Sunday, 25 October 2009

Brace yourself Sheila, we've arrived.

Brace yourself Sheila, we've arrived.

After a fast and windy passage from Northern New Caledonia, we arrived safely in Bundaberg Australia on Sunday 25/10/09 at 23.30. We are all very excited to be here and feel it's a real marker on our circumnavigation. We are looking forward to exploring the island and interacting with the local culture.

Our plans are to spend a week in the marina for general maintenance etc, and as part of the Bundaberg Yacht Club Port to Port rally, there will be plenty of good social with the many boats we have seen and met across the Pacific.

I should even get the opportunity to bring the blog up to date with entries for passages to and from New Caledonia. Suffice to say we had an interesting time with cameramen, helicopters and boats…. We will keep you posted

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Friday, 23 October 2009



Leaving Tonga on 12th September, we felt good about pushing west. Had we more time we could have spent longer seeing the beauty of Tonga, experiencing their culture and benefiting from the warmth and generosity of the Tongan people. There were areas we wanted to go, the Hapai group, further south, the outer anchorages of the Vava'u, but weather and time were against us, and we needed to head west in order to get to Australia by the beginning of November and the start of the cyclone season.

This will be the story from now on. With the current schedule there is no way to fully explore Fiji and its many many outer islands. All we can hope for is to see a few islands, experience the culture and hopefully find a pleasant anchorage with fine weather and stop for a few days. We are, however, building an itinerary for next year and hopefully, if we manage to come back and skirt this route, we will have time to explore more thoroughly. That said, we are unsure of our plans and destinations for 2010, no doubt time and tide will reveal all.

We set off from Port Morrell with 2 reefs in, expecting boisterous conditions. Clearing the islands the swell settled down and we shook one out giving us excellent sailing conditions in 20kts ESE heading 260, making 9 odd Kts. The wind held overnight and we were making good progress. We had set up a radio schedule with the Vagabonds and the Blues so at 0730 each morning we could talk on the SSB, and overnight we had 15 miles clear on the Vagabonds and 25 on the Blues.

The first night offshore is usually quite hard work, getting back into the swing, so the first morning we have bacon and eggs together as a sort of treat. We all enjoy it and the eggs are just delicious with that deep yellow yolk one could expect from a place like Tonga….I guess everything is free range, even the bacon!!. First fish, 10,30, Tuna, 15.15, Mahi, lovely, 15.45 Tuna again, all weighing in at about 12-15kg. Great fishing and all dispatched to the freezer.

The wind eased to 15Kts ENE as we headed towards the Lau group and the pass between the islands. We were a little worried about sailing through the islands at night. Although the passage looked big enough at 15 miles, there were a few obstacles on the west side and the waters between Tonga and Fiji are known to have many uncharted reef and seabed disturbances. To give you an idea, we had been given a layer file for the charting software detailing 60 uncharted issues, so we were really on our toes. We also had no idea how accurate the GPS was going to be and what sort of offset we should allow. I thought that a 1 mile offset would be outrageous, so I allowed 3 miles for certainty. Even so I was straining to hear any reef break as we approached. The wind was easing all the time and by midnight it was 6-8kts NE, We were motoring to keep up to 5 kts with a full main up as we entered the islands. We didn't see them, and got through the reefy bits no problem, then started picking up the higher islands on the Radar. Great, I finally had a reference. We had some weird gusts. At 5.30am the wind suddenly started blowing at 20kts. With just the full main we were making 11kts downwind….then a violent shift of 40 degrees put us in an involuntary gybe, and off we went again at 11 kts. 10 minutes later the exact opposite, another gybe and off again. Not what you want after a long night, and quite exceptional.

By 5am we were through the islands and into the Koro sea heading west for Suva. I spoke to Bill on Vagabond Heart and recounted our experience. As I was talking with him he left the radio and dropped sail having just had the same experience, quite strange. Lucy Blue saw 2 water spouts close by and dropped sail instantly…..strange place. Im very glad we didn't see any water spouts as there was so little room to manoeuvre with reef on both sides.

At 05.15 on 14th September we crossed the date line, and started our count down to Greenwich. We had been heading away from Greenwich for a year less a week and now we were heading back home, a significant point for us, being exactly half way round the world.

The wind filled in from the NW and steadily increased over the day until it was blowing 25kts pretty much on the nose, but by the following morning the wind died completely, and being only 30 miles out of Suva, we could come back onto course, making the pass into the harbour at lunchtime with no wind and bright sunshine. We anchored opposite the Royal Suva Yacht Club at 1300 and waited for Customs to arrive. It had taken 3 days from Tonga with a week of different conditions. An extremely busy bit of sailing!!

