New Caledonia

Getting to New Caledonia was a bit of a race. The usual trio set off together; Whale and the Bird, Pied-a-Mer and ourselves.

Pied-a-Mer set off early and, after a tussle with a mooring line, got off to a good start. They also took the closest passage through the reef, giving them a better sailing angle. Damn it!

We, along with Whale and the Bird, decided to retrace our track through the lower Malolo pass, figuring if we’d made it in that way in the dark, coming back out that way in daylight would be a piece of cake – and for us it was. However the seas were churning like the inside of a witches cauldron and it really made us realise how crazy it was coming in that way in the dark. Oh well as they say ‘He who dares wins’.

We were just congratulating ourselves on exiting the pass when I looked back and saw Whale and the Bird hoisting their sail. That mean’t one of two things: either the race really was on or something had gone wrong. Simon got on the blower and found out their engine was leaking coolant and so they would be sailing the rest of the way out of the pass. We swiftly made some space as they shot past us, leaving us for dead. Luckily the wind was in the right direction to sail out of the pass and they were able to fix the leak, and so all was good in the hood. It must of been a bit hairy for them and we can totally sympathise after similar incidents.

The rest of the day passed without any drama. We saw another two sailboats on AIS – it’s always nice to know there are others around.

The following day as is was getting dark, one of the other boats, ‘Amazing Grace’, called up Whale and the Bird to ask them ‘what their intentions were’. Well as you’d expect they were planning to continue on the same course that we had been since leaving the pass – straight along the rhumb line towards New Caledonia. However Amazing Grace didn’t like this idea and wanted them to leave more room. Onboard Interlude we thought this was a bit rude, seeing as there was a five-mile gap between us and Whale and the Bird we were unsure why they would be unable to sail their four-meter boat between us.

Their complaint? There was plenty of sea around so why did they need to be so close to him. Pete put it politely when he told them that they’d ‘just sailed in the middle of three boats travelling together’. Amazing Grace? More like Amazing Disgrace!

Funny thing is he was travelling much faster than us and was gone before we knew it. Ahh well there’s never enough entertainment in the middle of an ocean!

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From there on in it was just the usual sailing, ocean, sky and a few little triangles on the horizon marking our friends in the distance. For some reason we pulled ahead, so eventually even the sails disappeared leaving just us and the birds for company. We still stayed in radio range and as always it was good to chat.

We were trying to time the Havannah pass during daylight hours. We figured we’d pushed our luck with the reefs at night and really didn’t want to tempt fate. Luckily we arrived in the early hours of the morning which mean’t that we could get through the pass at slack tide, at dawn which we’d calculated to be 5am.

Unfortunately we’d caught up with our ‘friends’ Amazing Grace and the boat they were travelling with Amandla as they were sailing at a lower speed. We heard them chatting and they said they would be going through the pass at 7am boat time. Whatever the heck that means.

As we wanted to pass through earlier, we called them up to let them know what our intentions were. Simon asked when they would be going through (7am) and what they meant by boat time (the time on their boat). Doh! He informed them that we were planning on going earlier to which he simply grunted. Joy!

So I put on our engine and forged ahead while Simon went to get some shut-eye. Next thing I know they’d increased their speed, obviously tanking their engines now and were cutting us off at the pass! Quite literally!

So I got Simon on deck who was none-too-pleased and as we were trying to figure out what to do another AIS target popped up on screen. This was a tanker heading towards the pass from the North. We didn’t want to play chicken with a tanker so we reduced our speed and pulled over to let it through. Next thing we know the tanker calls up and asks our ‘friends’ to make room. I guess there’s always a bigger bully in the playground.

By the time we all made it through the pass it was well past 5am and possibly past 7am boat time – who’d know? So much for good planning!!  The pass was a bit swirly and choppy but we made it through just fine and were followed closely behind by Whale and the Bird and Pied-a-Mer without drama.

Woohoo! New Caledonia looked stunning!

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At the end of a trip like this its always good to find yourself in a cosy marina and fortunately there was a spot available for us. However it was the last one which mean’t our buddy boats were left out in a busy anchorage trying to negotiate a spot between all the moorings. I guess we didn’t realise the prize for this particular race was a marina berth. Amazing Grace and Amandla had just won gold and silver. Even though we’d got bronze it made us feel pretty bad knowing our friends were out there and it was set to get windy. :(

Noumea, New Caledonia

What’s the deal with this marina? They let you come and check in but only with a three-day maximum stay which mean’t that we would be out on our ear with the wind picking up in just a few days. So we checked in as quickly as we could and rushed around to the supermarkets to provision after a week at sea.

