Diary for sailingfastforward



Hout Bay, Cape Town - South Africa

Packing up your life and preparing the boat to leave is not for the feint hearted… we were also waiting for good weather, but our friends kept ragging us with comments like “are you STILL here?!?” and “are you EVER going to LEAVE?!?”

We did. On 20 March 2003 we said our goodbyes to family and friends who’d gathered to see us off – and the wind was still blowing a hoolie - and at 2:30pm I let the last mooring line go… this was it – no turning back now!! Fast Forward left the marina amidst many horns being blown - lots of people shouting, whistling, wishing us well – lots of waving and photo taking! It was very very emotional… a “hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck” moment, that undoubtedly, will be with us forever. We motored out into the bay and I waved a tearful goodbye to my Mother who’d driven to the end of one of the piers to take pictures… and within minutes Hout Bay finally disappeared as we rounded the corner of the Sentinel Mountain.

Okay, a little background history for those who don’t know us…. I’d done a wee bit of sailing (like when I was 12, on the inland dams, and just along for the ride!) and some racing (for less than a season - an ornament, sitting on the rail… but taking things in this time!!); and Ken… well, he’s an exceptionally seasoned sailor, having clocked up loads of sailing miles and experience. Sailing around the had been his lifelong dream which was finally being realized. For me, this was a going to be such a challenging change, and yes, I was terrified (thought we were totally insane at times!), but on the other hand – I trusted Ken’s ability and was very excited at the prospect of discovering the unknown. What an adventure!

And an AMAZING adventure it has been thus far….

Luderitz, Namibia : 23-27 March 2003

St Helena : 5-16 April

Ascension Island : 20-26 April

Salvador, Brasil : 5-10 May

Fernando de Noronha : 14 – 19 May

Fortaleza, Brasil : 21 – 28 May

Iles de Salut, Brasil : 2-7 June

Tobago, Caribbean : 10 June – 7 July

Trinidad, Caribbean : 7 July – 18 September

Los Testigos, Venezuela : 19 September – 1 October

Isla Margarita, Venezuela : 1-14 October

Blanquilla, Venezuela : 14-20 October

Tortuga, Venezeula : 20 October

Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela mainland: 21 October – 11 December

Isla Margarita, Venezuela : 11-13 December

Trinidad, Caribbean : 15-20 December

Antigua, Caribbean : 22 December – 18 January 2004

Guadeloupe, Caribbean : 18-25 January

Martinique, Caribbean : 26-29 January

St Lucia, Caribbean : 29 January

Bequia, Caribbean : 30 January – 2 February

Mayreau, Grenadines : 2-4 February

Union Island, Grenadines : 4-6 February

Mayreau, Grenadines : 6-13 February

Union Island, Grenadines : 13-16 February

Carriacou, Caribbean : 16-18 February

Grenada, Caribbean : 18 February – 16 March

Trinidad, Caribbean : 16 March – 7 April

Los Testigos, Venezuela : 8-12 April

Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela mainland : 14 April – 30 July

England & South Africa (via 747): 31 July – 10 October

Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela mainland : 11-24 October

Margarita, Venezuela : 24-26 October

Blanquilla, Venezuela : 26-29 October

Aves Barlovento, Venezuela : 30 October – 4 November

Klein Curacao, Netherland Antilles : 4-5 November

Curacao, Netherland Antilles : 6-7 November

Klein Curacao, Netherland Antilles : 7-9 November

Aves Barlovento, Venezuela : 10-20 November

Los Roques, Venezuela : 20-29 November

Tortuga, Venezuela : 30 November – 2 December

Isla Margarita, Venezuela : 3-10 December

Golfo de Cariaco, Venezuela : 10-15 December

Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela mainland : 15-22 December

Tortuga, Venezuela : 22 December – 3 January 2005

Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela mainland : 3-8 January

Tortuga, Venezuela : 8-12 January

Los Roques, Venezuela : 13-30 January

Aves de Sotaventa, Venezuela : 30 January – 1 February

Klein Curacao, Netherland Antilles : 1-3 February

Curacao, Netherland Antilles : 3 February – 11 April

Bonaire, Netherland Antilles : 11-19 April

Aves De Barlovento, Venezuela : 19-21 April

Los Roques, Venezuela : 21 April – 20 May

Tortuga, Venezuela : 21-23 May

Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela mainland : 24 May – 10 June

Mochima, Venezuela mainland : 10-13 June

Laguna Grande, Venezuela mainland : 13-19 June

Margarita, Venezuela : 19-25 June

Los Testigos, Venezuela : 25 June

Trinidad, Caribbean : 26 June – 16 July

Chacachacare, Trinidad : 16-17 July

Tobago, Caribbean : 17 July – 15 August

Trinidad, Caribbean : 15-30 August

England (via 747): 1 September – 6 October

Trinidad, Caribbean : 7 October – 2 November

Los Testigos, Venezuela : 3-4 November

Margarita, Venezuela : 4-7 November

Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela mainland : 7-9 November

Tortuga, Venezuela : 9-10 November

Los Roques, Venezuela : 11-20 November

St Maarten, Northern Caribbean : 24 November – 6 December

St Thomas, US Virgin Islands : 7-20 December

Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands : 20 December – 3 January 2006

St John & St Thomas, US Virgin Islands : 3 January – 6 February

Trinidad, Southern Caribbean : 8-16 February

England / South Africa / USA (via 747): 17 February – 20 October


2006-10-20 to 2006-12-20

Phew! What a year 2006 has been jetsetting all over the place - 4 months in England; 3 in South Africa; 1 in the USA (southern California & south/north Carolina - absolutely FANTASTIC by the way - loved it, we could easily live there!!); then it was back to reality and back to our yacht in Trinidad…

We got back to the Trinidad on 20 October. Our intentions were to stay for about 2-3 weeks (max), and then head off West. I was having nightmares about our Curacao-San Blas leg the weather is just notoriously bad in that area. Rated the 5th worst passage in the world. Great. This of course wasn`t helped by the fact that I kept on reading horror stories about other yachts!! I’m a sucker for punishment! But, what always seemed to slip my mind was the fact that there are THOUSANDS of boats that traverse these waters yearly and most of the horror stories happen to weeny boats (like 36 footers!)... obviously a 10 ft swell is going to look like 20ft if you`re in a tiny boat!!!

Aaah Trinidad – A man’s dream as he’s spoilt for choice in the Chandleries and every woman’s nightmare as hot as hell and not much to do other than work on your boat – either in the water or on the hard. A few restaurants offer a diversion to quick meals on the boat. But that’s about it. It does help having good company too – we had many good times with our very good fellow South African friends, Taffy and Shirley - and Rubbish the parrot, on The Road. Friendships are formed quickly in this very unusual lifestyle we lead, and we had a very good time in Trinidad this time round. I’m going away with fond memories!

All the while the clock was ticking, we were nearing Christmas and we were STILL sorting out problems in Trini… on returning to the boat after 8½ months it wasn’t in bad shape at all. That $50 we’d spent on the 2nd hand dehumidifier was well spent. But that was all on the surface, once we started digging we need to replace all the pumps, a few other things weren’t kosher either… not to mention the anchor windlass that gave up the ghost the day before we’re booked to launch (!!), then it was the radar and last but not least, the navigation PC needed replacing!! 10 words of wisdom: never ever leave a boat unattended for 9 months. EVER!!!! And we’ll just keep watering that money tree growing at the back of the boat!!

We eventually left Trinidad on 6 December and covered the distance of 98nm to Los Testigos, Venezuela in 12 hours. It certainly did feel weird being on the water again. It was a grey old rainy day, good for reading and not getting sunburnt! No hassles except for a small tear in the genoa (managed to get itself around the bowsprit!!!), and a leaking stern gland that Ken repaired the following day.

Didn’t have a good night’s sleep, but were eager to get a move on to Isla Margarita. It was, in my books, a perfect sailing day – blue skies, sunny, 3-5ft swell, 10-15 knots (could’ve been slightly more though!). We left at 10:30 and arrived in Porlamar at 5:15, a distance of 52nm. There were 74 boats there!! Our mission was solely to stock up on foodstuffs that were not available in Trinidad; on vino tinto and rum that is outrageously cheap (this was purchased to our consumption, and because we’re fortunate enough to have a big boat – we were able to load up and extra 9 cases of rum, 2 cases of gin, and 12 cases of beer for friends!

We headed for Curacao 4 days later – a distance of 305nm. Had a wonderful sail leaving Margarita – poled out genoa and a reefed main. I was still horribly nervous of our forthcoming leg to the San Blas and didn’t feel too well – eventually I just let it all out (aka talking to the big white telephone!), and felt instantly better. We had excellent conditions and were screaming along, the wind was E 18-20, sometimes 25, and about a 6-8ft swell. We decided to chance it and sail in a straight line from Margarita, under Los Roques, to Curacao. Friends advised again sailing under Los Roques as they’d lost wind, but were lucky. Also very lucky that we’d been to Klein Curacao before, although it always looks so very different at night…. Klein is buoyed (you are not allowed to anchor). The buoys are located rather close to the shore, the shallow water extends perhaps about 35 meters from the shore and then there’s a major drop-off. It was PITCH dark and as luck would have it the light was not working in the lighthouse (!!), we did however see a couple of lights near the shore, but decided to take it very slowly and literally crept up to where we thought the bouys were. Soon we spotted a couple of tiny fishing boats, and we then spotted the bouy. YAY!! What bliss to the tied up and safe! Still could not believe we did the trip in 36 hours!

After a very rolly night, albeit the 2 squalls passing through, we could not wait to get to Curacao and see our good friends on Victoria II. Upon arrival we’d heard that there was a “weather window” coming up on Saturday for us. OMIGOD! My nerves! Once I’d calmed down and read the weather report it didn’t seem bad at all. Wind 20-25, seas 8ft. Had a great time with our dear friends and then said a tearful goodbye from Fuik Bay (after a fabulous bbq the night before), and were on our way.

We left at 10:45am on 16 Dec and decided to stay a fair distance off the Venezuelan coastline, going under Aruba. There was an unbelievable amount of ship traffic, at least we wouldn’t be bored! By nightfall we’d covered a good distance and the boat was comfortable. By nightfall the following day the only things that changed was the distance we’d covered and the increasing swell. There were some huge ones, the sea was also very mixed up, not consistent swell from one direction, making it a bit uncomfortable (terrifying if you are on a small yacht indeed!!!). We did not even try and fish as it was (A) just too dangerous and (B) we were going too fast.

We’d arranged to have Christmas with our friends Johan and Kenwyn on Saraband (they’re also from South Africa) and Mike and Lynn on Wombat of Sydney (Mike’s American with Oz influence and Lynn is from South Carolina). Saraband were waiting for us in Coco Banderas, San Blas, and Wombat had left Georgetown, South Carolina the Sunday after we left Trindad. We hooked up via e-mail and set up our SSB radio schedule – at least we could now all talk to each other, and our other long lost friends in distant places!

We were screaming along and realized that we’d be arriving in the San Blas late in the afternoon on the 3rd day, this was not good – we were unable to go any faster, so we had to slow the boat down so as not to have to heave-to outside the entrance. GREAT! Another night at sea. At least it was the last night for a long time, which made it very bearable! On my watch I noticed a ship headed for us, I waited to see if he was going to alter course. Not. I woke Ken up and we had to go up 20 degrees to avoid a collision. We know of a couple who both used to go below at night and sleep til morning… leaving the boat to do her own thing!! No one on watch! Incredible, I just don’t know how they do it!

Wombat in the meantime were pushing to catch us up, they too had not had fantastic weather and were having a bout of hardly any wind. When we were in Trinidad I commented on the fact that it would be quite funny if we arrived at the same time. Those words were ringing true because on that 3rd night out we were within VHF range! And soon we spotted them on the radar behind us!! Although we were forced to reef the main (a small section was delaminating and some stitching had deteriorated and panels were beginning to separate) (oh joy!), we just could not slow down enough, that wind just kept up! So we were from about 5am we were slowly motoring up and down, killing time til it was light enough for us to navigate the Hollandes Channel.

Anyway. We`re here now!!! YAY!!! The 4 day trip was fine. In fact it was more than fine, it was great despite the seas being fairly big, perhaps 10-13ft - I must admit I didn`t look back too much as there were huge ones every so often (even in a 60ft boat!). We made good time we did it!! Safely.


2006-12-20 to 2007-01-10

09 35 44N; 078 40 62W

So, here we are... the San Blas is just beautiful. Close your eyes and imagine blue water (lots of it!), unfortunately it`s not like postcard turquoise water, but hey - you can`t have it all! So imagine an oblong stretch of white sand (maybe about 60 - 80 meters in length by about 30-50 meters wide) jam packed with palm trees so dense you can`t see through them... and these "islands" of varying sizes are dotted all over as far as the eye can see. Never seen anything like this before. We are sandwiched between 3 of these "islands" at the moment. The San Blas is home to the Kuna Indians - and these poor buggers row for MILES to sell you bread rolls, fruit and veg, lobster (very tiny things indeed!!); and giant crab (for 3$ each!!).

The Kuna Indians are fiercely independent and maintain their traditions and governing of their coastal and island region. About 40,000 Kuna live on only 40 of the 356 small keys, the other islands have a small grass hut with a caretaker for the coconuts that the Kuna trade with Columbian trading schooners. About 10,000 Kuna live on the coast maintaining their village agricultural gardens and airstrips for lobster to Panama.

The women make "molas" - which are very intricate colourful designs in cloth (about the size of a placemat) of reverse appliqué varying from 2 to 5 layers in thickness, with no specific dominant colour. They are hand sewn, the stitches are so small it`s hard to believe it sometimes! The designs represent many aspects of life from their ancient religious "Shamanism", tribal myths and wonders of the land to modern phenomena - are used to decorate the front and back of the blouses the women wear. The decorative "mola" blouse apparently originated from body painting in the early days. The more layers of fabric a "mola" has, the better the quality, and the stitching should be invisible. By selling "molas", the women take care of the major part of their income. They are keen sales people, but not pushy. Prices range from $6 to $50 (but average about $15) depending on the detailing and there is little room for bargaining until you purchase a few.

They come from miles paddling their "ulus" (dugout canoes), and will come back every day should another yacht arrive in the anchorage! The women are beautifully dressed with the "mola" blouse, a sarong, which is usually dark blue with yellow print, and a red headscarf with yellow print. They cover their arms and legs with bracelets, made of small beads, and they wear golden jewelery around their necks and in their ears. Most of them wear golden nose rings and a tattooed line on their noses. Girls wear their hair long, and married women have a short haircut. Some people speak Spanish, but in remote areas they only speak Kuna.

The Kuna men go fishing, cultivate their crops on the mainland, build huts and "ulus" catch fish, crab and lobster to sell. Coconuts are currency on the islands - 0.10$ USD. Although the land is communally owned, coconut trees belong to individuals. Otherwise in the Kuna culture everything belongs to everyone.

They are a matriarchal society - when a man marries he moves in with his wife`s family. The female controls the money. If there are only boys born in a family, the last boy has to become a girl and make molas and assume a feminine demeanour (!!). Historically the Kuna have the reputation of being the most fierce and determined of all Central American Tribes. They were never conquered by the white invaders and have struggled hard to retain their independence and traditional ways of life. Good on them!

We motored into Coco Banderas, Wombat hot on our heels. It was good to see them and I was really looking forward to seeing Saraband again too! It was wonderful being anchored and we were really looking forward to a stiff G&T and then good nights sleep!! We sorted out the boat and Ken crashed into bed a short while later. I of course was overtired and just kept going!! Had everyone over for drinks at 5-ish to catch up and rehash our trips. Boy life IS good!!

Ken’s main mission was to get the genoa down to stitch it – the main was fairly easy to unfold as it could hang down and lay on the deck. Luckily the wind died the following day, and Ken started work on it immediately. My main mission was to clean the boat and catch up with the laundry, the boat was dirty inside – I had to restrain myself from cleaning it in Trinidad as I knew I’d have to do another good job of it again once we arrived in the San Blas. Trinidad is a filthy place, and thanks to the refineries - both inside and outside were covered in a fine black layer of muck. Curacao is not much better either!

Christmas eve was spent on Saraband; Christmas day late lunch was spent on Wombat (all contributing sides and desserts to their huge turkey breast); and Boxing Day was spent on Fast Forward, we had a good old braai and then played Mexican train dominoes. A great festive season was had by all!! And unlike previous years, neither Ken nor I put on weight!!

28 December was a glorious day – blue skies, not much wind – perfect for snorkeling. Headed off to a tiny blob of sand with 3 palm trees on it and snorkeled around it. Water was murky (which makes me nervous as I can’t see what’s following me!!!) and there was not much to report on fish life – did see a small Spotted Eagle Ray and a few big Ocean Triggerfish. Hope the snorkeling improves!

We moved a whole 6nm west to “the swimming pool”… Saraband and Wombat were already there. Our newly stitched genoa was still strapped to our foredeck as once again the weather prediction was wrong, the lull didn’t last 4 days as predicted, only 2 – and it was now pumping 20 knots. In fact there was a gale warning out for the coast of Colombia. It was very pretty here, mangroves to the right and beautiful picture postcard water to the left – we were in deeper water, more of a bluey/browny colour. Up ahead in the distance you could see the waves breaking on the reef. Were we happy to be safely anchored and not out there? Absolutely! We were warned about the strong current running through the anchorage, but it’s one thing hearing about it and then actually experiencing it – way too strong to swim in for sure, Ken even had a lure on a line, but we’re convinced there are no fish in the San Blas!! Had our lines out everywhere we went, caught nothing except weed – where does all that weed come from in anycase?!

Had an Old Year’s Eve braai on the beach… I got bitten to death by no-see-ums (nasty little critters, we’re sure they’re just sets of jaws attached to wings!)… then went back to the boat for a little siesta before the 8pm “get together” on the beach to see in the New Year. It was arranged by the Italians, and they even had music playing, and then made their own! Was a great evening, we took our own drinks and managed to convince Wombat and Saraband to stay til midnight (sailors midnight is normally 9pm!!!) and then introduced them to strawberry champagne (which they loved and managed to track down in Panama!).

Had a snorkel around there too, but again it was nothing to rave about. A shame really.

Saraband and Wombat wanted to get to Colon, Panama to do the transit – so they left early January. We had a more relaxed schedule – Ken’s son was to be married in England on 31 March, so we had plenty of time to get to Panama. That was then!

We moved on to Green Island – upon arriving we saw the salt water croc that people had told us about (they’d never seen it!). Quite funny seeing it slinking around the boats. So no swimming or going ashore for us!!

Moved down to Wasailadup the following morning, it’s a gorgeous little island surrounded by a reef – only one entrance/exit and only room for 1 boat. Had a fair snorkel there, water was a lot clearer, but still not teaming with fish!

We wanted to see a village so we moved on to Mormake Tupu. Well, the anchor had hardly touched the bottom and there was already 2 ulu’s waiting to show us their mola’s. We’d already bought quite a few but wanted another 3, these women all looked so hopeful, how could you possibly send them away?!... (the idea being we could stitch them all together and make an impressive wall hanging. No. Not for the boat… for when we’re living on land again!!). We were invited to go ashore as well and I was very excited. Camera in hand – off we went. We were greeted by loads of children – some followed us as we meandered our way around the maze that was their village. As small as what the island was we almost needed a road map!! The little huts were almost built on top of each other, reeds or canes formed the sides and palm fronds made the thatch roofs. No furniture inside – they either slept on the heavily compacted floor or on wooden planks. No running fresh water. No toilets. Mangy looking chickens and cats lazing about. What a life. Anyway, news spread like wildfire of our arrival in the village and every woman who had a mola to sell was on us like a rash. In the beginning it was easier being polite and having a look, but after the 4th session we just said “they were beautiful, but no thanks we have many” in Spanish. I’m mola’d-out!!! If I have to see another mola I’m going to heave! We then had to go the congreso hut (main community hut) and pay our $5 to the Silah (the chief). Inside the hut the men in authority will swing in hammocks while the lesser beings share hard benches. Ken was rather disappointed that the chief was so under-dressed (long pants and shirt that hadn’t seen washing powder in about a year!)… he was expecting feathers on the head and painted face… donning a mola sarong would’ve made for a good picture! Back on the boat I had a chance to have a good look at the island… it’s actually quite amazing how they manage to build right up to the waters edge, even having system to lift their ulu’s out at night!

We made our way to Chichime the following way as our plans had changed somewhat. All in all we’d had enough of the San Blas – it was not as great as we`d expected – the snorkeling not good at all (compared to Los Roques, Las Aves & Klein Curacao)... and quite frankly once you`ve seen a zillion palm trees stuck in a patch of sand, all the islands start looking the same! The people were wonderful and the ladies are extremely talented when it comes to making those molas!! But we thought that maybe there was a bit more to explore on the Pacific side.... so were officially on our way to Colon, Panama!

At 9:30am on 9 January we upped anchor and sailed the 44nm to Linton, conditions were excellent – wind was 18-22 NE and seas maybe 6-9ft. Arrived, anchored and eaten lunch 6 hours later! Not too shabby indeed!

Up fairly early the following morning and left to sail the last 20nm to Colon. Could not believe the amount of ships anchored outside the breakwater! Must’ve been at least 20! We anchored in “the flats”… don’t know where they got that name, as it was always blowing a hoolah and very choppy – it was more pleasant being at sea!! Ashore at the Cristobal yacht club you could sense the tension and nervous excitement in the air. We were all one big step away from being in the Pacific!


2007-01-19 to 2007-01-21

08 54 63N; 079 31 61W

We transited the Panama Canal on Friday, 19th January and arrived in the Pacific at roughly 1:45pm the following day.

Since leaving Hout Bay, South Africa on 20 March 2003, Fast Forward has brought us safely across the Atlantic and into the Caribbean sea, and we`ve managed to clock up 14500 nautical miles... bringing Phase 1 of our "round-the-world-on-FastForward" to an end. We`re now anchored at La Playita, just a few miles away from Panama City. It`s wonderful here - such a huge contrast to Colon, which can only be described as a tip (but they have cheap internet though!).

On Monday night (15th Jan) we went as "linehandlers" on a friends boat, Saraband, it was a great experience (even though I was only there as photographer and server of food!). Saraband was rafted up next to mutual friends, Wombat of Sydney. Being rafted up makes a lot of people on board "obsolete" as one then only needs 2 linehandlers and not 4. Hence my photographic role! The trip put our minds at ease as one hears so many stories... and Ken was also able to have a "plan of action" for our transit - which ended up being rather important because everyone then knows what`s going on, and rafting up can be quite stressful - particularly if you have very inconsiderate pilot boats screaming past kicking up a huge wake.... not very nice if two yachts are right next to each other, only separated by a car tyre!!

Pre transit preparation in Colon…. the paperwork, all in Spanish, that has to be completed is unreal - so one is forced to employ the services of a local “taxi driver”, who charges anything from $30-$50 USD for his services. Since the Americans left in 1999 the city has gone to the dogs, buildings are not maintained and crime is rife, and with little to no street signs you’d really battle finding your way around to the numerous obscure offices in buildings scattered all over town to complete the paperwork. In essence, Tito was SO worth it, he knew the drill and could wheel and deal, perfect timing (on his part), we were offered a Chinese buffet lunch for only $5… at his family’s restaurant. Crafty or creative? We’d never had gone there otherwise. Tito, being half Chinese and having a huge business orientated family in Colon, and being very connected, came in very useful. We highly recommend him!

So after the paperwork is sorted out, the Admeasurer comes to measure the yacht. He also checks that you have a foghorn; a clean toilet (for the pilot) and a place for washing hands (I dread to think what what must’ve happened for them to have to enforce this issue!); a bimini/awning to protect the pilot from sun and rain; 4 lines of 125ft each (without nicks and splices); and 12 car tyres covered in black plastic bags. Then you go and hand over your dosh, including an $850 buffer fee, refunded to you if you manage to not damage the canal in any way; fall behind in your convoy; or heaven forbid, your engine packs up.

It’s then up to you to find 4 linehandlers…. Often other yachties want to go with for the experience (like we did) and often people want to pay $60 for a professional line handler (and we’ve heard, you often have to wake up and tell them what to do). Mmmmm. The Pilot is free, but you have to feed the whole lot and provide beds for everyone except the Pilot (goes home to his family after his shift). So it’s supper, breakfast, lunch; loads of soft drinks, bottled water and snacks for 6.

On the “big day”…. There was nervous excitement in the air!! The six of us were all reassuring each other that everything would go smoothly. Our Pilot boarded at about 5:45 and we were at the first lock by 7pm. We were rafted up with friends on Double Dutch on our port side; and Lucie, skippered by a very nice German couple, on the starboard side - both boats are small, so we were going to be the centre boat. Again we had yet another very inconsiderate pilot boat kicking up a big wake (!!) – sending ripples of anxiety through the crew to try and keep the boats apart and to squeeze in another fender as one had moved. Once rafted up we headed towards the lock behind a huge container ship. As Lucie and Double Dutch are small boats, we really could not expect them to bear the brunt of our 32 tons, so we had the main lines running to the line handlers ashore from the bow and stern of Fast Forward, and it worked well... but we were forewarned about the small iron monkey fist they throw (rather accurately and sometimes not!!!) at the outside boats, which are then used to bring our main lines ashore. The lines are then secured around a bollard and as the lock fills up, the line handler on our boat will either pull in or let off rope. The line handlers ashore then walk you through the next two locks and then the boats separate. The evening is then spent lashed to a huge buoy in the very tranquil Gatun Lake, but be careful of the crocs!

Something for the history buffs…

In 1879 a French company was granted the exclusive privilege to construct a waterway across Panama. After major mismanagement of funds, over 20 000 deaths due to disease and harsh conditions, a second French company emerged to resume the building work, unfortunately they were unable to obtain sufficient funding, and bankruptcy forced them to sell the Canal equipment to the US government. Finally in 1903, after Panama’s declaration of independence from Colombia, Panama signed a treaty by which the US undertook the construction of the canal. It took ten years, the labour of more the 75 000 men and women, and almost $400 million to complete the task. They officially opened to traffic on 15 August 1914.

The Canal system is very impressive indeed.... despite the fact that way back in 1879 someone had the foresight to build the canal wide enough for ginormous modern day container ships to transit safely, back then the biggest ship could only have been maybe a quarter of the size perhaps? Mind boggling! It also runs completely in fresh water (drawn from surrounding lakes).

To enable you to transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific you have to negotiate a series of 6 locks. The locks, three on each side, were for a long time the world’s largest concrete structures. They have functioned flawlessly 24/7 for nearly 100 years! Each chamber is 33.53 meters wide and 304.8 meters long – the three Gatun locks on the Atlantic side are all connected to each other (hence the linehandlers being able to walk us though) – and raise the vessel a total of 26 meters. The locks on the Pacific side are separated, the first being the Pedro Miguel Lock (which lowers vessels 9 meters in one step, taking on average about 20-30 mins); followed by the adjoining two called the Miraflores Locks.

Plans are currently underway to widen the Galliard Cut from 152 to 192 meters in the straights, and 222 meters in the curves – thus enabling two wide-beam Panamax vessels to transit simultaneously in either direction without disasterous consequences. There are plans to build a third set of bigger locks to accommodate post-Panamax size vessels…… mmmm bigger better faster more. Where will it end?

Stay tuned for our next installment…. Adventures in the Galapagos!

The incredible GALAPAGOS!

2007-02-16 to 2007-03-01

08 17 96N; 078 54 17W

We upped anchor on 7 February and headed for San Jose, Las Perlas – 56 nm away – not much wind, but a perfect day otherwise!! We saw 2 whales; dolphin; rays jumping out of the water, and we even caught some fish! Other than a couple of local fishing boats, only one other yacht shared the massive anchorage with us, and when sunset came it delivered the most tranquil of evenings… a very welcome change from the rolly and noisy anchorage at La Playita in Panama!! The beaches were just beautiful long stretches of fine white powder… some offered lots of beautiful shells and others not! Lots of pelicans, frigates and boobies about to provide light entertainment! The handful of days we spent “recharging” there was exactly what we needed after the humdrum of Panama City… pity about the cold green murky water (22C) though!

On Sunday 11th, we set off on the 879nm journey SW to the famous Galapagos Islands. What is the powerful draw to these mystical islands? Did we perhaps all O.D. on David Attenborough’s tales of what Charles Darwin discovered in the 1830’s? Or, being “cruisers” are we just naturally drawn to – and then set sail for - “all natural wonders”? Perhaps. But what about the 60,000 plus visitors that fly in every year? Mmmm. Or is it because the Galapagos is a treasure chest of endemic species – plants and animals found nowhere else in the world… and we’ve all come to see as much as possible!! Whatever our individual reasons are, we’ve all traveled thousands of miles to admire a vast cross-section of wildlife co-exisiting on land, and in an underwater paradise. Can’t wait! And neither could Russel! He was flying in to Isla Baltra on the 18th from a freezing cold London to enjoy a well deserved holiday with us.

We had good weather to start with, only to have the wind die down by nightfall the following day. So we were either sailing and/or motoring! By the fourth day, we had wind – but it was on the nose! Luckily we had current with us as well as flat seas. We also had quite a few rain squalls came through at night… our last night at sea was a really fun one: it’s a conspiracy you see - tiny squalls get together and gang up on you – within minutes the squall is the size of Europe and you simply can’t dodge it!! Eeek! You usually don’t know what’s “in them”, but you prepare for the worst – usually a lot of wind and driving rain. Sometimes only one or other; and/or very little of it. This one was packed with the former and lasted for hours!! Couldn’t wait for sunrise as nothing is ever half as bad in the daylight! Needless to say we looked and felt terrible as no sleep was had! All in all it was a good trip… thought we’d catch more fish though!

00 44 76S; 090 18 45W

The first sighting of land after being at sea (esp for 5 days!) always creates a fluttering of excitement in your tummy!! WOW! Yip, for me it’s always WOW! We’ve made it! Again. The Islands looked very far apart and I’m glad we’d decided to pull into Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz as it would’ve taken another day to get to either Isla Isabela or Isla San Cristobal. It was a grey old day with very black threatening clouds gathering over the highlands of Santa Cruz. Rain again. Puerto Ayora is a very busy anchorage – lots of big white double-decker tourist boats were packed into the eastern corner of the anchorage, not to mention big catamarans, trimarans, small cruise ships, stink pots/gin palaces – most anchored fore and aft (it’s not a very protected anchorage and we’d heard it can be very rolly – hence our latest acquisition: a stern anchor!). We picked a spot in 4 meters of relatively clear water, had a sandwich and then Ken went ashore to pay our dues.

There are a lot of conflicting stories surrounding the cost of “cruising on yachts” in the Galapagos; and apparently the Ecuadorian Authorities change their minds rather regularly, and costs can vary from island to island. We were pretty sure we would not be allowed to cruise the marine reserve unless we paid a guide $200 a day (excluding our daily fee and cruising permit!!)… damn right we wouldn’t! Here’s the lowdown: Whichever island you`ve cleared into is the island the yacht HAS TO stay at – provided you’ve obtained a cruising permit. You are free to roam around. To obtain a cruising permit (which would enable you to anchor in 4 other public anchorages) you need to, preferably, arrange this a month in advance from Panama (provided you`re going to Ecuador of course because all the paperwork is organised in Quito).... a Cruising permit for 2 people costs $210, for 4: $260 - and if you’re on a big gin palace it can cost $10,000! Johnny (a local agent and tour guide) informed that he could arrange a permit for us, but it could take up to 2 weeks. It would’ve been nice to have been able to move around, but we were assured that there was enough to keep us busy with on Santa Cruz and surrounds! Decided to go this route as our intentions were to leave the Galapagos a day or two after Russel had flown back on the 27th.

Once you’re there, be prepared to fork out money to do tours. You’ve come all this way, so shorten those pockets or lengthen those arms! To be fair, the tours are not that pricey (between $25 and $73, mostly 8-9 hour tours including lunch & English speaking guide), and are very interesting. All tour operators charge the same fees. There are also bicycles and scooters for rent. The only free “excursions” are to Tortuga Bay and the Darwin Centre (both nice long walks in the blazing heat!). We were supposed to pay the National Park fee of $100 pp (a once off fee) before doing any tours (as you’d then be entering the National Park)… but after booking our first tour no one requested a receipt, so we decided to just keep quite until asked…. We assumed the tour operators automatically assume that because you’re a gringo, you’ve arrived by plane and therefore have paid your $100 at the airport. Cool! We were up $200!

Our “Let’s Go” guide on board got us fired up after reading all there was to do and see that we were literally bursting with anticipation and expectation!! I couldn’t wait to get ashore to lay my hands on more literature and maps! The archipelago was formed by volcanic eruptions about 5 million years ago, and are among the most active in the world. Santa Cruz was colonized in the late 1920’s by a group of Norwegians, their dreams of canning cod fish was not accomplished and some of them stayed in the highlands and turned to agriculture for a living. UNESCO declared the Galapagos Islands a World Heritage Site on 28 July 1979 and a Marine Reserve in 1998.

One of the fascinating things about the Galapagos Islands is that they straddle the equator at the confluence of several warm and cold currents. This creates a unique microclimate, and even more interesting, each volcanic island has distinct vegetation zones (Santa Cruz has 7) at different altitudes, for eg. the coast is hot and arid – cacti grow next to the sea (!) amongst the lava rock – then as you move further up it becomes more hot and humid and changes from brown to bright green (looks quite fake at times!), soon you’ll be surrounded by citrus and guava trees and dense bush! The highest point is only 2834 feet above sea level.

This brings us to our first tour… it was Ken’s birthday and Rus’s first day out, so we thought we’d ease into things. Giant tortoise spotting on horseback in the Highlands, only $25. Our Spanish only speaking guide/farmhand only spotted 5. Our mares, with foals in tow were too eager to return home – hence neither Rus or I managed to get our horses turned round to see the very rare Vermillion Flycatcher bird. Well spotted Ken! Silently, we hoped our afternoon tour was to be more fulfilling!

Johnny was our guide that afternoon, and we were accompanied by another family of 5 (also yachties, ex South Africans with their American offspring). Small world! Anyway, so off we went into the National Park and traipsed into the bush where we soon spotted our first giant tortoise – up close and personal. He was a magnificent creature perhaps 140 years old. When they are really old their shells are very smooth. Then we spotted another two wallowing in green muck… could also get up close – they were not phased by us at all (and there were busloads of people!). Then we spotted another munching on pawpaw and guava, and yet another and another. 100 photos later it was “Oh, not another one!!!”. We only saw males as the females had already moved to the lowlands to lay their eggs.

Back into the 4x4, and off to the Lava Tunnels. Descending the wooden staircase into the cool tunnel was heaven, such a relief from the scorching sun! We couldn’t get over the diameter of the tunnel – it was huge! They are the remains of ancient magma flow that formed the Galapagos. The outer crust of these molten streams hardened as they cooled, but the liquid magma within continued flowing. When the flowing stopped, these enormous hollow tubes were left behind. We walked for about 600m – they’d very kindly supplied a string of lights along the wall enabling you to see the very sharp loose lava rocks that you’re carefully stepping over… the magma carved designs were beautiful and so was the changing colour caused by oxidation. Fascinating indeed! Then it was off to “Los Gemelos” (the twin craters) formed by huge gas bubbles! Managed to spot some finches… although we found them to be very elusive… heard but hardly seen! Interesting flora talk to!! All this for only $25!

The little town of Santa Cruz is one of the cleanest we’ve seen. Not many locals have cars, other than the standard white 4x4’s used as taxi’s, everyone appears to have either a bicycle or a scooter or both – and the more people you can fit on them, the more power to you!!! The island even has recycling bins – which is exceptional for a 3rd world country. There is one main road that runs along the beachfront, and another that runs out of town. It’s very touristy and there are loads of dive operators; tour operators and shops selling Galapagos junk and of course t/shirts – my favourite was (and no I don’t bat for the other team) “I love boobies” and there were 2 blue webbed feet printed on the chest area of the T/shirt. Very cute indeed! Also to be found were internet cafes, galleries, jewelery shops, restaurants and the odd bar. Not forgetting the very interesting art gallery located in the WWF building on the far side of town towards the Darwin Centre. It housed beautiful 1-off woven carpets made in Peru (no feet allowed for sure!); intricately carved calabashes/gordes; local art from mainland Ecuador and Peru; metal/wood sculptures of all the local animals; gorgeous pieces of silver jewelery; silver sculptures. Amazing!! And for the yachties… there are also very well equipped hardware stores; a good supermarket stocking everything you can imagine; and diesel is also delivered to the boat.

In town everything closes from 12-3 (!!)… and the streets, particularly the beachfront area just comes alive in the evenings – there are children playing everywhere and the adults resume their volleyball games til late at night. A very common sight is just about everybody walking around with a $0.50 soft serve ice cream from Hernan’s!! Aaah Hernan’s – the best basil and garlic fish dish I’ve ever had! We went there for Ken’s birthday – the waiter got the order right, but the chef prepared 2 meals instead of 3!! Shame I felt so bad! Manager came and apologized and Ken got a free Caiparina! Nice evening!

We took it easy the following morning, and set off, just after 1:30pm, for the 2.5km walk along the paved path to Tortuga Bay. There were supposed to be loads of finches about, but I was convinced they were playing a nature CD as we could only HEAR the birds – eventually we spotted a few black ones (but they are so tiny!!). We did manage to see a few grey lava lizard on the lava rock next to the path, they’re also tiny little things and the females have very eye-catching red/orange throats.

I’d also forgotten how far 2.5km’s was (or was it the anticipation?)… but seeing the turquoise sea lying ahead of us put the spring back into my step for sure!! It had been a long time since we’d seen water that postcard blue and sand that white! It was softer than powder! We were told not to swim at that beach, but to continue along past the rocks, hit a right to the lagoon and swim there. But, what did we see to the left – LOADS of people swimming and surfing (apparently there’s very good surfing here). Whatever! Then, as we looked to the right we spotted them…. down on the rocks…. marine iguanas!! The only aquatic iguana in the world. We made a b-line! They must’ve been laughing at us crazy photo-taking gringo’s cause it certainly looked like they had a smirk on their little pre-historic faces!!! There they were, posing on the rocks, some pretending we weren’t there by not even turning their heads and others probably wishing we’d just get a move on! I was fascinated and couldn’t get enough photos (and these were only the first 5 we’d seen!!). We had to get a move as the park closes at 6pm, so we set off down the beach, and soon we spotted iguanas all over the beach (looks so weird though, so out of place!!)… some were just parking, spread-eagled, always facing the sun though – others doing their funny little walk to find a better spot, and others just running away from everyone on the beach!

The lagoon was a welcome relief, but not too pleasant as the water was murky and there were huge biting horse-flies!! Not nice! So we decided to head back - but explore the section to the left that we’d missed by coming to the lagoon. Gee, nothing was to prepare us for what we saw!! HUNDREDS of marine iguanas all over the show!! You literally had to watch where you were walking so as not to step on them! We were spoilt for choice!! They also seemed to enjoy lying all over each other – very cute! Every so often one sneezed – weren’t sure if it was intended to scare, if so – it failed miserably! We heard later that they’re actually just getting rid of salt in their nasal passages!! We also noticed some were moulting and others had a strange blue colour on their bodies/faces/lips… apparently they rub themselves against the rocks thereby picking up this colour : it’s a “vanity” thing really, part of the mating ritual is to try and look your best - I mean with so many around you have to do something out of the ordinary to stand out – even if it means having blue lips!! Anyway, so there they all were – sunning themselves and recharging their batteries after gorging on green algae. Yum! I was quite surprised at how small they were (only get up to about 1.2m in length, that includes their ling tail) – then again, being vegetarian, I suppose mother nature couldn’t provide enough algae for them to have grown any bigger. They’re an interesting bunch too – they can swim down to 20 meters, stay underwater for up to an hour, and can bring their heart rate down to as little as 2-3 beats per minute.

On our way back up the beach Russel spotted manta rays in the water right up near the beach! Then he spotted something bigger… so he shot off into the water to investigate, Ken hot on his heels… there were big tarpon on the prowl!

Russel is obsessed with fishing. He knows everything there is and more. So a holiday on the yacht normally equates to loads of fishing. The Galapagos happenened to be marlin territory too. Sadly, there’s a “no fishing” policy within the Galapagos – except of course for one or two areas that the locals can fish in (!!) – the only option is to go to the “border” which is about 40nm away. Mmmm. Not good. The worst thing was, there were loads of fish around the boat and he could do nothing about it!! Shame, it must’ve been killing him!!! But, never fear! They spotted 2 sports fishing boats, only to be told they were “being repaired”. Great. Johnny was a local and an good organizer, let’s try our luck. Lo and behold – he managed to get a local to take them out for the day. So off they went – very excited - at 6:30am. I watched them disappear into the horizon, apparently they went on for hours and hours - all over the show - and caught nothing the whole day! What a disappointment! Eventually, on their way back – in the Marine Park, not far from the anchorage and still trolling their lines, they had a bite!! A nice sized Cero Mackerel! They played paper, scissors, rock to see who would reel the first one in and it was Ken (!!) - who insisted that Rus do it because we have ample opportunity to land fish. But NO, fair was fair - he took the photos!! It was absolutely delicious on the BBQ!

Our next outing was a very hot walk to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. To be honest, I really expected a bit more and I found it all rather cruel after having seen the giant tortoises in the wild wallowing in big pools of green water and sleeping on grass patches, here they had to fight their way around sharp lava rocks – grass unheard of – and the shallowest of pools to wade in! Shocking! The island makes such a lot of money from tourism, you’d think that some of it would be pumped back into the system instead of it all going back to the mainland. At least they do do some good – like protecting the vulnerable hatchlings and then releasing them later into the wild…

Back on board it was time for sundowners and watching the antics of the wildlife around us… aaah the pelicans – we never tire of them – flying one behind the other, just centimeters above the water, and then the front one flaps his wings, and one by one they all flap their wings… one goes up and the all go up… like a Mexican wave! We won’t mention how clumsy they look when they dive into the water to catch fish… suddenly there’s a huge splash and in a second this great big bird pops out of the water, often holding his head down, beak closed – because more often than not he has a cheeky gull sitting on his head trying to steel the food out of his beak!!! Then there’s the frigate birds, always cruising overhead casting B-52 bomber shadows… just waiting for some poor bird (normally a boobie) to delicately pick an unsuspecting sardine out of the water, then swallow it - but the frigate’s are way too fast and before the boobie even knows what’s hit it, the frigate is all over him trying get him to drop the sardine so that he can eat it! Now that’s cheeky! Or, out of nowhere a torpedo shoots into the water at one heck of a speed… seconds later it pops up… aaahh only a boobie who’s spotted something delicious from like 80ft up, wings pinned back as it hurtles in perfect form toward his dinner – hardly a splash!! The last act of the day… the seals. They are truly something else! As cute as buttons… they’ll swim past the boat – and you’ll hear them snorting – often they’ll have their little heads out of the water looking at you (and you can just about see a naughty little grin on their faces!) as they glide effortlessly by through the water, then just like that they’ll disappear and reappear on the other side of the boat! So cute! Russel and I were dying for one to climb onto the back of Fast Forward (just to take a pick and then shooo him off of course!!), but that never happened. They love to laze about on the local boats like big fat slugs – and they do make a huge mess, you can generally smell which boats they’ve been on – and they knew they shouldn’t be there, as they often jumped off when a local came past and shouted at them, but they’d always take the chance!! And that they do too… they managed to climb onto a friends catamaran (he’d already cling-wrapped the entrance making it “seal proof”, clearly that was not enough… early one morning they woke up to find a seal peering down at them whilst they were lying in bed in the forepeak!!!! Needless to say they spent the better part of the day cleaning up the mess… must’ve been a female in heat too. Nasty. Very nasty!

Russel had booked a dive for the following day, and I was praying that he’d see everything that the guy who sold him the tour had said he would see. In fact, I was just praying for the water to be clear enough for him to see anything!!! The main attraction was hammerheads, sharks, rays, turtles and reef fish (in whatever order you choose!). So off he went at 7am. Ken and I had a Bay Tour booked for that afternoon (also only $25) – they picked us up at 2pm, and we headed off to the little island of La Loberia to swim with the sea lions and see some tropical fish. The baby sea lions were adorable with their big Smartie eyes! Be careful of big daddy though, he can be very aggressive, and can weigh in at 250kgs!! The Shark Channel was next – saw our first blue footed boobie perched on the rocks! – The high walls of the channel are crowned with tall cacti, quite a sight! We had the opportunity to don our mask and snorkels and see the white tipped shark (thankfully they were resting on the sandy bottom, very similar to a nurse shark!) – apparently they like that spot because there is a constant flow of water, so they simply need to open their mouths to have the water flow through their gills thereby enabling them the breath without moving around! Fascinating!

Then it was off – overland this time – to see the marine iguanas and blue footed boobies. This is where we learnt the fascinating facts about the iguanas… we also managed to see 5 turtles surfing in the waves! The cacti “trees” are simply beautiful – not sure which species it is though, but the older it gets the thicker and more bark-like the stems become, this bark-like covering changes from brown to a gorgeous copper/orange colour. Very pretty! Got back to the boat just after 6pm! Was a great day! Russel had also been back for a couple of hours and couldn’t wait to download his diving pics!! He had an AWESOME dive and wished he was staying a few more days to have another dive. And yes, he saw everything on his checklist!

Went ashore that evening to one of the local eateries called “William”… word has it that they make the best “coco lobster”. Mmmm sounded great. So off we went, the road has local eateries on either side which are only open at night – the road is also closed off to cars as some restaurants have their chairs and tables in the road due to the “heat in the kitchen”. Within minutes after being seated our food arrived, 3 tails and a huge mound of rice for $10! Judging by the speed, this meal is a speciality prepared in bulk! Heaven help the lobster community! It was good though, we particularly liked the hot aji sauce as an accompaniment!

Our last tour was to South Plazas and Carrion Point. Sea lions, land iguanas, blue footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls… maybe more for only $68! Sounded great! A bus picked us up at the water taxi dock and we stopped at two hotels to pick up people, we had 22 in our group and 2 guides. We then traveled across the island to where the airport ferry is located… only we had a boat waiting to take us on the 1,5 hour trip to South Plazas island. En route we saw a big pod of pilot whales, and they came right up to the boat!! Also saw a few turtles, but no dolphins though! Soon after we set off we had a couple of frigate birds hovering around the boat, then more appeared, and then boobies as well – clearly they knew what was to come! Our lunch!! No, it’s not what you think!!! Our lunch was a large fresh fish that was being hacked up into steaks, good idea that – we could all see the birds so close up, and obviously the birds couldn’t wait for scraps to fall into the water!! They knew that boat that’s for sure, because they disappeared soon after!

Upon entering the bay we could see hundreds of sea lions all along the shore – one of the biggest colonies in the Galapagos - could smell them too!! They dinghied us all ashore and we started with our land tour. The land iguanas are beautiful. They’re also called prickly pear iguanas… are yellow in colour and look prickly – makes a change from the black marine iguanas. Are just as territorial though. Shade appeared to be first prize for them in that blazing heat – and there was not much of it either!. We learnt about the swallow-tailed gull, what a beautiful bird! The chick is white, so that the parents can see it – and the parents have a white dot on their face so that the chick knows where to locate the beak!! The red ring around their eyes helps with night vision! From up on the cliff, Ken spotted a Galapagos shark swimming in the clear shallows below, but it was too quick for us take a pic!! We got really good pics of a blue-footed boobie that had just landed on some rocks nearby. I was thrilled as I could get really close up with my 12x zoom!! Like the Scarlet Ibis, their blue feet look plastic… except with the Ibis – the whole bird looks plastic!!! Very pretty birds, very elegant looking, and apparently the older they get the bluer the feet are. Interesting! The heat was almost unbearable and we were starving… couldn’t wait for the tour to be over! Eventually we made our way back to the dock where we were able to take last pics of a huge bull sea lion – they are such posers when they’re not barking and protecting their territory! Not to mention the little ones… they just want to play and have fun in the water! Almost forgot to mention the most colourful of the Galapagos species….. the Sally Lightfoot Crabs – they start out life being pitch black, clearly to blend into the lava rock – then they become the most brilliant colours – bright red legs with red and orange bodies, and a splash of baby blue on their chest, with bright pink circles around their eyes…. Being offset by the black rock certainly makes for a fantastic photo!!

Back on board we headed up to the top deck and just sat and savoured the shade and the breeze! We set off not long after and enjoyed a delicious lunch of fish, rice and a local salad en route to Carrion Point – just round the corner from where we started out. Once there, we had the opportunity to snorkel and check out the tropical fish and try and find the white tipped sharks… no sharks, but Russel did spot a Manta Ray resting under a rock. The swim was really nice even though there was not much to see. Soon it was time to go – and we were quite eager to get back to the boat, but we still had a 50 minute bus ride back to the dock!! Being the only road out of the town, the drivers must know this road backwards!! They even hoot at the birds so as not to kill them! Russel dozed and we tried, but at least the time went by rather quickly! Got back to the boat – showered, had a G&T, and went ashore for our last meal with Russel… Caiparina’s had become our favourite first drink ashore… very bad if you’re dehydrated! Had another great evening.

All good things eventually do come to an end…. and a fantastic time was had by all. What a wonderful opportunity to see and experience such a unique place. This must be one of the few places in the world where humans are truly second-class citizens.

MACHU PICCHU... quite surreal

2007-03-13 to 2007-03-18

We rounded the corner and were humbled by the expanse of ruins that surrounded us. Magical; mystical; spiritual – call it what you want. It’s simply INCREDIBLE.

02 12 95S; 080 55 40W

Let’s backtrack…. We left the Galapagos on 1 March and ended up motoring for 4 ½ days to Puerto Lucia, Ecuador (!! The longest we’ve ever had to motor!!). We were to fly out to the UK on 20 March via Panama and Miami for the wedding… Peru is not too far away by airplane - and we had a week to kill, so we decided to fulfil another dream by dashing off for a hike around Machu Picchu. Spent hours on the internet sourcing flights and accommodation and gathering tourist information. In all honesty it was a bit of a rushed trip and another day would’ve made all the difference… but, we’ve now been there and got the proverbial T/shirt! With our winter woollies and hiking boots all packed, we boarded a bus in town and settled down for the 2 hour ride to Guayaquil (to help pass the time, a lame American Jackie Chan movie dubbed into Japanese and subtitled in Spanish was thrown in!!). At Guayaquil we would then fly to Lima, overnight there, and fly on to Cusco the following morning. The airline we used (LAN) was impressive, sporting a new aircraft and impeccable service. We’d heard the trip by bus would take about 20 hours (due to the hectic mountain passes)… save the scenic route for next time thanks! Within an hour after take-off we spotted Cusco as well as a number of snow-capped mountains en route. The runway could do with some patching up, but with all the planes flying in they probably battle to find the time! We disembarked with a spring in our step, didn’t really notice the change in altitude… but it quickly caught up with us (more on this later!!).

Luckily we were met at the airport and then whisked off for a 20 minute ride to our “hotel” Sumac Wasi, located just off the main square (Plaza De Armas) and the infamous “Gringo Alley” (more on this later!!). The hotel manager was very friendly and accommodating and eager to get us going on some of the tours… it eventually became a case of “information overload” – I didn’t want us to get ripped off but I also wanted us to see as much as possible. We opted out of his 5 hour tour that afternoon and decided (on the recommendation of a friend) to just get a taxi and do part of the tour ourselves. We did however ask him to arrange our train tickets for the following morning. The hotel is a beautiful old building… incredibly thick stone walls – making it rather cold! Our room was basic but nice. All we needed was a bed and a shower really, not the Ritz.

So off we went in search of a taxi – still with spring in step… I was starting to get a very mild headache. There was no shortage of taxi’s and in broken Spanish and hand signals we’d negotiated a fair rate for him to drive us round to the various ruins. First on the cards was Sacsayhuaman (when said it sounds very much like “sexy woman”!) which is located 2km north east of Cusco, all the time we’re climbing higher and higher in the car… did I mention that Cusco’s elevation is 3360m… we hired a guide for $5 who was most informative and gave us some coca leaf to chew on (a natural stimulant said to aid digestion and more importantly, alleviate altitude sickness)… he was as agile as a mountain goat and we trailed behind huffing and puffing like 2 old aged pensioners! In short, Sacsaywaman is the most famous Fort of the 33 archeological sites in the area. It could’ve been a religious structure, but for it’s location and style, the Spanish and historians believe it was a military construction. It’s the ultimate display of Inca power and engineering prowess. Its largest blocks weigh hundreds of tons, yet they fit perfectly together… and with no mortar! The summit provides a great view of Cusco that has a population of about 325 000 and is so densely built up that one sometimes battles to spot the roads!! After a quick photoshoot with some locals dressed up in traditional gear with Llama’s and Alpaca’s (baby Llama’s) in tow, we were off to the next Inca ruin. The spring had soon disappeared from our step… it was difficult moving about and breathing didn’t come as naturally as it should… I had a pounding headache and Ken wasn’t looking his usual perky self. After the third ruin we requested to be taken back to our hotel… we desperately needed a serious powernap. We really should’ve taken it easy after arriving, but we were just so eager and had such limited time!!

Had a really nice meal out that evening… were treated to a Peruvian band and dancers. Didn’t have a late one as we had to be up at 5:30am… not to do the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but to catch the train to the town of Aguas Calientes which is the only close-by option, as the famous Inca ruins are only a 15 minute bus ride away.

The 123km train journey was certainly one of highlights of our trip to the Andes. We opted for the more expensive Vistadome train, so called because they have panoramic windows offering amazing views of the towering mountain tops. The 3 ½ hour trip takes you through ever changing landscapes. First, there is the very steep climb out of Cusco into the surrounding hillside, by means of a series of switchbacks, locally known as “the zigzag”. Ingenious. The train then descends into the Sacred Valley, passing by lush green fields and colourful villages in the foothills of the very impressive Andes. The train then descends further to the plateau of Anta, where a patchwork landscape of typical Andean crops are impossibly located on the mountain slopes and dotted with goats who have telescopic legs (you’d need telescopic legs to stand at that angle!!).

We raced passed the remains of some of the agricultural terraces used by the Inca’s, and sadly this is all that remains after the Spanish conquest in the 1500’s. All the while we were running parallel with the wild Urubamba River, the train then passed through more extensive areas of terracing doted with the ruins of Inca fortresses. Soon we were passing Coriwaynachina in the Urubamba Gorge – this is the start of the 88km Inca Trail. Not for sissies. Finally, just 2kms from Machu Picchu the train arrives at Aguas Calientes (meaning hot water, aptly named because of the thermal springs). The towns’ economy is based around tourism, you notice it the minute you step off the train – everyone has a pizzeria and there are dozens of souvenir shops selling the very colourful local crafts. We’re a captive market and everything costs more here than it does in Cusco.

We asked for directions to our hotel which was located on the train tracks (sounds bad I know), but there are really only 2 main roads in this tiny town and the train occupies the third. It too is lined with restaurants (offering mostly pizza). The hotel, Hanaqapacha Inn, turned out to be rather nice, our room was located on the third floor overlooking the raging Urubamba river, to the left and right were many unfinished hotels/houses/restaurants to be. We dumped our bag and repacked the backpack… eager to get to Machu Picchu. Our intentions were to spend the afternoon there with a guide and then to get up early the next morning and climb to the top of Wayna Picchu. Our pounding headaches were now a distant memory, thanks to the descent to 2038m.

We headed back along the train track into town to get our bus and entrance tickets. The town was nothing to shout about, many unfinished buildings which made it look so tatty - although there was no litter on the streets and around the square!! There were people everywhere, many locals hovered around selling expensive bottles of water and whatever else they could carry. Many selling choclo (like a mealie/corn on the cob, except that the kernels are huge and cream in colour). The busses leave when they are full (and that does not take long!), we were quite chuffed to be on the bus by 12:30. It zigzaged up the side of the mountain offering amazing views of the surrounding mountains and the now teeny tiny Aguas Calientes! If you’re feeling rather “flush” you could fork out $720 (US dollars!) for a night at the Sanctuary Lodge… the only hotel situated right next to the ruins… perhaps the only advantage being you can be the first one there to see the sunrise (weather permitting of course as we discovered)!!

We were now at about 2400m above sea level. The entirety of Machu Picchu (meaning Old Mountain) is only visible after about a five minute stair climbing session… and then suddenly, there it is. WOW. It literally leaves you gobsmacked – just staring in awe. It’s magical. This place lay hidden from the world in dense jungle covered mountains until 1911 when Hiram Bingham (fuelled by a fascination of Inca archaeology) and his team came across two locals whilst on an expedition, anyway, they had a chat with the guys - who then simply led them to the ancient site! No other complete Inca settlement this size and this well preserved, exists. This is an elite ceremonial site, complete with religious architecture, anchored at a confluence of alignments with sacred features and natural landscapes. It survives as a perfect and quite extraordinary example of Inca planning and engineering. It’s been around so long due to the superb construction and drainage of the terraces. How they managed to carve the perfect drainage system in the rock is a mystery to me!! The masonry work is mindblowing, you cannot even slip a coin between the huge carved stones… some are like a huge interlocking jigsaw, sloping inwards to make the structures more flexible and solid.

The Inca’s were so far ahead of their time… they spread the risk and were able to think vertically, i.e. agricultural terraces. A definite relic of the Inca’s prowess. They could experiment with produce that grew at different altitudes and temperatures – so much so that they apparently had about 1200 varieties of potatoes!!! Nowadays the Peruvian markets only have about 400 to offer. They certainly turned the rugged Andean geology to their advantage.

The abandonment of Machu Picchu may simply be explained by the death of the Inca King, Pachacutec and the construction of a new `royal estate` for the next Inca, as was the custom. Other scholars suggest that the city`s water supply may have dried up”. Who knows… so many theories exist.

So after an exhausting afternoon and a zillion pictures later, it was back to the hotel for a quick shower and then a stroll into town for a bite to eat… yip! You guessed it – pizza! After being lured into a restaurant on the square by an offer of 4 cocktails for the price of one (we definitely deserved it!), we studied the menu and were appalled at the level of English. It was shocking really, for a town that thrives on tourism, and English being the most popular language next to Spanish, you’d think that they give a damn and even pay someone (or use the internet!!!!) to translate their menu and make it even slightly appealing. After that grumble, the pizza wasn’t too bad and the last drinks were a lot larger than the first!! We made our way back along the train tracks to the hotel and fell into bed. Exhausted after a serious 4 hour stairclimbing session. I was very anxious about our climb to the top of Wayna Picchu the next morning…. Would my legs carry me to the top?!

Up bright an early – we made our way downstairs… surprisingly spritely I might add! Enjoyed a delicious breakfast and then set off round about 6:45am (a little later than anticipated) to catch the bus back up. It was quite a strange sensation being there so early and with not many people about… the fresh morning air crisp on our faces. The low lying clouds made Machu Picchu seem quite surreal…

We ascended what seemed like 500 steps (again) to the top to make our way across, past the Temple of the Three Windows, and the Astronomical Observatory and down past the Llamas feeding in the square, and onwards up more steps carved out of a solid piece of bedrock, then along past the Ceremonial Rock (a solid piece of rock about 6m x 5m carved to mirror the huge mountain behind it…. we finally reached the entrance where we both had to sign in (only about 300 people are allowed in daily)… then began our mission to the top – luckily it was mostly stone steps (!!) quite big ones at times… Ken complained, but I said even people with long legs battle with big steps. We stopped every so often to catch our breath, it was not easy – but not as difficult at I thought. The last stretch was incredible, it was so steep that the steps were right in front of your face and you were literally on all fours standing up! Took us about 40 mins to get up there…. Don’t know how high it was, but definitely a couple of hundred meters for sure. Let me just say one thing. The view from up there was worth every bead of sweat, burning lungs and aching thighs. Breathtaking does not even begin to describe it. It will be forever imprinted in our mind’s eye. We stayed about an hour before making our way to a lower terrace for more picture taking, then made our way back down – surprisingly fast paced…25 mins to ground zero!

We’d just made it down when it started to rain, so we headed for the undercover cafeteria area, which by now was rather packed as there is no shelter there other than the Sanctuary Lodge. With breakfast burnt off it was time to savour our left over pizza and a juice - and enjoy the company of another couple from Canada. It was not long before the sun was out again. We were amazed at busloads of people being dropped off. The place was heaving. I was thrilled that we had our tour the previous day as I managed to get a few “people free pics”. We’re visiting in winter where they average about 1000 people a day, in summer that figure shoots up to 3500 (!!). We fought our way through the groups of Asian, Japanese, English and Americans and again ascended the 500-odd stairs (my legs were rather tender by now) to the top and managed to find a rock to perch on and just chill and savour the last hour we’d spend at Machu Picchu. Occasionally being asked to take a picture of someone as we were in quite a good spot. Took a few more pics ourselves and then headed down to the bus.

Our bags were being dropped off at the station, so we had some time to mosey around the huge undercover tourist market… most stalls selling very similar items (if not the same!). The train was jam-packed and we were looking forward to a late afternoon nap…

Arrived in Cusco around 7pm… we were starving so we decided to try and find Jack’s restaurant (recommended by friends) – got blank stares from a few people but soon someone pointed us in the right direction. The funny thing about the Spanish in South America is if you just don’t say it exactly right – you don’t stand a chance, but between us we get by. Jack’s turned out to be FAB, huge reasonably priced portions of simple but delicious food. It was freezing when we left but we decided to have a brisk walk around the square and have a look at some of the shops that were still open. …

…if you’re a local you’re either a taxi driver, a legitimate Tour Operator (and there are many that are not); or you’d stand on the street corners selling body massages (for the weary travellers who’ve hiked themselves senseless)… or you get your very cute (but pushy) kids to sell knitted finger puppets (you’d train them to follow tourists around and nag them to death, but don’t give in if you don’t need them!!!) – or you’d have a restaurant (located between 6 others) and have someone stand outside whose sole purpose it to try and entice you inside. This said, by the time you’ve walked one block all you’ve said is “no gracias” at least 50 times. Can be rather annoying if you really don’t want wanything. But this is Gringo Alley.

Back at Sumac Wasi, our camera batteries were recharging and we were ready for recharging too!! Had a shower and fell into bed… at that stage I did not mind the brick of a pillow beneath my head or being pinned to the bed by 4 heavy blankets!!

It was another early start and today (our last day) we were off to do the 8 hour Sacred Valley tour. This was the key area of settlement to the Inca’s. It’s agreeable climate and very fertile plains make a rare and fruitful combination for the high Andes. It was also the route to the jungle so the Sacred Valley served as a buffer zone, protecting Cusco from incursions of the Antis, the fierce jungle tribes who, from time to time, raided the highlands. Today the valley remains a beautiful lush agricultural region supplying Cusco with much of it’s maize, fruit and vegetable produce.

Our hotel manager kindly arranged for us to board the bus rather early, enabling us to pick the best seats! About 30 minutes later we were ready to leave, our local guide spoke fluent English and was extremely informative and had a good sense of humour!! En route to Pisac we stopped at a local craft shop, then soon after we stopped at a lookout point affording us the most gorgeous view of the valley below. Pisac ruins… a major tourist attraction, here we had people selling chocla; an ingenious machine that peels oranges and then another (not so ingenious) that squeezes all the juice out of them; and 2 local woman dressed in all the colourful garb making handwoven belts. Didn’t have time to waste here, it was history lesson number one.

A vital Inca road once snaked its way ip the canyon that enters the Urubamba Valley at Pisac. The citadel, at the entrance to the gorge, now in ruins, controlled a route which connected the Inca empire with Paucartambo, on the border of the eastern jungles. Set high above a valley floor patchworked by patterned fields and rimmed by vast terracing, the stonework and panoramas at Pisac’s Inca citadel are magnificent. We were able to catch our breath here… there was a young boy playing the most wonderful tune on a flute that could be heard for miles and miles. Our guide was eager to move on… up. There were groans from some of the others. Gosh, here I thought this was going to be a leisurely day trip!! WRONG! She too was like a mountain goat, my legs and lungs were protesting, but it was go or get left behind!! The terraces, water ducts and steps have been cut out of solid rock, and in the upper sector of the ruins, the main Sun Temple is equal of anything at Machu Picchu. Above the temple lie more ruins, mostly unexcavated, and among the higher crevices and rocky overhangs several burial sites are hidden… thank goodness we didn’t need to view any of this!! After a 30 minute walk we were back on the bus, chocla in hand - and ready for the Pisac Market.

Pisac (alt 2970m) is a picturesque Andean town best known for its Sunday market, which draws hundreds of tourists each week. But today is Saturday and thankfully we’re able to wander around without being pushed and shoved by over-eager tourists. The market retains much of its local charm, at least in the part where villagers from miles around gather to barter and sell their wares. Some guidebooks have stated that handicrafts are cheaper here than in Cusco… that all depends on who is selling and how well you can barter! We had a rushed 30 mins before we had to board the bus and head off to have some lunch.

After lunch we made our way to Ollantaytambo (alt 2800m) which is the only Inca settlement still inhabited by people. It’s a very attractive little town located at the western end of the Sacred Valley. The town had been built on top of original Inca foundations and is the best surviving example of Inca town planning. It is divided into canchas (blocks) which are almost entirely intact. Each cancha has only one entrance (usually a huge stone doorway) which leads to a central courtyard. The houses then surround the courtyard. The town is located at the foot of some spectacular Inca ruins which protected the strategic entrance to the lower Urubamba Valley.

As we entered the ruins I looked up and just knew we’d soon have to climb at least 200 steps the get there!!! Ouch. The temple area is at the top of the steep terracing which helped to provide good defenses. Stone used for these buildings was brought from a quarry high up on the opposite side of the Urubamba river – and incredible feat involving the efforts of thousands of workers. The complex was still under construction at the time of the conquest and was never completed. After Manco Inca was defeated by the Spanish at Sacsayhuaman following the unsuccessful siege of Cusco in 1536, he retreated to Ollantaytambo. Francisco Pizarro’s brother Hermando led a force of 70 cavalry, 30 foot soldiers and a large contingent of natives to capture Manco Inca. The Inca forces, joined by neighbouring jungle tribes, rained down showers of arrows, spears and rocks upon the unfortunate Spanish troops. In an intelligent move the Inca’s flooded the plains below their stronghold making it difficult for the horses to maneuver. Hernando, uncharacteristically, ordered a hasty retreat. Ollantaytambo became the only place ever to have resisted attacks from the Spanish. However, their victory was short lived when the Spanish returned with four times their previous force. Manco Inca retreated to his jungle stronghold in Vilacabamba and Ollantaytambo hell into the hands of the Spanish.

Again the masonry work here is spectacular – can’t fit a coin in between the huge rocks. Perched on the sides of the mountains are the storehouses, and all the perishables therein were kept cool by the crisp mountain breeze. Hematite was used for the carving of these rocks and apparently it’s not as hard as you think!!

Back on the bus it was time for an hour long drive to our last stop – Chinchero. It’s a small village located high up on the windswept plains of Anta at 3762m, and about 30km from Cusco. En route oohd and aahd over the spectacular views overlooking the Sacred Valley and the snowcapped peaks of Salkantay. Chinchero is believed to be the mythical birthplace of the rainbow. Again, its major claim to tourism is its colourful Sunday market. What is it about Sundays?! The village is actually very picturesque and mainly comprises mud brick (called adobe, made from clay and hay) houses and the locals still go about their business in traditional dress. Our guide led the way up a very steep road, thankfully we soon hit a left and the road leveled out and wound its way to the main plaza, which was lined on one side by a beautiful adobe colonial church dating from the early seventeenth century. It has been built upon the foundations of either an Inca temple or palace. The ceilings and walls are covered with beautiful floral and religious designs… eat your heart out Leonardo! Ken and I didn’t spend too much time there as we wanted to have a look around in some of the local craft shops. A favourite pastime!

If you live in this village, you too would train your children to become very convincing salesmen/woman. Ken had one haggling him to buy some half finished weaving project that was supposed to go on our wall… luckily we don’t have a wall! She was very good, but became rather annoying as she didn’t know when to give up and move on to the next Gringo – so much so that she followed us right to the bus – unfortunately we were sitting right in front so she could see us from where she was standing (they are not allowed on the bus, thank goodness!!!). Little minx.

Soon we were on the road again and in no time were back at Plaza de Armas… Jack’s was calling!! It had been a long, but good day, and my head was buzzing from all the information. Tomorrow would be another early start as our plane was to leave at 7:30am. I was so looking forward to just being able to lie-in for one morning!! But who was I kidding, definitely not for the next 2 weeks at least - because in just 2 days and we’re off again on the big silver bird… this time we were headed to England for Ken’s sons’ wedding on 31 March. We foresee it being a very rushed trip as we’re headed back on 4 April!! We’re definitely going to need a holiday from our holiday!!

It was a long uneventful travelling day and we finally arrived back on the boat at about 2pm.

What an awesome experience this has been.

2 weeks in ENGLAND

2007-03-22 to 2007-04-04

We left Fast Forward on Tuesday, 20 March and headed to the bus terminal for our 2 hour ride to Guayaquil… here we were to catch a flight later that day to Panama, we’d spend the night and I’d get my visa for French Polynesia on Thursday - stay another night and then head off just after noon on Friday to Miami, and then on to Heathrow. Well, the bus trip was the only thing that went well for me on day one!! What a palaver it was for me to fly into Panama on my South African passport!!! I’d entered on the boat without a hassle, everyone is issued a $10 Tourist Visa (officials are usually very sticky about people entering on a yacht). The airline was adamant that I was supposed to have a visa. My heart sank and I felt weak at the knees, I didn’t want to miss the flight to the UK!

Anyway, I had to spend the night in Guayaquil, and was told to organize a visa the following morning at the Panamanian Consulate. So Ken flew on to Panama to get my new passport to the French embassy – luckily I have a brand new one and it’s already valid. To cut a long story short I had one of the most stressful mornings of my life trying to sort out a visa - only to have the Panamanian embassy tell me at 12:30 (I was flying at 2:30!!!) - that the visa I got entering on the yacht was now suddenly okay, and that I could not apply for a visa in anycase as I

was not a resident of Ecuador (!!!). I was just about ready to scream with frustration… but I breathed a sigh of relief when the plane took off and longed for a stiff drink, but the only poison on offer was fruit juice!! We landed in Panama and I was just so relieved to be one step closer. THEN the cherry on top came when Immigration told me I HAD TO HAVE A VISA (!!!) not the Tourist Card – for crying out loud I was only staying one night. So they ended up keeping my passport, and would only release it when I flew out the following day. But I could not return unless I had a visa. At least I could leave the airport and have a double G&T with Ken!!

Ken had collected the visa and we were A for Away! I felt like a criminal the next morning being followed around til just after going through the security check. Had good flights to England and could not wait to get on the internet to find out about obtaining a visa. Well, the long and the short of it is that I (along with a string of other countries - so I didn’t feel too bad!) not only needed a visa, but a security clearance as well – and that I could expect to wait over a month for it!! It’s ludicrous… it’s only Panama!! We had no other option but to change our Miami-Panama flight to Guayaquil. The funny thing is we had a South African friend who flew out from Panama in February and didn’t have a problem at all!!

So with that disaster neatly tucked away, we could get on with enjoying ourselves and catching up with friends and family and in the UK. Vikki (bride to be) was all set – very excited and very organized – only stressing about Scott not turning up on the day. Scott’s response was he’s paid for it all – of course he was going to be there, even if he had to go on honeymoon on his own to the Maldives if she didn’t turn up!

We were on the go from the minute we landed and time was precious as we really wanted to see everyone, which meant spending most of our time in our little old Clio zooming round all over the place… with the help of TomTom (of course!). But it was great and everyone is well, which is all that matters.

The wedding on 31 March was wonderful. We’d all been watching the weather and were praying that it didn’t rain. When we drove up to Dunster, Somerset (sort of between Wales and Cornwall) two days before there was patches of sleet next to the road… NO!!! My dress was strapless – as was the bride’s and bridesmaids!! Brrrrr. Friday seemed brighter and Saturday was absolutely perfect… only the odd cloud about but generally sunny.

St Audries as a venue was breathtaking - big charming old manor house probably dated back centuries, rolling green hills dotted with deer. They got married at 1:30pm in the Orangery and the Vikki looked like a doll. Scott was equally handsome and didn’t appear too nervous at all, but did shed a tear when Vikki turned and headed up the aisle. The service was very simple and straightforward and it was nice not having to sing loads of hymns etc.

Champagne and alcoholic beverages were flowing freely (we’re not used to drinking all afternoon and into the night!!), but managed just fine. At about 9pm we were ushered outside to witness the most spectacular fireworks display we’d seen in a long time! Then it was back to the dance floor until midnight. It was a fabulous wedding and Vikki did a sterling job organizing it all in under 3 months.

We squeezed in a few more visits with family before heading back to Heathrow on Wednesday, 4 April for the long haul home…. Which turned out to be rather eventful. A first in both instances I might add!! After boarding our BA flight at Heathrow we had a 3 hour wait (on the aircraft and with no aircon!!!) whilst they sorted out a fuel discrepancy - eventually getting technicians in to literally measure exactly how much there was!!!. Not many happy campers... they didn`t even come around offering water – we all had to go and ask them, then were given the hairy eyeball when we did! Was quite relieved when we landed in the Miami. Didn`t have any hassles with our all our luggage... in fact we could`ve had another 23kgs!! (just love the US flights!).

THEN... we all boarded the American Airlines plane an hour late (because plane arrived late), AND then had to wait another 2 hours because there was a problem with the plane (the inspection staff had found some cracks near the one engine - not good)... so we had to disembark, and hang around until they found another plane the same

size. What a mission!!! Only got to the hotel at 3am and we should been there at 10:30!!! Otherwise we had a good 2 hour taxi ride to Puerto Lucia...

We’ve subsequently spent most days stocking up and unpacking and repacking food stores; and generally just making sure everything is ship-shape on Fast Forward as we have a long 20 day passage ahead of us. We will leave on Saturday, 14 April and I’m hoping for fair winds and pleasant seas!

3651nm to the MARQUESAS!

2007-04-14 to 2007-05-03

3561nm is a LONG non-stop passage! Colloquially termed The Coconut Run - it’s frequently downwind which makes for good progress and fast passages. Just what I like to hear! We were HOPING to do it in 20 days, but you just don’t know what the conditions are going to be like…

We were as prepared as we were ever going to be. Every locker was groaning and the freezer didn’t even have space for a sardine! We filled up with diesel and pulled out of the Puerto Lucia marina complex at 12:40am on 14 April. I was anxious and excited… this would be our longest voyage to date.

Luckily we had good wind right from the start and the sea state was not bad either. With the main sail up and the genoa unfurled, we were soon moving along quite nicely in the 20 knots of wind, although you could feel the boat was very overloaded! We also had 1-1.8 knots of current with us which was a real bonus of course! Soon hours drifted into days bringing with it ever changing conditions. The sea temperature was increasing and the evenings were getting warmer… after the fifth night we could pack our winter woollies away for the evening shift!

The time went by rather quickly even though we lazed around doing nothing but the usual boat chores, reading and catching up on sleep… aaahhh bliss I hear you say! By now the sea state had increased considerably due to the sustained high winds, for days we had 10-12ft swell arriving at Fast Forward’s port quarter – thankfully there was about a 7-12 second interval between peaks which gave you just enough time to take about 6 steps before bracing yourself. Sometimes, the sea also managed to get into a confused “washing machine” type of state. Which was also not very comfortable. So, with the boat heeled over and rolling in the side-on swell it’s just about impossible to do anything else other than pretend to be sloths – and if you did, simple everyday tasks (we normally take for granted!) like getting dressed, having a shower and brushing your teeth took forever, and again was normally done in slow motion – or with your legs spread, and knees bent in a brace position and holding on with the free hand! Preparing fancy meals under these conditions is just too dangerous, and for a couple of days I was thrilled I had pre-cooked and frozen 16 meals! You still think it’s bliss? Luckily after a few days the rain squalls and sea state settled down, but the wind remained constant, which was great!

We were the last yacht sailing in a group of about 24 yachts – most having left the Galapagos at different times… and so spread out that we’re days apart! We had a voluntary SSB radio net at 1600 Zulu every morning, where boats checked in and positions were reported and noted, as well as wind and sea conditions – and any noteworthy events or problems. Ken was net controller a couple of times and he thoroughly enjoyed it! It was rather exciting to plot the boats positions ahead of us to see who we were catching up to – and passing! Psychologically it’s great too because when you’re feeling low, you know there are at least 60 other people out there all experiencing similar conditions…. we had 9 days go by without seeing another yacht, ship or fishing vessel!! We are but a speck in this BIG ocean.

The trip was not without a highlight… at 8:30am on day ten I was checking mail and Ken was making coffee, suddenly we heard a loud BANG! We both rushed up on deck to find the genoa was flailing. It appeared to be the forestay that had broken, which meant (for non-yachties) that there was now no support from the mast to the front of the boat, which in turn meant that the “foil” that holds the genoa could very easily be damaged if it bent. DARN!! Luckily we managed to furl the genoa away as neatly as possible. This was going to hamper our progress for sure. Double darn! Ken jury rigged the forestay using two other halyards. Thankfully Fast Forward is over-rigged so we were not too worried with the wind coming from aft quarter, but often a broken forestay can mean that a yacht can loose its rig. Not a nice thought.

So we were down to a reefed main sail and the staysail AND we were still doing almost the same speed!! We were chuffed! A couple of days later we were forced to fly the Asymetrical because we just could not hold our course with the staysail as the wind was forcing us to head further south… which was where we didn’t want to be. The conditions were perfect – winds 12-18, 4-5ft swell, white puffy trade wind clouds - and we were brave enough to keep it up for 2 nights too!! The problem with the Asymetrical when you are trying to sail as dead downwind as possible, is that as the boat surfs down the waves the sail tries to wrap itself around the genoa or staysail which then equates to hours of work trying to carefully unwrap it –with the hope of it not being damaged of course so you can’t take your eyes off it for a second, because if you do “Sod’s Law comes into play” - ! You also can’t fly it in a lot of wind as it can burst, so the night before we arrived, and 35nm from Fatu Hiva, we decided to take it down at 2am as there were just too many squalls around (and you just don’t know how wind-packed squalls can be)… so better safe than sorry! We also needed some sleep!

We caught one small Mahi-Mahi which we promptly set free because it was not “pan-sized” (with our freezer being chock-a-block we had no space for extra fish)… but we caught nothing after that!!! We did see quite a few dolphins; and even had a Boobie accompany us for quite a few hours – it was quite comical watching him circle the boat, then fly towards the second spreader trying to negotiate a safe landing on a swaying object. Soon he had it down pat, but his little webbed feet battled to hold onto the spreader and if we happened to heel over a little too far he’d go sliding along the spreader – he’d flap his wings in protest, and fly off around the boat again for another go! Flying squid (!!) must be a phenomenon on The Coconut Run, as every morning there must’ve been at least 10 on the deck… not to mention the flying fish (but at least they have a good excuse!).

At dawn on 3 May, Fatu Hiva looked just like a huge cruise ship carved out of rock – the flat top created by the rain clouds that were hugging the very high mountain tops. WE DID IT!! I was so excited, it had been a fantastic passage, but I couldn’t wait to see our friends and walk ashore!! It is true that we humans are blessed with a natural ability to immediately forget the uncomfortable and scary bits at the sight of land!

As we neared we were greeted by the majestic craggy hills and lush valleys. The Marquesas islands are high volcanic islands with steep, black, cliff-edged coasts indented by lush green valleys. Being so high, they are clearly visible from 20-30 miles away, making them a navigator`s dream landfall. Besides, after 19 days they are a most welcome sight! The Marquesas are the most northern group of islands forming part of French Polynesia, which consists of four island groups inhabited primarily by Polynesians, but belonging to France, but more on this in the next installment!

So for the next couple of weeks, gone are the endless days where we’d sit in the cockpit watching the beautiful cobalt-blue sea, the white freckled waves, the darting flying fish, the spectacular phosphorescent shows at night, the fluffy trade wind clouds and the not so fluffy evil black ones! It was our small world that we experienced for 19 days.

The Magical Marquesas

2007-05-03 to 2007-05-19

10 27 97S; 138 40 16W

Just after dawn we motored down the incredibly dramatic and rugged coast - mountain peaks jutting at least a 1000 metres vertically into the sky with deeply cut valleys straddled between them, covered in many shades of green - blow holes sending fine spray onto the rugged cliffs like a giant whale. Our hearts lifted and our spirits soared… we couldn’t believe we were FINALLY here! It had been threatening to rain and it literally poured buckets just as we were ready to anchor in the picturesque Hanavave bay (also called Bay of Vierges).

I could not believe how beautiful the bay was, it has been described as “The Garden of Eden” in some books. We were surrounded by high lush green mountains, the lower regions densely covered by coconut trees; and on the left side a sheer rock wall was adorned with huge oblong shaped rocks that resembled faces. Some of these oblong shaped rocks also seemed to resemble spires and upon closer inspection, they were dotted all over the show and seemed to be balancing precariously on other chunks of rock. Straight ahead of us to the left lay the tiny village that was dwarfed by these beautiful mountains and dare I say, phallic shaped rocks! But by far the most impressive rock was ahead of us to the right of the bay… a chunk of rock that looked EXACTLY like a woman with long hair looking out over the anchorage. Just incredible.

Our South African friends, Johan and Kenwyn on a 36ft yacht called “Saraband” came over with a bag of fruit to welcome us. It was so good seeing them again. We were last together in Panama. They gave us the low-down as they’d been here for a couple of days already, and we were also all invited to another yacht for a finger supper… delicious sashimi. This anchorage turned out to be the most social one we’d ever encountered!! Perhaps it was being at sea too long, or perhaps it was just a “common bond” we all shared after completing this major voyage – for some it’s the longest they’ve ever been at sea – people have taken between 15 and 40 days leaving from the Galapagos … which is very off-putting for a lot of people, who then much prefer to stay in the overcrowded Caribbean where your longest leg could be anything from 2-6 days! Completing this long leg is a huge achievement and I think we were all on a high for a good number of days!

Town itself was very neat and tidy, people seemed to take great pride in their gardens too with amazingly colourful boganvilllias covering fences and oozing out of flower pots. The locals appeared to be very laid back and are quite big people – some rather obese as opposed to being big-boned! Their livelihood stems from copra production and exporting the noni fruit. Not much in the way of transport here… there are only about 5 or 6 cars in the village that use the paved main road; a few houses had satellite TV and no internet facilities whatsoever! There are cats, kittens and chickens all over the show, but the dogs were all tied up under trees. The local “supermarket” situated in the main road was nothing to get excited about – very tiny and rather pricey, but they stocked most things including tinned New Zealand butter. We continued our walk up the main road and came across chickens eating out the remains of halved coconuts… that’s odd! A lady sitting outside invited us in – she was making coconut oil! The machine in front of her looked like a giant orange squeezer turned vertically – the grinder inside would shave all the coconut into a bucket, her son would then mash it up with basil and boil it to release the oil, they then filter it before finally bottling the oil for retail. The very fragrant oil is used on hair and skin. What a fascinating process indeed!

These super friendly Polynesians live well and healthily, but with limited supplies (given their remote location), they are willing to trade for things they need. Kenwyn had a few things to trade and I was quite keen to see how they responded. The women were desperate for anything shiny and glitzy (earrings, etc) – one lady could not take her eyes off my St Christopher!! (needless to say that was the last time I wore it ashore!); they wanted perfumes too – but only brand names! They would also settle for body lotions, lipsticks, nail polish; household stuff (old plates and cups, etc); clothing - particularly children’s clothing. I`m sure coloured pencils and paper would’ve been appreciated too… but I wanted to save mine for more remote islands. The exchanging is mainly for fruit (pampelmouse; bananas; oranges & limes). Baguettes aren’t always available and are quite pricey.

We also managed to get the genoa down – on one very rare windless morning – as we had to replace the broken bottle screw which had sheared of at the thread inside the profurl furler on the forestay. The task at hand was to try and get the pin out of the new bottle screw assembly. Now, if the island had a hydraulic press it would’ve taken seconds, but it took us hours of pounding – hitting it one way then sanding a bit off the stainless steel pin and hitting it back again… this went on for just over 4 hours! Eventually it came out and within the next hour Ken had repaired it completely.

Fatu Hiva is known for its wood carvers who carve “tiki’s”, and ladies who still make “tapa” = using the white inner bark of mulberry; trees are stripped and scraped with shells, rolled into a ball, and soaked in water. The sodden strips are then pounded with wooden mallets until the reach four or five times their original length and width. Several pieces are placed on top of the other, pressed and pounded, and joined with a juice paste. Sheets of tapa feel like linen/bull denim when finished. It is then decorated in black paint with local Polynesian designs or whatever takes the artists’ fancy!

We fell in love with one “Tiki” carved out of a block of sandalwood, and after visiting the neighbouring village, decided that this Tiki was definitely for us! We scratched around on the boat for things to trade with, Ken had a spare machete, a headlamp and diamond blade for cutting stone that the carver could definitely use as they also made stone tiki’s. I got a bag of tricks together and off we went. Very hopeful, but we could not speak French – let alone barter in French!! As luck would have it, after about 15 frustrating bartering minutes, an English speaking French lady arrived to drop off some things for Desiree. Hooray! We felt the tiki was way over-priced, but offered a very fair barter. After careful consideration he made a deal, but was very sad to that tiki go as he was going to take it to the "Artisanat de Marquises" expo in Tahiti in June/July – where artists from all over the Pacific display their craftworks to international buyers. I then negotiated with Desiree for a beautiful tapa I’d seen a couple of days previously – she was very keen on the set of carving/steak knives we’d offered and soon (but reluctantly) settled on a fair cash price. She too would be displaying her goods at the expo.

On one of the days, we took a rugged one hour walk with a German couple off a neighbouring boat, to a waterfall set deep in the valley. The 100m water fall is surrounded by dense vegetation and huge trees. On our walk back to the village, we picked mangoes – but because quite a few other yachties had already been up to the waterfall, there weren’t many left!! It was a good 3 hour walk though and nice to get out and really stretch the old legs!

Another big money spinner is the Noni fruit. The tree produces an off-white/cream pear-sized fruit with round, whitish markings. In contrast to coconut producing palm trees, it grows quickly, does not need special care and is easy to harvest. The fruit is loaded into barrels and shipped to Papeete, Tahiti in a fermented state. The pulp is then shipped to the Morinda juice factory in Salt Lake City, Utah where it is processed and mixed with various fruit juices. The final product is promoted as an elixir for various ailments. However, we’ve recently read an article claiming that researchers have found no truth in these statements (!). Since 1996 the sale of noni has added an economic boost to the Marquesas. (Good for you!). This it is interesting to see the proliferation of 4x4’s and other late model vehicles on the islands which only have a few miles of roads!

Another problem we heard about upon arriving in Fatu Hiva was that Elephantitis (Filariosis) was on the increase in French Polynesia. How odd! It was quite funny because none of us knew what caused it. We soon got a reply from my knowledgeable Aunt and apparently it is carried by mosquitoes and is a parasitic worm that blocks the lymph nodes thus causing them to swell. Anyway, so we went to the local Hospital in Nuka Hiva and were given 5 tablets to take in “1 serving”, this we were told, would protect us for six months.

09 54 37S; 139 06 39W

HANAMOENOA BAY was our next stop 46nm away at Tahuata island… one of the very few bays in the high volcanic Marquesas that has a white sandy beach and clear-ish water to swim in. We snorkeled on our second day there and saw a nice selection of beautiful fish… I spotted a big Stingray having a snooze on the seabed, and we were also treated to a Manta Ray doing cartwheels whilst he was feeding!

We were up at 4 the next morning to do the 65nm to Oa Pou, but after checking our e-mail at 8am, we changed course and headed for Nuka Hiva instead… Saraband had just spent a very rolly night at Oa Pou and did not recommend the anchorage at all. So instead of arriving at midday, we arrived at 3:30pm instead… welcomed into Taiohae Bay by 2 dolphins swimming at the bow – the one (I’m assuming it was a juvenile) then pretended to be very excited to see us and proceeded to fling himself out the water, and even launched himself straight into the air before racing to the bow again (where I was standing) – where I’m sure he was checking to see if I was watching how cute he was (they have this thing where they roll on their sides it look just like they are looking up and smiling!!). I’d like to think they are anyway… they are just gorgeous creatures!

08 54 97S; 140 06 07W

NUKA HIVA is the largest (345 square km) and most populated island of the Marquesas. It’s also the administrative and economic centre of the Marquesas, boasting a post office, a hospital, a bank, 2 grocery stores, 4 restaurants, a bakery and actual STREET LIGHTING!! Taiohae Bay is a flooded volcanic crater guarded by two tiny islands called The Sentinels. The anchorage was huge and rather full of transient yachts… people coming to either check in and move on, or stock up with fresh produce at the 4am market on the dock on a Saturday morning!! We were there at 5am and bought some delicious 6x croissants, 1x raisin roll, 2x sticky buns, 1x small apple pastry; 6x tomatoes, 5x carrots, 4x green peppers and a cabbage for $50 (that’s US dollars!!!!!!). Not exactly cheap, but what can you do…

On Saturday after the market, we walked into “town”, we were interested to see what the 2 grocery stores had to offer (not that we needed anything, but it’s nice to look!)… both were well stocked with cans of New Zealand butter, cheese, frozen chicken, assorted food cans, even long-life yoghurt! Most items are very expensive: $70-$100 for a bottle of whisky, $50-$60 for box wine, $2 for a can of LOCAL beer, diesel is $1.40 per litre and petrol more expensive still, etc. Friends went for a simple meal ashore and it set them back $23. Our treat ashore was a cheeseburger and soft drink each and it was $40! So we agreed that shopping was "off the list" for French Polynesia, other than bare necessities!

Checking in was not a mission and we were quite happy that we didn’t pay an Agent $400 USD to do this either! The “Genderm” was very polite and even spoke some English. Posting my Bond was also not too much of a hassle either… everyone who is not part of the EU has to post a refundable bond at the bank, basically it’s the cost of an airline ticket home – so it ensures that you WILL leave after your 3 month visa expires as you do want that money back!!

On Monday we walked up to the museum with Mike and Lynn – she was wanting to see if they had any nice tiki’s for sale… we’d seen some at a craft store near the dock, but they were rather evil looking with alien eyes! An American lady called Rose runs the museum and it was very interesting, with artifacts dating back thousands of years. She’s lived on the island for about 30 years – actually think she arrived on a yacht with her husband… and she hopes to get the yacht club going again. I hope she’s able to, as there is nothing here for the yachties to do… not even anywhere to get together and have a beer! Apparently the islands are heavily subsidized by France, but even so – they have a captive market with all the yachts anchored in the bay – but they have no desire to make more money, they could easily have an efficient laundry service; or a BBQ area where we could all get together and bring our stuff but maybe buy their drinks; or even have a little bar… but they just all lack enthusiasm – and seem happier just sitting around all day getting larger and larger!

DANIEL’S BAY was only an hour from Taiohae Bay and was very beautiful and tranquil. Could be used as a hurricane hole as it was very protected. I was looking forward to doing another walk to another waterfall… this time it was an easy walk/hike totaling 4 hours. Our reward at the end was being able to pick lots of free pampelmouse and limes. Love free stuff! We had a nice evening on board Saraband, and as we were planning on leaving in the morning to head around the island to another anchorage, we’d probably only see them again in Tahiti.

ANAHO BAY was also rather spectacular… the anchorage was fairly big and once again surrounded by high mountains. We didn’t really fancy going ashore so we left the following morning for Controlleur Bay, en route we saw our first pod of porpoises – we found them not as playful as dolphins, but fascinating to look at as they don’t have the long snout that the dolphin has. Upon arriving in Controlleur Bay, we discovered that is was just going to be way too rolly, so we decided to complete our circumnavigation of Nuka Hiva, and head on back to Taiohae Bay! This time there were a lot less boats, and were able to tuck in close to the shore – mainly to get a better WIFI signal (!!), but also to get a bit more protection from the swell coming in.

We had a walk ashore to the tiki cemetery, and then to the Gendermarie to check out for the Tuamotos… our intentions are to leave tomorrow after the 4am fresh market on the dock.

The Marquesas islands have been good to us and we’ve enjoyed our 17 days here… their unspoilt beauty was just so refreshing, but we’re all getting itchy feet now and it was time to move on to something completely different… no mountains, no valleys, no lushness, no rivers, no hikes, no tiki’s… we were eager to move on to the real reason we’re in the Pacific… exceptional diving and snorkeling on colourful coral reefs, spotting beautiful reef fish and a variety of friendly and not so friendly sharks - - - in water that’s as clear as gin…

Tantalising Tuamotos... Part 1

2007-05-24 to 2007-05-31

The Tuamotos, part of French Polynesia, consists of 76 islands, nearly all of which are atolls, stretching 800 miles NW to SE. Atolls are low-lying coral reefs encircling a lagoon and on some parts of the coral reef are small, low islands - called `motus` - where little grows other than shrub and coconut trees. The motus can be as long as 5 miles or tiny, perhaps with only one coconut tree. The highest point on these atolls is typically the top of a coconut tree, making them very hard to see from offshore.

The southern and eastern parts of the reef are typically bare, only the sharp coral at the surface being visible from a few hundred yards away - this is extremely dangerous for any vessel. Many boats have ended up on these reefs totally destroyed, and hence, the Tuamotus are justifiably called the "Dangerous Reefs/Islands".

Most atolls have passes - these are natural breaks in the reef through which one can enter or exit the lagoon. However, the passes act like a `drain plug to a sink full of water` - most of the time the water streams out at great speed, making entering and exiting sometimes quite risky or even impossible. One has to get the timing right – usually at the short moments of slack tide or possibly with an incoming tide. Accurately predicting slack tide in these atolls is also not straightforward as external factors such as continual waves dumping water over the reef into the lagoon (thereby always creating an out flowing current), and of course the wind direction, both play a significant effect. Ultimately, it comes down to timing and if it does not look good, then one has to patiently wait for nature to provide the right moment!


NUKA HIVA to RARIOA Sunday 20th May 07

08 54 97S; 140 06 07W - 16 04 43S; 142 25 38W

We left under grey skies and very threatening clouds in company with our good friends Mike and Lynn on Wombat of Sydney. Once we cleared the island of Ou Poa (pronounced as wapoo), we realized the wind was not going to increase, so it was definitely going to be a 3-nighter. Our day did not get off to a good start….On hoisting the Code O sail managed to part unfurl producing an hourglass wrap in it which took the better part of 2 hours to unravel once down on the deck. Then, once it was finally up we were smoking along 3hrs later there was a loud bang and the boat heeled over so much that the stanchions were just about in the water and I was clinging on for dear life in the cockpit (that was by now almost vertical and no longer horizontal!!). I was terrified!! Luckily Ken was at the wheel and he quickly steered to starboard (the autopilot would’ve taken too long to respond), the boat righted almost immediately but the sail looked strange, Ken noticed that the bowsprit was standing straight up the bob stay holding down the bowsprit had parted he quickly had to get some tension back in the sail before it could be furled away. That night was great, but the second night turned one of my worst nights at sea – EVER. Line squall after line squall, packing up to 30 knots, accompanied by big seas and rain. By 2am we had 2 reefs in the main and the staysail out and still doing 8-9knts we did not need this kind off speed as we would arrive much to early at the entrance to the Atoll so at 4:30am we decided to put 3 reefs in the main and a furl up part of the staysail and then later on we dropped the main altogether. That slowed us down enough to time the tide right for the entrance without having to tack up and down ,but still be relatively comfortable. We couldn’t wait for sunrise, as nothing ever seems as bad in daylight!!

Mike is very competitive and has a really nice and fast 47.7ft racing Beneteau which he sails well. With us being 60ft, we’ve got the advantage of a longer waterline, making us naturally faster. He does well when the winds are lighter (because they’re a lot lighter than we are), but in heavier winds we’re like a freight train. So, the race was on… but he stressed that it was not a race, but we know Mike. Actually, it’s just human nature – if you’re out there and you see another yacht in front of you, chances are you’re going to do your damndest to catch it! Anyway, they were about 6 miles behind us and we weren’t making any effort whatsoever, he was sailing his heart out – working hard and trimming the sails – he did well, because we could see him catching up. By 4pm he was just off our port stern and, being in VHF contact, we decided it would be a perfect opportunity to take some pictures of each other. I got some really good shots of them. Suddenly, without warning, the wind picked up and we took off like a rocket!! It was the funniest thing – Mike was devastated!! He’d worked so hard and come so close!! Needless to say we don’t have any pics of us sailing into the sunset!!

Thankfully that night was rather peaceful – not many squalls about and a calmer sea. Our next problem came the following morning when Ken tried to start the engine. As he turned the key it went KLONK! KLONK! Oh hell, a sound you don’t want to hear!!! It turned out that sea water was forced right up into the engine via the exhaust from the large following swells of the previous nights bad weather (so another modification to do). So 3 hours later Ken emerged triumphant from the engine room. That’s the first time in 14 years that that has ever happened!! Thank goodness he was able to repair the problem, and more importantly that he had the necessary spare parts.

RARIOA Wednesday, 23rd May 07

We arrived outside Rarioa just before sunrise. Our first impression was that it looked exactly like the San Blas islands… a mass of palm trees on strips of sand. For us, cruising in the San Blas was not a “mindblowing” experience, let’s hope this is, and not all hype! We motored slowly in the lee of the island waiting for slack tide which was at about 9:30am.

The tide issue is rather interesting… the tide tables are checked and then compared to the moonrise and moonset times on the handheld GPS, the guys then confer with each other, calculating and recalculating to make doubly sure… and it’s definitely ALL about timing, because if you get it wrong you could struggle against the strong outgoing current (sometimes up to 8 knots – most yachts can’t even motor at that speed, let alone going into it!) – you might also have to deal with eddies that effortlessly, and very quickly, push the boat around – rendering you out of control for a while, and putting you in a very dangerous position, especially if the channel is very narrow. The sharp coral is deadly and has no mercy!

Our passage through was rather effortless. Wombat went first, then we did, and lastly, our Dutch friends, Piet Hein and Tori on Double Dutch. Once inside, the first thing that left us gobsmacked was the sheer SIZE of the atoll, you could barely see other side!! Rarioa was 40km x 14 km (24.5 x 8.7 miles). Everyone agreed that it was just so different from looking at the small picture printed in the cruising guide! Navigating inside the lagoon was not as daunting as we’d heard and read about. Firstly it was a lot deeper than we expected – most places were about 40m, and the coral mounds were very easy to spot in the rising sun. We concluded that it was a lot trickier navigating in Los Roques, Venezuela, as it was a lot shallower and tighter.

We’d anchored in 9 m of the clearest blue water… it was paradise! A picture on a postcard. Ahead of us, and as far as the eye could see, were motus covered in a mass of palm trees, fringed by – what looked like white sand – but on closer inspection it turned out to be very sharp bits of broken coral. The wind died down and soon it was like being on a pond, the boat hardly moved… most times it felt like the boat wasn’t even in the water, but on the hard!

Woke up to an overcast day, so the guys went and snorkeled… as for the women, our excuses were that we had boat chores to do, but back at the ranch, we just didn’t fancy the thought of swimming when it was overcast! 2 hours later they returned in awe and we were dying of curiosity!!

