New Caledonia

New Caledonia

18th May to 7th June

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Signpost in Ile des Pines to tell you where we are…

Windy wet blustery evening in Noumea, New Caledonia’s capital, so a quick update before going west in a day or two….

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First night anchorage (too late to reach Noumea so yellow Q flag instead)

A few things you might not know about New Caledonia:-

It’s French, though not EU – a bit like Channel Isles to UK in that respect, though not in any other way. So, there’re Champion and Carrefour supermarkets with camembert from Normandy, wine from Bordeaux, and original recipe baguettes and all the other stuff – at a price. There’s to be a referendum on the question of independence, later this year. (Polls show they’ll want to stay French).

It’s one of the wealthiest places in South Pacific, GDP per capita higher than New Zealand. Nickel does it.  It has the world’s largest nickel deposits, and is the fourth largest exporter of nickel and derivatives. But the soils are poor so local food limited.P1000271

The main island, Grande Terre, is the fourth largest Pacific Island (after New Guinea and NZ N. and S. Islands). I believe there are about 250,000 people here, a majority in Noumea. There’s a historic mix of Kanak, European, Indonesian, Vanuatu, Vietnamese and Polynesian people – it’s wonderful to have such a colourful mix.

I suggested to the bright, businesslike and delightful Chloe, part French part Vanuatu, who was helping with some finickety Indonesian visa woes, that the capital, Noumea, felt a bit like the French Riviera; quickly she replied “Oh no! The people! The people here are nice.” She has a point; here they are delightful, helpful and more (though personally I found the same in southern France).

The reef surrounding main island, Grande Terre, is world’s biggest after Australia’s Great Barrier reef, and it’s being better protected here.

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Navigating before GPS would have been tricky with so many reef outcrops

Incidentally, such is the extent of France’s tropical empire in the Pacific and Indian Oceans that France has the fourth most coral reef in the world (after Australia, Indonesia and Philippines).

And apparently it has the world’s highest per capita ownership of sailing boats. Marinas and anchorages around Noumea are all chockablock.

So there you are, some interesting facts that you may not find as interesting as me.

I hadn’t planned to stop here at all but it has an Indonesian Consulate (which Vanuatu does not).

After lots of form-filling, official stamping and signing, and an element of stubborness on my part, I now have an Indonesian Visa (You need rather more than the standard tourist visa to go sailing there). The utterly delightful receptionist, Farida, in the consulate, was a model of goodwill in a bureaucratic system of advanced obstacle development. Perhaps her background helped: she’s Indonesian born in Noumea, family in Jakarta, Yogya and elsewhere, she’d had two years as an au pair in Hastings (it’s a little town in southeast England) too – trains you for anything I imagine.

I’ve been a dutiful tourist and been well-impressed by Maritime Museum, City Museum and Aquarium – head swimming with facts, figures and images. The Ocean Cruising Club representative, David, has been a model of good-will and assistance, and wondrous source of local sailing knowledge, easing my way into the attractions of the city and islands.

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Anchorage off little islet Mato

And I’ve had some glorious sailing and snorkeling around the reef-strewn anchorages within 80 miles of the capital (Ilots galore, and around Ile des Pines with its other-worldly pine trees – both phallic and, en masse, somehow reminiscent of upstanding meerkats).

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Baie de Kanumera (Ile de Pines)

Plus I’ve maintained Henrietta of course, and managed more hull scraping of barnacles that have freeloaded from New Zealand.

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Sunset, Baie de Ugo (the pines tilt a bit towards the equator – it’s true!)

Now it’s time to go to Australia, about 1,300 miles WNW according to my App, with Chesterfield Reef a possible stop on the way. Just need to deal with clearing out and wait for better weather…….oh and a fresh baguette…

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Vanuatu

NZ – Vanuatu,

Opua, Aneityum, Tanna, Efate

1st to 17th May

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Approaching Aneityum, southernmost Vanuatu island (line of surf on the reef)

After completing usual numerous pre-departure stuff in New Zealand – customs, water tanks, tidy up, shopping, lines for spinnaker pole, preventer, all tied down, empty rubbish, Hydrovane fixed, say farewells AND shower, shave, hair wash, clean clothes – it was exhilarating to cast off and be underway again!

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The Pacific is big (mural on local primary school)

Then, two days of troublesomely rough Pacific seas brought me back to earth (as it were) and quickly dampened all and created on-board chaos: bedding in a messy pile, food containers, books, ropes, clothes, papers strewn across saloon, water bottles everywhere and it was still chilly autumn weather too. After flying involuntarily across cabin into the cooker I sat dazed on the floor feeling weary and sorry for myself,  briefly wondering what on earth I was up to. Such moments of egoistic gloom are thankfully short lived and, after painkillers and gentle panel-beating to restore the bent and twisted cooker, I was more-or-less cheery old sea salt once more, splashing northwards to the tropics, with just reefed genoa and Henrietta humming and rolling along at well over 6 knots. Soon, all is tidied up, duvet and fleece all packed away, suncream on and it’s hot sunshine….and a few days later we’re anchored peacefully, first yacht of the year, I think, to reach Vanuatu’s little southernmost island of Aneityum.

Vanuatu’s here, P1000223between New Caledonia and Fiji, a group of about 30 islands, half big half small, stretching about 400 miles south to north. P1000228Captain Cook called them the New Hebrides though personally I reckon there’s only passing resemblance to the ‘old’ Scottish Hebrides. These ones are hot, tree and jungle covered, volcanic and well-spaced out for a start.

