We made it!

Audrie gave me the title, thinking about it; did my wife expect we wouldn’t,  was there an option? Not really, planning the route down to NZ was 1/10 local knowledge from MetBob and 4/10ths “I know how to plan a route”,  the other half was Jeez we didn’t expect this, that wasn’t on the gribs, what the ……, it’s a fickle stretch of the South Pacific. One week transit from Minerva and we are trussed like a “good un” to the “Q” dock in Opua. NZ is a milestone on our trip, it’s half way, it’s home for 4 months, we have a few floors we hope we can sleep on, you know who you are and we’re coming to your town soon!

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Opua arrival, check out the rock to the right, “we’re gonna need a bigger boat”

We had a bit of everything on the way down under, sun, rain, flat calm, not so flat and downright ugly stuff. The water down here isn’t heated either, it got down to 13 degrees at one point, I had to post the kids on the bows to keep a lookout for growlers! Must swot down upon my fahrenheit conversions, it’s been a while. During the flat calm we had a visit from a family of Mahi Mahi, beautiful fish in the water, that apparently mate for life, unless of course some uncaring fisherman, not me teddy, drags him out of his element, squirts rum down his throat and then slices and dices him for sashimi, would I do that? I feel a photo coming on. We expected to catch up with the migrating whales, not all plans come to fruition, ner a whale or dolphin did we see, perhaps they will come and visit us next time round.

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Beautiful Mahi Mahi, “en famille”


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Delicious Mahi Mahi, “sans famille”

Quarantine, we are not clean, separated from the Marina’s elite on our own pontoon, the bar is 30 meters away and I can hear the cold beer flowing from the tap, not tonight Josephine.  At least we have some privacy, although it looks like being a prolonged affair, we got here after 17-00hrs and I’m guessing tomorrow will be the day. We heard via VHF today that one boat was put out to anchor because they found a cockroach, must have been a big bastard, maybe he was French, the cockroach of course, :-), yes you have history here and the Kiwis won’t forget it! Either way we are scouring the lockers, etc. making sure that we are beastie free for the big occasion. In the meantime we are to be treated as Lepers, no shore leave, no ablutions, no visiting native canoes offering fresh fruit, trinkets or heaven forbid carnal pleasures.  Captain Cook would have had a few words I’m sure.

The boys are happy, happy, this is a country with proper food, pizza, real milk, english speaking kids and most importantly, internet, saints preserve us, have they learned nothing in 18 months? If you’re playing “Clash of the Clans” or “Minecraft”, lookout the “KID” is back online, and he’s looking for revenge!

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Boys are back in town

The Deckhand and the Domestic Goddess will push the other boat out tonight and crack the last bottle of Champagne to toast our arrival, no the boys do not drink with us, it’s not that bloody relaxed……yet! Heck if I can locate the bottle of MacCallan I might give that a nudge as well, although the D.G. is a devious stasher of the Deckhands’ delicacies, it shouldn’t be that difficult, I have a nose for these things.

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Happy days indeed!


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MacCallan retrieved, shhhhh!

The boat has been great, we have arrived safely and in comfort, I have the usual lists to get stuck into, but only 362 items this time!!!!! You laugh, it’s probably more than that if I add my wish list as well.

Here’s wishing all our buddy boats to follow that you have a safe passage, family and friends tip a glass and we’ll see you in a few years XX

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Out of the Tropics

We crossed Latitude 32 Degrees South two hours ago, leaving us 180nm into Opua, it’s not a snap change but we left Minerva in shorts and sun-hats, six days later, one out of New Zealand there has been a hunt on for those toasty items of clothing that haven’t seen the light of day for eighteen months. Its comparatively freezing to the Tropics, water temperature is down to 14 degrees Celsius, air temperature to around 16 with wind chill taken into account, “pass the furs dahling”.
Our cockpit enclosure is a godsend, we keep the windward “clears” in place most of the time sailing, heck we’re cruising, Audrie and I have both done our “time on the rail”, I sincerely feel for some of the less well protected helms on this leg!
We have the top of a low pressure system giving us a bit of Westerly punishment at the moment, it’s 25-30knts on the beam, the sea is a mess and the colder wind is heavier by far giving the gusts some real punch.
Rehua loves this stuff, we are double reefed on the main and balanced nicely with a few turns on the 130 genoa sheeted to the toerail, this gives us a good average of 8.5knts which will bring us into Opua at first light tomorrow.
On the menu today is pretty much everything we have left in the lockers, eat it or lose it is the NZ Customs mantra or should be reading their list of prohibited articles.
So we’ll start on the fresh stuff, not much left, swiftly moving along onto the cannery department, why do we buy sausages and beans in a tin, beef casserole in a tin with carrots peas and potatoes? Who eats that sh.., er, stuff these days, Joshua Slocum, Robin Knox Johnston, Bernard Motissier didn’t have a choice, we do, “ban the can” I say!! Dried goods, how many 40ltr containers??? we should rent a 747 and fly the surplus to some less well off African country.
Enough said, NZ’s “Bio-Boys” will be incinerating for a week, the upside is we’ll be light again and we’ll never stock up with tins again……..will we?? Rehua_/)_to the “Land of the Long White Cloud” (understatement today)

