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Tonga

We sailed the 250 miles or so from Niue in moderate seas and winds in two days. The first 36hrs were running and we managed a few hours up with the parasail but with no moon, overcast and the odd squall, we choose not to run it at night. The last night was under plain sail after the wind went back into the SE and we just had the angle to fill the genoa on a broad run. Pleasant sailing.

We even manage to catch a fish! A lovely big Mahi Mahi threw itself on our hook. It took a bit of time to get it on board but it gave us meat enough to feed Be and Be and us twice, Shane, the Irish solo sailor we last saw in Raiatea and the crew of an Aus boat called Persistent Shift, another Lavezzi. It tasted wonderful cooked in sesame oil and S+P.

Tonga

We reached the Ava Fonua Unga pass on the E side of the Vava’u Group, the northern island group of Tonga and went through the shallow pass without difficulty. We had been warned that our charts might be significantly off but Navionics seemed to roughly accurate. There was a little reef to avoid on the inside but after sailing in the Tuamotus, we were comfortable reading the seas colour and recognising the dangers. It was an easy entrance in the conditions we had. NB. We have found that the charts are generally accurate but there have been some howlers. Most reefs are marked but there are omissions and the depths shown must have been guessed at in places. The call is easy. Travel with a high sun and be suspicious always.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon and anchored in Port Maurelle on the island of Kapa, a lovely bay where the first Spanish sailor put in for shelter and to water back in 1781. There was a spring running down the hill, used by Maurelle and until recently; the locals. With modern plumbing and rain catching tanks being now used, the spring has been left to overgrow and now feeds a swamp. It was great to listen to the songbirds, the first we had heard on the boat for a long time. As dusk fell, the kids got really excited to see huge fruit bats flying overhead, heading back to their roost.

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Be and Be arrived mid afternoon having had a few problems with their main, some baton cars blowing up on them necessitating a move to the W of the island to find sheltered water to get the main down and sort things out. They have had to order a couple of new cars, thankfully finding replacements in Australia so they should have less problems and wasted time than we did when we broke our cars going in to Cuba in 2015.

On Monday morning, we moved up to Neiafu, the main town and port of entry for the Vava’u Group. We waited a little while at the rough dock shared with the fishing fleet for the Customs, Immigration and Health staff to visit us.

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We had no problems that couldn’t be settled with a smile, cake and coffee. We were cleared in without issue. I took the chance to run across to “Problems in Paradise?” , the small engineering business in a boat shed beside the dock and was able to get Ian, the excellent mechanic to come and have a look at the genset. Lou ran into town and got some local wonga to pay our entrance fees, then found where the laundry was and whilst I waited for Ian, disappeared to look around.

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Neiafu is fairly large, containing the majority of the 16000 inhabitants of the Vava’u Group. There are a number of small supermarkets, all seemingly run by the ever present and hard working Chinese, several slightly seedy bars and a couple of banks. The town has a down beaten look and there is not a lot of money evident. The largest building in good nick seems to be a government one, ironically watched over by an enormous derelict colonial house which probably had the same function 50 years ago. There is a good sized mooring field, some run by Moorings and more by Beluga Diving as the depth for anchoring in the bay is a bit too much for most, mainly between 50-75m. Call them on Ch 26 or 09 for a ball.

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After Ian had come and gone, I walked up to find Lou, Peta and kids settled in in the Tropicana Cafe, washing on at a very good $18Fijian per load for a wash and dry, beers in hand, looking happy. The Tropicana is the main dropping in place for yachties,has good internet, and Greg will accept mail and parcels on your behalf. He can be called on Ch26, the channel which is rebro’d around the whole of the island group. For those needing new films, he has the largest collection of films and series that I have ever seen to exchange. The food is pretty good too. He can supply flags, charts and is a good source of info for your stay in Tonga.

The local currency is the Panga, which exchanges at about $3:£1

We had been told that Tonga was useless for internet, reason enough for us to get all our advance notice paperwork for Fiji in all the way back in Bora Bora. I’d like to announce things have changed massively for the better. We bought a phone sim card for $10 which gave us 2Gb of data. The 3G has been excellent for most of our sailing through the islands and the speed is at least to FP standard, generally much better. There was some free internet at a couple of the cafes but it was far easier (and cheaper) to buy the sim card and then hotspot it. The local provider is Digicel and the shop is found in the middle of town close to the Customs, just up the hill from the market.

We spent two nights on mooring balls, moving to the wall during the day so Ian and I could work on genset. In the end, he did the drilling out and fitting of new stainless steel studs and I did the rebuild, new gasket, replumbing and a change of impellor too. Once everything was back in place, the sound of the genset running sweet and clear of smoke brought a smile to my face. One less thing to worry about.

Shopping proved successful as well. Last year there had been problems with delivery ferries making it up to Vava’u and shopping was difficult. The problem seems to have been fixed and this year there are multiple ferries a week. There is a good selection of fresh, canned and dried food and there is even an excellent deli run by a couple of Canadian settlers who make the best sausages we have tasted in the Pacific. Sorry NZ but your sausages really are crap in comparison….

We watched the arrival of more and more World Arc Rally boats. This rally takes you around the world in about 15mths and we have been managed to be just in front of them since Bora Bora. I talked to one (professional) crew member and his comment was that he was sailing then provisioning then sailing, very occasionally being able to sightsee for a day. I get the sailing bit  – around the world will always be a massive achievement – but I rather think not experiencing the cultural differences of all the places you pass is somewhat missing the point of travelling. Just my opinion, of course.

As the original fleet was more than 30 and it has dropped to 20, I think some folk might just have decided that too. They will be here in Tonga for a few days, then Fiji then Darwin by the end of July to be able to cross to Cape Town in season. We won’t have left Fiji by then!

When we were in Panama last year, we had been given a copy of the sailing guide Moorings give to their Tonga customers. It has proved to be very helpful. As the water is very deep for the majority of the Vava’u area, Moorings has put in buoys in the safe anchorage spots that they recommend. Although it means less clear anchoring areas, it is protecting the sea bed, so we didn’t feel bad in picking them up when we saw them. They all seem to be in reasonable nick but I’d prefer to be on my own anchor if the wind was blowing in hard.

The sailing reminded me very much of the BVIs but better protected and less civilised. This is not a swept up tourist destination; rather an isolated gem of a cruising ground. Load up when you arrive as there are no other shops and don’t expect the beach bar life of the BVI. The water is wonderfully protected, the scenery is beautiful and there are few people here.

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We moved around to join Sangvind, last seen at Raiatea at a small island between Mafana and Ofu, where some old friends had taken up residence on an island they have leased. To reach them , we went through through the Fanu Tapu Pass. The pass has no markings anymore (there was supposed to be three of them) and you need to read the reef carefully as you make the last turn to 010Mag. Turn early and you will find yourself dodging bommies. A few miles N, we anchored between Mafana and Ofu in about 25’ of water on a sand bank between two deep patches. We had one night there and moved even further E to the island of Kenutu, at a sheltered anchorage at 18 41.967S 173 55.759W in 20’ of water.

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A strange rock formation at the S end of the island looked very much like a warship.

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You need to be a little careful going from the channel to the anchorage for the last half mile E but in good light it should pose no problems. The kids went ashore and camped there for two nights. We got a decent fire going, heating the kids’ food on it and of course, had marshmallows, found in one of the supermarkets.

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The adults retired. Bliss and quiet on the boats…..

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At the next island up, Umuna, we explored for a fresh water swimming cave that Sylvia remembered from their last visit to Tonga some ten years ago. After one unsuccessful climb up to 30m cliffs, we moved up one bay and met an Aus couple, Mark and Annie who had built a house on the island and were planning to spend large parts of the year there. The view W from the house was spectacular and they have put in an impressive amount of work to make a garden from the jungle surrounding them. Sadly a tree had fallen across the entrance of the cave which was just behind their house and it was suggested that it was too dangerous to enter.

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As they had rights for the whole island, they had constructed a walkway through to a decked area on the E side of the island and we explored that too. What a sunrise from there must be like………. The kids of course charmed Annie but the find of a dead rat was infinitely more interesting to them than the views! Our thanks to them for allowing us to wander on their land.

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You might remember that my log and depth thing had stopped working due to a immersed and rotten connector between the data cable and the bus. I had attempted to clean it out, drilling out the old screws and wire so we could reconnect it. Geoff, a professional electrician with his own business back in Aus spent some time expertly soldering wire into it before one of the connector male spines maddeningly broke off, frustrating both of us. In the end Geoff hot wired the data cable directly into the bus connector, wrapped it with electrical tape and tied it up in a plastic bag. We switched on and voila! Depth, log, true and apparent wind all back up and showing. Two positive results in two days! My thanks to Geoff for a lesson on electrics. It is always good when someone with the knowledge can show you the way.