IMG_7915After that it was time for some retail therapy. This is the first place in a long time thats had ‘real’ shopping so we decided to make the most of it and bought… well not a lot actually. But it was fun all the same.

New Caledonia is yet another French island and is similar to some of the others we’ve been to like Martinique or French Polynesia but is also really reminiscent of Papeete in Tahiti – which is great because we loved that place.

After three days in the marina we started to worry. Boats came in with stories of 30 knot winds in the anchorages and islands outside. But we kept our heads down and nobody asked us to move. Actually we found out a lot of cruisers had been their for a while and there were plenty of ‘the dog ate my homework’ excuses to stop them moving including wonky engines, missing rudders and injured legs. I won’t name and shame people but you know who you are!!

It was not only windy but cloudy, and rainy from time to time too. This mean’t that instead of sun-baking on the beach and snorkelling in aqua waters of the islands, we spent our time wandering around the town.

Ok not cloudy and rainy all the time…

IMG_7966We eventually made our way into the museum of New Caledonia, a well presented little museum. It was a great summary of all our cultural experiences across the pacific but didn’t really tell us anything new.

Another day we made the long walk down to the beach at Baie des Citrons. It was a pleasant stroll around the harbour side and along the promenade with the usual skinny french belles jogging off their morning croissants.

IMG_7952There’s a lovely town beach full of families basking in the sun but before long it clouded over and everyone headed to the shelter of the bars and restaurants that lined the street. We were only too pleased to find ‘the Three Brasseurs’ bar, our Papeete favourite, and popped in for a special brew.

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After that we headed to “le Petite Bistrode” for a delicious meal.

Our favourite lunch place however was l’Annexe. Set in the park, it had an amazing three-course lunch menu that changed daily. So we had to try at least a couple :)

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We also found delicious food at another place close to the marina called L’Inedit. We had a charcuterie plate along with plenty of lovely glasses of wine recommended by the super-friendly barman.

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After eating and drinking our way around Noumea we were ready to head to the islands and anchorages to chill out, swim and relax. But the weather had other ideas with continuous wind predicted… forever!

We heard about a weather window back to Oz and decided to jump on it. Yet another place where we felt we’d only scrapped the surface of but sometimes you just need to know when to call it quits. There’s no messing with this weather and who knows when we’d get a good weather window like this.

So we made our preparations, more food shopping, more refuelling and the usual run around the local offices to clear out. Once again this turned out to be like the amazing race. We went to immigration. This office only opened 8 until 11am but when we got there they told us they were closed and to come back at 10.30. We mooched around, listened to other cruisers misinformation and then ended back at the door around 10am when a french sailor was trying to make his entrance. Obviously speaking French is a positive and they let him in and he kindly got us a spot too.

Once in the immigration office we found plenty of other checking out too. It’s always a good sign! Once we were released from immigration we headed to the Port Captain’s office and then to customs. On leaving there it rained again, drenching us to the core and making us more determined to leave and yet even more miserable about leaving. But c’est la vie!

Next stop Australia!! Yikes!!

Tonga

We had light winds blowing us down to Tonga, so much so that by day two we had the motor on. Despite this we felt pretty lucky because with normal trade winds it would have been a much harder trip and we’d have been battling straight into it. We were determined to get into the harbour on the second day, as by day three the trade winds were expected to return with a vengeance – so we were pushing quite hard.

Tonga was always somewhere we’d been looking forward to. When we finally navigated the islands we were not disappointed – it’s stunningly beautiful reminding us of New Zealand or Thailand or somewhere equally lovely.

Neifu harbour is pretty well protected but does have one of the worst dangers we’ve encountered yet. The harbour wall! You have no choice but to tie up to it in order to clear customs. The wall itself goes in and out in a corrugated manner, is covered in spikey shells, nails and all sorts, and it’s topped with an overhanging piece of rough concrete. Nice!

So we put all of our ten fenders down one side, raised them and then raised them again and headed in. Our friends had just left the wall and the customs guys were slinking away but we called them and they reluctantly returned to take our lines. We docked well, coming in gently but still our fenders were two low, we managed to quickly squeeze a few between the guard rails and the concrete and raise them yet higher. This dock was certainly not made for yachts and we’ve heard tales of boats getting stuck under the concrete on a raising tide.

We were certainly not comfortable here and tried as best we could to rush through the paperwork, but in some places you just can’t rush things and have to go with the flow. We departed the dock about an hour later and were relieved to pick up a mooring in the anchorage beyond. With health, quarantine and customs completed, we’d only have immigration to do in the morning when the office reopened!Tonga4IMG_7709

Neifu

The village-sized town of Neifu is friendly and totally geared towards the hundreds of boats that make their way here each year. From French Polynesia to here there are a number of routes you can take but in the end all roads lead to Neifu in Tonga, and you can’t walk down the street for more than a hundred meters without running into someone you know that you’ve met somewhere along the way… the trick is to remember the name, the boat name, and where you last met them!

