South of Cape Reinga now and very much in New Zealand waters. A night full of stars; our last night on passage most likely. Roast chicken dinner tonight. Today we have had albatross, dolphins, massive rain squalls, cold fronts, warm fronts, torrential rain and brilliant sunshine. Brilliant, graceful sailing and nasty 180 degree wind changes causing chaos. 4 seasons in one day. Yes, we are back in NZ now. We also have another kiwi yacht 2 miles astern; Yinka, racing us back into port.
Game on, as the most splendid adventure of Manutaki draws to a close for this season. The season finale, tonight, hopefully will not turn up any cliffhangers or nasty plot twists. Just a keen desire to try another season.
That's all for tonight, back to attempting to fend off Yinka.
A lone albatross circling, banking, swooping. Wingtip just not touching the ocean, then soaring clear and away. Magnificent grace and power.
Another blissful day of sunshine and calm seas. The wind is a bit too light for decent boatspeed, but the joy of sliding gently through deep blue waters under a sunny sky make up for it. Loving the sunshine and the gentle sailing.
We had some rain squalls last night to keep us on our toes; the wind doing loops around the boat, stopping then swirling and finally giving us a great sailing breeze to hit 9+knots for an hour or so. Then the local rain-squall weather disappeared and we are back to the light. Good fun and definitely makes the midnight watch go quickly.
Targeting a Tuesday arrival, all being well. Our new mission is to eat all the food before bio-security seize and destroy it. A far cry from the first day with 30+ knots and no one that keen on dinner really.
That's all for now. Back to the sunshine.
Bye bye Tropics.
We are sailing through a big empty sea and sky in the mid latitudes now. The air temperature is cooling, but the whole scene is breathtakingly lovely. We had a very brisk start out of Fiji, but have now settled into gentle trade wind sailing in the sub-tropical zone. 12 to 15 knots, calm seas, rain squalls on the horizon to keep us alert. It is lovely sailing, if not quite as fast as the first 24 hours. The sea state is now gentle and small, Manutaki has a gentle gliding motion with just the occasional slap of sea water on the dodger to remind you where you are.
Which is close to half way home. We have done around 580 miles and have approximately 620 to go to Auckland.
A highlight last night was a drag race with an Oyster 57 sailing to NZ. I don't think they knew we were racing, however, because they furled their big genoa at dusk, and we slid past them in the night. Probably the only way we were ever going to win that race I guess.
There are 3 other kiwi boats heading home about now as well. Mahia and Riada 100 miles ahead, Yinka 30 behind. Of course, it's not a race! We are in a very comfortable routine now. 3 hours on, 6 off, eating as much as we can rather than throw it all away at bio-security in New Zealand. Sadly, no fish yet, but still trying.
It's very elemental out here. Wind and sea and rain. Food. Comfortable companionable conversation in the daytime cockpit, a peaceful and serene full moon lighting the way at night. Last night was the brightest I can ever remember.
We are currently sailing directly into a big rain squall, so I better put on a jacket and sort it out. Bye for now from Manutaki.
Midnight Tuesday, and we are underway from Fiji to Auckland, properly at sea again. 100 miles done, around 1050 or so still to go.
My new crew Bas and David joined me Monday night at Denarau Disneyland. No rest for them: we were up At first light (5:45), breakfasted and off to Vuda point to clear customs and immigration. That took a while, but we managed to get underway by 11:40am, heading across the lagoon to the Malolo passage through the reef.
The winds are strange inside the lagoon, but as we approached the reef, the famous Filji "accelerated zone" kicked in. 30 knots gusting 35 as we went through the reef passage around 2pm. And building. We got 35 gusting 40 over the next hour and building, choppy seas. Heavily reefed main and half a genoa, and we sat on 8 knots or so.
Luckily the accelerated zone isn't to wide, so winds started easing towards dark.
Now, midnight, we are in 25 knots gusting 30 sailing on the wind in messy 2m seas under a beautiful moon.
A little wet, but a lovely motion and trucking along well. That's all for now. We hope to be back in a little under a week, with luck.
September is passing quietly, peacefully as we cruise the Yasawa Islands enjoying the good life. From Waya in the south via diving at the Mantaray pass in the middle to "Best Bay" in the north, these Islands have been kind to us. We have had sunshine, good company, and invented an excellent new ritual - foursies in the water at the beach edge. When the beach break begins to rise there are some very real challenges keeping the salt water out of the gin and tonic, but I think we can fairly say that is a first world problem many would like to have.
The last few days have, however, gone a little back to Yasawa form - rolly anchorages. Jo and I have been on a bit of a quest for flat water at night.
A few photos today to illustrate the beauty of this place.
A Bay with no name, north of Yasawa Island resort. A long crescent of pristine sand, fringed by coconut palms still laden with fruit. Sand shelving down gracefully to 6m depth and a perfect anchorage. No houses, bures, shacks, no other boats except us and Mahia.
A clear blue sky, water so clear you can see the sand ripples on the bottom, a gentle trade wind breeze, a big empty horizon to the west, and as the perfect day fades gently to evening, watching the sun set in a golden glow.
This is, for me, a new candidate for the best beach in the world.
We have left Blue Lagoon, left the track of the Yasawa Flyer and the Reef Princess and the other fast people carriers, and have returned a little to the sense of exploration and adventure we had across East.
It's easy to imagine an almost empty Yasawa Island chain; before the Fijians started sprinkling their western Islands with the resorts and the dive centres and the fast ferries and the floatplanes. I'm not knocking the way it is now, it is jobs and it is sharing with lots of people and it is lovely. But the almost emptiness here is lovely in a different way, and we are really enjoying another taste of that before we prepare to return home.
Late September and New Zealand is beginning to beckon. Back to flat whites and schedules and clean bright supermarkets and family and good times and jobs and rain.
We only have very intermittent cell phone coverage here in the north on the Yasawa Island chain, kind of symbolic of being near but just out of the beaten track here. As usual, I swam a lap or two of the boat at 6:30 this morning. A crisp 26 degree water temperature is a lovely way to start the day.
Tropical winters are exceptionally good for your spirits; I recommend them highly.
Enclosed by Islands on all sides, it is a beautiful haven from winds and swell. It is peppered with resorts from basic to unaffordable; lined with golden beaches, coconut palms and fringing reefs; and a little less easy going than other parts of Fiji. No anchoring in front of the exclusive resorts, no using the resort roads or facilities. Fair enough, there is plenty of Fiji that is wild and open and free, it's fine to close off a few of the exclusive parts for a high-end tourist industry.
We had a very cool adventure this morning. Went 2 1/2 miles up a muddy estuary to an amazing vegetable farm in the middle of nowhere. No signs, no advertising, just word of mouth led us there. It is one of only two places in the Yasawas that have natural spring water and can support horticulture. Mere, a lovely Fijian woman, greeted us as we walked up the clay path and the. Led us to the fields. We asked for cabbage, lettuce, tomato, cucumber etc. She walked to the relevant parts of the garden and cut fresh growing specimens and brought them back to us. It was as fresh as food can be, and a treat to see such a lovely garden in the middle of nowhere.
We will head off to Sawa -I-Lau today or tomorrow to track riada and Mahia down and reunite the Figawe tribe.
'Twas a dark and rolly night, and I'm sure the gods of sailing conspired to punish us for our complacency. We've been anchored and blissful for a week at Mantaray island, snorkelling, diving, socialising and being wowed by the marine life. We had a great BBQ on the beach with our compatriots from Yinka, Carl and Sarah, and life seemed close to perfect.
We'd stopped looking at the weather forecast, assume every night at anchor would be as smooth as the last.
Rule number 1: don't get complacent or cocky.
Rule number 2: don't forget rule number 1.
We ended up in what felt like a washing machine for 10 hours last night, caught between a tidal race and a brisk south-easterly bringing a significant slop into our previously idyllic bay.
Somehow Manutaki ended up stern to the wind and waves, anchor draped in the wrong direction under our bows, our hoisted dinghy trying to leap off its lines in the bigger gusts then burying its nose under the swells on the next. And with 3 boats anchored moderately close together all facing in different directions and pitching wildly, it really seemed like an accident scheduled to happen. It grew overnight u til we were all up on deck in the wee hours, commiserating over the vhf and planning a brisk exit at first light.
So that was the slightly downbeat end of what has been a glorious week at Mantaray Island.
We sailed North up the west coast of the Yasawas, seeking a still place to catch a nap and ease the stress a bit. We found the perfect place at Blue Lagoon, an enclosed area surrounded by beautiful islands on all sides, with flat, calm, benign water.
Our buddies on Mahia and Riada are close now, anchored at Sawa-I-Lau, so hopefully the team can be re-united shortly as we enter the last 3 weeks of the adventure.
Still anchored off Mantaray Island resort.
Day 2 of the dive course, and it is going swimmingly. :).
Day 1 I did 2 reef dives on the "house reef" here, which is absolutely gorgeous. Down to about 13m, no problems, cruising around doing the the basics with the buoyancy compensator etc., and sightseeing along the way. The first dive I had a one on one lesson that went really well.
