least and the setting beautiful. There are churches of all denominations everywhere and they are still building more.

The wonderful buses

The fish market
Note the school boys in their lava lavas complete with matching flip flops
Apia bay dominated by the Cathedral and huge government buildings
The Cathedral service
The Bahai Temple

We had a great time at the culture event where we learnt useful things such as making fire from rubbing two bits of wood together. This is really quite hard work. We made plates from banana leaves. I am not sure our plates were up to much but we have frequently seen locals using banana leaf baskets for carrying fruit and coconut. We learnt how to tackle a coconut. We had a great lunch from a traditional earth oven – a Uma. It is the first time we have had bread fruit and taro that has tasted good. This cooking technique is still widely practiced particularly for Sunday lunch after church. We learnt about tattoos – these are extensive. And finally we had a great display of singing and dancing – Strictly has some serious competition.

Making fire. A slow, hard process but it did work
One fine plate
Banana leaf basket
Learning about tattoos
The dancing is dramatic

There are two main islands in Samoa – Upolu and Savai’i. Cruising the Islands is not particularly easy so we decided to leave the boat in Upolu and have a four day cycling trip on Savai’i. This was a wonderful experience and really allowed us to see community living, the agriculture, sleep in the beach huts or fales, see some somewhat dubious attractions and have some great exercise. Given the heat we were not completely mad and had a support van and excellent guide/driver Uilau.

Many of the gardens are mostly growing our house plants!

We loved seeing the mixed perennial fruit and vegetables growing in the fragile volcanic soils.

Comfortable in the little beach fales although they were basic. Julian reading The Times on his iPad!

Local lobster to celebrate the resort owner’s wife’s birthday. Lucky for us.

We were pleased to have a bed in the last fale as this is so much easier to keep the sand at bay

The setting is fantastic albeit sandy

A distinctly dodgy “attraction” albeit a shark and turtle did appear as per the legend!
Local boys with home made crossbow for spear fishing
A traditional fale with graves in the front
A village with fales and painted coconuts for decoration

Throwing coconuts into the blow holes

Finally we went to a Fire Knife show. This was a great evening with Samoan food on banana leaf plates followed by dancing.

Dramatic fire dancing
With S/Y Krabat and S/Y Ambition
Dressed up Samoan style

Suwarrow – the perfect desert island

We are now in Samoa and this is the first time we have had any WiFi for sometime. From what we have gleaned so far, Samoa is going to be laid back and colourful. Our rugby knowledge certainly needs to improve!

We spent 3 months in French Polynesia after the long crossing from Galapagos and it was time to move on if we are to reach New Zealand before the cyclone season in the Pacific. The next reasonable land mass is Tonga but this is 1000nm west, so we opted to break the journey at Suwarrow, Cook Islands, then travel a little more west to Samoa before going south to Tonga. It took 5 days to sail to Suwarrow in good winds, and 4 days to Samoa in stronger winds and a very rolly sea. We have done the most enormous amount of long distance sailing this year.

The Cook Islands consist of 15 tiny islands in 2million sq km of wild Pacific Ocean. It would take a season to explore this country. The population is just under 20,000. We thought parts of French Polynesia were remote but Suwarrow is in another league.

Suwarrow is the last place the sun sets each day so now as we sail to Samoa we lose a day as we cross the date line. This island is a national park, manned by 2 delightful rangers – John and Roger (who also act as custom/immigration officers) for 6 months of the year and it is accessible only by sailing yacht. It was made famous by Tom Neale who lived there between 1952 to 1977 and wrote a classic book “An Island to Oneself.” It is a stunning spot.

The view for lunch
The view for breakfast
An evening stroll

There really is nothing there but palm trees, huge numbers of hermit crabs, colonies of sea birds and rich marine life. The chatter of the birds never stopped which was a real treat, and we had the most amazing time snorkelling with manta rays, and sharks (not so great, but apparently they are harmless!). The rays are huge about 2 to 3 metres across and simply glide about completely undisturbed by us.

There were 7 very sociable boats in the anchorage – s/y Krabat, Wilderness, Bruno’s Girl all old friends, Canadian flagged Amibiton, American flagged Trabasa Cross, and French boat’s Ambryn and Liberte. The Rangers very kindly organised a fish BBQ, we provided the rest of the food and drink, and we had a great party in the most magical spot. We spent 3 days in Suwarrow and it really is a very, very special place, but a seriously long way from anywhere. Happy days.