It also seems that all roads in Neifu lead to Tropicana, an amazing cafe that does internet, laundry, gas refills, bike hires, oh and great breakfasts too! :) After three days and three breakfasts, we’d caught up on internet and it was time to move on – to the anchorages!

Vaka ‘Eitu

First stop was anchorage 16, locally known as Vaka ‘Eitu.  It’s a lovely spot and after a couple of goes we managed to drop our hook in a patch of sand. One thing that is worth noting, however, is that we were in 14 meters of water (not seven as shown on the chart), we went over a sand bar of three meters (not marked on the chart) and sailed around an island (which according to the chart does not even exist). Hmmm things are certainly getting more interesting here.

The next day we went for a dinghy ride tour of the island with our friends. We were keen to walk the trails and maybe visit the resort for a cold beer or spot of lunch. As it turns out, the guides are about as much use as the charts. The resort has closed and because of this the trails have grown over.

The island’s only inhabitants was a family with 11 children!!! The father, Dave, invited us to a hog roast on Saturday which we gladly accepted.

Hunga

On Friday, however, we decided to explore a bit further afield and left for Hunga. We had a slow sail down there at about three knots, but as we were waiting for high tide to traverse the pass into Hunga lagoon we were in no hurry and it was nice just to tootle along.

Before long we started to see whale plumes in the distance and whale-watching boats everywhere trying to get in on the action. Then a couple of frisky whales appeared not too far off and converging on our course. We kept a close eye on them but as we were kind of stuck between an island and a pair of whales there was not much we could do. We were pretty relieved though as we rounded the island, and could tack away from them. We love to see whales, just not that close up!

With that obstacle expertly avoided we started to concentrate on the next one. The passage into Hunga. We had heard that the passage was 2.2 meters deep at low tide so with a two-meter draft and only and hour and a half before high tide we were pretty confident. But we followed our teachings and I posted myself on the deck for some eye-ball navigation while Simon slowly drove us through. And we got lucky!

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The passage was ok but with only 50cm below our keel we got pretty nervous pretty quickly and then right in front of the passage is a reef so you have to take a quick dog-leg to the right. I didn’t know this so that made for a nerve-wracking few minutes of ‘Go right, go right, GO RIGHT’ and ‘Are you sure we can get through here?’.

Anyway we made it through and across the lagoon and picked up a mooring buoy in front of a resort. Phew!

After a quick bite we went ashore to explore and pay for our mooring. The resort was deserted except for two fierce-looking, barking, black guard dogs, that were all too happy to have their ears scratched. We plonked ourselves down on the beach, tried to find some snorkelling and then returned to the boat assuming it would open up later.

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A little later Barry the caretaker arrived by dinghy to tell us we couldn’t use the moorings as the resort was shut and the moorings weren’t maintained. What is it with the charts and info here?!?!

After a nice chat he departed to go and feed the dogs while we dropped our mooring and went in search of a maintained mooring near the village. We picked it up relatively easily – perhaps that was because we were on land (well at least according to our chart plotter).

After all that, it was time for beers and nibbles onboard… again.

Back to Vaka ‘Eitu

Navigating the pass was easier on the way out, for one we knew what we were doing and for two we waited for high tide. The journey back to Vaka ‘Eitu wasn’t as easy, the wind had kicked up and so we had to battle into the waves. Another wet and cold adventure.

Back in Vaka ‘Eitu it was nice and calm. We headed to shore for Dave’s traditional Tongan feast with a hog spit roast. Now this is something I’ve been looking forward for a long time. I must have seen it on a film somewhere and thought it was the epitome of paradise island living.

Not so. When we got there mummy pig and daddy pig were still running around, meters away from baby pig on the spit.

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Luckily the views distracted me and the family had made a huge spread of dishes including chicken noodles, potatoes, octopus, mud crab and much, much more. Yummy!

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Neifu again

After a few days in the islands we decided to return to Neifu to take stock and to wait out some strong winds. Everyone else had the same idea and before long all the moorings were taken. It seems like high season here, and chaos reigned as another 15 boats turned up on one day making the customs guys work hard for their money.

It’s a good chance to catch up with friends and there’s lots of events and things to do here. So much so that you can get trapped here day after day and never leave.

For the record Pete somehow managed to miss this shot, which is maybe why the locals challenged them to a game of killer.