Port Control had informed us that Customs, immigration and quarantine would be with us that afternoon, but at 1500 a launch turned up and said they would be along in the morning. We radioed Port Control and received clearance to go ashore to the Yacht Club for dinner and to let the Boys run. The RSYC was the first proper yacht club we had been in since Bayona. It was quite informal and had a good attendance of friendly locals and ex pats. It was a real club in the sense that the same faces were there each night with a fresh uplift of new faces on the weekend…. and an attentive steward. We all felt quite at home.

Customs and company arrived at 11am the following morning and having given them the required paperwork in triplicate they departed with instructions to pay the launch $100 and attend their onshore offices by 1500 that day. Needles to say their offices were scattered around town so we spent the rest of the day in one office or another and by 1700 we had all the required paperwork for our stay in Suva. We were, however, expected to attend the same offices to clear out when we left Suva, and clear in again on arrival in Latoka. We were gong to see a lot of Customs and their friends while in Fiji., and always new forms in triplicate. I guess the massive amount of paperwork is part of the legacy left by the British…I cant wait until we get to India. I think I will invest in some carbon paper. The strange thing is, that in the offices and even in the shops, all the business is recorded both on computerised systems and in ledgers. Its as if there is no trust in the electronic system!

We liked Suva. It had a busy feel, a hustle and bustle, street vendors and discount stores, and absolutely no tourists. We really were in the minority as WASPS with the populace of Fijians, Asians and Indians. The people were friendly and courteous and, as in so many of the other countries we have been to, the boys had their heads touched continually. I think its just an involuntary reaction some people have to blonde hair, but as they pass, the hand comes out and just brushes their hair, then they look and smile at us and it happens again with someone else. The boys always attract attention and we are acutely aware of their difference, but as yet have felt no threat to their security. They are little monkeys and quite engaging. In the enormous fresh market in Suva they were given fresh pineapple, cut and ready, and managed, even with the language barrier, to convince a 12 year old barrow boy to race them around the stalls in his wheelbarrow…that drew a small crowd and big smiles.

We stocked up well, this being the first city we had been to since Papaeeteei, and enjoyed the variety and availability of products and the cheap nature of the stores. We bought sweet iced tamarind drinks and ate fresh corn on the cob from street vendors, and in a way it reminded me of Cartagena…. That, seems like a lifetime ago.

The taxis were reasonable and plentiful so it made life easy and after 2 days we had completed a major restock of the boat. In addition we both bought ourselves a little present. Amanda a new Nikon lens for her camera, and a new pair of Binoculars for myself. For some reason both items were affordable and good quality and would make a difference, so were easily justified.

While in Suva we had to sort out our Australian Visas. We took a taxi to the Australian consulate, pulled a ticket and waited…and waited…and waited. After 2 hours we were seen, but it was apparent it was not going to be straightforward. Our Passports were not sufficient evidenced of our parenthood and birth certificates and marriage certificates were required….. Impossible. We left and decided we would apply for electronic visas over the Internet, and extend them after our arrival in Australia. It took 20 minutes to apply and 4 hours to receive confirmation and authority to travel. It's quite remarkable how efficient, easy and economic a good website can be.

We were lucky that the first day or two it only rained in the afternoons and the mornings were clear. On the third day it really started raining and it just didn't stop for 2 days. I inverted our canopy and made a sort of tent over the cockpit, which kept the area dry so we had some outside space, but I have never seen rain like it. I had read somewhere that Suva receives 200 inches of rain a year. I started thinking about that and it dawned on me that that was 18ft of rain….that's a lot. No wonder umbrellas were cheap!!!

We were ready to leave Suva, so after doing the rounds I obtained clearance and on the 19th Sept we headed the 50 miles WSW to the Beqa lagoon and Yanuca island. Behind the island was a sheltered bay and we decided to spend a few days at anchor. We swam and I cleaned the weed from the waterline, a job I was having to do more often, and we walked and shelled the beach. The Boys were enjoying the beach and the weather was fine, although we could see it was still raining over Suva!!

There is a legendary surf spot know as Frigate Pass just 12 miles from the Bay we were anchored in and on the beach was a small, basic resort hostel for surfers. We went ashore and had a few drinks talking with some surfers from Hawaii. The girls were just as you would expect Hawaii surf chicks to be…all muscles and "like totally awesome waves man"…Ok for 20 minutes but you would struggle over dinner, unless you were arm wrestling or something.

