Palmerston to Niue

Our passage from Palmerston started off in light airs – we had some fun when a weather trough came through – and we finally slowed down to arrive in Niue early on Friday morning having covered another 400 miles.

Ten miles out we radioed Niue Radio to let them know of our impending arrival and they told us to just pick up a mooring ball as the yacht club would not be manned yet. Listening in to the VHF we were very concerned to hear that Niue was under a tsunami warning from the Mexican earthquake!!! We radioed them back and asked them whether it was considered safe to approach the coast and were told yes, fine, go ahead we’ll let you know if you need to leave. Guess this is not an uncommon event then?!? So we continued to motor towards the anchorage and were worried when we counted masts as it looked like the mooring field was full – thankfully we managed to pick up the very last mooring right at the back of the fleet. Phew.

We got ourselves organised, dink off the bow and completed the paperwork. By now it was getting on for 9.30 so we headed towards the wharf as we had to meet customs at 10. Here in Niue there is nowhere to leave dink in the water – you have to winch him out and park him on the wharf. We got there but didn’t know how it all worked and were thankfully assisted by some other cruisers who had been here for a few days and had got the hang of the system. Was all a bit nerve racking and we both got a bit wet in the surging water – but at least we were ashore.

We sat in the shade and waited for customs and, within minutes, we were cleared. Woo hoo – fastest ever!!! We wandered into town and found a couple of small supermarkets, the tourist office, the Indian Restaurant, and the Niue Yacht Club. We checked into the tourist office – where they take the money for the mooring balls – and continued walking. We did have a look at the Yacht Club but there really isn’t much to say about this scruffy building attached to a backpackers hostel, so we moved quickly on.  Although we appreciate their excellent maintenance of the moorings.   We found a complimentary one-hour’s wifi signal so quickly caught up online while we ate Indian snacks – very very tasty.

Whilst on line we found out about the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands amongst others….. OMG we were absolutely shell shocked and concerned for friends there as it was our second home for many years prior to going cruising. A special place that we had shared with family and friends onboard charter boats and latterly Morphie. We fired off messages to people we were concerned about reaching out to try and make sure everyone is OK. But the photographs are absolutely terrible….. Heartbroken is the only word to describe how we feel.

Continuing our walk, all the time reeling from the news we had just received, we finally ended up at a cafe overlooking the bay drinking tea and eating cake with beautiful views down to the anchorage below.

Niue is one of the smallest countries and one of the largest raised coral atolls on earth and is affectionately called ‘The Rock’. It is situated 1,500 miles from the closet industrial land mass and, according to their tourist office, is one of the purest untouched environments in the world. Everyone speaks English – their official language – and a type of Maori. Although independent their history is English and they have links to New Zealand – using the New Zealand dollar as their own currency. People are incredibly friendly and everyone waved to us as we walked along. We kept an eye on the anchorage checking for changes in the sea state but knew that we would be informed in enough time to return to Morphie by the huge tsunami sirens dotted along the coast road.

Later on the tsunami warning was lifted – and relax! We returned to Morphie with fresh bread and some reasonably-priced beer from the shipping container that serves as the local liquor store. Much more realistic prices here with 12 cans selling for about £6 and apparently we get 30% off that price when we stock up using our exit papers. New Zealand dollars feel quite familiar with their plastic appearance and the Queen’s portrait on some notes.

Saturday morning the sea was weird…..we were being rolled all over the place on our mooring despite there being absolutely no wind. We looked out and everyone else was getting the same treatment. We headed to the wharf and really struggled to get ashore with the swells lifting us up about four feet at a time. I managed to grab a ladder while Richard brought dink alongside the steps – I got soaked up to my thighs just trying to rescue our bags! The locals thought that the strange motion of the ocean might have been related to the tsunami and earthquake activity in Mexico. What was really interesting too was that apparently all the whales had cleared off just before the warning was issued…..

We parked dink in his space and picked up our small Mazda hire car. Was a very nice change that they actually drive on the left – woo hoo!

We drove north first to the village of Tuapa where there was a local fête going on. We enjoyed watching the (Polynesian-style) dancers and wandered the stalls which were largely selling food and drinks. Madly this whole event had started at 6am.

We ended up with lamb curry for breakfast – having decided not to get a coconut crab killed as they looked uncomfortable enough trussed up – while we sat on the grass watching the performances.

Many members of the audience, largely family members we think, walked up to the performers and stuck money on their bodies or into their clothes, apparently to show their appreciation. We loved seeing the lady judges dressed in their village finery and clearly there had been some sort of vegetable competition earlier in the day judging by the exhibits lying around.

The island map has a number of sea tracks which are paths / hikes down to the sea where there are caves, pools and beaches. We visited Talava Arches first – a moderate to hard trek – and got lost!!!  We went down beneath an overhang of coral on what looked like a path to find ourselves facing the jungle – without a machete we were not going any further! Having been hiking for almost an hour we decided to give up and returned to the adjacent track which took us down to Matapa Chasm. This was an easy track – although probably not my definition of easy LOL – and it was worth the visit.

We then continued across the top of the island before heading down the east coast. But the road is really just a road through the jungle and there is little to be seen apart from the odd glimpse of the sea through the foliage. So we saw very little especially as most villages seemed to be on the west coast.

What we did come across was lots of abandoned homes rotting into the jungle – many in the grounds of newer homes with manicured gardens. We wandered if this was because of superstition?!? In the Bahamas this happens as they believe the spirit continues to live within the house. Possible some might also be due to cyclone damage. But it was a bit strange to drive through virtually abandoned villages….

Along the side of the road there were numerous graves – some new with lots and lots of flowers and some with little pagodas to house them – and others just disappearing into the bush as they have been long forgotten. It would appear that people are buried on their own property as there was no central cemetery.

A bit bored by the road we crossed back across to the west cost and visited the dive shop and made arrangements with them for later this week. We are particularly keen to do some cave diving as the topography here is so interesting. We then continued visiting sea tracks.

Then we stopped at the Oki Oki Mai Clifftop Cafe and Bar where we had a couple of rehydrating cold beers.  The scenery was just spectacular.

Driving back towards Alofi we were surprised to find that the road disappeared as we drove through a working quarry and thought we must have gone wrong but, no, this was still the main road. All very strange!   We did a couple more stops – still no signs of whales from the whale-watching spots – and returned to the wharf as we were now pretty worn out.

