HELEN & BEN SAFE ... FELIX INJURED! Bundaberg was hit by a terrible storm on Tuesday night - winds of up to 72 knots! Unfortunately Felix was a casualty of this storm when we broke away from our marina berth along with Wind of Change. As we attempted to get to safety we hit a pontoon pole, which created a hole in Felix's starboard side just below the water line. As we took on more and more water it was obvious we were sinking. Thanks to the efforts of Geoff from Bundaberg Marina and yachties on two dinghies Felix was towed towards a little beach while 80% submerged. Efforts by countless kind and supportive people over the ensuing 24 hours meant that she was secured on the beach; a temporary repair made to the hole; and much water pumped out. Today she was refloated and an attempt was made to lift her out of the water with a crane. Unfortunately there was too much water still inside, making her too heavy for the cranes to lift out. We will try again tomorrow. In the meantime Ben and I have received the most amazing care, support and help from the most wonderful cruising, Bundaberg Marina and Burnett Heads communities. We feel very very humbled and grateful to them all. Sent from my iPad
DAY 6 PASSAGE FROM NEW CALEDONIA TO BUNDABERG We are safely anchored in the Burnett River in Bundaberg ... arriving in the dark and too late to either clear in or go to our Marina berth. It was somewhat of a boisterous sail at times last night with 20+ knots of wind and a very confused sea. Fortunately no height in the waves to speak of. The auto pilot decided to play up in the latter part of the journey so we hand steered for the last 8 hours - mostly into the wind on a fairly flat sea ... so no big drama. (Apart from the $$$ signs we both see).
We were welcomed to the Australian coast by a dolphin escort ..and look forward to an unbroken nights sleep!
DAY 5 PASSAGE FROM NEW CALEDONIA TO BUNDABERG Hurray we have some wind and have been able to turn off the motors and sail for most of the day! While I slept this afternoon Ben and Currance spent several hours dealing to the calcified head in the guest bathroom - what a mission! I am happy to report that it is now fully functional again! Our meals are getting bigger as I try to get Ben and Currance to eat up all the food we are not allowed to take into Australia. They would rather eat the baking! We are not allowed to take any fresh vegetables or fruit; chicken or pork; and only dairy beef and lamb from countries that are free of foot and mouth. I'm at the stage of wondering if Back Country Meals with chicken in them count! I bought two huge green papaya at the market in Noumea, in the expectation that they would ripen pretty quickly ...sadly it looks as if at least one will go into the quarantine bin!
DAY 4 PASSAGE FROM NEW CALEDONIA TO BUNDABERG Our hitchhiker left us at 6.00am (leaving a rather large and smelly calling card!) after spending all night with his head tucked under his wing - didn't even stir when Ben put out the headsail in the night! Not that the headsail was out for long - we're still awaiting the wind! At least the current slowing us down has disappeared and we're trucking along at about 6 knots again. Ben and Currance refuelled from the jerry cans this afternoon - so easy when the sea is so flat! Bets are now on as to whether we'll reach Bundaberg by COB on Tuesday or if we'll have to anchor in the Q area and clear in on Wednesday morning.
DAY 3 PASSAGE FROM NEW CALEDONIA TO BUNDABERG The wind continues to elude us and we've been motorsailing on a silk-like sea all day. We are motoring almost directly into what little wind there is, so if we do have to motor, at least these are perfect motoring conditions! A red footed booby is currently hitching a ride with us - sitting cleaning and preening on the bow. (Ben is muttering about guano on the deck ...but I don't see him chasing it away!) Sorry about the incorrect lat / long yesterday ..hopefully today's will put us in the ocean rather than in the middle of Australia (Thanks for the alert, Margaret!) The night sky was amazing last night - lovely moonlight and starry sky with satellites and meteorites to add extra interest. Our plans to use the SSB have been thwarted - the SSB has decided to give up the ghost. Fortunately we still have the satellite phone to fall back on.
DAY 2 PASSAGE FROM NEW CALEDONIA TO BUNDABERG The wind dropped overnight and its been motorsailing on a beautiful flat sea ever since. Perfect whale watching conditions if not sailing conditions! Unfortunately we are yet to see any whales or increase in wind! A few seabirds and flying fish to keep us company though. We loved seeing Kena's sails by day and lights by night and having radio contact with them ... but today we have gone ahead and have now lost sight of them. All is not lost though - we have set up daily SSB scheds with them from here to Bundaberg.
DAY 1 PASSAGE FROM NEW CALEDONIA TO BUNDABERG In company with Kena we've had a perfect day's sail to start our passage - beam reach all the way averaging between 6 and 7 knots with waves of 1.5 metres. Long may it continue! Our watch system is sorted ... at least for tonight with 3 + 3 + 3 + 2 +2 + 2. Let's see how that goes! The sun is about to pass the yardarm but our passages are dry, so the drinks will have to wait until Bundaberg.
PORT DU SUD (NOUMEA) We were so fortunate to get a marina berth at Port du Sud - we really appreciated the efforts the Capitainerie, Marc, went to to try and accommodate as many boats as possible. Never mind that we had to move Felix 4 times to different spots on the Visitor's Pier over our nine days! Fortunately we had lots of help from other Rally participants who were able to take our lines in the strong wind conditions! We enjoyed lots of social time with our ICA Rally Fleet friends before most of them departed for NZ last Friday. Yvonne flew out the same day. It was good to have Kena, Lettin Go, Skylark, Alexandra and Pixie stay on with us. We made good use of the local buses to explore a little of Noumea and as we provisioned for our passage to Bundaberg. The Aquarium, Maritime Museum and Parc Forestier et Zoologique were all fantastic. Shopping in both the Port Moselle Market and in "a real supermarket" made provisioning a breeze! Most grocery items were expensive by NZ standards, the exception being cheese and to say we have over indulged in French cheese is probably an understatement! Yesterday we completed all the customs and immigration requirements to leave New Caledonia. This involved visiting 3 different offices some 30 minutes walk apart from each other ... so Ben & Currance did that with 'Kena', 'Alexandra' and 'Be and Be' while I did the last minute market stuff. Today we left Port du Sud heading for the historic Amedee Lighthouse where we will overnight before setting off with Kena tomorrow morning as part of the Go West Rally to Bundaberg. Sent from my iPad
BAIE DE LA TORTUE (ILE OUEN) I am delighted to report that dugongs are not a myth! Despite this Bay being named Turtle Bay, we saw as many dugongs as we did turtles ... so there was great excitement aboard Felix! Having been looking for them unsuccessfully in Vanuatu and New Caledonia we had been beginning to believe that they fell into the mermaid category!
