The Bay of Islands and heading further south

As I start to write we are sitting out a blow at Waiheke Island just near Auckland. The pressure is dropping fast, and it is very wet and windy reminding us that summer is not quite here yet. We were all set up for a dull day on the boat but the anchor has just dragged, and we have had to reset it, in the rain, but of course it could be happening at night. We now have ten times the depth in chain out, so the anchor should hold better now despite the muddy bottom here.

We have spent a few weeks exploring the Bay of Islands. Yes, we are getting close to being able to write a tourist guide. The warmer weather is helping. This is a delightful cruising area named the Bay of Islands by our old friend Captain Cook, who just seems to have been everywhere. There are about 150 islands, some private but many open with some excellent Department of Conservation walks. This is still early season so we are enjoying this area with no crowds, and we feel quite invaded if we meet someone else while walking, or have to share an anchorage. Given we are in no rush we must have done most of the walks, and we have certainly discovered that the hills in NZ can be quite steep, so it is doing wonders for our fitness.

We are always very impressed with the care that the Department of Conservation takes in looking after and protecting the wildlife. Both the islands of Urupukapuka and Motutua are pest free and this is allowing endangered native birds to thrive. We were told that because New Zealand is so isolated many of the endemic bird species do not fly either at all, e.g. the elusive kiwi, or fly poorly and nest on the ground; hence predator control is essential for their survival. Many of the islands just off the coast are nature reserves so the sea birds are plentiful. Now that we know what we are looking for, little blue penguins are rather common. They are tiny, very sweet, and fly through the water.

We have headed south stopping at Whangamumu where we had a lovely supper on A Capella with Paul and Sally from s/y Bagheera. We visited Tutukaka, and old haunts Urquarts Bay and Marsden Cove to pick up some mail, and Great Barrier to do the hot springs walk. The hot springs were hot, but rather murky and the whole logistics of having a dip rather put us off getting wet, but it was a lovely walk over the unique wetlands of Great Barrier.

We are now at Waiheke Island, which is just off Auckland so plenty of exclusive pads, helicopters and vineyards, oh and much higher prices! We spent a couple of nights at Man o’ War Bay.

From Man o’ War bay we enjoyed a visit to Stony Batter. This was the largest battery built to protect New Zealand in the Second World War. Work started in 1942, and the battery was completed in 1948 (a bit late but luckily the Japanese never came). No gun was ever fired in anger. I am sure that is a good thing but what an effort.

On our way round to Ostend Bay we were delighted to see the America’s Cup boats out practicing in the Bay. They absolutely fly and leave a big wake. The chase boats barely keep up.

We have of course followed both the New Zealand elections and the US presidential election with great interest. What a contrast. Jacinda has appointed what must be one of the most diverse cabinets in the world. Of the 20 members, 8 are women, 5 Maori, 3 Pasifika and 3 LGBT.

We are now heading for the South Island to the Marlborough Sounds. This will be much trickier sailing, but in the great scheme of the distance we have come, not really very far. We will take care.

Once again it sounds bleak at home. It is difficult for us to imagine, but we do think of home often and wish all our friends well during this difficult time.

We set sail once more, but just in New Zealand

We had promised ourselves that we would leave the marina at the beginning of September. A Capella has been based in Marsden Cove marina since March, an incredible six months, and in fact we have been in New Zealand so long now we have had to get New Zealand driving licences.

Marinas are very convenient and it has been a sensible place to stay for the winter, but there does come a time when the boat and us really do need to become mobile once more. We will remember Marsden Cove fondly as our safe haven though lockdown and the New Zealand winter. We were sad to leave the many friends we had made, our favourite walking routes and those fabulous spoonbills. I have finally finished the spoonbill drawing.

The weather is beginning to get warmer, the days are lengthening and the swallows have returned. Having left the marina we are back to worrying about water, electricity, batteries, the wind direction and strength, and wet beach landings. We are also seeing more great parts of the New Zealand coast, and it is good to be on the move once more.

At Marsden Cove we frequently walked up to the Mangroves for some exercise and sat on some rather rickety chairs to admire the view. We felt as our contribution, before we left the marina, we should do our bit and improve these chairs for others to enjoy. So with Ian and Manuela from s/y Mr X we set off with wood, drills and screws and did this little job.

Our plan was to head north as it should be a little warmer and there are many good, safe anchorages on this part of the coast. So it has proved and we really have had some lovely weather for the last few weeks. We have had some very quick sails and even saw 10 knots of boat speed on the instruments. The boat is in really good order. There is no doubt if you want remote, great scenery and walking this is a fabulous part of the world.

At this point we met up with Bill and Zoe from s/y Into the Blue at Whangoroa harbour who had plans to go up to the very north of New Zealand to Parengarenga. Parengarenga has a very tricky entrance but they had been there before, so that was our local knowledge and the weather conditions were excellent.

Julian has taken up fishing with much help from Bill. Unfortunately the trip up north was not particularly successful despite our pilot book suggesting that this was where the biggest snappers hang out. Finally all the practise delivered, and some fine snapper was caught in the Bay of Islands.

Next stop was Mangonui Harbour. This is a busy fishing harbour and apparently has the best fish and chip shop in New Zealand. Slightly bizarrely we were recommended to try the local hotel! I cannot comment on the best fish and chip shop but we enjoyed the hotel and the company of the resident parrot.

We now set sail to nearly the top of New Zealand to Parengarenga Harbour. This has a sand bar on the entrance, a narrow passage and breaking waves either side. With a little trepidation we followed Into the Blue at a safe distance.

Parengarenga is very remote and has the most amazing sand dunes. Really unique and the most silky soft sand. Well worth the slightly scary entrance.

We have now returned to the Bay of Islands and are sitting out a blow. We are so sad to read about the return of CV restrictions in the UK and are thinking of home very much. Borders restrictions remain very tight here and boats in the Pacific are not allowed into either New Zealand or Australia for the cyclone season. This is undoubtedly a difficult situation for these boats to find themselves in. We remain so grateful to be here.

We take to a campervan in the South Island

Historically, camper vans and caravans have been called “slugs or snails” in the Morgan household. This is primarily as there are few things more annoying, (or perhaps we are not very tolerant), than being stuck behind one, on the small roads in Herefordshire or South Wales. Difficult and strange times have certainly caused us to challenge ourselves and do different things. So we decided to hire a campervan for a month in the South Island starting from Queenstown.