Scuba is a totally different way to see the reef than snorkelling. You are in it, not looking down at it. Everything is more graceful and peaceful and you are amongst the fish, not scaring them with messy duck dives. Saw a baby octopus, a pipe fish, thousands and thousands of local tropical reef fish.
Second dive would normally be a skills dive, but the resort had some new bookings and employ a Flexi-Fiji-Plan system with respect to what happens when, so they deferred that until tomorrow and we went for a tiki tour with two other beginners. The dive master held both of them by the arm for the entire dive, which he never did with me so maybe I was exuding my normal overconfidence and bravado.
A new treat on this dive - an artificial ledge with about 6 small giant clams on display, all different colours inside. Part of a breeding program I think.
Day 2, today, was two dives. First - skills at 5m.
Losing, re-finding and clearing the regulator mouthpiece, filling and clearing the mask, taking off the mask, putting it on, re-clearing it; taking weightbelt and bcd off and then putting them on underwater; buddy breathing; simulated emergency ascent; manual bcd inflate on surface.
At the end of 20 minutes I was still alive so I think this is considered a pass mark in Fiji.
Coming back to base we saw a baby white-tip reef shark, maybe 40cm long, hiding in a cave, as well as all the standard tropical Reef fish.
The next dive (my 4th) was the first real "adventure". We went to a magical local reef called Tavuniko point, with coral mounds from 18m up to the surface. We descended down a magnificent wall of coral into a basin of deepest blue.
The sense of just being there was breath-taking. But I had learned, "keep breathing". So I did. We cruised around, exploring: a big moray eel partly protruding from its lair, a baby stingray with top sides covered in iridescent blue spots, hiding in a cave; all manner of shape, colour, texture, structure, and size of coral, and towards the end, a real bonus: a turtle cruising by.
That was another tick for the tropical fantasy.
Beautiful, ancient, otherworldly, both ungainly and perfectly graceful at the same time. Totally entrancing. I made the classical beginners mistake of trying to swim towards and follow the turtle, not looking at anything else, thus separating from my buddy. Oops. Turtles don't let you get close, they are like sirens, luring you on....
Luckily I snapped out of the turtle trance in time, and looked around as my two dive companions were just disappearing into the deep blue. I re-joined, feeling very lucky to have seen a turtle in my first real dive.
My companion told me afterwards that he went 13 dives before seeing a turtle. So I had great beginners luck.
Third and final day tomorrow. If I am still alive I will, by default, have passed and will be a certified diver.
The problem with learning and diving here is that it might spoil us for any other dive location. I now expect 27degree, clear turquoise water, magnificent reefs within 200m of the boat in a safe anchorage, turtles, mantarays, tuna, sharks, octopus and a handy bar with cold beer.
Now to talk Joanne into doing it ...
Another day,another manta ray dive. This morning's show was stupendous. The Mantas didn't just pass through, they stayed to play. Somersaults, pirouettes and all sorts of showing off for the crowd. We were told this is mating behaviour. Interesting analogy - amongst the crowd of resort-based punters falling over each other to view the mantas there were a number of young women in extraordinarily skimpy bikinis swimming with the rays, and the potential mates I guess. So - we had human mating behaviour on display as well as Manta ray behaviour.
To add to the splendid display, a huge swarm of mackerel swam through, around, past and under our pod of humans and mantas, with BIG tuna below just lurking and waiting for a straggler. Thousands of silvery, striping, glistening mackerel swimming within inches of us as we followed the rays. The odd small shark and a collection of piper added to the picture, and I am told there were also giant trevally and snapper there, although I didn't see those.
I have now been seduced by underwater adventures (as well as those predominantly above water), and signed up today to learn to dive.
So we will be here off mantaray island for another 3 days at least.
As part of the medical checklist they asked about a range of risk factors. Apparently being over 45 years old means I need a doctor's OK for this. The resort's dive master glanced at me and welcomed me aboard, so hopefully the risk factor is not too high.
Another highlight today - Joanne and I both voted. We downloaded the forms, took them into the resort to be printed, then voted and uploaded. All seemed pretty easy.
The election looks extremely interesting. Make sure you all remember to vote!
And a big thank you to Sarah, who sends our daily episode of the Rosie Channel. Daily photos and videos of our gorgeous granddaughter makes us feel incredibly happy. Ah bliss.
Jo and I are happily settled into the Yasawas, anchored off Mantaray Island resort enjoying a beautiful place and living a pretty indolent lifestyle.
We went for a dive with the manta rays yesterday on a 6am high tide. Well, we got out there about 7:30 or so. Us and about 100 or so others from the various small resorts that dot this area. It was hilarious. Little pods of punters in the water all around, a 2-3 knot current running through the shallow pass, various boats meandering in and out, picking people up then dropping them back "upriver". 4 Rays playing hide and seek in slightly milky water. Everybody hunting for the Rays. Good thing was, there were always lots of spotters and whenever anybody saw a ray, he or she would raise a hand and there would be a minor people frenzy heading for the spot. Of course, the Rays are meandering along and were usually long gone before anybody arrived. All very funny. But we had a bit of luck. First drop in over the side of the dinghy we almost landed on top of them. I fell over the side and looked up eyeball to manta with a big black ray just cruising quietly upstream with his 3 buddies. They "flew" past about 1 m away from me. Awesome!
Needless to say I never got my camera organised and they promptly disappeared into the morning low light gloom. But a great moment.
We got several more sightings over the next hour or so then back for breakfast by 9, still with a a whole day in front of us to fill with snorkelling and drinking.
We are likely to stay here another couple of days then head north to blue lagoon or Sawa I Lau, haven't decided yet.
The Yasawas are pretty, but seem to have quite rolly anchorages.
We attempted to put our flopper stopper out last night, I bolloxed the communications and we dropped our drogue in 12m of water. In the dark. Bugger. Oh well, I can practice my diving for lost objects this morning. Not too unpleasant a way to spend the day I guess. No idea if I will find it.
Another day in paradise.
Update, noon: we found it! Carl, friendly cruiser with dive gear, from Yinka, anchored next door, volunteered to lead a search and recovery mission after he got back from his turtle dive.
We recruited another friendly chap from the beach, Quentin, and in about 10 minutes the two of them found the drogue near the anchor, in about 18 m of water. Phew! It turns out to be a dumb mistake but not an expensive one.
Tropical paradise, with rock'n'roll.
After a delightful couple of days at Waya, the forecast said very light winds so we have taken the opportunity to venture to Navadra, a tiny island in a group of 3 at the north end of the Mamanucas. Little shelter, but a classic deserted tropical paradise, with golden beaches, palm trees and no other boats.
No shelter means that we have to learn to love the ocean swell; toughen up a little after our sojourn in a stationery bed.
It's all worth it. We landed, explored, wandered our own deserted island and felt very at peace with the world. Ticking the boxes on the tropical fantasy.
Chief navigator Joanne was poring over the map this morning, wondering which bay next.
We had a great time yesterday in the village. We did sevusevu with Tom, the grey-haired smiling chief, who blessed us all. Then we went visiting the boarding school at Ratunaivalu. Around 170 kids from 6 to 14, from 3 local villages. They board here from Sunday night to Friday afternoon. Lots of the wonderful energy of children, high-fives, BULA, a lot of giggling, and some very patient teachers as the Palagi wandered through providing a few minutes respite from maths, and a little practical application for the English class of year 6s.
Back to the Tropics!
We had a wonderful 4 weeks in NZ, being taught the basics of our new role as Grandparents by the amazing Rosie. But now, return to Manutaki, still peacefully anchored in Vuda Point Marina, quietly growing a fearsome beard of barnacles.
It was bitter sweet returning. The Rosie effect is powerful, but the call of the sea and the desire to roam is strong too.
Manutaki is in mostly good shape, if you don't worry too much about the barnacles. But the freezer is an empty metal box at 35degs, and the fruit bowl is empty, so we undertook a brief foray into Nadi, exploring urban Fiji for the first time in the trip. Re-provisioning is a confusing matter. Our somewhat pushy but ever so helpful taxi driver Abdul whisks us from the vege market to the supermarket to the liquor store, while we try to figure out what we actually need, wondering if anything is actually fresh, while wistfully remembering the glories of New World at home.
Back in the Marina, wondering where we lost the 40 rolls of toilet paper, wondering why there are quite so many ants pouring out of the foliage on the pineapple, wondering how quickly we can get the freezer down to a temperature lower than tepid. Ah well, it's all part of the learning.
Then some tidying, some socialising, some drinking, some half price pizza with a fearsome chilli bite, a nights sleep, and Wednesday, we are away at last.
Blue skies, blue seas and no particular place to be, and no particular time to get there.
The breeze fills in beautifully as we ease out of the lee of Viti Levu, and we roll out our brand new Genoa to great excitement. It is fabulous, powering up the boat so well it even manages to get decent boat speed with a turbulent forest of barnacles doing their best to slow us down.
Waya island looms like a giant's playground on the horizon, and as the sun westers we drop our pick near a pretty village in a lovely bay, anchoring in time for Foursies.
