Where to for cyclone season?

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Had been waiting for a weather window and after 2 weeks finally got one. While we waited in Ile des Pins we enjoyed good weather and the company of other cruisers….

A protected bay with powder soft sand and crystal clear water. Do I have to leave?

Nice hike from the jail or water tower along the ridge to Pic Nga for the views

Can you guess where we have decided to go for cyclone season? 

On our trip south we had lively seas as we were tight to the wind the whole way. Did not stop us fishing and caught a couple of tuna to replenish our freezer supplies.

 

We arrived into Opua in the Bay of a Islands on Saturday 25 November, 2017 seeing lots of familiar faces at the Opua cruising club. A party with music and fancy dress was a great welcome into NZ. Time to rest and recover from our passage.

A taste of Tonga in the Vava’u group

After 2 days at sea we arrived into the sheltered bay of Neiafu where we rafted up to a boat on the fishing wharf, had friends raft to us and we all cleared into Tonga. We have come across the date line so lost a day, arriving on a Friday; perfect timing as customs/ immigration is closed on the weekend. After completing the mass of repetitive forms we moved along the bay to a mooring so we could see town.

View to Neiafu and the Eastern Islands from Mt Talau

We just missed the King of Tonga who had been here a month ago hence flags on fences, new rubbish bins scattered around town and new signage for tourist sights. Neiafu is a small place with an interesting blend of people; local Tongans who are very relaxed and friendly, expats who have set up businesses here (cafes, restaurants, bars and tours), cruisers on yachts and tourists. Unfortunately there’s a fair bit of rubbish about, which we really noticed after super clean Niue and Aitutaki.

Saturday is market day where town is alive, music is playing from boom boxes and people are out socializing. Booths are set up along one of the 2 main roads in town selling fruit & veges, 2nd hand clothing and personal products. It all closes down at mid day and everyone disappears and town is then deserted.

The main market at the docks is a buzz of activity with lots of fresh produce

Sunday on the other hand is the complete opposite. Businesses are closed so it’s a ghost town; Tongans do not work, it’s time for family. Churches of which there are many are busy with Tongans dressed in traditional costume and singing happily inside. Tongan men and women wear a long skirt with a waist mat called a ta’ovala, made of a woven material, which is similar to wearing a tie in western cultures.
We walked up to Mt Talau National Park to see the views over the Vava’u island chain. Very pretty so it was time to head out and investigate other anchorages.

View out to some of the Western islands from Mt Talau

Port Mourelle is a nice cove on Kapa Island with a white sandy beach and trails to get out for a walk where you find 2 small villages, lots of free roaming pigs, some agriculture fields and a small tourist resort. The villages have been supplied with solar panels, care of Japan to light pathways between homes and their houses. Support for Tonga seems to come from NZ, Australia, Japan & the USA.

Swallows Cave was a short dinghy ride from Port Mourelle and in the late afternoon has the sun shining thru the entrance showing the colors in the cave and the schools of fish below. Once inside, the cave was bigger than we expected with some nice colors that got better as the sun shone in.

Luc & Aileen inside the cave, amazing colors

 

Brett snorkeling inside the entrance to the cave with schools of fish below

Kole from Matamaka Village on Nuapapu Island invited us for a traditional Tongan feast where the money for the feast goes to the local school. With all the Oyster Rally boats in Vava’u, the anchorage became very busy with some of them coming to enjoy the feast too. Matamaka was a bigger community with the local people also coming to join in the entertainment and sing for us.

Kole getting vege and firewood for the feast

Kole discussing the Tongan ta’ovala

Across the Bay was Vaka’eitu Island where we snorkeled the Coral Garden and luckily had a brilliantly clear day making the hard corals glisten. This was the best snorkeling we found in Vava’u.

A splash of color with a blue starfish, which we found in various anchorages

It was then across the channel to the southern island of Hunga and the Blue Lagoon for the morning, where we spotted a couple of whales but these guys weren’t stopping. We met Bevan & Heidi from NZ who are sailing between the islands on their Wind surfer/ paddle boards and camping on beaches. Quite the adventurous holiday. You could see the lagoon would be a nice place on a calm day given the colors of the water in the lagoon but there was a chop as the wind was up while we were there. The snorkeling here was disappointing given what we have seen in French Polynesia.

Nice white sandy beach at the Blue Lagoon talking to Bevan & Heidi

The central Hunga Lagoon, an extinct volcano crater looked a lot more sheltered on the map so we moved in off a beach and tied to shore in crystal clear calm water. It was a great place for kayaking that we decided to stay for a few more days to let a trough blow thru. Perfect place and away from the crowds in Neiafu which were growing what with a rally in town.