It has to be said we are not complete converts to this way of travelling, but we have had an amazing month and have been very busy. Beware, this is a very long blog. The weather at Whangarei is extremely wet at this time of year and this was becoming really tiresome. We were assured that we would get some drier, albeit much colder, weather in the South Island and so it proved. In some ways we were slightly disappointed when we visited the South Island in the summer. It was just so busy, and of course there were those camper vans everywhere! In the winter it has been fabulous, just enough tourists (obviously kiwis) to keep places open but no crowds anywhere. We highly recommend winter as being a good time to tour New Zealand.

You will note in the photos that we are well wrapped up, despite many bright days. It was very cold at times and the campervan was devoid of insulation and sometimes there actually was ice on the inside in the morning. We were rather lucky to be upgraded to a six berth van. In our view this was just about big enough for two people. There is no doubt that the campervan is an ugly beast but some of the parking spots are just amazing and it is lovely to be able to just stop and have a cup of tea etc. Julian was able to worry about the batteries, but these seemed fine and we had a solar panel on the roof so,all in all, we felt reasonably at home.

First stop was to try some skiing in the Southern Hemisphere. We were a little nervous as it is some years since we were last on the slopes. We skied at The Remarkables, Cardrona and Coronet Peak and thankfully we had not forgotten how. Our sailing clothes did a great job, although we were certainly not fashion victims. The skiing does not really compare with the Alps and Europe, but we had some great days with excellent snow and sunshine at Cardrona and Coronet Peak.

We ventured over to the Mount Cook area which we had missed on our previous trip. It was fabulous and we walked the Hooker Valley trail, the Kea Point track, and part of the Ball Hut track until we reached a very dramatic land slide. We did not really need the sign to tell us to go no further. The glacial scenery was huge and the weather great.

From Mount Cook we headed to Te Anu and Milford Sound. Again we had missed this iconic area on our previous visit to the South Island. This area comes with a rain warning. It is one of the wettest places in the world, and so it rained or was damp most of the time. The mean annual rainfall in Milford Sound is just short of seven metres and it rains, on average 182 days a year. The UK average rainfall is just short of one metre. Our guide book tells us that the area is even more dramatic in the rain, but we did take this as some optimistic marketing speak, and of course we had no opportunity to see it in the dry! On our way there it just poured but, oh boy, do those rock walls just come to life and there are waterfalls and noise everywhere.

The boat trip down Milford Sound was again damp. Yes, it was fortunate I had brought the waterproof camera. The scenery is dramatic, the waterfalls huge, and the mist and clouds do add to the drama. The camera will not do this place justice as the scale is hard to capture.

Any very faint thought that we should venture down to Milford Sound and the Fiordland area in A Capella was quickly discarded, but we were pleased to look out on the Tasman sea at 45 degrees south from the safety of the cruise boat. The depths in the Sound are impressive (400 metres plus) and even very close to the edge we were in 60 metres of water and anchoring is virtually impossible. The dreaded sandflies come out in force in the summer. Sadly they had not completely disappeared for the winter. As Julian puts it, we do not mind being nibbled just a little, but the itching for three days after being bitten is not really tolerable.

The next trip was to Doubtful Sound, and this included a boat trip across Lake Manapouri, a visit to the information centre about the amazing Manapouri hydro power station, a bus trip along the road specially built to bring in large equipment for the power plant, and then a cruise along Doubtful Sound. This area is rugged and just so remote. Apart from the tiny imprint of the power station and the road, this area remains unchanged by mankind. The vegetation is temperate rainforest. Again it was damp but the scenery fantastic.

The Manapouri hydro power station was very controversial when it was proposed as the locals were extremely concerned that any altering of water levels in the lake would destroy the magnificent natural environment. An agreement was eventually reached and water levels are now very carefully controlled. The building of the power station and the resulting controversy is considered to be the birthplace of New Zealand’s environmental consciousness.

It is the largest hydroelectric power station in New Zealand. It has seven 122 megawatt generating units and a maximum station output of 800 megawatts. The bulk of the electricity generated is used to power a aluminium smelting factory near Bluff. This is under threat of closure and it is now not clear where the electricity will be used. There are many countries which would be glad of this problem.

The first power was generated in 1969. All the turbines are housed underground in a cavern excavated from rock 200 metres below the surface of the Lake. The original construction was considered a huge engineering achievement. The project took 1,800 workers eight years to complete in extremely harsh and remote conditions.

It did not rain the whole time. I was a little disappointed that most of the great walks were closed, but now I understand the weather, I can see why. We did manage a small bit of the famous Kepler track.

Our guide book tells us that the road to Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful in the world. We were somewhat sceptical given we had seen little through the rain on the way there. However when the sun came out it did prove pretty special. Keeping this road open in the challenging terrain requires its own special workforce and they were hard at work. The road had suffered serious land slips during the summer and was closed for some time.

Julian had booked some deer stalking, (or hunting as it is called in New Zealand) so it was off to Glenorchy via Arrowtown. Arrowtown is the nearest New Zealand gets to quaint and is a well perserved old gold mining town. It is also home to a wonderful wool shop so I am now attempting to crochet a hat. My attempt has not quite matched the pattern but I have decided it is good enough. Some lovely walking here, and we spent some time with Chris and Jane Ireland looking at where the Chinese workers lived during the gold mining times.

It was during our time in the Queenstown that the news of a new CV outbreak in NZ was announced. We have now returned to various levels of lockdown and the “Jacinda and Ashley” announcements each lunchtime. Fortunately for us it is level two where our boat is and so not very restrictive. We did have to travel through Auckland airport at level 3 to get back to Whangarei. Apparently the new outbreak was inevitable but it has come as a shock. We, along with the rest of New Zealand do hope this situation can be contained.

On a more positive note, as the skiing was cancelled for the day (to allow social distancing measures to be put in place on the lifts etc) we managed a cycling trip with Bill and Zoe from Arrowtown through the Gibbston Valley.

The deer stalking was a highlight of our trip and was made extra special by some fabulous weather, stunning scenery and our ever patient and thoughtful guide, Ethan Clark of “Top of the Lake Guiding”. We stayed overnight in a very basic, but perfectly adequate little hut. Ethan was an absolute star and kept the much needed, but slightly unwilling wood burning stove alight throughout the night.

