Category Archives: Update posts

Diving in French Polynesia – 2016

I thought I had put this up when we left FP to go to NZ but I’ve just realised I never got round to it. It is a collection of some of the better underwater photos we have taken. Only nine months late. Oops.  SH Jul 17

In 2015 I was blessed to meet Robert of Almost There, a US Navy trained Master Diver who needed a dive partner in Bequia. He informed me with a pointed finger I was it and introduced me to the sport. His methods of teaching were old school and doing remasking drills at 15m was fun. But he took me out, held my hand (literally and figuratively) and taught me the basics extremely well as well as, most importantly, his philosophy for diving, for which I am very grateful. Since then, I have not had a more conscientious or competent dive partner.

Having qualified a in Nov 15 at Scubatech, under the lovely Evelyn’s care in Prickly Bay, Grenada , I have managed to do quite a lot of diving. Not as much as I’d like but it gets expensive if you don’t have access to a compressor and a dive partner, which for large periods this year I haven’t. Dives average around $70 a dive and most days you will do two dives so $140 a pop. Refills on tanks are dear (running to $30 a go in Fakarava) and again soon mount up. Problematically in FP, there are few places you can get a fill, really the larger atolls only, so you can’t rely on a school helping you out on most atolls.  If you have friends with a compressor or have one yourself, it costs you the price of the filters you will contribute to replace every 25 fills, needed to clean the air.

One clear lesson. If there are two of you wanting to dive on board, then having a compressor would be every penny for a Pacific trip. Find the space!

Fakarava was one of our primary targets for this year’s travels as it has a reputation for having some of the very best diving not just in French Polynesia but in the whole of the Pacific. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I started with a couple of dives up in the N pass. This is a deep drift dive going down to around 36m. After I had been asked what diving I had done, I was sent away with the schools own awful instruction document (French to English courtesy of Google Translate) which I decided to rewrite, if only so I actually understood what I was supposed to learn. I’ve always found that writing an instruction manual or guide is an excellent way to embed knowledge and I passed the test without issue. TopDive Fakarava N should be thankful!

The two dives in the N pass were interesting but not brilliant. We dropped into the blue and were swept on to the mouth of the pass, landing on the drop-off at 38m, 20m more than technically I was qualified for with my PADI Open Water and a couple more than the PADI recommended max with Nitrox (although 2m less than the absolute limit). The current runs very strong (3-4kts)and we were holding on tight to stop us from being swept in to the lagoon as we waited to see if any sharks would come to take a look at us. A few did, some Greys, and we then swept on through the pass bouncing up and down between 25-35m. We did see small schools of pelagic fish but we were moving too fast to really enjoy the few reef fish we saw. Dive two was a rerun of the first but with slightly more current, having lost half an hour of time waiting for a cruise ship to enter the pass. Waiting to drop in, we saw thousands of Sooty terns and 15-20 Devil Rays feeding on the surface which was the highlight of the day. The dive again was interesting without being fantastic. I found some white tips teeth on one of the sandy patches and passed them on to the girls.

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I have to admit I was very pleased to see Taranga arrive at Rotarua. Soren is a great guy and had first filled my tanks for me all the way back in Panama. He was very keen to get to the better S Pass and we travelled in company with him. For him to stay in the S for any length of time, he needed water as he has an emergency watermaker only and I would need air if I wanted to dive. It seemed a good swap and sweetened by a kilo of our honey (he had run out), Skylark for post dives coffee and teas, bug spray (we won’t talk about this….) and some petrol during our three weeks in the S, I think we were both happy with the arrangement.

The diving in the S Pass can only be described as spectacular. In terms of reef fish, ease of dive, shark population or coral density, I have never seen anything like it. We dived mainly on the incoming current, our outgoing experiences being mistakes hitting the water late in the tide, finding ourselves working hard. The outgoing was used by the dive schools to bulk up their paying customer’s dive time but we found that the visibility markedly decreased as silt and sand from the inside of the atoll was swept out. Whilst still a good 10-25m it didn’t compare to the frequent 50m+ of the incoming clear deep ocean water.

We dropped in normally to about 18m and generally stayed to the side of the pass wall, dropping to no more than 25m so we didn’t bother the sharks. We did go along the pass floor on one occasion, swimming beneath the approaching sharks, but they didn’t like it and quickly disappeared. Down at 32m you don’t have a huge amount of bottom time and it was more fun to stay between 15-25m.  On our best day, we finished the dive staggered by the number of sharks we saw. Normally we would see 100-200 on what is known as The Wall of Sharks; that day it was just a solid wall of them. We reckoned 500+, a mix of Black Tip, White Tip, Grey and a huge lone Silver Tip, all sitting in the incoming current. Just amazing.

All us divers need to say a special thank you to Lou who always came with us to snorkel the pass and look after the dinghies until it came time to pick us up at the end of the dive. We couldn’t have dived without you.