On anchor in Hunga, soooo calm and we had the place to ourselves 😀

Vaha from Hunga village brought fruit in exchange for milk powder, perfect.

Bevan & Heidi ended up paddling in to this nice sheltered lagoon for shelter from expected rain so joined us aboard Seismic Wave for a few social nights and in return gave us wind surfing lessons. Brett did well but I’d never tried it before and so thank goodness Heidi was patient.

boards with all their sail / camping gear

 

I’m finally up! Yes Heidi’s on the back giving me instruction.

 

 

much better form; for some of us it was easy!

The sky finally cleared and the sun came out so we headed out into the channel to find a new island. It was goodbye to Bevan & Heidi who sailed off back to Neiafu.
Tepana wasn’t too crowded and was a great place to get the kayaks out and investigate the area. There were lots of small islands with nice white sandy beaches and boats going in all directions.

on one of the many beaches at Tepana

Our final stop was off Nuku near Kapa Island. A picture perfect beach, just one of many in the Vava’u group with a nice anchorage behind a reef.

It’s not all sunshine here but some cruisers were out enjoying the winds

We considered going down to the Ha’apai group but friends told us that the snorkeling in Fiji was good so we were keen to head on hoping for better weather and to see whales along the way.

Natural Niue

Arriving into Niue the smallest independent country on the worlds largest coral rock. Known as “The Rock” it has a stunning shore line with huge waves crashing against it. We arrived in the morning where a mother whale and her calf were swimming in the bay.

The main town of Alofi is perched on the hilltop at about 30-40 meters above sea level. When you arrive at the dock for clearance into the country there is a crane to lift your dinghy up onto the dock and with the crashing waves below its advised. Quite the operation but once you have a bridle set up its great they have this available.
Clearance with the officials was very relaxed and friendly setting us on our way to explore. It was then down to the Niue yacht club to check in for use of the mooring (NZ$20/ night) while in Niue. When you snorkel off the boat you can see why you have to moor as the seabed is all hard coral.
Niue seems to receive a lot of support from New Zealand including using the NZ dollar and people having a NZ passport. It currently has a population of approx 1700 reduced from 4000 odd after cyclone Heta in 2004 when many people left for New Zealand. Alot of homes have been left un-tenanted and deserted but someone’s looking after them as most lawns are mowed and cleaned up. Must be tough for the people who stayed to see this constant reminder everywhere. All around the island are graveyards some decked out with BBQs and picnic tables.We hired a car for 2 days to see the sights including lots of caves and chasms. We couldn’t believe there wasn’t someone wanting cash to enter each sight as they would have been in a lot of other countries! Below were our favorites.

Swimming in the crystal clear pool at Avaiki Caves

Luc, Brett & Simon at Avaiki Caves

Luc & Aline (Oceana1) & Simon & Cate (Bluebell) in Palaha Caves

view out the window at the Palaha cave to the reef

Matapa Chasm was the exclusive bathing pool of royalty back in the days, a lot colder than other pools we went in.
Talava Arches was a pretty hike where you pass thru a series of caves with huge stalactites and stalagmites to these arches where we hoped to snorkel but not today.

we walked thru the caves above here and down the left side of this huge column

Togo Chasm was really interesting with a nice hike thru the forest out to the coast, which these razor sharp pinnacles. At the end of the concrete track, thru the pinnacles is a steep ladder down into the sandy chasm with coconut trees, the odd coconut crab and a pool of not so good looking water.

Aline in the Chasm

Coconut crab anyone?

One of the many exhibits at the Hikulagi Sculpture Park made from all sorts of debris. The Washaway cafe open on Sunday’s has a great outdoor atmosphere and you serve your own drinks! The cruisers in the bay all found there way down here.
Niue was a great stop with friendly people and a lot more to see than we expected.

Beveridge Reef

Along with friends Aline & Luc from S/V Oceana1 we left for Beveridge Reef arriving at this amazing atoll/ reef in the middle of the ocean.Once inside, it was breathtaking with turquoise and deep blue shades of water and waves crashing onto the coral reef.
No land here just a small fishing boat wreck where a boobie rested when we weren’t bugging him. Snorkeling the coral heads near the entrance was a treat with lots of large reef fish who were very friendly and the odd shark lurking.
We only had just over 10 knots of wind but at high tide there was a chop in the lagoon, which made it very rolly even for us on a catamaran. Special place to stay but it was onward bound to Niue with a good weather window and time for more fishing. The pacific has been pretty good at feeding us.