For our last few days in the campervan, we returned to Glenorchy and the Camp Glenorchy campsite. Much to our delight we managed to do some extra walking and did the first day of the Routeburn great walk up to the Routeburn Falls hut.

Now the Glenorchy campsite deserves a special mention. It is completely eco friendly and net zero energy. It has a large open fire place with firewood provided, which we thoroughly enjoyed during the long cold evenings. It boasts great showers and extremely civilised composting loos amongst other innovative features. The setting amongst the mountains is stunning. It also seems to be one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets so we usually had the fire to ourselves – just perfect. We really could write a whole blog about this place but a few words and some pictures will have to do.

Trundling on post lockdown

We are trundling on in New Zealand. Life here has pretty well returned to normal except for the very firmly shut boarders, and occasional escapees from the quarantine facilities. All neighbouring country borders are also shut so we intend to remain in New Zealand for the foreseeable future. The marina did get a little busy after the lockdown but is now relatively quiet as some boats have left for Opua, and most of the local boats have been winterised. As always the cruising community remains very supportive, and we have a good circle of friends, but we are all extremely uncertain as to the future of our cruising plans. For us, we are determined to make the most of our time here, and while frustrated at times, we do feel fortunate to be in a such safe place at this unbelievably difficult time.

Winter in New Zealand is proving to be very wet and windy with depressions (35 knots plus of wind in the marina) coming through frequently. Apparently the rain is needed but we are finding it tiresome. We have had to purchase some more winter clothes and thankfully Kathmandu has a sale on so we are now much better equipped. The boat heater is working well and I have made some insulation for the windows so we are quite snug, although there are times when a proper fire would be just lovely. There are some wonderful bright days and we have learnt to take full advantage of these when they come along.

Bill Tee from S/Y Krabat joined us for a couple of weeks after Krabat was shipped back to the UK. Julian had lined up some electronic projects so it did seem that Bill, an electronics expert, spent his time working at the chart table with the soldering iron permanently at the ready. We now have a water usage monitor, so beware anybody taking too long in the shower, and a stray current measuring device.

Along the Mangawhai cliff walk

Julian’s Sunday cooking has got even better and he created an excellent steak and kidney pudding before Bill left. Suet in New Zealand is the real deal and does not come in an Atora packet! Julian has perfected the art of shaving beef suet to make his pastry.

One fine steak and kidney pudding

Poor Bill had a fairly torrid time dealing with the bureaucracy of flying back home, and ended up going via Australia just in time for “quarantine” back home, despite coming from one of the safest places in the world. Just a little more madness. We have sailed with Bill and Moira since we left the Canaries in 2017 so we will miss them very much.

We hired a car to drive up to Opua, in the Bay of Islands, to visit Bill and Zoe from S/Y Into the Blue. This proved to be very social and an excellent break from Whangarei. Bill, who is very keen on fishing kindly took Julian for some angling lessons. These have proved very successful and Julian now seems quite good at fishing, as he has caught sufficient snapper for two suppers, with only a reasonably small investment in bait and tackle! I do hope I have not spoken to soon, as the snapper make excellent eating. I have noticed that the suggestion of a vegetarian supper seems to spur on his enthusiasm for catching fish. Zoe and I gave the fishing a miss and had two excellent walks along the coast. We dined well at the excellent eating establishments in this area, and were joined by Andrew and Julia from S/Y Hullabaloo who we have not seen for many months.

The first snapper
An excellent lunch in Russell in the Bay of Islands with Bill and Zoe, and Andrew and Julia

The weather is not really suitable for any long sailing trips so we have ventured out to the nearby Great Barrier Island for two visits to make sure we can remember how to sail, and to check that all the boat’s systems are working properly. It was an incredible eight months since we had last sailed. There were a few teething issues in particular the new generator, but everything is now in really good order.

Great Barrier Island is just off the coast about a six hour sail from Whangarei. It is a dramatic island, and there are many very protected bays, great walking and abundant wildlife. It is very busy in the summer, but for us in the winter we had just a few boats for company and mostly we were on our own. We did have a few rather windy (30 knots plus) nights but the holding was good and our anchor proved up to the job.

Doing emails at Whangaparapara with A Capella in the background, all on her own in Graveyard Bay
Baby Cormorants at Whangaparapara Bay. Very noisy.
Strange Blue (Werewere-kokaka) mushrooms on Mount Hobson. Also found on the $NZ 50 note.
The apparently rare brown teal who were very keen to join us in our cockpit. They were suitably disencouraged and opted for sitting on the dinghy!
My latest drawing of a gannet taking off in Kaiarara Bay

The hiking is steep and we are now getting used to the dreaded steps. We climbed Mount Hobson, the highest mountain in the area, and apparently there are 1,200 steps. The views are fantastic but we could definitely feel those steps the next day. We are constantly staggered at the incredible pathways, always well maintained and signposted.

Some serious steps on Mt Hobson. Julian is at the bottom waving
Julian at Mount TeAhumata
Lunch at Mount Maungapiko
Looking across Kaiarara Bay with A Capella (on the right) in the background

Smoke House bay has to be a highlight. Here there is a bathroom complete with bath and hot water, albeit the fire for the boiler has to be lit. This isn’t that easy as inevitably the wood is rather damp at this time of year. Julian took on the challenge as he is particularly fond of a bath and this was enjoyed, even although it was more practical than luxurious. There is also a smoke house, pizza oven, BBQ’s and an open fire. This is a legacy from an ancient mariner and maintained by local cruisers. As you can imagine it is a bit of a magnet. We met up with Angus and Laura and their children from S/Y Victoria who we had been next door in Norsands boatyard. New Zealanders Colin and Akema from S/Y Phoenix, and Peter from S/Y Tamariki. All great company.

drinks on S/Y Phoenix with Colin, Akema and Peter at Smokehouse Bay
Lighting the tricky boiler for the bath at Smokehouse Bay
Julian enjoying a bath at Smokehouse Bay

We met up with New Zealander Ian Ashton on S/Y Dream Weaver. We first met Ian when we crossed the Atlantic, and he was leading a scout trip to Great Barrier Island. He saw us on the AIS. The scouts very ably stoked the fires and made us some excellent pizza. So much better when someone else lights the fire and finds the wood. We then spent some time telling the scouts about our trip half way around the world. A really fun time, and of course excellent to see Ian again.