We headed back to Morphie and had an early night after a most spectacular sunset. We parked the car in town rather than on the wharf as the supply ship was due to come in on Sunday. It arrived Saturday evening and just meandered around out to sea overnight.

Sunday morning we headed back to the wharf and timed our arrival as the barge moving containers to and from the supply ship was back at the ship. But the winch wouldn’t work!!! Damn…we’ve paid for our car….and might not be able to use it. The guys on the dock felt sorry for us and fiddled with the breakers and, voila, it worked again. We did wonder if they did this deliberately to discourage cruisers from coming ashore and getting in the way…..just a thought…..

Anyway, we walked to the car and were a bit surprised to find it surrounded by red no-parking cones, which had been put out in preparation for the Sunday morning church service. Oops….we quickly drove away back towards the top of the island. We had spoken to others who said the Talava Arches were worth seeing so we decided to give it another try. Well, we found the track, we spotted where we went wrong, and went the other way – actually following an arrow that we have failed miserably to spot the day before! The path was crushed coral through the undergrowth and some large chunks and tree roots to avoid. Then we arrived at a cave-like entrance and I guess this bit is what made the track get it’s ‘hard’ status LOL. Richard took a break as he ended up carrying my bag for me…. what a nice man!   We managed to scramble through up and down and we were rewarded by these fantastic views. What an amazing place!

Leaving Talava Arches we then went to Limu Pools and enjoyed the scenery again….but decided not to get wet.

We then called it a day – decided we were sea tracked out – and headed to the bottom of the island to visit Avatiele Beach and the Washaway Cafe which is one of the few places open on a Sunday. Well the beach wasn’t really a beach….and the cafe was tucked away up the hill without even spectacular views….so our hopes of finding a beach bar suitable for bobbing remained just a dream. We decided not to stop and returned, instead, to the Scenic Matavi Resort. The hotel is a bit utilitarian in style but quite nicely done and we had a lovely fish and chip lunch in their restaurant overlooking the sea.

We returned to Alofi quite late and had a couple of beers while briefly catching up online before returning to Morphie for another quiet night in the cockpit after another stunning Niue sunset.

This morning, Monday, and we were up very early and got ashore just before the ship started to offload its first containers of the day. We headed to the petrol station – got a couple of petrol cans filled up as well as the car – and then found the lady’s house that does laundry. We dropped off a couple of loads and then to the hardware store to drop off our propane tank for filling.  We finished off by doing a quick supermarket sweep and got a few supplies. Headed back to the wharf and were surprised by the sea state – not much wind again – but quite rolly conditions. We took our life into our own hands and got back into dink and returned to Morphie. All by 11 am.

Richard has been making water and doing other boat jobs while I blogged.  Despite the rough sea conditions we have just risked it again to come ashore so that I can get this published. While I’m doing that he is off collecting the laundry and the propane bottle.  Looking forward to doing more exploring and some diving over the next few days….. We’ll probably stay in Niue until Saturday when the weather looks good for our next passage.

Bye for now

Jan

Passage to Nuie – part 2

Wednesday morning (6 September) we were sailing nicely on a beam reach and were enjoying ourselves despite the occasional rogue wave knocking us about a bit.
During the afternoon the wind went further behind the beam so we furled the main away and continued running downwind under the genoa only. We made great progress and were eating up the miles. It remained squally so we got wet now and again but we didn’t mind. By 18.00 we were able to calculate our 24 hour progress and were delighted with the almost 140 miles covered. But this news turned our passage plan on its head when we looked at the remaining mileage and realised that running into this weather trough was going to cause us to rethink our strategy.
We had calculated the passage to Nuie for the forecasted light airs and a slow boat speed of just under five knots which would have meant we arrived early morning into Nuie on Friday. The new calculations gave us an arrival late evening or overnight on Thursday if we maintained the pace. We reworked the numbers but realised that a Thursday afternoon arrival was not possible so we have to slow down to get there on Friday morning. Damn! Was having so much fun……
So Wednesday night and into Thursday we continued to run downwind on a reefed down genoa trying to keep our speed below five knots. It was a pretty cold and wet night and we were both a bit frustrated to be going so slowly but needs must.
Thursday morning and it remained grey, cold and miserable. We ate a hearty breakfast and were pleased when, around 11.00, the sky cleared and the sun came out. The sea, however, was a bit more confused and we were being thrown around a bit. Certainly challenging conditions in the galley!
By 15.00 it appeared the trough had moved away as we were back to light airs, running downwind, across beautiful blue seas….and even the swell had reduced. Yay!
Overnight the conditions remained benign…and at about 3 am this morning, Friday, we sighted lights from Nuie. We are now running along the west coast very slowly waiting for the sun to come up so we can head in towards the mooring field at Alofi, the main town.
Bye for now Jan

Passage to Nuie – part 1

At 17.00 on Monday, 4 September, we dropped the mooring ball and headed straight out on our rhumb line for Nuie. We radioed Bob and his family to thank them again for their incredible hospitality and for letting us spend time on their island.
The seas were flat and there was no wind at all…as expected. We had a number of reasons for leaving for Nuie in these conditions. First is that clearing in with customs and immigration at Nuie on a weekend is not possible. Secondly the ridge of high pressure has brought light and variable winds meaning the mooring at Palmerston – which sits about 50 feet off the reef – could get problematical. Thirdly there is a risk that the South Pacific Convergence Zone may move across Tonga towards Nuie in the next week which will bring squalls and thunderstorms so, although Nuie has no protection, the moorings are heavy duty and regularly inspected. The only potential change to this forecast is a travelling trough which could impact us.
All Monday night we motored…..and into Tuesday. Was lovely to be back on the water despite our slow speed as we conserved fuel on low rpms. During Tuesday afternoon the seas became really confused and we were being thrown around……side to side. Was very uncomfortable and difficult to move around. Was all a bit weird as it was such a beautiful stable day!
Suddenly the sun went down….the moon rose….and the wind filled in to around 15 knots and the sea flattened. Great – engine off. We pulled out a reefed main and a reefed genoa and enjoyed the feel of Morphie as she surged forward on a beam reach. Yay!
We sailed beautifully all night and, of course, it rained hard on my shift….Richard stayed dry…..and I came up on shift for the morning to find it dark, grey and squally. The wind filled in to 28 knots and I reefed the genoa down further and rode out the boisterous conditions. Was great fun despite getting wet again!
Well it looks like we have found the travelling trough as the seas remain confused at around 6 feet and the SE winds are blowing between 20 knots gusting higher. Apart from the odd rogue wave hitting us and the fact that it is cold enough to be wearing foulies we are going along very nicely.
Oh yes, and to put ourselves on Nuie’s time zone – and to match our shifts with the sun rising and setting – we’ll be putting our boat clocks back a hour later today. Right now we are just over half way having covered 210 miles so far.
Bye for now Jan

Palmerston Island

Friday morning we exchanged anniversary cards….before having a leisurely breakfast and eventually went ashore around 10.30 am. Here in Palmerston the entrance through the reef to the shore is particularly difficult so the families shuttle the cruisers (or the yachties as they call us) back and forth to their boats.