“A Dark Art”

Position: 28 deg 11 min S: 174 deg 21 mins E.
The art of emailing via SSB radio is a dark one. Our Icom 802 crackles to life as we choose an appropriate frequency which is selected from a propagation chart, we listen in to make sure no-one else is using the line, it’s back to your pre-broadband modem that popped, squeaked, screeched and whistled at you, this message will come through a ground station at Darawank in NSW, this evening it could be Mahini in the Tuamotus or Nuie in the Cook Islands, it seems like the proverbial lottery which station has the strongest signal!! Either way it’s free (almost)and it works, most of the time.
It’s Thursday 2100hrs UTC or Friday 1000hrs local, we have just received the GRIB files for the next four days, everyone sitting round the screen to see what Huey (Australian God of wind)and Neptune (Greek God who roughs us up a bit)have in store for us today. It looks pretty good apart from a low that will hit north NZ on the weekend, we will make Westing while we can and try to tuck in behind it for a sled ride into Opua.
Today it’s blue water sailing at its best, wind 60 degrees apparent, boat speed 7-8 knts, and the sun is shining; downside, the water temperature is going through the floor, swimming in NZ will not be quite so luxurious!
Everyone is on great form, the salon looks like a Lego/Playmobil paradise for the boys, for adults, how to describe? it’s akin to walking barefoot over a big coral head……….in the dark!
Our buddy boat Phileas has managed to take a jump on us, methinks the “iron headsail” might have been used, either way we will catch up for a reunion on arrival.
Other news is that we don’t get news out here, it’s weather, food and sleep that drive our day, the weather is great, there’s a chicken casserole on the stove and we all slept like “Jack Tars” last night, long may it last. Rehua; standing by in the South Pacific.

GREY

We didn’t stay long in Minerva reef. In fact, we left the same day to catch the weather window to NZ. At this point it is unclear when the next weather window will be, so we didn’t fancy being stuck there for a week or two with nothing to do! Swimming or snorkeling is not really an option there because of the numerous “non reef” type sharks and there’s not even a beach or anywhere to go ashore. But the place was stunningly beautiful with amazing turquoise water and huge waves crashing onto the reef in the middle of the ocean. We’re very glad we stopped there and saw it.

After a very tranquil first 24 hours where we could see a family of colourful Mahi Mahi swim around the boat, things slowly started heating up. The waves got bigger and the wind kept increasing. Yesterday afternoon we got a call from above. Literally. The ORION airplane from the NZ coastguard called us on the VHF to check our port and date of departure and of arrival. Afterwards we heard them check two more yachts, one being our buddy boat Phileas who were 60 miles away. It’s good to know they are checking.

Last night the waves got quite uncomfortable but Rehua handles it very well. Nevertheless, the kids and I took a preventive seasickness tablet and we are all feeling fine. The only thing is that it makes you hungry. Luckily we have plenty of food on board (which is always one of the main concerns expressed several times by Aeneas before we leave port) and it needs to be eaten before we get to NZ anyway (they confiscate pretty much everything on arrival). Today was pasta for lunch, home made chocolate cake in the afternoon and beef stew for dinner. Not good for the waist line!

In contrast to the blue and turquoise waters we have become so used to, we are now experiencing every shade of GREY around us. The sea has been pretty rough in the last 24 hours but that was always expected. We knew this passage wasn’t going to be a walk in the park! The water temperature keeps decreasing and we slowly keep adding more layers to our clothing. Soon we will be in full wet weather gear. Unheard of on our trip so far!