The following morning we left with good light as early as we dared and tip toed through the uncharted lagoon to the pass into the clear water. We headed towards Latoka and after a brisk sail we came through the pass at 5pm, and at dusk we dropped anchor in Momi bay, the first sheltered bay available. The next day would be an easy hop 15 miles up the coast to Musket Cove where we had heard our friends the Vagabonds and the Blues had spent a week enjoying the resort and amenities. .

We arrived in time to see the Blues and the Vagabonds departing in separate directions and made a plan to meet with the Vagabonds in a few days. The Blues were off to smarten the boat up as they were trying to sell her and had a potential buyer flying in from Australia. They have completed 2 years on board and will have sailed from Norway to Australia, which was their plan, so its time to move Lucy Blue on. We planned to see them further down the track, and wished them luck with their endeavour.

While picking up a mooring Buoy we noticed a boat Mikado .we had not seen since the Marquesas. We said hi and bye as they were just off to Vanuatu, but confirmed we would see them at the end of October in Bundaberg, our arrival port in Australia. Many of the boats cruising the pacific and heading to Australia had decided to participate in a rally ending in Bundaberg. It promised to be a party, and would make the whole entry and documentation process easier and faster. We secured Pegasus, launched the dinghy and went ashore, looking forward to a swimming pool for the boys, and a good book and poolside service for us. Luxury.

Musket cove was in fact 2 resorts on an island with an airstrip. In total there were 5 pools and the boys swam in all of them. We ate in a couple of restaurants and enjoyed a relaxing 2 days. Its really quite easy when there's a pool. The boys swim all day, breaking for snacks and drinks, and we can relax. The resort caters for Australians and Kiwis looking for winter sun, a sort of antipodean's Lanzarote. As such there were quite a few "Chubby lobsters" wandering around , and our good mornings were answered with g'day.

We wanted to head out to some islands in the Yassawa group, so on the 24th September we headed north through the reef and islands in the lagoon up to the Mananutha-I-Ra group, where we knew Vagabond Heart was anchored. We sailed the 60 miles north arriving in a beautiful bay at 1500. The Bay was formed by 2 islands in a horseshoe, linked at the top by a coral reef. It was truly stunning, and reminded me of the location for that 80's TV programme "Fantasy Island".

The Vagabonds were leaving the next morning to pick up a guest flying into Latoka, so that evening we all met on the Beach for sundowners and a big fire. There was a local boat anchored on the beach and we greeted the 6 lobster divers as we arrived. They were very friendly and it seemed that they camped on the beach 3 days a week diving for lobster at night. We asked if they could catch some lobster for us. "No problem" they replied and off they went into the night. We had a great evening catching up with our friends and the boys ate toasted marsh mallows round the fire.

There was another boat in the bay, a swan 46 called Da Capo.. Alistair and Lucy had 3 small children on board, Callum 4, Naomi 3 and Thomas nearly 2., all animated and able. We met them on the beach and the boys started playing. These were the first children we had met that were about JJ and Louis' age, and we all got on famously.

That afternoon we met up with the lobstermen on the beach. They had 3 large lobsters for us, the green tail variety. We gave them a carton of cigarettes and they were overjoyed. They had expected a couple of packets, and after our generosity they couldn't do enough for us. One of the men cut saplings and made the boys a bow and arrow each, and we sat and chatted about Fiji and their lives and villages for some time. In reality it was a good trade as the cigarettes we had bought in Panama for 6USD and that's a small price to pay for risking your life diving in shark infested waters with a clacking lobster on the end of your spear….. which was the only alternative I could see to catch lobster for Amanda..

Drinks onboard Da Capo and a rendezvous the next morning on Pegasus for swimming and play time. Pegasus is a great boat for that sort of thing and we had an easy morning with plenty of swimming and good social. The afternoon we spent shelling and walking on the beaches and we climbed up the rocks for a spectacular view of the Bay. The Vagabonds returned that evening and we had drinks on board and met their guest Patricia, an old friend of the Vagabonds.

We spent 2 more days and nights in the Bay, all enjoying the terrific snorkelling, fires and BBQ on the beach and some great shelling. Time was pushing on for all of us and after a superb curry night on board Vagabond Heart, we all left the Bay the next morning, the 29th September heading our separate ways.

We arrived in Latoka, some 35 miles, after lunch and made our way to Customs to check in. Even though our plan was to only be there a night we needed to officially enter, and clear out again.. After the formalities we went into town and bought supplies, milk, coke and beer. We hauled this all aboard and returned to town for dinner. With the large Indian population in Fiji, the Indian food was fantastic, readily available and cheap. We ate curry and dahl, while the boys had chicken, chips and roti, which they love. We were not impressed with Latoka, and felt a slightly threatening feel on the streets. It had none of the colonial charm of Suva and we were ready to leave. We planned a little shopping, clear out and away by lunchtime the following day.