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Linda, my helpful guide in the village of Anelghowat

The people are Melanesian, usually curlier haired and less curvaceous than Polynesians, and super friendly, warm, easy-going, and hospitable (though such generalisations are inadequate when describing mankind’s diversities). I think the term laid-back applies..

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Main road in Aneityum

Materially, it’s the poorest of the Pacific Islands I’ve visited; for the most part and outside the two main towns, little electricity, few radios, few cars (with few rough potholed dirt roads), simple clothes, traditional bamboo/palm houses, crude dugout outrigger canoes. Language-wise, it’s perhaps the richest: 115 indigenous languages, national language Bislama, plus English and French for officials and commerce.

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Local language, Bislama, sort of makes sense….

And they’re blessed if that’s the word, with a wide spectrum of religions; a teacher on Tanna telling me that within his village of 300 souls there were Seventh Day Adventists, Presbyterians, Cargo Cult/John Frum adherents, Mormons (two folk from Salt Lake City have their work cut out), and others. Anthropologists have doubtless sweated through many Ph.Ds in such a spot. Vanuatu residents are apparently among the world’s ‘happiest’ people, though in asking around I’ve not found agreement on why this might be.

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Seth Niava and his family show me round and welcome me at Port Resolution. They give some produce in exchange for stuff I brought…

Tourism as elsewhere in the Pacific forms a useful part of the economy. Even cruise ships call in at a few suitable anchorages, briefly swamping small communities with camera-snapping and inquisitive glances. I asked a woman on Aneityum what was on ‘Mystery Island’ – the destination of cruise ship passengers when there – she paused “…not much, sandy beach, turtle maybe…and maybe Queen Lisbeth went there long time ago”. But, like the Loch Ness Monster, I suppose ‘Mystery’ Island is valuable.P1000183

On the next island sailing north, Tanna, the chief tourist attraction, and an expensive one (12,500 vatu -with transport – acceptable to me only because it gives local employment), is the constantly active volcano, Mount Yasur. Many sailing yachts call in and anchor nearby at Port Resolution, a pretty and rolly little bay, for the trip – me included. After a jolting pick-up ride our driver, Wiri, drops us at volcano HQ, from where, after well-organised arrangements with safety briefing, traditional welcome kava (for village chief), ground-thumping volcano appeasement dance and another 4WD pick-up ride, we straggle across barren grey lava field up to the volcano rim as dusk and darkness descend.P1000196It is indeed a memorable evening; the ceaseless awe-inspiring swish of molten lava, pink-glowing steam clouds, periodic thump/swoosh/oomph of shock-waves and showers of white hot, red hot glowing lava rocks. Dust and grit in hair and eyes, sulphurous fumes and smoke blow across. We travel back subdued, feeling small and powerless alongside such natural forces.P1000215

Next day and night, I sailed slowly north to the island of Efate and Vanuatu’s main town and capital, Port Vila.

 

Heavens above, the Oysters are here! These are the superstuds of the sailing world, yachts usually well over 55 ft with stratospheric price tags, shimmering with polish and elegant pride, sometimes professional crew. This seems to be about half the fleet of the Oyster World Rally, and usually normal sailors stay away – not because individually there is a problem with big boats or wealthy owners, just because the fleet has earned notoriety. I thought they’d be well on their way to the north of Australia by now; their schedule is demanding. (Later in the day the Oysters start to leave…)

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Delightful customs officer, Simon, takes me and Avon to shore in Port Vila. Think he thinks it too “far for an old man to row”

In the background of above picture there are some of the wrecks following Cyclone Pam, a category 5 cyclone that hit Vanuatu in 2014…..see description at bottom of this photo…P1000150Port Vila, like any country’s capital is quite unlike rural Vanuatu. Here there’s a busy bustle of people, main concrete road choked with minibuses and pickups, Duty Free shops, fashion shops and restaurants. But I’ve restocked from the colourful market and enjoyed a beer, and hope to leave tomorrow for quieter gentler places.

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Port Vila Market

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New Zealand – last phase

New Zealand – Auckland to Bay of Islands

12th to 30th AprilIMG_0214

From the empty bays of Waihiki Island (only empty because of week of rough autumn weather), I sailed into Auckland Harbour. First night, anchored precariously near the harbour bridge, you readily appreciate it as one of the world’s most scenic city frontages.P1000043

Moved next day to peaceful helpful Bayswater Marina and from there caught fast ferries back and forth to downtown Auckland for rounds of tourist culture and coffee.

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And nostalgia trip along to nearby suburb of Devonport, briefly my home many moons ago, now a smart highly valued patch of North Shore Auckland. And seeing friends from Europe and Antipodes.

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A typical Devonport home

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One of my son’s first schools (long before he attended it)

Time then to sail on from Auckland, stopping at islands and sheltered bays on the 120 mile way up the NZ coastline, till now I’m back at Opua in Bay of Islands. (Stops, probably only of interest to fellow sailors, all delightful except rocks/weed of E. Tiritiri, Scandretts Bay, Mansion House Bay, Matapouri, Whangamumu, Urupukapuka…a cheery mix of Mauri and European names).

Photos of stops on the way north

Feelings on leaving New Zealand are a mix of end-of-term and end-of-holiday feelings. End of term because work on Henrietta is done, most work on me is done, most chores and shopping are done and there’s the sense of excitement and anticipation that comes with unknown holiday destination ahead. End of holiday feelings too because New Zealand, like a happy family, is easy and loving and restful. It has all the comforts, conveniences, facilities, produce, information, security and cosseting paraphernalia that goes with a well-run modern civilised society. (…keeping in mind that my visit has been fleeting and local and on the coast…)

I mentioned that perhaps I’d say what I liked and disliked about this country.

