Central Molucca

Central Maluku

Banda Islands (Neira, Gunung Api, Banda Besar, Run, Ai), Saparua, Molana

1st to 11th August

(A note on the names above: Maluku is the Indonesian word for Moluccas; the Banda Islands (the core of the Spice Islands) are in Central Maluku. Neira etc are islands we visited within the Banda Islands group, and Saparua and Molana are other little islands – near Ambon – also in Central Maluku…….enough geography for now.)P1000673

A comfortable breeze in hot sun took Henrietta the 150 odd miles from Kai Islands to Banda Islands and we anchored among a dozen other rally boats between three of the islands, dominated by Gunung Api, the adjacent semi-active volcano. A local boat comes alongside to offer fruit, veg and laundry service. Declined for now but we arrange a lift ashore and…

…Next morning at 6am, Joyce and I are collected for the walk up Gunung Api. It’s not high at 2,100 ft but not easy either. No zig-zags, no steps, no ropes, just a straight line up an unstable course scree slope; two steps up, one step slipped down; and we’re both well past pension age too. After two mildly arduous hours, growing hotter and hotter and the day’s sun burning ever stronger, we’re there…sweat-soggy t-shirts to indicate effort.P1000698Puffs of sulphur-scented steam emerge hither and thither, and there’s the black lava ash evidence of the last major eruption on the western flank. That was 1988. Now Gunung Api is merely simmering – but it’s monitored closely. An hour on the summit to rest, enjoying views, selfies, breeze and bananas, then an hour slithering down the scree, bottoms well-bruised, but very content to have enjoyed a morning’s walk.P1000703

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Puffs of sulphurous steam beneath us

We enjoy the Banda Islands. There’s a small market, an excellent small local restaurant/hotel (Cilu Bintang) where the owner/manager, Abba, lets us shower, enjoy post-volcano siesta, and eat well. 

Elsewhere one evening, outdoors under tropical moon and starry night, after restaurant rally supper, we watch a BBC documentary where Kate Humble flits about the Banda Islands (I hadn’t seen it in Britain). Geckos scamper jerkily up the walls, and wide-eyed local children stare at what’s going on. Kate shows us how to pluck a nutmeg fruit and chats amiably for the BBC. Sailing life offers so many of these almost surreal times.

And we visit nearby islands of Run and Ai, the former, would you believe it, once swapped for Manhattan. In the early 17th century, the Dutch ruthlessly held sway over the stunningly wealthy Spice Islands (cloves and nutmeg being especially sought after in Europe at the time). The English had a claim on Run, a thorn in the side of the Dutch monopoly. The Dutch had a claim in North America at New Amsterdam (modern-day Manhattan), where the English were otherwise dominant.P1000732After years of squabbling, brutal fighting, large-scale slaughter and dreadful Medieval torture, a truce was agreed by which the Dutch took Run and the English took New Amsterdam, now New York. ( “Nathaniel’s Nutmeg”, by Giles Milton, is a fascinating book if you want more.)P1000731

 

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Drying octopus

I’d have happily stayed longer but there are too many other places to go. And, feeling like a break from the Rally fleet, we went first for a night anchored precariously alone off the reef skirting the little island of Ai, then over to Saparua, some 90 miles away. Saparua is seldom visited by foreign boats and we’re besieged with inquisitive children – 15 on board at one stage. Initially they are shy. But after a while and with a smile of welcome, they are fascinated to have a look at how these foreign folk live at sea. We stay two nights, take taxi to the few desultory local sights, wander the streets of the nearby village, fill water tanks with the plentiful rainfall, and all our plastic bottles too. And much to girls’ delight, each enjoy a freshwater shower.

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Practice for kora kora races (17 of these compete in Ambon in ten days’time)

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Anchored off Harya, Saparua (Christian, hence the pigs – Henrietta top right)

Ambon, about 40 miles away, is the large town in this area but everything I’ve read indicates that it suffers the plague of all fast-growing large Indonesian towns: plastic litter, grossly polluted water, smells and putrefying animal bits. We give it a miss. Instead, we are now anchored, again rather precariously (15 metres offshore in 26 metres of water), off teeny weeny islet, Molana. There’s no one here, the two bungalow ‘resort’ and small white sandy beach apparently deserted.P1000781-001P1000787-001

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Scenes from uninhabited Molana Island

Once the wind arrives, we’ll sail a few hundred miles west. Time to get a move on, maybe meet the rally fleet again.

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Indonesia – SE Mollucca

 

Kai Islands, S E Maluku

(Kai Kecil, Utir, Tayandu)

17th to 31st July

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Indonesian squid fishing boat en route to Molluccas

 From Horn Island at the very top of Queensland, Australia, we sailed fast enough with genoa alone for the 700 odd miles to reach Indonesia five days later; brightly lit squid-fishing boats sometimes adding light to the dark starry tropical nights.P1000670

Indonesia, as you probably already know, is a vast country, fourth most populous in the world, largest Islamic country in the world, largest archipelago in the world. There are at least 16,000 isles that stretch about 2,700 miles east to west, and cover about two million square miles. Over the next three months we’ll see a tiny fraction of these.P1000672

 

The entry port for us is Debut in the Kai Islands. It’s a very small town, not normally an entry port, and officials have arrived en masse with cameras and paperwork to clear us in. All very civil and friendly and, to my eyes, muddled, but within a day, they’ve boarded Henrietta, we’ve copied enough papers to fill a filing cabinet, and we’re legal (I think).

