Windy Welcome to Oz

Thursday 9th November 2017

A family, on an early morning walk, have just passed by on the opposite bank from our berth in the Southport Yacht Club Marina. It was a bit of a shock to hear them speak English, I haven’t quite got my head around the fact that we have actually arrived in Australia. In the marina it’s life as usual but when we leave through the gate we are back in the real world and it’s a bit disorientating. There are proper shops, good pavements and decent comms!

Tied up at the custom dock

The passage from New Caledonia continued to be smooth and fast, a Tuesday evening arrival was on the cards. We read that to cross an unknown bar was safest four hours after low tide, to ensure that all outgoing flow from the inland water and rivers was complete, we set a target for between 8-10pm. Early Monday morning the log clicked onto 20,000nm, we congratulated each other but in reality we were more concerned with the dwindling wind, by daylight we were motor sailing to keep a Tuesday arrival in our sights.

Early Monday morning the log registered 20,000nm sailed

We had been sailing parallel to another yacht since Saturday, a lone sailor in a small but fast catamaran, he turned south intent on reaching Coffs Harbour, via VHF we wished each other well and soon the AIS screen was empty again. Early on in the trip we had seen a hundred strong pod of dolphins but now there wasn’t even a bird to watch. We read, snoozed and looked out into the vast expanses of sea, however things were about to get lively.

Pulled away from our books, we found ourselves scouring the sea for bubbles, a fishing boat had come on the radio to inform us that they had been laying long lines in our path and to watch out for bubbles. Bubbles? We thought it unlikely that, with a choppy sea and the setting sun in our eyes, we would see bubbles but we searched anyway. Then just off our port side we saw a buoy, then another and another, some just metres away, bubbles we realised translated from Australian to English as buoys. The buoys were marking the hooks and lines that they had set across miles of ocean. The ‘line caught’ label on cans of tuna conjures a vision of a lone fisherman battling the elements with a rod, this experience made the cheapness of these cans make much more sense.

Then a few hours later, on my watch, which ran from 11pm until 2am, the full moon that had been lighting our way each night disappeared behind a bank of cloud, in the distance sheet lightening lit up the horizon. The barometer started to drop, the low pressure trough was arriving a day early. The winds were still light and we had a knot or two of current against us, back on came the engine.

As Tuesday dawned the barometer slowly started to rise again bringing with it increased winds, much increased winds and the sea began to build. The comment in the log for midday Tuesday, about 60nm out from Southport, reads : Bloody horrible. At 1pm : Still bloody horrible. By 3pm we were in full wet weather gear and we were sailing through 50kt gusts and 4m waves. The local marine forecast came on the VHF informing us that the current weather was wind SE15-20kts, swell 11/2-2m, we wondered which bit of ocean they were looking at, certainly not our bit.

Finally an hour later as we approached land things did begin to improve and we radioed Seaway Tower who monitor the bar and entrance to Broadwater the inner seaway that leads down to Southport. It was with some relief that he reported the entrance calm and it was safe to proceed.

Now all we had to do in our rather soggy and tired state was to navigate in the dark through a narrow channel, find the marina and berth the boat in a 2kt current. A slightly tense half hour but by 9.30pm, we were tucked up in bed. Phew!

We have now checked in with customs, had the boat pulled apart by quarantine officers in search of mini beasts and had great fun at the supermarket stocking back up with food. Most of the boat is beginning to look clean and tidy again, except unfortunately for the front cabin. All the water that came over the bows at the end to our passage has proved the small leak we thought we may have solved is still there. The cleaning, drying and fixing of that will have to wait until another day.

Whoops, I may have been a little over enthusiastic as I wiped down one of the water triggered life jackets.

Go, Stay, Gone

.

Saturday 4th November 2017

Friday morning we left New Caledonia in a bit of a rush having just the day before decided that we would have to postpone our passage for another week – the weather forecasts have been tricky.

So far so good, we have calmish seas and a SE wind blowing us along at between 7 and 8kts. The passage plan has us arriving early Wednesday morning for the incoming tide across the bar. Bars are new to us and like passes have fearsome reputations and many of the harbours on the East coast of Australia have them. An area of shallow water lays across the entrance and when combined with the almost permanent large swell that arrives on the shore, can, on an ebbing tide, cause large breaking waves, not something you want to encounter on a sailing yacht.

