Sunday, November 30, 2008

Big Ol' Jet Airliner

Hello to all,

"Big ol' jet airliner.." it will soon be carrying us back home, with a little non-rev luck, come tomorrow night. Leave NZL the 9th, get home the 9th. We get our day back. I hope to sleep all the way to LAX. Something about hearing a big ol' high-bypass fan jet engine growling on start up always has made me sleepy. As my fellow crew members will attest. As of yesterday there were still 138 seats available on NZ FLT 2 so we should get on. Horizon 2304 up to ACV only has 6 left so wish us luck.

Today we're comfortably holed up in the boat on the hard stand at Half Moon Bay Marina, Auckland. The marina is a very friendly and efficient place with a little shopping center, a few restaurants, the usual boating service industry and a nice yacht club nearby. We'll hit the club for dinner in a couple hours. It's been rainy and blowing like stink in the 'northland' (the Kiwi name for this region of NZL ) the past few days but today is sunny and just a little windy, a definite improvement. For us tropically acclimated types it's been down right cold and todays' sun feels really good. Getting back to Humboldt County in the fall is going to take some getting used to.

To catch up, we spent about a week in Opua exploring around and doing boat jobs. Richard and Charles Wallis joined us for the sail down the coast. Richard is the Kiwi-now-American son of Charles and Ann who have a beautiful home on Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland. He's a pilot for UAL and his wife, Nathalie, is a flight attendant for UAL. They've been our good friends for many years and their parents have been kind enough to put up with us on previous visits. We took three days to day sail down the coast in nice conditions. Kind of like a protracted San Francisco Bay sail in 15-25 knts from beam to close reaching. We had lovely anchorages in Smugglers Bay near Whangeria, Kawa Island and then Onetangi Bay just below Charles and Ann's home.

We spent several days with the Wallis family. Janet got to drool over William, Richard and Nathalie's sweet baby boy. And then we moved the boat into Viaduct Harbor right in the heart of Auckland. The marina is in the middle of the America's Cup village and, for a yachtie, it's a rather special place. For anyone else it's just a very cool area with lots of good restaurants and watering holes. We got a room for a night at the Hilton on Princess Wharf as a little present to ourselves and to watch election returns. The big excitement? Bathtub! Long, deep, granite tiled and unlimited hot water! We hadn't had a bath since before we left back April 5th. What luxury.

Three days in Auckland. It's a decent city and the water front area is very nice and very sailing oriented. However, three days in just about any city is enough for me and Janet is almost as anti-social. So we weren't sad to head over to Half Moon Bay which is a few miles east of the metropolis. The boat will be stored out of the water here until we come back, probably in March, and get ready to head back out again.

So the trip here is completed. do it feel? It feels good, definitely, but why? Good question grasshopper but I'm not sure I have the answer yet. There's the obvious, we put 8283 nautical miles under the boat since departure and survived without major damage to the boat or ourselves or 'us'. There is some satisfaction in that and I have the feeling it may be one of those experiences which takes awhile to sink in, that it has to age in the barrel a few months at least. We visited some wonderful places which really can't be done very well any other way than from a boat. We met some sweet people in those wonderful places and had some cultural experiences we will not forget. Perhaps more than any one other thing we enjoyed the camaraderie with our fellow voyagers. There are great folks out doing this thing and to be with them is a privilege. It's a band of brothers (and sisters) type thing and if you're out here you're a part of the brotherhood until proven otherwise...and it's a very broad minded community.

So, I'm told I need to provide some specific examples.

Wonderful places. I'll say Toau, just as an example. A classic South Pacific atoll. We had miles of beaches to ourselves in the south and a wonderful time with Valentine and Gaston up at the northern inlet.

Wonderful people. Valentine and Gaston at Toau. Faaki, the woman who proudly showed us around her village of Matamaka in the Vava'u group, Tonga. Irony...her husband had to learn to be a fisherman after the company he worked for as an aircraft fueler, Royal Tonga Airlines, went broke a few years ago. Some things are the same everywhere. Lisa, Ben and Jason at the Aquarium Cafe in Neiafu, expatriate Americans working very hard, having big fun. Lawrence at the Bounty Bar, the quintessential English gentlemen.

Cultural experiences. The singing at church in Rarotonga. The finest religious singing I have ever heard, rhythmic, complex and deeply moving. Even the stern, tough old minister of the church was blinking away his tears standing at the pulpit while that congregation sang. Seemed he hadn't quite hardened to it after fifty years. The Heiva festival in Huahine, wonderful dancing and a glimpse of Polynesia for Polynesians. The Polynesian drum bands, especially during the competitions in Bora Bora. A Caribbean steel drum band can't compare.

And the camaraderie. Good times with Sergio and Dominique, French. Good times with Dennis and Janet, English. Good times with John, Nancy, Matti, Sophie, Wayne, Alan, Kristen and many more Americans. Good times with Belgians, Germans, Canadians, Swedes, Norwegians, Spanish, (even Danes), Australians, South Africans, Italians and Kiwis. There are probably more Americans in the Pacific than any other breed. And probably more Californians than any other state. I have a feeling things will thin out west of Fiji but here it's still a very 'west coast' kind of place.