I was woken the morning of 30th September by my mother in England….Tsunami warning., Great! Now I've covered this in a previous blog so I wont elaborate, but after the threat had diminished we completed our shopping had a quick lunch and arrived at customs to check out. There was no one there as they had all taken the day off due to the Tsunami warning. There were 6 other boats with business, so after some time a car load of officials turned up to man the offices. I have to say it was quite impressive watching the 5 Indians dealing with the 7 boats all at the same time. There were 7 of us filling out forms on every available surface, and 5 of them photocopying and stamping everything in sight. After 20 minutes we were done (having completed the paperwork prior to arrival) and we upped anchor and headed south so that we could get an early start through the pass in the morning. We motor sailed the 40 miles to Momi bay and dropped the hook at 2100. Being only 3 miles from the pass through the reef protecting the lagoon, we could be up at first light and on passage to New Caledonia before breakfast.

On reflection we liked Fiji. There was no feeling that this was a country that had just had a coup, and the people were friendly and engaging. There was a slight feeling in the Latoka area of the locals being tourist weary, and as such they were not as friendly, but on balance it is definitely somewhere we hope to go again. I have to say that I do like going to countries where HRH is on the bank notes. It always makes us feel that we are slightly more than visitors.

There are thousands of islands to explore in the Fiji group and some really remote regions. It was a shame to be leaving after only 15 days having just scratched the surface, but time was pushing on, and we had a rendezvous in Noumea with Ben the Cameraman on 7th October, and some 750 miles to cover.

We set off on 1st October in 15-20kts SSW close-hauled, making 10+Kts through deep azure water, and with clear skies….. It felt good to have Pegasus flying again.

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Sunday, 4 October 2009

Vava'u Tonga

Vava'u Tonga

We left Suwarrow on 20th August bound for Neiafu in the Vava'u group, northern Tonga. It is about 700 miles and our detour via Suwarrow had cost us 100miles, but with the violent conditions we experienced there, we were glad to have stopped

Although the weather predictions on the grib files were not perfect we felt good about leaving and were ready. As is so often the case, the time to leave is when you feel it is right. That morning felt good and after plenty of beach time, the boys were ready. We always try and give them a good day on the beach with plenty of swimming and play before a passage. It wears them out and, being different, makes their days on board more interesting. We expected light winds with a moderate swell for the first few days, then the passing of a front with the wind backing swiftly and intensifying. With such variable conditions I knew I was in for a physically demanding few days.

We had light shifty winds for the first 3 days, so plenty of kite work, then the wind filled in early on day 4 and came on the nose at 20 kts. Pegasus is pretty swift and 20kts on the nose is 28-30 apparent so its windy, and we slowed down to 7-8 kts, which is more comfortable and less bouncy. There is a tendency to jump waves at over 8 kts, which is not what you want to be doing with the family asleep on a windy moonless night! The wind backed and by the early evening it was a beam with a moderate sea and so we were back up to speed. We kept the wind through day 5 and in the afternoon arrived in Tonga after quite a work out. On our approach we saw a large humpback whale, our first, breaching some 100 meters from the boat. We all felt good.

Although strenuous, it was great sailing after the slow passage to Suwarrow and I was pleased to be back in the saddle, so to speak, after so long without a really good sail. We caught good fish with 3 Wahoo and a Tuna (8-12 kg range), so the freezer was full and we were all looking forward to some local cruising around the islands, some time in town, the internet etc. and a few meals out. After tying up alongside the container wharf and completing our quarantine, customs and immigration duties we headed up to town and picked up a buoy opposite a restaurant bar called the aquarium.. Lucy Blue had arrived the day before and the Vagabonds were at anchor in a bay having been there for a few days. We had been in touch on the SSB and had loose plans to cruise the islands together.

We arrived on 25th August (GMT -12), but because Tonga sensibly, wants to be in the same time zone as its neighbours it jumps the dateline so although actually 174 degrees west of Greenwich, it pretends to be 180 degrees East, therefore it was 26th August, (GMT +.13).

Up to this point our GPS and charting software had been accurate, but we knew from others that this would not always be the case and that in Tonga, and Fiji certainly, the offset would be different. In the past this had lead to boats running up on reefs and floundering, as the GPS is accurate but the charts, although new, are based on surveys that in some cases are hundreds of years old so the island appear in the wrong place. Our charting software was out by a few hundred yards, but it made little difference as most of the navigation in the reef-strewn waters is by eye. What was important was that we could get a fix on the degree of inaccuracy, so had a reference for the region. This would be important at each island group we went to.