We had been expecting the light winds we have at present but they are in a perfect direction and with the just a 1m swell we are storming along and can possibly make the earlier tide and possibly give ourselves a better land fall weatherwise if we can keep it up. Time will tell.

Full moon rise 250 miles out at sea

Our last day, ever, anchored in a pretty bay in the Pacific Islands turned out appropriately enough to be Ricks birthday. It was a lovely day, we swam and read, dugongs and turtles joined us and the winds were gentle. Since being on the boat we have pretty much given up on presents, so with our one precious pack of bacon I cooked him a fry up for breakfast and we BBQ lamb chops for supper with a beautiful sunset as a back drop.

Sunset in Baie Papaye

Then it was back to reality. A one hour motor and Sunday found us anchored again in Port Moselle. The day promised to be sunny and calm and the locals were taking advantage of the conditions, it was like being at sea. The whole fleet of motor boats from Noumea was going out to enjoy a day off in the islands leaving rocky water in their wake. We went ashore and did a bit of  essential shopping and had lunch, returning just in time to take another battering from the boats as they all returned to their marina berths.

That evening while enjoying the company of our friends from Atla we noticed the racing catamaran anchored in front of us was getting gradually closer, her anchor must have been dislodged by the turbulent waters, with no one onboard there was little we could do but put out some fenders and hope the anchor would re catch. After a rather sleepless night of continuous checking she luckily kept her distance but we were glad to move and get tied up in the marina to start our preparations to leave.

We shopped, cooked, checked the boat over and obsessed over the weather forecasts. On Monday, Friday was looking good for departure to Coffs Harbour on the Australian east coast. By Wednesday however there was the threat of a small but lively low forming in the Tasman sea.

Rick checking the steering quadrant

Thursday what had looked like a perfect passage now looked horrible for our arrival with not only the low hovering but a front forming. Frustrated, we abandoned our morning plans to visit the three offices required to check out of New Caledonia, had a delightful lunch at the Art Cafe and started considering going back out into the islands for a few days.

Then would you believe it, when Friday dawned the forecast low had fizzled and gone south and if we kept a bit north and entered the country at Southport instead of Coffs, we might miss the worst of the front. Our departure was back on and by midday we had cast off.

Fingers crossed we have made the right decision.

Contrasts

Thursday 5th October 2017

Mirror flat seas followed by 30kt winds, open ocean one day, modern city the next and an introduction to a culture that’s part chic France part Pacific Island charm, the last few days has been full of contrast.

Saturday morning nearly half way between Fiji and New Caledonia the wind began to die and soon the sails were flogging and despite being happy to travel slowly the engine eventually had to come on. Although motoring in calm seas is very easy, we can sleep, cook, shower as if at anchor, it is also noisy and with the wind behind us rather smelly from the exhaust wafting into the cockpit. In addition, after our engine problems on the trip down to New Zealand, we both, apprehensively have ears half cocked for any slight change in engine pitch.

I guess light winds must be a problem for the sea birds also, without the air currents to help them soar and rest, flying must become tiring. That night while on watch I peered forward to check for lights on the horizon and spotted a dark blob on the rail, worried something must had fallen from somewhere I shone a torch forward and revealed a Red Footed Booby, head tucked under his wing, perched on the pulpit. Obviously fast asleep, he was unbothered by the torch light and stayed unmoving until day break, as the sun climbed into the sky he flew off, back the way we had come, hopefully we hadn’t taken him too far in the wrong direction.

Red Footed Booby hitches a ride

Throughout Sunday the wind hardly registered on the gauge, the surface of the sea became like a mirror, the only movement through its silky expanse was the slight undulation of a small ocean swell and the ripples created by our wake. We put out the fishing line and kept a look out for dolphins and whales but for twelve hours there was nothing anywhere but us. The grandeur of this emptiness is difficult to get across, we sat in wonder at our isolation.

Mirror like silky seas

Gradually the winds picked back up and by midnight we were sailing once again. Next morning we have New Caledonia in our sights and we’re glad we had kept our speed low and delayed our arrival, the Canal de la Havannah turned out to be as treacherous as described in the guides. We arrived perfectly timed at supposedly low water but still had to contend with two knots of tide against us and swirling currents that did their best to drag us off the line through the pass. Add into the mix patches of rough overfalls created from the wind blowing against the outgoing water and we were well and truly pleased to enter the lagoon.