The theory that life is a journey has probably been around since mankind started thinking much beyond the next meal. If nothing else this trip was a powerful reinforcement of that idea. The destination doesn't really matter very much. The journey and how you 'travel' is the important thing.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Arrival in Opua

Hello to all,

We're in Opua, New Zealand at their lovely marina and effective email contact has been established, I think. And not without effort. But we have some sort of lift off now. My apologies for the lack of communications lately but things have been pretty basic.

We had a good voyage on a passage which inspires a certain dread in the cruising community. There have been enough horror stories generated from the Tonga to NZL trips over the years that everybody takes it pretty seriously. Nothing wrong with that but several hundred boats a year successfully complete the journey. It can be done.

We left Nuku'alofa, Tonga on the morning of the 10th. It was a lovely day with little wind and we motored as planned until late afternoon when the wind began to fill. By the next morning we had 20-25 knots on the nose and had fallen off to the SW making good time in rough conditions. Since we were going to pass close to Minerva Reef we decided to go in there for a quiet evening. That worked out well and we had a nice anchorage in the middle of the Pacific without another boat anywhere around. We had a NZL navy P-3 fly over who confirmed both north and south Minerva reefs were empty except for ourselves. We left Minerva on the 13th and continued to swing a little west before heading almost due south for NZL. Conditions moderated and we had several days of good sailing but it was getting progressively cooler. Say goodbye to the tropics. About 36 hours out we got a big header and it was either motor directly into 20-25 knts and seas or beat into it sailing. Since we ARE a sailboat we just did the sailing and made as good a VMG as we would have motoring. Again conditions moderated and we ended up motoring in glassy calm conditions the last fifty miles into Opua. Quite nice actually, if we had to motor. We made landfall at 1656 local time with 38.6NM left to go to the entrance to the Bay of Oslands where Opua is located. There was an especially lovely sunset with the coast of NZL rising. We were tied to the quarantine dock in Opua at 0105 local time. So Nuku'alofa to Opua took 9 days 16hrs 10 minutes. We stopped in Minerva reef for 17hrs 45 minutes. Total time enroute was 8days 22hrs 25minutes. Distance sailed (or motored) was 1355 NM for a straight line course of 1032 NM. Average speed was 6.3 knots for an average daily distance of 151 NM. So that completes the majority of this years sail. We'll leave here in a few days and take our time day sailing down the coast to Auckland and we may have NZL friends on board for that. Then we'll put the boat on the hard at Half Moon Bay Marina in Auckland and the plan is to fly home on the 9th of November.

I got a ride as crew on a Titan 7.7 last night for the Wednesday evening beer can races. The boat looks just like a Melges 24 on steroids and is the faster thing I've ever sailed. There were about forty boats out there for a nice race and we were either second or first depending on how the times corrected out. There was one big skiff with racks and five guys on trapeze who finished ahead of us but that sail was the fastest I've ever gone in a sailboat. These guys are local pros, a rigger , a sailmaker, etc. They let me trim the main down wind and be rail meat upwind and it was very educational, and great fun!

I'm just not ready to summarize this trip. Too many thoughts about too many things. It's been a great experience. We've learned a lot but I think the more I see out here the more I understand there's much more to know and never enough time to learn it all.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Heading South from Vava'u

Hello to all,

We left the Vava'u group of Tonga on Sep. 30th. We had a great time there despite some very 'unsettled' weather during much of our stay. "Unsettled" is the term the South Pacific weather people like to use to describe rain, more rain and blowing like stink. The night before we left Neiafu there were gusts over 60 knots and we had continuous winds over thirty knots for nearly 20 minutes. This was in a very well protected anchorage. Of course by the time we left the group it was dead calm and we motored all the way down to Ha'ano in the Haapai Group. At least it was a beautiful day. And we caught the biggest fish of the trip so far. It was a 62" Yellow Fin tuna and it was quite the fight. Luckily it was calm enough to maneuver the boat while the fish fight went on and we tried to board the beast. When we finally got him gaffed he was too heavy to lift over the life lines so we tied a rolling hitch to the gaff with a spinnaker halyard and used a halyard winch to hoist him up and over. He was probably over a hundred pounds. There will be pictures to follow when we get internet access again. We've been giving away fish to everyone. We'll never eat it all even though it's absolutely delicious.

As far as we know there's one computer in the Haapai group and it's dirt slow on the net. This letter is coming via HF/sailmail. However, the Haapai group islands are very beautiful. It's a combination of the low lying palm tree lined beaches of the Tuamotuos and the slightly more raised and rugged Vava'u group. The villages and the one real town, named Pangai, are very quiet and rural but a little better organized and seemingly more prosperous than the out villages in Vava'u. Things here are very basic. There are several churches, a couple small groceries and one 'cafe' with that computer I mentioned. There are a few very remote and quiet resorts which tend to be very nice but the kind of place where the customers think they're the only people in the world who know about it and everyone wants to keep it that way. We have the place pretty much to ourselves but there are two other boats now in Pangai, the capitol, of Haapai. We initially anchored in Ha'ano and spent one night there but again it began blowing really hard and backing around to put us on a lee shore. So we pulled anchor (really fun in those conditions) and headed south to Foa where there was better protection. We spent a couple days there and then moved here to Pangai this morning. We're here with 'Free Spirit' and 'Be Be' and they are very good company. The anchorage is excellent and although there are plenty of reefs surrounding us I described this to Janet after I dove the anchor as the "perfect set". And what is the perfect set? We're in 18 feet of clear water above smooth white sand. The wind is holding us offshore and the shore reef is 200 yards to windward. The offshore reef is a good quarter mile to leeward. The 3/8" anchor chain lies for a hundred feet straight ahead without a lump of coral in sight and the 55 pound Rocna is half buried in nice sand. It don't get much better than this. Now if the wind would calm down (still blowing 20-25 knots)we could really enjoy this sunny afternoon.