Likes (apart from the oft-repeated reference to scenery)? genuinely welcoming helpful friendly good-natured people (there’s always the oddball too); lots of rules that are frequently and readily broken; grown-ups who wander round supermarkets in bare feet (at least in the far north); generally judgments seem void of who you are, how you speak or what you own (far less so at least than in Britain); there’s a youthful exuberance bordering on childishness that seems to colour gossip and the media; and NZ appears outward-looking and all-embracing with values that perhaps merge much good from both Europe and the Pacific.

Dislikes? It would be presumptuous of a fleet-footed foreigner (‘grumpy old Englishman’ to boot) to mention  what annoys or distresses him. When you’ve enjoyed a sumptuous dinner with excellent company you don’t then criticise a few words of the after-dinner speaker. But it would be nice if they gave the fish more of a chance (reference here to the fleets of motor boats festooned with batteries of rods), were not so obsessed with Jap crap motor cars and the new baby (we’ve all been fifth in line and know it takes forever to reach the front), and now in post-grumpy phase, I just smile to “Good onya, mate. Enjoy.” – standard reply when you say what you’re going to do. (Apparently it’s colloquial English)

Overall I’ll look back wistfully on leaving New Zealand (and hope I’ll be back), yet as ever, tingle with anticipation to be casting off lines, heading for wide horizons of empty ocean and the unknown.

I’ll go to Vanuatu now. It’s about 1,000 miles north. Warm tropics again….IMG_0216

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New Zealand – end of summer

New Zealand, Hauraki Gulf etc

13th March to 12th AprilP1060783A month of motley experiences with all the wonders, frustrations, challenges, delights, excitements and mysteries of sailing life, including: perhaps my favourite NZ anchorage (in Whangaroa’s big natural harbour), 19 other anchorages, about half a dozen islands, one marina, one storm and one gale, two mountains, three films, many boaty chats and meetings, plenty of sunshine, two ‘pubs’, heavy rain and a haircut.  I’ll just pick a few titbits from the diary and log book.

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Favourite anchorage (Whangaroa)

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Another one (Waihiki Hooks Bay after the storm)

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And another (Coralie Bay, Great Merlin Is.)

Today it’s chilly, first time the temperature has hardly reached 15 degrees C all day. Summer’s over and NZ clocks have changed. Jumper and thermals are ready. That haircut in Whitianga (pronounced roughly ‘Fittyunga’) was unnecessary and premature – but a bargain and I liked chatting with barber Sue (“Auckland’s a tip, Tauranga [the city she came from] is a tip, Whitianga” she tells me “is the only place to be”. Sue has inviolate opinions and probably eats too many biscuits, but I liked her). 

Whitianga was indeed a useful port of call. Apart from haircut, supermarkets, soulless NZ architecture, best cup of coffee in Southern hemisphere and low cost immaculate marina, there’s not much else – except the Merlin Cinema. (Feeling deprived of films, in two days I saw three: “Darkest Hour”, “The Mercy”, “Finding Your Feet” – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, not in that order.) There wasn’t much else in Whitianga. But Sue liked it – “lots of hair to cut”.

Going back to a month ago I’d planned to sail to New Zealand’s South Island, about 500 miles down the west coast of North Island. But it never happened. Forecasts never gave an adequate weather offering and I gave up waiting.

Instead enjoyed big natural empty unsullied Whangaroa Harbour; and an arduous slippery muddy walk to the outback settlement of Totara North, one of those places said to be friendly and close-knit but in reality mighty wary of any outsiders – a bit like rural Yorkshire. Totara North’s one watering hole was busy with lunchtime farmers and fishermen, intent on agricultural gossip. There was seven-a-side rugby on video screens and Country and Western dribbling around, and dozens of little laminated notes telling you what you weren’t allowed to do, and a barmaid who, like Sue,  ate too many biscuits but wasn’t as nice…(I’d tell you more but shan’t. I’d have taken a photo but a note said ‘Don’t’). Fish, chips and beer were fine. And I slithered and panted my lonely muddy path back to Henrietta.

Since then, I’ve sailed south to the Hauraki Gulf, plus a week cruising further south. P1060798In case you haven’t heard of the Hauraki Gulf, it’s the area of sea and islands east of Auckland, about 50 miles top to bottom, 40 east to west, with masses of gorgeous islands (Great Barrier Island is the biggest and there are some photos here) and literally hundreds of anchorages. Wikipedia can tell you more.  It reminds me a bit of the North West Scotland coast of Britain except Hauraki has more rounded green tree-cloaked islands than the rugged raw magnificent ones of Scotland, and there are no midges or true lochs and the thermostat is set 20 degrees higher in New Zealand.

Highlights for me included a walk up Mt Hobson (Hirakimata) on Great Barrier Island. It’s about 2,000 ft and should probably be in the Guiness Book of Records for having the greatest number of steps of any walk (I’ve asked NZ Dept of Conservation how many – otherwise I’ll need to go back and count them myself.) Typical Kiwi understatement classifies it as an easy walk, but it really isn’t. Fine views from the summit, of course.