Neiafu the capital of the Vava'u group is really quite small and compact. There are a number of supermarkets which are not really super…you know , 6ft of corned beef on one shelf followed by 6ft of powdered milk…great. That evening we went for dinner at the Vava'u yacht club; a bar called the Mermaid, and had a jolly evening with Lucy Blue. Their trip to Tonga had been a nightmare. Expecting light winds Buc had diverted to Pago Pago in American Samoa to buy diesel. Quite a detour. After checking in and out, paying wharfage, agents etc he finally got away after 24 hours and a few hundred dollars lighter to be faced with 56 hours of headwinds. Bill on Vagabond who was only 60 odd miles from Buc at the point of detour, carried his own wind all the way to Tonga and had a great trip!!! That's cruising!

The following morning the boys and I went ashore to find bread eggs and bacon. We found delicious white loaves freshly baked, bacon, but no eggs…apparently there was a shortage. In fact there was a shortage of many items. We learnt that the new supply boat bought by the Tongans from the Fijians was, in fact, not quite so new, and on its second trip it sank on route to Neiafu. It was a local tragedy, with 80 Tongans killed, and everyone in Neiafu had family or neighbours who perished. To add insult to injury, the new ambulance for the hospital was aboard and thus lost as well. It was a tragedy backed by scandal as it was rumoured that senior government officials had been involved in what was seen to be a "persuaded" decision to purchase the vessel. No doubt the inquiry will bring out the truth.

The result was that the shops were empty and they were waiting for new supplies due in a day or two. That afternoon we wandered round town to discover that the Vava'u Regatta was to be held after the weekend. It all sounded quite jolly with many events, a kids day and a race to an outer island where a full moon party was to be held the following Saturday. It was Friday so we planned to spend the weekend at a few anchorages then head back to town for Tuesday night and participate in the regatta.

Vagabond Heart arrived in town and we all went to a Tongan feast for dinner. It was set up by the catering college as a trial run for their service skills, and a bit of a home grown affair. I enjoyed it and the food was good although it was "trestle tables and plastic cutlery in the assembly room". There was some traditional Tongan dancing (this is just not as alluring as the French Polynesian dancing and I guess age and diet has something to do with it!) and a Kava area. The whole affair was organised by an American Peace Volunteer. I had not come across them before but basically they are young Americans (Mid / late 20's) who volunteer to live in outlying villages and add to the community in a variety of ways, teaching skills and language to the populace. I was shocked to learn that many of them had spent over 2 years in their current posts.

Kava is big in this part of the pacific. Basically it's a root that's masticated and reduced to a pulp. Its then added to water and the men sit around drinking it in a ritual with a prescribed format. Its quite peppery and had a numbing effect, and I'm sure if you sat around all night drinking the stuff you would sleep quite soundly, and probably have quite a good evening. It does, however, taste filthy and I think I would have to be a long way from civilisation to be persuaded of its virtues! It is very popular, and is what the men do most evenings…sit in a circle, drink Kava and play guitar.

We headed off the following morning in convoy some 5 miles to a beautiful anchorage in a deeply protected horseshoe bay called Port Morrell. There was a sandy beach, good coral to snorkel and not too distant, some caves to explore. We launched the dinghy and headed off to a cave called Swallows cave. We could motor right inside and besides the graffiti it was stunning. On our way back we snorkelled in some smaller caves en famille before returning to spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach.. That night we all gathered on the beach and lit a large fire, enjoyed a drink and watched the sun dip over the distant west horizon. It was all pretty perfect and we decided to stay another night and have a BBQ the following evening. Another day on the beach and a great BBQ and we were ready to move on.

Having decided to go and find Mariners cave, the following day we all departed on Lucy Blue for the 8-mile trip to the elusive cave. The directions to the cave were a bit sketchy and with the entrance 2 meters underwater it was a bit tricky, but when we approached the area Bill and I took the dingy and found the entrance. The weather was still and we dived down to check it out. We had read that it's about 4 meters through the rock to access the cave, but even so it takes an act of faith to swim into the black not knowing if there's any cave or air at the end of the tunnel. We both popped up inside the cave 40 seconds later thinking the whole experience was quite surreal. Inside the air was damp and the condensation formed mist as the swell compressed the air…quite weird. Swimming out was easier as the entrance appeared as a turquoise pool of light, and once outside we headed off to get the children.