Back in the Tropics!
We are over the moon to announce the arrival into the world of our first Grandchild - Rose Johanna Van den Borst, born 03:20 Thursday 10 August 2017, weighing 3.07kg (6lbs 13oz). Words are inadequate to express the natural high we are all on after this miracle. A mundane miracle, but nevertheless a miracle.
Sarah (our oldest daughter and the proud new Mum) is well now, after a fast and furious birth, and Baby Rosie is sleeping peacefully between feeds.
This has been an amazing year, an amazing journey, and it is just getting better every day,
A somewhat radical change in our situation for this update. We are back in New Zealand, revelling in the family hugs and the excellent coffee. Waiting with Sarah for Baby V to make her entrance into the world. Waiting to enter the 3rd age: Grand-Parenting. This year has been full of adventures and firsts for us and this is the biggest of them.
Manutaki is being looked after in Fiji for us until we return, to carry on the cruising. Next - the sunny Yasawas, in search of zen and the art of living well in a 20 sq m apartment with an awesome view.
Hundreds of spinner dolphins leaping out just behind our track across the south coast of Viti Levu. 50 to 200 metres away, fillung our view behind the boat.
2 minutes of pure magic and delight, then they are on their way and gone.
Then the seabirds on display next, gliding, circling, coming within 10m for a close look. Hundreds of wonderfully elegant avian visitors as we slide through their world
Quite a week we've had. A while since my last update, and we have had adventures and achievements and marine marvels and huge frights and Kodachrome sunsets and gloriously cheeky Fijian kids and the warm sun baking our back as we are caressed by the breeze. We have anchored disastrously, escaped and run away. We have anchored perfectly and awoken to being exactly in the right place, encircled by reefs in the safe haven at Vaga bay. Along the way we have sailed superbly across the pacific deeps and then, breathing deeply and counting our blessings that the anchoring disaster did not turn into catastrophe, puttered across the lagoon here at Beqa Island.
Eventful, character building, shaping splendid tales to tell the grandchildren. Speaking of which, the biggest event on our horizon is no longer the daily forecast. The return to NZ to greet Sarah and Nick's baby is getting nearer very rapidly now. It's hard to know whether to expand in this brief note on the amazing day we had swimming with the manta rays at Vurolevu island, or to dwell on the anchoring crisis. Maybe a little of each. Snorkelling with the Rays was like a trip to another world. They cruise through past a rocky reef on the corner of Vurolevu island most days shortly after high tide. It seems to be a cleaning station for them. They curl their wings, idly twist a wingtip and simply own the space, in their own way, at their own speed. Quite different to the darting fish, themselves quite beautiful, but familiar in an aquarium and finding Nemo kind of way. The Rays are otherworldly, graceful, timeless, alien. They know we are there and don't mind, until Doug (the Ray Whisperer), dives down to gently stroke the end of the tail on one Ray. The first time, and even the second, the Ray seems not to mind. The third, like a slightly haughty cat, the Ray gives an irritated flick of the tail that says, quite clearl y, back off. So we do. But not too far. As the Rays float over a shallow reef, they are less than a metre below us, with the cleaning fish all clearly visible despite the slightly ruffled water. One Ray circles a favourite coral bommie a dozen times or more as I float above and dive In front of and behind her. I am guessing her, but is seems right.
She stares at me and floats on her way, unperturbed. I swim under and around and lose track of time in this quite extraordinary experience. At this stage it looks like a visiting male (larger, long white tale), is making a move on her, but maybe this is just anthropomorphisation on my part. Apparently the somersaults we saw a few days ago are part of the courtship and mating process, so maybe. Anyway, he drifts away into the turquoise gloom of 10m deep water and me and my Ray carry on our swim together for what seems at least half an hour.
After she leaves, with a flick of the wing and an insouciant shrug, I am left deeply happy and drift happily back to the beach to share stories with the other snorkellers.
Having experienced that, it was time to move, so Thursday morning early we set off for a day sail from Ono island in the Astrolabe reef, to Beqa island, just south of Viti Levu, the largest island in Fiji. About 40 miles. A lovely 18knot breeze just forward of the beam, and a great reach, powered up across the waters at nearly 8.5 knot average all the way. What splendid sailing. Through the sulphur pass, into the reef, all good. Motored on down to our chosen anchorage. Very poorly chosen as it happened.
The wind had veered NE. The bay's head faced and funnelled the wind, and it was very unpleasant in there. After fussing for ages, we finally dropped a pick. Sadly, in a crap place. We picked it up again, but the winch was making ominous noises. And sure enough, our mighty anchor winch dragged up a huge lump of coral, at least 2m by 2m, with the Rocna anchor tip very firmly wedged into the orange heart. Bugger!!! Murphy arrived then, and the wind gusts grew from 20 knots to 30.
Oh, and did I mention that this was the first time we were completely separate from the rest of the ICA fleet. Just Manutaki, with Jo and John to make decisions and solve problems.
Well, here was a fairly decent problem for the solving. Drifting in wind gusts towards a lee shore, anchored wedged in and carrying around half a ton of coral, spare anchor in a locker, no idea at all what to do. Hmmmmmm.
Character forming, as they say.
I changed into the brown trousers.
As I said earlier, I won't dwell on this, but suffice to say it was a VERY long next 20 minutes until we escaped, and motored out of that cursed bay to seek a place to hide.
Fortunately, that search was successful, and we are anchored in lovely Vaga bay, nestled into a beautiful safe sandy anchorage surrounded by reefs at a comfortable distance.
Two of the local kids have already paddled out to introduce themselves and to have a look around Manutaki. They are splendidly forward, open and inquisitive in a way I think we breed out of us Palagi. We are just about to go ashore to do sevusevu with the local village.
And on goes the adventure.
This update is dedicated to the wildlife. We saw our first up-close WHALE yesterday in the lagoon at the Yagasa cluster, a tiny group of uninhabited islands a little north of Fulaga. We were heading off for a tour round the island in our dinghy when the eagle-eyed whale spotters in the next dinghy spotted a whale about a mile away. We doodled at 3hp outboard speed across the lagoon and finally ended up drifting, waiting for the whale to breach. Sure enough, she emerged above the water about 100m away, and idly rolled over in our direction, gave a brief puff of spume then dived back down again.
She reappeared several times over the next half hour, which was wonderfully exciting. We had our fill , then we headed back to the island to continue our tour, leaving her to feed or whatever she was doing. During the tour we were delighted by the bird life here. There are magnificent white sea birds with long trailing white tail feathers that are a flying work of art. Later that afternoon our whale reappeared, about a mile away, with the full whale-leap-and-cavort performance.
Today, Friday, we have set sail for Kadavu, about 120 miles west of here, the other side of the 180th line of longitude. And along the way, a manta ray decided to show us some aerobatics just 100m off our path. Several times it leapt out of the water, performing full somersaults, some with a full twist. Degree of difficulty Very High.
A magnificent display.
Now we are cruising at 7 knots across relatively flat seas, all is well with the world, and our next stop is the Astrolabe Reef.
Reflections on an Island Time week in Fulaga. We are settling into a very relaxed mode, taking it easy, with a series of wonderful occasions, and the odd moment of terror. The terror happened yesterday when Joanne had a Shark moment while snorkelling through the reef passage. We were drifting in on an incoming tide with an undersea motion picture show being put on for us by Mother Nature, when 3 sharks started circling Joanne, just deep enough underneath her that she could not tell what kind they were - the reef sharks we like to look at, or the kind that like to nibble large dark shapes just to see what they taste like? Jo calmly signalled to the boatman - please come get me.
The boatman was tangled up in problems of her own, with a pair of rubber dinghies lashed together and floating into the coral with a risk of being munched. Jo observed that she was effectively being ignored and escalated the urgency a touch - OI SOMEBODY, come get me NOW!!!! I responded with the classic Charlie Chaplin look - run across the coral towards our dinghy, wearing flippers. I somehow stumbled into the boat, untied the boatman's anchor from the coral it was wrapped around, rowed the dink across the coral and out into the channel and finally got the outboard going to rescue Jo. Awesome high speed emergency response. Not.
Fortunately the dark shapes beneath Jo had decided she wasn't appetising and moved on, but even so she'd decided that her snorkelling was done for the day.
It was an amazing snorkel though. The island reef entrance is over half a kilometre long, about 50m wide, and has a wall edge on the east side and a shelf on the other with a coral garden of every hue.. And fish everywhere. All the amazing tropical colours and shapes. Huge hosts of tiny dark blue fish grazing on coral. They change colour to turquoise as I approach, then green as they try to disappear into the background. Thousands of them in a darting, flitting, floating, gleaming, ever-changing cloud of tropical life. We started snorkelling as the low tide approached and the tidal outflow stopped. Then as the tide began to come in, we got a free ride down through the pass, accelerating to a couple of knots as time passed. Idly flapping flippers to change drift direction as we spy angel fish, clown fish, coral trout, zebra fish, shiny fish and dull fish, blue fish and red fish. As you can tell from my detailed analysis, we forgot to bring the tropical fishes book with us, so we have no idea what any of them are called. It doesn't matter. We just love the show, the languid drift of the fish through the coral plates and fronds and ferns and heads, then the lightning dart when they think we might be too close. I never actually see any fish et any other fish, so I guess this ecosystem is mostly grazing fish, feeding on the coral. Except, of course for the sharks. After jos shark moment I went back for another drift through the pass. By now the tide was really starting to race in, so it's almost like a ski run. Catch the ride to the head of the pass, tie on the dink for driving, then take the free ride back down through. Quite a hoot.