Our Pacific Jump to the Marquesas

Wahhooo! We made it to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas, 2,981 nautical miles as the crow flies or 24 days and trust us there’s a lot of ocean between the Galapagos and the Marquesas. 🍾🎉 Had a few days where we could go wing on wing with our sails because our course was directly downwind.

What did we do: read lots of books, podcasts, card games, binge watched the “Breaking Bad” TV series, exercise (putting sails up & down with the squalls and wind changes), fishing, pondering life, gazing around at ocean and the night stars, food of course and lots of sleep to make up for our night shifts.

Fish landed: 3 Mahi Mahi, 3 Tuna (sashimi, yum 😊)
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Sightings:
– 1 manta ray with a 15ft beam that swam under the front of our boat, huge!
– 1 whale sleeping on the surface who then showed us his tail and dived
– lots of pods of dolphins
– these small brown birds with a white bum miles from anywhere
– 1 fishing boat within 1 nautical mile of us going the wrong way into some big seas

The weather was on the whole good with squalls typically coming thru after midnight thru into the early mornings. We had to go south of the rhumb line to find wind and it was tight on the wind to get to the SE trades, which when they were there helped us cruise right along. We had wind from every direction including some days with NOTHING! Damn, wasn’t this meant to be a fast downhill ride, ah not this time of year … Oh well we made it, safe & sound with no damages.

Arriving into Nuku Hiva was great, land finally!

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Now it’s time to check out French Polynesia’s islands, atolls & lagoons.

 

Blue Dream delivery: Rio Dulce, Guatemala to Cairns, Australia

Well I made it back to the Rio Dulce, Guatemala after two and a half months, 9300 sailing miles, four airplane rides and a six hour bus trip. I’m back home on Seismic Wave and Teresa has made me write my first and probably last blog entry! Teresa took great care of the boat while I was away and organized lots of things to help get the boat ready for the next couple of sailing seasons. I thought she was trying to take over as chief engineer but she has assured me no she doesn’t want any of that again.

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Blue Dream was a 50ft Benateau Monohull. For the leg from Rio Dulce through the Panama Canal we had a crew of four (Bill, Brett, Richard and Johno), 3 catamaran owners and for the canal transit we were joined by Chris from the yacht Exit Strategy. Why so many well the canal authority requires a captain plus four line handlers on each yacht transiting the canal.

Crew to Panama

Crew to Panama

Blue Dream had been in storage for about 4 months so the first week on the water heading south to Panama was spent repairing numerous items to prepare the boat to be ready to cross the Pacific Ocean. All of the crew were more used to our own Catamarans than the longer but sorry less comfortable monohull rocking and rolling over waves. I don’t think any of us will be trading to a monohull soon.

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On the trip to the Caribbean side of Panama the agent that was arranging the Canal transit contacted us with a date the Canal Authority would measure the boat. The date gave us a few days to kill before we needed to be in Panama so we stopped for 3 nights at the Colombian tourist island of San Andreas. This was much preferred to spending extra days waiting at Shelter Bay in Panama as Shelter Bay is not located close to any facilities or beaches. I’m sure there is a good story on how Columbia came to possess islands that are closer to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama than to mainland Columbia. We enjoyed the stop over and then sailed a couple more days to the Caribbean end of the Canal.

San Andreas was great for provisioning and hitting the local bars

San Andreas was great for provisioning and hitting the local bars

Once the Canal confirmed a transit time we took the vessel out to the anchorage to meet the Advisor who is provided to coach each small vessel through the canal. Slow vessels like sailboats are required to transit over 2 days. The first day didn’t really start until almost dark when we entered the 1st of the 3 locks to lift us to the level of Gatun Lake. It’s pretty neat to watch the water fill around the boat and lift it and the huge cargo ship in the lock with us. Once the 3 locks were transited we motored about 5 miles to a mooring station to overnight. A pilot boat picks up the Canal Advisor and brings back another first thing in the morning. The 2nd day started with a 4 hour motor through Gatun Lake and some narrow cuts of the hundred year old canal to the 3 down locks. On the way down yachts enter the locks in front of the cargo ships then the behemoths get pulled up to the stern of the yachts.
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Lock closing behind us

Lock closing behind us

Once the down locks were completed there is an hour or so of motoring to the Balboa area of Panama City on the Pacific Ocean side of the Canal. A pilot boat picks up the Advisor and a small launch picks up the long lines and extra fenders provided by the agent for use in the locks taking the crew to land that weren’t continuing. Bill and I did a quick stop at a floating fuel dock for some diesel and headed out to the Pacific before dark. Almost there, only a couple of months and 8400 miles left!

Hanging out in one of the locks

Hanging out in one of the locks

And then suddenly it was nearly on top of us.

And then suddenly it was nearly on top of us.

