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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Suwarrow, Cook Islands

Bora Bora, Maupiti, Suwarrow

3rd to 17th September

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Approaching Maupiti

Thank goodness, before heading for the Cook Islands, I stopped at the little Society island of Maupiti, my final anchorage in French Polynesia. Before that, Bora Bora, with its lavish, high-class and unduly swanky reputation, allround price extortion, smelly traffic, and buzzy overpowered jet skis had left a flavour of mild disappointment and annoyance. Maupiti, just 30 miles away, in contrast, reminded me of the true delights and unsullied beauty of the vast majority of French Polynesia.

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‘Not very pretty’ cruise/cargo vessel, Bora Bora

In case you didn’t already know, the fastest way to destroy a place’s natural charms, other than a nuclear test programme, is to feature it in fat heavy glossy magazines (the kind probably found in expensive beauty salons rather than your average dentist’s waiting room), build a few Hiltons, Intercontinentals and others of that ilk, and maybe even send along a few ‘exclusive’ little cruise ships; and in no time at all it’ll be as flashy and tasteless, or tawdry and unlovely as you could imagine. In the case of Bora Bora, the coral will be dead too and you can be fleeced $90 for a quick boat trip to see manta rays – most of whom, being sensible fellows flapped off and fled ages ago; oh! and, if you as a humble cruiser, so much as set foot on one of the hotel jetties you can be $50 out of pocket (each) before you even move!

Us yachties know we’re lucky to choose our landfalls and, give or take the odd spell of nasty weather when forced quickly to find shelter and silly mistakes or incidences of plain ignorance, don’t visit or hang around for long in such unsavoury places. (Bora Bora doesn’t want us much anyway; our budgets aren’t up to it.) But, as a footnote I add that it is a convenient place to go through exit formalities and customs and get clearance papers for next foreign places, and the gendarmes who handle such stuff in Bora Bora were perfectly polite, friendly and helpful.

Moving on, after that little Bora outburst, I had a boisterous sail over to Maupiti, in through its narrow reef pass and meandering well-marked channel, overlooked by towering craggy mountain, to a calm anchorage with four others – including my favourite Berliners, the adventurous young family on Kalibu (if you read German or even if you don’t, have a look at www.sykalibu.de).

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View of pass and meandering channel to Maupiti anchorage out of sight to left

Given a forecast of dwindling winds (and the fact that Bora Bora had gobbled up the last of my local currency) I didn’t stay in Maupiti very long. Just enough time to enjoy supper on Kalibu, wander past the well-kempt, flowery gardens of homesteads on the main street, smiling local folk, and another day to stagger up the highest peak, the hot steep beautiful, Tiriano (only 1,200 ft, but felt more! they’ve put ropes to help on steep bits, and somewhere there’s a lone sailor selfie photo of me looking silly).

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It’s not really as steep as it looks

Feeling energetic and cheerful I did lots of swimming too, and started to clean the worst of the weed that now grows vigorously on Henrietta’s bottom.

And then, with decision taken to sail to Suwarrow (690 miles), I upped anchor and set out. Wind dwindled even quicker than forecast and before the first night, we were rolling and slopping along at less than 3 knots, cooked by tropical sun, with outline of Maupiti, destined to remain visible for nearly 24 hours.

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Panorama from top of Maupiti

It wasn’t till day 4 that wind picked up, making it more than six days for this little bit of the Pacific. (I still can’t get over how big it is!) The only alarming event was as I sipped a morning mug of tea. A massive bang and Henrietta shook….spinnaker pole had broken its mast track and was being held at one end only by skinny bit of rope and shackle pin. Quickly (not really very ‘quickly’ because it was mighty rolly and windy at that stage) I found that rivets had sheared and bit of tracking snapped off; so lowered pole to deck and tied it down; rearranged sail plan and adjusted course; often wishing I had the balance, the strength and the dexterity of a much much younger man; and resumed my mug of tea – which by then was of course stone cold.

Next stop, Suwarrow is a tiny atoll, at least 200 miles from the nearest people, that was put on the map, as it were, because a New Zealander, Tom Neale, lived a hermit life here for many years from 1952 and wrote a book about it, “An Island to Oneself”. He was buried here when he died in 1977.