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We spent our time getting in some much needed exercise. First up the walk up Mount Apu. It’s an easy stroll over there, followed by some steep, crooked, slippery steps. If you’re thinking of doing this hike remember to bring your rock-climbing gear. Apparently there used to be a rope handrail but some yachty came along and took it for his boat. Bloody yachties!!

The view at the top looking out over Tonga’s islands was fab and worth the climb (so long as you don’t break a leg on the way down).Tonga13 Tonga14The following day we hired bikes to tour the island. It was an up and down ride, and the bikes were probably best described as death traps. We had about five gears between us, the breaks were sticky and I think my handles were taken off a three-year-old’s trike. Anyway we avoided the hogs and dogs, and made friends with the kids. Well actually Simon was shot up by the kids pretending to machine gun him as he rode past while I got high-fives. They know where it’s at!!

Tonga15Our destination was the botanical gardens. Unfortunately by the time we got there we’d missed the tour. So we headed out across the causeway (sporting red and blue crabs) and down to another beach. I must say the rubbish here is terrible!!  There’s big bins everywhere full of empty cans. But then it seems that these are simply thrown in the hedges or on the beach, such a shame.

After a quick mooch around we returned to the cafe at the botanical gardens for lunch. They served fish and chips or fish and chips so we ordered… fish and chips. After that we walked along the beach and had a snooze… until the tide came in and splashed our feet. Then we realised it was time to return to town quick-sharp!

After three or four days we realised it was time to get out and explore the islands again. This time we planned our trip more carefully and booked a few meals before heading out.

Ofu island

We decided to go East and attempt the tricky passage despite all our close encounters recently. Little did we know this would be the closest one yet. The passage to Ofu island is reportedly easy and at least three meters deep at low tide. We know this as it says so on our chart.

How then did our depth sounder go down to ZERO as we went through this channel?! Yes this is not the place to rely on the chart plotter, here eye-ball navigation is king and good luck is your friend. Turns out we should have gone to the left of the reef instead of between two reefs but how a first-timer is to know this from the information out there I’m not sure. Actually the closest you get to good information is Google satellite imagery – how about that?

Anyway we made it safely to the tiny island of Ofu without so much as a graze on the keel, but how we accomplished that I’m not really sure. After a few hours of lazing onboard we saw a familiar blue-hulled boat approaching and were pleased to see our Panama-crossing-friends on Matelot. After a few beers with them, we collected their waypoints for our return passage, and then headed ashore for dinner.

Mandela resort, run by Ben and Lisa, is amazing! Lisa took us on a tour of her small island to see the amazing rooms they have here, the best of which is the tree-house. Tonga16They’ve built this place up slowly and are trying to be as self-sustained as possible. The beach-front restaurant is ultra-relaxing and they prepare the tastiest three-course meal for their guests. An extraordinary place and one that I’d love to come back to. Tonga18Unfortunately the wind started blowing a guster so we had to head back to the boat instead of enjoying the camp-fire on the beach. Boo!

Ark Gallery anchorage

The next day we awoke to some pretty gusty winds. With nice weather we would have been quite confident navigating the passage back, we’d viewed the charts, the pictures and had our trusty waypoints. However with these horrid conditions there would be no room for error, so once again our hearts were heavy. Our other alternative was to stay in the blustery, unprotected anchorage and that didn’t seem like fun either. So we set off.

Stationed at the front of the boat, this time the waves were up and I was hanked on in my life vest with hoodie and long pants. Not what I paid my money for! But it all went smoothly and after 15 mins I was safely tucked back in under the spray hood.

We made it into our next anchorage which wasn’t as protected as we’d hoped, and with all the mooring bouys taken our only option was to anchor at the back in the wind. We tried anchoring a few times but just couldn’t get any hold as it was all coral. Luckily our friend on Four Choices left (maybe it was something we said?) and we grabbed his mooring buoy in relative shelter – nice.Tonga3We visited the Ark Gallery by dinghy to pay our dues and had a snoop around Cherrie’s art gallery. The owners have lived on this floating pontoon for 12 years and Cherrie creates lovely paintings, capturing the local culture and sea-life.Tonga19We took a walk up the road and met up with a farmer building a fence around his field of taro to ward off the pigs. He had a cute dog, here he is…Tonga17We were told there was a path back to the anchorage via the beach but we couldn’t find it, and with the tide coming in we had no choice but to climb a tree to get back to the road.Tonga20That night we caught up with friends and went to Maria’s Paella restaurant (I’m not sure this is the proper name but that’s how everyone refers to it). We had some scrumptious tapas and of course the signature seafood paella which was super yummy too and a reminder of our time back in Spain.Tonga23 Tonga21After that we were delighted when a shower curtain was drawn back to reveal a three-man band, with keyboard player, one of the best harmonica players we’ve ever heard and a slightly weird but amazing vocalist. They seemed a little shocked when the screen went back and kind of came to life like some full-sized wind up toys. No idea how long the poor guys had been hid back there, I think the last booking was a few weeks before, oops.Tonga22The vocalist was really talented but no-one could understand the language in which he sang. Simon thought it was the language of beer which he constantly drank between songs, verses, and sometimes even lines. It wasn’t really necessary to understand him, however, and his passion certainly made up for it. Before the end of the night everyone was either singing, playing the drums, dancing or head-butting the friendly goat that lives in the bar. No kidding!Tonga24After a big night, we snoozed the day away in the beauty of the anchorage.