After a good time playing Robinson Crusoe, we headed round to meet up with Ben and Lisa, friends of Sylvia and Frans who had invited us all to a party with the Peace Corp staff for the area. Having been abandoned by the kids (“soooo much more fun on Be and Be or Sangvind” ) Lou and I went for a sail – an actual sail – just for the sake of it. We tried to remember the last time we sailed for fun rather than to go somewhere and we think it was in Grenada…… The wind was light and the sea flat. We even enjoyed beating across to the reef pass which we sailed through.

We sailed to Tapana and stopped for lunch, then had another great relaxed sail to Matamaka, the village the Peace Corp are based at. We picked up a mooring ball just off the jetty. Sangvind appeared with another yacht following. As they passed them going the other way, they saw they had kids and invited them to the party too. The Nelly Rose, an X-Boat from NZ had two kids on board, Ollie (9) and Alana (8). They will be sailing Tonga and Fiji this season. Navionics says we picked up on a reef. We were definitely in 30’ of water.

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The sunset was spectacular.

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The evening was great fun, sitting outside in the grounds of the Corp’s compound and the music, courtesy of Frans’s guitar playing, was excellent. We slept late the next morning.

We moved so we could be out of sight for the Sabbeth and returned to Port Maurelle, just a couple of miles away with the boys from Sangvind and Evie and Harry from Be and Be (“soooo much more fun on your boat…….” –  there is theme going on here) on board. I gave the kids the collective task of getting us there without hitting anything. Between the four of them they did a good job.

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Port Maurelle was very busy with lots of the ARC boats in.  We anchored cheeky close to the reef on the S side of the bay in about 9’ of water. Pesto moved around to join us too. We made ourselves at home and created noise! Ten kids playing exuberantly made perhaps more noise than one or two boats liked. I’m afraid I didn’t care.

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We visited Swallow Cave, set in a cliff a mile from the anchorage. It is large enough to drive the dinghy in with two large water chambers (sadly decorated with lots of graffiti) and another dry that you would have to climb to. We decided not to explore it as we watched a water snake slither over the route we would have had to take. Unfortunately a little bit of tomfoolery on the Be and Be dinghy meant a lost mask overboard. Geoff tried to dive for it but we measured the depth at about 16m, too deep for either of us to get down to comfortably. We went back the next day and dived for it with a tank on.

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We snorkelled outside the cave at a patch of reef. It had a good drop off to about 25m and vis was around 50m, more than we had seen so far in Tonga. There were a small number of reef fish, a few patches of anemones with their resident Orange-finned Anemonefish, the first Barracuda I had seen in  a long time but the coral was very dead.

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Our last full day was wet as the weather changed. We met a lovely little girl called Paige from a NZ boat up for the season called Ika Moana that day who invited everybody to her boat for her 8th birthday party. Baking was done (cupcakes and Lemon Drizzle cake) and there was a lot of fun involved which included using a spinnaker pole as a swing and an awful lot of screaming. The day ended with some crap US High School Musical that enthralled the kids on Be and Be. I rather think Paige enjoyed herself.

With our need to get to Fiji and with a high projected to sit on us, we decided that we didn’t want to wait and get left with no wind. We wanted to go on Mon 5th but had to stay for the festivities of Independence Day as everything was closed, including all government functions. Leaving Tues 6th meant one more night in Port Maurelle and a final chance to leave gifts for  Dylan and Harry’s impending birthdays. Blackmail and peer pressure not withstanding (Frans – looking at you, bud. Boy, you are good at it!) we decided we had to leave to make sure we reached Fiji before the weekend when the wind was expected to fail.

Tonga has been great fun. It has been lovely to explore it in the company of the kids boats of Be and Be and Sangvind and a surprise to find ourselves in and around more boats than at any time since Nuka Hiva last year. Everyone seems to be on the move again, be it with a rally or as one of the boats appearing from NZ. The season has properly started.

The Vava’u Group of Tonga is a beautiful cruising ground and the best description I can give you is a greener, less civilised BVI. The anchorages are good but often deep, the reefs beautiful (as long as you are careful) and the water flat and protected. It is a magnificent sailing ground. I am surprised there isn’t a bigger cruising fleet here. Saying that, I don’t think I would really want to spend lots of time here. I need the mix of land and sea and Tonga has very little to offer in the way of land based activities and amenities. Perhaps if we had visited the main island group to the S, I’d think differently but the general feel from cruisers I have spoken to is that a couple of weeks here is enough.

Finally, Shena and Kinsley – days to do! Really looking forward to seeing you both.

Tonga

 

Tonga

Niue

What a fascinating, brilliant place. Niue is the one of the smallest independent countries in the world, the island being roughly 12miles by 8 miles. It is traditionally known as “The Rock of Polynesia”. It is an uplifted coral block  and there is very little reef, it standing proud with cliffs up to 30m high all around the islands perimeter. Life holds on tenuously as the soil is not tremendously fertile but there is an ancient “rain forest” on the W side of the island. Traditional farming requires a seven year rotation for the land to recover. In the last few years,  hydroponics has taken over and there is a large farm producing a good stock of fresh veg and salad crops which keeps the island reasonably stocked. One thing it does has is water with huge subsurface stocks easily accessible.

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Its closest neighbour is Tonga, some 250miles away. Once ruled by its kings, these days Niue uses the administrative services of NZ to allow it to interact with the outside world and the currency is the NZ dollar. It has two flights a week, increased this year from one and it gets resupplied by ship once a month. A Premier and three ministers are the senior political positions and there is a NZ Governor on the island too. Niue

Interestingly enough, we met a previous NZ governor here as well, running a bar and mini-golf course. He came, saw, loved, married and stayed on after his time ran out. There is just something about the island, he said………..

Niue was hit very hard in 2004 by Cyclone Heta. The population before Heta was 2500 but large numbers left the island as it did a great deal of damage. The hospital, set 100m back from the sea and up a 30m cliff was washed away as was the Yacht Club beside it. A large number of houses and businesses were destroyed too. Numbers went as low as 1100. Now, some 13 years later, the population is recovering and is back to about 1900. Numbers in the primary school are at 200 and the High School is about 150. Some kids disappear off to relatives and finish school in NZ. Large numbers of the teenagers disappear to NZ for tertiary education. One I spoke to, reading Law at Auckland, intends to return to the island that she loves in her 30’s, once she has built up a war chest. The lady has a definite plan.

Capt Cook visited Niue and tried to land in 1774 but was beaten off by the locals three times. Cook’s Marines had to fire on the islanders to be able to escape and the named the island Savage Island which stuck until it reverted to Niue. He did, however, in the very short period he was here, “plant” the flag and claim Niue in the name of His Majesty. The next foreigner that visited Nuie was some 60 years later! The local language of Niuem is alive and well and is the primary language taught and used in the school. English is the second language. Christianity was introduced in the 1840s by a returning islander, Peniaminus,  who had spent time in Samoa. We visited his grave which is kept in good order. His birthday is now a national holiday.

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Booking in was easy. We called Niue Radio and then the Yacht Club on Ch16. Niue Radio warned off the Customs and Immigration staff who came down to the dock to clear us in, done with big smiles. We are boat number three here this year. We will pay $34 exit tax per head (under 12s are free) and $15 as a one off charge for rubbish. Later this year the price is due to go up to around about $90 a head (stipulated by the NZ authorities) which I think brings it roughly in line with Cook Island charges, another NZ administrated country. The locals aren’t that happy about it as they are concerned that yachties will simply bypass them. Time will tell.

Niue Yacht Club is the biggest little Yacht Club in the world with a membership that now exceeds the actual population of the island. However, it doesn’t own a boat and the clubhouse is shared with the backpackers lodge as the old one disappeared in Cyclone Heta.  Keith, the Commodore of the Yacht Club (and the OCC PO), assigned us a ball just off the jetty and then came down to say hello. He drove Peta and myself around the town to show us the sites. He is a great source of information as he runs one of the orientation tour businesses here and he can point out the local laundry, reasonable at $25 for 8kg, so much better than FP, car hire, will arrange bread and baguettes, keys for the shower block and pretty much anything else you could need. He helped us throughout our trip, taking the ladies shopping and delivering booze and heavy stuff back to the jetty, getting my dive bottles filled after I had inspected a mooring for him and generally looking after us better than anyone else has done in our whole trip. You could class it as extreme island hospitality and he obviously loves what he does but he goes well beyond what I have ever come across before. Just brilliantly welcoming and helpful. He is a star.

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Membership of the club is a $20 a year if you join in Niue and you get a rather spiffy membership card. The money goes a long way to pay for the excellent moorings the club maintains for visiting yachts. I’m afraid I also indulged in a burgee which I will use with pride once I get back to the UK. Fees for the use of the balls is $20NZ a night. It is a small sum for the security they offer in a place it is simply not possible to anchor at. Pay for them up at the club house, a 10 minute walk S from the jetty through the town. There is free (slow) internet and a good book exchange there too.

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We had been told that the water visibility was pristine and so it is. The mooring ball we were on was in 50’ of water and the bottom was crystal clear. 60m underwater visibility is the norm here and it can be better!