The plan from here is to head for New Zealand. We'll wait for a weather window and depart from wherever we happen to be when it looks good for the 1100 mile voyage. We contract with Bob McDavitt of the New Zealand meteorological service for weather forecasting. In his latest mini update he thought it might look good for a departure on the 8th. We'll see. We can get fairly good weather info off HF radio but I feel better on a long trip having the local weather expert, and that's very much what Bob is, telling me what I'm seeing and analyzing is or is not what I think.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream

Monday, September 15, 2008

Good Times In Vava'u

Hello to all,

It's been a very social time here in Vava'u the past couple weeks. Just about everyone we've met along the coconut milk run has congregated in Tonga although a few boats chose to go to Fiji and a few boats have left for Haapai. We've been racing on Fridays and doing well although we can't seem to actually win outright. There is always some big boat or two which is just too darn fast to beat boat for boat. We console ourselves that if this was 'real' racing with any kind of handicap system we'd be well ahead of the game. Of course, what would happen with the boats who are slower and have correspondingly greater handicap ratings than us? Best not to think about it. We've had only one casualty. Glen from "Tin Soldier" who crews for us trimming the traveler got whacked by the mainsheet when the boom came over in a jibe. Luckily there are a couple doctors in the fleet. A few stitches here and there and he was racing again with us next week. And watching the main sheet very carefully!

We've spent more time in the 'big city' of Neiafu than we planned. We were waiting for our new windlass to be delivered. This is not such a simple matter since it came by air from New Zealand to Tongatapu and then by the weekly ferry from Tongatapu to Neiafu. This has been known to take awhile. For us it worked just fine and after a little discussion with the customs officials, very gentlemanly and sweet, and the exchange of some cash in the form of a 'use tax' we had our new windlass. A few hours of wiring, hammering and bolting and, low and behold, it works as advertised! I feel now my fingers and feet have a much better chance of survival than had we tried to continue with the previous old beast.

The weather has been a bit of a disappointment. Just too much rain and overcast. We could have been in the Pacific northwest if it were about ten degrees cooler. That system does now seem to have finally broken down and we've had some sun and we're looking forward to more.

We went whale watching and swimming with Humpback whales a few days ago. It was a really rough day so they were on the move and we only got in the water a few minutes with a cow and a calf. Still very impressive to be snorkeling along with a forty foot beast and her ten foot calf. Day after tomorrow we plan to head south to the Haapai group and spend at least a few days there. Then we go a little further south to Tongatapu and the capitol of Tonga, Nuku'Alofa. From there we shove off for New Zealand. So this is the beginning of the third phase of the season for us. We did the passage to Polynesia, we have crossed much of Polynesia and now we leave Polynesia for New Zealand. There are certainly mixed feelings about this. We have already said goodbye to some good friends who we may not see anymore. There's the feeling that we won't be coming this way again and that we haven't done all we should have done. There's the thought that we're letting 'time' and 'insurance criteria' (the insurance companies require boats to be out of the tropics during the typhoon season) run our lives. But there's also the desire to move on. And desire to meet friends in New Zealand. And, the truth be told, the desire to actually come back to our home for a while and see family and friends and cats.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Friday, September 5, 2008

Life Around Vava'u Tonga

Hello to all,

My apologies for the length of time since our last update. Could it be we've been having a pretty good time in Tonga? Yep, 'tis true, and since we survived yesterday's weekly 'friendly' yacht race, sometimes called the 'Friday Night Fight', I'm inspired to write.

The Vava'u Group of Tonga is a busier place than ten years ago when we last visited. There are a few small resorts on the out islands now and town (Neiafu) has more to offer in the way of feeding and watering establishments. Actual provisioning from the grocery stores is still pretty sparse. There is decent wireless internet coverage in the anchorage. How we lived before this became available I do not know. We've been alternating between time spent at out island anchorages and time spent on a mooring in Neiafu. Both have their joys. However, Janet is still healing up from her exhaust pipe burn so she's not been engaging in her principle joy which is snorkeling and scuba diving in these waters. As she puts it, "Spying on the private lives of fishes." She's about healed and says next week it's back into the water. Around Neiafu the principle joy is the daily discovery of some small thing about the place interspersed with a lot of cruiser social activity. Most of our friends are here now. It's high season in Tonga and the Aquarium Cafe, the Bounty Bar, the Mermaid, etc., can be pretty crowded any time of the day. Since everything depends on the arrival of the inter-island cargo boats and then the not-so-efficient dispersal of goods you never know where you can eat what from one day to the next. Last night one of our favorite places was "out of food". The ferry didn't get unloaded. Often times the ice cream place is out of ice cream, horrors! A couple days ago I stopped by the local 'ice cream parlor' and they said they would have ice cream in the afternoon. There were a bunch of very large rather determined looking Tongan guys just standing around. I came back in the afternoon and the guys were gone and they were now "out of ice cream". Oh well.