Bob took us ashore and we chatted to him and the family and caught up on line. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch so I helped fill the table with goodies and moved it outside where we all tucked in. Another boat had come in earlier – a 50 foot Bavaria – and it had 10 people on board! A mix of American and Danish – and all were pretty much strangers before signing up for the adventure. A real psychological experiment that’s for sure…..

After lunch we were surprised when Bob broke out the beers to help us celebrate our anniversary and Anthony’s birthday (the skipper on the Bavaria). Well….one thing led to another….and the beer was drunk before we moved onto wine…..and actually we didn’t move from the spot for the rest of the day while being royally entertained! Suddenly it was after five and time to return to Morphie. Had been a rather unique anniversary in a very special place. It was really interesting to hear about Palmerston and life ashore.

Palmerston considers itself English despite being part of the Cook Islands. They continue to live a simple life although there are recent modern additions to make life easier – such as the large satellite dish giving them phone, tv and internet access.

They have added solar power to their island. The money for the installation came from the central Cook Islands’ government but the maintenance is down to the islanders. They pay via the meter system each month and the maintenance element is added by the Palmerston central administrative function. This will pay for the inevitable replacement of batteries and panels and for diesel to run the generator on cloudy days. For heavy work the administration has a supply of diggers etc which can be rented out to the islanders when they need them.

Water is collected individually by each family and they have electric pumps to push it through to their standpipe in the kitchen plus the shower and washing machine. So it is a bucket transfer job when washing up for example. There is a central water collection system in the middle of the island near the church for times of drought when the community can access this.

As the island is separated into three sections there are also three cemeteries. Some of the graves are made from blackened charcoaled coral – and the later ones marble. It is really strange to see just the single Masters surname on the majority of the graves.

Which leads to the question of who is allowed to marry who? The rules are simple – anyone can marry anyone else – the only exception to the rule is between brother and sister. So aunts / uncles / cousins etc are all allowed to be with each other. Most men, however, take off to one of the other Cook islands in search of a wife to return to Palmerston with – which Bob did but returned with a cousin anyway! I gently tackled the question over the possibilities of disabilities when continuing to breed from the same gene pool. Bob was quite simplistic about it. Every family loses their first born as it is born sickly and doesn’t survive for long. But, after that, the rest of them are all fit and healthy. They see this as their punishment from God and certainly helps explain the large numbers of small graves dotted around.

On health matters there is a small clinic here staffed by a nurse – so there is someone medically trained on island. But the supply ship only comes every four months so if there is something potentially life threatening – eg a burst appendix – then the person either lives or dies. It is as simple as that. For other things that are not life threatening but need to be done like a hip replacement, for example, then the person would travel to Rarotonga on the supply ship and likely not return to Palmerston for about a year by the time they were well enough to make the journey back. This really brings home just how remote this island is.

Having returned to Morphie before the sun went down we had a quiet night on board. Sadly there were no more whale sightings!

Saturday morning and we were up early again …. and was picked up to go ashore around 11.00 am. We dropped off some rivets at Goodley’s as he needed to fix his boat and I got on with the laundry…. The washing machine is very old fashioned and labour intensive so I was backwards and forwards for a while. And, of course, the minute I pegged it out on the line the heavens opened. Oh never mind….perhaps it’ll be dry tomorrow!  We again wandered the island and enjoyed the sights.

We visited the school and handed over some DVDs of BBC Planet documentaries which we thought would be good for the kids. We met a few of them at school – they range from five to 16 years old. They follow a home-schooling programme and each have individual goals set for them on an annual basis. Beyond that they have to leave Palmerston and go to Rarotonga and live with relatives while they continue their education.

Again we sat and chatted to Bob about life on the island. He is a bit sexist and makes totally inappropriate jokes but you have to get through that and recognise that they are living their lives according to the codes instilled in them from their English ancestor. It dates back to the 1800s with very little intervention from modern times let alone any knowledge or awareness of political correctness. I know that the inequality of treatment of men and women here is driving the Danish girls crazy especially when we are sent to the kitchen to learn how to make doughnuts while the guys sit around drinking coffee and chewing the fat LOL. I’m just going with the flow….

The house Bob lives in was built by his father and extended and added to over the years. He is not the eldest son but is the only one who lives on Palmerston so the ‘head of the family’ title goes to him and he sits on the managing council. Scandalously Goodley’s wife told me that Bob and his wife are not married …. and Bob’s wife TouPou made some scathing comment about Bill’s wife who sits on her fat **** while the rest of the family do all the work. Clearly from the different levels of housing around some have done better than others, perhaps from working overseas or because they are of New Zealand pensionable age. And, although on the surface everything is just lovely and friendly there clearly are some tensions between them. Not surprising on a place this small I guess. In the meantime here is a picture of William Master’s original house built from timbers collected from the reef after a large shipwreck.

Not sure how the time gets away from us but it does….and suddenly it is time to return to Morphie for the evening. Had been another lovely day.

Sunday morning we were up very early and were collected by Bob around 8.30 am as we were all off to church. We were inspected by TouPou and my floaty trousers were not considered suitable attire so had to swap them out for a borrowed skirt. And the Danish girls were kitted out in island dresses. And, of course, there are the hats which are a requirement in church here. Felt like we were all extras in a bizarre old film.

This was the second service of the day – the first being 6am and we attended the 10 am one – and the bell, which was recovered from a shipwreck, is rung to bring people out.