Whilst I think I got some good photos I have been wishing I had a decent underwater camera with the ability to zoom in. All of these shots were taken with a GoPro 4 Silver, a good camera but limited by having a fixed lens. You needed to be very close to small fish to be able to take a decent still and I’m afraid small fish are just too afraid to sit still enough to let you get close enough! Where the GoPro excels is film. I am inexpertly put together a small video segment which gives you a decent flavour of what diving in the S pass is like. I’ll link it in here when I am eventually finished.

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Diving in Toau as very different. We did one drift dive from outside the pass which was hard work as we had to deal with a big northerly surge. The dive at the N end of the atoll was better and going along the wall was great fun, trying to find all the caves talked about in the Compendium. They were pretty good and it was wonderful seeing the occasional huge pelagic swimming just at the edge of our vision off the wall in the deep.

Ann-Helen and John at the Wall of Anse AmyotCaves at TouaMoray Eel at Anse AmyotOn the Wall at Toua

I’m not sure if I have spoilt myself with the superb diving I have been able to do here but I have caught the bug in a big way and am praying for more of the same as we go through the Pacific next year. I have been extraordinarily lucky in meeting up with friends happy to help me fill my bottle daily and I doubt if I will be as lucky next year but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I’ll find other like minded souls. I do know it should get easier to find dive shops able to fill bottles as we get to more populated places but I still need dive partners.

To those who have dived with me this year, a big thank you. They are John from Mary Ann II, Ann-Helen and Harvard from Wilhelm, Soren and all the rest of the mob from Taranga, a special mention to Mia, Olivia and David of El Nido and a few others who made guest appearances. It has been a great education.

My dive on the wall with Ann-Helen and Harvard proved to be the last dive before we hauled out and headed for New Zealand. I’m so looking forward to planning and researching more diving for next year, perhaps with Eleanor in tow if we can arrange it. I can’t wait.

Fakarava Diving

Vanua Balavu

The overnight sail from Fulaga was an easy one with us running or broad reaching in 20-25kts true from the SSE. Sheltered behind the reef from the Pacific seas running in at Fiji, all we experienced was the fetch inside the reef. It wasn’t more than 1.5m until we got quite close to Vanua Balavu when it increased to about 2m.

Sadly during the night, although we had a preventer set, Skylark gybed a couple of times. At first light, we noticed damage to the cars. All three of the old cars I didn’t change when we damaged the old sail S of Haiti had broken, being pulled off the mast. We quickly dropped the main and went on with a reefed genoa only. We won’t be using the main until we can get replacements. Hopefully something else for Morag to bring out if we can organise in time. Don’t worry, Morag. They are small!

Vanua Balavu

I choose to enter Vanua Balavu by the pass on its W side, the Andivanthi Passage. I had read in the Fiji Compendium that the charts were inaccurate again and punched some waypoints in to the chart plotter to help me. Just as well that I did. Although we had good light and I had expert eyes in Lou and Shena forward, I hadn’t realise that in this day and age the charts could be so inaccurate. I worked out they were off set at 066mag and with a distance of 0.424Nm. WTF, Navionics?

We got through the pass without issue, dodging a couple of big bommies as we did. I wouldn’t go near it without good light as it is narrow and you do have to wind a bit.  We went across the deep bay to the village of  Daliconi  and anchored at 17 13.210S 178 57.992W in about 25’ on rock and sand. Shena admired the airstrip just to the S of the village. Must be a fun landing set at that angle! One of only three islands in the Laus with an airstrip, Vanua Balava merits two flights a week.

Vanua Balavu

Dalaconi is a neat village in the midst of rebuilding itself having been hit very badly by Cyclone Winston, the first cat 5 beast to hit Fiji, in 2015. It devastated large parts of Fiji and killed over 40. Communications to Vanua Balava were cut off for four days. After a quick sevusevu ceremony (the Chief was away) we were free to proceed. Note that the village no longer asks for a $30 fee per head for access to the island (as detailed in the Fiji Compendium). If you would like to make a contribution, it is gratefully received and noted in the visitors book. I think that the village has had to change its tune having lost out to the privately owned “yacht club” on the N side of the island which had also been giving sevusevu ceremonies. It had only 37 yachts in 2016 turn up to see them. We were told that two large rallies were currently parked up on the N side of the island, some 40 yachts, none of whom were visiting the village.  New ways; old ways. Old ways losing out……

We decided to move around to the Bay of Islands, a couple of miles W from Daliconi. When I saw the route I had to use, I decided to take things very slow. There is a post marking the reef to the W of Yaniahaloa island which you need to find and go round. All the posts we saw (some are missing, including all the reef entrance markers for our entry and exit) are damaged and are either rusted and at an angle or stumps.

The posts take some spotting, even if you know they should be there.  In the end I just used the plotter as a chart and ignored my trace showing me wandering over the reefs and islands, taking base bearings from the chart and using my wonderful Steiner binos with integrated compass to find my way. Interesting times.

Once you have got through an internal reef and into the channel that takes you up to the pillars, the scenery is lovely. There is still a fair amount of reef beneath the steep sided hills that line your route and shelter you from the prevailing wind but mid channel there is plenty of water. We spotted some tucked away beaches that if you had time would be great fun to kayak in to to explore.