The lagoon however was not quite what we imagined, it’s the largest lagoon in the world and with its outer reef nearly twenty miles off the coast this is basically open water. As the afternoon sea breeze added to the already high winds the sea became extremely choppy. Fortunately we had the wind and waves behind us and we made good progress towards the marina. As we rounded the headland south of Noumea we were greeted by the sight of a hundred or so kite surfers, they looked from a distance like flocks of huge colourful birds, at least someone was enjoying the conditions.

To our dismay as we approached Port Moselle the high winds continued, putting out the fenders and lines in preparation for the approach to the marina was hazardous. We took the decision to collect ourselves, we motored to the anchorage outside the marina wall dropped the anchor and sorted everything out at a slower pace. Then with our hearts in our mouths, as gust of over 30kts toyed with us, we entered the marina and only with the help of neighbouring crews made it without incidence into our berth.

The marina office were friendly and efficient and initiated the check in formalities for us. It was all very low key, customs didn’t even bother to visit the boat but the biosecurity lady did come onboard and take away all our fresh produce and meats. The immigration office only opens in the morning and must be visited in town the next day. Quite quickly we were able to settle down with a ‘got here beer’ and then enjoy a good nights sleep.

Got here beer in blowy New Caledonia

It’s a bit of a shock to the system to have a road running past the boat with proper traffic and it feels very odd to be in what on the surface seems like an European town. New Caledonia like French Polynesia is an overseas territory of France, however unlike French Polynesia the population, in Noumea at least, appears to be dominantly European. Gone are the ubiquitous smiles and greetings as you pass smiling strangers who stroll through the streets, “bonjour”, “bula bula”, this is city life, everyone is busy, eyes ahead, intent on reaching their destination.

First impressions are that there are only a few signs around that we are still in the Pacific islands, muddy taro still looms large next the contrasting colourful produce in the excellent fruit and veg market, traditional Melanesian crafts fill the stalls next to the tourist boats and car hire companies and there are plenty of pot holes and uneven pavements to remind you that you are not back in the world of personal injury claims. On the other hand the supermarkets are packed with fantastic French cheeses, cold meats, bread and wine, the dress code is mostly fashionable French and high rise buildings line the shore.

Our first foray into town was a little frustrating but in the end 90% successful. Immigration, once we found the office hidden away unlabelled in a scruffy block, in a side street, was easy, we are still European and can stay here for 3 months without a visa. It took three different ATMs but we finally persuaded one to give us some cash and after taking directions to half a dozen places we eventually found a mobile shop and bought a sim for Ricks phone.

At lunch time back onboard Raya we sat down to tasty salami, proper ham, smelly soft cheese and crunchy French bread, delicious. European towns do have a few upsides.

Farewell Fiji

Crystal clear waters at beautiful Navandra

Saturday 30th September 2017

19 52′ 722 (S) 172 56′ 036 (E)

We sit encircled by the royal blue of deep water, under a cloudless sky, we are caressed by a gentle breeze, the sea is calm, its rippled surface overlaying a lazy ocean swell. There are no other signs of life, no boats or aeroplane tracks, no birds, not even flying fish on the decks. We sail steadily towards our destination, Noumea the capital of New Caledonia, which lies 350nm away. After a quiet night we feel rested and relaxed.

Our last few days in Fiji were spent in Vuda Marina preparing for this passage. At some points they were also relaxed – best day to go is Friday. And at other times a big rush – actually the weather has changed, a Tuesday departure looks perfect, can we be ready in two days?

For this passage not only were we looking at the weather forecast but also the tide times. In Vuda we needed to depart 3hrs either side of high tide to ensure enough water under us at the fuel dock and the sand bar at the exit. Luckily this weeks high tide was in the morning and coincided with the customs people who each morning conveniently come to the marina to check yachts out of the country. Fast forward 3-4 days and we will arrive at Canal de la Havannah the pass through the reef encircling the large South Lagoon at the bottom of New Caledonia. This channel can have currents of up to 4kts, so you are advised to enter on a rising tide, not to mention that the 20kt winds forecast for our arrival are perfect for a wind against tide chop on an outgoing tide. It is then over 40nm inside the lagoon winding around headlands, islands and reefs before you reach Noumea all best done in good light. Timing of our arrival is therefore critical.