ILOT CASY Ilot Casy is most famous for its caretaker - a dog called Mouss. Mouss has lived alone on the island for ten years supported by S/V Impi, Guy Kane (vet) and the yachting community who feed him (or leave food) when visiting the island. Mouss apparently rejected attempts to take him off the island when the resort where he lived closed down - jumping overboard and swimming back three times! He enjoyed the meat we took ashore for him, then started us out on our walk around the island. Sadly his age and "creaky" body precluded him guiding us the whole way around the island (as he has guided visiting yachties for years), but he was waiting for us when we returned from our walk. Mouss even has his own facebook account! We loved being on a mooring - no worries about dragging anchors! However the moorings were pretty close together and with a big motor launch on the adjacent mooring, Ben did get up in the night when we went stern to stern ... as did the skipper of the other boat ..but all was well! There was no internet in the bay with the moorings but good coverage on the other side of the island. So each evening we took our devises for a walk and sat on the very windy "weather side" of the island to get weather forecasts and emails!
ILE DES PINS (ISLE OF PINES) We spent a week at different anchorages in the beautiful Ile des Pins - like Ouvea, true picture postcard stuff! The blue skies that eluded us in Ile Mare returned, and we were back in the water to cool off! Yvonne and Currance from Christchurch joined us at Baie de Uamaeo ... and Currance will stay on to crew with us on our journey to Australia next week. We loved the azure waters and white beaches; the walks around a couple of the smaller islands and up Pic Nga - the highest point in Ile des Pins; the view from the top!; the huge cave - Grotto de Hortense; the friendly people at the small, twice weekly market; the chocolate filled donuts and the baby carrots at the market; and lunch at the beach side restaurant near Baie d'Oro. We saw lots of sea snakes, especially at Ilot Brosse - you really had to watch where you put your feet when walking on the beach! We also negotiated coral ridden passes from one Baie to the next - with two metres of water under us at times! Just as well we could follow Malakite at times as they had the track in their chart plotter from their trip 2 years ago! A truly beautiful place we'd love to return to in the future! Sent from my iPad
ILE MARE Two long days of motoring from Ouvea, including a 3.00am start from Lifou on the second day, had us at Ile Mare sitting alongside a huge Carinival Cruise ship at Port du Tadine. We discovered over the next three days that Tadine is a busy Port as we watched the Betico (a very fast catamaran passenger ferry); a vehicle ferry and several supply boats come in and out of the Port. We took a tour around the island with an eclectic mix of 5 other tourists from France and Japan. Fortunately they were able to help out with translation when the tour guide didn't know the English words! We visited all the "must see" sights apart from the Cultural Centre which was closed while they build a new one! While lovely, with very friendly locals, we both saw Ile Mare as the Loyalties Island that we were least likely to return to. We did, however, enjoy the market - and our first papaya since arriving in New Caledonia. We had another 3.00am start when we left and a great sail ... arriving at Ile des Pins around midday. It was lovely to anchor in a bay with Malakite and Morepork and to enjoy sundowners with them aboard Northstar 11 - a beautiful motor launch from Auckland.
BEAUTEMP-BEAUPRE Truly the jewel in the crown of Ouvea ... and of New Caledonia! This beautiful uninhabited island, with its characteristic turquoise water and white sand, is both a turtle and a bird sanctuary and we were fortunate enough to be there during what was clearly the turtle mating season. Not so sure about being fortunate to be there during the nesting season for the birds - the noise was incessant from the rookery which we anchored near to on the first night ... and the smell of the guano had us anchor further from the shore than we could have! We explored by kayak the first day, so were able to get close to the land and see that the birds had laid their eggs in the sand and that the hundreds of birds who were not sitting on nests were sharp (and noisy) lookouts! We tried to avoid the nesting areas when we walked in this island the following day .. but on the one occasion when we got it wrong we certainly knew about it! The turtles were, however, the highlight - we have never seen so many ... and lots of them were really huge. We were amazed to see them mating around our boats - but it was even better when Ben and I walked to the other side of the island to see them both swimming and mating near the shore and also resting on the sand. They seemed quite oblivious of us, so we were able to approach them without them so much as blinking an eye! The first night there were only 4 boats in one anchorage and we three (Blue Summit, Letting Go & Felix) in another ...the next day we squeezed about 8 boats all in one anchorage (away from the noisy birds!). We enjoyed drinks on Manuhaea, a bonfire on the beach and morning coffee on Felix with others on the Rally while we were there, but when 7 more Rally boats arrived the next day, we decided it was time to return to Ouvea. Seeing a whale just in front of us in the shallow water of the huge Ouvea Lagoon as we sailed from Ouvea to Beautemp-Beaupris was pretty exciting, but as much as we whale watched as we motored back into the wind, they kept well out of sight!