A small piller at the edge of the channel

After about a mile, you reach the entrance to the tight route through the pillars to the Bay of Islands

Lou watching out as we weave through the pillers

Vanua Balavu

Although concentrated in to a small area (no more than 1x1km), the pillars are spectacular, a mini version of the James Bond set for “The Man with the Golden Gun” in Thailand. Tightly packed together there is one safe route and we motored through Ships Sound and Shoal Pass carefully. We went over an unmarked bommie showing just 5’ of water at about 17 10.509S 179 00.897W. The water visibility is not good in the channel and even with a high sun, we didn’t see the rock until we were on it. Keep left in the channel, close to the island, to miss it.

Vanua Balavu

After wandering around trying to find a suitable anchorage in the deep water of the bay, we parked up on the edge of the channel at 17 10.661S 179 01.082W  on sand in 15’just behind a small reef between two of the islets. It meant we got a good breeze through the boat and we hoped this would keep the bugs away. We needn’t have worried. For once, no mosquitos.

We spent a two days here. The kids got to have fun in the rubber ring Julia and John of Mary Ann II had given us. Unfortunately Eleanor bounced out and smacked herself hard at speed but she survived. Shena and Hannah went off exploring and found a shallow patch between two of the pillars to laze around at.

Vanua Balavu

The ladies took themselves off and relaxed. I stayed behind and nursed the infected coral cut which I had picked up before Shena and Kinsley arrived. Even after judicious use of rubbing acohol, scrubbing it out and externally applied triple antibiotic cream, it had turned in to a tropical sore on my shin. As we left Fulaga, I swapped to oral antibiotics, Amoxicilana, suggested to us by Mia all the way back in Galapagos as a useful addition to our medical kit. I’m very glad we listened to her. 48hrs later and the sore had stopped weeping pus and looked immeasurably better. I deciding I needed a few more days out of the water to let it heal up.

For the ladies, it was a time of simple pleasures, exploring by kayak, playing in the shallow water and lazily sun bathing.

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Kinsley’s underwater camera, the same one that Harry from Be and Be has, works well.

Vanua Balavu

Three boat loads of local men came by as the ladies were rinsing off on the back step, calling loudly, waving and smiling as they went by. I think they may have been enjoying the view.

Vanua Balavu

We spent a second day just kicking back and relaxing. Shena reintroduced herself to the pleasures of Nutella and peanut butter mixed on a single spoon…. Best when taken in quantity, it seems!

Nutella and peanut butter

We left to Vanua Balavu to return to Taveuni as Shena and Kinsley had but a few days left and wanted to visit a couple of sites on that island.

Navigation around the island as we went out was a little difficult with the chart plotter and Navionics still wildly inaccurate, never fun with lots of reef around. The waypoints I found in the Fiji Compendium to and through the Quilaquila Pass were spot on again. Hannah cooked dinner, a spag bol, as we heading towards the pass. It meant fun cutting onions up and after some tears, she eventually found a dress state that was kind to her eyes!

Hannah cutting onionsCutting onions 2

The actual Quilaquila Pass itself is reasonably easy as there are two large white leading marks on the shore. It meant I watched backwards adjusting course as we motored through the pass, about 3/4 of a mile in length due to the number of rocks sticking up outside the reef but we were soon back into deep water. With little sea and about 20kts from the SE, we rolled out the genoa and set off W for an overnight passage of about 60Nm back to the Paradise Resort.

Vanua Balavu

Far South in the Lau Islands – Fulaga

We left Taveuni in the company of Stop Work Order, a Gulfstar 60, as the weather window we had hoped for finally appeared to allow us to push S in to the Lau Islands. The wind was due to swing slowly North of East over about 36hrs then collapse back into the SE as the Trades re-established. We had about 12 days before we needed to get Shena and Kinsley back to the airport and although Fulaga was a long trip there and back, everything we had read about the island suggested that it was worth it. Set 180Nm SSE of Savusavu and well over 200Nm E of Suva, it is very isolated and has a population of about 250. It has also been described as one of the gems of Fiji.

As the wind had not yet started to turn in our favour, we chose to run NE from Paradise, using Taveuni as cover to gain another 30miles or so of Easting. Doing this killed much of the fetch and allowed us to get close to the outer islands and reef that run the length of the Laus. It was the right choice but I never like adding distance on to a trip. It took the distance we need to run from about 160Nm to over 200Nm.

We got through the mile long Somosomo Pass with a bouncy wind over tide, still running at 2kts in our favour just before the slack. Make sure that you do time it right here. The tide does run to 4+kts which would not be fun if you were pushing against it. As an aside, we crossed the 180E line as we went up the island, crossing back into the western hemisphere.

As we turned around the top of the reef jutting out of Taveuni, we started the long close haul S. Needing a course of 130mag to get us to Fulaga, we could initially push no better course than 170mag. As the first day ended and through the night the wind slowly veered N and we followed it around, managing about 155mag. The next day was a continuation of the pounding, slowly getting closer and closer to the course we required, pushing in to the 2m seas. We could see Stop Work Order most of the time and I don’t think we ever got more than 5 miles from each other. I was surprised at how well we kept with her considering her size and cutter rig. New sails work!