There have been several other quite amazing moments. Friday all the cruisers went in to the village for a shared pot luck picnic, including a pig cooked in the traditional village way. Kind of like an umu, but above the ground.
The afternoon included entertainment and shared hilarity. The kindergarten kids first, then the school kids, did some singing and dancing for us.
Then the awesome Palangi Ukelele Orchestra put on a performance as part of the cultural exchange. Fairly impromptu, and surprisingly tuneful. Pokarekareana, Ten Guitars, and When the Saints Come Marching In. Somehow we all ended up dancing and sharing and hooting with laughter. I danced with the kindergarten kids, then pulled one of the big village mamas us up to dance with me, which she did with peals of laughter. And all without the benefit of alcohol, which they don't have in the village as far as we could tell.
The Fijians really do have an instinct for fun.
Mind you, so do the Palangi cruisers, in my humble opinion.
Saturday held another treat for us. It was the 3rd and deciding rugby test between the British Lions and the All Blacks at Eden Park. The village school here in Fulaga has a satellite dish, a large screen TV and a Sky subscription, including the sports channel. So we were all invited to watch the rugby with the village. They built a whole extra lean-to -with a tarpaulin roof and corro walls - onto the headmasters house to accomodate the crowd. About 15 to 20 cruisers joined a similar number of locals to create a really spirited atmosphere for rugby watching. Interestingly, several of the local women supported the Lions, not sure why. It was wonderful. Such a warm atmosphere, woven mats on the floor, bench seats from the church, they even cooked some kind of deep fried donuts for us for half time. It was a memorable way to watch rugby and made us feel even more strongly part of the village.
Today is Monday, and half the fleet has moved on, some north, some west. It is another beautiful day after a few cloudy, slightly rainy days, and the lagoon is emptying out. Only about 5 boats left, and our sense of isolation, peace and freedom is increasing. We are probably going to stay another 4 or 5 days here, then move on in the next good weather window. We are heading north to explore the nearby islands of the Lau group a little, then west to Kadavu and the Astrolabe reef area. So many Islands. So little time!
Well, we now have another passage under our belt. We have sailed 120 miles south to a very remote island called Fulaga, which is absolutely astonishing.
The passage started out as a beautiful beam reach, 18 knots of breeze from the east, and Manutaki was revelling in it. The first few hours passed by extremely well and extremely quickly, with lots of exclamations of delight on our boat and others. We actually got cellphone reception and internet for the first time in weeks. Enough to deal with a few important jobs - like booking our Marina in Denerau so we can fly home to meet baby V in August. And to find out the All Blacks had lost to the British Lions. Then as Vanua Balavu faded into the distance behind us, we lost touch with the modern world again and went back to the basics of wind and water and trimming the sails.
Sadly, as the afternoon waned the rain clouds came across and the wind turned south-east, nearly on the nose. It became a very tight reach as we worked our way in a fleet of 18 boats down to Fulaga.
We sailed with 14 boats in AIS range - 8 miles or so typically - all through the night. Which is actually a bit cluttered and makes for nervous watches without a lot of searoom. All part of the pros and cons of a fleet voyage like this.
We arrived on schedule soon after first light, and waited just a little for low tide to make the entry to the lagoon easier.
Fulaga has a VERY narrow entrance through the enclosing reef. 50m wide, with vicious boat-eating coral and rocks both sides. When the tidal flow is at its maximum, there can be 3 feet high standing waves and a 5 knot current outgoing. Way too scary!! Our entry was much more straightforward and only a little bit sphincter-clenching. Then when through, pretty much everybody had a simultaneous "WOW" moment when we came in through the passage and mooched across the lagoon to a breathtaking, unforgettable, almost unbelievable scene of picture postcard beauty.
A huge inner lagoon a few m deep, with a sandy bottom, perfect for anchoring. A fringing island high enough to break the wind so the waters are flat, punctuated with undercut holes through and zen glimpses of the white break on the outer reef beyond. Coral bommies and undercut mushroom Islands with mini coconut palms dotted everywhere. Imagine the bay of Islands in Vanua Balavu, multiplied by hundreds and stretched out across a vast lagoon, with good anchorages hiding behind every little archipelago of limestone outcrop. Then paint it with the glowing turquoise colour of the sun shining through the water onto a shallow sandy bottom. It's a bit like that but the words are, of course, inadequate.
No resorts, no buildings, no cellphone or internet, nothing of anything much except 3 or 4 villages that are very traditional, and cannot be seen from the lagoon.
We did our sevusevu yesterday as a group. It took most of the day. 18 boats, 50 or 60 ICA folk in the meeting house with the local chief (92 years old) and the elders. Speeches of introduction and welcome. Each boat has been adopted by a local village family and we went back to their houses in the village to get to know them. It does seem a touch surreal being somewhere so remote and having so many boats here. When we arrived there was one boat already here enjoying the solitude. Imagine their feelings as more and more and more boats came in through the passage. They were initially cursing us, but we met them at the 4th of July barbecue last night, and I think all is forgiven. The local village here was delighted to welcome us, and the 50 or so kids in the local school were absolutely thrilled. Laughter and hooting, huge Fijian grins and lots of Bula through the school windows as we all toured the place.
We will probably stay here a couple of weeks. There is a lot to explore, and a lot of space, so we may also try to find a little separation from the main group at some stage, just to savour a little of the very real remoteness of this amazing place.
We have about 4 weeks to get to Denerau, and Nadi, and the fast way home for a flying visit. That may seem strange after a couple of months feeling like 10 miles per hour is crazy fast. Lots of exploring to do before then, though. The story continues...
We are gently rocking, anchored just off our very own beach and beside three lovely snorkelling reefs. We found a little beach tucked around the corner at Mbavatu Harbour, and left the fleet to have a little alone time. We are only a short dinghy ride from about ten boats tucked into their very beautiful harbour with its coves, cliffs, and Cyclone-ravaged yacht club. But here it feels like a world of our own. We went snorkelling yesterday and today, and delighted in the fish, the coral, the anemones, a turtle, the turquoise colours and the wonderful feeling of being inside a huge sheltering reef and having the worlds biggest infinity pool to play in. All by ourselves.
The water is 26 degrees. Still not quite warm enough. I'm clearly spoiled and a bit soft. But I actually put a shorty wetsuit on today when snorkelling for a couple of hours, just for that extra touch of comfort.
Jo, sadly, has been battling a minor ear infection so she is being pretty cautious about putting her head into the water full of coral spawn and fornicating fish. But I think we are on top of it now. I gave her some ear plugs to keep her ears dry, and now we are a pair of deaf old coots together, drifting the azure seas.
Still drifting on a bit of a high from ETNZ winning the America's cup yesterday. Life remains very good.
Sausages, mashed kumara and peas tonight. Guess who was doing the cooking?
And Tuesday dawns to a magnificent Team New Zealand victory in the Americas cup. Even we slow-going cruising sailors aren't immune to the allure of the pinnacle of yacht racing. We had a fantastic day yesterday, touring the Bay of Islands on a Fijian long boat from Daliconi village. They took us to a collection of places we would not have found or ventured into by ourselves. Caves, cathedrals, reefs, inlets. Turquoise water, amazing limestone rock formations. And overlaying it all a kind of group happiness at being here and experiencing this adventure. A diverse group of cruisers with a wide range of backgrounds and knowledge and shapes and sizes, and a great sense of cameraderie.
The day had brilliant sunshine and light wind so we are seeing Fiji is at its sparking best. It's hard to believe that only a couple of years ago, Cyclone Winston ripped through here and there was not a green leaf remaining after winds rumoured to have been 200 knots! Today, everything is verdant again. The overwhelming image is lush green down to the waters edge. The tour was a couple of hours, then we passed the day peacefully enjoying the sunshine. A lot of stand up paddle boarding going on for exercise, and for the best view of what is under the water. We didn't bring paddleboards, and we're regretting it a bit now. But we row or swim for exercise, and just enjoy being here.
A classic cruisers afternoon get together for foursies. A dinghy raft-up in Bat Cove. No bats, but we ended up with 20 dinghies loosely hanging off one anchor and one line tied to a tree on an islet in the cove.
The kids were bouncing from dinghy to dinghy. The adults lazily swapping stories and snacks and drinking and gossiping and laughing and laughing some more, and generally passing the lovely time of day.
That get together ended up with the hard core of 6 or so dinghies still lashed together after dark, drunkenly touring the anchorage with a single outboard puttering along, looking for a party boat.