The Camp fire with Ian at Smokehouse Bay
Smokehouse Bay with the bath house in the background
Wintery evening light at Smokehouse bay

Boyed up with the success of the first steak and kidney pudding Julian volunteered to do this again. Sadly Bill and Zoe were unable to join us but Ian and Manuela from S/Y Mr X, and John and Janet from S/Y Tango joined us for another excellent supper. We have also managed to find some new walks near Whangarei with Ian and Manuela at Waipu Cove and McLeod Bay.

One proud chef
Steak and Kidney pudding supper on A Capella with Ian, Manuela, John and Janet
The pancake rocks on the Waipu Cove walkway

We have decided to hire a campervan from Queenstown in the South Island for a month, and after that hopefully it will be better weather to do some proper sailing in New Zealand. Given there are no tourists here anymore, the price for the campervan was incredibly reasonable. We are not sure quite what it will be like but we are used to living in small spaces. We are planning some skiing and winter walking, and Queenstown and the surrounding area should be very beautiful at this time of year. Really, who would ever have imagined this?

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 uncertain times.

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
Godwits
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
Really?
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.

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

Lunch

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.

Definitely something different – Marquesas – the land of tikis, tattoos and human sacrifices

The Marquesas, in French Polynesia are definitely something different – tikis, extensive patterned body tattoos, evening drum rolls, ladies wearing a flower in their hair and ancient sites of human sacrifice. Thankfully the locals have become much more peaceful now and this is a charming place – very friendly people, good French cuisine, French bread and croissants, and everywhere is clean and well looked after. The Marquesas are high atolls and rise up to over a 1,000m with mountains and deep valleys. This makes for dramatic scenery and exciting roads.

A great lunch spot overlooking the bay

Our knowledge of the geography of the Pacific has rapidly improved. So, we are now half way across this huge ocean and have a further 2,500nm to sail before we head south in November to New Zealand. French Polynesia includes 5 Archipelagos – the Marquesas, the Tuamotos, the Society’s, the Austral’s and the Gambier Archipelago. Due to the prevailing wind conditions we will not visit the Australs and Gambier Archipelagos. French Polynesia is about the size of Europe! From here we will visit the Cook Islands, Tongo and then Fiji.

Being part of France and Europe, The Polynesian’s are able to vote in the European elections. The election boards where the candidates posters are supposed to go remains empty on Wednesday! Elections are on Saturday! Ummm.

Election boards!!

The Marquesas Archipelago includes 6 islands. After arriving in Hiva Oa we had to do an overnight sail to Nuka Hiva where Stuart was catching his plane onward to Tahiti and then New Zealand. This has proved an excellent spot for some rest, relaxation and a general “sort out ” of the boat, and we are enjoying catching up with old friends and meeting some new ones. We have spent some time in Taiohae Bay and Hakatea Bay on Nuka Hiva, and plan to visit Hakahau Bay on Ua Pou. These names are extraordinary – impossible to remember and pronounce, and the spelling is difficult, inconsistent and not improved by “spell check” adding its own version.

A tiki complete with his weapons

The Cathedral

Frustratingly the generator has broken – the exhaust pipe has corroded after a mere 1 and a half years. It is not a fundamental piece of equipment but does mean we need to be more frugal with electric use and water. A fitting for the spinnaker halyard at the top of the mast was also damaged. As it happened we had had evening drinks with Graham, Johnny and AA from S/Y Karma who are from Belfast, and their boat had been kept in Strangford! Graham is a very experienced rigger and he very kindly helped replace the damaged sheave fitting for us. We could have used a spare halyard but it is so much better to have fixed the broken fitting. In common with all the boats which have crossed the Pacific the hull of the boat has picked up a feast of wildlife. I fear these nutrient rich waters are going to make hull cleaning an endless job.

We had an excellent island tour of Nuka Hiva from Richard who was extremely knowledgeable. Since Captain Cook’s time these islands were unwilling hosts to a multitude of explorers, whaling ships and missionaries until France took formal possession in 1843. There were also various tribes and so over time there has been plenty of warfare. European diseases devastated the population at times. We visited sites of human sacrifice which were really quite elaborate with elevated platforms (presumably to get a better view) for priests and chiefs. Some of these sites have been reconstructed and are used for celebrations, and once you get past the gory bit are actually rather lovely. Tikis are spirits of the dead and old and new are plentiful – they certainly add to the mystique. The views and roads are spectacular.

A very old tiki, with the sacrifice site behind

There is very little native wildlife but we see many smallholders farming pigs, and cattle mostly tethered. There are many small tough looking ponies, wild pigs and goats. Feral hens are everywhere. Tropical fruit is plentiful when in session. There are always bananas and we have now tried purple bananas and orange plantains for a change. Pamplemouse (like a sweet grapefruit) and star fruit are in session at the moment and until the supply ship (once every three weeks) comes that is the fruit we will be eating. Choice is limited but we certainly will not starve.

The water here is quite murky but we have seen sharks and turtles and the anchorage is visited by mantra rays. Julian spotted the rays while up the mast!

We had a fantastic walk with friends from 3 other boats (Krabat, Hullabaloo, and Jolly Dogs) to see the third highest waterfall (1000ft) in the world. We enjoyed it so much we did it twice. Once again the scenery was amazing. The scale is such that photos will never do it justice. This was followed by an excellent lunch – wild pig, citrus salad and bread fruit, followed by coconut ice cream – provided at a local house. A real experience as the cooking is done on an open fire and the facilities are very basic.

We are now waiting for a weather window in order to move onto the Tuamotus about a four day sail away. These are low atolls and are only as high as the tallest palm tree, and do come with a reputation as they were previously known as the Dangerous Archipelago. Hazards include the very strong tidal currents in the passes, and numerous coral heads. We will undoubtedly learn some new skills.

Land Ahoy!

Land Ahoy! We have sailed 3,000 miles and taken 17 days to arrive in Hiva Oa, in the Marquesas part of French Polynesia. Hiva Oa is a tiny island in the middle of nowhere, but it has the virtue of being the first land fall, and port of entry, going west after the Galapagos. It is a strange thing when you finally reach land after such a trip. Part of you is of course, relieved to have arrived safely and pleased to have reached the end; but another part of you is sad that the adventure, the rather splendid isolation and the simple world were small activities can bring much pleasure has finished. Such a trip is not exactly a holiday, but is a very special time and truly unique.