Fulaga

Although the forecast has suggest winds of about 15kts and no more than 20kts, we had one period of three hours where the wind was a constant 30kt plus. Patrick on Stop Work Order called me on the radio to warn me of one squall of 35+kts which had hit him. I thanked him for the heads up but had to tell him that I had seen him being rounded up and took that as a signal to wrap more jib away and to scandalise the main, already with two reefs in, which I managed just before the squall got to me.

Because of the extra mileage we put in in the lee of Taveuni, our timing to hit Fulaga was out by 6hrs. We arrived to sheltered water behind a line of islands 15 miles N from our destination just as the sun disappeared. With electronic charts being inaccurate (and paper being 1:1000000 in scale) there was no way I was going anywhere near the pass entrance in darkness. We dropped the mainsail, left just enough jib out to make way and sailed at a knot towards the pass. We were still going too fast at 0300hrs so I heaved to (yes you can do it in a catamaran) and we sat comfortably and quiet 5 miles N off our destination.

Fulaga

First light came and saw Stop Work Order and ourselves push down towards the pass as slack water was due to last until about 0700hrs. As long as you have light, the 50m wide pass is an easy one. What you need to do is ignore your chart plotter and use your eyes. My Navionics charts showed an entrance both sides of a small islet sitting at the entrance to the pass. Wrong. The pass was only accessible well to the right of this. Once we identified the pass we pushed in mid channel, according to my charts going over the reef, about 100m off set to the E.  Once through it showed me clear water. Wrong. More reef extending well out into the bay from the W end of the pass……..

Fulaga

Easy lesson – don’t trust your charts in Fijian waters for any information other than gross approximations.

Saying that as we pushed through towards an anchorage inside the lagoon, I actually “passed through” several islands so maybe be careful even with gross approximations! Perhaps Navionics should do here as they did in the Tuamotus and put an accurate satellite picture over their data and update it. It may not have lots of depth info but I’d be happy with the knowledge that there is a lump there which I need to miss and the correct placement of the reefs. It is worryingly wrong at the moment. Open CPN and SASPlanet (an excellent Russian programme that lets you download info from a vast variety of sources) are both more accurate on the basis that you can run Google Maps through them. Both are hampered by cloud cover over parts of the lagoon.

We anchored at 19 08.039S 178 34.542W in 40’ of water and decided that we need to get in to see the Chief quickly as we didn’t want to have to wait two days until Monday to conduct the sevusevu ceremony. This is your way of showing respect to the locals and receiving permission to visit their land. Lou and Shena had had fun braking our 2kg lump of kava root in to smaller presentation packages of about 500g each. We got ourselves dressed up and headed in towards the village. The right village to go to is actually on the S side of the island which means you need to find the bay (anchor at 19 08.902S 178 33.925W on sand in 25’) with a small warehouse  by the beach then follow the track across the island to the village. I’d suggest you take bug spray as the mosquitos are vicious on the walk across. We got picked up by a smiling local at the edge of the village and taken to the Chief’s house.

Some rules for you to note.

Don’t take your time in visiting the Chief. Get in to see him as soon as you can after arriving at an atoll as you can guarantee that they will know you are there. Make sure you see the senior Chief of the atoll. There may be several villages, each with a Chief but you only need to see and present Kava root to the most senior.

You are expected to cover up and dress correctly when you see the Chief. They take the sevusevu ceremony very seriously and so must you.

Take in an offering of about 3-500g of kava. Unfortunately kava has recently become very expensive (about $100 a kg) as the USA has decided that it is a “super” health product. With far more going to export, it has significantly increased local prices. DO NOT offer powered root; it must be the whole root. When invited to sit in front of your host, place the root in front of you halfway between you and let him pick it up. If they do so, it shows that it has been accepted.

Men should wear a sula and shirt, ladies need to cover their knees and shoulders. Trousers are frowned upon and the Frenchman with us was loaned a sulu to visit the chief. I used my far more colourful sulu from FP and that was fine. You can buy a proper Fijian sulu for $15. My shirt, screaming though it looks,  is proper Fijian dress. Lovely, isn’t it!

Do not wear a hat or sunglasses in the villagers’ presence. It shows disrespect.

Whilst kids can get away with it, adults don’t carry bags on their shoulders. No idea why, it is just the rules. Hand carry any bag you require.

If you are offered kava, thank them by saying “Bula” then drink the cup in one go. Don’t sip.

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The ceremony was held in the Chief’s house, a grand old man in his 90’s, one of the few truly old people we have seen in all our time in Fiji. We shared the ceremony with a French couple, Stop Work Order and Skylark’s crews all sitting in front of him. The kava parcels were formally accepted and the Chief’s 2IC translated for us. We were asked to explain where we had come from and to introduce each of us, including the kids. We then paid a $50 contribution which goes to the village fund, currently being used to buy each house a couple of solar panels, invertor and battery pack. I have seen some cruisers complain that this is not Fijian hospitality and that we should protest the charge (ref: The Fijian Compendium from Soggy Paws). I’d suggest that whilst it is all well and good to act charitably to the “poor locals” (makes some people feel all warm and fuzzy inside…) I would far prefer for the locals to be able to be in charge of their own destiny and get things they require with hard cash. I had no problem at all in paying this small amount in to their kitty. There are no generators in the village and a single telephone set up at an open window at the school. The nearest mobile phone coverage is some 150 miles away.