We raced our own boat yesterday for the first time here. We've got very good sails and this is a fast boat but it's not set up for 'around the buoys' racing. There was the usual turnout of about fifteen fairly serious boats. We a had a nice crew of friends aboard. This racing is very basic. All boats are thrown together with no handicapping and the first boat around the course wins. The course is set up to offer maximum thrills to the spectator/bar flies at the Mermaid (who sponsors the race) so there's a lot of maneuvering of big boats in very close quarters close to shore and obstructions, exciting but dangerous. Baring big problems the fastest machine wins. We won the start but gradually got over hauled by a couple pure racing racing machines a 47 foot catamaran and some sort of fifty foot custom boat. Finished fifth which won us dinner at the 'Dancing Rooster'. More important we all had a blast and nobody got killed or even seriously damaged. There's nothing more exciting than a crowded mark rounding of a bunch of big boats in very tight quarters.

Loren and Mary Halverson were here for a couple weeks and we had a great time. They are active, athletic, outdoorsy types who can deal with a marine toilet and smile. A dark night dinghy ride in the rain seemed to hold no terror for them. They were great company. Michael Roach, the previous owner of this boat, Fred Huffman, who is a mutual friend and who did a lot of rig work on this boat and other friends are here on another boat which is a lot of fun. We did have some pretty crummy weather for a few days. Came down about thirty hours straight and must have rained about a foot. Had enough wind to destroy my wind generator when I didn't get up in time to shut it down. Had three hours straight of absolutely continuous lightning. The most spectacular display I've ever seen from the ground. Our anchor windlass has finally died. I ordered a new replacement from New Zealand yesterday. Thank god the Zealand dollar is even worse off than the US dollar. Windlasses are not cheap. This one lasted twenty-three years and I knew it would go eventually but the thing was getting down right dangerous to use and now it's really squirrelly.

So that's all part of this kind of life. I've now got to replace a wind generator and a windlass. A couple of our good friends just had their genset and their water maker fail on the same day. A very expensive day! Sometimes my sweet spouse thinks I'm lower than whale droppings on the bottom of the sea. Sometimes I'm her hero. Sometimes we have priceless experiences. Sometimes the price seems pretty high. Life out here is life like anywhere else but maybe, I think, a little more direct and pretty darn nice. No matter where you go, there you are. Most of the time!

We'll be in the Vava'u group for a few more weeks and then head down to the Ha-apai Group and then Tongatapu and then to New Zealand. We hope to be under way for NZL by mid October, earlier if possible, all depends on the weather. We'll spend time there with friends and then be back in California until around April. As they say in the cruising community, "That's the plan." We'll see!

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Friday, August 22, 2008

Niue to Vava'u

Hello to all,

We arrived in the Vava'u group of the Kingdom of Tonga the 22nd after losing a day crossing the dateline. We never had a 21st. We departed Niue the 19th and had a fast passage averaging 6.4 knts for the 250 mile trip with only a reefed main up for most of the run. It was entirely a deep broad reach in 15-25 knts and 6-8 feet of SE swell. A little lumpy. There wasn't any point in going faster, we arrived about midnight as it was and anchored out before entering the harbor at Neiafu after sun up. Although Tonga is still a west longitude somehow they manage to slide into the next day. They must feel it's some advantage to them but it sure screws up the navigational process for those who still depend on traditional methods. And for those of us who do not, these islands are about two tenths of a nautical mile east of their charted position. So using a GPS chart plotter to pick your way around the reef structure is sure to put you on the hard. This a place for visual pilotage and radar, the GPS is good for mapping only.

I don't believe I said much about Niue. Internet service there was minimal and HF propagation was poor. Niue is lovely, very quiet and laid back with the nicest people we've met anywhere. The Washaway Bar is the absolute classic yachtie hangout. The dinghy landing was always a real challenge in that you land at an exposed concrete commercial wharf (there's no harbor) and hoist the dinghy ashore using a commercial dock hoist after you've jumped, hauled or hoisted yourself. When there's a swell running, and there always was, this can be quite exciting. Everyone always got wet but no one got hurt while we were there. There was usually a matter of a few feet and a couple seconds between success and disaster. Watching our friend's very cute seven and eight year old girls bounding off the concrete wharf into the arms of their parents while the dinghy is poised at the top of a six foot swell which will break about ten feet farther down the wharf was really satisfying. Cruising kids are learning far more than they realize. I think this is a wonderful life for kids and they all seem to be having a great time. We rented a motorcycle and went all over the island. I picked up some road rash and Janet got an exhaust pipe leg burn. Comes from using a crummy old Suzuki 125 road bike on a steep gravel trail with two aboard. Operator misjudgment! My first road rash in about 30 years and Janet's first exhaust burn ever, nothing life threatening.

So arriving here is the completion of our personal version of what's called the 'coconut milk run' across the South Pacific. There are endless permutations but we'll stay in the Kingdom's various island groups until heading for New Zealand sometime in October. We did a bareboat charter here with The Moorings ten years ago and loved the place. It's changed a little, but it's still lovely and laid back and we hear the out islands, where we will spend most of our time, haven't changed at all. Loren and Mary Halverson are coming in to spend some time with us and we'll explore old haunts with them. This is the biggest congregation of cruising boats since Papeete so there's plenty of social scene here when it's desired. We've got friends moored all around us. The Bounty Bar, The Mermaid, the Aquarium, etc. are all owned by ex-cruisers who know the true worth of a hot shower, a cold Ikale (the local brew) and a good crab quesadilla. We're having fun!