The weather has been kind, and for most of the way we have had good winds from the right direction. For the more technical our best daily run has been 189 NM at an average of 7.9 knots and our trip run is 7.0 knots. All sail plans have been deployed – spinnaker, code zero, poled out jib plus staysail and normal white sails – something for every eventuality. The boat has gone well. We have motored less than ten hours so arrive with a nearly full tank of fuel. This is good news as getting any decent quantities of diesel in Hiva Oa will be challenging.

We can confirm that the Pacific is a huge rolly sea and very empty. We have seen a few birds, ocassionally dolphins and have seen some whales blowing. Most mornings we have cleared the decks of flying fish and small squid. We have seen only two other boats on AIS about 30 miles away so we never saw them physically. The skies, particularly at night are amazing. We have had daily radio contact with our friends on Krabat, and email contact with a Norwegian boat who both left Galapagos at the same time as us. This all makes for rather easy night watches, but the rolly seas have been tiresome.

The fishing has been exceptional thanks to Stuart who takes on his fishing responsibility with some gusto. The grand tally is 4 mahi mahi, 2 tuna, 3 nearly caught and numerous false alarms. One of the tuna was an absolute monster – 1.35m long, depth 0.35m and probably weighed in at 70lbs/30kgs. It took over an hour to land and was too big for our new net, so it was expertly gaffed by Julian. It took another 3 hours to deal with the fish and clean the boat afterwards. We were all absolutely exhausted. Should we ever catch another fish of this size, I think photographic evidence will be sufficient! Following this effort, fishing has had to be suspended as the freezer is full. As always the fish also have it their way, and a rather angry fish took our lure and all the line – we probably did not want that fish, but did it really have to take our equipment? The new, very big catching net has proved a great success and we do not miss the rather bloody, bludgeon affair with the gaff.

Julian has been honing is astronavigation skills and has successfully plotted latitude and longitude to within less than a mile of our GPS position. This is a very time consuming process but at least we can feel assured that if the GPS went down we would still nearly know our position. It does seem to require at least 2 people on tender hooks 3 times a day. We did spend a few minutes considering what it was like for Shackleton in his open boat in the Southern Ocean navigating from Elephant Island to South Georgia. How incredible and tough they were.

New culinary achievements include fruit cake and onion chutney. We are missing good old branston pickle but the onion chutney has proved a suitable substitute. I am no cake baker but three fruit cakes (Moira’s recipe) have disappeared quickly. Top menu items were Mahi mahi in oatmeal with pickled beetroot and black rice, blackened mahi mahi with couscous flavoured with cucumber and coriander, and cappachio of tuna with pickled beetroot and flatbreads. We have just about managed to spin out the fruit and vegetables.

It seems hard to explain where all the time goes on a trip like this but between sail changes, astronavigation, fishing, cooking, cleaning, water making, battery charging and a few extra sleeps we fill the days. We have an hotly contested sweep stake for the daily run. I have managed to draw a blue footed boobie – not so easy on a rolling boat. Stuart has tackled rope work, Julian taking on the supervisory role! and we now have at least a years supply of soft shackles and rope loops. Stuart and I, occasionally joined by Julian, have taken up daily scrabble and the top score between us is 756. Stuart nearly always wins, hence the collective goal! Local rules allow double points for nautical terms.

So, all in good spirits here, looking forward to some french cuisine, catching up with the world, and exploring the Pacific Islands.

Goodbye Galapagos and onwards to French Polynesia

Tomorrow we set sail for French Polynesia after three weeks in the Galapagos. The forecast is good for a 20 day trip. This, of course assumes we manage the “leaving” bureaucracy! And yet another boat inspection, this time to check for baby tortoises and drugs. Do not get me wrong the officials are all very polite, it just doesn’t happen like this anywhere else.

Stuart Dawson has joined us for the trip so we have a “Team Pacific” which is great news.

We have re provisioned at the local market. The pricing still remains a mystery or maybe a “dark art” and most things seem to cost a dollar. If we look a little perplexed we just get a bit more produce and it still costs a dollar. Bananas are virtually free so we have two large hands of bananas for a dollar. Sadly no Branston pickle or indeed any decent pickle. I suspect we will have to learn to live without it for sometime.

Our cobbler cum sail maker has come up trumps and the code zero has been mended, checked and re furled. This time we shared the football pitch with a construction lorry.

We have had a great time in the Galapagos but we will really remember the Galapagos because of the animals – they have been fantastic. The fish market at Santa Cruz is full on entertainment. The big, very fat sea lion just reminds you of a Labrador – very, very greedy and always in the way. I thought iguanas were vegetarian but clearly not all. Although the pelicans are very keen, but the heron with his evil sharp pointy beak is king. The frigate birds are just shameless and have no manners hence the plastic screen defences.

These guys can fillet fish at speed. We, of course have not purchased any fish as with Stuart on board we are completely confident of catching are own. In anticipation we have purchased the white wine to complement the fish as even on passage, fish really does need some white wine!

I have awarded myself a “I love boobies t shirt” as a souvenir!

Nearly Good bye to Galapagos

What can I say…. For us, on a sailing yacht, Galapagos is a bureaucratic nightmare most of which we still do not really understand. A permit here, a permit there; a few more dollars for something or other; restrictions, rules; and plenty of waiting around for something or someone! Today we had the cheese, we had just bought in Santa Cruz photographed before we boarded a local speedboat – why we don’t know? We can only assume it is a game designed to deliver some more dollars, keep people employed and enhance the eco marketing credentials of the Galapagos – but it might just be bureaucrats completely out of control.

But you cannot help being charmed by the wildlife. Where else in the world will you climb out of the dinghy and have to step over sea lions, and iguanas and going for walk navigate around giant tortoises? These guys know they are in charge, and we have to walk around them, but they do let you come incredibly close. On the boat at anchor we have pelicans diving, the sweetest little penguins, sea lions and black tipped sharks just metres away. I am not sure who eats who but it all seems to work.