OUVEA The huge UNESCO World Heritage listed lagoon with its amazing azure water and 25 km white sand beach is just as beautiful as the postcards depict! We enjoyed a looong walk along this with Jillian and Glen, picked up some nice shells and returned to Felix exhausted! We had anchored near Mouli and, with 7 others, hired a couple of cars to explore the island. By chance we hired it on the day of a big cycle race around the island, and, as well as seeing them as they passed through the village where we stopped for coffee, we were able to cheer the cyclists on as they crossed the finishing line at the village of St Joseph! The finishing line was adjacent to St Joseph's Church - which had very old stained glass windows that were as beautiful as any we ever saw in Europe. In St Joseph, we joined Nigel and Amanda to visit the chief's widow to seek permission to go to Beautemp-Beaupris (an island 1/2 day's sail away) which she gave every graciously. The traditional gift to present to the chief is a bolt of fabric with a 1000 franc note tucked inside, and Nigel presented several of these on behalf of the fleet. Our sight seeing included a visit to the port, and to two very deep holes in the limestone that are filled with water and connected to the sea via underground tunnels. The water is almost navy blue, and if you are patient you can see turtles swimming in them. However the highlight of the natural sights was the Grottes d'Hulup - a maze of caves with wonderful stalagmites and stalactites. Lunch at a local restaurant not only gave us a taste of the local prawns, but also an opportunity to experience the local eco-toilet! The political undertones I spoke of in my last post are quite evident in Ouvea - which is not only notable for its Rainbow Warrior connection (absolutely not mentioned at all!), but also as the heart of the pro-independence movement. We visited the impressive memorial to the 19 Kanaks who died in 1988, and the two pro-independence leaders who were assassinated there the following year. We don't know, but suspect there was some of that in our abortive attempts to visit the island opposite a protected lagoon. On Friday morning, after the others had left for Grande Terre, Ben and I went looking Felix (yes, really!), who does walking tours ... but the camp ground where he operates was completely deserted. We went back to the Mouli Bridge and had an amazing time - we saw heaps of fish, turtles and schools of rays - up to 40 in a group! A young man with a little boy pointed out the sharks to us, and we got chatting ( as much as you can when neither speaks the other's language!) He told us that his wife came from the village on the island across the Lagoon and that they were celebrating St Raphael's Day. He explained that the morning was the religious part, but "après midi" we should catch the ferry and go to the island for the fete. He said there would be cultural dancing and other festivities ... so we gave up looking for Felix and decided to do that instead. Well ... easier said than done - the ferryman wouldn't take us! He just said "C'est not possible"!!! So despite my best French negotiating skills we had to get off the ferry. We talked to an old man on the road and he said we could go "tomorrow .. just not today" - we never did understand why!!
CHEPENEHE - LIFOU After leaving our initial anchorage in Baie de Santal, our next stop was across the Baie at Chepenehe, where we used our minimal French to negotiate a ride to visit the beautiful Baie de Doking on the other side of the Island. This was somewhat of a challenge as there was no resort or tourist office to arrange transport through. With the aid of a map and our school days French, Steve, Kate and I ascertained that it was quite a distance to the nearest car rental place, so we waved down a man driving a minibus and, with the help of a passenger (who spoke some English), managed to convince him to take not only the 7 of us, but another group who would be ashore soon, to the place we wanted to go to! Initially he was reluctant - I think because he didn't have a clue what we actually wanted to do! - but at the end of the day he had made two trips with a full minibus, and was about $250 richer, so I'm sure he was a happy chappie then! His English also improved as the day progressed! At the stunning cliff top village of Jokin (Doking) we negotiated the 200 steps down to the bottom of the cliffs, where the intrepid members of our group climbed down further (or jumped) into the water for snorkelling. On the way back we visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes - a tiny church way out on a promontory - established in the 1800s to mark the arrival of the Catholics in Lifou. I'm sure it must be the smallest cathedral in the world ...with only one pew! It was, however, just gorgeous. Our final "tour" visit for the day was to Baie de Jinek, where the Department of Conservation has created a snorkelling trail - complete with buoys and explanations of what you will / should see in each spot. A visit to Chez Alice (the local store) was a treat before we went back to the boats - here we found beautiful fresh produce ... and a Kanak flag to fly alongside the French Tricolour courtesy flag as we sail in New Caledonia. With the Independence referendum coming up in 2018, there is a bit of a political undertone everywhere we go, so we hope by flying both flags that we are seen as being neutral!
VANUATU TO NEW CALEDONIA We are safely in Baie du Santal, Lifou after a fairly bumpy passage from Mele Bay. The predicted 15-18 knot beam reach sail turned into a 20+ knot beam reach, with a decent swell to go with it! Fortunately I didn't get seasick this time, but I did get a good drenching when a BIG wave came over! On the passage we were amazed to see absolute clouds of flying fish - clearly we disturbed them at a good feeding ground - there were literally hundreds of them skimming across the water! Later we were welcomed to New Caledonia by a large pod of dolphins, who swam with us for about 15 minutes. It seems they often welcome boats to Lifou. The Loyalty Islands' water is as blue as the picture postcards depict it, and the sand as white - everything looks very beautiful. We were happy to relax on Felix until yesterday when we did our clearance in to New Caledonia - although we arrived on Sunday, until that was done we were confined to our own boat (though we were allowed to swim around it, in fact we didn't!) I must say that the formalities were completed SO efficiently. Ben (as skipper) went to meet the officials and had us complete customs, health and immigration in double quick time .. and when the biosecurity officer came on board, he had a quick chat and look around ...and was off within 5 minutes. Nigel had recommended that we write lists of contents on the front of the freezer, fridge, food cupboards and food lockers ...and it seemed to pay off. He read the lists on the fridge and freezer and didn't even open the doors! Last night the villagers welcomed us with a shared feast ... and today we went by bus to We (on the other side of Lifou) to replenish our fridges and freezers and buy the all important SIM cards! Buying a SIM card here requires a passport and a signature ...and rather than being about $5 (as in Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu), the cost was closer to $75 .... though hopefully that will cover the internet requirements for a month as well! We were disappointed to find that the market for fruit and vegetables had finished at 10.00am, but the supermarket at least had the basics for vegetables as well as a wide range of groceries and lovely French bread and pastries! With the provisions replenished, tomorrow we start exploring!
