UNPLANNED STOPOVER AT NORFOLK ISLAND After sailing what seemed like half way to Australia we finally got the wind shift to take us to NZ ... but unfortunately there not enough strength in it to get us there prior to the inclement weather coming to North Cape later in the week. SO ... we made the decision to stopover at Norfolk Island and let it go through. We are anchored at beautiful Cascade Bay next to Berserker 11, and will transfer some fuel to them later today. The anchorage is calm, though slightly rolly, and there is enough (albeit spasmodic) activity on the shore to keep us entertained (mostly guessing what they are doing!) The tourist buses and rental cars come in, the tourists spill out and take photos ... then they are off again! Babe and Libertalia are expected to join us later today. Unfortunately we can not go ashore or on other boats without checking in ... so we are making do with chats on the radio!
ABOUT TO LEAVE NOUMEA
Our time in New Caledonia is rapidly drawing to a close, so we are again enjoying being at Port Du Sud Marina. We are ready to depart today: Sail repaired and back up TICK; Hull cleaned ready to meet MPI’s requirements TICK; Currance arrived to crew back with us (and to share Ben’s birthday) TICK; Noumea’s supermarket visited for essential provisions for the passage (such as French cheese and pastries) TICK; passage meals made and in freezer TICK; final visit to nearby islands to swim with turtles TICK; farewells to some of our Rally members who are departing earlier or by plane TICK; customs and immigration formalities completed TICK; and duty free fuel purchased TICK.
We are leaving Noumea as I type! You can follow us at https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/PantheraNZ as we head home, or the whole fleet at https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/rally/ICNZ_2019-PCR/
Apart from the enjoyment of swimming with turtles at Prony Pass, and a great sail with the code zero to Noumea, one of the highlights of Baie De Prony was meeting Mike, Danica and baby Arlo on Mirabilis - Mike is the guy behind YIT - this amazing site that enables us to share our adventures with you! Thanks, Mike, for a fantastic service!
SOUTH EAST GRANDE TERRE - ILE NEMOU & CAP TONNEDU
Talk about a dream sail from Lifou to Ile Nemou - perfect conditions for the Code Zero! We were SO glad that we waited the extra day in Lifou. We were reunited with Calypso (who sailed from Ouvea on Tuesday) and 3 Rally boats at Ile Nemou, Port Bouquet, so stories of “dream” sails vs “wet and lively” sails were shared over sundowners on Panthera!
Ile Nemou is a “special reserve” - both marine and park. It is uninhabited, but has a ranger who comes by boat each day to tend his ducks and garden .. and look after the reserve and camping ground. He was extremely welcoming - he took us to the beginning of the walking track to the “peaks” on the island, and had the kettle boiling on the fire when we returned an hour or so later. We shared coffee and chat - his in French, and ours in Franglish ... but we managed to learn lots about the reserve environment. He also took us to the camping ground shower, and told us we were welcome to use it. I don’t think he could conceive that we could have a nice hot shower on Panthera to rid ourselves of the red dust! As we returned to the dinghy with jackfruit (which he had taught us to eat) and lemons, he told us we are now “mes amis”.
The Rocket Guide had highlighted the island for snorkelling, and the ranger told us to look for the clams ... and we didn’t have to look far! We have never seen so many, or such beautiful clams ... just stunning! Lots and lots of colourful reef fish as well.
Cap Tonnedu will be remembered for snorkelling too. (Might add we are now wearing wet suits - the water temperature is much lower in New Caledonia!) The coral gardens were just stunning ... as were the little fish living within them. We spent an hour or so each day exploring the inner and outer reefs.
As we were leaving the anchorage an empty nautilus shell bobbed by us ... and with a great deal of manoeuvring by Ben on the helm, I finally managed to net it!
Next stop Baie de Prony
PASSAGE TO LIFOU ... and A WEEK IN LIFOU
The passage to Lifou was, in nautical terms, “pretty rubbish”! The winds and seas were higher than expected, and the sea state extremely lumpy. This all led to a longer passage, and we were very happy to put down the anchor in Lifou at 1.15am ... after 40 hours.