The bell tolled so we all wandered down the high street, greeted the minister, and then went inside. Women sit to the right and men to the left. Finally the pastor came in and the service started. All the readings and the sermon was in English but the hymns were in Cook Islands’ Maori. Bob and his daughter admitted that they know the words to the songs but don’t know the meaning of them although this was TouPou’s first language as she wasn’t born on Palmerston. All very bizarre. The singing was amazing….stunning harmonies…..male baritones singing warrior like followed by high soprano responses from the women. Was a very moving experience especially when I saw TouPou weeping with emotion at some of the words she was singing….

After church we said goodbye to all the other ladies and headed back down the high street towards Bob’s place. We managed to get everyone to stop for me to take a picture – check this out!

Back to Bob’s and it was time for lunch. We had all contributed a dish so the buffet table was groaning and we had a real Sunday feast. Afterwards the Danes all wandered off and left Anthony, Bob, TouPou and us having a glass of wine in the shelter under the palm trees.

Before we left JoJo turned up – this is their pet blue-faced, red-footed booby – and I went and said hi. I also checked out the chickens eating the coconuts and Eric the pig who is being fattened up for Christmas. At Bill’s place they have a baby booby while the mother clicked and flapped her wings if we got too close.

At 4pm Bob and TouPou went back to church while we continued sitting in the shade – oh yes and I rescued our laundry. After they returned we came back to Morphie in Bill’s boat and, as the wind had swung, we were now sitting sideways to the reef and the reef cut had standing waves. Quite an experience – definitely wouldn’t want to try this in a dinghy!

This morning, Monday, and I’m blogging while Richard is doing pre-passage checks. We are now ashore so that I can get it published and then we are going to say our sad farewells to the people of Palmerston. This has been an amazing experience and definitely the highlight of our trip so far this year.

Around five this afternoon we are leaving for our next destination Nuie. The wind is forecast to be light and variable with the potential for rain squalls but the seas appear to have flattened in the last few days…so fingers crossed for a good passage. Nuie is a sheer rock island which is the second smallest country in the world and we’re looking forward to visiting it. It has links to New Zealand – it’s currency is the NZ dollar – and links to an English heritage as, allegedly, there is both a great Indian restaurant and a fish and chip shop LOL. Their flag definitely looks familiar!   Will continue to blog from the passage – we should arrive there around Friday. Hopefully there will be some mooring balls available as this is another place where anchoring is not possible – so fingers crossed there is room in the inn.

Bye for now

Jan

Bora Bora to Palmerston Island

Wednesday night we treated ourselves to a meal ashore at the Bora Bora Yacht Club and it was absolutely fantastic.  Lovely evening….

Thursday morning we went to see the Gendarmes again – picked up our exit papers – and returned to Morphie. We got the outboard on the rail, dink up on the bow, and we just did final checks before heading out at around 5pm.  We said farewell to Bora Bora and French Polynesia and enjoyed a lovely view as we departed through the pass admiring the breakers again on the reef.

Then we were treated to a wonderful sunset over the island of Maupiti and we were off.

The passage to Palmerston threw everything at us from low winds to high winds and everything in between. At times it was stunning and we had a wonderful time – and other times it was at best uncomfortable and a bit miserable – with huge seas, grey skies and rain. But we were pleased to get another 693 miles under our belts and boosted our confidence in dealing with difficult conditions. Was probably good practice for the New Zealand leg LOL. Here are some photos from our five day passage.

We arrived into Palmerston at around 10 o’clock on Wednesday morning (30 August) and were pleased that there were other boats already here as we were concerned they may send us on our way in the strong wind conditions. But they had laid new mooring balls in the last 12 months so were confident they would hold and welcomed us to the island. These are laid directly behind the reef so if the wind changes to the west we were told we would have to vacate immediately…. Fingers crossed!  On arrival we were met by Bill Marsters who showed us which mooring ball to pick up.

We were told that our ‘host’ family was going to be Bob Marsters (Bill’s brother) and he would be out to see us shortly for the check-in process. I had already completed the Cook Island forms but, as this officially is not a port of entry, weren’t sure what they would require. First on board was the island’s nurse who proceeded to fumigate using the same spray they use on an aircraft. Then we met Arthur Marsters who is the island’s administrator and cleared immigration with him. Then we showed the FP customs papers to the agriculture guy and we were good to go. Surprisingly they gave us a week’s stay up front without any question….generally it is only three days. Fantastic and means we’ll be here for our anniversary. Woo hoo…. The fees were reasonable at around £60 plus £6 a night for the mooring ball.

We stayed on board for the rest of the day cleaning Morphie and ourselves up and just generally relaxed and enjoyed our surroundings before having an early night. Oh yes…and there are whales here….we saw some broaching in the anchorage during the evening. We are definitely hoping for a closer encounter.

Thursday morning we were up early and felt suitably refreshed. Bob came by at 10.30 am to pick us up and took us ashore. We met our host family and had a coffee with them and some other cruisers.

Bob then took us on an island tour and explained how it all works. Basically the island is split into three segments for three families – there are two heads of each family (usually male) – who run the council of six people. If something is to the good of the entire island the council can make decisions on behalf of the other 50 or so residents. If there is an impact on one family more than the other then it is put to a vote. And yes they are all Marsters with direct links to the original ‘Father’ of the island. William Masters is buried here and his original house still stands to this day.

He used to pay rent to the British crown but struggled at times to pay it – and wrote to Queen Victoria who then granted him and his descendants ownership of this atoll. What a story!  The islanders are all very proud of their English heritage and, although they are under the auspices of New Zealand governance as one of the Cook Islands, they are pretty autonomous in how they manage things.

We toured the island with Bob and it is just simply amazing!  We have never been anywhere more beautiful.  On our return to Bob’s house I was told to go to the kitchen to chat to the women while the men sat outside chatting…..very 1950s!  After a wonderful lunch – which is supplied free of charge to all cruisers by their host families during their stay on the island – we wandered around on our own. We sat down and chatted to two more families and heard their stories. Some of them have lived in New Zealand while the kids were at high school and then returned in retirement. Others have never left. Was a fantastic experience and can’t believe, actually, that we are here!

What a wonderful start to our time here…and looking forward to finding out more later.   But, just to whet your appetite, here are a few photos to be getting along with.