LUGANVILLE TO PORT VILA After a side trip with Pixie to Ambae, they headed south to Port Vila while we returned to Surunda Bay (Luganville) where we picked Maria up. With predicted SE winds of 25+ knots looming, we reluctantly headed south over three looong days. While we had lovely anchorages at Crab Bay, Revolieu Bay and Mele Bay, the sailing to Port Vila was mostly motorsailing into the wind ...not what we'd planned for Maria's trip! Nor was being anchored in Port Vila for 5 days! However, with her usual positive attitude we've made the most of the time - introducing her to the joys of form filling in the Pacific; boat maintenance; Port Vila shopping; taking a tour around Efate and having fun with other Rally participants! Last night we headed to Mele Bay for our last evening in Vanuatu. After watching an amazing fire dance show we sadly said goodbye to Maria. Today as she returns to New Zealand, we begin the short passage to New Caledonia. New Caledonia does not allow us to bring any fruit or vegetables into the country ... and only commercially labelled meat from New Zealand and Vanuatu, so there has been a big clean out in the freezer. I had my hair trimmed in Port Vila, and the local hairdresser's family was the grateful recipient of all our surplus!! For those of you who are following our track via Predict wind, you will notice that it is updating less frequently ... In installing the exterior aerial to improve our satellite phone transmission, Ben had a small DIY mishap with our Iridium which resulted in some black smoke ...and the battery no longer charges! Fortunately we have been able to charge it on other people's Units when we are with them ...but rather than having it on 24/7, we now turn it on once a day to both update our position and check our messages!
THE MASKELYNE AND MALEKULA ISLANDS TO LUGANVILLE Three nights was just not long enough to do justice to this area. We took the west coast route with Pixie, spending the first night tucked in behind Awei Ialand where we were welcomed by the family who live on the island and were not only able to trade papaya, but also promised crayfish should they catch any during the night - unfortunately they were not successful! We had a beautiful sail to South West Bay (Metenovor Bay) the next day, and an equally good one to Malua Bay the following one. We were welcomed by Kevan, the chief's son, in his dugout canoe, and Vivienne in hers - bearing papaya & pablomousse ... and by the time Pixie arrived there was such a welcoming committee in dugouts that they could hardly anchor! Kevan and his family later gave us a tour of their village where we shared birthday cake with his sister (the kindy teacher) and corn with Vivienne's family. The village's greatest need seemed to be ropes for their cows, so both Peter (from Pixie) and Ben were able to find suitable ropes they could spare ... which we took ashore along with some clothes, books for the school and paper for the kindy. Everyone was so welcoming and generous to us - we returned to our yachts laden with pablomousse and yet again were blown away by the willingness of the villagers to share their lives and goods with us with no expectation of payment - Vivienne said to me that by sharing we become friends! We had some fishing success on the way to Surunda Bay, and on our arrival there I gave the fish to a local woman who had brought out a beautiful bouquet of flowers to give us. Maybe she had seen the stress on board as we became members of the Coral Club ... yes, we managed to get stuck on some coral. Fortunately Rick from Oscar came and helped us off using his dinghy ... for which we were very grateful. Along with Pixie, we caught up with Zest, Amici & Oscar for sundowners on Felix. Next day we had a welcome visit to the market and supermarket in Luganville, where we were delighted to meet up with Jillian & Glen from Malekite. Lunch at a restaurant which also housed some really interesting WW11 memorabilia topped off the outing.
EPI AND AMBRYM ISLANDS A whistle stop at Havannah Harbour, where we met up with Blue Summmit, Zest, Lettin Go and Pixie, had us make the decision to join them on their voyage north to attend the Back To Our Roots Festival at Ambrym, which includes the famous Rom Dance as its finale. We had a great sail to Lamen Bay at Epi where we celebrated the second birthday in two days - and saw the hugest turtle we've ever seen. Zest were up and away at 6.00am the next day in an attempt to get an extra half day in at the Festival, while the rest of us left a couple of hours later. To our dismay they relayed to us that the Rom Dance was taking place on Friday rather than Saturday ... and we knew there was no way we could make it. Great fishing success on both Blue Summit and Lettin Go, and a beautiful anchorage at Nopul Bay, went some way to compensating and we all enjoyed beautiful wahoo that evening. One of the special things about the anchorage is seeing the strong glow from the volcano reflecting in the clouds - the molten lava lake up there must be ginormous to reflect so much light! Saturday had us on the beach at 8.30am ready for our truck ride to the Festival (some 50 minute walk from the anchorage). The Back to Our Roots Festival has two aims - one to teach the young and keep their customs alive ... and the other is to raise funds to allow their children to attend secondary school. At the moment the government only funds primary school education, though apparently legislation is in the pipeline to extend the funding. Perhaps it is as well because few of the young took part in the dancing - maybe the young men feel too self conscious to dance wearing nothing but a penis sheath, a belt and a bit of vegetation in the back of the belt.
When so many of us turned up ( maybe 25 Palangi) the elders agreed to do the Rom dance on again as well as a cooking demonstration (bread fruit and coconut cream) and lunch. It was another amazing experience - the combination of costumes, rhythmic chanting and dancing and a story that we couldn't actually follow ... all of which are part of a chief's progression through the various levels of chiefdomship. The main dancers were definitely the men - the women had a very peripheral role. The lunch was possibly the nicest we have had at any village activity. It did, however, seem somewhat of a contradiction to have the women serving lunch wearing plastic gloves and hair covers serving food on banana leaves as plates! A kava drinking session at the chief's house followed ... it was a lot blacker and more potent than the Fijian kava, but no more palatable! A lay day (i.e. boat jobs day) followed and last evening we all went in another local taxi (ie on the back of a ute) to a local restaurant. We were treated to a smorgasbord of dishes ranging from pizza to flying fox (fruit bat)!! Zest, Lettin Go and Blue Summit were up before dawn to head to Santo, but the Pixies and ourselves stayed another day. Tomorrow we will head to Malakula together, where we will hopefully see some dugongs.