We have visited three islands – San Cristobal, Isabella and Santa Cruz. Isabella is our favourite being more relaxed and has a better anchorage. We have seen all three boobies – blue footed, red footed and Nascar’s and definitely earned the right to wear the “I love boobies t-shirt.” We were lucky enough to see the blue footed boobies dancing which is the mating ritual and very comical. We have had some amazing snorkelling and the highlight must be swimming with rays and giant turtles. On the way to the snorkelling spots we were also lucky enough to see jumping rays – another mating ritual, and the blows and fins of fin whales.

The islands are volcanic and it does make for dramatic scenery. The very dark tangled rocks against the bright turquoise water is spectacular. We visited the Sierra Negra which is still an active volcano and has one of the largest craters in the world. We have been on push bikes and did an “only downhill” bike ride on San Cristobal. This sounds a bit slack but the heat is draining and quite frankly the bikes had very dodgy gears and were fit for downhill only. The ladies, Helen, Moira and I biked to the “Wall of Tears” and this is uphill but we did see wild giant tortoises which is really special on the way. The wall of tears is a wall 100m long and 7m high. It was built by convicts from the penal colony and served no real purpose except punishment.

The place is extremely clean and we have seen none of the dreadful plastic waste that has been on other islands. There seems to be no single use plastic cups or plates, no plastic straws and even in the supermarket no plastic bags for vegetables. It can be done.

Our friend Helen Phillips has been in Galapagos for a month and joined us on the boat for a week. Stuart Dawson has joined us today to do the long Pacific crossing to the Marquesas.

The boat jobs do not stop. Helen very kindly went up the mast to polish the shrouds -what a star because this is not a popular job. Julian and Bill, from Krabat, fitted a aft roller so we can use a stern anchor more easily. We have taken our torn (again) code zero sail to be mended on Santa Cruz. No posh sail loft here but a rather rough football pitch to roll the sail out on. We suspect the sail repair man is more of a cobbler, but he has a machine and some material, and for what we feel is rather an expensive price, seems willing and is probably competent – needs must.’

We are now preparing for the long voyage to the Marquesas. This will be 3000 NM and our longest non stop trip so far. We expect it to take about 20 days. Amazingly we are looking forward to it!

Limited broadband has meant smaller and fewer photos than usual in this post.

We have crossed the Equator and arrived in Galapagos

We set of from Panama City about 10 days ago and our now in Galapagos. I can’t include many photos as the internet is very slow here.

We enjoyed Panama City but after a final provisioning trip we were, as always glad to be moving again. We were looking forward to getting back to the islands after nearly a month near Colon and in Panama City.

The first stop after Panama City is the Las Perlas Islands about 50 miles south. We needed to do a final clean of our hull to ensure it was good enough for the Galapagos and we hoped the water was cleaner here than in Panama City. We thought the water temperature at 22c was rather cool but with wet suits on and deep breathes we got on with the job! We also visited a little settlement on one of the islands but this was very remote and although friendly we were definitely the tourist attraction!

The trip of 6 days to the Galapagos was uneventful and we were pleased to only motor for 30 hours out of 150 hours. This trip goes through the doldrums and is notorious for poor winds. Sadly our code zero which did a fantastic job in the light winds has ripped. We are hopeful we can get it mended here in Galapagos as we will miss it on the long trip to the Marquesas. You are supposed to celebrate crossing the Equator but for us it was 9.30 in the morning and after night watches that didn’t seem like a great idea. We allowed ourselves a glass of wine with supper, which we do not usually do on passage.

Just passed the Equator on the way to Galapagos

We were expecting a thorough bio security inspection on arrival in Galapagos and we had spent considerable time ensuring our hull was clean, the boat clean, no raw meat, no vegetables, many labels, numerous waste disposal bins. Clearing in was an experience.  9 officials got on board. No divers – they are all sick, apparently. It took about 1 hour and it was not really clear who was doing what. They checked our safety equipment and our paper chart, which covers the whole “other side of the world”, was deemed to be sufficient for emergency navigation. I fear there is much process, officialdom and corresponding checking but little real or useful rigour. We are all for sensible bio security but when you actually see what is happening on land we, as cruisers, are not the real risk.

A new friend!

We are just feeling a little underwhelmed by Galapagos at the moment. I know – first world problem. The cruising is very restricted and everything costs money. Perhaps we have just been spoilt and have become used to such freedom. Truthfully we are yet to see amazing wildlife but hopefully that will come. The sea lions at San Cristobal are great to watch and do get everywhere and that includes our swimming platform. Unfortunately sea lions do what sea lions do, and they are very smelly! Julian spent a good hour, moaning and grumbling, cleaning after them! Our defences have been reinforced!

Giant Cactus Trees

We have reached the “other side” – hello Pacific!

I still have to pinch myself to remember we really are in Panama and looking at the vast Pacific Ocean.

The marina in Colon, Shelter Bay, was a hive of activity and very much reminded me of the Canaries when we were preparing to go across the Atlantic 18 months ago. Amount half the boats were preparing to go through the Canal and cross the Pacific. There are all manner of things to do – be measured by the Canal authorities to allow us to go through the Canal; organise line handlers – 4 required; remove solar panels so that they cannot interfere with the lines which will keep us out of trouble in the Canal; our code zero needed some attention from the sail makers; the boat was hauled out in Linton and pressure washed to ensure it is clean for Galapagos; engine and generator check; provisioning and a clean and polish.

Our good friends Bill and Moira from Krabat, Allen and Maria from Lady Jane and Jana and JD plus their boys from Jajapami were all in the marina waiting to go through the canal so it was not all jobs and we did find some time to be social. Yoga started at 8 am, we had a great nature walk in the jungle near the marina – the birds are hard to photograph and the sounds are fabulous particularly the howler monkeys. We joined a talk on the Pacific Islands and we took the opportunity to check out the Gatun locks in advance of our trip. Caryn Canfield from USA who we had met on the Chesapeake rally joined us for the Canal trip.

Noisy howler monkey living next to the marina

The wildlife was great – the resident crocodile in Shelter Bay marina

We have installed a large CO2 canister on the back of the boat so we can have ad-lib sparkling water. I think we must have a five years supply of CO2! Caryn made a very smart neoprene cover.

We repacked the series drogue. This is a series of 124 fabric cones which we can trail behind boat to slower her up in seriously bad weather – hopefully it will remain packed up!