The next day was simply glorious. Dolled up in our shortie wetsuits, we went in search of underwater paradise even though I was really nervous about getting in the water. With sharks that is. The Tuamotos, and I suppose a lot of other atolls in the Pacific, are renowned for this – the most common being blacktip sharks, but there’s a lot of others too: white tipped, lemon, nurse, bull and tiger shark. They say that the Black and White tipped sharks aren’t considered dangerous, but the others are. If you ask me, they are equally evil and sinister looking and I wouldn’t put it past any of them to have a nibble. So we anchored the dinghy at a reef located between Wombat and ourselves, and the water was still as clear as gin, and oh so inviting… and what’s the first thing I see…. a small blacktip shark! My nerves! My heart pounding, I slithered into the water after letting Ken go first (!)… did a 360 and was quite relieved to see the shark on the opposite side of the coral mound. I stuck to Ken like glue… at least the shark would have a choice! It was unbelievable… I was so taken aback by the clarity of the water I broke the surface and burst out laughing, it was just so unbelievably clear – like nothing we’d ever experienced before, and you could easily see for 30 meters. Underwater camera in hand, I soon forgot about the enemy – the variety of fish was just incredible, a lot different to those in the Caribbean – much brighter and not too skitty. Every now and then we could sense something behind us – yip, you guessed it, I soon discovered they were very brazen (some say curious) and would often swim straight for you, only to turn quickly and swim away within a couple of meters. If you see me with a shock of grey hair, you’ll know why! We had 3 on our first reef, by the end of our 3 hour snorkeling session and 4 reefs later, we’d totaled 7. Not too bad.


After 2 days we moved further south as we’d exhausted all our snorkeling options… but we soon found that it had been better in the first anchorage. In case you were wondering, this was how our days in paradise passed: usually out of bed by 7:30am, the generator then ran for 2 hours (which pulled down the fridge and freezer; enabled us to make water; do a load of washing if necessary; charge camera batteries etc; and most importantly, charge the house batteries – which then enabled us to have electricity for the rest of the day to run things like the microwave, computer, dvd player etc through the inverter). We’d then get our snorkeling gear out and head out with Mike and Lynn, to various coral mounds in our vicinity; swim around for about 3 hours – get back to the boat, exhausted – have lunch and then relax in the afternoon… sometimes, we’d go ashore to see if there were any shells about worth keeping.

After another 3 days we moved over to the village which was located near the channel, as we’d heard that this was “the place” to snorkel/dive…. basically we were going to hang on to the dinghy and drift through the channel… again our timing had to be right as drift-snorkeling in 5-6 knots of current was not the intention!! We ended up on the outside of the island, anchored the dinghy, and within minutes were once again mesmerized by the beautiful coral. Ken was doing a bit of a “refresher dive” as he’d not done any scuba diving in over 10 years. Both Mike and Lynn dive, but she’s not too comfortable with all the sharks. I’m still too nervous to go the scuba route! I much prefer the freedom of free-diving and being able to surface whenever and how fast I choose… also, it keeps me fitter! When the tide slackened we tried drifting through the channel, but this time it was best suited to a scuba dive as it was a bit too deep for snorkeling… and in ten minutes we’d seen 3 big sharks and 6 small ones! In hindsight, Ken, Lynn and myself all preferred what we’d seen inside the lagoon around the coral mounds!


Strangely, we’ve not found any lobster yet. A local told us to look on the windward side… but that’s a bit dangerous. We’ve also been very hesitant to eat reef fish as Ciguatera (fish poisoning) is a problem in parts of Polynesia. No satisfactory explanation of the source and reasons for the gradual accummulation of the toxins in particular fish has been determined. It appears to be related to the base of the tropical food chain, i.e. some algae, fungi or corals are eaten by some fish. Another possibility is that food is chemically altered within the fish to become toxic. Added to the mystery is the fact that a particular species of fish is toxic near one atoll, but the same fish in a nearby atoll may be unaffected while another species may be the culprits! The toxin accumulates in affected fish and humans so that the larger the fish the more likely it is that is has accumulated enough toxin to be dangerous.

The symptoms start off with a tingling numbness around the mouth and sometimes in the hands and feet, and contact with cold water intensifies the feeling until it resembles mild electric shocks or a burning sensation. The symptoms may intensify. Soon vomiting and acute diarrhea are experienced, along with aching joints and muscle pains, especially in the legs. Itching that gets no relief from scratching may occur. The blood pressure could also drop to the point where hospitalization is necessary. Later effects include continuing numbness and loss of skin on the hands and feet. The scary thing is that the person infected may have already ingested small amounts from other fish without apparent ill effect until a particular dose triggers the reaction! Fish poisoning is not usually fatal, but may take weeks or even months for a full recovery!

The only fool-proof prevention is abstinence from eating fish! One can also check with the locals if the fish are “safe”, and then to only eat reef fish up to 45cm long or weighing no more than 1kg. Not all is lost though, once out at sea pelagic fish such as tuna, bonito, mahi-mahi (dorado/dolphin fish) and wahoo are okay to eat (again, we like to stick to a smallish size, about 45cm or less)… we’ve yet to catch one in the Pacific !!

So “they” tell us not to touch the fish here, yet there are thousands caught here in fish traps and exported to Tahiti for local and tourist market - but the funny thing is you never hear of any tourists or locals getting ciguatera. Strange.


The day before we were to leave we decided to go ashore and see what the village had to offer. An old weathered local who owned a pearl farm got friendly with Ken and Mike (neither of whom spoke French!)… but in the end managed to communicate! Ahhh the joys of charades! Lynn and I wandered off to take some photographs… the guys eventually caught up carrying coconuts that the old man had given them. We walked on and unknowlingly were headed for the airstrip… a local on a scooter soon hooted at us and sent us off further up to access the “beach, for our shelling session – where we were actually very lucky to have found as many cowries as we did! The heat sent us back into the thick of the palms for shade, and within 10 minutes we were back on the other side at the dinghies. The old man called us over and handed Lynn and I each a beautifully polished Mother of Pearl shell and 5 imperfect black pearls - in lieu of a bottle of rum of course! There are pearl farms in some but not all of the atolls… I hope we get to visit one!

……. get comfy and carry on with PART 2

Tantalising Tuamotos... Part 2

2007-06-01 to 2007-06-17

RAROIA to MAKEMO Thursday, 31st May 07

16 04 43S; 142 25 38W - 16 37 93S; 143 39 92W

Still on a high from receiving our newly acquired black pearls, we left at 2pm for the overnight sail to Makemo. There were a few squalls about and enough wind, but the problem was that Makemo was only 72.4 nm (134kms) away and trying to slow the boat down was the biggest problem! It was a fairly rolly ride, but not having much sail out doesn’t help either! We needed to time our arrival to coincide with “slack water” which was at 11:25am, but, upon arrival, Mike was sure he could make it through the cut at 9:30am, and off they went - from our position it looked like he was standing still at one stage, and then suddenly you could see Wombat’s stern swing left and then he was hobby-horsing in the swell; eventually making it through with up to 3.5 knots against them. We decided to hang around for another hour… he’s insured, we’re not – and we don’t like taking chances. When our turn came we only had 2 knots of current against us. We followed the buoys and reef markers around to the anchorage, and decided to stay the night and move on in the morning. At 68km x 17km (42.3 x 10.5 miles) this atoll was bigger than Rarioa. The bad weather we’d heard about was on its way as the wind had picked up quite a lot already and there was a large chop running through the anchorage cause it was not very well protected. As the afternoon wore on, some of the smaller boats looked like they were at sea!!

We ended up spending 3 days in this anchorage as we’d made an amazing discovery… we all went ashore on Saturday morning… nice to stretch the old legs again! At the “boulangerie” we were able to buy freshly baked baguettes, and there were also 3 small well stocked but very pricey magasins (supermarkets) catering mainly for the locals as these places are not inundated with hundreds of yachts requiring fancy foods. Surprisingly the only fresh produce available was garlic, 2 bags of onions and 6 or 7 small bags of potatoes. Inside the school yard they were growing vegetables using hydroponics… why not expand and sell more in the shops? The village was quite big and obviously well funded by France. There were concrete roads, and every house had been fenced off, the base of which was neatly done in concrete; they all had TV’s and radios and there was no shortage of scooters either. Again, a lot of the locals were very overweight… and, once again the mind boggles as to what half of them do with themselves every day as there were no other businesses! They were all very friendly and even the kids would shout “bonjour!” or “hello!” from their front doors or if passing you in the street on their bicycles.


Some yachties told us to look out for a guy that sold black pearls and another that carves the pearls. Well, we were intrigued by the latter to say the least. The mind boggled - we had to find him! Anyway, we walked ourselves silly, and not being able to speak French was very frustrating because we could not ask anyone for directions!! Disappointed, we went back to the bakery to get our baguettes, then realized the owner spoke broken English – and as luck would have it, this guys’ niece was there getting baguettes as well! So she very kindly took us to his house where we were met by his wife, who could only show us his little “workshop” outside on the patio and 2 pearls that were packaged and ready for sale, but could not tell us much more because of the language barrier!! We were ASTOUNDED at the detail he’d carved onto such a tiny surface. And SO perfect. This man was truly an exceptional artist. Granted, he’s probably been doing this for many years. But still. After about 30 minutes the man himself appeared from another building on the property (a lot of the properties, which aren’t very big either, have small outbuildings on them – some just rooms, and others small double storey’s, with no visible doors only pieces of material hanging from rails). He was quite a sight (somehow I expected more Polynesian men to look like this!) – tall, big build, dark, long black hair (tied up), with lots of tribal tattoos. His name was Beko and he was very friendly – spoke very little English, but enough for us to understand. Within minutes had picked out a pearl, called us closer and without having penciled in an idea, began to carve… in 45 minutes it was finished. Super talented indeed! And the nice thing about him was he did not insist that we buy it. I just fell in love with it, but Mike was quicker on the draw! Ken must’ve seen my disappointment, but suggested we ask him to make us one and we could come by for it the following day. He agreed and I was thrilled, because I could now tell him what I wanted carved on it!

Back on the boat the wind had died down a bit, and after having a bite to eat, were invited over to the Wombats for a game of scrabble. We’re hooked and it’s a great pastime! Mike and Lynn are forever competing against each other for their “world championship”… but I tell you what, Ken and I are coming on nicely. Watch out Wombats!

Sunday rolled on. Just love Sunday’s because it’s our “egg day”… we only have eggs once a week, don’t ask why, it’s just always been that way! But today we’re on rations as we only have 6 left, enough to get us to Tahiti I hope! We went ashore around 10am to get the carved pearl. Our other yachtie friends who were across the road, came over to tell us there was going to be a spear throwing competition in an hour or so. Cool! It’s great witnessing local events. All Beko had to do before participating in the competition was to polish my pearl… and it turned out to be gorgeous! The detail he managed to carve was just incredible! It has to be seen to be believed.

The competition did not have many participants… only 6 guys, and there were about 8 rounds and each had about 10 spears. The aim was to try and get the spear into a coconut that was tied to the top of a pole that was about 10 meters off the ground. It seemed impossible, and with the amount of spears ending up in the grass on the other side you’d have to wonder if these guys ever practiced!! Soon enough there were two hits… and later on a few more, but it was just seemed so difficult!!


We left around 10am the following morning in a gentle breeze, we very bravely decided to fly the big Asymetrical sail inside the lagoon, dodging coral mounds (also referred to as bommies) that climb all the way to the surface!

Interestingly, atolls are the last phase of an island`s life before it sinks into the sea. Almost all islands are volcanic in origin and in their initial phases look like Hawaii or the Marquesas - tall rugged lava mountains fringed by shallow coral if in the tropics. Eventually the high island mountains wear down or collapse back into their hollow volcanic cones and the edges begin to sink, leaving a lagoon between the shrinking island and the coral reef - Bora Bora is the best know example of this type of island. Atolls have no center land at all, just the big open lagoon surrounded by the coral reef and small islands, called motus, above sea level. The donut-style atoll can be dozens of miles across and hundreds of feet deep; Rangiroa`s lagoon, the largest of the Tuamotos is 40 miles long and 20 miles wide (74 x 37 kms) - too far to see across!

We anchored in a beautiful spot and the village seemed light years away. Once again we were surrounded by postcard blue water and the shoreline was a dense throng of tall palms. We stayed 2 nights before moving on to a spot near the channel. Our intentions were to go out in the dinghy with the depth sounder and the portable GPS and plot a route out dodging the coral – so that we could leave at sunrise for the next atoll that was only 48.1 nm away. Both Wombat and ourselves were capable of good speeds and so it seemed pointless to do an 20 hour overnight trip (as most other smaller boats would have to do) when we could easily do this leg in daylight and within the 8 hours before the slack tide at the next atoll. Trouble was, this last anchorage was on a dangerous lee shore (for landlubbers: the back of the boat was pointing to the shore = not good; ideally the boat should be the other way around!), and to make matters worse the wind came up late that afternoon!! We knew there was no way we were going anywhere cause we were anchored in coral and we could hear the chain scraping against it… but it’s still very unsettling… with that normally comes a very restless/sleepless night!!

MAKEMO to TAHANEA Thursday, 7 June 07

16 37 93SSS; 143 39 92W - 16 51 19S; 144 48 53W

Ken and Mike’s plotted track worked like a charm and our exit was uneventful. Thank goodness! We hoisted the main and just off the end of the atoll we were hit by a big squall which changed the wind direction such a lot, that to Wombat (who were ahead of us) it seemed as though we’d turned around and were headed back! It poured with rain and soon we were rewarded with a beautiful double rainbow. A few minutes later Wombat had the same issues with the squall!! After that weather passed it turned into a gorgeous day with non-threatening clouds, so both of us flew our Asymetrical’s again… which lent itself to a day of non-stop photography! Boy did we get great shots of each other! It’s been an absolute pleasure having Wombat as sailing company.

Again no fish were caught. Not even a nibble. But a great mornings’ sailing was had by all! We arrived at Tahanea with about an hour to spare, and decided to chance the entry through the channel as it did not look that rough. Again we only had about 2 knots against us. Although there were 5 other boats in the anchorage, there was enough room for us not to be on top of each other. Tahanea size is 45.5km x 17km (28.3 x 10.5 miles).

No sooner had we dropped the anchor when Ken noticed a shark… then another one… within 10 minutes I counted 12 swimming around the boat!!! My goodness… what a welcoming committee!! This was a first, but rather freaky to say the least! We could not believe it!!! Both Lynn and I said there was NO way we were going to be ANY swimming here. We later assumed that the sharks were always around the boats because other people like to feed/tease them with bits of fish to get pictures.... an Italian boat in front of us fed them with leftovers on a daily basis; and a friend of ours tied a fish head on some rope and dangled it over the side - apparently the sharks went ballistic. Not very clever indeed because they have a good memory and they now associate a boat with food.


Lynn and I went shelling the following afternoon… we’ve walked miles and miles scouring the coastline for “treasures” and are really disappointed that, to date, the Tuamotos have not had a large amount of gorgeous shells for the taking - in fact even 5 or 6 really nice ones would be greatly appreciated! We stayed here for 2 nights before moving further along – mainly to escape the hoards of sharks and for a less crowded anchorage. One thing that struck us was the total lack of coral mounds inside the lagoon. Once again the wind had died completely and we were anchored in a pond. On our 5th day (still waiting for wind) we were approached by a French couple who came over for a chat and proceeded to tell us that this atoll was Ciguatera free. Well within 30 minutes both Ken and Mike were ashore on the coral ledges with spears catching small spotted bass!! Mike cooked them and I threw a salad together with our ever depleting supply of fresh veg, Lynn made a savoury dish…. Again it was a feast fit for kings!

Thankfully none of us woke up all numb, tingling and itchy the following morning so we decided that since it was still calm, we should take the opportunity to dingy through the channel (this atoll has 4 channels, but only one is safe for yachts) and snorkel on the outside. Again, the water was just so ridiculously clear!! The variety of fish was not the greatest, but it was good being in the water again. A game of scrabble was on the cards for the evenings’ entertainment…

The following morning, Friday, 15 June we moved back to the first anchorage at the channel we entered, as the wind was predicted to pick up and it was really time to move on. En route Wombat called to say that water was not coming out of their exhaust. Not good. We towed them back to the anchorage. Happy days. They have not been having a good time; their generator packed up about 2 weeks previously (sadly, between Mike and Ken’s “hardware/chandlery stores” aboard neither could replace the bearings as they were either too big or too small!), one of their laptops also decided it was in need of rest – and now this!!

A front moved through that evening, thankfully not bringing high wind, but did produce a lot of lightning out at sea. The wind was still light, but at least blowing from the right direction. Saturday morning was just so gorgeous that I asked Ken to hoist me up the mast so that I could take some pictures from the top, as I was not sure that I’d get another opportunity like this (an almost windless chop free day). I’d forgotten how scary it was being 76ft above the yacht!! I soon relaxed and began enjoying the view – it was amazingly beautiful up there and I managed to get some good shots too!

TAHANEA to FAAITE Sunday, 17 June 07

16 51 19 - 144 48 53W - 16 42 03S; 145 21 46W

We left at 9:30am for the short 43nm (79.6kms) leg to Faaite, a rather small atoll measuring only 25.6km x 12km (16 x 7.5 miles). Mike & Ken seemed to have repaired the water problem. The cruising guide said that one could also anchor outside, I was hoping it would be a good option because by 4pm it was too late to enter the lagoon, and our only other option then would’ve been to carry on to the next atoll. Suddenly the whirring of the fishing reel brought us back to reality and we scrambled round for the bucket as it seemed like a big one… and that it was! Ken wasn’t even able to reel it in! The fish seem to be monsters ripping off metres and metres of line in a downward dive before you even can get to the rod, and then of course the line snaps once you start applying the break… ho-hum another lure gone. The anchorage turned out okay, but not ideal. We went ashore the following day and were surprised at how built up it was – our view from the yacht showed only a couple of houses, tucked away in the dense throng of coconut palms. I must admit we did not sleep too soundly being anchored on the outside of the atoll, so we stayed only 2 nights as were quite keen to move on to calmer waters!

….. PART 3 and you’ve done it!

Tantalising Tuamotos... Part 3

2007-06-19 to 2007-07-01

FAAITE to FAKARAVA Tuesday, 19 June 07

16 42 03S; 145 21 46W - 16 19 23SS; 145 37 37W

We upped anchor at about 10am and were slowly heading towards our next atoll, when we noticed that Wombat was still busy – I called her on the VHF, only to be told that the anchor managed to get wedged in some rock and was not coming up. We turned around and Ken went over in the dinghy to help – 30 minutes later Mike was in the water diving down to help free it, trouble was the water was so clear which made the depth rather deceiving, almost resulting in him not being able to hold his breath all the way up! Soon we were off, and with only 13nm (24kms) to go it was an effortless run.

About 40 mins from the southern entrance Mike called to say that again there was no water coming out of his exhaust, and that he was trying to find the problem. This is not good as it was blowing a bit and we’d ideally need to motor through the channel. I quickly made some delicious wraps for lunch while we rolled about in the swell outside waiting for the verdict. We only had a few options: to tow them through; they sail in; or they heave to outside and try fix the problem (in the big swell!). They opted to sail in…. we went in first and relayed info as we went along, it got quite shallow at times and there wasn’t really too much room for deviation, but actually it was pretty straight forward as they would just run a straight line into the lagoon. So, after anchoring Ken went and met them at the entrance in the dinghy and they then followed him through. They must’ve been so relieved to be able to drop anchor!

Now came the frustrating task of trying to find the actual problem! Lynn and I got stuck into a game of scrabble while the guys pored and perspired over ball valves, hoses, water pumps, and water silencer. Frustration ruled - by 6pm still no joy and we called it a day.

We heard whoops of joy the following morning… Mike had suddenly realized that he had not closed the water intake to the generator which he had disconnected the previous week. Him not closing the intake had caused the main engine water cooling system to suck air at high r.p.m. – and once the valve was closed, everything was okay! Luckily for them the wind was still blowing a lot so they have been able to use their KISS wind generator to charge their house batteries (instead of the diesel generator) and apparently it’s been doing a sterling job!


I’d read that the snorkeling in the southern cut was AMAZING, so we all went off the following day to have a look… only to be “shooed away” by the French restaurant owner. Let me set the scene: as you enter the channel (from the outside) on the right side are a couple of “guest houses” (actually more like over-priced shacks for gullible tourists!); a small dive shop; and a small restaurant (partly) built on stilts so it overhangs the water and the coral reef that runs parallel to the shoreline on either side of the entrance. The obvious place to snorkel along the reef would be on that side as it’s protected from the wind. So we got into the water at the sea entrance but soon realized that the current had since turned and we were now swimming against it (and trying to tow the dinghy as well!). So we hopped in the dinghy and figured if we started just about 30 meters from the restaurant we’d then drift with the current. Lots of people had, why couldn’t we? But being a French restaurant owner I suppose he could do what he liked, and he wagged his little finger (instructing us to go and play elsewhere). Not being able to speak French is very frustrating in these situations!!! Anyway, so off we went. I was devastated as it was GORGEOUS. We later on realized he may have got up set after we had driving passed his restaurant had high speed a couple of times.

We found another spot a lot further out, but it was murky and the wind had worked up a fetch, so it wasn’t very pleasant. We did however see a HUGE puffer fish. The biggest we’d ever seen! We then zoomed off to the shallows just off the beach as there were some bits of coral there. It too was not mind-blowing (no we’re not that jaded!)… but at least we got a lot of exercise swimming round and we found a couple of pretty cowries.

Ken and I went over to another yacht called Northern Winds that had arrived the previous day, and invited them over for drinks that evening. It’s nice to meet new people and that’s what this life is all about really. The six of us had a fine time and Bob and Kim were like a breath of fresh air with all their stories! Apparently they had snorkeled in the channel that afternoon – the restaurant owner had said it was no problem (what?!). We decided then and there that we’d do the same in the morning.

So off we went again all dolled up in our shortie wetsuits at 11am to snorkel in paradise. And paradise it was… it was mind blowing. The reef started just under the surface of the water and went down at an angle to about 20 meters. Again the water was as clear as gin! We’d never seen such a variety of fish in one area. Surgeon fish so unafraid they’d swim right up to you! Bright yellow Trumpet fish at least 80cm in length. Hundreds of Reef Needlefish swimming right in front of your face. Huge Camouflage Grouper swimming round minding their own business. Lots of Triggerfish too. In fact, lots of everything – hundreds of tiny reef fish and a lot of juveniles. It was so incredible that Ken and I went back 4 times – I was very grateful for my wetsuit, cause Mike and Lyn were too cold after the 2nd time and had moved on to the shallows around the corner. Of course it wouldn’t be complete without a few Blacktip sharks thrown in… they weren’t very big the first couple of times, but by the 4th time the parents were all out and not scared to come fairly close either! That was enough for me!

We ended our wonderful session a sad note for me… we swam up to a fish trap only to find it rather full with a variety of fish – lots of Grouper, there was a big Moray eel as well, as well a gorgeous little puffer fish… they all swam up to the side of the fence almost pleading to be let out. It wasn’t very nice, if I had side cutters I’d have set them all free.

MOVING ON UP… 23 June 07

Tired of the constant howling wind, we moved on the following morning to the south-east corner for more protection. There were 2 other boats there and it was beautiful. Postcard water once again in the lagoon and thousands of palm trees to shield us from the wind. Perfect. We had lunch and then decided to go shelling. It was a bit of a schlep across the very sharp black volcanic rock to the windward side of the island, but oh so worth it!! There were SO many perfectly shiny cowries to choose from we were literally spoilt for choice!! At last!! Lynn and I could not believe our luck! We arrived back at the boat with a bag full… I usually dump them in a bowl of fresh water to rinse them, then lay them all out on a cloth to dry... suddenly my collection had grown tenfold!

We moved further east the following day and again went shelling in the afternoon. It seemed like a repeat of the previous day, I then said to Ken that I was now only going to collect naturally shiny ones – not wasting time faffing over so-so shells, trying to get them to look good again. Same thing the next day… only this time there was a lot less to choose from and only keeping the really good ones resulted in my bag being not so full, which suited me down to the ground!

Fakarava is the second biggest atoll in the Tuamotos, and is a 32 mile long by 15 mile wide rectangular shape. It has a buoyed channel which makes for an easier passage through, but we do still eyeball it through!

The weather forecast stated that the wind was to change, which would make our anchorage unsafe, so we decided to head up to the village in the northeastern corner. The island is quite well developed and en route we saw a lot of resorts and also a few pearl farms. We overheard people on the VHF that morning saying they’d hired bicycles and visited a pearl farm… sounded like a grand idea to us too!!

There were about 5 boats in the anchorage – which was not very shallow, as we ended up anchoring near to the town’s dock in 20m of water. We all went ashore a couple of hours later. Rotoava is a large village and was at one time the administration capital of the Tuamotos. We found a bakery and bought 2 baguettes, and also a large very well stocked (and rather pricey) store… this gave us a good indication of what a big selection of goods we could expect to find in Papeete, Tahiti. We didn’t need a lot, mainly fresh stuff, flour, and we were running low on tinned beans.

Having not seen anywhere that rented anything on the main drag, I went back and asked the owner of the store where we could rent bicycles – thankfully they spoke broken English – and with the help of 2 other tourists, I got directions to a “pension” about 200m down the road on the right. We eventually found the place after getting more directions (as there were two right turns omitted!) and organized bikes for the following day. Great!


The following morning was bright and sunny and not to windy! Perfect! Our bikes were so cool – they even had baskets on the front! Mike said they looked girly, but he was more than welcome to walk the 10 km’s to the pearl farm!! Cheekily I asked if we’d be getting any discount and she gave them to us for half the price! No cheek no Christmas cake! She even phoned the pearl farm to see if they were open and the lady there said she’d be expecting us. So, off we went, luckily it was flat the whole way otherwise it would really have been a struggle for us yachties who don’t do much strenuous exercise other than walking! The pearl farm was easy to find and luckily the owner spoke good English! Imagine your “office” was a shack on stilts in the water! It was gorgeous and obviously exactly what they needed.


We soon found out that pearl farming was a rather risky and a very involved business. The Polynesian black pearl is formed only by the giant black-lipped oyster which thrives in the Tuamotu lagoons. He opened a live oyster and we could clearly see the pearl, he then explained the whole arduous process. Firstly they have to purchase shells displaying good colours. Then they have to purchase various sizes of the “seed” which is a graft from a Mississippi River mussel. Then the fun and games begin. The seeding is done using specially made equipment and instruments (some baring similarities to rather long dentist’s tools!). To ensure that the muscle on either side of the shell is not damaged, the shell can only be opened to about 1.5mm before inserting the “seed”. The shell is then closed and laid in the water horizontal in a type of net until the incision made in the muscle has heeled ; then a small hole is drilled in the opposite end and they are then threaded onto a fishing line to hang vertically tied to the buoys out in the lagoon. There appeared to be about 30 per string. Hopefully, 18 months later you’ll have a beautiful black pearl! He has 20 acres of lagoon in which to farm and has to pay a penalty if he exceeds his boundaries. Strings of oysters must be constantly monitored and lowered or raised if there are variations in water temperature. Every 4 months each shell is removed and pressure washed to remove fouling organisms from the shell. Overcrowding can also create disease hotspots that spread infections to other farms.

The pearls are then graded; A being the most pricey. A radiant, round, smooth and flawless pearl with good depth of metallic green/blue can sell for many times more than a similar pearl with one or two defects. The luster is more important than colour. Size can range from 8mm to 20mm, with the larger being more expensive. A first class necklace can cost as much as $20 000, and individual pearls of the highest quality can cost $1 000 and up, but slightly flawed pearls are much cheaper (around $100)… and believe me, you can hardly see the difference!! My absolute favourite are the “baroque” pearls… they really look like they’ve “gone wrong” – but they are just so unusual.

The co-ops sell their production at auctions held twice a year in Papeete. Local jewelers vie with Japanese buyers at these events, with some 60 000 black pearls in 180 lots changing hands for about CFP 750 million. That’s about 820 million US Dollars! Private producers sell their pearls through independent dealers or plush retail outlets in Papeete. Every year, about a million black pearls worth about CFP 15 000 million are exported to Japan, Hong Kong, USA, France and Switzerland, making the territory the world’s second largest source of loose pearls – after Australia which produces the smaller yellow pearl. The export of loose reject pearls is prohibited.

It was SO interesting! Still absorbing all that information we cycled (with wallets intact!) onto the main road and headed back towards town. The weather had changed and we were now cycling into a headwind and there was also a huge rainsquall coming! Great. We were okay, but poor Lynn was struggling! We eventually arrived back in town and chose a nice spot off the beaten track to have our packed lunch. It was also Lynn’s birthday, and I’d made some delicious chocolate muffins for desert. A welcome sugar-laden treat that definitely put the spring back in our step!! We continued along the road back through the village towards the airport… stopping off for a break at a huge half built lighthouse, resembling something from Mayan times, but actually constructed in 1957! Our trek towards the airport continued with the wind at our sides. The airport was an interesting structure as well, built for high winds obviously as there weren’t many walls or doors. They were closed for business… perhaps they only get planes in once or twice a week. As we were about to leave it started to rain, luckily we could shelter inside, as it poured buckets and didn’t stop for 40 minutes!! 5 hours of cycling resulted in sore butts and legs, so once we got back into the village we decided to call it a day. Mike treated us all to delicious soft serve ice-cream and a drink before we headed back to the boats for a well deserved rest.

BAD WEATHER 29 June 07

A couple of hours later we overheard a French lady on the VHF talking about bad weather coming that evening. Strange, our forecast hadn’t predicted anything out of the ordinary except that the wind would be clocking round. Oh hell, what did she know that we didn’t?! She also said that if you see the locals moving their boats, then there’s trouble. So at 4pm and in pouring rain we both moved further north to find more protection from the land. I downloaded and translated a French forecast, and it said to expect 30-35 knots. Great. At least we were more protected now. Thankfully no bad weather came through that night – the wind remained under 15 knots. The following morning greeted us all grim and grey with a sky full of rain. We decided to move further north towards the channel, the wind was predicted to clock round to SE by Saturday/Sunday – which would be a good angle for us to leave for Tahiti.

So, I picked a perfect day to catch up on this newsletter as the weather was terrible; chilly and rain squall after rain squall. Just had 34 knots through here, so we’ve put out a second anchor now as we’d swung round and were on a lee shore – and we really don’t know how bad it’s going to get! We’d hate to land up on the coral reef in the middle of the night!

It was going to be a LONG night. Great. The wind had worked up quite a fetch and there was a big swell coming across the lagoon, it felt like we were at sea! In fact it looked like we were at sea as we were hobby-horsing in the swell! That night we sat huddled in the cockpit sipping our red wine, and by about 8pm there were no more squalls coming through and the wind had dropped to about 15 knots, but best of all the swell had just about disappeared too! What was that about bad weather? Well, maybe it was still coming… or not.

The following morning really looked grey and grim, our first mission was to get both anchors up and to re-anchor closer to the reef that was now forward and to the right of us. The forecast stated that the wind was to go round from SW to S and then to SE by the following morning – a perfect angle for us to head off to Tahiti!

We went ashore for a last shelling session, before heading back to the boat to prepare her for the journey – which SHOULD only be a one nighter as it was only 241 n/miles. I baked a delicious beer bread and had enough spaghetti bolognaise for 2 meals. That night was not the most peaceful weather-wise, so we were grateful to be leaving in the morning!


We upped anchor at 8am and headed for the channel… the outgoing tide did not look too bad, but soon we were doing 10.7 knots over the ground!! There were standing waves (caused by outgoing tide pushing against incoming water ie looks like they’re standing) at the northern side of the channel, so we snuck out nearer to the south, closely monitoring the depth! Wow! It was like being in a washing machine… and within seconds it was over! Goodbye Tuamotos and the slow island lifestyle… wow, we were so lucky to have been able to spend over a month in absolute paradise!

The main went up and the genoa was unfurled… there were big rollers and we found ourselves beating into a headwind for 6 hours!! Oh joy. Where was the south-easter?! By 4:30pm we decided to put a reef in the main, put the genoa away and to unfurl the staysail instead as the sky was looking really dodgy and we’d already had a couple of squalls through, packing 25 knots max. I had a feeling it was going to be another long night. We had an early supper and got some warm clothes on as it was quite chilly. Soon the wind picked up from 16 to 20 knots and peaked at about 25 knots – we were screaming along like a freight train! We needed to make up lost time if we were to be there by the following afternoon. That sail combination was perfect as Ken very rarely had to make any adjustments as the wind picked up. By morning we were still screaming on towards Tahiti – and Wombat was able to keep up!

At 8am MaxSea (our PC navigation program) showed 8-9 hours to the harbour entrance at Papeete. Even screaming along at 8 - 9.5 knots it was going to be a bit tight, as we only have 11 ½ hours of daylight here. And everything could change dramatically if the wind dropped! So we decided to pull into an anchorage on the east side – that way we could be there in 4 hours instead. Great!! The wind steadily picked up to 26 knots as we neared the island, suddenly there was a BANG and the boom shot up! Oh gosh what now?! The bracket holding the boom vang had broken. For non-sailors, the boom vang controls the boom which helps keep the sail shape at certain wind angles; so as the wind and sea increases, pressure on the boom vang becomes horrendous. Ken noticed the bracket was looking dodgy earlier on and was trying to get a strop around the boom to keep it down as it broke. Great. We put another reef in to release some more pressure off the main, and also furled the staysail away. Not very comfortable, as the swell was now side on… but it did help when we turned on the engine as we weren’t wallowing anymore!

I just had a bad feeling about this anchorage we were approaching - it was only a coral reef that we’d be anchored behind, but the swell was quite big and the wind was averaging 22-28 knots – that anchorage was not going to be very well protected at all; and there were no other boats there either. I said to Ken, it’s a sign not to go there. Besides, we’ve already had 2 nights of bad sleep – do we really want another? Mike also realized it was not going to be great, so we change course and motor sailed round the northern tip to a small bay off Point Venus, and dropped the hook at about 5pm. Aaah bliss! It was beautiful and calm! We were going to sleep like babies!

I slipped out of bed at 6am to watch the sun rise. When I looked out on the bay I got a twinge of homesickness in my tummy… it just reminded me so much of Cape Town! It even had a small tablecloth on the top of the mountain! Just so beautiful!

Soon we’ll be moving the 5.2nm (9.6kms) to Papeete (pronounced Pa-pay-eetay)… civilization at last! Here we’ll get sucked into the rut again – WIFI - shopping - window shopping – restaurants – fruit and veg markets etc. So nice for a change!!

Wonder what Tahiti holds in store for us?


2007-07-03 to 2007-07-04

17 40 10S; 149 27 04W

Tahiti is the largest of the Society Islands (1069 square km), though only 1 of 118, this lush and mountainous island is home to about 170 000 inhabitants. Since the days of Cook, Bligh, Wallis, and Bougainville; Tahiti has been the eastern gateway to the south Pacific. The island was formed millions of years ago by two or three shield volcanoes joined at the isthmus of Taravoa. These peaks once stood 3000m above sea level, today they stand 2066m above sea level.

The early 1960’s were momentous times for Polynesia, within a few years an international airport opened on Tahiti, MGM filmed “Mutiny on the Bounty”, and the French began testing their atomic bombs. After Algeria became independent in 1962 the French decided to move their Sahara nuclear testing facilities to Moruroa Atoll in the Tuamotos, 1200km SE of Tahiti – and very far from the atolls we’d visited. They set off their first atmospheric nuclear explosion on 2 July 1966. During the next 3 decades of infamy 181 nuclear explosions, 41 of them in the atmosphere, rocked the Tuamotos. In September 1995 two large Greenpeace protest vessels were boarded by tear gas firing French commandos who then impounded the ships. Worldwide condemnation of the test series reached unprecedented levels, and in January 1996 the French announced that the testing had been completed. The facilities have been decommissioned, yet deadly radiation may already be leaking into the sea through cracks in the atoll’s porous coral cap… and a mantle of secrecy hangs over the former nuclear playground.

3 July

At 10am we upped anchor at Point Venus for Papeete (pronounced pa-payee-tay : meaning “water basket”), the main port in Tahiti… it was only 9nm away so we motored. Mike turned into the buoyed channel and we followed. I was expecting a biggish harbour area and I also couldn’t see the quay where boats could tie up to should they prefer the “town anchorage”, but didn’t say anything to Ken; we motored on merrily down the channel and soon spotted a bridge, mmmm strange… then Ken went down to check the charts and next thing Mike was calling on the VHF saying that he’d led us down the wrong path! There was no way we’d fit under the bridge! So we all had a good chuckle and turned around. We should really have put a waypoint on our chart, but Mike has his chart plotter right in front of him in the cockpit….

The correct channel entrance was the other half of the 3nm’s away and it was as we thought – busy with big ferries zooming in and out, and the town was to the left. There is a long coral barrier reef that runs virtually parallel with the island, the space between it and the island is about 100m – and the channel we entered was a break in the coral reef (similar to the entrances at the atolls, except here we did not have to worry about the tides), and the channel markers and buoys we were now following in the channel to the anchorage, was a marked path in deep water between the coral reef and the island. We had 5nm’s to go to the anchorage at Marina Taina and were required to radio the Port Control Office to ask permission to cross the channel and again to cross the area in front of and behind the airport’s runway. There were locals out training in the channel on their outrigger canoes and one paddled up behind us to get into our slipstream, pity the sun was right behind us – but I got a good photo silhouette nonetheless.

There were a lot of yachts in the gorgeous anchorage which was protected by the barrier reef and had a great view of Moorea in the distance. After lunch we went ashore to the marina office to arrange a berth for a couple of days. A walk to down to the local supermarket called Carrefour was next on the agenda, there was a lot of traffic on the roads and it was very weird seeing so many cars!! The most we’d seen in the last 3 months were 4, and they were mostly parked in people’s yards!! We’d heard a lot about Carrefour, it was HUGE, and I must admit that by the third aisle I laughed as I said to Lynn that “I’m getting a headache, this is all too much, just too much to look at… serious information overload!” She agreed, and we continued merrily at a slower pace! It was as we’d heard. EXPENSIVE. Some things were very expensive: 4 chicken breasts = 1120 FPF (French Polynesian Franks) – about 13 US Dollars! Gordon’s Gin about 48$. Pringles, about 3.50$. I can go on and on, but there were SOME things that were reasonable. They did have a fantastic fresh fruit and veg section that I couldn’t wait to get stuck into! Surely there’d be other supermarkets… despite getting handouts from France, how could the poor locals afford these prices?

After hardly spending any money in the last 2 months, we treated ourselves to some gorgeous seeded bread, chocolate croissants, camembert, salami, tomatoes, lettuce, and berry yoghurt. We resigned ourselves to the fact that although we didn’t need to get much, we really didn’t have much of a choice – even if there was another supermarket, chances were that it was going to be similarly priced.

Back at the marina, we met up with our friends on Saraband (whom we spent Christmas with in the San Blas islands) and a couple we’d met in the Marquesas on Linger Longer. As it was nearly 5pm, so we decided to have a meal ashore in the marina complex, apparently The Pink Coconut was pricey but very good. So we all had drinks and a “catch up session” before heading off. The four of us went inside for dinner, and we opted to sit on the soft comfy seats rather than on the hard ones outside! Our pepper steaks (@ 20$) were OUTSTANDINGLY good and worth every cent. A great night was had by all!

Let the truth by known……

Before I continue, let me just make a couple of things clear about Tahiti. Everyone at home conjures up all sorts of images about this island… beautiful bronzed girls in grass skirts with lei’s around their necks, gorgeous guys covered in tattoos, inviting crystal clear water lapping onto beautiful white sand beaches that are lined with palms. I’m sorry to do this, but it’s not all true: Firstly we’ve yet to see the hoola girls and gorgeous tattooed men – actually, if we’d paid a king’s ransom to stay in one of the resorts we’d have been lucky enough to be within walking distance of a “dancing show” on a Friday night (oh and come hungry because the meal alone costs $80 US!); as for the crystal clear water images – Lynn and I (after perusing the hundreds of Tahiti postcards on offer) have discovered that the pics are actually taken in Bora-Bora, Mooorea, and even the Tuamotos (with Tahiti in bold print on the front). As for all the beautiful people, I’m no Miss World – but Tahiti must have some of the most unattractive women we’ve ever seen, sadly the majority of them are in the obese range (this includes teenagers and toddlers). The men on the other hand aren’t too bad looking, and are definitely more weight conscious.

4 July

The marina had space for us the following week, so we decided that we might as well head over to Moorea in the morning and stay for 5 days. This way, at least we’d see Moorea without wasting any time hanging around in Tahiti… but first we needed to clear in with Customs and Immigration. We headed off into town with the local transport called “le truk” (converted cargo vehicles with long benches in the back), and you can go almost anywhere on them for only 130 FPF’s. From the “bus terminal” it was only a short walk to clear in with Customs and Immigration.

We then had a good old walk around town and even managed to find a place to glue the soles back on to my hiking boots for 15$ (!!). What can you do! We popped into the Papeete Market where everything from fish, veg, fruit, meat, bakery products, and the usual touristy handicrafts are sold. Lynn was still on the lookout for a Tiki. All over town we’d see local women (and sometimes men) with a flower on their ears (like you see in the movies!), apparently a closed bud for men and an open one for women – worn on the right side, it means the heart is free – worn on the left, the heart is taken.

We enjoyed a “cheap” lunch (14$ for 2, a bargain!) at a local joint and then wandered across to the Vaima Centre, Papeete’s finest window shopping venue. We found a very swish shop called Galerie Ganesha aimed more at serious collectors of Polynesian handicrafts, but it was here (of course) that Lynn fell in love with a 600$ Tiki. It’s still at the store.

*** 5 – 10 July in Moorea

*** 12 – 15 in Easter Island

16 July

Back on the boat, head still spinning from all the speculation and intrigue surrounding Easter Island – it was back to reality – which meant that there was stocking up to do, and Ken had to find someone to weld the boom vang bracket. Lynn and I found most of what we wanted at Carrefour, I got the rest from another supermarket called Champion (both very similarly priced, and one often having things the other didn’t). We didn’t need an exceptional amount, but our tinned bean supply was very low – as was the box milk, and of course the cookies! Not forgetting the great salami and cheese on offer!!

The rest of the week passed without incident, and by the 19th we were back on anchor – the boom vang was sorted out, the gas bottles were filled, and our stocking up was up to date… all we were waiting for was a package from England.

We sauntered off into town for a change of scenery – and mainly to check out the marine chandleries. What a joke! This is definitely THE most expensive place we’ve ever visited! At ACE Hardware Ken managed to find a punch and some cable ties… and not 30 minutes later he was able to put them to use!! The strap on his left sandal broke – so he punched 2 holes and tied to cable ties to the plastic clasp and voila! back in business! We noticed there were 3 Japanese warships tied to the docks… and they just happened to be having an “open day”. They were fairly new and very smart. It was quite cool being on board - and amusing the very neatly dressed crew with “konichiwa’s” and “arigato’s” (roughly hello, how are you, and thank you).

Lynn and I have been totally fascinated with all the transvestites in Tahiti… they are everywhere and are very obviously feminine, mincing around and floating along in their high heels; some dressed in anything from gorgeous dresses to teeny weeny mini skirts. All appear to be very proud. Now this something we just don’t see when we’re at home in the USA, SA or the UK. I decided to let my fingers do the walking and found out the following:

Tahiti is traditionally a conservative place with a missionary background and crossdressing is not foreign, in fact it has a deep heritage in Polynesia. Tahiti`s third sex, the "mahu": people of “ambiguous gender” who physically remain men but act like women, plays an important role in the Polynesian culture. They are a popular and honoured member of every village. One becomes a mahu by choice, by being coaxed into the role or both at an early age. The individual associates primarily with females and learns to perform the traditionally feminine household tasks. It is not uncommon that the first born male be raised as a female. After puberty, the mahu may assume a woman`s role by cooking, cleaning, looking after children and wearing feminine clothing. He may dance what are normally women`s parts during festivals, often with greater skill than the women around him. In the villages he may work as a maid, and in Papeete can often find employment as a waiter, professional dancer or bartender. They hold a very special place in society and are thought to possess the virtues of both men and women. In modern Tahiti effeminate men are maintaining the custom and role with pride.

21 July – Heiva Festival… a survivor of missionary interdiction

The only thing we’d not seen to date was the traditional dancing, so as it was the last days of the Heiva Festival, we decided to book tickets for what promised to be a spectacular show. The “Heiva” is French Polynesia`s most important traditional festival which takes place in July every year. It`s a colourful celebration showcasing their best artists, dancers and singers, and is also celebrated in Hawaii and California but is apparently at its most sensational in Tahiti. The festival is a romantic blend of extravagant traditional Tahitian costumes which apparently can only be made from plant fibres, natural cloth, roots, seeds, feathers and palm fronds - accompanied by powerful percussionists and drummers with traditional beats and chants.

A lot of male dancers’ bodies were adorned in beautiful tattoos - for the Polynesians, the tattoo is a means of asserting their ‘ma’ohi’ (cultural identity) and most of the time, has symbolic significance. Tattooing was a custom that totally disappeared after arrival of the missionaries, and only resurfaced in the 1980’s!! Like the tattoo, the Polynesian Dance – considered by the missionaries as too erotic – had to be practiced in secret until the beginning of the 20th century. For the women, the “ori” is a hip movement that starts from the knees. The upper torso stays immobile, the arms outstretched and the heels must remain together, basically there’s a serious amount of hip-wiggling involved (would probably dislocate my spine trying!!) - ; and although the chants etc. were all in Tahitian – it didn’t take a genius to figure out that one of the dance routines was about fornication… Lynn was horrified as there were children in the audience!

All in all it was a wonderful, colorful and vibrant 2 hour festival!!

24 July

All’s well – it’s another gloriously hot and windless day, finally caught up with my website updates! We have a fair WIFI connection as well so we’re up to speed on current affairs, and have also had the opportunity to download valuable information on the islands we intend visiting. Once the parcel arrives we can sail off into the sunset on yet another Pacific adventure.

Moorea... the butterfly-shaped island


17 32 35S; 149 50 44W

Moorea is Tahiti’s butterfly-shaped sister island just 21km NW of Papeete, is just 125 square km’s, and is twice as old as Tahiti. This enticing island offers the white sand beaches that are rare on Tahiti, long beep bays, lush volcanic peaks, and broad lagoons… again most of the island is protected by a coral barrier reef. With a population of just 14 000 Moorea lives a quiet, relaxed lifestyle; coconut pineapple and vanilla plantations alternate with resorts and the vegetation-draped dwelling of the inhabitants. Tourism is concentrated along the north coast, yet like Bora Bora, Moorea is in danger of becoming overdeveloped and traffic already roars along the north coastal road all day.

The ferry traffic between Moorea and Tahiti is rather hectic and never seems to stop, and at one stage after leaving the harbour I thought we were going to be passed very closely on our starboard side by a huge ferry, instead he decided to go in between Wombat and ourselves!! Other than that bit of excitement, the trip was short and sweet… another grey old day.

Our first impression of Cooks Bay was that it looked very much like Fatu Hiva (our first landfall in the Marquesas)… very beautiful and very mysteries looking with all the low-lying cloud. Within minutes it poured with rain, and didn’t stop til sunset. At least the boat got a good wash!

We hired scooters the following day and had a fantastic time zooming around to all the tourist attractions. I must admit that there weren’t many, but the greatest disappointment of the day must’ve been the Tiki Theatre Village… what a joke. More on that later. We started off in Cook’s Bay at 8:30am and made our way around to Opunohu Bay – towering over us was Mount Rotui, huge black and green rock separating Moorea’s two great bays. Then we followed the paved road that ran up the central valley through the pasture land, past the Agricultural School Farm, right up to Belvedere Lookout where we got an awesome panoramic view of the valley and the two bays. From there we re-joined the coastal road and headed south… stopping to look at little touristy shops along the way of course. We also managed to find “Woody’s”… a young-ish American guy who now lives on the island and makes - part of his living – carving the most beautiful sculptures out of driftwood. Very talented, and very pricey. He apparently also owns a pearl farm.

Our guidebook said the Tiki Theatre Village is “not to be missed as it’s the best cultural experience in French Polynesia”. Lynn and I were quite excited, but we should know by now from previous experience not to get too excited about these write-ups. But still, we live in hope. The curio store was dusty and very expensive. Lynn sort of found a Tiki, but didn’t fall in love with it, it was only 450 USD (!). Apparently this place, built in the fashion of ancient Tahitian villages, is open every day of the week and claims the staff demonstrates traditional tattooing, tapa-cloth making, wood and stone carving, weaving, cooking, and making costumes. COOL! The brochure said “you’ll be welcomed with the sounds of the ukelele’s and guitars, your host will show you the village”. Were we at the right place cause none of this was happening?! Upon closer inspection of the brochure it appeared that both our current guidebooks were wrong... they now ONLY appear to do all of this at night!! Why even bother opening the place in the daytime? We wondered around the village, which quite frankly was not very well done at all – they should be ashamed of themselves for charging the massive entry fees (80$ pp excluding transport). Oh well, at least we could admire the view from their expensive pearl shop and use their loos!!

Lunch was on the cards, and 30 minutes later we’d found a spot under a palm tree and were enjoying our homemade sandwiches. Back on the scooters we zoomed along around the southern end and then up the eastern side towards the airport, Tahiti was now coming into view. There were a lot of fancy resorts dotting the coastline… one in particular, was absolutely breathtaking, we’d never seen anything like it (except in brochures of course)… you’ve seen them too I’m sure – the cute little huts over the clearest blue water. We stopped at the view point and were afforded with great views of this resort, the beach to the left and Tahiti. We continued on and Mike accidentally hit a right, so I of course followed. We’ll, the road was so bad we should’ve been on quad bikes! We went on and on and I couldn’t figure out where they were headed, all the while dodging potholes of various sizes… eventually we stop and Mike say “I can’t believe this is the road to the airport”, we’re like “it’s not, you turned off the main road and we followed!”. Laughing, we turned round and decided to stop at the beach on the way back to see our friends who’d sailed over from Tahiti on a friend’s boat in a mini regatta. The mini regatta was also part of the outriggers race. Islanders train for months in advance… and it’s a pretty grueling race as they have to paddle these canoes from Tahiti and all the way around Moorea, finishing in this spectacular bay on the eastern side of the island.

45 minutes later we were flying along the road back to Cook’s Bay. With 2 hours still to spare before returning out scooters, we decided to check out the juice factory “Jus de Fruits de Moorea”, which is not only a factory but a distillery as well. They turn the islands produce into Rotui juices (which are by no means cheap either!). From there we headed back to one of the local supermarkets to buy some bulk packed chicken breasts from Argentina… it was a bargain at $8 a pack (4 meals); compared to paying $11 for two breasts at CarreFour in Tahiti.

We upped anchor the following morning and headed to the next bay down called Opunnohu Bay. Apparently it was one of the most photographed bays in Moorea, but in my opinion it was not, I’d already fallen in love with haunting beauty of Cooks Bay! The bay is virtually devoid of development – the locals want to maintain the natural beauty of their island. But we were not here for the beauty really, we were here to swim with stingrays… something I’d read about months before and could not wait to experience. The anchorage was jam packed – not nice, so we anchored on the outside of everyone in deeper water. The weather had turned nasty, so we spent the rest of the on board.

The next morning was clear and beautiful so we all headed off in our dinghies to the lagoon in search of the stingrays, only thing was we didn’t know the exact location, and the lagoon was huge mass of crystal clear water and a lot of coral heads! The only other tip-off was that “the area” was located in front of the main resort. Mmmm really helpful info too. So instead of driving round in circles, we headed for a yacht anchored nearby and they pointed us in the right direction. We hung around for about 3 minutes, and there was still no sign of them… suddenly, out of nowhere we could see them coming towards us!! They were obviously attracted by the sound of the outboard engines – the hotel feeds them at lunchtimes – so they are pretty well trained! There must’ve been about 8 or 10! It was totally awesome, they were just about climbing into the dinghy!! They weren’t fussed with our touching them, and loved the bits of fish we’d brought. They felt quite weird – like a hard but slippery sponge. I was a bit nervous about getting in the water with them : back at the ranch these are wild animals – remember poor old Steve Irwin?! Aah what the hell! You only live once! Mike was in first, then Ken. Lynn and I finally slithered in – fortunately Ken had packed our weight belts, but poor Lynn was bobbing round on the surface like a cork! It was an absolutely mindblowing experience, we were chest deep in water they just kept swim around us – again, touching them was not an issue, and when they got bored they simply buried themselves in the sandy bottom to forage for food. Thankfully they were very photogenic and I also made a couple of movies. This little Sony is a beaut!

I’ll tell you what, there is something really humbling about swimming with big sea creatures. The various snorkelling sessions around the coral reefs has been great, but doesn’t stick in my memory as much as the “biggies” – like swimming an arms length away from a very graceful turtle, who was not fussed about my being there; and the adrenalin induced episodes with the blacktip sharks in the Tuamotos, and the equally curious (and very large) barracudas in the Aves. Swimming with dolphins and then ultimately whales, would be the cherry on top of course!

Still on a high (and with a hard-to-beat screensaver!) we made our way back to Tahiti as we’d be going into the marina the following morning… and then heading off on a 3 day land adventure to Easter Island – a destination we’d always dreamed about.


2007-07-12 to 2007-07-15

Easter Island… still shrouded in mystery

Easter Island / Rapa Nui… call it what you like, happens to be one of those intriguing islands that many only dream about getting to because of its location. It’s ideal if you’re already on holiday in South America… or, as in our case, in Tahiti.

How people arrived at Easter Island, the world’s most remote inhabited island, is as much a mystery as how their descendants could design and sculpt hundreds of colossal moai (pronounced mo-eye) from hard volcanic basalt, transport the tall and heavy statues great distances from quarry to coast, and erect them on great stone ahu (platforms). Just so many unanswered questions!

We decided, along with Mike and Lynn, that more investigation was definitely necessary – so we booked a 3 day trip, packed our winter woollies, and bade farewell to our yachts lying side by side in Marina Taina… and set off on our next adventure.

Among many names applied to this small triangular volcanic land mass, the Polynesians named it Rapa Nui, but the view of the seemingly infinite sea from the summit of Terevaka, the island’s highest point, reveals why they called it Te Pito o Te Henua – the Navel (Centre) of the World. From here, a vessel can sail more then 1900km in any direction without sighting inhabited land.


Both Polynesians and South American Indians appear to have launched voyages of exploration into the Pacific, establishing the position of the islands they discovered, recording that information, and passing it on to others. Interestingly, Rapa Nui legends describe the arrival of two different peoples – the “Long Ears” from the east, and the “Short Ears” from the west.

Rapa Nui’s history falls into three distinct periods.

1. The arrival of King Hotu Matua and his followers, the initial settlers.

2. A period of rivalry between the Long Ears and the Short Ears, ending with the near extermination of the Long Ears.

3. Lastly, a more recent tribal war between the peoples of the Tuu and Hotu-iti regions.

According to tradition, Hotu Matau came from the east and landed on the island’s north coast (motua is a Polynesian word for ancestor). Some 57 generations of kings followed him, they estimate he arrived around 450AD. A second group of immigrants supposedly arrived later from the west, led by Tuu-ko-ihu. Again all of this is purely speculation as researchers have collected a number of different lists of kings descended from Hotu Matua – one estimating 20 to 30 generations descended from him, until the last king died in 1862… all of this suggesting that he could have arrived as late as the 16th century.

*Long Ears & Short Ears

Again there are various explanations, one being that the Long Ears may have been from Polynesia where some groups practiced the custom of ear lobe elongation, but it’s not impossible that arrivals from Peru brought the custom. They also could have arrived with Hotu Matau! Some suggest that the Long Ears built the ahu and the Short Ears carved the moai. And vice-versa. The long platforms (ahu) bearing the slender statues (facing the land) were built near the coast, with long retaining walls facing the sea.

At some time though, conflict between the two groups resulted in the near extermination of the Long Ears – perhaps a single survivor remained. The warfare appeared to have been demographic and ecological, resulting in the damage and destruction of many of Rapa Nui’s stone monuments. Kevin Costner’s 1993 movie “Rapa Nui” ends with the legend – around the 17th century, a Long Ear married a Short Ear and they sailed off into the sunset with a tiny baby on a raft (!!).

A long peace ensued after the Short Ears’ victory, but eventual dissension between different clans led to bloody wars in which cannibalism was practiced, and many moai were toppled from their ahu. Apparently clans were highly territorial and proud of their moai, while enemy groups would topple moai to insult and anger owners. The only moai standing today have been restored this century.

The first Europeans to set foot on Rapa Nui were the Dutch in 1722. A Spanish expedition was next in 1770, and then Captain Cook in 1774, and lastly the French in 1786. By 1840 all of the moai had been thrown off their ahu, either by earthquakes or rival tribes.

The first comprehensive explorations were carried out by Katherine Routledge in 1914-1915 – sadly all her notes were lost, but she did however publish a book on her findings in 1919. In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl achieved notoriety by sailing some 6500km from South America to the Tuamotus in a balsa raft called the Kon Tiki. His theories are very much in line with what’s written above. He also believes that the birdman cult was initiated by the victors. Amazingly, after decades of study by some of the world’s top archaeologists, no South American artefacts have ever been discovered on the island.



European impact on the island was among the most dreadful in the history of the Pacific. When the Dutch arrived there were about 4000 Rapanui (some say the population had been as high as 20 000, others say 7000), anyway, the landing party opened fire and killed dozens of islanders; then the great white explorer sailed off. The Spanish, Captain Cook, and the French were next to call, but contacts with whalers, sealers, and slavers were sporadic until 1862 when a fleet of eight Peruvian black-birders kidnapped 1400 Rapanui to work in the coastal sugar plantations of Peru. Among those taken were the king and the entire learned class. Missionaries and diplomats in Lima protested and eventually 15 surviving islanders made it back to their homes, where they sparked a deadly smallpox epidemic.

French Catholic missionaries took up permanent residence on the island in 1866 and succeeded in converting the survivors; businessmen from Tahiti arrived soon after and acquired property for a sheep ranch. Both groups continued the practice of removing Rapanui from the island. The former sent followers to a ,mission on Mangareva; the latter sent labourers to their plantations on Tahiti (returnees introduced leprosy). By 1877 the total population had been reduced to 110. One of the business partners had the missionaries evicted in 1871, and ran the island as he wished until his murder by a Rapanui in 1876.



In 1883 Chile defeated Peru and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, and subsequently annexed Easter Island in 1888 – believing that the island would become a port of call after the opening of the Panama Canal. Their lack of knowledge was illustrated by plans to open a naval base when no potential for harbour construction existed!! (Still today there is no protected anchorage for yachts). As this became apparent, they leased most of the island to a British wool operation, which ran the island as a company estate until lease was revoked in 1953. The tens of thousands of sheep devastated the vegetation, causing soil erosion, and stones were torn from archaeological sites to build walls and piers. During this long period, the Rapanui were forbidden to go beyond Hanga Roa (town) boundary wall without company permission, to deter them from stealing sheep.

In 1953 the Chilean Navy took over and continued the same style of paternal rule. The islanders remained confined to the area until 1966. After local protests the Christian Democratic government of Chile permitted an election of a local mayor and council in 1965. Elections were terminated by Pinochet’s 1973 military coup, and Easter Island, along with the rest of Chile, suffered autocratic rule until the restoration of democracy in 1990. Increased contact with the outside world soon developed after the establishment of a regular commercial air link between Santiago and Tahiti in 1967, with Rapa Nui as a refuelling stop. In 1984, archaeologist Sergio Rapu became the first Rapanui governor, and all subsequent governors have also been Rapanui. Kevin Costner’s movie brought the world to Easter Island in 1993 in the way the 1962 filming of “Mutiny on the Bounty” transformed Tahiti.

Cattle, sheep, and about 4000 horses graze parts of the island, but the chief industry is tourism.

Our plane was 3 hours late leaving Tahiti. Now Tahiti airport is not the most exciting to pass time in, but there were a lot of colourful foreign characters around to provide some light relief. I had a funny episode myself: the wooden female carving outside the women’s toilets was so badly done I hit a left and found myself in the men’s! I soon realised my mistake when I heard male voices!! Oh darn!!! I must’ve stood there for 10 minutes waiting for the coast to clear as it suddenly filled up – and I could only do this by getting on my hands and knees to see if there were feet around!! On spotting nothing I dashed out and headed for the ladies to wash my hands!! There were no urinals and the place was empty, so in hindsight it really all looked quite kosher!

July was the low season and also the rainy season, so the people offering accommodation were fairly flexible with their room rates. We negotiated a fair deal and were whisked off to Hotel Martin & Anita. It was raining lightly. After staying in posadas in South America we knew what to expect. It was quite sufficient: a clean bed and bathroom.

DAY 1 – Afternoon

After the rain stopped we decided to head out on foot for the rest of the afternoon, making one or two stops along the main road to try and organise a car for the following day. The “handicraft market” looked interesting, but we were shocked at the quality of work and not to mention the prices!!! We then headed off down the main road and found 2 men in a little green hut selling empanadas. We sat and watched the world go by: dogs chasing horses and tugging at their long tails; dogs chasing dogs; and the occasional very cute begging dog… whilst enjoying delicious chicken empanadas.

Hanga Roa is where most of the 4000 inhabitants live and is located on the south western side of the triangular shaped island. Speaking to a local, there are only 23 families that live on the island! Town is not very built up and there are about 3 small “supermarkets” and 2 large ones; quite a few restaurants; and a lot of touristy shops (selling everything from local crafts to junk imported from China). There are hundreds of dogs around, none seem to be mangy either… most of them resembling German Sherpard’s and a few other brands of course. Hundreds of horses about too. Can you believe that hiring a car is cheaper than hiring bicycles? The cost of the car was the same as for 1 horse?! Insane. Not that we wanted to trot around the island for 3 days on a horse. The locals use them and they trot and poo along the paved sidewalks. Charming. Could make the walk home at night rather interesting!

It was then quite a walk to the very interesting little museum where we read a similar version of the history above; saw the tools they used for carving; the small wooden replicas of birdmen; and not forgetting the broken white coral and red scoria eye of one of the moai found on the north coast in 1978. Finally we headed back into town along the coastline, stopping at Ahu Tahai to see our first stone statues! The first had a topknot (more on this later) and dreadful white eyes (apparently cemented in place for tourists!). There was also a long platform holding 4 moai… they were not in good nick at all, but it seemed like a great spot to be at sunset. It was not raining but still fairly overcast, and we had to keep moving as we were starting to get tired. Halfway up the main drag we saw a really nice “motel” that had a “cinema”, and they just happened to be showing Mel Gibson’s “Rapa Nui” (!!). So we booked tickets for 9pm that night. Don’t know how we were going to stay awake, but we’d try! By the time we reached the Motel, we were completely shagged out as we’d also lost 5 hours in the time difference… but this did not deter us from having a drink or two out on the patio! We intended having a little lie-down before heading out at 9pm, but met another nice American couple and ended up chatting til it was time to go!

The “cinema” didn’t have the most comfortable chairs and maybe that was why we all managed to stay awake and enjoy the movie! It gave us a bit of insight as to what “could’ve been” and was a great “starter” to the adventure.


Martin had organised a small 4x4 for us, and we set off at about 9:30am on the 6km trip south to Orongo and the vast (and VERY impressive), circular crater of Rano Kau. Orongo was the main ceremonial centre on the the island, there are quite a few high-relief carvings of frigate bird-headed men on the rock outcrops. There are 47 restored slab dwellings that were used by the island chiefs and participants during the birdman festivals, the last of which occurred in 1866. Every September, a race was staged to the farthest offshore island, Motu Nui, to find the first egg of the migratory sooty tern. It was a gruelling race where participants were scaling cliff faces. The sponsor of the winning swimmer (who had to bring an unbroken egg back!) was proclaimed birdman and thought to have supernatural powers.

We continued on by car to the south east side of the island, on a very bumpy dirt road to the 11 fallen moai at Ahu Vinapu; some of them seemed to be in good condition too, what a shame they were all on their faces! There were also very good examples of Peruvian-like stone walls similar to the ones at Machu Picchu. Most authorities dispute this claim, saying it was a later development by skilled Polynesian stonemasons.

Back in the car we headed north of Hanga Roa and then inland on another one of those bumpy dirt roads, to Ahu Akivi, where 7 much-photographed moai were facing the sea. They once overlooked a village but they now stare silently out to sea. Unfortunately, agricultural development in the area had obliterated many of the archaeological remains.

Tummies rumbling, we headed back into town – Ken and I settled for empanadas again and Mike and Lynn went across to the road to try something new. Neither of them were impressed with their choices. We then headed back to the motel for a shower and catnap… just not used to so much walking! At 6:30pm we raced off to catch the sunset… it was obviously a very popular spot as there were many people there. No green flash or red sky as it was still rather overcast, but we got some good pics nonetheless.


We headed out (again later than we expected) of town along the south coast road to the top sight on the island, Rano Raraku. We were told to leave it for last as the “highlight”, but decided that since the weather was behaving we’d better get it done. Rano Raraku is an extinct volcano 18km east of Hanga Roa. The huge sculpture park here contains the island’s most finely chiselled moai, including 70 buried up to their shoulders or necks on the inner and outer slopes of the crater, and another 30 laying facedown on the ground. All in all, there are some 397 moai still at the quarry in various stages of completion. A few of the unfinished moai are still attached to the cliffs resembling the reclining Buddhas of Thailand, one unhewn giant measures 21.6 meters in length, the longest moai ever carved! We walked around inside the crater as well and the view of the green rolling countryside from the top of the stone cliffs was truly breathtaking. Work on the statues seemed to have ended rather abruptly, and many were abandoned en route to their ahu. Most of pictures of the heads at Easter Island you will have seen would’ve been taken here in “the quarry”.

As late as we’d headed out , we were still very lucky to have enjoyed the place to ourselves for most of the time we were there…. only being shouted at once by a guide for standing just a bit too close to a particularly nice head! Had she arrived with her group 20 minutes earlier, I think she would’ve had us all imprisoned if she’d seen the extremeties we went to to get the tripod in the perfect spot to take the perfect picture of the 4 of us!!!

On the east side of the quarry is a kneeling statue called Tukuturi… it’s unusual in the sense that firstly, he’s kneeling – so he has legs – he’s not just a head; and secondly, that his features are very rounded and not elongated like all the other heads. He’s in very bad shape and his features are not very defined at all.

Actually, the main question that still springs to mind is “how did they move these huge statues?” Legend says that priests moved the moai by the power of mana, an ability to make the moai walk a short distance every day until eventually it reached its destination…. mmm I wonder what he was smoking?! Some say it was rolled on logs; others say stones… and there’s just no evidence so I suppose we’ll never know.

Tummies once again rumbling we headed to the coast, to the nearby Ahu Tongariki where we could relax and enjoy our cold meat, bread rolls and salt and vinegar crisps purchased before leaving town. This site was apparently ravaged by a huge tsunami in 1960 that tossed the 15 massive statues around like driftwood. In 1994, Chilean archaeologists reconstructed the 200 meter long ahu and re-erected the moai using an enormous crane donated by the Japanese. It’s a pity they didn’t use the crane to erect more moai around the island.

We continued out journey north along the rugged coastline and eventually ended up at Anakena Beach. A very small but picturesque setting indeed… the national park has set up picnic tables and bbq pits in between the hundreds of tall palm trees. In high season this place must hum as there are many tables about for locals to sell their wares. Lynn, Ken and I were fairly desperate for a toilet, but decided that $1 was a bit too expensive for one pee!! We decided that we could wait the 30 minutes until we got back into town!!

Back at the motel there was enough time for a lie-down before heading off for another sunset photo shoot. We then decided to try out one of the restaurants recommended by Martin… we started off with a Pisco Sour each, a local drink similar to a Caiparina (Brazil) or a Cachaca (Ecuador) except it’s made with egg white. Delicious indeed! Lynn and I both had chicken and Ken and Mike each had a very nice looking steak…. and it didn’t really break the bank either.


We’d been on the lookout for a memento, preferably a well carved, cheapish wooden moai head – but had thus far not found anything. A lot of the carved moai for sale were totally out of proportion and not well finished off, and at least $200. Actually, we did find a very nice one the previous day, and were hoping to see more about. But with it being Sunday, it seemed like it was going to be a problem as a lot of the touristy places were closed. Oh well.

We strolled through one of the bigger supermarkets and found a bottle of Pisco for $15 ($35 at duty free in Tahiti!!), it’s rather beautiful as it’s in the shape of one of the heads, and it’ll do as a memento! We also bought a bottle of gin for $9… $40+ dollars in Tahiti!!

We drove north of town to Puna Pau, where the “topknots” were quarried. We all agreed that the topknots were dreadful, and we also very much doubted that anybody at home would ever have seen any pics of moai with topknots – as we certainly hadn’t. Half the time the topknots looked like lampshades on the moai’s heads, dreadful reddish cylindrical things that archaeologists assumed resembled hats, baskets or crowns, but there is now a consensus that these “pukao” reflect a common hairstyle of Rapa Nui males when Europeans first visited the island. Quarried from the small volcanic crater at Puna Pau, this stone is relatively soft and easily worked. Most pukao had a clearly marked knot on the top and a partly hollow underside which allowed them to be slotted onto the heads of the moai. Since only about 60 moai had topknots, another 25 of which remain in or near the quarry, these appear to have been a late development. Carved like the moai, the topknots may have been simple embellishments, rolled to their final destination, and then, despite weighing about as much as two elephants, somehow placed on top of the moai up to 10 meters in height!! Oral tradition says that islanders built a ramp of stones to roll the topknow to the moai’s head, but experts thought the most likely method of attachment was to tie it to the moai and raise the two simultaneously. Again, it’s all just speculation!! The most annoying thing is that most of the moai for sale at the handicraft market have topknots!

From there we headed up the south coast road again… this time stopping at the “archaeological sites”… there are simply loads of moai just lying there face down in the grass! Surely they could’ve just re-erected one or two to make the site more interesting? Or at least just erected the tallest moai ever to stand on Easter Island? Ahu Te Pito Kura, on the north coast, is 10 meters long and lying face down in the dirt awaiting restoration!

By 4pm we were back in town and decided to have a quick bite to eat before heading back to the motel to get changed. Our flight was at 9:25pm and we were hoping that it was not going to be delayed again. 2 flights a week leave Easter Island, so the airport is very small and the “duty free” section (5 counters) is dreadfully expensive and probably has all the dregs that they didn’t manage to sell at the handicraft market. Lynn didn’t manage to find any nice T/shirts to send home… and there were no decently carved heads either!

As we settled into our comfy seats on Lan Chile, the memories and questions buzzing round in our heads eventually faded as the in flight entertainment started…

Easter Island was a place we never thought we’d ever get to, but we did and it was an amazing experience.

Actually, all the intrigue and speculation make it all the more enticing!

Tahiti... part 2

2007-08-03 to 2007-08-21

They say the definition of cruising is “fixing your boat in exotic locations”… to be honest, we’ve not had much go wrong – but there is constant maintenance, and sometimes little jobs that are just put off. Well, from mid July to mid August Ken had more than enough time to do just this - in Tahiti. 2007 has just not been “my year” – healthwise that is. For some or other reason I’m attracted to developing health issues in foreign countries!! In Ecuador the Spanish doctors were ever so helpful; and lo and behold, I actually had to have surgery here in Tahiti on 9 August! On both occasions – and I’m convinced there are little angels or fairies watching over us - I managed to find an English speaking doctor in Ecuador who helped with all the translating issues – even though I was not his patient; and the specialists I dealt with here were English speaking and either from France, or foreigners who have relocated (my surgeon was Vietnamese). So, to cut a long and painful story short – I am doing much much better thanks!

Ken had enough time to order a new gearbox from the USA for our very hardworking electric winch; and we were able to get a very powerful new USB connection for our external WI-FI antenna. Access to the internet is becoming a big deal with us yachties!!

Ken and I celebrated our 5th anniversary on 15 August… I had every intention of going ashore to MacDonalds, but decided that I should listen to my body instead, so Ken went and got takeaways which we enjoyed on board instead!

We were also able to spend a lot of time with our friends Bruce and Marsha on “Imajica” (they crewed for us when we transited the Panama Canal). Wonderful people. Marsha is an exceptional beader and has developed a small obsession with black pearls, but like me (who has not developed one) – we only like the imperfect ones (called kishi’s) as they just have so much character.

They also introduced us to “les roulottes”. On the waterfront in downtown Papeete is an open area that is littered with dozens of gaily lit vans known as “les roulottes”, which form a colourful night market. Here you will find anything from couscous, pizza, waffles, crepes, kebabs, Chinese stir-fries, to steak and chips. The food and atmosphere is excellent, and it’s best to come hungry, or you could even just drop in for a delicious waffle and coconut ice cream! The pictures say it all!

On 20 August I did the last of the stocking up at Carrefour – I was going to miss the constant supply of delicious green kiwi fruits! We upped anchor the following day and went to tie up to the quay in town – the first day is free (unless you go over a weekend, when apparently no one checks!) – we however would certainly not want to spend more than one night there because of the traffic noise! It was quite unique being tied up, and being able to step off onto the boardwalk, cross the street and voila!, you’re in town! We had a little bit of Christmas shopping to do – the people are just wonderful here, certainly like nowhere else we’ve been, perhaps it’s the strong Chinese influence… if you purchase something they more often than not give you a gift! Marsha thought she had the last say with Grace (a pearl shop owner with a gorgeous 12 week old cocker spaniel puppy called Chanel, who has “chokers” made of ribbon and black pearls!!) – anyway, so we popped in to see Grace’s store (secretly I just wanted to see Chanel!!!), and on leaving, Grace asks if we’re going to see Marsha again – absolutely, we were headed over to Moorea in the morning and we would definitely see them there – so she hands me a little box with a pair of earings for Marsha. It was only when I gave it to her that they both just laughed and told us that they’d left a gift for Grace who’d obviously not been able to reciprocate as she was not there… but she found a way!!

So we had a fine time on the town quay, “les roulettes” were only a short walk away that evening – and we also managed to pick up some free internet with our super powerful antenna!

We left for Moorea round about 10:30am and were anchored about 2 ½ hours later in Opunohu Bay. The plan was to only stay one night as we really had to get a move on… we still had to get to Tonga, and then in 2 ½ months we were supposed to be in New Zealand! Mike and Lynn had moved on of course and were in Palmerston waiting for us to catch up. It would be about 2 weeks before we got there, so I doubted they’d be able to hang around that long!

We upped anchor at 2:20am on the 24th and headed out of the bay under an almost full moon – next stop: Huahine. It felt like ages since we’d sailed!! We hoisted the main and unfurled the genoa and off we went… the seas weren’t huge (which made a very nice change!), there was enough SE wind (between 14 and 18 knots) to drive us along. For once it was a very pleasant and enjoyable sail. At sunrise Ken put his line out and within minutes he had a bite, but as I keep saying – there are monsters out there – unfortunately he lost his lure. Not half an hour after he put a new cheap and nasty red and white lure in, he had another bite… my goodness, it was actually quite hilarious – the rod was just about bent in half and poor Ken was struggling to hang on to the rod AND slowly reel the monster in!! I tried my best to try and slow the boat down by going more downwind, but it only took about a 1 knot off – and we were doing about 7.5 knots! We eventually landed the tuna which must’ve weighed about 20kgs! Ken gutted the fish and we kept it in a bucket in the shade on the back, the plan was to give it to one of the locals as we don’t eat the red meat fish. His arms were so sore he said the muscles were trembling and they felt like jelly!! The line didn’t go out again… until we were rounding the top of Huahine and I thought maybe we get a taker – a dorado or a wahoo would be fantastic!! But no such luck!

After 14 hours, we entered through the “Passe Avamoa” and anchored in a huge beautiful bay near the town of Fare on the northwest side of Huahine. The lush beauty is very reminiscent of the eerily beautiful bays of Fatu Hiva (the Marquesas) and Cooks Bay (Moorea). Not wanting to put the dinghy in the water I was hoping a local fisherman would come past and we could give him the tuna, after about 20 minutes I spotted to guys paddling their outriggers (I was desperate okay!) – so Ken shouts and I wave frantically, beckoning them to come over – Ken then holds up the fish and suddenly huge smiles light up their faces, so I rushed downstairs to get a plastic bag whilst they were paddling over… they could not believe their luck, they were SO grateful! What a good feeling it is to just give.

Mmm, reflecting on that thought, it’s time for a gin and tonic…

Huahine and Raiatea

2007-08-23 to 2007-08-28

16 42 74S; 151 02 39W     23-27 August 07

The guide book says that Huahine has more to offer than the overcrowded Bora-Bora. Mmm. That’s quite interesting, since I can’t find too much to do in the guide on this 74sq km island!! We had heard however that the island is very beautiful and does warrant a day on a scooter…

The unpretentious town of Fare with its tree-lined street along the quay is blissfully peaceful after the roar of Papeete. Local men play petanque on the waterfront (a game similar to bowls, except they throw the ball underhand, not roll it). From here Bora-Bora is also visible in the distance. We located the clothing store called “Local Style” who also happened to rent scooters. Quite a unique floor they have… small broken bits of coral!!

Armed with tourist info and a map, we zoomed off on the scooter – heading north out of town towards the airport, then turned right onto a dirt road that that ran parallel with the coast. It was a gloriously sunny day and not too hot. This was a pretty drive with access to the shore and was also the road for one of the largest marea (archaeological sites, but in our opinion they are just huge piles of rocks – most of which have been reassembled in the recent years) – hence they are of no particular interest to us. We stopped at the beach instead to see if there were any shells about, but the beach is not isolated – so it would be shelled regularly by locals and tourists. We continued on towards the tarred main road.

We then backtracked NW to Maeva, crossing a bridge, we saw good examples of the ancient stone fish traps that are still in use (fish enter the traps with the incoming and outgoing tides). After the bridge, we turned right into Maeva, which was a major cultural and religious center – there were many marae to see here, as well as rather strenuous hikes to go and see more up in the hills. We went as far as Fare Potee on the main road - an archeological site with several interesting marae outside and a museum, which unfortunately was closed.

On leaving Maeva southbound, we continued straight, not stopping at the Huahine Pearl Farm. Apparently there was a boat to take you out to the Pearl Farm, all for free – with the hope that you would purchase pearls of course; but we’d done the pearl farm thing in Fakarava, so we figured the information would be the same. We continued on to the village of Faie to find the sacred eels. Legend holds that it was the eels who brought fresh water to the village. I must say it was rather strange to see the heads with blue eyes peering out from under the far wall of the bridge. There were some large ones just laying about in the shallow water… watching us watching them.

We continued on south to cross the July Bridge between Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti (a much smaller and far less accessible island). Most of what we saw on Huahine Iti was beautiful scenery, very lush and such a varied selection of flora. We bought some drinks and found a spot to have our lunch, then continued on back to Fare. And back to the boat. It was once again a very nice day.

Mike and Lynn had moved on already and were enjoying the hospitality of the locals at Palmerston Island. Apparently they`ve not had a supply ship in 3 1/2 months… so we offered to bring some supplies. We did get stares and comments from the French locals (but we did understand the word yacht amongst all of it!) when we paid for the 25kgs of flour, 20kgs of rice, 25L of oil, 20L of mayo, enough coffee to make 3600 cups (!), 12 giant tins of tomato sauce, 3 of the biggest tins of biscuits I`ve ever seen (Cabin biscuits? must be a New Zealand/Australian thing?) and a few other odds and ends!!

Our next mission was to try and find capacitors for the 3 generators that were not working. Luckily we found a very helpful local who called one of his buddies in Raiatea (and next island on) who had them in stock. We were very lucky indeed!

After packing everything away on the boat we upped anchor just after noon and headed out to Raiatea. It was a short trip – only 20 miles, so it would take about 3 hours – the winds weren’t ideal, so we ended up motoring.

16 44 06S; 151 29 21W     27 & 28 August 07

The islands of Raiatea and Tahaa are quite unique in that they are rather close together (about 3 miles) and are separated by a lagoon, the two islands in turn are then totally encircled by a barrier reef – creating wonderfully calm waters within! Legends tell how the two islands were cut apart by a mythical eel. Raiatea is also the second largest island in French Polynesia and has a population of about 12 000 people.

Just before heading through the buoyed channel, we heard a lady calling for assistance on Channel 16. No one responded. So when she called again – Ken called her back. Shame, they were rather desperate as it was getting late and they were outside an entrance about 4 miles further to the south us – but being a charter boat, they only have paper charts… and they were afraid to enter the channel as it was not buoyed, and the sea was rough which made it difficult to see the entrance. So we gave her the coordinates for the channel we were about to enter – hopefully they made it safely inside!

Again the island was just a mass of beautifully lush mountains… quaint little “motus” jam-packed with a variety of trees – not palms!

We made it to the anchorage by 4pm, but moved two more times before sunset as the boats just weren’t swinging well together.

We went ashore the following morning only to hear that there was no reliable public transport in to the main town of Uturoa – it was too far to walk, but we could hitch-hike. The guy in first car that stopped for us also used to be a yachtie – apparently he arrived on a 9m yacht 20 years ago, young and poor, and clearly he never left!! He very kindly dropped us right in front of the store we needed. Thankfully he did – because the store had no name on the outside. They had all the capacitors we needed, and I still could not believe our luck! We had a walk around “town” – mostly supermarkets and magazins (like a corner café), and also popped into a very interesting art gallery. With nothing else to do we started our walk back along the main road thumbing a lift, but this time we were not as successful. We stopped at a Roulotte for a tasty vanilla ice cream each before continuing on. Eventually after walking about 20 minutes a young couple stopped and gave us a lift back to the marina.

We upped anchor the following morning and headed out the southern pass… next stop: Bora-Bora.

Beautiful BORA BORA

2007-08-29 to 2007-09-02


16 30 41S; 151 45 24W

An island so beautiful they named it twice! This is everyone’s idea of a South Pacific island for sure!! The seven million year old island is only 29sq kms and is made up of a 10km long main island, a few islands in the lagoon, and is also enclosed by a protective barrier reef with only one entrance/exit – Teavanui Pass. Dramatic basalt peaks soar 700m above a gorgeous multi-coloured lagoon made up every shade of blue you can conjure up! Interestingly, the letter “b” doesn’t exist in Tahitian, so Bora Bora is actually pronounced Pora Pora, meaning “first born”, since this island was the first island created after Raiatea. About 7000 people live on the island, many being skilled dancers apparently – and many into tourism of course.

We had a decent 5 hour trip over from Raiatea using only the genoa (the 1 - 1.3 knot of current helped as well!)… approaching the island the winds picked up and by the time we tucked into the very deep Povai Bay opposite Bloody Mary’s, it was gusting to 27 knots - it goes from like 7 to 27 in seconds – not nice! About an hour after anchoring, a couple we’d met in Colon, Panama on a boat called Water Music (Larry and Carmen) came over to extend an invitation to go and see some free local dancing at the Hotel Bora-Bora that evening, along with a couple on a boat called Promesa (Leo and Blanca). Sounded great!

We met ashore and walked a short distance to the very swish and authentic hotel – boy first impressions scream that this place must certainly set you back a couple of hundred a night for sure! Apparently this was the islands first large hotel and was opened in 1961, and is one of the most exclusive millionaire’s playgrounds in the South Pacific. Actors Pierce Brosnan and Eddie Murphy are regulars. Garden rooms begin at about $700 plus 11% tax. Rather than pay $1000 for a rather poorly situated overwater bungalow, take one of the eight pool bungalows, each with its own private swimming pool for only $900 US dollars a night!! But please note that breakfast and dinner are $120 extra per person. They are eagerly awaiting your 2 week reservation.

The bar area was gorgeous and it would be great to see the place in the daylight… no movie stars about though! We moved down to the beach to join the rest of the crowd for the 8:30pm start which was heralded by a magnificent drumbeat that you could feel right down to your bones. There were the usual hoola girls in grass skirts; tattooed men in thongs also dancing, then re-enacting the local games – climbing palm trees, cracking coconuts with their bare hands, lifting huge rocks - which then required audience participation as well!! Shame, there was a tiny Asian man who could not even lift it off the sand, why ever did they pick him?! Both the girls and guys then did some more dancing – again audience participation was essential for the fun element. The guys then finished off with the some impressive fire twirling of batons that had both ends set alight. It was a really nice evening, and we especially enjoyed the company!

We dingied to the main town,Vaitape, around 10:30am the following morning as we were anxious to get our Bond refunded (again we’d heard a rumour that it could take about 7 days – this is not what we were told, and definitely did not want to spend that much time here!). We moseyed on over to the bank, drew a number and waited – the bank was closing at 11:30 for lunch and it was 11:10. The Teller said we should’ve gone to the Genderme first (there was a sign at the door, which we failed to see!!!), but that we could come back at 2:30pm and we would be getting our money the same day – and it was not going to be given in Polynesian Francs (possibly another rumour!), but US Dollars or New Zealand Dollars were also an option. Oh how I hate rumours! Anyway, so we now had 2 ½ hours to kill as the Genderme only re-opened at 2pm.

We urgently need to correct our statement that Tahiti was the most expensive place we’ve been to thusfar. Bora Bora wins hands down. It’s really quite insane. We popped into the two local supermarkets and noticed that the fruit and veg was quite a lot more expensive, as was the entrecote steak (twice the price of what it was at Carrefour!!). The troubling this is that when we purchased all those goods in Huahine and again priced them in Raiatea, there wasn’t too much difference in price to Carrefour… Bora Bora is not very far from these two yet the prices are astronomical! Pearl shops abound and the prices are also a joke – where we paid $5 at the local market in Papeete for a single circled pearl, here they cost anything from $20 to $60 for something that definitely did not look very different to what we bought. They have cheap strings of pearls for $17 000… they too are waiting for your order!!

We also fancied a scooter ride the island… but they don’t do scooters here; we could have a bicycle for $15 each for 2 hours – or one of those nifty dune buggy type things for about $90 for 2 hours…. I don’t think so. We then walked over to the waterfront where I found a wealth of free information – all the tour operators, etc were out “on display” because there was a cruise ship on anchor. I sauntered around and found a local English speaking guy – who discovered I was not from the ship, so I proceeded to ask where the snorkelling hotspots were and he very kindly marked them on the island map for me. Nice chap indeed as he didn’t try and sell me a tour!!

With and hour and a half still to kill, we decided that we should walk around some more, then stop in at a local joint for some lunch as we’d probably only get back to the boat after 3pm. The local artisan centre didn’t have anything exciting – loads of stuff that was surely imported from China, as we’d never seen any of the locals sitting around making it!, as well as many gaudy shell necklaces and not forgetting the ever present black pearls. The only place that really made a huge statement was the Bora Bora Gallery, gee they had some gorgeous pieces – again, they do accept Mastercard!! Our Tiki we bought for a song in Fatu Hiva would easily have cost over $1000. We shared a very tasty Chinese stir-fry and french fries for lunch – a bargain at $15!! It was then off to the Genderme’s to clear us out, and then off to the bank – where Ken opted for New Zealand dollars.

The following morning was a run through of the usual boat chores before a much anticipated snorkelling session. The first spot we went to was not too bad although the water was quite choppy and rather murky… were bombarded by zillions of small fish (I think they were hoping to be fed bread crumbs!!). From there we dinghied around past exotic looking resorts to the Sofitel Motu located just past Matira Point. WOW! It was like being in a swimming pool!! The water was SO clear and again we were bombarded by small fish!! On closer inspection, there was quite a good variety of fish, and some we’d never seen before either! Nice not to have sharks hovering in the background for a change!

Back on board, we decided to try out Bloody Mary’s restaurant for lunch – which is also frequented by the rich and famous! They have signs up at their entrance of all the “stars” who’ve dined there. Must say it had a very nice ambiance – no shoes required at the flooring was soft beach sand, very authentic and well made wooden tables and stools, beautifully woven place mats, nice A-frame ceiling with woven inserts… and the scene would not be complete without a chicken or two running around (inside!!). Food was good too… best burger Ken had had in a long time I think!

On impulse we decided to move the boat to the Bora Bora Yacht Club…. 1) for a change of scenery, 2) for an easy exit to Palmerston. So we upped anchor after our meal and were re-anchored around the corner by 5:30pm! FYI, Bora Bora Yacht Club – is NOT a yacht club. It’s a restaurant. Strange I know!!! The wind was not gusting through the anchorage at all and it was rather blissful!

We had a walk into town on Saturday morning to get the last odds and ends – including the last baguette we’d be seeing in a long time! Although I’m not too fazed as I make a killer beer bread!! On our way back we decided to stop by at our neighbours and introduce ourselves (beings we’ve seen the boat rather regularly in the last month!!)… anyway, what was only meant to be quick chat, ended up being a beer and G&T session lasting 4 hours!!! Great Australian people – the boat is called Mojo Dreaming… will probably see the crew sometime in Brisbane as the owner will be taking the boat “home” to Hong Kong. So all our afternoons preparations went out the window… which only means we’ll be leaving for Palmerston later on Sunday morning… no sweat!

So this brings our “Society Island Cruising” chapter to a close… next we’ll be welcomed at Palmerston Atoll in the Cook Islands – an atoll with an interesting history and en even more intriguing hospitality. But more on that next time…

Palmerston Atoll is 650nm from Bora Bora (a 4 day trip)

Niue is 384nm (a 2/3 day trip)

Tonga (southern group – is again a 2/3 day trip from Niue)

Next updates will be when we arrive in Tonga, probably towards the end of September.

PALMERSTON - Simply Unforgettable

2007-09-03 to 2007-09-18

Bora Bora to Palmerston   2 - 6 September    16.30.03S; 151.43.95W 

We left Bora Bora on Sunday 2 September at noon for the atoll of Palmerston which was 650nm away – a 4 day sail for us. We’d read about this place – many cruisers claimed it was the highlight of their circumnavigations. How could one more atoll be so memorable? Put that thought on hold for a while… 

We had mixed weather en route - for the first 24 hours there were NE winds at 20kts which was great. It then switched to NW and SW (not a good angle) and all the way round to ESE (which was perfect) - but then on Tuesday we had a DREADFUL system come through. It was a horrible 12 hours... we had pouring rain for 6 hours and winds up to 30 knots. Then at 6pm the rain stopped and the winds picked up to 43 knots!! The seas were HUGE (it`s difficult to judge, but at least 15-17ft)! We had 3 reefs in the main (to just give the boat enough canvas to push us forward slowly), no other sails up, and were doing about 4 knots - we normally do about 7-9, but in this situation speed was not the issue!!, we were trying not to surf down the waves, but to gently glide up and down them. We also had huge rogue waves crashing against the side and breaking OVER the whole boat!!! My nerves!!!! We must`ve had at least 20 crash over the boat in 6 hours from when the wind picked up. We’ve also never had water in the cockpit… we have big clear vinyl sides that slide into sides of the bimini to keep us dry, but the water still managed to get in!! Poor Ken was drenched! Thank goodness it was dark and I could not see the sea!! 

Then to crown it all - we had one huge wave hit us side on and the force of the water tore the end off one of our side cockpit covers, and a wall of water drenched Ken again (who was already kitted out in foul weather gear).... in case you’re wondering, I was cowering inside the companionway (eyes glued to the radar and praying for it to end!) – honestly, I was not nearly as scared as I thought I’d be. Alas I was soon put to work, after Ken got drenched I heard water downstairs – oh happy days - it managed to squeeze through two small vents we have in the galley (another first I might add) - needless to say the WHOLE galley was also soaked (nothing worse than salt water inside your boat!!! What fun it was cleaning it up and hanging up for dear life, of course as the boat was heeling it was running into the saloon area - I just didn`t have enough hands, but used all our towels!! Just after about 12:20am the wind settled down and we could get some much needed sleep - we were exhausted! The autopilot handled it very well! Thanks George! 

The funny thing was we didn`t even know the system was coming... the problem is the weather in the south Pacific is very changeable and none of the weather sources are 100% accurate... I get forecasts from 5 or 6 sources - and they are about 90% accurate. There were 3 of us that got nailed – the other two apparently had 65 knots. When you`re out there you can`t run from it, you just trim the sails and make the boat comfortable (AND PRAY!). So, this has been our training run for the leg to New Zealand! 

The wind dropped off the next day, and by noon on a very grey and rainy Thursday we found ourselves motoring towards our destination – ETA 4:30pm. A couple of hours later – like magic - the sea was sprouting palm trees – and there in the middle of nowhere was Palmerston.   

… so, how could one more atoll be so memorable? Perhaps a lot of it has to do with the way the place was settled. In the early 1800’s Palmerston was inhabited by Polynesians who were being actively “missionaried”. In 1862 an Englishman of biblical proportions called William Marsters arrived along with his three wives. He went on to father 26 children and divided the island and reef into portions for each of the three families, prudently setting down rules protecting against intermarriage and providing for the distribution of property. Land was allocated by matrilineal progression within the family groups; private ownership of land was not recognized. There are also rules in place about who can marry who. A very different concept indeed! 

PALMERSTON     6 – 18 September     18.03.46S; 163.09.43W 

We’d been in SSB contact with Mike and Lynn (Wombat of Sydney) and as we were nearing, we switched to the VHF. Edward Marsters got wind of the fact that we were arriving that afternoon (with all their provisions that we’d bought in Huahine!) – and just after 3:30pm we saw him in a yellow rain jacket, accompanied by 2 others, coming out in his aluminium skiff to “claim us”! We exchanged friendly “hello’s” and he assured us he’d assist us to our mooring as soon as the mainsail was down. On entering the mooring area, Mike also came out to assist Edward. Safely tied up – we got a very big smile and very nice “welcome to Palmerston, welcome to Paradise!” from Edward – who then told us to have a great evening, and that he’d be around with the officials in the morning to clear us in. As always, no matter what type of passage you have – there’s always a great sense of satisfaction once you’re safely at anchor – or on a mooring! 

The (generally) prevailing Easterly trades combine with the big ground swell generated in the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean to kick up heavy surf over the reef. All this water flows the 4 miles through the lagoon, bringing nutrients and aeration, and exits in a race through the four passes on the leeward side of the atoll. This is where the mooring area & anchorage is – up on a coral ledge. The passes into the lagoon are very shallow and therefore most boats have to stay outside. So we were safe as long as the winds stayed between NNE and SSE. 

Just after 9am the following morning Edward brought Jock from Health and Quarantine, and Alex from Customs and Immigration over to clear us in. The Cook Islands have a free association with New Zealand. It was just so strange to hear everyone speaking English again – we’ve had months of Spanish and then French! Palmerston has adopted parallel requirements for control of disease and agricultural pests, which also meant that we were to hold onto our garbage until we got to Niue. Palmerston also wants to become an official port of entry for New Zealand, so the officials carefully maintain correct paperwork – the interview was welcoming and filled with laughter. They told us that there’d already been 50 boats through Palmerston!   

We took up Edward’s offer of a ride ashore at around 11am to meet the family, then have lunch. There were 10 of us going ashore. Approaching their “motu” – it was just a mass of palms from one side to the other – you couldn’t imagine there was a whole community living there!! The water was the most gorgeous blue – a nice contrast to the ultra white sand and green of thee palms. The walk to Edward’s house was along a rambling sand pathway under coconut trees, Shirley (his wife), and Mama Tuaine (his mother) was there to welcome us. Outside under a huge tarp were 4 tables end to end, covered in a long flower patterned plastic tablecloth, and set for at least 20 people. To the right was the washing up area – all dishes were washed outside unless the heaven’s opened offering torrential rain! 

Palmerston’s signature feature is its system of hosting visiting boats. When a sail is spotted or a VHF transmission is received, a man from three of the families will run to his skiff and motor out at his best speed to pick up the new arrival. First man there wins. Then, just as Edward did with Fast Forward, he will indicate a mooring. Currently Bob has 2 moorings; Cori has 1; Edward has 4. After formalities are concluded, the crew of that boat are guests of that host family. 

Being hosted means the following: Every morning your host pops by the boat – sometimes for a chat and/or a coffee cause he’s most likely been out since dawn fishing for your lunch! He would then ask when you’d like to go ashore – for ease of convenience, everyone usually went at the same time. The anchorage and the beach are about a mile apart, and the route varies from complicated to wild. Once you’ve landed, you are given the run of your hosts house and of the island. A typical morning might be spent beachcombing, snorkeling, chatting to the old folks, helping prepare lunch, helping out at the school, feeding the pigs and chickens… or whatever else takes your fancy! 

At around 1pm, hosted crews receive lunch. Every day we were there, Shirley cooked up a storm and served 12 sailors and her 8 family members – with a smile on her face!! Normal fare would be a variety of freshly baked bread; rice; pasta salad (bearing in mind that the only veg that grows on the island is taro and breadfruit – nothing else!!!); fish (parrot fish, tuna, barracuda or wahoo) done in a variety of ways: fried, baked, smoked or BBQ’d; then there’d also be pork and/or chicken; or sometimes even lamb. Each day Edward or Simon (his elder brother) would say grace, and each morning Shirley prepared all these dishes for people who would soon sail west and never be seen again. These people were as sincere as they come. 

The overwhelming reception of cruisers by the Marsters is not a seed that falls on stony ground, it would take a very callous yachtie to receive all this bounty and not reciprocate. Most of the boats – who had not heard before leaving “civilization” that the supply ship had been but not brought half the goods they urgently needed - went through their stores and gave away flour, rice, powdered milk, sugar, coffee, tinned goods and DVD’s (tell you what, thanks to the yachties, these people are up to speed with THE latest movies!). I was very relieved to get rid of the 20 cans of corned beef and 12 cans of ham we’d been lugging round since leaving SA (!!), along with savoury biscuits, chocolate (treated as gold!!), magazines, razors for Edward, shampoo (Shirley nearly cried when she saw it – she’s not had any for months) body lotion and hair accessories – these I shared between Shirley & Edward; and Paul & Sue (Edward’s sister).  

You are also more than welcome to volunteer your services ashore... like fixing broken appliances, generators, etc. Ken helped Simon make 10 roof trusses for a building next to the school; sorted out Shirley’s sink; gave Edward and Paul arm extensions for their outboards (so no more sore shoulders!), and gave them various nuts, bolts and rivets from our supplies. 

Simon was on board one day and happened to see me sewing… next thing I knew I was sewing a short sleeved, collared, button-up shirt for him. How do I get myself into these situations?! He did ask very nicely though!! How could I say no?! Anyway it turned out very well and he`s absolutely thrilled!!! Sue and Shirley then wanted a pattern for this shirt – they have loads of material and two sewing machines, but no clue how to cut a pattern. As luck would have it, I happened to have a pattern on board, so I reinforced it and gave it to Sue, along with a very descriptive sewing book. Ken and I figured that we can always replace the stuff that we’d given/sold them as we were going to New Zealand. They weren’t going anywhere and would be without for months and even years. Just before we left they wanted a shirt pattern for teenage boys – this was a bit more tricky as I am not a very skilled pattern cutter, but I did try and cut one off one of the boys’ shirts. I did however mention to them that it would be a lot easier if they just unpicked the whole shirt!! We hope it worked out alright!!   


With the exception of Sue and Paul, every family on the island has at least one family member working for the Government, which naturally guarantees a monthly salary in the kitty. Life on the island is not easy, there are no shops whatsoever - not even corner café to run to if you’re out of sugar; internet costs $20 NZD for an hour; phone calls and sending faxes are not cheap; there is no television or radio either. There is an SSB, but this is only used in emergencies and to receive weather updates in the cyclone season. There are about 60 people on the island – 35 of whom are children. The school system is a “work at your own pace” system… not ideal as there is no great competition amongst the kids, and their skills are way behind other kids their age, this is mainly due to them not having computers to work with - but at least they are attending school! The supply ship normally comes every 3-4 months. The islanders place orders with friends and family members in Rarotonga who would then see to it that their agent got it on the ship. Family visiting in December from New Zealand usually come fully loaded – bearing not only gifts, but also food for themselves!! As for clothing, apart from family sending items and handouts from the yachties, there’s a ship that comes by every 4 years selling clothes to the South Pacific islands.  

I really took a liking to Edward’s sister Sue and her husband Paul. They moved back to Palmerston in 2001 because her mum was ill. They desperately want to go back as they have 6 children and New Zealand clearly has a lot more to offer - but family obligations come first – perhaps it won’t be too long a wait, but only time will tell. They make their living selling fish to a dealer in Rarotonga; Paul is very artistic and makes Polynesian drums from mahogany (amazingly the beautiful mahogany trees grow amongst the coconut trees!), as well as other trinkets. Sue is an expert weaver and she weaves the most beautiful and intricate hats, fans and bags. 