Anchorage 7… or actually Neifu again

We wanted to go to anchorage 7, because from here you can dinghy around to the Swallows Cave, which is supposed to be amazing. But when we got there the anchorage was full of boats and deep. We were pretty sure if the wind changed there would be boats on top of boats so we reluctantly changed our mind and headed back to Neifu.

Although we loved Tonga we were keen to head off to Fiji as time was ticking, however the weather gods had a different plan and the winds just weren’t playing so we had to wait a while. We decided to fill our time rather than clock-watch and so we booked a tour and meal at the Vava’u Villa. We walked over there with our friends from Whale and a Bird.

A Kiwi guy bought this place after he decided to have a lifestyle change following the Earthquake in Queenstown, NZ. He’s making a living from the coconuts and helping out the locals. He uses each and every part of the coconut, which he buys from the locals at 3 cents a pop.FullSizeRender 2The husks are burned to make charcoal, the charcoal is burned to heat water, the white flesh is used for maggot feed which in turn is used for chicken feed, the oil is used for soaps, the milk is used for protein in the pig feed, the water is used as weed killer.

The pigs and chickens are eaten in the restaurant and their guts are fed to the mud crabs, which are also served in the restaurant. The shells of the mud crabs are fed to the chickens. The manure will be used to feed the veggie patch and the gas will be collected and converted to electricity. It really makes your head spin, or perhaps it was the berry cider that we sipped while walking the farm.IMG_7644 After that we were ready for a Tongan feast and some traditional dancing. The lady restaurant owner had given the kitchen over to the local chefs and they cooked up some treats for us. Some of the delights are an acquired taste but there were some amazing flavours too. After that was some traditional dancing… of a sort. The guys wore american baseball caps and when granny came out she showed us her Hawaiian dance. There were some lovely lady dancers though, covered in oil that allowed us to stick dollar notes to her. A bit sleazy in our worlds but here it’s an honour, and certainly explains why the dollar notes here are always a bit sticky.

Hunga again… and the cricket

The next day we’d signed up for cricket! Now usually I avoid cricket like the plague, it’s slow and has funny rules. Anyway we jumped aboard Whalesong for a faster trip to Hunga (we decided not to push our luck with the scary entrance again).  This time we went through the equally scary – small boat entrance at low tide. It was great to see some of our fellow yachties in the harbour and we climbed up to the village.

First up the yachties played while we waited for the Tongan team to arrive. There were many nationalities represented and most of us hadn’t played before so they explained the rules.

We were put into teams and set out onto pitch. My team batted first and we did pretty well for ourselves. Ann from Sofia bowled me some nice balls, and I managed to get in a few runs with my partner Noah, an eight-year-old heavy hitter. I was doing pretty well for myself until Simon caught me out, and caught my wrath as I chased him with a cricket bat. He won’t be doing that again… well not until he caught Ann out from Whale and the Bird. She gave him a beating too.

We were eventually all out for a duck (or some such thing) and it was the other team’s turn. They did a lot better… and Simon took away the title of Top Hitter with 23 runs before he was asked to retire… whatevs!

After that we were served up a really yummy Tongan feast and were serenaded by the lovely local school children (Hunga Hunga Hunga Oi Oi Oi!). FullSizeRenderWe were able to take a sneak peak at the schoolhouse. Although it’s a little basic the walls are plastered in drawings and the alphabet and you could pretty much be in any primary school room in any country.Tonga2After that it was time to get serious at the Tongan’s took to the pitch. The music was turned up and the fielders popped a few additional moves! I’m not sure if this was to put off the other team or just because they were having a good time.

Simon, meanwhile, was not having a good time. As top hitter, he was asked to make up the numbers, so he was padded up and waiting for his time to shine.Tonga1Once on pitch, the Tongans took turns to throw the ball as hard as possible at the white guy. He held is own and got in a few runs. He looked pretty relieved, however, when he was caught out by one of the Tongan players and got his lucky escape with no bones broken.