I was asked if we could fix the Chief’s magnifying glass he uses for reading which had broken and I took it way to use my super strength glue to fix it.

We were taken for a quick tour of the village and the school. The school has 59 students from the four villages on the island, up to Grade 8 (about age 13-14). Grade 9 and above is conducted in Suva on the big island. The classrooms have a good homemade posters, mostly in English and the school tries to teach wholly in English. The kids are trilingual, speaking the local island dialect, Fijian and English. The school struggles with teaching materials. Books are in short supply and what there is is old, beat up and falling apart. George, the headmaster was very keen to get his hands on any teaching material we could give him. Sadly we handed on most of our old stuff  to the school in Tonga. We did give them as many David Attenborourgh and BBC educational  documentaries as the schools computer’s memory would take. If anyone could help out with a range of primary school books (they will happily photocopy anything they get to pass out to the kids), I’d be pleased to give people an address by PM. Land mail is delivered once a month when the ship comes in. There is no air service to the island. There is one TV which “sometimes” works with a sat dish and a freeview box, held communally in one of the school buildings. It wasn’t working whilst we were there. We got the Scotland-Fiji score via a phone call.

We visited our host family for our stay in the atoll. This visit entailed simple introductions, a cup of lemon tea and some pancakes. Kid’s boats aren’t common (less than 1 in 10, said our host) so having so many kids suddenly rock up caused great interest and our hosts’ house had a revolving crowd of village smalls all coming to see our kids.

Our hosts, Tai, Suka, Wattie and Koro were all names we had read about in the Compendium. Tai, staff at Musket Cove for 15yrs was the man that had the Chief introduce the $50 fee for staying in the atoll. Articulate, bright and friendly he was an excellent host. Wattie and Koro are cousins but seem to hang out with each other.  Koro has a good understanding of English but seemed shy to use it.

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We dinghied around back around to the village the next day having been invited to lunch after church. The church service lasted two hours and the Minister was more of a fire and brimstone type than the happy cheerful soul that led the service in Tahaa, still the best service we have been to. We were asked during the service to stand up and give the congregation a quick run down of ourselves and I took the opportunity to thank them all for their hospitality and friendship. The Minister came to apologise after the service in excellent English for conducting it in Fijian. We told him we were glad he didn’t as it would have removed a lot of the charm of the occasion! Those from our party that partook in Communion said he did their blessing in English.

As always in the Pacific the singing was loud and enthusiastic. The only musical accompaniment was a metal triangle vigourously banged. The kids’ choir was excellent and I’ve included one of their renditions. I’d think most churches in the UK would be happy with the volume and the harmony! Click the link.

Kids Choir of Muanaicake, Falaga, Lau Island, singing in church

We went for a wander around the village after church to wait for the call for lunch. Sala, the headmaster’s daughter showed us around.

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Lunch was a glorious offering of homemade food. There were noodles, half a dozen different fish dishes, a turtle curry, cassava in a couple of forms, roti, bread fruit, a sweet bread for pudding and all in huge quantities. We as the guests ate first and as we proclaimed ourselves to be full, the plates were handed down the table and our hosts got stuck in. I think we all felt that the turtle curry was the piece de resistance but it was all terrific. We also enjoyed fresh coconut milk using a cut papaya stem as the straw.

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After inviting the family back to see us on Tuesday evening on board Skylark we headed back to the boat. We moved Skylark to another island no more than 500m from where we were to 19 08.008S 178 34.339W on sand in 24’ of water. Occupied until just recently, the small hut is still in good condition and the coconut grove is in a fair condition. The island has large beaches exposed at low tide and  we had a good explore . We stayed on the island all day exploring the shallow bays and finding a good selection of hard corals,  chitons, starfish and small fish.

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It was too good a chance for the kids to go in to school and having been invited by George, the headmaster, the younger ones headed in. Hannah was a bit surprised at how long schools went on for (0830-1500 – boy, is she in for a shock when we get home). Eleanor found herself well beyond anything they were teaching. Kinsley helped with the kindergarten kids.

Fulaga

After heading back to the boats to feed children and being joined by Invictus, we decided that the island was a perfect place to have a bonfire. It was a great night.

With limited time left to explore we decided to move to the SE corner of the atoll.  With the watermaker playing silly buggers, Invictus was kind enough to fill us up with water before we moved. You are always grateful to have a friend with a watermaker making nearly 10x the amount of water we can with our little one! It took less than an hour to make and transfer around 300l. Our thanks to Tobi and Nicole and and wish them a safe passage across to Maola Island. We should catch up with them in a couple of weeks at Musket Cove.

The passage through the atoll is one you need to be careful of but the scenery is fantastic. The lagoon is full of small James Bond type ancient coral formations which you can generally pass quite close to.