One safely packed up drogue

Panama will be the last serious shopping opportunity for about four months so I have created a comprehensive spreadsheet of stores in the hope that not too much runs out. We took the marina bus to Colon a couple of times for the hour long, bone shaking ride and a taxi ride home with our massive shop.

Loading our shopping into a pick up taxi in Colon

Finally the day for the Canal arrived but Julian had lost a crown from one of his front teeth the night before. Our wonderful dentist in the UK, Chris Bocking, confirmed that if it was not painful it would wait until we return to UK next. Very fortuitously however, Julian had met a German cruising dentist at the marina, and he very kindly replaced the crown in the morning.

So with long four 125m lines, big fenders, and professional line handler, Gutti, we were ready to go and wait at the anchorage for the Canal pilot. We were also joined by our friend Peter Smith who we met in Jamaica. Peter has been sailing the world for the past 20 years in his hugely impressive aluminium boat, Kiwi Roa. Peter is also the designer of the Rocna anchor. Gutti had played football for Panama’s national team – I think he was rather disappointed at our lack of football knowledge. Our best effort was to show him where Manchester was on the map which I suspect he already knew! He was a delightful young man and is now studying Economics and Law at Panama University. We waited three hours for our pilot or advisor as they are called here to arrive. Transiting the Canal is a precision exercise but there still does seem a fair bit of waiting around and time for some great photo opportunities!

lifting the Rocna anchor – Peter checking all is well!

The first bridge – this is a busy waterway.

Our delightful line handler Gutti organising the ropes

The Gatun locks (three in a row going up) came up quickly and we were told to raft up to a French boat and an Australian boat and followed in behind a large tanker. The line handlers then keep the raft in the centre of the lock as the water rises. It does sound simple but it is quite an experience, hard work and completing the three locks took about two hours.

Our advisors David and Wayne

Rafting up

Safely secured and our new best mate Claxton Bay

Going up the locks and looking forward to a hairdresser in Panama City

We spent the night attached to the biggest bouy we have ever seen in the Gatun lake. Our new advisers Jerry and Giovanni arrived the next morning and we then travelled for about four hours across the Gatun lake to the Gaillard Cut and the three downward locks – Pedro Miguel Locks and Miraflores Locks. We learnt that The Australia boat had somehow drifted out of the channel and run aground – apparently no serious damage but they were now behind and unable to join us.

Looking towards the Gaillard Cut

For the next locks we attached to the French boat which attached to a small tourist boat and they looked after the shore lines. This was much easier. There was one last drama when the French boat failed to attach their stern line to the tourist boat and did a full pirouette at the front of the lock gates. They were now right up against the gates, facing the wrong way and against the wall – a very bad place to be! The water was dropped and somehow the advisers and line handlers managed to turn the boat – these guys are very skilled.

The downward locks – approaching our raft

Not a good place to be

Celebrating in the final lock – Pacific ahead

Last lock completed

Our mate in the downward locks – Sunbird!

The locks over, we motored past the Panama docks, returned the hired lines and buoys, the advisors were collected and Gutti and Peter left the boat. We then went under the Bridge of The Americas and finally into our marina in Panama City.

A job well done – Freddy leaving us

The big fenders, lines, Peter and Gutti leave and we are on our own once more

The Bridge of the Americas

We were tired but elated – it had been a fantastic trip unlike anything else we have experienced. Pacific here we come!

Celebrating in Panama City with Krabat, Lady Jane and Jajapami

One happy Captain

Panama City and a new Panama hat

Good bye and thank you to the San Blas Islands

We are heading to Colon tomorrow. We will have to wait there (probably for about 10 days) while the boat is measured and we get our slot for going through the Canal. We have plenty of boat jobs and provisioning to do. We really enjoyed the San Blas but as always, are excited about moving on and going through the Canal is definitely on the bucket list.

We had great fishing on our sail from the San Blas up the coast. One tuna and one baby (thankfully) shark. We returned the shark to the sea but were pleased to have tuna for supper and fill the freezer!

One fine Tuna

A shark!

While hanging out next to idyllic Islands is delightful we did feel we should see the jungle and some native villages. The Guna Yala region has some of the most untouched virgin rainforest in the world. Stores were getting very low and there were promises of shops in Nargana. This large village was billed as being the most “advanced” community in our guide book and where the residents have decided to give up the traditional Guna way of life; but I can assure you this is all relative.

In Nargana we did manage a meal out. This was a real treat – basic fare, slightly chaotic but good all the same. There was also excellent broadband and we were able to purchase SIM cards. Although rather ramshackle there were satellites, TV, a tiny airport and a health centre.

Eating out in Nargana

Traditional hut complete with Satellite

I am afraid rather basic sanitation – sit over the sea!

When we arrived the shopping was really dire – a few over ripe tomatoes and bananas. The supply boat was due the next day and, thankfully it did arrive but shopping on the supply boat was a whole new experience! There really is no basic hygiene, and we watched as a raw chicken was chopped up on the top of the cool box (no refrigeration here) and the very same knife then used to cut up an orange. These guys clearly have a tougher constitution than us, and we opted for just whole vegetables and some lovely Guna bread.

Shopping on the supply boat

The shop

and the bakery

In Nargana we were curious to see many dugouts full of barrels heading up the river each day and returning heavily laden. It turned out these little boats were getting fresh water from up the river. One island (there are two joined by a bridge) has running water from a stand pipe and the other does not. It seems interesting to us that people have satellite TV but no running water. Perhaps when time is less limited this is a better option but it looks jolly hard work.

We visited Isla Maquina which is a much more traditional village with a guide named Idelfonso. He spoke reasonable English which he had learnt from a book and with his family had purchased his panga (motor boat) for $14,000. This would be a huge sum of money and we had to give him top marks for his entrepreneurial spirit but he remained very proud of his culture and way of life. It was excellent to see how these people live in such a simple way – sleeping in hammocks, cooking on open fires, very few processions, and experts on re-using just about anything.

Going to collect water at some speed

Heavily laden dugouts full of river water

There are dugouts and dugouts – learning from Idelfonso

A lovely Guna lady making a mola

Off fishing with man’s best friend!

We did have two great hikes up the river Rio Diablo with Bill and Moira, and a second one from Gaiger with our guide, Idelfonso. This was serious jungle hiking including rickety bridges, river crossings and it was very hot. We had been given dire warnings of dangerous snakes, frogs and panthers the previous evening so Julian was prepared with machete and bear pepper spray! Fortunately these were not needed.

