Ready for the Islands

Tuesday 25th July 2017

Much as we like it in Vuda we are now more than ready to get away and out to the islands. We have had a couple of very hot, humid, windless days, we are being plagued by mosquitos and tiny biting noseeums and then there is still the ongoing challenge of being attached to the fixed dock, that often requires scaling a near vertical passerelle as you leave or return to the boat.

Good to have Matt onboard to help with all the provisions


Since our return from the UK we have been busy preparing things for our guests. Matt arrived yesterday and Tony and Gilly join us tomorrow. So it has been a week of cleaning and provisioning. Luckily we have had the help of Abdul the taxi driver to ferry us around to the shops and run us to and from the airport.

This part of Fiji is relatively built up, lining the road into town are houses and light industry interspersed with fields and fields of sugar cane. Sugar export is the countries primary source of income and the industries presence is very obvious in this part of the Island. Trucks loaded with canes pass us on their way north to the large sugar mill in Lautoka and smoke billows from the plant and scattered fields on the hillside, leaving a sticky dust on our decks. The development of the sugar industry has not only effected the landscape of Fiji, at the beginning of the 20th century as the plantations grew there was a massive influx of workers, most came from India and now their decendence make up nearly 40% of the countries population.

Once past the fields of sugar cane and just beyond the airport is the supermarket. By Pacific Island standards this is a good supermarket with a much wider range of food than we have seen before. Matt and I fill the trolley while Rick picks up our ordered frozen and vacuum packed meat and buys copious amounts of wine. Then it’s on to the large fresh fruit and veg market. Heaps of produce weighed heavily on the tables and stunning flower arrangements added to the colourful scene. One very full taxi returned us to the marina and the exhausting job of getting everything onto the boat and put away, begins.

Colourful Nadi market.

As always in between times I’m on the look out for exciting bird life. There is a tree with ripe red fruits next to the boat that is attracting Red Vented Bulbuls, starling like birds with a red patch under their tails and a crest on their heads. Scattered through the undergrowth are small brightly coloured Parrot Finches with bright green bodies, red heads and red tails. Then today perched on our neighbours rigging was a Pacific King Fisher. Hopefully in a couple of days we’ll be back amongst the sea birds.

Pacific King Fisher

Still Here

Sunday 14th May 2017

Although fairly confident that Raya could outrun the approaching deep depression, bolstered by Cyclone Donna’s arrival in New Zealand, yet another out of season cyclone – cyclone Ella has formed and is currently just north of Fiji, the prospect of being sandwiched between the two systems was rather unappealing. So yet again another potential weather window passes us by. We are, with what’s now rumoured to be nearly a hundred yachts, still here.

Bright but chilly in Opua


People with experience of this part of the world are saying they have never known the weather to be so volatile this late in the season. The cyclone season officially finishes on the 30th April, but with above normal water temperatures in the Western Pacific, nature is ignoring such deadlines. Cyclone Donna eventually turned into a category 5 storm the most intense cyclone ever recorded for the month of May. The island populations on Vanuatu are, with the help of aid, having to start picking up the pieces from the devastation it left in its wake and the yachts that risked leaving last week are paying the price. We know of at least eight yachts that are sitting out the stormy weather, precariously anchored, midway between NZ and Fiji or Tonga in tiny remote atolls that give precious little protection. Some boats turned around just beating Donna back to NZ, the ones that pressed on had a rough and in some cases damaging passage.

So when we complain that we had a rather uneventful week, we know it was better than the alternative. And, it had one big upside, a shipment of compact washing machines arrived in Auckland. Friday we hired a car, drove the 3 1/2 hrs to the supplier, picked one up and drove the 3 1/2 hrs back. Then came the difficult bit, getting all 55kg of it from the car, along the pontoon, on to the boat, down into the salon and then into its cupboard in the aft head. It wasn’t easy but with much head scratching and the appliance of science, we, well Rick, got it, in and running by Saturday lunch time without a strained back in sight. Miraculously it turned out to be identical to the old one, so the restraints that keep it in place at sea and the pipes fitted exactly.

Hooray, new washing machine?

Next window, Thursday/ Friday, well maybe?!?