TANNA & ERROMANGO ISLANDS Needless to say our trip to Mt Yassur was the highlight of Tanna Island - much more set up for tourists since our visit two years ago, but still a health and safety officer's nightmare as we stood on the rim of an exploding volcano! It was difficult to believe that we weren't at a HUGH fireworks display, complete with sound effects, rather than a spectacle put on by nature! The down side was the ash that covered Felix - despite having had a good wash down, there is still grit everywhere! It was worth it though! We also found the people in Tanna to be as friendly and as generous as in our last visit - we went with Kena & Vivacious to one of the coffee shops in Port Resolution, and were given little donuts with our coffee and a bag with fresh vegetables for each boat. Our bill for Felix was 600vt (about $8). The Tanna coffee was as good as ever too! Enroute to the east side of Erromango Is we encountered more whales than we have ever seen ... at least 20 all up. Quite a few were mothers with calves. I was beside myself on the bow of the boat as two swam ahead of us and two right beside us for about 5 minutes. Their song was clear and haunting and they seemed to enjoy being with us. We anchored at Port Anarvin where we were welcomed individually by Chief Joe, who paddled out in his dugout canoe to introduce himself to each of the 10 boats. We enjoyed a tour of the beautifully tidy village with him, dropping books to the school and medical kits to the health centre. We enjoyed talking with the principal and nurse ... and watching the children play. Some of the villagers arrived back from fishing with lots of crayfish, so we contributed to the local economy by buying two! They were delicious! The next morning a mother and baby whale joined us in the bay while we were having breakfast, and again, seemed to enjoy showing off! As we headed up the side of Erromango we encountered more - these ones leaping right out of the water! We spent most of the day in a small bay getting prepared for an overnighter to Havanna Harbour. Just when we thought it couldn't get better two whales appeared at Felix's bow - Ben got wonderful footage of them waving goodbye to us with their tails! We had quite a fast and somewhat bumpy trip to Havanna Harbour - fortunately no seasickness this time! Nice to hit 10 knots!!
ANATOM (ANEITYMN) Our four days at this island were filled with learning about Vanuatu culture - we were incredibly fortunate that our visit co-incided with a local wedding and that "the wedding committee" chose to invite the Rally participants to attend it. The wedding was held on the beach, which was beautifully decorated for the occasion. It was a double wedding for 2 brothers - one was an arranged marriage and the other the couple's choice. The ceremony was a Christian Service with lots of instructions from the priest as to what makes a good marriage! The ceremony was followed by a blessing for the families (both couples already had children) and very moving acknowledgement at the water's edge to honour the father of the brothers who drowned 6 years ago on that particular beach. After cutting the wedding cake, the bridal parties greeted each of the guests. Traditionally the gifts are given after the feast, but they allowed us to give our gifts prior to the feast. (It was suggested to us that we give 2 "shirts" per boat.) Dancing and the feast followed - goat, rice, cassava, taro and vegetables served in polystyrene trays, which we were asked to return so that there was no litter left behind! The Rally participants left after the feast, but we could hear them partying well into the night! Perhaps the most different aspect to a New Zealand wedding was the demeanour of the couples - neither smiled throughout the ceremony or the greeting of guests, and, in fact, one of the brides cried a lot during the greeting. We were told that it was because with her marriage she leaves her family and becomes a member of her husband's family and village. The following day we were treated to the most interesting village tour where we were shown many aspects of traditional life, including food preservation, fishing with netting made from coconut fronds , fire lighting without matches, custom dress, traditional cooking methods etc. This was followed by a "festival" on Mystery Island where we watched (and then joined in) the local dancing, and shared another lovely meal. We found it much cooler here - and while the snorkelling was apparently excellent, everyone commented on feeling cold when they got out of the water. We didn't actually feel the need to try it! Early next morning half of the Fleet departed for Tanna Island, and the other half (including us) left at the more respectable hour of 7.00am to an anchorage at the top of Anatom. It was another idyllic spot and we paddled ashore in the kayak to walk on the beach and meet some of the local villagers. They gave us lots of pomelos (or pablemousse as they call them here).
It was sundowners on Felix for the "Fleetlet" last night and Lyn and John arrived with pablemousse slings (a take on Singapore Slings), which were just amazing! Today our "Fleetlet" is off to Tanna Island.
FIJI TO VANUATU This adventure has been full of new experiences, and our passage from Fiji to Vanuatu was no exception - I was seasick! Immigration officials in Fiji insisted we all leave as one fleet, so 25 boats left Musket Cove and negotiated the reefs together in 25 knot winds ... and out into the sea. Ben kindly triple reefed the main sail and wound in the headsail to make the journey more comfortable while I established my sea legs. So while others sped along, we travelled more sedately, despite the very favourable sailing conditions. The wind dropped during our final night, and then the swell followed suite which meant we motor sailed the final part of the passage. We each did three hours on and three hours off during the night, but it was the third day before I did much during the day! We were delighted to be greeted by a whale as we reached Anatom at 2pm on Monday - it was our first sighting of a whale in 3 months at sea. Anatom has a beautiful lagoon in which to anchor, and is frequented by Cruise Ships as well as more intrepid cruisers like ourselves! There was a huge P&O Cruise Ship here when we arrived but it headed off to its next destination in the early evening.
DENARAU & MUSKET COVE After two nights at the beautiful Navandra Island we headed to Denarau, where we anchored for 3 nights as we began to prepare to leave Fiji. We visited the Garden of the Sleeping Giant - a tropical garden reputed to have 2000 species of orchids, established by Raymond Burr (of Perry Mason fame). It was a such a beautiful tranquil oasis, just out of Nadi, in which to spend a couple of hours. We travelled by local bus, which was an adventure in itself, and combined the visit with a bit of provisioning at the supermarket and butcher! The Nadi markets were again a "must" before we left, and our backpacks were groaning with beautiful fresh produce on our way back to Felix on Monday.
We are now at Musket Cove, where the ICA fleet had re-convened. It has been great to catch up with everyone and their tales of Fiji - no-one has been disappointed! The boring tasks of cleaning, oil changing, laundry etc have been interspersed with social get togethers, which have been great. Being on the marina means that people pass by all day and we're never too busy for a chat! Tomorrow we will start the 3 night passage to Vanuatu.