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Opinions of French Polynesia

Hello to all,

We're still at Beveridge Reef where the winds have begun to decrease and I'm pretty sure we'll get some exploring done this afternoon.

I've been meaning to summarize my feelings about French Polynesia for some time. I guess now is the time. Love, hate relationship is too strong. There was little to hate and plenty to love but there are strong contradictions. For a number of reasons, chiefly the limit of ninety days on our visas, we had to move through the islands faster than we wished. But, contradiction, we were happy to leave as well. In my opinion the only reason, today, for a person to go to Tahiti is to have their boat worked on or get stuff delivered. Not that it's bad place but there are many better and far, far less expensive. We had some really good meals thanks to the guidance of our friends and we got what we needed and, like most cruisers, got out. The Marquesas are lovely. Many of the Tuamotus are South Pacific dream places. The Society Islands beyond Tahiti are very beautiful and, other than Bora Bora, relatively unspoiled. We especially liked Moorea and Huahine. Bora Bora is beautiful but far over developed and the hotel industry appears to be in collapse. Hanging over most of French Polynesia is the expense of the place. It is, I believe, the most expensive place in the world to visit. There are too many other beautiful places for people to go and get far more for their money. For a yacht moving across the South Pacific it's still worth doing, almost a 'must do'. But for a person looking for an exotic vacation I'd recommend looking elsewhere. Quick example, it costs exactly the same in US dollars to rent a scooter for four HOURS in French Polynesia as it does to rent one for a WEEK in the Cook Islands. And the Cook Islands scooters are much better Yamahas. Another example, a case of diet coke costs $65 US in French Polynesia, is costs about $25 US in the Cooks. We got used to paying $40-$80 for a very simple lunch for two in French Polynesia. The same lunch would cost $8-10 in the Cooks. The only thing reasonable in FP is the very good baguettes which are cheaper than in the states. A great fresh baguette can be had for about $.75 US. Everything else you can think of is so expensive as to be ridiculous. A couple bags of groceries will shock the hell out of any 'new to the islands' shopper. The Polynesian people were very friendly and kind and the French we met were equally charming and very generous. But the islands live off the French subsidys. It's generally felt that there are jobs for anyone who wants to work but, for those who don't, there's an elaborate subsidy system. To balance some of that cost taxes are really high. So few new businesses are interested in coming.

In contrast the Cooks are still in a loose association with New Zealand but I don't believe there's any subsidy system. It's pretty common for Cook Islanders go to New Zealand and work and send home money. Somehow Rarotonga seemed a livelier, more vital place than anywhere we found in FP, including Tahiti. It's a small place but it's bustling in a good natured manner. There's definitely a different attitude. The good natured Polynesian kindness and sweetness is still there but they seem to be having a lot more fun with life.

So I'll hazard some very broad conclusions and say that what we're looking at is a high tax, high cost, socialistic society versus a low tax, low cost, more free enterprise society. Also we're looking at a legacy of different colonial systems. In fact French Polynesia is still French whereas the Cooks and Niue are now independent of NZL and Tonga has always been independent. The French we talked with in Papeete and elsewhere are very aware of the problems and feel that things have to change but say that no one is willing to take the political heat for the inevitable, very painful, change. Judging from what we saw of hotel occupancy, change will come one way or another.

So, what would I recommend for a non sailor who wants to visit FP? First, understand your wallet and kiss much of it goodbye forever. Second, stay at the Mai Tai in Fakarava or the Kia Ora in Rangoria or the Shangri La in Moorea. You'll have a good time and have chance at a real South Pacific experience. There are a lot of smaller and very nice places but I'd stay away from Tahiti and Bora Bora in the Society islands. Moorea, Huahine, Tahaa and Raiatea are more beautiful and there are many places to stay.

Better yet, go to the Cooks or the Vava'u group of Tonga.

So, I guess no one has asked, but those are my opinions. Janet feels you could spend as much money in some other very nice places. I think the point is you can't avoid spending the money if you're in FP. Time for a little lunch and an exploration.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Friday, July 25, 2008

Beveridge Reef

Hello to all,

We're currrently anchored in 35 feet of water 125 miles from the nearest land in the middle of the South Pacific ocean. How can it be? Ahh...Beveridge Reef....a poorly charted but well known (amongst South Pacific cruisers)reef about 125 miles ESE of the island of Niue. It's pretty much directly on the way from Rarotonga to Niue so it's a convenient stop with a unique situation. It's a sunken atoll, just a reef with an enclosed lagoon and an entrance but no land. The reef is more or less exposed depending on the tides. It's about 35 ft. deep throughout the lagoon with few hazards or coral heads inside and it's protected from the swell but not the wind. The bottom is sand with good holding. There's the wreck of a 90 ft fishing boat on the reef and not much more. You can't see the breakers on the reef until you're within two miles and there's little radar return. What's more it's location on the charts is about two miles off the GPS positions. Not comforting at all! Fortunately almost everybody knows this and the harbor master at Rarotonga has a nice little GPS surveyed chart of the place, made by a cruiser, that he gives to anyone who asks. It is accurate. How long it will take the chart organizations to get it right is a good question. This is the first place we've encountered with charting problems. There are probably others. So we had a good sail over from Rarotonga. A little slower than we'd hoped due to light winds but of course when we got here the wind began to build and it's been 20-25 ever since. That makes it pretty choppy for snorkeling or running around in the dinghy. Janet went for a long snorkel despite the chop and came back with some nice shells to add to her collection. Tomorrow it's supposed to calm down so we'll stay another day and explore around before heading to Niue.