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Part of Hauraki Gulf from top of Mt Hobson (Bump centre left is Little Barrier Island)

And I helped a fellow sailor replace the filter that removes sediment from the water supply for Smokehouse Bay’s simple bath house and open-air laundry (would show a photo but camera died after kayak capsize that day. Here’s a link to other people’s). And I’ve visited some totally empty untarnished solitary anchorages where there is not a single sign of humanity bar sometimes the creamy blobs of sheep on hillsides.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And, two nights ago, the stormiest weather I have ever encountered anywhere on any boat. Forecast was spot on: “Storm warning: 50 knots gusting 65 knots”. At my supposedly sheltered anchorage in Hooks Bay I recorded max 72 knots. I think some gusts accelerated over the headland. (For the technically minded I used over 40 metres chain for 5 metres depth, Rocna and snubber with rubber shock absorber, plus extra snubber, sandy clay sea bed, very very noisy, heeled and swung extravagantly, lots of empty sea downwind, anxiety levels high, clean underwear and freshly shaved in case I was found later…and I slept not a wink.) Henrietta was shaken but undamaged, though the NZ courtesy flag shredded itself badly and lost its stars, and I learn Auckland and parts of North Island suffered power failures.IMG_0210 

A lot can happen on a boat in a month.

Next time I might tell you what I like and dislike about this country.

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New Zealand 3

New Zealand, Work and Play

6th February to 12th March

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Delicate surgery below the waterline

It’s pouring with rain, seriously cats-and-dogs rain. As I write, the remnants of Cyclone Hola blow across New Zealand Northland. It’s been deluging with heavy heavy rain all day. It’s windy too. Henrietta and I are happy to be tucked up in a cosy marina berth (and there’s a wifi link).

Spoke with my sister in Somerset (for non-UK readers: it’s an English county) earlier today. Lots of family news and so on, plus she told me it’s been ages since I last wrote anything, and to buck up and write another entry for the blog.

I said,  “Not much has happened”. “Of course it has, show a picture of Henrietta’s shiny new bottom…..” she says. So, here we go. Starting with Henrietta’s new bottom; not very shiny but ready for lifting in, it is smart black and barnacle free. The white hull is shiny.P1060730

After two weeks in the Riverside Drive Boatyard, Whangarei, with noise, dust, dirt and heavy work, aching back, bruised limbs, sore hands, tired eyes, she looked pretty good. Even the propellor has some super high tech finish that will send unwanted growth and organisms scampering off.

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Before…and …

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….After: Nothing will want to live on this propellor

At this point, hands still sore and back aching, I’ll diverge and quickly point out that this is called ‘living the dream’

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Dream bedroom? Plastic-draped to keep out GRP dust.

Since relaunching in Whangarei, I have enjoyed some very happy sociable days (borderline dream) both in Whangarei’s Town Basin – always a congenial spot for chatter and play – and in the past two weeks, sailing back and forth in the Bay of Islands, about 50 miles north of Whangarei.

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Heading downriver after leaving Whangarei

On the sail north it was a beautiful close reach, 5-6 knots all the way, and yes the sky was blue, and at dusk I sailed past the glorious sight of the Volvo Ocean Racers rounding Cape Brett on the last leg south to Auckland at 18+ knots, helicopters hovering overhead, and still amazingly close together even after their long sail across from China. The Volvo is a desperately serious race amongst yacht professionals (see Volvo Race )

Bay of Islands in New Zealand is not large (smaller than the Solent, UK) but it’s perhaps the warmest and most sheltered and one of the prettiest patches of sailing water in the country and now summer holidays are over, not at all busy.

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Approaching Cape Brett and Bay of Islands

My youngest cousin Janet, a fully fledged Kiwi, came for a busy happy few days sharing the joys and spills of boaty life – by far the biggest laugh coming when we overloaded and promptly capsized the new kayak. (NB. my bike had been nicked. Space left on deck now filled with new toy, a vivid orange kayak.)

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Janet at the helm

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..and going for a swim (very fast!)

And then there was the welcome visit of two English friends, Jane and Martin, not seen for very many years. (As young men of student age, older men too, we were all in love with Janie!) Queen Mary 2 was anchored in the Bay as we headed out for a fine sunny day together.

Sailing with Jane and MartinP1060776

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Well, it’s still gushing rain from uniformly dark grey sky – not mere pussy-cats-and-dogs rain, it’s more jungle-cats-and-elephants rain. People tell me that with cyclone activity far from over for the year- a characteristic of NZ area of the Pacific in this La Nina year – it’ll be May before boats head north for the Tropics. With another two months of New Zealand autumn ahead, it won’t be long before we hunt down some warmer clothes. But for now the sea is warm and swimming and walking ashore remains a soul-soothing joy.

I am lucky. For me it is a dream – much of the time!

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New Zealand 2

New Zealand – Bay of Islands, Whangarei

England – South West

17th December 2017 to 4th February 2018P1060642

Someone mentioned I’d not updated blog for a while. But then not much has happened on the sailing front. Just pottered down the New Zealand coast about 50 miles from Bay of Islands, rolling wildly in Pacific swell, via some walking spots and an island or two, to the town of Whangarei. Got to Whangarei just after Christmas and Henrietta has been here ever since. Lots of work, walking, chatting, eating etc. (i.e normal stuff) and a fortnight visiting England.

 

So I’ll fill you in with notes on Whangarei and quick impressions of my patch of homeland Britain.

Whangarei seems to be the preferred city for visiting overseas sailors. (Kiwis call it a city but I’d call it a town). You can sail up the river, through an opening bridge and into the heart of the place.

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Striking Bascule Bridge (Te Matau a Pohe) that lets us up to Whangarei

It has lots of shops, charming walks, weekly market, helpful friendly community, cinema, buses and titbits of cultural interest. From the sailors’ point of view it also has skilled tradesmen, several chandleries, choice of boatyards and experienced fellow travellers.

In and around Whangarei…

 

It should be heaven on earth, but for me it’s not. Suppose I’ve become too restless and primitive and adapted to life at sea, and already long for open ocean, wide horizons, tropical starlit nights and coral islands in foreign lands. Urban shorebound life seems soulless and unnatural. And, as for the life of most of my fellow men, I can only ask, “Where on earth are you all heading?”