MANTARAY PASS - DRAWAQA & NANUYA BALAVA ISLANDS (YASAWAS) We had three amazing days swimming with the giant manta rays that cruise the pass at high tide. We just loved the experience on Sunday when we had close encounters such as one turning 2 somersaults directly in front of me, and another swimming up to the surface directly towards me ...in fact it felt a little too close! They are just such majestic creatures to watch ...and we could both watch them all day! Fortunately the winds were favourable enough for us to anchor overnight to enjoy them the next day with Kate & Steve. Not so many that day ...and lots of people ... but still pretty darned good! It was an easy decision to stay for one more day ...and we are so glad that we did. We were in the pass for two hours and saw enormous rays ... two of which swam with the tide, so I was able to swim along with them for some time - mostly they are swimming against it, so impossible to keep up with. Ben was towing the dinghy as he swam, and after we drifted along with the current, we'd hop back in the dinghy ( bit of a euphemism ... Ben hopped in, and I emulated a whale as I did my best to leap up and roll over the side ..with Ben's assistance ... to make it safely in!); motor up the pass about 200 meters ... and then do the same over and over again! As well as the mantarays we were fascinated by the large schools of mid-sized silver fish and smaller blue/green fish. The silver fish were filter feeders and, seemingly on some unknown command, opened their mouths to gaping point and swam through the plankton. We seemed impervious to them, especially if we stayed relatively still, and they would completely surround us ...easily within touching distance as they sparkled in the sun. There were also some good eating sized trevallies lurking below. We noticed other yachties putting out a line when they returned to their boats ...but didn't see any caught! However a village longboat came along side yesterday morning offering to sell crayfish. Ben had bought me one in Somosomo Bay and I had warned him that our cash reserves were dwindling ... however I didn't let that stop me buying 3 for $50! We had one for dinner last night ..it was delicious and I'm sure I'll find an ATM machine in Nadi!
SOMOSOMO BAY, NAVITI ISLAND (YASAWAS) The "must do" of Somosomo Bay is to cross the isthmus to snorkel over a WW2 wrecked plane - the story is that the pilot had to ditch the plane after flying too low and hitting a coconut tree. He walked ashore holding a gun, and was offered a cup of tea by the family that live there. The family have put a buoy on the plane, so that was easy to find ..but finding the path over the isthmus proved to be far more tricky! A search on the internet revealed that many before us had had the same problem, but nowhere could I find directions! The GPS co-ordinates for this update indicate the beginning if the path, should anyone need them! We were with the family aboard "Kena" ... and after following numerous false paths leading nowhere for about 1 1/2 hours (!) we finally found the correct one. This went through a variety of both terrain and vegetation before popping out on the beach some 45 minutes later! Never had the water felt so inviting! The wreck itself is showing its age, but is clearly a plane - now home to a huge lion fish, two big puffer fish, hundreds of tiny zebra fish and the most clown fish we have ever seen in one spot. We were disappointed not to meet Clara, an elderly woman who is reputed to have seen the crash. We'd carried over some rice, milk powder and flour to give her, but her home looked abandoned.
WAYA, WAYASEWA ISLANDS & MOUVA REEF (SOUTHERN YASAWAS) Absolute highlight of our time here was snorkelling with the white tipped reef sharks with Naqalia Lodge. Up at daybreak for the second time in three days(!) we arrived in time to be picked up from Felix in a long boat which took us on the 20 minute trip out to Mouva Reef. It was a wonderful experience to spend an hour amongst lots of reef sharks - mostly they swam around the bottom but occasionally one seemed to take an interest in what was going on above them, and s/he would come up to have a look at us. Our guide from Naqalia was quite affectionate with them, and encouraged me to stroke one ... which I did! Ben loved seeing the magic coral - a soft coral that changes colour when touched. Amazingly we met Daren and Kristine on the reef - they are the new owners of Savanna - our previous catamaran- which they anchored adjacent to the reef.
DENARAU AND NADI We had a lovely sail from Beqa to Natadola Beach (where we spent the night) and then on to Denarau. This was another short stay where we sadly farewelled Marilyn & Ken ... but not before an excursion from our anchorage at Yakiulausewa Island - a small island just outside of Denarau. Part One of the excursion involved taking Felix into the Marina and circling on the spot for some 40 minutes while waiting for a space at the fuel dock! While Ben fuelled up, Ken, Marilyn & I jumped onto the fuel dock with their luggage and bags containing all our recycling since Tonga - it's never boring aboard Felix! We then enjoyed a coffee while Ben took Felix back to the island to anchor ... then dinghy-ed back to join us. He likes being in the dinghy on his own as that's the only time he can get it up on the plane (given our small 6hp outboard!) After a quick visit to Blue Summit for local "intelligence". We caught the "dollar bus" to Nadi - a local bus that trips around all the resorts picking up intrepid passengers who prefer to take the bus rather than a taxi. The bus terminal is right at the market - one of the biggest fruit and vegetable markets I have ever seen. Nadi was teaming with people and vehicles ... and after nearly three months offshore it was quite a culture shock to be amongst such busy-ness. To say I got slightly carried away buying fresh produce would be an understatement ... but I kept reminding my "produce mules" that it will be nearly 3 weeks before we can buy fresh produce again! I also bought a beautiful coral trout at the fish market ... which tasted as good as it looked! After our return bus trip, laden with my purchases, Marilyn and Ken saw us off in the dinghy and headed off to the airport. It was VERY quiet on Felix last night without Marilyn and my constant chatter! Today we have headed to the Yasawas ... more about that soon.
BEQA ISLAND AND LAGOON A short but memorable stay here where Ben, Ken, Kate and Steve (Blue Summit) dived with the sharks - it seems there are no superlatives great enough to describe the experience... and the smiles on their faces when they returned, along with the photos, certainly bear that out! Ben and Ken even had the pleasure of rubbing the belly of a 12 ft Tiger Shark! The tiger sharks always turn up last, and are considered to be "shy" ... not a word one normally associates with sharks of any type - let alone tiger sharks! All the other fish who came for a feed were also amazing ... sometimes so numerous that they obscured the view of the sharks. Meanwhile, back on land, Marilyn & I indulged ourselves with breakfast at the resort and a massage and facial at the spa! Not the unique experience of the shark divers, but pretty darned good! We moved along a couple of bays to join Jim & Linaire on Panthera for dinner at a small local resort they had discovered- a perfect end to a wonderful day!