When we were there, we commissioned her to weave a very plain hat for me using the “natural rito” instead of the boiled rito – the end result being a creamish coloured all-weather hat instead of a beautiful white hat only to be worn indoors (at church). Another advantage being that I could roll it up and simply slip it into a carrier bag! She made a beautiful white hat for Lynn too – complete with delicate flowers made from the scraps of rito. It takes her about a week to make hat – as mine was not to be too involved, it would take about 4 days. About 30 minutes after meeting her I just loved her – she was such a quite and gentle soul. I asked her when the next “rito making process” was going to take place, and she replied “tomorrow, do you want to come and look?” – I replied excitedly that I wouldn’t miss it for the world, and that if she didn’t mind, could I photograph and document the entire process for her, which I would then print out so that she could have something to show future clients. She was thrilled and confided that she was not very good at explaining the process to a lot of people. Fantastic! I felt so good – I love helping people!  

Edward did not fetch me early the following morning as discussed and I was rather upset as I was sure I was missing out on the process!! When we were eventually taken ashore later on that day, I discovered that they realized something was wrong and so they waited for me! I must admit it is a huge process, the rito is stripped from the centre of the young palm leaves (the men and boys usually scale the young palms to do this); then using a sharp blade a thin but strong “ribbon” is stripped off this leaf – then it’s cleaned, soaked and boiled. The final and very time consuming step – all the women (and whoever wants to lend a hand!) sit on a cloth on the ground, the wet rito safely in the middle (contact with sand is not good); then using previously dried strips (which are only about 30cm in length), the wet wet rito is then tied in little evenly spaced bundles of four to the dried strips, the strips are then tied together until a length of about 1,2m is reached. This “very revealing hoola skirt” is then carefully hung on the washline to dry. Once dry, the final product resembles a very thin straw as the sides have now curled in. The weaving process can now begin! After witnessing and partaking in this process I encouraged her to increase her prices – at least double them to $160, as I’d heard that they were being sold in Rarotonga for $300 - $500!!  

Whilst “bonding with the girls’” during that process I also had the opportunity to enquire about the islands’ customs and beliefs etc. Her mum then told me about the “feeding children”. When a young married couple has a baby, it will then go to the one set of grandparents – who will name and raise the child as their own. When the next child is born, it goes to the other set of grandparents!! The couple only get to keep the third child!! A major event for boys is the hair-cutting ceremony – their hair is not cut from the day they are born until the age of 5. The long ponytail is then cut – and this signifies the end of their childhood. Nothing significant happens to the girls – at the age of 21 they are handed a silver key, and that’s it! 

While I was having a great time sitting in the shade and talking to Sue and her mum, poor Ken was slaving away in the midday sun!! His aim was to help Simon build ten roof trusses… after making a template first, the other nine were easy to knock together. I’d pop over every now and then as Sue’s house was right next to the school and drop off water and sometimes a snack – take some pictures of their progress. We’d all then meet for lunch at Edward and Shirley’s, help with the dishes, and then get back to our respective jobs… it was like a summer camp for adults! 

After the day/afternoon ashore Edward would then ferry us all back at around 5:30-ish, most of us quite tired and dying for a shower! He would then go round to one of the boats for a drink and a chat (we normally gave him a rum), the kids would go to whichever boat took their fancy that day – if they were on board Fast Forward, I’d make them juice give them lollipops – and they’d browse through our DVD’s and borrow whatever they fancied; sometimes the boys would fish off the back (but we never had any bait!!). At least we knew they would not stay long as they needed to head off back through the pass to their island before dark!!    


Early the next week we’d heard that “the ship” was coming. The air was electric and the island was abuzz!! “The ship” was a 150ft schooner carrying paying crew of 32 18-25 year olds - each paying $100 (Canadian) a day for food; a bed in very confined quarters; and lots of work including helping with the sails; steering the boat; sanding down miles of wood; and other general boat maintenance. Crew can join the ship at any time and can stay from 1 month to 13 months (taking you back to Canada). Anyway, so they were coming to spend 3 nights at anchor. The group of 32 were then divided up and each family would then have between 2 and 4 guests per night. There was also going to be an “island party and BBQ” on the Saturday and we were all invited (by the mayor!!) to attend. Very nice!   

Ken was very keen to go fishing with “a local” – and Paul was more than willing to take him out. Ben, on a boat called Gaia also joined them early on Friday morning. Paul said for them to be ready by 7am, but was already hovering outside the boat by 6:50am! Ken gulped down the last of his coffee and I handed him the rest of his toast to eat en route to wherever the fishing hotspot was. They returned 2 hours later with 2 fish – Ken caught a barracuda, and Ben caught quite a big wahoo. Ken had a really good time and learnt a lot: the best way to stop a mahi mahi from thrashing about on the deck is to hit it really hard just above the tail (this kills the nerves and stops it thrashing around). And they also learnt how to prepare a flying fish lure using a real flying fish – this lure is used to troll with and ideal for catching wahoo and tuna. Very handy tip indeed as we have loads of flying fish accidentally landing on the deck!     

I was also lucky enough to celebrate my birthday in Palmerston. In our confusion on the Monday we got the dates all mixed up and thought the 15th was on the Friday (back at the ranch it was actually on Saturday!) – no sweat - Shirley took it upon herself to arrange a "birthday party" on the Friday (because of the "island party" on the Saturday). To be honest, I was just going to bring 2 batches of chocolate brownies ashore for everyone and not worry about a “celebration” at all!! But Shirley and Sue were insistent!! They went to SO much trouble, I was so touched!! There was loads fish (thanks Ken & Ben!), lamb chops (which apparently is only brought out on special occasions!), and pork all done on the BBQ. Shirley got the other yachties to make a salad each; and I brought the brownies. It was all finger-licking good!!! Sue baked a cake (complete with candles!) and Paul made delicious donuts. There were 30 people, most went back for seconds, and there was still loads of food left over!!! It was certainly a birthday to remember that`s for sure!!! Then of course we had the island party on Saturday afternoon, complete with island dancing! It was a fantastic 2 days! 

We knew we had to leave soon as time was marching on – and we also needed to rest!! We thought about leaving on the Sunday – but we still had so much to finish off! Sue’s new booklet was just about finished – I had also photographed and printed all her finished products so at least she could also use that to give people ideas for hats etc. She was still finishing off my hat – Paul was making Ken a Polynesian drum too… they said that they’d bring everything round on the Monday afternoon and we could say our goodbyes (which I was dreading!). I also wanted to make a meal or two for the trip to Niue. AND I was still battling to burn a photo slideshow onto disc for them to view on the TV using the DVD player! I think a lot of yachties do this for them as they have no way of printing photos… 99% of the families don’t even have a computer!! 

Whilst there we never got to go snorkeling either – but I’m not too fussed as the wind was usually blowing hoolie in anycase! The island is humpback whale territory too… at about 10:30 one evening we were both down below – suddenly we heard this noise – I asked Ken if there were people outside, of course it was as black as ink out! He got the torch and shone it around, but could see nothing. Next thing Mike’s on the VHF asking if we heard the whales – they were singing under the boat!!  

Our last afternoon there was a very special one indeed – no sooner had I finished showering when I heard Ken shouting for me to come and look – there’s a whale coming!!! Oh geez – panic stations! I rewrapped the towel – rushed up the stairs grabbing the camera en route – flicked it on, in a tizz of excitement I forgot the lens cap was still on (duh!). The whale was just slowly cruising behind all the boats heading directly for our boat!! I was also battling to see the LCD screen because of the glare off the water from the late afternoon sun - but I was just clicking away and hoping for the best. He passed so close next to us I thought at one stage he must’ve been blind! When I eventually calmed down I managed to get a really cool shot of his tail… which is another one of our “hard to beat” screensavers!  

Shortly after this both families came on board to have “farewell drinks”. Sue, Paul, Simon, Edward & Shirley said that they were going to come around early in the morning to see us off… simply prolonging the goodbyes!!! Suddenly the kids were screaming and shouting – in the distance was a school of fish being chased by school of tuna, a major feeding frenzy taking place, Edward, Paul and some of boys were off in their skiffs like greased lightning… they’d just left when a sailfish leapt of the water chasing the tuna chasing the others!! What a sight! Unfortunately they came back empty handed. 

We called Edward just before 7am the following morning to say we were leaving within the hour… no problem – they were already hovering nearby as they’d all been out early to fish. I must admit it was very sad leaving and I did shed a few tears. The weather looked a bit grim as it was overcast and gray, but we had to leave.  

We had an absolutely amazing time and are keeping in touch with Sue and Paul via e-mail. Who knows when our paths will cross again…               


2007-09-19 to 2007-09-30

18 – 21 September 

We arrived in Niue at 4:05am cold and tired and - minus the engine. The water pump that cools the water to the engine decided it was time to go to heaven. Great. It packed up the previous morning - and we`d only been motoring for about 5 hours. So up went the Code 0 in 4-6 knots of wind – our ETA was drastically "rescheduled" by 12 hours! Luckily we were managing to do between 3 and 4.5 knots (not bad considering there was hardly any wind). A couple of years ago Ken had a bracket made for the dinghy outboard motor which would slip into holes on the transom – enabling us, in an emergency, to power us forward and have some maneuverability. This was fitted and tested in the daylight – and it appeared to work like a charm. 

The weather was very iffy and we were approaching the island on the windward side – at one stage we were caught between two squalls and the wind kept changing direction! After at least an hour of indecision (thankfully not ours!) we were slowly headed for the northern end – in fact we were rather lucky because we were able to hold that same tack all the way round to outside the anchorage… where, at 2am we were greeted by a humpback whale about 10m off the starboard bow! 

We managed to do about 1 - 1.5 knots with the outboard, I was quite pleased that the wind was not howling, otherwise we would’ve had a real problem. I was standing on the bow with a spotlight and as we neared the buoyed area I frantically shone it round looking for a free one, as we’d have little time for error! Luckily Mike had told us that there were two rows – so it was then pretty easy to visualize the setup in the limited light we had. Suddenly just to our right I spotted a free buoy, and thankfully there were no boats to the right of it – realistically we’d only have one shot at picking it up as our maneuverability was very limited… ooh the pressure!! Ken had put the bow-thruster down, but I could not hear the beeping from up front – and little did I know that it too had cutout and he could not get it to go back up!!! It always happens in three’s… two down, one to go! 

Anyway, I picked up the line – easy peasy, what was I worried about?! – Ken then came forward to sort out the lines – which we were then hoping would not get tangled around the bow-thruster, but of course did!!! Presumably, this is number 3! So there we were at 3:05am trying in vain to untangle lines from the bow-thruster with a boat hook!! At 3:30 we realized we had no chance. I suggested we just put the dinghy in the water and that Ken (poor Ken!!!) get in the water and untangle the ropes. Or is this number 3?! He was horrified – I mean no one wants to go swimming in 40 meters of water - exposed to the open sea - at 4 in the morning!!! But we had no choice as we did not want the bow-thruster to get damaged as the boat pulled back on the lines. So in he went, but he was very quick!! He said that we’d never in a million years have managed to untangle it from the deck. Go Kenny!     

We eventually plopped into bed after nice warm showers at 5:30am!! 


* A bit of history for you…

Niue is 264 square km and is one of the world’s smallest self-governing states (in free association with New Zealand). The name comes from niu (coconut tree) and e (behold) and is pronounced NEW-WAY. This little known island boasts some of the finest and very unique coastal limestone crevices and chasms in the South Pacific, all open to visitors and freely accessible.  

Niue is also one of the largest uplifted coral islands in the world. The island is an elevated atoll shaped like a two-tiered wedding cake with two terraces rising from the sea. The lower terrace rises sharply, creating the 20 meter coastal cliffs that virtually surround the island. Inland, a second terrace rises abruptly from this coastal belt to the central plateau some 60 meters above the ocean. According to some university professor, the uplifting continues in a half a million years from now Niue will be 50-70 meters higher than it is today! 

A fringing reef borders much of the coast, but in places the ocean breakers smash directly into precipitous cliffs. Faulting during the island’s uplifting has created the chasms and crevices that are Niue’s greatest attractions. Water dripping from their ceilings has added a touch of the surreal in the form of stalactites and stalagmites. 

Niue was colonized by Samoans and then Tongans. The present Niuean language is related to both. Captain Cook made three lands in 1774, but he got a hostile reception from warriors with red-painted teeth!! He called it Savage Island (as opposed to the Friendly Islands, Tonga), a name still heard from time to time. Then followed a period when missionaries arrived trying to convert the islanders to Christianity. Much of the early hostility to foreigners was motivated by a very real fear of European diseases. The islanders’ reputation for ferocity had always kept the whalers away, but then in the 1860’s came the Peruvians and Bully Hayes, who was able to entice Niuean men to leave their island voluntarily to mine phosphate for years at a time on distant Madden Island. Finally in 1900, Niue was taken over by the UK and a year later transferred to New Zealand. 

And a bit on the economy - in case you’re interested…

Niue is totally dependent on official aid from New Zealand – which supplies ¾ of the local budget. Overseas aid totals about NZ$8 million a year, or NZ$5750 per capita, one of the highest levels in the South Pacific. Many government services are free and about ½ the residents work for the government. Imports are 13 times higher than exports, an imbalance only exceeded in the French colonies. Tourism, the sale of postage stamps and limited royalties from overseas fishing companies help balance the island’s cash flow. In 1996 the NZ government spent NZ$10 million extending the airport runway and building the Matavai Resort in the hope of promoting tourism. Even so, the hotels stand empty for most of the year and 2/3 of the “tourists” are relatives of the islanders! Hurricanes have destroyed coconut plantations, bringing to an end the processing of coconut cream; as well as lime and passion fruit plantations. Droughts have also taken their toll. Farmers are now turning to organic produce to serve the lucrative natural foods markets in NZ. Efforts are being made to make Niue the first pesticide-free, entirely organic country in the world by 2010. 


21– 30 September

19.03.45S / 169.51.33W

What a beautiful sight the island was on that Friday morning, even though it was slightly overcast. Getting the dinghy ashore was an adventure, but no real problem. As there is no dinghy dock it needs to be lifted out onto the wharf by crane! I would jump out at the steps up to the wharf and get the cart in position and the crane hook down for Ken to attach the dinghy’s harness to – Ken and the dinghy were then hoisted out of the water – and then lowered onto the small cart on the concrete wharf. Ken would then move the dinghy to the “parking lot” and we’d get the dinghy off the cart for others to use. You obviously reverse the procedure to return to sea. A very unique but very efficient system!

Once ashore, we made our way to the officials to clear in – a breeze as usual! We then went to - and are now members of - Niue Yacht Club, which is not only the smallest yacht club in the world but not one of the committee members own a yacht!! They have better than 1200 members from around the world! I think Keith and Jim owns the yacht club, and Ernie answers the VHF enquiries, checks the buoys, etc. Jim’s wife, Mamata owned Mamata’s Ice Cream Heaven (conveniently located right next to the yacht club!) – she sold toasties, burgers, panini’s, cakes, coffees, etc – and the best ice cream in the southern hemisphere (that’s our opinion anyway!!). We’re very pleased that we are able to get this ice cream in New Zealand as well!  

A group of us went to Jenna’s that night for fish and chips – another very good meal that did not break the bank. She was not licensed, but very kindly sent her son out to buy a case of beer for us! Apparently 2 humpback whales and their calf were in the anchorage earlier on in the week and most of the yachties got to spend 2,5 hours swimming with them!!! Wow, that must`ve been absolutely awesome!!! 

We went off to a “cultural festival” at the local high school the following morning – there is no public transport on the island, but thumbing a lift is a good way to get around and meet the locals! We did arrive at the festival a bit late, but what we saw did not blow us away. A bit disappointing indeed. We thumbed a lift from an elderly couple who were from another village, said that they too were disappointed as the proceedings were very slow and it paled in comparison to their village festival.  

We then headed straight to an ex-New Zealander called Terry who helped Ken strip the water pump. We discovered that not only did it need new bearings, but also a new seal. Terry had the bearings, but said that he’d try and locate a kit in NZ. There is only one flight a week – and if the plane is full a lot of stuff usually gets left behind. So worst case scenario we’d be waiting there for 2 weeks. Oh well, we had no choice – and we could think of worse places to be stuck in!

There was another major event taking place on the island that weekend – the traditional haircutting ceremony for boys; when the long tail of hair he has kept since a child is removed. Guests invited to the concurrent feast contribute hundreds of dollars to a fund that goes to the boy after the celebration expenses have been paid. For girls there’s a similar ear-piercing ceremony. The gatherings are usually held on a Saturday in private homes – and you may very well be invited to attend if you know a family member. Unfortunately we did not attend this special ceremony. 

On Sunday, together with the Dutch couple off “Chulugi”; and New Zealander Tony, off “Checkmate”, we decided to try out the Washaway Café, which is only open on Sundays’ from 11am til late. We set off around 4pm – not really knowing exactly how far it was either! We tried thumbing lifts (whilst covering ground on foot of course!) for more than half an hour – but to no avail! Tony complained about having a bad knee and opted to wait on the corner – the four of us continued on up the hill (probably the only hill in Niue!). After at least another 20 minutes a truck stopped and we jumped in the back – very thankful indeed!! It turned out to be a very long ride to the pub – at least 20 kms. This kind gentleman dropped us off right outside the pub even though it was out of his way!! These people are just so nice! We were halfway through our drinks and feeling rather guilty about Tony – hoping that’d he’d get a lift eventually, when suddenly a car pulled in… and there he was! The guy who gave him a lift was from a car rental place – three Chilean yachties had hired a car and had managed to get 2 flat tyres! We ended up having delicious burgers – complete with beetroot and an egg – typical New Zealand style! Marlene and I were a bit worried about a lift back as it was now dark. The Chilean yachties were still there and perhaps we could come to some arrangement. After we’d finished our meal the car rental guy came over and asked us if we’d like a lift back into town… what luck - certainly an offer we could not refuse!!!  

We braved the start of the SW swell and managed to get shore on Tuesday only to be greeted by Ernie who had just been trying to hail us on the VHF to tell us that the water pump was ready to be picked up. I was confused but did not act blonde. How could it be ready when the plane was only flying in on Friday? We gladly accepted the lift and Ernie dropped me off at the internet café en route to Terry’s. As luck would have it, Terry was scrounging around his yard and stumbled upon a water pump that had the exact parts we needed!! Ken paid the $125 (a bargain!) and we celebrated with yet another two scoops of ice cream, before returning to the boat to fit the pump.     

The weather forecast predicted NW winds and a SW swell. This was not good, as the anchorage was only protected in NE and SE winds. We were going to be on a lee shore, but apparently it was not a problem as the buoys were very strong and have been regularly maintained. At least the engine was working again! Luckily the wind was not very strong, but the swell was rolling in and we could not get ashore on Wednesday as the rollers were crashing over the concrete dock! All in all it was not absolutely unbearable – I suppose having a bigger boat does make a difference!  

On Monday we’d hired a motorbike for two days to do some exploring on the island, but after 2 days of almost constant rain – we decided that perhaps a car was a better option. After packing a lunch and the stuff we’d be needing for the days adventure, we braved the swell on the Thursday morning, which by now was a lot smaller, but we now had high tide to contend with!! We thumbed a lift to the car rental place, who gladly exchanged the bike for the car. We’d paid $10 (Niuean) for my drivers license as I was going to be driving us around. It felt very strange driving a car again – not to mention an automatic! So off we went – map in hand.

Our intentions were to try and see as much as possible, if not everything, in two days. Map in hand, we started off up the eastern shore – unfortunately it was not a coastal road and to see any of coastline meant turning off the main road at signs marked “sea tracks” – which then wound through the bush towards the coast. A real adventure in our little Toyota Sunny! In our rush to leave the boat early that morning we’d stupidly forgotten to take water!!! A first I might add – I always have a bottle with me. It was most annoying as thus far there’d been NO shops along the way either!! Our first stop took us an impressive limestone arch; the next was a stop afforded us spectacular views of the coastline featuring lots of impressive chasms.  

The Togo Chasm walk was next on the list. We walked for about 15 mins through the Hubalu Forest which was rather unusual as the trees were vying for space amongst the large coral mounds - real evidence that Niue is a raised atoll!! Once out of the “forest” we were treated to the most spectacular and visually unusual “landscape” – the escarpment, for as far as we could see was a mass of grey coral pinnacles. As we were continuing down the series of concrete steps we were walking between ginormous rocks, the path curved to the right and there were another set of steps – this time a sturdy wooden ladder which took you down into an oasis of sheer coral walls and coconut palms… it was like being on a film set for a “lost world” movie! Unbelievable. 

Once back at the car the sun was out and we were thirsty!! We decided that since it was lunchtime we should hit a left at the next intersection and head the 15kms back into town, as we knew we’d be able to buy refreshments there. Mysteriously the car ended up at the yacht club and we found ourselves – once again – savouring an ice cream each! We figured we’d burn it off on the next walk.  

Vaikona Chasm was not on the tourist map – but was in our Moon Handbook of the South Pacific. The 4km walk through the forest was rather challenging and seemed to take forever as it was essential we kept our eyes on the ground – the last thing we needed was to trip and fall over a tree root and onto the very sharp limestone. The path through the forest was not very clear either as there were a lot of fallen leaves, but, reassuringly, every so often we spotted a red arrow strapped to a tree. We eventually found the cave – which is said to be spectacular - once inside, you swim through two pools and there are black carp and tiny freshwater crayfish to be seen. I was a bit nervous about entering it as it seemed to be rather steep and slippery. The guide said there’d be an orange rope, but this was nowhere to be seen - and what if we couldn’t get out? I said to Ken that he was welcome to give it a shot – if something happened I could always gnaw off a tarzan rope and help him out! We thought it was not a good idea and decided to head further along the path towards the sea. At least we were afforded with a spectacular table-top type reef ledge at the bottom – a good photo opportunity! I was being super careful on the super sharp limestone – not only was I worried of falling on it, but falling over the edge!! I shouldn’t try so hard… the front of my shoe caught on a piece of limestone that was jutting out slightly and before I new what was happening I had puncture marks down my shin!! OUCH! They immediately swelled up and oozed blood. Charming I know. I knew I would not really run the risk of an infection as it was not underwater coral (which is deadly). I consoled myself by saying it could be a lot worse – like not being able to walk and needing stitches.

So off we traipsed back through the forest only to find that somehow along the path we’d missed an arrow and done a full circle. Ken immediately recognized the familiar spot as I’d taken photos of huge coconut crabs only 10 minutes before. Oh no. I had visions of us climbing a tree and spending a very long night huddled together on a branch fighting off coconut crabs and mozzies – and who knew what else!! We were so far from the main road and there were hardly any cars anyway - so we couldn’t even use traffic noise to get a sense of direction. It was 3:30 – we had 3 hours of daylight left. There was still hope, but it was still quite a scary thought!! I eventually spotted a red arrow and we carefully scrambled across mounds of limestone to get to it. Again we followed that arrow – slowly this time – suddenly Ken looks up and there was a tiny red arrow pointing UP!!! We’d missed the limestone steps going up! How silly of them not to put the arrow lower down!!! Phew! That was lucky! After another 30 mins we came across 2 couples (we knew the one couple) and a guide – that was obviously the key!!!! Apparently a guide is essential… we’d later heard that someone had managed to get lost for 3 days in that forest!! Perhaps that’s why it’s not marked on the tourist map anymore.           

Back at the car we were rather knackered! This is the most exercise we’d had for ages!! At least I could rinse my wound! We decided to call it day as it was nearing 4pm – and drove back to town via the north coast road. In several of the small villages, there are monuments to locals who served in WWI. We noticed a lot of abandoned houses and ghost towns along the way - apparently many islanders (approx 80%) have left the island for better prospects in New Zealand. There are only about 1400 people left on the island – another 20 000 live in New Zealand (all Niueans are NZ citizens) – and sadly more and more people leave “the Rock” very year for New Zealand.  

All land is also held by families – we noticed too that there are many roadside graves. This is apparently also a way to hold onto land. 

The Yacht Club was having their weekly BBQ that evening and it seemed like a great way to end the day - with 12 other yachties.The food was excellent to say the least – we had wahoo, barracuda, sausages, bread, green salad and oven cooked “chips” made from potato, taro, pumpkin and boiling bananas (which taste like peanuts!).     

We slept like babies that night and weren’t awake as early as we expected to be – eventually setting off at around 9am! We stopped and enjoyed another homemade lunch at Limu, here we trekked down to two beautiful pools that had formed inside the reef. They were supposed to be very good for snorkeling, but we chose not to snorkel. I blamed the leg and I simply did not have the energy I had the previous day! The highlights of the day were undoubtedly the two caves: Vaihakea Cave and Palaha Cave which featured the most amazing stalactites and stalagmites. 

So, with the engine fixed and the island explored we decided that we should leave on Sunday – there was still time to clear out so we rushed back to the boat to get our documents, then rushed back and cleared out. Once that was sorted out – we once again found ourselves with ice creams wedged firmly in the palms of our hands! 

Saturday was spent getting the boat ready for the short leg to Tonga – it was to be a 2 nighter and the winds predicted were to be less than 20 knots. We had our last meal ashore at the Indian restaurant – we’d heard it wasn’t bad, and that there was “a lot of meat”. Great! So off we went – mysteriously finding ourselves having desert at Mamata’s before the curry! Needless to say my appetite then went to the dogs and I ended up taking most of my meal home! I must admit that what we’d heard was correct – in fact – there was ONLY meat, no veg at all! The beef gave your face a real workout – thank goodness Ken and I decided to share – the chicken was really good! 

We set off at 2pm on Sunday afternoon in 25 knots of wind. Soon Niue looked just like a pancake on the horizon. An interesting, fascinating and very enjoyable pancake!      

Kingdom of Tonga - Part 1

2007-10-02 to 2007-10-18

NIUE TO TONGA      2 October 2007      250nm

We set off just before sunset for the two day trip to Tonga. Again the weather forecast was horribly incorrect – the seas were fairly big and uncomfortable, but at least the wind was only clocking 30 knots, and in the right direction! All in all it was tolerable and we were flying along! The following day saw the seas calming down… but the wind was still 25 knots – which was a good thing, but it meant our ETA was definitely going to be after sunset. We could not speed up and didn’t really want to spend another night out there, so after listening to the daily check-in on the SSB, we called our good friend Tony who we knew was in Vava’u, and he very kindly gave us his GPS waypoints into the channel and up to the first safe anchorage – this, together with our radar and depth sounder were the other essentials – not forgetting our 2 pairs of tired eyes of course!

The Kingdom of Tonga is the oldest and last remaining Polynesian monarchy, and is the only Pacific nation never brought under foreign rule. HRH King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV steered Tonga on a very conservative course for almost three decades until he passed away just over a year ago. His son is next in line and apparently he’s a temperamental mover and shaker with no time for inefficiency, who said that Tongans preferred attending funerals to work! Seems like a long overdue shake-up can be expected!

Tonga is divided into four parts: Tongatapu in the south with Nuku’alofa as the capital; the Ha’apai group, a far-flung archipelago of low coral islands and soaring volcanoes in the centre; the Vava’u Group; then the isolated, volcanic Niuas in the far north. Tonga comprises 170 islands in total and only 42 of these are inhabited! No other Pacific country is made up of components as scenically diverse as these.

Vava’u is Tonga’s most scenic region. It’s an uplifted limestone cluster that tilts to cliffs in the north and submerges in a myriad of small islands to the south. A labyrinth of waterways winds between plateaus thrust up by subterranean muscle-flexing. Annoyingly, it was an overcast evening when we arrived, but one could see the high cliffs as we rounded the northern part of the island. We approached and navigated the 10kms up the fjordlike Ava Pulepulekai channel with extreme caution. On entering the very open Lotuma Bay at 3am we spotted Tony’s boat – aware of the major drop-off, we crept slowly forward til Ken could just about jump ashore (!) before dropping the anchor and falling back. What bliss it was to have arrived safely – again! We thanked Tony profusely for helping, and suffering an evening of very disturbed sleep to ensure our safe arrival!

 After 5 hours of sleep we awoke to light rain falling – and a very beautiful and serene anchorage surrounded by green rolling hills. One would never have thought that the town of Neiafu, Tonga’s second “city”, was located just around the corner overlooking the landlocked Port of Refuge Harbour, said to be one of the finest in the South Pacific!

First things first – we had to clear in. With there being no space on the Customs dock, we rafted up to one of the Tongan navy vessels – a friendly bunch indeed. I stayed on board (as I’d discovered a good free internet connection!) whilst Ken dealt with the officials who refused to come to the yacht because it was raining (which suited us just fine as we’d heard stories of them confiscating fresh fruit, veg and dairy products). Ken eventually arrived back on board with a bag of mangoes that the Captain of the Navy vessel had given him! Welcome to Tonga!!

The very deep anchorage is littered with rental mooring buoys which are owned and managed by businesses ashore. 98% of them were occupied and the other 2% were unsuitable due to our size. Thankfully we carry a lot of chain so we anchored out to the southern end with the other “big boys”!

Of the 9 days we were anchored there I think we saw the sun 4 times. The weather was dreadful actually (but at least it wasn’t cold!) – there were systems coming through continually, bringing torrential rain at times… one afternoon the poor dingy was just about sinking it was so full of water!!

Frankly, the town itself was really nothing to rave about. We were appalled at how dirty it was – all through the Pacific the islanders took pride in their surroundings. Not here! There was a daily market where people could buy local and imported fresh produce; an obscenely smelly fish market which we had no desire to walk through; a well stocked but pricey hardware store (where we bought a can of contact adhesive in case we needed to make an emergency repair to our delaminated and fragile main sail whilst en route to New Zealand!); and a few supermarkets (many owned by Chinese) where one could purchase rather expensive foodstuffs – at least the freshly baked bread was cheap and very good! Getting eggs was sometimes a problem, but you nabbed them for a dear price when you could!   

The first thing you noticed ashore was that the males wore skirts! What a change!! These traditional skirts are called ta’ovala and woven from Pandanus leaves. Perhaps the custom originated when Tongan mariners used canoe sails to cloak their nakedness. The women wear long shirts or tunics and blouses that cover their upper arms, and then their ta’ovala over this. The men almost always wear a collared shirt and often wear a wrap around skirt called a tupenu which is often accompanied by a ta’ovala. The ta’ovala is worn around the waist, and the men secure it with a coconut-fibre cord, while the women wear a kiekie (a decorative waistband with dangling strips of Pandanus). The sight of a group of women on the road each with a Pandanus mat tied around her waist is truly striking! Worn especially on formal occasions, these mats are often prized heirlooms. Tongans dress in black and wear huge mats when mourning. If an important member of the royal family dies, the national period of mourning can last as long as six months, and the locals are required to dress in black, and all places of sports or entertainment closed for the duration!   

That said - both men and women appearing topless in public are punished with a T$20 fine… unless men are at the beach. As in Victorian England, they usually go swimming fully clothed. Women will never wear a miniskirt or a spaghetti strap top. Visitors are cut some slack of course, but for us female travelers it makes sense to simply cover up and not attract any unwelcome attention or convey disrespect!  

The local crafts in Neiafu were not bad really – there were some good weavers about (mostly women weaving) baskets, bags, placemats & mats from Pandanus leaves, which can also be used in cooking: gives a fragrant, sweet, smoky flavour to chicken apparently! The wood carvings were not very impressive, the beautiful war clubs one sees in museums are rarely made today – and the traditional Kava bowls are apparently vastly inferior to those made in Samoa and Fiji. The crafts were a good price, but Lynn said there was a much bigger variety available in Nuki’alofa for quite a lot less Pa’anga! I also read recently that they were now orientated towards producing imitations of the Hawaiian or Maori “tikis” and selling them off as Tongan Gods…

Surprisingly, there are many foreigners who have made Tonga their home, and are running a number of businesses which include a bakery; numerous internet café’s serving light meals; restaurants; and dive shops either located in town or on the “waterfront”. We managed to watch some of the world cup rugby matches here too – one being SA/Argentina, with a bunch of locals, 4 South Africans and 2 Americans at Tonga Bob’s at 2am!! There are also Sunsail and Moorings charter yacht bases, as well as Safari shops offering whale watching tours and exciting overland excursions. We couldn’t figure out how these businesses survived the “lean” 6 months when most of the yachts disappeared to safety due to the cyclone season…

The Tongan Constitution declares the Sabbath day forever sacred: it’s unlawful to work, hold sporting events or trade on a Sunday. The Sabbath is so strong that even the Seventh Day Adventists here observe the Sunday as the Lord’s Day – not the Saturday! Tongans are great churchgoers – a third of the population (100,284 at the 2000 estimate) and most of the noble class, are members of the Free Wesleyan Church. The Mormons account for 15% of the population, the highest ratio in the world. The Church of the Latter-day Saints has become the largest private employer, spending more on construction than the government! Unlike Cook Islanders and American Samoans, Tongans don’t have the free right of entry to a larger country, so church help in gaining a toehold in Honolulu or Salt Lake City is highly valued! In all there are 16 official churches active in the country.

On two mornings we had three very early visits… the first one was knocking on the hull at 7am – some character and his young son selling crafts. No thanks. Soon after that another character arrived selling rather expensive flags that his sister had made. Good on him! He had also rowed all the way out! Only thing was the workmanship was shocking – and Ken told him that!! Just a couple of days after this, the first character and his son came knocking, again just after 7am!! Again trying to sell crafts (don’t they get the message the first time?!). It soon became apparent that he had run out of petrol… so Ken sold him 5L!!


Neiafu was the definitely the place for many a “reunion”… most of the yachts we’d seen and heard of whist crossing the vast Pacific ended up here, and those heading south on the dreaded passage to New Zealand would either start their journey here, or make their way down to Tongatapu and start off from there. This was our plan… but first we were waiting for Mike and Lynn on Wombat of Sydney to make their way up north from Tongatapu with their guests (Mike’s daughter Sam and her very Aussie beau Nathan). Together we’d work our way south to bid farewell to their guests before heading for New Zealand.

A day or so after their arrival we upped anchor and headed round to anchorage No. 8 called Nuku, and affectionately known as picnic island (many important dignitaries, including Prince Edward, have attended official functions here – and gone for a snorkel afterwards!). For once the sun was shining, and I must admit it was a very beautiful setting, just about picture perfect! There was a fairly shallow reef that extended quite a way out to our right that apparently offered good snorkeling. We gave it a test run and tell you what – the snorkeling was fair, but the shelling was phenomenal! Lynn and I were in heaven… huge Cowries for the taking that we’d only seen in tourist stores!! Ken and I managed to get about 8 or 9 the first day!

We were also told to dinghy over to two of the other islands to see Swallows Cave and then famed Mariner’s Cave (for the brave!). 8 of us set off for Mariner’s Cave, luckily Ciel had been there before so knew exactly where it was – this is what the guide book says: When you are approx 100 feet from the cliff, you will observe one prominent coconut tree standing right above the white patch area (on the cliff face), the cave entrance is directly below this. Yeah right!!! When last had they been there?!? There was no coconut tree let alone white rock for that matter!!!

Anyway, it’s an underwater cave requiring fair to good snorkeling skills, however it’s not difficult for a competent swimmer! Actually if you are able to swim under the keel of your boat and come up a few yards on the other side – then it would be a breeze! Yes, I can do that I thought! Mmmm easier said than done… for me it was a major psychological thing and I was starting to stress (big time) – I desperately wanted to say that “yes I did it!”, but I was petrified! The entrance was quite wide and went down at least 8 meters. To enter the cave you have to dive down and while swimming through, keep looking at the rock ceiling above you. On the inside, when you see where water meets the rock, you can come straight up to the surface with no problems. You are now inside. Geez!! My nerves!! Everyone had gone and I was still being iffy outside – getting more nervous!! Ken came back and so did Ciel – I wanted to see them do it again (just to make sure!!)… eventually I just took a deep breath and off I went – quite exciting and scary once inside (for me that is!) the “vacuum” inside the cave also plays havoc on your ears as the water surges… this of course helped freak me out, then my mask fogged up and my ears were throbbing, after about 2 minutes my nerves got the better of me - and having never experienced a panic attack – I could feel the beginnings of something nasty coming on if I didn’t get out of there IMMEDIATELY. I just swam over to Ken (I’m sure he could see I was not having fun!), and said “please, I have to get out NOW!”… and we swam out together. Once we surfaced I had to get my weight belt off immediately as it felt like I was going to drown!!! My goodness, it was a terrible feeling - but I just panicked! We swam around for a while and soon I was 100%. Once the novelty wore off for the others, Ciel tried to spear some fish for supper before we left for Swallows Cave, sadly they were going to have to have baked beans for supper!       

Unlike Mariner’s Cave, Swallows Cave was well marked on the charts! Nice to dinghy through… pity about all the graffiti though! It was quite a nice bright day (another one, we were lucky!) so we were able to see the coral formations far below the surface that was lit up by the sun. Above us were the mud apartment-like nests of the birds… which surprisingly are not swallows, but starlings (according to ornithologists).

We spent 2 days at this anchorage before moving on to No 30 called Kenutu. By the way – the numbers come from the Moorings Guide, a pretty good guide comprised of  detailed descriptions of about 40 safe anchorages compiled for the charter yacht industry in Tonga… which just happens to find its way to every yachtie! Anyway, Kenutu is the most easterly of the islands and is not the easiest to approach – channel markers not that obvious… lots of eyes on the lookout for coral patches (to avoid!). We chose this anchorage as it would be a good jump off point for the Ha’apai Group. All in all we were not very impressed with this anchorage – snorkeling was okay (Ken and I however did see our very first Nudibranche here - just google it!)… shelling was not too bad and we found 4 cowries, but we were starting to get bored of them now (oh, one gets so tired of grapes!)… surely there must be another variety?!

After 2 nights we moved on No 31 called Maninita as we thought perhaps this one would be a better jumping off point for the Ha’apai’s... not a good choice at all as there was no protection whatsoever. The weather was starting to turn nasty, and there was not much swinging room… just too dangerous. A decision was made to just spend the afternoon there and head out at 8pm through the nearby cut out to the open sea and head south for the Ha’apai Group… an easy overnight trip. In case you are wondering, departure times through cuts are very dependant upon the tides…

sit tight for PART 2!!



Kingdom of Tonga - Part 2

2007-10-19 to 2007-11-02

HA’APAI GROUP     19 October    54nm

The trip was not bad, and as always it was good to drop the hook close to a beautiful uninhabited island! We went ashore after lunch and walked all the way around the island in an hour! We also attempted a swim, but the water was cold, very murky and the surge was quite strong… would rather relax on board thank you! Enjoyed an evening of good company and a scrabble game, then motored the 14nm to the town of Pangai on one of the most gorgeous windless days we’d experienced thusfar. Friends told us that we could watch the rugby world cup final at Mariners Cafe. We were stoked! This would the second time that South Africa was in the final!! It was a scorchingly hot day, and once we eventually found a place to anchor (dodging a serious amount of coral heads in very shallow water!!) we decided to go ashore a while later to have a look around and perhaps have a drink at Mariners. We spotted a dinghy approaching – the couple on Angelique came around to invite us to a “Tongan Feast” – at $20 a head we accepted and made arrangements to meet them ashore later. Aaah the joys of cruising – where else on earth would you just go out to dinner with people you’d just met and spoken to for 5 minutes?!

We dinghied ashore together with the Wombats – local kids were having a ball jumping from the dock into the sea fully clothed – quite relieved our boat was not anywhere near this happy screaming lot! We had a wonder around… again lots of pigs everywhere and hardly a dog to be seen! Clearly Tongans didn’t work on a Saturday afternoon as everything was closed - including Mariners, but they did have a blackboard outside saying they’d be televising the game at 8am. We’d heard that the owner was an ex South Africa and that he was anchored in the harbour, so we stopped by on our way past and asked if he’d be serving breakfast… his enthusiasm overwhelmed us (NOT!) and reluctantly he said yes. Quite frankly, he’d have been a fool not to as there were at least 10 people (that we knew of) who wanted breakfast!!

As arranged, we met the couple on Angelique at 6pm on the dock, and were picked up in a clapped out minibus and taken to a locals’ house, which was ideally located right on the beach. We were starving! Having only heard about a Tongan Feast – we didn’t really know what to expect. Well, there we were enjoying our sunset drinks (complete with beautiful floral lei’s around our necks!) when suddenly we saw Paul (the son of the lady who picked us up - let’s just call him that cause I actually have no clue what his name was!!)… anyway, so we saw Paul carrying this gorgeous little suckling piggy (except : piggy was dead, gutted and had a long pole stuck through the two obvious orifices of his body!!!) – he was to be a rotisserie piggy… our supper! Paul was just giving him a wash in the sea (to salt him!). I quickly got over the initial shock (as I think piglets are incredibly cute) and made my way over to the bbq area as I was rather intrigued by the “rustic” rotisserie system. Paul’s father sat at one end and physically turned the piglet round and round – for over an hour and a half! Next, in a deep-ish hole dug earlier that day, two other boys brought the root veg which would be cooked in this “umu” (underground oven). The veg are put on top of hot coals, then lovingly covered with a pile of blankets! At about 8pm it started raining, but our plastic table and unmatching chairs were rather snug under a small marquee… the table was literally groaning with enough food for 10 people. There were only 5 of us (the 5th person was some poor young woman from Australia who needed a break from reality and was trying to “find herself”). Entertaining to say the least! The roasted pig was delicious, despite being very fatty. We had a selection of veg cooked in various ways, most of it was good. I am quite relieved that I wouldn’t be required to rush off and buy taro and bread fruit. Both are very starchy and cannot even be compared to a potato. In fact both have the consistency of very very very dry sweet potato and taste like nothing. All in all it was a very pleasant evening and we got back to the boat after midnight!

Up bright and early, we headed ashore to Mariners. The owner was in a slight tizz about getting breakfast orders out – we thought we’d add to the pressure by requesting some baked beans as well!! The Wombats arrived shortly after, as did the owners and crew of Saildance II (we’re very friendly with the crew, Dave is skipper and a fellow South African, and Niskha, his Polish fiancé). The game itself was not very exciting – but at least South Africa are the 2007 World Cup Rugby Champions!

It was decided that while we still had good light, and could see all thecoral heads, we should move to another anchorage. Uiha was recommended and off we went. There was a beautiful long beach that Lynn and I couldn’t wait to get to, but it was cold and rainy – we bailed, but they went ashore. They all came around for supper that evening and we enjoyed 2 games of Scrabble. The weather was slightly better in the morning and we were dying to really stretch our legs!! The shelling wasn’t bad either!



It was Monday, 22 October and our next stop was going to be Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu – the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga. Sam and Nathan were flying out on Thursday, 25 November. We’d heard that there was supposed to be a “good weather window” for New Zealand on the Thursday/Friday – which we wanted to take advantage of – but would have to wait for more info before making a decision. We set off just before sunset and headed out (Mike in front) to exit through the cut called Ava Mata Mata Vika. My goodness, it was like being at a fairground!!! The swell coming in was horrendous!! Nathan insisted on putting a line out – yip you guessed it – managed to catch a big fish which, to his disappointment was taken (most likely) by a shark!!! So he had the leftovers! Much to our disappointment the conditions only improved slightly and a very uncomfortable ride was had by all!!! We ended up motor-sailing most of the way as the wind was on the nose.

As expected, we were all relieved to arrive in the calm waters of Tongatapu! Mike found a spot in the sheltered harbour “marina” very near town - we weren’t too keen on this setup, so we opted to anchor out at one of the nearby islands (along with about 25 other boats!)… it would mean either a ferry ride or a wet dinghy ride into town, but it suited us just fine!

Tongatapu’s 259 square km’s are just over a third of the kingdom’s surface area, yet two thirds of Tonga’s population live here.

After anchoring I suddenly had a burst of energy and washed the boat down as it was covered in salt from our trip over. We met the Wombats ashore later and they showed us around the dusty and not too ramshackle town. From a distance we could see the very run down Victorian Royal Palace (King and Queen nowhere in sight!). Many old colonial style residences line the main road as do a number of impressively huge churches. Centenary Church is able to seat 2000 Free Wesleyans! The daily local market is something to behold – not just for fresh produce, but for the arts and crafts! Wow, Lynn was right – there was a huge choice compared to Neiafu!

An unusual and unique sight was their cemeteries! Often set in a grove of frangipani trees, the graves are strange, sandy mounds marked with flags and banners, surrounded by inverted beer bottles, lots of artificial flowers, seashells, and black volcanic rock. Some even have massive “headboard” type structures erected at the head of the grave that appear to be covered in huge quilts! Recent innovations are the miniature houses and concrete tombs often painted in the national colours or decorated with art. Initially the graves are visited daily and family members spend hours there only leaving at nightfall for fear of ghosts. They continue to visit with declining frequency for about a year, but after that the grave is abandoned as it’s believed that the spirit of the deceased remains, and can cause sickness amongst the living and even another death. On public holidays such as All Saint’s Day and Christmas people return to clean up the family plots.

The Wombats also introduced us to a very proficient wood carver called Victor whom we commissioned to carve 2 Moai (Easter Island heads – we did not buy one whilst we were there as we felt the workmanship did not do the huge statues any justice!). So Lynn went though our pictures and printed out a few for Victor to work off – and he did an outstanding job!!     


ISLAND TOUR  Thursday, 25 October

On Wednesday we negotiated with a taxi driver to give us an island tour – but dropping Sam and Nathan off at the airport first. So off we went at 9m after a hearty breakfast ashore. The island was very lush, poor and surprisingly flat - and did not have too much to offer in the form of “tourist attractions”. Our second stop was “Tonga’s most engaging relic”… a Trilithon, which is a structure consisting of an arch made from three huge rectangular blocks of non-stratified limestone. Two huge upright pillars of coral, each about 5 meters high, support a central lintel that is 5.8 meters long and weighs 816 kgs. The name means “The Burden of the God Maui” (according to the myth, Maui carried the trilithon here on his shoulders all the way from the Wallis Island using the connecting stone as his carrying pole). Exciting indeed. Sadly, the rest of the archeological ruins were well, ruined, overgrown and unkempt.

Our next stop just was across the lagoon from Nuku’alofa – a monument marking the spot where in 1777 Captain Cook landed from his ship the Endeavour and rested under a bunyan tree. We were then taken to the “finest of the terraced tombs” (of ancient royalty) were rather hidden in the dense overgrowth down a side road. I was hoping this day would get better. And it did! Our next stop was the blowholes! Very impressive indeed!! For the length of the Southern coastline, surf is forced through naturally formed air vents creating spectacular blowholes. Waves batter the table-top coral shelf and spout water up to 30 meters in the air! The sea was a bit rough so we had quite a show!

On our way back to town we stopped and saw the flying foxes (like huge bats). Here there are daytime feeders that roost alone or in small groups in the rainforest canopy, as well as nocturnal ones that live in colonies of several hundred, either in the rainforest or in trees along the roads. In Tonga they enjoy royal protection whilst in Samoa they are hunted by villagers. 


We decided to pop by Belladonna on the way back – immediately we were invited on board and offered drinks – not an uncommon practice amongst us yachties! John, Deborah and Anthony twisted our rubber arms and soon we ended up at the bar at Big Mama’s!

Although the South Pacific is a region of great variety, there are a number of rituals and ceremonies that many islands have in common. The most important of these is the kava ceremony found in Tonga, Fiji, Somoa and Vanuatu. Kava is a drink made from the crushed root of the pepper plant. The powder or pulp is strained and mixed with water in a large wooden bowl and drunk from a coconut-shell cup. Elaborate protocols accompany formal kava ceremonies although kava is also a social drink consumed by ordinary people when they get together to relax and chat. And relax and chat we did that very evening!! At about 9pm the bucket of kava came out and we were all beckoned to remove our shoes and sit in a semi circle around the two guys mixing and dishing out the very disgusting looking mixture. Bearing in mind that to decline kava when it is offered is to decline friendship! There was slight face-pulling but not much complaining evident as the coconut cup was passed around and refilled (you are expected to drink everything in the cup by the way)… my turn arrived and I nearly gagged! It looked like white mud and tasted worse. I just packed up laughing and said it was revolting! Of course everyone laughed! Ken was doing so well swallowing copious amounts of kava!! My turn came round again and I honestly could not drink the entire cup, but did not want to offend them either – I could only manage a big mouthful. These guys were so cool – on the next round, he only scooped a tiny amount for me – and eventually did the same for Deborah! The drink supposedly makes you very mellow, slightly high, but never drunk (not sure about this part though!!), it was however mixed strongly enough to make our lips and tongue numb. All in all it was a great and special evening, even though none of us wanted another zip of kava, ever!!

The following morning dawned and we both had headaches. And the weather was STILL foul. System after system was coming through, bringing howling wind and torrential rain – sending ripples of mild panic through the yachties waiting for that “weather window” to head off to New Zealand. Lynn, Deborah and I could not wait to get to New Zealand, we just wanted this leg behind us. Of course we’d heard horror stories, and had just heard another one from our friends John and Deborah (on a beautiful 72ft aluminium cat called Belladonna; Anthony is crew) – the story went that a huge 120ft aluminium catamaran left Fiji, got caught in bad weather and unfortunately incurred serious damage. Not something you want to hear when your boat is a third of the size, let alone half the size (of one of the hulls!!!). Some women were even refusing to do it - insisting their husbands got crew so that they could fly instead!

On Friday, 26 October Ken suggested we go to the Australian Consulate as I needed to arrange a visa for our visit to Australia on 28 November. I had been in e-mail contact with them and was told it would take up to 2 weeks, but my passport would also be sent away. I did not want to leave it to last minute – especially since we had no idea when we’d be arriving in NZ. So off we went in the dinghy. Ken’s visa was issued immediately, and they were very understanding and concerned about my situation. She advised me to complete the form, attach photos, a bank statement and a copy of my ticket and she’d have it ready early the following week. I was thrilled! So off we went to the internet café to download a recent statement. On handing in the forms she consulted her manager who said to come back at 3pm THAT afternoon!! WOW! We were seriously impressed! I could not believe my luck and had one thing less to worry about! 

As in Tahiti, we marveled at the many He-She’s - the ‘fakaleiti’ – Tongan men who behave and dress as females (in Tahiti they are called ‘mahu’). It is commonly said that Tongan parents with too many sons and not enough daughters will dress one of the boys as a girl and assign him to perform girls’ chores, such as housecleaning. There is little evidence that this characterization is correct, since Tongan parents rarely wish for one of their children to grow up as a fakaleiti, and some fakaleiti grow up in families with many girls and fewer boys. Mainstream Tongans never consider fakaleiti as women, although they may indulge their claims of being like women. Mainstream society treats fakaleiti with a complex mixture of impatience, mockery, tolerance and occasional admiration for the dressmaking, hairdressing and decorating skills - particularly in the context of beauty pageants. Although fakaleiti in Tonga do not necessarily associate with transgender or gay and lesbian identities in the Western world, those who grow up in Tongan migrant communities in New Zealand, Australia and the USA may find a greater level of community and affinity to similar identities than fakaleiti in the island kingdom. We saw many working in shops and restaurants and some are very convincing females!

In all Tonga was a great experience despite all the rain... perhaps it was preparing us for New Zealand!

FINALLY! The Dreaded Leg To New Zealand!!

2007-11-03 to 2007-11-09

3 November    1050nm to go!!


At this stage of the game there were at least 50 yachts waiting to go and “the trip” was on everybody’s lips. Weather. Tactics. Routes. Safety equipment. Weather. Weather. Weather. It was eventually just driving us nuts!

The problem with this leg is that the frontal systems come through from Aus to NZ about every 6 days, and the trick is to try and miss them otherwise you will get nailed by very nasty weather - some boats have even been lost and dismasted (of course it`s always these stories you read about – never the 200 that arrive safely!!). Another problem was that there never seemed to be “just enough wind” it was either 35+ knots and huge seas, or next to nothing… which is a huge problem for smaller yachts as they are not able to carry enough diesel to motor for 8 or 9 days – so they would invariably get nailed.

Anyway, an option we were toying with was to go to Minerva Reef (an atoll about 300nm from Tonga where we could hide whilst waiting for a window) - it would then be a short 4 day hop to NZ. But Bob McDavitt (weather guru sitting snuggly in New Zealand) soon put an end to that train of thought - apparently it’s not safe there in bad weather. Oh well.

We intended traveling in close company with Wombat so we shared cost of the services of Bob McDavitt – whom I felt was good as he updated us fairly regularly. It is never easy predicting weather – even if you are an expert meteorologist – so we used to get weather updates from various sources to compare against Bob’s.  

Back on the boat, Saturday rolled into Sunday and still we just sat tight and waited (and I worried every now and then), but kept telling myself (and Ken kept reminding me of the fact) that we have a big strong fast boat – we are always very careful and do not take chances - AND we were in a gale with huge seas for 12 hours not so long ago - and we coped just fine.

And while we waited – I prepared and froze meals and muffins as I always do; we visited friends and met others ashore at the infamous Big Mama’s; entertained on board and were entertained; played Scrabble; tried to concentrate on reading; watched episode after episode of House; and found enough time to make Wombat’s Christmas present; and popped into town in the pouring rain every other day to replenish fresh supplies – and just to get off the boat! 



FINALLY Saturday, 3 November was THE DAY. It was mass exodus! Hoards of boats left… the forecast predicted light winds most of the way. Lynn, Deborah and I were relieved, but wary. We set off at 10am in gloriously calm conditions – it was even sunny! What a good start to our 1050nm journey! We were through the cut and out to sea by 11am and everywhere you looked there were boats. We motor-sailed at 7 knots until 3am when 20 knots of SE winds came through enabling us to scream along at 9-10 knots for most of Sunday until midnight when we had to turn the engine back on as there was only 10 knots of wind!

Monday: 658nm to go! We were still motor-sailing at 6 knots in the feeble 10 knots of wind – it was cold and rainy and all the forecasts were horribly wrong! I was concerned and kept checking the horizon for scary looking cloud formations, but it could’ve been a lot worse!! We tried to conserve diesel and had the spinnaker up later that day and were averaging an impressive 7.5 knots!! All the time Wombat and ourselves were taking turns at being “first”! We changed sails and eventually took the Asymetrical down at 11pm that night and motored until 2pm on Tuesday. It was actually a really stunning day – nice and sunny – the breeze picked up and we averaged 6.5 knots with the Code 0. We were chuffed! Come nightfall it was back to motoring! There were still boats about, but the pack was thinning – with the bigger boats taking the lead… we were now in close company with Saildance II and Wombat – Belladonna was about 20nm in front of us – yet we all remained in contact either via the VHF or the SSB.

Wednesday morning and we are over half way!! Hooray! Thankfully the wind picked up a bit and by 6am the sails foresail was out again, and with the engine just ticking over off we went hard on the wind trying to make some Westing. Despite it being sunny, it was cold in the wind – but it was not a bad day, and were treated to a brilliant “green flash” at sunset. From motoring through the night again to being hard on the wind from the crack of dawn, to flying the Code 0! Exhausting life this, but we only had 175nm to go!!! So close yet so far! We also had a very frustrating 1 - 1.5 knot of current against us!! Since leaving Tonga we were basically on the rhumb line to NZ – only making slight deviations because of weather, to get a better wind angle. As the days passed the days got cooler and cooler – soon we were running round in fleeces and beanies (not only at night!)

By 10pm on Thursday evening we had 20 hours to go and were still motor-sailing!! I cannot tell you the feeling of total excitement and absolute frustration bundled together… we’re tired and just could not wait to get there. We also had a possible fuel issue (the lack thereof!!) – and our trusty 120hp engine was not firing on all cylinders (injector problem)… which was making me VERY nervous indeed!! If it packed up we’d be in a bit of trouble because with that current against us, and hardly any wind we’d REALLY battle to make landfall within the next day or so. And worse yet – there was more dreadful weather predicted to arrive on Saturday. Our current ETA was Friday lunchtime. My nerves!!! I’ve never prayed to hard in my life for that engine to keep running!!


Friday morning arrived bringing fair wind and moderate seas, and with only 50nm to go we were sailing again. Ken was worried about our diesel (the problem was we were not totally full up when we left Tonga). Luckily Mike came to the rescue! The plan was as follows – we’d drop the sails, he had 3 jerry cans of diesel that he would tie onto a floating line and drop off the back of his boat – we’d be motoring slowly forward, and I’d be steering Fast Forward fairly close behind and taking instructions from him, as I would eventually not be able to see the drums (and did not want to go over them, or worse yet, get the line caught around the prop!!) – Ken would then be near the bow with a boat hook ready to hook and securely tie the floating line. I’d then motor slowly forward whilst Ken got the cans onto the back of the boat – trying not to let the boat roll around too much. Sounds easy peasy I hear you say… and although it was a bit tricky – we did it! 45 minutes later we were back in business and no longer on diesel rations!

The New Zealand Border Patrol were, and are, very vigilant. We were required to notify them of our estimated time of arrival 48 hours in advance. I e-mailed them two very detailed arrival forms before we left Tonga. 2 days out of NZ we spotted an aeroplane “checking us all out” – they made contact with Wombat, but not with us. We had our turn on Friday morning – a plane circled Wombat, questioned them again – and repeated the procedure with us. Not long after, a navy vessel also came along “to check us out”. These are people you do not want to mess with that’s for sure.

Ken radioed in at 11am to change our ETA to 6pm. By 2pm I was all fired up and on a serious high as I could clearly see LAND!!! I showered and gave the boat a quick clean as I knew the authorities were coming on board… we’d munched through all our fruit, veg, eggs, honey and open cheese… so they had very little to confiscate! I also had 2 baskets of things I was not sure about. I had a few cooked meals left in the freezer, and also did not know if they’d be confiscated or not. I did not want to risk us getting a massive fine by not “declaring” anything illegal!!

I took over the watch and Ken showered and dressed up warmly. There were smiles all round and a deep sense of achievement as we finally entered the huge and very beautiful Bay of Islands, and motored purposefully towards the Quarantine Dock at Opua. Mike called to say that we needed to get a move on as the Officials knocked off at 5:30pm… well, we could not go any faster - and were dodging a few yachts who were taking part in their Friday night yacht racing… some of the characters on board seemed rather annoyed that we were coming down the buoyed channel!!! Which is exactly where we had the right to be! Anyway, Mike conveyed the message to the Officials, and we did the best we could – the engine sounded as though it wanted to stall every time we slipped her into neutral to slow down (dodging yachts!) – but we just crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

As we approached the dock we saw the guys waiting to take our lines - Wombat was cleared in and had to leave the dock, he was not permitted to take our lines as we were not cleared in yet. The Q Dock is right in front of the Yacht Club bar, which was full of people (thoughts of don’t mess up Audrey were going through my head as I hate an audience!!) – then, through the buzz of voices on the balcony I could hear John, Deborah and Anthony cheering and welcoming us (they’d arrived that morning). Wow! What a welcome! I handed the guys our lines and we thanked them profusely when they said they’d clear us in quickly. So nice of them – otherwise we’d not be allowed off the boat at all that night. John organized a celebration dinner for 12 at 7:30pm for all of us who’d arrived that day. Saildance II also arrived earlier that afternoon. Even though we’d all seen each other only a week ago – we’d just completed an epic voyage and needed a stiff drink in celebration!!!

The clearing in process was a breeze! Ken completed more paperwork with the one guy, whilst the other went through our fridge and freezer - he did take the pre-cooked and frozen curry and dumped it into a huge black bag, ready for incineration! He also went through all our carvings, feathered objects, etc – just to make sure we weren’t bringing in any strange insects! Luckily he didn’t even blink at all the shells I had! We offered them a beer after we were declared “legal” and chatted for a while.


TIME TO PARTAY!!! After anchoring, Wombat came round in the dinghy to take us ashore… saw many familiar faces at the Yacht Club before heading over to the restaurant. A memorable evening was had by all… good food, wine and fantastic friends all buzzing with an unbelievable state of euphoria! Aaah, it was great to be here!

Opua and Whangarei

2007-11-10 to 2007-11-28

OPUA & WHANGAREI  10 – 28 November 

We were scheduled to have the yacht hauled out of the water on 26 November at Norsand Boatyard which is located in Whangarei - we’d then have 2 days to finalise things on board before flying out on a 2 month “holiday” to Sydney, the UK and SA. But, for now - we had 16 days to play and explore - first things first though and the injectors had to be repaired immediately. The fact is - you simply have to have a reliable working engine as you don’t know when you are going to need it. The weather forecast for that weekend was gale force winds (so out went our second anchor!). The engine also had to be 100% for our trip south to Whangarei as we’d most likely be motor-sailing. However, we were definitely going to need the engine to get us up the 16 km river to the Town Basin Marina where we intended spending the weekend before being hauled. Luckily Ken found a very efficient company in Opua who tested the injectors and found that they all needed to be serviced, and one had to have some parts replaced (which were flown in from Australia). After a week – we were ready for action!  


WIFI was available on the boat, so it was a real treat being able to call home cheaply! Opua was not a very exciting little town – there was one small supermarket, a big gallery type place selling ceramics and perhaps 2 restaurants. In spite of this, we still spent a fair amount of time just walking around ashore – even if it was to browse through the marine chandlery - again! Pahia was about a 10 minute drive down the road. Mike dinghied us down there one morning… it was very clean and very quaint town, but very very touristy! It gave us a glimpse of what arts and crafts were available – and we were impressed! - especially at how many Possums it must take to make a pair of furry slippers!!! We were also very impressed with the story of the Kauri trees…       


WHANGAREI  12 November

An excursion to Whangarei (about 1 ½ hours away) was just what we needed to whet our appetites! Keen to see some proper shops, we had our list and were eager to get going! Our first impressions were that it was quite a big town… and the Town Basin area was just very quaint and stunning! We found Okara Park – which had more than enough big shops to keep us all happy! Luckily for Mike, NZ is all 220V, so he was not tempted by any of the gadgets and appliances (then again, they’re never as cheap as they are in the USA!). We were thrilled to be able to replace our microwave oven (which gave up the ghost when we had the freak wave push though the vents into the galley en route to Palmerston); the vacuum cleaner (which, funnily enough, fizzled to a grinding halt just the day before!!); a new zippy scanner (a necessity I might add) our old one had a good innings as we bought it in Trinidad many years ago. We were thrilled with our purchases! Lynn did manage to find a little pocket sized digital camera that she was thrilled with. Ah, the joys of just about being in the first world! We also went round to the Town Basin Marina to book our spots for the following week… this was going to be a real treat being able to walk across the main road and into town!   


DRIVING NORTH  13 November

We hired a car and drove up north for the day… New Zealand is just so beautiful – gentle green rolling hills dotted with sheep and cows. Our first stop was Kei-Keri, a fairly biggish town – but we were here to do the “arts trail”. Amongst the places we stopped at were potters, carpenters offering wonderful tables and butcher’s blocks for a good price, and then the chocolate factory – a glass-fronted “factory” enabled potential customers to see all the chocolates being handmade… the store was well laid out - displaying lots of decadent treats in various sized packaging and allowing a taster every now and then too! 

We were advised to stop off at Mangonui (meaning Great Shark) for lunch. It’s a fishing port and has a line of well-labelled historical buildings along the waterfront that were constructed in the days when it used to be a centre of the whaling industry (1792-1850) and exported flax, kauri wood and gum. Nowadays the buildings are mainly tourist-orientated. “The” spot for lunch was Mangonui Fish Shop – supposedly “deservedly famous”. Well, to be honest – the portions were big – but the fish was very greasy. I’ve had better. 

Back in the car we continued our way north to the Kauri Factory – manufacturers of all things Kauri! The giant Kauri tree is the most famous NZ native tree and one of the largest trees found anywhere in the world. Ancestors of today’s tree date back to the Jurassic or Permian period (230 million years ago). Living Kauri trees have been found as old as 4000 years – and with heights of up to 150 feet with a girth of 60 feet!!! The timber is magnificent and extremely valuable. NZ legislation prohibits the felling of any growing Kauri tree. Thousands of years ago a huge natural disaster caused many forests to be flattened and the trees to be buried in swamps. The wood was perfectly preserved, and radiocarbon dating has revealed that some of this wood has been buried for up to 50,000 years!! A company called Natural Wood Creations extracts the huge logs and stumps from swamp areas around Northland, where massive Kauri forests once stood. These logs and stumps contain wood that is simply spectacular in colour and form… it’s then sold to various other companies who then manufacture clocks, bowls, mirrors and various other crafts. I must admit the goods on sale were pretty spectacular!!   



We upped anchor and headed out to spend the evening in a beautiful anchorage called Whangaruru. Unfortunately there was no time for exploring as we needed to be in Whangarei on the 22nd. After a very peaceful night, we left at around 11am for Tutukaka – which turned out to be yet another very beautiful anchorage surrounded by high green hills. Again we were only spending the night. Mike and Lynn came round for a very pleasant afternoon bbq before we called it a day. Just before sunset we were joined by 2 navy vessels who also seemed to pull in just to spend the night!  

Another beautiful but chilly day followed – we left at 10am and motored most of the way. We were only expected at the Town Basin Marina just after 6pm as that was the scheduled time for the “rising tide” – we draw quite a lot (ie the depth of the keel in the water) so it was essential that we arrived at that time otherwise we’d get stuck in the mud (en route!!). We rounded Whangarei Heads and started up the river – it was really beautiful… those green rolling hills are just stunning. Within no time we were just about there, but we were way too early – the incoming tide was just pushing us along!! Ken and Mike decided to just drop anchor next to the mangroves and wait. I made a late lunch, and we enjoyed the twittering birds in the mangroves!  

It was turning into a long day and I couldn’t wait to get tied up to the dock! As we neared I was getting nervous… gee it’s always the same with me!! And now – to make matters worse there was a whole restaurant full off people having a good look at us coming! I just kept praying – please don’t let me mess up!! Like a miracle our good German friend Michael saw us approaching and came to take our lines (which saved me from leaping ashore like Superwoman with our lines!!). Thank you Michael!! His wife arrived soon after and they came on board for a quick catch up as we’d last seen them in Tonga – and they didn’t have the best of trips to NZ either!  

Despite the rather drastic tides, it was bliss being on the town dock. The weather was great if you were a duck – so Lynn and I donned our rain jackets and headed into town for a “look around”, but our main mission was to find someone who appeared marginally proficient in cutting our hair (yes, we have a right to be fussy when we only have haircuts twice a year!!) – a good friend had unfortunately had a very “hairy” experience in Opua with a so-called proficient hairdresser, so we were being overly cautious!! Anyway, so we did the rounds and eventually picked a salon that was the busiest – and were lucky to get appointments for the following day. I couldn’t wait!  

We had a small boat rafted up beside us on the dock, so it was quite weird hearing footsteps on the deck as they crossed our boat to get on and off! Again it was raining on Saturday morning and again we found ourselves sitting in the mud – no water under the keel!!!  

Mike and Ken came into town with us and had a look around whilst we were having our hair cut. It turned out okay – I wasn’t 100% happy with it – I wanted a more layered look, but I could always sort it out in England or South Africa if it bothered me that much. Luckily Ken is very easy regarding his hair – and is quite happy with the way I cut it! By the time we were done, it was time for lunch – we discovered Jesters Jaffles. Mmmm delicious indeed! We walked back to the boat via Pak n Save (supposedly NZ’s cheapest food store) and got some goodies for the bbq we were hoping to have the following day with John and Deborah. The forecast did say sun!! 

Lo and behold…. it was sunny. It was also Sunday which meant that every Tom, Dick and Harry was at the “waterfront” – and being a boat tied right next to the dock – we were on display and had a constant flow of people standing and staring, or was it admiring, the yacht… hence no privacy. This is not the fun part of being on the dock!! Anyway, soon the meat was done and we ate downstairs…. It was a great afternoon indeed! We sorted out the last of the things on the boat before being hauled early in the morning. I was VERY excited at the prospect of being in Sydney, Australia on Wednesday afternoon – and our bags were already packed and we were traveling light as we were going to summer in Aussie; winter in the UK (99% of our winter gear was there already); and finally summer in SA. So packing was a breeze! 



A crisp windless morning greeted us and we were pleased as this would make the haul easier. High tide was at about 9:45am so just after 8am we made our way over to Norsand’s slipway. This was going to be interesting, as were not going to be hauled out using the traditional travel lift – a big cradle was going to slipped underneath the boat, securely tied, and then a big digger was going to slowly pull us out of the water. This was not a fast process like it was in the Caribbean, and due to the huge tidal difference the yard generally only launched/hauled one boat a day. It went well, and about 4 ½ hours later we were slotted into a spot which would be “home” for the next 5/6 months. Just to give you an idea, this would’ve taken about 45 mins in Trinidad!! They run a very slick operation over there. 

 This yard however was very clean and up to speed with all the legalities pertaining to being “environmentally friendly”… smoking was permitted: outside the yard!  

We worked our butts off finalizing things on the boat, amazingly, the time just disappeared into thin air that day - and when Deborah fetched us at 4:30pm, we were still faffing around. We felt honoured being invited to spend the Tuesday evening on board Belladonna with John and Deborah. It was great as the faffing would’ve just continued! Although I’m quite sure Ken spent half the evening re-hashing his day and making sure he’d not forgotten to do anything on board before leaving! 


FLYING AWAY  28 November

Mike and Lynn drove us to Auckland on Wednesday morning – which was good deal as they also needed to do some business there, so it wasn’t a wasted trip just to drop us off at the airport!! We were finally able to relax as the plane took off, and couldn’t wait to see what Sydney had in store for us….

Stunning Sydney!

2007-11-29 to 2007-12-12

28 November – 12 December

As the Boeing banked and prepared for landing, we caught our first glimpses of the famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge… and the many skyscrapers we were soon to be dwarfed by. We couldn’t wait! Sydney is Australia’s gateway city and capital of New South Wales, and is built around one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. With countless beautiful bays and golden beaches to the north and south of the city, we knew two weeks was only going to give us a taster… 

Armed with our Weekly Travel Pass (which allowed us unlimited travel within the city limits - on trains, ferries and busses) we hopped on the train to the City Hall Station, and 25 minutes later we were wheeling our bags down a very busy George Street trying to find our hotel… quite frankly, we were wondering if we were in the right country as it was wall to wall Asians! 

Eventually we found our hotel. The Pensione Hotel, claimed to be Sydney’s most affordable boutique hotel, is modeled on the grandeur of the original European pensione hotels – combining original turn of the century building features with modern design. It’s a fantastic concept because it has been specifically designed to cater to the discerning budget conscious traveler. Our booking was completed online and we got a further discount as we were staying for more than 10 days. The room was quite small, but more than adequate. The bathroom was ultra mod and very spacious. All we were after was a comfy bed on which to rest our weary bodies at the end of each day, and a television for mindless entertainment of course! The fridge was a great bonus as we could have breakfast in the mornings and drinks in the evenings : a great cost-cutting bonus in this expensive city! 

Russel, Ken’s eldest son, had already been living in Manly, Sydney since the beginning of October and was just loving it – a complete contrast to central London! Scott and Vikki (Ken’s middle son and wife) had arrived a week before us and were staying at a hotel in Darling Harbour. Cheryl (Ken’s daughter) had arrived earlier that afternoon and was also booked into the Pensione Hotel. Not only were we here to play tourist for 2 weeks, but also to celebrate Scott’s 30th birthday! 

We spent our first evening wondering around the rather spectacular Darling Harbour - intended to be one of Sydney’s “buzz” places. This former dockside area has been transformed into a major tourist site – the main attractions being (in no order of preference!!), the IMAX theatre; Aquarium; Harbourside Shopping Centre and international food court, boasting 40 outlets (too much choice for lunch!!); Chinese Garden of Friendship; National Maritime Museum, and not forgetting Cockle Bay Wharf (on the city side of the harbour)which is supposedly, the “in” place to be – it’s a vibrant mix of cheap-ish eateries; bars; café’s, and posh restaurants which have apparently given the harbour a much-needed boost. Our choice for the evening was Wagamama. Rus was catching the ferry back to Manly from Circular Quay, so he managed to somehow convince us to walk a good couple of kilometers to have a few drinks at The Rocks before he left to go home.

The Rocks and Circular Quay is bursting with a colourful history dating back to convict days. It’s a maze of sandstone lanes, cul-de-sacs and courtyards, jam-packed with shops, warehouses and terraces that were built in the early 19th century. It was once home to Sydney’s dockworkers and stevedores; but it’s now a magnet for international visitors who flock to its many shops, boutiques, pubs and restaurants. Circular Quay is a constant hive of activity especially during the daytime as it’s also the ferry terminal. 

Scruffy Murphy’s – only a block from our hotel… the best value for money dinner deals! Buy a drink and get the choice of steak & chips; chicken & chips or fish and chips for $5! So guess where we ate every other night….   

We got the most out of our days exploring Sydney’s more popular attractions like the Aquarium, Maritime Museum, Opera House and Botanical Gardens – (the very tame Cockatoo Parrots were a hoot!). After the first couple of days our sore legs and knees were still trying to get used to the high mileage, so out of desperation decided to take glucosamine with condroiton in liquid form every morning to ease the knee pain!!! I eventually loved my pedometer again, and by the time we retired at night, we’d easily clocked up between 10 – 13kms a day… a sharp contrast to our fairly sedentary lifestyle on the yacht!  



One of the highlights was a visit to Taronga Zoo, Australia’s leading zoological garden featuring their finest collection of native animals. What also made this zoo special was the location. Situated on elevated land along the waterfront in one of the most beautiful vantage points on Sydney Harbour, it overlooks the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The zoo has their own jetty so we arrived by ferry. After purchasing our entrance tickets, we were transported to the top entrance by the Zoo Sky Safari Chair Lift – what a seriously cool way to get aerial views of the zoo and harbour!!

It was a good idea starting at the top as we’d then be walking downhill facing the harbour and taking in the magnificent views all the time. Unfortunately it was drizzling that morning – but perhaps it worked in our favour as it was Saturday and the zoo could’ve been unbearably busy – we also thought that perhaps more animals would be out instead of hiding in the shade!! Aah, the power of positive thinking.  

Beautiful little koala bears were waiting just across the entrance - which set off a very verbal “aaaaahhhh how cute” from most of us!!! These little furry creatures are VERY VERY cute, and are not phased by anything – in fact, they don’t ever appear “fully awake”! But whether eating or sleeping or “in a constant state of semi-slumber”, they are just seriously cute (with a cute factor of at least 20 out of 10!!!!). Sadly, New South Wales law states that you are not allowed to hold or touch a Koala… unless you are a zoo keeper of course!  

Anyway, armed with a map (and a pen to cross things off!) we set off. The zoo was very well laid out – but we soon discovered a map was essential! We zigzagged our way along the paths among the animal enclosures which featured just about every animal you could think of – from lungfish to rare frogs; boa constrictors to rhinoceros vipers; snapping turtles to spur-thighed tortoises; crocodiles to frilled lizards; emu’s to black swans; condors to kites; pigeons and budgerigars to sulphur-crested cockatoos, and blue & yellow macaws; wombats to sunbears; wallabies to Kangaroos (naturally!); bandikoots to mannikins; on and on it went : rats, monkeys, seals, tigers, Asiatic elephants, tapirs, lions, hippo’s… the list was endless!! My personal highlight was the ever elegant and graceful giraffes… my goodness, I could not believe their size as this was the closest I’d ever been to one; and how beautiful those eyes and long eyelashes were - (coming from South Africa does not mean we all run wild – together!). Cheryl and I were captivated, and in no time they were too as we pushed yummy green thorny bushes closer for them to nibble on – which were previously very much out of their reach!! Mmm are we supposed to be doing this? 

The only thing we were all hoping to see was the Tasmanian Devil – which, amongst a variety of other creatures, was unfortunately nocturnal!! Wait for it - this is how cool this zoo is: if we were “Roar & Snore campers” we could pay extra and sleep in a two to three-person tent pitched under the stars and get to see all the nocturnal animals!! What a brilliant idea, but not today. 

We clocked up over 16kms that day, and were quite happy to get home, showered and on the ferry to Manly to meet Russel for supper (for some of the best pizza we’d ever had!!). 


We marveled at how clean the city centre was - despite walking back late at night in jam-packed streets which were strewn with cigarette butts and empty beer bottles by the party revelers, by morning – as if by magic – the place was spic and span!! (we were walking back at 2am because there were NO taxi’s about!).  

Sydney, with a population of around 4 million is Australia’s most densely populated city. As in most big cities, there’s such a diverse cross-culture of people, and not surprisingly, 40% of Sydney’s residents were born overseas! We found it a friendly city offering many activities and attractions. The beaches and harbour play a major role in the lives of locals, and whenever we were out on a ferry we always saw at least 2 yacht races on the go. Of course there are countless other water/beach-related activities to choose from! If these don’t grab you, then perhaps a 90 minute drive to the picturesque Blue Mountains could do the trick?  


SCOTT`S 30th

With the Opera House being Sydney’s most famous landmark, I thought the Harbour Bridge was a definite second as it almost always appeared in the background of the former! A Bridge Climb was booked for Scott’s birthday. Very exciting indeed. We’d organized a surprise birthday cake and candles, and made our way over to their hotel around 11am, we all got “Scott’s 30th” T/shirts with our names on the back (just in case we got too drunk?) to wear for the day.  

We were booked to do the sunset climb and had to be there by about 5pm. Vicki was just about hyperventilating, and I got ripples of anxiety at the thought, but once I saw just how professional and safety conscious they were, it was a piece of cake – but, Vicki was still VERY anxious. We all got a BridgeSuit to put on over our clothes, but as it was rather hot that day, they advised us to strip off and only have the BridgeSuit on. Lockers were provided for all our other items. No cameras were allowed though! We were in a group of about 12, and before we set off we had to participate in a Climb Simulation, which would give us a feel for the conditions. Our professionally trained and very friendly Climb Leader introduced us to the Ladder and Stair procedures, and the use of our harnesses – which would be attached to a static line on the Bridge at all times. Next we were issued with headsets so that we could hear the commentary from the Climb Leader. Like clockwork, we were the next group being churned out - and off we went! The bridge is an amazing structure, and is the world’s largest (but not longest) steel-arch bridge. 

Some bridge trivia:· 

NSW government awarded the construction contract to the English firm Dorman Long and Co. for the odd sum of £4,217,721, 11 shillings and 10 pence on 24 March 1924 ·    

Construction began with the ‘turning of the first sod’ on 28 July 1923.  ·       

Over 1500 workers were employed on the Bridge each year over the eight-year building period. Sixteen workers lost their lives during the construction ·       

The steel girders were brought into position by barges floating in the Harbour. The steel was lifted up by two 580-tonne creeper cranes mounted on top of the Bridge. These cranes built the Bridge out before them as they inched forward  ·       

There was great excitement on 19 August 1930 when the arch was successfully joined at 10pm. The steel decking was then hung from the arch and was completed in nine months. It was built from the centre outwards to save time moving the cranes  ·       

Finally, the Bridge was test loaded using up to 96 steam locomotives placed along the tram and train lines on the Bridge  ·       

At the completion of the project the cost of the Bridge had risen to over £10 million, more than double the original quote. The final payment for the construction loans was not made until October 1988. So there we were posing for strategically placed digital cameras, 134 meters above Sydney Harbour. What a magnificent view! You could see for miles as it was a perfectly cloudless day! We were relieved that we did not start the climb any later as it could’ve been very tricky – even with headlamps! After purchasing a few horrendously priced pictures we dashed off to continue Scott’s birthday celebrations at the Peter Doyle fish restaurant.   



Then there’s the world famous Bondi Beach. "Bondi" or "Boondi" is an Aboriginal word meaning water breaking over rocks or noise of water breaking over rocks. It has appeared in more postcards and TV travel shows than any other beach in Australia. Why is it so talked about and a “must-see” attraction? After spending a windy and drizzly morning there, we still can’t figure out why. There was nothing spectacular about the place – and no, we’re not jaded. As well as being very accessible, and only 11kms from Sydney, it is quite picturesque - Bondi is, in essence, a bay - and as you drive into the town – the expanse of the 1km beach and sea are to your right and the “town” is to the left. It’s inhabited by backpackers, billionaires, board riders and the body beautiful (and not so beautiful!) – and could possibly be one of Sydney’s most eclectic precincts. We walked through the main thoroughfare of Campbell Parade and passed a wealth of surf shops, takeaway outlets, souvenir shops, café’s, restaurants, bars… and of course fish and chip shops! But we could’ve been anywhere along the coast. 

Not being surfers, perhaps it IS all about the surfing. The Surf Lifesaving Association has given different hazard ratings, and while the northern end has been rated a gentle 4 (with 10 as the most hazardous), the southern side is rated as a 7 due to a famous rip current known as the "Backpackers Rip" (also known as the "Bondi Tram" or the "Bronte Express" because you would supposedly end up at Bronte - two beaches south - if caught in it!). In actual fact, there are up to five rip currents operating along the beach, the Backpackers` Express being the one closest to the designated swimming area. Maybe this is it – Bondi’s adrenalin rush?   


The following day found us headed out of the city on a train to meet up with an old school friend whom I hadn’t seen in 16 years!!! FaceBook is just fantastic isn’t it? We got back to Sydney around 7pm and met up with Cheryl for a bite to eat at – you got it! – Scruffy Murphy’s!  


Our holiday was almost over, but Cheryl was staying for another 3 ½ months – so she was desperately trying to find some shared accommodation, preferably near Russel in Manly. A day or two later she found a place not even 10 minutes walk from him – and she’d be sharing with a fellow South African! She was stoked!  

Our last half a day was a race against time – we rushed off to buy some bed linen, a small clothing rail and a few odds and ends, then lugged all this stuff on the ferry to Manly – our timing had to perfect, cause if we missed this ferry we’d miss our taxi to the airport!! As quickly as we could we lugged all this stuff up the steep road to Cheryl’s new home, had a very quick look around, said our goodbyes and just about ran back to catch that same ferry back to Sydney – just making it as it was already sounding it’s horn!! Exhausted, we slumped back in our seats and were able to relax for the next 30 minutes enjoying the views of the beautiful harbour and the famous landmarks…   

Our next surprise was from Qantas… at the check-in desk we were told that there were technical problems with the plane and that there was a 4 hour delay. Well a “technical problem” is exactly what you want to hear when you’re going to be traveling on that particular aircraft for over 22 hours isn’t it?! So they gave us meal vouchers as compensation for the inconvenience…

Eventually, surrounded by chattering Chinese, we donned our flight socks and slipped into a deep sleep as we headed towards Singapore, and finally London Heathrow. Who knows, perhaps we’ll be in for a white Christmas!

England and sunny South Africa

2007-12-13 to 2008-01-31

ENGLAND  13 December - 16 January

Despite the 4 hour delay Qantas turned out to be absolutely amazing!! It is always good to be back in England! We arrived to freezing cold temperatures, and Vikki sprawled over the couch - she had flu and she had it bad. We were only there for 2 days before heading north to Ken’s dad… but guess where I spent the next week? Confined to the bedroom with the same symptoms that poor Vikki had – and I was petrified that Ken’s dad would get sick as well!! Vicks Medi-night and Sudafed worked miracles, and in 2 weeks I was right as rain!

Christmas was not a white one unfortunately, and although it was just the three of us, it was very special. Our first one off the boat in 5 years! We went through to Scott’s for New Years – and it too was very peaceful… half the NY doo’s are always so over-rated and a complete rip-off, we figured we’d just go out for a nice supper instead of freeze our butts off outside somewhere (being pushed and shoved no doubt) – all in the name of fireworks! Yes I admit they were impressive… and even more so from Scott’s huge flatscreen television!

We also got to spend time with two of my friends who had emigrated from South Africa… and, thanks again to FaceBook, we met up with another long lost school friend!

All in all we had a nice time in England as we were able to see all the family; meet up with our good sailing friends who were visiting their daughter in London; and enjoy the odd BBQ (men outside, women mostly inside!). We were also able to attend the London Boatshow before jetting off to sunny Cape Town…


HOUT BAY  17 - 30 January

Our time in the ever beautiful Hout Bay felt like a blur! Once the dental and dermatologist appointments were under our belts, there seemed to be too much to do and too little time!

Socially, our first weekend was arranged before we even touched down! We caught up with old friends; met new ones; drank loads of red wine; laughed til we cried – and had to find the time to reciprocate!

At least we were living a couple of doors down from my mother, so it was very nice to be able to pop in every day – and taking her “over the mountain” for a shopping adventure was very cool!

The power cuts weren`t too much of an issue - we experienced two in the time we were there, but Johannesburg had a major problem - daily! It would become a huge issue as winter approached though. We also found that the cost of living had increased tremendously and don`t know how the very poor people survive on a daily basis...

Before we knew it we our round the world flying adventure was drawing to a close… it was time to get back to reality. Back to the yacht in New Zealand.


2008-02-01 to 2008-05-27

01 February – 22 May 2008

As I’m writing this we are preparing to leave New Zealand for warmer climes as it’s winter here now – and the end of the cyclone season. I’ve been very slack about keeping the website up to date since arriving here in November, but I’ve also had much better things to do!! Anyway, so here goes…

We arrived back to a surprisingly warm Auckland on 1 February from our wonderful break in England and South Africa. Luckily the trip back was only 18 hours – Cape Town/Johannesburg (2 hours); Johannesburg/Sydney (13 hours); Sydney/Auckland (3 hours) – as opposed to the 22+ hours on the first leg! Again we must rave about Qantas as we did not pay for any excess baggage – and also because they are good! We did have a slight problem on arrival in New Zealand. Stupidly we did not print off our boat papers (as proof of not having a return ticket), so we had red X’s put on our Arrival Cards (which clearly meant we could be dodgy!) and which also meant that we had to stay in the right hand lane which lead into a big room overlooked by a substantially sized (one way) glass fronted office. Interesting. There were 3 of us waiting to be questioned and we were most likely being scrutinised from every angle in that room!!  Despite being very nervous it actually wasn’t a bad experience and the officer questioning us was very pleasant (despite walking off and talking into his collar every so often!)… he even gave us a few tips on where to get a second hand car! They didn’t even rifle through our bags – which were full of all sorts of goodies like a pressure cooker, a saucepan, a fishing scale, spares for the boat… but once the bags went through the X-Ray machine they did question something suspicious looking in my bag which turned out to be a bottle of Bovril! Luckily they did not confiscate it!

Exhausted, we eventually arrived at our hotel, The City Central, at about 11pm. The room was not bad as far as rooms go, but they did have some silly skylight thing right above the bed! Ridiculous really… especially if you’re trying to catch up on sleep in the afternoon! The interleading door was paper thin and we could hear just about every word the girls next door were saying! I was dreading them coming back plastered at 3 in the morning – but thankfully that never happened! We met up with John and Deborah on the Saturday night and he introduced us to Burger Fuel… the most amazing burgers around!! Next on our agenda that weekend was to find a car. We thought about buying one – but we only had 3 months left in New Zealand, and selling the car was a foreseeable problem (as there would be hundreds of yachties trying to sell their cheap cars they’d bought in November!!). Anyway, Ken grabbed the Yellow Pages and called at least 6 car hire places… we eventually found one company (Quality Cars) who made us an offer we could not refuse. They picked us up in a really clapped out minibus (I was now a bit nervous about the condition of their cars and company name!!), and an hour later we returned to the hotel in a nice white Toyota… LOADS of kilometres on the clock, but hey, who’s counting (it was regularly serviced apparently!)… shocks were just about shot, but it got us where we want to go and boy did we put it to the test!!

Back on board Fast Forward… everything was looking good, just as we left her - and we started on the job list immediately. A job list that turned into lists and lists!! As usual! when one job was started another 3 appeared – like magic! We got a heck of a lot done though: new mainsail and genoa (Dave at Calibre Sails did an outstanding job); replaced the rigging wires; added another plate in the freezer (it’s super efficient now!); had 2 sets of house batteries shipped from South Africa; cleaned the aluminium hull with a special cleaner (so shiny, it looks brand new!);  re-galvanised the anchor chain; we’re now sporting new 2 Superwind wind generators (which perform very well indeed); and of course we sanded and re-antifouled the hull…. but I won’t bore you with the other 60 things on the list!! 

TradeMe worked wonders to “lighten our load”! A similar concept to eBay, enabling us to get rid of things we no longer needed i.e. an extra anchor; 2 kayaks; 2 old wind generators; my not so “mini” stepper; and various other items. I must admit it was very exciting watching the bids skyrocketing in the dying minutes of the auction!



But, it wasn’t all work and no play! We did get to Auckland quite a few times too – in fact I could just about  drive there in my sleep! We met up with John and Deborah at the Boat Show – which was fairly small, but had everything one could wish for – and managed to replace our EPIRB; got personal EPIRB’s; as well as new safety harnesses.

The annual Pasifika Festival was also taking place that weekend. It’s a cultural event bringing all the south Pacific islanders together, who then display their wares, sell food and put on shows… a huge event as we found out!! We walked a fair distance after eventually finding a parking – the crowds were unbelievable too! Didn’t stay too long as we’d already been to most of those islands… and quite frankly the show wasn’t that exciting! But what was exciting was the great hotel we stayed in. The Oaks Residences was offering a good deal on the internet, and we managed to nab a room on the 37th floor – which afforded us the most amazing views of downtown Auckland and the harbour area. This was the most exciting of our trips the Auckland – the others were tailored more around work than play : dropping off life rafts; going to doctors with a friend; collecting springs that we’d had made as well as special vinyl cleaners; and taking the hire car back to the airport with Lynn a week ago… unfortunately we never got any further south than Auckland. Maybe next time.



I’d also discovered a fabulous new hobby which I’m determined to continue with once we get back on land… or get the equipment (whichever comes first!). It’s called lampworking – or simply “making glass beads”… using a torch to melt glass rods into a molten mass and then working the mass on a mandrel into gorgeous beads. It’s just the most exciting and creative thing I’ve ever done! I just love it and to date I have less than 20 hours torch time, but I must admit I’m pretty good for a beginner! So watch this space!!!

I wasn’t the only one being crafty… we both went for a course in PMC work (precious metal clay). Our friend, Blanca on a boat called Promesa joined us. Basically it’s 99% pure silver in the form of clay – again, another amazing medium to use as you can roll it out, cut it into strips and plait it; press a leaf onto if and every detail of the leaf remains – and is gorgeous once fired in the kiln. It also comes in a syringe so one can do detailed filigree work. Amazing stuff this! We arrived with printed pics of amazing pieces of jewellery to inspire us, but all we got was a tiny 16g piece of clay to work with!! It was just slightly bigger than your thumbnail!! Ken was mortified! It was enough to make a pendant (not entirely practical for Ken!), but at least he got the hang of it! It was so funny when she handed us our pieces as they came out of the kiln – they were still as white as when we put them in! I thought “what’s going on?” – then we picked up our wire brushes and the minute I swept the brush across my pendant it sparkled!! I just gasped as it was so awesome – I was very thrilled with my pendant and it came out way better than I expected. Ken was very intrigued at how versatile the clay was. But we all agreed that it definitely was not as easy as it appeared!!!


UNITED KINGDOM  6 - 22 April

Sadly Ken’s Dad passed away on 28 March. We finalised things on board, packed our bags and arrived back in a chilly England after a fairly long haul via Tokyo and Helsinki on 6 April. The funeral was on the 11th, and we flew out again on the 22nd. Luckily Qantas didn’t even blink at the extra 17kgs. We were carrying strange items in our bags again – I had a mini stepper, and Ken had, amongst other things, a cordless drill set in his… but the only thing the Customs in New Zealand blinked about was the Terry’s Orange Chocolate in my handbag… when scanned it looked like an orange! We spent the night in a hotel as we’d arrived quite late. This time it was the Formula One hotel – impressive little room indeed, complete with kitchenette! After squeezing our bags into the corners of the room, we lay down on the bed and within minutes were in the land of nod!



Mike fetched us at 10 the next morning and drove us back to Whangarei. The pressure was on as we were due to launch on the 9th of May and if we missed this day we’d have to wait another month for high tide. Not an option we were willing to consider at this stage!! Ken had lists and revised lists, and shot off most mornings to the engineering shop or the chandlery to get spares, etc. The main thing was to finish sanding the hull and then to get it primed and anti-fouled. Ken finished the sanding whilst I started the huge job of stocking up the food stores. Every day Lynn and I would scour New World, The Warehouse, Pak n Save, and Countdown for the best deals… and come back exhausted, but closer to having lockers bursting with first world goodies – with labels we could actually read and understand! Such a treat!

Ken started painting the primer on the hull and I soon jumped in to help… I ended up painting on most of the anti-fouling (in between rain showers!) whilst Ken busied himself with other jobs that urgently needed to be done so that we would be able to launch in just over a week.

Our batteries also finally arrived from South Africa – don’t they sell batteries in New Zealand I hear you asking?... well, yes they do, but we have a very specific space that these batteries need to fit into, and Ken trusts the brand. It was quite a job getting them on board, but we had a good system: lift one old one straight out through the hatch with the winch, Ken would go out on deck and pull it over the side and I would lower it down to the ground, then he’d go down the ladder, untie the old one and tie on a new one, I’d start pulling it up, he’d climb up the ladder, onto the deck – position the battery over the hatch, I’d start lowering it and by the time he got inside it was hanging just above the floorboards. We did this 24 times!!! Poor Ken was exhausted!


The next saga was organising a life raft. Repairing ours was out of the question as it would be cheaper to buy a new one! Ken was after the Lifeguard life raft which is much lighter than the other makes. The first company we called could only have one in the country on the 18th of May (even that wasn’t a definite)… I got onto the internet and tracked one down in Wellington. Ken phoned first thing next morning and they’d have it freighted to the yard by Tuesday/Wednesday the following week – we were launching on the Friday. Fantastic! Thursday morning, while I was finishing off the anti-fouling job – the lady from office came over and said there was a problem with the life raft and that she’s told the freight company that it’s now got nothing to do with the yard or with ourselves. They had accidentally inflated it!!! I’d have given my left leg to have been a fly on the wall when that happened!! We put it down to the Chandlery not packaging it up correctly, but of course they’d never admit to this! Anyway, it now had to go to a company called RDF in Auckland, who are the only people authorised to check and repack life rafts… we finally got it a week later!

The day before the launch was rather a busy and stressful day as well – I was slowly working through my list, thank goodness to guys in the office offered to get our propane bottles filled for us otherwise I’d have run out of time!! I was scrubbing the deck… boy I could not believe how dirty it was! I finally finished at 7:30pm – cold and wet and in need of a strong G&T and hot bath!

Up bright and early the next morning – it was a hassle free launch – Kevin and his guys are very good despite the antiquated system. It was a beautiful windless morning as we motored to the Town Basin Marina where we’d spend the next week sorting out the last of the jobs on that proverbial list, before heading to Opua on a mini “shakedown” cruise to make sure everything was dandy before we hit the high seas. We had a superb spot on the Courtesy Dock – very conveniently located right at the marina office and hop skip and jump from town. Lynn and I finished off our provisioning – and I had one last session at the Annie Rose Glass Studio, before saying goodbye to the fabulous women that have been so helpful and kind to me. Thank you Vicky and Michelle!

I’d been doing some canvas work that I was desperate to finish before we left NZ, but as thrilled as I was that we had a new sailmaking machine I despised it because I was having a hard time with it and found myself doing more unpicking than sewing! By Tuesday I was ready make an anchor of it… then Ken said to just phone Rob, the sewing machine technician. He popped over and within a minute of looking at the machine claimed that the needle plate was broken and that’s why I was not able to sew properly!! I could not believe it! Not ever having used a machine like this (only domestic ones) I didn’t even realise this could be the problem! Anyway, he checked the rest of the machine and suggested Ken try and strengthen the plate and that we order 2 more plates “just in case”. It’s been sewing like a dream ever since!



Friday rolled on rather quickly and we said our “goodbye’s” to friends who we’d probably never see again… and off we went at 4pm (high tide) to an anchorage at the river mouth. Wombat led the way as they’d been into this anchorage before. We dropped the hook at about 7pm… already it seemed a bit warmer than being in town!

Up bright and early, we left for Whangaruru at 8:30am. There was about  8-13 knots so we were able to test out the sails. The autopilot was doing some strange things which worried me as we relied heavily on trusty old George… our third crew that never needed any sleep! Despite the sun being out (periodically) it was cold, and I had on 3 layers as well as my offshore sailing jacket, mmm nice and snug! We anchored at about 3pm and I hauled out my domestic machine and some spare fleece to make us some ski masks/balaclavas for us to wear when we leave NZ… and they turned out very well!

We left for Opua at around 8:30 again and this time it was a far more interesting trip… there was more wind, but the autopilot really played up and an hour into the trip we found ourselves hand steering. I thought it was quite fun – but I would not want to do it in 2 hour intervals for days on end, particularly in bad weather. I was glad this had happened now and not on our way to Fiji. Ken could not figure out what the problem was, but once we’d anchored in Opua and he was able to open the back up, he discovered the motor was not working. So we shipped it off to Kiwi Yachting on Monday morning and are awaiting a verdict.

Dave came to collect the genoa as there was only a minor adjustment to be made on the top two panels, and Paul, the rigger, came round today to fine-tune the rig. All in all New Zealand has been a fantastic stop in terms of being able to get things done on the boat, and we have had a lot to repair and change. Yes, some things have been expensive – but it wouldn’t have been any cheaper having any of this done in South Africa! It’s a pity that we’ve not seen more of this beautiful country too – but as I said to Ken, New Zealand is always going to be here, and taking the pace of life into consideration – things aren’t going to change very quickly. One day we’ll be back and seeing the country from a camper van!

Ken’s been fiddling with the GPS most of the day, it’s not been right for the last day. I suppose it too has decided it needs some TLC! Does it ever end?

In the meantime there are only a handful of boats left here waiting to head north – either to Tonga, Fiji or New Caledonia… we missed the previous “weather window” as we simply weren’t ready to leave, apparently it was the best one they’d had in years… but I’m sure there’d be another one! Thankfully there’s not too much tension about the weather as there was when we were waiting to leave Tonga. That was a dreadful time! I must admit the weather here is very very changeable and half the time the forecasters can’t even get it right on a day to day basis… so you’ve really just got to get a general picture drawn from different sources and make a decision. At the moment there is a low passing over us… there was talk of a possible window on Thursday, but that seems to slipping away as another low comes over the Tasman. Interesting times.

Our current plan is to head NE for Minerva reef, this leg should take 5 days… here we’ll be enjoying warm water and sun and dare I say: T/shirts and shorts and possibly cozzies?! We are so white and pasty it’s scary!!! So we’ll chill out there for a few days and then head NW to Savusavu in Fiji, this leg should take 3 days.

Aaaah can’t wait to get there!           



STILL in New Zealand

2008-06-01 to 2008-06-27

Well, we were supposed to leave on the 18th of June, BUT as usual the weather had the upper hand!! A low came through at 3am... earlier than expected of course - and it`s been pumping 20-30 knots ever since!! If we leave then chances are we`ll not get far enough north and will be nailed by a massive low approaching New Zealand... don`t fancy that - so we`ll sit tight for yet another week!

Just need to backtrack for a second here.... the last spot of bad news we had was that the autopilot motor had packed up. Well to cut a long and stressful story short - the guys in Auckland stumbled upon one in their stockroom... so instead of waiting up to 8 weeks for a new one to arrive from Whitlock/Lewmar in England, we only had to wait 2 weeks! After a quick modification it was fitted and works like a charm. Touch wood!!!

We have not been bone idle either!!! I`ve been sewing like it`s going out of fashion... redone the main sail cover; the clear UV vinyl sides; new shade cloth sides; new sunbrella strip sides with fancy double pockets to hold blocks and shackles and whatever else; a new braai cover; I even repaired the dinghy cover - and made a new bag that fits under the seat!! - oooh as well as a bag for each of our life jackets (these slip in either side of the petrol tank in the dinghy).... so that`s it for the sewing now - I don`t want to see that machine for the next 6 months (and even then it`s too soon!!!)....

Ken has just about been looking for jobs to do... which is unheard of on a boat of course!