Sorting bits on board…

 

Mid January I flew home for a bit. Life in England (and San Francisco where I stopped for a few hours) seems frantic way beyond the point of lunacy. Everyone rushes hither and thither, plugged into electronica, talking so fast and whizzing about so much, in such chronic state of collective self-denial that it must I fear soon lead to doom. I’ve even grown suspicious of the rapid fire talk of presenters and respondents on Radio 4 (for non-UK readers, this being deemed a reasonably sensible outlet of the BBC). And, since meditation and yoga are out of the question for such frantic and important people, it’s probably way past time to dose water with sedatives and emit soothing tranquilisers from exhaust pipes. Everyone may then calm down and lead themselves and our little planet along a wiser path.

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In San Francisco they wait for the new Jordan (it’s a shoe!) Hundreds of youngsters line the pavement….

Modern life for people and planet resembles a giant snowball rolling uncontrolled down a steep mountainside. It grows larger and faster, ever more dangerous, totally ignorant of what lies at the bottom of the slope; unable to direct its own course and almost certainly doomed to self-destruct. (And I’m a positive sort of bloke.)

But of course I’ve had only a brief spell away from boat. Ten days’ rented cottage in Devon, visiting family and friends in south west England, reassured and heart-warmed by the generous hospitality of all,  treasuring the familiar beauty of countryside and architecture, marvelling at the range, quality and low costs of an infinite variety of stuff (both useful and absurdly unnecessary).

Delighted that public transport functions so well too. (For public transport cynics I can tell you my visit and local travels involved over 11 buses, around 23 trains, four planes – and almost every single one was on time in UK, US and NZ ….all credit to many unnoticed souls)

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Cottage in Topsham (Photo taken in summer, not mine)

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Always a wonderful treat to see my sons

As I write, from the saloon back aboard Henrietta, rain is pounding down in Whangarei. After returning on Thursday, she was lifted out on Friday – for the first time in 18 months – grossly infested with barnacles (one of the less pleasant aspects of lying afloat for a month in Whangarei town basin). And so it’s time for boaty chores once more…..I guess we’ll be in New Zealand till end of cyclone season, about April….

 

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New Zealand – Northland

New Zealand – Bay of Islands, Cavalli Islands, Whangaroa, Mangonui

12th November to 16th DecemberP1060519

If you’re reading this now, then Christmas is over and you might have more time for internet stuff. I was trying to be brief but failed….(Summary: sailed lots, swam lots, socialised sometimes, solitary sometimes. New Zealand suits me well: friendly, helpful, world-wise, generous, nature loving, adventurous folk. Plus green places, wondrous flora/fauna, clean air and seas etc…but you knew all that.) For more stuff, read on……..

Henrietta and I have been visiting the more popular sailing areas of New Zealand ahead of the holiday rush, when I gather every sailor in Auckland sails up to these northern shores – long school summer holidays lasting from just before Christmas through to late January/early February. The weather has been unusually hot, dry and sunny (almost tropical sometimes) and some Bay of Island anchorages are already busy. And there seem to be water shortages in some places. Tough for farmers but for me it’s heartening to be back in shorts and t-shirts, and find the sea perfectly warm for swimming.P1060570New Zealand?

“No worries, mate”, “Not a problem”, “We can fix that, mate”. “This is a can-do sort of a place”. …..Such is the nature of New Zealanders’ boundless enthusiasm and optimism. They really do seem ready and willing to roll up sleeves and get on with it, whatever it is. In reality this optimism is all pretty absurd and quite ridiculous, perhaps a bit silly – even if it’s initially endearing. The truth is: it is a problem and that’s why I raised it. You may fix it but you don’t say when. And some ‘can-do’ is sometimes some ‘cock-up’.

And so I have to be patient with the boaty jobs that are needed. Essentials, where I needed expert help, have mostly been fixed (excellent sail repairs, adequate spray hood patching, botchy sort of spinnaker track fix). Most of the other Henrietta items still on the lengthy to-do list, I’ll do myself.

I love New Zealand and its people though, for their open-hearted effort and generally cheery no-fuss cooperative approach to the world’s most intractable problems. Plus they are generally outward-looking, interested in the world, generous, welcoming and helpful. Many people really do seem to think they can fix it – not just boat’s bits and local trouble, but really big troubles like global warming, poverty, war; serious stuff where most of us simply feel rather powerless and just get gloomy. One historic example of New Zealand’s international effort and boldness lies near where I write this – anchored among the Cavalli Islands, just off the coast of northwest North Island.

 

I’m a few hundred metres from a memorial to New Zealand/Greenpeace’s attempts to stop nuclear proliferation and pollution. Greenpeace’s vessel Rainbow Warrior lies near here. (If you are too young to remember, Rainbow Warrior was Greenpeace’s flagship which was threatening to scupper French nuclear bomb testing in French Polynesia. The French Government didn’t like this so ordered secret agents to sink it, and in 1985 it was blown up and sunk in Auckland Harbour [keep in mind that France and New Zealand were supposedly friendly nations at the time]. A Portuguese crew member was killed. Yet only two agents were ever convicted of the sinking, their ten year prison sentences slashed to less than two, served on the Tuamotu island of Hao, after which they were quietly returned to France and honoured. It all seems even more outrageous now than it did then.) After repairs in Auckland, Rainbow Warrior was scuttled in 1987 and is now a dive site near here, and its propellor is prominently displayed on a nearby headland.