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Clearing in takes a while

The Rally welcome has been staggeringly friendly and lavish, and I shan’t dwell on details. Suffice to say, we’ve sat through many speeches, been photographed enough to make Kate Winslet blush (even drones are sent buzzing aloft to give full coverage). And every time we dinghy ashore, a lively crowd of young children rush enthusiastically to the slippery muddy steps to pull us in.

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Dancing at the welcome ceremony

There have been visits to villages for dancing (that’s a mix of traditional local dances and Westerners wobbling around to Indo-pop music), and at least two fabulous buffets of local dishes, heavily influenced by the fish that form an important part of the local economy.

 

Why do they welcome us with such generous hospitality and friendliness? I think it’s mainly because Indonesians for the most part are loving, friendly, generous people; but also, we’re often told, so that we spread the word and encourage others to visit. We were told that apart from the 40 odd boats that check into the Kai islands for this rally, there are only about 20 others for the whole year. Yacht facilities are limited (which suits me fine) but there are banks, market and supermarket, hotels, and dodgy diesel, and lots of taxis in the capital, Tual.

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Since I was last in Indonesia, nearly 40 years ago, a lot has changed. Most little villages seem to have some electricity and piped water, motorbikes scurry everywhere on the larger islands, the Country’s population has gone up about 100 million. And the currency, the rupiah, is issued in millions;  I used to get about 1,400 to the pound, now it’s nearer 18,000. But my initial view is that people’s warm open welcoming inquisitive nature has changed little.

Slides of Some wonderful local food

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It is humbling to experience such open-hearted generous hospitalityP1000625

 

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Australia

Cairns to Thursday Island

27th June to 16th July

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Smart waterfront promenade in Cairns

Australia is of course vast, utterly gigantic. After three weeks I’ve seen next to nothing, just a tiny slither of coastal far North Queensland, about 500 miles of it. Not a single big shark or crocodile or box jellyfish, despite the warnings; let alone a koala, kangaroo or wallaby. Now, at Thursday Island, we’re about 1,200 miles north of Brisbane which is still in the same state – Queensland. (For Europeans, 1,200 miles is a long way, say, N. Spain to Iceland)

I’ll summarise: after the mini trauma of berthing in Cairns Marlin marina without an engine, under strong wind power (throttle was broken), there was the welcoming committee of Australian Border Force and a bevy of forms to fill in, plus quick sniff round of hyper-intelligent labrador (he wears smart black doggie booties for the sniffing)…then heavy rain started, and stopped, and started again for the week spent in Cairns. Henrietta’s new crew, Caroline and Joyce, arrived in Cairns from London a couple of days later. (Henrietta will doubtless write something about them and me another time).

Together we’re to join my very first sailing rally, Sail 2 Indonesia. (There’s a website at www.sail2indonesia.com ) We’re supposed to sail through the Indonesian archipelago from somewhere in the east of Indonesia to somewhere in the west – near Singapore….about three months and about 40 boats altogether. Not being very clubby or sociable or biddable or inclined to follow any timetable or programme, or do what I’m told, the rally will be a novel challenge and at least for now is a source of some anxiety. But other participants seem as independent and liberty-loving as me, and delightful, so I’m sure it will be fine.

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Rally briefing before leaving Cairns

As for Cairns, we shopped, we attended a rally briefing and a rally barbecue, we did more shopping, we went for walks round town (Cairns is smart, fine parks, long seafront, endless tripper boats for the Great Barrier Reef, restaurants, bars, fashion shops and more), and then we did more shopping, and finally stuffed every conceivable locker, cupboard and opening in Henrietta with food and more food and a drink or two. Then, with new throttle and clutch assembly, engine serviced and water and diesel tanks brim full, we sailed northwards.

Although Cairns is deemed to be North Queensland it’s still about 500 miles from the top of Australia. The winds are reliable, strong enough and steady enough, southeast and always 15-25 knots, to sail up, entirely inside the Great Barrier Reef and with just the genoa.

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Fast sailing up the Queensland coast

It’s an empty patch of this huge continent, very few signs of habitation, no houses, huts or boats, just the cargo ships that shuttle up and down the coast (I guess taking Australia’s mineral goodies to China and on from Singapore) and very occasional fishing vessels. The coastline is a series of grey hills and mountains, foreshore mangrove and sandy beaches, offshore lots of reefs and rocks and islets, and well marked shipping channel.  

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Another sociable gathering (Cat “Starry Horizons”, Lizard Island)

We anchored overnight several times on the way north. But our only trips ashore were during a spell at Lizard Island, named like so much else round here, by James Cook (it does have lizards on it too). He climbed the hill on Lizard Island about 250 years before us, looking for openings in the Barrier Reef that might enable him to sail out with the Endeavour. But he found it a very troublesome area to sail, grounding badly on a reef – which I can well understand; I wouldn’t be happy without GPS and good charts on my iphone.P1000539

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View from Cook’s Lookout in 2018

Right now I write this from the anchorage off Horn Island, a good chunk of the Sail 2 Indonesia rally fleet anchored nearby. We’ll clear out of Australia on nearby Thursday Island in a few days….then sail to eastern Indonesia, about 700 miles.

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Henrietta’s Crew

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Chesterfield Reef

Noumea to Cairns

8th to 26th June

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Dawn, and still no wind…

Horrid weather in Noumea doesn’t last long and soon became fine dry sunny weather. And so, with departure paperwork done and a couple of fresh baguettes, I left for Australia.

Alas! The wind quickly died away and rather than flop around almost stopped at sea or have Henrietta suffer the indignities of many hours motoring, I found a big and beautiful and empty coral lagoon 100 miles up the New Caledonia coast, and anchored there for two nights. With undisturbed solitude off Konieni island, I made myself useful and scraped yet more barnacles from the hull; fully appreciative of the grand grey mountainous terrain not far inland.

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…so came and anchored off empty Konieni Island (in foreground)

Swimming on the first morning, I saw tall shark fins too close for comfort :- three metre long adult sharks – hammerheads perhaps? Quickly stop swimming and clamber on board…Goodness me! I think  it’s mating season, adult hammerheads moving sideways; technique beyond even the scope of Kama Sutra. At dusk they return the other way, still at it.

But, oh deary silly me! It isn’t shark at all. It’s manta rays flopping-flapping languorously harmlessly across the surface. I’d confused their flaps with shark fins. Delightful to come across so many of them together. (Later meet a marine biologist who reassures me by saying he’d once made the same identification mistake)

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Dolphins on the way to Chesterfield Reef (there were over 50, but always tricky to photo)

Two days later the wind piped up and I departed New Caledonia for the second time…..and stopped again some three days later at Chesterfield Reefs (nominally also part of New Caledonia).

Chesterfields were more-or-less on the route to Cairns. But it’s not on the standard tourist itinerary, about 450 miles from Noumea and 750 miles from Cairns, a coral lagoon seven miles across and 12 miles long, roughly shaped a bit like a leant-back letter ‘U’, uninhabited and uninhabitable with just a few low thin sandy islets, and lots of coral defining the shape, many uncharted coral outcrops in the generally deep lagoon; AND thousands and thousands of birds.

The islets are home to really vast numbers of boobies and frigate birds, noddies and tern. Every available bush and branch seems to be occupied. Birds sit on their eggs on the beach too.

They squark their noisy persistent calls at all hours of day and night, without ceasing, similar in sound I suspect to Wembley Stadium packed full with disgruntled and vocal fish wives. And when you draw close, the stink of guano, sour and putrid fishiness, is inescapable.

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That bit of fluff is the baby!

More bird pictures…P1000420P1000432P1000425

I love places like this (bar the stench!). They’re not easy to get to and few boats ever visit. But you feel it’s close to the way things have always been, quite unaffected by man, little changed over the years, only birds and fish carrying on their breeding eating living lives – and only the plastic detritus on the shoreline as a reminder of thoughtless modern plasti-dependent mankind. Birds seem not to be bothered by me; I move gently…

David in Noumea had kindly given me a local French chartlet with useful waypoints to find the way in and out of this Coral Sea backwater. Navionics, should you be inclined to sail here is not correct; and my anchorage shown as being on land was in fact about 8 metres deep; and exit pass in quite the wrong place. But don’t even try it unless you have good light to see the coral! On reaching Australia I find an email from New Caledonia authorities (from whom I’d sought permission to visit); they’ve sent a questionnaire asking what I’ve seen.

Whilst at Chesterfields, apart from the birds, I was most surprised to see another boat, Olivia (a Farr designed yacht about Henrietta’s size but faster, with a crew of four from New South Wales). They were just as surprised to see me. I anchored half a mile away (we like our privacy), and we later meet a couple of times for tea, cake and biscuits – which seems doubly enchanting in such a remote and empty space.

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Mauve line marks Henrietta’s track

After two days and nights, and walks and swimming, and work on those barnacles (only non-aggressive reef shark and reef fish here!), I cautiously sailed out of the lagoon as intermittent drizzle fell and the wind gradually picked up, a final forecast radioed to me by the satellite-connected crew of Olivia, and Cairns about six days’ sailing away….. a bit rough and uncomfortable, but mostly fast with just a reefed genoa pulling us along, and big brown poopy big brown boobies for company…

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A lot of mess from this hitch-hiker

Australian Border Force (an unnecessarily intimidating title for the bevvy of reasonable folk and a dog who come aboard next day) don’t want to see me late on a Sunday, so  I anchor off Cairns with yellow flag and brand new Oz one too…and drink a beer …two beers even..

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Inside Great Barrier Reef, it’s calmer as Australia comes into sight

Cairns shoreline at dusk, with unimaginative apartment and hotel blocks and tower cranes, and sporadic heavy rain is not inspiring….but looks a lot better next morning …..more next time….P1000499

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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.

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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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