After the vagabond and the Blues had swam, I took JJ into the water. Asking him if he wanted to do it, he said yes, put his head under and swam into the dark, closely followed by me. Quite amazing really that at just 5 he could swim 2 meters down and 4 meters into the unknown!! It was pretty exciting for him to be in the cave, but it was the swim that did it for him and on surfacing outside he looked pretty pleased with himself. Louis, although fully kitted up in the dinghy, was just too young for that sort of stuff, but he enjoyed being in the dinghy and part of the action. While having lunch on Lucy Blue we headed back to the anchorage all feeling good that we had found and swam Mariners cave.

We spent the following few night at anchorages in the outer islands and when the weather closed in we headed back to town for shopping, internet and a bit of regatta fun. It was wet and windy, but in the relative calm of the harbour, being close to town and the action was probably the best place to be. As part of the regatta, which was more of a local festival really, there were craft markets, BBQ's, a few races and a good social program. The Craft market was great and we bought a traditional, carved Tongan sword / dagger made from the bill of a broad bill fish. I'm not sure what we will do with it, but you have just got to buy these things when you see them.

I'm not really that keen to Race Pegasus, as she is our home, but I thought it would be fun to race down to Vakaeitu Island where we were going to go to the Full Moon Party. I was a bit wary at the start with 30 boats in the close harbour, and Pegasus is not really suited to short tacking, but we got the hang of it and avoided any mishap, arriving top third of fleet at the anchorage and finish.

At sundown we took the dinghy round to the small beach and landed at the full moon party. Set in a natural bowl straddling the small peninsular with a lagoon and ocean beach the setting was perfect. Valet parking for dinghy's, two sound systems, Bar, BBQ, big screen images and entertainments…looked like a great party, and it was. There were lots of children, and we knew plenty of people so we all had a great time. After midnight we headed back to Pegasus vaguely surprised to find that we had the right dinghy. A great night enjoyed by all.

A swim and breakfast freshened us up and we headed off to spend a few days at Euakafa Island, 5 miles to the SE. This uninhabited island is absolutely stunning, although not a great anchorage. We were in the lea of the island, so quite comfortable, and while it was windy and there was the worry of the anchor dragging, the beauty and water clarity made it quite special. We shelled on the beach, walking round the island, and climbed through the jungle, past the tomb of a historic Tongan queen, to a fantastic look out over the islands and anchorages of the Vava'u group. A large humpback whale and its calf swam down the channel north of the island for 2 hours and we watched as the wale and calf dived and surfaced 200 meters from our boats. On the way back it rained and we made jungle umbrellas out of young palm fronds. Lighting a fire on the beach and having a BBQ was a step too far and as the heavens opened again 13 wet bodies and the remains of the BBQ decamped to Lucy Blue for another good evening with our friends.

The vagabonds wanted to head out to another island but we thought that with the windy wet weather the best place was in town, so upped sticks and headed back to Neiafu. We had to take on a few supplies and get ready to leave, so we picked up another buoy and headed into town. That evening, as part of the regatta, we had been invited to a reception hosted by the Governor, so dressed in our finery, with the boys as pirates, we attended the reception and prize giving. Everyone won a prize, of course, and after dinner we returned to Pegasus feeling like it was time to leave and push on to Fiji. We had to complete our customs and immigration duties and tied up on the wharf again, to take on the duty free fuel we had organised. We did a bulk purchase with the Vagabonds and the Blues, and after a couple of hours we were ready to go. With so much rain we had filled our tanks with the water catcher, and we had stores, the only thing stopping us was the weather. With the delay over fuel it was 4pm (and Friday!) so we headed up to Port Morrell again to wait and see what the morning would bring.

Saturday and still windy. We were well sheltered but out at sea it was blowing a full 30+kts….let's look at tomorrow. Sunday 12th September looked good, and Lucy Blue with Vagabond Heart left at about 11am. I had developed Tonsillitis and was on antibiotics again, the second time since leaving Bora Bora. Once they kicked in later that afternoon, it was time to go. We put up the main, pulled up the anchor and headed through the islands in 20kts on the port aft quarter heading for Fiji via the Lakemba passage in the Lau group. The weather looked steady at 20's from the ESE, then easing on the final day or so to 12-16Kts ESE. Sounded perfect. Although feeling weak I knew that the steady conditions meant a less physical passage, and it felt good… the right time.

We really only saw the true beauty of the Vava'u group once, standing on top of the mountain on Euakafa Island. The skies cleared briefly and as the sun broke through, the water shone turquoise with the reef clear and apparent. We saw the island stretching into the distance in the beautiful water and it felt like paradise waiting to be explored. Most of our time there it had been windy and wet with the SPCZ hovering overhead, so that the true beauty had eluded us. With the convergence zone heading NE we hoped for fine weather, and that our time in Fiji would be different.