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As with all atolls, there are bommies and sandbanks around and you need eyes at the front of the boat. We went one better and stuck Eleanor up the mast so she could get a decent view forward and to warn us if we were getting near to trouble. She had fun with the camera too.

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The ladies on board, supplemented by Ciara from Stop Work Order, decided to have a pouting competition. You can decide the winner. Hannah didn’t get it and just looks cute!

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We anchored @ 19 08.396S 178 32.528W in 12’ of water, disturbing a turtle as we dropped the hook. There was a certain amount of toing and froing between boats and it ended up with Hannah having a sleepover with Truly on Stop Work Order and the Eleanor and Kinsley sleeping on our trampoline. We hosted Patrick and Corise for sundowners to give them a break from the noise of six kids before we split them back to their respective yachts!

We had a rendition of “We are the Champions” over Ch16 which was the victory call of T-Be, a NZ Bahia 46 who had got the news that NZ had won the America’s Cup. Great news and a invitation to all was extended for a pot luck supper and sundowners on their boat in the evening. It was a fun evening and we met another set of Hendersons from NZ who very conveniently were able to give us details of where they had bought and imported a new membrane for their Spectra water maker, sadly something we now need to do as well. It has saved us a lot of wasted time researching.

The kids went off with Stop Work Order to visit the small village at the end of the atoll whilst we moved the boat around to the bay at 19 08.902S 178 33.925W on sand in 25’ of water to allow us short taxi rides for Tai and family’s visit out to us. The men were keen to get stuck into the kava, the kids into the cake, sweets and juice and the ladies a mix of both. We weren’t quite expecting the number that arrived but it was great to be able to host the family back after all their hospitality. Great people.

The kava flowed and everyone, including our girls, got a taste. Hannah left hurriedly but showed enough decorum not to retch until she was out of sight of the locals!

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They stayed for a couple of hours and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. We talked about the possibility of the island becoming a booking in port, something that would greatly increase the number of visitors the island would get and the impact on the island. Even after 5 years of being open to cruisers again, the local view is mixed in whether this would be welcome or not.

After they had sung a farewell song to us, we ran them home with storage containers, toys, books and what dry stores we could spare.

We moved back up to the SE anchorage at last light using our previous track and a big torch to ensure we got in safe.

Our last day was spent in and around the anchorage, kids playing with Stop Work Order and the grown ups getting the boat ready. I made one last visit to the village to take some printed photos of our time in the village to Tai and to visit the school and download some documentaries.

The people of Fulaga have been the most welcoming of anyone we have met in during our travels. Still early in the season, they have had few boats as of yet (they average about 75 a season) and perhaps was just that they aren’t touristed out yet. But I  rather think what we experienced was their simple and honest hospitality. They don’t have much but all they had was offered freely. Life is hard for the islanders and those that stay are proud of the old lifestyle. However, it hasn’t stopped the majority of adults of a working age moving away from the island for an easier more modern life. All children leave for their secondary education in Savu and many families simply up and go for this period too, not to be seen again until their 40s or in Tai’s case, once he retired at 55. It is a sad fact that the old ways are no longer attractive enough for the young to hold them to the island. There needs to be more opportunity for money making ventures to entice some at least to stay. Otherwise, the island population will continue to see a slow decrease. There are already too many unoccupied houses in the village.  Exposure to modern conveniences has happened, Pandora’s box has been opened and there is no shutting it now.

We left Fulaga on a falling tide with just a few standing waves at the pass for the 130Nm trip up to Vanua Balavu, part of the Explorer Isles.

Fulaga

Bula, Fiji!

The sailing grounds of Fiji are huge and we will have the delight of exploring them for about two months. The Lau Group alone is over 200 miles long or half the length of the Caribbean. Then you have the Yasawa Group, two huge main islands and lots of other individual islands to explore. We decided we would explore as much as we could but with the primary goal of visiting the Lau Group, difficult to do unless the weather plays nice for you. These islands, very much off the beaten track and very definitely off grid, have only been opened up for cruisers to visit in the last five years. The Fijian Government stopped issuing permission in the mid 90s as it was felt that the island communities were being corrupted by the few visitors they were getting. Cruising licences were granted again in 2012. Last year around 100 yachts visited the chain.

On our passage from Tonga, we came through the Oneata Pass during the night and then turned N for the 170miles run up to Savusavu. Our first sight of land in daylight was the island of Taveuni, a huge old volcano lying to the SE of our destination, Vanua Levu island.

Bula, Fiji!

We booked in at Savusavu on Fri 9th Jun. Savusavu is the northern and most eastern of the available booking in ports of Fiji. The Customs and Immigration Staff were pleasant and we had no problems. Charges are made for the Biosecurity and the Health inspectors (a total of about $230 – about £85 – exchange in Jun 17 was $2.70 to £1 – all pricing given in Fijian $). Don’t book in at a weekend as you get hit for automatic fees for the Customs and Immigration with a minimum charge of three hours staff costs, another $200 or so. The only issue we had was as we had no Fijian money on us, we needed to find their offices on the following Monday to pay. We had a few attempts where the staff were nowhere to be seen, presumably busy with duties but it did mean we explored the town well!