Our first visitor to the boat was one we had not seen before – a sea snake. They are inquisitive creatures and it was happy to come and have a good look at us at the back of the boat before diving for the bottom again. Although they are hideously poisonous, it is v v rare that they ever cause injury or death. The poison glands are set very far back in the jaw which is not big enough to be able to bite us.

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Our first day ashore saw us working our way through the village exploring. The kids took themselves off and explored the coastline caves and beaches around the town.  Lunch was a fantastic roti ($5NZ a pop – wow!) at  the Indian restaurant in the “shopping centre”. The couple that run it are from the Punjab and thought about moving to NZ. Niue proved easier to do and so they ended up here and have stayed, loving it. The public internet is pretty slow other than when sitting outside the IT network shop, a couple of doors up from the Indian. There it is good enough to Skype. If you are a local, you get free internet and have had it free since 2003, the first nation in the world to provide such.  It is slated to become the first organic farming nation as well. Not bad for a wee place with less than 2000 inhabitants. These people work hard and dream large.

There were three kids boats in. Be and Be, who arrived just after us and a day later, Pesto, a HR53 with Alex, Adriana, Paulo and Raquel on board. Of course, the kids went feral and had a great time on Be and Be as the adults met on Skylark for sundowners. The next day, Pesto drove around the  island and after school and some internet, we met up with them for the Thursday happy hour and mini-golf at the Vaiolama Cafe and Bar. The kids took nearly two hours to noisily go round the eighteen holes. The highlight for me was Evie’s hole in one at the 18th!Niue

We also visited the bond store where as yachties,  we were able to stock up on duty free alcohol.The prices were fantastic. Carling Black Label 500ml cans on offer at $1NZ (or 50p) – couldn’t get that in the UK! 1l Bombay Sapphire gin at $40NZ. Wine at $10NZ a bottle. It is, bizarrely considering how remote we are, the lowest priced alcohol in the S Pacific.  Sadly, Fiji is pretty strict with its duty limits so we will not going to be loading up too liberally.

We decided that we needed to hire a car to be able to see around the island. Hitching isn’t done here but cars are remarkably cheap with several fair sized car hire companies on the island touting for business. We paid $60NZ a day for an economy car from Alofi Car Hire opposite the one garage on the island. The car had aircon and we took it initially for two days, quickly extended to three days as we needed to get away from the Alofi on the Sabbath which is taken very seriously here. We had a fantastic time exploring. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the sites are by the sea.

Keith came to our aid yet again, giving Peta and myself a lift at 0715hrs for the mile and a bit to the car hire company. He then spent 15mins before the garage opened, talking us through all the best sites to see and when to see them, presenting us with a map and tourist booklet, all marked up.

Friday saw us going around the whole island, visiting the main sites on the W side of the island. First stop was a 20minute walk down to Togo Chasm. Exposed to the Trades, the seas crash along the whole E coastline and there is no relief. The old coral has been worn away in to viciously sharp pillars, very hard underfoot. You don’t want to slip walking on it.

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Just around the corner from the forest of ravaged coral trees there is the chasm which you gain by climbing down a steep ladder to the cavern floor. The kids had a great time exploring a cave, 50m through the cliff that led to the sea smashing its way in at this pool.

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The end of the chasm used to be a swimming hole but the entrance was closed up by a cyclone and is now a swamp. It didn’t smell great so we didn’t hang around long.

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With so much to see and visit we whisked around the N coast stopping in at Uluvehi at the N end of the island. The road down to the parking area was overgrown and a little cheeky but the wee cars just managed it. The caves were fantastic and the kids had a great time exploring and climbing them. The grown ups had to look away a couple of times as the young mountain goats with no fear scrambled up some pretty sticky places. Every cave was full of stalagmites and stalactites.

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Leaving the kids to it, the grown ups went for the views instead.

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Our last stop was at Anapala Chasm. This is a fresh water pool at the bottom of a long flight of stairs which the kids all counted loudly as we walked down to them. 155 apparently.  We swam the 40-50m length of the dark, cool pool. Hannah was none too keen in getting in after she had seen a baby water snake hide under a rock in the first pool but (eventually) refused to be left behind. She swam quickly to the other end in water a lot colder than the sea. The locals used to use this site for drinking and bathing water, walking the mile or so from the nearby village to collect what they required each day.

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On the basis that there was (on the European weather model only) a low coming through in three to four days, Pesto decided to head off on Friday morning to reach Tonga before it made it there. Geoff on Be and Be and I thought that the Low would either fail to form or would travel in a direction that shouldn’t bother us. Oh, how optimistic we were.

We continued our explore of the island on Saturday and Sunday. Over the course of the year each main village has a village fair and we were in time for the first of the year at Makefu. We arrived just after 0700hrs to enjoy a full BBQ plate load of food and trifle for breakfast. The fete started with the old and bold praising God and finished with an appearance of Tommy Nee, an local who has made it big in NZ and Polynesia as a pop star, singing about one night stands and snogging. Quite surreal.

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We watched Uma racing (the local name for coconut crabs) and were amazed at the speed the old ladies made a basket in a weaving competition. We watched one old lady with arthritis getting help from her sister to finish off. Great ladies who were very pleased to be attracting so much interest. Evie was presented the basket as a souvenir. Niue

There were throwing competitions, a local spear for the men and coconuts for the ladies, before the dancing which was traditional up to the point that they had decided that the music of Moana, the new Disney film, was good enough to dance traditionally to. It was amusing to watch the older ladies jump up on the stage and stuff money into the dancers costumes. Although there are very different interpretations of that !action in the rest of the world, it is obviously the done thing here. The dancers made a fortune!

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The show finished by 1130hrs and we left, needing to cool down.

Matapa Chasm was the personal bathing pool for the King and royal family back in the day. There is a cold top fresh layer from a spring sitting on the warm sea underneath. Wonderfully refreshing. There was a couple of places at about 8m height to jump in from which required a bit of rock climbing that provided some fun for me.  For the more competent snorkeler you can get out to the sea but you need to be careful as the surge is strong.

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At every tourist hotspot around the coast there are showers. The island has so much water and as tourist numbers are relatively small, they have no difficulty in putting water pumps out to even the more inaccessible site. It is so nice not having to get back in to a car covered in sand and salt. Some of the showers had missing heads but that just proved even more fun for Hannah.

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It is a thirty minute walk down to the Tavara Arches from the car park and well worth it. Once used as a lookout post, now you can clamber down through caves in the rock face to the shore. You need to go at low tide to be able to reach the massive main arch.

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We moved on to Avaiki Cave where we met up with Tommy Nee and the two gigantic backing singers with him in an underground pool. It was nice but just around the corner we reached the main cave which blew us away. Huge and surrounded by stalagmites it is spectacular. Visiting it at low tide meant the pool was flat calm. We climbed and explored right through it, needing torches for a couple of the smaller caves we found right at the back.

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Moving S on the W coast, we stopped at the Hio Cafe that we had driven past on our first explore. It sits above one of the few sand beaches on the island. It does an excellent lunch menu and proper coffee too. The owners must have seen the excellent use of iso containers down in Christchurch town centre as that is what the cafe is too.

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Limu Pools are beautiful. Deep clear water with a small inlet means protected space. There was some coral there and the fish were quite good but the highlight was yet more cliff top jumping in that the kids indulged in. Great fun!

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There was also time for a couple of dives with a firm called Magical Niue for Eleanor, Geoff and myself. We had a really good time with them. Although the water temperature was 26C, it felt noticeably colder than FP, needing 3mm suits rather than rash vests. We did our first dive touring the coral mounts around the mooring field so they could assess Eleanor’s standard. There was an amazing amount of hard fan coral. Not so many fish but we did see the biggest Napolean Wrasse we have ever seen. Huge. Between dives we lucked out. The pod of Spinner Dolphins that live around Niue came across to see us and Eleanor got the privilege of being dragged at the side of the rib, swimming amongst the 30 odd dolphin having fun at the front of the rib. Massive high!

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Our second dive was a visit to one of the caves about 500m S of the mooring field. We swam in to the cliff face maybe 30-40m and then were able to surface inside the cave. After 5 minutes, we came out and had a tour of some of the canyons near the shore. There was a bit of surge and we had to work hard but Eleanor handled it like a champ. When we came up, Eleanor was so excited she went in to motor mouth mode, grinning hugely. The dive master, Ramon, made comment that she was technically the best junior they had seen, which just capped it off for her.

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By Mon, it was obvious that the front would hit us and that we would have a day of NW wind at about 25kts, decreasing and falling S as the Low went by. We ended up having the whole of Tuesday on the boat, unable to get off watching 4-5m seas break over the jetty. Whilst we had been in shelter to the Trades, we were now on a lee shore with a reef a whole 150m behind  us. Niue

We had one alarming moment late afternoon. On hearing a unexpected noise, Eleanor went off to investigate. She came back to announce we were hanging on by one line only. I worked out that the lifting buoy’s line, a floating plastic type, had wrapped around our port line and with the constant surging we were experiencing, had in effect sawn through it. We quickly replaced the damaged line and cut away the lifting float and line to ensure we weren’t caught out a second time.