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Friday, 2 October 2009

Suwarrow / Suvarov

Suwarrow / Suvarov

Leaving Bora Bora we both felt relieved. We had finally left the French Islands and we were looking forward to exploring some new culture and islands. I think some of the reason for our relief was that we had seen our friends and other cruisers leaving heading west and listened to their passages on the SSB, so we knew we had a difficult passage to make and wanted to get it started. We knew we had missed a good weather window and we certainly felt time pressure to head west. We still had a lot of pacific to see before we had to be in Australia by end October.

Our plan was to head to Tonga, but the weather was looking unsettled with long calms and a windy finish. It suited to break the journey somewhere allowing us to pick the weather for our arrival in Tonga. There were 3 options. The southern route via Aitutaki in the Southern Cooks, the middle route via Palmeston Atoll and/or Nuie, or the northern route via Suvarov. The weather at the time was unsettled with the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) spread right across our path. It seemed that the winds were either much stronger than forecast or much weaker. Faced with a windy southern route or no wind northern route we decided to head for the middle route.

We set off on a beautiful day with a light SE wind and made reasonable progress on the first day. I flew the spinnaker for the first time since it was repaired in the Marquesas, and saw that it was a perfect job. Old Russ the sail maker on Zephyr had done a fantastic job on the large sail and had given us back our light wind horsepower. We were back in business.

The weather was looking light so we decided to head north a little to skirt over a windless patch. Well that didn't work and the windless patch just kept moving into our path on a daily basis. We sailed, motor sailed and then motored and after day 3 we decided our best option was to head for Suvarov. On the first 5 days we had no more than 10kts of wind with some absolutely flat conditions as well. The last 50 miles we had 30kts of breeze aft abeam and arrived after a fast finish. A long passage that we had planned for 4 days had taken us 6 and quite a bit of diesel. It had been really hot, rainy, flat, windy and cold so quite a mixed bag. We did, however catch good fish with a lovely big Mahi and 3, 15kg tuna, so we were ok for food as any resupply would have to wait until we arrived in Tonga..

We entered the atoll to find our friends Vagabond Heart and Lucy Blue at anchor, and after settling down we planned to get together that evening on Pegasus. The wind started to increase and by evening it was blowing a full 40+ knots. We were glad to be in the lagoon as conditions outside had deteriorated and there was a shot frequency (8 second) 4 meter swell running. We all had a good party and with the weather set to stay very windy for the next few days we planned to spend some time on the beach in the lea of the island and all have a few dinners together. Travel between the boats was wet and windy but arrival after challenging conditions always makes for a good party and we all had many laughs.

Suvarov is basically an atoll, national park 700 miles from its nearest neighbor. The Cook Islands have a warden on station who lives there for 6 months of the year with his family, and looks after the wildlife and small islands. John, Veronica and their 4 boys were charming and very hospitable, which made the islands, and the cruising community there feel very welcoming. There were 15 boats in the small anchorage, and an American boat (Carynthia) had a couple on board who were going to get married. We were all invited and on the windy days before, the women and children spent hour's platting coconut fronds to make a variety of ties, hats and skirts. The planned day of the wedding was delayed and when the weather cleared we all helped to prepare the beach and make food for a wedding party feast. It was a great party and the sun appeared and set over the atoll as they made their vows. All very American, lots of "I love you beautiful people "stuff, but a good party. (I think there are some pictures on the net at try looking under Pictures, Suwarrow / Suvarov.)

We really enjoyed our time in Suvarov (Suwarrow). We partied with our friends, the boys had a great time on the beach and other boats, and we explored a few of the islands. It was very different from our time in the Society Islands and exactly what we were looking for. Completely beautiful, remote yet with good social. It was a shame that we were going to miss Palmeston and Nuie. We had heard that the Humpback Whales were in the anchorage in Nuie, swimming between the boats, and that would have been fantastic, but we were sure we would see them when we got to Tonga, and there is just not time to do it all in one hit!

John had told us that the week before a sperm whale had washed up on one of the outer reefs and the decomposing body was still sitting on the reef. I thought this would make a great boys trip, so Buc (Lucy Blue) and Bill (Vagabond Heart) and myself set off to find the whale, and perhaps a tooth or two. We went out to the reef, some 3 miles, and found the body. It was pretty large and in a state of decay. We all cut teeth from the jaw and was surprised that the meat was much like steak, and not at all like fish! I also found 2 rib bones, which I carried back to Pegasus. While in Bequia in the Carib we had lunch in a house carved out of the rock, know as the Moonholes, and the owner had used whale ribs as banisters for his stair well. I thought that was an excellent idea, and hope that I can use them in a similar fashion at some point in the future.

Dead whale smells bad. The bones are honeycombed, and seep oil, which also smells whale like and bad. My plan was to let the ribs sit in the sun and get washed and bleached naturally, so I found a spot on the aft deck and they are still there today. They don't smell quite as much, so I guess its working. The teeth we boiled and removed of flesh and they are now pretty clean and not at all smelly. It was all quite an adventure and something that will probably never happen again. My view was that they were going to end up at the bottom of the lagoon anyway so why not take them. 3 days later the whale had disappeared, presumably washed off the reef and sunk in the lagoon.

We had been there 5 days and after the wedding many of the boats departed for Tonga and American Samoa. We said goodbye to V Heart and L Blue and moved closer to the beach and into the lea of the island. We were going to leave, but John asked if we would stay a few days until he got to know the new arrivals which were expected over the following few days.

Having not been over diligent with the video camera, we thought this an ideal opportunity to film a few things on shore with John and his children. Principally some fishing, gutting fish etc, shark feeding with the guts, and excitingly capturing a coconut crab, which we knew were on the island. We filmed all the fishing action and watched as the oldest son called the sharks into the beach on the sea side of the island. They were about 20 small Black tips and larger Grey sharks, and they went berserk when Jeremiah started throwing the fish bits into the water. I'm very glad that we didn't see any Grey's in the lagoon, although there were always Black Tips about when we were swimming. The Grey's are different and just go wild when they smell blood!!!

John was quite protective of his coconut crabs. They were present on a number of islands in the atoll, and on the main island where he lived. On many island in the Pacific they were now extinct, as they had been hunted for their meat. They are quite large, perhaps 20 inches across and have very powerful claws, enabling them to husk, break and eat coconuts, which gives them a slight flavour of coconut and they are delicious. We set off into the bush with John's boys who knew where they lived. We were lucky and found one out of its hole, which they caught and we duly filmed. After letting it go it scurried back into its hole not to be seen again. John had caught one the day before and our boys were thrilled when it grabbed their sticks and broke them with ease. I'm sure they could easily break a finger or two. Really quite prehistoric.

We spent days on the beach shelling and snorkeling the reefs and coral heads. The fish life was magnificent and we regularly saw sharks rays and octopus' (octopuses? Octopi?). After 8 days the weather was looking good so we decided to push on to Vava'u in the Tonga group, some 700 miles southwest. The SPCZ had pushed north so we thought we should have a good run into Tonga, with perhaps some wind on the last day. On 20th August we said our goodbye's, and left on a beautiful morning with 12 kts of breeze from the East…. Perfect conditions.

We were sad to leave Suvarov. We had got on well with John, Veronica and their family. They had shown us their islands and given us free reign, for which we were grateful. It must be very difficult to live that sort of wilderness existence for 6 months and then return to the office for the remainder of the year. What a job!!

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Thursday, 1 October 2009

Right here, Right now. 1st October 2009

Right here, Right now. 1st October 2009 Post Tsunami

Don't worry, don't worry, were all alright!! The south Pacific earthquake and subsequent Tsunami has passed (we hope) and alls well with Pegasus and family. We were in Fiji when we had a call from my mother early Tuesday morning warning us that a Tsunami warning was in place post the American Samoan earthquake. We were anchored off the town of Latoka NW Fiji, well inside the protective reefs. At 0700 I logged onto the SSB net and other cruisers within a 1000 mile radius had heard the warnings on Australian news services. At 0725 the first reports on the net came through of a suck and surge in Tonga. Remarkably it seemed to be only a 1.5 meter surge, and in the Vavau it was felt in the outer anchorages but not in the main town. We expected any surge to be felt by 0900 so waited on board with a few more phone calls from my mother giving more details. At 0930 the local radio broadcast an interview with the Tsunami warning centre in Hawaii who said that any surge in Fiji would be limited to 1 meter maximum and the monitored wave looked like it had passed us by. Remarkably we felt nothing. Feeling relieved we went ashore to complete our tasks before checking out with customs and heading out of Latoka to start the passage to New Caledonia. Sadly the following morning the reception was so bad that I could not hear the SSB net so am unsure as to the extent of damage or which Island had the worst hits. I gather there has been another earthquake in SE Asia, but apart from that info we are in the dark so to speak! Hoping for better reception this morning.

Its now 0520 Thursday morning and we are 160 miles SW of Fiji with 15kts breeze from the south. 2 reefs in main, full genoa and staysail making 6 kts in a 2 meter swell. I'm hoping that the passage will not be too physically demanding and that I can finally settle and catch up with the Blog, which has fallen a little behind. Stay tuned, there will be more over the next few days…….

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