KADAVU AND THE ASTROLABE REEF Our friends Marilyn and Ken flew into Vanisea and experienced 2 nights of Kadavu village life at Cooksley's Homestay / Guesthouse before we arrived to pick them up. They also visited the market and arrived on board with beautiful lettuce, cucumbers and bokchoy - who knew that Ben would ever exclaim over the sight of a fresh lettuce! After exploring Vanisea village we headed to Kadavu Dive situated at the nearby Matana Resort. Ben & Ken and Kate & Steve from Blue Summit were keen to dive with manta rays but had to be content with an excellent reef dive using their own tanks as the compressor at the resort broke down! Next stop was Naqara Bay on Ono Island- close to where you can snorkel with the manta rays....what a highlight to swim with these beautiful creatures! We also enjoyed time at the local village where we were made very welcome. We were only the fourth boat to visit this year. We were especially interested to see the scouts and guides off to their overnight camp in a longboat. When they knew we were scout leaders we were invited to go to the camp for their campfire but what was a quick trip in a longboat would have been a journey and a half in the dinghy!!! We could see the campfire on Buliya Island and it looked enormous! The scouts are the only children we have seen wearing life jackets- we have regularly seen the children going to school in the school bus-boat but never a life jacket in sight! The village was also preparing for an Australian gold mining company- renovating a house and building toilets and showers. We hope that the village will benefit from their presence without the loss of their unique way of life. Ken, Ben, Steve & Kate enjoyed great diving in the area with Mai Dive.
We were joined by several ICA boats and it was lovely to catch up with them before heading off again with Blue Summit to Beqa Lagoon.
FULAGA ISLAND & LAGOON Quite the most beautiful place we have visited so far with its white sand, palm trees, the bluest of blue water, great variety of both fish and coral to see when snorkeling ... and the most hospitable community! Although this is the largest group of yachts to ever visit Fulaga (the Southern Lau is too remote for Rallies to include in itineraries and this is the first time the ICA has included it), as is traditional each boat was assigned a host family. Quite an undertaking with 18 boats in the Rally and several travelling independently. Our host family comprised 3 generations, and after a group official welcome from the elderly chief and our presentation of sevusevu (kava) to the village, we went for morning tea at our host family's home. The 2 teenagers then took us for a tour of the village which included a visit to the school; the women's weaving club and the men's carving group. We were fortunate enough to be invited to attend the 7 year old's birthday celebrations the following day. The downside of that was that I asked what I should bring and after a bit of polite to-ing and fro-ing the answer was a chocolate cake! As my baking (apart from bread) has been on the less successful side, the pressure was on! However I managed to produce an acceptable cake and off we went. As guests of honour we were first treated to a private kava ceremony and then got to sit on either side of the birthday girl on her birthday mat during tea party. The whole experience was just so humbling and we felt really honoured to be part of it. On Friday the whole village and all the boats in the Lagoon got together for a "pot luck picnic" where we shared cultures through food, singing and dancing. They had various carved and woven items for sale as well. Village life is primarily a subsistence one with the men working in the gardens, fishing, carving and collecting firewood for cooking ... and the women cooking, weaving, cleaning and raising the children. The supply ship comes once a month, there is one public telephone available Monday to Friday at the Post Office - yet many houses have government subsidised solar power and some have satellite TV! All groceries, of course, come on the supply ship and the local store is currently out of sugar, rice, flour and milk powder - the next boat is due in 10 days! As is typical in such communities, a bigger problem facing the village is children going to Suva for secondary school and not returning. Seini (our host family's 16 year old daughter) is the only young woman in the village. On Saturday we said goodbye to our host family with a morning tea aboard Felix. (This meant another cake! ) The dinghy was very full when Ben arrived with them - with 2 extra adults and 2 extra children as well as "our" family. We all enjoyed ourselves though ... and as they left they presented us with the "birthday mat" (which they said George should use as a marriage mat when he marries) and a woven basket for my cell phone! Their generosity knows no bounds. After a 2 night and 1 day sail, our next stop was Kadavu - more about that soon.
SUSUI VILLAGE We have had 2 lovely days at Susui Village They welcomed us at what they referred to as "The Hidden Village" - a beach just around the corner where the villagers created and decorated a fale for the occasion. There was lots of singing and dancing and wonderful food. 80% was an amazing array of seafood plus a little pig and some fruit & vegetables - delicious! Getting back over the coral reef in the dinghies in the dark was a bit of a challenge but we all made it back safely. ..even if I was drenched from head to toe! The skipper encouraged me to hop straight into the warm shower and it felt a huge extravagance to do so as I'd had one before we left! Even with a water maker on board we conserve water as much as possible. Yesterday the children in the village set up a mini market for us - selling papaya, bananas and an unidentifiable citrus fruit being sold as lemons. It was high finance as we bought from 5 different children and they had no change and neither did we! We will head to the Southern Lau Islands today - leaving late morning and we expect to get to Falanga mid-day tomorrow.
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BAVATU HARBOUR We are now anchored in Bavatu Harbour - adjacent to the remnants of Bavatu Plantation, a former copra plantation and beef farm. We climbed the 272 steps followed by a steep climb to get to the village, and then on to the lookout. The views both over the Bay of Islands and over Bavatu Harbour were well worth the effort! The village has 7 residents and a shop with a sign "The Sometimes Shop" ... because sometimes it is open! There is a "Yacht Club" building at the harbour edge which was badly damaged by Cyclone Winston last year and is still being repaired. The people from the village sheltered inside a tree during the cyclone. Most of the Rally boats have gone on a little further today but it's so idyllic we decided to stay put and spend a little time paddling round the Bay exploring. I will be back up the front of the boat on "bommie watch" looking for coral heads as we make our way to Susui tomorrow. The charts are none too accurate so Ben has to be on sharp alert as he negotiates the coral ridden waters. Makes for an interesting time! Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.
FIJI'S BAY OF ISLANDS After a welcome and feast ... and relaxing at Daliconi Village, we moved on to the nearby Bay of Islands. It is the most beautiful and amazing series of interconnecting little bays, waterways and tiny mushroom shaped islands. Having been to church where we enjoyed the singing, we were one of the last boats to arrive ... following Malakite through the scenic route!! When we got here it was amazing to see all the boats nestled into the numerous interconnecting bays. We're not sure what the two super yachts anchored here thought when their idyllic paradise was invaded by 35 ICA yachts.