So in between, laundry, provisioning, cooking passage meals, standard engine and generator checks, sorting out rigging and clearing the decks there has been much calculating and copious amounts of rubbing out.

In the end we left Thursday, this gave us plenty of time for all our jobs and gave us the opportunity for a bit of an Oyster Owners get together. With five Rally boats in the marina there has been plenty of friendly introductions, a visit from the Rally coordinator and a night at the bar filling a couple of crews in on our favourite spots in the Yasawas.

Abdul the taxi driver (Abdul blue car, he tells us we should call him, to distinguish him from all the other Abdul’s who are also taxi drivers but, presumably, without blue cars) was as helpful as ever, running last minute errands and even appeared at the dock to wave us off. We also had a final fairwell from Clare and Darren from Knockando, our last night dinner together was scuppered by a sudden squall but we did manage a cup of coffee in the morning. Even the restaurant staff waved us off emotionally. Vuda will remain one of our favourite places.

Motoring out of Vuda Marina

Having assured customs we would be leaving immediately, we let go the lines around noon and motored for a couple of hours before slipping, hopefully unnoticed, into Momi Bay on the far southwestern corner of Vitu Levu. Our best time to arrive at the Canal de la Havannah is mid morning on Monday, when the tide turns but giving ourselves plenty of daylight to reach Noumea. This unfortunately means that we need to take our time and have a slow passage. Anchoring meant we left Fiji a few hours later, and meant we could eat lunch, shower and get an afternoon snooze, before setting off at 5pm out of Navula Passage and into open water.

We were expecting that evening to pass through a rain band but the accompanying high winds whipped up the waves creating a very messy sea and turned our first night into an uncomfortable start. Thankfully by sunrise everything had calmed down and we, despite the grogginess bought on by the seasickness pills and lack of sleep, started to get into the rhythm of things. We have now had 24hrs of great sailing, only problem is that despite a number of reefs in the sails, Raya is in her stride and is going too fast. The winds are expected to gradually die so the plan is to adjust our timings during the expected day of motoring we will have to do on Saturday/Sunday. For now we are just enjoying the calm and the blue nothingness all around us.

Sailing into the sunset

Census in Sawa I Lau

Sunday 24th Sept 2017

Our presence in a remote bay in the Yasawas has been recorded officially and for eternity. Last Sunday morning as we sat anchored off the Island of Sawa I Lau, with just one other yacht, a mile or so from any other signs of life we were visited by a local boat. It’s occupant greeted us with the normal wide smile and enthusiastic greeting “Bula Bula” but unusually, for the Islanders, spoke with perfect English. He asked not for the anticipated bunch of cava but if he could take down some information about everybody onboard. It turns out that it was census day in Fiji and our presence remote or not needed to be recorded.

Raya anchored off Sawa I Lau

Our final set of guest has left us, it has been a busy summer and nice as it’s been to have everyone onboard it felt good to have Raya back to ourselves. Sasha and Julia’s visit will be remembered for the fantastic snorkelling we have done, this week we finally got to see the magnificent mantas again, we were also treated to sharks, sea snakes, and a huge titan trigger fish. The last couple of swims were done without Rick who had a bit of an earache and the sight of the three of us after a long tiring snorkel, struggling, ungainly and giggling trying to lift ourselves into the dingy, whilst gradually being swept out to sea, went thankfully, unrecorded but will stick in our minds for quite a while.

Excellent snorkelling off Manta Ray Island Resort

We have played Rummy cube, attempted a game of bridge, drank far too much wine and beer, eaten far too much food and talked and talked. We were actually treated with enough wind during their stay for a couple of sails but for our stay in Fiji we have basically been a motor boat. In fact we have motored so far that on our return to Musket Cove we actually ran out of fuel in the main tank and in, luckily, calm open seas we had to top up from our reserve tank.