The Fleet Waits

Sunday 7th May 2017

Hardly a wisp of wind blows across the deck, the midday sun is warm, activity in the marina is sultry and slow, a mood of disconsolate acceptance hangs in the still air. The benign weather, nice as it is, unfortunately represents another missed weather window. As the calm centre of a high pressure passes over us, its back edge will bring northly winds closing any opportunity to sail north. As predicted the disturbed systems hanging over the tropics have produced bad weather over the islands. The tropical storm spotted last week, has deepened to produce a cyclone. Cyclone Donna is a rare out of season, destructive, category three cyclone and is currently bashing Vanuatu. It’s future path appears unpredictable, the risks of leaving New Zealand on Friday were too high, so with the rest of the cruising fleet, we wait.

Everywhere jobs that have languished way down at the bottom of ‘to do lists’ written years ago, are seeing the light of day, cars are being hired for day trips and many boats have sailed into the bay to pass the time. Yachts that left for Fiji early last week are being nervously watched by tracker, SSB radio and any other means, they report back high winds and rough seas but luckily all lie east of Donna and are OK for now. The obsessive weather map watching has stopped, departure with the arrival of the next high, due at the end of the week looks uncertain and rest on the shoulders of Donna, everybody is settling in to be here a while longer.

Not that that is too awful a prospect, the nights have been chilly but the days sunny and pleasant. Today Rick is taking advantage of the calm to paint the black side vents, a job that has been hanging over us since being put aside as we rushed to leave Southampton. I’m not sure Raya has ever been so polished.

Spraying the side vents


The previous two days however, feeling a little let down by more delays, we deserted our cleaning posts and decided to get out and about. Friday we went for a walk on the local beach, encouraged by the sturdy boardwalks we walked on around the wooded coastline. The boardwalk stopped but it was a pleasant and varied track, over tree covered cliffs, mangroves and across rocky beaches, we were enjoying ourselves and we walked on. An hour and half later after a particularly steep section, we keenly wanted the end of the track, the town of  Paihia, lunch and a taxi home, to be just around the next headland. Not a chance. There is something about us and walking, normally so organised and well prepared in life, we seem to set out for strolls that turn into hikes. We only had second hand directions of what lay ahead, we didn’t even have a bottle of water, we had on too many layers of clothes for the conditions and my footware was woefully inadequate. Another hour on and we made it across the beach, the last part of the walk, just before the incoming tide cut us off, half an hour later and we  would have been forced to retrace our steps – all the way back. 

Coastal path from Opua to Paihia


Saturday with still sore feet we hired a car and drove north. The car from Rent-a-Dent was mostly dent free but small and uncomfortable, we abandoned plans for the three hour drive to the very northern tip of New Zealand and the dramatic cliffs at Cape Regina and instead stopped about halfway to check out Doutless Bay and the Karikari Peninsular. Here the scenery is very different to what we’ve been use to, flat by New Zealand standards, with wide open white sand bays and the start of the huge sand dunes that stretch up the most northern of New Zealand’s beaches. Dominating the landscape was Pampas grass, an invasive species introduced from South America, it seemed to be growing everywhere, even amongst the woodland and tree ferns. We drove to Maitai beach at the very end of the peninsular and strolled its large curved shore and then stopped in the seaside town of Manganui to eat fish and chips on the harbour front.

Maitai Bay

 Back on the boat I steal a glance at the weather forecast. If the remanents of Donna do dip south enough to hit New Zealand, we will have, yet again, stormy wet weather, this may disrupt the next high pressure system, produce very rough seas and wipe out yet another weather window, I wonder how long we need to be here to become permanent residents!

Deferred Departure

Monday 1st May 2017

Weather, weather, weather, my brain has gone to mush staring endlessly at wind forecasts, pressure charts and swell projections. Each model appears to tell a different tale and each picture changes hourly. Add in our preference to arrive in daylight and not at the weekend when customs will charge exorbitant overtime fees, finding the right time to leave, for the sail up to Fiji, is not an easy task. 

Saturday we decided against leaving today, firstly we have three lots of orders in at the local chandeliers and engineering workshops that didn’t arrive Friday. Secondly, the winds are due to turn northerly a day early, so waiting for the spares and leaving late in the afternoon might have meant not clearing the northerly flow and having to bash into the wind for 24hrs. Finally, the weather for our arrival in Fiji looks very lively, the South Pacific Convergence Zone has moved south, with 25kt winds, 3-4m seas and a developing tropical storm just east of Vanuatu. Once the decision was made we both relaxed, another window is looking to open up at the end of the week and to be honest we have been so busy of late that a few days wait will probably do us good. 