We did catch a nice 38", maybe 40lb, tuna the day before we arrived. I think we've identified the species as Southern Bluefin Tuna but whatever it is it's delicious.

It's a days sail over to Niue, we'll spend a few days there and then head for the Vava'u group of the Kingdom of Tonga. We should have internet access of some kind in Niue so we'll try to send another update with some photos from there.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Enjoying Rarotonga

Hello to all,

And good morning sports fans. It's been an action packed week. We're med moored at Avatiu Harbor in Rarotonga with our friends 'Shilling' on one side and 'Traveler' on the other. There are seventeen boats at Rarotonga today and room for a few more although this is a tight little place with no room for foolishness. Proof of that is the impressive recent wreck of a steel coastal trader on the breakwater at the entrance to the harbor. He didn't quite get out in time when a big norther brewed up. The harbor is untenable in a strong northerly sea. Rarotonga is lovely and we're just beginning to explore around. Everyone is very friendly and, great joy, everything is in English!

The voyage over was reasonably fast but 'boisterous'. Several boats were ready to leave Bora Bora and we all had been watching the weather. It had been blowing out of the southwest for days, since the previous bunch left and got clobbered, and no one wanted to beat into the wind for 550 nautical miles. It looked like the wind had shifted around enough to the south, as a big high was approaching, that we could initially leave and hold a heading a few degrees north of course close hauled and that the wind would back around so we could reach into Rarotonga, true course 237 degrees. There was a building swell out of the south but you can't have everything. That's pretty much what happened. Shilling, Meridian and ourselves left Sunday morning close hauled in ten knots or so of SW breeze and six feet of southerly swell and over the next four days the wind backed around to a close reach and finally a beam reach into our destination. Of course the swell built as well as the wind and we had 10-12 feet on the beam or slightly forward the entire trip and 20-25 knts of wind. Not a restful sail. But we got in at dawn on Thursday, after throttling back quite a bit during the night so as to arrive in daylight, and Shilling and Meridian were not far behind. Course made good, 536 knts. Actual distance sailed, 570 knts. Speed made good, 5.73 knts. Actual average speed, 6.09 knts. Not bad for a trip 90% to weather. We've put a total of 5616 nautical miles under the keel so far this trip.

So now this segment of the 'fleet' is all cozy in Rarotonga. It's definitely a different place than French Polynesia. It's very nice and we've already had a lot of fun at the big annual Constitution Day Parade yesterday. One of the guys organized a yachtie entree to the parade. The theme of this years parade was " Women of Courage" so the guys all dressed up as south seas babes with grass skirts and coconut shell bras and the girls got to ride on the float truck we arranged and we were the ' foreign entree'. They seemed to think we were pretty funny and we made the local television news last night. Pictures will follow.

I'll have a lot more to say about French Polynesia and Rarotonga in a few more days. There are some interesting contrasts. Right now we're very happy to be here. Janet is out shopping at the big Saturday morning produce market. And I'm going to try to get this Wifi system to work.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Yours truly

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Waiting in Bora Bora

Hello to all,

"To be on the wire is life, the rest is waiting."
-Karl Wallenda

It's a rainy day in Bora Bora. This makes the third day of this little weather event and we'll be happy when it passes on. A bunch of boats left a few days ago feeling that all the signs were good for a westward passage. They've got more or less clobbered by greater than forecast winds and seas. Most of the SSB conversations are about hunkered down boats riding it out but making good progress. Although there really hasn't been much damage there hasn't been a lot of R&R amongst the departed fleet. The rest of us are hanging out in gusty, rainy conditions and watching the weather. We don't have to go anywhere until the end of the month so, although we're a little bored right now, it'll clear out and we can have some fun while waiting for the next nice looking weather window. That may be later in the week, we'll see.

So what do voyagers on Bora Bora do when they are killing time? Grown up stuff like watching the cruising kids have a ball tearing up the lagoon in dinghies and various inflatable toys, getting together at Bloody Mary's for happy hour, swapping books and getting in some quality reading, and completing a few small time boat projects. Some folks are organizing a poker game...wear lots of clothes. Very relaxing, but not out there on the wire. A couple boats may leave tomorrow, their visas are up, they have kids aboard, big boats, and they'd rather have a light air passage and motor if necessary than risk heavier winds and seas. We've come to know more and more of these people and it is a great bunch. Bora Bora is the last big get together place before people take various routes west. We'll head for the Southern Cooks and Rarotonga. Others will go to the Northern Cooks and Suvarov, etc, etc. Others head for Nuie and a couple boats are heading directly to Tonga. The general idea is to end the season in Samoa, Tonga or Fiji. Most boats will then bail for New Zealand or Australia. Tonga is the most likely place most of us will be together again and there will be more than a few adventure stories generated between now and then. Word is that 'Little Wing' has a sprung mast in will that be fixed? It will be a war story, one way or another.