Last night we came back on board – watched more whales in the anchorage but never quickly enough to get a photo – enjoyed a moody sunset and had a quiet night on board.

Bye for now

Jan

Passage to Palmerston – part 3

During Monday 28 August the wind continued to ease to about 24 knots so we let out a bit more genoa. By 18.00 the wind had built again and we saw squalls of 30+ knots so reduced the sail once more. We had a casualty too – we had clipped the hand-held VHF on the binnacle so that we could save power by turning the main radio off at the panel. Power consumption is always a problem when all navigation equipment is on and the skies are grey. Anyway whilst reefing down Richard caught the radio with his shoulder and with a hop, skip and a jump it was lost overboard. It floated away and we waved it goodbye. There was no chance that we would have been able to find it in the large and confused seas so we accepted the loss. Damn! Richard did, however, offer to buy me a new one for Christmas…not sure that’s how it works LOL.
Overnight we were treated to large squalls to 35 knots and big seas with the motion on board increasingly uncomfortable so we both struggled to sleep off watch. Oh well..never mind…..
By the morning of Tuesday 29 August the wind had eased back to 20-25 knots so we let out more sail and quickly picked up our boat speed. It seemed strange to have been going so slowly in heavy weather but safety for both us and Morphie dictated our sail plan. Of course we could have screamed along but there is no room for manoeuvre when doing that….which definitely would not have been sensible in such a remote area. I think we have finally lost the racing mentality LOL.
In the afternoon the clouds cleared and the sun came through – hurrah! We were having a rollickingly good sail over the most beautiful deep blue seas although we were still getting the occasional thump from a rogue wave knocking us around. The seas remained big – about 12 feet – and they seemed confused at best. We had waves break over us on the port side and others breaking over the stern giving everything in the cockpit a lovely coating of sea salt. Reckon there is enough on board right now to harvest a pound or so LOL. Strangely, though, no flying fish or kamikaze squid on this run. We are constantly on the look out for whales – humpbacks give birth in this area each August and September – but sadly nothing seen yet.
By the time we entered our overnight shifts the clouds had rolled in again, there was rain in the air, and the winds and seas had increased significantly – perhaps 15 feet now. So we reefed down again in readiness for another challenging night ahead. The first watch wasn’t too bad and there was even a stormy sunset. But laying in my bunk later and everything was creaking and groaning when we tipped over a bit more than usual which sent a number of things crashing to the floor. Thankfully Morphie quickly righted herself and nothing was lost or broken. These conditions continued throughout the night and sleep was difficult to come by inside the washing machine action in the saloon. We are both a bit bruised here and there from tumbles in the cockpit but nothing serious thankfully. But I have a strong feeling we’re going to be a bit stiff tomorrow!
By 6.45 on Wednesday 30 August we were 15 miles away from Land Ho! This atoll is small so our rhumb line is a few miles away from it, however, we know it’s charted position is accurate as we have done a Google Earth comparison on it. Apparently when we are closer we will be met by a family member who will direct us to a mooring and will then become our host for the time we are here. Really looking forward to it. Fingers crossed they let us stay in these strong wind conditions.
Bye for now Jan

Passage to Palmerston – part 2

By 10.00 on Saturday 26 August the winds had started to fill in with some squally showers which we had managed to dodge. The seas were about 8 feet and the wind was 18 knots – so it looked like the weather was coming in as forecast. A bit rolly onboard but all was well.
By 17.00 the wind had nudged up to 25 knots and the seas were about 10 feet – we reefed down even more – and started to run downwind on a double-reefed genoa only. By 18.00 we had had dinner and Richard was off watch. The sun disappeared into the gloom and the wind built..so I reefed down more….and it went up to 32 knots so I reefed down to a handkerchief-sized genoa. This obviously slowed Morpheus down but we were still making reasonable time and the angle of the waves wasn’t too horrendous, just a bit uncomfortable. Especially when a rogue one hit the port side and broke over the coach roof.
And that set the scene for the night – the wind went up and down between 18 and 35 knots – and we kept on ploughing through. It rained on and off in squalls but we both tucked up in the corner of the cockpit to avoid the worst. It was cold enough to wear long trousers and jackets too….
By the morning of Sunday 27 August nothing had changed. There was no visible sunrise in the gloom. The skies were grey and heavy, the wind was howling, and the seas were big with rogue waves giving us a kick every now and again. Frustratingly MetBob, the specialist weather forecaster for this region, blogged today and said avoid this squash zone area this week. Bit late when we were already out here having followed his advice last week that it was a good time to go west!!! Oh well, never mind, it is all good experience. I have just downloaded the latest weather forecast and it looks like even stronger winds are forecast now for the rest of our passage and beyond. The question was should we push on to Palmerston or activate Plan B and head to Aiutaki?
Richard joined me later in the morning and we debated our options. The only problem with Plan B now was our speed….we would arrive during the night….and that was not a sensible alternative. To slow down means staying out in these conditions anyway so we might as well push on. Decision made then, Palmerston it is.
By the time we moved into our evening shifts the weather had deteriorated further with sustained winds of 40 knots, gusts higher, and 15 foot high seas. But Morphie kept pushing on and we were confident in her. Rogue growling waves were appearing more frequently and then one picked us up and slammed us on our side putting the top of the life lines in the water. Morphie quickly recovered to an upright position and both of us were safe and unharmed – I had been tucked into the corner on the low side in the cockpit (harnessed in) and Richard was on the low side too down below secured by a lee cloth. So we weren’t thrown about, we didn’t get hurt, and apart from a couple of opened zips on the dodger everything was fine. Can you believe the force of the water opened zips?!? We were particularly grateful not to have lost any fuel cans from the rail. Anyway…..there were a few more rogue waves…..but that was the worst of it. Don’t worry folks we were never in danger, Morpheus was built for this!
During the early hours of Monday 28 August, the winds had started to diminish slightly and the seas had also flattened. So by the time it was light the wind was only 25 knots. Much more comfortable and the forecast says the worst is over. So onward we push. At this moment in time we have covered more than 400 miles and anticipate making landfall on Wednesday morning.
Bye for now Jan