The Daliconi Village folk took us for a cave tour yesterday in their long boats. Without such local knowledge you'd never know there were big caves beyond the little openings. We swam into all but one, but once you were inside it was easy to walk around in them. Each was quite different in structure and size ... and quite beautiful. Most had small bat colonies in them. We had some lovely snorkeling as part of the experience too. Today we planned to move to a bay 4nm away but were again beset with a steering issue. Fortunately Ben & Glen put their heads together and resolved it. However we've decided to stay put for another night and get the kayak out for more exploring. Last night all the boats took their dinghies and rafted them together for sundowners - another new experience for me.
5:00am had us glued to our VHF radios as 2 boats were able to get streamed comnentary from the America's Cup and then relay it through the radio to us. It felt like the old days of listening to the ABs playing in the middle of the night! There was a cacophony of boat horns all over the bay as Team NZ crossed the line! With NZ having won; bread in the oven; and fruitcake #2 being brought out of its hide hole, all is well on Felix! Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.
FORGOT TO UPDATE LOCATION IN LAST POST We are anchored at Daliconi Village at Vanua Balavu in Fiji Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.
HAPPY TO BE IN FIJI Our time in Tonga seemed far too short! After posting last time we enjoyed time in Hunga Lagoon before returning to Neiafu to prepare for our passage to Fiji.
We were in awe of Lyn's patience and grace as she arranged the refueling of some 35 boats from one fuel pump! The process lasted all day but was so efficient! After a 9:00am briefing we cleared customs and, as we awaited our fueling spot, we completed all the other errands like a deli and a market refuel too! We left Neiafu on Tuesday morning - and had a good day and night sailing despite what were being referred to as "boisterous" conditions. Then the drama started when our auto helm stopped working. It co-incided with my putting bread in the oven and a big banging wave so Ben was worried we'd lost a rudder. (Pretty sure the bread in the oven was not the problem!) So I had a steep learning curve as I learnt how to steer to a course in rough seas and high winds. ..especially when it got dark! Think up to 30 knots and 4 metre breaking swells and you get the picture! Never too old to learn new skills - luckily Ben realised that I always think north is in front of me and adjusted the chart plotter accordingly, and that helped a lot. However if you notice our track was rather wobbly - especially every second hour - then that's the reason! We did one hour hand steering and one hour sleeping through the night and were both pleased to see the sun rise! We were fortunate to have Pixie and Lettin' Go keep in touch via radio (Lorraine on Pixie even offering Meals on Wheels had it been possible ) so that's the joy of being on a Rally with a such supportive people. We were very happy to arrive at Daliconi Village and drop the anchor! To say we were both suffering from aching limbs and sleep deprivation would be an understatement! Twelve hours of sleep and a good coffee later Ben is investigating the problem. Nothing obvious has come to light so when we clear customs Jens (another Rally participant whose son, co-incidentally, I married a couple of years ago) will come and see if he can see the problem. Watch this space! Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.
ENJOYING VAVA'U We took an overnight passage to Vava'u after a wonderful few days in the Ha'apai Group. We definitely want to return in the future to explore that area more. We chose an overnighter partly to be able to have more time in the Vava'u area. It was also an opportunity to have our first 2 - handed overnighter without being on a longer passage. We needed it to be leisurely so that we arrived in daylight so we had a pocket hankie headsail up .. and initially dragged a bucket to slow us down! It was good to have 3 other ICA Rally yachts on our AIS and to see their lights close by. After stocking up with fresh fruit and vegetables at the market, and a good sleep, we're now at Vaka'eitu Lagoon ... a little pacific paradise! Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.
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ON OUR WAY TO VAVA'U We are taking an overnight passage to Vava'u after a wonderful few days in the Ha'apai Group. We definitely want to return in the future to explore that area more. We've chosen an overnighter partly to be able to have more time in the Vava'u area. It's also an opportunity to have our first 2 - handed overnighter without being on a longer passage. We need it to be leisurely so that we arrive in daylight so we have a pocket hankie headsail up .. and initially dragged a bucket to slow us down! It is good to have 3 other ICA Rally yachts on our AIS and to see their lights close by. Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.
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SAFELY ANCHORED IN TONGA We are now safely anchored at Pa'angai ... too late to clear customs today but we're happy to relax aboard until the morning. Unbelievably it is overcast and raining - but it's lovely and warm. 6 other ICA Rally yachts are already here and we expect to be joined by more soon.
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ON OUR WAY AGAIN After 2 nights at South Minerva Reef and 1 night at North Minerva Reef we are on passage again. Next stop will be Tonga in 2 -3 days. Hopefully in time for Greg to catch his flight home.
We walked and explored on the reef and enjoyed crayfish for dinner last night (traded for fruit cake - please pass on thanks to Averil, Gunilla, for the great recipe! ) A pod of dolphins saw us off this morning. So we've had the perfect Minerva experience! Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.
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ANCHORED IN SOUTH MINERVA REEF! We arrived at 2pm and as we approached the reef it was amazing to see about 10 yachts seemingly anchored in the middle of the ocean! It is easy to see why there are so many ship wrecks here! A swim and a snorkel are now on the agenda.
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The sea has been like a beautiful huge glassy lake today - it was an ideal whale watching sea, but unfortunately the whales have not co-operated ... yet! The light winds have persisted so we continue to motor sail. Big shout out to Greg at Opua General Store for his frozen dough and his bread making lesson - fantastic fresh bread today! We cross the date line later tonight and will arrive at Minerva Reef tomorrow ( when we have Wednesday again!) All are happy on board (though a little more wind would make us happier!!) Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.
After 3 1/2 days on the water we are now about 525 nm out of Opua. After a lumpy 24 hrs the sea became calm ... and along with that the wind decreased - so much so that we've been motor sailing since. We do have the gennaker up so that's helping our speed a bit. Lovely sunsets and starlit nights. All are happy on board.
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Anchored in Nara Inlet, Whitsundays.
FELIX - 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.
FELIX - 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!
FELIX - 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!
FELIX - Still in Opua
Cyclones Donna and Ella have delayed our departure. . we sit and wait while the weather chaos clears!