Niue

We really should have gone around the S end of the island to find relief but Lou was not keen to lose the “security” of our nice mooring. Having dived on several moorings (and had a go at putting new plates on for Keith on one of them), I was satisfied that the lines and fixings were strong enough for what we were in, even if it was uncomfortable. Even so, we stood watch all day and through the night with the engines running so if something did break we could quickly extradite ourselves. The wind eventually moved back in to the SE at 0330hrs on the Wed morning. It was a long 30hrs.

Niue

The seas abated enough by lunchtime to be able to get people ashore. It was still a little adventurous but manageable. Lou was very keen to get to the coffee shop and stop moving!

Geoff and I had a day of fixing boat problems. My genset had started to make smoke and I was pretty sure it was down to the exhaust elbow clogging up. It should have been an easy fix.  Sadly the muppet that had changed my elbow at Grenada Marine had used cheap mild steel hex bolts and as I tried to undo them, they each broke off in turn. They will need to be drilled out. Tonga maybe, more probably Fiji before it is fixed. The other issue was my log and anemometer B&G electronics had decided to fail. My thanks to Geoff for coming across and using his expertise to track down the fault which was a rotten data lead connector causing a short. I got apparent wind back but I’ll need to wait for a new connector before I get depth, boat speed and a true wind speed again.

With the delivery ship due in, the World Arc Rally about to arrive to nab all the moorings and the weather turning favourable, we booked out and planned to leave on Thu 25th May. Perhaps we should have left with Pesto but if we had, we would not have had time to explore Niue as we did. It is a strange mix of island isolation and NZ civilisation. But so worth a visit. Don’t expect beaches but enjoy the fantastic pools, caves and snorkelling around the coast. I’d love to go back during the whale watching season. The whales come in to the bay and are often found of a morning sleeping under yachts. It can be too loud to sleep if they are singing. That would be an experience!

My only real regret was that we could not find time to play a round of golf at the 9 hole course opposite the airport. Great fun, said one man who had played it, although he was a little perturbed by the way the ball would hit a lump of coral  and spring forward an extra 100m! Not easy for club selection.

For those reading in NZ, Niue is on your doorstep and just a 3hr flight away. Go and enjoy but be prepared to go slow. The place is magical.

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Crossing from French Polynesia to Niue

After leaving the pass at Maupiti, exciting enough as that was, we took off W with the bit between our teeth. With initially one reef in, then quickly two and a scrap of foresail out, we took off fast and then got faster. The seas were pretty sloppy as we went along the S coast of Maupiti, with reflected surf mixing with the SE seas running, making it an unpleasant affair. The ride for the first four days was fast and bouncy, bouncy enough for Lou to continue taking Stugeron, her anti pukes pills, each day. It is the longest she has ever had to take them on a passage.

Once we got clear the seas settled down to a standard SE 3+m flow which lengthened over the first day and stayed with us for the whole trip. Daily reports

9 May 17. Day One. Posn @ 1200hrs – 16 27.086S 152 36.950W Run distance – 110Nm (in 15hrs)

Left via the pass through surf and 5m standing waves. Not nice. Once we got on course, it was fast sailing though. 2 reefs and hanky + clean bottom + new sails + 20+ App wind = 8kts+ boat speed, surfing to 13! Oh yeah. At 1930hrs, we were all amazed to see what I can only describe as a silver rainbow. Can the light of a full moon shining through rain make this?? It lasted about five minutes and looked spectacular.

Be and Be are not far behind us but we can’t speak to them as their VHF radio has a range problem. Spoke briefly to Flying Cloud. Going to be a bouncy night. Curry for dinner. Lovely.

10 May. Day Two. 16 28.124S 155 28.244W. 163Nm

Spent the day taking the genoa in and out as the squalls came through. Fast running averaging 7kts –  over a knot more than I’d expect with the old sails. Lou and the girls not liking the motion but are enjoying the speed. Girls spending most of their time horizontal. The kindles are getting a work out.

Grey overhead and plenty of cloud. Boat getting covered with spray when we get side swiped by the odd wave. Can’t sit outside and stay dry. Chicken, bacon and leek pie for dinner, yum. Last of Lou’s premade meals.

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As always it is difficult to get a photo showing what the is like. Be and Be took this one which is one of the better ones and a fair representation of the big waves bearing down on us throughout this trip. 3+m.

11 May. Day Three. 16 44.326S 158 20.832W. 163Nm Full Moon tonight.

I spent the day smirking. A second best day’s run on the trot. WHY did we wait so long in getting new sails? Would have taken days off the Pacific crossing…… Note to self – make sure you get the new sails early on the next boat. And a copper coat bottom…. and more solar…. and a bigger AC wind genny…..and batteries to take all that power……and a decent heavy weather downwind sail…… and a compressor…….and a wind auto-helm…….. and don’t forget the vital percolator coffee cup! What lessons you learn over time.   We had some big aquatic life below us this evening. Stayed with us for over an hour at depths of between 16 and 45’. No idea what it was but big enough for a continual return which, I have to say, was a bit worrying. Tried to lure it out with the big torch but failed. It eventually, to my great relief, buggered off. Think we are hitting a counter current. Can’t understand the difference in boat speed against SOG.

Clouds breaking now and getting a little sun. About time.

Cauliflower cheese tonight with Hannah finishing off the chicken pie and potatoes. 

12 May. Day Four. 17 28.036S 160 53.802W 147Nm

We overheard Flying Cloud having a chinwag with a Russian container ship just after midnight. We could see neither of them but it was good to hear another voice out there even if the subjects the Russian wanted to talk about were Putin, Trump and our thoughts on Ukraine. I eventually talked to Flying Cloud at 0630hrs and found them to be about 13 miles to our SSW. With our HF set still not working, they were kind enough to pass on the weather report they had. No material changes to what I had. We should have decent easterlies all the way to Niue.

Xing to Niue

The big change today was the wind veered from SE to E forcing us to either run off the rhomb line or drop the main and get hauled along jib only. Way too strong for the Parasail with gusts up to 30kts. On the basis that the ride would be a lot comfier, we went for the latter and are now running at a slightly more sedate 6kts av.  Got pooped by a rogue wave – first time ever – that went over the solar panels. Lou only had enough time for a very loud “Oh my God” before it hit. Thankfully the dinghy stayed on and drained quickly and the door – just for once – was fully closed. It will now stay so for the rest of the trip.

I did have a good giggle during the night. Both girls are sleeping up in the saloon. Eleanor had a pillow falling over her face and was waving an arm back and forward trying to clear it, failing as she just caught the edge of it each time. Unfortunately, every time she raised her arm she was also hitting Hannah. Hannah eventually sat up, eyes glazed and saw what the problem was. She gently lifted the pillow away and then gave Eleanor a full blooded whack with it to the head, lay back down and was instantaneously fast asleep again. Eleanor looked confused for a second and then turned over. I had to go back outside to chuckle at this wonderful display of sisterly love. 

We now have no more working Apple chargers. All five are bust. No more IPod or IPad until we hit some civilisation where we can get replacements.

Today marked the end of the bread which seemed to last remarkably well. Last serving was as eggy bread for us all this morning. No chance of baking more with the bouncing around we are experiencing. I think Lou would lynch me if I even suggested it…….. Tonight’s culinary delight was a simple can of Ravioli!

13 May. Day Five. 17 41.775S 163 11.245W 120Nm

A tedious day. Wind dropping, seas not, wind still directly behind us. Slowing down….. We passed Palmerston today where Flying Cloud intends to spend a couple of days. They will be only the second boat in there this year and the locals are already out catching tuna for an arrival feast. Ah well. Next time around.

Girls joined me for dawn. More importantly to them, for yet another round of “Yes, No” between them, a game trying to identify characters from books or films. Nice getting a cuddle and some company after a few hours by yourself through the night.

Xing to Niue

Wind at last light was a steady 20kts with inconvenient bursts of 25+kts which means still no Parasail. Can’t risk it with only one of us to hand at any one time. Girls getting more time on the helm now the wind is a bit easier. Which means I have time to write this up! We are definitely hitting a current, I think running SW-NE.

Xing to Niue

14 May. Day Six. 18 11.830S 165 00.998W 115Nm

Another tedious day. By midnight the wind was down to single figures – the middle of the low passing beneath us was supposed to be another 100miles S of us but obviously wasn’t –  and we were crawling along at 3-4kts. Although we used the genset for over an hour last night, by 0230, the batteries were down to 12.23. With little sun during the day and no wind, they were not getting the normal “free” charge.  It isn’t even as if the auto-helm had had to work that hard. With the genset back on for another hour, it took ten minutes for the bulk light to go out. Too long.  If the wind continues as light as this, we will need to make sure we run the genset until the batteries are full each time.

The wind continued to fall away until 0700hrs, then increased and went into the E. We managed 5hrs with the Parasail up. A sudden big increase and veer in the wind at 1930hrs had us hauling it down quickly, going back to plain sail.