Who could resist? So Manutaki became home to the dinghy flotilla for a couple of very funny hours - 14 in the cockpit and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours at full volume. All good fun.
Another splendid day cruising. Moving on today, I think. Slowly heading in the direction of the Southern Lau group.
Great news about the Americas cup. Yay.
We are anchored in the Bay of Islands - Fiji style, not like the NZ BOI. Surrounded by weirdly shaped pillars and mushrooms of limestone rock and coral heads in every direction. It is scary enough in the dinghy, which draws 8 inches, let alone our trusty Manutaki, with her 2.1m keel.
Last night - Saturday - was feast night at Daliconi village. The whole village welcomed us, entertained us and fed us. The kids from the school did several items. While they were very Fijian, strangely I felt like we were in the universal world of the kids' end of term concerts, which is fantastic and warm and joyous in every geography and every language.
The boys were especially vibrant in their warrior poses and gesturing. After the show, one of the cruisers adopted about 6 local kids - 6 to 9 - and taught them the All Black Haka. As you might expect, they loved it!!! Then, of course, the Kava ceremony. We joined the circle with the chief and the head man - distinguished as the only one in the village wearing a tie - and drank the drink, clapped the hands, nodded, showed respect, and really felt part of the village, if but for a short time. It was great. And, proudly, many of the women participated. In particular, Joanne and Anna - team Marshall Day - led the way representing the women. And, delightfully, that engendered real respect from m the Fijian men. Awesome. Go Jo and team Marshall-Day.
Today, we ventured through the coral bommies in a follow-the-leader line, negotiating some very narrow passes between limestone pillars, to discover another world. Not a coconut palm or sandy beach in sight. Fiji is varied , challenging and very rewarding.
We are trying to figure out our plan for where to next. So many choices...
By the way - we have no internet here, so couldn't follow it live, but thanks to Rick for the news update by text - GO TEAM NZ. Don't worry about silly old Jammy Splithull.
And the sun sets, the gentle breeze cools us slightly - 26 degrees - and we settle into another tropic evening.
More news as it comes to hand...
Woohoo! Yesterday We made it from Tonga to Fiji two-up. Just Joanne and me onboard. We had a champagne graduation ceremony last night to celebrate our major milestone into cruising. The crossing from Tonga to Fiji was roly-poly as we sailed straight downwind in 2 to 3 meter swells, so Joannes intestinal fortitude was properly tested and she passed with flying colours.Jo is now a seasoned offshore night sailor, capable of driving a yacht straight downwind in 3m seas. Just one very brief fish-feeding incident in the dark, early morning of day two, otherwise a smooth ride on our floating home. It wa not entirely without incident, however. The fleet of 20 or so boats started close together, then separated through the next 40 hours, then all ended up coming through a moderately narrow gap between an island and a reef as we approached Vanua Balavu. Joanne's 9 to midnight watch got fairly exciting as we suddenly had 5 boats within a mile or so, in the dark, some making interesting course changes in the middle of the channel. Jo nearly ran Wind of Change up the bum before we executed abrupt evasion tactics - Hard'a'port - and put a wiggle and a bit of sea room on the track.
Then John took over to pilot us through the first scary gap. Whereupon Murphy intruded on the watch and the electronics locked up. No chart, no autopilot and no compass. Hmmmmmmm. Pitch black, yacht lights in all directions, all within a mile. Hmmmm. Another, rather different test of intestinal fortitude.
Backup plan 1 into action. Grab the trusty iPad with a different charting program, and steer using that while jo tries to reset the electronics. I.e. Turn them off and then back on.
That worked and the trousers were preserved for the rest of the sail. Made it clear how reliant we are on our bloody electronics however.
Anyway, near-catastrophes aside, we had a very smooth ride once we turned the corner and reached up in the lee of Vanua Balavu towards the gap in the outer reef.
Then a narrow and winding path through the reef and bommies from there to the village of Dalaconi. We adopted the now-standard navigation technique of following close behind larger boats with deeper keels than us. Not always possible because there are so many cats in the fleet, but in this case we were lucky and safe. And we are in Fiji! Yay! Life is good and the champagne tasted sweet that afternoon.
Now to explore...
On the night watch, 94 miles out of Vava'u, heading for Fiji (Vanua Balavu in the Lau group) Stars above, warm water washing my bare feet in the cockpit as we ride the big ocean waves. We're sailing straight downwind with a following swell, cruising gently through the night.
Joanne is below, dozing after her first night watch. I'm enjoying the ride and Otto (the auto-pilot) is doing all the work. In stark contrast to our first crossing, this journey almost all the fleet left at about the same time. We are 15 hours into the journey, and there are still 13 boats within a circle of 6 miles radius. It looks like a travelling village out here with the boats lights appearing and disappearing as we go up and down the swells. It's very cool and makes you feelsaf and supported.
It's a lovely motion, if a little bit roly-poly. Time for a midnight snack shortly. Food is a big topic on these longish crossings. Always thinking about the next snack or the next meal.
Off to Fiji in the morning. 300 miles, dead downwind. Two up (me and Jo). Joanne's first big night sail. Wish us well, cross fingers...
More news tomorrow.
A very special mention for tonight's dinner, here in Malafakalava bay. Say that a few times quickly in polite company.
Joanne concocted a superb roast lamb meal with beetroot, feta and roasted walnut, served (of course) with peas.
A gourmet feast in our modest floating home. Delicious.
The other interesting news is about spinnaker poles and clew heights and leech lengths and choosing between gullwing or running hot angles for the downhill slide to Fiji next week. No decision yet.
See, I'm trying so hard to sound like a real yachtie. Still not really pulling it off, but I'm slowly beginning to even convince myself. Entertaining for all concerned.
Love to all from lovely Vava'u. Onward and westward.
Thank you to those who have been following and making comments here. I only see them when we get internet coverage, but I really appreciate them all. It's nice to know somebody is amused by our tottering around the pacific.
We are now out east, at the edge of Vava'u nearest the prevailing south-easterly trade winds. We are anchored at an island called Kenutu, a few hundred metres wide and the only barrier between us and the deep ocean swells. Just a few miles away is the Kermadec Trench, amongst the deepest places on the planet, and probably the most mysterious. As they say, more people have walked on the moon than gone to the deep trenches.
Getting here was perilous. It is a zig-zag track through narrow gaps between coral reefs. At least here in Tonga the charts are pretty accurate. I am told this is just a warm-up for Fiji where the reefs are more numerous and the charts are, as we pirates like to say, taken as more of a guideline, really.
We walked across the island today and stood on the lookout, just watching the seabirds glide on the winds that blow eternally across this ocean. We were hoping for an early whale, but no such luck. Whales arrive here in large numbers in July and August. We should be in Fiji by then. Maybe there will be a fringe whale family who prefer Fiji for their birthing.
It has been a lovely few days since my last post, as we wander through Vava'u, sampling various anchorages and experiences.
Last night was La Paella, a very eccentric Spanish restaurant on Tapana Island. Highly recommended by many cruisers, and I can see why. It is crazy, in several different ways. The Spanish proprietors produce astonishing tapas - a 7 course feast worthy of the finest western restaurants, but produced from a kitchen that is rather more third world than first world. Thatched roof, driftwood handrails on the stairs, wooden floor that has seen MANY a dance party and flamenco session over the years. A most memorable feast with the cruisers from 6 boats: Lola, Mahia, Taranui, Ika Moana, Manutaki, and Margarita. Yes, Bruce and Dinah are here now too. It was a slightly weird experience when we were quietly sitting in an anchorage in what feels like a really remote place, and our next berth neighbours from westhaven quietly come cruising in and we pop over for a cup of tea.
At the moment, Vava'u, Tonga feels distinctly like Herne Bay/Westmere north.
The party turned into a dancing session when the (somewhat sozzled) proprietor picked up his guitar, pulled back the makeshift yellow curtain and launched into andrunken blues session, in Spanish. Strangely, the blues do not sound the same sung in Spanish.
We were soon stamping the floors, clapping our hands and dancing up a storm.
A fine finale to a memorable Spanish/Tongan evening.
We did have a small downturn in our luck yesterday. Our headsail decided it had done enough duty while we were cruising around towards Port Maurelle in about 30 knots, and quietly began to delaminate. All very calm and seemly, or in this case un-seamly.
We pulled it down today and had a closer look. I feel a new sail coming on. But for now, that is why we packed a few spare sails. Out came the number 2, hoisted and we'll give it a run tomorrow to see how it looks. It was probably feeling neglected anyway.
We only have a few more days in Vava'u before we depart for Fiji. The weather forecast is predicting a 20knot dead run, with 2 to 3 m swells. Should make for interesting sailing for Joanne's first big, big crossing.
I'll see if I can get some internet coverage to add a few more photos to make this all a bit more interesting.
And I hope soon to be telling you all tales of a smooth crossing through gentle seas to Fiji. Cross fingers and a little libation to Poseidon...