Some photos on Suwarrow

It’s now a Cook Islands National Park (birds and sealife) and two park rangers, Harry and Katu, live here six months a year and help visiting yachts deal with the many bits of paper required for immigration, biosecurity, customs, yacht entry…and I know not what, and they spray inside our boats with some foul stinky insecticide. 

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Suwarrow anchorage (photo from masthead of Red Max – thank you, Monique)

There are not so many visiting yachts as in the past; Henrietta is only number 46 this year and there won’t be many more as I’m very near the back of the pack (which meanders across the Pacific each year heading for New Zealand or Australia before cyclone season).

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Park Rangers, Harry and Katu

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Sailors on Suwarrow

I stayed several days at Suwarrow as, in line with other places with few visitors, it’s sociable and friendly, and unspoilt, and Harry and Katu are wonderful and welcoming hosts, advise of where to see birds, and snorkel for rays, and sea snakes and shark  (none of which seem at all hostile), and I value the international flavour (seven boats from seven different countries, with folk representing about ten different nations.)

But it’s time to move on……(no internet on Suwarrow of course so this will have to wait till Tonga)

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Society Islands

 

 

Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora

19th August to 2nd September

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Now in the Leeward Society Islands (Iles Sous-le-Vent top left in the photo above) – blog already has posts for Tahiti and Moorea (the Windward Society Islands). It isn’t clear why they’re called Society Islands but probably because Captain Cook considered them close together, (though Royal Society suggested they were named in recognition of their assistance with funding one of Cook’s voyages). Also, ‘close together’ in the Pacific isn’t quite the same as ‘close together’ in British waters. They may be grouped together under one name here but they spread over 200 miles; equivalent to grouping Scilly Isles with Channel Islands and Isle of Wight (and I can’t see that happening!).

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Leaving Moorea at dusk

A straightforward and brisk overnight sail from Moorea took Henrietta 85 miles to Huahine, another fabulous mountainous, reef-fringed island. 

It was sobering to see at dawn the wreck of a large catamaran that had sailed into the reef one night three weeks earlier. Reef location isn’t very clear on the chart and apparently they’d cut too close to island Huahine, parents with four children thankfully safely helicoptered off, boat now abandoned with fixtures removed for sale, and them facing not just the loss of all their worldly goods (they had no other home), but also the tug’s ‘tow off and sink’ fee of over $20,000. I spent three nights at a tranquil anchorage nearby and heard the sorry story from fellow cruisers, Ian and Erika, who’d been friends of the wrecked boat family, and had helped unload the coral-stranded catamaran – a hazardous task in itself.

 

Huahine’s main village is typically laid back with standard features of quay (for supply ships), a store, post-office, church or two, food shacks and ‘yacht club’. (‘yacht club’ is not a club, simply a restaurant on the waterfront, open to all, and often a congregating spot for yachties). This particular yacht club had a folk music evening (American not Polynesian) and here’s a nice picture of my favourite young fellow sailors, all smartened up for an evening ashore with folk music. Needless to say, I didn’t go!

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Youngsters! Miranda, Hugh, Paul and Jenny

You won’t want too many details of day-by-day trivia so I’ll summarise and just say, I

 

sailed next to Raiatea (Polynesian languages use lots of vowels), enjoyed the regatta of Polynesian canoe racing at one spot (kindly invited to join participants’ feasting), did hilly walks till private land and trackless wilderness ended progress….made friends with a dog….admired soul-cleansing scenery and bright tropical flowers……moods from melancholia to happy excitement….ate truly delicious veggie meals on Ian and Erika’s friendly catamaran Makara, and the charming Little Coconut, and often cook for others to join me on Henrietta ….sailed on to neighbouring island Tahaa for one windy squally night at deepest anchorage yet (35 metres)….next day, rough windy downwind rolling surfing whizz near top speed with half genoa, and in through reef to Bora Bora.

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Choppy at pass into Bora Bora lagoon

 

Just had thorough haircut in Bora Bora (final few murky grey locks all gone), and bought beer to celebrate. 

The island of Bora Bora, despite its reputation, is no more beautiful than other Polynesian islands; mountainous, cloaked in blanket of lush verdant textured green, surrounded with clear lagoon inside coral reef. 

All very pretty but, I guess because Americans were here in the war and went home with extravagant tales, Bora Bora has since been over-hyped and is very overrated and over glamourised, I reckon. Lots and lots of luxury hotels on islets here and there, every other shop selling expensive pearl jewelry and colourful tourist tat in pretty shabby surroundings, lots of litter, busy smelly traffic on single road that winds around the island’s perimeter, prices generally eye-watering. And yet, somehow, the local people retain their charm and hospitality.

Pictures from Bora Bora

 

 

So now, Henrietta waits at a fairly sheltered spot in Bora Bora with about a dozen others; waiting for current spell of rough windy horrid weather to abate.

A birthday party (thank you Miranda for yummy cake!)

 

I may next stop at island Maupiti, a final stop in French Polynesia, before a longer stretch to the Cook Islands. There’s one called Suwarrow that is uninhabited and looks nice, about 690 miles away. But there’s another one called Palmerston that looks interesting too….oh! decisions to make…

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Moorea

Moorea

1st to 18th August

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Moorea in the distance

Henrietta hasn’t sailed far in the past few weeks but she now has new standing rigging (i.e. wires to hold up the mast). Mathieu, the young French rigger (passing resemblance to a lithe Johnny Depp – as in ‘Chocolat’) found several more broken strands in shrouds, suggested with gentle nod of his head that I was lucky still to have a mast, and replaced the lot. He was energetic, thorough, extremely skilled and fascinating – all of which made the bill more bearable.

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Mathieu changing the rigging

 

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Tahitian Six Pack

 

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So then, growing ratty with the dual-carriageway traffic and a hot and busy anchorage in Tahiti, I sailed to nearby island of Moorea. It’s picture postcard lovely and a popular tourist destination with good cause: jagged dark fairy-tale mountains, a fringe of coral reefs and coconut palms, fine walking, surfing, snorkelling and, for the whizzier types, flotillas of growling jet-skis on sea plus platoons of gaudy yellow quad bikes on land.

I’ve enjoyed walks (on one of which I met in succession: Tahitian film star, in vivid red sarong and tatoos, on location, French student pharmacologist from Rennes on holiday, Devon sailing couple from “Serenity” on a Moody. Most walks are less sociable – just me!); and the warm smiling helpful friendliness of Polynesians. An example of the latter: – on reaching a little tourist bar after long mountain walk, it was a shame the fresh fruit juice was finished and there was nothing to eat except ice-cream. I light-heartedly said to the girl Cindy (in my miserable French) that I was half starving and tired. She smiled sweetly and sympathetically….and then gave me her lunch! Although I was embarrassed and urged her to keep it, she was insistent, and refused payment. A perfect French quiche came my way. We’re humbled by such kindness. Such gestures are not part of English culture.

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Cindy who gave me her lunch!

 

After a few different anchorages on Moorea, I sailed back to Tahiti for a couple of days. Ostensibly to collect spare pump parts, it was a waste of time (except collecting letters and shopping, and a warm freshwater shower – first in over three months!) because courier company was wrong; spares are not in Tahiti at all but still sitting in New Zealand. (Give delivery by UPS nil pointes). I can wait no longer to fix the pump; the ‘bucket and chuck-it’ routine must go on. And now I’m back in Moorea, seeing friends and walking the mountains, while waiting for a forecast of less wild winds before moving on.

 

There’s still quite a long way to New Zealand you see…..

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Scale: arrow is about 800 miles long

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Tahiti

Tahiti

16th to 31st July

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Approach to Tahiti Iti

“….just a short trip to any French territory in the Pacific is enough to convince even the most casual observer that the French are among the most self-serving, manipulative, trivial-minded, obnoxious, cynical and corrupting nations on the face of the earth.” This is Paul Theroux writing of his trip through “The Happy Isles of Oceania” a few years ago, and though I think he’s one of the best living travel-writers, I disagree with his views of the French. I’m not sure what prompted such venom; though Theroux does sometimes get a bit carried away with the momentum of his passions. It seems to me more likely that nowadays, the French remain here at least partly by accident rather than self-interest, unable to extricate themselves from their innate national ego and responsibilities derived from years of bomb testing, many generations of international love stories and loads of randy Frenchmen (and others) who have thoroughly mixed their genes with Polynesians’, settled, and no longer see France as their home anyway. The place is a delightful good-natured hotch-potch of blended Polynesian, French, Chinese and more. The French start to feel and behave more Polynesian (warm, friendly, helpful); and perhaps Polynesians more French (confident, businesslike and purposeful). Although there is a French Polynesia independence movement, and I gather the UN gives support to the idea, and there’s a distinctive liberation flag, it is hard to see how French Polynesia’s 280,000 people (75% on Tahiti and Moorea) could maintain their educated tidy healthy orderly lifestyle without the massive financial support of France. But it’s difficult to understand what the concensus is from talking to the people I meet. I haven’t really got a clue and need to read more; better French would help too. Whatever Theroux’s views I generally like the French and don’t think they’re any more arrogant or nationalistic than segments of the British population. Also, one side of me knows it’s not for transient yachties to comment anyway, not my business to probe. So I’ll drop the subject.

It was a 250 mile, straightforward two-day sail from atoll Fakarava in the Tuamotus to Tahiti. I was in no hurry to get to Papeete, Tahiti’s capital. I dreaded the hustle and bustle and crowds and traffic and city anxieties, and the rigger who was to help fix Henrietta’s unhappy rigging was not free for at least a week.

So, as I approached Tahiti I was avidly perusing iPhone chart looking for an alternative place to stop when I spotted an area, “Mouillage de Cook”, about as far from Papeete as possible, on the little bit of Tahiti called Tahiti-Iti (Little Tahiti) in the east. This seemed to have lots of things going for it. First, if it was good enough for Captain Cook to anchor, it might suit me; also, as mentioned, it was nearly 40 miles from the hustle and bustle of Papeete; furthermore it looked to be well sheltered from the forecast strong winds and there might be a sandy beach and walks in the mountains.

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…a peaceful anchorage

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So, Mouillage de Cook, Tautira, is where I went first. And it was everything I hoped for; the irony being that though the island of Tahiti is by far the most popular and populous place in French Polynesia with literally hundreds, if not thousands, of yachts, at least two marinas, and every service under the sun, my little spot some 35 miles away was one of the quietest and emptiest anchorages I’ve been on the entire trip. “Henrietta” was the one and only visitor in the three days we stayed. There were views of spiky green-cloaked mountains in the interior, a beach and play park where children and adults played, and a food shop not far away. A few fishermen in outrigger canoes and little open boats milled about but no speed-hog yachtie tenders or posing powerboat playboys. I walked as far as I could up mountains; but it’s mostly unmarked and a lot is private so, without a guide, mountain rambling alone was hazardous and limited.

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Perhaps Captain Cook collected fresh water here

 From there I sailed along the coastline (and I should say that Tahiti is a very beautiful island with its sharp high verdant mountains frequently capped with dark grey cloud), stopped for a night at Venus Point. (For history buffs, this is where Cook built an observatory for the transit of Venus – important at the time for astronomical measurements needed to assist navigation. Captain Cook would have loved the precision and versatility of GPS and iPhone.) Next day, on to Papeete, on past the airport – where, if you have a high mast, you call on VHF to say when you’re passing the ends of the runway – and a mooring buoy at Taina, surrounded by hundreds of yachts of all conceivable shapes and sizes and degrees of scruffiness.

Since then, there’s been a social life with fellow cruisers, bus trips into city of Papeete, walk trips to the nearby Carrefour Supermarket, (whose stock is almost identical to that of any sizeable French town, prices comparable too, except the wine, beer and alcoholic stuff  and fresh veg which are three or four times the price!

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You could almost be in France….

)…….and the rigger, Mathieu, is to replace some shrouds and check all the rigging next week.