We maintained our average by nearly catching a fish today, which would have been our first in a long time. We hooked a big Mahi and had to play it for 30mins before it started to tire. We got it 20m from the boat before it got off. Infuriating! We ate our evening meal outside for the first time this trip. (Turned out to be the only time we could – SH)

Xing to Niue

We saw our first life for a few days. A big container ship passed us just before midnight about 5nm N of us heading W. They didn’t answer a hail on Ch16.

15 May. Day Seven. 18 41.030S 167 13.560W 159Nm

Wind out of a clear sky! And even vaguely coming from the right direction! Back to SE and 22-25kts. One reef in the main and a couple of turns on the genoa. It feels after a couple of frustrating days we are going to be there soon. Seas still mixed up with a swell from the SE and another from the S making a mess of things. Still, we are back to a 6+kt av means we have a chance of arriving tomorrow during daylight hours.

Got a visit from six Boobies this morning. They circled us hopefully, a couple trying to land, before heading off.

The wind continued to grow during the day and we needed a second reef in by 1600hrs. By 2200hrs it was 30+kts  and there it stayed. The seas were big, more than 3m and coming from two directions meaning every now and again you would just get side swiped and thrown as much as 40o off course. Not easy sailing and the auto-helm couldn’t cope needing Lou and I to do a lot of hand steering and corrections.

16 May. Day Eight. On Ball @ 19 03.178S 169 55.365W 75Nm

We charged on through the night averaging 8+kts and maxed out at 17.2kts surfing down a wave whilst Lou and Hannah were at the helm. It was noisy and neither Lou or I got much sleep. I would class it as exhilarating sailing; Lou hated it!

We saw Niue at 0640hrs, a long flat pancake lying on the horizon with a uniform height of about 50m the length of the island. After another surfing excursion to 15+kts, we reached the N end of the island and gained the lee. I think we all were pleased to slow down.

Xing to Niue

It took us another three and a half hours to reach the mooring field at Alofi, the main village half way down the W side of the island. We talked to Niue Radio to arrange Immigration and Customs and then Keith, the Commodore of the yacht club and the PO for the OCC. We picked up Buoy No.1, just off the jetty. The Customs and Immigration staff were tied up with an incoming plane in the morning so came to see us later in the afternoon. Whilst waiting for them to arrive, we put Skylark to bed, tidied bedrooms, washed some of the salt off, listed work that needs doing and ate a lot of griddle scones on our lovely, flat, still mooring. To top everything off, Be and Be arrived just two and a half hours after us.  Cheers from the kids!

The Customs and Immigration folk were a delight. Big smiles, very friendly and helpful in filling out the right forms, the task was quickly done. Keith had come down to meet us and gave Peta and myself a tour of the village, pointing out all the sights and getting us a key for the washroom.

After comparing notes on the passage and a sundowner with Peta and Geoff, we headed back to Skylark for an early night. Lots of catching up of sleep needed.

Xing to Niue

Passage Info

Total Distance by log: 1053Nm (great circle distance approx 1030Nm)

Total time: 7 days, 1hr 35mins

Av Speed: 6.2kts

Sea state: 5 (Rough). One day of 4 (Moderate)

Max wind: F7

Av wind: F6

NB. I had assumed that we still had the westbound S Pacific current with us for this trip. Whilst we may have had it for Day One, after that we didn’t. On investigation, once you reach about 16-17S, the current reverses to a W-E direction. For most of the trip we estimate that we ran against a current of between 0.5- 1kt. VPP2 puts it as high as 2.5kts: Cornell’s Ocean’s Atlas suggests lower which was our experience. Puts our 160+Nm days into perspective……… with any current with us, they could have been a lot more.

Xing to Niue

Maupiti – Island of Mantas

We had a lovely sail across to Maupiti. Blue sky, favourable and light winds meant a pleasant day sail.

Maupiti

With our new sails up, we dondered along, just about keeping station with Be and Be. As the broad reach became a run, we ditched the white sail and flew the parasail. Maupiti

Such an easy sail once it is up. We caught up with Be and Be, had some very close sailing in company and got some great photos of the boat and her crew.

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She returned the favour!

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Maupiti

The entrance pass to Maupiti on the SE corner of the reef is very cheeky and the boat actually surfed on one wave just as we went past the edge of the reef. Not a pass for the fainthearted. The guide books tell of big surf and of boats getting stuck here for weeks at a time with unpassable seas breaking across the less than 75m wide entrance. It is obvious to see why. Even on a quiet day there was a 3m surf only 20m either side of us. God knows what it would be like when the weather kicks up. For us, we know that there is strong SE winds coming in on Tuesday afternoon which we intend to use to spring W. We will be making sure we leave before that affects the pass.

Maupiti

We pushed through 3-4knots in the narrow channel and anchored at 16 28.339S 152 15.024W in about 10m of water. As soon as we dropped we had two big Mantas go past us! Thank you, Cathi and Wolfi, for the steer to this place. Just to our E there is a protected area marked by four buoys prohibiting anchoring. The area is known to be a favourite of Manta Rays and the main reason people visit this island. The Manta use it as a cleaning station. We watched with some amusement as a charter boat actually tried to pick one of the buoys up before realising their error!

It was good to watch a near perfect sunset with a clear sky and unimpeded view of the horizon.

 Maupiti

The next morning Be and Be was asked to move as although their anchor was outside the protected zone, she had swung into it when the wind changed from an E to a N overnight. A local dive boat went back and forward then threw down an anchor. We jumped in to the dinghy and then set ourselves to drift down towards the dive boat. We were rewarded with five Manta, the largest of which was about 4m across. Although the visibility of the water wasn’t great, watching these gloriously languid beasts was a fantastic experience. They spent their time circling a couple of the bombies.

We spent the afternoon getting ourselves ready for the crossing, allowing the kids time with each other. We gave the watermaker a long run and did some tidying away of the toys that we had out during our Bora Bora fun time and the cabin became a little less full of girls’ bits and pieces.

The next day Eleanor and I decided to dive where we had snorkelled before. The rest of the crowd watched above us as three Manta came to the cleaning station and hovered overhead and within touching distance of us for about half and hour. They were amazing. Two smaller 3m wide ones were with us throughout and we were joined by a 4+m one for a few minutes too. Eleanor’s eyes were glowing as we watched them circle us. The advantage of being down on the bottom was we were able watch them open their gills to allow the smaller fish in to clean them. It was amusing to watch the Manta twitch as a cleaner took a nibble of something it shouldn’t have!

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With the weather just a day away, we moved up to the village and anchored in 15’ of water at 16 26.911S 152 14.757W straight off the church, by far the largest building here.

Maupiti

Geoff and I had a last chat about the weather, deciding to push off early the next morning to make sure we are out of the pass before the SE swell arrives. An USA boat, Flying Cloud, a name I knew from the Poly Mag Net was also waiting for the weather and agreed with our assessment of it. Typically island like, the post office was closed for Labour Day (they do like their holidays here) and therefore the internet had been switched off too.

Our last night was spent quietly by ourselves. I was up early on our last morning to get bread. You will find the boulangerie at the main jetty under the huge edifice at the S end of the island. It was a pleasant 15min walk from the dinghy dock at the post office through the village.

Maupiti

I was served by a long silver haired French émigré with a big smile and a dead, well chewed half rollup hanging out of his mouth. But the bread smelt wonderful!  I walked back just in time to catch dawn, our last in French Polynesia, at the dinghy dock.

Maupiti

After an early breakfast, we visited the magasin, dropping off our last empty crate of Tahitian beer and came away with some bits and pieces, mainly crisps, chocolate and snacks for hosting, trying to use up the last of the XFP we had on board. We tried one last time to get a call to Delorme but the internet was just too slow. By about 0830hrs the wind had veered, earlier than we had expected, and was coming out of the S. We rushed back to the boat, pulled up hurriedly and headed for the pass.

The pass was already interesting. Although the SE wind was no more than 15kts, we were faced with a line of close packed 5m standing waves and surf across the pass entrance. WTF?!

Maupiti

Thankfully there is always an outgoing current here so whilst we got shaken up a little we were soon able to turn out of the race, close to the surf line on the S edge of the island. With the main already up, we pulled foresail out and got sailing. Be and Be followed us out and got a bit more bounced about as the waves strengthened, just 10 minutes behind us . We spoke later to Flying Cloud who had decided to leave a couple of hours after us and they got hammered. As he put it, their 44’ heavy long keeled boat was stood on its end twice by huge standing waves and they got very worried. It was by a long way the worst pass they had ever been through. The wind was only just getting up to 20kts. We saw 30kts on the clock within a few hours of leaving. We decided that no-one would be getting out or in behind him, not for days.

With the new sails looking good, big seas running and half a gale of wind behind us, we took off W.