The beautiful mangroves

A selfie on the initial exploration trip

Ready with the machete

Aquaduct – Guna Yala style

With Idelfonso

Not elegant but safe

Just as we were getting a little relaxed on our return dinghy trip down the river we saw a large crocodile! I was just taking a photo of the little banana plantation, and had not noticed the crocodile, until it slid into the water! We were all of 5 metres away! but imagined how thrilled I was when I discovered I actually had the photo to evidence the encounter.

What a spot for lunch – we felt like intrepid explorers!

The San Blas Islands

The San Blas Islands are a vast archipelago on Panama’s Caribbean coast composed of over 300 islands. Some are inhabited but many not. We had never heard about them before but they are a popular, in a remote kind of way, cruising area particularly for those going onto the Canal and the Pacific. The Islands are home to the delightful indigenous Guna Indians who have preserved their culture and traditions, and live in a very simple way. They have no electricity except maybe a solar panel, no running water, and sleep in hammocks. Life seems very relaxed. They have certainly given us food for thought.

The Islands are idyllic, but the people really make the area. There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the Guna’s and cruisers which appears to work. They like our dollars and we really appreciate the veggie boat, the lobsters and the molas! Quite what they think of our sophisticated boats and inability to catch our own lobsters we do not know, and possibly that is a good thing!

We have met up with Bill and Moira on s/y Krabat, Allen and Maria on s/y Lady Jane and Jana and Jan-Dirk on s/y Jajapami and we are loosely cruising together. These are all friends from our Jimmy Cornell rally who are travelling through the Canal and onto the Pacific.

Wonderful palms

Green Island. The view from the mast.

Beautiful beaches

A little dug out sailing past us

They paddle in these dugouts for miles

The very simple little Guna huts

One day a Guna came out to our boat and via some good sign language we understood that one of the men on the island had cut their hand badly with a machete. We offered plasters, bandages as you would, but this was not going to do. Our friends on Jajapami could speak Spanish and that was certainly going to help so Julian took the injured Guna to Jana on Jajapami, and she did an excellent first aid job and they then ferried the chap in their Catamaran to the nearest hospital the next day. He had 7 stitches for a severed artery. It was great to be able to help.

The poor Guna resting on Jajapami on the way to hospital

As you would expect the snorkelling has been great, although climbing/slithering over the reef at Green Island proved a serious challenge which we probably will not repeat.

Julian ready to venture over the reef in the background

Believe me there are no Mc Donald’s near here but their plastic gets everywhere

There are not so many fish but great corals

This place is really remote and the last time we really provisioned was in the USA at the beginning of December. Our stores are getting very low and there are no shops here so when you see fresh fruit and vegetables you buy! There is a little bit of moaning from the captain about his rather plain diet.

The veggie pick up in Linton

The veggie boat in Chimichimi

There always seems to be a dog living with the families. We were most entertained to see this dog dig up a crab. I guess when there are no rabbits, moles, rats or other small vermin what can you do. It seemed an uneven fight but the crab won the day!

Size did not matter here!

We are kept well supplied with lobster and they are excellent. What a treat!

This chap free dived for our lobsters

Two happy boys cooking lobsters in Uncle Peter’s pot!

An excellent Lobster supper on Krabat

I have really enjoyed admiring the molas made by the Guna ladies. They come out in the canoes to sell them or display them at their huts. These pass Julian by, but they are very beautiful appliqué with embroidery on top. Quite how they do this without glasses and light I do not know. I will reluctantly limit myself to two!

Two beautiful molas

Arrived in Panama!

We arrived in Panama last night after 5 days of sailing from Jamaica. We have had better long sails. Leaving Jamaica we were close-hauled in big lumpy seas and it took us a long time to round the eastern corner of Jamaica; we then had a current against us and some very light winds. We managed to use all sail configurations – wing on wing, spinnaker and code zero and of course main and jib. So much choice these days! Approaching both Panama and Jamaica is certainly dramatic and we could see the mountains some way of the coast. Jamaica was a convenient stopping spot as opposed to a destination in its own right. Port Antonio marina is tiny but known to be secure and well located.

A Capella safely anchored in Linton, Panama

Port Antonio in Jamaica is definitely colourful, and Julian reckons that you can get high just walking down the street as there is that much dope being smoked. While I do not think we were in any great danger, the hustling proved annoying and at at times difficult. These guys are good and hustling ranged from thoroughly unpleasant to eccentric, to charming. We were certainly charmed, and are now owners of a little bowl of dubious quality which will remind us of Jamaica. I guess we will just get used to it. Buying at the fruit and vegetable market was also a challenge and I am quite certain we were always on the wrong side of the negotiation – these guys saw us coming! On the plus side the fruit and vegetables were of good quality and we had some new things to try. It is hard to know if Port Antonio is the “real” Jamaica but it was certainly not on the tourist trail. It was scruffy, endless shacks, dead cars and rubbish, numerous stray dogs, continuous noise, people playing dominoes, drinking and dope smoking everywhere. The plus side was the street food and we did have some excellent jerk chicken and festivals which are a sort of fried banana dough.

The new bowl, “free” jelly coconut and the marina in the back ground

Banana man- a more eccentric hustler

Almost certainly on the wrong side of the negotiation but great fruit and veg

Endless colourful shacks

In the marina we were a select few – one chap from Florida was on his second circumnavigation and on his way home, and Peter Smith and Marlyse on the mighty KiwiRoa who were great company. Peter had built KiwiRoa himself, is a font of knowledge and has sailed in all the very tricky places in the world. The yacht was amazing and very tough. Peter also designed the Rocna which is a great bit of ground tackle and the one we use. Peter was generous with his advice and Julian now has an even longer job list!

The mighty KiwiRoa

We were thrilled that our friends Bill and Moira on Krabat arrived in Panama in the morning after six days sailing from Bonaire. They had an interesting time anchoring and managed to find someone else’s lost chain and anchor! The neighbouring boats were delighted – Bill and Moria less so!

Bill and Moira’s find

An excellent lunch while we waited for the cruising permit office to open

It is extremely exciting reaching Panama, and we very much look forward to exploring the San Blas Islands and surrounds, before heading to Colon and the Panama Canal.