So we've celebrated Janet's birthday, coincident to the Bastille Day celebrations, and done some socializing. We've got a few little things to do before heading west but it's mostly bureaucracy and provisioning...the wire awaits.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bora Bora

Bora Bora, Bora Bora! (to the tune of Bula Bula, Bula Bula!)

Hello to all,

We came over from Tahaa on the 10th. A very nice twenty seven mile trip in total. About 22 of that was a nice open water broad reach in 10-15 knots of easterly breeze on a beautiful day. Bora Bora certainly has the most dramatic of skylines and it is, like all these islands, every possible shade of green with a lagoon, like all these lagoons, every possible shade of blue. We'll be here till the end of the month and the jury is still out on our overall opinion of Bora Bora. Certainly it's beautiful but it's small and lacks the shear scale of Tahaa or Raiatea. It's also very discovered and although most of these super luxurious fantasy hotels seem to be about 20% occupied, prices everywhere are even higher than the rest of French Polynesia. However, there are also more tourist types to be seen wandering around town than anywhere we've been since Papeete.

We've got a nice spot in front of the Bora Bora yacht club, a very famous place amongst the cruising community but just an overgrown shack on new wooden landing. They've recently changed ownership and the restaurant is not reopened yet but the bar is open and there are showers, water and laundry. Libation, showers, water and laundry facillities will gather cruisers from far and wide! We've had a couple nice evenings and we've got plans for another....we had lunch at Bloody Mary's...and did the Bora Bora version of the dance contest the 9th. We're going back tonight for the final. We have a frozen pizza in the fridg...we may have one of those libations at the yacht club before dinghy riding over to the village for the dancing. More later!

Later....we did go to the dance contest and it was a good evening. This was just the couples competition and the awards ceremony. The couples and the drumming/music were great! I think the level of dancing and music here may be higher because of all the hotel business. The show itself lacks the charm we experienced in Hauhine. These folks have a constant motivation (money) to practice and perform. The Polynesian drum bands are really impressive. You get 25-30 guys beating on everything from wooden drums made from 20' palm logs to big wooden and leather covered bass and kettle type drums plus a lot of smaller stuff and it is powerful! War and love seem to need little but some really good drumming in this part of the world. Last night the show went well until the final couple. It started to mist a little and in the last portion of their dance the downpour began...did I say the Bora Bora contest is outdoors? The dancers finished but everybody else ran for cover. There were several thousand people hiding under every eve and roof in town! It lasted abut half an hour and the awards presentation was about to start when we decided to dinghy back to out cozy boat...and didn't get a drop on the mile or so ride.

So the big Bastille Day celebration is tomorrow....also Janet's birthday.....wish her a happy birthday!

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Onwards to Huihine

Hello to all,


We left Moorea on the 25th. It had been a very nice stay and we ended up spending a couple nights anchored deep into Cook's Bay off the Bali Hi hotel. We could have spent more time in Moorea but there are certain time governing factors involved with French Polynesia, especially for non-EU citizens. First, our visa is good for three months only. Second, if the boat is insured, and most are, the insurance companies require that boat be out of the areas of circular storms during the season for those storms. And third, it is expensive, very, very expensive to hang around here. We liked Moorea a lot but it was time to go. So after a evening Tahitian Dance show at the Bali Hi we departed with 'Shilling' (a very nice English couple's boat) for Huahine, about a 75 mile sail. It was supposed to be a nice night's down wind sail. Wayne, a single hander in 'Moonduster' , had left a couple hours earlier and reported good conditions. However, it turned into a washing machine with winds all over the place. Nothing dangerous, just a long pain in the butt night. We got into Huahine as planned, relaxed and slept for twelve hours.

So we've been enjoying Huahine. We did a couple dives off the reef in Moorea from our dinghy and we did a couple more off the reef here. By the way, just getting your own tank filled here costs about $15! We've had a couple lovely anchorages. Huahine has the reputation of being very quiet and rural. It almost goes without saying it's very beautiful. There is a nice little village with a very excellent store, an important matter to cruisers, and that dive shop with the very lucrative compressor. There is wireless internet at the village anchorage and a great view of the sunset over Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora 20-30 miles to the west. Right now we're at anchor at the very southern tip of the island just west of Point Tiva, the Bay of Avea. It's a lovely anchorage with a palm fringed white sand beach to shoreward and the reef with a big curling break to seaward. Many of the usual suspects are present. These include Moonduster, Elusive, Hannah, Meridian, Blue Plains Drifter, Scarlet O'hara....These are boats we've seen now at various places over the last few months. They're folks who have similar ideas so we circle in the same circle more or less. We were socializing with Shilling night before last and we had Moonduster over to visit last night. We will probably be anchored out at another spot totally to ourselves tonight. There is a social circle amongst the cruising boats but it's very loose and people may disappear forever with just a word of good bye or they may stay in touch for years. It's a very good bunch of people.