17/18 June - well some brave souls headed out... we were also planning on leaving on the 19th, but on checking the weather decided against it. Friends on a boat called Barbara Ann left late in the afternoon on the 18th. Thursday morning came and we saw a boat on the Quarantine Dock (reserved only for overseas yachts)... well, that was the first of 4 yachts to return!!! One with steering problems - we heard via the grapevine that basically it was just way too rough out there. Mmmmm that is not good for my nerves!!! So another week gone - but I`d rather us be safe than stupid... so what if we`re like a month late already?!  

Our Sundays are usually pretty nice Since our friends on Linger Longer (Willi, he`s Swiss) and Gloria (ex South Africa, but essentially Swiss) have a friends` car at their disposal, we`ve been going to the Sunday fruit and veg market in Kerikeri (about 20 mins from Opua) - and then for a coffee after at a cafe called Zest. A little ritual. Anyway, this Sunday was rather exciting as we did "the usual", and then went to a wine farm for lunch with Winfred and his wife Utte (he`s the German weather Guru) - and another German couple (who have lived in NZ for 10 years already). It was all just so very very pleasant... fantastic setting - great food - nice wine - good company... reminded me a lot of nice afternoons in the warm winter sun with friends in Cape Town!

On Monday (23rd June) Ken discovered that the hydraulic cylinder for the backstay was leaking oil. Not good as it was serviced only a month prior! So he phoned the crowd in Whangarei who immediately ordered new parts from Auckland and told us we`d have it back the same day. Great! We then drove through on Tuesday with Willi and Gloria (never thought we`d be doing that trip again!!)... done a bit of topping up (again!) - have to keep our lockers at maximum capacity as they were a month prior. So just after lunchtime we got a call to say that they had accidentally broken the valve at the bottom of the cylinder... what could we do? It was an accident! They promised we`d have it the following afternoon (as we were also supposed to leave - yes, there was a very small window!!). There were 5 boats waiting in Whangarei (all headed for Tonga) that were also going to leave on Wednesday, but soon we heard that they too were staying put as the weather had changed. My nerves! How much longer will we be waiting?!


Hooray! Finally heading to the tropics!

2008-06-28 to 2008-06-29

There were a minefield of "lows" approaching New Zealand each bringing nasty weather - including a cold front which hit us on Monday/Tuesday and it was FREEZING on the boat! The forecast on Wednesday was 40+ knots and 6m seas. Not exactly what I had in mind, particularly since we`ve not been sailing in 7 months!!! At this stage there must be at least 20 boats waiting to flee north - and MONDAY, 30 June is looking good... 25-35 knts WSW - with about a 3m SW swell...  and winds easing to 25 knts on 1 July, the swell should die down accordingly. Cross fingers that it’s not going to be too rough! I’m psyching myself up for 2 days of "not so nice" weather, and then the outlook seems to be a lot better (at least the winds are blowing from the right direction!). At this stage we are heading for Minerva Reef as we do not want to arrive in Fiji on a weekend as they charge overtime fees. It’s 166nm off the Rhumb line, but after 5 days at sea, Minerva will be a nice break -  we can then wait for the Easterly trades to take us on the 2 ½  day trip to Fiji.We`ve added another exciting addition to the website as well.... you can now see exactly where we are in the world... it`s really easy: simply select the URL below (http: etc); copy it, and then paste it into your Address Bar in the Internet Browser, and hit Enter):


(I can only try this once we are physically underway - so DON`T panic if you can`t see a new position and postcard every day .. so don’t go sending out the coastguard!

If you`d like to drop us a line - please feel free to do so at: zr5165@sailmail.com  we`d love to hear from you (especially whilst we are underway as it can be very boring just sitting around all day!!!) - but please remember this is a text only service, so no pics or other attachments please.

Don`t know when we`ll next have internet access... so have no idea when the website will be updated!


New Zealand to Minerva Reef

2008-06-30 to 2008-07-06

30 June 2008

It was a sunny Monday morning and we couldn’t have a picked a more glorious day for our eventual departure from New Zealand. As luck would have it, our boat permit was also expiring today. You could just about feel the excitement (or was it nervous tension?) in the air as 7 of us departed on the journey north, most were headed for Fiji, but some were off to Tonga and New Caledonia. Minerva Reef lay 780nm ahead of us to the north east, and we were pretty determined to get there - even for just a few days, as it would be a pleasant way to break up the 1130nm journey to Fiji, and another plus factor is that not many boats ever stop there!

 As we were motoring through the channel towards the open sea we were greeted by a few dolphins (that’s wishful thinking, they simply moseyed on by foraging for breakfast!). We hoisted the main sail and continued motoring into the calm seas – mmm despite being on land for 6 months, one does not really forget the gentle motion of the ocean! Unfortunately there was very little wind, so we ended up motor-sailing for most of the way.  A situation like this becomes very frustrating because you really don’t want to have to motor for 6 days straight – and often just an extra flutter in the breeze gets you excited enough to turn the engine off and live in hope! Chances are you then only manage to sail for an hour or two before it dies off again - and the swell takes immediate control and soon the mainsail and genoa are flogging and banging and shaking the rig senseless! Enough had been spent on the rig and new sails for them to be damaged like this within the first 4 days, and so the engine is once again turned on! And this is how it went for 3 days. Before leaving New Zealand we set up a SSB radio net with the 6 other boats, offering to start it, and then each having a turn to be net controller. Of course that never happened as no one else bothered to volunteer (!!!), so we continued with it anyway as it is nice to keep in touch and to know where and how the others were doing. Also, if there was a problem at least we had a record of their last position and course over the ground. We only saw 2 other yachts (very briefly) and 2 huge fishing boats which sounded like they could’ve been Japanese. Other than that we saw a lot of Albatross and a few other brave winged creatures out there. One afternoon Ken raced to get our lure in as an Albatross just about walked on water to catch it…. catching an Albatross is VERY bad luck. It came within a meter of the boat! We actually managed to sail for most of day 4 and only turned the engine on at 5:30pm. That night was fraught with rain squalls. Day 5 brought a whole new change. At 5am I woke up starving and made us each a sandwich (which hardly had time to settle) when the wind went from 12-32 knots in a matter of seconds. The seas had built up fairly steadily, and by now were becoming quite rough and uncomfortable… it was very confused as there was swell coming in from the north and the south east. I felt decidedly green and queasy so decided to just lie very still and think about the 14 hours we had left to reach Minerva! Whilst lying there I really did feel very sorry for our friends out there on small boats!!!! We left New Zealand kitted out in track pants, thermal vest and fleece, and of course our foul weather pants – and fleece beanies at night! The SW and SE breeze was particularly cold and although we’d moved a long way north, it was still rather fresh at times. A day away from our destination and we were down to shorts and T/shirts under our oilies. Bliss! Our last morning at sea brought slightly calmer seas… but sighting the waves breaking on the reef was just a sight for sore eyes! Just unbelievable seeing this reef in the middle of nowhere!! We headed effortlessly through the wide cut in the reef just after 9am and motored the 4km across the lagoon to the anchorage in the SE corner. It was just beautiful and SO worth the wait. Undoubtedly the cherry on top!    

Minerva Reef

2008-07-06 to 2008-07-08

6-8 July 2008

S23.36 W178.56

North Minerva Reef

 Minerva Reef – a strange phenomenon if there ever was one. A nearly perfect circle of coral reef shoots up from the abyssal plains to the surface of the sea. The lagoon spans about 4 kms across – and the reef is entirely under water at high tide. Both North and South Minerva are as used as anchorages for yachts traveling between New Zealand and Tonga and Fiji. Although North Minerva offers the more protected anchorage, with a single and easily negotiated, west-facing pass that offers access to the large lagoon. Yachts often stop here to wait for more favourable weather conditions before continuing their journey. Possibly the main attraction is the fact that it is totally uninhabited and there are reports of abundant fish and lobster! We found the idea of an unspoiled environment little-disturbed by humans, very appealing… On arrival, we had the entire place to ourselves. 3 others were expected the following day, so it was great to relax and take it all in by ourselves, especially with a celebratory G&T at 5pm! Our first drink since leaving New Zealand. Gee it was GREAT to FINALLY be away from New Zealand. I thought we were never going to leave! Low tide came about at 4pm on Monday, so we dinghied towards the exposed reef dodging the many shallow coral mounds (cursing at the odd “crunch” every now and then!). Getting ashore was a rather unique experience too… Ken powered the dingy forward into the coral ledge (which was like a mini waterfall), and I flung the anchor onto the reef and then we carefully stepped out onto the coral ledge (which was not as slippery as I initially thought!). It was AMAZING! Once we set off we could not believe how wide it was – surely at least 150m across? We walked over to the other side that was being pounded by wind driven waves. It really is amazing how the reef withstands these constant pressures decade after decade. I was lucky enough to find a few beautiful cowries too, so I was thrilled – a new batch to start off the new season! The water temperature was getting noticeably more tropical – although still not enticingly warm enough for me to simply jump into the water yet!! When the sun was out it was hot, but come 3 or 4pm it was usually “refreshing", especially with a constant 20-25 knot SE blowing! Nighttimes were cool enough to only need a duvet… aah gone are the days of having to sleep in socks, microfibre track pants, thermal vests, a duvet and 3 layers of blankets!! Roll on summer! Our Kiwi friends on Wind Star arrived soon after we went “ashore” and we had them round for drinks later that evening. They were thrilled to have made it safely to Minerva, and in good time too – this being their first offshore passage and all! They are headed to Tonga for the season – and sadly we may never see them again! We also met another wonderful couple on a boat called Lopto. They too were off to Tonga, but should see them again in Fiji later on in the season. The initial plan was to stay in Minerva for about 5 or so days before heading to Fiji. We had to time our arrival just right for Fiji because they charge steep overtime fees… so to arrive before 4pm on a Friday, the latest we could leave would be at sparrows on a Wednesday. I was getting daily weather updates and noticed that the winds would be turning to Northerlies on the weekend – which would not be a good situation for us to be in here at Minerva. SO everyone was going to flee to Tonga and Fiji that next morning! The forecast seemed good: 20-25 gusting 30 knots SE. It was such a shame to have to leave, but in this game it’s the weather we obey!     A bit of history for those who are interested. The atolls were named after the whaleship Minerva was wrecked on South Minerva after leaving Sydney in 1829. Another famous incident occurred on the maiden voyage of the wooden schooner Strathcona, sailing north soon after completion in Auckland in 1914, only to unexpectedly crash up onto South Minerva Reef on the sixth day out and break apart. The crew of 13 consolidated materials and constructed a raft to live aboard in the lagoon, and then the captain and three crew sailed the schooner`s launch north to the nearest inhabited island, Ono-i-Lau, Fiji. Meanwhile a rescue vessel from New Zealand found the survivors on the raft at South Minerva, as well as the rescuers returning aboard a Fijian cutter to save their crewmates.

Many other wrecks on the two reefs are mysteries, with hulls and remains noted by passing vessels at various times and no signs of survivors. One such wreck was a largely intact Japanese fishing vessel that appeared in 1960 on South Minerva, the crew apparently taken off safely by the crew of another fishing vessel, whom they were able to contact by radio. This wreck was to play a critical role in what remains one of the most incredible maritime survival tales in recent history.

The tragedy of the Tuaikaepau Tuaikaepau was a 51-foot wooden cutter completed in 1902 at the same Auckland boatyard that later built the Strathcona. On the night of July 7, 1962, she was bound from Nuku`alofa for a refit in New Zealand, booming along close-hauled in boisterous southeasterly conditions. Experienced captain David Fifita commanded the seven-man crew and 10 passengers, mostly amateur boxers looking to make some money in New Zealand. The vessel smashed onto the eastern side of South Minerva Reef at seven knots in the darkness. This started a 14-week odyssey that would see only 12 of the men survive.

The 17 Tongans took refuge in the Japanese fishing boat wreck, constructed an ingenious water-distillation plant, and fed themselves by walking the reef flat to fish and collect seafood. Finally on Saturday, October 7, with three men dead, conditions becoming increasingly desperate, and hopes of rescue long gone, Fifita, his son Sateki, and ship`s carpenter Tevita Uaisele embarked on an epic rescue mission in a small craft crudely fashioned (with no tools) from remains of the two wrecks. David set a course for due north, armed only with a compass, sextant, nautical almanac, and a crude chart engraved on a plank, and no way to measure time accurately. He navigated by sun shots and dead reckoning. By Wednesday they were out of food and water. On Thursday they managed to catch a seabird that landed on the tiller and drank its blood. They bypassed treacherous, reef-encircled Ono-i-Lau and Matuku, and at midnight the following Saturday, in greatly weakened condition, David calculated that it was time to head due west in hopes of reaching much larger Kandavu.

The mountainous profile of the eastern end of Kandavu jutted above the horizon at dawn, confirming David`s emer-gency navigation skills and filling the severely dehydrated, starving men with hope. They sailed cautiously toward the reef, only to have an oversized breaking swell toss the sturdy wooden craft crashing over the reef, throwing the occupants overboard and capsizing the boat. This left little choice but to attempt a swim against the tide to the tiny outlying island of Nmbia approximately 1.3 nautical miles away. David`s son disappeared two thirds of the way to shore. The two survivors dragged themselves up the beach, quenched their thirst with green coconuts, and hiked to a village to summon help for their crewmates back on South Minerva.After some confusion, word finally reached the Royal New Zealand Air Force station at Suva, and the commander ordered an immediate night flight Monday to drop supplies to the survivors on South Minerva, followed by a rescue via Sunderland flying boat the following morning. The supply flight likely saved the life of at least one of the weakened castaways, though one man had died the previous evening.      

Minerva Reef to Fiji

2008-07-09 to 2008-07-11

9-11 July 2008


 We upped anchor and were on the move at 07:50 on Wednesday, 9 July. Destination Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji. It was a sunny day with bright blue skies. Absolutely gorgeous. Once the main sail was up and the genoa unfurled we were flying along at 10 knots in 25 knots from the south east. I admit that when it’s good, it’s bloody good! At 9am we turned on the SSB to do the daily roll call – by now there were now only 4 boats left, 2 of which had only just left New Zealand when we arrived in Minerva. So there Ken was pressing the “tune” button, but nothing happened – this meant that we were not able to transmit!! So we could hear everyone calling us but we could not talk to them! Very frustrating! Actually what was worse, was that this lot didn’t even take over the net and jot down everyone else’s positions!!! Mike (on Wombat of Sydney) who was already in Fiji, was listening, and realizing something was wrong, took the initiative. Thanks Mike! The strange thing was I was still able to send and receive mail. Thanks goodness as I was still able to send position reports and postcards (to whoever is tracking us on the internet!).  But, that glorious weather didn`t last... oh boy, by 6pm the seas were bigger and the wind was between 30 and 35 SE. The wind strength remained unchanged for the next 24 hours, but the seas just got bigger and bigger until I eventually didn’t want to look at them anymore, because it felt as though we were just going to be totally engulfed by those big grey and grim monsters! By now we had 2 reefs in the main and the staysail up and were still doing 9.5+ over the ground! There were a few rogue waves that crashed on the back quarter of the boat and drenched the cockpit. Are we supposed to be having fun yet?  Anyway, clearly we survived - as we always do. I was just so pleased that it was only a 2 night trip!! We made very good time and were chuffed to have arrived at 11am on Friday morning. The conditions remained the same until we entered the channel between the reef at Savusavu!! I`ve never been so happy to arrive anywhere! Our top speed for a few seconds whilst surfing down waves was 13.6 knots! Cool hey (in hindsight!!). Being safely tied up to Waitui Marina’s bouy was bliss. The location was very picturesque and we were glad we chose to come here as opposed to Lautoka which is on the west coast of Viti Levu. I’d say 80% of the cruisers head there.  The gentleman from “Health” came by first; followed by a lady from “Customs and Immigration”. Lots of paperwork to complete, but I helped Ken and soon it was over. Both officials were very friendly and helpful and we were done before noon. The gentleman from “Quarantine” eventually pitched at 3:50pm, apologizing profusely as he had been up waiting for some ship to arrive at 2am the previous morning (which eventually arrived at 8am) - so he was at home having a nap! “No worries” we said! (think we’d been in New Zealand for too long!). He was so nice he even filled out our forms, and didn`t even check our fruit and vegetable situation. He just asked us not to eat any of it ashore, and he took our garbage away too, which would most likely be incinerated. All in all a very pleasant experience – compared to what friends had experienced at Lautoka! We were shattered and “in the land of nod” soon after he left at 4:30pm. Soon I was dreaming of white sandy beaches and Nautilus shells… I wonder what Fiji will hold in store in for us this season? 

FIJI - part 1

2008-07-12 to 2008-07-24


Once notorious as the “Cannibal Isles”, Fiji is now the colourful crossroads of the South Pacific. The island group located approximately 1800nm east of Australia and 1000nm north of New Zealand. It is comprised of 322 islands with a total land mass of just over 7,000 square miles spread over more than 250,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean. Although Fiji spans the international dateline, it uses a single time zone west of the dateline, which is GMT +12.

Approximately 100 of the 300 islands are inhabited by a rich mixture of exuberant Melanesians, Indo-Fijians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Chinese, and Europeans – each with a cuisine and culture of their own.

Fiji preserves an amazing variety of traditional customs and crafts such as kava drinking, the presentation of the whale’s tooth, firewalking, fish driving, turtle calling, tapa beating, and pottery making.

Pre-European Fijian society was highly evolved, stratified, and had a complicated class system. The selection of chiefs was based on complicated rules of lineage, and chiefs ruled with tremendous power. It was a very violent society. However, like other Pacific island groups, Fiji was forever changed by European explorers and Christian missionaries during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 

The first European to sight Fiji was the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman. The next European to visit Fiji was Captain Cook also traveling from Tonga. The third European to sight Fiji was the infamous Captain Bligh and his 18 men in an open boat after the mutiny on the Bounty. Bligh knew of the ferocious reputation of Fijian men, and he did not want to stop at any Fijian islands, but he had little choice but to pass through them, and was pursued by two Fijian canoes off the Yasawa group; however, the canoes returned to land at sunset.

Cannibalism:It has been said that the Fijians were extremely hospitable to any strangers they did not wish to eat. Native voyagers wrecked on their shores who arrived “with salt water in their eyes” were liable to be killed and eaten, since all shipwrecked persons were believed to have been cursed and abandoned by the gods. Cannibalism was a universal practice, and prisoners taken in war, or even women seized while fishing, were invariably eaten. By eating the flesh of the conquered enemy, one inflicted the ultimate revenge. One chief on Viti Levu is said to have consumed 872 people and to have made a pile of stones to record his achievement. The leaves of a certain vegetable were wrapped around the human meat, and it was cooked in an earthen oven. Wooden forks were employed at cannibal feasts. Men – who usually relied on their fingers to eat other food – used the implements, because it was considered improper to touch human flesh with fingers or lips. 

The next groups to arrive in Fiji were the sandalwood traders from 1804 to 1810 followed by the beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) traders from 1820. These traders brought muskets which, in the hands of the ferocious Fijians, further increased the violence common in their society.

Then the Christian missionaries started arriving. The London Missionary Society was the first group to arrive in 1830. They were followed shortly by the Wesleyans whom arrived in 1835. Both groups had limited success at converting powerful chiefs, but they eventually converted the powerful Chief Cakobau in 1854, and the rest of the country soon followed.

Chief Cakobau incurred a $43,000 debt to the United States in the 1830’s and 1840’s. He was unable to pay his debt, and in 1858 he offered to cede Fiji to the British if they would pay his debt. Rumors of the cession brought many Australian and New Zealand settlers, but the cession did not occur. The growing non-Fijian population had problems establishing a self-ruling government under the overriding rule of Chief Cakobau, and Fiji was eventually ceded to Britain on 10 October 1874.

The first British governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, sought to stimulate the economy by expanding Fiji’s sugar production. However, he feared that the traditional Fijian way of life would be disrupted by large scale use of Fijian labor for sugar plantations, so he brought in Indian indentured laborers. In all, more than 60 000 Indian laborers were brought in from 1879 until 1920.

Fiji developed and prospered as a British colony during the first half of the twentieth century. They had implemented a membership system of government by 1964; a ministerial system of government was introduced in 1967, and they became an independent nation on 10 October 1970.

The offspring of the indentured Indian laborers grew to nearly half of Fiji’s population, and they dominate Fiji’s economy. In 1987, many indigenous Fijians feared that the Indo-Fijian population was taking over political power as well as economic power, and a series of coups were staged between May 1987 and May 2000. These have had devastating economic consequences to the nation.Today Fiji remains an ethnically divided nation. The Indo-Fijian population operates most of Fiji’s businesses, and the indigenous Fijians have a primarily agrarian economy with subsistence farming at the village level. However, despite the ongoing tension between these two groups of Fijians, tourism is again the country’s primary source of income. Sugar, being produced without indentured Indian labor, is their second greatest source of income.     

11-16 July 2008

Savusavu, Vanua Levu 

 Background: In the 1860’s Europeans arrived to establish coconut plantations. They mixed with the Fijians, and even though the copra business went bust in the 1930’s, their descendants and the Fijian villagers still supply copra to the coconut-oil mill, eight kilometers west of Savusavu, giving this side of Vanua Levu a pleasant agricultural air, In 2000 the first pearl farms were established and it’s become a growing industry. The urban population of around 5000 is almost split evenly between Indo-Fijians and indigenous Fijians, with many part-Fijians here too. One of Fiji’s largest white expat communities is also present here. Although there are many resorts scattered around the town is far from spoiled. Apparently the diving around the area is fantastic…perhaps that’s why Cousteau used this as his base in 1990.  After a good nights sleep we were up at the crack of dawn to head off to the local market… early bird gets the worm. Friends had told us it gets hectically busy on a Saturday. Almost everyone in the streets acknowledge you with a cheery greeting of “Bula!”. I just cannot get over how friendly and nice everyone is. They are not out to nail you for money and we weren’t pestered by beggars either. The market was fairly impressive – although they did not have a lot of fruit, so I guess pineapples, watermelon and dodgy little bananas are going to staples for the next few months at least. We had a walk around town, popping into the bakery for some freshly baked bread; and the post office for a SIM card and some airtime. Again I was VERY impressed with how neat and tidy it was, and there were no many dogs and pigs running round like there were in Tonga!  The next few days were spent relaxing, catching up and socializing with old and new friends. We also went for a scenic walk with Ken and Carolyn (on Paws) up to a couple of the view points for a birds eye view of the surrounds.  Our main mission now was to try and find out what was wrong with our SSB – Ken had been troubleshooting with Mike, but had thus far not made any earth shattering discoveries. Our options were to head over to Suva to a company called ComTech and pay and arm and leg for them to try and diagnose, and then the other arm and leg to pay for parts to come from Australia; or to head to where Mike and Lynn were, as they had a spare tuner unit we could use in the meantime – and Ken and Mike could then do some more troubleshooting on their own. At no cost. Naturally, we opted for the latter! So, on Wednesday the 16th, after clearing out for Lautoka, and making a final fruit and veg run, we headed 4 miles out to Lesiaceva Point where we’d spend the night before heading further west and finally across the Bligh Passage to the northern end of Viti Levu.   


17-18 July 2008

54.4nm to Bua Bay, Vanua Levu (S16.51 E178.36) We left at 7:15am – we saw Chuck and Lynn on Cyan (a 36ft Island Packet) flying past our anchorage (towing their dinghy)… they too were headed west. We followed them through the cut and out into the Koro Sea – next thing we could just see the top of their mast, then in the next instant the boat would pop up again. Oh great. Monster seas. Again. We were out there soon after and the wind was still up to 30 knots, but we were flying along at 9-10 knots. There were a couple of rogues, but it wasn’t long before we spotted the entrance to the shadow reef. We carefully negotiated the passage – trying to see how accurate our copy of Maxsea was - we were also using the waypoints and info we’d purchased from Curly at Savusavu. Once inside it was fantastic sailing as the water was flat and we were screaming along!  Bua Bay was very pretty - from the shore up! It’s a mangrove bay so the water is brown and uninviting. The landscape was stunning though, with the odd house dotted on green rolling hills, but not a person in sight! We found the holding good, but there is not much to do there and we didn’t even see a bird!! The wind was still howling – the following day, so we decided to stay and do boat chores instead!  


19-20 July 2008

24.4nm to Cukuvou Harbour, Yadua Island (S16.49 E178.16) With the promise of possibly finding a Nautilus shell we headed to Yadua Island. We had a really good trip over – still big waves out there, but not as bad as leaving Savusavu! Cyan arrived shortly after us and with 8 yachts in the bay it somehow seemed too crowded! Had some lunch and later donned our shortie wetsuits to go and check out the extensive reef that lay waiting behind us. Although it was our very first snorkel of the season so we had nothing to compare it to, we were pleasantly surprised. The coral was just beautiful. Such gorgeous colours and in very good condition – all in all a huge variety of soft and hard corals. The spots we snorkeled in the Caribbean had nothing on this… although they won hands down on the variety and abundance of fish. Especially the bigger fish. We counted at least 5 lobsters, but they were all too small for us to take. We woke the following morning to find that 3 of the boats had left. Nice! After our usual Sunday breakfast of eggs on toast we dinghied round to the bay on the windward side in search of Nautilus shells. Unfortunately we didn’t even find a piece of broken shell, but at least we got in a fair amount walking! Back in the other bay, we enjoyed another snorkel and then decided it was time to move on in the morning as we really needed to get the SSB sorted out.    


21 July 2008

53.5nm to Vatia Wharf, Viti Levu (S17.24 E177.45) We left at 7:15am and headed out into a good wind, and literally flew across the Bligh Passage! Had an absolutely fantastic sail and even caught a small Barracuda, which we decided not to keep as wanted something slightly bigger. Charybdis Reef was very noticeable and so was the entrance to the Nukurauvula Passage – once inside the shadow reef if was like sailing on a pond. Unfortunately the wind had also dropped down, but it was absolute heaven! I was out working on my tan whilst Ken was negotiating the S bends… this type of navigation definitely needs to done in the daylight hours!  There were two other yachts anchored at the Wharf, and it turned into a wonderfully peaceful evening – and the huge green and brown hills formed a perfect backdrop! The landscape reminded me so much of some areas of South Africa and of Venezuela…  


22 July 2008

31nm to Lautoka, Viti Levu Background: Lautoka is Fiji’s second city with a population of about 45000, as well as being a major port, it’s the focus of the country’s sugar and timber industries. The temples and mosques standing prominently in the centre of town reflect the large Indo-Fijian population.  The sugar mill is one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and was founded in 1903. June to December are their busiest months and if the wind is blowing in the right direction the boat will be covered in black ash in no time! The Distillery is a Government owned plant that bottles rum, whiskey, vodka and gin under a variety of labels; as well as molasses from the sugar mill. The fertilizer factory across the road from the distillery uses mill mud from the sugar-making process. To the north, just beyond the conveyor belts used to load raw sugar onto the ships, is a veritable mountain of pine chips ready for export to Japan, where they are used to make paper.  Again we motor-sailed as there was hardly any wind. We’d been in contact with Mike on the mobile phone and they said they’d meet us in Lautoka. I was very excited about seeing our best friends and sailing buddies again! Mike and Lynn took us ashore in their dinghy. There are concrete steps at the base of the wharf that are handy to tie the dinghy to, but a stern anchor is recommended to keep it from drifting under the bridge and getting squashed as the tide rises! The offices are easy to find on the Queens Wharf. The clearing in process in Fiji is a bit of pain as there is a lot of repetitive paperwork to fill in every time one clears in and out. Why not have everything on computer? Basically Fiji is divided into different divisions, and if you’re moving from one to the other, clearance needs to be obtained for the next port, and one needs to tell them if you intend stopping over anywhere along the way. One can move around between the divisions as often as one likes, provided you stick to the rules or face a massive penalty, which they apparently are not shy about handing out. At the end of the day it’s really not too much of a schlep. After we cleared in we walked about 1 km into town, again it was very neat and tidy. It was quite strange as it felt like I was back in Durban, South Africa with all the Indians about and Indian music blaring from some of the shops, not to mention the very heady (or is it head-achy) scent of inscense! We headed to an internet café first (very important nowadays!). Next stop was the market to pick up some much needed fresh fruit and veg. The market was at least 3 times the size of the one in Savusavu, but 98% of the stalls were all selling exactly the same things! We could smell the fish market, but as it was late in the day, decided it was not a good idea to go and have a look! Next on the list was some fresh bread from The Hot Bread Shop – and then we headed to one of the many shops that sold very good quality DVD’s that have been knocked off (naturally!) for $3 a piece. I was quite excited to discover they had the new Sex and the City movie (very sad to have missed by a week in New Zealand!) – and Ken found the Rambo 4 movie. We then decided to have some supper ashore at an outside eatery. Our choice of chicken curry was a first in Fiji - and most definitely the last. It was as though they had just taken a machete and randomly chopped the poor chicken and then cooked it. It was very tasty, but every mouthful was a tiny bit of meat and a pile of bones, which is very off-putting as there could be shards of bone in there too.  We made our way back to the boat and it was already almost 5pm… how time flies. And we still had to move the boat round to Saweni Bay. Wombat of Sydney was already anchored there and Mike and Lynn had come across in the dinghy. Having done this before, Mike was pretty confident he could gauge where the reefs were. As it was only 3.5nm we really had to make a move as every minute counted – soon there were 4 pairs of eyes peeled on the water in the dying hours of daylight! We dropped the hook just before it was completely dark. Phew.   


23 July 2008

5nm Vuda Point Marina Mike came over with his spare tuner unit and he and Ken sat fiddling and swapping boards and troubleshooting for a good couple of hours, whilst Lynn and I enjoyed a game of Scrabble in the cockpit. They didn’t find the exact problem, but something wasn’t right in the “black box”.  Our next stop was Vuda Point Marina as we had a niggling problem to sort out: a very small diesel leak on the engine injector pump. The marina itself was an unusual concept. Previously a swamp land, the area had been dredged and a dream was realized. It has been likened to a “toilet bowl” – not because of nasty floating objects, but because of the shape: it’s round, and has one entrance/exit. All around the outer wall are wooden platforms holding electrical and water posts. You have an option to go in stern to or bow to. When you arrive you make your way down the narrow passage to the marina which has been blasted through the coral reef; you can then tie up to the big yellow central buoy whilst waiting for the marina skiff to guide you in. Actually, “guide” is just about the wrong word… more like release mooring lines and push other boats aside to squeeze you in!! I was horrified at the space they expected us to fit into… but after some pushing and tugging, we were snug as a bug in a rug! We had no problem getting on and off at the various tide levels, however if you’re on a small boat it could pose a slight problem, but hey, there’s always the option of using either one of your neighbours’ boats to get on or off! That evening we had our old friends Brian and Michelle over for drinks. It had been 5 years since we last saw them at the island of St Helena in the Atlantic. Their 3rd crew back then was their Norfolk Terrier called Teddy, who just used to love sitting up in the pushpit barking at the ferry going past! Brian is a Durban boy and Michelle is a beautiful Fijian. Brian and local guy run Baobab Marine. They introduced us a very good Bordolino wine being imported to Fiji from the Lake Garda region in Northern Italy… and best thing is it’s not at all expensive either! (www.italianiafiji.net). So a great night was had by all… Whilst the injector pump was being repaired at the diesel mechanic’s machine shop I was totally engrossed with the internet (as usual!)… the connection was not great, but I have a fair amount of patience on a good day, particularly if I’m trying to hunt something down!! The injector pump arrived back on Friday, but still leaked after Ken refitted it!!! Soooo frustrating!! So he got the guy to come down from the workshop and have a look, who then asked Ken to take it off again so that he could take it back and have another look. So off he goes – by now it’s like after 2pm on a Friday. And we would’ve liked to have been up and running to leave on Saturday. Ken also actually didn’t realize it was so late already… anyway, at 4pm there’s a knock and the guy’s back!!! Ken fitted it and tested it… and it was perfect!!! So we were very chuffed! We’d emailed Icom Australia and England with a detailed list of what the SSB was not doing – hoping that either one of them would be efficient enough to help us diagnose the problem, so that we’d know which parts to purchase. So now it’s just a question of time…. We’d arranged to meet up with Ray and Marilyn (on Horizon) and Mike and Lynn for pizza at the Vuda Point Yacht Club (in the casual restaurant). It’s a thatched sundeck type thing located on the point next to the marina entrance/exit and overlooks the marina and ocean, just a gorgeous setting for catching the sunsets. Another great evening! Ray had told us that if we left on Sunday then we’d be charged a weekly rate and not a daily rate. Any saving is good, so we stayed and went into town to get some kava root at the market on Saturday (more on Kava root in part 2). Town was bustling and I was quite relieved once we got to (an apparently) great restaurant for lunch, where we were meeting with Ray and Marilyn. They’d all been there before and couldn’t stop raving about the place. You can tell it’s good when a lot of locals are eating there! I must admit the food was good though and they were not shy with their portions… It rained most of Sunday so we headed out on Monday for Musket Cove…. ahhh now this is where the holiday begins!  

Fiji - part 2

2008-07-28 to 2008-08-20

28-30 July 2008

Malololailai Island – Musket Cove Resort  :  S17.46  E177.11

Malololailia, or “Little Malolo”, 22kms west of Nadi, is a 216 hectare island 8 kms around (which provides for some interesting walks by the way). In 1880, an American sailor named Louis Armstrong purchased Malololailai from the Fijians for one musket; in 1964 Dick Smith bought it for many muskets! You can still be alone at the beaches on the far side of the island, but with two growing resorts, a marina, a nine-hole golf course, and projects for lots more timeshare condos in the pipeline, it’s becoming overdeveloped. An airstrip across the island’s waist separates its two resorts. Inland are rounded grass hills.

We arrived in the early afternoon and it was good to see turquoise water again! The anchorage was jam-packed as there were at least 30 boats from the ICA Rally hogging all the buoys. We picked our usual spot… at the back of the fleet away from the maddening crowds. Actually that part was shortlived because within a couple of hours a catamaran arrived and anchored just about right on top of us!!!! We had visions of being back in the Caribbean!

The dinghy ride ashore was rather interesting as the wind was up to 25kts (which naturally kicks up a bit of fetch)… so we resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d be a bit wet! We headed up the jetty past the 4 Dollar Bar to the right located on Ratu Nemani Island (a tiny coral islet connected to the marina by a floating bridge). It’s a popular hangout amongst the yachties and some of the holiday makers in the resorts. Lynn and I headed to the bookswap (goes without saying!). They then took us an mini tour of the area… ending at the well-stocked Musket Cove Trading Store. Since it was 5pm, we met up with other friends at the 4 Dollar Bar… where most of the drinks are (you guessed it!) $4.

We lazed about the following day as the wind was still howling.


 30-31 July 2008

Denerau Marina  :  S17.45  E177.22

Denerau is a fancy resort area only 15 minutes from Nadi airport… there is a marina and a big inter-island ferry terminal, as well as a very European shopping and restaurant complex sporting their own Hardrock Café.

We did not anchor inside the marina complex, but outside in the bay in front of the resorts. The purpose of our visit was to scout out the area before our guests arrived… and we needed an internet connection to try and source a new SSB radio. The Technical team at Icom UK replied saying that it would perhaps be more cost effective to get a new one. It just never ends.

All we were interested in was getting to Esquire’s Coffee shop to use their “free” WIFI for 30 mins - after purchasing something to eat or drink! – great coffee and even better Afghans!

After a quick walk around we headed back to the dinghy for the 5 minute ride back to the yachts. We decided that despite there being ferry traffic during the day, we’d made a good decision by anchoring outside the complex as it was rather chaotic inside there! The anchorage was very small the wake from the constant ferry traffic would surely be worse than the odd roll we were experiencing outside.

That evening we were all invited to a barbie with friends who crew on a 72ft yacht called Zulu… aaah the life of the rich and famous!


1 August 2008

Treasure Island  :  S17.39  E177.15

As our guests were to arrive on 8 August, we decided that we really needed to check out some of the other anchorages just in case they were “sailors”, and if not, then we figured that Musket Cove would be the ideal location for them. Mike and Lynn needed to do a few more things ashore and said they’d catch up later on in the day, so we set off on the very short trip of 10nm to Treasure Island. It sounded fabulous.

We motor-sailed until just outside the two small islands, and then furled the genoa away as there was a reef to negotiate. The guide book said that there were two free buoys that could be picked up, as anchoring was not permitted. Well, we could only see one buoy which was occupied by 2 small local boats waiting for the guests who were obviously ashore at the resort. It really looked wonderful and the water was so inviting (as it was stinking hot!), so I suggested to Ken that we ask the guys if we could tie up the great big buoy and they could simply hang off the back of Fast Forward. No problem they said…. Next thing they were off and picked up a much smaller mooring buoy (which they probably should’ve picked up initially!!). Not long after their guests were ready to leave and off they went back to the mainland.

After trying to call the resort on channel 86, we found their phone number in the Moon Handbook and called instead. Up to the minute info is that the buoy is not free, but a mere $5 a day, and one cannot use the facilities ashore, but one can pay $5 each to have a walk around (!!). Oh, and they monitor channel 46. We said we’d come ashore later to pay our $5 for the buoy. The water was the most amazing colour and there was a lot of reef to snorkel on too. Perhaps we’d feel up to it the following day as we were both a bit knackered from our evening on Zulu… too much vino tino!! As we were dozing in the cockpit we noticed the wind had picked up – and had changed direction. Not good as we were now only a couple of meters away from very shallow coral. After a 2 second conference we decided to head back to Denerau. By now the wind was up to 15 knots and we had a very brisk sail back using only the genoa.

Zulu had just pulled out to Musket Cove, and Mike and Lynn were still ashore. We slept well that night…. I know for a fact we wouldn’t have slept a wink on the buoy – and we probably have spent the night in the cockpit on watch!


2 August 2008

Navadra  :  S17.27  E177.02

We ended up motor-sailing again, but also managed to catch a Skipjack! What a beautiful anchorage!! We arrived at around 4pm to find quite a few other boats there already… the anchorage was not huge, but we both found a spot. The holding was good, but we eventually had to put out a stern anchor as it became very rolly.

After a nice fish supper we enjoyed a glass of red wine in the cockpit before retiring to bed with our books. Ken periodically got up to check how the boat was lying as the wind had picked up slightly. I then heard Mike’s voice (rather raised) and curiousity got the better of me and within seconds I was in the cockpit…. Mike and Lynn were having to move their boat at about 8pm. Funnily enough they had anchored in the vicinity of that catamaran that had anchored on top of us… they were accusing Mike of dragging UP on them, which as we all know is impossible, as you can only drag down. Anyway so there they were having to move in the pitch dark!

No sooner had they anchored when we had to move!! The wind had picked up and was gusting to 20knts from the S/SE, and if Ken pulled in the stern anchor we’d be much too close to the boat next to us (as we found out later he’d anchored at a different angle to what we had) – anyway so there we were hauling up the anchor in the pitch dark too! I also hate moving around an anchorage at night as it can be very disorientating, but you got to do what you’ve to do. Mike came over with his portable depth sounder to check out the depth around us as there was a reef to our right. Anyway, it all turned out well in the end… despite the rolling!

We were up early the following morning. After enjoying breakfast in the cockpit and watching the resident goats on the beach, we decided that we’d go ashore first, and then have a snorkel around. I must admit there was not much in the way of big shells ashore – but there were lots of small ones though. The snorkeling was not overly impressive either… Yadua Island had spoiled us! Neither of us fancied another night of rolling so we upped anchor and headed off to the island of Waya, a mere 9.5nm away.


3 August 2008

Waya Island  : S17.19  E177.07

Another skipjack on the line! Boy these fish are such a nuisance… will we ever catch a mahi-mahi or wahoo?! As we entered the huge bay, we’d heard that Ray on Horizon had just caught a wahoo… and that we’d all been invited over to Wombat for a fish BBQ that evening. All I had to do was organize a salad, hooray! Horizon is only about 32ft and a bit too small to accommodate 6 adults comfortably!

Despite the anchorage being a bit rolly (not again!!), we did manage to sleep fairly well. Apparently the weather down south off the Australian coast was not too great, and it was causing a SW swell to push up to the islands. I know we won’t stay here too long!!! Anyway, the following day was just a beauty – and we went ashore to make sevusevu with the chief.


The sevusevu ceremony plays an important part in Fijian culture. Casual visits between friends in Fiji are usually accompanied by the offering of gifts – particularly kava. This is why there is so much kava on display at the markets, and it sells for $30 a kilo. We bought 1kg of kava root and got the guy to split it into 3 packages. For visiting yachts it is important to go ashore to the village and do the sevusevu ceremony before engaging in any other activities ashore or in the water – as the villages not only own the land, but also the beaches and reefs. The ceremony is a way of “asking permission” to use their waters and to walk ashore.

Women need to cover up their shoulders and preferably wear a sulu (skirt), we wore long pants and it was fine. Men can either wear a sulu or long pants. Once you step ashore you will most likely be greeted by a person who will represent you. He then takes you to the chiefs bure (home), where you present the kava root to the chief by laying it down in front of him on the mat. You all sit down (cross-legged) on the woven mats and you should inform the chief of all the activities you wish to partake in. Whatever you do, don’t sit legs straight out in front of you! In the time that lapses whilst the chief is performing the opening ritual, you should not make a sound. You will then be signaled by a round of clapping.

The whole thing takes about 5 minutes… he was a sweet little old man dressed and looked as worn out as the clothes he had on. Not very chiefly indeed!

A lady then came around and escorted us around the village, whilst 5 other lades laid out their wares and crafts for us to look at - and possibly purchase.

We spent a couple of hours ashore and low tide afforded us the opportunity to walk across the sand bar to the Sunset Beach Resort for a cold drink. Not many shells about... I wonder if we are ever going to find anything half decent?!

After having lunch on the boat, we headed out to the point for a snorkel and were very pleasantly surprised. The water was nice and clear, and there was a fair amount of very nice hard and soft corals. There was also a good selection of fish around, and I managed to get some nice photos too!

 The SW swell was still rather bothersome….


6-8 August 2008

Naviti, Somosomo Bay – anchored at Narewa Bay  : S17.04  E177.16

We managed to sail some of the 25.5nm north to Somosomo Bay. The lagoons we passed on our left looked absolutely gorgeous! Out to the right was the bluest of blue water. Narewa Bay was a really pretty setting… there were locals in the shallow water just off the beach collecting sea grapes (which look like minute bunches of grapes the size of your little finger), apparently they are delicious with some shredded coconut. Not very sumptuous looking at all, but at least we know what we can eat if we are absolutely desperate!!

So there I was sitting reading in the cockpit when suddenly there was an almightly BANG! An explosion! I jump up and grab the bino’s to find that there were 2 other fishing boats racing to join the 3 that were already anchored near the grape pickers. These buggers were “fishing” using dynamite!! Some were standing scooping netfulls of fish whilst others stripped down to their undies and dove into the water with big bags to catch their share. Quite frankly it’s rather sad that they have to stoop to these levels… thinking only of today is not going to fill bellies tomorrow.

We had a great night’s sleep, despite the fact that the SW swell STILL managed to creep into the bay!

Our mission that morning was to find the WWII aircraft that crashed into the lagoon in 1943. Mike picked us up and we zoomed towards the beach. We left our dinghy behind the boat – fooling “would be robbers” into thinking that someone was on board. Not that there were burglars here… but you just didn’t know! The couple on the boat next to Mike had left before us and stuck a dead palm frond in the sand, indicating the entrance to the path (as it was very lush!!!). So off we trampsed, seriously loaded down with snorkeling gear (of course Ken and I were lugging wetsuits and weight belts as well!)… it was about a 20 minute walk through lush palms, etc and then through very tall elephant grass. The path led us to a small bure and there was an old man preparing his fire for later that afternoon; and an old lady (assuming it was his wife), who was standing in the doorway. They were very friendly and she walked us through her spotlessly swept front garden (shaded by many many palm tall palm trees), to the lagoon. What a gorgeous setting. The view just took my breath away. She must’ve been at least 75 years old. Lynn and I immediately noticed her wall of old chambered nautilus shells lining her “garden wall”. All I dreamed about was having one or maybe two nice specimens! In the meantime her husband was telling Ken and Mike exactly where the wreck was.

Theoretically we should’ve brought them kava and perhaps a gift, but I did not know that someone lived here. We were definitely going to be back (bearing gifts) with our visitors though…

Once we were kitted out we headed in the shallow water towards the wreck. There was nothing exciting to see en route, and I just about swam right past the wreck! It turned out that it was a single seater aeroplane (Mike thought possibly a Cobra)…

The wreck was home to a lot of gorgeous anemone fish and a family of puffers… but the star of the day was the adult lionfish. Oh my goodness… this was THE most gorgeous fish I had ever seen, and a first for Ken too. At first I saw him peering out and went up to tell the others, Mike checked and confirmed my suspicions. I wanted him out of there so I gently tapped the side of the wreck and he moseyed on out in all his glory. Absolutely beautiful!

We then went for a walk along the beach (in search of a chambered nautilus!)… I soon found a broken one, but gave it to Mike. Lynn had found one here before, so I was hoping we’d find one too. The tide was really low, so we figured we could use this to our advantage. Anyway we walked and walked, eventually Ken and Mike found a rock to sit on in the shade. Every so often I’d veer off into the ankle deep water to see if there was anything interesting there instead of on the beach. Then, out the corner of my eye I spotted something really white in the water and told Lynn I was going to investigate… aaaahhh it was only a flip-flop! As I turned I spotted a series of brown and white stripes. Oh. My. Goodness…. A NAUTILUS! It was almost completely covered in sand, so I carefully lifted it out and swished it round in the water to clean out all the gunk. It was quite big and in PERFECT condition! I was absolutely thrilled to say the least! Lynn couldn’t believe it either!

So from there on in we were wading in the water (!!!) but sadly there was no more to be found! We decided to head back – taking the sea route! I couldn’t wait to show Ken! We had a great afternoon and only got back to the boat just before 5pm.

The reef to the south of our anchorage provided some excellent snorkeling, despite the wind being up to 20knots!


8-10 August 2008

Musket Cove  : S17.46  E177.11

Tired of rolly anchorages and in need of total calm, we upped anchor just after 8am and made our way out the channel in 20+ knots of wind. It was 53.5nm back to Musket Cove and we were going to try make it back that day. On rounding the northern tip of the island we were flying along… at that rate making Musket Cove was a cinch! Unfortunately, not long after, the wind died to a feeble 8knts!! So on went the engine and we motor-sailed… dropping anchor just after 4:30pm in blissfully calm water. No need to tell you we all slept like babies…

The snorkeling session on the reef beside us was disappointing, although we did see a few things we’d not seen before. Friends on Barbara Ann were also at Musket and so we all met them at Dick’s Place for a (fairly pricey) stir-fry dinner. The setting was beautiful and the ambiance created by the four locals strumming guitars and singing familiar songs was the cherry on top. Later in the evening we gathered round and each had a bowl of kava (a first for Lynn)… and I must admit it tasted a lot better than the kava we tried in Tonga, and could feel my lips and tongue getting numb after only a small bowl (called low tide)! Thankfully it’s non alcoholic! It was a great evening overall.


11 August 2008

Lautoka  : S17.36  E177.26

On Sunday we decided that come Cyclone season, we were also going to be heading to Australia. We’d had a good look at Fiji, and decided that after spending the better part of 3 months in the Mamanuca and Yasawa area we’d be bored stiff if we had to spend a further 6 months there, constantly watching the weather. The other problem was that there were not many good all weather anchorages in this area either. We toyed with the idea of heading to the Marshalls, but had heard so many mixed reports. So we figured that Australia was really our best bet. So our plan was to head back to Lautoka to clear out for Suva, where we be able to organize our visas for Australia.

We arrived just before noon so we had to be quick! Ken had the dinghy in the water in seconds, quickly changed into something more appropriate before zooming over to get Mike. They were done fairly quickly – our next stop Denerau, where we could have some burgers for supper and of course an hour of WIFI! Denerau is a lot more civilized than spending the night at Lautoka!


12 August 2008

Cuvu Harbour  : S18.08  E177.24

We were out of the anchorage and heading for Suva by 8am. There was not much wind, so we were motor-sailing again! It was a very pleasant and sunny day and I spent most of it downstairs catching up with the website!!

It was 104nm to Suva and there were not many anchorages on the south coast, but did manage to find one that was 32nm from Lautoka… we pulled into Cuvu Harbour just after 3:30pm. There is a resort ashore and soon after we anchored a motor boat came screaming along to tell us more about it. Our intentions were to just spend the night on the boat, but he gave us the lowdown just in case!!


13 August 2008

Beqa Lagoon, Yadua Island  : S18.26  E177.59

Our next stop was 33nm away… and again it was a day of motor-sailing. Once we negotiated the reef (which was very difficult to see despite having the sun behind us!!) – we ended up anchoring twice! The first time we were just not protected enough by the island and were caught in the slight swell… so we moved, and tucked in closer to Mike. We couldn’t believe how clear the water was and could easily see the fish swimming on the reef 7 meters below us! We really wanted to go for a snorkel, and as it was already 3:30pm we’d have to make it a quick one because Mike and Lynn had invited us round for a BBQ at 5pm.

Yadua Island was very pretty and there appeared to be two resorts ashore. Apparently the scuba diving there was very good. I must admit I would not feel very comfortable in that anchorage in strong winds…


14 August 2008

Suva  :  S18.07  E178.25

Our last leg was an uneventful 33nm – and we were safely anchored at the Royal Suva Yacht Club anchorage by 3pm. We had to get a move on because we needed to get ashore to Immigration to clear in as we did not want to pay overtime fees. The purpose of schlepping all the way here was to apply for our Australian visa’s…

Suva: apparently the pulsing heart of the South Pacific. It also happens to be the largest and most cosmopolitan city in Oceania, as well as having the largest municipal market in the south Pacific! With its diverse and colourful mix of around 170 000 multiracial inhabitants, Suva lies snugly on a hilly peninsula in the south east corner of Viti Levu. The British left behind imposing colonial buildings, wide avenues, and manicured parks as evidence of their rule.

We spent a very pleasant evening enjoying the company of old friends, and sipping cheap drinks at the Royal Suva Yacht Club. We were at the Australian Embassy by 8:30 the following morning, and luckily the wait was not too long. Once inside we found the staff friendly and efficient. However, since we were all arriving by yacht, and I was South African, it was slightly more complicated – and one really needed to know exactly how to word questions in order to get down to the crux of the matter. Our applications would take approximately 10 days to process. We spent the better part of the morning there and left starving, but in high spirits.

Mike and Ken enjoyed a delicious curry from the highly rated Singh’s Curry House, whilst Lynn and I popped in next door to Fish & Chook for some rotisserie chicken (which we were able to take back and eat at Singh’s!). We had a walk around town after and hunted down all the craft shops. Undoubtedly the best carvings we came across were at Stall 4 of the Handicraft Market. Max and his brother George own the store – and all the woodwork and tapa come from the Lau group. We bought a beautiful kava bowl and tapa from them before we left on Monday morning.

A big disappointment was Hibiscus Festival. Perhaps we just had vivid imaginations and simply got the wrong end the stick… we were told there’d be a floats and a procession proceeded by “lots to do and see” at Albert Park. I can see your mind also conjuring up all sorts of wonderful images. Well, here’s the truth. The floats and procession: about 20 local girls (not necessarily beauty queen material either) and about 10 guys all standing on the backs of bakkie’s (small utility vehicles) and sitting in cars with cheesy grins on their faces, and waving at the passing crowds. Albert Park: after walking there in the sweltering heat (and not a hibiscus in sight yet by the way) there were a zillion food stalls, and tacky Indian stalls resembling 1$ shops. The cherry on top were the ferris wheels. Due to the fact that safety is obviously not a major issue, I think Fiji is the dumping ground for all the ferris wheels that are banned and considered illegal in first world countries! We were all shocked at what we saw - it looked like they were knocked up in someone’s back garden; others were spinning around way too fast; a lot of the smaller ones had to be hand-cranked to get them going; and the safety bars on the large wheels seemed very dodgy… BUT all rides elicited shrieks of joy and happiness from the local kids!! Which is all that mattered really isn’t it? A ride we particularly enjoyed watching was the “politically correct” aeroplanes (the photos say it all!). Lastly, the rides right at the back of the park were all operated by a company aptly named HAZMAT (hazardous material)… quite funny really (or maybe you simply had to be there!). So that was it then – food, rides, junk to buy – and not even one hibiscus in sight. Thoroughly deflated, we decided we needed to head to Nando’s for lunch. Yip, Suva has a Nando’s!! Just like home….

Sunday found Ken relaxing, and I spent the better part of the day making a lampshade for our cockpit light.

We left Suva on Monday around 11am. We needed to get back to Vuda Point by Wednesday, as our first lot of guests were arriving on Thursday at 5am. It was about 87nm to Momi Bay and we decided to do a partial over-nighter, and since there was a fair breeze, we reckoned that we would arrive in Momi Bay around midnight. Our friends on Linger Longer left just before us, and as Mike had already been through the entrance to Momi, we would all simply follow him! This way we could at least get some sleep before doing to balance of the 106nm to Lautoka the following day.


19 August 2008


Another gorgeous day followed, and after clearing back in at Lautoka, we provisioned at the market and then spent the night at Saweni Bay. Ken and I were up at sparrows on Wednesday morning to head to Vuda Point marina. After giving the deck a wash and finalizing everything down below, Michelle very kindly offered to take us to her butcher and into Nadi town for a quick look around. We savoured our last quiet evening and dreaded the thought of having to wake up at 4:30am to get to the airport!!!

It had been 2 years since we’d last seen Roger, Lori and Anthony (who was now 13!)… I didn’t even recognize him!! Roger looked good after his surgery: they were supposed to have arrived on 8 August, but Roger had to have an emergency appendectomy on about the 3rd!! Lori looked a bit stressed, but they were very excited about being in Fiji, and were looking forward to relaxing in paradise and not doing very much. Which is what holidays (with us!) are all about!  We were determined to make this their best holiday ever…

Fiji - part 3

2008-08-21 to 2008-10-09


It’s 5 October, and outside are clear blue skies, but an intense ridge of high pressure is sitting over Fiji at the moment, causing very high winds and equally wild seas… it’s been like this for 3 days now. Apparently it should calm down within the next couple of days. Can’t wait. But for now, this is the perfect opportunity for me to catch up on this newsletter!!  


21 August – 2 September

Roger, Lori and Anthony arrived on 21 August and stayed for 12 days. They came bearing gifts (we’d purchased!) – a gorgeous fire engine red kettle; Jimmy Cornell’s latest guide; and a very cool Garmin touch screen chart plotter (for the cockpit). After our guests settled in, we did get to move around a fair bit and no one was seasick! The weather was blissful for their stay, and Lori just absolutely loved the snorkelling. Roger took it fairly easy after having an appendectomy just two weeks earlier, and Anthony – well, what can I say – is your typical 13yr old!  


5-21 September 2008

Russel, Cheryl and Ben arrived just 3 days after our first lot of guests left – and although Cheryl and Ben only stayed 10 days, they had an amazing time – and we tried to squeeze in as much to see and do as possible for them. Russel was fortunate enough to have 17 days on board. Besides being obsessed with surfing, he is totally obsessed with fishing as well and brought the minimum amount of clothes tucked into his surfboard bag… his carry on hand luggage was a big bag of fishing tackle! Not forgetting an assortment of rods too! 

Robinson Crusoe Island…It was nothing like we expected. Or should I say, like “I” expected. You know how brochures build up a certain image? Well, I just wasn’t seeing that portrayed image. Situated on Likuri Island, frequented mainly by backpackers, the resort claims to be the most popular on The Coral Coast, and very yacht friendly. We anchored in about 4 meters of brownish-greenish-blueish mangrove water, and despite the rather strong current, Russel, Cheryl and Ben were off for their first swim… 

The reason we came here was to see their much talked about firewalking and firedancing show. We radioed the resort soon after our arrival and made enquiries – apparently the show takes place on a Saturday, but unfortunately a wedding party arrived at noon that day so they did the show then… so no show that evening. Sorry. However we could stay another day as they were putting on a big show for over 100 tourists on Sunday afternoon. Being on a tight schedule, we were rather annoyed as we did not intend to stay another day, but what can you do! 

A good deal of the afternoon found Rus and Ben fishing; and Cheryl and I just about hanging off the back of the boat totally engrossed with two beautiful Longfin Spadefish, who were probably as inquisitive as we were… got some great pics too! 

We went ashore that evening and were greeted by the “village chief” and his sidekick - and along with all the other “new tourists” were welcomed to the resort by partaking in the formal sevu-sevu ceremony (which is always taken seriously)… despite the “chief” being a bit of a comedian himself! A good cheap meal was enjoyed by all as we sat at the table and twiddled our toes in the sand…   

Shortly after leaving Robinson Crusoe Island we spotted a Banded Sea Snake miles off the shore! We stopped at the entrance to Momi Bay where the guys managed to have a surf… after Russel reeled in his first (and certainly not last!) big one. Night after night Rus and Ben would fish off the boat – sometimes Cheryl joined in… what wonderful guests these were entertaining themselves!! The minute we set off somewhere the lines were in the water, some days were unlucky, but Rus got 10 out of 10 for perseverance! We won’t mention the amount of tackle lost or rods broken! 

We also went to Monuriki Island – where the movie Castaway was filmed. That evening Cheryl and I watched some of the movie to see what they’d omitted… and they did a fairly good job of it!  Another highlight was when we stopped at one of the reefs off Waya – sort of in the middle of nowhere. Initially Ken hung around on board as there was a bit of a swell running, not to mention that we were anchored in about 26 meters! After he was sure the boat wasn’t going anywhere I picked him up in the dinghy and we joined Rus, Cheryl and Ben. It was magnificent to say the least. The clarity of the water was amazing – and very deceiving when free diving! HUGE fish swimming around (this is rather rare in Fiji as they are just about fished out)… I also spotted a big Saddle Back Grouper, and we all spotted the reef shark!! We’d split up and Ken went to get the dinghy, I heard a outboard motor and it was a local boat, they wanted to know what we were doing (clearly yachts didn’t stop here!!) – I raised both hands out the water and said we were just snorkelling not spear fishing. They were happy to hear we were from South Africa (they love the Springboks more the All Blacks!)… before they left they warned me that they were spear fishing (great, it tends to attract shark).  

Rus actually left just in time as there was a nasty weather system brewing the day we left Navadra for Vuda Point Marina. Lucky for us we were able to spend 4 magical days in Navadra – no locals, and no rolling I might add! – enjoying hour after hour of snorkelling in crystal clear water. I found a gorgeous Textile Cone (at least that’s what it looks like!), and Ken managed to find 2 eyed cowries as well!! Rus was in heaven as he could fish to his heart’s content – from fly fishing to casting poppers to trolling for hours off the dinghy. Ken and I were roped into spending night after night bottom fishing off the yacht, and it’s what memories are made of! This was most definitely the highlight of our stay in Fiji.  


21-25 September 2008

Vuda Point MarinaAfter Russel’s departure we were holed up in the marina sorting out our visas for Australia. We’d received them the previous week, but I’d noticed that besides both of us getting a 1 year entry, mine stated I could only stay for 3 months, whereas Ken could stay for 6 months after arrival. What good is that?! This really annoyed me as I was wondering if I should blame my good old South African passport for causing me problems once again. I queried it and got a reply asking us to please return them as they’d made an error, and that the visas were not valid (what a surprise that would’ve been!)… anyway, it went on to say that we would be issued with the standard 2 year multiple entry, 6 month stay visitor visas. We were absolutely thrilled!  


26 September 2008


Armed with passport firmly grasped between thumb and forefinger, we set off on Friday, 26 September for Lautoka to clear out for Savusavu. Yes, we were headed back there, but via Makogai Island. After clearing into Fiji on 11 July, we’d not lingered and done any exploring of that area as we needed to get our SSB radio repaired – and that was best done in either Suva or Lautoka. As you know from our first Fiji newsletter, we headed west for Lautoka. Anyway, so we desperately needed a change of scenery before our last lot of guests arrived on 16 October. Ken’s cousin Maggie and her husband Steve were going to be staying for 10 days. We were really looking forward to seeing them again. 

We set off early on Saturday morning in the company of Mike and Lynn of course. It was not going to be the easiest of trips as we were headed straight into the wind… come to think of it, most of our sailing in Fiji has been hard on the wind, so why should this be any different!! We ended up motor-sailing the entire day, and spent a very peaceful evening in a “mangrove bay” near Malake Island. Sunday was a good day and we could actually sail a fair distance. We anchored in Dalice Bay, Makogai Island at 4:30pm.  


28 September 2008

Makogai Island

From 1911 to 1969 this was a leper colony staffed by Catholic nuns. Many of the old hospital buildings are still standing, including part of the projection room and screen of their cinema! Over the years some 4500 patients were sheltered here, including those from other Pacific island groups. Only in 1948 was an effective treatment for leprosy introduced, allowing the colony to be phased out over the next two decades. Today Makogai is owned by the Department of Agriculture. They used to run an experimental sheep farm – a new breed intended as a source of mutton and bearing little wool was obtained by crossing the British and Caribbean sheep (strange, we did not see sheep in the Caribbean). The Department of Fisheries is also active here… they farm giant clams and re-distribute them to other islands’ waters. They’re also busy with an experiment… growing coral for use in fish tanks in the USA. 

Mike and Ken siphoned out some diesel to give the guy ashore for his generator… his family appear to live in such poverty, and one wonders if he actually gets paid by the Government!! I packaged some flour, milk powder, sachets of juice, coloured pencils, finger paint and sweets for the kids, as well as some old clothing for them, and they apparently were very grateful. After assessing the situation, we realised that they really don’t do too badly out of us yachties!!! 

We snorkelled close to the shore where giant clams were scattered between a few old hospital beds, and were and were amazed at how huge the clams actually were (and rather beautiful too)… you definitely wouldn’t want a limb trapped between those two shells!! The following day was overcast and grim looking, but we donned our layers of neoprene and braved the cooler waters for a few more hours of snorkelling pleasure. Overall, Makogai’s underwater world was simply spectacular… the variety of hard and soft corals were amazing… not forgetting the fish of course! Unfortunately there were hardly any shells around… but you can’t have it all.  


1 October 2008

Savusavu, Viti Levu

We upped anchor at around 7am and set off in a north easterly direction for the 52nm trip to Savusavu… conditions weren’t bad at all and we were able to sail the whole way for a change. The wind usually blows SE, but just for today it was blowing ENE. As least it was not howling, so the trip was a comfortable one. 

Savusavu was just as I remembered it, very picturesque… and still packed with yachts! We thought that most yachts would’ve moved on to Vanuatu and New Caledonia by now… but on closer inspection, we recognised many that we’d heard had spent most of the season in Tonga – and who were now preparing to head back to New Zealand. 

The main reason for coming here was to try and visit Rainbow Reef… a spectacular 32km reef that’s good for both diving and snorkelling. However, our chances appeared to be slim as the weather situation was simply deteriorating rather rapidly. Oh well. After what we’ve seen already, how much more amazing can it possibly be?

Unfortunately, we’d also received word from Ken’s cousin, Maggie, that her mum had taken ill and they weren’t going to be able to make it. Luckily they were able to postpone their flights, so we’d definitely be seeing them sometime in Australia. This change of plan meant that we could now travel with Mike and Lynn to Vanuatu, and ultimately to Brisbane… before the start of the cyclone season!  


3 October

En route to Yadua Island

After 2 rainy and rather windy nights in Savusavu we decided to head west to Yadua Island. After coving many many kilometres whilst snorkelling in Fiji so far – it was going to be interesting to see if Yadua was as good as we initially found it to be (bearing in mind that we’d had nothing to compare it to!). 

Well the Koro Sea certainly lived up to its reputation again…. what a wild, wet but fast ride that was! For once the wind was not on the nose! We took shelter in Bua Bay for the evening… and it was so peacefully calm.  


4-8 October 2008

Yadua Island

Next morning was still as windy as ever, but at least the sea was not as wild, although a big one did come through every now and then! The anchorage was well protected from the 25+ knot winds. We ventured out that afternoon to a beach on the windward side in search of Chambered Nautilus shells. At least Mike found one!! 

With the weather the way it was, it was not an entirely bad thing being “boat-bound” as we’d managed to get on top of many of those niggling little chores! And just when we felt like we had 9-5 jobs again, we’d hit the water for a snorkel (in 20 knots of wind!!!). I must admit that I was as impressed as I was the first time round…. one example: gardens of yellow soft coral for as far as the eye could see…. Absolutely beautiful! It’s just such a pity that although we are quite capable underwater photographers, we can never quite capture the entirety and magnificence of it all (perhaps that’s why I have hundreds and hundreds of underwater pics!!).  

We ended our session at Yadua Island by having sundowners on the beach with 6 other cruisers last night… 


8 October 2008


We had an excellent passage and covered 70nm in 9 hours! We’re not called Fast Forward for nothing…   Well friends, our stay in Fiji has been absolutely amazing. We were truly overwhelmed by the friendliness and warmth of the Fijian people. Many happy memories were made here… 

Moce Fiji and vinaka vakalevu  (goodbye Fiji and thank you very much)


2008-10-14 to 2008-10-23

14 October 2008

We left Fiji on Tuesday, 14 Oct in the company of Mike and Lynn on Wombat of Sydney. Our next stop was Port Resolution, on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu. Well, after 8 hours of motoring we finally got a decent breeze of 12-17 knots so we flew the spinnaker all afternoon, taking it down just before sunset - better safe than sorry (usually if something goes wrong, it’s in the dark… and in 35 knots of wind!). We’d already lost a fair bit of time by having to motor the first day, but we were hoping to arrive on Thursday.

From the time the wind picked up the conditions were gorgeous, especially having the light from the full moon! We were averaging between 8-9 knots, but it seemed doubtful that we’d make an early afternoon arrival in Port Resolution.

 After checking the weather on Thursday morning, the forecast showed a small low pressure system coming through which would bring northerlies – unfortunately this is not good for Port Resolution! So on went the PC, and I went in search of an alternative island in Vanuatu… at least until the weather sorted itself out. Shortly after veering off south to Anatom, Mike’s spinnaker wrapped around the forestay and tore!!! Boy he was  N O T  HAPPY!! Luckily for us, Anatom was not seriously out of the way at all!

At 6pm, and 464nm later, we pulled into the anchorage in Analgawat Bay, Anatom. Exhausted, we tumbled into bed around 8pm!


The string of lush green islands of Vanuatu was transformed from the ponderous Anglo-French New Hebrides Condominium, into the “Ripablik Blong Vanuatu” in 1980. Since then the country has expressed its independence by developing a new national identity based on Melanesian kastom. It’s a colourful land of many cultures, not forgetting the Ni-Vanuatu culture (the land-diving clansmen of the South Pentecost). Penis wrappers called nambas are still worn by men in remote regions of Tanna. Traditional magic is also still practiced throughout Vanuatu. And if you own the most pigs you are a wealthy and respected clansman! Apparently any squabble can simply be sorted out with pigs!!


17 October 2008

We went ashore the following morning to lay out the spinnaker so that Mike and Ken could assess the damage. They found many helpful hands and a lot of curious onlookers! Shortly after managing to get it just about dry on the soccer field, it started raining again! The school principal was very obliging and allowed them to then hang the spinnaker up in one of the unused classrooms to dry overnight. The guys were positive that despite it being badly torn, it could be patched together… if it could just withstand the last leg to Australia, then Mike would be a happy man.

While Ken and Mike were playing with the spinnaker, Lynn and I went shelling (naturally!), and I found 6 broken Chambered Nautilus shells just lying on the beach! Could not believe it!!! Mmmm now for just one perfect specimen…

On Saturday, Ken and Mike lugged his sailmaking machine and a big 12V battery ashore at 8:30am – Lynn and I figured it was a bit early for us to go trampsing around on the beach, so we stayed on board and finished off boat chores.

After lunch, Lynn and I dinghied over to “Mystery Island”. Can’t find any history about it, but it’s apparently a conservation area. The island is also frequented by many cruise ships, and as luck would have it, one was arriving the following morning. Now I say “as luck would have it” because when we went ashore on the Saturday afternoon, some locals were over there raking the pristine beaches and pathways. It was very neat and tidy BUT not a shell in sight. The market area was huge, boasting 45 stalls! We thought that surely they’d been hoarding a few nautilus shells (and others!) to sell to the tourists at the market.

Anyway, Sunday morning came and we could not wait to get to Mystery Island. Well. We were shocked to say the least. Stall after stall – okay call it 30 stalls – ALL selling the same junk from China!! Tacky T/shirts, and keyrings, gaudy lei’s in fluorescent pinks and greens. It was awful. The only “local craft” we saw was some fellow that carved walking sticks; and some pitiful attempt at a bow and arrow. There were a few ladies offering to braid hair – those terrible, tight Caribbean braids. No thanks. The worst thing really – at 8am the cruise ship blimps were already queuing to eat lobster!

We met a very cute older Italian couple (I’d offered to take their picture and so they thought I was “just so sweet”!!). They went on to say that it was an 11 day cruise and they’d left from Australia - and that it was just the perfect length of time. Oh, they also thought we were very very brave – just the two of us on the yacht. Sometimes I tend to agree!!!

By 10 am we’d had enough – we circled the stalls one last time, there were a couple of shells out, no nautilus though! I did, however, find a very fine specimen called a Humpback Cowry – for a mere $2 AUD; which was a nice find as I’d found a really dodgy one on a beach in the Tuamotus last year… so it was a good morning!!

After lunch on board and yet another rain shower, we all went off to stretch our legs on the beach… and did we cover some miles that day! My knees were aching by the time we got back, and I didn’t do too badly in the shell department either, but still no nautilus.

Overall we had a very very pleasant stay there. The Vanuatu people are very reserved and timid, and sometimes even come across as shy. This is very refreshing compared to everywhere else we’ve been. I do miss the gregarious Fijian “BULA!” though… never forced, and so very genuine. Each country to their own I suppose.


 20 October 2008

Upped anchor very early on Monday morning and arrived in Port Resolution at noon after a VERY rolly 7 hours. Tanna is the second most visited island and is renowned for it’s kava, coffee plantations, kastom villages, cargo cultists, festivals, strong traditions, beautiful wild horses, long black beaches, caves, hot springs, huge banyan trees, and of course, volcanoes!

Half an hour after anchoring we dinghied ashore to try and organize a trip to the volcano that afternoon. Our intentions were to see the volcano; head to Lenakel the following morning to complete the checking in process, and then leave for the Loyalties that afternoon. We met a Slovenian lady and her gorgeous grey wire-haired terrier along the way, she was booked to see the volcano at 4pm, and we just needed to find Stanley and “add ourselves” to the booking. Cool.

Well, the villages here are a LOT more primitive than those at Anatom. We could not believe the squalor and filth they lived in! Anyway, so it was sorted – at 4pm we were back on dry land armed with charged cameras, tripods… and bursting with excitement!

Let’s just say that at 4:45 our patience was wearing thin – these guys could not organize a kava party if they tried!! There were only two vehicles in village, and the one brother did not know what the other was doing. Yes they have cell phones here, but Stanley’s brother is not that lucky. Eventually we all jumped into the back of a Toyota 4x4 and headed off down the bumpy road in the dying light towards the volcano.


Yasur Volcano is 361 meters high and 1.5km wide at its base. It’s one of the most accessible volcanoes of its kind in the world, and for the convenience of tour groups, a road goes almost to the summit on the mountain’s south side. We paid a $2250 “landing fee” to the “Volcano Committee” (apparently only one of many inflated kastom fees collected on Tanna)… but at $22.50 Australian Dollars, we didn’t think it was bad at all.

Had Stanley and Co organized themselves a bit better, we would’ve had more daylight at the volcano… but it was VERY exciting nonetheless! As we scaled the slope we marveled at the boulders scattered around - and as soon as we reached the outer rim there was a very loud BOOM! and all you saw was flying molten lava. OH WOW! We all tried to scramble near the edge to see into the crater (now I hear you saying how stupid we must be!), but the edge was FAR away and we actually had to walk up to a much higher point to be able to catch only a glimpse of the inside. Because the volcano was a Level 2, it was safe to be on that high point… if it was a Level 3 we would definitely not be standing there, and had it been a Level 4 we’d be in the car park!!

So here’s what happens - you hear the ever present hissing, rumbling and spitting… every so often this erupts in minor explosions, which emit small filaments of volcanic gas called Pele’s Hair. As it explodes you’re constantly watching where the red hot blobs of lava are landing – and that you can hear too! Some blobs are the size of small cars and land with a solid THUNK! The sulfur fumes can be choking and the noise deafening, but it was just such and amazing experience… especially being there at night! Unforgettable. I was quite thrilled to have taken some really nice pics!


 21 October

At 7am the following morning we were ashore and ready for the 2 hour overland trip to Lenakel. Again we waited and waited and eventually left 45 minutes later. This was worse than “Fiji time”.

As we set off along the bumpy roads, I was having a “moment”: one forgets how good it feels to be standing up in the back of a 4x4 that’s hurtling along a dirt road… wind in your hair, sun on your face. Ducking every so often for a low lying branch. There’s not many places in the world you can get away with that! Nice. Put a smile on my dial!

An hour into the journey brought us to the barren ash plain that surrounds Yasur. Now that was really amazing! Miles and miles of grey and black nothing. Just beautiful. Our driver could really put pedal to the metal here!! Amazingly there were some boulders out here too… must’ve been a Level 4?! With the volcano at our backs we drove through the small fresh water Lake Isiwi, rounded a corner and within seconds it was all very lush again. Unbelievable!

By the time we reached town we were quite tired as we were not used to sitting on a piece of wood in the back of a 4x4… or standing and holding on for dear life – getting bumped around and sporting bruises in strange places. The people we passed on the roadside all smiled and waved when they saw us… kids shouted hello’s and goodbyes, and others just looked on as though they’d never seen a bunch of gringo’s in the back of a 4x4. This I might add is a VERY common sight in Tanna – as tourism is their livelihood! 

Town was nothing to get even remotely excited about. Dusty. Very dusty. Everyone who could own a small convenience store, did. Everyone who could sell Vodafone prepaid cards, did that too (even in the middle of nowhere!). We wanted to head back at around 12pm, but that too was not going to happen!! We ended up leaving at 2pm instead, so our plans of leaving later that day were toast. Oh well, one more night there was not going to kill us.

We were exhausted by the time we were dropped off, but we still had some things on the boat that we wanted to get rid of before leaving for Australia (like milk powder, flour, lentils, etc – not sure what they were going to confiscate, so better to give it to those in need). Ken and Mike went back to get the bags, and Lynn and I went in search of Stanley. We explained to him that we’d like to trade for a small amount of fruit and perhaps a woven basket each (we don’t like to just give, give, give). He was keen and wanted to see that what we had was going to be of use to them. I had also packed in some toiletries; sweets for the kids; old clothes; and sugar. The guys waited by the dinghy whilst Lynn, Stanley and I lugged this stuff to the village. His cousin lay two woven palm leaves on the ground and we were told to put the bags down on it and stand back. Some of the ladies disappeared and came back from all different directions bearing pawpaws, mangoes, bananas, egg plant, cucumber, and 2 baskets – which was all placed next to our bags. All the while there were some people who just stood and stared like we were from another planet. Just fascinated. Chickens, dogs, babies and adults all shared the same space. Sadly there were puppies just too undernourished to be adorable puppies like you and I know them to be. Little kids running around naked – noses running faster than they were! And we stood there staring at this fiasco in front of us – equally fascinated.

Ten minutes later the deal was done, and we were back on board twenty minutes later. Things had changed and it seemed like it was going to be a very very rolly night. Oh dear.

Before heading off to bed, I checked the weather and there appeared to be yet another low pressure system moving through. We had to leave the next morning – and sadly the next stop was going to be New Caledonia, not Mare in the Loyalites, as there were no anchorages offering good protection! Unfortunately the weather really dictates in this part of the world…


Yet another early morning start… we left Tanna in 19-25 knots of SE wind and were screaming along. We decided to go between Mare and some rocky outcrop to get a better angle, of course we got there at midnight and it was pitch dark!!! Only having to rely on the radar is scary. Anyway, then as if the wind was controlled by a switch, it went from 22 to 5. Absolutely unbelievable! So we ended up motoring the last 47 nautical miles - arriving Thursday around noon. Must say that the grib files, as well as buoy weather, were spot on!


Thursday, 23 October 2008

We entered the Havannah Pass and followed the well marked channel to the huge Baie de Prony – of the 15 anchorages available, we chose Baie Majik as we’d be protected from the predicted SW winds.

Our intentions were to lay low and not clear in as I needed a visa, but more importantly, they would not issue the visa unless the boat was insured!!! Under international law we are allowed a certain amount of time in a country without checking in, provided you remain on the boat. Sometimes they can ask you leave within 24 hours (just because they can!!). You can’t argue with them really, and what leg do you have to stand on in anycase?! What the heck – we were winging it! So there we were bobbing around, Q flags flapping in the breeze and not a soul in sight! Heaven. By sunset on Friday I`d cleaned the boat from one end to the other (to get my mind off the trip I think!!!). Ken had been faffing with odd jobs on the never-ending job list!

After receiving mail from friends situated in Noumea, New Cal, there appeared to be an entire armada leaving for Australia on the Sunday. Some were going as part of the Port to Port Rally (Noumea to Bundaberg), and others like us were traveling in the company of friends. Cool. A crowd is fun... Roll on Australia!!


Australia here we come!

2008-10-25 to 2008-11-01

Saturday 25 October, 2008

After spending two days "hiding" in Baie de Prony, New Calendonia we received a favourable weather forecast for our departure to Australia, but our first priority was to move closer to the exit in the reef. So on Saturday morning we motored 21nm to Ilot Bailly, which is located only 15nm from the exit. After checking the weahter again, the forecast looked better than great!!! Well, it predicted no more than 25 knots… which in my book is PERFECT!

We’d filled in all our arrival forms (which was not a pre-requisite), but we figured it could speed up the clearing in process. I’d been really busy making a batch of dough for wholewheat rolls, so all I had to do was pop 2 in the oven every day, et voila! delicious freshly baked rolls! We also had a batch of blueberry muffins (with extra blueberries) as I had to get rid of my blueberry and walnut stash before arriving in Brisbane. Thankfully we didn’t have too much left in the freezer to eat through… although quite frankly, after a 4 or 5 day passage they can have whatever is left in there!!

We were all wondering just how thoroughly they were going to search the boat - like every locker maybe?? How time consuming! We’d heard they’d even check the hull to make sure that some nasty sea organism had not hitched a ride!! We’d heard many things about the Australian Customs, Immigration and more importantly, the Quarantine Officials… this was going to be an interesting checking in session indeed. But first – we had to get there!


26 October 2008

We set off down the channel at 7:30am as planned – a mere 15nm would take us to the exit in the reef, and more significantly, this final leg of 814nm to Australia would culminate our crossing the largest ocean in the world. Mmmm I`ll stick that in my pipe and smoke it!!!!

The weekly forecast stated winds of 12-15, and up to 20 and 25, then easing down to 10 and less knots from the SE/ESE/E, with lumpy seas to begin with, and finally settling down as the wind eased... it could’ve been a lot worse!

Our first day out involved more motor-sailing than sailing, but the wind finally kicked in at around 5:30am and soon we were tearing along at 10 knots in only 15 knots of wind. There were four other boats out there and we recorded each others’ positions daily at 9am and 6pm via the SSB radio.

Day two (529nm to go) brought us some sun - a first in 5 days!! The wind had picked up to 20-25 knots, every so often a big roller would push through to keep us on our toes! We were enjoying a much more comfortable ride with one reef in the main sail, and the smaller staysail unfurled… especially as nightfall was approaching. This configuration also enabled Mike to remain in close proximity as we screamed along with our new sails! That night was a semi-comfy night... bigger swell kept pushing the stern of the boat over by 20-30 degrees - not fun, but luckily our trusty autopilot handled it like a star. Lots of rain squalls about, and it was surprisingly chilly too!!

Mike, Lynn and I caught some airborne bug whilst in Vanuatu… Mike was the first to experience it (from both ends!!). Too much information I hear you cry!! Lynn did not feel well two days before we left New Cal; and luckily I only had it from one end (!!), but it started the day before we left! Thankfully Immodium works a treat. To top is all I had really nasty stomach cramps to contend with for the rest of the week. Great for losing weight of course, but it was weird (and slightly worrying as well!!)… by Tuesday I started a course of antibiotics and by Friday I was just about 100%.

Day three (349nm to go) – we could not ask for better sailing conditions... a brisk breeze of 18-22 knots E/ESE had us screaming along at between 9 and 10.2 knots. At this stage we were convinced that we would be arriving on Thursday afternoon, but anything could happen – the wind was also forecast to drop – and so far the forecast had been spot on! Mmmm frustrating times indeed!

Day four and still 258nm to go! From screaming along at 9 to 10 knots it felt like we`d come to a screeching halt doing 7.3 knots! We`d had a very frustrating 1.5 to 2.0 knot current against us for the better part of the night – and as if that was not enough, the wind had dropped from the low 20`s to 15-17! As you can imagine, this had a rather huge effect on our arrival time!! Our ETA had now extended to around midnight Thursday night.

A decision was made to slow down so that we would arrive at the entrance of the channel at Moreton Bay at around 5am on Friday morning. We also toyed with the idea of speeding up (by motoring), this would perhaps enable us to arrive by late afternoon - but then we still had to motor for 5-6 hours across Moreton Bay to get to Brisbane’s river entrance, and then up the river to Rivergate Marina where the checking in process took place. If we arrived after 6pm, Quarantine would charge us $140 on top of the standard $240 to check us in. We figured the sailing conditions were near perfect and very pleasant as the seas were flat… so what was one more night at sea?!

 With just less than 170nm to go at around 1:45pm, Mike was having problems with his autopilot. His recently repaired spinnaker also did not last very long – but at least it went out in style! Eventually after replacing the new motor with the old motor, they were back in business. They were very lucky they did not have to hand steer the rest of the way!!

That last day at sea was just a gloriously relaxing perfect all-rounder of a day (very few days at sea are like this – for us anyway!)… blue skies, no threatening clouds, ultra calm seas, dolphins cavorting at the bow. Perfect! The very iffy breeze had us doing between 5 and 7.5 knots!

We were now toying with the idea of simply heading in – whatever time we arrived...


Ken’s daughter celebrates her birthday on 31 October and we were thinking that a surprise visit would go down well, but with not having access to the internet, very difficult to pull off as we didn’t even know how far Brissy was from Sydney - and she could already have made plans!! I took a chance and sent her boyfriend Ben an email. He replied saying he thought the surprise was just the coolest idea and included very cheap last minute flights as well as accommodation details for the two nights just three houses down from where they live in Manly. He`d actually organised a birthday bbq at their house... and we`d be the surprise when she opens the door!!! We were so excited!

I sighted land at about 3pm… very exciting! Despite experiencing this since March 2003, it is always very exciting seeing land. The Queensland coastline, coupled with a very clear sky, put on a very impressive sunset for us as we entered the shipping channel just after 6pm. Soon it was pitch dark and it was quite something when the first ship entered the bay, crept closer and overtook us!! It was a huge car carrier. We had two others to deal with, as well as lots of horn honking and bright spotlights, but luckily the channel is very wide and very well marked, and our navigation programme proved to be pretty accurate too. It took us 6 hours from the top of Moreton Bay to the marina – and we had strong favourable current with us!

I called the Officials to let them know that we were on our way, and that we’d be arriving just after midnight and not at 11pm as originally thought, but Customs and Immigration said that it did not matter, they would be there from 11pm.

 I could not wait to step on terra firma again as we`d been on the boat for 9 days already!!

By 2am we were cleared in and legal – and it was a piece of cake – they were very happy that we’d already completed form B333 as this did speed up the process a lot. They were such nice guys too! Can’t understand people who have problems with them?! They also told us that Quarantine did not work after midnight – but did start at 7am, so we were lucky not to have incurred any extra fees. The Wombats arrived about an hour after us, and by 2:45am we were in bed.


1 October 2008

We were up at 6:30am as we weren’t sure when the Quarantine guys would arrive… and we wanted to eat our last 2 eggs (otherwise they’d be confiscated). The boat was spotless and I’d already laid out items on out table that I thought could be dodgy…

He arrived at 7:30am and it was a very pleasant experience – unlike some horror stories making the rounds amongst the yachties!

Here’s the lowdown – this was OUR experience – friends had a sniffer dog on board… it also depends on WHO you get!!!

* they need to know about the antifouling (when last applied, what brand)

* he was very concerned about a specific flying insect, and had we seen any on board… no sign of any wings on board?

* honey was NOT an issue, unless has actual honeycomb inside

* prunes, blueberries and cranberries were a no-no, but raisins were okay

* lentils were okay, but pearl barley was a no-no

* dried spices are okay, provided there was no teeny weeny insects inside (but they will check)

* fresh garlic (cloves) and ginger is also a no-no

* mayo and anything containing more than 10% egg is prohibited

* microwave popcorn, if not from Oz or NZ, will be taken

* our guy inspected the woodwork as well as the inside of all the food lockers for signs of termites and other living creatures

* I have a massive shell collection, but all was good as they were clean – they were looking for the African Snail Shell

* cheese still in original packaging purchased from NZ or Oz is okay

* any packaged meat products like sandwich ham is prohibited, but sandwich beef slices are okay

* our wooden artifacts and treasures were fine (again, as long as there is no sign of a boring insect you`re okay)


And that was it really...  easy peasy! Welcome to Australia mate!




Rivergate Marina was a nice entry point – but a pity that it was a taxi ride from everything, as it’s located in the industrial area. Anyway, it was a safe place to leave the boat whilst we flitted off to Sydney for the weekend!


We’d heard that they would be putting on drinks and snacks for all the yachties that at 4pm… we were like the walking dead – but after 9 days on board we were definitely up for free drinks and socializing!!!


I have a feeling this is going to be a brilliant “off season”… watch this space!





2008-10-31 to 2008-12-16

01 November to 16 December 2008 So after spending a wonderful weekend in Sydney with Cheryl, Ben and Russel, we arrived back on board at 5pm on Monday, 3 November, only to find a note from the Wombats saying that they’d moved to Dockside Marina, and that they’d (very kindly!) booked a berth for us at a much cheaper rate than we were paying at Rivergate Marina. Good on you Mike! Rivergate is a nice marina, with a fair sized Chandlery nearby, but it’s located in the industrial part of Brisbane with no access to busses, trains or ferries… there are no supermarkets or the like nearby, and the only option one has is to catch an expensive taxi to the nearest shopping centre or into the city. Dockside here we come! 

4 November - Moving either into or out of a marina in the Brisbane River, should really only be done at slack tide whilst you’re in full control. If you get the timing wrong whilst the river is running – well let’s just say it could make for some interesting times, both on the stress levels and possibly even the bank balance!

As we wound our way up the serpentine aquatic highway towards the city, we were impressed by the snazzy riverside properties, City Cat Ferries zoomed past (clearly they were out of the slow zone!) with tourists jam-packed on the front taking pictures. As we neared the city and the marina, the skyline changed and instead there were many tall high rises that all appeared to be apartment blocks! It took us just over an hour to get to Dockside, Mike and Lynn took our lines and then came aboard to hear all about our weekend in Sydney.

 We were very central and ideally located… from our cockpit we had a view of Story Bridge – walking across it would take us to China Town in Fortitude Valley. If we were adventurous and fancied a 10km walk, we could walk to China Town and then into the city from there (we actually did this walk twice!). Stepping off the boat, up the dock and turning right onto the very well maintained boardwalk we could walk under Story Bridge and follow the path all the way to South Bank, which is around 7.5kms. South Bank is opposite the northern end of the city centre, and the popular shopping area of Queen Street. The ferries stop at all these places and more along the way – so it’s very easy to get around Brisbane. The busses are an entirely different story… around town and including surrounding suburbs, the busses have their own network of tunnels – so they’re not stuck in road traffic. It’s just unbelievable! The trains are also super efficient and just a pleasure to catch if you need to get to outerlying areas (I loved the “journey planner” on the Translink website). Brisbane was very much an eye-opener as all the above activities could be done any time of day or night without safety being a problem.  Some general info on Queensland:A Melbourne journalist once observed Queensland was so different from the rest of Australia that it was a surprise that you didn’t need a visa to go there. There are houses on stilts, the tropical vegetation and flowering trees with musical names like frangipani, jacaranda and poiciana… the heat and vivid light, the vast distances, and the people themselves are so much more laid-back, friendly and direct than southerners, made it seem like another country. Space is something Queenslanders take for granted – it’s 670 000 sq miles, making it 2 ½  times the size of Texas – and with just over 4 million, that means there is one square kilometre of space for every 2.3 people! There’s around 1.8 million living around Brisbane, leaving 2.2 million spread around rural towns and cities. It has become a magnet for outsiders and is currently the fastest growing state in Australia. Despite its rapid growth, Brisbane, Australia’s third largest city, still offers a slower and less complicated lifestyle than Sydney or Melbourne. It’s a very active city and commuters will often have on pair of trainers, or be cycling to work. It’s also quite normal to be greeted by passers-by… rather unusual in a big city. Come weekend and the general community still tends to dress down… flip-flops and shorts remain a common sight. The women seem to be more feminine in that many wear dresses (maybe it’s the heat!), anyway… from sundresses, to oh-so-uncomfortably short ones, to cocktail dresses to Melbourne Cup dresses… the clothing rails in stores are generally groaning with gorgeous dresses! Nature has a powerful presence even in the middle of the city where there are thriving mangroves on the river banks; and with seagulls, hawks, cormorants and pelicans on the river. In bush suburbs only 20 minutes away from the city centre there are poisonous brown snakes. Backyard hens’ eggs can be taken by carpet snakes, while the deadly redback spider can live in gardens and under houses in the inner city. And there is another natural danger. Living in some of the most intense sunlight on earth, Queenslanders (surprisingly!) have the world’s highest rate of skin cancer. But the fair-skinned are learning that it is no longer fashionable to baked brown! Ken and I were talking about this just the other day, the fact that we just don’t seem to see tanned people around. I was quite relieved that we’d lost our Fiji tans as we could be getting stared at – not for our gorgeous tans, but for being so stupid! We now wear hats on most days and cover up with sensible clothing (Columbia makes great UVA/B proof shirts which are amazingly cool to wear). Better safe than sorry. Brisbane’s recognition of the value of its architectural heritage came too late to save many iconic buildings destroyed during the development frenzy of the 80’s… but those that remain are in remarkably pristine condition. Mmmmm England can learn a thing or two from the Ozzie’s in this regard! Its cultural scene has apparently blossomed visibly over recent decades, and the city is now home to a fine symphony orchestra; an accomplished ballet, professional opera and theatre companies, as well as an active art and literary scene. The city has nurtured alternative venues devoted to cutting-edge performances and exhibitions. It also attracts many international rock stars and major events, but it would be an exaggeration to portray mainstream Queenslanders as voracious culture vultures. Thanks to a sunny outdoor lifestyle, the arts play second fiddle to sport! Aussie lingo is a colourful language that seems to baffle some people no-end, and for some reason they have to shorten just about every word, particularly people’s names! They are generally shortened to one syllable if possible, and then have a suffix added to the end. Here are a few examples:Football – footy. Elizabeth – Lizzy. Christmas – Chrissy. Registration – rego. Smoke break – smoko. Marion – Maz. Alligator-pear is an avocado. Amber fluid – beer. Afternoon – arvo. Carburetor – carbie. Dead horse – tomato sauce. Garbage man – garbo. Salvation Army – Salvo. Arse over tit – to fall over. Argy bargy – argument. Airy fairy – vague. Any tick of the clock – very soon. Adam’s ale – water. One of the best Aussieisms: Onya – good on you!! There are fears that overdevelopment and too rapid a rate of population increase could destroy much of the state’s great natural beauty and lifestyle. A local environmentalist who has devoted her life to preserving Queensland’s natural heritage says that her joy at seeing so much preserved has been tinged with a sense of tragedy at the amount of destruction in the southeast of the state. Meanwhile, the developers gleefully rub their hands!!! Sadly it’s all about supply and demand… that said, so is the carbon footprint issue… unfortunately money is king at the end of the day.  

Okay so here’s what we got up to:

15 November - Monster Trucks – having only ever seen them on television, we thought it would make a fun evening out, and it also happened to be the “world finals”! Relying on public transport we set out 3 hours earlier to ensure we would not be late as we’d have to catch a ferry, leg it to Central Station, catch a train, and then leg it to the venue. The indoor arena was packed and the atmosphere quite electric! It kicked off with a very impressive laser light show, and then it was time for the trucks… oh my goodness, they were HUGE and the noise was just about deafening (there were actually earplugs on sale!!).  No video cameras were allowed, but everyone was filming clips on their mobile phones and digital cameras. An American won – which was no surprise as they have been racing monster trucks for many years, and apparently this is a fairly new “sport” to Australia, but taking on quite well. Was definitely worth the effort!  The South Bank Precinct has become the inner-city playground of parks, tropical gardens, lagoons, restaurants and boutiques. The precinct’s most popular attraction is Streets Beach, a large swimming lagoon where the essential elements of beach culture have been replicated: white sand, lapping water, lifeguards, bikini-wearers and small children with buckets and spades. It’s great on a sunny day (and there are many of those!!) to walk along the boardwalk shared by a continuous stream tourists and locals. They also have a smaller version of the “London Eye”! We’d finally caught up to our Belgium friends Roger and Lucie, on a catamaran called Catimini – we last saw them in 2004 in Venezuela… so it was a very nice surprise when they called to say they too were coming to Dockside Marina. We spent many days showing them around Brisbane and spent just as many evenings catching up over sundowners! A friendship that certainly has stood the test of time! 5 Dec - Cirque du Soleil’s touring show “Dralion” started in Brisbane on 27 November and unfortunately would not be on in Sydney, so we postponed our departure as we really wanted to see another one of their amazing shows. We’d seen them in Las Vegas (the show was called Ka) and were totally blown away by it. I’d emailed the info to our friends on Linger Longer and Papillon who them promptly bought tickets for the same afternoon… we met up for dinner and wine after. Cirque du Soleil is French for “Circus of the Sun” and was founded in 1984 by two former street performers with only a few cents to rub together. Now they’re a multi-billion dollar organisation delivering performances in many parts of the world – with 7 permanent shows in Las Vegas! Basically it’s a circus without the animals… highly trained acrobats, tumblers and dancers perform incredible and almost unbelievable acrobatic feats right before your very eyes – in costumes that are out of this world. All shows are themed, fast-paced and loaded with humour. A must-see if you ever get the opportunity!! To catch a glimpse of what it’s about go to: www.cirquedusoleil.com and watch one of their videos. 

After 2 weeks of the worst storms Brisbane had seen in years (actually since some cyclone in the 80’s) – locals were spent trying to salvage what was not washed away, and we spent those two weeks hauling big logs, stumps and branches out from around the boat that had arrived with the incoming tide. The mulch that the locals use in the gardens was everywhere and managed to block our toilets and refrigeration pumps. It was such a pain!! The ferries even stopped operating for 2 weeks at night as it was impossible to dodge big logs!!

 13 Dec - The City Council have erected about 6 covered “eating areas”, electric BBQ’s, and running water for cleaning up, in the park located under the Story Bridge, right next to the river. One is able to use these facilities for free!! What a great idea… and a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon - with old and new friends! We’d also discovered DFO (Direct Factory Outlet) – trust me to find a bargain!! Anyway, it’s a huge outlet mall selling branded clothing and home ware at around 70% less than on the high street. We were thrilled to get Columbia tops for $35 instead of $65… I also found THE most comfortable slip on shoes… so comfy I went back, and now have 3 pairs! For the first time my big feet weren’t a problem as there were mainly large sizes!! Lucie bought a big range of Corelle crockery at a hugely discounted price. We are also the proud owners of a down duvet (yes we do use it in Aus!) as well as super comfy latex pillows!! We were introduced to another great deal by friends on Cyan… Telstra (like Vodacom/Virgin mobile, etc) sell a pre-paid wireless USB modem for $149 – without a fixed term contract. Their coverage, at 99%, is the best in Australia too. The credit will expire in 30 days, so if you top up before it expires whatever credit you have left over will get carried over to the following month at whatever rate you have just topped up with. Very nifty setup indeed and it works like a charm… used it at about 8nm offshore just the other day! Here’s the link: http://www.telstra.com.au/telstraprepaidplus/broadband/prepaidwireless.html About 2 weeks before leaving Brisbane I’d heard that Coles supermarket were offering free home deliveries (obviously pushing to encourage online shopping!)… well what a treat to have someone else schlep 18 bottles of soda water, 18 litres of tonic water, 18 litres of long life milk, and other odds and ends, directly to the boat!!! Ordinarily we’d have to do the shop, try and find a taxi back to the marina, then lug it all the way back to the boat. Absolutely exhausting! Online shopping is effortless and so easy… this is the way to shop for sure!! Ken managed to get everything he need from the Whitworths Chandlery, including a new VHF. Whilst he was fiddling and fixing things on the boat I was sewing! I finally decided to make 3 strong and durable shopping bags out of sunbrella and spinnaker cloth… quite a job, but I’m chuffed with the results!   As we got to know Brisbane more and more we’ve ended up falling in love with it. The people are fantastic and very helpful, and always have a smile on their faces. It’s very similar to Durban and Cape Town… perhaps that’s why South African’s fit right in here! We also loved the fact that we always felt safe… it might sound strange to some, but I never had that feeling growing up in South Africa. Everyone has a wonderful sense of freedom here and it’s very alluring! As for our wonderful sense of freedom – let’s hope we are going to have a good trip down to Sydney! We intend being there for Christmas, and being able to spend some time with Russel and Cheryl. Whilst safely anchored somewhere in harbour we’ll be marvelling at the fireworks display on Sydney Harbour Bridge on New Years Eve as we bid farewell to yet another year! But for now it’s cheers Brissy, see you again in February!    


2008-12-17 to 2008-12-22

17-22 December 2008 

After finally managing to drag ourselves away from Dockside Marina, we headed for Rivergate Marina to fill up with some diesel. We were a week behind schedule, but it was not entirely our doing! The weather was playing havoc down south, with the deepest low they’d seen in years – and no, we did not intend playing with it! We had to wait an extra day for a new VHF, and then another day for a new compass!   

We then headed out across Moreton Bay to anchor at Tangalooma – a very pretty anchorage compared to the high rises and the massive Story Bridge that we`ve grown so accustomed to over the past month! The plan was to simply anchor for the night so that we could get an early start for the overnight leg to Coffs Harbour. The weather forecast showed the winds turning to SE (again!), so we figured we could sit it out at Coffs whilst waiting for the low pressure system to move through before heading on to Sydney.  

For once nothing went to plan!! Leaving Brisbane River, Ken tested out the autopilot and new compass – but it would not hold a course! So after anchoring Ken got organised to try to figure out just why the compass was not “talking” to the autopilot…  

I had recently acquired a tall square glass vase that I was going to use to display my beautiful shells (thanks for the idea Lynn!) – this was also another way of not having to ever clean them (!!),  so I couldn’t think of a better time to sort through and organise the shells… 

To cut a long story short, Ken managed to get it all working properly by about 3:30am; and I was done about 20 minutes later… we hit the sack at 4am - exhausted!! It was quite funny cause it was already getting light!!   

Wednesday, 17 December 2008 

We ended up leaving at around 11:30am after breakfast. The forecast held true with winds of 20-25 knots; and at around 4am we put in a reef as it was a constant 28-30… we were clocking up to speeds of 14 knots through the course of the night as well! Later on that morning we were plodding along very comfortably at 6.5 knots in 15-18 knots of wind! It was a glorious day and we were pushing to arrive before sunset. Quite nice being able to sail close to the shore line for a change too (we were about 10nm offshore)!  

VMR (Volunteer Marine Rescue) offer a good service to fishermen, yachtsmen and general boaters – they can keep a tracking sheet of your progress up or down the coast - all you have to do is call in with your position. All they really ask of you is to notify them of your arrival. It`s also useful for casual day fishermen. They also broadcast the weather every hour to two hours on the VHF… very handy indeed, as the weather is up to the minute!

Anyway, we’d heard that Coffs was expecting thunderstorms and possibly hail later on that day… well at 2:30pm we saw big black ominous clouds rolling towards us. The main sail was already reefed, so we quickly furled the genoa away, turned on the engine, and waited with baited breath. Wind gusts always amaze me… from like 15 knots to 30 knots in split-seconds! Naturally the wind could not decide which direction it wanted to blow from either, so if we gybed the main sail once, we did it ten times at least! Then it bucketed down with rain and suddenly it started to hail!! So weird being hailed on at sea! The squall eventually blew over and at 4pm I suggested we have some supper… good foresight, because not 20 minutes after our meal we got nailed by another squall! Luckily no hail this time. 

We dropped our anchor around 6:40pm just before sunset, had a double whiskey and soda each, and were in bed and asleep by 8:30pm!   

Friday, 19 December - On Friday afternoon we discovered that we had a problem with the generator… oh great! If it’s not one thing it’s the next!!!! Ken phoned around and was put onto everyone that has to do with generators in this small village… eventually someone told him they were able to come around on Monday morning. We were in a bit of a fix because we didn’t have a lot of water left, so we could either do a few trips transporting water in jerry jugs in the dinghy, or go into the marina for a night…  

Saturday morning finally dawned and we decided that we`d be moving into the marina! Friday night was so rolly we hardly got any sleep, and on top of that the anchor alarm kept going off! Very frustrating! And who was to say that Saturday night would get any better as the SE’s were still blowing!  The day was overcast and a lot cooler thanks to the SE wind, so we decided to go for a walk up Muttonbird Island to the lookout… it’s only about 500 meters, but it’s gets steep enough to get your heart racing! It was a nice view from up there though! We then followed the 9km track along Coffs Creek into the CBD. It was an easy level circuit of bushland tracks, boardwalks and bridges. We also did a quick loop around the Botanic Gardens, but we’ve been very spoilt by Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, so this paled in comparison! 

Coffs Harbour is very much a small holiday town/village. The fishing boats in the boat harbour, fast food places selling fish and chips – the seagulls begging and bickering for the scraps… it’s all so reminiscent of where we come from: Hout Bay. Amazing! Anyway, it’s a very pretty place and there are beaches that stretch for miles in either direction, there are national parks and state forests as well. Being just ever so slightly south of the 30 degree latitude it has a great climate… on par with Madagascar, Malawi, Durban and Chile!  En route back from our walk we popped into the Yacht Club for some liquid refreshment before heading out for dinner of fish and chips, naturally! 

21 December - Sunday morning came and found Ken playing with the generator again… suddenly he started it, and voila! It was producing 220v! Hooray! Apparently it was a small little spring somewhere near the brushes that was broken. At least we can now order the part from Kohler and it’s not going to cost a fortune in technicians… 

After checking the weather forecasts – it looked like it sorted itself out and should be NE/NW again from noon on Monday… that suited us perfectly as time was not waiting for us and soon it would be Christmas!! All the prezzies were wrapped, the only thing left to do was to whip out our small fibre optic tree and to decorate the inside of the boat! Weather permitting we’d be having a BBQ for Christmas with Cheryl, Russel and three of their friends. Should be fun!! 

So with chilly greetings from down under, we wish all our friends and family a very merry Christmas, and all of the very best for 2009. 

Christmas in Manly!

2008-12-23 to 2008-12-28

23-26 December 2008

Luckily our trip down from Coffs Harbour was not as colourful as the previous leg! Actually there was a splash of colour in the form of a gorgeous rainbow that popped up behind us whilst roughly a mile offshore. Arriving just as the winds turned to southerlies, we entered the channel through the Heads, and headed to the right towards Manly… more specifically Spring Cove. We dropped anchor at around 5:30 and arranged to pick up Cheryl and her friends, Nicky and Nicky - no it’s not a party trick! They happen to be best friends too! It was really amazing to finally arrive somewhere where we had family! We had a great evening and the two Nicky’s had us in absolute stitches! 

Manly is undoubtedly the jewel of the North Shore. It sits on a narrow peninsula that ends at the dramatic cliffs of North Head. There are some spectacular walks to be enjoyed around there too. Manly is actually one of the first places in Australia to be named by the Europeans – Arthur Phillip named it after the “manly” physique of the Aborigines he saw here in 1788. Sun-soaked Manly boasts all the trappings of a full-scale holiday resort and a sense of community identity. Most of The Corso (Manly’s semi-famous pedestrian mall) is lined with lots of shops, and more café’s and eating places than should be legal! A great way to get to Manly is by ferry. It’s the best way to experience the harbour and to drink in the views. The ferry wharf is on Manly Cove, on the harbour side, and The Corso runs from here to the ocean, where Manly Beach is lined with some wonderful Norfolk pines. 

24 December - After chatting to some cruisers earlier on that day, we found out that we could safely leave our dinghy next to the cordoned off swimming area at Little Manly Bay. From there it was a 15 minute hilly walk to Cheryl, Ben and Carl’s place. Being about 3 minutes walk from the beach, she was very centrally located! So Christmas Eve was spent there with a few of their close friends. Many of whom were South Africans!! Russel was “braai master”… I particularly enjoyed the kangaroo fillet… absolutely delicious!! Ken and I paced ourselves with the red wine… and laughed with (and at) those who did not! Midnight eventually arrived and we saw Christmas in with a traditional touch. We were back on board by 2am. 

25 December – Christmas Day was spent onboard Fast Forward. Thank goodness it was sunny… I was worried as it was grim and cold the day before!! We opened our prezzies and enjoyed my homemade - dodgy looking, but delicious - mince pies. There were 7 of us to feed, and it was great not doing anything traditional like a turkey – which is not my favourite!! We did the easiest and most enjoyable thing: had another barbie!! Why not?!! Everyone chipped in with delicious salads, nibbles and meat… Rus did his famous curry tiger prawns! Another great thing about the day was that it was not an eat-a-thon. We started with wings and prawns around 1pm, and then sat down to our meat and salads at 4:30. The Christmas cake was just spectacular! I must admit that I did a good job with it this year… very moist, and packed with nuts and fruit that had been soaking for more than 2 weeks! Luckily I made 2!! It was such a nice day… 

After ferrying everyone ashore it was not long before we were in the land of nod!! 

26 December – Our mission was to walk up to North Head to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. We met Cheryl and Kate en route and headed up the hill in the blazing heat along with many other people. Unfortunately there was no shade up there, and would definitely take and umbrella next time – but at least were dressed coolly, had hats, and were slathered with factor 60! We had a 2 ½ hour wait to the start, but it was better than arriving later as there was not much space on the grass to sit at all! Eventually they set off at 1pm and it was quite something to see all those boats out in the harbour – the race boats as well as the hundreds of spectator boats that were all there to see them off. After taking more than enough pics we headed back into Manly to get something ice cold to drink!! 

27 December – We picked up Cheryl, Kate and Jo in the dinghy, and then upped anchor to move the boat closer to the city. It was quite a nice feeling motoring past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge!! We even went into Darling Harbour! It was so cool as this was the first “big city” we’d ever been to on the boat. We then carried on through the old and inoperable swing bridge which is directly under the Anzac Bridge… and found a place to anchor in the very snug anchorage in Blackwattle Bay. 

We spent the better part of the day on board before all going ashore. Sydney’s Fish Market is just opposite the anchorage, and that’s where we were able to leave the dinghy. And no, it’s not smelly at all!! Apparently over 15 million kilograms of seafood is sold here annually. There a many places to eat here – so it does not get fresher than this!! 

Having discovered that we were only a few blocks from Darling Harbour, we were actually very centrally located. After enjoying drinks and meal in Darling Harbour, we waved goodbye to Cheryl and friends before heading back to the boat. I love the fact that it’s still light at 8:30pm… we’ve been so used to 11-12 hours of daylight! 

So as this year draws to a close, I’m hoping that next year is going to be as good to us as this year has been! I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see won’t we…   

New Year`s Eve in Sydney Harbour!

2008-12-31 to 2009-01-01

On 30 December Fast Forward was anchored in Farm Cove, right next to the Opera House… and with only 4 other boats in the anchorage, I was afforded a fantastic photo opportunity of only having Fast Forward, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge in the photos!! We were very lucky, because the following day was mayhem! 

Having phoned the Harbour authorities on 30 Dec to find out exactly where we were allowed anchor – we realised it was undoubtedly “prime position”… and with that in mind we upped anchor at 6:30am the following morning lay claim to our spot. Oh my goodness, we were seriously chuffed, and feeling very smug with the perfect view we had of the Harbour Bridge! 

As a 60 foot boat we were not allowed to anchor in Farm Cove itself, but could anchor on the “border” on between Farm Cove and Woolloomooloo. The event is extremely well organised and patrolled, and there are exclusion zones that one is not allowed to anchor in either. So we were anchored right next to an exclusion zone which meant that nothing larger than Fast Forward could come and anchor in front or next to us! Perfect! The authorities also advise people to choose a spot early (before sunset) and if anyone arrives late and tries to push in, they will be asked to leave! 

As the morning progressed the place filled up… by 1pm the anchorage filled with yachts; powerboats of various sizes; and not forgetting the tiny fishing boats… it made for an “exciting times” as the anchorage was 16m deep and many of the small boats do not carry enough rope (let alone chain!!) for that depth of water… coupled with the fact that the wind was blowing quite hard and kicking up a fair chop – a lot of the little boats were dragging their anchor. The other problem was Fast Forward – technically we got there first (hehehe so put that in your pipe and smoke it!)… anyway, Fast Forward seemed to be on her own mission – while most of the other craft were laying to wind - she would not!! Oh my goodness – we were fending off boats left, right and centre!! Then some would lay with us and all the others wouldn’t. Boats not having keels also act differently to boats that do. Weird and frustrating at the same time! In all this madness I rushed off to pick up Cheryl, Kate and Jo who’d been waiting for over 40 minutes already. There were also wind reversals to deal with, and poor Ken spent most of the afternoon with the engine running to keep us away from other boats! I was praying that we weren’t going to have to end up moving and giving up our prime spot! 

Anyway, it all worked out brilliantly in the end – we must’ve been in some eddy or in a different current belt or something… but the wind died off completely, the water settled down and by 7pm we were all just bobbing around merrily… eagerly awaiting the 9pm “family fireworks show” and then the crème de la crème at midnight of course. 

All in all everyone was really very well behaved and there were no problems whatsoever… um except for the guy in a sexy little power boat who failed to affix his anchor chain to his boat, and when we just about bumped (yes they were so close we could see the colour of their eyes!) – he let out more chain, only to see it disappear over the front of his boat (cherio expensive anchor too!). Oops! That is referred to as “the bitter end”. 

A rather nice aerial acrobatic show was put on for us that afternoon… and we enjoyed an amazing sunset at around 8:30pm. The family fireworks show at 9m was very IMPRESSIVE… we were wondering how they were possibly going to top that at midnight! Suddenly we spotted a huge galleon that was “outlined” with lights! Oh wow! Then there was another huge cruise boat with a fish done in lights on either side of it… and then another with a big whale! Soon there was an entire boat parade! How cool is this!!? 

Time seemed to fly past and suddenly you heard the countdown: 10!... 9!... 8!... blah blah… 3!... 2!... 1!!!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Of course everyone goes ballistic and there are happy 2009 kisses and wishes all around… but as a spectator you have to be quick as they waste no time in starting the show! Within seconds we were in awe… it was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING to say the least… one minute the fireworks were blasting off the bridge, and the next they’re shooting off the tops of the high rises in the city to the left of us!!! Unbelievable! Next minute it looked like a waterfall flowing off the bridge… then suddenly fireworks are shot off the barge to the right of us! Then off the bridge again…. it just went on and on and on… all you heard was gasps and ooohs and aaahs and oh wows! It was simply mind-blowing and impossible to describe… you just had to be there to soak it all in! This experience is definitely up there in our top 10 for sure!! 

At around 12:45am we upped anchor and wove our way carefully through the throng of boats… in our very own procession (!)  back towards Spring Cove in Manly. The huge Manly ferry had started operating again and it actually came to a dead stop as there were just so many boats going in all directions!! It was pretty chaotic, but nothing we could not handle, and soon we were safely anchored - exhausted and ready for bed! It had been a very long but absolutely amazing day!     


Sydney to Brisbane

2009-01-02 to 2009-02-07

After starting 2009 with a serious of seriously big bangs in Sydney Harbour, it was time to start making our way north back to Brisbane, as we had family flying in on 8 February for a 10 day visit. Our “will only stay for 1 week after New Years” statement backfired, and we only left Sydney on the 17th of January! Ken wanted a spinnaker pole – but for the staysail, and the supplier was only reopening on the 12th; but we had enough to do to pass the time – and enjoyed delicious meals at Cheryl’s place – did a seriously long walk to the Heads and further on to Shelley Beach (must’ve been at least 10kms!) – Mike returned from the USA, so we met up with him at his daughter’s new home – Cheryl would pop over and visit during the day to work on her portfolio – or we’d catch the bus to Waringah Mall – it was so easy picking up everyone in the dinghy too… all in all it was great being anchored so close to Manly!


Finally there was a break in the weather and Ken zoomed off to pick up Cheryl, Russel and Jeremy who were joining us on the short trip north to Pittwater. We headed out in a 25-30 knot SE with a BIG following sea… poor Jeremy was slightly green at the gills – but fortunately he didn’t need a bucket! We carefully wove our way to Macarrs Creek between a serious of yacht races (had two very close calls!). Just about every bay we passed was jam-packed with yachts on mooring balls or at anchor… I had never seen to many yachts before! It was incredible! We all enjoyed lunch on board, before Cheryl, Rus and Jeremy caught the bus back to Manly.

The weather forecast did not look good for the entire week – so, on Monday we moved to Jerusalem Bay, which was located at the end of Cowan’s Creek. With only 2 boats there it was very peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle of Pittwater! We were surrounded by a fairly high and ragged rock-face which was topped with trees. We did the 5km “great north walk” and it was good get off the boat and stretch our legs. Swimming was out of the question as the water was too cold – and green!! Maybe we are spoiled, but despite the daytime temperatures, it was not inviting at all!! Oh I almost forgot about all the jellyfish… hundreds of them drifting to and fro every day… apparently harmless – but creepy nonetheless!

We headed back to Macarrs Creek on Wednesday, 21st. Mike had arrived from Coffs Harbour with his yacht – Lynn was still in the USA… Ray and Marilyn had joined him for the trip south – their boat, Horizon, was in Manly (there’s one in Queensland too!). I whipped up a great dinner for all of us and Ray brought the wine… good hearty fair!


The weather finally sorted itself out and we left at 6:15am on Sunday, 25th. The forecast 20-25 knot SE winds were nowhere to be found, but the 10-15 knots finally got us into Port Stephens 12 hours later. The 26th of January is Australia Day – and we were happy to be out of Sydney Harbour and Pittwater, because it is a far more celebrated day than New Year’s (and that was controlled/patrolled pandemonium!!). We woke up to a very foggy day. One of the worst we’ve ever experienced actually. It lifted enough during the day so that when we finally got to the top of that mother of a hill at the entrance, we could see about 2 bays on… by 4pm it was so foggy again that we would hardly see the shore! Strange indeed!


We upped anchor at 6:15am again and motored north against a 2 knot current. We knew that having to deal with the adverse current was really the only problem with heading north. It’s best to really hug the coastline, but realistically there’s no way to avoid it… the strength also varied, but apparently certain months can we worse than others. It also didn’t help that there was hardly any wind that day either!

We had to do an overnight trip because, besides Coffs Harbour, there was nowhere else that could accommodate us – either our keel was too deep or our mast was too tall. Many places are river inlets and have sand bars that need to be crossed. These bars can pose a problem and sometimes smaller yachts have to wait until high tide – and then it preferably needs to be a slack tide at that as it can also be very rough.

Anyway, so it was an uneventful overnight trip, and we were greeted by a grim grey sky at sunrise with many rain squalls about… but it soon all magically drifted off and turned into a gorgeous day, complete with dolphins performing at our bow!! I still marvel at how the baby dolphins stick to their mother’s like velcro and mimick their every move! Just incredible!

Just after 4pm we headed towards the Clarence River mouth… let’s just say that it did not look calm. I had a sudden flashback of those passes in the Tuamotu atolls… I got the camera ready and clung onto the backstay for support. It was one of the wildest entrances we’ve had to deal with, and not for the feint-hearted… you have got to keep your wits about you, 2 pairs of eyes on the depth gauge, power forward, and never ever let the boat get side-on to the waves. Our trusty steed: the 120hp engine has never let us down when we’ve needed it (touch wood)… it seemed to take forever, but we eventually got to calmer waters. Anchoring was another story. After trying to anchor about 4 times, and touching bottom 3 times (luckily it was only soft sand!)… some locals eventually come over in their yacht (it was the start of yet another yacht race!) – who advised us to anchor up near the beach at the coast guard station. Phew! I had visions of us having to head back out to sea and continue on to our next destination!!

After heading ashore the following morning we discovered that Clarence River turned out to be just another teeny tiny town off the beaten track, where not much at all happened. Although there were 2 bottle stores!! Fishing and prawning are the main industries... and apparently they have an 80 strong fleet!  


We left for the Gold Coast at around 1pm the following day – there was some wind, but we ended up motor sailing again as we had the current to deal with as well. At dawn we slowly passed unbelievable stretches of beaches… and then came the high-rise skyline of Surfers Paradise : holiday headquarters for Australia’s rich and hedonistic; ranked up there with Ipanema, Miami and Cannes for architectural overkill. There’s even a 6 star hotel (!!) called Palazzo Versace where bell boys dress better than the guests, and you get to choose from six types of pillow!!

At 6am we entered the very calm channel and made our way towards The Spit which was a rather conveniently located anchorage, affectionately called Bums Bay (you guessed it – real dodgy boats end up anchored here, but luckily the area appeared to be policed, and one was only allowed to stay for a certain period of time). We enjoyed a good few days here, and walked over to the famous “surfer’s paradise” beach… sadly we were not very impressed at all – and the surf was not “up” either! The one thing that did impress me though was the squeaky clean beach sand… it was amazing… it actually squeaked when you walked on it!!


On Monday, 2 February we got news of the all the freak snow in London central! We were going to leave, but decided to stay another day… so we left bright and early on Tuesday – and had to motor the whole way to Moreton Bay – arriving just before sunset. Again the forecast was horribly wrong. After spending the evening anchored in Tangalooma Bay, we were able to sail most of the way to the start of the Brisbane River… by 2pm we were safely tied to the dock at Dockside Marina. It was good to be back!!

In between preparing the boat for Steve and Maggie’s arrival, I was trying to organize some sort of itinerary as well as a car, and accommodation for our 3 day trip north to see the Glasshouse Mountains and Steve Irwin’s “Australia Zoo”.Very exciting! We love it when family comes to visit! Wish it would happen more often though…  



Brisbane, Mountains, Australia Zoo and more

2009-02-08 to 2009-02-22

The Sunshine Coast, less brash and commercial than the Gold Coast, is only about an hours drive north of Brisbane, and is apparently one of the most gorgeous stretches of Queensland’s coastline. The region is backed by the dramatic Glass House Mountains which rise from the sheer grassy plains to the west.

We actually caught our first glimpse of these strangely shaped mountains when we first arrived in Australia at the end of October 08, and they kept us guessing until our friend Michelle saw photos and commented on them.

Steve and Maggie’s holiday started off well in Brisbane, but the perfect weather was predicted to change for the worse! We set off to Moreton Bay regardless, as we really wanted them to at least walk on a gorgeous beach and not be city bound for their entire holiday with us. We spent a delightful couple of hours walking the seemingly endless stretch of beach, where we came across hundreds of strange little crabs. From a distance they would all scurry towards the water en masse – it was like the beach was moving there were so many!! When we got closer, they would quickly dig themselves into a hole and disappear! It was fascinating!! We figured that perhaps it had something to do with the fact that it was full moon…

The weather forecast on Friday morning was grim, so we decided to up anchor and head to Scarborough Marina. The wind had picked up substantially at around the halfway mark, and it began pouring with rain. Once inside the marina area it was impossible for Ken to get the boat close enough to the dock for me to jump off and secure the lines, as the 25-30 knot winds just kept pushing us off the dock! By the third attempt I saw some people running to help us… bless them!

We picked up the car at 11:30am on Saturday morning and : went shopping! What else was there to do when it was raining?! Sunday morning had us up bright and early as we were “going on holiday”.

45 minutes later we caught our first glimpses of the Glass House Mountains – a cluster of craggy volcanic peaks towering over a scenic patchwork of bush-land, pine plantations and small farms. The steep sided and heavily eroded mountains were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago. They are so named because of tricks of reflected light on the rain-damped peaks, first noted by Captain Cook from offshore.

Volcanic soil is very fertile and area is renowned for macadamia nuts, pineapples, and other fruit.

Eight of the 16 peaks fall within the 920 hectare National Park. The other eight belong to Aboriginal owners, the Gubbi Gubbi people, who regard the mountains as sacred – frowning on attempts to climb them… so trails have been created within the national park.

We drove up one of the smaller ones… then walked up two of the others!!! The first one was SO steep I thought my poor heart was going to stop! But the views were well worth the effort. The second one was much easier and afforded us a great view from a different perspective – we were quite chuffed that we’d done both as the views were amazing, but different. We actually only attempted the second mountain later on that afternoon after having a very refreshing swim at our “farm style” accommodation… which I might add, simply blew us away – the place was enormous! There were two big en suite bedrooms leading off an equally huge lounge/dining room area… which we had all to ourselves! It was fabulous! The farm’s backdrop was Mt Tibrogargen, which was simply gorgeous at sunset.



After a hearty breakfast we set off at around 8:45am for the Australia Zoo, which is one of Queensland’s top tourist attractions… and we were pleased that it was a Monday! The zoo was well laid out, and all the animals have names too! Interaction with the animals is also encouraged, and we all stood in line with the kids to feed the elephants, touch the seriously cute koala’s, and wander amongst wallabies and kangaroos lazing about in the sun waiting to have their heads scratched!!

They also have scheduled shows on during the day, my favourite was the Bengal Tigers – we didn’t realize they actually loved water! They had a glass front tank in their enclosure, and the show was basically “playtime” for the trainers and tigers (who were all apparently cubs!!). What magnificent creatures!!! The otter show was very informative too – they are such cute and super intelligent little creatures (who could eat you out of house and home apparently!). Undoubtedly the main show is at the “Animal Planet Crocoseum” where handlers hand feed crocs and a range of exotic birds swoop through the crowd every so often. All in all it was a good all-day outing.

The holiday city of Caloundra was where we’d be spending the night before returning to Scarborough the following day. It’s the first major town at the southern end of the Sunshine Coast – and has been transformed from a sleepy backwater into one of the fastest growing cities in Australia. In 1961 the population stood at 3 000 – by 2005 it had reached 85 000!! A big drawcard is the Pumicestone Passage (which has nothing to do with pedicures!) – actually it’s a rather picturesque channel that separates Caloundra from Bribie Island (another national park which also attracts thousands), but the real recreational emphasis rests on the excellence of its surf beaches.



The hotel we were booked into was another great find – we had rooms up on the 5th or 6th floor - and standing on our balconies we could see for miles! Our evening meal worked out well as they had a bbq area – so we whipped off to Coles, picked up some steaks and salad, braaied our meat – and savoured the delicious on our balcony! It was bliss until sunrise…

At around 6am the parrots were enough to make you want to chop down the trees!!! They just screeched and screeched and screeched! After that rude awakening, I snuck out of bed and closed the shutters to block out the blinding light in the bedroom… then sat on the balcony and soaked in the start of another gorgeous day.

Within 2 hours heavy clouds brought rain and cut our day short. We stopped at the distinctive Ettamogah Pub and “village shops” for a refreshment before heading back to Scarborough. The pub is actually a working tavern built to resemble the imaginary Outback hotel made famous by cartoonist Ken Maynard in Australian Post magazine. Maynard’s drawings pictured the building tilting crazily in all directions. The real-life pub has been built exactly as Maynard drew it, only to a larger then life scale.

Back in Scarborough, we had a last meal together at Morton’s – but the weather was still fickle and it rained on and off… so there we were sitting huddled under a huge umbrella eating our fish and chips!!

At 4am our alarms beeped wildly, urging us out of bed… we had to leave at 5am to get Steve and Maggie to the airport on time. We were told that it could sometimes take an hour to get there, so we preferred to leave really early!! It all worked out well in the end and by noon they were in Perth… ready for the last leg of their holiday!

The day after Steve and Maggie left, our next lot of guests arrived. We offered Ray and Marilyn a “nice change of scenery”… and they accepted – staying for 3 days. Their boat, Horizon, was tucked safely away in East Coast Marina, Manly – about 40 minutes south of Brisbane.

Ken’s birthday was the following day, so we invited Ron and Joanne (Miss Jody) and Willi and Gloria (Linger Longer) to join the four of us for a delicious bbq on board Fast Forward that evening. What a fabulous evening it turned out to be!!

It was a good month… and an old Dean Martin song actually springs to mind… “Memories are made of this”.

New Zealand

2009-03-04 to 2009-03-19

Our 6 month visitor visas were due to expire on 1 April, so we booked a (much-anticipated!) camper-van holiday in South Island, New Zealand for 16 days. Re-entry into Australia would reinstate the visas for a further 6 months thereby enabling us to stay until we departed for Indonesia at the end of July. I hauled out and washed all our winter gear… we’d be arriving at the beginning of autumn, so the days would still be warm, but the evenings were going to be cold.


New Zealand is a unique land of breathtaking scenery. Craggy coastlines, sweeping golden beaches, verdant rainforests, snow-capped alpine mountains, gurgling volcanic pools, active volcanoes, fish-filled rivers and glacier-fed lakes compete for attention. And just when you thought the scenery could not get more jaw-dropping... it does. But a pretty backdrop is not all New Zealand has got going for it. Genuinely friendly locals go out of their way to make visitors feel welcome; couple this with a thriving Maori culture, bustling cosmopolitan cities, traditional rural towns and you have an outstanding and unusual combination.

New Zealand is spread over several small islands. The more developed North Island is home to the main cities of Auckland, Wellington, whilst the vast empty spaces of South Island are best for escaping the crowds. Their main cities are Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown. Tiny, undeveloped Stewart Island located in the extreme south, is reminiscent of how New Zealand must have looked before the arrival of people.

Getting around is easy as the country has a modern and efficient transport network, well maintained roads, plenty of flights and two stunningly scenic rail journeys. The plant and animal life are also excellent offering opportunities to see the varied wildlife including rare dolphins, albatross, kiwis, seals, penguins, dolphins and whales and more!

The country is also perfect for every kind of outdoor activity. Try bungee jumping, skydiving, caving or white-water rafting. Or how about doing a cycle tour around South Island? If skiing or snowboarding takes your fancy, head to New Zealand in July and you’ll be spoilt for choice with the twin ski resorts (Whakapapa and Turoa) on either side of Mt Ruapehu, which is a premier ski area in North Island. Other options include Managanui Ski Area or the more remote Tukino Club. South Island’s best known and top-rated ski areas revolve around Queenstown or Wanaka, ie. The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Treble Cone, and Cardrona to name but a few. Heliskiing is also an option! How about tramping/hiking through some of the many national parks or over alpine passes on very well-maintained sited tracks – which vary in difficulty from easy to “oh my goodness, I don’t think so!”. Whilst there, you might at well explore two of the richest New World wine regions on the planet. And if none of the above takes your fancy, immerse yourself in culture in the museums and galleries of New Zealand’s main cities - Auckland, Christchurch and the capital Wellington.

New Zealand was first settled at least 1,000 years ago by the Polynesian Maori, a well ordered tribal society. The first European arrival was Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642, although it was not until the voyages of Captain James Cook, in 1769 and 1779, that the islands were charted and explored.

Since then the country has developed into one of the cleanest, greenest, most popular places to visit. Tourist numbers rocketed around the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which showcased New Zealand’s fantastic scenery to a worldwide audience.



Okay, so I don’t want to bore you all to tears with details and highlights of our 16 day trip by thinking that some of you might actually read ALL of it (good on ya if you do!!)… but for those of you who just glaze over at the though of it – here’s an extremely brief summary, so if something does tickle your fancy you can simply scroll down to the relevant day.

DAY 1: Picking up camper - Christchurch

DAY 2: Christchurch – Pancake Rocks – Hokitika Gorge

DAY 3: Hokitika – Franz Joseph Glacier

DAY 4: FJG half day guided hike

DAY 5: FJG - Lake Matheson – Wanaka

DAY 6: Wanaka – Queenstown – Te Anau – en route to Milford Sound

DAY 7: Milford Sound

DAY 8: Milford Sound 3 hour cruise – across country to Waiwera

DAY 9: Waiwera – Dunedin – Otago Peninsula

DAY 10: Dunedin – Moeraki Beach – Oamaru – Clay Cliffs - Omarama

DAY 11: Omarama – Twizel – Lake Pukaki – Mt Cook

DAY 12: Mt Cook: Hooker Valley walk

DAY 13: Mt Cook – Lake Tekapo

DAY 14: Lake Tekapo: walk up Mt John – chilling

DAY 15: Lake Tekapo – Akaroa, Banks Peninsula – Christchurch

DAY 16: Christchurch - Australia



The flight across South Island to Christchurch afforded us some great aerial views of the Alps, perfectly geometrical farmlands dotted with sheep, and finally the city of Christchurch. In terms of a camper van, we knew exactly what we wanted, i.e. a toilet and a shower, and it needed to have a walk-though from the drivers’ cab to the back. When I called Backpackers to book it, all they had left was a 6 berth, but he could give it to us for a mere $10 more per day than the 2 berth! And the engine sizes were the same too. Cool!

The shuttle whisked us off to their offices which housed 5 other camper van companies, offering top of the line vans which then get passed down through the companies, eventually ending up as a Backpacker van. The process was smooth and efficient and by 6:30pm we were driving off in our new home – with huge Cheshire cat grins on our faces!! We pulled into Coles to stock up… then it was off to a local caravan park to spend the night along with a zillion other camper-vanners! We were very impressed with the quality of our van and could not wait to get going in the morning!


I’d worked out an itinerary for our visit as I wanted us to be able to see the all the highlights, and possibly have a day to spare should the weather not be playing fair. So we set off in a westerly direction towards Arthur’s Pass – a 924m pass promising (and delivering!!) breathtaking views… we kept on towards Greymouth and then 22km up the north coast to Punakaiki, which is famous for splendiferous Pancake Rocks and blowholes. Through a layering-weathering process called stylo-bedding, the dolomite point limestone has formed into what looks like piles of thick pancakes.

We then headed back towards Greymouth to fuel up – time was marching on and we figured we could spend the night at the Hokitika Gorge, which was located about 60kms south of Greymouth. Before heading there, we popped into Bunnings and found a cooling rack (more on this later). Hokitika Gorge is a ravishing little ravine on the river with improbably turquoise waters. Glacial flour (suspended rock particles) imbues the milky hues. Apparently this so-called flour was created when the lake’s basin was gouged out by a stony bottomed glacier moving across the surface, with the rock-on-rock action grinding out fine particles that ended up being suspended in the glacial melt water. This sediment gives the water a milky quality and refracts the sunlight beaming down, hence the brilliant colour.   

We crossed over the swing bridge and headed into the forest for a short walk which afforded us much better views… but the light was fading and mozzies were appearing so we headed back to the camper.

We love to bbq, and we thought that we’d be able to purchase disposable bbq’s (as one is able to in many other countries), but not in New Zealand… so with Ken circling the parking lot in the camper (no parking available!!), on impulse I just decided that if we used a tin foil oven dish, charcoal and a bbq grid we’d be laughing! Only problem was I could not find anything to use as a grid!! The baking section only had tiny ones. So I purchased the other stuff anyway and figured we’d make a plan…. Thank goodness for Bunnings! A hardware store that sells homeware!

So Ken sprayed deet on all exposed surfaces, and got the braai going. I prepared the salads and then ventured outside. It appeared as though we were going to camping on our own out there in the middle of nowhere…  oooh, this would be a first!!

It started raining during the night and I woke up thinking “oh that’s just great!!”… but being South Island, we knew that if we had only a few days of blue sky we’d been blessed.


As we headed back towards Hokitika bits of blue sky were appearing, and by the time we were walking around the town trying to source a gorgeous jade bracelet for Marilyn, the skies were a perfect blue and it was quite hot! Hokitika (Hoki for short), was a booming town in the 1860’s gold rush. These days it’s NZ’s jade craft centre, drawing tourists like flies! There are some places that offer tourists the chance to dabble in a little jade or bone carving… where you design, carve and polish your own masterpiece! Soon we found a gorgeous bracelet, and if Marilyn wasn’t happy with it – then I’d definitely give it a good home!!

Back in the camper, we headed through rich dairy lands towards the biggest highlights on the west coast: the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers… we were quite excited as this too would be a first. Only 23kms apart, Franz is more touristy (attracting 300 000 visitors a year!) and Fox has more of a meadowy alpine charm.   

The only other place in the world where, at this latitude, glaciers flow through temperate rainforest to the ocean is in Argentina. 

We pulled into the Department of Conservation (DOC) visitor centre parking lot at 2pm. One thing we have to admit is that NZ is just so totally jacked when it comes to tourism, and have all the problems ironed out… everywhere you go there are hundreds of brochures, booklets, guides and maps free for the taking. Amazing. The visitor centre was very informative, and one piece of information really blew us away: the Fox Glacier has the highest rainfall in the world – (it rains more than 355 days a year), and it’s measured here in meters, not millimeters! Tokyo is next in line – (but with a huge difference in numbers already), and London is only 4th on the list! So what are Londoners moaning about then?! No mention is made of Mawsynram, India which according to a Google search claimed to have the highest annual rainfall in the world.

So what is a glacier then? A Glacier is simply a slow moving body of ice, drawn by gravity down a valley. A glacier is fed at the head (neve or accumulation basin) by large amounts of snow that compact and partially melt to form a whitish granular snow called firn. Over several years as water seeps in and air is expelled under the weight of accumulating snow, the granules merge together forming glacial ice. Under the constant gravitational pull down the valley, the glacier slowly moves forward/downward like a giant ice river. The ice slowly melts as it reaches the more temperate lower levels closer sea level. Franz usually advances about 1m per day, over 10 times faster than the Swiss Alps’s glaciers. The staggering development is largely due to the endless rain.

We then set off to Franz Joseph Glacier Guides to book a half day glacier climb with 3 hours ice time. They could accommodate us at noon the following day and naturally they’d provide all the gear.

The Douglas Walk was next on the cards… so off we drove towards the Glacier. Wow it was really spectacular especially since there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The walk was supposed to be about 5kms, but somewhere along the track their signage was a bit dodgy and we ended up walking at least twice that!!! Coming back in the pouring rain!!! It was so funny as we were completely drenched!!

We spent that very rainy evening in a DOC camp just on the outskirts of town. It was packed with campers, cars, and tents. These campsites offer toilets (seriously stinky longdrops!!) and drinking water, but do not offer power. They also only charge around $5 pp, and it’s based on a honesty system where you simply pop money into an envelope and into a locked post box. Fab idea which would not work in most countries!!!


The sun was shining again – so we headed back to the glacier asap to do another one of the walks which would give us more great views. We went back to the camper for a hearty breakfast as we’d only be back after 5pm.

At 12:30 we were all kitted out with Goretex rain jackets, thick waterproof overtrousers, socks and sturdy boots… and crampons! There were a lot of us on the big red bus, and once we’d trekked through the bush, over rocks through streams, and finally out onto the riverbed, we split into 3 groups… we opted for group 3 (the slowest!). Hey, we were there to enjoy ourselves, take our time, and not miss out on any photo opportunities… not to see how quickly we could climb to the top!! We set off towards the glacier… it seemed to take forever to get there!! The guide said that after 45 minutes of walking, it still seemed just as far to go!

We finally got to the point where we put our crampons on and carefully followed our guide up the steps cut out in the ice. Every so often he’d have to clear the steps, and conveniently, we’d all whip out our cameras!! Gosh we climbed and climbed – the route was amazing and it gave us immediate access to the crevasses (a crack in the ice formed as it crossed obstacles while descending) and seracs (ice pinnacles formed, like crevasses, by the glacier rolling over obstacles).

Once at the halfway mark we were given the opportunity to rest and snack on a Snickers bar! My hands were freezing and our cheeks had a very healthy flush! It was quite windy and was raining intermittently, but we were afforded about 10 minutes of blue sky!! The glacier is about 11kms long, and where we were we could still not see it in its entirety – it was also hard to believe that we had 72 meters of ice beneath us. It was just so spectacular, and a very humbling experience. Our route back was just as awesome. With the sun making an appearance every so often certain parts of the glacier glowed blue… just gorgeous!! With about 30 mins left on the ice, I was feeling the burn: knee burn! And it felt at though I had bricks strapped to my feet… 3 hours of “stepping” is hard work, so taking our crampons off was pure joy! Our walk back up the river bed seemed to take a lifetime, and while we waited for the bus it poured with rain once again. By 6:30pm we’d claimed a spot next to the river, glacier in the background, had hot showers and were sipping G&T’s, marveling at what a fantastic day we’d experienced. Another highly recommended activity which really only requires moderate fitness. Honestly!!!

At this stage of our trip we’d sorted out the sleeping situation. Our van had 3 options and we tried 2 of them, the third was not even considered. The first was up over the cab, but there was not even enough room to sit up, so having to get up in the middle of the night, organize the duvet and climb carefully over Ken, and then negotiate a very dodgy ladder down to go to the loo was a pain and sometimes even funny! I slept in the section that narrowed and after trying out option 2, it turned out to be the best option as it was warmer and we had more space up there. Option 2 was at the back of the van where the dining area converted to a bed, but this was a real pain as you had to dismantle the table, etc and assemble the bed every night!! It was great because you could sit snugly in bed and have a great view – but the space was smaller and it was a lot colder because of the windows. So option 1 it was!


Our route took us past Fox Glacier to Lake Matheson, renowned for unbelievable reflections of the glacier. So along with a zillion other expectant tourists, we set off on the wooden pathway around the lake and eventually came across the famous viewpoints. Well I tell you – professional photographers must camp out at these spots to get those photos you see in all the tourist brochures… cause that was not what we saw!! It was fair, but at least we got a good 6km walk in around the lake!

By the time we got back on the main road towards Haast it was raining. Being great lovers of salmon, we stopped at The Salmon Farm Café, located on the banks of the Paringa River, and savoured salmon and cream cheese on rye. Oh yum. We finished it off by sharing an enormous blueberry muffin… a serious case of portion distortion going on that kitchen! Outside, tanks housed the biggest trout we’d ever seen…

We headed though the township of Haast, then through the very beautiful and spectacular Southern Alps Region towards Wanaka – Lord of the Rings country, where the drive takes you up magnificent river valleys and through three types of countryside – temperate rainforest, beech forest and high country grass lands. Even when it’s raining it’s even more beautiful as waterfalls cascade down the sides of the high snow-capped mountains.

After passing hundreds of merino sheep, cattle and deer, the road follows the shores of the Lake Wanaka – crossing at the Neck to Lake Hawea. The viewpoint was just so jaw-droppingly gorgeous we stopped to enjoy our lunch whilst taking in the views of the craggy ranges of the Alps at the lakes end.

We were going to visit our cruising friends Rob and Margie, who have lived in Wanaka all their lives. We met them in Opua in May 2008, and all left together on our journey north towards Minerva Reef. We parted ways as they headed towards Tonga, and we headed to Fiji.

Did I mention that the drive to Wanaka was jaw-dropping? Well I’ll say it again!! It’s incredible… the lakes are just absolutely unbelievable. I’d never seen anything like it before and Ken had to stop way too many times for me to take pictures!! It’s like just when you think it possibly can’t get more beautiful… it does!!

Anyway, we finally arrived at their house at around 4pm. After a quick catch-up over a coffee, Margie and I popped off to go and get something for dinner. Ken ran an extension cord from their home and we were able to charge our house batteries. We were also able to fill up with water. The evening turned out to be really special – they are such a wonderful couple.


After breakfast we went for a not-so-strenuous tramp up Mount Iron, which is just about in their back yard!! It was a gentle but steep walk to the top, but the views were just amazing and well worth the effort. I have to admit that I think Wanaka is blessed with THE most beautiful surroundings I have ever seen.

We hit the road again at 2pm – we were not too fussed about stopping in Queenstown as it’s seriously touristy, so we figured we’d push it and try to clock up as much mileage as possible by nightfall.

Again the drive was really pleasant – taking us through sheep and wine-making country. The wine farms were immaculate! In fact even the pastures the sheep were grazing in looked as though they were manicured!

The thing about South Island is that there is basically one main road – you cannot get lost – but you are also not really able to take any shortcuts!!! And often you find yourself backtracking as there are no other roads because of the Alps.

As we neared Frankton and Queenstown the mesmerizing Remarkables and Eyre Mountains stoically crowded the skyline, with Lake Wakatipu lapping at its heels… Queenstown knows no rest. While the scenery will wow you, the majority of visitors are drawn here to indulge in the area’s mammoth number of adventure pursuits. Throwing yourself off a bridge, a mountainside or out of a plane are just three of them! It’s a big-budget resort town that draws millions of people annually – and it’s popular all year round, not only for skiing in winter.

After driving through the very busy Queenstown we discovered that the only major supermarket was back in Frankton, about 10kms away!! Clever! They certainly have a captive market here!! So off we went, stocked up – and carried on our journey towards Te Anau… the last town before Milford Sound. It was about 6pm by the time we arrived, and soon discovered that the town did not allow any freedom camping!!! We refused to spend $35 at a campsite, so we continued on through town, convinced that we’d find something else along the way. 25kms later we pulled into a DOC campsite next to the lake… it was 7:15 and almost dark – it had been a long day!


We woke up to rain… and it rained ALL the way to Milford Sound. Oh no!!! Again, it really was beautiful when it was raining as there are hundreds of waterfalls, but the cloud was so low we could not see any of the spectacular Alps – or stop at any of the lookout points. As we wound our way towards Milford, the road traffic increased steadily, there were so many tourist busses too!!

We all snaked our way through the very impressive Homer Tunnel which is 101kms from Te Anau. Construction on the 1207 meter tunnel began in 1935, providing much needed employment during the Depression, and wasn’t finished until 1953.

Catching sight of the 1692 meter high Mitre Peak in the distance is a captivating experience and drives home the uniqueness of this corner of the world. This spectacular Fiordland is a raw wilderness area sliced by numerous deeply recessed sounds that reach like crooked fingers into the Tasman Sea. It is a World Heritage Area of course, and remains for the most part, fantastically remote.

So what’s the difference between and Fiord and a Sound? A Fiord was carved out by ice, and a Sound was carved out by water. So even though early explorers mistakenly called the areas Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, technically they are Fiords…

Milford township is made up of a backpacker lodge and campervan site, a hotel, a tourist office and restaurant, and a cruise boat terminal. If you did not read the brochures and fill up with fuel before arriving, you are in for an interesting time as there is nothing available in Milford. The parking lot was packed. We sat around and had our lunch, hoping the rain would ease off enough for us to be able to have a walk around. Well, it didn’t – so we put on our waterproof jackets and pants and set off to try and find out more about this weather!! Apparently the average rainfall is 6 meters!!! We booked a 3 hour tour of the Sound for the following morning as it was forecast to clear.

We had a walk around, but it’s never pleasant when it’s raining is it?! We then decided that perhaps we should head over to the backpackers lodge to claim the spot for our camper that we’d booked at the tourist office (freedom camping was also not allowed here). After checking our mail on the pricey coin-operated internet facility, we discovered that Cyclone Hamish was headed towards Brisbane!!!! Oh my goodness!!! This would happen now wouldn’t it?!? Hamish was still a fair distance away, and one reassurance was that it usually is really difficult to predict an exact path… so there was still a chance that it would go out to sea. At least our friends Willi and Gloria on Linger Longer, could check up on Fast Forward and send updates if need be.

Why oh why did we not bring the portable DVD player and a couple of movies?! Trying not to get bored took a lot of work – especially when it was grim weather!! Ken had just finished his book, and I had picked up a couple of mags from the book exchange to keep me out of trouble for a few hours! The weather did improve, and by late afternoon the sun was starting to make an appearance. Hooray! We ended the day with a really nice bbq that evening.


Up early, we checked on the Cyclone – but no change. Oh dear. We’d also heard that the routes for the Sail Indonesia Rally had been changed. Oh dear. There were going to be a lot of unhappy cruisers for sure!!

The huge Milford parking lot closed for re-surfacing, and trying to find a parking was almost impossible until some kind man eventually directed us into a parking tucked away at the hotel. Thank you!

We made our way to the cruise boat terminal and at exactly 11:30 we departed for our 3 hour cruise… a buffet lunch was included in the price, so we ate first and then headed to the top deck to enjoy the views. The wind was really chilly and I could’ve kicked myself for not bringing my beanie!!

There are a number of cruises, each claiming to be quieter, smaller, bigger or in some way better than the rest. In the end, what really makes a difference is the timing of the cruise, the busses pull in and aim for 1pm sailings. So unless you fancy crowds, it’s best to avoid that time!

Being totally dwarfed by the high snow-capped mountains, we motored out on a route the captain could most likely steer in his sleep! We could expect to see Bowen Falls, Mitre Peak, Anita Bay, and the Sterling Falls – with the possibility of catching a glimpse of seals, dolphins and maybe even the Hoihoi (yellow-eyed penguin), the world’s rarest. The weather was behaving and we did have sun every now and then, but there was such a lot of glare which made taking photos rather tricky!!

Our tickets also included a stop at the (floating) Milford Deep Underwater Observatory. Here, four storeys below the surface you can check out the resident corals, tube anemones, large horse mussels, 11 legged sea stars, bottom-dwelling perch, and loads of black coral. It is also the home of the Brachiopod, a shellfish which exists in much the same form as they did 600 million years ago, and such oddities as the amazing fish like the scarlet wrasse that change sex when needed! Here the fish are not fed, and are free to come and go… it’s the people who are contained!

This type of underwater world is usually only found below 40 meters in the open sea, but the black coral is present at a mere eight meters below the surface – how? Overlaying the sea, a fresh layer of water resulting from the high annual rainfall of the Fiordland area, combined with the distinctive narrow shape of the fiord causes a phenomenon called "Deep Water Emergence". This fresh water layer reduces the light levels reaching the seawater beneath, allowing deepwater critters to live in water as shallow as 10-15 meters! Milford Deep is the only Observatory in the world where the unusual results of this phenomenon can be viewed. It was fascinating!

We arrived back at 2:30, unfortunately we did not see the dolphins or penguins… but it’s not like we never see sea-life!!

Back on the road again, and 421kms of sheep and cattle country would bring us to Dunedin… and we were a day ahead of schedule!! The trip out of Milford towards Te Anau was very pleasant as the sun was still around so we were able to enjoy the sheer rugged beauty, without all the waterfalls!

We figured that since there was absolutely nothing of interest to see between Te Anau and Dunedin, we’d try to get as much mileage under out belts as possible… that way we’d have more time in Dunedin the following day. It was freezing cold, and could not have been more than 10 degrees Celsius out there… and there were fields of newly shorn sheep!! Shame! How cruel! They must’ve been freezing their not so wooly butts off! It was sheep, sheep and more sheep – interspersed with some Reindeer just to break the boredom!! We drove and drove, and eventually it was dark and we just could not seem to find a suitable spot for the night!!! Oh my goodness, we eventually drove into a town called Waiwera, and I spotted a dump station sign (this is a pump out for the campervans)… it happened to be located next to a park, so we pulled into the parking lot and spent the night there!! It was raining and very windy and gusty which caused the van to rock a lot… so you can imagine the type of night we had! I was thrilled I’d brought earplugs!

DAY  9

We set off around 10:30am after a not-so-restful night…. Dunedin here we come! It was still raining and very gusty… at least there was nothing to stop and take photos of!! It had also just dawned on us that Waiwera was the most southern place in the world we’d been to! How’s that for a bit of useless information!

Did you know that Dunedin is Celtic for Edinburgh? The compact town centre is a comfortable blend of the historic and the contemporary, with beautiful Victorian buildings dotted throughout. The country’s longest running university also happens to be in the city. We wanted to visit the Otago Museum, but finding parking was a total nightmare with limits of either 10 mins or 30 mins. Just short of giving up – we eventually found a spot 2 blocks away that we could park in for 2 hours. The museum housed extensive collections of the South Pacific Islanders, both Melanesian and Polynesian; the amazingly long Maori war canoe was also impressive! Fossil buffs would be gobsmacked by not only the sea serpent fossil! Maritime, birds, animals, insects, etc. It was one of the best museums I’d ever been to actually – and it was free!

We then set off to the Otago Peninsula which has a reputation for having the most accessible wildlife on South Island. Albatross, Hoihoi, blue penguins, fur seals and sea lions all reside here along with some stunning scenery. We headed towards the Royal Albatross Centre which is nestled at the foot of the Taiaroa Head. It was still really windy, but once we got up there it was madness!!! We could hardly even walk – it was hilarious! Once inside, they told us it was blowing 80 knots (!!!) apparently someone had even lost a car door! They also announced that they were not going to be conducting any tours as it was too dangerous. Their visitor centre housed enough information to make up for the fact that we would not actually see the Royal Albatross, which is touched with a dignity and majesty no other bird can surpass. Held aloft on slim wings up to 3 meters (9`6") across, the great Albatross is capable of swooping speeds of at least 115kph+. The bird is pure ecstasy in the air, yet distinctly clumsy on the ground.

After managing to make our way safely back to the camper – we set off and decided to find a spot for the night, this was going to be tricky as we really did want some protection from the wind!! We meandered along the narrow windy road that ran parallel with the bay and, as luck would have it, found a spot next to the road… we figured the road would not be too busy as the Albatross Centre closed at 4:30pm. Out came the G&T’s and snacks… we had a super view of the lake and had protection from the howling wind, and it was not as cold as the previous night - it was just perfect!

DAY 10

We fuelled up in Dunedin before heading north up the coast to Moeraki Beach to see the ancient boulders. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill boulder either… these are perfect spheres formed millions of years ago around lime crystals within the surrounding mudstone, and now rest on a stunning stretch of beach. It was amazing… some of them seemed to crack just like eggs!!

Our next stop was the town of Oamaru, which was an interesting place – apparently it has the highest number of listed buildings in the world! It could very well be true, because everywhere you looked were really old buildings. We walked through town and used the internet facility at the library (it was a bargain!!) - the cyclone had gone out to sea. Phew! We then spent some time at the Whiskey House, which was a stunning old building with gorgeous thick wooden beams and trusses.

We headed out of town and hit a left… we were now headed back inland towards Mt Cook. The stick straight roads seemed to head off into infinity as we passed kilometer after kilometer of sheep and cow country.

A DOC campground was situated just north of the town of Omarama, we decided it would be a good place to spend the night. It was such a nice late afternoon spot we thought an early bbq would be a great idea… I then had a quick shower (as the coals were getting ready), then mid-way through discovered that we’d run out of water!! We were totally puzzled as we’d just filled up the day before? Very odd… anyway, I suggested we head back to Twizel after supper to get more water, and top up our diesel. At least Ken could have a shower too! When we got back we saw that some people had left, so we nabbed their spot right next to the “babbling brook”! Just delightful!

DAY 11

After a great nights’ sleep we set off at around 10am in search of the Clay Cliffs. Prompted by a sign post, we turned off the main road and drove for good number of kilo’s before being prompted to turn left by another sign post. I dropped $5 into an honesty box, opened the farm gate, and off we went through private farmland towards the Clay Cliffs. This bizarre moonscape is the result of two million years of erosion on layers of silt and gravel that were exposed along the active Osler fault line. Fascinating!

At the outpost called Twizel we discovered that the hydroelectric plant was closed for tours due to renovations – what a pity!! After buying two bottles of wine and the weekend paper, we found a dump station; and also managed to top up our fresh water at a nearby tap. Lake Pukaki was next on the list…

We stopped at the salmon farm where we fed huge salmon, and then bought a fair sized fillet for a really good price!

Lake Pukaki was just as spectacular as all the other lakes we’d seen with that turquoise water that just looked to fake… it’s due to “rock flour” (sediment) in the water. It was a gorgeously sunny day and we found an idyllic spot overlooking the lake for lunch… as we rounded more corners the snow-capped Mt Cook came into view, and it was quite a sight with the green fields, turquoise lake and blue sky!!

Mt Cook, at 3755 meters is the highest in Australasia. Known to the Maoris as Aoraki (Cloud Piercer), after an ancestral deity in Maori mythology, the tent-shaped Mt Cook was named after James Cook by Captain Stokes of the survey ship HMS Acheron.

We arrived at the Mt Cook Village around 2pm and went straight to the DOC centre (the best source of local info for sure!)… I managed to find what I was looking for: a map detailing a list of walks that one was able to do in the area. Again the visitor centre was very informative and had a fantastic section on Sir Edmund Hillary, and other famous explorers and climbers.

The “Kea Point Walk” looked easy enough and we could leave from there too… it was a nice walk that took us to a lookout point which overlooked a very dirty glacier foot and part of a lake – with Mt Cook in the background. It took 2 hours return, and overall it was just great to stretch our legs.

The DOC also have a huge campground nestled in the bush not even 10 minutes drive from the Village… it is much more patrolled here and the conservation officers are around bright and early to see that everybody has paid their money! By nightfall the place was packed and there must’ve been at least 60 campers…. not to mention the people sleeping in tents and cars! The salmon made for a delicious supper!

DAY 12

It was another gorgeous day and we wanted to get going early before it got too hot. At 10am we set off to do the “Hooker Valley Walk” which claimed to be 3 hours return. It was a good walk/climb, and although it was not too strenuous, my dodgy knees were feeling a bit tender by the time we got to the lake. As we stepped up the last incline we could see small icebergs floating on the lake!!! That was so cool!!! It was also a good thing we left early as there were only a handful of people there. We walked a bit further on over rocks and jumped over a few streams to get a bit closer to grubby Tasman glacier. Franz was way more impressive – but it was nice to see the floating icebergs here… and the walk was great! My pedometer showed just over 13000 steps by the time we got back to the camper!

I’d washed our socks the previous night, and hung them up in the camper (we have tinted windows!) to dry… when we got back I pegged them all to our camp chairs and by nightfall they were just about dry! Love the sun! We had a rest and then decided to walk to the Village for a cup of coffee and whatever else looked yummy. It was only 2.3kms one way – so not too bad. By 5pm we’d had gloriously hot showers, and were enjoying G&T’s and snacks.

Willi (Linger Longer) phoned and we made plans to meet at Lake Tekapo on Monday. They too had visa issues and also booked a trip to South Island, they’d however been here before, so were only staying a week. It’s going to be nice spending time with more people we know!

DAY 13

We headed off at 8am to do the Blue Valley walk which turned out to be very steep series of steps!!! 20 minutes later we were overlooking another lake with icebergs….

We were all Mt Cook’d out by now and were ready to move on… and we were still a day ahead of schedule! There was so much fog it was incredible – you could not even see across to the other side of Lake Pukaki which is en route to Lake Tekapo. Again the amount of road-kill was just about nauseating at that hour of the morning!

We pulled into a campground at Lake Tekapo at 11am, and were given a really nice spot overlooking the lake. We’d also booked a spot next to us for Willi and Gloria. We plugged into the mains and started charging the laptop and camera. After lunch we walked into town to see the picturesque Church of the Good Shepard beside the lake. It was built of stone and oak in 1935 and is a favourite for nuptials given its picture-postcard setting. Further along is a statue to the border collie dog, a tribute to the sheepdogs that helped develop Mackenzie Country.

Again the lake was just a gorgeous backdrop… and when Willi and Gloria arrived we all sat outside in the afternoon sun sipping on drinks. It was a fantastic afternoon! The campground had a good bbq area which we made use of later on. The evening ended with coffee at 11pm…

DAY 14

Feeling ever so slightly hungover we said goodbye to Willi and Gloria, who were apparently very hungover!! They were headed to Mt Cook while the sun was still shining. We, on the other hand, were headed out for another walk – this time it was up to the observatory at Mt John. It was a very steep but steady track to the top… but the views were just amazing!! We then went over to the observatory and sat outside their café and sipped on an ice cold ginger beer! Naturally the walk back was done in record time!

Aaah, so this is what we’ve saved the extra day for… chilling! We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting outside in the sun and chatting to our neighbours on either side of us. Another delicious bbq was on the cards…

DAY 15

We hit the road at around 9m… we decided to stop somewhere nice along the way to have our breakfast. In Ashburton we pulled into Mitre 10 as Ken wanted to see what the cordless drills cost here as opposed to Australia. We then headed along the busy highway towards Christchurch, turning off at the junction to Akaroa. Apparently this was a “must-see”… so off we went. We stopped at the Hill Top restaurant for lunch… what fantastic views from up there!! The home-made burgers were very good too!! Back in the camper we wound our way around the Banks Peninsula back towards Christchurch.     

I located a really cheap camper site close-ish to the city. It was perfect for the night. We had to return the camper in the condition we’d picked it up in (except we did not have to have it washed)… I think when I’d finished inside it was cleaner than it had ever been!

DAY 16

We were up fairly early as we were keen to get back to the boat – 16 days was just right. We were now longing for our down duvet and latex pillows! Not that there was anything wrong with theirs… okay the pillows were really bad – paper thin!!! Ken needed about 4 to make 1 pillow!! We had to get moving as Ken had discovered that the soles on his new hiking boots were coming off!!! So we nipped into town to exchange them, then stopped at one or two other places “just to look” – time seemed to fly and soon we found ourselves in the Backpacker office chomping at the bit to get to the airport!

About 10 minutes prior to boarding we heard a young boy performing and screaming and shouting and basically just going mad! His poor father was red in his face with embarrassment… mum dragged the boy off to quieten him down, but nothing seemed to help… by now we were all quietly verbalizing our thoughts “I hope they’re nowhere near us!” and “give him a sedative”.

After 20 minutes of waiting patiently for the plane to take off – the captain came on to say that it “shouldn’t take much longer folks”. Just then we saw the little boy being coaxed into the plane by his mum, he looked to see his brother, sister and father waving at him – and he screamed and bolted!!! Oh dear. Eventually the rest of the family disembarked and then we had to wait for their luggage to be sourced in the hold!!! The poor child was just totally petrified of flying… shame had they known they could’ve given him a sedative!

45 minutes later we were off and on our way home to Brisbane…. and so our fabulously unforgettable holiday came to a close. New Zealand, and particularly South Island, is just an amazingly beautiful and diverse place with loads to offer even the fussiest of travelers. But it’s no use me telling you this… get out and experience it for yourselves!!!








East Coast Shuffle

2009-03-31 to 2009-05-22

In roughly 3½ months will be arriving in Darwin, sounds like a piece of cake - but we have a staggering 1800nm to sail to get there!!! Australia is one seriously big place - so we’d better shake a leg then mate!

After taking on 500L of diesel we left the Scarborough Marina complex around noon and headed across the northern end of Moreton Bay. The forecast stated wind at 15-20 knots from the SE. What we actually had was less than 10 knots from the NE! So on went the engine. As we rounded the top of Fraser Island into Hervey Bay at around 4pm the following day, the wind started to pick up and by 6pm we were screaming along in 20 knots. Naturally it was now blowing from the SE (!!) – and since we were heading south into the bay, we were hard on the wind as it was right on the nose! At around midnight we dropped the hook in Platypus Bay – we’d have good protection from Fraser Island when the forecasted “very strong easterlies” kicked in.

Interestingly, Fraser Island stretches over 123kms in length and 22kms at its widest point. With an area of 184 000 hectares, it is the largest sand island in the world!

We upped anchor at around 8am and headed across Hervey Bay to Bundaberg Port Marina – in a light SW breeze. More motoring. The strong easterlies never materialized, and as for the south westerly - where did it come from? I was really starting to doubt the Bureau of Meteorology’s forecasting abilities!! This 285nm trip was expensive – our perkins guzzled 200 litres of diesel!!

Sitting inland alongside the Burnett River in the heart of a gentle sea of rustling sugarcane, is Bundaberg. It’s a small agricultural town known for its most famous product – Bundaberg Rum, which has been distilled since 1883. Love their ginger beer! As the Burnett River snakes it’s way offshore so we are led to the one of the wonders of the world : the two southernmost islands of the Great Barrier Reef.

Bundaberg Port Marina is located at the mouth of the Burnett River. It was a refreshing change from Scarborough Marina, Dockside Marina and Rivergate Marina in that it was very cruiser orientated. There was a free minibus into town every morning and to the fresh market on a Sunday, a nice book swap, a small convenience store selling essentials, a good chandlery, and a very pleasant restaurant where one could mingle with other cruisers and enjoy drinks that actually were a fair price. The only thing missing was a nice BBQ area!

Being the cheapest boatyard on the east coast (for our sized boat), it was a no-brainer that this was where we’d haul the boat and re-do the antifouling. They ran a very slick operation and we were hauled and power washed in no time on 9 April. The stay on the hard was uneventful, and the painting on of the antifouling went much quicker than in New Zealand as the paint was a lot thicker, so it only required half the effort!!

Whilst here I also managed to get rid of 22 old cruising and travel guides on Ebay, which was a blessing as they weighed a lot! We were also able to catch up with cruising friends we’d not seen since arriving in Australia – and we were slowly meeting more people who were all going to be participating in the rally to Indonesia. After the launch on 14 April we decided that we’d spend 2 more days in the marina, then anchor out – finish up our provisioning and leave by the weekend.

17 - 19 APRIL
Straddling the Tropic of Capricorn, Queensland’s central coast extends 750km north of Bundaberg. We headed out to the famous uninhabited coral cay called Lady Musgrave - located 60nm to the north. Surprise! Little to no wind had us motoring again, and we arrived at 4:30 after a very relaxing day! The day was rounded off nicely with sundowners on “Cyan” with Chuck and Lynn, and Ray and Marilyn from “Horizon”.

It really was a beautiful spot. In no time we'd switched right back into cruising mode and were off in the dinghy for a snorkel. It was good being back in the water again, but we’ve been very spoilt crossing the Pacific – so sadly it did not rate very highly in terms of the “wow factor” under the water!

19 APRIL – 2 MAY
Late on Sunday afternoon, we started our next series of hops north to the much talked about “Whitsunday Islands”. This first leg to Keppel was an overnighter. During the time it took us to reach Hamilton Island on 27 April we’d had very little wind, gorgeous blue sky days and calm seas. And nothing exciting to report on at all!! Not even any sign of a fish on our lures!

* Great Keppel Island 94nm – okay anchorage, but cannot tuck in close due to draft restrictions, can be rolly
* Pearl Bay 50nm – very pretty with all the Pine trees, can be rolly though, try and spot a dugongs

The Whitsunday group of continental islands formed when changing sea levels drowned a mountain range. Named by Captain Cook in 1770, the Whitsundays is the largest group of offshore islands in Australia. The Ngaro people, one of the earliest recorded Aboriginal groups in Australia, were seen by Cook while exploring the Whitsunday Passage. The “Island People” lived throughout the island chain and the nearby mainland for hundreds of years. The region’s azure seas, cradled by the Great Barrier Reef, are dotted with an array of national park islands, coral cays, fringing coral reefs and stunning beaches. By far the majority of the Whitsunday islands are designated national park, leaving them uninhabited and in their purest natural state for all to enjoy. Of the 74, eight islands are inhabited, with 11 island resorts offering a range of accommodation and attractions.

Our journey through the Whitsundays went as follows:
* Scawfell Island 117nm – actually managed to sail here and anchored safely at midnight! Great protection in SE trades, very pretty, nice beach
* Brampton Island 24nm – gorgeous southern anchorage, 12km walk ashore was good exercise!
* Thomas 17.5nm – another gorgeous southern anchorage
* Lindeman Island 9.6nm – resort not very partial to yachts unless you want to pay $90/day for a buoy!
* Hamilton Island 11nm

27 April - Hamilton Island
Whilst at anchor at Scawfell Island, one of the back stay cylinders suddenly spewed oil all over the back deck!! It was last repaired in Whangarei so hopefully there was nothing major wrong. We called Enzed Marine in Airlie Beach as soon as we’d arrived in Hamilton, and had them on the next ferry to Shute Harbour within 45 minutes... he said we’d have them back the following day. How efficient!

So there we we're bobbing around on the huge buoys at Dent Island (opposite Hamilton Island) - they were originally put down for big power boats, and were supposed to cost $80 a day (were they out of their minds?) - anyway, it turned out they were free as people had been complaining about them damaging their paint jobs and antifouling when the buoys banged up against the boats - which usually happened when boat and buoy did a weird dance during the tide change!

We had some friends in the marina, and met them shore along with a few others for drinks and pizza.

Hamilton Island, located a mere 13km south east of the mainland, is the group’s largest and most aggressively marketed resort. It’s a very touristy little place and everyone gets around on golf carts. It was quite busy whilst we were there, but apparently peak season was still a month or so away. With a thriving charter boat business it’s an ideally located getaway as there are literally hundreds of little bays that one can tuck into. The supermarket had everything we needed in the way of fresh produce, and surprisingly it did not cost an arm and a leg.

Saw the best fridge magnet ever whilst there: Why exercise and punish your body for something your mouth did?

Late on the 28th we received the cylinders and headed out early the following morning for Whitehaven Beach, a mere 9.5nm away. There were a lot of boats anchored off the beach so we decided that it would be better on the opposite side at Chalkies Beach as there was not a soul there. Later, as Ken was tensioning up the cylinders the same one spewed oil again!!! We could not believe it! We’d have to mosey on back to Hamilton in the morning.

The snorkeling at Chalkies was supposed to be “excellent”, there had also been a few tourist boats anchored off the beach that morning with guests frolicking in the water. We weren’t too convinced of the clarity because the water looked rather green and murky where we were anchored.

Jellyfish are also a problem in these waters. There’s the deadly box jellyfish – measuring 20cm along each side of the bell, and having up to as many as 15 tentacles measuring up to 3m in length! They prefer to stay inshore and theoretically should be easier to spot than the tiny and translucent but equally deadly Irukandji jellyfish which is only 2.5cm in diameter and sporting only 4 short-ish tentacles. The jellyfish are found all the way along the Queensland coast, along the Northern Territory and down and west coast to Broome. Anyway, you don’t want to be stung by either of these suckers because chances are you will die if stung badly enough. So with this in mind, there was no real urge to get into the water – even wearing those cute little coral/stinger suits! We dinghied over to have a look with our clear-bottomed bucket – but were not impressed by the coral and didn’t see any fish, so decided to have a walk on the long silica sand beach instead.

Our good friends on Catmini arrived later on that afternoon and yet another boozy night was enjoyed by all!

We returned (with hangovers!) to Hamilton the following morning, and sent the cylinders off to Shute Harbour as soon as possible. After careful inspection Dave discovered that one of the spacers they had made was not quite the correct size, and when put under pressure it pushed the seal out of position, thereby spewing oil.

By noon the following day the cylinders were fitted and we were set to go! As the wind had picked up substantially to 20-25 knots SE and was forecast to remain that way for the next week due to a system in the Tasman Sea, we decided to leave the Whitsundays. So we spent that evening at Nara Inlet, which was beautiful. The following day we enjoyed lunch tied to a buoy at Langford Island; then later headed over to seek shelter at Butterfly Bay as the skies started looking very grim and squally! We both had a terrible night as the wind came in bullets as it funneled down the mountains, and then the started to roll! Oh dear!

We could not believe we still had a staggering 1700nm to go to get to Darwin!


Said to be the world’s largest living structure and the only one visible from outer space, the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Consisting of over 2500 separate, inter-connected reefs stretching over 2300kms in length, the Great Barrier Reef protects a fair chunk of the Queensland coast from huge ocean swells providing the region with some of the safest cruising grounds in the world.

4 – 9 MAY
One consolation about the SE 20-30 knots, was that it was from a great angle! Being inside the Great Barrier Reef ensured that the swell did not build up too much either. Having whipped out my Insight Travel guide over the weekend we discovered that we could confidently day hop up the coast to Cairns with the knowledge that we weren’t missing out on anything exciting along the way. Aside from the fact that the jellies were around, we also had crocs to deal with – so again swimming was not really an option either… and yes, they even managed to get out to the outer islands! Then again, only a croc would want to swim in this greeny brown water!

* Cape Upstart 74nm – very fast trip, clocked speeds of over 10 knots, day still grey, squalls about, great anchorage – but can get false impression of actually wind speed due to high cliffs!

* Magnetic Island 68nm – sea & wind down slightly, huge rogue rollers every now and then to keep you on your toes! Had stuff flying around inside that hasn’t moved in years! Great anchorage, many yachts. Good friends Roger and Lucie on “Catimini” and David and Juliet on “Reflections” came over for sundowners. We’ve all known each other since Venezuela!! It truly is a small world! Went across the island on the bus to get a few fresh goodies. Spent 2 nights here.

* Palm Island 35nm – not a palm tree in sight. Good overnight anchorage.

* Maroulyan Harbour 66nm – a day of rain and wind squalls, at least we are always in sight of land! Very comforting! Very good and secure anchorage. Did not go down river due to draft restrictions. Four yachts hiding here from the storms for the night!

* Cairns 68nm – up early, still rainy and grim, have not seen the sun for over a week! Again a quick trip, ship traffic increasing, but no hassles. Arrived at 3pm.

9 – 22 MAY : CAIRNS
Has a reputation of being the tropical gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s the premier city of Far North Queensland and attracts visitors from all over the world - only to wave them goodbye as they head off on reef excursions; cable cars over tropical rainforests; scenic railway trips to the mountains; food trails to the Tableland; hair-raising experiences on rapids; or on 4WD safaris to Cape York. The choice is endless. Sadly there is not much to do in Cairns itself, but everyone needs to eat and it’s fun to people-watch at one many many restaurants and sidewalk café’s which kept busy by a seemingly endless passing parade of travelers and backpackers. The number of tour operators are simply astounding!

We’d booked a week in Marlin Marina as we’d be doing some provisioning - actually just topping up, but with it being heavy goods, including 2 new seriously heavy starter batteries – being in a marina would made the world of difference.

The plan was to stay in Cairns for roughly a week, have some fun, enjoy a few meals out with friends, have a look around, re-provision and head out to Lizard Island. Cairns really is the last civilized stop before Darwin, which is still around 1250nm away!!! As we were thinking of going to Thursday Island, we’d contacted Quarantine who sent someone around to seal the packaged meat in our freezer, but more on this in the next newsletter.

But things don’t always go according to plan do they? Halfway to Cairns toothache set in, a friend very kindly organized an appointment for first thing Monday morning. By Tuesday the following week I found myself lying in a cushy chair in an Endonontists’ consulting room in Brisbane!!! Turned out well though - he cleared a blockage in a 4 year old root canal, and was also able to work down and clear out the rest of the tooth properly. Dental costs are horrendous in Australia, needless to say I have a very small yacht in my mouth! In fact several friends have!! I will however wait until we get to Thailand to get a new cap as it’s a third of the price!

The weather had been idyllic since my return from Brisbane and I was rather anxious to get to Lizard Island whilst it was still pretty much windless so that we could go out to the famous Cod Hole. After doing some last minute provisioning at the amazing fruit and veg market on Friday, we headed out and set a northerly course into a light but sufficient NW breeze, and we were only an overnight trip away from our next adventure…

Lizard Island

2009-05-23 to 2009-06-03

Lizard Island here we come!! We had heard rave reviews of this special place, and I was hoping that we were not going to be disappointed as we’d not been overly enamoured with the Queensland coastline thus far.

The overnight trip was uneventful, and the few ships that passed us in the shipping channel were all courteous. Our approach to Lizard Island the following morning was just amazing. It was a gorgeous day – the wind had dropped off completely and the sea was like a milk pond.

As we headed into the anchorage we could see 10 boats anchored there already. It was GORGEOUS! When Ken dropped the anchor he could see it on the bottom! The water was like gin and no crocs, ritual sunset drinks on the beach at 5pm… paradise found at last!! We’ve waited 5 months to experience this… and this is what cruising is all about – clear water, gorgeous beach and not a shop in sight!


As the weather was still perfectly calm, we set off at 7:30am the next morning for The Cod Hole which was a mere 12nm to the southeast – we were motoring in company with Mark and Nicolle on a yacht called Sea Life. We had Roger (Catimini) on board, and David (Reflections) was traveling with them.

As it shelved off very quickly, the National Park had put buoys down for everyone to use. One could also only be there in a calm-ish S/SE breeze because if the wind turned the boat would be on crunching on reef. Not nice.

As soon as we were settled we peered over the side and could already see huge fish waiting for us to get in!! Ken also spotted a shark coasting past the boat and my stomach did a quick somersault as I don’t trust those evil grins!! At least it wasn’t huge…

Once we were kitted out in our wetsuits we headed over to Sea Life, who were going to be SCUBA diving – we would be snorkeling. I slipped into the water and could not believe my eyes, beside the fact that the water was amazingly clear, the Potato Cod were HUGE!! The Cod Hole is frequented by dive tour operators who feed them (which is not a bad thing), so they were very friendly and would just about swim right up to you! It was amazing! We spent about 2 hours swimming along that reef and were really pleasantly surprised at how unfazed most of the fish were – the Parrotfish were huge as well, the biggest we’d seen since Venezuela. Finally we spotted a very shy Maori Wrasse… and oh my goodness, it was ENORMOUS to say the least (roughly the length of a 6 seater dinner table. REALLY!). The coral was in good condition too - overall it was a really really good “dive” and such a treat being in the water again! We rounded off that day with a fish braai on board Fast Forward – recently caught fish kindly supplied by David and salads and freshly baked focaccia bread supplied by ourselves. We arrived back just in time for drinks on the beach!


About 6 boats dinghied round to the research station the following day, on Monday's a brief tour is offered at 11am sharp... the documentary was very informative and it briefly explained what the researches did there and how the station was funded, etc. Dr Lyle was saying that annual coral spawning (a phenomenon that occurs on one evening a year) was only discovered in 1981!!

The process begins 6 months before when eggs and sperm begin to form inside the coral polyps. For spawning to take place, water temperatures must be 27 degrees or more. But corals need a specific cue so they can release eggs and sperm into the water at exactly the same time. That cue is November's full moon and on the 2nd to 6th night following the full moon the majority of corals spawn. The first sign of spawning is the sight of coloured bundles of eggs inside female polyps; these are held under the mouths of the polyps and are visible through the transparent tissues. The bundles are squeezed out through the mouths of the polyps and released. All the polyps in a colony can do this in minutes. Meanwhile male corals produce clouds of sperm. Floating up to the surface the eggs and sperm form a slick on the seas surface for days.

Spawning is timed to coincide with periods when there are minimum tidal movements, which allows the sex's time to find representatives from the same species and mix and match before being swept away. Coral spawning is a once in a lifetime experience and highlight of night diving during November and December.

How fascinating!! Nature, and particularly the underwater world is just so complex I don’t think mankind will ever have all the answers.

Back on the boat, we had lunch and then dinghied back to that bay with friends to snorkel... again a beautiful reef and many many fish, however the water was a bit murky – but I did get great pics of a turtle (who is obviously used to researchers and was not skitty at all!). We were trying to squeeze in as many water activities as possible as the weather was scheduled to deteriorate, so we had one more snorkel on the northern side of the island which was fantastic to say the least.

Ken helped Roger with an electrical problem one morning; and so I went off with Lucie (Rogers wife), and Juliet (Reflections) to help them with their laundry. Both Juliet and I have washing machines - but she took a few things with just for the fun of it (!!) - and I went along to pump the water, it was one of those kangaroo pumps that used to be on the farms in the olden days - with a little tank that needed to be primed with a litre of water beforehand, and then pumping the handle up and down rather vigorously forced the water up and out.... there was an endless supply and quite a lot was needed to rinse all the clothes! It was such fun and I got a good arm workout too! SO thankful to have a washing machine though!!!!

There was a fantastic atmosphere with 30 boats in the anchorage as about 95% of them were headed to Darwin and were also participating in the Indonesian Rally. The rest of them were headed round to the Kimberley’s on the west coast, and then further south to the Perth area. The daily “drinks on the beach” at 5pm was such a great way to get to know people of course.

3 days after we’d arrived my tooth was pain free (thanks to many Voltaren’s!), but it was like magic – one minute I could not apply any pressure to the tooth whatsoever – not even touch it with my tongue, and suddenly one morning I could! Amazing – and nice to let out a sigh of relief too!!!

The weather changed after 5 days, and it became very windy… we hunkered down and waited for better days! There was certainly enough to keep us occupied on the island – like walks over to Blue Lagoon (sounds gorgeous doesn’t it!) – and it was! We also enjoyed a pizza evening on board Fast Forward; as well as a second visit to the research station where we learned that the odd croc actually does make it all the way out to Lizard Island! They captured the last one in January 09… they do however tend to prefer the muddy mangrove area, but do I feel consoled by this? Most definitely not!

Good old Captain Cook anchored in one of the bays around Lizard Island in 1770, and we were following in his footsteps by climbing the hill to a famous lookout called Cook’s Look. Here he was able to plot his passage through the treacherous Great Barrier Reef. It was a pleasant and not too strenuous a walk to reach the islands’ highest point (359m/1178ft). Cook named the island after on the 11 species of lizard that lived here. Green and loggerhead turtles nest here in late spring, and black flying foxes inhabit the mangroves. We didn’t spot any of those big lizards… perhaps they are tasty treats for the crocs?

A well known fact is that all good things eventually do come to an end… the weather had finally sorted itself out and it was time to move on. Lizard Island was truly an amazing stopover... but Thursday Island was now on our lips!

North to Thursday Island

2009-06-03 to 2009-06-10

After spending 10 glorious days in Lizard Island we were ready to discover the somewhat controversial Torres Strait and more specifically, Thursday Island… but we’ve got to get there first!

There had been quite a few boats waiting at Lizard for the weather to settle, and on 4 June, 11 boats set off for various destinations. We left at 6am, and Reflections and Catimini left at 3am and 4am respectively. We’d planned our route so that we’d be day-hopping up the coast to Thursday Island. The wind was rather brisk when we upped anchor in the dark, and the sea was surprisingly large despite being inside the reef – but as soon as we reached the Howick Group about 4 hours later, we were more protected.

Our journey north to Thursday Island went as follows:
• Flinders Island 83nm – brisk winds of around 20-25 knots SE, but we made good time. We were cautious rounding Cape Melville as the winds could suddenly become very strong due to the land formation, we experienced an increase of about 10 knots coupled with a slight change of wind angle. The huge granite boulders of Cape Melville were a remarkable feature of the area and a wonderful sight. We dropped anchor in the Owen Channel and were invited for drinks on board Reflections.

• 4th Morris Island 63nm – set off at 7am, wind dropped off substantially and we tried every sail configuration known to Ken! By 1:30pm we were flying along in 20 knots and the water was flat calm. Gorgeous! Nice anchorage, but didn’t dare go ashore because of the crocs…

• 5th Portland Roads 65nm – good fast sail as we had constant wind of around 20 knots – dropped anchor at 3:15pm and all of us went round to Catimini for a delicious baked fish dish… and way too much vino tinto!!

Good anchorages along this entire stretch of coastline are few and far between, so most yachts tend to follow the same route.

• 6th Margaret Bay 50nm – not much wind about, but we did manage to sail most of the way! Blinding white silica beaches stretched north for as far as the eye could see. A croc was spotted on this beach just before we’d arrived! Darn! Missed seeing one in the wild again!!!

All the way north from Cooktown (just north of Cairns) there are very few coastal settlements and those that exist cannot be depended upon for services beyond very basic requirements for possible emergency contact. There is a huge trawler fleet along this coast from which fuel and basic supplies may sometimes be purchased.

• 7th Escape River 75nm – left at 6am and there was no wind!! It did eventually fill in – and we were lucky enough to catch a huge Spanish Mackerel as well! The coast along this entire stretch was fairly unremarkable with the hills being low and mostly featureless.

Catimini were first in line, and our Garmin chartplotter tracked their AIS track whilst he was giving us depth soundings. Reflections were ahead of us and their draft is very similar to ours so they relayed theirs to us – but we were still very cautious and the least depth we had under our keel was around 1m (!!). Can be very nervy indeed!

Escape River is well known for its cultured pearl farming and there were many nets about, but all easy enough to see. Soon after anchoring a local farmer came out to warn us not get into the water as the area was infested with crocs. We were not put out at all as it was a mangrove area, and the water was chocolate brown!

• 8th Horn Island 42nm – we left at 6am and followed our chartplotter track out. Our timing was spot-on for the passage between the mainland and Albany Island and we had up to 3 knots of current with us. It was a gorgeous day as we passed Cape York, the northernmost tip of the continent – blue skies, just enough wind and amazing turquoise water. I’m not sure if it was our imagination, but the temperature seemed to suddenly increase by about 5 degrees!! Suddenly it was hot, hot, hot!

The majority of the yachts heading to Darwin turned left at Cape York and hugged the coastline, sometimes battling currents until they reached an apparently pleasant outpost called Seisia. Here they squeezed into a small anchorage, and paid exorbitant prices for beer, supplies and diesel whilst waiting for the proverbial weather window to head across the dreaded (and sometimes feared) Gulf of Carpentaria.

The three of us however headed northwest into the Torres Strait, and anchored in the lee of Horn Island – just opposite Thursday Island, Australia’s most northerly port.

The Torres Strait is a stepping-stone between Papua New Guinea and mainland Australia for a number of potentially devastating plant and animal diseases, as well as insect pests. As a result, all vessels, whether foreign or local, are not permitted to carry fruit and veg from any of the TS islands to the mainland. You can however purchase goods (meat and fresh produce) from the local accredited retailers who will then issue you with a certificate which is then to be shown to a Quarantine officer at your next Australian port… failure to do so will result in the confiscation of the goods (if there is anything left that is!).

We contacted Quarantine on arrival in Cairns after being told by cruisers (who can sometimes turn a grain of sand into a huge termite mound!) that meat etc was being confiscated left right and centre from boats who’d visited TI. Of course, being cruisers, you just sometimes never know which story to believe. Quarantine told us that if the meat was still in its original packaging we would not have a problem, but ours wasn’t as it simply took up too much space. I usually portioned and then vacuum packed everything. So following in Joanne’s footsteps, I too put all our meat in plastic bags and had Quarantine come on board in Cairns to seal them with big yellow stickers! We simply had too much to loose and we weren’t prepared to take that risk.

So you can see why many boats were hesitant about going to TI, but more on the outcome later…

Being in the center of the windiest trade wind area in the world, the islands surrounding Thursday Island are more often under a haze than not during April to October – and come rainy season, they’re hidden under rain cloud! Luckily we did not experience either and enjoyed 2 days of blissfully calm weather.

Thursday Island is perhaps a little too far to go in the dinghy, particularly when you have currents of 4 knots or more to contend with. There is however a very convenient and regular ferry service that commutes between the two. We did not need to contact Customs as we were already cleared into Australia… but they did come and photograph the yachts soon after we arrived – and were particularly interested in Catimini who have had their boat registered in Vanuatu.

TI as it’s affectionately known, is a multicultural island rich in history. The beautiful Quetta Memorial church was built in 1893 in memory of the victims of the Quetta shipwreck of 1890, one of Australia’s worst maritime disasters. The Green Hill Fort was built in the 1890’s to repel a feared Russian invasion, and TI’s cemetery, where the graves of 700 Japanese pearl divers rest beside those of Torres Strait pilots, fortune hunters, sailors and ships’ passengers drowned at sea, as well as generations of islanders.

Wasaga, the quiet and undeveloped town on Horn Island, is home to the Heritage Museum and Gallery which explains pre-colonial culture in the Torres Straits and traces outside intrusion from the 1860’s and 1870’s, when beche-de-mer crews (disgusting, slimy looking black sea cucumbers, that not surprisingly is a delicacy in the Far East), pearl-shellers, Protestant missionaries and government officials began to arrive. The pearl-shell industry came to a halt during WWII when naval authorities requisitioned the boats. Horn Island became a battle zone, suffering eight air raids by the Japanese. The museum addresses the largely unrecognized contribution of Torres Strait Islanders who joined forces with 7000 Australian and United States military personnel during WWII.

Unknowingly we’d arrived on the Queen’s Birthday so everything was closed… except a huge pub with a long wall lined with “pokies” (another Australianism, but known to us as one arm bandits in the old days – except the machines have now evolved and all you do is press a button). So having not been off the boat in 5 days, we were quite happy to just sit and be mesmerized by the garish music emanating from the machines – and watching hopeful/desperate/greedy people feeding their money (hard-earned or not!) into machines was rather sad!

We had a saunter around town discovered there were 2 supermarkets, a butcher, bakery, post office, hardware and clothing stores, as well as a newsagent. Fairly civilized! It was nearing dinner time, so we decided to head back to Horn Island on the ferry and go to the Gateway Torres Strait Resort for a meal – which turned out to be a rather pricey buffet dinner… and nothing fancy either!

It felt strange being at TI - like being at a Pacific Island – and odd to think it was part of Australia. We could not figure out what tourists came here for as there really was not much to do! Swimming was forbidden because of the crocs, apparently there was a 5m croc that roaming the area - and the ferry captain said that just that morning there was a 2.5m croc swimming around just where the yachts were anchored!! I couldn’t wait to see my first “handbag”!

At around 9am Roger called to say that there were handbags lying all over the beach! Yes, the crocs were out in full force and I was thrilled to have an x18 zoom on the camera! It really was quite cool to see them in the wild.

After going to both big supermarkets the following morning, we decided that the Ibis supermarket was far superior. Some of the items carried ridiculous price tags – but other stuff was reasonable. Since we’d spent longer than anticipated at Lizard – and because we did not want to open a bag big of meat, we bought 2 huge chicken breasts and a pack of rissoles which would see us through to Darwin. We met up with the others for a very cheap but delicious lunch at the Top of Australia Pub.

Our plan was to leave the following morning with Catimini. The forecast seemed good, and all we had to do was ensure that we left with a favourable current… here’s hoping we have a good experience crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria!

Westward to Darwin!

2009-06-10 to 2009-06-20

It was roughly 370nm from the anchorage at Horn Island to the top of the Wessel Islands. A two night trip. We upped anchor at 10:45am, perfect timing to catch the tide through the Normanby Channel, having it in our favour boosted our boat speed by an extra 3.5 knots! There were hardly any ships around… and not much wind to speak of either!!

Ten hours into the journey and we wondered what had happened to the forecasted 18-22 knots? Again they got it completely wrong… instead of wind from the SE, it was from the SW - on the nose, but we were not complaining as it was very light (only 8-10 knots)… and if we weren't motoring as well, we'd be going backwards with this complex tidal system in the Gulf! Luckily the wind picked up around 8pm and we were able to turn off the engine. It was very weird being so far out and the depth was still no more than 50 meters under the keel!

This area can be particularly tricky to sail in and sometimes untenable. Again, many horror stories were circulating amongst the yachties! If the wind picked up to a constant 25 knots (which really is normal trade wind conditions) the waves can become very uncomfortable, but apparently quite normal in these waters. Currents from the Coral and Arafura Seas meet in this region and they are strong as the water from the Pacific and Indian Ocean flows in opposite directions over the very shallow continental shelf. This creates wind-against-current conditions at some stage during the tidal cycle, resulting in waves that are not all high, but extremely steep and very short – locals describe the crossing as going through a washing machine!

Thankfully we’d not experienced any of these conditions, but we were dodging squalls most of that night and well into the next day. When the wind dropped off, you could feel the slightly lumpy sea as the boat slowed down, but it was not unbearable. The Australian Customs aeroplane flew past once a day and called everyone, generally by GPS position, and usually asked the same questions (boat name, last port of call, next port of call) – they were always very polite and hoped the weather improved for us.

That squally “wind-that-couldn't decide-what-it-wanted-to-do-day” turned into a FABULOUS evening! By 7:30pm the wind had picked up to 16-20 knots from the SE and we were flying along! My 5 hour watch ended at 2:30am and the conditions were improving slightly when Ken took over.

When I woke up at 7am we had a mere 23nm to go to the top of the Wessel Islands!! The wind had gone from SE to S, which is an angle the boat prefers, and since there is more pressure at that angle, we in turn go faster. After turning left at the top of the Wessels, we headed south and finally anchored in the sheltered, and very beautiful Two Island Bay at 11:24am. Catimini arrived at around 10pm – and Reflections the following day, as they only left on Thursday. Three other boats arrived on Sunday – these were our friends on Papillon, Linger Longer, and Slow Motion who’d left from Seisia on Thursday.

12 – 15 June

What an absolutely gorgeous anchorage! We did brave going ashore – we figured it was really too far for the crocs to swim from the mainland, however we were cautious – and for what it was worth, Ken and Roger were armed with their machette’s. Our joking about the machette’s suddenly came to an abrupt halt when we saw croc tracks! They did not go up into the bush, but it was almost as though the croc did a U-turn halfway up the beach. We were very wary after that, but still had a great time on the beach, and went again the following day with David and Juliet. We found some nice shells – and surprisingly, some we’d not seen before.

The wind dropped off completely, but was forecast to pick up again on the Tuesday… we could think of worse places to be stuck! We had 10 people on board for drinks and snacks and the following evening we all went to Papillon… a big catamaran with plenty of room for all of us!

16 June
We all set off the following morning for various destinations, and had between 18 and 25 knots of wind. Naturally we were screaming along at 8-10 knots, the seas were a bit lumpy and bumpy, but we did 204nm in 24 hours! Good going indeed! The following morning saw the wind increase as we neared Cape Croker – and we had up to 35 knots at one stage! It seemed to take forever for us to get to the anchorage in Somerville Bay right at the bottom of the very long headland, but the sailing was great as it was flat calm.

We had a very relaxing afternoon as overnighters tend to be very tiring – and generally you just don’t sleep. Catimini arrived later that afternoon and we enjoyed pancakes and G&T’s as we watched the sun set.

18 June
We were now in the home stretch and could just about smell Darwin! With only 54nm to Cape Don, we decided to have a lie-in and only left at 8:30am!! It was a gorgeous day and we were anchored by 4:30pm. Cape Don is where most boats lay over and wait for the perfect time to catch the right tide through the Van Diemen Gulf. From here it’s about 110nm to Darwin, but having favourable current can make all the difference – so we did our calculations once again and decided to leave at 9pm that evening.

Well what a trip it turned out to be! I suppose it can’t always be plain sailing can it!! We left and there was hardly any wind – then we rounded the corner and the wind picked up to around 15 knots – then out of nowhere it was blowing 25 knots on the nose!! We were very close hauled, so much so that we could not alter course too much as we were not in the main channel – but were headed to the Northern Channel, so there was not much room for deviation as the area was fraught with reefs. We were screaming along. The sea was pretty big too and we had waves breaking hard against the side of the boat sometimes sending sheets of water right over the boat! Water was being forced through the two front hatches (the seals weren’t that great anymore, but I’ve only had to deal with a wet cabin 4 times before!). I was not a happy camper, but I kept telling myself that we are going to get there a lot sooner than we’d anticipated!! Roger was just about swimming in their cockpit on their 40ft catamaran. He too could not believe the weather!

Anyway by 11:30 on Friday morning we were anchored in Fannie Bay, Darwin… and the nasty trip was a distant memory!

On our way in I’d called Customs to notify them of our arrival. As we were booked into Tipperary Waters Marina I was obliged to call the Department of Fisheries who came around to inspect the underside of the boat, the diver also squirted a degreaser into our inlets as we’d been to Cairns where the Asian Mussel is a huge problem. The government spends a lot of money annually to combat the mussel spreading to the locked areas of the various marina’s in Darwin. This is a free service, and they were so efficient and friendly. The only downside is that you are not allowed to flush the toilets for 14 hours whilst the muti works its magic… but it wasn’t a problem as we were exhausted and asleep by 8pm!

I’d also called Quarantine, who informed me that they pop around in 30 minutes. After an hour I called them back and they said they could not find us – in the marina. I explained to them (as I did before) that we’d just arrived and were at anchor. I was then told that they do not come out inspect boats at anchor. We still had the pack of sealed rissoles on board, and I assured her I had the invoice and the certificate, and after being put on hold for over 5 minutes as she checked with the powers that be, she apologized profusely and said that it was fine. So all that fuss for nothing!!!!

Ken and Roger went ashore to clear in with Customs and by 4pm we were legal!

20 June
We were faffing around so much on Saturday morning we just about missed getting fuel from the Fisherman’s Wharf!! We called and pleaded for him to stay open for another 20 minutes.

We went into the marina lock at high tide which was around 2pm, the lock was only 22m long and we had 1.5m fore and aft, but it felt quite tight!! Soon after arriving we got stuck in and gave the topsides a good wash and by 5pm the boat was salt free!

And so our adventures in Darwin begin – and our stay in Australia draws to a close…..

Jumping Crocs, Spoonbills and B-52's!


Darwin is a great little city, but if you’ve done the markets, museums and malls – and don’t fancy doing on an overland roadtrip to Kakadu or Litchfield National Park… then what is a stay at “the top end” without a visit to see the famous “jumping crocs”?

A group of us departed at 7:30am, and drove in convoy past the Fogg Dam to the family run business called Hunter Safaris. Whilst waiting to depart we read newspaper clippings which varied from “biggest croc ever” to “yet another child killed by croc”. As far as I’m concerned this is the most dangerous reptile in Northern Australia, and possibly the world so just as
I respect the sea – I respect the first in the food chain!!

So what better way to see crocodiles in their natural habitat, even if their behaviour is modified a little by hand feeding from the tour boats. The cruises were started in 1985 by a couple of crocodile hunters made redundant by both a lack of crocs to hunt and changes in the conservation laws making it illegal anyway. Today the crocodile population has returned to something similar to pre-European numbers, however getting close to them in the wild can be both difficult and dangerous, except on this short stretch of the Adelaide River where they are used to the tour boats.

When it came time to hit the river Ken and I were thrilled to see that we were on a small boat – and that we’d be close to the water: ie close to the action!! Despite the crowd being about 18 strong, there was more then enough room to move about and take pics. Morgan started up the engine and gave us the obligatory safety warnings which basically left us with the understanding that if we did have to abandon the boat, or ended up in the water for any reason then that would probably be it for us – over, done, kaput, no more…

Before we even left the dock there was already a huge 4.5m croc floating motionless next the boat! Whilst still ashore someone mentioned that it was plastic – so I figured “nice gimmick!”. When I sat down on the boat – less than 2 meters from the croc IT BLINKED!!! OH MY GOODNESS! We quickly realised why he’d been so patient, he’d become so accustomed to this “feeding for tourism caper” and could differentiate the boats that provide them with fresh meat from the ones that don’t, so they’re not shy in making themselves known to the meat providing boats.

We motored across to the opposite side of the river and up onto the bank… large croc in tow! Morgan attached a hunk of buffalo meat to very small wire hook and went to the front of the boat where he warned us once again that if we valued our appendages we were to keep them inside the rail! He dangled the meat in the air… using his extremely powerful tail, the croc leapt up snapping it cleanly off the hook!! It all happened so quickly! Amazing!

Now if you’ve never seen it, a crocodile thrusting itself vertically out of the water with its razor sharp teeth poised to snap down on its prey is really something to behold, and it’s not unnatural behaviour either. Even seeing a “little” croc jumping was spectacular. And as we worked our way along the rivers’ edge more and more crocs approached the boat – some so well camouflaged in mud that you could not even see them - you became very aware that we were in the domain of something much bigger than ourselves. It really wasn’t just a story… the waters of the Adelaide River are, in fact, crocodile infested.

Salties are the world’s largest reptile, and freshwater crocs are found only in Australia. Salties remain in dwindling numbers in parts of Southeast Asia, but for high concentrations of these colossal prehistoric beauties, Australia is unsurpassed. Crikey. 

Salties can grow to 7 metres (averaging around 4-5 meters), and weighing in at around 400-1500 kg’s. Freshies chime in at a diminutive three metres and weigh around 70kg. Larger salties have been known to exceed one tonne, but a five-metre adult is roughly half that. It’s estimated there are up to 150,000 salties in Australia’s northern states, and the NT’s vast Mary River system, Australia’s most diverse ecosystem, is home to the largest concentration of the beasts in the world. Interestingly, the Mary River wetlands were also once home to Rodney Ansell, the colourful character who provided the inspiration for Mick Dundee from Crocodile Dundee.

One of NT’s most famous crocodiles is preserved at the Darwin Museum. Sweetheart was a 5.4 meter male croc famous for attacking outboard motors on local fishing boats who strayed into its territory in Sweet's Lookout Billabong. Eventually trapped by Park Rangers but finished up in the museum because it did not survive the trapping.

Unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to have a croc known as Hannibal jump for us. Hannibal is the most famous croc in this part of the river purely for its size and ferocity. He is clearly the king of the castle at 6 metres long and estimated to be around 100 years old.

But we did have more to look at than just crocs! Perched high above the dangers of the crocodiles is a feast of birdlife – Cockatoos, Magpie Geese, Dollar Birds and Hawks (known as Kites in the NT) and Sea Eagles. Kingfishers and Corellas gather in flocks of hundreds on the marshy floodplains beside the river.

Fogg Dam Birdwatching

After the tour, Morgan advised us to stop over at the Fogg Dam birdwatching conservation park to see birds galore, including Jabiru, Brolga, Magpie Geese and scores of other species which have been sighted in this reserve. During the wet season wetlands like this cover hundreds of thousands of square kilometres. Since it was the dry season, the wetlands had shrunk to as little as 2% of the area, resulting in a concentration of water birds in the remaining water. With open water, floodplain, monsoon and paperbark forest, and swamp environments all in a small area, there is suitable habitat for many different types of birds.

It was amazing! There were so many birds and you don't need even to be an ardent birdwatcher to be impressed… apparently there were confirmed sightings of 230 species of birds have been listed here in The Australian Bird Atlas. 

Aviation Museum

After a great lunch in Humpty Doo, and a safe swim at a natural pool – we decided to pop in to see the B-52 Bomber at the Aviation Museum, which also houses a replica Spitfire, Mirage Fighter, ex RAAF Sabre – and many many other aeroplanes. And you didn't even have to be an aeroplane fanatic to enjoy the fantastic display.

Darwin's location as the first landfall for planes travelling from the UK and its proximity to Asia has ensured it a unique place in Australia's aviation history. It has also been an important military base for the Australian and US Air Forces and Darwin residents are used to seeing front line military planes in the sky.

The fully refurbished B-52G bomber on permanent loan from the USAF has been on display at the Aviation Museum since it's opening in 1990. The first B-52As were delivered to the Strategic Air Command in 1954 where they became the primary airplane of the command. A total of 744 B-52s were built with the last, a B-52H, delivered in October 1962. Only the H model is still in the Air Force inventory and all are assigned to Air Combat Command. The B-52H was designed for nuclear standoff, but it now has the conventional warfare role with the retirement of the B-52G.

Over the years the B52's have been modernised with the latest electronics and weapons systems and have a projected life into 2040, although only around 100 are still flying. The B-52 has found other roles. It is used for ocean surveillance: two B-52s can monitor a 140,000-square-mile (364,000-square-kilometer) section of ocean in two hours, helping the navy in anti-ship and mine-laying operations.

Crickey mate, as much as I rave about the intensity of this experience I’m not convinced that I can paint a complete picture with words so that’s why there are LOADS of pics!!