Clearly the stitching on our genoa has passed its “best by” date, as it all came away at the clew on passage - leaving our sheets and the sail flapping like crazy ... but independently!! Bit of drama on the foredeck as we got it down and stowed away. Certainly got myself completely drenched as the big waves came hurtling through the trampoline where I was sitting on the sail to stop the wind getting under it as Ben was shoving it into the locker ... in 20+knots! (Both securely tethered on I might say!) We will have to find a sail maker in Noumea to mend it. We left the spare gib in the garage at home, so will use either the storm gib and code zero to get us to Noumea. Calypso kindly offered us their spare genoa, but unfortunately its bolt-rope was too thick to go up our slider.
The strong winds kept us in Lifou, but that has been no hardship. It is so beautiful here - fine, white sand; beautiful blue water; sun (and rain!); lots of social activity; yummy french brie .. and a bakery with wood-fired, fresh, warm bread to die for!
Using my schoolgirl French I arranged for Dulcinea, Changes of Latitude and ourselves to take a minibus from the anchorage and go to Chepenhe to do the Medehu Guided Nature Walk. It all came together (after a stressful wait for the mini-bus, which was 15 minutes late!) and was a really fun outing. Our guide, Antoine, was a real character, and passionate about plants and his culture and obviously loved sharing his knowledge ... albeit in French! Fortunately I had become “best friends” with his wife, Emma, during our numerous phone calls arranging the tour, so she came along as interpreter. She was delightful too. We not only learnt about the plants and their traditional uses, but also their hunting techniques. We also explored some grottos with stalagmites and stalactites ... and Ben & Lian took part in a ritual that we never really understood, but it involved leaving handprints on the rocks and Antoine’s black spittle! We’re sure he has given future anthropologists something to puzzle over, as there are numerous handprints in that particular grotto! After the tour we visited Chapelle Notre Dame de Lourdes at the promontory, before having a picnic at the nearby Baie de Jinek. The minibus driver then took us via the scenic route back to the anchorage at Drueulu. A great day!
While most of the fleet left on Monday, we chose to stay an extra day to avoid the big seas. Next post from the Grande Terre.
LEAVING PORT VILA FOR NEW CALEDONIA
We are have cleared out of Port Vila, and sit on anchor awaiting an early morning departure for Lifou, New Caledonia. Part of getting ready has been emptying the fridge and freezer of any food that will otherwise be seized on arrival ... and destroyed at the boat owner’s (vast!) expense. It seemed such sacrilege to visit the buzzing Port Vila Market, and by-pass the beautiful fruit and vegetables on offer! Instead I have been squeezing our excess pomplemousse ready to enjoy cocktails on arrival (and before clearance into Lifou!) Port Vila encapsulates the true spirit of duty free alcohol, so we have all the other ingredients on hand as well!
Our trip down from Banks Islands was notable for the unexpected - unexpected wind strength and direction; an unexpected night at the beautiful anchorage of Bushman’s Bay, Gaua Is, where we not only donated more alcohol removed wine for communion, but also our cream tablecloth as an altar cloth; the genoa unexpectedly falling down; and an unexpected extra night at Lonnoc Bay to fix the genoa ... all followed by an overnight sail to Mele Bay, where we received a lovely welcome from our Rally friends - some of whom we hadn’t seen since we went off in different directions in the Lau Group in Fiji.
It has been pouring with rain for the last 36 hours, so we are sharing our best rainbow shots from the Banks Islands
WE ARE AT SOLA!
Today we have collected our new Cruising Permit that will allow us to visit islands on the way to Port Vila. Richie, the Customs Officer was kind enough to allow me to take his photo as he went “stamp, stamp ... good to go”!
We have truly experienced remote Vanuatu over the last week, as we visited Dolov Village and Losalava on Gau Island; Waterfall Bay in Western Vanua Lava; and Lesereplag at Ureparapara Island ... before coming to Sola.
We were made to feel so welcome at each of the villages and had formal welcome ceremonies with flowers, leis, speeches and (in one instance) song ... followed by refreshments. These were held in individual family’s homes at Dolov and Waterfall Bay ... and included gifts of fresh fruit and vegetables. I can’t adequately express how honoured we felt to be invited into their lives in this way. In Ureparapara we were welcomed, along with Gail and Dean from “Local Talent”, by Chief Nicholson and his family and Chief John. This was followed by a village tour led by Melody, Chief Nicholson’s wife. Her lively sense of humour gave an added dimension to the tour!