The other embuggerance we found is that until you gain your sailing licence you aren’t allowed to tour Fiji. Stupidly, it requires another application to the Customs staff after you have booked in. We did it through the Marina office and it took a further three days to be organised and for us to be called into the Customs office to finish the paperwork off, a total of a week after we arrived. Why it isn’t done automatically with the information you supply with your advance notice C2 paperwork, I don’t know. Once you have the licence, there is a second requirement to phone in to Customs with your plans once a week so they can track you as you go through the islands.

Bula, Fiji!

We had a fantastic week at the Copra Shed Marina, sitting properly still for the first time after all the fast jumps we had had since Tahiti and met some good people. It took a few days to work out that we knew Ding from Opua when he had been parked beside ZigZag and we had mutual friends in Gill and Alastair of Starcharger. We had a good day watching Scotland beat the Aussies and then the Lions match afterwards.  There are three marinas in Savusavu. You have the Yacht Club, a mile or so up E outside the town. This is home to the long term liveaboards that have decided not to leave Fiji. We were invited down one evening for a pot luck supper which was great fun. They are a nice crowd. It was great to meet Jimmy, a 15yr vet of Fiji who has now qualified for residence. His story of building a platform on his newly gained land with an ISO container and putting a yurt up on top to live in until the house is finished is inspirational!

Next you have the Copra Shed. With some dock space and plenty of balls, it is the most swept up and commercialised of the marinas. It has an excellent bar and restaurant, laundry, shops and a couple of chandleries with a surprisingly good selection. Their electronics were better priced than NZ. The marina will also organise, free of charge, your booking in and out, calling the Customs and Immigration staff in as you arrive. Well organised and with a secure dinghy dock, it is run by Geoff Taylor (the OCC PO in these parts) and his staff and is a good place to be. To point out a star, Pretty, the lady who runs the marina office is superb at sorting out your questions and problems. Our week on the ball cost us $15 a night and our evening view was fantastic.

Bula, Fiji!

Lastly you have the Waitui Marina. These days it is pretty run down but its balls are even cheaper than the Copra Shed. If you really need to save cash go here, but don’t expect frills. It has a small dinghy dock, a bar and the evening restaurant is a BBQ stand at the front of the building. Saying that they are the best of the marinas at listening out on the radio and are excellent at sorting out taxis. Bula, Fiji!

Turning right out of the marina, there are several restaurants along the sea front. The Chinese is excellent (portion sizes are massive) and the Indian is pretty good too. You really need to ask for hot here as if you don’t you will get a bland offering. When they do heat it up, it is excellent.

In regard to services, the Copra shed is excellent.

Laundry is cheap at $8 a load and generally done within the day. Water and fuel are available (water from the dock at a small charge – fuel from the local Total petrol station – not tax free but easily organised).

We wouldn’t recommend Shabnam, the lady who sits outside the Copra Shed and says she is a seamstress/sail repairer. She did some inside cushions for us on the basis we could check her work before we gave her our sail cover,  parasail and bimini for repair. What came back didn’t impress and I certainly wasn’t going to hand anything more valuable to her to do given her standard of work.

Internet is always a thorny problem in the Pacific. FP was stupidly expensive but we were impressed with Tonga. Fiji is even better. Fiji has an good 3G phone coverage and data cards for your phone cost $50 for 50Gb download, valid for a month from Vodaphone, the provider we were advised to use by locals. We bought a card and then a dongle to allow us both phone and data access. Full service and good internet about $140? And $50 credit for calls throw in for free? Excellent! Bizarrely international calls are $0.15 a minute, local calls are $0.42. Go figure……..

We explored Savusavu thoroughly. It is a small town with one main street running maybe half a mile long with a bus station and a large indoor market for fruit, veg and the all important dried kava roots, used to make the local tropical beverage of choice. The majority of the shops are cheap, a bit chaotic but great fun to explore and the people are uniformly helpful and pleasant. It has been great to get back to better prices than FP. My Keen sandals were starting to fall apart. Fixed by the shoemaker for $6.  Could have bought new flip flops for $5 but hey! It isn’t a population with much money and the pricing in shops (and you have to say the quality of goods in the shops) reflect this.

Bula, Fiji!

Our first of four sets of Fiji guests arrived. We last saw Shena and Kinsley from Almost There in Puerto Rico for Christmas ‘15 just before they moved off their boat and back to North Carolina. Kinsley has shot up and now is as tall as me at the grand old age of 13…. It was lovely to see both of them although the long flight out here had taken its toll. The goodies they brought out with them (new handheld, the new Delorme, new cable for the VHF and some god awfully sour sweets called Warheads for the girls) were gratefully received. The Moonshine that came too will be appreciated at a later date!Bula, Fiji!

We had a couple of days exploring the local area with them.We visited a tropical rain forest, run by locals. We spent more time looking for kava to present them and then getting stuck on the v small road to the village (thank you to the bloke who took pity on us and took us the rest of the way in his 4×4 – no way would our hire care have made it) than we did actually looking around the trail.