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Bora Bora

Hell and damnation! I haven’t had the best of months in regard to losing stuff overboard. First, my much repaired and slightly beat up Royal Highland blue ensign and flagstaff went overboard on our trip down from Rangiroa when the rod holder the staff was in broke off. Tragic!

Then as we turned into the entrance to Bora Bora a gust caught my favourite hat, given to me by Georg of ZigZag in NZ and off it flew. An emergency drop of the main later (good MOB drills practise), a hard turn to a return course and slow search pattern could not find  it.

I am bereft.

And more than a little annoyed.

Ah well. Enough whingeing. But sorry, Georg. Only so much advertising done for you!

As we left Raiatea through Pass Rautoanui, just S of the Carenage, Frans came and saw us off. A skilled surfer, he’d been on the reef and saw us pulling out. We said our goodbyes and looked forward to seeing him and the rest of Sangvind in Tonga.

 Bora Bora

The 25Nm sail to Bora Bora was an easy broad reach and then run as we cleared the wind shadow of Raiatea with no more than 18kts app showing. Boat speed went as high as 9kts but averaged 6.5kts as we spent most of the time goose-winged with full main and genoa to the SW corner of the reef surrounding the island.

Bora Bora

It felt great and as the last time we would use the current sails, a nice way to sign them off. After all the cloudy, wet weather with mucky wind, it looks as if the SE Trades have started to re-establish themselves. Blue skies, winds still a little reinforced, often at 25+kts, but it is starting to look to being the kind of weather we want to see to push W in.

The girls decided that they need to get some photos with Bora Bora in the background and we got some nice ones.

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We were passed by a couple of charter boats who, inexplicably, drove towards the island with reefed main and engines on. Why do you come all the way to French Polynesia to hire a yacht and on a perfect sailing day, motor? Hicks.

Going around Bora Bora inside the reef takes a little care. The route around the N end of the island to the anchorages on the E side is shallow and you need to have draw less than 8’ to be comfortable. There is one cheeky dogleg between a S cardinal and a red but the rest of the trip down to our anchorage behind Be and Be at 16 29.294S 151 42.135W in 9’ of water was easy. We did ignore two reefs shown on the Navionics mapping I had but I think they must have been sand banks at some point that have disappeared. Certainly we had 10’ of water beneath us as we crossed them…..slowly and carefully! Water colour is what I go by when in shallow water here, not mapping data. An important lesson. The bottom shape changes frequently and you must trust your eyes and judgement. Oh and go slow, just in case you do have a brain fart!

We anchored just as Be and Be headed into dinner and to watch a show at the Intercontinental Hotel, just to our S. We decided we would have a quiet night and recover from all the fun we had had with Quatra and Sangvind over the last few days.  We got to watch our first sunset over the island which was a good one from the anchorage off Hotel St Regis.

Bora Bora

It took just one water taxi charging past us at high speed at 5m distance for me to deploy the big torch on strobe which I choose to use to show them we were alive, awake and not going to put up with inconsiderate driving. There are, sadly, lots of hotel taxis taking the herd back and forward to the main island.

Bora Bora

By mutual consent, Be and Be and ourselves moved down to where Plastik Plankton had described as the best anchorage in Bora Bora in a bay at the SW side of Motu Pitiaau. We had a go at getting in to the very shallow water, chickening out as the depth showed 3’. We anchored at 16 32.045S 151 42.257W in 7’ on powder like white sand in the company of a few charter boats and a couple of liveaboards. The place is gorgeous, rimmed by coconut trees, shallow water, quiet but pretty sterile and a spectacular view of the mountain. It reminds me of the Bahamas. Huge areas of white sand and very little living on it. Saying that, there is a lot to be said in parking up with this kind of backdrop!

Bora Bora

 Bora Bora

After the deeper water of Raiatea, everyone was keen to get back in to enjoy the water again. With life at its simplistic best, we did little more than relax, found the local magasin to get bread and just got all laid back. The kids alternated between boats and the adults would “retire” of an evening to the empty one and let them get on with kids stuff whilst we had some quiet time. It was a good arrangement.

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We had talked with Peta and Geoff about Shelby’s ambition to get scuba qualified back in Raiatea and I had offered to take her down to see how she coped. We had a small bombie 20m behind us and we decided that at 3m it was a perfect easy start for her to see if she liked it. After an hour of talking through equipment, hand signals and actions on, we dropped in, watched the fish as she got comfortable and just as we were to ascend, up swam a stingray, coming for a look at us. Shelby came up with a smile. Stand by, Be and Be. I think you have a convert on your hands!

Reputedly one of the best snorkel sites in Bora Bora is a drift E-W at Taurare in the Motu Pitiaau’s SE corner. You tie your dinghy up at the SW end of the beach, walk E along the shore, go out over the old exposed coral bed and then jump in. The initial water depth is cheekily shallow, the current fast and you need to be careful. Lou got a graze as she thumped on to a rock. Once the water speed calmed down it was an ok drift but the coral wasn’t in too great a shape.

The next day we dinghied to another site to the S of a motu, 700m E of Point Matira, the southern most point of Bora Bora. There we found another coral garden which was far nicer.  Known by the dive companies as the Aquarium, with deeper water (3-5m), a lot less current  and bigger bombies, the fish life was excellent. A couple of days later, we went back a second time and Shelby and I dropped in to feed the fishes (who were quite used this) and to explore the garden properly. Two dives in and she has already got a good feel of buoyancy already. Next step  – her Open Water qual. Perhaps Tonga or Fiji, I hear.

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One of the local guides rocked up and topped everything we had seen by feeding a Giant Moray Eel he said was known as Lady Gaga. He tempted her out of her burrow with chunks of fish. When she didn’t come out far enough he dropped the fish and then pulled the eel bodily out! She was over 2m long. You wouldn’t want to put your hands anywhere near her mouth.

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We moved back up to use Hotel St Regis’s facilities but unfortunately we met a sharp little man on the dock who was not keen to let us in. With a new asking price of  $25 a head (and we would need to make a reservation as well – which “couldn’t” be assured) rather than the $25 to tie up the dinghy Be and Be paid a week before, it simply wasn’t value for money. Geoff dinghied around to the Meridian where the welcome was even less pleasant. Having parked up and walked up to reception, he was told in no uncertain terms he wasn’t welcome and had to ask that the security hoods (x2) took their hands off him as he was walked back down to the jetty. I can understand that the hotels wish to maintain their exclusivity but the attitude of the (NB – non Polynesian) staff has been generally rude. It’s as if they don’t like kids………

We moved around to the Intercontinental where we had a far more pleasant encounter.  Although the pool man apologised when he said it was paid guests only for the pool, he did say that the kids could play on all the beach toys including a peddle boat. Geoff complained about the strength of the Mai Tais but only that they were too strong! Nice place, nice people and my thanks to Iris at the Concierge desk for helping me with a return to the agent.  But I’m not sure if I’d pay $11000AUS (or 6k UK pounds) a week per head – room only but with flights from Aus included. Bora BoraBora BoraBora Bora

Geoff, Eleanor and myself went on a dive with Topdive to the dive site Anua, known for its Manta Rays. We saw a turtle and a couple of clown fish and that was it. Both boats followed our movements in the hope of seeing Mantas with us but no luck.

Bora Bora

We swam a long way looking for them in, for here, pretty poor vis (15m). The Topdive crew, Ana and Arthur, were good guys and were honest enough to say that the Bora Bora diving experience is a poor one in comparison to what you would find in the atolls. No big surprise and I concur. The good dives here involve Humpback whales outside the reef who can be found from mid May on. We will hope for better in Nuie and Tonga. The upside was that they was happy to fill my bottles and did so for the princely sum of 1000XFP which is the most reasonable price I have paid anywhere in the Pacific. They were also happy to let the kids run riot and use the dive boat as a jumping platform at the end of the dive.

Bora Bora

We moved back round to the W side of Bora Bora and took a free ball at the Mai Kai Yacht Club and Marina. It really is just a restaurant, bar and dinghy dock which shares an infinity pool with a small pension next door but it is very nicely done, has free internet, strong enough to be picked up at the boat and the staff are great. And it has a happy hour bringing the prices down to a reasonable level for an hour a day. We met up with Phylis, Emma Louise, Reao and Be and Be for a few nights of festivities. Good times!

Bora Bora

Our sails arrived in Tahiti on 27th Apr (years of fun for a little less cost than a week at any hotel here!), sadly too late to get the boat up to us before the May Day holiday. It took until the 4rd May for them to reach us. The genoa was quickly fitted, a good bit bigger than the old and looking very shiny! The main took longer as I had to put in all the batten ends, a slightly nervous affair as it involves 8 screws per fitting and I really didn’t like drilling holes in the new sail. My thanks to Craig, Geoff and Steve for their help. Well done, Lee Sails for nailing it. Both sails just perfect.