Charles and Fung from S/y Wilderness, and Claudia from s/y Bruno’s Girl
Partying. The rangers and Danny from s/y Trabasa Cross playing music for us.
A very long way from anywhere

Bora Bora et al

The winds finally came and we were able to leave Moorea for the leeward islands of Hahine, Raiatea and Tahaa, and Bora Bora.

We are now sitting in Bora Bora, the Pearl of the Pacific, according to the local publicity. For sure it is beautiful, in a tropical way, and there are some glamorous and correspondingly expensive places to eat and shop but I do not think it will ever be our favourite. This is home to the very expensive beach resorts and on the motus (little coral islands) there are numerous beach huts sitting out over the turquoise blue lagoon. The locations are stunning but quite what the people do in these resorts will remain a mystery. It is not intrusive in any way but the motus are effectively all private. Being used to our freedom, this of course does not please us, so we have limited our visit to the main island and have had a fabulous cycle around the island (30km) with Bill and Moira from s/y Krabat. Actually the main village is very pleasant – a couple of small supermarkets, a few tourist shops and as always very clean and tidy. We do wonder if such overtly segregated tourism is really such a good thing – it is certainly not for us.

Our faithful Brampton’s enjoying exotic locations
The men rather bored buying sarongs

The snorkelling is good but not amazing, and the fish (and sharks) are often fed by tour boats to bring the fish close to the tourists. This does not seem like a good idea to us.

We have passed by Bloody Mary’s – a very well known (among the rich and famous) eating establishment. It seems from their notice board anybody whose anybody has been there. Even Julian and I recognised some of the names.

First world thoughts I know, and we have been seriously spoilt, but it is interesting when you reach these mythical places and get beneath the hype and the tourist brochures.

We rather “fell out” with Raiatea and after an overnight sail we just struggled to find a satisfactory anchorage. The holding in the bay we picked was very poor, the mooring buoy looked dodgy and there was a strong easterly blowing. We moved quickly on to Tahaa and Hurepiti bay where we anchored for a couple of days. The highlight here has to be the restaurant Tahaa Maitai. Not only was the food excellent, they had the most amazing whisky collection and this included Caol Isla which is Julian’s favourite. Food in general is expensive in all of French Polynesia, and wine extremely costly although, I am sure it will not surprise you to know, that the range is excellent although almost entirely French. The price for Whisky is extortionate and even on A Capella of Belfast this treat has had to be abandoned! but in this restaurant Julian just had to have a glass of his favourite.

We had the most lovely time in Moorea which is an island about 20 miles from Papeete. The anchorage was stunning – a reef on one side, mountains on the other and crystal clear water. This was a very relaxed sort of place and we were particularly interested to see pineapples being grown commercially. This is the first time since we have left Panama, that we have seen any serious agriculture. The fruit is plentiful but mostly seems to be grown in gardens or tiny small holdings. We really enjoy buying fruit and veg from the roadside tables. Pak Choy, mangoes, and pomme d’etiole seem to be in season and of course bananas and coconut are ubiquitous. Strangely tomatoes do not grow and can be hard to find.

Our beautiful anchorage in Moorea

The hiking was great on Moorea and we did three hikes. One was classed as “difficult” up the side of a mountain which was lead by Claudia and Phillip from s/y Bruno’s Girl. We thought it was more like mountaineering, but the view was stunning. The second was more leisurely and through the pineapple fields, and the third up to the Belvedere which again had a great view, but was rather spoilt by those who had arrived by quad bike! Albeit I did overhear a couple describe us as “awesome” for having walked, which gave us a definite glow.

Walking through pineapple fields

Spraying Pineapples!

Claudia and Phillip from s/y Bruno’s Girl

The view from the top

We will now leave French Polynesia for the Cook Islands and Samoa. We will have been in French Polynesia for three months and it is a great spot – much, much bigger, more varied and more remote than I ever imagined. In fact we are still getting to grips with the sheer size of the Pacific. We still have over a 1,000 miles to sail to Tonga! and then New Zealand will be just over another 1,000 miles south.

We have had a wonderful time in French Polynesia. In particular we will remember the dramatic scenery and the high volcanic mountains, the mystical tikis and sites of ancient sacrifice, bright blue crystal clear water, outrigger canoes, tattoos, simple but tidy well kept houses and gardens, endless rhythmic drumming in the evenings and very friendly colourful people. Wearing flowers in your hair to go shopping or drive a bus says it all.