So after finishing our jobs today, laundry and downloading cruising guides for me, inspecting the quadrant and tightening the steering cables for Rick, he is treating himself to an afternoon movie while I am sitting writing this on the forward deck, in watery autumnal sunshine, seeking protection from the chilly southey wind that is blowing directly into the cockpit. The marina is in the throws of major reconstruction and today they are hammering, very loudly, piles into what will be the new wharf. At least the dredger that was in constant use amongst the berths when we were here a month ago has been forced, by the number of boats now moored up, to take a break and sits abandoned at the end of the pontoon.

Working on the new section at the marina

Boats of all shapes and sizes have congregated waiting for the sail north, along with the numerous independent yachts such as ourselves there are now thirty five boats, that are joining the Pacific Circuit Rally, gathering around us. This ‘Rally World’ is reminiscent of our ARC experience a year and a half ago, crews busy working on their boats, nervously comparing notes on what still needs to be done and running around from one information session to the next social event, we feel slightly like intruders. 

They are due to leave on Saturday so the downside of our delay is that it will mean checking out at customs, paying up at the marina office and getting fuel with a huge crowd. On top of that temperatures are expected to drop over the next couple of nights to around 8C, the winter woolies are back out and the call of the tropical sunshine is becoming louder. Fingers crossed, well rested and well prepared, the weather will allow us to escape before the crowds and get away on Friday.

Our yellow brick tracker is still running, so if you are interested, you can watch our progress at http://my.yb.tl/sailrayatracking/

The track of our cruising in New Zealand.

Fixing For Fiji

Tuesday 25th April 2017

Slowly and painfully I unwrap my legs and wrestle myself upright, I have spent the last hour and a half wedged between various bits of rigging and the outside rail cleaning the brightwork (stainless steel fixtures). Fifty six foot seems very large when armed with just a duster and a toothbrush. My stiffness was not helped by the couple of hours I had already spent crouched and bent cleaning the bilge in the bottom of the engine bay. Rick’s in a similar state having spent one half of the weekend bouncing about, mostly upside down, replacing cables and tidying wires in the dingy, the other half dismantling and manhandling a heavy washing machine off the boat and today removing and servicing the water maker high pressure pump. We are not the young flexible things we once were. Why we ask ourselves, after six months in New Zealand is there still a last minute rush.

Polishing the brightwork


Fiji everybody assures us has quite good shops and services and it’s unlike leaving Panama, sailing out into the unknown, we now know we can easily survive on very little, life at anchor is in fact a very simple affair. Still, with a possible weather window opening up early next week, it’s difficult to resist one last visit to the big shiny supermarket, one last purchase of possibly essential spares or one last download of books on to our Kindles.

Preparations have been mostly going well, stores are topped up and stowed, Rick has completed a dozen tasks that he’s been meaning to do for months, I have started cooking and freezing passage meals and routes and cruising research is well underway. However, there have been a couple of untimely breakdowns, firstly the battery of my trusty iPad has started to fail. As anyone who has spent time on the boat with us knows, I love my iPad using it for everything from downloading weather and emails, to keeping up to date with friends on Facebook and writing my blog. At sea it’s our connection to the satellite, it acts as a secondary chart plotter, it gives us vital information on tides and distances and its Goggle Earth app helps us navigate through treacherous coral reefs. We decided we couldn’t risk being without it, so, fingers crossed, it’s ordered replacement will arrive Thursday and I will find time and enough Internet to download everything we need to get us running again.

Not so easy to replace is the second breakdown, the washing machine which has seemingly been on its last legs since we left the UK two years ago, finally gave up the ghost on Friday, it’s corroded inners irreparable. It’s a compact model, it’s diminutive size essential to allow it to get through the door of the bathroom where it lives. After an extensive search it appears there is only one such model sold in New Zealand and the country is completely out of stock. So life in the islands will be further simplified, it seems the best we can do is to replace my washing machine with a bucket. Cleaning the length of the boat with a toothbrush suddenly seems quite easy.

Dead washing machine

Crowded Week

Friday 24th March 2017

Entering Auckland


As we sat waiting for the brilliant Adele to come on stage, I realised how quickly our time in New Zealand has passed. I bought the tickets for Adele Live back in November just after we had arrived. Then this concert seemed such a long time away and was a marker for the final part of our New Zealand stay. The plan now being to start slowly working our way north, back to Opua, where we will look for a weather window early May to sail up to Fiji.

Adele was of course worth waiting for, belting out her familiar songs, joking with the crowd and making the most of her extensive set, she was the true showman. Add in the buzz from the near 50,000 people seated in the Mt Smart Stadium, the chance for a good sing along and the mostly efficient organisation – we had a great evening.

Adele Live

It has been a very busy week, Sunday morning we sailed into the centre of Auckland. It was maybe not the best of days to have chosen, Auckland has the nick name ‘City of Sails’ due to the large number of marinas, one in three Aucklanders own a boat, on this pleasant Sunday morning I think most of the them were out enjoying the sunny weather. Navigation was hazardous through the crowded channel and the water choppy with wakes. We eventually worked our way through all the craft, big and small, everything from a car ferry to a guy fishing from his kayak, and tied up at the Viaduct Marina. We are stern to the dock underneath the main walkway through this busy city waterfront area. It’s a bit like being the exhibit at the zoo as hundreds of people wander past looking at all the boats. Although the smallest yacht in this part of the marina, our Southampton registration is attracting attention from the many Brits who are visiting or live here. 

Rush hour past the boat

Fun as it is to be in the middle of things, restaurants and shops a mere stroll away, the true attraction is the large chandleries and miriad of  yacht services at our finger tips. For the first time in over a year we can get things done quickly and easily, Rick has jumped at the oppotunity. Amongst other things the generator has been serviced including refurbing the injectors and hopefully sorting out the last of the problems caused by the dirty Tongan fuel. The dingy engine has also been serviced. Rick has replaced the seized dingy gear cable and the broken main outhaul and furling buttons in the cockpit.  The boxes of spares have been sorted, topped up and the inventory updated. We have cleaned inside and out, everything was ready, Raya back in tiptop condition for another season in the Pacific Islands.

Well, until last night that is, on our return to the boat, to our dismay, we noticed the fridge had stopped. Days more at the zoo were imagined, disapointed guests, friends Taryn and Greg arrive this evening, having to waste precious days of their holiday waiting around, doom and gloom accompanied us to bed. But no, this is the centre of Auckland we had an engineer onboard by 2pm, a small leak and blocked filter discovered by 2.30 and a working fridge by four. Plan A back on track.

Up the River

Saturday 4th February 2017

Motoring up a narrow river was certainly novel for us after over a year of the open sea. We had one eye on the fantastic landscape that slipped closely by either side of us, while the other was firmly and anxiously on the depth gauge.

Motoring down the Mahurangi River

Wednesday morning we said a final farewell to Gulf Harbour. It hadn’t been our favourite spot, we seemed to have been plagued by cold SW winds for most of our stay that had whistled into the cockpit and kept us often huddled below and our berths location would have been a complete disaster without the use of Ricks sister’s car. But having been there since the middle of November it had come to feel like home, our boating neighbours have been great as always, full of friendly advice and generous with offers of help, it has been useful to be relatively close to a big city and all that brings with it and of course was a safe and secure spot to leave Raya while we were back in the UK.

And it did feel great to be out at sea again especially as the day was bright, warm and sunny. There was little wind and what there was, was not in a great direction but we were unworried, we had decided to use the two hour trip as a sea trial for the newly refurbished engine. It certainly sounded great, smooth and quiet – hooray.

Robertson’s yard, where Raya will be for the next few weeks, have a mooring bouy at the entrance to the Mahurangi river, we picked it up and relaxed. Conrad would be joining us tomorrow to pilot us the final few miles up the river on the midday tide. We were surrounded by rolling hills, holiday homes were scattered through the woodland, each with fantastic views, many with inviting seating areas and steep steps leading down to rickety jetties. Flocks of White Fronted Terns fed on the obviously plentiful fish and Australasian Gannets, looking rather like large, white, ungainly ducks, drifted by contentedly on the tide.

For us this same tide was at first rather disconcerting. When at anchor or on a mooring buoy in the absence of any significant current, the normal situation for us in a bay or nontidal harbour, the boat swings to windward, so we are use to the wind coming over the bows. However being in a river estuary with significant tides the currents are strong, so along with all the other boats we swung with the cycles of the tides, it felt odd to have the wind often hitting us on the beam.

At 11.30 the next day Conrad was dropped at the boat and took the helm. We motored up the rapidly narrowing river surrounded by reedbeds and now hidden by the high water, lethal mud banks. At its shallowest the depth gauge read only 0.3m under our keel. We held our breath anxiously but Conrad confidently pushed on winding down the narrow central channel. With a sigh of relief we arrived at the boatyard and Raya was safely lifted from the water and chocked securely ready to be cleaned, antifouled and polished.

Raya being hauled out at Robertson’s Boatyard

Rick spent the next morning discussing a myriad of other jobs to be done, amongst other things hopefully  we will return to a working fridge and freezer, a regalvanised anchor and chain, replaced seals on a leaky electric winch motor and staysail furler, a couple of new stopcocks and a retuned rig.

Shuddering at the potential cost and a little worried about leaving while all this is going on, we packed our bags and waved goodbye. We have a busy three weeks ahead, first stop Rotorua.

Enroute to Rotorua, a cup of tea with a view.

Oyster Cleaners and Oyster Catchers

Monday 30th Jan 2017

Saturday morning we sat, slightly envious, watching a mass exodus of boats from the marina, boats big and small, sail and motor, classic and modern. The weather has finally improved and this is a long weekend here and everyone is heading out to the islands. Except for us, while the rest of Aukland plays we are cleaning mould from curtain rails, removing a years worth of bacon fat from the kitchen fan, tracing leaks behind a cupboard and joy of joys pulling apart a slow flushing toilet. Such is the truth behind the glamorous life of living on a yacht.

These jobs would be horrible enough under any circumstances but being on a boat everything is impossible to get at, we contort our bodies to reach into unreachable corners and twist and turn to get ourselves into far too small spaces. Happily the combination of Ricks knowledge of the boat and his screwdriver skills, with my joint flexibility and polishing talents means we now have a very clean boat, well half a very clean boat, the delights of the forward heads and cabins are yet to be tackled.

(Warning photo below not for the squeamish)

Urine and sea water combine to calcify the pipes – lovely.


When not cleaning and fixing, we are trying to take advantage of having the use of a car for a few more days. We have been getting a few heavy transporting jobs done, gas cylinders have been refilled, repeated visits to the chandlers have taken place and our provisions store cupboards are partially restocked.

Rick has revarnished the cockpit table and directors chairs, while I have spent hours booking a succession of B&Bs and hotels throughout New Zealand for our trip South. A surprisingly difficult job but now complete, except for the very last night that has so far defeated me.

Yesterday to get away from the boat for an hour or so we walked five minutes around the corner to the beach. It’s an interesting spot, nobody else seems to visit, it’s not a place to sunbathe or swim. There is a combination of fascinating geology – flat slabs of sandstone and siltstone that run down to the beach from layered corroded cliffs and huge fallen trees that have been left high and dry by the demise of there footings.

dsc_0689

Rocky beach a short walk from Gulf Harbour

The remains of a pier run out to sea from an old disused pathway that is lined by an overgrown garden bank resplendent in blue agapanthus and flaming orange kniphofia. Oyster catches, red footed gulls and cormorants enjoy the isolation.

dsc_0658-2

Oyster Catcher

Tomorow is our last day in Gulf Harbour as Wednesday we sail up to Mahurangi Bay to await our pilot, who will help us up the river to Robertsons Boatyard where Raya will be lifted out. The logistics of moving both boat and car are quite complicated, I haven’t driven for over a year so my part in the procedure could be quite challenging, an exciting few days ahead of us.

Conspicuous Consumption 

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Wednesday 11th January

As 2017 begins our thoughts are returning to this years cruising plans – they are all very exciting. When we return to New Zealand we will be taking a road trip around the South Island, followed by a couple of months cruising the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Islands, then we sail back into the Pacific to enjoy Fiji and New Caledonia before dipping back out for the next cyclone season by sailing across to Australia.

But first we have a week left in the UK to enjoy, it has been fantastic to see everyone and having seemingly just said hello, we are now beginning on a round of goodbyes. We have to admit that living out of suitcases with a new bed to sleep in each night is becoming a bit tiring, the fantastic food that we have been cooked has caused our waistlines to increase substantially and Heaven knows what state our poor alcohol soaked livers are in.

The pressure is on, we have loads of things to still fit in, plenty more people to see and meals to eat, business to attend to and things to buy. With the demise of the value of Sterling in the last six months, we found everything in NZ to be very expensive, so while still in the UK we have embarked on a bit of a shopping frenzy. After 18 months at sea we need to stock back up on quite a few things and everything seems cheaper and, being more familliar with suppliers, easier to get here. Packing it all into four bags however, daily, becomes a greater challenge. Amongst other things to squeeze in, we have a huge roll of charts covering the Western Pacific, packs of hinges from Oyster, replacement burns dressings, watermaker spares, a years supply of contact lenses and vitally, two bottles of Rick’s favourite single malt.

One purchase, a new laptop, is causing much frustration. I am trying my best to disentangle it from all the preset auto updates, helpful targeted advertising and millions of different account passwords but it seems one is not allowed to be data frugal in this day and age. Does it not know that soon it will be without any connection to the internet at all!

On top of that the main reasons for a new computer is to attempt to download and organise the 9000 or so photos we have blocking up my ipad and to set up charting software that can be overlaid on top of google earth to help us navigate through the more remote Pacific islands. Both tasks require my full attention, attention that is continually (and rather too easily) pulled towards another cup of tea/glass of wine accompanied by friendly chatter.

Sparkling winters day in Hythe

When we have a moment, in an attempt to mitigate some of the calories we are eating, we are trying to take some excercise, joining our hosts on many and varied walks. Our walking boots have taken us everywhere from muddy fields, to rural lanes and sea front promenades, the only problem is each walk seems to inevitably end at a pub for lunch.

I think it is time to get back to Raya.

 

Full Up

While Jonathan was onboard he shot lots of film, from inside the cockpit, up the mast and racing along side us in the dingy. He has created a fantastic short video of our sail from Bonaire to the San Blas, you can find it here – 

https://vimeo.com/155366014. The password is RAYA.

We have had a very busy week preparing for our passage to Galapagos and meeting with old friends. One of the great things we are discovering about this trip is how many of our friends are managing to join us. We first met Peter and Junko during our stay in Japan, then we were all posted to Sweden together, they now live in Florida. Panama is part of Peter’s professional patch so they and thier girls came to see us for the weekend. We returned to the old town for dinner. What a difference from last week, after the Carnaval holiday, Panama City has come to life. The streets are full of traffic, the restaurants and bars busting at the seams and the shopping malls bustling, the old town felt young and vibrant.

Rick and Junko, dinner in the old town

Raya is also rather full, full of fuel, full of water, full of food. We are moored on the most seaward of berthsin the marina, so getting everything to the boat is a real challenge, a ten minute trek along rickety, rocking wooden pontoons, but we are almost there, every locker is jam packed and the fridge and freezer overflowing. We are unsure how good the provisioning opportunities will be over the next few months, so we are taking advantage of the large and relatively cheap supermarkets here. The cupboards are full of tins of tomatoes, beans, corn, tuna…… Behind and below the seats we have long life bread, stocks of tea bags, coffee, flour, ketchup……. the shelves are full of fruit, biscuits, nuts…….. And every nook and cranny has a bottle of wine, can of coke or case of beer.

We hear the alcohol in French Polynesia is expensive

Penny and Stephen have arrived and we set sail tomorrow for the Las Perlas Islands, a group of small islands that lie about 30 miles off the Panamanian coast. To enter the Galapagos your hull has to be completely clean. If they find so much as a barnacle lurking in some crevice, they send you twenty miles offshore to clean it, not something we fancy. So we are stopping at these islands, where hopefully the water will be calm and clear, to take a look and ensure the diver that we paid to give us a clean up has done a good enough job. Then it’s off to Isla San Cristobal the first island on our Galapagos adventure.