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The weather had still not settled into the Trades that we hoped for. However, with time running out on us and with a long way to go in seven weeks to get to Fiji, we needed to get moving. Geoff and I had been having daily Councils of War, looking at, speculating and discussing the weather as far E of us as Fiji and the big winds S of us charging past NZ and its effect on our weather. We decided that a suitable window was forming, which looked as if it would give us a good push across towards the 1000Nm to Niue. We took the sad decision that we would need to bypass the Cook Islands for two reasons. Firstly, the wind were looking to be 20+kts in the Cooks for some time, not time we had to wait. Also the World ARC is scheduled to reach Nuie about the 24th May for a week, taking all the balls and meaning we would have been unable to visit. Nuie or the Cooks? One had to go from the schedule. If we only had more time………….

Booking out was a bit of a palaver. The local Gendarmerie were no problem at all although the girls were very disappointed not to get a stamp in the passport as we are still EU citizens.  I dare say that will all change in a couple of years but then UK visitors will be restricted to 3mth visas to French Polynesia like the rest of the world. Bizarrely, you also require to get final clearance from the Harbour Master’s office in Papeete. Why I don’t know as all you get is a email from them and it isn’t part of the paperwork you are required to give when you reach your next port of call. It arrived 24hrs after we had requested it.

We took on a little fuel at the fuel dock 200m S of the Mai Kai. Be aware that the fuel dock requires a copy of your tax free certificate, boat papers and green entry form. You need to supply the copies as they won’t make them. No docs; no fuel. We paid 80C/l for diesel and $1.60/l for petrol.

After a (extended) happy hour with Emma Louise, Reoa, Phylis,  Be and Be and ourselves, we had a fine last night with Steve and Cheryl back on Skylark, we providing the rice and they the curry they had made earlier. An excellent time was had by all. We said our goodbyes to Craig and Aron and Mick and Kym as I doubt we will see them again on this trip. We wish them all fair winds and safe sailing.

After hitting the Super U for one last round of baguettes, we left Bora Bora just after dawn on 6 May with blue skies and light winds. With some of the best visibility we have had here, we looked back at the spectacular sight of Bora Bora with Raiatea and Tahaa, another 25miles further E, standing clear. A beautiful way to sign off on these islands.

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To shorten the passage W to Nuie and to wait for the weather and wind to arrive, we left Bora Bora and sailed the 30miles to Maupiti, the rarely visited and second to last island in the Societies chain.

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Raiatea and Tahaa

Oh my. Kids. Lots of them. Hysteria, mania and joy!

We arrived at Raiatea having had a easy sail across the 15miles from Huahine. We were joined at the entrance pass by two canoeists who wanted to slipstream us to ease their passage and do some training. Both were superbly fit but the older man by far the more efficient and skilled paddler. His paddle stroke was effortless and other than his metronomic arm movement, he was motionless. They kept up with us for about 3 miles whilst we were doing 6kts. Very impressive.  The younger guy asked us if we would speed up and he lasted another half a mile at 7kts, sweating bullets but finishing with a shout, a big grin and a wave. We clapped and cheered him to his great pleasure as he turned away into a village dock.

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We motored around to the NW corner of the island to the Raiatea Carenage. This has a few mooring balls of it which neither the yard or Carenage seem particularly interested in managing and picked up just off the entrance to the yard. Be and Be and Sangvind were both there waiting for us and the first dinghy with Dylan and Jayden from Sangvind arrived before we even finished tying up. Eleanor was immediately in difficulty. The mooring was a  short one and we had failed to lift it high enough to get a line through, resulting in her jumping in in just a pair of pale pants and a t-shirt to do so, whilst rescuing the boat hook at the same time. Two boys arriving in a dinghy was almost too much for her but she managed to save her dignity by hightailing it through the hulls to get decent. The boys couldn’t see the problem with her just jumping in to the dinghy!

Be and Be are an Aus boat with a family of six (Peta and Geoff with Shelby, Evie, Harry and Jake – 13, 11, 9 and 8 respectively). They are taking a year out to sail their newly bought boat back from Tahiti to the Gold Coast. Sangvind (Sylvia and Frans with Dylan, 12 and Jayden, 9) have been travelling for a while. Although they stopped in the UK for a couple of years, they have been sailing a long time with Frans and Sylvia already having spent nine years in the W Pacific, buying their first boat in NZ and travelling for 18 years in total. The current trip is partly financed by Frans’s part in the film “In the Heart of the Sea” in which he had a major part and his own death scene. His kids are particularly proud of this fact!

We had two great days there. The eight kids ran feral across all three boats and moved between them by swimming and canoeing as the feeling took them. Meals were made after counting the heads you had on the boat at that moment in time. It was great fun.

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Frans organised some wakeboarding and we used the ring from Mary Ann II properly for the first time.

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There were a variety of sleepovers including the big kids sleeping on our trampoline – at least until 0430hrs when the rain came – and the move on the third day with the parent’s decision that everyone should have a quiet night on their own boat was greeted with a surprising enthusiasm by the exhausted kids coming down from hyperland!

I managed to get the Carenage to find me an electrician who understood aircon. Our aircon had gone west on us in the Marquesas last year and with our need to run the aircon to load the generator to a point of reasonable efficiency, I wanted it fixed. This is important as at the moment with little wind and not much sun, I am having to run the generator a lot more than I normally do and it can be damaged by under loading it, with a carbonisation of the exhaust system being the biggest issue. At 6kW, our genset needs a lot of loading. It really is too big for us.

I had thought that the aircon water pump had failed. It turned out that a corroded control panel was the issue and the system was simply not getting correct commands so was starting without the pump switching on. The second aircon unit (yes – thanks to the last owner who liked his home comforts, I have two) which supplies the the rest of the boat, has a wiring problem. All the parts work but we need to run new cabling to the pump.  Two hours work and we had the saloon system working and the cabin system diagnosed.  The joy of a cold saloon! Our thanks to Joseph who did the work.

With some variable weather coming in from the NW, we decided to move the 6 miles up to the second island sharing the reef with Raiatea, the island of Tahaa. It is a lot smaller than Raiatea, the anchorages are generally very deep, 30m+, and it has one of the few acknowledged hurricane holes in FP at the top end of Haamene Bay. We took a mooring in 45m off the Hibiscus Restaurant, halfway up on the N side of the bay. Conveniently close to a shop, surrounded by mountains of greenery, it is a magnificent spot. On our evening there with all eight of the kids on Be and Be watching a film, the grown ups had a beer at the Hibiscus, just getting back to the boats before a torrential downpour.

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Easter weekend didn’t start well. The shop didn’t keep our ordered bread so Hannah and I whizzed up the two miles to the village at the top of the bay in the hope of getting some at the supermarket there. We got lucky in both bread and entertainment. We came off the dock, walking past the sports hall and had to stop to listen to magnificent Polynesian voices singing lustily, harmonising without instrument accompaniment. It was their Good Friday service and it was glorious noise. We decided it would be good for the kids to see an Easter Service so we planned to dress up and go back in on Sunday.

We snorkelled Pass Toahota, the pass on the E side of Tahaa. The N side of the pass wasn’t up to much. Some old fish traps and a steep wall to the too deep floor meant we quickly decided to move. Be and Be’s dinghy became the workhorse!

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The S side proved to be much better and we had a pleasant hour slowly meandering out over reasonable coral and good if small fish in water up to 8m. Frans looked enviously at some local kids surfing at the edge of the pass in the 2m swell. We found a good clump of anemone with a family of Clown fish in it which required us to dive down to it for a good look.

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Back by the yachts, Eleanor did well at wakeboarding getting up without problem first on a surf board and then on a proper wakeboard.

Eleanor had fun taking photos of some of the other kids. These ones, I think, came out the best.

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Easter Sunday came and there was a sigh of relief from certain grown ups that the service was to be held at 1000hrs rather than the more normal 0800hrs. We dinghied up to Haamene village, all tarted up, to be welcomed with open arms by an elder and, we found out later, the young minister and put in the front row. We had been hoping to hide at the back! The local kids sang beautifully and then all headed out for a egg hunt.

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The service was great, good humoured and with lots of laughter, with a mix of small groups of locals singing accompanied with ukuleles and then the whole congregation, with some of the men acting as bass boom boxes (best way I can describe it),  coming together to deafen us with fantastic harmonies.  I took some voice recordings although sadly the Ipod doesn’t do the bass justice at all.  I’ve been failing to work out a way to imbed them to the blog. Can anyone help?

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We motor sailed in no wind around the N end of Tahaa to what is known as the Coral Garden, the channel between two motu on the westernmost point of the reef opposite Tapuamau Bay.  The anchorage at 16 36.737S 151 227.337W in 5m of water provides a glorious view of Bora Bora at sunset.

Raiatea

The anchorage is not a reliable one and certainly I wouldn’t want to be at it in any kind of wind. It is a lightly sanded bottom over old coral, covered in bombies, providing poor holding. In the moderate 10kts we had it was fine; with more it would be a very nervous affair. We had one last sleep over with the smalls deciding to sleep on the trampoline. According to them they hardly got “any sleep” but having checked them every couple of hours all I heard were little snores!