Phew Had to stop for a row around the bay, here at the Coral Gardens. We set off with no wind, bright sun and a sparkling bay, Joanne rowing for the practice and a tiny bit of exercise. The rain started and the wind turned to the south, ie directly from the direction of our now slightly distant boat. All the hatches open in the boat to let in the breeze. Of course.
No problem, stop rowing and start the outboard, feeling smug it starts so well.
Lesson number 17 - never feel smug.
Of course we ran out of fuel as the wind freshened and the chop increased. The return row directly into the now strong headwind fulfills my desire for some exercise. Always a silver lining. And the rain only lasted long enough to dampen, not drench our beds. Or our spirits.
We are anchored here, relaxing after a lovely feast last night, put on by a local Tongan landowner called David, his wife and a subset of his 11 children. 18 boats turned up in the bay during the course of the day, and I think there were probably 50 or so for dinner. A suckling pig on a spit, and a host of other Tongan foods. Octopus, raw fish Kokodo style, taro, taro leaves with minced pork, sweet taro, coleslaw and other salads. (We're a bit wary of the uncooked foods because of doubts about the water the greens were washed in) A great evening finished off with a guitar and (of course) Johny Cash's Ring of Fire for the local entertainment. The Tongan kids are very cool.
Actually, some of the cruising kids off the boats are pretty cool too. One of them, probably 12 years old, just helped his mum and dad sail their cat from Tahiti to here.
And now, today, Sitting in the bay watching two kite surfers along the reef, I feel like a kite (and a few lessons) would have been a good addition to the cruising kit. There's always next trip.
We've got our Vava'u guide out now, thinking about where next on this trip. The eastern edge (the wild side) is calling.
Vava'u. Wow. The last 4 days filled with so much intense doing nothing much that there was no time to update the blog. Hunga Haven, an otherworldly ancient caldera eroded by millennia and festooned with deepest green jungle, punctuated by lithe coconut palms swaying in the ocean breeze. We four "real" boats, separated from the fleet, rafted up; exploring the delight of drunken dancing to loud 70's music on swaying boats and dinghies. Then completing the set with a blissful dive into 27 degree water to cool off. Thursday morning, 8th June, and out through the narrow passage at half tide while there's still enough water over the reef. A scary moment when the depth reads 1.6m. We need 2.1 to float.
But no bump or thump, so on we go back out into deep water. Just a few hundred yards out to sea and already the water is hundreds of m deep.
Interlude: as I am writing this we are listening to the cruisernet on vhf, and the big topic this Sunday is the king's visit to Vava'u. But nobody knows when it will happen or where exactly or even why. Nevertheless they are beginning to clean up and decorate the villages. Charming.
Back to the narrative The trip out of Hunga and around to the "big smoke" - the town of Neiafu, starts blissfully. Blue skies and the most amazing views of this truly extraordinary group of Islands. But then the other side of tropical weather kicks in. Downpour. And that is too weak a word. Torrential, rain of biblical proportion. Visibility just a tiny bit above zero. Motoring into the busy port of neiafu, filled with hundreds of boats, and no idea where any of them are. Moorings for us to pick up. Somewhere. Just no idea where, can't even hear each other talk above the noise of the rain. Joanne gave up on the raincoat and just went forward, saturated in seconds, to seek a mooring. Just another entertaining challenge in the life of the cruising couple. Eventually the rain cleared, but not before we had 3 inches (literally) in the base of the dinghy. Jo was smart enough to get a few bowls and buckets out and we captured quite a few litres of pure clean rainwater for drinking and laundry.
We cleared the interisland formalities in Neiafu, then roamed the town, with John feeling a mixture of rum-bug, man-flu, heat-stroke and troppo, and being generally useless. Ah well, we all have our off days. We went into the Neiafu market to buy rather questionable vegetables at dramatically inflated prices, then some vinegar to spray them with to make sure no bugs came back onto the boat. Joanne worked like a slave in the sweaty post-downpour heat, washing vegetables in vinegar to clean them, chipping off the outside of pineapple and generally dealing with tropical shopping. Countdown or New World is a fantasy air-conditioned dream for jo perched on the back of an overheated boat bobbing in NeIafu harbour in 30degree heat and no wind, with a recumbent useless husband feeling sorry for himself in the front cabin.
Just getting a very small taste of third world problems amongst our first world luxuries! That night the Lola, Riada and Mahia crews all went ashore to the Mango Bar for a local luxury dinner, but the crew of mighty Manutaki kept a low profile and ate simply on board.
The pineapple (one good one out of the two we purchased) was, however, superb. Sweet and juicy and finger-licking good. So all Jo's hard work did not go to waste! A quiet night.
The lights of Neiafu are surprising. It is actually quite a big town, and for the first time since leaving Opua weeks ago we feel surrounded by civilisation. More than a hundred moored boats, a choice of multiple good restaurants, shops, bars, we even ordered 3 loaves of bread baked for us. We had sort of forgotten civilisation, but really did not miss it much. The dry ground felt wobbly, the town was stifling and a little sad. The air-conditioned Digicel office (buying a local SIM) was a highlight and a wry touch all at the same time.
Friday, and we head out of Neiafu to Port Maurelle, around the corner and what feels a million miles away. THIS is the classic Tonga picture-postcard-perfect scene. A shallow coral shelf, sand bottom with great holding, turquoise waters, palm trees all around, and black and white zebra fish dancing around the swim ladder on our yacht. This is exactly what we signed up for, and in no time at all we are doing very little, enjoying the beauty.
A snorkel ashore for John, Joanne practising her rowing in a straight-ish line. There's always the excuse of coral bommies that required her to go in semi-circles for a while. And as I swim ashore we go from deep water (27 deg) to shallow water over the white coral shelf and the water temperature goes up to 30 at least. Idling along counting bright blue starfish, floating in a tepid bath.
Auckland in June feels a long way away.
We are anchored in Hunga lagoon after a very peaceful crossing from Ha'apai to Vava'u, with Mahia always nearby.
We arrived at 4pm or so, just in time to see Riada emerge from a lagoon and head around to Hunga lagoon, which has a scary entry only suitable at high tide.
Very happy to have a guide with a deeper draft than us, we followed them in, and there, in splendid isolation, we found Taranui with Tony Whiting.
And so the Fakawi tribe is back together at last: Manutaki, Mahia, Riada and Taranui, anchored in a magical coral lagoon deep in the South Pacific.
There is a tiny place here called Hunga Haven; 4 acres of somebody's dream of an isolated paradise in the pacific. We are moored here for a day or two to snorkel, explore and generally be here.
Updated entry with corrected date. Sorry about the confusion.
We have departed the Ha'Apai group and we are heading for Vava'u.
My wonderful crew flew out Friday and Saturday after a fantastic couple of weeks together getting Manutaki safely across the ocean to Tonga. My very big thanks to Baz, Jeff and Kim for being so wonderful, helping so much and being s incredibly easy to get along with. And putting up with me, the gnarly skipper.
2 weeks for 4 strangers in a tiny boat on a big ocean is a challenge, but we all done real good! After jo arrived Friday we pottered about Ha'Apai a bit more. Uvoleva was my favourite anchorage. We had an awesome adventure on Caprice, one of the cats in the fleet, on Sunday. 9 of us went out to a tiny island called Nukupule in the middle of a coral lagoon, about 10 miles or so offshore. On the way the lads had out the game rods and lures, and in the middle of a narrow channel there was a flurry of excitement as 5 lines were all hit at once, by BIG things. We had gone through some kind of school of billfish. All was chaos with the skipper abandoning the helm to play with his fish, which had four goes at the lure before escaping to fight another day.
Eventually after the pandemonium subsided, there was one big fish on a line, the others all gone, and Ant from Mahia settled in to play his fish for 30 minutes.
3 or 4 dramatic leaps from the water, and it became clear we had a Sailfish, reportedly one of the fastest fish in the ocean.
To cut a long story short, we ended up with a 65kg 2.5m long sailfish across the back of Caprice as we motored in through a narrow little pass to our snorkelling and lunch zone.
Very exciting for a non-fisherman like me, but apparently a big thrill even for the seasoned game fishermen on the boat.
Mal showed his filleting skills and we had sailfish sashimi as an extra treat for the day. Our canned tuna pitas seemed a little mundane by comparison.
And then the snorkelling.
A coral reef about 1.5 m deep in azure water, pelagic fish of every colour and size surrounding us. Floating trough clouds of curious Nemo wannabes, warmed by gentle tropical sun and seas. A splendid excursion.
Back to the "resort" at uvoleva that evening to a shared BBQ of sailfish grilled over a beach fire, washed down with Tongan beer and mojitos. Quite a day! Monday we had a little rain, and we did the formalities to clear out of Ha'Apai and head to Vava'u. Then we explored a little further north, taking a few risks anchoring near coral Bonnies. We had fingers crossed that we wouldn't be tied to the sea floor with chain this morning as we departed at 6:30 for the 70 mile crossing to Vava'u.
And we are now in the middle of a deep blu sea, gentle 1m swells rolling in from the east, full main and genoa but not quite enough wind, motor-sailing through Jo's first deep water crossing. Aiming to be in the heart of Vava'u by 4pm for easy safe anchoring.