Passage to Palmerston – part 1

We dropped our mooring ball at the Bora Bora Yacht Club at 16.50 on Thursday 24 August and motored out through the pass into light airs and glassy flat seas saying our farewells to French Polynesia. We both enjoyed the spectacular sunset over the island of Maupiti before moving into our overnight shift system.
The wind was so light we motor sailed until about 21.00 when the wind strengthened enough for us to switch off the engine and sail along on a beam reach in about 12 knots of breeze. Because of the notoriety of this area for sudden wind gusts of 30 knots at any time we were deliberately reefed down despite the low wind speeds so made quite slow progress.
At one point I looked up and suddenly saw lots of bright lights coming fast towards us – and thought at first it was a ship. Not able to see any navigational lights nor any AIS I watched carefully before I realised it was a large catamaran motoring fast towards our stern. All its cockpit / saloon lights were fully illuminated masking their navigational lights on the bow (which are useless in the Pacific anyway because of the swell of the ocean) and they were not showing either a masthead light or steaming light which would have definitely helped! I stood on and illuminated our sails with a torch to make sure that they could see me. They passed within 50 feet behind me – Richard was very surprised I didn’t berate the captain on the radio…. He was definitely an idiot. But he may have heard me swearing at him anyway he was that close!
The rest of the night passed quietly with no more incidents and the night sky was spectacular with a very bright star show. The moon was a mere slither and he went to bed pretty early on.
By the morning of Friday 25 August the wind remained slight. The sun came out and it was a beautiful day out on the water. The only downside was our slow progress making an average of only 4 knots in the light airs. But at least we were sailing! We saw no ships all day nor any marine creatures although Richard lost one of his new fishing lures to a huge fish who declined to show himself….must have been at least a marlin LOL.
As we headed into the evening shifts we had our evening meal together and downloaded the latest weather. This forecast threatened us with sustained 25+ knot winds and 12 foot seas starting on Sunday morning. This bright and windy weather will then stay with us for the rest of the passage. This is caused by a squash zone between a ridge of high pressure below us and the South Pacific Convergence Zone above us. Could be a bit challenging later on then…..
During the day the wind continued to be light and variable but the seas started building but nothing too uncomfortable. What was interesting were the strange currents running across us – one minute we were on the rhumb line, then you are being pushed above it so correct the course and then suddenly you are heading in the other direction. Certainly kept us on our toes.
We had another beautiful sunset at sea as we ate dinner and went into our shifts. The night sky was simply amazing. The sky was so full of stars from all angles they looked like they touched the sea – it felt like I was in a vast sparkling snow globe at one point. The only downside to this spectacular display by nature was the difficulty in seeing any boats as many of the stars masqueraded as masthead lights LOL. Around 1 am I spotted an unusual small white light ahead of us. So I watched it carefully for a while but remained unsure so woke Richard up. As we were relatively close to some ocean drop-offs and a small island we think he may have been a small fishing pirogue. I changed course slightly, Richard went back to bed, and I kept watch. He disappeared for about 20 minutes but then briefly reappeared behind us. Could have sworn he was using a phone to illuminate himself in the absence of boat lights!
Nothing else happened during the night – all was well on the good ship Morpheus – and we both managed to get some sleep.
At 6 am this morning (Saturday 26 August) the wind had filled in a little but not sustained as it has now dropped back to 10 knots. We are still making slow progress but I’m sure we’ll make up for it when the wind really kicks in later. The seas have continued to build – now around six feet – but are thankfully not pushing us around too much at this stage.
Bye for now Jan

Final days in Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Sunday morning we were up early and by eight we were underway heading to the lagoon on the windward side of Bora Bora. The weather, of course, decided not to cooperate so we had 20+ knots of wind and grey skies – not what you need when you are planning on eyeball navigation!   Anyway….we worked our way around the corner and thankfully the skies cleared a bit…so we had some visibility when we needed it most to get through the chicanes of channel and cardinal markers.  You can see we did a 360 at one point to allow another boat to come through as there wasn’t room for us both to navigate through the cut.   It was pretty tricky and we had only 5 feet under our keel at times going across shallow stretches but the most nerve-wracking part was going through a very narrow cut in the reef.

We made it unscathed and continued to work our way down to Motu Pitiaau where we eyeballed our way in through numerous coral bombies and dropped the hook in the most beautiful blue water over sand.  Perfect!   We relaxed a bit and had something to eat before getting our diving gear together.

We got in dink and motored up the coast in very shallow water towards the Intercontinental Hotel. We found a place on the jetty to tie up dink, located the dive centre and sat and waited for the boat…..chatting for a while to one of the jetski instructors…..and admired the views across to Bora Bora from the resort.

It wasn’t long before we were on board the dive boat heading up the coast to the Four Seasons to pick up some more guests and another instructor who was taking a couple of tourists on a “Introduction to Diving” dive. We arrived quickly at the manta ray dive site but the visibility was zero due to the amount of plankton in the water – great for mantas as it is gives them something to eat but rubbish if we can’t see them! So the dive leaders decided to take us further along the canyon near the reef where the beginners could play around in shallow water while we could head off down the walls. We were both excited about this dive, especially as it was only us and the dive leader, with the possibility of seeing mantas so were surprised when we submerged. The coral was tired, dreary and broken…..little colour….with very few fish around. The visibility was rubbish and we had to stay pretty close to each other and of course no rays. I managed to find a few bits of coral to photograph but that’s about it sadly. We spent almost an hour underwater for very little reward other than getting wet. We returned to Morphie disappointed but at least we had tried. We both decided that was probably the worst (and most expensive) dive we had ever been on together!!!

We had a quiet night on board enjoying the anchorage although it was quite chilly. We have noticed that it is much colder at night now and I guess this will continue to be a theme as we move further west and south. It might be time to break out the fleeces.

Monday morning we were up early and checked out the weather forecast as we were looking at passage weather for our departure from French Polynesia. The weather window keeps moving on us but it was looking good for a departure this week. So we picked up anchor and worked our way – again in 20+ knots of breeze – through the reef system back to the Bora Bora Yacht Club. We had intended to go closer to Vaitape but with the wind still blowing we decided to seek shelter behind the mountain again. We were pleasantly surprised that the ball we had vacated the day before was still vacant.

We got ourselves secured and rang Dolly our favourite Bora Bora taxi driver.

Dolly picked us up and we went into town to see the gendarmes. We were there for about an hour or so filling in five separate forms which all covered pretty much the same information. Oh well….never mind…. Surprisingly they said we could get the papers done in 24 hours – rather than the three days we had been told – so we said ‘yes please’ to a Tuesday departure date. We now feel ready to leave French Polynesia behind us and move onto the next adventure.