Trading is “alive and well” in this Province ... and people’s needs were for the basics in life. In exchange for beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables ... and lobster, we were able to help with needles and thread; batteries; torches; clothes; towels; a file for sharpening tools (wish we’d had more of these); ointment for ringworm; playing cards; fishing lures; a hand saw ... and wait for it ... communion wine! In fact two villages were unable to offer parishioners communion as they had no wine ... so that was an easy fix, and it didn’t matter that it was alcohol removed! The people of Ureparapara are reliant on the supply boat for all their staples ... and the Co-op shop had run out of soap, rice, sugar, batteries and salt. They were thus very grateful for any donations from us and “Local Talent”.
Before leaving NZ I also bought lots of books to donate to schools ... mostly relating to sea life - whales, dolphins, sharks etc etc. Local politics at some of the villages suggests that it is good to take these to the school in person, and we always enjoy our visits to the schools. The schools are often located outside of the village ... apparently to avoid distraction ... and, the the case of Waterfall Bay, the school was said to be at the “Big Village”. Given that the children walk there every day, I figured that, despite varying accounts as to how far it was away, it couldn’t be TOO far. How wrong I was! It took us 1 1/2 hours each way over somewhat intrepid terrain. (Ben says it was a typical inter village track!) It took us across the bottom of the Twin Waterfall, through rivers, up and down decent hills as well as along beach fronts to get there. And to think that 5 year olds do that every day!! We were wiser at Ureparapara - when told the school was “maybe half an hour, maybe an hour’s walk” we checked if we could we go in the dinghy! That reduced the walk significantly!
The remoteness of the villages we visited underlined how we take transport for granted. Apart from Losalava, boats are the only way in and out of the villages we visited - unless you count walking a mighty long way! Each village has a Community Boat, but the cost of using it to get any distance precludes most people using it - except when a group get together to cover the cost. John, in Dolov, asked if we could take him to Losalava as he was heading to NZ to work in the orchards near Te Puke. After chatting to him, Ben agreed, and we really enjoyed his company for the 4 hour journey. He shared lots of stories and information about life in Western Gaua, and told us about the bays and villages we passed along the way. He also broke our drought on fishing and caught a small tuna which he took to his friends in Losalava. The Community Boat in Ureparapara is absolutely essential - there is no airport. It did a trip to and from Sola while we there, despite three significant holes in the fibreglass, and it was agreed that it was no longer safe to do the journey. So when Chief John asked if Ben could possibly mend the holes, Ben set to work - his time fixing cutters at Te Puru Sea Scouts holding him in good stead! Working with a wet and dirty surface didn’t make it easy ... or the mend perfect ... but we left them with a patched up boat that, we hope, will see them through for some time.
The magnificence of the geography in these Islands has to be seen to be believed. The twin waterfall just falling out of the rock cliff that can be seen from miles out at sea; similarly the single one in the next bay along; imposing, densely bush covered volcanic cones (the tops seemingly perpetually covered in cloud); the tiny, flat Reef Islands that look like trees growing on the water; and rugged coastal reefs (which we hope to steer clear of). And to anchor in a cauldera at Ureparapara, with the steep bush-clad sides towering over us, just encapsulated it perfectly!
Tomorrow we start making our way south again.
ESPIRITO SANTOS (SANTO), VANUATU
Three standouts from our week in Santo:
First the easy (when you know how to do it!) but protracted “Clearing In” process.
Step 1: Email in “Advance Notice of Arrival” to Customs in Vanuatu.
Response: “Received, thank you. Anchor at Beachfront Resort Anchorage or Aore Resort on arrival, then radio Customs or Port Control in Luganville. On no account leave your vessel.”
Step 2: Arrive, anchor and radio ... numerous times
Step 3: Find the telephone number in a Cruising Guide, and ring Customs.
Response: “Number unobtainable” signal
Step 4: Phone Customs in Port Vila and get correct number. Ring it.