Not all plain sailing in Tahiti

We have spent three weeks in Tahiti. This island is much busier, more sophisticated and somewhat less charming than the previous ones we have visited but it is a happy place. In the evenings there is nearly always local music and the ladies just love to wear flowers – even the bus drivers. In fact this particular lady bus driver had a collection hung up by her steering wheel presumably ready for any eventuality or colour scheme. It really does make you smile. We have learnt new days of the week – petit Sunday – a euphemism for a late start on Monday after weekend partying. Yes, the Polynesian people are very laid back and seem to have very limited entrepreneurial spirit. There must be plenty of tourists here but there are no high rise hotels and the tourism does seem relatively undeveloped or just contained in resorts. We have very much enjoyed the excellent Carrefour supermarket just near the anchorage – excellent French bread, cheeses, pate and New Zealand meats. I know this sounds a little strange but a really good supermarket within walking distance is a great treat.

A Capella anchored in Papeete, Tahiti

The pass in Tahiti was quite exciting

BBQ ing on the coral spit

Out rigger canoes racing

The excellent market in Papeete

Our initial anchorage was just off the south pass to Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, and nearby to a sand spit/coral reef. This was the local play ground and every weekend numerous little motor boats came out and anchored to have BBQ’s etc. We found seeing tents, and BBQ’s just sitting in the water definitely novel.

Keeping a sailing yacht going over this timeframe and travelling these distances is a never ending challenge. We found that there was a problem with our feathering propeller which was sticking and not going into reverse properly so we have spent a week becoming experts in propellers. Our spare was not quite as we had expected. It was missing a crucial spacer which, fortunately we did managed to source in Papette. It was also the opposite directional configuration to the original and a fixed propeller which is less than ideal. In the end we decided to return to the original feathering propellor and this has been thoroughly cleaned and is now moving freely. The propeller had to be re-fitted under water and divers Philippe and Sebastian could have not been more understanding and helpful.

Our anchor roller also needed attention. Mending this required metal bashing and some welding. The result is not beautiful but will get us safely to New Zealand. The welders turned out to be more metal bashers than welders and only spoke French so Julian’s language skills were well tested.

One very shiny, free moving propeller
Over seeing the metal bashing

The spare part for the generator arrived via Alex, son of Bill, on s/y Krabat. This was fitted, but generators being generators it had developed a water leak issue probably as a result of sitting idle with salt water in the system. The water pump was replaced and with a bit of coaxing the generator is now working properly.

All this meant we could not anchor so we spent two weeks in the marina Taina. Although cruisers tend to dislike marinas (primarily due to cost and being too close to other people) we had the most lovely spot just in front of a £1.5M chase boat belonging to a super yacht. Our marina spot had become very sociable. S/Y’S Wilderness, Wildside, Larus, Bruno’s Girl and Ikinoo were all here. We were in danger of becoming a fixture, but with everything in excellent shape we have now moved onto Moorea which is a small island just near Tahiti.

There are worst places to be curtailed and our enforced stay in Tahiti allowed us to go to the Heiva competition. The Heiva is a festival over about six weeks and celebrates local Polynesian culture and includes dancing, chanting, canoe racing etc. We bought tickets to the opening evening of the Heiva competition and were about to learn that drama production techniques in Tahiti have much to develop. To be frank it made school productions look seriously slick. The production started 1/2 hour late and overran by at least 1 hour. All introductions, of which there were many, were repeated in three languages- Tahitian, French and English. The whole event lasted 5 and a half hours while sitting on small plastic chairs. The more experienced locals seem to come and go as they pleased!

The dancing was really spectacular. We saw two sessions of about one hour long each depicting a story. There were about 100 dancers in each session and at least three complete costume changes, albeit there are never many clothes but wonderful head dresses. Quite how both the men (knee wobbling) and the ladies (bum wobbling) move their bodies is incredible – they just must be made differently from us, but the effect is like a shimmering of colour on the stage – sort of mesmerising. We also heard the chanting – a sort of singing. This is a strange melody and interesting but not really a spectacle. Julian has now just about recovered from the experience. It was really worth going to, but next time we would do it like the locals, get a programme, arrive and take a few breaks!