The first week out of Panama was hard onto the wind and a current on the nose and I’m sure Teresa was glad she didn’t come. Progress was slower than we would have preferred and sailed and motor sailed as conditions allowed. Not the smooth downwind holiday I was promised! Our goal was to go non-stop to Cairns, if possible, so we had to sail the majority of the time not motor. This issue was solved on the fourth day out of Panama when the engine starter had a complete meltdown/dead short. I tore the starter apart but it was a write-off with the varnish melted off the windings and all insulation missing from the internal and external starter wires. As we didn’t have a spare starter Blue Dream was officially a sailboat until we could source and install a new starter motor. Battery charging would now be handled by a small gasoline powered auxiliary generator as the boat doesn’t have any solar panels (note to everyone a good solar charging system is a must on any cruising boat in the tropics). Good thing in Panama we had decided to bring 100 liters of gasoline along with the extra jugs of diesel fuel.

Nothing but time now to contemplate life's next adventure

Nothing but time now to contemplate life’s next adventure

A few days after the starter motor failed we had made our way southwest enough that the wind had started to back us and a couple of days later the current was with us also. Now the routine can start as the boat is slightly flatter with the wind from behind but the swells still push the rear of the boat around enough to dump the air from the foresail every once and a while. When the wind was right we ran with the asymmetrical spinnaker. Usually only during the day but we did run it on a couple of clear nights also.
IMG_0446Equator

Toasting King Neptune

Toasting King Neptune at the Equator

 

Through email and texting from our satellite phones we had arranged for a new starter to be delivered to Nuku Hiva in the Maqueses Islands of French Polynesia and 25 days & 4000 miles after leaving Panama we made an overnight stop at Nuku Hiva, sailing into the anchorage.

Mark a kiwi on Balvenie doing the Haka to welcome us to Nuku Hiva

Mark a kiwi on Balvenie doing the Haka to welcome us to Nuku Hiva

The starter was delivered to us and half an hour later the engine was purring again. Still don’t know what caused the starter to meltdown as the engine was running at the time it smoked itself. Anyway we were ready to hit the road again but a group of Aussies and Kiwis had other plans. Mark and Amanda from Balvenie along with Roger and Sasha from Ednabel cooked us a great dinner along with a couple of nice take-away meals for the road. So we enjoyed the evening with them and a hoard from the boat “Alabama”. Once all the rum and wine was gone everyone returned to their boats and we had 8 hours of sleep with no watch duties. Bliss! After a couple of up mast repairs in the morning we set off again. When Bill was up the mast he discovered the forestay had a couple of parted strands. We would have to limit the use of the foresail to reduce pressure on the forestay for the second half of the trip so we decided to aim to American Samoa for a fuel and water stop, as there was no water maker onboard.

Nuku Hiva had quite a few boats anchored for cyclone season

Nuku Hiva had quite a few boats anchored for cyclone season

The rest of the trip was pretty routine other than a couple of days skirting the edge of a low pressure system just north of Fiji. This low ended up becoming cyclone Tuni. But we squeezed though with less than 4m waves and 35knot winds, all from behind so it made for a good sail for us.

Veneuatu where Bill finally completed his circumnavigation 39yrs in the making

Veneuatu where Bill finally completed his circumnavigation 39yrs in the making

So what did we do for 54 sailing days you may ask. Really ocean sailing seems to be a test of keeping your mind busy day after day especially when you are out there for 50 odd days.

BDFishing

Fishing was our favorite thing of course. We caught 5 fish on the Pacific side that we landed and numerous huge ones that stole all the lures and lines by the end of the trip. The sailfish that jumped into the air and took off with the lure and stripped the line was the best. We read all the paper books and magazines that we found on the boat, cooking was a chore as food didn’t always make it to the stove or stay on your plates what with the rock and roll of a monohull. We worked out it was better to eat out of a bowl in our laps. At night we did 2 – 3 hour night watches and found that the Pacific is a big empty place. We saw a dead floating whale, 1 freighter and 2 fishing vessels until we neared the shipping lanes into Australia.

Shaved again and a smile on the Captains face as we get closer to Cairns.

Shaved again and a smile on the Captains face as we get closer to Cairns.

Cairns our final destination in sight

Cairns our final destination in sight

Jan, Stoney’s wife was happy to have Blue dream back in Australia and after 2 hours with customs and immigration on arrival, she took us out for huge juicy steaks. With no freezer on board we hadn’t had red meat in 2 months so as you can imagine was appreciated.

Good trip with Bill. Next time I do the Pacific there will definitely be a lot more stops along the way though. Lots and of islands to see.

Passing an island chain in Samoa.

Passing an island chain in Samoa.