We ended up spending another night in Bay of Avea. 'Shilling' invited us and the folks from 'Scarlet O'Hara' over for dinner and we couldn't turn down that invitation. It was a very sociable evening and great fun but we headed north this morning and anchored about half way up the island off a beautiful beach we spotted on the way down a few days ago. We've been social butterflies these past few days and it's time to have a place to ourselves again. That's exactly what we have now...not another boat or person in sight and a lovely anchorage. The sun just set over Raiatea in the distance and Janet is fixing up some nice omelets for dinner. I've a small cognac in hand. Life is good!


Yesterday was a pretty hectic day by our standards. We hauled anchor and motored up to the village of Fare early. We rented a scooter (I'll quit whining about prices) and drove all over the island. And we heard that the beginning of the July festivities would be that night at just outside of town. A dance contest no less. "Food, vahines...everything you need man!" So that became the plan, we went to the dance contest. It was quite the evening and definitely not a tourist event. It wasn't even very French, this was a Polynesian affair without many round eyes present although we were certainly welcome. Fare has a large public building which is a combination indoor soccer field, market, event platform....just a big steel roof with open sides and a sand floor about 100X40 meters. They had the sides blocked off with palm thatch so they could charge admission and grand stands set up all around the perimeter of the inside. There were bandstands at either end and special seating for dignitaries and announcers, lots of sound system stuff and about four thousand people present. There was a long benediction. There was speechifying by the local pols including the 'president'. There was much ceremony. This consisted mostly of howling old women in white with palm fronds haranguing the audience about the cultural significance of it all....I think. There was drumming at all times coming from seven different groups which I think represented each village or district on the island. And there were lots of dancers in groups, male and female, waiting for the contest. The master of ceremonies was a hilarious fat old man in a lovely white lace dress and heels. Yep, full drag! In Polynesia it's fairly common for a family to decide to raise a male child as a girl. Maybe they don't have a girl, maybe they just want another, but the child is raised as a girl and lives their life as a woman. It's completely accepted and not even cause for comment. You see them everywhere and it's pretty funny to see a fat, tough looking old guy in a nice dress, fully accessorized and carrying on with his real female friends. They even have a kind of semi-official status which I don't completely understand. And several of these guys pretty much ran the show with gusto and humor. The hairy old guy in the dress would announce the goings on and fall into a gay simper at the end of his speech and everybody would crack up. He was very good. And the dancing was spectacular. We think it was just the start of the contest but it was for best solo male and female dancers and best male and female together. Their were seven groups represented and they each had their own drums and music. The girls were all great, very sensuous and pretty and the guys were hunky and a couple even had some talent to go with the girls but the main show was the women. The crowd really gets into it and the drumming is spectacular. There is plenty of sexuality. No tourist show. It's right there very up front and everyone is enjoying the moment. And when the representatives of the seven groups had danced, there was a short announcement, everybody sang a kind of good night song, and it was over. We expected some sort of resolution...didn't happen....maybe later?? But it was a great evening!

Today we may get out of here for Raiatea and Tahaa. LIke I said, sometimes regretfully, we have to move on. Should be a light air sail.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Friday, June 20, 2008

In Moorea

Hello to all,

Right now in Upunohu Bay there are ten boats plus Maltese Falcon at anchor. I say, "plus Maltese Falcon" because it's hard to consider such a vessel a boat. It really is a beautiful creation, a modern square rigger with free standing, rotating masts and the most rakish possible appearance. We saw it enter under sail yesterday and it is most impressive. If you're into sailing you know about this ship. I won't bore you any more if you're not...but I will say that pictures do not do it justice. We tool past in the dinghy and wave and they actually wave back. Cool!

Moorea is very beautiful and Upunohu Bay the most beautiful of anchorages. Cook spent seven weeks here in 1769 during his voyage to observe the transit of Venus. The bay named for him is just to our east. He spent his time here but visited "Cook's Bay" by boat. Cook was not a fool. If Tahiti and Papeete were Oahu and Honolulu this would be Maui or Kauai. We like it here.

The escape from Papeete went well. We finished the stay with a lovely lunch with French friends. I believe there were twelve adults and seven children. Hors de vours, roast leg of lamb, pommes de terre, salads, cheeses, deserts, five bottles of red, one white, two champagne, and cognac and Southern Comfort for after dinner liquors. It's a good thing we left Papeete. We'd be broken down drunks after much more hospitality. Sweet, sweet people.

We motored the fifteen miles over to Moorea in company with 'Grace' the 58' cat owned by the South African family we've gotten close to. Very nice people and lovely children on a three year plan for a little fun away from home. The anchorage is very easy by Polynesian standards. We're in twelve feet of nice sand with not a coral head in sight and plenty of swinging room. We're a couple hundred yards from shore which is a lovely beach with a palm grove and a little park behind it. There are a couple small villages within dinghy distance and a couple very swank hotels on the water in the distance. The physical beauty of the island is almost on par with UaPou but there is a little more development. We've got a scooter rented for the day and we'll get a look around the island by land. Still this is French Polynesia and the most expensive place on earth. I inquired about car rental and the cheapest thing I could find was 9500 cfp for FOUR HOURS! That's about $135! The scooter will cost us 5000cfp for eight hours...whatta deal.

We've been here three days now and will spend a few more before heading for Huahine and the windward group of the Society Islands.

I hear the NWA/DAL talks are at the stage where the principals are trying to settle matters. It could be a great company for everyone if, just for once, things go right.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet