South from Savusavu.

Thursday 22st June 2017

Undoubtably one of the loveliest parts of our life is waking continually to a different view. This morning we are anchored off Makogai Island in the middle of the Koro sea to the northeast of the main island of Fiji, Vitu Levu. My view is limited by the low cloud that is bringing us showers, but brightened by the arch of a complete bright rainbow bridging the main island and a small rocky outcrop.

Last weekends view was very different, we sat just east of the Cousteau resort, about 3 miles out of Savusavu. A road lay between the narrow beach and the hills behind. Buses, trucks and taxis ran frequently out to the resort, the newly surfaced road crunching under their tyres. About three times a day we were surprised to see a small tanker that drove slowly past and, with what seemed like the Fijian equivalent to salting, sprayed the new surface with water. Dotted through the hill above the road were upmarket western style villas, with large verandas, cultivated gardens and four wheel drive cars tucked in the garages, above them, was woodland. One patch particularly fascinated us, a group of large trees were swamped with vines, these seem to have completely taken over the crowns and were draped and running off the branches. It made us think of bright greeen, melting ice cream cones

Vine covered trees looked like they were melting in the heat

Once we had sat out the high winds, Tuesday we ventured outside Savusavu Bay and sailed the 20nm to Namena island. Namena is a tiny island in the middle of a oblong lagoon edged with reef, it is a marine reserve and one of Fiji’s top diving spots. It was a fast broad reach, in a beam sea and we we’re looking forward to a smoother time once we got inside the pass but we were to be disappointed. The Fijian reefs systems all seem to be a couple of meters lower than the similar structures we encountered in French Polynesia, the consequence of which is that the ocean swell enters much more easily over top.  The lea of the island gave us some protection but with breaking waves, snorkelling and diving on the passes or reef walls was not going to be feasible.

We were relieved when we spotted the one mooring buoy in the bay, anchoring in the windy conditions with choppy waters in a sea bed littered with coral heads was not inviting. Just over a year ago this area of Fiji was right in the eye of Cyclone Winston and Namena Island was hit by winds of up to 145mph. Many trees were lost and still litter the island and the resort that perched on the hill above the beach was completely destroyed. The Island is now derserted, but our friends on Blowin Bubbles who are very keen divers were here a couple of weeks ago, had checked the mooring out, added new floats and given us its coordinates. 

The view from the cockpit was again different, a craggy limestone headland sits at the end of the otherwise palm covered island. There are reportedly 600 breeding red footed boobies nesting on Namena and we had a great time watching all the avian activity. We assumed the main flocks of birds were the boobies although we never spotted their red feet or their characteristic fish catching method of formation diving. In fact they didn’t seem to be feeding at all, all their time was spent with dramatic inflight dancing (flirting?) or protecting their nests from flocks of frigatebirds and a couple of very determined hawks.

Loved the dead tree, looking like it had been splattered onto the rock

In search of calmer waters we sailed on towards Makogai Island, with lessening winds our crossing was slower but very pleasant as we gently pushed further south. Makogai Island was also hit hard by Cyclone Winston and is still trying to recover. For nearly seventy years the island was used as a leper colony and people from all over the Pacific were sent here to be cared for by the nuns and priests that ran the hospital. The ruins of an obviously sophisticated settlement are scattered everywhere across the island, along with, we are told, an extremely poignant grave yard. More recently this bay at Dalice on the western side of the island has been taken over by the Fisheries Dept as a research and conservation centre. A lookout post was positioned on one of the highest hills for counting and cataloguing passing whales and in the bay was a large turtle and giant clam hatchery. Since Clyclone Winston these activities have been reduced to just one family, slowly, trying to restart the program. They kindly showed us the tanks containing hundreds of half inch long baby clams. In about six months time they will be big enough to be transferred to cages and put out into the bay and then eventually transplanted to marine reserves all around Fiji.

Sadly for now the only giant clam we saw was an empty shell, a meter across, sitting on the beach. The four clams that were reportedly on the bommie in the bay have all gone. They are a delicacy in Fiji and a giant clam can be worth thousands of dollars and in the hunger that followed the cyclone anything edible was no doubt fair game. The Goverment is beginning to rebuild the infrastructure at the site, so the tiny clams we saw today should have a more protected future.

We may not of seen clams when we snorkelled in the bay but there was plenty of colourful reef fish including this clutch of anemone fish. 

Anemone fish off Makogai Island

Reality Check

Friday 16th June 2017

There was a particular moment last week that made us smile, a classic cruising moment. All around us was wonderful blue sea, palm trees, coral reefs and sunshine, however we were below. Having not been anywhere near a shop for over a week I was kneading dough to make some bread. I am doing this while straddling Rick who is prone on the kitchen floor, head deep inside the engine room. He is trying to fix a recalcitrant high pressure pump so we can make some water. There is a rich odour wafting from a large bowl of rotting food waste waiting to be donated to the local pig, a long list of waypoints for our next reef strewn trip sit waiting to be plotted onto a chart and on deck is a mountain of towels and swimwear refusing to dry in the 85% humidity. It may seem like we spend our time in the islands drifting from one idyllic spot to another but this life is often quite challenging.

Sunday having spent the night anchored in Buca Bay, we took Penny and Stephen ashore to meet their taxi, luckily we had gone in plenty of time – no taxi had been ordered. Frantic discussions ensued as another car was cajoled into the four hour return trip to Labassa. As we waited anxiously the quiet dock began to fill up, car loads of people also with suitcases joined us, then two jam packed busses arrived, the chaotic scene added to the tension. Then a large boat appeared in the distance, suddenly the reason for all this activity became clear, it was the scheduled ferry to Taveuni. Finally a car, of slightly dubious road worthiness, but willing to do the trip to the airport, made its way through the crowds. We waved a fond fairwell, slightly worried that the car wouldn’t make it up the first hill, little alone all the way to Lambassa. Happily our concerns were unfounded, they made their flight in one piece and with time to spare.

Penny and Stephen’s last sail

Back on Raya we still had a couple of problems to sort out, the most serious of these was the problem with the high pressure pump for the water maker, which was refusing to start. Having no water maker serverly curtails our indepence from marinas and the small towns around the coast, we made the decision to return to Savusavu. We followed our track back through the reefs and into Viani Bay for the night, once anchored Rick took one more look at the pump and there it was, a broken wire on the starter capacitor, easy to fix, we were back in business. 

However, a return to Savuavu had a few other atractions. Not least the ability to rid ourselves of nearly two weeks worth of rubbish. Rubbish continues to be a big issue onboard, even with the care we take to unpackage everything, it still builds up depressingly quickly. The only answer is to store it until we reach a large enough town that we feel will dispose of it responsibly. On top of that we were also low on fresh provisions and the calm of the harbour would be an easier place for Rick to work on the boat. So the next morning we headed west and with SE winds were rewarded with a great sail back to Passage Point and Savusavu. 

As we left a chilly New Zealand our water temperature read out suddenly informed us that the sea was a balmy 30C, we had bigger things on our mind at the time and forgot about it. Then a couple of weeks ago the log packed up. The log is on the same transducer as the water temperature and is basically a small paddle wheel that sticks out through the hull. The rate at which it spins gives us our speed through the water, clocks up the miles we have done and is the core information that the instruments use to calculate true wind speed and direction. None of this vital, it is good practice to sail with just apparent wind readouts from the wind vane and the GPS gives us speed over the ground but still it would be good to get it fixed. After much analysis by Rick and a conversation with Andy from Green and Regis, our instrument people in Southampton, Rick has rigged an ingenious fix. This involves using a LED bulb as a makeshift resistor that fools the unit into thinking the water thermometer is working and switches back on the readings from the log. A good example of making use of the finite things we have onboard.

Alternative use of an LED bulb

As we approached Savusavu we could see crowds of masts, it is now well into the Fiji cruising season and the area is very full. We opted to anchor just outside the entrance to Nakama Creek, still within easy dingy distance of town but with the added bonus of catching more of the cooling breeze. On Thursday afternoon we watched as another 56 sailed in, unfortunatley the normal Oyster welcome was rather subdued, onboard they had a devastated couple they had rescued from their sinking boat. The yacht had hit a reef the day before and despite being successfully refloated by nearby cruisers and a dive boat, that night they began taking on water that they couldn’t control and they had to watch as their home and all their belongings slowly sank beneath the waves. A sobering reminder to the rest of us of how careful we have to be.

Busy Savusavu

Albert Cove

Sunday 11th June 2017

In the North East corner of Fiji lies the small Island of Rabi, Thursday afternoon we anchored on its northern shore in Albert Cove. The population of Rabi are not Fijian but Micronesians, originally from the Island of Banaba, a tiny speck in the Pacific Ocean near the equator and part of the Republic of Kiribati. Banaba came to the notice of the British Pacific Island Company at the end of the 19th century for its rich reserves of phosphate, over the next 40 years they gradually, with very little recompense to the locals, stripped most of the island bare. After further devastation caused by Japanese occupation during the Second World War the British bought Rabi Island with the Islanders Provident Fund set up for to receive phosphate royalties and moved the majority of the population to Fiji. Rabi is a beautiful and fertile land but not the home of these displaced people.

Albert Cove

We learn their society is run by elders and everybody acts together as a community, sharing childcare and food production. Albert cove has just three or four simple shacks. Members of the village on the western shore appeared to rotate their occupancy of the land around this bay to create an income from harvesting copra (dried coconut meat) for the production of coconut oil and growing Kava, a root with slight intoxicating properties, to sell to the Fijians. 

As we carefully wound our way around the coral reefs into the bay we first spotted Baea fishing the shallows with a large net. In Fiji the owners of the land also own the beach and the fishing areas around that land, it is therefore appropriate, in the more remote spots, to ask permission to anchor, explore the beach and swim in the sea. Tradition requires the presentation of a gift or to use the Fijian, sevusevu. This is normally a small amount of Kava root that is ground and prepared for a ceremonial drink. We had been told that the people of Rabi not being Fijian did not partake in sevusevu, so we went ashore instead armed with biscuits, Coke and Kitkats. Baea and her family were very friendly and she spoke good English, her husband cut coconuts for us to drink from and we chatted for a while. We, rather abashed, as they explained their history and the arrogant actions of our forefathers, they aghast, when asked how many people lived in our village, by the the concept of the millions of people living in London and fascinated by Penny’s status as a career woman. Further along the beach was Monique and her friend, cousins of Baer but much younger and after a polite introduction came an embarrassed request to charge her and her friends phone, having collected one from Baer too, we returned to the boat free to roam the bay.

Baea and Monique pose for a photo

Albert Cove is a piece of paradise, a long curve of white sand, edged with palm trees, mangroves and Futu trees, also called the  poison fish tree, it’s pretty flowers belie the dangers of the highly poisonous seeds that are contained within large box shaped pods. Beyond the beach area were high jungle covered hills and out to sea a double line of reefs lay under the bright blue water. The reefs not only made for good snorkelling but meant the bay was well protected from the ocean swell.

The next day we returned to the beach with the phones, it was a bit of a mystery as to their use, as the bay had not even a sniff of a signal. More immediately useful for us, and them, was the large bucket of food waste we bought ashore for the very grateful family pigs.

Food for the pigs

Baea had told us that an English man who had married a local girl had built a small house on the far end of the beach, now very old he had not visited for a while but the house was still perched on the rocks behind the trees. At high tide, so we could get over the encircling coral we landed the dingy on the beach. With our adventurers hats on, we scrambled through the trees to discover a fresh water pool, magnificent Banyan trees and high up a cliff, nearly engulfed by the undergrowth, a small blue hut. Just yards from the beach the atmosphere of the shady clearing felt very different, cooler, the colours muted compared to the brightness outside and slightly spooky, we didn’t linger too long and never discovered how anyone could have actually reached the hut.

Incredible roots of the Banyan trees.

Saturday morning as we slowly prepared to up anchor a longboat came around the corner to pick up Baer, her husband and friend and return them to the village. Their two small very pink pigs were scooped up and dumped squealing into the boat and they motored out of the bay. About an hour later a group of three young men armed only with a large bag of bananas came to take their place.

As news of more terrorist atrocities and the political chaos caused by yet another controversial U.K. election filtered its way to us through our satellite connection it was humbling to watch theses happy, generous people, living such peaceful and simple lives.

Sun setting over the distant hills of Vanua Levu

Cabbages on Rainbow Reef

Raya anchored in Viani Bay

Wednesday 7th June 2017
Sometimes you come across a sight in life that’s totally unexpected and unique. Although the name should have prepared us, the reef called the cabbage patch is astonishing, the coral here really does grow in formations that look like giant cabbages, none of us had ever seen anything like it. With no camera to take diving deeper than 15m we took no photos, but this was a sight that needs to be seen to be believed, the picture below comes cutesy of the

Cabbage Coral

With what appears to be a sparsely inhabited shore, Viani Bay surprisingly, is home to over 150 people. Fifty of these are children so the bay has its very own school. Each morning a couple of the narrow longboats they use here for everything from ferries to fishing, turn into the school bus and go around picking the youngsters up and dropping them on the beach in front of the school ready for assembly, the sound of fifty young voices joined in song drift across to the bay.

Beach at Viani Bay

Next to the school, hidden between the trees, is the Dive Academy of Fiji, run by the very friendly and experienced couple Marina and Jonnie. They invited us in for tea and biscuits as we discussed the options for diving the world famous Rainbow Reef. Having been sorely tempted to join the morning Manta Ray dive, we instead opted for two coral and reef fish dives in the afternoon.  The coral here although bashed by Cyclone Winston just over a year ago is recovering well. Marina came out to Raya to pick us up and our first dive, at Nuku reef, was on a gentle drop off. With a perfusion of varied hard and soft corals it was surrounded by countless reef fish. Shoals of small blue damsel fish, colourful inch wide angel fish and myriad other tiny species crowd the coral heads. Parrot fish, squirrel fish and picture perfect butterfly fish dart in and out of the crevices, a metre long trumpet fish hangs vertically above us, a grumpy titan trigger fish guards his patch and a couple of sharks linger lazily in the blue.

After an hour of surface time, spent again drinking tea in the dive shack, we went for our dive on the cabbage patch. We descended on to a similar scene to our first dive, highlighted by the appearance of a turtle, then Marina led us around a bend to the amazing sight of the cabbage patch itself. Each coral head is about a metre wide and the patch stretched out of sight in each direction. Again smothered in fish, larger species patrolled the top while the smaller ones live within the folds of the cabbages. Despite the lack of light from a dismal cloudy sky and the pressures on our aging ears, it had been a great afternoon.

The next morning we upped anchor and wound our way inside the reef system to Buca Bay. Described in the cruising guides as having two wharfs and a road, we are informed it makes a perfect place to pick up or put down crew. It also added that there was little or no chance for reprovisioning but oddly there was an opportunity to buy an ice cream. Sailing back to Savusavu would waste a precious day of Penny and Stephens time, so we sailed into the bay to investigate. With little signs of life, a small group of houses stood at the head of the bay and a few bigger buildings sat on the southern edge of the deep inlet, the expected wharfs from the boat appeared to have crumbled to piles of sticks and rubble. The water was a dark green and full of flotsam, we slowly entered the bay dodging large branches and coconuts, are hopes weren’t high. 

We dropped the anchor and Rick and Stephen took the dingy to investigate further, as is often the case, hidden behind the trees was a whole community. Besides the road connections to the rest of the island, there was an Adventist school, a small hospital and a tiny shop. There was one serviceable dock and an easy beach landing, the shopkeeper could organise taxis to the airport and although the shop had no fresh food it did sell delicious ice creams.

Banished to the swim deck to eat very melts ice creams.

Happy we could drop our guests here for their departure on Sunday we motored across to the northern coast of Kioa Island. A beautiful deserted spot and with the sun finally out, the beaches shone, the trees were a brilliant green and the sea was a vivid royal blue. We put on our snorkelling gear and went off to explore the encircling reef. Again the coral was healthy and the fish plentiful and diverse, unfortunately we also spotted half a dozen Crown of Thornes a distructive and invasive species of star fish. With no real means of removing them to be destroyed on land we sadly had to leave them where they were. 

It was a fine evening, we drank a gin and tonic and watched the sun dip below the hills of the mainland, a few minutes later the sky was washed in the palest pink, a soft breeze brushed the decks. Life felt good.

Back in Silky Warm Water

Sunday 4th June 2017

The rising sun pops out above the surrounding high hills and the anchorage at Viani Bay is suddenly bathed in sunlight. With not even a whisper of wind the dark, silky water reflects the hills, the only ripples are created by the occasional local small motor boat passing in the distance. The misty silhouette of Taveuni Island dominates the horizon, bird song drifts over from the wooded rim of the bay, a crowing cockerel, chatter and laugher reaches us from the village. It is so good to be back to our Pacific idyll.

Early morning in Viani Bay

With the fridge struggling to cope with copious mounds of spinach, lettuce and tomatoes, the freezer topped up with steak, chicken and tuna and the fruit bowls bursting with pineapples, manderines and coconuts, we headed out of the marina a few miles down the coast to an anchorage off the Michelle Cousteau (son of Jacques) Resort.

Despite all this food onboard, we decided to spoil ourselves and take lunch at the resort restaurant. As they were only 50% full they were happy to let outsiders in, the service was friendly, with nice but pricey food and the best Mojitos we have had since Panama.

Out for lunch at the Michelle Cousteau Resort

 Out of the marina we delighted in being able to just flop off the back of the boat into the fabulous warm water. Things got even better when we discovered some nice snorkelling a couple of hundred metres away. Split Rock was as discribed, a large coral bommie carved in two by a deep gulley. Hundreds of reef fish crowded around the surprisingly healthy coral, including two large Clown Fish diligently guarding their Sea Anemone, a couple of bright turquoise and pink Parrot Fish and a large shoal of stripy Sergeant Majors. We had bought some stale bread with us which created a feeding frenzy, so many fish So close was quite scary especially when they started nipping at us instead of the bread.

Feeding the Sergeant Major Fish

The prevailing winds over Fiji are the SE trades, so travelling south or east has to be timed carefully. Saturday the winds were forecast to be extremely light with calm sea, so at 7am we set off for the 46nm due east to Viani Bay. With what little wind there was directly on the nose, this was always going to be a motor sail but the engine and the early start ensured we reached the pass into the bay with the sun high in the sky. Moonshadow were conveniently an hour ahead of us which meant we could watch their path through the reefs into the bay and confirm our route in.

Anchor safely down we swam and relaxed, thumbs up for Fiji so far. 

Too Hot

Wednesday 31st May 2017

Raya tied up at the Copra Shed Marina

It may seem churlish to complain but ITS TOO HOT! After seven months out of the tropics it is taking us a few days to acclimatise. With high humidity and temperatures around 30 C every small amount of effort brings us out into a sweat and sleeping is difficult. The Copra Shed Marina is half a mile up Namaka Creek and right in the middle of Savusavu town, so its not the best place to swim, emergency cooling down is achieved by driving the dingy ten minutes out into the bay and jumping into the water.