Bula, Fiji!

It is well worth a visit if for nothing more than the fresh water crayfish and the bugs we found. I enjoyed being surrounded by that slightly off rotten smell you get from true rain forest, very much a land smell. My legs didn’t really enjoy having to climb up and down hills for the first time in a long time.

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We visited a village that looks after a waterfall. After our sevusevu ceremony where our $20 stick of kava root was formally accepted, we were given permission to look around the village, buy some trinkets made in the village and then visit their waterfall. I’m afraid I succumbed to the charms of an enormous shell and the ladies had fun buying bracelets. I had some fun with two very small boys wanting to throw a rugby ball around and we toured the neat, small village, proudly being show the church and the Fijian equivalent of the church bell, a hollowed out tree, used as a drum. Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!DSCF1719DSCF1712Bula, Fiji!

We headed back into town and Lou got very excited about a sign she saw. Apparently her Dad went to St Bedes when he was growing up………..

Bula, Fiji!

We met up with another couple of kid boats, Mrs Goodnight from GE with Katrina on board and most impressively Lil’ Explorers from USA with 6 kids on board!

We had a good night at the Savusavu Yacht club with a pot luck supper and visited the old plantation club in town too. It had extracts of A to Z of White immigrants in Fiji where the detailed views of the planters on the intractability of the “natives” in the late 19C was a horrifying non-PC but very interesting. I’d have to say the current internal problems with the take over of administrative and management roles within Fiji by Indian émigrés (now 4 and 5th gen Fijians themselves) started a long time ago and seems to me to be very much down to British colonials  bringing in more “tractable” staff……

We loaded up with fresh from the excellent market as there is a very limited ability to pick up anything in the islands beyond the local’s hospitality.

Bula, Fiji!

We moved from Savusavu SE to the end of the point beside the Jacque Cousteau Resort to meet up with Mrs Goodnight and Lil’ Explorers and to wait for a weather window to move to Taveuni, a large island 40miles W but well placed to give us a decent sailing angle down into the Lau Group, hopefully our next destination. Whilst we waited we had great fun with a movie night on board Lil’ Explorers and then an education for all of us in the delights of Halyarding. Great fun, a little scary and with the potential to go wrong if you mistime it, it was an adrenaline buzz loved by all.

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Shena and I got up to a fair height but the wee ones got to the full stretch of rope. Hannah went one better and launched just as the rope went taut, firing above the line like an arrow. It took us all by surprise. I think she reached well beyond 10m in height and took a long time to reach apex and fall back into the water!

Bula, Fiji!

The passage to the Lau Islands is not an easy one. The prevailing winds of Fiji are the SE trades. To get back into the Lau Islands from either Savusavu or Suva, the two booking in ports means a either a long beat upwind or waiting around for weeks to get a window of 36hrs or so when the Trades collapse as a system goes through. There had been one just as we arrived in Fiji and one looked likely as we moved around to the Jacque Cousteau Resort. To position ourselves, we beat a further 40Nm E around to the island of Taveuni. It was not a pleasant sail and we had big seas until we got into the lee of Taveuni. We stopped at the Paradise Resort near the S corner of the island and met back up with Stop Work Order.

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The resort is owned by two Aussies,Terri and Alan . Deemed too old to do so in Aus,  they moved to Fiji to be able to adopt kids and now have four happy smalls. Good people, they have decided the resort will be a cruiser friendly place and have put in 6 buoys in place for visiting boats. The buoys are free as is the use of the showers and pool. The food is excellent and the evening ambience, helped along by being serenaded by a guitar playing local was very pleasant. Internet is v expensive ($50 a day against $50 for 50Gb lasting a month via Vodaphone data card) as is laundry (more than 5x the price of getting it done at the Copra Shed) but we required neither service.

I did get an education in wearing my “man skirt”. In FP, men wear the sulu with the front cover going to the right, just as I would wear a kilt. In Fiji, men wear the front cover to the left; ladies to the right. I was a little surprised to be wolf whistled at by the grinning guitar player but he explained why and we laughed. He did offer to exchange his own more formally correct Fiji suvu for mine but I rather like my Bora Bora flowery one…… I did change the wrap around before anyone else took advantage of me and got another knowing smile and a nod when he saw me correctly dressed!

The kids had a wonderful time and Hannah enjoyed a couple of nights being invited to dinner with the Resort owner’s kids. Much laughter, great fun and we thank Terri for the invitations.

We had two great days at Paradise before leaving on the tide N to make more easting in the shadow of Taveuni. Two days of sailing stretched in front of us, most of it on a best course to windward.

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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.

Tonga

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.

Tonga

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.

Tonga

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.

Tonga

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.

Tonga

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.

Tonga

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

Tonga

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…..

Tonga

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.

Tonga

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.

Tonga

The sunset was spectacular.

Tonga

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.

Tonga

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.

Tonga

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.

Tonga

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.

Niue

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.

Niue

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.

Niue

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!

Niue

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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.

Niue

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.

Niue

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!

Niue

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!

Niue

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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