It turns out I don’t like cricket… I love it! It was such a fun day – thanks to Barry, Craig and friends, the Hunga school and of course the Tongan Cricket team.

Tonga is one of the only countries that are not recognised by the ICC so like them on FaceBook and help them get the recognition they deserve.

Bye, bye Tonga

The next day we reluctantly went back to the wicked dock to clear out. At high tide the dock was a lot less menacing. We were able to raft up with Whale and the Bird while we did our clearance and grabbed a few provisions before heading out to… Fiji!

Suwarrow

The first day in the Suwarrow was pretty rough, so much so that the Ranger couldn’t even make it to the boat to clear us in. All the better for us as we tried to catch up on some sleep.

The next day he came back and we met Harry, the Ranger that spends six months on this deserted island every year, as caretaker, immigration and customs officer. We cleared in after a bit of questioning and learned the rules of the place. We were only allowed to visit one island as the others were protected. It’s a pretty special spot.

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Tiny but covered in palm trees. Not much here but sharks (which constantly circled the boat) and birds that dive-bombed all around us.

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Suwarrow was previously home to Tom Neale, a writer, for many years. Part of his shack is still standing despite the cyclones and now serves as a book exchange.

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There is a palm-tree swing to pass the time and helps to kick up a little breeze at this side of the island.

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Then it’s just a short walk to the other side of the island.

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Here the wind whistles by, and is the only place on the island to escape the mossies. We saw several million hermit crabs of different shapes and sizes. It’s hard to miss them unless you tip toe around the place.

We swam off the beach and also snorkled. The coral was pretty dead unfortunately, but there was plenty of colourful fish to hold our interest. And as a reminder that this is a volcanic reef there are thermal springs under there spewing out hot water.

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After a few days here it felt like we were stranded on a desert island in the middle of the Pacific. And we pretty much were. In fact, we were in the middle of nowhere, although we have fewer miles ahead of us than we have behind us, which is a sad state of affairs but also quite a relief.

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We waited patiently for the weather to clear for the next part of our journey. Boats came and went, each with a story of big seas and big winds. And so we waited.

I think we would of gone mad if it were not for our fellow cruisers who took us for a dinghy tour around the lagoon, took Simon fishing, invited us for dinner or simply shared a cuppa and some cakes.

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Eventually a not-so-bad weather window turned up so we jumped on it. Next stop Samoa!

Bora Bora to Suwarrow

We had a tiny weather window over to Suwarrow but as we’d been waiting around in Bora Bora for a while and were fed up with the weather we decided to give it a go.

Unlike most passages we didn’t have to be up at the crack of dawn, the plan was to leave at Midday to allow some of the swell to subside. By 11am we were ready to go, so we slipped the mooring an hour early. That must be a first for us!

We snuck through the passage in the reef ahead of a squall and thanked our lucky stars that we were out in the rolling seas before it hit. The rolly seas continued but we forged ahead, looking forward to some better conditions later in the trip. Dinner came and went, and then sunset. The conditions were still quite uncomfortable but we tried to take some rest all the same.

At about midnight, we heard a crackly noise on the radio. “That’s a Pan Pan!”, Simon said. I couldn’t hear it and I couldn’t see anyone around.

At that point a light came on just to our Port so we headed towards it. As we got closer we could hear them more clearly. Yes indeed this was a Pan Pan. For those non-sailing types that’s a request for help, a step away from a Mayday!

A man traveling with his family kept saying he had “Broken my boat!!”. Apparently the sails weren’t working and neither was the engine, so they were drifting and didn’t have any power. They asked us to ‘stand on’ until morning when the rescue boat they’d called via sat phone would arrive.

From the position he’d given we thought we were about three miles away from him. We motored towards them, straight into the wind and waves. The boat took a real pounding and the noise was terrible but as always Interlude took it on the chin.

The boat in distress had no lights, apart from a small flashlight that kept turning off, so it was extremely hard to work out exactly where they were, and at what distance. The last thing we wanted to do was run into them so we kept flashing our lights on their hull to try and keep a safe distance. Radar wasn’t showing us anything apart from the waves, which were growing as the conditions worsened. Over 4m waves close together and with over 25 knots of wind right on the nose. Horrid!

Simon kept trying to make more sense of what had happened by radioing them. We couldn’t hear much but could tell they were pretty beaten up and scared.

We drifted with them for six hours in the turbulent seas. We tried to get the boat to stop rocking but the confused conditions meant the boat wouldn’t settle so we were getting thrown around all over the place. It was one of the worst nights of our trip. Neither of us could catch any sleep as we had to stay above decks if we had any chance of keeping our dinner down. We were frustrated as we knew each hour here was shortening our weather window and we were already cutting it very fine. We thought about the other boat with two small children onboard, who must be doing it worse. They seemed very shaken and really if the shoe was on the other foot we knew we would appreciate the support.