Cooling off with a beer

Our first job, once the customs formalities were completed, was to clean up the boat. The decks and fittings have been liberally hosed down, four bags of washing have been processed for me at the marina laundry and the new washing machine onboard has done a good job with all our jumpers and winter clothes, that are now, along with the heavy weight quilts, packed away in deep storage. And the cabins and salon are almost neat and tidy, ready for Penny and Stephen who arrive today. In between times we have been enjoying the company of John and Deb from Moonshadow, who are tied up next to us, with the odd drink, excursions to the excellent local chinese restaurant and swims in the bay.

Savusavu is quite a large town by Pacific Island standards and besides the Chinese there are another half dozen restaurants and plenty of shops. The town lies almost exclusively on one street that runs parallel to the creek, a line of colourful but ramshackle buildings. 

Savusavu photographed from the creek

There are few purpose built structures, everything from the customs office to the bus station to tiny, scruffy electrical stores are elbowed into whatever space is available. There is a large fruit and veg market that looks pretty good, there are a couple of supermarkets that aren’t badly stocked and we have found the ‘it’s better on the inside’ meat store that friends on Kinabalu told us about in Opua.  It has taken us a day or two to get out of the everything always available mindset that we had in New Zealand and back to the buying what you can when you see it statergy, that works best here. With a bit of flexibility provisioning for four people for two weeks shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

Luckily we were told in advance that despite appearances the meat here was very good.

We should get our cruising permit signed and sealed this morning, so once Penny and Stephen arrive we shall head out. First stop just a few miles down the coast but with clean water and a snorkelling reef I’m sure that the heat will be more easily endured.

Safely in Savusavu

Friday 26th May 2017

Raising the curtesy and quarantine flags as we enter Fijian waters.

Thursday as we neared Fiji, the stormy weather of the past five days had gradually disappeared and was thankfully replaced by rapidly calming seas and light breezes. As we finally relaxed the evidence of what we had been through lay all around us. Every inch above deck was encrusted with salt, damp wet weather gear hung from hooks and door knobs in both heads, one shower contained a pile of soggy clothes, the seats in the salon were a makeshift bed, general untidyness filled every corner. I had the odd bruise and bizarre muscle strains under my armpits where I had been hauling myself up and around with the handrails, Rick battled with a ‘too much stugeron’ headache.

In less than a day we had gone from putting our heads above the sprayhood to be blasted by spray filled cold air and risking a wave straight in our faces, to the delightful feeling of soft warm tropical air, from wearing two or three layers of clothing under our wet weather gear, to wearing shorts and applying sun cream and from having trouble getting any food down at all to enjoying a delicious lamb curry. Having spent most of the passage with extremely reefed sails, for over a day we had sailed with less than half a main and part of the staysail, now with every scrap of canvas out, we struggled to reach 5 kts and the engine had to come on. With delight we spotted our first sight of land the most southerly island in Fiji, Matuku, all was well.

Land Ahoy – Matuku Island

As dawn approached on Friday we were just 20nm from Savusavu, during the night we had seen our first boats in six days, a couple of fishing vessels passed us by, one a little too close, coming straight for us, at about 100m Rick spotted the whole crew waving hello from the deck. Then two more AIS targets appeared on the chartplotter, they were two boats we knew well. After sailing over 1150nm and leaving Opua 48hrs apart from each other we were converging on Point Passage, the pass through the reef into Savusavu Bay, within the same half hour.

By 9.30 we were all tied up to the dock in the Copra Shed Marina and after the initial euphoria of arriving, swapping tales of 60kt gusts, gigantic waves and how fast you can go with just a handkerchief aloft, and of course, drinking a very well deserved got here beer, we were ready to drop into our wonderfully still beds. 

Alas, formalities still had to be completed. Officials from four departments, Customs, Immigration, Biosecurity and Health took it in turns to file onboard to fill a myriad of forms and inspect the boat. If that wasn’t enough we then had to traipse around town to three different offices, paying fees and collecting our passports. In our tired state and swaying from land sickness, in temperatures of over 30 C, we hardly noticed the town around us but it definitly feels friendly and welcoming, plenty of time to explore, when we’re rested.

Early morning view from the cockpit

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.

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!