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The bigger kids stayed on Sangvind. They appeared just after sunrise, asking for the kayak to go for an explore around the motu. The smalls, up a little later, played around the boat and Jayden proved you can row a rubber ring.

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The Coral Garden is a major tourist attraction and by the time we hit it at 0930hrs, there were several fast boats already there with their loads from the mainland hotels. We were surprised at how quick the initial current was, maybe 4-5kts but it slowed as you progressed through the reef. It was good to see the number of fish we did, all small and some colours on the coral. Much of what we have seen in the Societies has been bleached and the Garden seems to have been less effected. We enjoyed it so much we went through twice.

Raiatea

Raiatea

We picked up after untangling ourselves from a coral head and drove back S to meet up with our friends of Quatra, last seen in the Galapagos last year. We started to move just in time as the wave bringing the strong SE wind we were expecting turned up. We had 35+kts apparent on our bow for most of the 8miles we had to run, making it unpleasantly choppy, wet and a slow trip back to Raiatea. We took an extra hour to get in and Quatra had been and gone. We made up for it by coming across Kathi and Wolfgang on Plastik Plankton, our friends who had helped us through the Panama Canal, parked 100m outside us and then having an excellent evening with Sangvind.

We met up with Audrey and Adrien the next morning and Lou disappeared off to do a huge shop with the luxury of a car to bring the shopping back in. Adrien and I chewed the fat over coffee on Skylark. They have settled in to life back on land but not without some heartache. The kids are loving school and are doing very well, Arsene having been moved up a class to bring him in line with the level he achieved on the boat. The adults have found the transition after four years on a boat more stressful. Of course, having professions which can be done anywhere (Adrien is a software engineer, building websites amongst other things, Audrey manages their property back in France) has meant that they simply require decent internet for work but Adrien is very keen to move away from IT and start a business on the island where he wouldn’t have to work to other people’s unreasonable and stressful deadlines again. It is obvious that for both of them not having a boat has been emotional.

Raiatea has good schools, all the amenities you need for a simple lifestyle and is less busy and a lot more friendly than Tahiti. There are fewer problems here with the “racism” that exists between Polynesians and French émigrés on the big island, something we recognised back in the Marquesas as well. They are building a house near the main town, up on a hillside with a great view E towards Huahine and plan to stay on the island for at least five years, at least until Arsene leaves school. Life is busy and good.  We had a couple of great days with them as Audrey directed that the kids would do well to go in to school for a day so the girls were kidnapped for a sleepover before that.

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I got to use their “proper” internet and catch up with the blog, with posts from as far back as the top of the N island in New Zealand. In my defence, they were all ready to go but the internet we have had has not been good enough to post up the large number of photos I always embed. We had two great evenings with them, dinner being superb both times. We will definitely be staying in touch. They are a great family and it would be very good to see them again down the road. Both boys are extremely musical and I want to hear just how good a pianist Arsene becomes (zero to Chopin and The Entertainer in less than a year) and I’d watch out for Axel’s name in a band coming to you soon.

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Of course,  living on a boat never comes easy. In the last couple of days we had two major malfunctions. The first was a starter battery for the generator that died on us. We came back in an evening to find the house bank low, went to start the genset and clunk. A very depressing sound. On investigation the genset battery was a whole 10.2V. We tried to recover it but had no luck. It is more than seven years old so I suppose it was due for replacement but the timing? Infuriating. $230 later we had a new one (which would have cost $90 max in the USA but hey) and I am hoping that the issue is fixed. However, I have this sneaking feeling that all is not well with the port engine alternator too…….

The other problem was the Delorme tracking device we had, decided that the day before we planned to leave was just a perfect time to go tits up on us. Unrepairable and no replacement for 3000miles, it may be a while before we get a replacement. Sorry, Dad and Joyce, but you may need to be nervous and wait for our emails to show we have arrived anywhere for a while at least.

My thanks to Audrey and Adrien for driving us around the last morning to get, battery, petrol and for taking us to the Med Centre in town. It turns out that Elephantitis, carried and passed on by a worm,  is still endemic within French Polynesia. Although the once a year pills to kill the worms have been free for years and all the kids get dosed automatically, it turns out that they are also wonderful at giving fighting cocks, still a popular sport here, a supercharge. This meant that some locals stashed theirs for the alternate use. These days they are handed out and you are supposed to take them in front of the nurse. We were handed ours and told to take them before bedtime as they make you sleepy. Obviously she didn’t think we were in to cock fighting…..

On our last morning, the kids went into school with Arsene and were taught English! Eleanor told us that the kids listened to the teacher talk in English but few would speak it.

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With the wind in our favour and lighter than it had been in days, we picked up and headed for the pass.

We said our goodbyes to Sangvind, who are heading for Tonga. We have had a great time with them and I know that the kids will miss their partners in crime, Eleanor especially. However, we should be meeting up with them there so that is only about a month to six weeks away.  Plastik Plankton are heading off too and are going in the direction of the Cook Islands but may go straight through to Tonga if the weather looks good. It is difficult this early in the season to guarantee decent trades and safe stops in the Cooks and Nuie and they are keen to get W without incident or hold up. Again, they will be in Fiji whilst we are there and we should catch up with them there.

We left Raiatea by Pass de Rautoanui and jumped the 25 miles across to Bora Bora to meet back up with Be and Be.

Huahine

We left Moorea at 1700hrs so we could approach Huahine in daylight. It is only about 80miles between the two islands and we had hoped to have 10-12kts just aft of the beam as we headed NW. Yet again, the forecast let us down. We started with little wind, motored for half an hour, then got just enough wind for the parasail, and then didn’t and eventually got 6-8kts on the beam. It was a bit tedious. However, we played with the sails throughout the night and by first light had sight of Huahine. We ended up running up the W coast just so we could force an extra 20 degrees of apparent. We entered the reef at Pass Avamoa on the NW corner of the island. This is an easy pass, big and wide, but you need to make sure you don’t turn in too early as the only channel markers are well within the reef.We initially anchored in 10’ of water, just to the inside of Phylis who had also travelled up the night before. However, one of the big charter boats pushed off and we picked up one of the free moorings he left of the Fare Yacht Club. They are fixed with a big screw, chain and then hawser and are in good condition.

We spent but three days here. Lou and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary and the girls baked a surprise cake which we shared with Emma Louise. It was lovely. Lou and I got dressed up and had a lovely dinner in one of the posh boutique hotels on the beach. We headed into town for a drink afterwards to find everything closed at 2030hrs. We had forgotten it was Sunday! Our grateful thanks go to Sheryl and Steve on Emma Louise for having the girls for the night. Peace!

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It was great to see some locals come in on a adapted outrigger, this one a trimaran. I was baffled at quickly they were going in the almost still air until I realised that they were paddling her back into the bay. I’d love to see how quick she was with wind.

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To be honest, we haven’t done a great deal here and certainly haven’t done the island justice. We watched the villagers have a day of races, the boat house being close by us. It was less expert than we have used to and there were a good number of capsizes accompanied with hoots of good natured laughter from the crowd.

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With little wind, Saturday was gloriously clear and we could see Raiatea, Tahaa and in the distance, the peak of Bora Bora which will be our final island to visit within French Polynesia. Seeing it was a reminder of how little sailing we have to do to get there. A whole 40 miles with three weeks to do it!

We have done a little socialising with Emma Louise and discussed routes through the Cooks with Phylis. We went snorkelling through Pass Avepehi but it was overcast, we got a glimpse of one big Eagle Ray and saw a lot of dead coral. The bay in front of the village of FARE is lovely and the village itself is small but well provisioned. The Super U is very good for most things other than vegetables. The misnamed Fare Yacht Club, the bar and restaurant by the dinghy dock has an excellent happy hour and provides spectacular views W at sunset.

Eleanor loved the effect of the sun on the water reflecting on to Skylarks hull.

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Two memorable events here. Mick and Kym went out for the day renting a car to go round the island and passed a gaggle of cyclists in the midst of which was none other than President Obama. We had seen an enormous super yacht (130m+ – yes, metres) come in via Pass Avepehi the night before and suspected it was the same one that Aron had seen at Moorea a couple of days ago. The President is using it to tour the Socieities. He was, says Kym, looking cool and relaxed, a lot more so than the fat hangers on and the entourage were!

The other is slightly more mundane. I had failed every morning in getting bread and for our last morning was determined to be at the supermarket early enough. I arrived just after 0600hrs, before the bread arrived and had to wait 20mins before it was put out. They obviously don’t get enough as it was all gone within minutes of being put out. I left the supermarket just as a squall and some rain came through. Throwing the bread into the fore locker, I headed back to Skylark to be astounded by the site of her  (and just her) illuminated by an extraordinarily bright vertical strip of rainbow from the water to perhaps double her mast height.The effect lasted for a minute or so and was gone by the time I was half way back to the boat. I didn’t have a camera with me but I’ll long remember the image.

The pull to move on has been intense as Be and Be and Sangvind, both kid boats we met in Tahiti, reported being in Raiatea, just 20miles to the W. Time to move

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