We fitted in an island tour with Andrew and Kate from s/y Wildside and headed off in Carl’s Taxi. We saw all the usual, touristy things – waterfalls, the spot were Cook had watched Venus in front of the sun, the spot were Cook had collected water, a lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s father, and some tikis. As with all things in French Polynesia these were well set out, but the truth is we are becoming very hard to please but it was good to see the around the island and how the people live. The best bit was our lunch at the restaurant Musee de Gauguin owned by Roger Gowan, who was delightful. Roger is 85 and had sailed to Tahiti in the 60’s. He wrecked his boat on a reef, decided this was paradise and just stayed. He showed us his office complete with beautiful plotted charts from his trip which, of course, was all done using a sextant – tough stuff.

Collecting nonos with Carl. Apparently they prevent cancer but taste awful.

And finally we did trek up one of the magnificent mountains to see a waterfall.

The dangerous archipelago – The Tuamotos

The time had come to move on from The Marquesas but on our last run ashore I managed to get a photo of one of the Marquesian ponies having a gallop along the beach – just magic. These are tough ponies and impressive jockeys. I also thought you would enjoy a photo of some lovely ladies making flower bands for their hair.

The Tuamotos are the largest chain of coral atolls (78) in the world. The quide book describes them as looking like pearl necklaces gracefully tossed in the ocean, and certainly on our charts this description seems quite apt. However, such pearl necklaces make for tricky navigation.

Each atoll has one or two passes and these need to be crossed at slack tide, with the sun either high in the sky or behind you and preferably no wind against tide should you be a little late. There are no tide tables here but an enterprising yachtsman has produced a “guestimeter” which is shared amongst our fellow cruisers along with various stories of woe! The guestimeter seems to do a good job and we successfully negotiated the passes to Kauehi and Fakarava. Actually Jack Sound, just off Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire, is much more frightening in our opinion.

We anchored in the south of the Kauehi atoll. This was an idyllic tropical anchorage close to various uninhabited islands or motos. The view at breakfast is just what you dream of and the sea was finally smooth representing a very positive change from the Marquesas where the swell and roll were constant.

What a view for breakfast

Anyway they say cruising is doing jobs in paradise and so we set too. First job was to change the deck organiser as the original was damaged. This involves taking down the ceiling lining and (the worst part) putting it back. The ceiling lining is about 3 by 2 metres, made of bendy plywood covered in fabric and must go in exactly the correct place to clip back up. This requires 2 people with at least 4 arms each! Ummm. Frustratingly the replacement part was just, ever so slightly different, as seems to always be the way. Fortunately in Julian’s supply of bolts there were a couple that were long enough to do the job and this will certainly get us to New Zealand or the next time we feel the strength to take down the ceiling lining.

The second job was cleaning the hull. The clear, non tidal waters made this an excellent spot for this never ending job.

We fitted in some snorkelling and socialising, and managed to trade some nearly overripe bananas with Ian and Manuela from S/Y MisterX. They then came to supper with banana cake and a bottle of champagne to celebrate our wedding anniversary – how wonderful it that?

The next atoll we visited was Fakarava. This, in theory, has the second largest settlement in the Tuamotos, but it is still tiny, and delightfully unsophisticated but as always beautifully looked after and really clean and tidy.

It was here that we were to encounter a new hazard unique to coral atolls – bommies. These are tall coral chimneys which grow from the sea bed. The anchoring in the atolls is relatively deep (about 10 metres) so it is often not possible to spot the bommies when anchoring. We managed to get our anchor chain wrapped around one of these and it took about four hours to extract ourselves and re-anchor in a better place. The next time we anchored we strung fenders off the anchor chain to (hopefully) keep it floating above any lurking bommies. Certainly the anchor lifted the next day. Whether this was because of the fenders or just better luck we will never know.

Note the bommies in the foreground

The Tuamotos are reknown for their black cultured pearls. We took our bikes ashore and cycled to a small pearl farm. The only road is flat, concreted and there is no traffic so although a fair distance in the heat, it was not too bad. We were so lucky as at the farm, the owner took us through the whole process and even opened an oyster and extracted a small pearl for us. I am now the proud owner of a shell and pearl necklace – just lovely and very in keeping.

We would have liked to have stayed a little longer in The Tuamotos but the winds were forecast to get much stronger and we felt it was prudent to leave and sail to Tahiti. As it happened we had plenty of wind (25 knots plus) for the 36 hour sail to Tahiti and spent a fair time sailing with three reefs in the main and no jib in order to slow down so that we would arrive in Papette at first light.

We are enjoying Tahiti. It is the first time we have heard road noise or had light pollution for three months, but it also the first time we have had a supermarket with choice, albeit at a price, so not all bad.