Team Raya on the sand bank at Musket Cove

Yesterday we came back into Vuda, ready for the girls early flight this morning. We are getting use to the tight squeeze of yachts here but the space we were presented with this time was the tightest of all. In fact after two tries it was fairly obvious we weren’t going to fit in going stern to, so Rick turned us around and managed to wedge us in with bows to the wall. The normal skilled marina boat boy wasn’t around and his replacement had no understanding of what was going on. Without the efforts of Sasha one side and Julia the other, both armed with large blow up fenders we would never have berthed unscathed.

And we are not the only Oyster squeezed in here, after bumping into only a handful of other Oysters throughout the whole Pacific crossing, suddenly we are inundated with Raya look a likes. In Manta Bay another Oyster 56 had anchored right next to us and at Musket Cove there were three other Oysters including Oyster Blew 56/23 the boat built right after Raya who is 56/22 and here in Vuda there are five other yachts, the Oyster World Rally has arrived in Fiji.

We however are on our way out of Fiji, we have a few days to clear up and prepare then weather permitting it’s on to New Caledonia at the end of the week.

Ricky Puts His Shorts On – Finally

Wednesday 24th May 2017

As I picked myself off the salon floor, made slippery by our sodden boots and lethal by the heavy seas, I felt I had hit, literally and metaphorically, a low point in this passage. We were both very tired, it has been a rough, grey and wet crossing, For a few moments I indulged in a wave of self pity, but it’s just us out here, no other option than to keep going, so we try to smile for each other and get on with whatever has to be done to get us to Fiji.

Rick securing the pole
We finally left New Zealand on Friday. All that week the forecasts swayed from good to bad and back again, each day the decisions onboard each boat swayed too and fro. It started to become apparent to us that there was never going to be a perfect time to leave. We took the decision at the very last minute as we walked to the customs office, swaying from cancelling our appointment, checking out, cancelling our appointment or checking out? We checked out, they are very strict in New Zealand, once you have your exit stamp, that’s it, no turning back.

Now we are hopefully through the worst of the passage it definitely feels like the right decision, the prospect of a Mojito in the Copra Shed Marina Bar in Savusavu, Friday night, encouraging us onward. There were times in the last couple of days  however, when the boredom, indecision and chilly weather of the last few weeks in Opua seemed like a luxury. Almost from the outset we have had messy seas and as the winds built to a steady 30+ knots the waves grew bigger and came round onto our beam. Two or three times a day one would hit us wrongly and crash over into the cockpit. Twice these waves were bid enough to fill the cockpit floor with six inches of water, add in the spray from waves over the bows and frequent showers it has been a very wet and unpleasant few days.


The movement below made life extremely difficult, having to put on and off our heavy wet weather gear, boots and life jackets each time we changed watch was exhausting. The niceties of life, all thoughts of writing a ‘finally left New Zealand’ blog, even trying to read, were quickly put aside. It was all we could do to make sure we ate something and got some sleep. Shares in our seasickness medication of choice, Stugeron, will be sky rocketing.

The hoped for increase in temperatures were also slow in coming, so when we got our first glimpse of sunshine yesterday our spirits rose. This turned out to be premature, the breaks in the clouds did indicate us moving from the NZ high pressure system into the tropical trade winds but it was accompanied by frequent violent wet and extremely gusty squalls. As we watched them track across the horizon our hearts would drop knowing that this ominous blackness was coming our way. In the worst to hit us we registered 60+ kts winds, the last thing we wanted in our bone weary state was to be constantly trimming the sails and fighting the now very rough sea.

Raya of course has, as always, not put a step wrong, she just ploughs on and on, shrugging off the high winds and riding out the large waves. Shame her crew can’t ride out the storms quite so easily.

Now through the front the weather has improved dramatically, the winds are a nice 22kts and with the easterly miles we fought to make early on, we are now sailing comfortably down wind. Rick has his shorts on and it is calm enough finally, for me to write this blog.

Alternative arrival to New Zealand

Tuesday 25th October 2016

Monday lunch time, after a week at sea, we tied up to the customs dock at Opua Marina. Unfortunately this was not the arrival in New Zealand we had imagined, for we arrived curtesy of  the local coastguard. A real trip of extremes, we had calms so still it was difficult to believe we were at sea, a blast from Antartica that bought cold strong winds and then an engine failure just as we thought we were home and dry.