Our position on Thursday 19 November 18.00 (local NZ time): 27.21S 176.05E

Minerva Reef

The sail from Tonga started beautifully with flat water, fair winds and blue seas, the colouring was continuous but the wind and sea state, as usual, did an about turn, humps from the south and lumps from the east made for some rock and roll, albeit at 9knts+ boat speed.
We are anchored in the middle of the Ocean! Seriously! We approached Minerva Reef at 11 am and entered through the pass to find a few other yachts (tourists, tch, tch 🙂 inside this stunning turquoise lagoon. It’s worth looking this up on Google Earth (the big green donut with sprinkles) someone apparently wanted to build a resort here and got as far as trying to create a sand Motu for the hotel, it’s gone, there would have to be easier ways to scratch a living, how were the visitors going to get here?? This place is beautiful but remote doesn’t begin to describe it.
The fishing on the way down was at last productive, it didn’t seem to matter what you put on the end of the line, the Mahi Mahi were up for it, we snared a beautiful 4 footer last night; after a scene resembling one of Tarantino’s earlier movies we finally managed to get him into the freezer, R.I.P. Mr. Blue, we will think of you every mealtime.
P.S. If you want to stun a big fish with rum, spray it in his gills, don’t I repeat don’t pour it down his throat……………….

Off to NZ

I can describe the snorkel Virginie and I did yesterday in one word: WAW. We are in the Ha’apai island group of Tonga and the underwater life is some of the most spectacular we have seen on our trip. We caught up with Toucan and Phileas a couple of days ago and have since moved together to one of the many desert islands that are dotted all over the place. Yesterday Seathan, Bruce, Di, Nicolas and Oscar went for a dive and saw whales, dolphins and eagle rays. Meanwhile, Virginie and I took the kids tot he beach and went for an epic snorkel: we couldn’t believe our eyes and feasted on the lively multi-coloured corals and admired fishes we had never seen before.

We’re making the most of our last few days in paradise as a window came up to make the passage to NZ. Seathan came to that conclusion a few days ago after having studied the GRIBS for a few months now. It was reassuring to hear that Bob McDavitt, the local weather guru based in NZ, made the same assessment. I hope it will not be too lumpy a passage as this part of the Pacific is notorious for being rough…

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Our private island in the Ha’apai, one of the many stunning anchorages

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Virginie and I had a great snorkel…

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… while the kids played near the beach

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amazing corals!

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and another beautiful sunset!

The Blue Lagoon

We have cleared out and stocked up on provisions and diesel (enough to get us to NZ) but on our way out of Vava’u we sail past the Blue Lagoon and the kids want to say a final goodbye to their friends who live on Fofoaisland. We drop anchor in the Blue Lagoon on Saturday afternoon. The lagoon is as flat as a pancake; there is no wind at all. Normally it can be quite choppy in here so we are lucky. We are invited to an “end of season” party at Sue and Mort’s, an Australian couple who live on the island for 6 months of the year. It’s a potluck party: everyone has to bring a dish and the food gets shared around. There’s a mix of expats and locals who live in and around Hunga lagoon. It’s a great night that can only be described as a Tongan feast: plenty of food including a roasted pig, music, dancing and some Tongan singing. The next day it is time to think about leaving and after saying our goodbyes, we lift anchor in the early hours of Monday morning to sail the 60 miles over to the Ha’apaigroup. It’s a beautiful calm day with just enough wind to keep the sails up and we arrive in the afternoon with sufficient light to zigzag our way through the reefs into the anchorage at Fao Island. There’s nobody else around and we enjoy a tranquil evening. The Ha’apai group is Tonga’s central archipelago and includes 61 islands. We don’t plan to go ashore here but just enjoy a few peaceful anchorages until there is a good weather window for NZ, which looks like there could be at the end of this week.

 

The Blue Lagoon

  

view over Foelifuka and Foeata Islands

  

having fun in the Blue Lagoon

  

saying goodbye is never easy

  

art lesson in Ha’apai

  

replacing seals and bearings on raw water pump, prevention is better than cure!