The journey continues...
Correction with updated date in June. Sorry for the confusion.
Anchored in paradise with Joanne on board at last; drinking nearly cold wine and beer, eating 2-week old but perfectly moist gingerbread made to Anne's not-so-secret recipe. Revelling in 27 degree air and water temperature, swimming, making the most of the tropical dream. Rain is coming next week, but for today we are getting we we signed up for and we are so, so happy with the cruising life.
There was a splendid party at the Ha'Apai beach resort on wednesday 31st May; six or seven boats and their crews celebrated our joint achievement - crossing an ocean just because. Jo flew in yesterday in a tiny flying flea, and as she came across the huge, deep blue sea across the tiny set of dots that is the Ha' apai, she saw one boat floating off the golden shore of Pangai. And that was our boat - the mighty Manutaki, resplendent in glorious isolation. Yep, that's why we came! So stage one is done, and we have moved into the lazy stage 2, idling through Tonga. We will leave for Vava'u Tuesday. Joanne's first ocean crossing. 72 miles, 9 to 12 hours and we need to arrive in daylight, so an early start that day.
Beautiful, beautiful sailing! 10-15 knots, trade winds, reaching across azure seas under blue skies.
All very happy on board.
Lost another lure today with a big fish hitting and ripping the trace off, so no more tuna today. The tuna has been fantastic; tuna steaks yesterday absolutely delicious.
We had a bit of excitement last night on the midnight to 3am watch - we saw our first other vessels; fishing boats. One passed within half a mile and we had a brief chat on the vhf. Then today we spotted land around noon - our first sight of islands in the Ha'Apai group. Bas is excelling himself in the galley. Fresh coleslaw in the making. Food has been excellent since we have had this light weather sailing.
This is the pacific offshore dream, real. The rumpty passage to Minerva rewarded with interest.
Our timing is a bit late to make it through the reefs before nightfall, so we are going to be cautious and heave to for a while tonight, then approach at first light. Another new experience, we'll see how that goes. Signing out for now, we'll be in touch again from Tonga.
We are on the move again, starting on the next leg. Minerva was an astonishing experience, but we have a crew hankering for palm trees and coconut milk, so it's time to move on and head for Tonga.
We are motoring across peaceful seas at 5.5knots; the Pacific is living up to its name. The wind is just a zephyr and the seas are gentle and deep, deep blue. It is very beautiful out here and it's quite fun being able to cook and eat in a flat boat. Going into our night watches with cushions in the cockpit; quite a step up in luxury! We are targeting arrival in the Ha'Apai group in Tonga on Wednesday afternoon. It will be a slow trip, partly because of very little wind, and partly because we want to make sure our timing is right to arrive at the tricky parts of the Ha'Apai entrance in daylight, so we will be slowing down Tuesday. We are hoping for enough wind tomorrow to sail. Funny, if we could have just averaged last leg and this leg, it would all be champagne sailing.
Bye for now.
MINERVA! We entered into this amazing, huge lagoon at around 11am Thursday. It was a blessed relief to get into its lee and get some respite from the large pacific easterly swells that had been relentless the last 5 days. The pass is huge, but even so it was wierd and a little scary to see jagged rocks and coral lurking so close after days of empty sea and sky. Two spotters on the bow and we motored in without incident, to find this perfect patch of sandy-bottomed turquoise water stretching for 2-3 miles across.
First order of business after anchoring was to dry out and clean up. Manutaki very shortly resembled a large clothes line, with wet weather gear draped across and tied to every available holder, and the laundry tub pressed into action to deal with a somewhat "scody" clothing situation.
We were first in to Minerva of the 8 or so boats heading this way, but only by a few hours. By mid afternoon there were 8 boats anchored here. We found out later that Riada and Mahia had gone into South Minerva and anchored there roughly the same time we anchored at North Minerva. So it is remarkable how even in speed all the boats ended up being.
Then it was time to retrieve the dinghy from its hiding place under the forepeak, reassemble it and go be social with Tony on Taranui.
Their fresh tuna sashimi and 4 reef crayfish went down especially well with our champagne, beer and potato chips. At low tide the boats rocked gently in a perfect anchorage, although the wind remains 15-20 easterly and the swell outside the reef is still huge.
As the tide rose, the protection of the reef diminished, and the roll set in. Nevertheless, we had our first flattish nights sleep for several days. Even learned a few new card games in the saloon on manutaki after a splendid dinner - the last of Joanne's pre-prepared meals. Have to learn to cook soon.
We will do a few boat tasks today, and go onto the reef for a look and hopefully to find a few crayfish for dinner.
The weather looks to be north-easterly for a couple of days now, so I think we will wait to leave till Sunday or Monday.
All being well, We hope to arrive at Pangai in the Haapai, Tonga, on Wednesday 31 may, or even possibly the day before.
The sun is up and shining on a windswept but extraordinary place; our private infinity pool in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Hello again from the good ship Manutaki, sailing through a balmy night, nearly under tropical skies. We had.a great day today. Bas caught our first fish, a Mahi-Mahi, which was absolutely delicious. Bas caught it, cleaned it, filleted it and cooked it while the rest of us just admired. We are still sailing under blue skies across lumpy seas, and the temperature is increasing every day. The jeans and cardy have long been discarded in favour of shorts and no shirt in the saloon. Outside we are still tight reaching and wearing big seas across he boat regularly, so it's still full "foulies" out there.
We should pass south minerva reef well to port early Thursday morning, and hope to be in the lagoon at north Minerva lunchtime-ish. I think the fleet will regroup there to dry out and tell tall stories about tuna that got away. It has been a wet passage with lots of salt everywhere.
That's all for now, got to put on the sopping wet weather gear and get on watch.
More from Minerva...
Hello again from the good ship Manutaki, 3rd class seaman Jeff writing this. Alas, my early hopes of promotion were dashed after leaving the gas valve open ...
Current conditions : cloud cover 80%, air temp 17 deg at the helm. Sea is at a good angle to us and we're close reaching at 7 knots. Swell about 1 metre, we're heading on our target 007 degrees direct to Minerva Reef. Last 24 hr run 174 nm which is pretty good . John won the 'how far did we go today' contest with an estimate of 173. The rest of the fleet departed yesterday so there should be quite a gathering at Minerva in about 3-4 days.
Crew is good, Kim now managing to keep her insides in and is feeling better after a bit of a rough start. She's been on the helm for about 3 hours, thoroughly enjoying steering the boat. Like a fat kid on a smartie (her words) We started watches last night, me 6pm-9, Baz 9pm-12, John 12-3am, me again 3-6am , Baz 6 to mid morning. This was my first intro to night sailing... it's almost a spiritual experience. Being completely alone, apart from the stars, with not a light to be seen. Everyone else asleep below, the only sound of the water bubbling off our transom. Awesome.
Baz caught sight of a dolphin following us bathed in the nighttime phosphorescent glow ..
Yesterday's dinner was Jos beautiful CoqauVin, an ideal rich dish to keep the energy up. Tried to convince Kim that it'd look exactly the same on the way up as it would going down but she declined the invitation to consume it.
Lunch just now was another of Jos lovely dishes, a very tasty fish pie. Didn't attempt the same line with Kim...
So, we'll be half way to Minerva around 4 this afternoon, making good progress. Aiming to enter Minerva reef early Thursday morning.
3rd seaman Jeff signing off for now..
Good evening everybody - tonight's blog comes to you from 3rd class seaman Jeff... (hoping to get promoted by volunteering to write this ) So we headed out today with a fleet of 16 other yachts. We're currently about 50 nm (90 kms) from Opua, heading about 30 degrees and aimed at Minerva Reef. We went out on the back of the low that's causing some crappy weather in NOrthland so the seas a bit rock and roll at the moment but will ease tomorrow afternoon. With a good 20-30 knot wind, It's meant we're averaging over 8 knots which is great and will be sailing into smoother water.
Alls good below decks and I've decided that using the head in a lumpy sea should be made into an Olympics sport...
Thanks Jo for the filled rolls - it would have been interesting trying to prepare those ourselves Manutaki is a fine ship and is well prepared so apart from a bit of early queasiness amongst some of the crew we're all good and pleased to be on the move.
Well we finally have a full crew, a full boat of tucker, and an (almost) confirmed departure date/time. We have had 5 on board for a few days no Interesting new world of living at close quarters in a small boat. 5 adults in a 25 sq m apartment. Joanne, Bas, Jeff, Kim and me.
Subject to a final weather check tomorrow morning, we will clear customs here in Opua at 09:30, then final water top up and sail away in a mini-fleet of 8 boats. We have Manutaki, Mahia, Riada, Lola, Providence, Oscar, Tumua, Summer Lovin. We are all excited to get underway and see what the fickle weather holds for us.
First stop -Minerva at 23 South. Hopefully there late next week, to regroup and try the tropical waters, snorkelling and swimming. It has certainly not been tempting to swim in Opua. The Marina water sets a new standard for murky.
Anyway, I'm writing my departure checklist now, and hoping for a smooth start in the morning. Maybe the next update will be from a smoothly sailing boat in an azure sea. Maybe...