After the two windless days we saw building, on the horizon, a long grey smudge. As we got closer it gradually became more and more ominous, this was the front that we had been expecting, a dramatic and sudden change from the bright sunny weather to a line of cloud bearing heavy rain. The rain didn’t last long but the weather behind the cloud was in complete contrast to the past few days, the wind turned to the south and grew in strength. At first it was a relief to turn off the engine and we turned west as planned to ride out the weather. The winds and the sea gradually built and within a few hours things were uncomfortable, the wind veered to the SW making it impossible to sail even vaguely towards our destination. So back on came the engine, to help us sail as close to the wind as possible.

Ominous front on the horizon


We were both well dosed with seasick pills, a pre-prepared meal sat on the cooker and we hunkered down, every bit of warm clothing we owned layered under our jackets, telling ourselves it was only for 24 hrs. It was a long 24 hrs however, especially the hours of cold night watches and rather depressing to see our VMG (velocity made good – the speed at which we were going towards out final destination) at only 0.7kts. The sea was never really huge just messy, rocking Raya unpredictably as she slammed into the oncoming swell, the chilly wind whipping around the corners of the sprayhood.

Chilly in the cockpit


Gradually through Sunday the wind decreased and the sea calmed and although chilly we began to enjoy the trip once again. We spotted our first albatross, their huge wingspan disproportionately long for their bodies, seemingly never moving as they swooped past the boat and low over the waves. We got out the cruising guides and started to read about the entry into Opua, we even shared a beer sitting out at the back of the boat watching the sun set.

In the early hours of Monday morning with the wind dropping yet again, our engine which had been doing such a sterling job for us on this difficult to sail passage, suddenly stopped. We knew the fuel we had picked up in Tonga was dirty, Rick had been emptying and changing filters for the whole trip. This time however there was also oil leaking from the turbo charger, he began to think maybe it wasn’t a fuel problem, he worked through the night while I managed to get us sailing in the light winds. Finally the engine restarted , we left it running at very low revs to see if it would keep going, no such luck it stopped again after an hour. We sailed slowly onwards until a few miles out from the rocky shore of the Bay of Islands the wind completely died. This far from the coast we were in no danger, but we thought it prudent, with no knowledge of the tides and currents, not to try and enter the Bay until there was a steady enough wind to give us steerage. The wind dropped further, the dial read 2kts, Rick tried a few more things, questions fill our heads, there was some fuel coming through the system but how much fuel was enough fuel, had problems with the turbo shut down the engine as a precaution, if we got the engine running would it fail again in a more enclosed and dangerous space?

We had a cup of tea to consider our options and at eight in the morning we called the marina to see if they could arrange for some help for us. Typically, it turned out this was a bank holiday in New Zealand and no commercial help was available, an all stations radio call was put out for assistance to no avail, finally it was suggested that they contact the coastguard. So it was we found ourselves being towed at great cost, the coastguard here, unlike in the UK charge for their services, through the Bay and the channel towards the marina.

Preparing to Tow


They dropped us at the customs dock to check in, we thanked them and they rushed off to help someone else. The customs official was waiting for us and the entry procedures started. This includes the requirement to pass a Biosecurity Inspection. You are not allowed to bring in any meat, vegetables, fruit, seeds or dairy into the country, so the contents of our fridge, freezers and many cupboards were thrown into black rubbish sacks. The process was conducted efficiently and with a smile and before long with the help of Bruce from Seapower, a marine engineering company, we were safely tied up in our berth. Finally we toasted ourselves with the traditional ‘ got here beer’, too tired to venture out for food and with little else available, we opened a tin of beans, had a glass of wine and slept for twelve solid hours. 


In the morning Bruce was back with his engineers, the Tongan fuel was the culprit, every filter and pipe was clogged and the injectors blocked, it took a few hours but they got the engine running again. It was a relief that we didn’t have to replace the expensive turbo charger, frustrating that the fuel providers in Tonga could get away with selling such a filthy product but mostly thankful that the engine failed when it did, our situation could have been far worse.

OK, New Zealand here we are, what have you got to offer us for the next few months?

Halfway Around the World

Early this morning we crossed the dateline, we have sailed halfway around the world. Unlike at the equator, however, there was no dramatic 00 00.000 moment on the position read out. Longitude 180 doesn’t really exist so the read out just flipped from 179 59.999 W to 179 59.999 E. We have already lost our day as we entered Tonga, who bend the line to keep themselves at the same time as New Zealand, so it’s only practical significance is that we need to remember to start taking away instead of adding to our longitude as we travel west.

Goodbye Tonga


Monday Raya flew out of Tonga on strong SSE winds, travelling slightly east of the normal doglegged SW course, on Bob the weather mans advice. The sea was lumpy and skies grey but we were happy with the high speeds because we were trying to out run a low pressure system coming down from Fiji. Having achieved that, yesterday we had a perfect days sailing but today having reached the centre of a high pressure all is calm and we have only 4kts of wind so have the motor. Low winds have their upside however, the sea is a huge empty flat disc of blue and the sun shines in a cloudless sky, nothing else anywhere just a few birds and a couple of flying fish. In the whole four days the only boat we have seen has been a single AIS target of a cargo ship over 60nm away. Yesterday we did spot some dolphins, the first pod since Huahini in French Polynesia, disappointedly they didn’t come over to check us out, unlike a whale, which made us jump as he suddenly surfaced with a huge blow just meters away, before, obviously not taken by Raya’s womanly charms, sunk down and disappeared.


The sea and air temperature are decreasing surprisingly quickly and night watches have become rather chilly. Socks, jumpers and jackets that have not seen the light of day since we left NW Portugal a year and a half ago, are being pulled, musty, from beneath berths and wardrobes. The life jacket straps have had to be released to fit over all the clothing.

The early miles going south means accidentally, and as seems to be Raya’s way, we find ourselves on the rhumb line directly into Opua, with just under 500nm to go, that would normally give us an arrival time around Sunday lunch time. Unfortunately we have a front crossing New Zealand, bringing southerly winds to contend with, this will force us to sail west for a day, it will be fairly uncomfortable upwind sailing and add twelve or so hours to our eta, which in turn will mean slowing up so as not to arrive during Sunday night. We are also assuming that the south winds will cause a further drop in temperature and probably bring showers- is that the wet weather gear locker I can here rustling?

So this evening we are trying to enjoy the last of today’s calm sunshine, congratulate ourselves on reaching this far and look forward to the prize of arriving in New Zealand, hopefully Monday morning.

Meteorology at Mama’s

This morning I opened our last pack of Englsh tea bags, what surer sign could there be that it’s time to return to civilisation for a while. Our passports have been stamped, Raya is full of fuel, five passage meals sit in the freezer, it’s now just down to the weather. Tonight there is going to be a BBQ at Big Mama’s Yacht Club for all the waiting cruisers, as if collectively we can will the weather to suit our plans.

Veranda at Big Mama’s Yacht Club


After a year of relatively stable trade wind sailing, we are venturing back out into less predictable weather. The weather systems that cross over Australia and New Zealand from the Southern Ocean to just below the tropics are on the face of it simple, a high pressure system follows a low pressure system, follows a high pressure, follows a low pressure etc. etc. all travelling west to east. The reality is of course much more complex, firstly we must remember that each system rotates in the opposite direction to those of the northern hemisphere, so for the best departure we wait for the top of a high pressure to bring us SE-E-NE winds to whisk us south west from Tonga. Then the timing becomes crucial because between the high we are using and the following low there is often a trough of high winds and if the systems squash up or travels too quickly you face south winds straight on the nose as you approach your destination. The general advice is to sail a dog leg, going well west of the rhumb line before turning south, the magic waypoint being around 30S 173E. The skill is to know when in the system to leave and then exactly how far west to sail. Add to all that the seemingly infinite other vagaries that affect the weather and the fact that our ‘at sea’ weather forecast app is having a crisis about spanning the dateline, we have decided for the first time, to use the help of a weather router. Bob McDavitt is a weather guru located in New Zealand, he looks at your particular passage requirements – destination, boat type, average passage speed, etc. and with his years of experience analysing the weather patterns he suggests a departure date, best route and updates as necessary along the way. At the moment it is firming up for us to leave on Monday, heading for Opua in Northern New Zealand.