 

Six

Yesterday Aeneas turned six! It’s his second birthday on this trip (last year we were in Fuengirola). It turned out to be a hectic day that started early to open presents. He was astonished to find Playmobil and Lego underneath the wrappers as they aren’t to be found anywhere in these regions. We had them stashed away since Tahiti! At 10am it was off to the fuel dock to fill up with diesel and provisions. There’s a great fruit and veg market in town and on Friday it is really bustling. The other shopping is less straightforward to obtain and requires running from one Chinese shop to the next to tick off all the items on the shopping list. Once everything was on board we returned to our mooring just in time to start the birthday party, which was organised by the local bar. They had baked a beautiful cake and decorated the place with balloons. Aeneas got lots of thoughtful presents from our fellow cruisers: a handmade personalised flag, someone’s favourite music CD, several nautically themed (compact) family games, a pirate game, a flags domino game, a seahorse necklace, and more! There were ten kids in total and they played hide and seek, went jumping off the pontoon and ate lots of cake. Aeneas had a brilliant time. To put it in his words: “The best day ever!”

early morning

early morning

plenty of fresh fruit and veg

the fruit and veg market, great provisioning 

plenty of fresh fruit and veg

plenty of fresh fruit and veg

boys

boys

Jerome and Alex gave Aeneas a personalised flag and a classical music CD - very thoughtful!

Jerome and Alex gave Aeneas a personalised flag and a classical music CD – very thoughtful!

the cake

the cake

party time

party time

sunset view from the bar over Neiafu

sunset view from the bar over Neiafu

Halloween in Hunga

Seathan met Boris, Karyn and their two boys in Neiafu town last week and they invited us over for a Halloween party on their remote Tongan island. It sounded fantastic so on Friday we head out of town in that direction together with Philéas (more kids!) and sail to Nuku island where we anchor for the night and enjoy a wonderful swim, snorkel and evening on the beach with campfire and guitars.

The next morning, on Halloween, we sail to Hunga and enter the Blue Lagoon at high tide. As expected, the bay is too roley and doesn’t offer enough protection for an overnight anchorage so we turn around and make our way through the narrow pass into the very well protected Hunga Lagoon. This lagoon is completely enclosed, bar a small passage. You can only enter at high tide and even then we only have a couple of metres of water under our keel and have to watch out for the numerous coral heads close to the pass.

Soon after we are settled on a mooring Luca and Felix appear on the beach. They show us the way to their home, which is a 15-minute walk over the hill through a dense forest. Karyn is English and has organised traditional Halloween games for the kids: apple dunking, face in flour, wizards/dwarves/giants, broomstick spinning, and a treasure hunt to find the treats. The neighbours have also turned up in fancy dress costumes. Two of the local boys are dressed as natives and Aeneas thinks they are real cannibals.

It’s a great evening but there is still the walk back to the boat to be considered. It is a dark night and even though we have torches it is as scary as a Halloween night can get: imagine walking through a dark dense forest full of spiders and strange noises, huge bats flying over your head and creepy crawlies under your feet… We make it to the boat and happily put our heads down on our pillows.

Philéas leave the next morning and another boat turns up: our Belgian friends on Florestan. The next few days are filled with play-overs both on the boat and at the house. We are also treated with a lovely dinner on-board Florestan.

Boris and Karyn have built a very special place from scratch using local materials, mainly coral and wood. They run a guesthouse (check it out on tongabeachhouse.com) and organise whale watching and other excursions. They have recently featured in Kevin McClouds’ Escape to the Wild series. It’s worth having a look at the Tonga episode (you can find it on youtube). There are some great aerial shots of the Blue Lagoon and of course of their amazing house.

On our last night in Hunga, Karyn invites the four of us over to stay in the house. It is the first time since Ibiza (more than 12 months ago) that we have a night on land. I don’t sleep very well and miss the gentle rocking motion of the boat that usually sends me to sleep…

Now we are back in town and caught up with a few boats that arrived here in the last few days and haven’t seen since Tahiti or Bora Bora. The Pacific is large but the cruising community is surprisingly small!

Next on our list: organise a birthday party for Aeneas who will be six on Friday! Luckily we have stocked up on toys in Tahiti and hidden them in one of the many hiding places on-board. Aeneas doesn’t know this of course and is worried what to expect after having seen the shops here …

the anchorage near Nuku island

the anchorage near Nuku island

Nuku island

Nuku island

Phileas and Rehua

Phileas and Rehua

entering the pass to Hunga lagoon

entering the pass to Hunga lagoon

Rehua going through the pass

Rehua going through the pass

Hunga lagoon

Hunga lagoon

Hunga lagoon

Hunga lagoon

traditional Halloween games

traditional Halloween games

wizards, dwarves and giants game

wizards, dwarves and giants game

the other team

the other team

hot dogs!

hot dogs!

chatting by the fire

chatting by the fire

the beautiful guesthouse

the beautiful guesthouse

view from the balcony over the Blue Lagoon

view from the balcony over the Blue Lagoon

Karyn and Boris' private beach

Karyn and Boris’ private beach

BFF

BFF