Morning came, not a minute too soon, and sunrise brought Hope and a rescue boat. A small sailing vessel, “Hope” helped us to communicate with the rescue boat and once it arrived the distressed boat gave us our leave. We were all too happy to hoist the sails and get on our way. They, meanwhile, would be towed back 120 miles into the wind and waves to Raiatea, not a pleasant way to spend a day or two but fingers crossed they’ll be ok.

As we feared, the weather front we’d been trying to stay ahead of instead smashed us overnight, so later that day the wind gave out and we reluctantly put on the engine. Grrrr! We were supposed to stay ahead in the calmer, smooth winds but our six-hour delay had blown that. After eight hours of motoring the wind came back strong, the waves grew and we started sailing again.

The next few days passed uneventfully, mainly as we were trying to catch up on sleep. Each day was cloudy and each night bought squalls. Tough sailing conditions but nothing we hadn’t seen before. Everything just seemed worse as we were so tired.

As we got closer to Suwarrow we started to watch our ‘ETA’ display to work out our estimated time of arrival. It looked like we would arrive around around 6 hours late. At sunset or just thereafter which would mean another night of drifting, and we didn’t like the sound of that. The pass into the anchorage is pretty tricky though and not something you would want to attempt in darkness.

We could increase our sail area to go faster but that would put us a risk if another squall came over and with big winds we didn’t fancy that either. So there was nothing else to do but continue on our way.

Lo and behold, we arrived just after sunset. We didn’t even get to see the island so we were reliant on our chart plotter, but our radar, and a lone anchor light in the anchorage beyond the reef, confirmed what the chart plotter showed.

We had reduced sail and were still travelling way too fast. We would be racing past the island if we were non too careful. The thought of taking all the sails down and drifting again made our stomachs churn. ‘Heaving too’ sounded like a good prospect but we hadn’t done it much before and in our weary state we couldn’t really remember how to. So out came the books and we found a little paragraph briefly describing how to do it and also saying modern boats couldn’t. Humm! Anyway with no better option we gave it a go. With a small sail out one way and our rudder over the other way we reduced our speed to a knot or two and the boat motion calmed right down so we could grab some sleep.

By morning we had sailed 10 miles past the island so we put on the motor and headed back around. As always (it seems) the wind and waves were against us. The conditions had deteriorated again, it was horrible and we were only travelling at two or three knots, tops.

We were also worried about navigating the pass in these conditions. We called the Ranger on the radio and got no answer. We were considering continuing on our way to Samoa and missing Suwarrow altogether, despite the weather looking bleak for that run too.

That’s when our good friends on Winterlude and Imoogie turned up. They had set off a day later and were approaching the pass from the other side. Chatting with those guys gave us the confidence we needed to give the pass a go. So an hour later we followed them in. Just as one final squall dumped sheets of rain on us.

The pass had a three knot, out-going current as well as a few reefs to navigate. But we made it! We dropped the anchor in front of a desert island and slowly began to relax after what has to be one of our worst crossings yet.

We hope we’re never involved in another Pan Pan.

Tahaa

We had a bumpy ride across to Tahaa. The 8-10 knots of wind predicted on the GRIBS were exactly 10 knots higher, which is ok as we didn’t have much sail out and were making good speed, but it made for an uncomfortable ride, and with lots of cloud around we were on our guard. We managed to dodge the majority of the clouds until about 8am when Simon woke me abruptly from my snoozing with a call of ‘Squall – get on deck!’.

Of course, no squalls while we were safely in open sea, but as soon as we were in spitting distance of an island one comes and spins us 180 degrees. So we were heading full belt towards Huahine. Did I mention our destination was Tahaa? You wouldn’t know either way without looking at the Navigation as there was a blanket of rain descending.

Anyway we pulled in our head-sail, stuck the motor on and turned back on course. We ploughed into wind, waves and rain for the next five hours until we reached Tahaa. Then the clouds cleared and we made it into a sheltered little bay where we could begin to dry off.

Our first plan was to visit the Hibiscus hotel for dinner, but there was no-one on the mooring buoys so we decided to take an exploratory tour of the head of the bay. Here was a little town-ship under construction, with cranes and machinery and other industrial buildings. Hmmm didn’t look too inviting so we headed back to the Hibiscus and radioed in for a mooring and dinner.