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Rainbow Warrior’s Propellor

 New Zealand is the first Pacific country I’ve visited that seems almost free of plastic debris and litter (partly I suppose because it’s outside the main west-flowing tropical current crossing the Pacific further north and not too many people live here). Everywhere else in this gigantic ocean, even the most totally deserted and remote little island, has a fringe of plastic detritus (I’ve mentioned it before). Here, not only are many people trying to limit use of plastic (though no charge yet for bags?), but there are regular clean-up operations (such as happen sometimes on European beaches etc). I have a bee in my bonnet about plastic, you see. If you really must use it, then re-use it lots of times and don’t ever think it comes cheap.

 

New Zealanders care a lot for native animals too (NB. ‘Kiwi’ plural are birds, ‘Kiwis’ plural are people) ……But not so keen on non-native animals (it’s tough if you’re a dog, a rat, a possum, a stoat or other import)….

 

 

And the scenery is legendary – nice anyway (mainly green and empty with a few cows and sheep)….

 

And meanwhile, I’ve been sometimes very sociable with the many friends I’ve met and meet along the way, and sometimes totally solitary in exquisite and empty anchorages. I’ve seen tasteful touristy stuff (chocolate factory, woodwork workshop, historic sights, mind-muddling museums, ‘old’ buildings, Mauri relics, Waitangi history et al), dull domestic stuff (shops and cafes and bars), and colourful local goings-on (markets, a Christmas party, Kerikeri and Opua Cruising Clubs, Bay of Islands sailing races, school camping teenagers). I’ve walked many miles of island and mainland paths, all – well, almost all – beautifully marked and maintained by NZ Dept of Conservation. And now I have an old bicycle as well, I’ve sweated and puffed up and down a lot of hills – New Zealand is rarely flat.

 

But, although I believe Kiwis to be industrious, no-fuss, get-on-with-it, refreshingly open and all round fantastic folk, I might have got it all completely wrong. Perhaps I have totally misunderstood the people I’ve met, and all that I’ve observed and thought, and heard and read. It could be that New Zealand is doomed because it is so overwhelmed by China – which has over 300 times as many people – and because it has relatively few natural resources, and is too dependent on tourism, and it’s a million miles from anywhere else. And also because property prices, at least around Auckland and this area, are crazily inflated (it’s not as if they are short of space either), public transport is almost non existent, commercial radio is total crap and an advert in a national paper tells me the “Best Christmas Gift Ever” is an electronic bidet – complete with warm water wash, warm air dryer, soft P1060494closing lid, heated seat…blimey! (Kiwis I chat to are sure this will never catch on – such gadgets, they say, are  only for posteriorly-challenged Koreans and Japanese.)

 

Happy Christmas

…and Henrietta has a few words too…

Looking back I can see I’ve had a pretty good year. Lots of sailing in the sun, which I like. No sitting about feeling unloved and forgotten. Since M owned me, we have sailed just over 25,000 miles together. Our little trip from England to New Zealand took us 16,223 miles (if you believe these satellites). If I was a rocket and M an astronaut we’d be a tenth the way to the moon by now (see ‘supermoon’ photo below!)P1060482

Generally I’m having a lovely time pootling about New Zealand too. We’ve visited many spots in the Bay of Islands (which is a pretty small area anyway), rolled about a lot in the Cavalli islands, and had a really lovely gentle stay in Whangaroa Harbour, a spectacular large natural harbour with high hills all round and verdant textured trees around its shores. And then we anchored among the moorings in Mangonui Harbour which was horrid for me (crapping seagulls) – though M wandered the Heritage Trail and liked his fish and chips….

 

While carrying on my traveller’s life and in Opua earlier, some of my worn out bits were fixed, and M cleaned me up and, soon, with some polish and a bottom scrub and deck clean-up and sheet replacement and engine service and gelcoat repair and some varnish and a few other odds and ends, I’ll feel fine and look as beautiful as new (which is more than can be said for my skipper). We’ve sailed to so many pretty anchorages in Bay of Islands, Cavallis and Whangaroa Harbour that I’m dizzy.P1060588

Alas!  if I’m totally honest I do have a few problems with my skipper though. One: He’s started to load all sorts of junk and stuff on my deck. To start with there was just a kayak, but that was nicked ages ago and replaced with a step ladder (which he’s used only once in the past year). Now in one corner of my deck, there’s a big ugly NZ gas cylinder with pipe, a fender, an old marker buoy from Tuamotus, a spare bower anchor, and a bicycle, and, through it all, the lines to control my Hydrovane. Look at the photo! …(I start to resemble one of those scruffy narrow boats you see on Britain’s canal system, a jumble of old logs and assorted scrap on the roof, where an old hippy and downtrodden dejected mongrel go nuts.)P1060427

Number two problem: his relentless, profound and chronic indecision means we never seem to know what we’ll do next, who we’ll see, where we’ll go, when to go there, how to get there or anything. It gets on my nerves and wears us both out. Yet I suppose it does mean life is always full of surprises. From which you must conclude we haven’t a clue about next year……

 

M is probably a lot happier than a year ago. He has days when he’s what I’d call ‘motivated’ and gets up early and does useful things like cleaning the cabin and tidying up cupboards and planning where to go and fixing things and sailing us somewhere new and going for a swim and walk and cooking and having friends aboard for a meal or a drink. He also has days that I’d call plain bone idle when he seems to get up long after dawn and then sits or lies around reading a book and festering, just drinking tea and wine and eating up leftovers, maybe chatting to folk. Also he gets a bit gloomy and rather glum when he’s alone and reads too much international news. (A lot of sailors get like that.)P1060550Pretty  and ubiquitous waterside and roadside colour: Pohutukawa and Agapanthus grow wild and everywhere

Never mind! We’ve had a generally wonderful varied fascinating rewarding healthy year in 2017. And, although I know that life is not so easy for every boat or everyone, we wish you all

Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for 2018.P1060580

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Tonga to New Zealand

Ha’apai, Tonga to Opua, New Zealand

25th October to 11th November

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Henrietta the only visitor to Lofanga

Most sailing boats in Tonga head to New Zealand for the southern hemisphere summer. Usually there are long and tiresome lists of repairs, sails and rigging to fix, engines to service, canvas to repair, woodwork to paint and varnish, spare parts to buy; and crews look forward to mouth-watering fruit and vegetables, good bread and cheese, and many litres of wine of course; and maybe time to travel on land and, if foreign, fly ‘home’.