Sail Indonesia



18 July        Depart Darwin
20-23 July   312nm to Saumlaki – Tanimbar Islands
26-29 July   205nm to Tual – Kei Islands
stopover     188nm to Banda – Maluku Islands
4-7 Aug       316nm to Ambon – Maluku Islands
stopover      317nm to Ternate – Maluku Islands
12-19 Aug   379nm to Bitung – Sulawesi
12-19 Aug   53nm to Manado – taking part in the Sail Bunaken Tall Ships Rally
stopover      270nm to Banggai – Sulawesi
26-30 Aug    269nm to Wakatobi – Sulawesi
5-9 Sept      210nm to Maumere/Ende – Flores
11-13 Sept  76nm to Nagikeo – Flores
16-20 Sept  84nm to Labuanbajo – Flores
24-28 Sept  254nm to Mataram – Lombok
30 Sept-
4 Oct           75nm to Bali
8-15 Oct      329nm to Karimunjawa – Java 
                    277nm to Banjarmasin – Borneo
21-25 Oct    310nm to Palau Belitung
                    End of rally
                    376nm to Singapore

Total of 3870nm to Singapore!!!

Going to be a very busy 3 months indeed!!!

Darwin to Saumlaki, Indonesia

2009-07-19 to 2009-07-23

18 July 2009
Duration of trip: 2 days

As expected, after the Sail Indonesia Rally briefing on Tuesday, our last days in the first world literally flew past… having read through a couple of websites from previous years, and after being in touch with a couple who’d visited Indo by boat last year, we were heavily stocked up with what we would not really find: tinned tomatoes; tinned beetroot; tinned green beans; savoury crackers; cookies; crisps, cheese (found a cool spot in the bilge and it’s doing just fine!); good flour; no beef or pork either; and since Indo is Muslim, we would not be able to stock up on wine and hard tack until we reached Langkawi (north west coast of Malaysia) in early December. Meandering up and down the isles at Coles or Woolies with 2 bulging trolleys is pretty normal procedure for yachties, and we are now used to the stares and comments from locals who were probably wondering why they weren’t told about supermarkets magically disappearing in the imminent future, and that perhaps they too should be doing some serious shopping!! The food we have on board will easily keep us going for 6-7 months, so we’d only really need to buy fresh produce. Food is not our only concern when it comes to provisioning for a length of time, it’s all the boat spares and filters, etc that are just not as freely available!

Ken flew off to England on the 9th to sort out some business, and became a Grandfather for the first time too! Scott and Vikki are the proud parents of a gorgeous and healthy little girl named Isla Caitlin Pollard, born on the 14th. Perfect timing! He arrived back at around 3am on Saturday, 18th. At 8:30am we’d cycled into town for the last time – we’d arranged for Ken to clear Customs that morning, I’d done the rest of the clearing out the previous day along with the other rally participants at the Darwin Sailing Club. After our last shop for fresh produce we cycled back to the boat with very heavy backpacks!! At precisely noon we were in the lock after having spent an hour washing a months’ worth of black ash from the topsides of the boat!! What is it with all the burning that goes on here anyway?!?

By 2pm we were once again anchored in Fannie Bay… 98% of the rally participants had crossed the start line at 11am and were now well on their way. Our intentions were to leave on Sunday, a few others were going to leave during the course of the following week. We finished off last minute jobs and finally sat down to a well deserved drink at 6pm. I was frantically trying to use all our prepaid internet time, so ended up downloading scores of music from Limewire, but in the end we had to leave $18 behind… oh well you can’t win them all, but I’d give myself an A+ for effort that’s for sure!!

We upped anchor at 1:40pm on Sunday and headed out – very close hauled – across the Beagle Channel, and rounded the west side of Melville Island and headed north east. Some boats had opted to go through the Van Diemen Gulf again (the route we’d followed into Darwin), and others went west, like we did, for a slightly better angle. It’s important to get the timing right in this part of the world and the trick was to leave 1 ½ hours before high tide in Darwin to get favourable current, we had up to 2.5 knots with us!! Naturally as the tide changes later, you’d have adverse current, but at least it’s not at the start!

Overall we had a really good and fast 310nm trip with winds varying from 13-18 knots that were slightly forward of the beam (which admittedly is not my favourite sailing angle), but because the sea was fairly flat, it was not scary! At around 2am Monday morning we’d had to slow the boat down as we wanted to make landfall at sunrise – along with about 7 others whom we’d snuck up on!!

Friends on Linger Longer thought perhaps a rope had wound around their prop which meant that they could not use their engine. They were going to attempt to sail to the anchorage, where they’d be met by some dinghies to help them anchor. We offered to wait for them at the entrance, and then be on standby should they need to be towed. They were very grateful and luckily “Plan A” worked just fine!

Indonesia has the longest coastline at 54 370km’s and encompasses the world’s largest archipelagic state with more than 17 500 islands, some huge like Sumatra and others mere rocky outcrops. Two-thirds of which are inhabited and richly layered with character. The population is in excess of 245 million, with 130 million living in Java! It has the largest population of Muslims in the world, although it is not governed by Shariah Law and is not an Islamic state. Christianity, introduced by the Portuguese, is growing in a lot of the islands. A comforting thought: of the 668 airports, only 161 have paved runways!!

Indonesia tends to have fairly even climate year round with only two seasons: wet and dry. It’s high (and dry) season between May and September. Indonesia is ridiculously cheap, but prices do apparently escalate around 12 October, after the fasting month of Ramadan. Though Indo is predominantly Islamic, in many places Islam is interwoven with traditional customs, giving it unique qualities and characteristics.

This country has had its fair share of bad publicity: a guerrilla war lasting 29 years; peace deals and disputed provinces; the bombings in Jakarta and Bali, as well as issues surrounding the radical Islamics have all led to a serious decline in tourism. Then there was the tragic tsunami, which devastated a huge chunk of this area, both above and below the water. The massive Asian economic crisis in 1997 left the country in economic ruin, from which it is barely beginning to recover. Through it all, it’s the locals that suffer continually as a result. The recently introduced one-month visa rule adds yet another snag for visitors like ourselves wishing to do long haul exploratory travels. And yet the wheels of bureaucracy churn merrily in Jakarta…

We’ve also got to get used to a few things like the toilets… no toilet paper (BYO!), no easy flushing either – then again there is always a big tub of water and plastic scooper nearby if you fancy a good rinse instead, but use the left hand and always remember where it’s been!! A good tip I received was to use the toilets for the disabled, as they are generally westernised.

The Indo culture is also going to take some getting used to: no pointing of fingers, a thumbs up signal is apparently also frowned upon, no hands on hips or crossing of legs, no ruffling of hair (it’s messing with their spirits), and showing affection in public is also not acceptable either, no drinking in public – in most places you can only get beer, soft drinks and sickly sweet juice… make sure that whatever you eat is cooked, even veggies – as there are nasty parasites around.

Small unlit wooden fishing craft are the next issue. Most of these crafts can be found within the 20m line but may still be offshore. These craft pose a huge hazard at night as they are usually only around 3 meters long and with very little freeboard – making it impossible for radar to pick them up! It’s very easy to run one down and scarcely notice the bump. Apparently if they have a light they probably would show it as you get very close. Sometimes they could also be net fishing, and whilst the one end would be marked by the boat, the other end may not! So we’d better keep our eyes peeled and hope for the best!

Fish traps are another issue as well, but mainly closer to the shore.

But wait, there’s more! Fishing Aggregating Devices (FADs): These variously shaped structures – some rectilinear steel rafts, some rafts or cones of bamboo lashed together, some oil drum rafts – are moored to the sea bottom off the coast, often in water so deep you can’t actually believe that what you are seeing is anchored! Their underwater surfaces get covered with growth which attracts small creatures that shelter and feed. In the patch of shade beneath them there is another shelter from aerial and surface predators that attracts plankton and the fish feed on it. And further down the water column beneath the device are larger and larger fish. Marvellous! Unfortunately the devices are seldom lit and can crop up anywhere. They can give the hull a nasty clout and the heftier metal ones can sink a yacht!

GPS:S07.58.05 E131.17.39
Arrived: 21 July 2009

Having being told at the briefing in Darwin that Indonesia dances to their own drums, and that we were to simply smile politely, not get excited and just “suck it up” – was easier said than done with 400 different personalities! Needless to say we arrived to organised chaos. The Quarantine people were stretched to their limits having misunderstood that there were to be around 400 people to clear, not 40!! We were told to stay on board until cleared by Q (as swine flu was a potential threat now, having recently had cases in Bali), but they simply moved randomly amongst the boats with no system whatsoever, which absolutely frustrated certain people to their wits end, as many had already been waiting for 24 hours! Anyway, by the end of the 21st we were told we could then simply go ashore to the “gala event” and worry about Q, Immigration and Customs in the morning!!!

The Sail Indonesia crowd from Aussie then mentioned that a boat from the Dept of Fisheries would come through the anchorage at around 5pm collecting people who wanted to go to the “gala event”, there would then be busses waiting to transport us to the Galaxy Hotel. Great! A free ride! So we had 2 other couples on board and waited until 6pm before giving up and going ashore in our own dinghies! Luckily there were busses waiting as it was almost dark and the hotel was quite a way away. As we wove our way along the narrow streets, motorbikes dodging each other left, right and centre – there were no pavements, so people would be jumping out the way when vehicles sounded their fancy horns. Some just stood in their doorways staring at the “gringo’s” packed into the busses - some waving, some smiling, some shouting “hello!”, others not even noticing as they were huddled in front of a television. At first glance it seemed chaotic, but we commented that this would be nothing compared to say China or Vietnam!!

Driving along those roads reminded me a bit of downtown Trinidad and also of Venezuela where just about everyone owned a store and they all seemed to sell the same stuff (from China!)… guys with little carts selling fried doughy-things next to the road – families milling about outside their houses, filthy kids with runny noses just being kids; and luckily we did not spot any mangy dogs lying next to the road just about pleading to die.

We poured out of the bus (the seating not designed for people with long legs!!) and entered the jam-packed hall which lacked good acoustics, there was some local guy singing (rather badly!) on stage and way too loudly! We were starving and got in the queue to taste some local cuisine which was on offer… I decided not to try anything I could not recognise as I did not fancy a runny guts on our first day in Indo! The ladies had made such an effort with their appearance as well as with preparing the food which was out on display on about 20 tables… a lot of it was the same (like a whole fish on each table), but there were some delicious rice dishes, as well as tasty green been dishes. I remarked to Ken that if this was what we had to look forward to – we’d loose a lot of weight!! We were treated to a few speeches in English and then translated into Bahasa, a couple of local dances, and a prize giving session. By 8:30 we were ready to jump on the bus!

Arriving back at the dinghy dock was quite a sight! There must’ve been at least 50 dinghies all tied up and finding your own was quite a task for some! We seemed to be the only one with a bright red cover!! Some local had very thoughtfully knocked a stepladder together so that we could actually get to and from the dock without having to clamber over big square smelly barnacle covered pieces of concrete!!

22 July
At 9am we nipped off to sort out Customs, Immigration and Quarantine issues and within 2 hours we were legal! It was really painless - but still there were people moaning and complaining! It takes all types doesn’t it!

There were a local husband and wife couple who thought they could make loads of money out of us by offering an expensive island tour - anyway most people thought they were mad, but others accepted. By the morning of the 22nd, the tours were free (!!) – but Ken, Leo (from Promesa) and I knew that when they said the bus would leave within 30 minutes – it could actually be ANY time that day… so we opted out and instead went over to the local Hotel, sat down on some lovely Indonesian chairs under a thatched roof, ate shrimp, chips and veg for lunch, and relaxed in the refreshing breeze drinking their local Bintung beer and chatted with friends for the rest of the afternoon! After rushing around for the last month, it was just such a fabulous treat to just sit there and do absolutely nothing!!

Many decided they were not going to Tual, which was the next rally stop located 200nm to the NE of Saumlaki, and instead headed for Banda – just as we did. Bandanaira forms part of the Maluku Islands, but better known as The Spice Islands which is famous for nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves… mmm can’t wait to get there!

Banda - The Spice Islands

2009-07-25 to 2009-08-01

GPS: S04.31.35 E129.53.86**
Duration of stay: 25 July – 1 August 2009

Boats had been leaving in drips and drabs all morning and at 11:30am we too upped anchor and headed off round the southern tip of Saumlaki, it was such a perfect day and the sailing was just glorious. The wind started to get fickle at around 5pm and if we continued on to Banda we’d arrive at 10pm the following evening. This was not an ideal situation, so we found a protected spot to anchor just after sunset. A good days’ sailing followed and brought us into Bandaneira at around 9am on Saturday.

The Moluccas were the original Spice Islands and the Indian, Chinese, Arab, and later European adventurers all came in search of cloves and nutmeg. Until the 16th century such spices were worth their weight in gold and grew nowhere else. Thus in Maluku money literally grew on trees! Today it’s incredible to reflect that the search for this wealth began the whole process of European colonialism.

Banda is made up of ten picturesque islands and is Maluku’s most tempting travel destination, which luckily are not that accessible. Particularly impressive are the undersea drop-offs which are vibrantly plastered with multicoloured coral gardens offering superlative snorkelling and diving.

In the 15th century Banda supplied the world’s nutmeg, which was then in great global demand. Food, cloth and necessary life essentials could all be traded and people were queuing up to do business. Things started to go wrong when the Dutch arrived around 1599. With no foodstuffs to trade, just knives, impractical woollens and useless trinkets – they soon started demanding a trade monopoly, and since they were dangerously armed, the elders signed a “contract” to keep them quiet. The islands did not take it seriously, the Dutch then sailed off into the sunset, only returning many years later to find the English merrily trading nutmeg on two of the islands!

The Dutch then tried all sorts of tricks but eventually ordered a virtual genocide of the Bandanese. Just a few survivors escaped to the Kei Islands. The Dutch then returned to Batavia (now Jakarta) and accepted applications for land grants in the Bandas. They were provided with slaves and established nearly 70 plantations – a system which survived for almost 200 years, but corruption and gross mismanagement meant that the monopoly was never as profitable as it might’ve been. By the 1930’s Bandaneira was a place of genteel exile for better-behaved anti-Dutch dissidents, and during WWII the islands were largely ignored by the Japanese. In April 1999 there was a brief flare-up of violence when churches were burnt and five were killed including the last Dutch resident. Most of the Christian minority fled to Seram and the islands have been entirely calm since then.

We dropped an anchor outside “the hotel” and backed up to “the wall” where two stern lines were tied to trees ashore. It felt strange being the centre of constant attention and, like being in a fishbowl, locals would sit for hours just staring at us, watching our every move! Smiling and waving if you made eye contact. As more boats arrived, so the locals began to take pictures of us (!) – strange being on the other side of the lens! The “hotel” must’ve been one of the many late-colonial mansions still standing – and was being renovated (at a very slow pace I might add!)…

Opposite us was the devilish little 666m volcano called Palau Gunung Api, which has always been a threat to Bandaneira, Lonthoir and to anyone attempting to farm its fertile slopes. Its most recent eruption in 1988 killed three people, destroyed over 300 homes and filled the sky with ash for days. The historical eruptions have often proved to be spookily accurate omens of approaching intruders. The volcano can be climbed for awesome views, but we gave it a miss as it looked way to arduous.

We did however take advantage of its submerged lava flows. A few of us chartered a motorised outrigger (40 000 rupiahs each, roughly GBP 2.60) who took us to two excellent snorkelling spots around Gunung Api, which is also home to lurid purple and orange sea squirts. Apparently scientists were amazed at how quickly the coral gardens built up over the submerged lava flows. In all the snorkelling we’ve done in the last 6 years, we’ve never seen such extensive coral gardens – I’d go as far to say that they are more fields than gardens! The water too was like gin, there were a lot of beautiful reef fish about, but there weren’t any pelagic fish, and no sharks lurking in the background either (which suited me just fine!!); but we did see an enormous green wrasse! Unfortunately not many shells about either…

Ashore, Bandaneira was a charmingly friendly place with kids again calling out “hey mister” to everyone and dying to have their pictures taken! Cats were everywhere to be seen. The calls to prayer sounded out at least 4 or 5 times a day and we enjoyed them, they seemed to bring a sense of peace and serenity to the day. There were the remains of old fortresses about, historical houses, and beautiful mosques on each island, as well as people trying to sell you old Dutch coins (which looked very authentic, but how could you tell the difference, and where exactly where they digging up a constant supply to sell to us gringo’s? Don’t forget about the “antique” cannon barrels (yes we have loads of space for one on the deck!!) – most likely replicated in China, and illegal to purchase.

Juliet and I were invited by a “headmaster” teaching English to students, to come and meet his students. Apparently they were very keen to meet these strange people that lived on yachts. We hopped onto the back of two motorbikes and zoomed off into the unknown. Mmmm would never do this at home now would we?! Fifteen minutes later we were greeted by at least 25 perfectly white smiles. There were four of us, Elizabeth and Vegar (off Pomona) were there too. The children sang for us, and then presented the ladies with shell necklaces. We were then invited into the “classroom” where we had to write our names as well as where we came from, on a whiteboard… then it was question time. Oh boy, could they ask questions! Suddenly during the headmasters’ speech we realised why we were invited… this smarmy headmaster wanted money from each of us! Well I guess we should have realised something was amiss. As we sipped our cinnamon tea on his veranda a little girl and boy were leaving their English lessons for the day – on brand new bicycles (hers looked like a Barbie bike, complete with pink cushion on the back behind the saddle!!) - we knew then and there where any donated money was going – straight into his pocket, as the kids weren’t that needy!!! We decided that we would part with some coloured pencils, pens and a couple of books. I also printed out an A3 world map for the kids, at least they could start dream. This, he collected from us the following morning – and we simply ignored his requests of returning to the school to see the older students the following day.

Abba was an astute businessman with an affable personality. He had it sussed: his English was fantastic, he was not pushy, he could organise tours at the drop of a hat, he also sold pearls, he had a beautiful guest house, and his wife cooked a memorable meal. As one of the first to arrive we were able to enjoy an unhurried meal of roasted tuna and mackerel, eggplant with the most amazing almond sauce, some unidentifiable (but delicious) green salad, roasted potatoes; followed by banana spice cake. All for a mere 60 000 rupiahs. Four days later she was literally chained to stove whipping up meals for 3 sittings a day – not forgetting that they had a full guest house too!

Unfortunately not all locals were as astute as Abba was, and our “hotel manager” just about came to blows with him as he was always there on the property arranging tours, etc, but never giving Eddie a cut. Poor Eddie didn’t really have a clue about organising anything – first off he was annoyed that we were all drinking Bintang beers 2 doors down, but when we explained that they were 10 000 rupiahs cheaper, he reluctantly dropped his price too – and very kindly added in a round of roasted peanuts. Admittedly Eddie did have better garden furniture and did not have chickens and little children running round, neither did he have undies and various other pieces of clothing drying on the surrounding washing lines… but this did create a certain ambiance! In the end the late arrivals ended up paying much more for tours etc as the locals finally managed to work out running costs more accurately etc… but regardless of the price hike it was still a bargain!

With the never-ending boat and sewing projects on the go, the days just flew by and on Thursday we’d decided that we’d leave on Saturday (as we never leave port on a Friday). There were also just too many yachts arriving daily, and with at least 50 out in the anchorage there seemed to be a constant flow of people and questions and whining and bickering. The next stop in the rally was Ambon, about a day away to the WNW. Soon after arriving in Banda we’d decided to abort plans of going to Ambon, and decided to head SW to Wakatobi, in the Tukang Besi Islands. We’d had enough of jumping from town to town, we wanted white sandy beaches, endless reefs to snorkel on and to be on the other side of the fish bowl for a change!!

** GPS position to be used as guide only

Wonderful Wakatobi!

2009-08-03 to 2009-08-15

GPS: S05.19.83 E123.31.84**
Duration of stay: 3-6 August

Despite catching a flu virus/sinus infection the day before we left, we had a fantastic 2 day trip! Our average boat speed was around 8.5 - 9.5, the sea was a bit lumpy but not too bad really.

As Monday dawned we could see land and quite a few fishing boats. There were 3 other yachts already anchored off a village – anchoring was pretty tricky as we needed to drop the anchor in a sandy patch amongst the coral. There was a sheer drop-off so we had to make sure the anchor was well dug in otherwise we’d drift off! Reflections arrived a couple of hours after us. The other boats that were there were Kleiner Bear, WMD, and Murungaru - who’d ventured into the lagoon around the corner… then radioed us all to say we should join them, and that we were invited to dinner at the Regent’s house that evening! So off we all went – at great speed as the tide was falling and we needed as much water under the keel as possible to get into the lagoon. The other 3 made it no problem, Reflections hit bottom – and we draw a foot more than they do, so we didn’t even bother! We both then anchored in 25+ meters on the reef outside the lagoon – again it was a sheer drop-off and fell back into 60+ meters! We’d catch the high tide the following morning…

All I can say is that we were treated like royalty! We were greeted at the Vista Restaurant (not as gorgeous as it sounds, but very pleasant indeed) by some members of “the committee” who gave us Wakatobi “goodie bags”; the 13 of us were then whisked off in black SUV’s to the Regent’s mansion (there were loads of uniformed guys at the gates and around the premises with walkie-talkie’s!). The Regent, whose name is Hugua, greeted us like we were long lost friends! There were loads of other people there (mainly men), who were later introduced to us as Chief of Police, and Head of Naval whatever, and the list went on and on… amazing! Then the camera’s starting flashing and video camera’s recording…

Hugua then apologised profusely for not being more organised for our arrival, and felt mortified that they could not do more for us! We then apologised for gate crashing his island as we really should only have arrived on 26 August, not the 3rd! Anyway, we could not apologise enough – and neither could he!

He then treated us to presentation on the surrounding islands like Hoga, which is also home to the Wallacea Institute (in a nutshell: marine researchers). Wakatobi (WAngi, KAledupa, TOmea, BInongki) has not really every been “on the map” in terms of tourism, but there is a big drive to promote this gorgeous part of the world.

Wakatobi is part of the Sulu-Sulawesi Eco-Region. A “triangle” which scientists have found to be a very nutrient rich area, able to sustain more species of coral and animal life than anywhere else in the world. Covering an area of around 900 000 km2, the eco-region is physically subdivided into the Sulu Sea, the Sulawesi Sea and the inland seas of the Philippines. It features productive ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests. The seas are a crucial spawning ground for commercially important fish species like the yellow fin, skipjack and big eye tuna, as well as shrimp. It’s marine biodiversity includes more than 400 species of corals, 650 species of reef fish, including unusual fish such as the coelacanth, 5 of the world’s 7 species of marine turtles, endangered marine mammals such as the dugong, whales and many dolphins including the rare pink Indo-Pacific humpback. There are also over 400 species of algae and 16 species of seagrass.

Jacques Cousteau had also passed very complimentary remarks about this area some years back.

We were then ushered through to his very swish dining room (complete with solid furniture that weighed a ton, and fancy gold and crystal chandeliers!) – where an unbelievable selection of seafood was laid out for us to feast on including lobster, crab, baked fish, spicy fish, sea urchin (!!), and chicken. The sea urchin meat was surprisingly tasty, but psychologically I just could not bring myself to eat a whole one in its shell! I didn’t want to eat anything messy as the cameras never stopped flashing!!

After dinner we were ushered to the front of the house, where chairs lined either side of the entrance/front door. Musicians and dancers then performed for us. Hugua apologised again – and since Nigel on Murungaru arrived first, he was appointed as our Ambassador – and he too gave brief speech of sincere gratitude.

We were then each given a woven cotton scarf… very touching indeed. We could not thank Hugua enough, as well as everyone involved for the most unbelievable and very unexpected reception ever. A memory that is going to stay with us forever!

We felt rather smug as we knew we’d never have received this personal a reception had we arrived with 120 other people!

4-6 August
We had a walk around town and were greeted (women included) as “hello mister!” or on the odd occasion “hello tooris!”… wherever we have been everyone has always had smiles on their faces – or they were simply waving, or taking photos of us on their mobile phones (!) or wanting their photos taken – particularly mothers and babies, and not forgetting that the kids just get such a kick out of it! If you say “photo” they just about kill each other in the rush to get in the frame! Then when you show them the picture they scream and laugh! It’s priceless. If only I had a portable printer and an endless supply of paper.

The town was ramshackle, but everyone seemed to have a motorbike and a cell phone and of course a smile. There were many little stores about, some in people’s front yards with them fast asleep next to it. The night market was interesting and there were whole dried fish on sticks on offer (amongst other things of course!), but we decided to head back to the Vista Restaurant for chicken satay kebabs and a bowl of rice instead. Did not want the runs just yet….

It was a battle finding cool clothes to wear ashore as it was unbearably hot and humid. The problem was that since women needed to cover up – not showing shoulders, chest and knees really restricted my wardrobe – but Juliet gave me some material and I whipped up a long skirt – which turned out to be an absolute godsend! In the more touristy places you can get away with sleeveless and knee length skirts, but I really tried to maintain that level of respect most of the time.

The committee organised to pick us all up in the Regent’s black SUV’s and take us on an island tour – it was supposed to be at 3pm, but ended up being closer to 4pm which meant that we were now being rushed along… not that there was loads to see, but we really would have liked to spend more time at the stilt village. Here all the houses and walkways are literally built on stilts, the people were also a lot more reserved than in “town”. We were also taken to see the ruins of a fort – then a long drive overland to see the extension of the airstrip – the last stop was at Hugua’s new resort-in-progress where we were to enjoy the sunset (this is what we were rushing for). It was an interesting couple of hours.

After a lot of explaining and almost giving up, I finally managed to get someone in “the committee” to compile a photo disc from our evening at the Regent’s house (as we did not take our camera with!)… what lovely memories!

6 August - saw us head 20nm south to the semi-submerged KAPOTTA ATOLL (GPS: S05.31.55, wouldn’t want to be there in a blow, but good holding). Still, after having visited countless atolls in the past, it still amazes me how small they look on the paper chart – and quite the opposite when you are physically there!

We wanted some peace and quiet – and that’s what we got!! After having visited so many atolls in the past, this one was rather disappointing as the water appeared to have a greenish tinge to it. We took David (Reflections) snorkelling with us the following morning and were pleasantly surprised with the clarity of the water, the great variety of corals, as well as the larger fish lurking around in the much deeper waters. And no sharks for a change!

HOGA, 28nm
GPS: S05.28.55 E123.45.40**
Duration of stay: 7-13 August 2009

We motored to Hoga after our snorkel, and as the area is a “no anchoring zone” we managed to tie up alongside a big wooden dive boat, who were to leave at 5am and would be gone for 3 days. We met Gertrude, a Dutch lady who has been living in Hoga for the past 17 years. It’s always great to meet an English speaking local! It was Juliet’s birthday on the 10th, and it also happened to be Gertrude’s – how weird is that!

Up and about before 5am – the souls next door showed no signs of life until just before 6am!! I could have cursed, but we should have known better! Anyway, at least we had this huge mooring and Reflections could raft up safely alongside us…. We then had another boat rafted alongside us on the other side for 1 night. 3 Days later the dive boat was back and came alongside… then Kalypso and Tantrum II rafter up alongside it!! There were 5 of us rafted up together!! Because we did not know just how fantastic the mooring was, we just prayed that the wind did not pick up otherwise we’d all drift off together!

The snorkelling was amazing – we started out at the channel marker and worked our way along the inside of the island (we drifted with the dinghy as there was a fair bit of current)… never before had we seen such a huge variety of coral! It was quite overwhelming as there was such a high concentration of things to see, that you felt you were missing out if you went by too quickly! There were a lot of venomous cone shells about in the shallows, but not much of any other variety. Ken did find one small tiger cowrie, we tossed it back hoping that no one would find it and that it would grow to a ripe old age (can be hopeful can’t I?). There were also a few fish that we’d not seen before, as well as some very pretty hard corals.

We also went across to the stilt village – which is actually a genuine sea gypsy village. Similar to the stilt village in Wangi Wangi, except these people are not allowed to live on the mainland, and are very much dependant on the tides. When it’s low they’re on the reefs in search of anything that moves, or they’re collecting rocks for more walls in the village. There are no pre-fab tourist attractions here, just the locals going about their business and breaking into wide toothy grins when people from distant lands show an interest in their lives. Traditional manufacturing includes sarong weaving and dugout boat building. Most people looked pretty healthy and hygiene didn’t seem to be too much of an issue – whatever orifice it comes out of it ends up in the sea, including all the garbage of course! What a tough life

We loved our time in Hoga and between celebrating birthdays, drinks on the beach at 5pm, exploring other beaches, and snorkelling on pinnacles and reefs etc, we’d found a little slice of paradise.

GPS: S05.53.05 E123.47.82**
Duration of stay: 13-15 August 2009

After quite a brisk sail on a very flat sea we cautiously approached what we figured was the channel into the atoll… our navigation program C-Maps, as well as the Garmin 5012 chartplotter could not be trusted – but we were so used to “eyeballing” it in dodgy waters that it didn’t matter much anyway! Fishing huts on stilts were perched either side of the channel entrance… what an existence!!

By 13:30 we were anchored in the biggest atoll in the world!

Roughly an hour later we were approached by 3 local fishermen who wanted a refill of water (and I cursed for having just thrown away 2 1l plastic bottles, they could’ve had one each!!) – anyway, they then wanted fags (which we don’t carry), then they wanted food (which we refused to give them as they certainly didn’t look starved)… and what is it with all this “give, give, give”?! – how about trading something for food? They had all the gear in their dugout for catching lobsters, including tiny nooses – that snag those tiny little lobsters we’ve seen in our snorkelling sessions. Not worth the effort those tiny ones – they should let them grow a bit more. Anyway, they were then taken with our Garmin chartplotter and seemed mesmerised by the GPS and actually being able to see the position of our yacht on the screen. Suffice to say the Garmin slept inside that night!!

I must admit I was not too enthused about the snorkelling session the following morning – so much so that I was going to leave the camera behind! We swung by Reflections and David hopped in the dinghy and we headed off towards the reef along channel entrance. Oh my goodness – once we were in the water I became very enthusiastic!! Although the water was a bit murky, the variety again was very interesting… particularly up in the shallows – where it was almost like little “towns” scattered about: there’d be a biggish hunk of say brain coral for example, and then a host of other small corals living on it – as well as a small variety of fish… then about 10m away there was a similar setup. Absolutely fantastic! I was thrilled I took the camera too as I spotted a gorgeous lionfish, I just love them, they are just so graceful and elegant – like undersea ballet dancers.

Although we were in the water for 2 hours, I could’ve snorkelled for another 2… but we had to get back – I also wanted to prepare a meal for the following day as we were leaving in the morning. We had Juliet and David round for a BBQ that evening and didn’t drink as much as the night before!!

And so our 12 day session in the Wakatobi Islands drew to a close. It was a very special place as a whole, and again we were relieved that we were able to enjoy the area with only a handful of boats about. We feel honoured to have enjoyed a relatively undiscovered chunk of Indonesian underwater paradise!

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!

Sea World Resort

2009-08-16 to 2009-08-19

Distance from Wakatobi: 196nm
GPS: S08.37.98 E122.18.52**
Duration of stay: 16-19 August

Our trip to Sea World was seriously uneventful… after upping anchor at 8:30am we managed to sail in very light winds until about 7pm – and motored straight through to our destination.

Welcome to semi-civilisation! Daily temperatures must be around 32 Celcius, and cold Bintangs and Cokes can be purchased at the resort bar - but no ice!! So drink quickly!

Waiara is located roughly 9kms east of Maumere which apparently is a pretty forlorn place, but is on of the main gateways to Flores. The 1992 earthquake and the resulting 20m tsunami killed thousands here and destroyed just about the entire city. Nothing much has been done to help the town’s recovery either. Waiara was once the jumping off point for the Maumere “sea gardens”, but sadly these too were destroyed in the above disaster. But we weren’t here for the snorkelling… the Ikat weaving that was the main attraction.

As soon as we’d dropped anchor the boat boys were around trying to sell us fruit, offer laundry and diesel services. Friends came around and very kindly gave us the low-down. Another guy came past selling shells – he had the biggest chambered nautilus we’d ever seen and (being totally obsessed with shells) naturally I had to have it! I bargained (which is what is expected of you), but I was not happy with his price of 150 000 rupiahs (15 USD!)… 3 other small shells took my interest as I’d not seen them before. Suddenly he said he needed a mask for snorkelling as his eyes hurt (I’ll bet they do, he literally had hundreds of shells in the bottom of his dugout canoe!!). This was music to my ears as this would help him more than money would. So I offered him a mask, snorkel and fins for the 3 shells and the nautilus – he said no, but once I suggested he try it all on, he was chuffed and threw in another big helmet shell and a smaller one too!! What a deal!

Sea World Resort is run by a Catholic Mission, and the on 15th they celebrated their 50th anniversary. 99% of the funds go straight back into the community.

17 August
Independence Day – no one could tell us how long they’d had their independence, but a reference mentioned that they got it just after the WWII. We’d heard there would be celebrations and parades etc so Ken and I headed along the main road to Maumere. Others had left earlier, but had not given us explicit directions, so we had no clue where they were! Anyway, off we went – it felt like it was 40 degrees in the shade… a local we passed enquired as to where we going, so we told him “Maumere” and then carried on walking. Not 10 minutes later he pulled up next to us on his motorbike and offered us a ride. In Indo it is customary to get as many as 4 people on a motorbike, but we’re talking about teeny tiny people – we’d definitely need 2 motorbikes. No problem! He simply stuck out his hand and the first motorbike headed back from Maumere stopped. Ken negotiated a price of 4000. Cool! Most of the ladies ride “side-saddle” style here, and since I had a skirt on – I had no option!! It was quite comfortable though.

We passed though a town (starts with a G) with a nice looking fresh produce market. Just before entering Maumere, my “driver” asked if he should drop us off at the market and I said that would be fine. Eventually we get there – we get off – Ken whips out the money, and this guy then demands 10 000 each!! Ken was furious to say the least – and the worst thing was we could not communicate properly with this guy!!! Soon about 10 locals pull up on motorbikes (we were just about surrounded!!) – I just thought, oh geez, it’s only 10 000 maybe we should just pay them and get on with it – but it was the principle, he had lied by saying that we wanted to go to that town that started with a G… so why then did he keep on going to Maumere?! He was lying through his teeth. Anyway, as luck would have it, another bike pulled up and off hops an English speaking local called Wilfred! There is a God! In the end those guys were really mad and wanted to leave without taking any money whatsoever – I insisted that Ken try again and they eventually did take it, and then sped off. Can’t really say there was a lesson learned as we said Maumere and so did he – but we did then find out the going rate on a bike was 10 000.

Wilfred offered to show us around the market, which wasn’t really that exciting, but rather nerve-wracking at times! You know how you sometimes read about tourists getting conveniently picked up by English speaking locals, and then they are robbed or held hostage or worse? Well, it felt like this for me… there were some parts of the market that were very dark alleyways – and Wilfred was often on the phone as well which nearly freaked me out (my suspicious mind concocting all sorts of terrible scenarious!!) – there I was silently cursing for not bringing my small pepper spray canister with! This is a very gentle nation, but you just never know. Thankfully it turned out well and I don’t think Wilfred could hurt a fly, he was just delightful! We’d missed the parades etc – and since it was a holiday, all the other shops were closed. After about 40 minutes we decided to head back to Sea World – Wilfred arranged a bike and off we went.

We had a very enjoyable buffet dinner that evening with 12 yachties… tables were put out on the beach in front of the bar/serving area – and a local string band entertained us – as well as local performers doing some traditional dances as well as bamboo dancing.

18th August
We were woken up at 6:30am with the first of the boat boys shouting “hello missus”… I could have throttled him, but chose to ignore him instead! He eventually went to bother someone else who made the mistake of opening a hatch (that way they know you’re awake!).

The morning got better once we arrived at the ikat weaving village of Watublapi. This Catholic mission village is located in the hills, about 23km from Maumere. The very windy and sometimes steep road left much to be desired, but at least it was tarred! The ladies here run a very successful micro-corporation with income generated from their ikat weaving.

We were greeted by a lady splashing holy water on us to ward off any evil spirits, they danced either side of us as we walked down the steps to their “work area” which was covered by a thick canopy of leaves from surrounding trees. A tour guide was appointed to us as we did not come with one. He was such a nice guy and explained everything so well. They then put on a show for us – we saw the same traditional dances as we did the previous night, but this was so much better as these little ladies were absolutely adorable (blackened teeth and all!)… and the pictures were better as it was daytime! We all participated in the last dance and it was absolutely hilarious!

Their scarlet mouths and black teeth are stained by the constant chewing of the seed of the graceful betel nut palm tree. It is a mildly intoxicating stimulant that provides a nicotine-like or espresso-esque buzz and suppresses the appetite. It’s also carcinogenic – levels of mouth cancer are very high in societies that use this gear. Only the ladies did so in this village. Chewing betel is a symbol of adulthood, and the three parts that make up the mix that are chewed together have symbolic meaning. The green stalk of the sirih represents the male, the nut or pinang the female ovaries, and the kapor or lime is the sperm. It’s the lime that causes the the characteristic flood of red saliva. The flavour is apparently very bitter and its consistency very gritty… we were offered some, but declined graciously so as not to offend.

The guide then explained the fascinating process. The best ikat weaving is made with handspun thread and natural dyes which are made from bark, roots, leaves, etc. The most complex processed result in a reddish colour known as Kombu (using bark and roots from the Kombu tree). Blue dyes come from the indigo plant, yellow comes from turmeric.

Using their harvested cotton, they demonstrated the handspinning on the spindle (which is still the most remarkable thing ever!!). Ikat means “tie dye”, so what happens next is amazing. The weaver decides on a design and size of weaving; she then winds thread onto a frame and painstakingly, using what looked like pieces of strong dried grass (or a dye resistant fibre of sorts), ties each small piece of grass/fibre onto each relevant individual strand until her design is complete – once dyed, these tied bits will be white (this is incredible, as each colour is a separate process!). This stage requires great skill as the dyer has to work out, before the threads are woven, exactly which parts of the thread are to receive colour in order to create the pattern of the final cloth.

Once dried the thread is hung from the bamboo frame and “strengthened” with liquid from crushed cassava, rice or maize. The cloth is then woven on a simple back-strap loom. Motifs include animals, people and figurative totemic objects. The textiles are traditionally used for clothing, ornaments and ritual gift exchanges.

The technique for ikat was probably brought to Indonesia over 2000 years ago by migrants who were from southern China and Vietnam. Ikat styles vary according to the village and the gender of the weaver, and some styles are reserved for special purposes.

All their completed work was neatly folded and hung on a bamboo fence in 4 layers, each piece had the weavers name and the price. Making a choice was very difficult, and naturally you were expected to bargain! We decided on a gorgeous long table runner in rusty browns, blues and oranges that was going for 800 000 that we purchased for half the price! Weeks and weeks of work for $40 seemed like such a shame! But we were all happy!

Our driver brought us back via Maumere, we stopped at the bank and then at Roxy’s which is an upmarket supermarket. Exciting! Our first since Darwin! We were happy to find sliced bread, apples and oranges (which were imported – but still cheaper than what we paid for them in Australia). We had a very late lunch back at the resort and then spent some time on the internet trying to update the website.

We’d seen what we came for, so it was time to move on…. Keep your eyes peeled for the Komodo Dragons!!

Labuan Bajo

2009-08-20 to 2009-08-23

Distance from Sea World Resort: 154nm
GPS: S08.31.03 E119.51.87**
Duration of stay: 20-23 August

After doing some last minute internetting we upped anchor at around 8:15am and headed off NW in a light breeze of around 15 knots. The wind continued to be fairly iffy, however we managed to sail for a fair chunk of the day before having to submit to turning on the engine… which then stayed on until we arrived at the anchorage at around noon the following day!

We hooked a barracuda as well… but when we finally managed to get it in – something else had made a meal of it first! All that was on the line was its head and its tail which was attached by a piece of skin running along its back! Amazing!

The landscape of western Flores is just gorgeous… islands scattered all over the show, some just huge volcanic mounds – the mainland was very hilly. Parts of it reminded us very much of the Venezuela coastline.

We chose to anchor just off the Eco Lodge Resort instead of at the town itself, there’s plenty of room and the holding is good. Not 5 minutes after we anchored we were already being hassled by boat boys – this time they were in motorised longboats/pangas… offering us a rides into town for 150 000 a boat (clearly they were taking a chance as you could get a half day trip out to the islands for 60 000!). We eventually got rid of them and soon found out the local scoop from the yachts that had already spent a few days there. They’d paid 25 000 per couple (return).

Eight of us went in the following morning - I would not want to be on the panga when there is a swell running as it’s not too well balanced! There were a lot of big dive charter boats around and most of them were done up quite nicely. Interesting looking local outrigger fishing boats, and water taxi’s made up the rest of the contingent at anchor. Labuan Bajo is used as a jumping-off point for tourists (and yachties!) to travel to Komodo and Rinca to see the dragons – and of course to do some diving! Here the people are much less impressed to see fleet of yachts!

Town was not too exciting, but most provisions are available. Too many shops all selling the same stuff from China – but someone must buy it! There are also quite a few hair salons around run by he/she’s who actually did a pretty good job! There were too many restaurants to choose from of course, but the one that was the most enticing was The Corner, which offered free WIFI! A nice bit of civilisation in an otherwise dusty town…. except when the mechanics at the motorbike repair shop right across the street were revving engines – and if you’re lucky they’ll be competing with the call to prayer! Over a long lunch I managed to update the website, so I was absolutely thrilled!

22 August 2009
Saturday morning saw us up bright and early – a panga was apparently arranged by someone at 7am to take about 14 of us to the fresh market… but 7 came and went, but luckily Ron (Miss Jody) had the number of another panga, and Roy was there within 20 minutes and then came back for the other lot. When arranging pangas, one needs to make sure the driver/owner is saying (and possibly nodding!) at the amount you are offering, not just you telling him what you are prepared to pay!! Of course he was not going to pick us up if he didn’t agree!!!

We now had to catch a bemo (tiny mini-bus) to the market. One of the guys told me to say pasar Kheru and to pay 3000 (which is what the locals pay, not 5000) – it was so funny, I sounded like a pro – and the very Eastern looking young man behind the wheel laughed and shook his head when I said 3000, and he could see I meant it! There were 10 us so he couldn’t really complain now could he! Why is it necessary to always want to rip off the gringo’s?! The market was buzzing with people and there weren’t too many strange things on offer – however we didn’t venture round to the fish market! Within 45 minutes we had everything we wanted and had fun haggling about prices (which is what you are expected to do!). I’d bought some unidentifiable green leaves and papaya flowers that we’d eaten before, but I needed clarification on how to prepare it. It was unbelievably hot and we could not wait to head back… our bemo driver was still waiting for us! How nice of him!

Back in town, four of us hopped off near the bank as there was a shop selling imported apples, oranges, pears and grapes – we’d bought the same apples and oranges at Roxy Supermarket in Maumere and they were delicious – so we stocked up again as they were not expensive. Yes I hear you saying “but you’ve just been to the market!”, believe me the selection of fruit is very limited to bananas, papayas (not in abundance), very few green mangoes and pineapples, and soursop (we bought one to try). Joanne (Miss Jody) was thrilled to have found a case of Diet Coke here… we were still on the hunt for Coke Zero, but were not bordering on desperate just yet.

We lugged our heavy bags back down the dusty main drag to The Corner café and ordered the coldest drinks they had on offer! We also enjoyed another seriously cheap but delicious lunch and made good use of the free WIFI to finalise our website as we were headed off to explore the Rinca/Komodo area the following day. Ron, Ken and couple of others all headed off (on a voyage of discovery as it turned out!) to find the Komodo National Park office to purchase a 6 day pass! What a fiasco – but eventually they found the office….

We upped anchor at 9am and so began our next adventure in the islands of Rinca and Komodo…

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!

Rinca and Komodo

2009-08-23 to 2009-09-02

23 August – 2 September 2009

Distance from Labuan Bajo: 37nm
GPS: S08.47.17 E119.40.22**
Duration of stay: 23-26 August

These fairly isolated islands are surrounded by some of the most tempestuous waters in Indonesia, fraught with very strong currents, riptides, and whirlpools. Bearing this in mind, we decided that since we had a few hours to kill before the next tide change, we anchored off one of the reefs behind a very steep outcrop and had a pleasant snorkel before attempting to head south through the Linteh Channel (between Flores and Rinca). We hung back a while longer after Ron called to say they had over 4 knots against them and were going to wait a while longer. Within 45 minutes we were both headed south with 1- 1.5 knots with us… we could not chance waiting any longer as we still had around 20nm to do before sunset. Some boats reported 6 knots of positive current!!

Not having a wind instrument makes for both interesting and frustrating times! We had the genoa out and were close hauled (wind from the front of the boat) – and we knew there was brisk breeze (which we later found out was 30 knots!!!) – it was no wonder I got a bit panic stricken! Anyway we thought it sensible to have the staysail out instead, and it made for a much more comfortable ride.

We rounded the southern tip of the island and entered the horseshoe-shaped channel between Rinca and the small island of Nusa Kode. The scenery was simply spectacular – very hilly and desolate. Ahead there was a big dive charter boat on a buoy in one of the bays that looked slightly more protected than any of the others, so we both dropped anchor about 45 minutes before sunset… and there on the beach were two Komodo Dragons! Within 10 minutes we were in Ron’s dinghy and on the beach taking photos of them! Another face only a mother could love!

Despite being the worlds’ largest monitor lizard, the dragons are a docile bunch for the most part, but could snap your leg as fast as they’d a goat’s throat. There were rumours of these awesome creatures long before their existence was confirmed in the West. Fishermen and pearl divers working in the area had brought back tales of ferocious lizards with enormous claws, fearsome teeth and fiery yellow tongues.

All monitors have the same thing in common: tapered head, ear openings are visible, long and slender neck, eyes have eyelids and round pupils, and the jaws are powerful. But the dragons have massive bodies, very powerful legs (each with five-clawed toes) and long, thick tails (which is not only used as a rudder, but also for grasping, and as a potent weapon). The body is covered in small, non-overlapping scales – some are spiny, others raised and bony.

The dragons’ legs allow them to sprint short distances, lifting their tails as they run. They are dangerous if driven into a corner and will then attack even a much larger opponent. Komodo’s often rise up on their hind legs just before attacking. Their best weapons are their sharp teeth and dagger-sharp claws, which can inflict serious wounds.

Komodo’s have a very keen sense of smell. All monitors feed on other animals – small ones on insects, larger ones on frogs and birds, deer, wild pig and water buffalo. Komodo’s are able to expand their mouth cavity considerably, enabling them to swallow prey as large as a goat. To tackle even bigger prey, they ambush their victim, bite it and wait for the bacteria contained in their mouths, to take effect – waiting around for up to 2 weeks for a buffalo to die, before tucking in. Mature dragons are also cannibalistic, and small dragons live up in trees for the first 5 years of their life, not moving to ground level until they are 1m in length.

The komodo also lays the largest eggs – around 90mm long and weighing around 200g. The female lays up to 30 eggs at a time and often buries them in the wall of a dry river. She protects her cache for 3 months – incubation period is 9 months.

There are roughly 1300 dragons on Komodo, and 1100 on Rinca. And their numbers are not decreasing in any way. Komodo’s are apparently not relics of the dinosaur age. Why they exist only on and around the Komodo/Rinca area is still a mystery…

24 & 25 August
We went over to the big dive charter boat called Seven Seas and the “cruise director” welcomed us on board and they were very hospitable indeed. He is apparently a well known photo-journalist called Burt (didn’t catch the surname) – anyway he and his wife have written numerous books on the area, including the Solomons and Papua New Guinea. Many of their books were in the “library” on board – and there was just a tinge of self-importance hovering constantly in the air! Anyway we had to leave rather suddenly as the gusts picked up considerably and we were on a lee shore.

The Komodo/Rinca area is reported to offer some of the most amazing diving in Indonesia. However the area is swept by strong currents and cold upswellings - conditions which bring a rich soup of plankton and an astonishing diversity of marine life to a lot of the areas. Over the next 2 days we focussed on hitting the water twice a day during slack tide: we snorkelled on the world famous pinnacle called Cannibal Rock, then up near the channel entrance, as well as along the beach to the west of us… and it was pretty awesome to say the least – better than Wakatobi in some respects – just looking back on my photographs, southern Rinca was a lot more colourful (corals that is).

One surprising fact was that the temperature was rather different from “up north” (a mere 30nm away!!) and the water was freezing! We each wore two 2mm wetsuits, as well as 2 insulating tops, gloves and our hoodies! What a blessing those hoodies were – and what a bargain as I bought them at a factory outlet complex near the airport in Brisbane for a mere $10’s each!! The water was slightly murky because of the plankton, but still clear enough to take awesome pics!!

Distance from Loh Dasami: 16nm
Buoy: S08.44.57 E119.27.46**
Duration of stay: 26-27 August

After walking on just about every beach and snorkelling on all the hotspots it was time to move on… we headed west to southern Komodo. Our intentions were to try and find the manta rays, which were reported to frequent the southern most bay on Komodo island. This area forms part of their migratory route from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea. This bay however was really only suitable as a day stop as there was no protection, so we opted to spend the day at Lehok Sera instead, and then head down to that bay early the following morning.
After picking up the huge mooring, Miss Jody gratefully rafted up alongside us, and within 30 minutes we zoomed off in the dinghy for a snorkel (choosing to drift with the dinghy). It turned out to be a nice session, but not as amazing as Loh Dasami. We did however see 4 black tip sharks and one appeared to be a little too inquisitive for my liking!! That assumption coupled with the fact that the current had picked up dramatically had me in the dinghy without even blinking!!

On our way back Ken and I stopped off at some of the small beaches to look for shells… I must admit our luck is improving and my Indo collection is starting to take shape!

Anchored in bay at Southern Rinca – near Manta Alley
Distance from Lehok Sera: roughly 6nm
S08.43.95 E119.25.07**

Joanne invited us over for waffles at 7am… I took along a can of strawberries which were surprisingly good! (Especially since you don’t know when you are ever going to see them again!!). Anyway, we were VERY excited about getting a move on and hopefully being able to swim with the mantas! Ken and I had seen a manta once before in French Polynesia – but it would be great to see more than one. It appeared to be old hat for Ron and Joanne, but exciting nonetheless!

There was a big dive charter boat on the mooring buoy, but we anchored in front of the beach in about 13 meters of water. The mantas were about and some were under Miss Jody! I could not get my wetsuit on fast enough! We zoomed off and tried to find them (which was not an easy task to the untrained eye!!)… we finally spotted a fin and swam closer, but the water was so murky we could only see the manta once it was a mere meter away from us! It must’ve had a wingspan of about 2.5m – 3m wide. As this giant creature approached with its mouth wide open guzzling plankton - I was so excited I just about forgot how to use the camera!! Oh they are just such amazingly graceful creatures… we saw the same one twice and then it vanished… unfortunately we could not find any more – I think perhaps we had arrived too late, but still feel so fortunate at seeing only one!

En route north to the island of Padar we caught a huge Wahoo! Oh my goodness, we were really having a cracker of a day! And it was only noon!!

We dropped anchor at a small island about 4nm before Padar thinking it might be alright to spend the night, but within minutes the wind changed (must’ve been due to the land mass) and put us on a lee shore. We did however drop the dinghy and scout out the two tiny beaches… and managed to find 2 more gorgeous shells to add to the collection!

Distance from manta ray bay: 9.7nm
S08.39.68 E119.32.63**
27-29 August

Well the day just got better and better… the bay we anchored in at Padar was gorgeous to say the least – miles of long light pink sandy beaches (light pink because of the infusion of ground down red coral)… Joanne and Ron were already doing the rounds on the beaches in the bay, so we chose a beach which was located more on the windward side of the island and hit the shell jackpot! I could not believe it – we’d collected at least 30 shells, all in excellent condition! I don’t think anyone had been on that beach in ages. Anyway, we then went to one further on and it too proved to be worth the dinghy ride!

We rounded off our brilliant day by inviting Joanne and Ron, as well as Juliet and David on Reflections for a fish BBQ. They had just arrived - actually they were headed to another bay, but we saw them in the distance, so I called them when we got back after shelling, and told them how gorgeous it was where we were – and they changed their plans! We had a great evening!

We snorkelled in the channel between some islands the following day, but it was okay – still not as great as down south!

We motored the 5nm to where we thought the ranger station was located but there was nothing there! We then anchored just off Komodo Village which was a nightmare because anyone who had anything that could float was paddling out to sell us pearls and dragons carved from wood - or just simply asking for things, but in a rather demanding way (which is really annoying). I stayed on board – so I had to tactfully get rid of them all. Ken and Ron were bombarded by kids the minute they stepped ashore – they were demanding pens and books. Luckily we did not stay long and were directed round the corner of the next bay.

This time there was no begging of any kind – only the taking of more money in the form of hundreds of thousands! Always sounds so shocking. A brief one hour tour was included in the fee, and since we’d now paid this 3 times, we figured we’d do it. The four of us set off into the very dry bush with a very pleasant young man who was our guide – his English was excellent so we could fire away with questions! We saw a HUGE dragon near the water hole, but he shot off at an alarming pace when we approached. There were a lot of deer about too. We saw a few pretty birds as well as a great big spider and before we knew it we’d reached the “curio sellers hut”... here the trick is NOT to touch anything or show even the slightest interest otherwise they just don’t let up. One even followed us back to the dinghy as Joanne has shown very vague interest in some manta ray pendant.

S08.29.49 E119.33.01
29-30 August

We left the Ranger Station at around 1:30pm and headed out the bay and then up the north coast of Komodo. There were 2 moorings, but we chose to anchor instead. The bay offered good protection and many of the charter boats also spent the night here. We snorkelled in the channel the following morning and it was nice, but not as fantastic as it was down south.

S08.26.74 E119.34.03
31 August – 2 September

Another lovely spot, but as far as a gorgeous setting goes, Padar wins hands down! We were the 10th yacht in the anchorage… the day before 5 had left! This is a bit much for us as we prefer to be on our own or have maybe 2 others around… but some prefer to travel in huge packs – each to their own!

About an hour after we anchored we zoomed off in the dinghy to snorkel in channel between Gili Lawa Laut and Gili Lawa Darat…. and it was amazing to see huge pelagic fish again, and the water was unbelievably clear!! There was even a rather big white tip shark lurking about. It was quite funny because the current was running at a fair pace and all the fish were just about stationery, facing into the current – some with their mouths open…. Hundreds of them! Never seen anything like that before.

We all enjoyed a mellow sundowners session on shore that afternoon – it was nice to catch up with people we’d not seen in about 3 weeks!

The following day we headed to the northern side of Gili Lawa Laut and had a snorkel around there… the water again was amazingly clear – and amongst seeing 4 huge grouper, we also saw another white tip shark as well as a MASSIVE giant trevally (besides the maori wrasse we saw in Lizard Island, this was the next biggest fish we’ve ever seen). We then dinghied right along the northern side to the NE corner – had a walk on the beach and then snorkelled / drifted with the dinghy all the way back… the variety of both corals and fish was again just wonderful. I was lucky enough to spot a false clown anemonefish! We’ve still yet to spot the real mackoy: the clown anemonefish aka Nemo!

2 September
Visa renewals have been the hot topic of conversation for past month… but we all knew that statements made by officials can change as the wind blows. Out of the 135 boats that left with the rally from Darwin, only 35 went all the north to Bitung – the rest of us have basically just been doing our own thing.

After doing a lot of research, I had “a plan” and it did not include spending 15 days (including travel time) up in Bitung just waiting for Independence Day so that we could sail past along with a flotilla of other vessels and wave to the President!!). Going north would’ve added an extra 1200nm to the rally route! We wanted to spend quality time at a few of the top dive spots, ie Wakatobi, and southern Rinca/Komodo area. In hindsight we are thrilled with our decision…

So back to the visa situation – because so many boats were so far ahead of the rally schedule, it was arranged that Raymond (part of Sail Indo) would come and collect our passports in Labuan Bajo on 3 September – this suited us perfectly as we were still in the area. Then he’d said that instead of getting the usual 30 days, we’d be getting 60 days and the cost would be around $50 per person. 2 days before his arrival in LB we heard that he would not be coming, but that he’d be sending the Lombok rally host’s wife instead! Could she be trusted with 70 passports?! Not long after we heard that we’d no longer be getting 60 days, but the standard 30 days… and that the cost would be the usual $25!! Who was going to pocket the other $25 anyway?! The current is when and where exactly do we go to get our passports back? Word on the street is that the rally committee are desperate to make it work, and that they are saying the passports will only be available at the official rally stop in Mataram, Lombok on 24-28 September!! This of course is ridiculous, as most people will already be in Bali by then as it’s apparently an amazing island to explore and that one needs at least 2 weeks there – not 4 or 5 days - the official stop being 31 September – 4 October. So it’s was slight fiasco – and some are getting their knickers in a complete knot… but we’re just going with the flow.

At this moment we are headed back to Labuan Bajo to hand our passports in….

The current plan is to spend another few days in Komodo before heading off to Lombok – an island with a strong Balinese influence where we’ll see their famous woven boxes, monkeys that are better pickpockets than street urchins, beautiful temples and the dreaded sacred eels that eat eggs!! Roll on Lombok…

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!


2009-09-06 to 2009-09-12

Distance from Labuan Bajo: 201nm
GPS: S08.21.67 E116.07.76**
Duration of stay: 6-12 September 2009

With our passports firmly clasped in someone else’s hands, we left Labuan Bajo and spent the night at Sabojar Besar. Here Ken was finally able to source the problem of we’d been having with the VHF radio, a dodgy connection – so now we could hear everyone again! The following day we headed 25nm NW to the island of Banta, here too we only stayed the night as we were eager to get to Lombok. The little boat gremlins seemed to have somehow been awakened, and just before getting into bed we heard a strange grinding noise coming from the freezer motor. This really is the last problem anyone needs!! So Ken got up really early the following morning and by 9am it sounded noticeably better… but still worrying as the motor is only 15 months old!!

By 9:30 we’d set off and within 3 hours we’d passed the lone volcano island of Gunung Sangean, and were sailing in the company of 6 others: Miss Jody, Neptune II, Zarpas, Thira, Reflections, and Saildance II (62ft oyster). We were flying along and eventually we were a mere 3nm from Saildance II (who then appeared to turn on their engine, which enabled them to stay in the lead!). Not that it was a race. Anyway – we were having a great time out there – particularly when I spotted a lot of activity in the water off our port side… a feeding frenzy encouraged huge tuna and wahoo to hurl themselves in the air (thereby surprising their prey)… and this lot were headed straight for Miss Jody! Ken called to ask if they had fishing lines out (they didn’t – but soon did!!!) – Joanne had a hit seconds after she paid out the line! The yellow fin tuna was so big they could not bring it on board with a gaff, they had to lasso its tail and haul it in that way!! They roughly cut off 33 pounds of meat – the head weighed 30 pounds, and the rest of the off-cuts weighed around 20 pounds… so it was a heck of good size!!

The overnight trip to Lombok was fairly uneventful… wind on the nose, counter current, and fairly confused seas crossing the straight between Sumbawa and Lombok were par for the course.

The scenery along the north coast was dramatic. There were volcanoes, both active and dormant, quite near the coast and the land form was rugged with steep slopes and lots of lava rock areas. Habitation was mainly along the fringing narrow plain where small villages were common. Lombok has the second highest mountains in Indonesia.

Medana Bay Marina
Well it’s not a marina as such – essentially it’s just a secure anchorage, which however does not provide protection from the west, but you can’t have it all! The development will apparently be complete in 2010. There were two lots of mooring buoys scattered about, but these were either in much shallower water near the shore, and the second lot were (stupidly) laid out to the one side of the anchorage, but literally right on top of the coral reef (!!) so there would not even be enough depth for a catamaran! Apparently it was not the owners of this place who’d laid them, it was some government agency who clearly knew nothing about yachts! Anyway – the anchorage turned out to be great as the holding was good, but more importantly – there were no boat boys trying to sell you pearls and dragons and diesel!!!

The dinghy dock was the best we’d seen in Indo to date – ashore, there was no office, just a structure resembling a massive gazebo, so at least there was shade from the baking sun. Inside were tables and chairs where one could enjoy a local breakfast for $1.50 (fruit and toast). Ace (pronounced Atche) and Alla are two of the four owners and were absolute gems to say the least. They just about bent over backwards to accommodate our needs – and were particularly excited about hosting the rally on 24 September.

7 September 2009
The day after we’d arrived we headed off to scout out Lombok’s capital city, Mataram. Joanne and Ron joined us on the drive in which turned out to be pretty fascinating - we could not believe what a productive nation lived on the island! Everyone had something to do and no one was simply sitting around wasting time! Mataram is actually a conglomeration of several towns, although not unattractive – but as sights are thin on the ground, many tourists don’t even bother coming here. Tourists head to Lombok for the awesome surfing and beautiful beaches!

We headed off the one of the local shopping malls and certainly did elicit some stares… you’d think they’d be used to gringo’s by now! Anyway, since it was Ramadhan most of the eating establishments were closed, except for Mac Donald’s (!!) where we enjoyed a (consistently delicious) burger and fries for a pittance! We rounded the meal off with an extremely delicious Mac Flurry (for the uninitiated: ice cream and M&M’s – outstanding!). What a treat! Apart from the food, we found the $1 DVD store which sells good quality pirated copies of movies (past, present and future releases : seen by us before you even know it’s at the cinema!). These third world countries are a hoot!! The supermarket was a nice treat too – well stocked and boasting western branded goods! Wow! We don’t take anything for granted – and are easy to please… give us a good supermarket any day!

We also eventually found the Craft Market, which turned out to be fantastic! All local crafts housed in one complex… granted, there were many people selling the same things – all wanting you to buy a souvenir, but we got off lightly. Joanne fell in love with too many baskets and sarongs, and Ron found his wooden mask at last.

Our driver drove us back via the scenic route (along the coastline), and we soon come to the realisation that we’d never ever seen so many little fishing boats before in our lives… literally hundreds of the lined up on beach after beach. Amazing.

8 September 2009
What’s a visit to Lombok without a full day island tour! We left at 7:30am and headed off in the direction of Mataram, the road wound up and up into the forest and what did we see next to the road? Monkeys!! And they were adorable!! Luckily we’d bought two hands of bananas – one for us and the other for them! I was not too fussed about feeding them… I just wanted great photos!! Another troop came along and our lot were pretty aggressive about getting rid of them! The males were rather annoying too – stealing bananas from the teeny tiny baby monkeys, but I would not argue with a creature boasting a set of fangs like they had!

Our next stop was at a two temples – pretty boring I might add. The temples were not in good condition at all, which for us is very off-putting. It was not even 9am and it was already hot as hell – so I was quite happy to get back to the airconditioned van!!

En route to the basket weaving village of Karan Bijang we stopped at a never-been-seen-before (by any of us!) “fish farm” – photos are self explanatory. Islands like these are also not exposed to modern machinery like stone crushers for example, and what we saw next was jaw-dropping. Using a truck’s inner tubes (with net underneath) sand was physically dredged from somewhere down the river, then physically offloaded into big containers which were then hauled up onto someone’s head! This person then had to climb up steep steps and finally add the sand to the already growing heap on the ground next to the road – again this was for resale. The weight of that sand must’ve been astonishing! Some people were even wearing soccer balls that had been cut open to provide some protection. Further on the road others, including some very old stick thin ladies and men, were on their haunches pounding big stones with a hammer!!!! I kid you not!!! Next to them were huge piles of the “crushed” stone, ready to sell. Simply unbelievable to say the least.

After driving for what seemed like an age, the weaving village turned out be no great shakes – actually they had some seriously impressive baskets that just about towered over us! Don’t know who was ever going to try and get them sent home!!! Joanne was keen on a few things, but they drove a hard bargain and did not want to drop much in price. Reluctantly she caved in! I was glad that we’d been to the craft market the day before as they had much nicer fruit bowls (and did well with the bargaining!).

As always, the textile weaving is fascinating. Such intricate work – it’s still totally unbelievable how those women manage such complication designs using thread that is finer than sewing machine thread!! We were taken around the village in Sukarara where we saw individual weavers at work at their homes. Girls start as young as ten, and will then most likely be weavers for their entire lives – it’s by no means slavery, they truly do love it, and young and old are very proud of their work. We bought a gorgeous long tablecloth, and a beautiful bright blue strip of songket (weaving with a silver or gold thread). Can’t wait to live in a house so that we can display our treasures!!!!

The island is extremely lush and if it’s not rice paddies – it’s peanut plantations! If a valley or gorge ends in a small flat area of coastal land this will be converted to rice paddies which is cooperatively worked and shared by that village.

The pottery “factory” we went to was not what any of us had in mind – here the pots were thrown and made using a wheel. They were huge and we wondered where exactly the wheel was as we only saw a very small pedal operated one (and no one was doing a demo!). The ladies sitting around were doing some basket weaving (adding this technique to the pottery bowls and platters). Here I was roped in and they would not take no for an answer! Another lady was making ashtrays on a tiny wheel – and Ken became the “volunteer”! Their products were not our cup of tea as we were expecting the famous “coil pottery” where they roll long coils of clay and carefully make bowls and pots etc.

By this stage we were starving as it was almost 2pm. En route to a local eatery in Mataram, we were still amazed at the productivity on the island – we passed huge mounds of freshly fired bricks and roof tiles – coconut husks used for fuelling the fire. Nothing went to waste.

After lunch we drove to the village where the woodcarvers were located. This too was not really up our alley as a lot of it was big bulky gaudy furniture.

Our last stop was at the local market in Mataram… “end of the day smells” assaulting our senses! Mmmm chicken anyone? It’s been lying out in the sun all day, but it’s still fresh apparently. We were able to find firm green peppers, corn on the cob, and nice lettuce! Weren’t we lucky!!

From here we took the “scenic route” back to Medana Bay. It seemed to take forever (probably because we were pretty tired!) – and we eventually arrived at 6:30pm. It was a long day, but worth the effort!

9-11 September 2009
Ken organised our diesel and we left for the very touristy island of Gili Air the following morning. Our friends Lucie and Roger (Catimini) had been there a few days already, so it was going to be a good catching up session as we had not seen them since we all cleared into Indonesia in Saumlaki.

The Gili’s are located just off the north-western coast of Lombok and the trio of tiny coral-fringed islands, each with white sandy beaches are a vision of tropical paradise. For years the islands of Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan were a budget-priced stopover for travellers, but nowadays accommodation options have diversified and there are luxury villas and chic bungalows dotted between the thatch huts to choose from as well.

Delightfully, the islands are totally free of cars and motorcycles – and are home to bicycles and cute tinkling horse drawn carts called cidomo’s.

Two days was quite enough for us, as we are not really people to laze around in the sun – or laze around day after day on “daybeds” people-watching whilst sipping drinks. We were itching to get to Bali instead as my birthday was approaching and I was hoping to be in Ubud by then.

12 September 2009
We left Gili Air at around 7am for the trip south-west to Serangan, Bali. With a predominantly south setting current in the Lombok Strait heading to South Bali was a good fast trip, but coming back north was going to be another story! About 20nm from Serangan we experienced the gentle roller-coaster ride over the huge Indian Ocean rollers – bad weather had brought the huge swell which was supposed to ease off on Monday…. great for surfing though! The current was something else – on approaching Serangan, we headed into wind to drop the main sail and we could not believe how far south the current had pushed us within 15 minutes!

Distance from Lombok: 58nm
GPS: S08.43.08 E115.14.48

We picked up a mooring buoy at around 2pm… Serangan was nothing like we expected really – actually we’re never sure what to expect! Anyway, after hearing so much about Bali and just how amazing it was, all that mattered was that we were finally here and that time was on our side!

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!

Bali at last!

2009-09-12 to 2009-09-24

GPS: S08.43.08 E115.14.48**
Distance from Gili Air, Lombok: 43nm
Duration of stay: 12-24 September 2009

If it hadn’t been for my very basic skills in Bahasa enabling me to read signs and say “good morning, how much?” – I would’ve thought I was in a different country! Bali was so not like the rest of Indonesia! And boy were we glad that we didn’t start off there…

The tourism boom which started in the 1970’s brought many changes and helped pay for roads, infrastructure, education and health. Like most countries, Bali was also affected by global politics and the country took a big knock in tourism after the tragic Bali bombings in Kuta in 2002. No sooner had the island recovered when more bombs went off in 2005. The Balinese are a very resilient culture and are extremely thankful that the country is currently seeing more holiday makers than ever before. It really is an ideal holiday destination as it has a lot to offer, and most important of all – it’s cheap!

We went to Kuta the day after we’d arrived and besides being assaulted by hundreds of hawkers selling the same things, albeit not pushy at all - we were visually assaulted by all the holiday makers – the bars, restaurants and shops were heaving! Kuta sports gorgeous beaches and attracts surfers from all over the world… however the southern Bukit Peninsula is a good alternative as it also offers world class surfing and life at a slower pace.

We were surprised to find a Marks and Spencer, Dorothy Perkins and a Top Shop – all names we are familiar with in England, however the items came with hefty price tags – but they had “normal” clothing sizes, so Juliet was in heaven!! And everywhere you went the locals always had smile on their faces and a pleasant greeting.

On Monday, 14th, we’d hired a car with David and Juliet to do some exploring en route to the cultural centre, Ubud, where we intended to stay for a few days.

15 September 2009
I was very keen to celebrate my birthday in Ubud – and our timing worked out well. All packed, we’d set off around 8am – good road map in one hand and the Lonely Planet in the other. We didn’t bother with hiring a driver, Ken managed quite fine (it’s really no different to driving in any big city).

Our route took us via the famous “art route” which was a string of villages along the main road from just north of Denpasar to Ubud, each specialising in a particular craft, for example there were silver and goldsmiths, mask and puppet makers, weavers, kite makers, toy and rocking horse makers, stone carvers, wood carvers, furniture makers, etc – it was unbelievable that one nation was bursting with such artistic talent. The handicrafts were some of the best we’d ever seen and the finished quality of goods were very good too. This was a problem we’d come across since the entering the Pacific, was that nothing was finished off well. Surprisingly, we’d seen items in stores around the world and now knew where they came from!! If you were setting up a home and loved the “Balinese style” it would pay you to fill up a container and send it home.

Juliet and I, both lovers of silver, had heard so much about “Bali silver” that we could not wait to get to Celuk, the jewellery making centre. Well, after visiting at least ten showrooms - and having not found anything that really grabbed us - disappointment set in!! Unusual, chunky, and modern, were not really part of the local Balinese jewellery makers vocabulary. Juliet settled for a bangle, but I wanted to see what Ubud had to offer. The famous little Bali Bells were cute, but we were soon over them. I must admit that their filigree work was out of this world!!

In one village we stumbled across a showroom filled to capacity with the most magnificent wood carvings we’d ever seen. The detail and quality were just unbelievable. The grounds that housed the showroom were equally impressive and boasted beautifully manicured gardens; wooden cages hanging from trees housing exotic birds; and very ornately decorated buildings where Hindu wedding ceremonies were performed.

We’d also come across a glass home décor manufacturer, and saw them at work in their back yard! On sale were huge vases of every shape and size, ornaments, tables, crockery, fruit bowls and more. Very impressive.

The mask maker was my favourite stop – they all seemed to work from home which made total sense of course. Their entire “lounge area” was mask after mask, some up so high that you could not even see them properly. Balinese masks tended to be more realistic than those found in Java. Her entire family were mask makers, and they also made and hired out masks used in the many Balinese dances.

This place was nothing at all like we expected and was definitely the other half of Bali’s duopoly, however the focus in Ubud was on culture in its myriad of forms. As we crept along the one-way system which led into the main road called Monkey Forest Road we were amazed at all the arty shops, galleries, restaurants, spa’s, and places to stay which lined either side of the road. Was 3 days going to be long enough?

Our accommodation was a good find, we’d not booked anything and whilst the guys sat and had a cold Bintang, Juliet and I simply walked up the road going from one to the other – ideally we wanted 2 rooms at the same place. We stuck gold at the Ibunda Resort and Spa. Sounds very swish I know, but it’s nothing like the picture you are forming in your mind!! Nestled in lush gardens on a narrow but long rectangular property, were five free-standing double storey buildings totalling ten double rooms, prices included breakfast were very reasonable at US$35 per night with a/c, US$30 without a/c… and no traffic noise! Sorry no steam baths and Jacuzzis either, but there was a swimming pool!!

Balinese Dancing
We saw our first dance performance, the Rayamana Ballet, at the Ubud Palace that first evening – and we were blown away! It was amazing!! Balinese dancing is a visual and sensory explosion of colour and sound. It tends to be precise, shifting and jerky, like the accompanying music of the gamelan, which has abrupt shifts of tempo and dramatic changes between silence and crashing noise. The gamelan is an ancient musical instrument that is used at the dances and at special performances. It has a very unique (slightly high pitched) sound and it’s heard all over Bali, even in the supermarkets!

There’s virtually no physical contact in the dancing – each dancer moves independently, but every move of the wrist, hand and finger is important. Even facial expressions are carefully choreographed to convey the character of the dance. The storyline is very much the same throughout : the fight between good and evil. The dances are a blend of serious and slapstick. The masks are amazing and the characters range from witches to frogs, monkeys to old men and dragons - and then there’s the famous half-shaggy-dog-half-lion, which is a two-man costume. We got to see this Barong dance in Batubulan en our way back to Serangan.

Some dances have been performed for generations and others are fairly new. The Kecak was developed in the 1930’s. One of the most visually stunning, it is performed by a large troupe of men who keep a rhythmic and spell-binding chorus of “chak-a-chak-a-chak” (where the dance gets its name from). Throughout the Kecak the circle of men about 8 or 9 deep, all bare-chested and wearing checked cloth around their waists provide a non-stop accompaniment. Arm, hand, body and fluttering finger movements are so fluid the 150 men move as one! Incredible!

If someone was to ask what I remembered most about Bali, it would have to be those beautifully dressed female dancers with their heavily made up faces, and the facial expressions which exaggerated the whites of their eyes. And the hands – it was all in the subtle hand movements!

We also visited very interesting art museums… and then there were the temples (called pura, which means surrounded by a wall). We stopped at a few and before entering, we were required to hire a strip of yellow material (which was tied around our waists) – this was to show respect. The statues at the entrances were usually all wrapped in black and white checked material (which looked like tablecloths!) apparently this was to appease the good and bad spirits. The temples are literally everywhere, and each village has at least 3! Not to mention all the shrines which are often located next to rice paddies or alongside sacred old trees, or overlooking dangerous road intersections. Many of these were also wrapped in cloth and some donned umbrellas. Mmmm too hot to handle all the offerings? Jokes aside, apparently when a wish is granted, the worshipper then places an umbrella down as a gesture of gratitude. And soon we were all temple’d out...
Although I must admit I had a secret passion for taking photos of the very intricately carved plain concrete dragons, monkeys and lions that usually adorned the corners of the roofs and entrances. Even though Bali is an extremely colourful nation, the plain-ness of this concrete was just as powerful an image.

Downhill Bicycle Tour
What is a trip to Ubud without doing a 35km bicycle tour?! At least 25kms of which were downhill, the other 10km of uphill were optional! David, Ken and I set off at 8am with about 10 other holiday makers.

Whilst we made our way north, our guide (who was amazingly informative and an absolute pleasure) filled us in on his childhood. As is tradition, the youngest boy is expected to look after his parents. At a very young age he was working the rice paddies, but the family were living from hand to mouth. Being pretty intelligent, he knew this was not his destiny, so as teenage boy he went to live with his aunt and cousins in Java, however whilst there, and again being the youngest, he had the responsibility of dealing with the household chores both before and after each school day. He ended up at college doing a course in tourism, and then became an English teacher – finally returning to his family in Bali. His earnings as a tour guide are so good that his parents don’t work the rice paddies anymore. Their daily toiling in the sun and rain in those paddies would bring them mere $40 after 4 months of hard labour!!!! He has now encouraged his wife to also become and English teacher.

The drive north to the town of Penelokan took us through lush areas of striking greenness and beautifully terraced rice fields quietly being worked by hand and the Japanese plough : oxen. On arrival we were afforded magnificent views of the crater lake Bratan, here we enjoyed a local buffet breakfast of savoury rice, pancakes or fruit, fruit and more fruit.

We hopped back in the van and headed down to see a coffee plantation, which was also home to a very interesting herb and spice garden. Commonly thought of as a bean, coffee is actually a fruit pit or berry! Around 2000 berries are needed to make one pound of coffee. Indo is the fourth largest producer of coffee after Brazil, Colombia and Vietnam. After seeing the rural coffee-making process we were given the opportunity to taste the various coffees and teas that were produced, eg lemongrass tea, ginger tea, ginseng coffee, cocoa, as well as try and distinguish the difference in flavour between the male and female coffee bean coffee.

We also had the opportunity to taste the most expensive coffee in the world: Civet Coffee / Luwak Coffee. The local palm civet, a cat-like animal with a long snout, gorges itself on coffee berries and passes the inner pit through its digestive tract unharmed. Along the way the pits are affected by the animal’s stomach enzymes and come out the other end smelling of rich coffee. Seriously! It has an appetizing name of “cat poop coffee” and fetches around US$300 a pound! We gave this taste test a miss.

From here we drove a short distance to the “bicycle parking lot”… there were at least 4 other tour groups there, but thankfully each had staggered starts! We were now off the beaten track flying through tiny local villages of waving and smiling people, and as we soon discovered, good brakes were an essential criteria!!!

We stopped at a traditional Hindu family compound to have a look at the weaving process and to see how they lived as a unit. The women wove impressively huge floor mats. After only being there a few minutes we soon discovered that basic hygiene was also not part of their vocabulary. The kitchen was absolutely disgusting. Their immune systems must’ve been really impressive!

95% of Bali’s population are of Balinese Hindu descent and could be described as ethnic Balinese. In Indonesia as a whole, 88% of the population are Islamic; Christians make up 8%; Animists 1%; Bali’s Hindu’s 2%; and Buddhists make up the remaining 2%.

Hinduism is a complex religion, but Balinese Hinduism is half a world away from that of India. Way back when, the Balinese used their already strong religious and cultural beliefs and simply overlaid the new Hindu influences on existing practices – hence the peculiar interpretation of Hinduism! They worship the same gods, but unlike in India, the trinity is never seen. Also, there are more important Balinese gods, spirits and entities that have more relevance in everyday life than Ganesh (Shiva’s elephant-headed son).

Balinese believe that spirits are everywhere, an indication that animism is the basis of much of their religion. Good spirits dwell in the mountains and bring prosperity to the people, while giants and demons lurk beneath the sea, and bad spirits haunt the woods and desolate beaches. The people live between these two opposites and their rituals strive to maintain this middle-ground.

Here’s where the offerings of gratitude come in… the beautifully woven little trays are absolutely EVERYWHERE. Offerings are carefully put out every morning to pay homage to the good spirits and nonchalantly placed on the ground to placate the bad ones. The creation of these offerings is the women’s domain. The little palm leaf trays contain flowers, rice and/or cookies (the starving dogs love them!). These are then sprinkled with holy water to purify them and then incense is wafted over them to carry their presence to the Gods.

The significant milestones of the Balinese life are of course celebrated with many offerings and rituals. The first being birth, the placenta is washed, wrapped in cloth and then buried at a certain spot in the compound; another interesting thing about this is that a baby is not allowed to tough the ground for the first 3 months! Offerings are made at 3 months and again at the first birthday, which is 210 days in the Balinese year. Tooth filing is usually carried out at puberty. The belief is that one may be refused entry into the spirit world if one has canines like an animal. So the incisors are filed (by a priest, not a dentist!) to make an even line of teeth.

The Balinese marry young, and they believe it’s their most vital duty to raise a family and thereby carry on the family line – and of course to have children that will take care of them in their old age. And finally comes death – which is a huge issue. Cremation ensures liberation of the soul and the ability to reincarnate in the next life. Cremation, however, is a very expensive celebration, and an ordinary family may save up for around 5 years as they want to give their beloved the best “send off” possible – the body will then unearthed, washed, wrapped in cloth and placed on a wooden platform. After the festive procession, the bones are then placed in a huge papermache replica of a fish, elephant, lion, cow – and then burnt on the funeral fire.

You can’t get away from religion in Bali.

Back to the bicycle tour…
So from there we cycled through more villages… and somehow the little kids knew we were coming because you could hear them shrieking with joy and laughter as they were running towards the roadside – and all they desperately wanted to do was touch you, or better yet high-five you as you cycled past! If they managed this they’d squeal with laughter again! That was very moving and just about had me choking back tears! These Indonesian children between the ages of about 3 and 12 are the most surprisingly confident kids I’ve ever come across in all my travels… they have no qualms about waving or saying hello. So refreshing!

Rice Fields
We stopped beautiful rice fields and had a go at thrashing rice. Behind the terraces is a rich history, complex production and a lot of hard work. Indo’s most fertile soils are in Bali, Lombok and most of Java. In the less fertile areas, peasants move around from one place to another, a form of shifting cultivation knows as “ladang” was developed. In “lading”, the jungle is burned off to speed up the process of decomposition and to enrich the soil in preparation for planting, but the soil quickly loses its fertility and the farmers must then move to another site.

On the other hand, the rich volcanic soils are suitable for wet-rice cultivation “sawah” in flooded fields. Rice cultivation in terraced fields has been practiced for over 2000 years. The system has continually been refined and developed. The wonder of this method of agriculture is that “sawah” fields can produce two or even three crops a annually, year after year, with little or no drop in soil fertility. This is due not solely to the fertility of the soil; this astonishing ecosystem depends on water to provide nutrients and bacteria. Other nutrients are provided by the remains of previous crops and by adding extra organic material. After each rice harvest, the stubble from the crop is ploughed back into the field. Small carpets of the best rice seed are planted and, when ready, seedlings are prised apart and laboriously transplanted in rows across a flooded field. The level of water is crucial in the life cycle of the rice plant – the water depth is increased as the plant grows, and is reduced in increments until the field is dry at harvest time. The field may also be drained during the growing period in order to weed the field or aerate the soil.

Rice production requires both gruelling effort and constant fine tuning, but the result of this toil fuels the nation – according to the majority of Indonesians, a meal isn’t complete without the humble grain!

From there we cycled through some more villages and stopped to watch some woodcarvers busy carving typical Balinese-style doors – again the intricacy and detail was just mindblowing, and they were carving relief work with only a hammer and a few chisels!

Every so often you’d come across locals who were drying rice or cloves on huge sheets in the street in front of their houses! A more common sight were the biggish woven dome-shaped covers with a rooster inside. These are used for cock fighting which is a national sport, and taken very seriously I might add... these poor creatures fight til death.

David, Ken, myself and about 4 others braved the final 10km uphill leg of the tour, whilst the others took the easy route to the restaurant. Overall it wasn’t too bad except for one nasty hill that had most of us pushing our bikes! Poor Ken and David looked really grim when we’d finally arrived, the heat was just an absolute killer. Lunch was one of the tastiest we’d ever had…

And what a fantastic day that was!!

Friday the 18th saw us headed back to Serangan – but first we stopped at the huge Carrefour supermarket; we then popped over to Bali Marina to see if we were missing out on anything in particular by not being in the marina… and it turned out we weren’t! The marina was as reported: just about falling apart. It was good to arrive back and see Fast Forward still securely tied to the mooring buoy!

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!

GPS: S08.43.08 E115.14.48**
Distance from Gili Air, Lombok: 43nm
Duration of stay: 12-24 September 2009

If it hadn’t been for my very basic skills in Bahasa enabling me to read signs and say “good morning, how much?” – I would’ve thought I was in a different country! Bali was so not like the rest of Indonesia! And boy were we glad that we didn’t start off there…

The tourism boom which started in the 1970’s brought many changes and helped pay for roads, infrastructure, education and health. Like most countries, Bali was also affected by global politics and the country took a big knock in tourism after the tragic Bali bombings in Kuta in 2002. No sooner had the island recovered when more bombs went off in 2005. The Balinese are a very resilient culture and are extremely thankful that the country is currently seeing more holiday makers than ever before. It really is an ideal holiday destination as it has a lot to offer, and most important of all – it’s cheap!

We went to Kuta the day after we’d arrived and besides being assaulted by hundreds of hawkers selling the same things, albeit not pushy at all - we were visually assaulted by all the holiday makers – the bars, restaurants and shops were heaving! Kuta sports gorgeous beaches and attracts surfers from all over the world… however the southern Bukit Peninsula is a good alternative as it also offers world class surfing and life at a slower pace.

We were surprised to find a Marks and Spencer, Dorothy Perkins and a Top Shop – all names we are familiar with in England, however the items came with hefty price tags – but they had “normal” clothing sizes, so Juliet was in heaven!! And everywhere you went the locals always had smile on their faces and a pleasant greeting.

On Monday, 14th, we’d hired a car with David and Juliet to do some exploring en route to the cultural centre, Ubud, where we intended to stay for a few days.

15 September 2009
I was very keen to celebrate my birthday in Ubud – and our timing worked out well. All packed, we’d set off around 8am – good road map in one hand and the Lonely Planet in the other. We didn’t bother with hiring a driver, Ken managed quite fine (it’s really no different to driving in any big city).

Our route took us via the famous “art route” which was a string of villages along the main road from just north of Denpasar to Ubud, each specialising in a particular craft, for example there were silver and goldsmiths, mask and puppet makers, weavers, kite makers, toy and rocking horse makers, stone carvers, wood carvers, furniture makers, etc – it was unbelievable that one nation was bursting with such artistic talent. The handicrafts were some of the best we’d ever seen and the finished quality of goods were very good too. This was a problem we’d come across since the entering the Pacific, was that nothing was finished off well. Surprisingly, we’d seen items in stores around the world and now knew where they came from!! If you were setting up a home and loved the “Balinese style” it would pay you to fill up a container and send it home.

Juliet and I, both lovers of silver, had heard so much about “Bali silver” that we could not wait to get to Celuk, the jewellery making centre. Well, after visiting at least ten showrooms - and having not found anything that really grabbed us - disappointment set in!! Unusual, chunky, and modern, were not really part of the local Balinese jewellery makers vocabulary. Juliet settled for a bangle, but I wanted to see what Ubud had to offer. The famous little Bali Bells were cute, but we were soon over them. I must admit that their filigree work was out of this world!!

In one village we stumbled across a showroom filled to capacity with the most magnificent wood carvings we’d ever seen. The detail and quality were just unbelievable. The grounds that housed the showroom were equally impressive and boasted beautifully manicured gardens; wooden cages hanging from trees housing exotic birds; and very ornately decorated buildings where Hindu wedding ceremonies were performed.

We’d also come across a glass home décor manufacturer, and saw them at work in their back yard! On sale were huge vases of every shape and size, ornaments, tables, crockery, fruit bowls and more. Very impressive.

The mask maker was my favourite stop – they all seemed to work from home which made total sense of course. Their entire “lounge area” was mask after mask, some up so high that you could not even see them properly. Balinese masks tended to be more realistic than those found in Java. Her entire family were mask makers, and they also made and hired out masks used in the many Balinese dances.

This place was nothing at all like we expected and was definitely the other half of Bali’s duopoly, however the focus in Ubud was on culture in its myriad of forms. As we crept along the one-way system which led into the main road called Monkey Forest Road we were amazed at all the arty shops, galleries, restaurants, spa’s, and places to stay which lined either side of the road. Was 3 days going to be long enough?

Our accommodation was a good find, we’d not booked anything and whilst the guys sat and had a cold Bintang, Juliet and I simply walked up the road going from one to the other – ideally we wanted 2 rooms at the same place. We stuck gold at the Ibunda Resort and Spa. Sounds very swish I know, but it’s nothing like the picture you are forming in your mind!! Nestled in lush gardens on a narrow but long rectangular property, were five free-standing double storey buildings totalling ten double rooms, prices included breakfast were very reasonable at US$35 per night with a/c, US$30 without a/c… and no traffic noise! Sorry no steam baths and Jacuzzis either, but there was a swimming pool!!

Balinese Dancing
We saw our first dance performance, the Rayamana Ballet, at the Ubud Palace that first evening – and we were blown away! It was amazing!! Balinese dancing is a visual and sensory explosion of colour and sound. It tends to be precise, shifting and jerky, like the accompanying music of the gamelan, which has abrupt shifts of tempo and dramatic changes between silence and crashing noise. The gamelan is an ancient musical instrument that is used at the dances and at special performances. It has a very unique (slightly high pitched) sound and it’s heard all over Bali, even in the supermarkets!

There’s virtually no physical contact in the dancing – each dancer moves independently, but every move of the wrist, hand and finger is important. Even facial expressions are carefully choreographed to convey the character of the dance. The storyline is very much the same throughout : the fight between good and evil. The dances are a blend of serious and slapstick. The masks are amazing and the characters range from witches to frogs, monkeys to old men and dragons - and then there’s the famous half-shaggy-dog-half-lion, which is a two-man costume. We got to see this Barong dance in Batubulan en our way back to Serangan.

Some dances have been performed for generations and others are fairly new. The Kecak was developed in the 1930’s. One of the most visually stunning, it is performed by a large troupe of men who keep a rhythmic and spell-binding chorus of “chak-a-chak-a-chak” (where the dance gets its name from). Throughout the Kecak the circle of men about 8 or 9 deep, all bare-chested and wearing checked cloth around their waists provide a non-stop accompaniment. Arm, hand, body and fluttering finger movements are so fluid the 150 men move as one! Incredible!

If someone was to ask what I remembered most about Bali, it would have to be those beautifully dressed female dancers with their heavily made up faces, and the facial expressions which exaggerated the whites of their eyes. And the hands – it was all in the subtle hand movements!

We also visited very interesting art museums… and then there were the temples (called pura, which means surrounded by a wall). We stopped at a few and before entering, we were required to hire a strip of yellow material (which was tied around our waists) – this was to show respect. The statues at the entrances were usually all wrapped in black and white checked material (which looked like tablecloths!) apparently this was to appease the good and bad spirits. The temples are literally everywhere, and each village has at least 3! Not to mention all the shrines which are often located next to rice paddies or alongside sacred old trees, or overlooking dangerous road intersections. Many of these were also wrapped in cloth and some donned umbrellas. Mmmm too hot to handle all the offerings? Jokes aside, apparently when a wish is granted, the worshipper then places an umbrella down as a gesture of gratitude. And soon we were all temple’d out...
Although I must admit I had a secret passion for taking photos of the very intricately carved plain concrete dragons, monkeys and lions that usually adorned the corners of the roofs and entrances. Even though Bali is an extremely colourful nation, the plain-ness of this concrete was just as powerful an image.

Downhill Bicycle Tour
What is a trip to Ubud without doing a 35km bicycle tour?! At least 25kms of which were downhill, the other 10km of uphill were optional! David, Ken and I set off at 8am with about 10 other holiday makers.

Whilst we made our way north, our guide (who was amazingly informative and an absolute pleasure) filled us in on his childhood. As is tradition, the youngest boy is expected to look after his parents. At a very young age he was working the rice paddies, but the family were living from hand to mouth. Being pretty intelligent, he knew this was not his destiny, so as teenage boy he went to live with his aunt and cousins in Java, however whilst there, and again being the youngest, he had the responsibility of dealing with the household chores both before and after each school day. He ended up at college doing a course in tourism, and then became an English teacher – finally returning to his family in Bali. His earnings as a tour guide are so good that his parents don’t work the rice paddies anymore. Their daily toiling in the sun and rain in those paddies would bring them mere $40 after 4 months of hard labour!!!! He has now encouraged his wife to also become and English teacher.

The drive north to the town of Penelokan took us through lush areas of striking greenness and beautifully terraced rice fields quietly being worked by hand and the Japanese plough : oxen. On arrival we were afforded magnificent views of the crater lake Bratan, here we enjoyed a local buffet breakfast of savoury rice, pancakes or fruit, fruit and more fruit.

We hopped back in the van and headed down to see a coffee plantation, which was also home to a very interesting herb and spice garden. Commonly thought of as a bean, coffee is actually a fruit pit or berry! Around 2000 berries are needed to make one pound of coffee. Indo is the fourth largest producer of coffee after Brazil, Colombia and Vietnam. After seeing the rural coffee-making process we were given the opportunity to taste the various coffees and teas that were produced, eg lemongrass tea, ginger tea, ginseng coffee, cocoa, as well as try and distinguish the difference in flavour between the male and female coffee bean coffee.

We also had the opportunity to taste the most expensive coffee in the world: Civet Coffee / Luwak Coffee. The local palm civet, a cat-like animal with a long snout, gorges itself on coffee berries and passes the inner pit through its digestive tract unharmed. Along the way the pits are affected by the animal’s stomach enzymes and come out the other end smelling of rich coffee. Seriously! It has an appetizing name of “cat poop coffee” and fetches around US$300 a pound! We gave this taste test a miss.

From here we drove a short distance to the “bicycle parking lot”… there were at least 4 other tour groups there, but thankfully each had staggered starts! We were now off the beaten track flying through tiny local villages of waving and smiling people, and as we soon discovered, good brakes were an essential criteria!!!

We stopped at a traditional Hindu family compound to have a look at the weaving process and to see how they lived as a unit. The women wove impressively huge floor mats. After only being there a few minutes we soon discovered that basic hygiene was also not part of their vocabulary. The kitchen was absolutely disgusting. Their immune systems must’ve been really impressive!

95% of Bali’s population are of Balinese Hindu descent and could be described as ethnic Balinese. In Indonesia as a whole, 88% of the population are Islamic; Christians make up 8%; Animists 1%; Bali’s Hindu’s 2%; and Buddhists make up the remaining 2%.

Hinduism is a complex religion, but Balinese Hinduism is half a world away from that of India. Way back when, the Balinese used their already strong religious and cultural beliefs and simply overlaid the new Hindu influences on existing practices – hence the peculiar interpretation of Hinduism! They worship the same gods, but unlike in India, the trinity is never seen. Also, there are more important Balinese gods, spirits and entities that have more relevance in everyday life than Ganesh (Shiva’s elephant-headed son).

Balinese believe that spirits are everywhere, an indication that animism is the basis of much of their religion. Good spirits dwell in the mountains and bring prosperity to the people, while giants and demons lurk beneath the sea, and bad spirits haunt the woods and desolate beaches. The people live between these two opposites and their rituals strive to maintain this middle-ground.

Here’s where the offerings of gratitude come in… the beautifully woven little trays are absolutely EVERYWHERE. Offerings are carefully put out every morning to pay homage to the good spirits and nonchalantly placed on the ground to placate the bad ones. The creation of these offerings is the women’s domain. The little palm leaf trays contain flowers, rice and/or cookies (the starving dogs love them!). These are then sprinkled with holy water to purify them and then incense is wafted over them to carry their presence to the Gods.

The significant milestones of the Balinese life are of course celebrated with many offerings and rituals. The first being birth, the placenta is washed, wrapped in cloth and then buried at a certain spot in the compound; another interesting thing about this is that a baby is not allowed to tough the ground for the first 3 months! Offerings are made at 3 months and again at the first birthday, which is 210 days in the Balinese year. Tooth filing is usually carried out at puberty. The belief is that one may be refused entry into the spirit world if one has canines like an animal. So the incisors are filed (by a priest, not a dentist!) to make an even line of teeth.

The Balinese marry young, and they believe it’s their most vital duty to raise a family and thereby carry on the family line – and of course to have children that will take care of them in their old age. And finally comes death – which is a huge issue. Cremation ensures liberation of the soul and the ability to reincarnate in the next life. Cremation, however, is a very expensive celebration, and an ordinary family may save up for around 5 years as they want to give their beloved the best “send off” possible – the body will then unearthed, washed, wrapped in cloth and placed on a wooden platform. After the festive procession, the bones are then placed in a huge papermache replica of a fish, elephant, lion, cow – and then burnt on the funeral fire.

You can’t get away from religion in Bali.

Back to the bicycle tour…
So from there we cycled through more villages… and somehow the little kids knew we were coming because you could hear them shrieking with joy and laughter as they were running towards the roadside – and all they desperately wanted to do was touch you, or better yet high-five you as you cycled past! If they managed this they’d squeal with laughter again! That was very moving and just about had me choking back tears! These Indonesian children between the ages of about 3 and 12 are the most surprisingly confident kids I’ve ever come across in all my travels… they have no qualms about waving or saying hello. So refreshing!

Rice Fields
We stopped beautiful rice fields and had a go at thrashing rice. Behind the terraces is a rich history, complex production and a lot of hard work. Indo’s most fertile soils are in Bali, Lombok and most of Java. In the less fertile areas, peasants move around from one place to another, a form of shifting cultivation knows as “ladang” was developed. In “lading”, the jungle is burned off to speed up the process of decomposition and to enrich the soil in preparation for planting, but the soil quickly loses its fertility and the farmers must then move to another site.

On the other hand, the rich volcanic soils are suitable for wet-rice cultivation “sawah” in flooded fields. Rice cultivation in terraced fields has been practiced for over 2000 years. The system has continually been refined and developed. The wonder of this method of agriculture is that “sawah” fields can produce two or even three crops a annually, year after year, with little or no drop in soil fertility. This is due not solely to the fertility of the soil; this astonishing ecosystem depends on water to provide nutrients and bacteria. Other nutrients are provided by the remains of previous crops and by adding extra organic material. After each rice harvest, the stubble from the crop is ploughed back into the field. Small carpets of the best rice seed are planted and, when ready, seedlings are prised apart and laboriously transplanted in rows across a flooded field. The level of water is crucial in the life cycle of the rice plant – the water depth is increased as the plant grows, and is reduced in increments until the field is dry at harvest time. The field may also be drained during the growing period in order to weed the field or aerate the soil.

Rice production requires both gruelling effort and constant fine tuning, but the result of this toil fuels the nation – according to the majority of Indonesians, a meal isn’t complete without the humble grain!

From there we cycled through some more villages and stopped to watch some woodcarvers busy carving typical Balinese-style doors – again the intricacy and detail was just mindblowing, and they were carving relief work with only a hammer and a few chisels!

Every so often you’d come across locals who were drying rice or cloves on huge sheets in the street in front of their houses! A more common sight were the biggish woven dome-shaped covers with a rooster inside. These are used for cock fighting which is a national sport, and taken very seriously I might add... these poor creatures fight til death.

David, Ken, myself and about 4 others braved the final 10km uphill leg of the tour, whilst the others took the easy route to the restaurant. Overall it wasn’t too bad except for one nasty hill that had most of us pushing our bikes! Poor Ken and David looked really grim when we’d finally arrived, the heat was just an absolute killer. Lunch was one of the tastiest we’d ever had…

And what a fantastic day that was!!

Friday the 18th saw us headed back to Serangan – but first we stopped at the huge Carrefour supermarket; we then popped over to Bali Marina to see if we were missing out on anything in particular by not being in the marina… and it turned out we weren’t! The marina was as reported: just about falling apart. It was good to arrive back and see Fast Forward still securely tied to the mooring buoy!

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!

Bali: North to Lovina

2009-09-21 to 2009-10-01

21 September – 1 October 2009

21 October

What’s a visit to Bali without attending a cooking class? Ken and I were both very keen to attend one of Heinz von Holzen highly acclaimed classes at his cooking school. This food guru is the author of a few Balinese recipe books, but "The Food Of Bali" was his first – and a major accomplishment, as it literally was the first Balinese recipe book ever published!

We were very lucky to have the opportunity to attend as the classes were fully booked until early October! They said they’d call if there were any cancellations. I was disappointed and didn’t think anymore of it until the phone rang at 7am one morning and an enquiry was made as to whether we were still interested, and if so could we meet them at the cooking school? Hell yes! So 1.5 hours later we were sitting having breakfast with Heinz and 10 other holiday-makers! Unfortunately we’d missed the 6am visit to the market – which was something we were really keen on, as this is where we generally bought all our fruit and veg, and were curious as to what most of the other unidentifiable produce was!

Heinz, former owner of the Grand Hyatt and Ritz Carlton hotels in Bali, was a very likeable and down to earth guy, as well as a good teacher. Together with his Indonesian counterpart, Bagos, who too was a very accomplished and well traveled chef, presented the class in a fun and interesting manner, and both provided us with a valuable insight into the various techniques of food preparation and cooking styles used in Balinese homes. In total we prepared 22 local dishes with minimum effort.

The base of a lot of Balinese dishes is a spice paste – there are 3 types (seafood, meat and vegetables) - these are generally made in bulk, portioned and frozen – and can then be used in stews, as marinades or however you fancy! Chilli’s are also widely used, as well as peanuts – satay chicken being a firm favourite!

It was a great day, and when lunch was served at 2pm we were able to sample everything that we’d prepared that morning.

22 October 2009
And all the playing eventually had to come to an end… part of this day was spent trying to source bearings for motor for the freezer – it was still making a grinding noise and I was very worried about its lifespan!! The end of Ramadan festivities meant that a lot of businesses were closed and just when Ken thought he had exhausted all his options – I suggested that he swing by Geo Explorer (a huge marine exploration vessel that was anchored in front of us) as I was sure they’d have engineers and the like on board. Secretly I figured they owed us big time as their very noisy generators ran 24/7 – talk about noise pollution! We could not move either as there were no other “heavy duty” buoys available. Anyway – as luck would have it, they were able to help!!!! It was like a miracle! They wanted no money in return, but graciously accepted a bottle of good ol Venezuelan rum!

The following day saw us headed off to Denpasar market with Mike and Deirdre (Cheshire Cat) – we were on a mission to buy all the ingredients for two of the pastes. We sat that evening peeling 1.2kgs of shallots (that’s a lot of shallots – and you know how small they are too!!!) - but that was just the start…

24 October 2009
We upped anchor at 6:45am and headed out on the first of our two legs to Lovina, which is located on Bali’s north coast. Each leg being roughly 42nm. Normally this would not be an issue and we could easily knock it off in 5-6 hours, but the predominantly south setting current in the Lombok Strait would add at least 3 hours to that!

Whilst we motored I sat and deseeded 1kg of big red chilli’s, peeled 500g each of turmeric, ginger, galangal (part of ginger family, only smaller) and a few other things. This entire 3kg mixture was then blended into a pulp in my poor little hand held blender (it did very well indeed!), and then it had to simmer on the stovetop for an hour before I could portion it and freeze it.

All the while we hugged the coastline all the way up Amed – the only place to anchor on the way up to Lovina, and even though it was a very pretty setting – the village backed by impressively high mountains, it wasn’t exactly a protected anchorage. What could you do.

When we arrived the wind was blowing onshore, so we anchored with our stern facing the shore – which is not an ideal situation, but tolerable since it wasn’t howling with wind. That night was quite a different story… the wind changed to offshore, so naturally we had swung round – but it was howling! The gusts that came through must’ve been well over 30 knots. Anyway, at 2am we found ourselves having to re-anchor the boat closer to the shore as the anchor did not have time to reset itself, and with turning around we were now in much deeper water and did not have the correct amount of chain out. Why does this always happen after midnight?! The situation was much better once we were tucked into the shore, and we were also much further to the left of the valley that the gusts were funnelling through.

The wind was still howling the following morning, but fizzled out a few miles up the coast. We had an uneventful and fairly windless trip to Lovina, arriving at around 2pm.

Whilst en route I enquired about our passports, and as luck would have it they were actually delivering a batch at noon! So I promptly called Willi who then called Juliet to ask if she could collect ours as well. One less thing to worry about!

GPS: S08.09.44 E115.01.35**
Distance from Serangan: 86nm
Duration of stay: 25 September – 1 October 2009

This resort town was developed to draw people away from the hectic south. Lovina manages to exude a sedate charm even as the number of hotels and other tourist places grows. The town is really a string of coastal villages that have taken on this collective name. Each year this strip adds just enough polish to increase its allure to visitors. Many come here for the relaxing part of their holiday and for active sports, it’s also a convenient base for trips around the north coast or central mountains. The beaches are made up of washed out grey and black volcanic sand. The beachfront is lined with many restaurants offering great deals for happy hour!

Sunrise boat trips to see dolphins are Lovina’s much-hyped tourist attraction. A huge concrete crowned monument has even been erected in honour of the dolphins!

Even though the anchorage was not very well protected, it certainly was large enough to accommodate at least 50 yachts… and there were already plenty when we arrived. Most were staying for the rally festivities which were due to kick off on the 30th. We were still in two minds about staying…

It was very rolly when we arrived and apparently it was due to bad weather further to west, but putting out a stern anchor the next morning made the situation much more tolerable on board!

27 October 2009
We accompanied David and Juliet on an unhurried and very low key day tour. Our first stop was at a Buddhist Temple… yes we were temple’d out, but this was a first!!

Buddhism is essentially a Hindu reform movement. The big difference is that Buddhism shunned the Hindu pantheon gods and the caste system. The founder of Buddhism’s message is this: the cause of life’s suffering is desire, and that by overcoming desire we can free ourselves from suffering. The ultimate goal is nirvana: escape from the cycle of birth and rebirth.

The temple was very impressive to say the least – the gardens were manicured and the buildings themselves were constantly maintained which is more than we say for the Hindu temples! The only thing missing were the authentic Buddhists running around in their rust-coloured robes!

From there it was a just short distance to the site of yet more lush gardens at the natural hot springs. Eight fierce-faced stone carved “naga” poured water from a natural hot spring into the first bath, which then overflowed via the mouths of five more “naga” into a second larger pool. In the third pool the water poured from 3m high spouts to give you a pummelling massage! Since it was a Sunday – the place was heaving with locals all thoroughly enjoying the family outing.

We continued on west and then turned inland and started the climb along the ridge road which would take us to a coffee plantation. There was no real presentation as such, and the staff were hoping we’d actually purchase the packaged coffee instead… pity it was so expensive though! We did however take in the stunning views over a cup of coffee.

The temperature was already beginning to fall and gradually we left the rice terraces behind. We were headed to Candikuning which was located near lake Bratan. This place was once the horticultural focus of central Bali. Its daily market was once the supplier of vegetables, fruit and flowers for the southern hotels, but now its patrons are mainly tourists with a smattering of locals shopping for herbs, spices and potted plants.

We enjoyed a delicious, but rather pricey lunch at a very busy restaurant that only offered a buffet for lunch… very clever I think!

From there we headed to a very important Hindu-Buddhist temple called Pura Ulun Danu Bratan which was founded in the 17th century. It is dedicated to Dewi Danu, the goddess of the waters, and is actually built on small islands! It’s very impressive and very beautiful with classical Hindu tiered thatched roofs that are reflected in the water. This is one of the most common photographic images of Bali, and I eventually succeeded in getting a few shots without having tourists in them!! There must’ve been at least 10 busloads of people here. Both pilgrimages and ceremonies are held here to ensure that there is a supply of water for the farmers all over the island.

The grounds were also very well maintained and one got a sense of calm strolling through them. There was a huge banyan tree at the entrance which simply added to the serenity!

Time was just marching on and our next stop after a quick visit to the local market (where we managed to find some delicious strawberries for a pittance!), was a waterfall. David and Ken went to see them whilst Juliet and I sat and nattered in the van!! The heat was back with a vengeance…

A mere 11kms away was Singaraja – Bali’s second largest and cleanest city. It’s not really a place where travellers linger as it does not have much to offer… we only wanted the supermarket!

By 6pm we were back on board… it had been a great day.

The next two days were spent doing boat chores. Lovina wasn’t the most exciting place and boredom was starting to set in on the second day. We decided we weren’t too bothered about staying for the rally festivities and would prefer to move on instead – and with full moon approaching we wanted the moonshine to help us see the hundreds (thousands?) of FAD’s (fishing aggregation devices), fish traps and fishing boats along the Bali coast and into the Java Sea.

So on 1 October we upped anchor along with 3 others – bid farewell to a magical island - and headed out towards the Java Sea in preparation of our next adventure which was due to start on 9 October… a visit with the relatives in BORNEO!

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!

Beautiful Borneo!

2009-10-07 to 2009-10-13


Distance from Bali: 417.10nm (including stopover at Palau Bawean)
GPS: S02.44.31 E111.43.99**
Duration of stay: 7-13 October 2009

1 October 2009
After 74nm of motor-sailing, Palau Raas was a sight for sore eyes! We dropped anchor 11 hours after leaving Bali and couldn’t wait to have a good night’s rest as we were both exhausted after not having slept well the previous night. Ken had also managed to catch the flu virus that everyone else had, so he was feeling and sounding pretty grim too!

2-5 October 2009
Palau Bawean was our next stopover which was located in the middle of the Java Sea, 146nm to the NW. We enjoyed near perfect sailing conditions under a full moon, and didn’t see too many FAD’s (fishing aggregation devices) and the fishing boats we did see were all very well lit up. We also came across tugs towing - what appeared to be - huge islands, but in actual fact were massive barges laden with huge heaps of sand! A very strange sight indeed!

On arrival at Bawean we were assaulted with the calls to prayer blaring out over the Mosque’s loudspeakers, and there was definitely more than one mosque calling devotees!! Again we were a curiosity, and on Sunday morning boat loads of kids were brought past all the yachts by their fathers – some waving and shouting hello – and others, unfortunately were begging!! They certainly did not look needy or were by no means starving either – this we find very annoying and simply ignored them. The days were unbelievably hot and unfortunately the wind had also dropped off completely, which simply exacerbated the situation and turned us into total sloths!!! We stayed 2 nights and then had to leave for Borneo as we had booked our Orangutan trip for the 9th.

6-7 October 2009
Four boats left that morning and there was next to no wind out there so we all ended up motor-sailing 197 nautical miles! Again the boat traffic was not too hectic.

The skies looked very grim the following morning, a big black rain squall came towards us and helped us out with some wind, but once that was gone our speed dropped again… at least land was in sight! The 15nm trip up the river seemed to take forever – and we eventually dropped anchor around 3:40pm, just opposite Herry’s Borneo Eco Tours. Kumai wasn’t anything like we expected! The river was very wide and there were many tugs and barges about. Ashore there were strange huge warehouse type buildings that looked like apartment blocks – but didn’t have any windows, and there were zillions of small noisy birds everywhere! And of course the calls to prayer… again the mosques must’ve been in competition!

There were about 16 of us anchored in the river… and not long after we anchored, we too got to do the “river dance”! This natural phenomenon occurs only at slack tide. Anchored boats move about very haphazardly causing consternation to some who really have anchored a safe from others, but for some unexplained reason drift uncomfortably close to their neighbours during this period between change of tide. Whilst there we witnessed very strange performances! One consolation is that the holding is very good!

We also took a ride in a longboat up the river at Pangkalan Bun to go and see huge boats being built out of iron wood. The boats are about 25 meters in length, by 7 meters wide and really have beautiful lines for a chunk boat - it’s simply mind blowing to think what they can achieve with little to no modern machinery.

8 October 2009
Well we went ashore and finally got to meet Herry (pronounced Harry!) the tour operator whom I’d been in email contact with since mid August. David and Ken very kindly left the arrangements to Juliet and I. We decided that we ought to book a trip for 6 people, and by paying a deposit we’d be assured of our accommodation at the Rimba Lodge, since our tour date was very close to at least 30 other rally boats being there. Herry runs a small fleet of wooden “klotok” boats, so named for the sound of their unmuffled 1 cylinder diesel engines.

Those ugly grey windowless apartment buildings that I mentioned earlier are actually sparrow nest farms! The owners (mainly Chinese) play recordings of the mating calls which encourages nest building!!! Sparrow nests are worth a fortune and fetch $18.4 million Rp’s per kilo ($184 USD!!). They are exported to the Far East where the sticky saliva used to build the nests is used as a base for “sparrow nest soup”. Apparently it’s like a natural Viagra…

The 3 day/2 night tour cost $225 USD each was all inclusive of food, snacks, soft drinks, water and accommodation at the Lodge – it also included a boat boy who would stay on board and live in cockpit until our return. We were advised to give him something to do, like polish the stainless steel, and provide a few snacks – meals would be brought over to him during the day.

9 October 2009
At 8am the “klotok” (river boat) swung by to pick us up… the third couple in our entourage were Mike and Deirdre on Cheshire Cat, only it’s not a catamaran – it’s a tiny monohull!. Spirits were high as we set off down the river and then hit a left down a tributary called the Sekonyer River, towards Rimba Lodge and more importantly – Camp Leakey. Jenie, our guide (and Herry’s brother) providing useful bits of information and expertly answering all out questions.

The Tanjung Putting National Park covers an area of over 400 ha and is the largest protected tropical lowland rainforest area in Kalimantan. The most famous inhabitant being the Orangutan – but it’s also home to clouded leopards, civets, Malaysian sun bears, numerous species of deer, pythons, crocs, giant butterflies, porcupines – the list is just endless! Not to mention over 220 species of birds, over 200 known species of orchids and over 600 types of trees!

The trip up the river was great as we had a good vantage point from the upper deck of our klotok. We thought we were in heaven as they’d provided 4 comfy chairs, 2 loungers, as well as a 6 seater dining table, however very few klotoks come this well appointed! We passed by salt-tolerant Nipa palms with tall mangrove trees behind, these gave way to Pandanus lined banks and huge forest vegetation of sandalwood, iron wood, and various other tropical rainforest species. Every now and then one could catch a glimpse of rice paddies in the clearing behind the forest.

We saw several brilliant blue, red and yellow stork-billed kingfishers perched on low branches, as well as a few fantails, egrets and hornbills, whilst black kites and white-bellied sea eagles soared lazily overhead. Troops of Macaques as well as the bizarre looking Proboscis monkeys (with their big drooping red noses) could also be seen in the trees fringing the river. Playful troops of grey long-tailed Macaque monkeys cavorted overhead and performed death defying jumps from tree to tree.

After a couple of hours we turned right into another small tannin-tinted tributary that resembled rich black tea. Not long thereafter Jenie spotted a well hidden orangutan next to the waters edge. We were buzzing with excitement!!! Our first orangutan!!! It turned out to be Pem, a male, roughly 14 years of age. Anyway, one minute we’re giving Pem slices of watermelon and the next minute he’s a mascot on the front of our boat!! Jenie has been around the orangutans since he was a young boy and he knows them all individually. He wanted a ride back to Camp Leakey – apparently he tends to wander quite far from the camp sometimes… we dropped him off just around the corner from the jetty so that not many eyes would be privy to what we’d just experienced.

There were 5 other klotoks there already and we simply rafted up the nearest one, we wasted no time getting ashore where we were greeted by an orangutan mother and her baby, we all went into a photo taking frenzy! The baby was SO cute! Then Princess was just lying in the shade – legs in the air. What a stressful life!!

We sighted a couple of beautiful long-armed gibbons monkeys as we headed down the wooden boardwalk towards one of the main buildings in Camp Leakey namely the information centre, where we watched a very informative (and very moving!!!) documentary about Dr Birute Galdikas and her work with the orangutans. This site was established in 1971 when she started taking in rescued orangutans with the assistance of the Leakey Foundation. Dr Leakey sponsored 3 great ape studies, one for Jane Goodall (chimps); Diane Fosse (gorillas); and this one. Poachers sell babies illegally (yes, even today!!), and those that are recovered have to be rehabilitated before they can survive in the wild.

We were also lucky enough to see Tom, the Alpha male… and what a big boy he is, my goodness you don’t want to mess with him!! Think they said he was 26 years old. Uranus (third down the line of dominant males) graced us with his presence on the second day – and he too was impressive, but Tom was enormous compared to him. Males weigh around 100kgs, stand up to 1.5m tall and have an arm span of nearly 3 meters. Females are more delicate and seldom weigh more than 50kgs.

Cosassie (fourth down the line) was a fascinating subject. Unfortunately we never saw him, but the bulk of the documentary focussed on him. He was a rescued baby orphan – but severely traumatised. Soon after his arrival, he escaped from the camp and by some miracle turned up again one morning = one and a half years later!!!!! He’d managed to survive in the jungle on his own, usually babies need to stay with their mothers for the first 5-6 years of their life!! At this stage he was not even 3 years old. He then set off again, shadowing the dominant female, who just would not totally accept him and foster him, but he persisted and soon realised the benefits of being dominant. She fell pregnant (females are able to have babies up to the age of about 50!!), so he was really spurned. He then set off on a mission to become Alpha male, his progress was amazing and eventually tipped the scales at around 130kgs of pure muscle… he reigned for a good number of years too!

Another fascinating subject was Princess. As a baby she totally latched onto one of the male researchers – but latch on as in always on his shoulders, even when he went swimming!! He taught her sign language and she had a vocabulary of 25 words. They are amazingly clever and 95% human – there was a clip of a mother and her baby carefully getting into a wooden canoe (she knew it could tip over) and then using her hands as oars. And another of a human with a hammer and nail… the orangutan managed perfectly well. They can open locks and the rangers constantly have to stay one step ahead of them… These are just THE most unbelievable creature, and when you look at them – you can see their minds ticking over – there is intelligence and you can see expression in their eyes, just like ours.

They are increasingly rare and found only in Sumatra and Borneo. Unlike many primates, they are generally solitary animals, and are also unusual because every night they build a nest of sticks, branches and leaves high up in the trees. But what’s more fascinating is that when it rains, they gather branches of leaves and make an umbrella!!!! Amazing!!!!

We continued on along the wooden path towards the feeding station. There must’ve been at least 20 other orangutans – some adolescents, and several mothers and their seriously cute clinging babies. They clambered onto the wooden feeding platform for bananas and generally gambolled around. Uranus was at one of these feedings and needed to be given his share away from the others. It was just amazing to see them hanging effortlessly from the trees and then jumping 10-15 meters to another branch!

Originally the camp was established to study and re-introduce the orangutans into the wild, however being accustomed to the human contact, as adults they’ve never kicked the habits and usually return for an afternoon snack! We saw 4 such feedings, but the other 2 were at two separate research stations where the orangutans were much wilder… they did not laze around on wooden boardwalks waiting for the paparazzi!

We also visited the reforestation project where over 50 topical species are being grown from seedlings and planted in the burned fields. Huge sections of native jungle have been replaced with oil palm plantations – with huge environmental consequences. In 1997 the “great fires” just about brought the entire country to the ground! If the politicians had their way I don’t think there would be a jungle – it would all be palm oil. Apparently Malaysia is the top producer with a current output of 7.2 million tonnes. The oil is used primarily for cooking, and a more recently for engine fuel.

We also trekked through the jungle and saw rubber trees, the rare iron wood tree, bright red mushrooms, squirrels, spiders and also heard the beautiful call of the Bird of Paradise. The lunches on the klotok were out of this world, but by 6pm we were so happy that we’d paid extra to stay at the Rimba Lodge instead of on the boat. The boat had a shower and toilet and mattresses that would be laid side by side on the top deck at night, but after seriously hot and tiring days there’s nothing better than a hot shower and comfy mattress!

Well all that’s left to say is “now it’s your turn!!!”… seriously though, our 3 day/2 night trip was a totally awesome experience and certainly the highlight of our 3 months in Indonesia!

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!

Malaysia and Singapore

2009-10-13 to 2009-10-28

Malaysia here we come!
13-18 October 2009

Our last night in Borneo was a night to remember – a torrential downpour accompanied by lightning and high winds (at 10pm of course!)… visibility was terrible, but thankfully most were awake and had their lights on. When the rain subsided slightly I noticed that a huge barge at the head of the fleet was dragging its mooring, luckily it was rescued in the nick of time by a tug – that could have had disasterous consequences!

The next leg of our voyage took us 275nm NW to Belitung where we stayed for a night, and then it was a mere 316nm to Danga Bay, Johor Bahru, Malaysia. This passage took us across the Equator at exactly 3:11am on the 18th. We expected not to have any wind at all during this voyage, and naturally we’d have an adverse current of up to 2 knots to deal with at tide change... and thankfully diesel is cheap because we’ve no option but to burn it!

We took a different route to the others in that we were headed more WNW towards the Durian Strait, as opposed to a more NNW direction to Nongsa Point Marina. Quite frankly I saw great sense in our route as we’d only have to deal with about 15nm of the Singapore Straight as opposed to over 35nm of it! We also encountered a lot less ship traffic... which is always a welcome relief.

For 3 days the poor engine dutifully chugged away – and the heat and humidity was unbearable… so much so that even exhausted little sparrows would hitch rides, one was brazen enough to sit on top of the chartplotter in the cockpit and was not fazed by us in the least! Sleeping was impossible in that heat so I caught up on chores and did loads of washing which dried almost instantaneously on the rails; updated the website and sifted through thousands of pics; sewed a few skirts, and Ken read and read… despite the constant drone of the engine, there are many plusses to motoring!! Sunset was always a welcome relief and following that, the night watches, and dodging fishing nets and boats which thankfully were all lit up like Christmas trees!

In the early afternoon on the 18th, and after wildly dodging a maze of fishing nets and fighting our way into a strong current, we decided that we would actually prefer to just drop anchor and have a G&T instead! Durian Besar (N00.43.92 E103.45.02) turned out to be a great spot for the night – it was like a milkpond and we slept like babies!

19 October 2009
At 6am we upped anchor and headed towards the Singapore Straight – one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and our AIS confirmed that we must’ve had at least 50 ships within a 25 mile range. Instead of running along the “ship highway” we simply cut straight across it watching monster ships screaming past behind and in front of us, some doing well over 25 knots! Despite the rumours, the Straights were a piece of cake, even for our friends who were hot on our heels in a 36 footer… actually our only real worry was running out of diesel!! In hindsight, perhaps there were a lot less ships in transit due to the world recession? As we approached the west side of Singapore, the radar was a solid blur of blobs displaying a “never been seen before” mass of ships at anchor – must’ve been at least 80. Due to our mast height we needed to pass under the bridge at low tide – we slowly crept closer and held our breath until finally we were safely under it, with what seemed like less than half a meter to spare!! Phew!

As we motored down the channel we had Malaysia to our port side and Singapore to our starboard side which was closed off by a tall wire fence and guarded by patrol boats, we were “followed and watched” until we turned off to Danga Bay (if you got too close to the fence an alarm and warning message would go off!). Can’t blame them really can you?

So 3 months to the day after leaving Australia, and 2958nm later, we’d finally arrived in Malaysia! We could not believe we’d covered 5842nm this year alone!

Anyway, we’d managed to get into the Danga Bay Marina, which was free as it was not yet completed, but did have water and electricity! Very important!! Again, thanks to rumours, a lot of the boats went elsewhere to Raffles Marina in Singapore, and to Puteri Marina (40 minutes by car). We were chuffed with Danga Bay as we could simply step off the boat and there were restaurants, busses, taxi’s etc right there – we could not have asked for more!

Danga Bay Marina, Johor Bahru
Distance from Borneo: 643nm (including stopover at Belitung)
GPS: N01.28.43 E103.43.38**
Duration of stay: 19-30 October 2009

WHAT A CULTURE SHOCK! At the rally briefing in Darwin we all got the impression that there was something special about Malaysia… and after spending 3 months in rural Indonesia with Bali being Indonesia’s only real “tourist hub”… Malaysia was an eye-opener of note! Hundreds of businesses run by (dare I say) mainly Chinese, fancy restaurants, nice cars, many 5 storey shopping malls with overseas stores very well represented (not to mention every fast food chain as well!)… it was overwhelming (and very unexpected!) to say the least! As we enjoyed a cheap Asian meal with friends in a restaurant overlooking the marina that first evening – we realised we could have been in South Africa, the States or even in England! Amazing!

Within a day of arriving we realised that we were simply not going to function like sane human beings in the constant dreadful heat, so we purchased a 9000 BTU airconditioner (and literally counted down the hours until it arrived!!).

With the rally events only starting in a weeks’ time, we decided that a quick trip to Singapore wouldn’t do us any harm either.

25-28 October 2009

Singapore is a city, an island and a country about 45km by 25km in size. It’s only 11km’s away from Johor Bahru, Malaysia so you can imagine why strict border patrols are in place! Not wanting to waste any time, 4 of us decided to hire a taxi for 50 SGD which would drop us off at the Ibis Hotel on Bencoolen (a fantastic value-for-money boutique hotel by the way!).

There was a slight hiccup at immigration - normally it’s a super efficient drive-thru process, but our taxi driver thought he would beat the traffic by taking the motorcycle lane (duh!), anyway short of being cavity searched we were sent on our merry way. Once on the road again, we immediately noticed how spotlessly clean and crisp everything was – all the gardens were manicured and there no grubby buildings around… amazing!

Singapore is well laid out and has signposted streets and logically numbered buildings, albeit not great for sightseeing on foot because of the distances – which is where the MRT comes in! The ultra clean, ultra safe fantastically efficient Mass Rapid Transport system is an ideal and very cost effective way to get around. Most of the tracks run underground in the inner-city area, emerging over-ground out towards the suburban housing estates.

And so we hit all the hotspots:

Little India with the constant aroma of headache inducing incense; the music – how do those women reach those high screechy notes anyway?; and shop after shop all selling totally over the top (but exquisitely crafted filigree) 24 carat gold jewellery; not forgetting the rich aroma of curries, spices and freshly baked naan bread… and lastly her many temples where we were lucky enough to stumble upon 2 weddings (one much more glitzy than the other) but being Hindu, were totally fascinating - and I got a front row seat to take photos too (never be too shy to ask for anything!).

There were just shops everywhere you went, some jam packed with such obscure stuff/junk you wondered who actually bought it!! And just when you thought there weren’t any more shops, strategically placed signs would say: “more shops this way”. Asians must be shopaholics!

China Town was interesting and bright with the gorgeous red lanterns strung up overhead, it’s so alive and vibrant at night, where everyone seems to have a stall selling much of the same thing (junk – from, you guessed it : China!). We actually found a great little joint selling the most amazing claypot curry we had ever tasted!

Raffles Hotel, a Singaporean institution, is simply the most beautiful colonial building. The Singapore Sling was invented here, and far less gloriously, the last Singaporean tiger was shot beneath the Billiard Room in 1902. At 5pm we met up with David, Juliet, Sarah and her friend and as we were sitting there sipping our (very expensive) Singapore Slings and Tiger Beers whilst tossing peanut shells onto the floor, we could easily imagine what it must have been like in 1887 when it was opened! Actually the hotel has not always been in pristine condition – by the 70’s it was a shabby relic and was lucky enough to miss the wrecking ball in 1987. In 1991 it re-opened after a $160 million SGD face-lift. A nice experience to say the least!

Buying a day pass on the red HIPPO bus (hop on hop off bus) turned out to be an ideal way to see everything else in one go! Apart from the fact that you got constant running commentary, you could catch one about every 30 minutes. We hopped off at the famous Orchard Road (just to browse!!) around a mind-boggling array of mega mall after mega mall. I kid you not – 21 mega malls (as in megalithic, where you just about need a GPS to navigate your way around!)… and 3 more were under construction!! If Gucci, Bvlgari, Cartier, Chanel, Vuitton takes your fancy – then they’re waiting for you to burn some plastic!

We finished off our second last day with a 30 minute ride on the “Singapore Flyer”… standing at 165m, it is 30 meters taller than the famed London Eye and naturally affords panoramic views of Singapore and beyond – on a clear day you can see the islands of Indonesia. Never before had we seen a construction site like the one we photographed from up there…

What’s a trip to Singapore without a visit to the famous Sim Lim Square. 6 storeys or 390 000 square feet of electronic and IT shopping “heaven?”… popular with both tourists and locals – it’s classified as the “electronics hub of Singapore”. Stores on the first storey are commonly called the “tourist trap” by locals, due to their preference for tourists, who are argued to have no specific knowledge in the local currency, and thus willing to pay more. After 3 floors of pushing and shoving and seeing enough cameras, phones, computers and camcorders to last me a lifetime I was ready for some fresh air! If you weren’t on top of your game in there you’d most definitely get fleeced – some of the products we’d looked at were not the cheapest around either! Thank goodness we did not “need” anything… in fact I was quite proud that we’d made no purchases at all!

We spent our last night in Singapore next door to the zoo at the Night Safari. To be honest it was not as exciting as it was made out to be (I’m a sucker for animals!!)… it was a bit ho-hum, but we were VERY impressed with the flying squirrels, they were adorable actually! Ken and I stayed in their enclosure long enough for them to start flying from one tree to another – one came within centimeters of me and I could not even hear it flying past!! It then promptly stuck to the tree like velcro! Amazing!

So that was Singapore! By 7pm the following evening we were back on board Fast Forward. It’s nice to go away – but it’s great being home! In 2 days time the Malaysian Rally festivities get underway… apparently we’re in for quite a show, so watch this space….

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!

Malaysian Rally 2009

2009-10-30 to 2009-12-11

Danga Bay Marina, Johor Bahru TO Telaga Harbour Marina, Langkawi
Total Distance: 453nm
Duration: 30 October – 11 December 2009
Roughly about 70 yachts participating

30 October – 7 November
So far we’ve had a really good introduction to Malaysia and we really like it. The only thing that gets to me sometimes is the Muslim culture (it’s disrespectful for “farang” women to expose shoulders and knees – and not just being able to have a glass of wine in a restaurant is really annoying, especially when you don’t drink beer – and sneaking in booze, well that’s just tacky, but necessary as I’m pushed to the limits here!) – but otherwise it’s a great place and everyone speaks English!

The rally festivities were amazing! During the day we had the option of attending various presentations on Malaysia, and for 3 evenings (apart from the free beer!) we were given a buffet dinner, then entertained by dancers, jugglers and musicians. Not to mention the amazing fireworks show! All very impressive to say the least.

Singapore and Malacca Straights are known for being one of the most active lightning areas in the world – being at Danga Bay we sort of got the leftovers! Apparently 4 yachts were struck in a bad storm one afternoon just before we left!

GPS: N02.11.17 E102.14.43
8-12 November
The first rally stop was at Lumut, but since we had quite a while to get there everyone was on their own schedule. Since we weren’t going to be physically travelling in the Malacca Strait channel with the ships, we’d be in the “slow lane” with the odd barge – we’d once again have the issue of “dodging fisherman and their nets” we’d decided that doing day trips would be best. Our first overnight stop was at Pisang Island (N01.31.72 E103.12.36), and the second at Besar (N01.58.95 E102.28.35) before reaching the historic city of Melaka/Malacca.

We were some of the first to use their new (albeit controversial) marina. Controversial in the sense that the government has pumped millions into building marinas up the west coast which are roughly “day sails” apart. Trouble is they did not seek advice from international experts, so a lot of the marinas are just inadequate in the sense that the cleats are ridiculously small and not properly bolted down, and the breakwater is a joke – instead of making a solid wall, they’ve made pylons which don’t really break the surge from the west… making it very dangerous if a storm comes through. Siltation is also an issue, and apparently in 2 years time only catamarans would be able to get into that marina! So now they have to spend more on dredging!!

Its strategic position on Selat Melaka guaranteed Malacca an enviable prestige and prosperity, and by the 15th century the city had become the greatest trading port in Southeast Asia, attracting waves of conquering Europeans, each adding their own cultural overlay. Melacca’s importance may have long since waned, but a rich medley of cultures remain: Chinese, Islamic, Indian, Portuguese, Dutch and English. The famous Jonker Street in Chinatown is a must see with it’s eclectic mix of architecture and great vibe on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday night! We eventually found the shoe manufacturer who’s father and grandfather crafted handmade shoes for “bound feet” (a practice that was stopped around 1910) – those poor women must’ve been in such pain! The shoes were unbelievable though!

12 November
We left bright and early as we had a lot of mileage to cover (77nm). The trouble with this coastline is that there are not many protected areas to tuck into for the night. Somehow the fishing nets also seemed to be getting longer and longer! The ship traffic really picked up as we neared Port Klang, and we decided not to head down the river as we did not have enough daylight – so we anchored with a few other boats just west of the main river mouth (N02.55.28 E101.15.73). Not 2 hours after we’d anchored a violent storm came through and we sat with crossed fingers and baited breath hoping that the lightning would move on along and stay away from all of us! At least the boat got a good wash and we were able to fill up our tanks!!

The trouble with this part of the world is that it’s still pitch dark at 6am!! We had to get cracking as we had another marathon mileage day ahead us (96nm!!)… we shared the channel with a massive “MalaccaMax ship” 326 meters long – the crew looked like teeny tiny toys! Oh my goodness, it’s a scary thought but I doubt they would even know if they ploughed over you!

The day was a gloomy and grey one, and we were lucky enough to get some power out of the light winds… we screamed into the anchorage at Palau Pangkor (N03.55.75 E100.38.86) just 2 hours before sunset! It’s amazing what a bit wind can do! It was a gorgeous setting and once again held our breath as another lightning storm threatened!

GPS: N04.14.29 E100.38.46
14-18 November
Not the most exciting place in the world! …water was still brown- but littered with polystyrene, plastic bags and bottles – sadly the worst pollution we’d seen in a long time. The first rally dinner was nice – a great spread of food, and a good dance performance put on by a local dance troupe. The evening was put on by Massimo from Intel Marine. His hopes were to attract people to haul their boats at the University of Marine Engineering’s slipway. We toured the premises and were impressed by all the machinery and equipment! Students would not be working on the boat – outside contactors would. A travel lift was on the cards for next year. We were to be the first boat hauled, we wanted a quick in and out re-antifouling job as ours was in bad shape. We’d applied Trilux 33 in April – and already we had fur coat! Unfortunately only hours before we were supposed to haul, he told us he was not able to get the antifouling we wanted. Oh well.

It was only Wednesday – we did not fancy staying 3 more days until the next rally dinner so we headed off to an anchorage about 10nm away at Palau Talang (N04.25.11 E100.34.82), but soon after arriving the cockpit was covered in flies!!! We’ve never seen so many! Thankfully we were only staying for the night!

GPS: N05.24.88 E100.20.68
19 November – 4 December
Once again we motored, arriving at the Tanjung City Marina about half an hour before sunset. There were already a few rally boats here, and the next scheduled event was on the 29th. Georgetown seemed like a nice spot and we were right in the thick of things again with busses on our doorstep… and I was kicking things off with a dental appointment the following morning.

In May I’d had a re-root canal and was given a temporary crown. In Darwin I was quoted $1800 AUD for a new crown – at a top of the line, all the bells and whistles dental surgery in Queensbay, Georgetown I paid less than $200 AUD. For the same thing!! I must admit it’s a great looking porcelain on metal crown.

Penang is the oldest of the British Straits settlements in Malaysia – predating both Singapore and Malacca. Central Georgetown is a relatively compact city steeped in history, with slightly ragged, old-fashioned character that’s now disappearing under the onslaught of highrises and neon-lit globalised modernity. It’s full of tumble-down shophouses, impressive architecture and countless trishaws ferrying tourists and locals around a maze of streets and lanes. Ancient trades such as joss-stick making and fortune telling still go on in scenes which probably haven’t changed in a century!

We’d also decided that this would be a great place to leave the boat and travel by bus to Kuala Lumpur. Woohoo… off on another overland adventure!

22-24 November
Our departure was slightly delayed on Sunday morning by the annual marathon across the Penang Bridge (which FYI, at 13.5km is SE Asia’s longest bridge). Our 5 hour bus ride to Malaysia’s capital city was an absolute pleasure on the very swish NICE Plus bus. Palm oil plantations lined the highway and occasionally we caught a glimpse of a town of or bare mountainside. Damn that palm oil!

Our main mission in KL was to spend a day at the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, to go up to the bridge at the Twin Towers, and perhaps if there was time, visit the craft complex. That’s it – KL’s just another big city.

I’d booked at the Equatorial Hotel which was located more in the business district – but suited us just fine as it was only 4 stops from the Towers and 5 stops to where we’d be meeting our guide Razali, “the elephant man” on Monday morning.

On Sunday afternoon we’d ambled over to KL’s version of Sim Lim Square (electronic and digital shopping paradise); and then fought our way through crowds at the Beraja Times Square Mall – Malaysia’s largest mall which houses over 1000 retail shops and 65 food outlets!! But that’s not all – it also has its own theme park and roller coaster! Insane! Needless to say we could barely find our way out what with the west wing, east wing… more like confu-sing!!!

With just less than 2 hours of daylight left we headed off to see the Petronas Towers – we wanted to see them in the daylight and also just after sunset. As we emerged from the underground, we were just blown away by how utterly impressive they were “in the flesh”! You see them in photos – but I’m telling you, it’s NOT the same. All that gleaming stainless steel is something to behold! We popped off to have some dinner at Nando’s and by the time we returned they were all lit up… like two huge rockets. Absolutely beautiful. We were looking forward to going up to the bridge on Tuesday.

Just a week ago I had been on one of my favourite sites called www.tripadvisor.com where I’d discovered - and immediately contacted - “the elephant man” (jungletrekker69@gmail.com) http://www.myelephants.org – and within minutes my heart was going out to those gorgeous little orphaned ellies!!! He picked us up in KL on Monday morning and by the time we’d reached Pahang 1.5 hours later, we knew his entire history! What an interesting guy!!!

Razali has been a volunteer at the sanctuary for the last 15 years and has a vast knowledge of their behaviour, their injuries, and is involved in the rescue process, as well as the ins and outs of the sanctuary. He works very hard trying to organise sponsorships and “donations” for the resident elephants, the rescue program and the sanctuary to help it survive. It is Government funded, but it’s the usual story – they don’t have immediate funds to draw from for basic everyday things such as swivels, raincoats, VHF radios etc, which is incredibly frustrating particularly since they can’t go out and “ask” for donations! Being a Government owned sanctuary there is also no entrance fee since the elephants are Malaysian the public have a right to see them for free. It’s a very tricky and frustrating situation.

He had a unique style of getting one to understand elephants and the efforts to protect and conserve them. The movie at the information centre gave one a very good idea of how very difficult and dangerous it is to capture and transport wild elephants (with little resources!). Elephants are usually relocated when they are encroaching on and destroying plantations or population centres.

We got to help with some hands-on loving care and attention, weighing out crates of fruit for their lunch, unloading a truckload of sugarcane and stripping it down, preparing food for the 3 month old and a recently injured (but recovering) elephant. Behind the scenes we were able to bottle feed two of them which was amazing! Back in the “circus” as Razali calls it (the huge tourist enclosure) we queued up to hand feed them, a “bareback” ride was optional – bearing in mind you are sitting at the widest part - this was hilarious as you just about had to be able to do the splits… poor Ken was suffering with his short legs and he kept getting a cramp!

The sanctuary had around 18 elephants when we were there – and has been able to relocate over 400 elephants so far. The Asian elephant is a lot smaller than the African elephant, and the babies are just insanely cute… but those trunks: when you are holding the underside and blowing gently into their nostrils the skin feels as soft and tender as a babies, but they are unbelievably strong!!

We had a fabulously educational and exciting day – and took hundreds of great photos. Another “once in a lifetime” experience made extra special by our guide and host for the day, Razali. He has put this great site together and we strong urge anyone going (who would like to donate something) to visit the Sanctuary to check with him what they urgently need. http://www.myelephants.org/donation.html We bought loads of special milk powder for the babies. Every donation is greatly appreciated, no matter how great or small. Do what you can to help support the Asian elephants, they are just too amazing to become extinct.

We enjoyed dinner that evening at Razali’s favourite local “corner café” restaurant…Located deep in the heart of one of KL’s more Indian suburbs, never in our wildest dreams would we ever have found it! Here we discovered banana roti served with a curry sauce (so delicious I had 2, one as a starter and the other for my main meal!). The bill for the 3 of us came to a mere RM25!!! Gotta know where the locals go!!

Anchoring the huge Kuala Lumpur City Centre urban development park, convention centre and shopping centre are the iconic Petronas Towers. Opened in 1998, the 88 stainless steel clad twin towers rise up some 451.9m and are the headquarters of the national oil and gas company, Petronas, as well as housing several other companies.

The highest you can go is 170m above ground level to the 41st floor Skybridge which connects the towers. Free tickets are issued daily, but you need to start queuing around 7am as they only issue 800 tickets!! We got there at around 7:20am, got the 9:30 slot and were done by 10am!

They were the world's tallest towers until October 2003 when Taipei 101 in Taiwan took over with a height of 509m.

Here are some interesting facts about the Petronas Towers:
• combined the towers have 1 000 000m2 of floor space
• the Skybridge is 58.4m long and weighs
• the towers have 32 000 windows
• the building costs were US $ 1,2 billion
• they were designed to symbolise strength and grace using geometric principles typified in Islamic architecture
• each tower contains 80 000 m3 of concrete in strengths up to Grade 80, almost 11 000 tonnes of reinforcement, and 7500 tonnes of structural steel beams and trusses
• other components of the development include the Suria KLCC, a six-story, 93,000 square feet shopping centre

The rally festivities were on the 29th and 30th. The sail past was a bit of a disaster in that many boats were way ahead of schedule because of the situation in Lumut (2 functions separated by 4/5 days, people did not want to wait around as there was nothing to do in Lumut). The plan was that we were all supposed to anchor off Palau Jerejak and do a “sail past” under the Penang Bridge, unfortunately only about 20 boats participated in this event. The bus tour was okay – we were taken to a new wing of one of the fancy private hospitals, 2 housing developments (!!), the Pen-Marine boatyard, and were then entertained at the one of the property developers’ headquarters (on the “balcony” on 16th floor – great views and a nice breeze!). It was a fun day and once again “thank you” to Sail Malaysia!

We ate where the locals ate and enjoyed delicious curries for RM8 at Kapitans. We also tried a Chinese place, but soone discovered that their chicken curries were not boneless (a real nuisance to eat with chopsticks!!) – we also joked about their menu which offered meals such as shark fin soup, sea cucumber, eel, fish eyes, pig ears and goat brain. Call me fussy, but I think I’d rather starve.

Banana Travel also sorted out Thai visas for a mere RM5!! What a deal! It would cost more to get to the embassy by bus!! We did the usual tourist thing and walked the Heritage Trail (in that heat… what were we thinking!). We also made good use of the free touristy CAT bus. We saw too many beautiful temples to mention, but the most fascinating are the Chinese temples, I wish we’d had a local to take us around and explain it all!

Georgetown also turned out to be a very good stopover because we were able to get much needed medical checkups done at the local Adventist Hospital. We were gobsmacked at the medical facilities available to everyone here – for almost a pittance! We could walk in off the street and see specialists without a referral! This would certainly not be the case if we were in South Africa, England or the States. Best of all is that all the specialists, laboratories, radiologists etc are all housed under one roof. I had an MRI on my neck and it cost the equivalent of ZAR1500 (if I was at home I would have paid in excess of ZAR8000!). The gynaecologist was the best one I’d ever seen. Ken also had the whole bang shoot including an angiogram - in less than a week! I’m still in awe! Thankfully we were both doing just fine. It pays you to fly to Malaysia to have your health issues sorted out.

5 – 14 December
Having received the “all clear” we left Georgetown at 5:20am on Friday the 4th on a favourable tide… and actually managed to sail the whole 59nm to Langkawi, yes that four letter word had finally made an appearance again!

Just after lunch we anchored in an area called “the fiords” and after being in marina after marina, it was the most beautifully serene setting. High rocky limestone islands covered with dense bush-like vegetation that was home to a variety of monkeys and other creatures.

Langkawi is Malaysia’s best-known holiday destination. It’s made up of 99 islands which are easily accessible from mainland Malaysia as well as from Thailand. Only the main island as any real settlement and it’s fringed with sandy white beaches, an interior of jungle clad hills and don’t forget the picturesque paddy fields. The islands offer plenty of protected and gorgeous anchorages, although the water was still a disappointing greenish-brown and there were lots of jellyfish around. The whole setting reminded me very much of McCarr’s Creek off Pittwater, Sydney.

After 3 days of blissful peace in the fiords we headed to the smallish town of Kuah. Bass Harbour is guarded by a monstrously huge eagle statue… you see them constantly soaring overhead wherever you are on the island! Langkawi combines the old Malay words “helang” (eagle) and “kawi” (strong). The majority of people in Langkawi are Muslim. The town was reather disappointing after coming from Georgetown (not to mention Singapore!). The huge Langkawi Mall was clean and airconditioned and housed the only supermarket on the island.

Since Langkawi was declared a duty free zone in 1986, the island has received yet more visitors, many intent solely on carting off cheap booze! Considering that only spirits, beer, cigarettes and chocolate are duty free – you can’t really blame them can you! We paid RM30 for 1 L of Gordon’s Gin, RM24 for a slab of Skol beer, RM45 for 5L of Drostdy Hof cask wine… generally the bottled wine is not as cheap as you’d expect – but if you look around you can find something decent for a fair price. We also stopped by Lucky Frozen (hotel/restaurant supplier) and placed our order for very cheap Australian filet (RM48 p/kg) and rib-eye (RM40 p/kg) as well as 2 New Zealand lamb racks at RM33 p/kg. We were very impressed!

8-13 December
After taking on very cheap diesel at the small blue “fuel ship” anchored in Bass Harbour, we headed to Telaga Harbour Marina as were keen to collect our packages from the office. The most important package contained a new Raymarine ST60 system that our friends Deborah and John (Bella Donna) had just mailed us from California. Ours was 18 years old and was tired! The wind instrument packed up 2 days out of Australia so we were keen to have it all working again. The anchorage (outside of their man-made anchorage) was fantastic and for once we had a good breeze.

The final rally function was held at a resort 2 kms away from Telaga and boy did they put on a feast for us! The food was incredible to say the least… and the entertainment was just as good! All in all we are happy that we did the Malaysian Rally – we were treated like royalty and would have missed out on such a lot had we done it on our own. Hats off to you Sazli and the beautiful Hardeep!

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!


2009-12-16 to 2010-02-05

Total Distance from Langkawi (including diversion to Satun): 168.5nm
Duration: 16 December 2009 – 5 February 2010

12 days in Langkawi was enough for us… we were hankering for beautiful blue water – but before we chased the horizon we wanted to see what the PSS Boatyard was like in Satun, southern Thailand (very close to the Malaysian border). We snaked our way up the river following their waypoints, and tucked into a river bend just south of the yard and dinghied over. The visit proved fruitful as we were able to talk to Oh, the lady who runs the yard, as well as Ked, the lady who runs the private spray painting team… girl power!! But more importantly, we were able to get first hand info from yachties who were already there. It appeared to be a good working yard, and apart from the fact that they weren’t the fastest bunch, they definitely scored points on quality workmanship and customer satisfaction – which is what counts at the end of the day isn’t it? So we left feeling very positive and made tentative bookings for 2010.

Preferring to day-sail, we made 2 stops en route to Phuket. Ko Tarutao was gorgeous, and Ko Rok Nok was where we got excited about getting in the water again: we dropped the anchor in 10 meters at 5pm and could see the bottom! Begrudgingly we left early the following morning and headed for Ao Chalong, Phuket. If the weekend had not been upon us (heavy overtime fees apply) we would definitely have stayed another day… but Ko Rok Nok would always be there!

Ao Chalong is a huge bay – there must’ve been at least 100 boats of varying descriptions anchored and moored there. The clearing in process was a piece of cake and the officials could not have been friendlier, but the language - oh my goodness… is just SO totally foreign and nothing makes sense! After a walk around “town” and a browse through Tesco supermarket, we headed back to the boat to find a prettier anchorage for the night… Nai Harn Bay was perfect – a huge and fairly well protected bay on Phuket’s west coast. The restaurant at Jungle Beach had exceptional tamarind prawns for a mere 120 THB! I ordered a whiskey – they brought me a half-jack for 140 THB!

Ex-cruising friends were arriving on Christmas Day and we thought it best to pick them up from Yacht Haven Marina, this would also give us the chance to scrub Malaysia off the deck, as well as prepare the boat for 2 extra people. We appeared to be in the perfect place to have a problem with our refrigerator on Christmas Day at that! But since they don’t celebrate Christmas, we were in luck and they spent the afternoon re-gassing the system. After working like a slave it was great to finally sit down and have a good ‘ol chinwag with people we’d not seen since 2003 in Antigua! They were staying until 11 Jan, and we hoped that our itinerary would work out weather-wise.

26 December 2009
Open any book on Thailand and you are sure to see the impressive and unusual sights of the towering vertical limestone rocks jutting out of the sea. This is Ao Phang Nga Bay. It lies directly to the east of Phuket island. Up to 300m in height, these islands and rocks all form part of the 400 square kilometres of coast between Phuket and Krabi. It’s pretty well protected from the sea, but if a strong northerly is blowing – expect big waves as it’s very shallow! The bay is thought to have been formed 12 thousand years ago when a dramatic rise in sea level flooded the summits of mountain ranges. Since limestone is relatively soluble the cliffs often have a “melted” look about them – and some huge outcrops are very phallic looking! Naturally there are stalactites and amazing caves called “hongs” (Thai for “room”) to explore… great for dinghies, but I reckon even better for kayaks! Langkawi’s outer islands look very similar to this – as do a lot of the islands en route to Phuket (the Ko Taruao National Park).

By late afternoon on the 26th we anchored at Ko Ku Du Yai, visually it was not overly impressive – but we’d run out of daylight hours! The following days took us to Ko Pak Bia which was impressive; and Ko Hong was just plain beautiful, and very picturesque – the snorkelling was not as bad as we expected either!

As we neared the famous and breathtakingly handsome island of Ko Phi Phi Don on the 28th, there was a marked increase in longtails ferrying tourists around…. The ubiquitous Thai water transport. These are long and narrow boats with high bows and a very unique drive system – an engine with a long driveshaft and a tiny prop all mounted on a frame and balanced on a pivot near the back of the boat. We’ve seen single cylinder engines as well as 6-cylinder truck engines. Cooling systems are ingenious and mufflers are well - non-existent!

Phi Phi had a great vibe and we had a good time “window shopping” whilst meandering through the sandy walkways that was “town”. Despite being decimated by the Tsunami in 2004, Phi Phi has pulled itself together and today is busier than ever. A huge attraction no doubt is Ko Phi Phi Leh, where “The Beach” was filmed. This island is also home to the Viking Cave, where the very lucrative bird’s nesting appears to be far more interesting than the 400 year old graffiti of Chinese junks! Rickety bamboo scaffolding extends hundreds of meters up to the roof of the cave, where the harvesters spend the day scraping the tiny sea-swift nests off the rockface.

We never made it to Ko Phi Phi Leh with the boat as it was just absolute mayhem the following morning – hundreds of tourist boats going every which way. Engine on, we fled back towards Phuket island where we found a great little anchorage for the night at Ko Mai Thon. After spending the following night at Nai Harn Bay, the plan was to see in the New Year at Ao Patong. Knowing it was “the place to be for NYE” we decided to get there early to secure a good spot. We also decided that we’d like to be back on board just before midnight as people would no doubt be letting off flares. Unfortunately flares and booze do not go well together.

Ao Patong is by far the busiest and most popular of all Phuket’s beaches. A congestion of hotels, massage parlours, tour agents, restaurants and a zillion souvenir shops disfigure the beachfront. Tireless touts are everywhere, and hostess bars and strip joints offering their famous ping-pong shows dominate the Banggla Street nightlife. There were a surprising amount of older single Western men about; and younger men in groups who’d very obviously come to Thailand to “experience” the very beautiful little Thai women – and some, I’m sure got a very big surprise at 3 in morning when they’d discovered that she was actually a he!! My oh my there are SO MANY stunningly beautiful transvestites (aka ladyboys) here with perfect little bodies and gorgeous implants… and boy are they proud of their wares!!! Dr V will file away an adam’s apple for 10,000THB… and then you can have breast augmentation for 100,000THB. Not bad hey…

The streets were jam-packed with revelers waiting to see in the New Year… Thai style! We bought 6 floating lanterns a couple and let one off on the beach at 11:45pm – the sky was full of them – it was absolutely beautiful! The 6 we bought were huge – at least 1m in height by 60cm diameter, they have a basic frame encased with a type of tissue paper, and then there’s a “firelighter” at the base that you light, then you hold up the corners whilst waiting patiently for the flame to kick in and the hot air to fill the lantern – and next thing you know you feel a gentle tugging and it wants to go up up and away! Don’t forget to make a wish….

There also just happened to be a Full Blue Moon lunar eclipse on 31 December 2009, and the next Blue Moon on New Years Eve will be in 19 years time! 2010 has been designated International Year of Astronomy by the United Nations to highlight 400 years of astronomy since 1609 when Galileo first viewed the heavens with a telescope. It was also 400 years ago when Galileo turned his telescope toward the moon and discovered that the moon “is uneven, rough and full of cavities and prominences.” How far we have come since that discovery!

With the phenomenal firework show still lingering in our minds, we woke up on New Year’s Day and went grocery shopping at the fantastic Carrefour supermarket, and a taxi dropped us off in front of the pier for 200THB… we were ready to escape the madness of Patong… roll on gorgeous white beaches and clear water!!

The Similan islands are a group of nine mostly uninhabited small islands lying in a north-south direction along the west coast of Thailand. Similan is derived from the Malay word ‘sembilan’ meaning ‘nine’ – hence the nine islands! Even though they have Thai names, they are generally referred to by number, the southern most island being No. 1 and the northern most being No. 9. They are characterized by stunning scenery set by huge granite boulders surrounded by lush vegetation and white sand beaches, as well as clear waters and a large diversity of marine life. Proclaimed a National Marine Park twenty years ago, these waters are supposed to protected from the ravages of commercial fishing (but aren’t!!!) and they are still decimating the fish population in SE Asia!! The Similans are reported to offer world-class diving, so we wanted to check it out. The large granite boulders, often seemingly precariously positioned on top of each other in a variety of interesting geometric forms, plunge into the sea forming interesting swim-throughs at 5 to 25 meters, there are also caves and overhangs, seamounts and reefs.

Feeling rather excited about all we’d heard and read, we set off at 7am, and actually managed to sail 23nm of the 57nm! Wow, things were looking up! Anyway we arrived at No 4 (Ko Miang) at around 5pm only to find there no suitable buoys available. We exhausted all options: friends even moved to another buoy so that we could have theirs, but after closer inspection Roger discovered a huge bommie that we’d definitely hit if we swung round – a smallish dive charter boat said we could raft up, but this was not ideal because of the swell. So after pratting around for over an hour, losing daylight, and feeling rather frustrated, we ended up dropping the hook near No. 6 in 30 meters of water (way beyond most scuba divers levels in anycase). There were 2 others that were also anchored, but being a National Park we really wanted “to the right thing” and not anchor! Minutes later, some fellow on a yacht to our starboard side rows over (he had an outboard by the way!) and proceeds to tell us that we have just anchored on “world-class pristine coral”. We did not move as by now it was dark. So be it!

After getting up early we raced over to lay claim to a vacant buoy on the opposite side in front of the beach (Honeymoon Bay)… no sooner had we tied up to the orange one, when a heavy duty yellow one became available – so off we went again! Friends who’d been there for a week told us to watch out for the dive charter boats who’d come over and hoot and insist that you move off the buoy as it’s theirs. Well, this is just NOT true. No dive companies “own” any of the mooring buoys - they ALL belong to the National Park and it’s a first-come-first-served situation (we heard this first-hand from Park officials a while later)…. in the busy season it’s very much dog-eat-dog, so it’s very handy if you have visitors to send out in the dinghy to claim the vacant buoy!

No. 4 was a very picturesque spot indeed… beautiful clear water, fish swimming about – a sight we’d not seen since Komodo – or dare I say Fiji (we did not do New Caledonia). After 2 hours of finning around we thought we were in the wrong place as this was nowhere near “world-class” – the coral was broken and mostly dead, there were some pretty reef fish about, and a huge triggerfish that did not mind my camera in the least (which was a real treat!)… and sadly not much else to speak of! As for the “world-class pristine coral” that we’d supposedly anchored on… at that depth we could clearly see it was mainly sand and rock! So everybody’s perceptions of “world-class” are just that… perceptions: particularly if you’ve not dived/snorkeled in many other places (e.g. Tuamotus, Fiji, Hoga, southern Rinca to name but a few), what have got to compare with? Unfortunately we’re jaded and it takes a lot to get our attention underwater nowadays!! BUT, the water was the perfect temperature and it was clear, it was a beautiful setting, there were blue skies and it was always gorgeously sunny (albeit disgustingly hot until minutes before sunset!), so we enjoyed it and took it for what it was.

The following morning we moved up to No. 8 (Ko Similan) (aka Donald Duck Bay – some person who must’ve been smoking something figured two of the rocks on the northern end of the bay looked like the cartoon character… we think they’ve weathered a lot since the naming!). Anyway, we pulled in and it was as rolly as ever, but we picked up a buoy anyway - hoping that the NW swell would ease up – 3 hours later we dropped the mooring and headed out to calmer waters on the eastern side of Ko Similan (in the vicinity of Beacon Reef)… what a great spot with not another soul in sight we had the gorgeous beaches all to ourselves!! Strangely enough – the Similans seemed to attract weather systems, and 5 out of 6 of our nights there were fraught with impressive thunderstorms, rain and wind (luckily rarely over 20 knots).

And the fishing boats… to heck with the 5nm “fishing boundary”… they were everywhere and even came in to anchor when they felt the need!

We then headed back to No. 4 – but since it was blowing SE, we took shelter on the northern end – and what a great bay this was too (despite being like Victoria Station during the daytime!!)… and the snorkeling in the NW corner was about the best we’d seen here. This was also a good spot to clean the hull which by now was in very bad shape. Ken and I scraped about a 1.5m border all the way around – but it’s exhausting work coming up to the surface for air all the time and trying to push yourself off a rocking boat! The following morning Roger kindly offered to take my place and Ken went back in with a hooker (dive tank on the deck, 18m high pressure hose attached to cylinder and ….. in Ken’s mouth!).

On the morning of the 8th we set off back to Patong Beach. We’d run out of fresh stuff and Roger and Jeni were fighting off signs of cabin fever (so was I actually!). We arrived in time to enjoy a great meal ashore. There comes a time when even a not so great meal ashore is better than cooking for the umpteenth time on the boat! Jeni got her last fill of cheap Thai tourist shopping and Roger carried the parcels! They also bought tickets to the Simon Cabaret…

The Simon Cabaret was a spectacular cabaret style show with 99% of the performers being transvestites who mimed songs like “I will survive”, to local Thai and Chinese hits, to oldies… but the Tina Turner impersonator stole the show! The stage props were unbelievable and even though the sound could’ve been turned down a notch or two – it was a great evenings’ entertainment!

The 11th saw the departure of Roger and Jeni back to Durban. We stayed on in Patong for a few more days to sort out our flight tickets to Cape Town and the hauling of Fast Forward at Rebak Marina. We also went to see the Phuket Fantasea Show. Well, in a nutshell it’s really more of a “family orientated” outing – and all they wanted was your money! The tickets included a buffet dinner for at least 3500 people! The main show was performed in The Elephant Palace, it was like a theatrical safari that took you through a 12 exotic and mythical scenes inspired by legends and ancient folklores, starring a huge cast including 16 elephants, chickens, pigeons and buffalo! Outside, there were amusement park rides for kids, boutique stores, as well as a very fancy jewelry store. Seeing the white tigers up close and personal was quite something too – unfortunately they were not part of the show, they were housed in a glassed off section… but what awesome creatures they were! A good night out, but we preferred The Simon Cabaret.

Another stocking up session of fruit and veg was on the cards before heading north to explore the Surin Islands.

19 January
Bordering Burma, this group of 5 islands formed part of another National Park. Information downloaded from the internet stated that the Surins boasted the best hard coral reefs in Thailand…. at this stage ANY live reef would be nice thank you!! We worked our way up the coast in 2 days, over-nighting at Ao Bang Thao and Ban Thap Lamu so as to make the 59nm leg across to the Surins in a day-hop – and guess what? We actually sailed 99% of the way! Amazing!

We anchored in a huge bay between Ko Surin Nua and Ko Surin Tai… it was fabulous as there were only 2 other yachts there! We braced ourselves for thousands of tourists when we woke the next morning – but not a tourist boat in sight! Besides the fishing boats that were often tied to mooring buoys (and rafted up 6 abreast sometimes!) the only other boats we saw were the local “sea gypsies”.

The sea gypsies or chao ley or chao nam (people of the sea or water people) have been living off the seas around this and other areas for hundreds of years. Thought to number about 5000, they are divided into five groups with distinct lifestyles and dialects. The “Moken” of the Surin Islands and Burma’s Mergui archipelago probably came originally from Burma and are the most traditional of these communities. Most are unregistered Thai citizens and don’t own land or property, but are dependent on fresh water and beaches to collect shells and sea slugs to sell to traders. They have extensive knowledge of the plants that grow in the remaining jungles, using 80 for food alone and 30 for medicinal purposes. They are animists, with a strong connection to the natural spirits of the islands, sea as well as to their own ancestral spirits.

Despite many that have made permanent homes/shacks on coastal settlements, some still pursue a traditional nomadic existence, living in self-contained houseboats called kabang. Now you’re thinking “houseboats”… nice. NOT!! They live in longtails – the same longtails as described above!! It’s unbelievable!! A seriously weathered old couple (must’ve been at least in their early 70’s, or perhaps even older) came over one morning to sell us some dodgy looking bright purple and green woven boxes (definitely a bulk deal from China) (have a look at the photo of their home) – inside the “roof” is netting that’s sectioned off and it holds everything from utensils to plates to whatever they need for this meager existence! The primus was on the roof! Naturally we bought the gaudy woven boxes, my heart just went out to these two old folk and I gave her a big bag of old clothes that she was very very thankful for; then they wanted some petrol so Ken gave them 1 litre; then they wanted Coke, so I gave them 2 Cokes – and then they wanted… and we said “bye bye!”. There’s only so much giving one can do…

The bulk of our 7 days there were spent in the water… and it was pretty amazing to say the least! Clear water and fields and fields of healthy coral – not to mention loads of reef fish and the occasional pelagic. We had a great time!

We also went out to Richelieu Rock, but were very disappointed… it was: just a rock! There was not a manta ray or whale shark in sight… and it’s not like we were being fussy because there was not much life to speak around the actual rock either! So that was a bit of a disappointment…

Believe it or not, we actually went back to the Similans on 26 January – I kept reading about all this amazing snorkeling and diving and mentioned to Ken that just maybe we’d been to the wrong spots. It turned out we hadn’t… but it’s wasn’t a total waste of time as we met up with friends, and the sailing angle back to Patong Beach was much better than from the Surins.

We arrived back in Patong Beach at around 5pm and it was felt like coming home… the jet-ski’s, fireworks, floating lanterns, bright lights, busy town… nothing will ever change! It was nice! We took it easy over next few days and even had a beautiful painting of bright red poppies commissioned for my Mom. It’s absolutely stunning! The artists here produce fantastic copies of original artwork… they have catalogues of famous artists from all over the world and all you have to do is choose! After watching the knocked off DVD a few weeks ago, we thought we’d treat ourselves to seeing it on the big screen! So off we went to the cinema at the JungCeylon Mall and got the VIP seats, which is 2 rows of seats at the back that are actually reclining 2-seater couches, complete with drinks holders and plenty of leg room! What a treat! Oh the movie was absolutely awesome… we just loved it!

Our time here in Thailand is coming to a close and we still have so much to see inland, but that’s what next season is for! Our intentions are to clear out of Ao Chalong on 5 February, enjoying a few days at the islands en route to Langkawi, Malaysia where we’ll check in on the 10th, then head over to Georgetown, Penang to join in the festive celebrations of the Chinese New Year on 14 February which promises to be a spectacle of note! David and Juliet on Reflections will also be here, so it will be great to see them again… we have really missed them as they have been stuck in Port Dickson with engine problems, but, touch wood all is resolved and they too can enjoy what’s left of the cruising season before the SW Monsoon sets in. On 16 February we’ll make our way back to Langkawi where we’ll start preparing the boat, as she is going to be hauled out of the water and left on the hard… and then we fly back to Cape Town, South Africa 23 February and return on 8 April. I cannot tell you how excited I am to see my Mom… it’s been a little over 2 years!

But for now we’ll enjoy our last few days in Thailand and I’ll still laugh at the whiny calls for “masssssaaaaaaaage?”… and still feel sorry for the beautiful little Thai girls that look so bored with the pug-ugly European men… and the insistent offers to make Ken a suit… and even more insistent offers to buy a knocked off Gucci bag and DVD’s or a dress (which nothing like the one I’m wearing, but it’s “same-same”)…. but this what people come to Thailand for and it’s cheap here! It’s Thailand’s Bali! Over 14 million foreigners flew into Thailand in 2009, those figures are up by 10% on 2008 (not bad for a “world recession”) : and the visas are still free… so what are you waiting for?!!

5 Weeks in beautiful CAPE TOWN...

2010-02-24 to 2010-04-06

CAPE TOWN -  (by silver bird)
24 FEBRUARY 2010

With the boat safely tucked away on the hard at Rebak Marina, we set off on 24 February on our much-anticipated holiday to Cape Town, South Africa – it had been 2 years and 2 months since our last visit and I was literally chomping at the bit to get back and spend some time with my Mother… and whose 60th birthday just so happened to a mere 2 weeks away!! Our flights on Emirates were fantastic and we made full use of their 30kg allowance (each) in economy class by lugging most of our treasures back that were purchased all over the world.
Hout Bay is still absolutely beautiful, and the weather was simply fantastic… we enjoyed heat wave after heat wave which was very uncharacteristic for March, but the weather is strange in most places around the globe. Daily temps were on average 25C. Although as soon as the wind blew, you could feel that wintry chill!

I treated myself to an 8 week online photography course which started I in Cape Town and finished back in Langkawi. Looking back – it’s probably the best money I have ever spent and I still can't believe just how much I learnt!

Ken’s son Russel and his girlfriend Alena popped over from Sydney, so our timing was just perfect! Alena had never been to South Africa before and she absolutely loved it! It’s such a treat seeing your country through new eyes.

It was great seeing all our friends again, but within a day or so we found that we’d slotted right back in, and by the third day it was as though we’d never left!!

Meeting up with Kenwyn and Johan was good fun, they’re our old cruising friends who have sadly retired from the cruising life due to health reasons. Tory and Piet Hein had also recently returned home from their circumnavigation, and we also met up with Roger and Jeni from Durbs – who flew to Cape Town for a weekend. We had a braai at our house, and it was a real yachtie event!

We were also witness to the famous Argus bicycle race, as well as the Two Oceans Marathon. Living in Hout Bay is great if you’re a sports fan as both races come through the village. 

My Mom’s 60th was held at Moyo (Stellenbosch) – it’s a unique destination for a sophisticated African experience. Russel and Alena also joined us and she loved it! The food was amazing, and as for the entertainment – well it just made the hair stand up on the back of my neck – Africans have such rhythm, and the African beat just gets right down into your soul. I love it! My Mom was called up on stage to do a dance with one of the girls… and she did very well!!! Then we all sang to her… she said it was her best birthday ever… it was very cool being there with her. 

Soon all eyes will be on South Africa and the Soccer World Cup… the new stadium in Cape Town is awesome and fingers crossed that all goes well.

It was sad leaving – but whether you’re there for a week or 3 months it always is isn’t it.... I'm crossing my fingers that my Mom and Walter will be able to come and enjoy a holiday on Fast Forward in the not too distant future.... how cool would that be!

We're back & setting off on the Rally to the East!

2010-04-08 to 2010-05-19


8 April 2010

Arriving back to the heat and humidity in Malaysia was no joke. Thank goodness for aircon… that was all we could say!!! The biggest job was to paint on the anti-fouling, but getting up early and painting the half that was in the shade was not as bad as I initially thought… the other half was then painted in afternoon. It worked well – and with only having to paint on 2 coats, it was a piece of cake! As we are hauling the boat at the end of the year we did not need to apply more than 2 coats. The plan is to do some major work on her: re-spraying the deck/coachroof/cockpit/radar arch area, as well as either sandblast below the waterline, or to physically sand “17 years” off with a sander.

Ken purchased a marine aircon in South Africa, which he was going to fit in the wardrobe in our bedroom (I never quite swallowed the marine dictionary!.... okay, aft cabin if I must!)… the package eventually arrived along with 34kgs of “boat stuff” (Ken got the shopping award this time!). Actually he could not resist because he has a really really good stainless steel fabricator in Cape Town and we really did need some brackets and other bits and bobs… and the quality is still top notch! Thanks Solly!

We splashed on 20 April and spent 3 days in the marina tying up loose ends before heading 5nm over to Telaga Harbour to spend Anzac Day with our Aussie friends (new and old!). It turned out to be a brilliant day which started off at around 10:30, but we only got there an hour later, and there was still a billy on the fire and traditional Anzac cookies. The plan was to come back later for a BBQ, but no one left! So most of the ladies went back to get the meat, salads and booze – about an hour after eating the heavens opened and we all got drenched! Even that didn’t dampen our spirits and soon our clothes were dry and the Aussies were playing Two Up and gambling (the only day they are allowed to apparently)… hometime was sunset! It was a memorable day!

We left early and headed over to the PSS boatyard in Satun, southern Thailand (a mere 20nm away!). Ked came over to look at exactly what needed to be done and also gave Ken some really good ideas. She knows what she is talking about and is a very capable spraypainter. Apart from a few yachts we have seen, she has also just finished painting Cariad 1896, and the PSS boatyard will be finished with her restoration in about 80 days. As soon as Ken returned from dropping Ked off on shore we set off for Telaga Harbour.

The registration for the Malaysian Rally to the East was on 2 May at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club, so we figured we’d hang around for a few more days before making our way down the west coast of Malaysia.

The official start of the rally is on 27 May from Danga Bay, Johor. The route then goes up the east coast of Malaysia, across the South China Sea to Borneo, Brunei, Sabah, Sarawak (44 boats so far) – the route continues on all the way over the top of that island which would bring us within spitting distance of the southern Philippines.... at that stage it would be the end of the August and we’d either have to start making our way back OR we could come back via Indo, spending our allotted 3 months seeing the bits we’d missed out on in 2009! Most of all we’re really just looking forward to clear blue water again!!

In the meantime we’d received 2 quotes from Boat Lagoon, Phuket, Thailand and were horrified at how expensive they were – granted, they had only seen photographs: but still!!! When Ked’s quote came through it seemed much more reasonable and we breathed a combined sigh of relief as it was a third cheaper!! The best time to have the work done is Jan/Feb/March which suits us down to the ground as we’ll be guaranteed our 3 months in Indo first before heading back up the west coast of Malaysia to Langkawi, where we’ll leave the boat in Rebak Marina for 15 days when we fly to Sydney for Christmas and New Year. Phew! So that’s it then – the next 7 months planned already!!

The official unofficial start of the rally….

We left Langkawi on 4 May and actually managed to sail only about 4 hours of the 62.5nm to Penang! We spent 1 night in Tanjung City Marina, had the best curry (again!) at Kapitans on Chulia Street – and headed out the following day to anchor at the southern tip of Palau Penang so as to get an early start to Lumut in the morning.

After 68nm of motoring (yes the main was up too) we arrived at Pangkor Marina, Lumut (on the Malaysian mainland). A brand spanking new marina… I hope their intentions are to put more piles in (but somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen). Anyway, James was extremely accommodating and just about bent over backwards for us… they put on an amazing reception dinner for the rally participants and pulled out all the stops! What a great evening! The following morning we headed over to the southern tip of Palau Pangkor to get another early start…

At 6:30am we were dodging fishing boats and soon after were savouring the beautiful sunrise. There was not a breath of wind – but the day was also quite overcast which was a welcome relief as we had to motor for 94nm’s!! We dropped anchor at our usual spot off the beaten track in Port Klang and slept like logs that evening!

10-15 MAY
Off to a not so early start of 7:30am as we only had 48nm’s of motoring to get to Port Dickson. The morning was very foggy and provided me with some good photo opportunities! We didn’t bother with the mainsail – but did get some use out of the genoa for a change!

Our time here gave Ken the opportunity to finalise the piping for our new aircon – we now have a vent into the bedroom and one that blows into the galley which then filters to the rest of the boat. Heaven!

The marina is well protected but does need some TLC – the cost of electricity was rather steep… but our new aircon turned out to be quite energy efficient! The entire hotel and marina complex is quite grand (but in true Malay style it could do with a lick of paint!)… the pool area was beautiful and on one of the afternoons we lazed around like tourists!! It was great! Drinks at The Sailors Bar were on the dear side (even with happy hour!) – but the food was pretty reasonable considering we were eligible for a 15% discount… the mutton curry was delicious!

15 MAY
The 15th found us anchored outside the marina in Melacca… there has been so much land reclamation going on in this area it’s no wonder the marina has silted up!! We came to this marina last year, and for 2 hours of the low tide we were in the mud – but we didn’t want the newly painted keel sitting in any mud this year thank you! Our draft is 2.45m – and a cruiser measured each berth a few days ago and reported that a boat with a draft 1.8m would just make it without sitting on the bottom!! So we’re quite happy to be sitting on the outside! But siltation is not the only problem here… the breakwater is a row of concrete piles, and since there is not enough of them, it does not create an effective barrier from any heavy swell that often comes in from the west… which makes life interesting if you’re inside the marina. We’ll not mention the cleats either!

Despite the above issues the marina was just about full, and Sazli and Hardeep (Sail Malaysia organizers) were absolutely thrilled with the turnout. Again we were treated like royalty, speeches were short and sweet and the traditional dancing was very well choreographed. The following afternoon we were all whisked off on a city tour – enjoying a 9km river cruise before savouring a bird’s-eye view of Melacca 80 meters up in the revolving tower. The seafood dinner that evening was very nice too.

19 May
We had one calm night, and a couple of rolly hours the following night – but after a storm came through at 4pm followed by dreadful swell, we decided to move at 7pm, and were anchored next to Catimini at 9pm at the Water Islands! Thank goodness for old tracks and friends!

99% of the rally boats have all left for Danga Bay. The sail we sent in to Quantum Melacca for minor alterations will be back on board this afternoon, and then we too will set off.

Luckily we booked a slot in the marina a few months back as it is now full, much to the disappointment of many!! But I suppose it does not help with it still being free (there’s water and electricity, but no other facilities) as many boats we arrived with in October have just stayed there, so essentially there weren’t many empty berths to begin with!! It is possible to anchor just off the marina, but many want to head over the bridge to Singapore to renew visas, and with storms pushing through every day, the thought of the boat being in a marina is much more comforting!!

We’re headed to Singapore by taxi on Saturday with Lucie and Roger from Catimini, and after a round of electric shopping at Sim Lim Tower (no not toys, only components!) will return on Sunday afternoon.

Overall the trip from Langkawi has not been too bad, although none of us expected to be doing so much motoring, but at least the diesel is very cheap… let’s hope that there’s more sailing to be done on the east coast of Malaysia!

Malaysian Rally To the East - Part 1

2010-05-21 to 2010-07-06

21 May – 6 July 2010

After dodging nets, fishtraps, fishing boats and thunderstorms we finally arrived in Danga Bay on 21 May – and a short side-trip to Singapore with Lucie and Roger (Catimini) was on the cards…

Ken shopped til I dropped! We spent a fair chunk of time scouring through Sim Lim Tower (anything from switches to cables to capacitors to sewing machine pedals can be found here)…. And then browsed through Sim Lim Square (6 storeys of cameras, computers and such) with Lucie and Roger. We made good use of the MRT and can recommend buying a day pass which is such a cost effective and super efficient way to travel. Your deposit and balance of travel funds is returned to you when you hand in the card. The Ibis Hotel on Bencoolen once again lived up to its reputation as superb value for money.

A word on “breakfast”… on principle we refuse to pay SGD20 each, so en route to the hotel in the taxi I spotted a sign that said “toast and coffee”. I’m convinced the Singaporeans have a thing about toast as we frequented a place called “the toast box” on our first visit – and all you could get was a nice slice of thick (but light) slice of toast with various toppings (butter/sugared butter/peanut butter) or French toast which was all done to perfection and then cut into 9 bite-sized pieces, served on a square plate with a couple of giant toothpicks! Fantastic! This, coupled with a coffee was a mere 3SG$!! Anyway, so we popped into the “toast and coffee” joint, which turned out to be a very popular Chinese hangout! Being the only “white faces” we attracted some attention. I was happy with French toast, and Ken wanted a combo type meal – ham and cheese on a roll, a soft egg and coffee. We were tucking into our toast when the “soft egg” arrived – and boy was it SOFT. It appeared to have only been poached for a nanosecond – the egg white was only vaguely white and still, well – very “snotty” for lack of a better word! We both looked at it, then at each other – and Ken immediately piped up that he could not eat it, and could they cook it a little while longer please – and the “waitress/kitchen lady” sort of shrugged her shoulders and said “no”! We stared at each other in astonishment, before he got up to ask the Manager, who smiled knowingly(!) and very kindly turned the egg into a fried egg! As we were getting up to leave the lady next to us was slurping her runny egg out of a bowl…

Singapore is undoubtedly a shopper’s paradise – boasting 34 shopping mega-malls! Now that might not sound very impressive, but if you take into consideration that the island is not very big – and at least 8 of those are in Orchard Road – then you might just be swayed! Orchard Central is the latest mega-mall to join the fold and with 12 storeys (and 2 basement levels) it is the tallest vertical mall in Singapore (250,000 square feet of shopping). Luckily for us one mall is usually enough as they all start looking the same… and who needs Gucci/LV/Prada/Jimmy Choo on a boat anyway?!


Rally Route: Up the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia to the idyllic Perhentian Islands, then across the South China Sea to Kuching, Sarawak, East Malaysia. From there we will work our way up the west coast to Miri, where we are going to take part in the Borneo International 5 day Yacht Race to Labuan, and finally on to Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah. A lot of boats will stay here and not travel much further north, but there are about 15 of us that will continue on around the top of the island to Tawau – a few boats are headed back to Australia, and we’re headed down the Makassar Strait to spend another 3 months in Indonesia.

The Reception Dinner was incredible! There must’ve been at least 7 courses of traditional Malay-style food, and for once the dishes were brought to our tables - all very chic and civilised.... as opposed to the buffet style situation last year where people (or should I say vultures) descended on the food, piling up their plates like it was their last meal. Very embarrassing to say the least. The traditional dance troupe was brilliant; and the band and singers were awesome as they had most of us on the dance floor in no time!

We were very keen to explore the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia as we’d heard from locals that it was “totally different” in the sense that it was more laid back – more like “Malaysia time!”, handicrafts were still manufactured by hand instead of in China, people were more traditional in culture and did not live life in the fast-lane as they did in KL, Penang, Melaka and Johor…. and it was prettier – no more coffee coloured water!

After a small stocking-up session, we headed out the following morning and shared space (in the barge lane of course) alongside ships of all shapes and sizes, naval vessels, and tugs towing barges in the Singapore Straits... it was nice seeing Singers from a different perspective too. Amazingly we managed to sail for all of 2 hours! Just to spice things up - we watched a massive line squall approach and engulf us (naturally we got nailed, but luckily the sails were furled!)… a mere 40 knots with torrential rain and lasted only 30 minutes.

The anchorage at Pengelih was great: good holding and well protected. There was a huge land reclamation project going on (nothing new in Malaysia!) resulting in a fantastic breakwater. The bay was big enough to accommodate the entire rally fleet and more. We opted to stay another day and catch up with boat chores as we knew that the Desaru anchorage was not very protected and could most likely be prone to swell = sleepless nights. Not good. By 6pm we were surrounded by 11 other yachts!

29 May – 1 June

An early start was on the cards as we wanted as good a spot as our draft would permit. We fought a strong counter-current of up to 2.5 knots at times, and the little wind there was helped ease the diesel consumption somewhat. We dropped anchor at 11:10am. We tried to tuck in as much as possible, but the bay was very shallow. All we could do was cross our fingers that the weather stayed calm! There were 18 yachts anchored by 6pm.

We’d heard from a friend that the resort was not very welcoming in the sense that the manager did not even know about the Rally! So much for Sazli saying we were able to use their facilities - they wanted RM20 each to swim in their pool!!! Goodness knows what a beer or a meal would cost! As usual word spread like wildfire and we ended up going to a local restaurant on the beachfront which served great meals for a good price! Our meal was 2 pieces of fried chicken, French fries and coleslaw, not the healthiest choice (but it was something we recognised!!) - it was delicious, and only came to RM28 which included 4 soft drinks.

Juliet and I managed to contact everyone that afternoon with a BYO suggestion of “drinks on the beach at 6”… and a good time was had by all!

There was confusion about the meeting time for the Johor Tour the following day (as the internet site had not been updated), so after chatting to Hardeep I sent an sms out to everybody – all but one boat clearly received the sms or already knew about the “new” time… and out of 22 boats, only Reflections and Catimini were thankful for the information. I certainly won’t be going to all that trouble in the future…

The day turned out to be a great success with a visit to the Fishermen’s Museum, Fruit Farm, Homestay in Kota Tinggi (over 50 kms away!) and Waterfall Resort. Everyone welcomed us from their hearts, all were the most gracious hosts and the lunch at the Homestay was phenomenal to say the least! As if we’d not eaten enough, the Waterfall resort also laid on sandwiches, donuts and delicious little Indian pies called “kuri pap” (curry puffs). A big “thank you” to all involved!


This archipelago, made up of a cluster of 64 islets scattered off the east coast of Malaysia is a constellation of some of Malaysia’s most beautiful islands – the largest and most popular is Pulau Tioman.

1 June: Pulau Sibu Kukus
After motoring for 7 hours on a milk pond we arrived at Pulau Sibu Kukus… two big blobs of rock fronted by gorgeous beaches. It was very picturesque and being 1 of 2 boats there, we were out of the “stampede” and could hopefully loose the crowd and the “sheep mentality”. The night turned out to be very pleasant despite being rudely awakened at 6am with the boat bumping against a bommie!! We'd swung round and were suddenly amongst a whole lot of coral heads with a mere 50cm under the keel!!! EEEEEK! It was only two little bumps... and within minutes we’d expertly extricated ourselves and dropped anchor a little way away in 4.5 meters!

2 June: Pulau Sibu
Later on that morning we moved to the NE anchorage on P.Sibu, which was rather a pretty setting. Three boats very kindly left soon after we'd anchored, so we upped anchor and moved in a bit closer! There were a nice bunch left, and soon we got to know another "clique" which were a mish-mash of nations (Italian, American & Dutch)... Reflections and the Aussies on Helly were also there. We had a nice get-together at the Sea Gypsy Resort and a good meal for RM12 each (Tiger beers were rather dear at RM13! But soft drinks and juices were only RM7).

3 June: Pulau Lima Kechil and Tinggi
At 9am five of us moved to P.Lima Kechil, which was very picturesque – 5 big lumps of rock and two gorgeous white beaches - water trying very hard to be blue, but still very pretty (a damn side better than the chocolate brown of the Malacca Straits!). We picked up Juliet in the dinghy and headed off to one of the beaches – three of the others were going to have a scuba dive, we took our snorkeling gear with, but weren’t impressed with the clarity of the water and were quite content just sitting on the rocks in the shade and having a good old chin-wag with the Italians (who’d left Italy in 2007, spent 7 months in the Red Sea, a further 7 months in India and are now spending their first season Malaysia). Nice people.

Anyway, so after making sure that 3 heads had surfaced we headed back to the boats, had a late lunch – upped anchor and headed to the northern anchorage of Tinggi. Surprisingly, we managed to sail the whole way… at 3.5 knots it was totally relaxing and more importantly – noise free!! This was simply the cherry on top of THE most AWESOME day we’ve had in a very long time. It was one of those absolutely perfect days that had us all swirling up fond memories of the Pacific islands and even Venezuela…

4 June: NW Tinggi
Reflections and ourselves shared the anchorage with around 20 others that evening, and were the first to leave at 7am. P.Mensirip seemed like a good choice… so why not?! We anchored off in 18m and dinghied round the corner to the beach. The drop off was very distinct, and for about 15 meters up to the beach, the water was like vodka! The snorkeling was pretty good – not many fish about, but there was a lot of coral (90% in good condition)… we’d also not seen this many anemonefish in one area before. After lunch we motor sailed to the northern anchorage of Sribuat, where we enjoyed drinks on the beach that evening with a few others.

5 June: Southern Sribuat
The morning dawned with Fast Forward rolling like a pig in the NW swell! By 8am we could not take it any longer and we moved down to the southern anchorage which was like a pond! By 2pm there were 8 of us anchored there… mmm what took the others so long?!

And then something funny happened: At 5pm we were enjoying dinner, it had been a lovely day and we were looking forward to a nice sunset as the sky was pretty clear, unlike the previous night. Anyway, someone off an Aussie cat made an announcement on the VHF that the barometer had dropped and they were going to be moving back to the northern anchorage – and who was coming with them? Their best friends then came on the VHF saying that yes, the baro had dropped 4 bars THAT DAY. A third party asked what was going on, so the Aussie cat replied saying that the baro had dropped 4 bars in HALF AN HOUR!!!! Needless to say, mass exodus ensued and within 30 minutes we were all on our own!!! Now, had they been tracking the baro for a few days, they’d have known that it’s very normal for the baro to go up and down all day – it’s a very different story when it drops quickly, but then you’d see the proof in the sky!! If only she had LISTENED! People usually tend to be very edgy about bad weather, which is understandable, but don’t cause mass panic unnecessarily! The evening turned out to be very pleasant with a constant 10-12 knot breeze from the SW… nothing to get excited about whatsoever.

6 June: Teluk Tekek
Assisted by 10-15 knots from the SE we managed to have a great 20nm sail to P.Tioman. This anchorage is located on the western side of the island and would naturally provide no protection whatsoever from any storm that would usually come through from the SW. There were quite a few rally boats anchored along the beach to the north and south of the marina. Being Conservation area, one has to choose one’s spot carefully so as not anchor on coral… we ended up with 21m under the keel. Holding was good and no one dragged when the wind picked up. Despite having to deal with a bit of swell from the ferry traffic, we were quite happy with having chosen the southern end nearer to the “marina” as the dinghy ride was also a lot shorter!

The next rally function was to be held on the SW side of the island at Teluk Genting… unfortunately with only one 7km concrete road directly across to the east side of the island to Juara Bay – and with no other form of land transport between these villages – we were left with only 2 options: a very expensive water taxi @ RM45 one way – or our own yachts!! People were very reluctant to take their boats as (a) again there was no protection whatsoever, and (b) not enough room for everybody… so we offered, along with 2 other yachts to ferry everyone there. Logistically it was a piece of cake to sort out – Darryl on Cool Bananas would collect 2 couples in the northern anchorage, and Ken would collect the other 2 couples near us at 12:30 – and off we’d go….

We enjoyed a fantastic and fairly cheap meal out that evening at a Chinese restaurant in the main road… funnily enough the owner was the splitting image of the fat little Buddah sitting on the corner of his desk!!!

At around 3:30 that morning huge swell rolled in and made for a few very uncomfortable hours… and I could not wait to get off the boat just after 8:30am. After checking in and doing a quick shop we were back on board by 12:45pm. Our 9 guests arrived and we set off in high spirits after having good chuckle about the lecture we’d all received on the VHF that morning from a fellow yachtie about “how to behave on someone else’s boat” (!!!!). For goodness sake!!! Are we a bunch of children?? This was just THE most ridiculous thing we’d ever heard. We all joked about it and soon it was old news… we had far more important things to worry about like: what a novelty the day was and how much fun we were going to have!

Daryl took us ashore in 2 batches as there were some who could not wait to get ashore seconds after we’d anchored! Some people are so funny! Anyway, he was soon back as it was very hot and there was no shade nearby - and it was cooler on board! We were the last to arrive, but not late – and after taking our seats under a marquee the speeches began, more traditional dancing ensued (sadly half the troupe didn’t pitch!), followed by more speeches. We then enjoyed a few snacks, and finally put our names down to play traditional games on the beach with the locals. It was a fun afternoon, much better than anyone expected – and I came first in the "coconut bowling" and Ken got a 3rd in "dart blowing"!! We got back to boat at 6pm, and most enjoyed a beer en route that they’d brought along, and by 7pm we were anchored! We all met ashore just before 8pm for another fantastic meal at our favourite Chinese restaurant. Despite being dead tired, it was an awesome day!

8-13 June
We motored to P. Rengis, dropped the pick in 20 meters and had a fantastic snorkel – the water was like vodka, coral was in good condition and there were a few fish about – but nothing big.

That night was spent at Monkey's Bay which was just beautiful. We had a good time, despite getting a zillion sand fly bites!! And no insect repellent seemed to work either - not even 40% deet. One has to take the good with the bad I suppose! The snorkeling was nice, we turtles and 2 blacktip sharks.

2 nights were spent at Juara Bay which is located on the east coast... we also went to the outerlying island of P.Pemanggil to snorkel on a wreck – which was okay - not much left of the wreck though, but the coral was nice and there were a few huge bumphead wrasse. Juara Bay was very pleasant - we were also lucky enough to watch the opening game of the Soccer World Cup 2010, South Africa vs Mexico (1-1).... which was a great game! We then went over to Tulia island and what a waste of time that was!!! Snorkeling was surprisingly dreadful!

14-17 June
We set off towards the mainland just before sunrise as we had a mammoth 73nm to do before sunset. Teluk Chempedak, Kuantan was the next stop and why this venue was picked as a rally stop is beyond me. There were supermarkets and a nice big mall in the town, and the “rally get-together” was merely speeches and snacks in a tent on the waterfront… certainly not worthy of 2 nights of rolling!! The last night was simply the cherry on top (naturally this is when we were all ashore at the get-together)…. the swell was so big we almost spent the night on the beach! We had to walk the dinghy out to behind the surf line (I’m tall and was waist deep), then Ken got in and started the outboard whilst I held us in place and then leapt in! We looked back and saw that David and Juliet were having difficulties, so Ken swam back to help them whilst I hovered in the dinghy. It was CRAZY!!!... we eventually got to Fast Forward and it was like a roller coaster! The worst swell we'd experienced in a very long time! Anyway some boats had had enough and set off that night - we contemplated leaving, but the thought of having to be super-alert for all those fish traps put us off! And what was one more night of rolling around anyway?!!! We left at 5:30am instead... and late that afternoon, almost 90nm later we were anchored at Pulau Kapas and it was like a pond!

18-21 June
We headed north just after sunrise… we didn’t see the point in sitting around for 3 days waiting for a rally meal whilst bobbing around in greenish brown water when we could be enjoying crystal clear water, good snorkelling and ultra white beaches of Pulau Redang? We saw the photos, and paradise was only 36nm away! And let it be known that it was paradise…. not another yacht in sight - water like gin, unbelievable visibility, good coral and very nice snorkelling (okay it’s not what we saw in the Pacific and parts of Indo, but it was the best we’d seen in Malaysia!). We did all of the bays and a few of the outer islands… the Marine Park was also very nice and they are really making an effort with the artificial reefs, etc. It is very touristy, but at least the boats aren’t hanging around for hours with the over-excited tourists… the only real niggle is that fact that “the powers that be” will never be able to stop the fishermen fishing on the reefs within the National Park…

21-26 June
Oh the joy and convenience of being in a marina again! It’s a luxury that one just sometimes needs! The marina is not very centrally located, ie there’s nothing within walking distance – but a short ride in your dinghy across the river takes you to the Central Market, a bustling bazaar selling good fruit and veg and a variety of local foods. Further on is China Town, where we bought the most delicious pork. Good supermarkets were simply a taxi-ride away.

Oil revenue has transformed Terengganu from an over-sized fishing village to a medium-sized modern city with a surprisingly huge Chinese community. The rally function was a day tour, followed by a formal dinner. The tour was great and we started off at a traditional boat-building yard which was impressive, the sheer size of the boat they were making was mindblowing! Sadly not many youngsters are taking up the reigns and following in their fore-fathers’ footsteps, so this too will become a dying craft. And what is a day tour without stopping at the local dried fish store? Dried squid anyone? YUK.

The Cultural and Heritage Museum complex was housed in a very impressive building. Not to be outdone was the equally impressive Crystal Mosque. The Islamic Civilisation Park (a world first), was also very informative, here one is able to stroll through immaculate grounds whilst viewing the 21 replicas of famous mosques and Islamic monuments from around the world.

The last stop was at a batik factory – not really a factory as such, but it’s where they use a technique called “batik” to paint and transfer designs onto silk and other types of fabric. I bought a very nice piece which I will transform into a gorgeous dress when I one day become a land-dweller again.

Once again Tourism Malaysia went all out with our dinner, Ken and I were invited to sit at the main/VIP table… lovely, but there’s always a catch – someone had to make the speech!! I politely refused as I’d rather the earth open up and swallow me! The other couple was from Trigger, also refused… Ken was very reluctant – but finally agreed to doing it… and I was very proud of him as he did a sterling job!! I was actually dreading being at the VIP table because, at previous functions, the invited guests always looked extremely bored as the VIP’s were normally pretty stuffy or could not converse very well in English. As luck would have it, this bunch was young and full of fun and had us in stitches! With Terengganu being a very conservative and traditional Muslim town, there was no dancing either, so the evening was short and sweet, which was a good thing as there was an exciting World Cup Soccer match on the telly that ourselves and the VIP’s couldn’t wait to watch!!

26-28 June
90% rushed off to P.Redang after the function, but since we’d already been there, we went further north to P.Perhentian – which was also lovely, not nearly as touristy – but personally we preferred P.Redang as the water was much clearer.

Heading back down south to Tioman to do the crossing, we enjoyed 2 nights at P.Tenggol… what a magic spot that was!

Unfortunately during June there were 4 pirate incidents in the southern region of the South China Sea very close to the Anambas and Besar Islands. The pirates, armed with machetes weren’t after ships or ransom money, they just wanted personal possessions etc. (which would be enough to give me a few grey hairs)…. the majority of the fleet panicked big time and were trying to arrange convoys and constant SSB contact etc. We opted out of the mayhem, headed south to Tioman and did the crossing from there, the biggest drawcard was that the distance from Tioman to Kuching, Borneo was much shorter than leaving from further up and having to zigzag through the aforementioned islands.

We had a relatively hassle-free 2 night crossing, only managing to sail for 18 hours, but that’s the trouble with this area, including Indo… there are no trade winds! But at least the diesel is cheap….

In closing, we’ve really been looking forward to Malaysian Borneo - apparently it’s an amazing place full of culture; lots to see and experience especially if you’re a nature lover; and generally just totally different to Peninsular Malaysia… so watch this space because we are ready for something totally different!

Malaysian Rally part 2 / BIYC 2010

2010-07-06 to 2010-08-01

6 July - 10 August 2010
Santubong, Sarawak to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

I mentioned in the previous update that we'd had a relatively good 385nm trip crossing the South China Sea... well all was just dandy until the last night when a little sytem came through, wind just ever so slightly off the nose (why would it be any different?) anyway at least there wasn't too much of it and we were doing around 5knts, but the seas were kicked up to the point where we were pounding, and water was washing right over the deck! The force of the water was so great that it squeezed between the front hatch seals and naturally soaked two huge patches on the front matresses. Oh joy. But it could be worse.... so I didn't complain!!!

Conditions were a lot better the following morning and I was looking forward to getting off the roller-coaster... but first we had to get our timing right to cross the dreaded sandbars of the Sungai (River) Santubong. Time was ticking on so we gunned it with the engine (we don't have a 120hp engine for nothing!)... and crossed the first bar 2h45 before low tide and we had no less than 2m under the keel (our draft is 2.45m). The second bar was slightly more hair-raising as we only had 20 centimeters under the keel!!! We held our breath and kept our eyes peeled on the depth gauge, my fingers were crossed and Ken had his on the throttle... eventually it read 1m and soon we were up to 6 meters. Phew! We dropped anchor and enjoyed our first G&T in days with the beautiful Gunung (mountain) Santubong creating a dramatic backdrop.

Our first priority was to organise a diesel run (jerry jugs of course!) before the bulk of the other yachts arrived. Santubong is located about a 20 minute drive from Kuching, and aside from the local village to the left, there wasn't much else ashore aside from having an excellent meal at the Chinese restaurant which had a very business orientated owner - when it rained, he came by in a van to pick us up!! There was always Gunung Santubong to climb…

Reflections very kindly shared their hire car with us, and our first and most important stop was to see the authorities, so we zipped off in the car, and navigated using the map I’d downloaded from Googlemaps, and quite honestly, it turned out to be a doddle as we cleared in and out at the same time with the Harbour Master, Customs and Immigration.

Kuching (aka Cat City i.e. kuching = cat in Malay) is the capital of Sarawak, and the most multicultural state in Malaysia, with no outright ethnic majority. Unlike some of the other large towns in Malaysian Borneo, Kuching’s historic buildings escaped damage during WWII, and many have been tastefully renovated.

We were immediately all so taken with this city that sprawled lazily along the banks of the Sungai Sarawak… it certainly had a charm all of its own. All the attractions were just about within walking distance, and being a total cat-freak, I just loved all the cat statues!

We meandered down the famous Carpenter Street and found quirky little shops (as you do when there are a lot of Chinese businessmen around) – e.g. in a shop that shared space with a mobile phone dealer, we found 3 ladies behind sewing machines making flags, and what a deal they were – I was able to get one for Brunei as well as a new Malaysian flag. Lunch was at a local Chinese joint (the type that wash their dishes in the street) – but everything was clean and the food was delicious, and of course dirt cheap! As we wandered on there was a real mishmash of small shops selling hardware; books; handicrafts; fabric; coffins (!); haberdashery and those offering reflexology (at least 10 of these places!). We were fascinated by the Chinese “pharmacies” and I was thrilled with my purchase of Goji berries which were half the price of what I’d paid for them in South Africa! The local coffee shop was a nice treat – offering a choice of local beans or beans from Indonesia - as well as a huge variety of herbal tea, on shelves at the back they had the most amazing variety of teapots for sale. Lastly, the layer cake shop was a real find as we were able to sample an obscene amount of bite sized pieces of butter-laden cake which undoubtedly went straight to the hips! Chocolate is always a winner… I was not sure about kiwi or….

As far as supermarkets go – the Ta Kiong Gourmet Supermarket in Spring Mall is undoubtedly the best and also stocks a huge variety of products from around the world – at competitive prices. They even have their own website. Ting & Ting Supermarket was a huge disappointment and their imported meat came with a first class price tag.

The famous Sunday Market in Jalan Satok was a great experience and there really is nothing you could not find there!! The most disturbing thing I saw was a turtle in a bucket, with no room for movement…

Moving on swiftly!! Kuching is a convenient base for further exploration of this incredible state. The Malaysian jungles are said to contain some of the world’s oldest undisturbed areas of rainforest – some estimates reckon they’ve existed for 100 million years as they were largely unaffected by the far-reaching climatic changes brought on by the Ice Age. Yes but what about all the logging I hear you say… surprisingly, Sarawak has a 16 National Parks in which all commercial activity is banned.

RAINFOREST WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL 2010 (www.rainforestmusic-borneo.com)
9-11 July
This was our number one reason for visiting was to attend this unique 3-day festival that brings together renowned musicians from all four corners of the globe, including indigenous musicians from the interior of the Borneo. The venue was the Sarawak Cultural Village which surrounds an artificial lake at the foot of Gunung Santubong. It’s an excellent living museum and has examples of traditional dwellings built by 6 various tribes in Sarawak. It’s a major tourist attraction, but the twice-daily shows are put on hold during the Music Festival as the dwellings were used to showcase the World Crafts Bazaar, and also for other workshops that were held in the afternoons.

The formula of very informative afternoon workshops, jamming sessions and mini concerts, followed by evening performances on the main stage until midnight, proved to be a hit with audiences since the festivals inception…. and with us! We absolutely lapped it up! We even attended a bagpipe workshop! Who would have thought that there were so many different types of bagpipes… and the one we are all so familiar with wasn’t even featured! There were some fantastic groups and the thing that linked all the artists involved were that either one, or all of the members, played an instrument that was “traditional”. It was amazing!

Initially we’d only bought tickets for the second day, but we’d enjoyed it so much we bought more tickets for the last day. The weather was rather fickle as it literally poured with rain on the first night. We did not laugh too loudly at those poor drenched sods as it could very well rain every evening! Anyway, the weather on Saturday was absolutely perfect! Sunday was a different story, but once again we’d gone prepared with our folding chairs, rain jackets, rain pants and umbrellas… and boy did the combination come in handy because the heavens opened big-time just before 7pm and only let up for around 20 minutes around 9pm – before continuing with a more than gentle sprinkle! It would’ve made a fantastic picture – David, Ken and I huddled on our chairs in all our gear… trouble was our umbrellas were too small! It made for great memories… and the music was pretty awesome too!!

12 July
A spur of the moment decision found us hauling up the anchor and heading out… we’d had enough of the rally crowd and weren’t really interested in the tour that was organized for the following to the Orangutan Sanctuary. We’d spent 3 magical days up the Kumai River in Indonesian Borneo with Herry’s tour company, and I’m afraid no other Orangutan experience will ever compare. I’m rather relieved we did not go as Juliet said that it was a rather upsetting experience as one could clearly see that the Orangutans were not happy in their rather confined area.

Our first stop was at the mouth of the Rajang River and for the first time (in a very long time) had positive current with us the whole way! Thumbs up to this north setting current!! The second night found us dropping anchor after 85nm in what felt like the middle of nowhere… the entire coastline is just so shallow, and there are not many safe anchorages en route to Miri, so if you don’t need to do overnighters, you wing it and hope the weather holds… and if it doesn’t you simply haul up anchor at 2am and slowly head north. Our third night was pretty much the same deal after a 121nm day. Lucky for us the weather remained calm.

A mere 35nm brought us to Miri Marina the following morning, and the super efficient Marina Manager called Fin had us sorted out in no time. He was extremely organized and knew exactly where he was going to put all the boats participating in the Borneo International Yacht Challenge 2010.

We were very excited about participating in the BIYC race as (a) we like a challenge; (b) if we started all 5 legs we’d get RM688 cash back (how’s that for an awesome deal?!); (c) 2 nights free in the Parkcity Everly Hotel, Miri (very cool indeed!!); (d) awesome reception and prize presentation dinners; (e) lastly, a wee prize would be VERY nice, but was the furthest thing from our thoughts as we had a positively dreadful handicap!! But the most important thing was that we were there to have fun.

Miri was a awesome city and Ken and I cycled everywhere on our bikes… we were rather a novelty as people were just about hanging out their windows looking at us – and smiling – and waving and chatting to us at the traffic lights! It was an awesome experience. Sun City Restaurant was excellent value for money, food was delicious to say the least (awesome mango chicken!!)… and I’m sure it was the restaurant most frequented by yachties during that time.

It was nice arriving before the pack as we had a few days to chill and catch up with boat chores. I of course decided to tackle a huge sewing project days before my Mom and Walter were due to arrive on 25th! But I got all the hatch covers done in time and are very proud of them… we simply can’t have enough shade!!

25-31 July
Sunday, July 25th not only marked the start of the BIYC race, but also the arrival of my Mom and Walter from the beautiful “village” of Hout Bay, near Cape Town. We were very excited about their visit as they had never been able to afford to visit us in more exotic locations like Fiji or Tahiti. But, Borneo is also exotic in its own way.

On Saturday some heavy weather was forecast for a few days (heavy as in 25-30 knots and 2m seas – a tropical storm somewhere was generating this lovely weather). Come to think of it, we’d not experienced this sort of weather in a long time – perhaps way back when we were heading north up the Aussie coast towards Thursday Island, but it certainly had some people worried. We’d had a big blow the Saturday night just after the fantastic dinner and opening speeches, and that must’ve been around 40 knots. At around 11pm we could see from our hotel room that the wind had fizzled out.

Our visitors were only due around 2pm, which meant that only the two of us would be competing in a “round the cans” harbour race. Tricky. Very tricky. But we were up for the challenge! At around 8am, we all filed out of the marina in a very orderly fashion, we could see boats ahead of us disappearing into the swell as they cleared the breakwater! It was unbelievable! One minute they were there and the next there was just a mast! There wasn’t too much wind – only about 12 knots, and we really did need a bit more than that, but, as with everything else in life - we’d just have to make the best of it.

I must admit it was all rather nerve-wrecking as there were so many yachties who’d never raced before, but luckily there were no incidents. We had a good start and generally had a great race right up until just before rounding the last buoy – this is where many hands make a difference – we’d just tacked the genoa through (which is not an easy task as we have the staysail that’s in the way, so the bulk of the genoa has to be furled away first, and then quickly pulled through and then speedily sheeted in on the other side). Under normal racing conditions, I would just have one job… but I had about 3 jobs that day. I was so busy looking out for other boats that were closing in on us to get around the buoy, as well as trying to sheet in the genoa (at high speed) - that I did not see the huge wrap around the winch!!!! Double darn!! Naturally we used far more flowery language! It took a while to get it sorted out, and it cost us a position or two… but as Ken said we’d never ever get a place in the harbour races as our handicap was just too dreadful for words – where we could cream the fleet would be the long distance races. So I didn’t feel too bad after all!! There were supposed to be 2 harbour races, but the ebbing tide won and so it was cancelled– a lot of us needed a high-ish tide get back into the marina. Our final position in that race was 7th – which we didn’t think was too bad, considering there were about 15 in our class!!

We enjoyed another amazing buffet dinner and prize presentation at the Parkcity Everly Hotel – my mother and Walter were totally gobsmacked, they said the function room was fit for a wedding – but it was all for us, and this time it had nothing to do with the Malaysian Rally or the Tourism Board! After all the traditional dancing was over, we were entertained by 3 very scantily clad young ladies (who looked like prostitutes)… I was pretty shocked as there were quite a few Muslims attending the function, and we all agreed it was totally inappropriate and in very bad taste. The worst thing was these 3 couldn’t even sing as they had terrible voices!! Needless to say, that after their first session of about 6 songs, most got up and left…

3rd leg of BIYC – Miri to Labuan
26 July
We’d been interviewed by 4 newspapers on Saturday, and were told it would be appearing in Monday’s edition (cool hey!!) – so I was up bright and early to try and find one of them… the guys at the hotel were awesome and gave me their spare copy! We were chuffed! Now all I have to do is find someone to translate it for me!!!!

The race started at 10am and despite light winds, we were off to a good start – racing is fun but very tiring and we tried every trick in the book to keep moving when the wind was unbearably light – there was still a bit an uncomfortable swell running and this of course played havoc with all our lightwind sails that we’d hauled out of the sail locker to “try”. We did have our fair share of near disasters - the spinnaker got caught on the pushpit and tore (!), but luckily just along the seam so we were able to tape it together; Ken wanted to try another sail we’d not used for years, anyway minutes after we’d hoisted it we heard a loud bang and saw it floating down into the water (!!), so we rushed to the rail and hauled it all in (we did not want it going under the boat and getting caught on the rudder or worse yet around the keel) – what had happened was the stainless steel ring from the sail that was attached to the halyard at the top of the mast had mysteriously snapped – so we put that sail away… and then Ken needed to go up the mast to see that all was still dandy up there after that mishap – standing at the foot of the mast, I winch him up and he takes another line with him – my mom and Walter are relaxing and enjoying the casual sail – one minute it all seemed okay up there, and in the next instant something just felt wrong. I shouted up at Ken if everything was alright, and he said “NO!!! I’VE UNTIED MYSELF!!!”. SH*T!!! Instantly I’m cursing like a frigging banshee! Thank God my mom and Walter didn’t quite comprehend was going on. It was a 24m drop and the worst thing about it was I was not able to help him at all!!! Heaven only knows what happened up there but he managed to hang on for dear life and slide down to the top spreader before tying himself on again. They say it happens in 3’s – so that was our share : finito.

At 9:41 that evening we were just about going backwards, so we gave in and turned on the engine for 2 hours before the wind filled in nicely and soon we were bounding along towards the finish line. We crossed the finish line at 04.51.09 – and we thought that overall we couldn’t have done too badly. We were anchored at 6:45am and figured it was senseless going to sleep just yet as we had to wait for 8am to hand in our “motoring declaration form”… we were like zombies and slept until 3pm before making our way into town to buy a few boxes of duty free wine. That evenings dinner and prize presentation was pretty much “short and sweet” – everyone was totally knackered!! Our position in this was 5th (pretty good!!)… but I made it known to everyone on Fast Forward that I wanted us to have a 3rd place next – I knew we’d never get a 1st, but I would be thrilled with a third.

4th leg of BIYC – Labuan to Kota Kinabalu
28 July
Cruising Class A started at 11am and the winds were really light, everyone was headed straight for the corner, but we tacked off to have more pressure in the sails, soon we tacked again and we had a good wind angle. Soon the wind picked up and we were screaming along! My mother and Walter were just loving it! So were we actually, as this was the best sail we’d ever had in this part of the world!! We’d become pretty competitive by this stage and were on a constant lookout for our competition!

On reaching Pulau Tiga, the wind just seemed to fizzle out… the skies were black and threatening, and we thought we were in for a real treat i.e. a lot of wind… but all we got was rain!! Ken and I had agreed that no matter what – we were NOT turning on the engine. Eventually we tacked in towards the general direction of the finish line, the wind was very very light (between 2 and 4 knots at most) and getting 28 tons to move forward in those fickle winds was an unbelievable challenge – it was so physically and mentally exhausting, but WE DID IT! – and after about 7 tacks, 3 of which were right in front of the finish line (!!!!) we finished at about 2:30am! We dropped anchor outside Sutera Harbour Marina at around 3am, savoured stiff V&T’s before falling into be bed an hour later…

29 July
Exhausted, we rose at 7am and dinghied over to the marina – there was limited space, so we were eager to try and get Fast Forward in early as we really wanted to do a 3D2N trip to Sandakan, so that my Mom and Walter could see the Orangutans and experience a trip up the Kinabatangan River. We did not really fancy the Med-mooring style near the fuel dock as we would not have had enough scope out – instead, we were absolutely thrilled as we fitted in rather nicely between a gigantic green stinkpot called Moecca, and Graeme and Lorraine on Katani II on the Mega Yacht Wall.

The results were posted later on that morning… AND WE CAME 3RD in that last long distance leg!!! Yeeehaaa!!! A wee prize for our efforts was going to be the cherry on top!

The 2 harbour races the following day were super exciting and again, a lot of hard work!! We physically finished 5th in the first race, and 3rd in the last race (but due to dreadful handicap these finished didn’t even make a dent on the fixture list!!) (very depressing indeed!). Overall we felt we did really well as we’d finished 6th out of 15 boats.

The gala dinner and prize presentation that evening was enough to knock your socks off!! We received a beautiful round pewter plate embossed with the highlights of Sabah/Borneo.
Again the organizers went all out to create a very memorable evening.

30 July
As if we’d not had enough excitement: RATS. That’s a swear-word in our circles!! I could not believe my eyes when I saw one scurrying along the concrete jetty… and then, to crown it all – there was one in the cockpit at around midnight - sitting by the winch!! The cheek!! Luckily all entrances were tightly shut so there was no way this brazen creature was going to get inside! We did mention this to the office and they said they were going to do something about it…

A bit on Kota Kinabalu, or KK as everyone calls it, is Sabah’s capital and the largest city in the state, sprawling haphazardly over reclaimed land down the coast. Originally founded as Jesselton, the city was razed by the Allies not once, but twice during WWII, the first time to slow the Japanese advance and the second time to hasten their retreat. The city was all rebuilt and renamed in 1963. There are National Park Islands right on it’s doorstep, as well as many National Parks inland, including the famous Mt Kinabalu National Park – you’ll end up in KK at least a couple of times if you’re aiming to cover a number of attractions in Sabah, so eat, drink and make the most of it!

Our next adventure warranted its own write-up, so check out the next diary entry for the trip to Sandakan and up the Kinabatangan River.

4-9 July
Boy, were we glad we got back when we did!! We had quite a vicious storm come through with driving rain and up to 30 knots on the beam! Ken and I were out taking another bow line to a different buoy – and another spring helped keep the stern off the dock. Never a dull moment!

The weather over the next few days was not the greatest so we sheltered in two of the bays at Pulau Gaya – the day before my Mom and Walter left was blue-skied so we all had a swim and she tried snorkeling for the first time (which she loved, because she’d always wanted to do it).

It was very sad to see them go, but all good things do eventually come to an end – they had an amazing holiday and experienced so much in such a short period of time… we hope that they will be back for more next year.

So, if you’ve spent years dreaming of Borneo – of orangutans, longboats and longhouses, rivers, jungles, caves, strange creatures, blow-pipes, unusual tribes, and customs of the ancient head-hunters… get yourself over here because Borneo has all this to offer and more. Par excellence.

Orangutans & the Kinabatangan River

2010-08-02 to 2010-08-04

Sandakan here we come!!
2-4 August 2010

Visitors to Sandakan are generally all there for the same reasons: to see the Orangutans – to dive/snorkel at Sipidan – to see turtles nesting 365 (!!) days a year at the Turtle Islands National Park – or to experience the highly proclaimed Kinabatangan River.

Sometimes a stopover might include a few hours at the Sandakan Memorial Park, the site of the Japanese POW camp which was the starting point for the infamous “death marches” to Ranau. In September 1944 there were 1800 Australian and 600 British troops interned here More Australians died here than during the building of the infamous Burma Railway, accounting for nearly one eighth of all Australia’s Pacific casualties. Early in the war there was a death rate of around 3 a month. As Allies closed in rations were cut to weaken them, disease set in and the death rate rose. A decision was then made to move them 250kms inland to Ranau, passing through uninhabited, inhospitable terrain. On 28 Jan 1945 470 prisoners set off, 313 made it to Ranau. On the second march 570 started and just 118 reached Ranau. The 537 prisoners on the third march were the last men in the camp. Conditions on the march were deplorable: many men had no boots, rations were less than minimal and many men fell by the wayside. In typical brutal fashion, the Japanese disposed of any prisoners who couldn’t walk. Once in Ranau, the surviving prisoners were put to work carrying 20kg sacks of rice over hilly terrain to Paginatan, 40km away. Disease, starvation and executions took a horrendous toll, and by the end of July 1945 there were no prisoners left. Only 6 Australians had managed to escape. As a final bitter irony, it emerged after the war that a rescue attempt had been planned for early 1945, but intelligence at the time suggested that there were no prisoners left at the Sandakan camp…

On a lighter note – we’d booked to see the Orangutans as well as a short excursion to the lower Kinbatangan River. The tour was booked at Excel Dive and Tours in KK, but S.I. Tours was the operator that Excel works with in Sandakan - we can highly recommend both companies. The SI Tours tour guide was very professional, helpful and very friendly. We however booked our own cheap flights on Air Asia.

We did the 2D/1N at Abai Lodge (fantastic setting, brilliant staff and delicious food, buffet style). Arriving at around 2pm, we wiled away a few hours at the Rainforest Discovery Centre which was very well done and quite interesting. That night was spent the Sepilok Jungle Resort. The tours generally start in the morning and they pick you up in Sandakan or at the airport. They picked us up at the SJR and it worked out well.

Day 1
The Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is one of four Orangutan sanctuaries in the world. It was established in 1964 and covers 40 sq km. Orphaned and injured orangutans are brought here to be rehabilitated to return to forest life, and so far the centre has handled about 100, although only about 20 still return. On most days camera-clicking tourists far outnumber the poor primates. We were lucky enough to see a very tiny baby – I was hugely disappointed that there was no interaction between the “feeders” and ourselves – as I’m sure a lot of us would have wanted to know how old the baby was, as well as other quirks etc. The forest was a gorgeous setting albeit rather touristy – and nothing like our Kumai River Orangutan experience, which is still the most mind-blowing trip I’ve done to date as it involved such close contact with these wild animals. Anyway it was still just so amazing to see these incredible creatures.

We then drove to the Sandakan Water Village and caught a small high speed power boat to the Abai River Lodge – this was good fun and my mother just loved the trip!

The lodge was located in the lower Kinabatangan River, which at 560kms is Sabah’s longest river. Yachts can navigate down the river for about 35nm’s – about as far the Sukai River Lodge.

Logging and clearing for plantations have devastated the upper reaches of the river, but by a strange irony the riverine forest near the coast is so hemmed in by oil palm plantations that an astonishing variety of wildlife is crammed into it limited boundaries. For most, the wildlife is the main attraction. Mammals can be seen at any time of the year, although most bird activity happens in the wet season (Oct-March).

Sightings of the unusual proboscis monkey’s are common in the mangroves in the late afternoon, these pot-bellied, big-nosed and rather ungainly animals are endemic to Borneo, and can also swim! The long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques are everywhere, wild orangutans are often seen nesting in the trees downstream. There’s a chance of seeing the Borneo’s pygmy elephants, and according the WWF there are only 1000 left. Clouded leopards, marbled cats, deer, giant squirrels can also be seen in the forest. All eight of Borneo’s hornbill species are seen regularly, and you may come across a Storm’s stork or the bizarre Oriental darter or snake-bird.

Naturally the success rate of animal-spotting largely depends on luck and the local knowledge of your guide. The elephants come and go and herds often break up to go through the plantations, which can make sighting them quite tricky.

On arrival, a delicious buffet lunch was served before we “checked in” to our rooms (which were more than adequate), we even had our own verandah area which was pretty neat! The boardwalks through the forest were well thought out and one could wander around without having to worry about leeches! The insects in the forest were broadcasting at maximum volume, and were almost deafening at times! It was amazing! Later that afternoon, along with a very knowledgeable guide, 2 boats set off on a 2 hour river cruise (10 in a boat). We saw about 7 wild orangutans, quite a few proboscis monkeys (but not as many I thought we’d see) – a few hornbill flying off in the distance, egrets, a small crocodile… but sadly no elephants. They’d seen them the previous evening, but there is just so much “jungle” for them to play in – it can be tricky finding them every single day!

Dinner, which was yet another feast, was followed by another short boat trip to see the fireflies and other nocturnal birds, etc. There were so many fireflies, it looked like a Christmas tree! We saw an owl, kingfishers and a few other birds. An optional “night walk” was on offer later that evening… my mother and Walter were exhausted, but Ken and I were up for it. It was quite interesting as we saw strange insects, more birds, and even a flying lemur!

Day 2 started off with an early morning river cruise – surprisingly we hardly saw any life, even in one of the oxbow lakes - but it was just so tranquil being out so early. Breakfast was outstanding as they’d set it out at one of the “intersections” on the boardwalks, so we were literally sitting in the jungle! It was great!

Our high speed taxi departed at 9am for Sandakan Water Village jetty, where a big tour bus was waiting to whisk us off to the large Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple that was overlooking Sandakan. Overall it was a great experience and exceptional value for money. The Sukai River Lodge is more popular, but with “more popular” comes a lot more boats zooming round the river looking for monkeys and elephants etc... so we were very happy with our choice!

Before being dropped off at the airport we enjoyed a sumptuous buffet lunch at the Sabah Hotel (why did we eat so much at breakfast?!). It was a 30 minute ride to the airport and very short 45 minute flight back to KK… out of the taxi and literally straight onto the hotel’s shuttle bus into town! My mom and I set off to Tong Hing to do a quick fresh fruit and veg shop - and at the click of a finger we slotted back into the hustle and bustle of the city… luckily we were escaping the madness in the morning and heading out to some nearby islands for a few days of R&R!

To Brunei and Back Again!

2010-08-11 to 2010-08-20

11 – 20 August 2010

Brunei Darusalam

Visas are usually a touchy subject when it involves my South African passport… and heaven only knows why I left it to the last minute to check up if I needed one to enter Brunei… and yes, I did need one. Oh dear. I was pretty stressed, but figured if a whole host of other nations could get one on arrival, then perhaps I too stood a chance. Worst case scenario I’d be boat bound. Dressed in my best Muslim outfit (long combats and a long sleeved shirt buttoned up to my neck), I politely stated to the friendly Immigration office that I was under the impression I could get one on arrival (okay, so it was only a little white lie) – he asked how long we were staying - so we thought we’d be conservative and try for one week – he said “such a long time!?” – I nearly laughed because he’d really caught us off guard with that remark!, so I replied that there was just so much to see and 2 days would not be enough… he phoned the powers that be and, provided I did not cross the border by car, left Brunei on Fast Forward – then I was welcome to stay for 1 week! Phew! That was a stroke of luck – and we saved BD$20!

The anchorage off the Royal Brunei Yacht Club in Serasa offered good protection from the rather frequent lightning packed rain storms. The yacht club itself had a very colonial feel about it and was a haven for the expats and yachties alike, offering free WIFI, a swimming pool, and a very extensive menu offering fantastic food at reasonable prices. Visiting yachts pay a small premium on meal vouchers at the club, and have access to all the facilities. The Filipino staff were just amazing! One cannot purchase a drop of alcohol in Brunei, but you are allowed to BYO to the yacht club.

The main drawcard for us was the heavily subsidized diesel, and having Allan Riches (Intrepid Yachting) assist us was the key. Up to 600 litres could be purchased ashore from one of the fuel stations on a daily basis – now it could either be for 2 yachts, or for 1. We’d arrived the day before Ramadan started and we were able to get our first batch that afternoon, the next day was a public holiday, but within the next 5 days we were able to fill up completely. Poor Ken, it was a bit of a schlep, but with the help of Patrick’s spare dinghy (aka the fuel barge!), we were able to get all 600 litres worth of jerry cans in both dinghies – and with the help of our Jabsco diesel transfer pump, were done in 30 minutes! Talk about the cat that got the cream…. that’s exactly how we felt after filling up with 2100 litres of diesel at a mere 31 Brunei cents a litre! (that’s 7 litres to a GBP).

For some or other reason just hearing the word “Brunei” conjured up such exotic thoughts… but I must’ve been dreaming because it’s anything but!! If it wasn’t for the discovery of oil in 1929 which led to vast riches being pumped out every year, it’s doubtful whether this tiny nation would still be independent – as it is, it remains an engaging anachronism, an absolute monarchy under Islamic law.

The Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah is one of the richest men in the world, and he is the present-day head of the world’s longest-running hereditary monarchy. The unbroken royal line goes right back to Sang Aji Brunei in the 14th century – a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. Of course, like all families, the House of Brunei has its less favoured relatives: Sultan number 22 ate children’s livers to stay young!! Even his own sister plotted to assassinate him – he was eventually publicly garroted. Then there’s Prince Jefri, the Sultan’s brother (bored little rich boy) – his appointment as minister of finance was like putting a kid in charge of all the candy stores, and his financial flights of fancy were truly epic. His acquisitions included five luxury overseas hotels (including the Beverly Hills Hotel in LA), by the time the Sultan cut him off the prince had spent almost US$4 billion on himself, with personal possessions including 2000 cars, several private jets, multiple lavish homes, and some much-discussed gold-plated toilet brushes!! Prince Jefri relocated to London with his 5 wives and 35 children and was barely able to support them on US$500,000 a year allowance, but continued to enjoy a lavish lifestyle. The Sultan smelt a rat and after a thorough investigation discovered an estimated US$16 billion in “missing funds”!!

We hired a car to enjoy a day of sightseeing, since we didn’t have much time this was the most hassle-free option. You could count the “hot-spots” on one hand, and we really did only get to 3!! The famous, and much photographed Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque was very picturesque – but with it being Ramadan and a prayer session on the go, we were not permitted to enter, however I did poke my head through an open side-door and the stained glass windows were gorgeous. We popped into the unusual Yayasan Shopping Complex across the road from the mosque - lots of glitzy stores, but we also managed to find a replacement for my electric toothbrush that had given up on life. The Royal Regalia Museum was interesting as it showcased row upon row and room after room of the priceless and glittering riches that come with the coveted post of “world’s richest Monarch”.

The Sultans Palace is apparently very impressive, particularly when all lit up at night (pity you can’t see it from the road as it’s surrounded by a dense forest). We saw a model of it at the Royal Regalia Museum. It’s larger than the Vatican Palace and it cost US$350 million to build, the number are just pretty obscene: 1788 rooms, 200 toilets and a banquet hall that seats 4000!

The most impressive mosque we have seen to date is undoubtedly the Jame’Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque en route to Jerudong. It’s the largest mosque in Brunei and a seriously impressive slice of Islamic design. It was built at great expense (no surprise!) for the 25th anniversary of the sultan’s reign in 1992, and most of the design elements have some numeric or symbolic significance.

Our last stop was a topping up session at the fantastic supermarket chain called Supa-Save. One of the best supermarkets we’ve seen in ages, stocking a lot of products from the UK and Australia at very competitive prices too – a lot of the goods were cheaper than across the border. The fresh produce was unbelievably well priced, and lasted much longer than its Malaysian counterpart as it did not get stuck in KL’s cold storage warehouse before being distributed. As for the Non-Halaal section… everything you could dream of!

Brunei is a relaxed and friendly country. The mostly Malay people are generally well off, travel a lot, are able to converse in English, are well educated and well informed. There is no income tax and very few duties or sales tax. For Bruneians, education is free, seeing a doctor is $1, pharmaceuticals are free, hospital operations are $1, land and houses are free for low income earners, car or housing loans for government employees are interest free. Sounds like heaven – but it all comes at a price at the end of the day.

Not wanting to overstay our welcome – we left after 5 days. All Brunei’d out. Before we left some acquaintances popped over to give us a bag of gutted fish – everyone who was in the anchorage went over to their boat the previous night for a BBQ, but we'd arrived back from sightseeing about 20 minutes before the mother of all rainstorms nailed us - so they came to drop off our share!! Very sweet of them! We headed out at 1pm and dropped anchor at Labuan, Malaysia 2 and a half hours later – launched the dingy, and zoomed off to go and check in, before stocking up on some duty free wine and we were back on board by 5pm. We wanted to start heading north early in the morning.

Labuan is quite a small place, not very exciting either, but it’s probably best known as a duty-free stopover on the north-south sea routes. It was once the coal-mining centre and now has major petroleum gas installations. We had never seen so many ocean-going tugs before! The 92 sq km group of islands is governed directly from KL - it was originally conceived as an offshore banking haven, though these days the Silver Hair Programme increasingly targets foreign senior citizens looking for a retirement base, a bit like a low-rent Miami!

Then, drama.....
I was butterflying and de-boning the fish (this is normally Ken's job, but he was repairing the blown pressure switch on the water pump - so I figured I'd help). They were small (palm-sided) soldierfish - typically something we would NOT waste our time on all, but we could not toss them either... anyway I'd done 10 and had only 3 left to do when suddenly 2 of the spines on his back pierced my middle finger and index finger which immediately felt like they were on fire, I pulled the spines out and shouted to Ken for water (no water cause he was fixing the pump!!)... within seconds I started going into shock (that was VERY VERY SCARY), my head felt heavy and I could not stand as my legs felt like jelly (Ken quickly supported me and helped me to sit down) - I broke out into an instant sweat and it was like I'd just had a shower, then my hearing went all funny, and then the scariest thing was I said to Ken I that I could not talk properly and when I took a breath it felt as if my throat was closing up!! I had visions of him stabbing me with a biro - then all the blood to clean up!! BUT, all the time I was fully aware of everything that was happening but I could not control it!! VERY FREAKY! Ken said I was as white as a sheet!! Shame, I think I aged him by 5 years in those few minutes. Anyway I was feeling better after a little while and had a Sprite - Ken then tried to dig in my fingers to see if there was any stray spine, but it was quite sore, so I dug around a bit instead, but could not feel anything. Within 2 hours the joint closest to the main knuckle (the proximal IP joint) was very tender - and within 4 hours the main knuckle was also throbbing (incredible how quickly the infection spread!!) – an hour later I started on antibiotics after reading about some cases on the internet, and had another good dig around with a thicker needle. I still felt queasy and had a headache, decided to just get into bed at 11:30 - still fighting waves of nausea but finally managed to sleep.

I woke up with 4 fingers and another masquerading as a very painful sausage!! We decided to leave at 6am, and then see how it was by the time we got to KK. I slept the whole morning and still had a headache. The finger was no better, in fact it appeared fatter and would not bent at all by 1pm!! We pulled into KK at 4pm and by 4:45 I was at the Sabah Medical Centre. We got to see a weird little Chinese doctor who didn't have a clue (he felt around and said he could not feel anything!!) - well DUH!!... if it was that easy, I'd have found it and dug it out!!! He got his Orthopod buddy on the phone who was just getting ready to leave, and within 20 minutes I was in his office and could immediately see the little speck on the Xray. He was a fantastic Indian specialist who spoke perfect English, and had a fantastic manner about him... he was totally amazed at our lifestyle!! He was chuffed that I had already started taking penicillin and doused the hole with Betadine, but prescribed a kick-ass dose of penicillin instead, along with supercharged anti-inflammatories.

He said that the piece of spine would either form an abscess, or the body would deal with it and it would simply remain lodged. Interestingly, when you have an infection in either your thumb or your little finger - it will usually spread quite a way up your arm, but when it's in the other 3 fingers, it will only go as far as the main knuckle! Fascinating! Anyway, so it felt and looked a lot better by the following morning, and when I went to see him the day after it was 98% better, but no sign of the piece of spine. Oh well – only time will tell… but at least I am able to type again!!

19 August
One of the diesel injectors was not performing as it should be, so Ken was able to whip them all out and have them serviced at a super-efficient place just on the outskirts of the city centre. The weather behaved itself and we were lucky not to have any rolly nights whilst anchored outside Sutera Harbour Marina! We were only staying for 3 nights so we had no intention of going into the marina. Let me just add that this marina is world class, and is the nicest one we've ever been in - the marina fees include use of just about all the facilites, which include numerous swimming pools and a gym. There's a driving range that's really cheap too - as is the ten pin bowling alley. Aaah and don't forget the 2 for 1 cocktails...

The next rally function is going to be in Sandakan on 26 August – this will most likely only be attended by a handful of yachts… but we’ll have to wait and see! Let’s just start making our way north over the tip of Borneo into the Sulu Sea....

Kota Kinabalu to Tawau

2010-08-21 to 2010-09-04

21 August – 4 September 2010

Never a dull moment… it seems like a lifetime ago since we managed to get a huge fishing net caught in the prop… there we were minding our own business whilst motoring towards the tip of Borneo, when suddenly the prop stopped – Ken looked back to find a net trailing behind us for at least 12 meters. Oh dear. At least it was dead calm and the water was crystal clear. Ken got the hooker rigged up, and armed with a very sharp serrated knife, went down to cut the net free. Within 20 minutes we were good to go again, and no damage was done to our feathering Maxprop. Um I guess that was why we left half and hour earlier that morning!!

We rounded the unimpressive tip of Borneo and motor-sailed into the Sulu Sea – sadly, with the Philippines being only a hop-skip-and-a-jump away, this east coast of Sabah bears the brunt of a rather tainted reputation. The main issue being security. There is reportedly still extensive smuggling, so it is best not to be sailing at night. Reassuringly, there are a lot of Police posts in bays along the coast, as well as quite a strong Naval presence – but they too can’t be everywhere all of the time. I must admit that although we only anchored at 3 places en route from Pulau Mantanani (on Sabah’s west coast) to Tawau, we never felt threatened or in the least bit suspicious of anyone. Sandakan aside, we anchored at Pulau Tigabu, Tambisan, Pulau Selakan and Pulau Mabul. As usual we traveled on our own, and did not venture near any Philippine islands either.

22 - 28 August
A 24 knot squall nailed us as we approached the yacht club anchorage in Sandakan - it then proceeded to rain for a good couple of hours! We huddled in the cockpit watching the rubbish and various other pieces of flotsam rush past with the incoming tide.

The Chinese owned Royal Sandakan Yacht Club was rather oddly located right next door to the Police Station, and not too far from a huge Mosque as well as the local wet market. After paying the registration fee of RM50 which was a half price offer for the month of October, as well as a RM10 pd fee to use the jetty, we then had full use of their facilities which included a beautiful pool, as well as a gym and squash court. The new jetty was also nearing completion, but it was still better than hauling it up a beach! Drinks were really cheap for a club – Johnnie Walker Black and a soda was only RM7-50! A Tiger beer was RM7-00. Last but not least there was free WIFI as well… but our Celcom modem still worked like a charm on board!

Walking around town had a different feel to it than other towns: the narrow streets sandwiched by 6 to 8 storey buildings were homes to people, but all seemed to be jam-packed in like sardines – somehow it was so different from what we’d seen/experienced elsewhere. Every day appeared to be laundry day! The locals were all friendly enough, despite the staring! I love just smiling at them – then watching how their hard-done-by faces are transformed into big toothy grins or coy smiles. In typical Malaysian style, no buildings are maintained – unfortunately this only made everything feel and look filthy, and the smell from some of the drains was enough to induce vomiting! There were hundreds of little shops selling all sorts of things, so you could find everything you needed if you had the time!! How about popping in to have a shirt tailored, then buying your dried shark fin, sea horse or sea slug next door – and a set of screwdrivers and sand paper on the other side of the tailor?

The day after we arrived I discovered that the PC we use for navigation was doing strange things. After a series of checks and “blue screens of death” I discovered a multitude of bad sectors on the hard drive. Essentially it was toast – but luckily I’d made the essential backups! It was 5 years old – which in boating terms is phenomenal. So we rushed off in a taxi to ……….. mile 4 (the whole town area is zoned). The first guy we went to see was a waste of time, so we popped into an Acer store and a sweet little Chinese man called Steven ordered one from Kuala Lumpur, assuring us it would arrive in 2 days time. The price was good, and it had everything I knew the Dell counterpart was offering – but the Dell would take much longer to arrive. So Acer it was! GREAT! I was just hoping and praying that all our “old” programs would work on this new zooty Windows 7 Professional, which claimed to be XP compatible – but you couldn’t be too sure!

Thursday dawned and 7 of us went exploring – Jan (the “almost local” yachtie) was expedition leader! Sadly, Sandakan STILL doesn’t have a shopping mall – there is one under construction on the waterfront, but who knows when it will ever be finished! So we hopped on a bus for RM1.20 and went to Mile 4. There’s a great Chinese supermarket called Tai Chung (nothing like in KK – but beggars could not be choosers!) but had good chicken breasts and a small freezer of non-halal goodies including bacon; just up the road from Tai Chung was another fantastic “cold storage” shop stocking cheddar cheese, beef, lamb, tinned butter. What’s an outing without stopping at a local joint for a coffee to-die-for curry puffs followed by egg custard tarts (or vice-versa!) at RM1 a piece?! This area is also made up of a mish-mash of shops and you would find just about everything here, from The Body Shop, to someone who can clean out your radiator on the street. Giant is out at Mile 7 or 8, and they apparently have a good non-halal section – but get your taxi to wait for you. So between all these places and the Chinese supermarket on the waterfront near Sails Restaurant, one should be able to do a good shop.

Our computer also arrived that afternoon and Steven very kindly loaded the Win 7 Prof (it came with the Home edition), made recovery discs and even drove Ken back to the yacht club via the Shell petrol station, as we needed engine oil. By the time Ken arrived back we had 2 hours before we had to be back on shore for the Malaysian Rally function. Naturally I couldn’t wait to get the PC started… but soon I was pretty frustrated as Windows 7 was not happy with the driver for the USB-Serial port adapter for the GPS. This was of course critical as MaxSea would be totally useless without it. It had been a long day – so decided to try in the morning.

We were all bussed to the seafood restaurant which was only a few minutes away – some complained that it was so close we could’ve walked… yes it was close, but at least we were all there in good time. People are unbelievable and there will always be complainers – bus or no bus!! The speeches were short, the traditional dancing was very very good, and despite there not being much ambience inside the big high-ceilinged room, the food was EXCEPTIONAL to say the least. There were about 8 courses and, cleverly, it was all brought as beautiful platters to our tables. We got back to the boat around 10:30 and I decided to give it another go… falling into bed at midnight. Unsuccessful.

I was awake at 4am thanks to the louder than usual call to prayer (I’m sure he accidentally hit the max volume button!!)… but obviously must’ve fallen asleep again as I woke up at 6:30am – crept out of bed so as not to wake Ken, but very eager to get the PC sorted out. By 8:45am I was ready to tear my hair out. I’d downloaded drivers from various sources – even registered with the Win 7 forum the previous night and requested help, a moderator responded but his link did not help either, but I did learn how to load programs in XP compatible mode (right click on program/properties/compatibility/choose latest version from drop down menu).

We’d given ourselves a 9am deadline – Ken went out to purchase a new adapter, all he could find was one that was Vista/XP compatible (Win 7 was still too new in Malaysia), anyway Steven’s technician loaded it on their laptop (Win 7 Ultimate) and it worked, so there was no reason it wouldn’t work on ours! Funnily enough, minutes before Ken phoned to say he’d found the above adapter, I’d found a sailing forum stating that Radioshack had not updated the drivers for the adapter we had!! So good thing we had a deadline otherwise I’d be bald!! Anyway, I installed MaxSea, and after a bit of fiddling around, and plugging in and unplugging of the adapter- it worked, and I was over the moon with joy!! Our Office 2003 loaded like a dream too!! We’d decided that if we could not get it going I would re-install Windows XP… but I must admit that I quite liked the zooty Windows 7, and quite frankly it would be a case of one step forward and two steps back!

29 August
We left Sandakan at 8:30am after a quick visit to the fantastic wet market (which is the cleanest market we’ve seen to date!) – I then called with a very heavy heart to say “goodbye and fair winds” to Juliet and David, we don’t know when we’ll see them again – if ever. Goodbye’s are the dreadful flipside of cruising. (Come on everybody, fingers crossed they won’t do the Philippines this year – then we will more than likely explore it together in 2012!!)…. what will be will be.

We anchored at Pulau Tembisan the first night, and set off at 5:30am the following morning to Pulau Selakan, which was a bit of push as we just about hit a brick wall rounding the headland at P. Tembisan with both strong current and wind against us!! We dropped anchor just before sunset – choosing to anchor just to the right of the channel in about 18 meters of water.

Again we left at the crack of dawn – but this time we only had 27nm’s to do to get to Pulau Mabul. This island is used as a base for scuba-diving enthusiasts from around the world as it’s a mere 7nms to Pulau Sipidan – and no anchoring is allowed. We’re not divers, but snorkellers were also welcome at around RM800 pp for the day (um I think not!) - we were also not interested in the hassle of arranging permits as only 120 people are allowed at P.Sipidan a day. We anchored in about 15 meters, had lunch and short while later shot off in the dinghy in search of somewhere to snorkel. There appeared to be about 2 or 3 resorts ashore, but there didn’t appear to be much in the way of tourists, but looks can be deceiving! We found crystal clear water and enjoyed a 2 hours snorkel – there wasn’t much in the way of fish, but it was just so nice to be in clear water again! We enjoyed the peace and tranquility so much that we decided to stay another day…

1 September
Tawau is a rather rundown looking port and is a centre for the shipping of timber, rubber, Manila hemp, cocoa, copra, tobacco and of course, palm oil.

There were about 10 rally boats already anchored off the Tawau Yacht Club – which, from where we were positioned, looked pretty impressive! We’d heard that the club was very welcoming… one could understand this as none of the 600 members owned a yacht, and last year they only saw 5 yachts! We all had free access to the gym, pool, karaoke room (!!), dart board, TV room, WIFI… what a nice package!! If only they had a dinghy dock or something similar… one has the choice of hauling the dinghy up the slipway (be sure to have your wheels fitted), or leaving it in the water but then you have the issue of clambering over about 2 meters of rocks to get to the slipway…. And remember to check the tides!!

The final rally dinner was a lovely affair in a local seafood restaurant, where we were lucky enough to try out a local delicacy: chicken feet. Mmmm! NOT! Ken tried them and said they were too much like hard work. The restaurant at the yacht club serves great food too, but don’t have a menu (!!), so it’s a case of “what do you have” – “what would you like?” (!!).

This eastern side of Sabah is definitely not as “jacked” shopping wise as the western side, but again with enough time you can find everything. The wet market is very good and cheap as chips!

We also applied for our Indo visas here and it was a piece of cake – done within 3 hours!

As I’m typing this we have less than 12 hours left in Malaysia… we’re headed to Indonesia tomorrow for 3 months, before heading up to Singapore and then Danga Bay in early December.

We’ll set off at 6am tomorrow with about 4 hours of positive current. Basically as soon as we head out of this bay and turn right, we're in Indo. It's roughly 84nm so we'll stop for the night at an island that’s about 23nm from Tarakan where we’ll perform the "checking-in-dance" not long after arriving. We’ll be wearing our best Muslim outfits, as well as the biggest and friendliest smiles coupled with a hefty dose of patience and good attitude. Fingers crossed this formula will be the key to not having to pay AUD$220 for an Agent to do this dance for us. So wish us luck and hope that it all goes well and that we're cleared into Indonesia within 2-3 days (!!).

Here we are leaving a country that just about pays you to stay and enjoy “1 Malaysia” (no visa fees, easy renewals, boat can stay for ages), to go to a country that is apparently crying out for more tourism but charge you for entering, there’s palm-greasing, a 3 month cruising permit is approx AUD$275, 1 month visa renewal at further cost… go figure.

Indonesia Revisited!

2010-09-06 to 2010-11-20

06 September – 20 November 2010

Stumped about where to go after reaching Tawau (Malaysian Borneo), the final destination of the Malaysian Rally to the East? Consider this: instead of backtracking to Kuching and heading back across to Singapore – why not just carry on straight down into Indonesia instead?! We had 3 months to kill – okay logistically it’s 2400 nautical miles, but we’d done much more than that in the same timeframe coming over from Australia. It made total sense and so that’s exactly what we did. Revisited Indo.

Rachel at Seaspray Marine Services (rachel@seaspraymarineservices.com) emailed the relevant documents to us which we then completed and emailed to Lytha in Jakarta (cait@indo.net.id). Within 10 days of Lytha receiving our Western Union transfer, our CAIT and Sponsor Letter was issued. Be sure to list every single port you might go to. And yes, Tarakan is an official port of entry. Lytha kept our originals and we simply printed and laminated our colour copies, making 5 extra copies of each as Indonesians love paper… as well as ink stamps, so invest in a boat stamp – as all officials like stamping, a lot. We got our social visas within a few hours at the Consulate Office in Tawau.

Leaving Tawau we had favourable current 90% of the way, and even caught a barracuda en route to Pulau Banya. We gave it to a very poor local fisherman and his small son just before dropping the hook for the night. They were all smiles – we knew we were back in Indo!

6 September
N03.17.40 E117.34.74**
We anchored on the west side of the very long jetty/ferry terminal in Tarakan the following morning. The blue roof of the Customs building was a good landmark. Despite arriving at 11am we wanted to start the checking in process that afternoon as we honestly did not know what we were in for. We’d read that it was very complex and that we’d need an agent, but we weren’t keen on forking out $250 just yet…

So off we went, I was very appropriately dressed in a long skirt and long sleeved top buttoned right up – I did not want to offend any Muslim officials whatsoever. We made our way along the jetty to find that the Immigration offices were locked (the ferry had just left), so we made our way over to Customs only to find out that the person we need to see was having his afternoon nap! Nice! Well I suppose it was Ramadan and they needed to conserve energy. We were then told to go to the Port Captain in the meantime, Immigration later. We’d not walked 100 meters when a motorbike pulls up next to us, the driver says he’s police and wants to see our passports… he gets on his phone and 5 minutes later we’re sitting in a tiny dirty office, with him behind a desk trying to explain how we’d arrived on the island of Tarakan. He had no concept of what a yacht was, even producing a photo of Fast Forward on our boat cards only elicited a smidgen of recognition – not total comprehension. Oh dear. I felt sick with fear, my heart was just about in my throat – and I did not let our passports out of my sight. He kept shaking his head whilst talking on the phone. Snippets from movies flicked like flashcards in my minds eye of foreigners detained in dodgy offices in non English speaking countries. Suddenly he says we must “wait – Imigrasi come”. Phew. Then in the blink of an eye, a big black SUV pulls up (yes just like in the movies!) - and speaking very good English, the driver totally understands everything and whisks us off to the Immigration Office which is located on the other side of town. Good thing we didn’t have to explain to a local bemo driver (mini-bus for midgets) how to get there!!

The Head Honcho wanted to see us, and after showing him a picture of the yacht he too understood. After filling out a few forms, he stamped and signed a copy of our CAIT (which seemed to impress other officials throughout Indo). A quick photo or two with one of the staff members (this is typical of places that never see tourists!) and we were on a bemo back to the Harbour Master – he was out, come back tomorrow. Oh well, at least we were legal. We headed over to Customs and before being shown up to Mr Agus’s office we completed the paperwork, which would be processed during the course of the day, and we’d receive the clearance documents in the morning. Mr Agus was a gracious host and very excited to meet more yachties (friends had cleared a few weeks before). He is the Chief of Customs, Kalimantan (Borneo), and what a lovely young guy – transferred from Jakarta, whipped the office and area back into shape; got the 2 patrol boats running which has curbed booze and cigarette smugglers; he’s tripled the turnover – and staff actually work a 7 day week now. Good on him!

This is a typical Indonesian town, and white faces as well as yachts are real novelties! People are pointing and staring – most are shy but really want to make eye contact, or talk to you, little kids shout “hello mister” to both male and female and then giggle when we reply with Selamat Pagi ( ) or terimakasi (thank you), but sama-sama (you’re welcome) is still the cherry on top and will always bring a smile to a shop assistants face (throughout Indo this is not something they hear regularly from tourists). In general everyone is very friendly and will just about bend over backwards to assist you in any way possible.

Day two of our checking-in process (2 down, 2 to go!)… a hot and sticky day of note, especially in all the clothes! I prayed that it would be over soon. The Harbour Master was only going to be in at 10, so in between clarifying information that needed to be typed (using a typewriter!) onto our clearance documents, we sat chatting to those staff members who could speak English (who in turn would translate into Indonesian) – once again we were a total fascination to them as most of them had never even left the island. We discovered that the Harbour Masters English was not that great, so he called in one of the officers to translate our story, as he too could not grasp how we’d actually arrived. Anyway within an hour said our goodbye’s and ticked another formality off the list. Mr Agus kindly arranged a driver to take us across town to the Quarantine Offices. Oh my, no aircon – and the fans were only pointed at employees, who’d look at you and giggle (I must admit it does get a bit much!!). Ken finally emerged from an office after what seemed like an age… visiting yachts were required to buy a book of certificates and stamps at a cost varying between 300-400,000 Rupiah (we paid $40) – it’s really just for ships, but apparently it’s a new thing aimed at all vessels in Indonesia. Whatever – who are we to argue when we’ve saved $210, and shaved days off using an agent). A very kind young Officer offered us a lift back (in his airconditioned SUV!) – turns out his wife is a mid-wife and he’s a fully qualified doctor (both trained in Australia)... funny that they would choose to settle on that island. Anyway, he wished us well and gave us his phone number, and told us not to hesitate to please call him if we needed anything.

We all know that respect and a good attitude towards officials is key, but after hearing from Mr Agus that less than 10 boats had cleared in/out at Tarakan in 2010, we knew that we’d be in for a long journey down patience lane – and spiced up with lots of smiles as the officials came to grips with the relevant paperwork and procedures… the whole process took a total of 7 hours and was by no means complex. We did not need any help. There was no palm-greasing or bribing. No bond payable. Would we do it again? Yes. So we’re legal, now let’s get on with it!

8 - 15 September
Our journey which took us down the Makassar Straight to the city of Makassar (southern Sulawesi) was a very pleasant one. Pulau Balabongan was a highlight, but navigating here is not for the feint-hearted as there are bommies everywhere! Eventually finding the entrance to the atoll within the atoll, we dropped anchor in paradise, the perfectly clear blue skies just added to the picture postcard-perfection of it all. It was like being in the Pacific islands again. Ashore we found many pretty shells as well as evidence of turtles nesting. And at the drop of a hat, paradise can turn into a nightmare. Grey skies coupled with a brisk 30 knot squall greeted us the following morning… being anchored in shallow water and totally surrounded by unforgiving coral reef, slight unease crept through us we realized the weather was not improving – and that we should probably head for the horizon instead! We followed our snail trail track on the PC out to deeper, bommie free waters and headed south to Donggala where we caught up on sleep after an easy overnighter. We did not go ashore here, but instead chose to spend 2 days relaxing whilst waiting for a small weather system to move through.

Up until Donggala, we experienced mostly favourable current. The winds were moderate to light, enabling us to sail for a total of 27nms – good thing we filled up in Brunei! The journey down to Makassar was pleasant despite having to push against current of up to 1.5 knots – we were able to sail during the day, but had to motor sail through the night… the flat seas were a pleasure and there were hardly any fishing boats or FAD’s about. We toasted my birthday – a first whilst en route - with a tonic (no vodka please, we’re dry whilst underway!) and just enjoyed the clear skies and good sailing. As we approached Makassar the amount evenings afforded us with an incredible amount of very impressive electric storms – aside from dodging one or two, most either dissipated or headed towards the mainland.

16 September
S05.08.25 E119.24.07**
Being rather late in the season, we didn’t expect any yachts to be around, but alas there were 5 anchored when we arrived! They were all Aussies with small children, traveling together and hot-footing it through Borneo, then on to Malaysia, Thailand and ultimately the Mediterranean. The seasons dictate and they will simply just keep moving, clocking up thousands of miles by the time they arrive in Turkey around mid to end April 2011. Rather them than us!

Much to our annoyance, the officials in Tarakan insisted on clearing us for Makassar, we asked for Belitung (our port of exit), but they would not hear of it. Makassar is a huge city, and being the gateway to eastern Indonesia – it has a thriving port and is an important transport hub. So there we were, minding our own business, making our way down the street towards the Port when along comes a trishaw and the driver tries negotiating to take us there – his English was fantastic and he apparently knew what the was deal was with yachties, he wanted 20,000 – we offered him 5,000 – and he accepted it. Thankfully we’re both slim as there was not much room to spare, and soon the 56 year old Alex (who looks about 70!) is pedaling his heart out – thankfully it’s all level terrain! We weren’t fleeced, and it turned out that Alex did indeed deal with a lot of yachties and knew exactly where to go. After the formalities were sorted out, we all enjoyed an ice cold Coke, before negotiating with him to take us to a bakery (to buy good European bread) and to a supermarket. After a serious cycling session, we arrived back at the dinghy at around 3pm… Alex was a super guy and was thrilled when we gave him 50,000. He’s a wealth of information, so feel free to call him should you require him to pedal you around Makassar: 0813 4231 6991.

That morning we were all surprised to be invited (by the Mayor’s office) to an annual buffet dinner in aid of promoting business and tourism in Makassar. This was the 12thyear and quite frankly I was wondering where all this “promoting” was being done as I’d never ever seen any advertising anywhere saying “visit Makassar”. Unfortunately it poured with rain from 4-6pm so that postponed proceedings slightly, but the evening eventually got underway on the waterfront. The dinner was good and naturally it was coupled with Sulawesi's traditional dancing. We even got to shake hands with the mayor! Apart from thanking the yachties for attending, the entire evening was conducted in Indonesian! Many thanks to the gentleman sitting next to Ken who gave a brief overview in very broken English…

18 September – Teluk Laikang, S05.36.32 E119.31.41… we left at 8am and after beating into 20+knots, big swell and adverse current, we finally dropped anchor at 5pm that afternoon. A word of warning, use this bay for an emergency only – we had never seen to many fish traps… heaven only knows what else they were doing – seaweed farming? Mussel farming? All of the above? Anyway, it was not easy, but we finally found a clear spot to anchor and were appreciative of the protection the bay offered.

20 September to 7 October
Komodo & Rinca
This is one of our favourite locations in all of Indonesia! How fabulous it was being here knowing that the 80+ boats on the Indonesian Rally were a month ahead of us, and that were literally about 4 or 5 other random yachts here. Heaven… except for the local boat boys who come around desperate to sell carved dragons, pearls and other random stuff. Due to easy access, the nav station became the new home to our dragon and the pearls we’d purchased in 2009, this way we did not waste any time in showing them our wares – and after insisting we really really didn’t want/need another bigger/smaller/darker/lighter dragon, they reluctantly left (most with fishing line and hooks from Ken!).

We re-visited anchorages and discovered fantastic new ones. One in particular, we managed to anchor right out of the very strong tidal streams at Teluk Sarai (S08.37.26 E119.36.99)… this became a favourite and rather thrilling drift snorkel lasting for at least 1nm! Water like gin, beautiful and huge variety of hard and soft corals, we saw everything from a huge variety of reef fish, turtles, giant camouflaged (then very angry) octopus (well spotted Ken!), black tip sharks and barracuda and more.

Minutes after anchoring in a huge bay on Rinca 2 komodo’s put on quite a show for us… they were chasing each other up and down the length of the beach (seeing just how fast they were gave me a new-found respect for them!!) – into the water, into the bush, up the side of the hill and back again – the one appeared to be dominant and kept wanting to bite the others head. Weird. The weaker one then fled way up the hill and perched on some rocks in the shade. Was it a mating game or was it dinner?

I just love the little wild pigs chasing each other along the waterline then stopping to forage…

And on 8 October I hit the shelling jackpot at an anchorage on the west coast Pulau Banta…. Map cowries, cones, spider conch, oh too many to mention. I was in heaven!

9 to 15 October
We stopped at Pulau Medang and Gili Lawang en route to Medana Bay, Lombok – which now boasted a small open-air restaurant selling the tastiest nasi goring and mie goring we’ve ever had. Anchoring on the northern tip of Gili Aer worked out well for a night, but trying to stop over at Lembongan once again proved impossible with the Indian Ocean rollers making for an unpleasant anchorage, which immediately spurred us on to head for Serangan, southern Bali. We picked up a mooring just before sunset… nothing appeared to have changed here – or had it?

16 October to 5 November
Things in Serangan had changed a lot. ???? was no longer there. The business was shut. His Indonesian wife had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. The moorings are all now owned by two local factions – with some fees payable to the “village”. We were with a guy called Wayan, he’s great. Use them at your own risk, who knows if they are ever serviced, and if so, properly serviced?

We hired a car from (another) Wayan in Kuta – what a great guy!! We highly recommend him – his prices are great and you can negotiate, he’ll even bring the little jeep to Serangan or exchange it if you’re not happy with it… call him on (mobile) 081 338 607 087.

It was great being in Bali again as there was a lot we did not get to see/experience the first time around as we were rather rushed (being on the rally and wanting to get to Kumai to see the orangutans before 50 other yachts got there!). We went up to Ubud again for 2 nights… we just loved all the arts and crafts there are to see en route – it’s just endless really and there is nothing that’s not made in Bali!! As it was later in the season, it wasn’t as insanely busy as it was in September 09.

I was blown away by the awesome jewelery store that had morphed from the construction site we saw in 2009. There was/is such energy in that building… they did a magnificent job and the jewelery was spectacularly displayed… no expense was spared. The jewelers and silversmiths are very skilled, but their work comes with hefty price-tags. We were sure that the place was more of a showroom for international buyers…

Our social visas were easily extended here for 1 month, the Immigration offices are near the airport. It costs 200,000 Rupiahs each. The sponsor letter received with the CAIT is not acceptable, to get the visa extended in Bali one needs a local “sponsor”. As luck would have it, there happened to be someone at the immigration office that day who could do it at no extra charge.

Well 20 days seemed to simply fly past, and soon it was time to move on towards Singapore. Leaving Serangan we had 6 knots of positive current… boy you wouldn’t want to get your timing wrong here! Labuan Amuk was a good anchorage despite all the rubbish in the water – I honestly have never seen so much rubbish. Singajara was our next stopover for the night before heading on to Pulau Raas and then to Teluk Pudak, Karimunjawa, where we stayed for 2 days whilst waiting for the weather to sort itself out. Again we did not fuss about going ashore, we had a great WIFI connection – what more could we ask for!

On 14 November we left and thanks to great wind from an ugly squall moving past behind us, we were flying along – but this only lasted 20 miles and soon we were motoring again! I went on watch at 2am. The graveyard shift. Anyway we were clocking along nicely - opposite us on the horizon was a very long and spread out squall (thunder and lightning the norm!), we were gleaning a bit of wind off this and I was praying it would pass behind us! At 4:35am the wind shot up from 14 knots to 18 knots (18 knots on the nose with full main and genoa freaks me out a bit as I don't know what else is coming!), so Ken took over from me. At 8:45am we were back to motoring, that 18 knots did not last very long at all! Our ETA kept changing but we eventually arrived at 9am on the 16th. We were certainly getting through our Brunei diesel, and were sure we’d have just enough to get us to Singapore, but for safety sake, we were going to put on more in Pulau Belitung. It’s a lovely anchorage with gorgeous beaches and super friendly people. This is the last stop in the Indonesian Rally and we can see a marked improvement (esp in prices!!) since 2009.

On the 18th, a gentleman involved in the rally arranged a government SUV and driver for us so that we could clear out. Anyway, thank goodness we had these 3 lovely men with us as we would never ever have found the Immigration office - let alone the Port Captain's office!! They drove us to the market to get some veg, and then to a supermarket, and lastly to get 120 litres of diesel in jerry cans.

We left Belitung at 2pm that day and motored most of the 315 nm's to an anchorage just on the Indo/Singapore – arriving on the 20th. We’d booked into One15 Marina on Sentosa Island, Singapore and were looking forward to some first world comforts!

Indonesia is an amazing country: - from the unspoilt beauty of Komodo and Rinca that is just so refreshing – to stunning pink beaches – seeing weird and wonderful wildlife – to an underwater world that will take your breath away – the beautiful and haunting call to prayer from the mosques at sunset (not so nice at 4am!) – to the incredibly hard workers in Lombok – to the expressive love of visual culture and mythology in Bali – not forgetting the toothy smiles, grins, giggles and “hello misters” that are totally priceless! – and lastly, all the exquisite little offerings you stumble upon whilst making your way through Indonesia, turning it into an exotic tapestry of colour and texture… like nowhere else on earth.

** GPS position to be used as guide only – this area is strictly eye-ball navigation!!

Living it up in Singapore!

2010-11-22 to 2010-12-10


21 November - 10 December

Our stay in Sydney was preceded by spending 14 days in One15 Marina; 4 days in Danga Bay, Johor Bahru, Malaysia; and 2 nights at the fancy new Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore.

After our 2½ month trek through Indo, Singapore was a very welcome port of call! Singapore Immigration offers a fantastic check-in service where clearance can be done in a matter of minutes at Western Quarantine & Immigration Anchorage (N01.13.200, E103.49.600). The Immigration craft can be contacted on VHF 74. Their callsign is “Western Immigration”. Your boat can drift or anchor while waiting for the customs officials to attend to you. You are required to provide 3 A4 copies of crew/passenger lists. Relevant forms can be downloaded from the internet prior to arrival. Once you have arrived at your chosen destination in Singapore, you will need to proceed to the Port Captain for clearance, as of 2010 it cost SGD$30 and it’s valid for 1 year. A quick MRT trip will put you quite close to the offices which are located at the OSDC (One Stop Document Shop), Maritime Port Authority, Keppel Road, Tanjong Pagar Complex. Regarding Immigration, you will be given 2 weeks on entry, however a trip to the Immigration offices can be arranged at a later stage for a hassle-free extension – alternatively, you could just pop across the border the Malaysia, and come straight back into Singapore and get up to 30 days.

One 15 Marina Club (N01.14.50, E103.50.40) (VHF 77) is a rather nice marina. Highlights include a gorgeous swimming pool, state of the art gym – and the free shuttle bus across the causeway to Vivo Mall. A brisk walk through the mall has you at the MRT station within 10 minutes.

Apart from needing some delicious fruit and veg, the diesel injectors needed to be serviced and Ken enjoyed some retail therapy in Sim Lim Tower (despite it being LED lights, switches, etc!!). Juliet and I frequented Spotlight… a firm favourite amongst the sewing community!!

In the blink of an eye our 2 weeks came and went, and soon we found ourselves at Danga Bay – no facilities so to speak of as yet, but the marina had been extended and there were at least 40 more berths… but we’re not complaining as you simply can’t beat this place for outstanding value! Anyway, this was to be Fast Forward’s home for 4 weeks whilst we were away in Sydney.


Total and utter luxury! I thought we’d died and gone to heaven…

We couldn’t wait to have a swim in the infinity pool located 55 storeys up – at three times the length of an Olympic pool, it’s the world’s largest outdoor pool (at that height). Despite the water being very cold… the view and experience was so worth the chill factor! While the water in the infinity pool seems to end in a sheer drop, it actually spills into a catchment area where it is pumped back into the main pool. The infinity pool on the roof is in the 'SkyPark' which spans the three towers of the hotel. The platform itself is longer than the Eiffel tower laid down, and is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

At £4billion this is the world's most expensive hotel built to date. The hotel has 2560 rooms, the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi was previously the world's most expensive hotel, but with its indoor canal, opulent art, casino, outdoor plaza, convention centre, theatre, crystal pavilion and museum shaped like a lotus flower, the Marina Bay Sands has taken its crown. The design of the hotel is based on a deck of cards.

The resort will employ 10,000 people directly and generate up to £48m each year. Entrance to the casino alone is nearly £50 a day (only Singaporeans pay) - but an average of 25,000 people have visited the casino daily since its initial phased opening two months ago. Thomas Arasi, president and chief executive officer of the resort, said he expects to attract an astonishing 70,000 visitors a day once it is fully open!!

Despite the weather being pretty dismal, we thoroughly enjoyed our 2 glorious days and nights before boarding silver bird to Sydney…

Christmas in Sydney!

2010-12-11 to 2011-01-05

11 December – 5 January

There’s nothing more amazing than being warmly welcomed by family at 7am at the airport! From the moment we landed it felt like we were on the run, and we very rarely had days to kill. It was fantastic seeing Russel and Alena, as well as Cheryl and Ben – and fun to be caught up in the pre-Christmas madness of last minute prezzies, drinks parties, braai’s (bbq’s to non-South Africans!) and smelling real Christmas trees!! Russel and Cheryl both live within walking distance of each other in Queenscliff, Manly… they all surf, so it’s definitely a case of location, location, location!

We caught up with Ian and Chris (yacht China Grove) in Melbourne and they were exceptional hosts to us for the duration of our 4 day stay… weather-wise we had a bit of everything, and we even got to go out on their cute little runabout/day fishing boat. What a lovely holiday home they have in Blairgowrie.

It was awesome caching up with Taffy and Shirley (yacht The ROAD) who had just crossed the Pacific Ocean… we last saw them in Trinidad, early December 2006! It seemed like a lifetime ago… but they looked fantastic and we had an awesome day together!

Last but not least – Brian and Gill (yacht Destiny III) – ex South African’s living in Australia… we met them when we first arrived in Malaysia in 2009, and really only got to know them as we were leaving Malaysia for Indo in August 2010. They too were amazing and drove all the way to Manly to pick us up, we proceeded to spend a very boozy lunch/afternoon with them and other family members in Pittwater. What gracious hosts! Thank you!

Ken’s middle son Scott, his wife Vikki and their 17 month old daughter Isla, flew in on the 30th. What a treat it was having the whole family together! Isla is very intelligent and as cute as a button…

Shopping for the boat was our main agenda as there are no chandleries in Malaysia and certainly none in Satun, southern Thailand where we intended hauling Fast Forward for her much needed “make-over”. We had 63kgs of excess baggage, of that, 42kgs were 6 sheets of soundproofing for the engine room!!! We honestly did not buy much for ourselves (but did replace things) – and the books we’d received for Christmas went straight into our backpacks (naturally one seems to get away with murder in this department as we have never had our backpacks weighed). Ken did his “big shop” at Whitworths on one day, thereby having an invoice totalling way more then $300 which then enabled him to claim the GST back at the airport. Our excess luggage was prepaid online, which also saved a lot of money. We did look into other options of getting our excess baggage to Singapore, but these proved to be a lot more expensive than British Airways’ charges.

Another very exciting part of our holiday was meeting Noah Thompson… the New Zealand based boat designer we have been in contact with via email since Bali. Noah flew to Hervey Bay to do some sea trials, and the timing was perfect for us to fly up and meet with him. The plan is to put Fast Forward on the market once her make-over is complete. Ken’s next dream is to build a 72ft power catamaran – no sails, no heeling, no more prestik/blu-tack to keep our treasures in place. It’s the future of boating as we see it. So meeting Noah was great – it was 1½ days of talking and analyzing power cats – the good, the bad and the ugly. We also got see our (rotating) 3D models on his computer too… technology is just an amazing thing isn’t it? Anyway, so that’s the dream, but Fast Forward has to be sold first. Any takers??

It’s always sad to say goodbye to family, but we were keen to get back to Fast Forward to start the next 2-3 month chapter in Satun.

There were a few hiccups back on board Fast Forward when we returned and I was wondering what we had done to deserve this black cloud!! The bag of meat I’d given one of the restaurants to keep in their freezer, was actually kept in the fridge for 1 month… and was green and bubbling when they returned it to me. I was charmed of course, but I should really have known better – they always say “yes” regardless of whether they “get it” or not (and the worst thing is they actually spoke good English!!). We had other issues crop up, but Pulau Penang was where we finally sorted everything out – a big bag of ice finally cooled the freezer down enough for it to start up and run (the compressor just wasn’t kicking in and staying on for long enough)…. the generator needed a new battery… the diesel injectors needed a proper service (goodness knows what they did in Singapore!)… so the only thing we now need to replace is the regulator for the alternator.

But that’s what this cruising life is about – fixing your boat in exotic places!

And in the meantime… let’s just enjoy the vibrant heritage town of Penang.

Hooked on Thaipusam!

2011-01-19 to 2011-01-21

Hooked on Thaipusam!
19-21 January
Pulau Penang, Malaysia 

As luck would have it we happened to be in Penang for this festival…

Thaipusam wins hands down as the most fascinating, spectacular and colourful Hindu festival we’ve ever seen. Devotees perform amazing acts of physical resilience by skewering their bodies with an obscene amount of body piercings. Since we were not very likely to ever see this again, we traded a couple of hours of extra sleep for wanting to be right in the thick of things before sunrise…

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community when the Pusam Constellation is in its ascendancy, in the 10th month of the Hindu calendar (Thai) – it’s usually towards the end of January or the beginning of February. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. Murugan is the youngest son of Shiva and his wife Parvati.

Westerners often have trouble understanding Hinduism principally because of its vast pantheon of Gods. The one omnipresent God usually has three physical representations: Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer or reproducer. All three gods are shown with four arms, but Brahma has the added advantage of four heads to represent his all-seeing presence.
The festival emphasizes debt bondage. The Kavadi (burden) itself is a physical burden through which the devotees implore for help from the God Murugan. Generally, Hindus take a vow to offer a kavadi to the idol for the purpose of tiding over or averting a great calamity. For instance, if the devotee's son is laid up with a fatal disease, he would pray to Shanmuga to grant the boy a lease of life in return for which the devotee would take a vow to dedicate a kavadi to Him.
Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting for approximately 48 days before Thaipusam. Kavadi bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Murugan. The kavadi bearer observes celibacy and take only pure, Satvik food (food that is simple and easily digestible according to the Ayurvedics), once a day, while continuously thinking of God.
There are however many Chinese, Sikh and the odd European who also participate in this act of faith which leaves many devotees and observers alike, spiritually transformed.
On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi. At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common.
The simplest kavadi is a semicircular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. The greater the pain the more god-earned merit.
A pilgrimage procession takes place on the first day to bring the statue of Lord Muruga (who represents virtue, youth and power) on a silver chariot led by more then 60 devotees adorned with peacock feathers, from Little India to the Nattukotai Chettiar Temple to the Waterfall Hilltop Temple at the end of Waterfall Road, near to the Botanic Gardens, Penang.

19th January
At 6:30am the streets were already packed with people, and the Indian ladies were dressed in their finest and looked absolutely beautiful. The silver chariot, pulled by two bulls stopped for about 20 minutes every 100 meters – they’d eventually reach their destination by midnight. The air was electric and everybody was anxious to get their offerings to the chariot. Cranking up the volume in Little India is the norm, and you could hear the female singer from afar as the chariot approached, coupled with the rhythmic drumbeat of four guys carrying drums, wisps of incense wafting past our nostrils… it was such an amazingly heady mix and just got right under your skin!

As the chariot approached, coconuts forming pyramids on the sidewalks were then individually hurled to the ground with great force to split them open – this was a sign of good luck, thanksgiving and an act of repelling sins. Waiting patiently on the sidelines, were the drivers on two little bobcat steer loaders who would, very skilfully and with such speed, clear the debris to the side of the road before a handful of municipal council workers plunged into disciplined action.

When the chariot stopped, a family member bearing offerings of fruit, betel leaves, and a beautiful jasmine garland arranged on small platters, worked their way through the crowds to the chariot to receive a blessing by the priest. The garland was then taken and placed with hundreds of others on the idol. The grey ash fingerprint between the eyebrows signified a blessing. Apparently it’s good luck if you manage to touch the chariot…

It is interesting to note that the yearly chariot procession during Thaipusam has been held without fail since 1857. A wooden chariot was used for the first 37 years until the silver chariot was brought from India in 1894; this chariot has been used ever since.

Further on we saw a dance performed by a group of men, the kavadis, carrying heavy wooden frames adorned with peacock feathers on their shoulders. The dance is performed during the ceremonial worship of Lord Murungan, the Tamil God of War.

We followed the procession for about 2 hours and then needed breakfast and a coffee! The following days’ proceedings were going to be way more fascinating….

20th January

Up bright and early, 3 of us headed over by bus to Lorong Kulit (a street just off Jalan Utama, very near to the City Stadium). This is the “Kavadi Venue”. We didn’t want to miss out on anything and so our 6:30am arrival was perfect. Here everyone gets ready and in the right “spiritual place” to be skewered.

Shortly after arriving, we witnessed one of the fathers of the devotees go into a “spiritually possessed” kind of state and had to be forcibly restrained by 2 others before blessing his son. It was all very ethereal as this took place whilst the sun was rising.

The kavadi carriers are truly the greatest spectacle of the entire Thaipusam celebration – here seemingly masochistic acts as fulfilment for answered prayers. They go through the physical endurance of being skewered and pierced on the back and front of their bodies, including their faces, by hooks of varying thicknesses. As an act of penance, some carry offerings of milk, and adorn their bodies with hundreds of miniature milk pots (paal kadum) connected to the skin by very fine hooks. Some have “reigns” attached to huge hooks (like butchers hooks) in their backs and then literally pull their “driver” along!

Even more striking are the vel kavadi, huge cages of spikes that pierce the skin of the carrier. These cages are often decorated with peacock feathers, flowers and pictures of deities. Some go as far as piercing their tongues and cheeks with tridents and skewers. Couples whose prayers for children have been answered carry their babies on their shoulders in saffron cradles made of sugar cane stalks.

A family have perhaps 3 or 4 drummers, and once you hear the rhythmic dum-dum-dum you know it’s just a matter of minutes before another devotee is skewered. While it looks excruciating, a trance-like state stops devotees from feeling pain (judging by the look on some of their faces whilst being skewered we think just a slight discomfort is felt, but that could have been misinterpreted). Later the wounds are treated with lemon juice and holy ash to prevent scarring. Like firewalking, only the truly faithful should attempt it. It is said that insufficiently prepared devotees keep doctors busy over this festival period with skin lacerations, or by collapsing after the strenuous activities. The devotees say it is faith and belief in Lord Murugan that prevents the pain and the bleeding.

At times I felt it was such a personal thing (being skewered), and that I was being disrespectful by trying to get in close to get a great photo, yet on the other hand I felt quite lucky to witness such a personal experience for the families concerned… but not fully comprehending the process in its entirety it’s very difficult to know what I should have been feeling - essentially the families are very proud and clearly it’s a very “public” affair.

Being there so early and watching the sun shed more light on the ever unfolding events was a great boon as it was still cool and we could proceed up Utama Road with the greatest of ease – and accompanied by devotees clad in yellow and saffron, clean-shaven heads (symbol of humility and atonement) smeared with sandalwood paste, walked along the road without the boisterousness that would dominate the later hours of the day. We knew that in 4 or 5 hours it would be standing room only as they expected crowds of four to six hundred thousand people!!

In celebration hundreds of beautifully decorated make-shift stalls were erected along the roadside where charitable Chinese and Indian families gave out bottled water, juice, fruits, sweet, buns, and prepared sweet and sour rice to devotees. Thunderous loud music, dancing, the beating of drums, and the singing of devotional songs by the devotees supporters could be seen and heard for miles throughout the entire vicinity of the festival.

Upon reaching the temple, devotees will fulfil their vows, offer thanksgiving prayers and penance to Lord Murugan. The chariot is then scheduled for a return trip to start from the temple at midnight, reaching Kovil Veedu before dawn the following day.

On our walk back down from the temple to Kavadi venue we passed the devotees we’d seen being skewered at dawn! We boarded a bus bound for the jetty and sat in silence savouring the very unusual festival we’d just witnessed that was so rich in culture and deep in tradition. Perhaps that’s what keeps these countries and communities “together”… the respect for the various cultures and the richness of tradition. It’s food for thought indeed.

Life in rural Thailand: A Photo Diary

2011-01-30 to 2011-07-07

How Time Flies!

2011-08-07 to 2012-03-05

October 2011 – March 2012

I can’t believe it’s been 6 months since I updated the website. Time certainly has a tendency to fly by of late! Anyway, not too much has been happening in our lives, but I thought I’d better do an update anyway!

8 August to 5 November was spent in Phuket, Thailand – we had a few medical issues to sort out and by the time we left we felt rather at home at the Bangkok Hospital!

I celebrated my 40th with our friends David, Juliet, Charles and Maureen at a fabulous restaurant in Phuket Town called Suay. Highly recommend this place!

Ken’s cousin Maggie and her husband Steve popped over from the UK for a short visit on board Fast Forward. They joined us in Phuket, we took them to the Simon Cabaret (a must do!!), and on a quick whistle-stop tour of Phang Nga Bay before heading off down to Langkawi, Malaysia where they boarded a plane headed for Singapore.

Mid November found Ken and I separated for 2 weeks – he flew to Sydney to help his son Russel finalise the last of the shop-fitting for his new Patagonia store in Manly (he worked long hard hours, but it was right up his alley!); and I flew to Cape Town. I was still struggling with gastritis, and after a chance meeting, a few appointments, and a bag of herbal muti from an iridologist in Hout Bay I now seem to be on my way to recovery. Finally.

Ken flew in on 25 November and we were on the go most of the time. At least we weren’t having to take back tons of boat bits, but did take full advantage of the 30kgs (excluding hand luggage) on Emirates! The weather was surprisingly cool and we found ourselves in jeans and fleeces most of the time! We had a lovely time catching up with old sailing friends as well as our land-based friends. One always seems to slot back in so easily!! Ken and I cooked a delicious Christmas feast which we tucked into on Christmas Eve with my Mother and Walter. A very relaxing Christmas day was spent with friends in Stellenbosch. We flew back to Malaysia on the 26th.

We did an overnighter from Langkawi to Phuket on the 29th… great wind and great sailing… but it’s exhausting as we have keep a constant watch for all the fishing boats and fish traps. We had to hotfoot it as we were meeting Ken’s daughter and her fiancé on the 30th in Ao Chalong. They spent 7 days with us and after seeing in the New Year in Patong Beach, all they wanted was time out from the world – so we took them to the Similans and they loved it!

We meandered up and down the coast, going as far north as Ko Phayam on the Burmese border. What a treat this island is – the water is not clear and blue, but there’s no noisy fireworks, jet-ski’s, tuk-tuk’s, or offers of massages or suits! What bliss! It was whilst we were up there that we decided to spend 3 months in Sumatra, more specifically, in the islands off the west coast.

Ken’s birthday in February was celebrated with our good friends David and Juliet at a lovely restaurant in Ao Chalong, and again in Patong Beach, but this time it was just the two of us!

After doing the last of the stocking up we cleared out of Thailand on the 27th and made our way over to Langkawi.

It’s 4 March today and we’re currently about an hour away from Penang, Malaysia. Our CAIT (cruising permit for Indonesia) and Sponsor Letter will appear in our Inbox on Tuesday, and then all we have to do is apply for our tourist visas at the Indonesian Embassy here in Penang… then we’re off to explore new territory!

Sumatra is well known for surfing and we’re hoping to meet up with Russel and Ben who are going to be on a surfing safari in the Mentawai’s in May. No, we’re not surfers, but we’ve heard it’s beautiful, but as long as the water is lovely and clear we’re easy to please… it sure beats sitting in Phuket!

Sojourn in Sumatra

2012-03-23 to 2012-05-20

23 March - 20 May 2012

A 7 week trip to Sumatra's offshore islands was just the perfect way to kill some time.... even for non-surfers!

Our 280 nautical mile trip from Langkawi to Sabang, Sumatra was a mixed bag of sailing, motoring and motor-sailing and ship-dodging (particularly as we got nearer to that coastline, but AIS is a great help!). At one stage we were doing rather well... 7 knots SOG in 8 knots of wind @ approx 60 degrees, in fairly flat seas... oh what a pleasure, and she is no slouch that's for sure!

Upon arrival, we anchored just off the town in about 19 meters. Lytha (the lady in Jakarta with whom we'd organised our CAIT and Sponsor Letter) had forwarded the latest checking in costs and procedure. Her email address is: cait@indo.net.id. Anyway, so the whole procedure was not too traumatic - and all the officials were very friendly and helpful. Some yachties preferred to leave the boat at Pulau Rubiah, rent a scooter and make a day of it. Others bypassed Sabang and preferred to check in further down the coast.

Firstly let me just say that as seasoned yachties you should not rely on C-Maps in Sumatra!! Sometimes the shapes of islands are nothing like they are in reality.

Pulau Rubiah is heaven compared to Langkawi, beautiful clear water - nice enough coral and lots of fish - why anyone would want to stay in Langkawi when they can simply nip across to Rubiah is anyone's guess! Actually it's a good thing everyone stays put because there are only 4 mooring buoys and you cannot anchor there.

From there we hopped further south along the mainland, stopping to overnight at Seudu and Pulau Raya. We went ashore to stock up on fruit and veg at Calang. We anchored in the small bay just east of the long jetty. One can also get diesel here. Not much English is spoken - but, typical Indonesia, everyone is very friendly and full of smiles!!

From here we did an overnighter to Pulau Simeleu and anchored in about 14 m right in front of the village (as you enter, the village is on the right). There were some official looking people that came by in a trimaran craft, but we are not into having all and sundry clamber up onto the boat. They could not understand where we had come from or were going to so they eventually left... quite frankly they were more interested in taking photos of us!!

After a rather interesting night of squalls and torrential rain, we headed out to Pulau Lukon. What a lovely and peaceful spot this was! Only bothered by one fisherman wanting whiskey... sorry, no can do!

We headed off to Labuhanbajau the following day and it was quite a treat having an internet connection again! It was nice not being hassled. Friends were in Pulau Saranggantong so we headed off there the following morning. At about 4pm we noticed a strange shudder go through the boat... we were sailing, I was down below and thought it odd, the genoa does not make that kind of vibration even in light winds. Ken also noticed and watched to see if we'd gone over anything, but no - all was good. A little while later there was another shudder. We thought nothing of it until we received 15 emails in our inbox the following morning from family and enquiring if we were safe after a Tsunami warning was issued! Gosh we had no idea we were a mere 193 nautical miles from the earthquake. Anyway, that anchorage was fantastic and very well protected. The only thing that bothered us were the mozzies!

After a few days we moved on to P. Goso Baohi (Lahewa). This is a good anchorage offering good protection. It's very peaceful too and the only people that came by were wanting to practice their English. Again, we enjoyed the good internet connection. We went ashore here in search of bananas... one is able to buy the very basics here - and I'm assuming that diesel would be available here too. No harm in trying!

From here we went around Hulo Wunga... this anchorage is a little exposed to anything coming from the N/NE, but otherwise it's beautiful - lovely clear water - a very pretty lagoon... and my personal favourite: lots of shells! Another beautiful anchorage close by is Pulau Asu.

Leaving P. Asu it was quite a stretch around to Teluk Dalam. It was tricky finding good holding in a rocky bottom (where's all that glorious mud when you want it?), but after the third attempt we were satisfied... just off to the right of the pier/ferry terminal jetty (left hand side when you enter bay). Landing the dinghy here is very tricky too as there are no beaches to drag it up onto, no docks or walls to tie up to either. What we ended up doing was clambering up a paved embankment at the ferry jetty, and then leaving the dinghy out with a stern anchor. It was well worth it because the market was amazing! We had to check in here as it was on our Sabang paperwork, but we did not pay any bribes - Ken flatly refused (as we'd already paid all our dues in Sabang)... and so they said fine, and we could go.

Heading further south, Sipika was our next anchorage (S00.08.19 E098.20.72)... the most stunning anchorage. Our favourite in Sumatra! Lovely beach to walk on and no hassles from the locals either.

We picked 2 anchorages heading down the east coast of Pulau Siberut before arriving at the first islands of the famous Mentawai's. It's very remote here - not even a cell phone signal. No shops. Nada. Aside from popping over to Topejat Harbour for some provisions, we'd decided that since we were not surfers, that "the playgrounds" was as far south as we were going to go. A stunning anchorage in fair weather is S01.53.87 E099.18.33.

The only "sour" incident happened at S00.31.76 E098.29.83 - we pulled in here to get out of the swell that was running. There was another catamaran anchored further up right in front of the village. At around 8pm a local rows over and hands us a book, (I knew what was coming as I'd read about this), anyway he was demanding 160,000 Rupiah's to anchor for the night, 10 GBP is way too much... we didn't even pay this in the US Virgin Islands!! What is this, let's see how stupid this gringo is? Well it turns out that this is what the people on the catamaran paid!! Crazy! So we told him no, we'd move thank you. He was astounded, thinking it's dark, we'll have no choice... ha we are not ones for getting ripped off! So we upped anchor at 9pm and moved about a mile away! It was a far better spot actually since we didn't have to listen to the squealing pigs locked up in small wooden "cages" on the waters' edge.

We pretty much followed our route back to P. Saranggantong, and then did an overnighter to Calang, hopped up the coast again and spent a few more glorious days at P. Rubiah, before doing the 268nm leg back to Langkawi. So if you want to get away from it all - Sumatra is the place to be! Apart from meeting up with our friends, we had every anchorage to ourselves. All in all it was a good 7 week sojourn!

A Wedding in Bali!

2012-07-03 to 2012-07-13

A wedding in Bali? What a fabulous idea... especially if you live in Australia, since everything is so expensive over there!... and if you happen to surf, then it's a real bonus too! Luckily we only had a 2 hour flight to contend with, unlike family members who were brave enough to fly from England with a 7 month old and a 3 year old!! So we all gathered from far and wide to celebrate the marriage of Ken's daughter Cheryl, to Ben.

Since some of our family were not staying where we were we'd hired a car for the duration of our stay as this is by far the easiest way for four people to get around. It can be pretty manic on the roads, but if you drive like they do then you're doing well! It was such a treat being able to spend quality time with family we'd not seen in years.

We stayed at Temple Lodge 3 nights... the accommodation is very different as in pretty rustic. We stayed in the Coral Cave - and it's literally a cave on a cliff top. There is no front door. Or windows for that matter. Just blinds that roll down (not even all the way!). Naturally there are monkeys that wander back and forth through the foliage along the cliff... and yes, they are a slight problem in the resorts. In hindsight, had I known our room had no front door I would certainly not have booked it. The accommodation is not cheap and I was slightly peeved that management had not bothered to even put latches and padlocks on any of the cupboard doors - which meant that absolutely everything had to be packed away in our bags (locked with our own padlocks) all the time. Very very frustrating. There was only one biggish kist that was safe enough to put things into since the monkeys were not strong enough to lift the lid!! We had only one incident. We'd been in the car all morning - hot and bothered - came back at 2pm, just wanted to get into the pool and cool off, forgetting to lock our one bag (which contained 3 sachet drinks of Capri Sonne)... to cut a long story short they'd come in, opened the bag - drank one of the drinks, then decided they didn't want the other 2, so they proceeded to squeeze them out on the bed (!!) - I had a few sachets of brown sugar which they also emptied out onto the bed... the dress I was going to wear was on the floor, they'd tried to get into my matching clutch bag, thank goodness they did not get hold of my Rooibos tea!.... ugh! it was just a mess!! Since they're opportunists, we think that they just happened to mosey on by and thought they'd take a look in the "cave". Well, I never forgot to lock the bag again!

2 weeks before our incident Cheryl and Ben (who were also staying at a cliff-side room) also had monkey-trouble... but far worse than our incident! They had an outdoor shower - there's a small cupboard with only a lock in the middle (management had not bothered to replace the others that broke)... anyway, these little buggers are so clever they pulled the bottom edge of the door open whilst others stuck their little hands in and just grabbed whatever they could lay their hands on: Ben's electric razor (can you just imagine them playing with that!! the thought of it is just hysterical!), all their vitamins were scattered everywhere, Cheryl's fancy face cream was squirted everywhere, listerine gone, facewash gone, deodorant gone... what a nightmare!!!

So after all that excitement we had even more to look forward to, but on a different note.... we were going to be staying at Khayangan Estate. This estate only sleeps 12 and is like 10 star accommodation - our rooms were jaw-droppingly awesome - like I could just move in and never go home awesome!! As far as a wedding venue goes it was stunning, Chimene, the (ex South African!) wedding planner did an amazing job and far exceeded Cheryl and Ben's expectations. We all looked awesome (if I must say so myself!!)... and Cheryl was just THE most stunning bride.

Cheryl and Ken walked down the aisle to "shosholoza" which for me, being a South African just makes the hair stand up on my arms!! It's just so African - I love it! The wedding service was performed by their good friend Marcus. And the reception was just fantastic - incredible food and incredible company. It was a brilliant wedding, an equally brilliant holiday from our holiday.... and a good time was certainly had by all!

Crossing the mighty Indian Ocean!

2013-03-01 to 2013-05-17

Crossing the mighty Indian Ocean - Indonesia to Hout Bay, South Africa

Krakatoa Islands to Mauritius - Part 1
3-21 April 2013

The Indian Ocean certainly comes with a fearsome reputation ensuring that even the most rufty-tufty sailors know they're in for a challenge. Let's just say that crossing the Indian Ocean was like no other crossing we've ever done before. I don't mean this in a bad way - overall our crossing was a very good one (as in the weather and sea state could have been a lot worse!). And yes it certainly was challenging at times, but the 20-30 knots of wind was not an issue, it's the confused sea state was, not to mention those small mountains disguised as rogue-ish swells that made an appearance fairly often ensuring our very sturdy autopilot got a total workout!

So let's start at the beginning. Our decision to leave from Krakatoa Island, Sunda Strait, Indonesia, in early April was based on the fact that we really just wanted to get back home to South Africa before winter, and without the fuss of the usual time span. April is a transition season like September, but April runs a higher risk of still getting a cyclone, but this was a chance that we were prepared to take. We were Asia'd out and it was time to move on to greener pastures. Thanks to the pirates, the Indian Ocean no longer held much of an appeal to us and since we'd spent a long time in the atolls of the Tuamotus (Pacific Ocean), so missing out on Chagos was no big deal. The thought of spending 6 months in Mauritius was out of the question too (what would one do in Mauritius for 6 months anyway?). Getting to South Africa, particularly Hout Bay, in autumn was definitely achievable as it does not howl with wind every single day! The Vasco Da Gama yacht race also happens to take place every year from Durban to Mozambique at the end of April.

I like to think our trip started way up in Phuket on 2 March, because we'd been on the move ever since! We headed down to Rebak Marina, Langkawi, to antifoul the boat, and had a good spring clean/selling session. We then headed across to Penang to have our liferaft serviced. Then down the Melacca Straits to Puteri Marina where we topped up with diesel and did a last shop for fresh produce. From there we headed across the Singapore Straits (which was unnervingly quiet to say the least) to Pulau Buaya (N00.11.63 E104.12.79), then did an overnighter to Belitung to top up the diesel we'd just used to get there! From Belitung we anchored at Pulau Aur S02.58.38 E107.13.63, then did an overnighter to Pangcong (on the mainland, just before entering the Sunda Strait) S05.49.51 E105.47.14. The overnighter across the Java Sea was a most unpleasant one as we had a very strong current against us for most of the way (about 1-1.4 knots), as well as wind on the nose.

We did not want to go through to Krakatoa at night as there is a fair amount of boat traffic (ie ferries and tugs with tows), and ideally one needs to get the timing right for the current in the strait. We left early the following morning and had 4.5 knots of current with us at one stage! As the opening widened it fizzled out, but we still had around 1 knot with us. The Krakatoa anchorage is beautiful (S06.08.67 E105.25.68) - approaching the anchorage: it may seem that it never gets shallower and you're wondering if this anchorage was a good idea, but it does get shallower and is a good anchorage for a night. We anchored in about 14 meters of water. The smoking volcano is mesmerising... but sadly it did not entertain us with rumbling or spewing of large molten blobs the size of small cars! It's taken 1222nms to get here.

Our decision to use Commanders Weather to route us was the best decision we could have made, and their prices are not bad either. Naturally they can see the bigger picture and are able to forewarn you of any unfavourable developments, and are confident in the fact that they can route you safely around anything nasty. The forecasts we received from them were very detailed and accurate. We don't have an Iridium phone as there has never been a need for us to have one. I was not keen about using sailmail to get our weather reports and faxes and then trying to figure out what was going to nail us, particularly since we did not know what the connection speed and propagation was going to be like. The other problem is the files are very big, and so is the Indian Ocean, so where do you start?! I am rather relieved to say that I'm glad we did not have to rely solely on sailmail because I would have been totally stressed out!! The propagation was okay until about 1000nms from Mauritius, then the Brunei station became too far and the Africa station, well, was also a tad too far (but I did persevere as I was determined to get our position out every day) - I found 18262 (Africa) to be the most consistent eventually and then more options opened as we closed in on Mauritius. For some unknown reason the GRIB files however used to take hours to arrive in our inbox.

So after 6 months of talking about it (and Audrey stressing about it!), we finally set off on 3 April in the general direction of Cocos Keeling as Commanders wanted to get us in the trade winds as soon as possible. This was a fast couple of days with 17-22 knots of wind on the beam, Fast Forward loves this angle and we were flying along (best day was 198nms). The swell was like small mountains! We were running with 2 reefs in the main, and either a reefed staysail or reefed genoa and averaging 8-8.5 knots for those first four days.

We were then given the news that a cyclone had formed (where they usually form up there near the Chagos area), and that we need to slow down until further notice (we were both forecast to arrive at exactly the same time in Mauritius!). Commanders advised us to try and average around 150nms a day until they could see what cyclone Imelda was up to and where she fancied going. This wasn't too much of a hardship as the wind had also dropped to 12-16 knots (and thankfully also the swell), but it was soon back up to 15-20 and 25. So for the next 10 days we just plodded along using either the genoa or staysail (reefed more often than not), and no main sail. At times it was a bit uncomfortable as the confused seas remain confused, and there was that constant rogue wave aka a small mountain that would come along and lift the stern up and push us around into the swell. Not fun. And then there was the swell that would hit the side of the boat with such force that we were convinced that Fast Forward's aluminium hull would need panel beating! Most days it was too risky to have hatches open. But we did have a about 5 absolutely stunning days with perfect sailing conditions (pity we were limited to doing 6 knots!).

Once we were given word that Imelda was far enough south for her not to pose a problem to us anymore, we could speed up and for the last 3 days of our crossing we certainly had frisky conditions! Squalls packed with 33 knots and once again, those small mountains - only this time more rogueish than ever - but as usual, only in the pitch dark! By this stage of the game we were both so ready for the serene and tranquil waters that were waiting for us on the west coast of Mauritius.

In summary, the Indian Ocean is hard on the boat and hard on the autopilot. If, like us, you have been in SE Asia for a few years you tend to forget how rough it can get out there. Here are a few things to consider before making this crossing:
1) Ensure that all rigging, blocks and ropes are in good condition
2) Check all shackles and secure those that you are able to with a cable tie
3) Make sure your anchors are securely stowed and tied down
4) Close chain deck inlet, make sure anchor locker drain is clear so that it can drain
5) Check all steering components
6) Make sure electrical connections to autopilot are secure and that the autopilot is in good working condition (if you've been hanging around in SE Asia for a couple of years it will not have had to work very hard!)
7) Check all sails and stitching, especially the areas that have been in the sun (your sails are going to work very hard on this trip!)
8) Stow and secure all equipment inside the boat (yes you do know this, but for the first time ever Audrey had to get a sail tie around our already secure microwave as it was threatening to get thrown across the galley in very bad weather)
9) If carrying any fuel or water containers on deck, check to make sure they are very secure and cannot be moved by a large wave
10) We thought the clear vinyl sides and back section for our cockpit were essential items as (a) it kept us dry (b) kept out the wind
11) Prepare for all eventualities

Mauritius to Durban - Part 2
27 April to 7 May 2013

We think this crossing of around 1600nms would be trying at any time of the year as there are constantly highs and lows that dominate this area westward from the South African coast, generating high to very high winds with complementing sea states.

We left Mauritius as a cold front was also leaving, this generated winds of around 15-20, building to 28 knots for the first day, and then easing to 15-18 and petering out to 6-10 for the better part of next 2 days. As we rounded the southern tip of Madagascar we met up with another system that was passing through to the west and it threw 20-28 knots at us, which eased to 18-25. We had 2 days of rest with light winds before they got worked up again as we were nailed by a SW'r a day out of Durban. What a night that was! We had sustained winds of 33-38 for around 7 hours (from 3pm) (gusts as high as 49 knots!!!)... what I'd have given to just see 29 knots! It stayed in the 31-36 range until about 2am, and then dropped to 28-34. The swell was so huge that at times it felt like we were base-jumping in Fast Forward! At sunrise the wind was 22-28. The swell was still quite big - but too big to go any faster than the 3.5 - 4 knots we'd been averaging. That night was only the second time in our 10 years that Ken was tethered in the cockpit. Again, the sea state was the worst factor - swell breaking on the side of the boat, over the boat - it found it's way into the cockpit, poor Ken did not stay dry... and of course we were pushed way off course - the force of the water was just incredible. We were not keen to heave-to, so we simply shortened sail heavily and just pretended to be a cork and ride the swell, not trying to plough through it with speed. Needless to say we were totally exhausted as we'd been awake for 36 hours!

In the 11 years we had Sailmail we'd not experienced any problems... naturally after the above experience I wanted to let our family know that we were safe (since they too had been monitoring the weather). Blow me down - our emails did not go through!! My mother just about sent out the NSRI! She was frantic, which was totally understandable as she'd been receiving updates from us twice daily, and then suddenly we were caught in the storm, and no word from us from Sunday morning until Tuesday morning! I was furious with Sailmail and gave them a piece of my mind. Turns out it was the Maputo station - their internet connection is not that dandy and sometimes they don't have a connection, or it takes forever! Charming! The timing could not have been worse!! This is also the reason why GRIB files were never available immediately - I was always waiting a minimum of 2 hours! Roll on Durban and the joys of WIFI!

The last 70nms to Durban was rather frisky which meant catching up on much needed sleep was impossible. The sea state was still very confused and was not helped by the fact that the wind was now blowing at 25-30 from the NE... which was fine when in the Aghulas current, but not so fine when we hit the counter current - this situation generates very big seas. Needless to say we just about surfed through Durban's harbour entrance! We were very happy and excited to have safely crossed the Indian Ocean... long distances are a thing of the past! We just have 850nms to go to get home to Hout Bay. Come to think of it - Thailand and Malaysia is now 5817nms away but it seems like an absolute lifetime away!

Durban to Port Elizabeth - Part 3
13 - 15 May

Unfortunately this coastline also comes with a fearsome reputation, but if you have the time to wait in port for a good window it will be well worth your effort. The time to leave Durban is just after a SW'r... these tend to blow a hoolie, move very quickly up the coast, and are very frequent. You never want to be in the Aghulas Current when a SW'r is blowing as monstrous waves are produced. You also know that a SW'r is coming when the wind starts blowing NW and the barometer drops very quickly.... go and seek shelter!

After enjoying 6 fantastic in Durban being entertained by ex yachtie friends Roger and Jeni England, we decided that the window that had become available seemed like a good one - and we were hoping to get as many miles under the keel as we possibly could. The 850nms we had to do seemed like such an insignificant number after the thousands we'd already done! We left Durban on an insanely gorgeous day, with very light winds blowing from the NW and flat calm seas (joy of joys!). Roy from Peri Peri Radio mentioned that the strongest part of the current was rather far offshore and we weren't prepared to go the 40nms, but were quite happy once we were in it at around 20-25nms offshore and enjoying the 3 to 3.5 bonus knots. We were motor-sailing and wanted to maintain 7 knots. It's strange seeing a consistent 11-13 knots and we did 235nms on our first day!

We were hoping to be able to get to Mosselbay, but the current naturally peters out around East London and with light winds blowing we were back down to around 7 knots and a slight adverse current. There was also a SW'r that was fast approaching, so we decided to stopover in Port Elizabeth until it passed. It took us exactly 2 days to get to PE. The Algoa Bay Yacht Club caters only for small boats, and there are very few berths available at that. So we rafted up alongside a fishing boat. Mark, the engineer and skipper on board was not going anywhere anytime soon as the state of fishing was apparently rather abysmal, so it worked out well for us.

Just 415nms to go... so close yet so far!

Port Elizabeth to Hout Bay - Part 4
18-20 May

The weather forecasters were spot on once again, and we left Port Elizabeth on a freezing cold Saturday morning at 7am. Very light winds and rather largish SW'ly rollers, but not uncomfortable. The wind did eventually fill in from the ENE and soon we were sailing at 9 knots. The thing with going down this coastline is that you don't want to dilly-dally around because the weather changes quickly, and there are not many sheltered anchorages - so if you're able to carry extra diesel to enable you to do the extra miles, then do so.

At 11pm after rounding Cape Agulhas a pod of dolphins raced up to frolic at the bow of the boat - but this was super special because the water so jam-packed with phosphoresence that it looked like streaks of light - we've seen a similar show put on by fish in Venezuela - but nothing this spectacular. What a welcome home! Nature is just so incredible.

The wind remained very iffy, but at least we had an extra 0.3 to 0.5 knot of favourable current... which all adds up at the end of the day! The weather around Cape Point can also be trying at times as it seems to generate it's own weather pattern, it was rather foggy, but we were fortunate in that we only had quite large SW'ly rollers (@13 seconds) and very little wind. The weather gods were with us for sure! Watch out for crayfish pots in this Cape Point area - they are clearly marked with round buoys, but if there is a swell running, they can be difficult to spot.

As we rounded the last headland on Monday 20 May, pointed towards Hout Bay, and The Sentinel came into view, my heart did a serious flutter (am pretty sure Ken's did too!)... we had waited so long for this moment, it almost didn't seem real, but it was. OH.MY.GOODNESS. So this was it - we did it!! Ken and I have sailed all the way around the world... just the two of us... and incredible journey of 60710 nautical miles... it is without a doubt a worthy and rare accomplishment.

So with our circumnavigation crossed off our bucket list, it's time to change course and start a new chapter...


* Peri-Peri Radio - Roy and Paul, very friendly and knowledgeable guys, good weather forecasting.
* South African Maritime Mobile Net - Graham and Sam - this is a HAM net, so you can only call in using the SSB if you are a HAM. We're not HAM's so we simply used to communicate via email. Google them and they can send you all the info. The guys are super dedicated and run a very slick show. Hats off to them!


Whilst in Mauritius we met Daniel who works with the Sailing School in Cape Town. He is a very experienced sailor and a lovely young man - very personable - and just an absolute pleasure to talk to.

Here's a brief CV - please contact us if you'd like to have him on board as a very experienced member of your crew. He did not crew for us as we don't take on crew, but both yachts did leave Mauritius together and they were heading straight to Port Elizabeth.

"I'm 22, born 11th of Aug 1990. South African passport with a C1/D American visa. I've been sailing constantly for the last 5 yrs and plan to continue to do so for a long time to come. I've done 5 deliveries all from Cape Town, crossing both the Indian and Atlantic oceans numerous times, except one which was from Hangzhou (China) to the Seychelles. I've been Instructing for Ocean sailing academy for the last 2 and a half years now doing all their distance trips in the Indian Ocean ie Cape Town to Mozambique, Madagascar and mostly to Mauritius and back. I have about 75,000nm experience 30,000 being skippering miles. I have sailed our South African coastline numerous times, I've lost count actually! I know all the ports off hand and have been in serious weather most of the time while doing so. I Love sailing and the ocean with all my heart and plan to make it into the sailing history books."

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