Response: “Number unobtainable” signal
Step 5: (Unofficial) Get in dinghy and ask advice from people at neighbouring yacht.
Response: “Sorry, don’t know - we cleared in at Port Vila. Maybe ask at the Resort”
Step 6: (Very unofficial) Go into the Resort and ask advice
Response: “Oh you have to take a taxi or a bus into town and go first to Immigration, then Customs”.
Step 7: (Sort of Official) Take a bus to town
Response: Bus Driver tells us that the Immigration Office will be closed for lunch until 1.30pm
Step 8: Present at Immigration
Response: “Sorry - please come back tomorrow. We need to be at the Airport this afternoon ... and so will the Customs Officials.” (One international flight per week). “In the meantime, go to Customs and give them your paperwork, then go to Government Cashier and pay your fees”.
Step 9: Present at Security Main Wharf
Response: Sign in and lengthy discussion about Health Services in NZ and Seasonal Work Permits for Fruit Pickers from Vanuatu. (The Security Officer had had a child in Starship Hospital and had stayed at Ronald McDonald House while she was being treated).
Step 10: Present at Customs
Response: Took our papers but “Come back tomorrow, as we have to go to the Airport now.”
Step 11: Find Government Cashier and pay fees
Response: First success of the day!
Step 12: (Unofficial) Visit cafe and market before returning to Panthera.
Step 13: (DAY 2) Repeat Steps 7 - 10
Response: Stamp, stamp ... good to go! BUT ... come back for your Cruising Permit on Friday!
Step 14: (FRIDAY while Ben is diving on the President Coolidge) Present at Customs and ask for Cruising Permit.
Response: “Please fill in these forms”
My response: “Um ... didn’t we give you these on Tuesday?
Response: “No ... same information but different form”
My Response: “OK ... can I have the other form, so that I can just copy it?”
Response: “Sure ... but we also need your proposed itinerary”
My Response: Completed form - with itinerary of island stops for our stay in Vanuatu
Response: Stamp, stamp on the form, which was placed in envelope with an official seal on it, and handed back to me with the instruction to hand it in at Sola and get another Cruising Permit to Port Vila.
My Response: “But I’m not sure we will go to Sola, as the anchorage seems very exposed to the SE winds.”
Response: You MUST go to Sola ... this Cruising Permit will only take you to Banks - you will need a new one to go to Port Vila
My Response: “But ...” ... Took the Cruising Permit and repeated Step 12 above!
The second standout was for Ben to dive on the President Coolidge 40 years after he last did so. As you can imagine the deterioration of the wreck over that period was huge. An unexpected bonus was the fish life at the recovery points on the way up - the clownfish were particularly prolific.
Last, but not least, was Hog Harbour and the adjacent Champagne Beach - crystal clear blue water and fine white sand - pure picture postcard stuff!
Next report from the Banks Group (which WILL include a stop at Sola!)
OVALAU AND YADUA ISLANDS
.... AND WHISTLE STOPS AT KORO & MAKOGAI ISLANDS, VOLIVOLI, BLUE LAGOON, MANTARAY PASS & DENARAU
We made a conscious decision to spend longer at fewer anchorages this trip ... and these included spending time at Rukuruku Bay on Ovalau Island and at Yadua Island.
We loved Rukuruku Bay where we were welcomed by the village children, the chief and another lovely family who put us on to David, who literally drove us all around the island telling us all the history on the way. Our “tour guide” was a retired lawyer from UK who has lived in Fiji 30+ years, and was not only really knowledgeable, but also a great story teller. Obviously he isn’t really a guide, but just took us around because the Rukuruku community like to make guests welcome! It all came about after the chief told us about a truck that would take us to Levuka ... but when we turned up at the appointed time ... whoops he’d forgotten it only goes Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (and it was Wednesday!) Hence “our family” called David to see if he would transport us, and he agreed to do so. Amazing really.
Levuka was the first capital of Fiji and David showed us all the other “firsts” and “oldest” in Fiji, including the first formal school and oldest hotel. The burnt out shell of the first Masonic Lodge in the South Pacific was interesting too - torched by god-fearing villagers in 2000, believing that Masons were in league with the devil, and that there were tunnels linking it through the centre of the earth to Scotland! We also saw the devastation brought to Ovalau by Cyclone Winston in 2016.
As part of our circumnavigation of Ovalau we stopped at the Airstrip to pick up Marilyn & Ken from the tiny plane that flies in each day. It was great to have them on board for their next 12 days.
After leaving Ovalau we picked our way through the coral to Volivoli before heading across to a beautiful anchorage at Yadua Island. When the torrential rain cleared we enjoyed amazing snorkelling ... exploring four different reefs in the bay, each of which was great in its own way. We left the best til last, going on the outer reef at the pass entrance. It was possibly the best snorkelling we have ever done - the beautiful soft and hard corals; amazing variety of colour and species of fish; deep drop off in beautiful blue water ... and both white and black tipped sharks gliding around with us.
The Yasawas called from there, where it was lovely to catch up with Grant and Bronny from Fairway Bay Marina at Blue Lagoon. Ben, along with Anne & Jeremy from Athair, also provided us with entertainment as they performed a tricky and skilled manoeuvre which involved transferring an Iridium Unit from Panthera to Athair at sea. With the unit (quadruple wrapped in plastic bags) on the end of Ben’s boat hook and Anne with a net on Athair’s bow, Jeremy brought Athair alongside us ... and with a flick of the boat hook, it was safely in Anne’s net! We were all suitably impressed!
We were also very happy to catch up with the Sea Angels (from Beachlands) at Mantaray Pass - and to eat pizza, drink sangria and seek the mantarays with them ... not the amazing numbers that we swam with in 2017, but they are as magnificent as ever! Olivia and Robbie’s muffins and cupcakes were arguably equally good!
We left Denarau on Friday - sad to miss my cousin Derek & Viv by such a small margin - next stop is Luganville in Vanuatu.
TAVEUNI AND BEYOND!
After two nights at the stunning anchorage on Matangi Island we went on to Taveuni, in theory for a short provisioning stop … but it became one that lasted 3 days! This enabled Ben and Owen (from Dulcinea) to dive on the Great White Wall and Rainbow Reef. Great dives!
Meanwhile Emma, Lachlan, Bruce and I took a taxi to Bouma National Park to visit the Tavoro Waterfalls. The guy in the dive shop deemed Bruce and I “too old” to make it to the 3rd of 3 stunning waterfalls … and he was right, certainly as far as I was concerned! It was worth the effort to get to the second one though – Emma’s app told us we had climbed the equivalent on 60 flights of stairs … and she did that with Lachlan in a front pack!
We loved our weekend at Catherine Bay on Rabi Island. Such an interesting history – the inhabitants were relocated there by the British Government in 1945 after ravaging their home island “Ocean Island” in Kiribati through phosphate mining. Although the people were granted Fijian citizenship, our guide book told us that the only things the people have in common with Fijians are their “monetary, postal, and educational systems, kava drinking (a Fijian implant), and Methodism.” We found that they also share friendliness and the welcoming attitude we have found everywhere in Fiji.
The local language is Gilbertese, and one of the villagers told us that their original Banaban Language was lost on the 1800s when the missionaries came to Ocean Island with the bible translated only into Gilbertese. There is no-one left who knows the old language.
They don’t do sevusevu in Rabi, but you must report to the chairperson of the Village Council to seek permission to visit. The chairperson at Buakonikai, the village we visited, is a woman, and she told us we were welcome as long as we didn’t bring drugs! I have to say that two less likely looking drug running boats than Dulcinea and Panthera, I have yet to see!
On Sunday we went to the huge (and in need of even huger repairs!) Methodist Church – arriving promptly at 11am as advised by the children who had guided us through the village on Saturday. Whoops … it had started at 10! Next whoops was not noticing that there was a male side and a female side of the church as we quickly took our seats! Despite our faux pas, the community was clearly very pleased to see us there. The preacher was a woman, and while she preached in Gilbertese, her tone was clearly full of “fire and brimstone”.
Some other interesting facts about Rabi are that alcoholic beverages are not allowed on the island, and that adultery is legally punishable offense!
After buddy-boating with Dulcinea since the Bay of Islands, we ventured to the Ringgold Islands alone. We felt very adventurous as it is not a common destination for yachts. In fact we were the only boat in the island group when we arrived. (One more arrived the next evening). We then discovered that a group of 6 young women from Canada left the day we arrived after staying at an Air BnB for 3 days!!! Now that is really adventurous, especially as they came by longboat from Taveuni! There are only 59 people living on the island; 16 pupils at the school (4 teachers!!); and it is the only populated island in the group. Things are very basic in the village, and I just couldn’t believe there could be an Air BnB there - the power of the internet! (Actually there is no reception at the village, so the owner, Willie, goes up the hill with his cellphone to run the Air BnB. He told us that it took 3 years to meet the requirements to set up with “Homestay.com” but he persevered … and was finally rewarded. He then learned about Air BnB and has found that much more successful in attracting guests.
Willie took us out in his longboat to explore the Cikobia crater … an amazing lagoon formed by the collapse of one segment of the volcanic island. We disturbed hundreds of beautiful bats sleeping in the trees by the water’s edge – they looked amazing flying above us. He then took us snorkelling in the reef off Cobia Island where we saw beautiful bright blue lipped clams. In the evening Willie arrived at Panthera with a gift of an octopus … and instructions on how best to cook it!
Our next planned destination was Albert Cove at the top of Rabi Island but beautiful sailing conditions had us sail right on by and anchor at Catherine Bay again. We negotiated two pretty narrow passes through the reefs on our way … a bit stressful seeing coral on both sides of Panthera, and the depth decrease from 300+ metres to 7 … but who needs more than 7 metres??
Paradise Taveuni, a resort that welcomes cruisers with free mooring balls and use of the resort facilities, beckoned us next. Like Yanuca Island we were able to snorkel in beautiful coral off the back of the boat – the clarity of the water and huge numbers of colourful fish were fabulous. We left this morning with a box of vegetables and fruit from the resort’s organic garden, eggs from their hens and 2 loaves of crusty bread – what a bonus!
FIJI: THE LAU GROUP
After a relatively easy 2 night passage from Tonga we cleared into Fiji at Lomolomo in Vanua Balavu … another bonus of being part of the ICNZ Rally.
We were possibly the last Rally boat to leave Neiafu, so despite overtaking several (not that we actually saw them) there were plenty of yachts in before us, so we didn’t get cleared for 24 hours. Lomolomo is exposed to the trades, so was a pretty uncomfortable spot to be waiting in … we were pleased to leave and head for the beautiful Bay of Islands to “hide out” from the predicted big blow that was coming - we couldn’t think of a more beautiful spot to be hiding out! The forecast was correct - the rain was torrential and there was plenty of wind - even in our sheltered little nook.
Most of the Rally boats had chosen to go to the closer (and very sheltered) Mbavatu Harbour, so when we arrived there were only 5 boats in BoI, and only 1 other Rally boat ... how different to 2017! A few more arrived over the next 3 days, and we enjoyed “raindowners” together, both on Panthera and on an Australian boat, Mari. We enjoyed a day at Horse Bay as we made our way to Mbavatu Harbour – where there is plenty to do, including a walk to the lookout over the Bay of Islands.
The Rally reassembled at Susui last Wednesday for an afternoon and evening of entertainment by the 19 children at Susui School and feasting. A visit to the Hidden Lagoon where I had acquired my Hiawatha reputation in 2017 reinforced how important tides and daylight are when there is coral to be negotiated in your dinghy – this year the only boat to hit coral was, in fact, the long boat which was guiding us through it!
I have greatly developed my dinghy driving skills since being away … and food has been a great motivator for this! Taking myself off to the market and deli in Neiafu was a major breakthrough … and being “boat-woman” while Ben scoured the walls of Mbavatu Harbour for crayfish took my skills to a new level! Sadly he had no success, but we are ever hopeful!
Breadmaking has been another skill I have honed … who knew how large a loaf would become if you left it to prove overnight?!!! The challenge then becomes fitting it in the small oven to bake a) without burning the bottom and b) without it hitting the grill. Both are works in progress!