Needless to say the weather is the main topic of conversation in the bar at Big Mama’s Yacht Club, everybody anchored at Pangaimotu, the main stopping off point to take off for New Zealand, is on more or less the same track. However it wasn’t just passage weather that has been the topic of interest, the forecasted low pressure screamed through Tonga last Monday night with gusts in the high thirties and lashings of rain. With plenty of warning everybody had time to prepare and we all sat tight as it past over. 

Stormy morning


By Wednesday all was calm and we could venture out to prepare for our exit. The small boat harbour unfortunately hadn’t weathered the storm as well, the dodgy dock had become completely detached from its link to shore and had lost large sections of its length, the attached small boats sinking and floating out to sea. Getting on to dry land was precarious to say the least. In the heat we then spent 3hrs traipsing between, Nuku’alofa Port Authority, the Customs shed and other official offices in a seemingly random order, filling in numerous forms and collecting countless stamps as we went. The system for checking out has another fundamental problem, to get duty free fuel you need to have custom clearance, to get custom clearance you need a departure time within the next 24hrs. Unfortunately it takes a day to organise the fuel, a day to get it onboard, there is no fuel or custom service at the weekend and the weather windows change almost hourly. We took the decision to check out early and sit hopefully inconspicuously at anchor. 

We were quite pleased we did, it took us all day Thursday to fill the fuel tanks. Firstly it took Rick and Russ, from A Train and also filling up, three trips in the dingy over to the harbour to clear a space at the wharf big enough to fit us on. We then had to wait for the tide to come in a little to give us enough depth, while we waited the delivery truck arrived and finding us not there, left and had to be called back, finally we had to pump 600l of diesel from three large drums into our tank by hand, all in the scorching afternoon sun.


It was an exhausting and frustrating couple of days but now we are prepared and looking forward to casting off. New Zealand here we come, please warm up a bit for us, the current Spring temperature in Opua of 18 degrees is going to seem very cold!

Landfall Tonga

Friday 29th July 2016

Our life afloat has many special moments, I suppose in a way that’s what we are doing it all for. This was not a wow special moment however. No sharks circling the boat, no formation boobies diving a few feet away, no magnicant rock formations towering above us, this was a much more subtle and precious moment.

The last couple of days of our passage were quite intense, pushing hard to keep our speed up to ensure a daylight landfall we were half reefed in 25 gusting 35kt winds. The waves had built and as we headed slightly further south came further on to the beam, sleeping was fitful, normal life hard work. 

Pacific swell loomimg over the stern

Still out of sight of land we picked up chatter on VHF Ch26, the radio net that is boosted to cover the whole of the Tongan Vava’u group and the main means of boat to boat and boat to business communication there. After a week at sea it was good to hear familiar boat names even familiar voices over the airwaves. Then through the haze the two hundred meter high flat chunk of rock that is the eastern shore of  Vava’u came into sight. A sense of excited anticipation ran through us. 

Sunset was at 6.20pm so although we knew from the chart that we were going to make it before dark, we still faced the unknown of our arrival. We had picked Vaiutukakau bay as an anchorage from the chart in the NW of the island where we should in theory be sheltered from the SE winds and swell but you can never be really sure until you get there. The chart showed the bay was deep with just a couple of shallow ledges, would they be sand, coral, rock, would they be suitable to anchor in, would the bay be full of other yachts, fishing bouys or other hazards? We had no time for a plan B.

It is difficult to express the feeling of euphoria of rounding a headland after a period at sea being bashed by the wind and waves to find the calm expanse inside a protected bay. And what a spot this turned out to be, the bay was serene as the sun sank below the horizon. There was not a sign of human intervention any where, not a hut, a fence, a radio tower, even a boat insight, the water was flat and crystal clear. The shore was a vertical limestone cliff covered in trees that somehow clung to every crevice, the air was full of tropical bird song and the shore line was dotted with white sand beaches and caves. After a week at sea this was a special moment indeed.

Enjoying my ‘got here beer’, just got in before sunset.

We warmed up a chilli, drank a glass of red wine and then slept like the dead for twelve hours. We would loved to have stayed but we were yet to check into Tonga and so reluctantly at 9 the next morning we started to raise the anchor. As if in protest to my statement earlier accusing Vaiutukakau Bay of lacking the wow factor, a pod of humpback whales appeared a couple of hundred meters away, they treated us to the full show spouting water, slapping fins and fluking. 

Good start Tonga.