New Zealand is seen as beautiful, clean, friendly and full of promise, almost heavenly in what it may offer. Having been there before I’m more sanguine – appreciative of its charms but not swooning over the impossible. It’s not a utopian Shangri-La.

For a start I know it won’t always be as blissfully warm as the Tropical South Pacific and after many months of shorts, t-shirts and naked feet or less, it’ll be a wrench to wear something more substantial; and I don’t think the sea is warm enough, nowhere near warm enough to swim in New Zealand waters either (but maybe I’ll have a freshwater shower!). New Zealand, Aotearoa, is the last of the Pacific countries that Henrietta will visit this year.

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Another fine empty beach, Lofanga Is.

Anyway, before facing the anticipated pleasures and chills of New Zealand, I sailed a few more days in Tonga’s Ha’apai islands. Names like Lofanga, Haafeva, Oua, Nomuka Iki don’t exactly trip off the tongue, but they were my final stopping places. The snorkelling, the silver sandy beaches, the friendly local people and gentle walks through lush tropical vegetation were heavenly – but as ever I’m saddened and maddened by mangy animals, ubiquitous imported snacks, and half burnt rubbish that’s too often scattered around homesteads with long-snouted piggies snuffling for goodies..

Overall though, Tonga’s Ha’apai must rank among my favourite island groups in the South Pacific.

Here are some more pictures from the Ha’apai islands…

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Anchored near a reef, Nomuka Iki

But at the end of October, it was time to sail south and Henrietta briskly flew across the first few hundred miles to the remote coral reef of Minerva North. (I write this while waiting here). It’s a near perfect circular reef, awash at high tide with surf crashing all around, over two miles in diameter,  quite calm in the lagoon compared with the ocean outside. But with strong winds and big ocean swell, waves break over the reef; it’s choppy and we jerk and tug hard on the anchor.

There’s one other boat here, Begonia, a sleek and beautiful catamaran with US/UK couple on board. We do not meet but talk by VHF, neither of us willing to launch dinghies. And in such windy conditions we couldn’t easily cover the 60 metres between us. I swim for reasons of hygiene but don’t linger long as on my own. I’m nervous with sharks, and firmly believe they can’t all be friendly.

From Minerva Reef it was another 800 miles or so to New Zealand (funny how these distances seem ‘normal’ when I’d consider it a very long way to sail the equivalent, say from Cornwall to Southern Portugal).

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Approaching NZ, first ship seen for over a week

After six mixed sailing, sleep-deprived days Henrietta and I arrived in Opua in the Bay of Islands.

Familiar boats and friendly faces are already here, and after a beer and bit of sleep it looks like boaty chores and sociability for a while. It feels chilly, so long trousers are out and freckles on my bottom will fade. But it’s bliss to enjoy a hot shower (first for over three months!)

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Tonga, Ha’apai

Ha’apai, Tonga

9th to 24th OctoberP1060261.JPG

One of the very many joys of a sailing way of life is constant closeness to the delights and beauty of nature. You can see thousands of sunsets, of dolphins, whales, birds, shells, stars, fishes, beaches, reefs and ocean colours, moods and forms, and never ever see too many. I never cease to wonder at the fabulous range of sights and creatures. Not that it’s always so beautiful, charming and benign of course. So I should add: the power, the anger, the magnificence, the challenges, cruelties and conflicts – the endless diversity of our natural world. Our photos tend to home in on the pretty and beautiful bits of nature though, and here are a few from Tonga ….P1060245.JPG

After visiting eight or nine different anchorages in Tonga’s Vava’u Group of islands, Henrietta and I had a look at the forecast…..P1060268.JPG

….and had a boisterous well-reefed sail south about 70 miles to the Ha’apai Group.

I gather there are about 60 islands hereabouts in Ha’apai, but not many inhabited or accessible by yachts. Anyway, I don’t have a lot of time and very few boats stay in Tonga for the cyclone season – none in Ha’apai. This area of the Pacific is prone to cyclones. A few years ago in 2014 Cyclone Ian destroyed over 80% of the homes on Lifuka, the main Ha’apai island, and I’m told not a leaf was left on any plant. (Wind peaked around 150 mph and gusted to 180 mph; we cannot even conceive of such raw brutal crushing power.) Most boats seem to have left and gone to New Zealand already. As usual, Henrietta’s near the back.

As well as sailing boats heading south, the humpback whales do too. After having their babies in these sheltered waters over the winter, they swim to their summer feeding grounds in the Antarctic. And one of the attractions for visitors is whalewatching or swimming with the whales, and small low-key resorts cater for this small band of tourists. They often seem to combine whale-swimming with yoga, reiki, spiritual oneness, meditation, massage and knowing the inner-self sort of stuff. I love people like that.