Surprisingly we have now left the Lau Group … without going south to Fulaga. I say that because it never crossed my mind that we wouldn’t! I loved that experience and the beauty of the area and had looked forward to visiting other islands in the southern Lau as well. However when it looked as if the weather would preclude our leaving before the weekend we’ve just had, we looked at our other options ... and the upshot is that we are headed towards the Taveuni area, Rabi and on to Savusavu. We are both happy with our decision as it means we can explore areas we have not been to before.
Travelling with Dulcinea and Equinox 2, our first stop on leaving The Lau Group was Wailagilala Island – a small uninhabited island, with a lagoon inside a reef to anchor in. In some ways it reminded us of being in Minerva Reef. We had a lovely walk around the island - there were boobies nesting and beautiful chicks popping their heads out of the nests. Four men from Taveuni were camping on the island … if we understood correctly, working to create a resort there. If that is correct, it is a long way off! They helped us get some papaya and bananas so we were very happy – fresh fruit is always welcomed! However it was an EXTREMELY lumpy night and we were very happy to lift the anchor and head to Matangi Island.
More from Matangi and Taveuni soon!
As we prepare to leave Tonga, we’ve reflected on some of the things that have made our time here special.
First the actual Rally … the shared experiences, support, fun and friendships that develop. It’s great to have Fairway Bay friends here aboard Calypso and Victoria … and regular visits (including a sleepover on Panthera) from George and Elizabeth aboard “Albatross”, their little kayak. Remarkably there are three families from Beachlands on the Rally too – Phil, Toni,Robbie & Olivia aboard Sea Angel and Sharyn & Ray aboard Jasper 2.
As with the 2017 Rally we love that people are always willing to lend a hand, share their “spares”, as well as advice, when things don’t go to plan! Sadly despite all the advice given and fixes tried, we had to get new wind instruments flown up from NZ. This, however, gave us the opportunity to learn how the courier service works in Tonga!!! Let’s just say it was a bit stressful, especially when our tracking notice said “Delivered – signed for by Ben in Nuku’alofa” … when we were, in fact, in Vava’u, and had yet to sight, let alone sign for, anything! We were so pleased to pick the box up yesterday … and for Ben (assisted by Glen) to get it installed and working in time to leave for Fiji today.
Getting things working again is a way of life when sailing … and the causes of malfunctions can be hilarious. The genset stopped a couple of evenings ago … the reason – jelly fish in the water intake! The number of jellyfish in Neiafu Harbour has to be seen to be believed – literally hundreds surround our boat.
While fixing things may be our way of life, boarding school is the way of life for a huge number of children in the Pacific … and Monday morning and Friday afternoon see numerous “school bus” boats ferrying children to and from their island homes to the nearest school. While we were at Vaka’Eitu Ben ended up being the substitute “school bus driver”! The three girls who live on the island board from Monday to Friday, but didn’t appear home from school on Friday. Their somewhat worried parents borrowed our phone to try to find out what had happened, but couldn’t raise anyone. On Saturday morning they paddled out to us and borrowed the phone again and this time located the children. It seemed the boat that was supposed to bring them home went fishing instead! So Ben and David (the father) took our dinghy to collect them while their mother sat on Panthera with me and talked. The family has 11 children ranging from 5-22, and pays for the children’s school fees by hosting feasts for visiting yachts. (Primary school is free, but secondary school is not.) With one such feast planned for the Saturday evening, Ben & David also picked up the octopus, fish and various other supplies for the feast. Ben said they were supposed to transport the pig back too, but the guys at the village couldn’t catch it! We later saw a boat arrive at the shore, so assume it had the said pig aboard, as there was one roasting when we got to the feast, which then went onto the table! The feast was the very best we have had anywhere in the Pacific.
Which leads me to “eating out in Neifu”. As you can imagine, opportunities for eating out can be few and far between … so the chance to do so is welcomed by the chief cook on board! To be able to share these evenings in Neifu with Jillian and Glen from Malakite was an added bonus! These included an evening at Mangos over candlelight (due to the power cut) which included a very random quiz night; a walk for Jillian and I to the Hepi Pizza place (supposed to be 500 metres, but was actually 1 km) for takeaway pizzas ... having a drink on their deck with its stunning views over the Harbour … then being driven by the owner back to the yachts because he wanted us to be able to enjoy his pizzas as while they were hot!; and fish and chips at a cute little barge in the harbour which can cope with 4 orders at a time – and serves margueritas and cold beers while you wait for your turn!
The not so good news from the Rally is that one of the boats, Squander, had to be abandoned, and the crew lifted by helicopter and taken to NZ. We are all delighted that not only were the crew safely rescued, but that Squander has since been successfully salvaged.
WE HAVE ARRIVED IN TONGA
We arrived in Tonga on Monday - 6 days and 5 hours after leaving Opua. We made very good time, and were amongst the first group to arrive (maybe 6th boat here I think). We got in just on dark and had to wait on our boat until we were able to clear customs etc ... which finally happened 22 hours later!! It is certainly Tonga time here!
The Passage up was not my favourite one (this year’s understatement!) ... and sadly, with a big front coming through, stopping at Minerva Reef was not an option this time. Several boats got stuck there for a week recently, and in pretty rough conditions ... so we didn’t fancy that! (No crayfish is worth it!)
That forecasted front was the factor pushing the decision to leave when we did. The first 18 hours was pretty rugged, and I experienced really bad seasickness ... such that Ben and Jens had to do my watches on the first night - I couldn’t move without throwing up! They were just great and just let me lie on the bed with my bucket! Ben slept in the saloon. As you can imagine, I was thinking that FIFO (Fly In, Fly Out) was looking like a good future option ... and that this was my very last passage. However I think it is correct to say that four boats turned back with various issues ranging from a blown out mainsail to taking on water, so possibly seasickness was nothing in comparison to that!
After a reprieve of a day or so to recover, it was unpleasant again for a day and a night. Both high winds and horrible seas. Jens really thought Panthera was going to fall to pieces with some of the bashing and crashing! The rough seas brought back the seasickness, so I succumbed to taking “sealegs”. Either that or 5 hours sleep put an end to it, and I was then fine.
By then we had managed to go fast enough to be ahead of the next front, and we had two days and nights of really beautiful sailing. We then motor-sailed the last day to get here by nightfall ... making it with less than 30 minutes to spare! Jens saw a pod of whales in the early light on Monday ... hopefully the first of many that we’ll get to sail with over the next 5 months.
We are now at Pangaimotu Island, about a mile across the Lagoon from Nuku’alofa, and enjoying the camaraderie of other members of the Rally at Big Mama’s Yacht Club. Ben was up the mast today, with Jens assistance, tightening up a few nuts and bolts and trying to get our wind instruments working again (fairly essential when you are sailing a boat!) As the only member of the crew to hop into the beautiful blue, warm water for a swim, my task was to check what was wrapped around the prop ... one of our engines stopped half way here, and the problem was identified as something ... maybe a fishing net ... being wrapped around the prop. Unbelievably there was nothing ... and the engine is running beautifully! We assume that whatever it was disentangled itself! We wish every problem was as easily solved!
A trip to the market yesterday had us enjoy mud crab, followed by papaya for dinner tonight ... we are one happy crew!!!
RE-RUN OF A MOVIE WE SAW IN 2017!
Here are the ICNZ Rally Members ready and waiting in Opua ... the emphasis being on waiting, waiting! A tropical low in the Pacific has delayed our departure for Tonga, and it looks as if we will be here for at least another week. Watch this space!
Panthera - Heading Out Of The BoI
We are now an hour out of Opua and it's a beautiful day to start our adventure! Yachts ahead of us and behind us as far as the eye can see. All heading to Cape Brett and beyond. And all motor sailing at this stage in swells of about 2 metres.
Panthera - Watch this space!
Saturday has been confirmed as departure day! So we're off back to Opua to restock the chocolate (and other goodies) consumed during our sojourn in the Bay!
Panthera - Don't Get Excited!
It may look as if we're on the move, but sadly it's only out into the Bay of Islands! Next weekend is our next projected weather window (we've had them before, but they haven't materialised!) So we're enjoying being out on the water again ... as we continue to wait, wait, wait! Lovely sunset followed by sundowners on Malakite. ..if it weren't so cold we could imagine we were in Tonga!
Panthera - Still in Opua
Cyclones Donna and Ella have delayed our departure. . we sit and wait while the weather chaos clears!