After leaving the gendarmes we went into a café for a light lunch and then returned to the yacht club. Back on board we wrote up a list of things we needed to do before we leave and spent some time doing our passage planning including looking at an alternative destination if the weather deteriorates significantly on us during the passage. Once we’d done this to our satisfaction and the waypoints / routing had been checked for hazards – Richard got on with his boat jobs including engine checks and making a new (temporary) lifting bridle for dink which we’ll need later on. I got on with computer-related stuff.

The forecast had brisk and feisty conditions (25 knots) and the wind should be on our port quarter to a beam reach rather than dead downwind (fingers crossed). The wind should ease as we arrive at our preferred destination Palmerston Island a passage of around 660 miles – so based on our normal average passage speed of five knots we are expecting to be at sea for about five and a half days. The mooring balls (which are compulsory as anchoring is not possible here) are outside of the reef so any north or west winds make this stop untenable. We will continue to monitor the weather closely and adapt our sailing plan to suit.

Palmerston is unique in that it is owned and exclusively populated by the descendants of Bill Marsters, the ship’s carpenter from HMS Bounty (think Mutiny!). He married three Polynesian women and then went on to produce 28 children – and they are the only families that continue to live there to this day. Apart from the obligatory entry / exit fees (in New Zealand dollars) we will have to trade goods for their hospitality and services and it is so remote the supply ship only visits every four months.

Our back-up plan if the conditions do deteriorate – this area is called the Dangerous Middle for a reason – is to pull into Aitutak instead, which is about 200 miles before Palmerston.

Monday evening we went into the yacht club for a couple of sundowners, enjoyed the sunset and watching the local guys practising in their long boat, before having an early night on board.

Tuesday morning we downloaded the weather again – and the conditions had deteriorated significantly already with 30 knot winds forecast. So we want to revert to a Thursday departure. We went to the gendarmes and told them – they weren’t happy as they had to amend the documentation. They refuse to give any leeway for weather delays so the day you get your exit papers is the day you have to leave the territory for your passage. So we put our heads above the parapet and agreed on a Thursday departure and had fingers crossed that the forecast would remain favourable.

We got back to Morphie and got on with more jobs on the list….my main task was to defrost the freezer and cook passage food. Richard got in the water and cleaned the hull again. The new antifoul we had applied in Guatemala is not up to the job here in the South Pacific as the marine-friendly product we used – which is approved by both New Zealand and Australia – doesn’t really repel growth. Oh well perhaps we’ll have to think again for the next time. Maybe a hard paint rather than ablative might suit better…we’ll see.

Tuesday night we went ashore for sundowners and got on with more computer jobs and had a ‘tapas’ plate to give me a night off from the galley after spending all afternoon slaving over it LOL. We watched two catamarans come too close again – the mooring balls were really not spaced with 55+ foot charter cats in mind – and to avoid a collision they ended up tying a line ashore to the restaurant so we had to do the limbo in dink to get back to Morphie later on LOL.

This morning, Wednesday, we were up early. Richard went back in the water to finish cleaning the hull, cooked lunch and did the laundry while I cleaned the stainless steel. You see we swapped blue and pink jobs around today LOL. I’m now blogging and expect to go ashore later to get it published. We are also having dinner out at the yacht club tonight as it is our last night here in French Polynesia and we anticipate being at sea for our 21st wedding anniversary on 2 September as we are not allowed to stay in Palmerston for more than three days apparently.

Tomorrow morning, Thursday, we’ll return to the gendarmes, pick up our exit papers, and then come back on board – put dink on the bow and the outboard on the rail and then we’ll be ready to go. We expect to pull out around 4pm to get through the pass while the sun remains relatively high in the sky. We anticipate arriving in Palmerston at sunrise on Wednesday morning although we may need to slow down to arrive in daylight hours but we’ll see. I’ll blog from the passage using our satellite system – so it will be without photos – and will let you know when we have arrived and when we get back online.

Bye for now

Jan

Exploring Bora Bora

Sunday afternoon the weather picked up so we decided to go and have a look behind the nearest motu for an anchoring spot.  We went up and down the channel but couldn’t find a suitable spot as there were quite a few boats already there and, if we had to anchor close to the reef to find good holding in sand then we were going to be quite exposed. So we decided to return to the Bora Bora Yacht Club. It was quite choppy going across the pass which made us realise just how sheltered the bay near the yacht club was so we felt much happier about returning and picking up a mooring ball. Later on we went ashore for sundowners and enjoyed watching the sun go down surprised by the dilapidated conditions of the hotel rooms….

Monday morning we spotted a boat leaving that had a ball in an even more sheltered spot so we quickly moved. We reckon we have the best spot in the house now LOL. We got all our dried and canned food out of the cupboards to do a check of our stores and made a shopping list. We didn’t need a huge amount just some staples really….. Later on we headed into the yacht club for a late lunch and then spent some time bobbing in the little sea pool they have created behind the restaurant. After a leisurely afternoon we returned to Morphie for a quiet night on board.

Tuesday morning and the wind had died down a little although it was a cloudy and drizzly type of day. We walked along the coast road towards Vaitape and were surprised to see that how poor the local housing was. Bearing in mind the huge cost of staying in the luxury resorts that inhabit the motus fringing Bora Bora’s lagoon it was a bit shocking to see so transparently that the wealth did not filter down with many locals still relying on fishing to supplement their diet.

As the weather improved we admired the lovely views out to the bay and had a quick look at the Maikai Yacht Club. Funny how they are all called yacht clubs when they are really just restaurants with mooring balls. We were surprised at the white caps and the wind howling through and were very grateful for the shelter we had found for Morphie.

After a hot and dusty walk dodging the traffic – there are no pavements here – we arrived at the SuperU supermarket so we picked up some shopping and fresh bread – and started the walk back. We were very grateful when a young lad – who works at the Intercontinental – offered us a lift back. We returned to Morphie, did some laundry and boat jobs, before going back out to the BBYC for sundowners and an internet fix.

Wednesday morning it was blowing really hard and then suddenly the superyacht Antares turned up – with a ripped genoa. Knew it was a bit lively out there LOL. The sail was making a huge racket but clearly they felt it too dangerous to send someone up the mast so they turned around in circles and tried to wrap the shredded sail best they could – it was successful for a little while but then the wind caught it again and pulled it back out.