It's getting exciting now. The weather models are aligning, the crew is all sorted out , and we look like we should go this week, hopefully Thursday.
A bunch of last minute jobs, and then ...
Still in New Zealand.
there was a window last Saturday, but there were two cyclones out there playing games with the weather!
It's been a long week of watching the weather and trying to guess what cyclones Donna and Ella would do. Also trying to figure out if we could leave before the window of opportunity ran out for my crew.
Sadly, the delay got too long, so it has been a busy time trying to sort out replacement crew for the trip. Still trying to sort it out now.
Along the way, Joanne finished work last Friday, and came up to join me in Opua Saturday. It is a real pleasure to have Jo here, being part of the adventure again. Makes it all seem much more like the real thing.
It has been a very social few days.
A few drinks (at the Marina) on Riada Saturday night, with Allan and Rhonda and the team from Caprice (from Dunedin, they laugh at us northerners in our woolies), turned into a Limoncello appreciation society raucous party that didn't finish until real late. Then we left the marina and sailed out into the bay on Sunday, to Opunga cove, which is absolutely gorgeous. We had eight for dinner in Manutaki on Sunday night, with a shared dinner and me trying out the new old BBQ for the first time. Managed to cook most of the meat mostly right, and it was a great evening. We are one of the smallest boats in the fleet but we are very cosy, and we have one of the largest dining tables!
Tonight if was fresh fish on Lola, the big Beneteau 473, with eight again. Mike and Sasha from Moon fish caught some lovely snapper, and so did Justin and Linda from Lola. We are the only non fishing folk in the group. We consume guiltily but with great pleasure. Our planned spag. bowl for tonight went into the fridge when we got offered the snapper.
So the socialising is awesome and it's great to get to know everybody, but we are all keen to get going.
I hate to put a hex on things by getting too optimistic. But it does look like we are getting close to a "go" decision. There is a small hint of badness on one weather model, sometime next week, but otherwise everything is looking aligned in n all the other models, and ready to go maybe this Friday or saturday. If I can only get my crew sorted out.
More in that ongoing saga tomorrow.
After a lot of more or less hectic preparation, life has now begun to change speed. Slow. I spent the first half of the day anchored in a millpond in Whangaroa harbour, reading a book, admiring the stately herons as they cruised low across the water. Then come noon it seemed time to move on and head back to the fleet; enough of being the hermit. A somewhat muddy bottom (the sea bed, not mine), meant the anchor needed some dealing to before I could move on, and the wisdom of a salt water wash forward is becoming more apparent. Anyway, in due course we (Manutaki and I) moseyed on out of our bay.We sailed / motor-sailed out through the heads and south east to the Bay of Islands. The wind was very light and, predictably, from the East. Nevertheless, I managed a few patches of real sailing amongst the motor sailing. And the whole trip was wonderful. Gorgeous weather - big sky, blue sea, seabirds, and the magnificent Cavalli Islands. They are startling lovely, full of nooks and sea caves and arches and twists and hiding places. Perhaps elves or Orcs, who knows.
It's peaceful here.
Of course, the Winter twilight descends quickly, so I had to push on fairly quickly to get here before dark. I am in Whale Bay, just inside the Northern entrance to the Bay. Not ideal, but comfortable and I have it all to myself. The hermit lives another day.
There is a shared fleet BBQ at Paradise Bay on Urupukapuka Island tomorrow, which I am looking forward to. Then back to Opua for a few more minor jobs and wait on Cyclone Donna.
Hopefully we will get away next week...I'll keep you updated.
So I am on a sort of distant peaceful solo CycloneDonna-Watch. She is spinning and intensifying near Vanuatu, and I am off the grid on the Northland coast, exploring the Whangaroa harbour slowly by myself.
I spent half an hour listening to the yachts reporting on the Northland Radio SSB call at 5pm today. A few people out there experiencing big swells already and keen to get into Fiji quickly.
All is well on board. For dessert tonight I am breaking into Joanne's special gingerbread, which was reserved for the passage and I have been eyeing for the last couple of days.
Whangaroa is very different. Dark green hills, moody, broody, a little Middle-Earth/Fangorn forest. The northern reaches of the "Old Forest" perhaps.
Sailing today was a bit more challenging. On the wind, across the bay towards Whangaroa entranced sailing with just a genoa was not quite cutting it. So I actually graduated to 2 sails. Now I remember why people do it that way! Manutaki enjoyed being pushed a little and I enjoyed the feeling.
I am heading back into the Bay of Islands tomorrow, to catch up with the rest of the fleet, be social and stop playing solo sailor.
Well, the big news is Cyclone Donna - christened today by the Tropical cyclone advisory centre and expected to intensify to a category 2,3 or even 4 in the next 3 days. Unsurprisingly, the Island Cruising Association departure date is postponed while we wait to see what Donna does.
So I felt like it was time to get out of the Opua marina (nice as it is) and head into the northland coast for a few days while we wait.
I am safely anchored in Orokaraka bay (south end of Matauri bay). Will stay the night here then go to Whangaroa tomorrow in daylight.
The sail was glorious. 8.5 knots in 20 kn of wind with just a genoa. Good fun. Who needs that bloody complicated mainsail? Magnificent sunset by the Cavalli islands. I will post some photos as soon as I get internet access again. There is no reception here, so this post is via satphone. I hope it works, after all this typing.
We are safely anchored in Opua Marina (berth I27), where the Island Cruising Association is mustering for the trip north. Already more than a dozen yachts here with more arriving every day.
We now have a near-real-time tracker available as well as this blog. Hourly position updates are available on https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Manutaki.
We're off to a briefing now to discuss one of the two BIG topics of conversation in the cruising set: Weather. The other is of course where will today's Sundowners be.
Anchored in Paradise Bay, Urupukapuka in the Bay of Islands.
A beautiful sunny afternoon, some lovely sailing today, settling in for a lazy glass of wine and a gossip with the sailors on the neighbouring ICA yachts Lola and Riada
Sailing at last - a 10kn NE wind, motor off and we are humming across the bay towards Cape Brett and the Bay of Islands
Oops. Last status update had the wrong lat and long values. Looks like we parked in the middle of whangaparoa.
Motor sailing with 6 knots of breeze under clear skies.
Had a pleasant night at urquharts bay, near Whangarei. Now heading north under sunny skies with a entle easterly as we cruise up the coast Towards Mimiwhangata. We will pass Whananaku shortly, just off Elizabeth reef.
All well on board.
Pos 35 59.0s 174 38.5e Day 1 very peaceful.
The winter sun is glorious as we motor under clear sunny skies across a gently rolling Bream Bay towards Urquharts Bay, near Whangarei. We will stop there for the evening. It has been a very low wind day; beautiful Autumn weather with clear blue skies, a very gentle but slightly cold south-easter and wonderful sunshine.
We are past sail rock, just past the Hen and expecting to be at anchor around 7pm.
Culinary highlight of the day so far was unquestionably Janine's ginger crunch. A triumph.
All well on board.
Anzac day dawns and it is time to take the first steps in the journey. Preparations (mostly) done. Goodbyes (partially) said. The sun is shining the wind is a gentle (but cold) south easterly. Manutaki is floating several inches lower in the water than a couple of weeks ago, and it is time to cast off the lines and head to Opua, to join the ICA fleet.
Sitting in the office on my last day before leaving on sabbatical, thinking through the months ahead. Looking forward to the challenge and the adventure.
Feeling grateful to the team at SAP taking over for me to run the place while i am gone, wondering what will change in the next 6 months.
Hoping we have seen the last of the tropical cyclones and the torrential rain for this season.
Just a test: Updating via iridium mail for the first time It's a lovely Friday evening down on the boat, and I'm looking at my list of jobs wondering which one to do first
Oops - previous post was lat and long of the office desk, not the boat. Inauspicious start. Grounded before we even set sail. Ah well, perhaps we have got the grounding out of the way, now, so we can sail over smooth seas with fair winds. And dolphins to guide us. Whimsy on.
So -Manutaki is actually in her berth at Westhaven (S78), not parked at home in suburban Auckland. She is patiently waiting for a crew to come sail her. Which I am thoroughly looking forward to doing soon.
This is Manutaki's first update on Yachts in Transit. She is tucked up in Westhaven, waiting for the opportunity to venture out to sea. I am trying to learn how to use YIT, which seems just fantastic. The first few posts may be a little shaky, but then sailing is full of whimsy, it would seem.
All is well with the world.
We are in Opua marina, with the fleet building for a Saturday departure to Minerva reef and tonga. Weather is windy and cold at the moment, we are very happy to be tied up in here no planning to head for warmer climes.
Lots of minor jobs to do amid the anticipation building for the adventure.
It's funny - we all want an adventure, but not too much of an adventure. 25 knots is plenty thank you. We shall see what the wether gods have in store.
Joanne returned to Auckland yesterday and to work today. Seems weird. Next meeting in 1200 miles and two weeks or so. Missing you already Jo!
No blogs available for this yacht.