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A fine empty shell/coral beach, Uoleva

I started writing this while anchored off an especially gorgeous island, Uoleva, about two miles long with perfect shell sandy beach, lush wavy greenery, uninhabited save for three of the tiny resorts I’ve mentioned – though ‘resorts’ is a funny word for the few huts or tents involved. Most are almost deserted or closed now the season is over.

After spending time talking with the enterprising American woman, Patti, who ten years ago rented the land at the south of the island (foreigners cannot buy land), planned, designed, built and now manages Serenity Beach Resort, I thought you could see her website www.serenitybeaches.com . The neighbouring resort “Sea Change Eco Retreat”, owned by New Zealanders is managed by a UK/Tongan couple www.seachangetonga.com . I’m not vouching for either of these but just point them out as contrasting alternatives to the increasingly sanitised, homogenised and deodorised chain hotels of Tahiti or Bora Bora.

And in a world of unconventional and unusual folk, there’s Magda, an attractive, clever, forceful and interesting Pole, who for ten years has owned and managed the Mariner’s Cafe and Bar in Pangai, (and also her Tongan husband and young son.)

It’s a pretty little bar/restaurant, bordered with flowers, with assorted scattering of unmatched tables and colourful plastic chairs, beneath a corrugated iron roof, lined with international flags and burgees  – and the food is very good.  

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Children have made snacks to sell from their stall by the road in Foa

I spend a lot of time chatting with people; for many, both Tongans and foreigners, seem extraordinary, and otherwise with so much time on board alone churning my solo thoughts, I might become strange!

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These boys really appreciated playtime with my amazing antique Avon dinghy

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Typical Ha’apai Homesteads

A historical note: this is the island group where, in April 1789, Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers offloaded Captain Bligh from the Bounty. William Bligh and his loyal 18 seamen then sailed their open whaleboat about 4,000 miles to Timor, Indonesia. Our modern day voyages are chicken-feed when you think of that.

Alas! My month in Tonga is nearly up, and we cannot renew Tongan visas here in Ha’apai so I’d better head off south to New Zealand in a few days. (UK is not part of Schengen so we don’t get the automatic three months of other Europeans.) Just waiting a while till wind forecasts look more friendly. It’s about 1,200 miles to North Island – but we can stop and anchor at a reef on the way if we feel like it…..

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Tonga, Vava’u

Vava’u, Tonga

18th September to 8th October

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Just 1,200 miles to New Zealand

The sail over to Tonga from Suwarrow (Cook Islands) was a mixed bag: – two days sailing in South Pacific Convergence Zone (yes, it’s a bit of a mouthful) which means seriously gusty windy, squalls, rough confused seas, torrential rain and all round horrid stuff; then, several days of sailing perfection which means fast reaching with full sail, not rough, sunshine and oceanic beauty (a surprisingly rare state of affairs even in the South Pacific). Then, after a night dithering outside the Vava’u group of Tonga awaiting daylight, I was there.P1060158

I thought Tonga was a Pacific island with lots of budding professional rugby players ruled by the world’s fattest king. As often happens, I was wrong on all counts.P1060232

Tonga is not an island. It’s a big group of them, stretching more than 300 miles from north to south and including somewhere over 170 islands altogether. Population about 120,000 people – most of whom seem big, gentle and smiling but not looking like rugby types at all. The fat king, Tupou IV, died ages ago; the current king, King Tupou VI appears solid but humble and grounded.

Captain Cook called them the ‘Friendly Islands’, which still seems ok as folk are generally quite reserved but warm and welcoming. Even more than other Polynesians they are usually quite slender, beautiful and fine looking when young but then seem to blossom into big people – still charming and friendly but a different shape. Apparently Tonga vies with Samoa in having the world’s most obese population.

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Friendly lady sells me tomatoes and peppers, Neiafu Market

I’ve spent two weeks here already, perfectly content anchoring here and there off little islands, swimming and snorkelling and doing chores and meeting people. It’s been very sociable with dozens of boats stacked up awaiting suitable weather for the final leg to New Zealand (about 1,200 miles).  At this stage of crossing the Pacific many of us know one another quite well, and have met perhaps half the boats and crews that are sharing similar journeys.

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Jim and Linda from Canadian prairies are looking after me!

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David and two of his 11 children – our hosts on Vakaeitu island

So far, I’ve just stayed in the Vava’u Group of islands. The annual Blue Water Festival has just ended: a week of eating/meeting/chatting, plus talks from assorted New Zealand sailing reps; and a wonderful sailing race, visit to small school plus miscellaneous local culture. This overdose of ‘partying’ has been an intoxicating and wonderful (yet somehow draining) experience for somewhat shy and introverted old blokes.

 

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Racing crew on “Bright Moments”– not first, not last! (Jim and Linda out of sight and in charge).

Henrietta, with broken spinnaker track, did not race but I crewed with friendly Canadians, Jim and Linda, and colourful Dutch and Australian sailors (plus youngest race crew member, 2 yr old Kian). Too much chat and eating to win, we spent a happy few hours sailing well in the sort of conditions rare when sailing in Britain – hot sun in milky blue near cloudless sky, calm clear glistening azure sea, lush green islets and headlands….we all felt lucky to be there. And the prizes – something for everyone- were generous, with all manner of free facilities awaiting boats going to New Zealand.

A visit to ‘Ene’io Botanic Gardens


I guess there are well over 50 boats here now in Vava’u scattered between the local capital and nearby island anchorages, and I’m sure there are at least as many ‘in front’ further south in Tonga. Some go to Australia and NZ via Fiji, a few stay here through cyclone season; but Henrietta, along with many others, will linger in Tonga a week or two or three or more, until weather and my inclination are ok to head on south to New Zealand.

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