We went ashore and started walking towards Vaitape. It took us almost an hour to get there and we saw a cruise ship was in town so there were quite a few tourists milling around aimlessly. The motoryacht Arctic was also anchored off – not every day you see an icebreaker ship in the tropics!

There really was very little to see other than a few stalls selling jewellery and the artisan centre selling handicrafts. The cruise ship passengers seemed a bit bemused by it all but they all seemed to have found something to buy from the pearl shops and French boutiques if the number of shopping bags was any indicator of consumer spending. We went to the tourist office and got ourselves a map of the island and were then entertained by a local band on the main pier as we took shelter from the sun. After a few hours we found a taxi and returned to the yacht club.

In the afternoon we did some laundry and Richard did engine checks. We were sitting in the cockpit trying to make sure that our washing didn’t fly off in the strong wind and were amazed to see a manta ray alongside us going under dink. He wasn’t huge – about a 5 foot wingspan – but big enough and we were stunned to see him. Amazing!!!

Later on we went ashore for sundowners and another internet fix and then returned to Morphie. Sitting in the cockpit in the dark we heard a huge crunch and a scream and couldn’t work out what the noise was. It turned out that two catamarans had collided – we had commented earlier that they looked too large to swing around on the balls they had picked up – oops! Anyway the crewed Moorings charter boat moved off and ended up anchoring in deep water in the bay for the rest of the night. Bet that was fun especially as it was raining by then….

Thursday morning we returned to SuperU for our provisioning run so walked one way, got some drinking vouchers from the ATM, and then got a taxi back. It was blowing old boots when we got onboard and we recorded 27 knots in our protected spot as we watched huge whitecaps out in the channel. We were going to clean the hull in the afternoon but were put off by the huge numbers of tiny jellyfish in the water – they sting and can cause a nasty rash so we decided that job could wait for another day.

Friday morning we were up bright and early and headed over to the yacht club. At 9.15 our little boat turned up – full of honeymooners from Greece, Italy and the US. Many of them were talking about the cost of the food in their hotels slightly shocked at the £40 (equivalent) cost of a salad lunch!!! So the trip – which included lunch – at only £60 a head for the whole day seemed like a real bargain.

We were introduced to all the family members of the tour company and they proceeded to entertain us with some great ukulele playing and drumming…. They sang an eclectic mix of songs from local Polynesian through to some popular (and annoying!) international tunes that everyone sang along to.

First stop was to the Conrad Hotel to collect a couple more guests and then we went through the channel out onto the reef. We got our snorkelling gear on and did a back roll off the side much to the surprise of the rest of the boat LOL. We immediately swam into loads of trigger fish and black tip sharks. Noho was in the water and started feeding the sharks and then he swam down about 30 feet to the bottom to encourage the much larger lemon sharks to come up to the surface – well he was like the pied piper – they followed him up and then were rewarded with a bit of fish and a pat. There were lots of sharks around and we thoroughly enjoyed being in the water with them although a few came a bit closer than I would have preferred LOL.

Oh yes and Noho could hold his breath for ever….here he is 30 feet down blowing bubbles!!!!

Back on board and the frigate birds came down to see whether there was any food left for them.

Shark feeding over we headed back inside the lagoon and worked our way through the very shallow water around the Matira Point….so shallow that the engine had to be partially raised to clear the bottom less than two feet below us. We admired the beautiful colours of the water out to the reef….not to mention the stunning island of Bora Bora itself.

We then moved on and loved the beautiful hotel rooms set over the stunning water. There didn’t seem to be that many people around though despite the sizes of some of these resorts.

We then went to another spot inside the lagoon to feed the stingrays.  Well…there were lots of them….and they are obviously used to being handled in return for food. The favourite of Noho was called Juliette and he spent most of his time cuddling her. So, of course, we had a go too and even gave her a kiss. But at least there were no tongues involved unlike Noho!

There were loads of rays in the water circling plus the odd shark or two and some of the girls in the group were quite freaked out when the rays brushed up too close looking for a cuddle – so lots of shrieking going on. And of course the new husbands were determined to show they weren’t scared but you could tell there were some nerves there too LOL.

After the ray feeding it was time to move on to the coral garden where we went snorkelling. The coral was actually a bit disappointing but there were some fantastic clams there and some fish just lazing around on the bottom. To make it a bit more interesting there were a few bits of art created by the tour guides.

Then we spotted an octopus. What happened afterwards I wasn’t happy with – the guides dug the octopus out of his hiding place using their snorkels, presumably to avoid his sharp beak. Then they swam away with him while he inked like crazy…. Finally he seemed calmer – or just frightened to death not sure which – and Noho put him on his back and walked around with him. Hmmmm…… I know this is about entertaining his guests but I felt really sorry for the treatment of this beautiful creature although at least they put him back in a hole with a fish for his troubles! If he has any sense he’ll find another place to call home…

Moving on we arrived at a lovely beach surrounded by the shallowest water ever….so shallow that the guys had to walk the boat as the engine could not be deployed. We went ashore – met more family members including Noho’s mum – and had a nice lunch.

After lunch we had a coconut shucking competition which I’m pleased to say that both Richard and I were victorious in our heats before moving onto coconut shell cracking and making milk. Was quite competitive between the Italians and the Greeks LOL.

After a really fun day it was time to speed back to the yacht club.  We quickly went aboard Morphie, got cleaned up, and then returned to the club for sundowners and caught up with Chris who we hadn’t seen for a few days.

While we were sitting there chatting over a beer a guy was rushed in by his friend to the dock asking for urgent medical assistance as he had sliced an artery!!! We paid our bills and left the staff to deal with it. Hopefully he’s alright although I guess that’s his sailing holiday ruined….

Today, Saturday, and I blogged while Richard was in the water cleaning Morphie’s hull and then we came ashore to get internet access. The wind has reduced significantly so we have booked a manta ray dive for tomorrow afternoon – but first we have to move Morphie around the lagoon to the windward side of the island near to the Intercontinental Hotel where the dive centre is located as they will not come and collect us from here. Fingers crossed the mantas will be in residence and we’ll get to see these beautiful creatures up close so we are really looking forward to that.

Bye for now

Jan