Dinner was great. It was one of those little places that here they call ‘pensions’ but back home we would probably call a B&B or boutique hotel. The gentlemanly owner greeted us in typical French style which meant that I got two kisses on the cheeks – sweet. There were no other guests but the owner sat down on the next table with a friend for dinner so at least it didn’t feel too uncomfortable. We’re getting used to the emptiness of some of these places – I’m not sure how we’ll feel when we return to Sydney/London and have to wait to be seated or fight at the bar for a drink.

There was no menu, no talk of what was to come, the food just arrived – which is ok with me. In fact it was yummy and probably exactly what I would have chosen if given a choice. Fresh tomatoes and mozzarella in a delicious olive oil for starter, fish and veggies for main and an apple tart for desert.

We made friends with the waiter and his beautiful 3-year-old daughter as well as the family dogs that sat at my feet. The dogs were very clean, well-behaved and had lovely soft ears plus they kept the local stray dogs at bay. Yep these lovely people and animals made us feel right at home.Tahaa1Tahaa2jpgThe next day we decided to head for the Coral Garden which we were pretty excited about. There’s no information in the guide-books about this place (although maybe in the French guide that we don’t have but everyone raves about). So we were reliant on hear-say, blogs and other travellers’ reports.

First up, we heard of a place you could anchor behind the Coral Garden where you could stay overnight and see the sunset over Bora Bora. We plugged in the co-ordinates and set off. Anyway we tried it and ended up with 0.80m under the keel, the anchor resting on a deep-sided, underwater cliff-face and decided it wasn’t for us. There was no-one else there either although we did see a cat there later on so maybe it’s cool for cats.Tahaa3So we decided to go for the ‘day-anchorage’ closer to the Coral Garden. There were a few others here which filled us with a bit more confidence but also limited our anchoring options. It took us more than one go… ahem. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right patch of sand amongst the coral that’s not going to drop you next to a) another boat, b) the reef or c) the underwater rock that’s not charted and is out to get you. Anyway through this process we’ve finessed some of our communication issues and hope for better luck next time.

We eventually anchored in between two charter boats and Simon jumped in (again) to check on our anchor. Ours was set in a patch of sand surrounded by coral. Ok so it could have been 10m further forward which would give us more space between us and the cat behind us but not too bad. Besides which the cat behind us had his anchor upside down and the smallest bit of chain in, so should the wind get up and drag us in his direction it would surely drag him further back – perfect!

We had lunch and tried to figure out where the Coral Garden was by watching the other dinghies coming and going. It wasn’t where we thought it was but followed the others all the same. We dinghied in to where there were buoys and tied up as it was too corally to drag the dinghy up on the beach. We arrived at ‘the Coral Garden restaurant’ which sounded promising and asked around. Seemed we needed to swim to the motu opposite, walk the length of the island and then swim back between the islands with the current and among the Coral Garden. So off we set.

A motu (if you didn’t know) is a small reef islet. Which means they’re made of coral. We’d forgotten to bring our reef feet (aka reef shoes, flip flops, thongs etc) so it made for a treacherous tip-toe, all the way along saying, ‘this is stupid, should have brought our reef feet…Owch!’ Yes we know coral can be dangerous so fingers and toes crossed that we don’t get infected!

We eventually got close to the end and were making our way into the water when the guys from the boat behind us popped up and we started chatting. Ten minutes later Simon realised we were being bombarded by a squadron of mosquitos so we made a swift exit.

The Coral Garden drift-snorkel is exciting or amazing depending on where you start. Me, I started close to the shore and took off on an exhilarating, fast ride where you have to make swift decisions about whether to go right or left to avoid the stunningly-colourful coral heads. It certainly makes you wish you hadn’t eaten so much pizza. In ten seconds flat I was relieved to find myself at the far end and tried to take in what I’d seen.

I turned around to find Simon still at the start of the coral garden… meandering. Yes in the centre of the river the water runs slower and you can take your time. This one is definitely the one for the oldies! Ha ha!

As he got to about half-way down he started some animated calling so I headed up against stream to find him, finding Nemo! We mooched around for a bit with the fish and found Nemo again hidden in the anemones. What amazing snorkelling. The fish are obviously used to being fed and will come right up and surround you. They’re so docile you can poke them – yuck!

We eventually found ourselves back at the bottom of the garden and debated going again but it had clouded over and we weren’t sure about walking on the coral again. It’s one place we definitely want to come back to though :)

When we got back to the boat, Simon swam on the anchor again (still set) and the anchor of the cat behind us (still up-side-down) so did the charitable thing and told them. But then once aboard Interlude the weather started to look sketchy and the worry-lines appeared. The wind had picked up earlier than predicted and the clouds looked unruly so with the light fading we sped down to Apu Bay to pick up a free mooring for the night.

Tomorrow we will try to go to Bora Bora early to ride out this rubbish weather that’s set to get worse.