 

 

 

 

 

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Busy anchorage at Taina

 

 

Despite my usual distaste for tropical cities, I enjoy and take delight in the unforced friendliness and casual good-natured hospitality of Papeete, Tahiti and its people. It has traffic and fumes and overpriced tourist tat, but it’s laid-back too, and colouful, and gardens are lush and tidy, and I’ll have mixed feelings when I leave.

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An evening on “Calagorm” with Geert, Cindy, John, David, Julia and Hella

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It still surprises me that there are so many sailing boats around, and I’ve come to realise that for an untarnished Pacific sailing experience where you’d be a novelty rather than commonplace, and where the welcome might be more spontaneous and less tinged with commerce, you and I should have come 40 years ago. This is not to say that the Pacific is spoilt – very far from it – but you have to look and sail and explore outside the main South Pacific yacht conveyor belt to find totally unsullied havens. Heaven forbid that this sailing area should become as crowded, commercial, grubby, insecure and corrupt as much of the Caribbean. And I’m sure that won’t happen for many decades – perhaps never.  

 

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Tuamotus

Tuamotu Islands

24th June to 15th July

Summary: – About 750 miles of light/medium breezes and the odd squall. Quick visit to another Gambier Island, Aukena, before heading west-north-westish to and through the Tuamotu archipelago via stops at atolls of Hao, Tahanea, and now, Fakarava. (And I shan’t expect you to remember these Polynesian names. I can’t.) For the long version, read on………

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Aukena – anchored off a little pristine beach

Before leaving the Gambier Islands I wanted to visit the little island gem called Aukena that my pilot book says has  “…pretty anchorages beside shelving coral sand beaches etc etc….” (We harbour dreams of seclusion and beauty in the South Seas)., ”uninhabited now and overgrown with trees …cocks, now wild, still crow…remnants  of villages….” – real Boys’ Own South Seas dreaming stuff!

 Well, Henrietta and I pottered over to said island Aukena, dodging a profusion of pearl farm buoys, dropped anchor (it’s a bit rolly) and rowed ashore on hot, blue-skied sunny day to deserted sandy beach, lay down on pristine coral sand in pristine solitude amidst tropical beachside beauty and read a book. The dream fizzles out quite fast when sweat starts to trickle and you’re bitten by a bug. And anyway I was never one to pickle for long in idleness in tropical sunshine, so one bug bite and reading for an hour or two was ample. I explored as far as I could without a machete, and without Rambo biceps, scratched limbs a lot, before rowing back to Henrietta (well aware, if I wasn’t already, that I’m not cut out for deserted island life). In any case, it’s not a deserted island nowadays; a pearl farm has a few workers’ huts a mile or so from my anchorage, but I was soothed with a couple of days in the total tranquility of such a remote and beautiful spot.

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Leaving Gambier Isles astern

A few days later weather looked ok for the sail north-westwards 470 miles to Hau in the Tuamotus. As you may not have heard of the Tuamotu Islands, I’ll quickly tell you that they comprise dozens of widely scattered coral atolls, about 1,000 miles SE to NW. I think I read somewhere that it’s the largest atoll archipelago in the world.

Book says about 40 atolls are permanently inhabited (but I’m sure it’s more); others are visited sometimes for people to collect coconuts (the copra is important for export); many are inaccessible to yachts, because there’s no navigable pass through the surrounding coral to the inner lagoon and nowhere to anchor outide (or, in the case of Mururoa and Fangataufa, because the French messed them up with nuclear bombs). Before accurate position-fixing with GPS, ships and yachts often came to grief crossing the area as the atolls are low-lying and often not seen till very close (too close I suppose, if you hit one). Raft Kon-Tiki was perhaps the best known casualty. Even with GPS you can’t afford to sleep for too long.

First stop for Henrietta and me was the island of Hao, and after a frustrating sail of four days from Gambiers (fickle winds, squalls etc), we just crept in before dark. My calculations suggested there’d be a gentle inflowing current into Hao’s huge lagoon, so it was a surprise and still something of a mystery why there was a brisk outflowing current. Water was gushing out at around seven knots. But with genoa pulling hard and engine near full blast – standing waves breaking hither and thither, sometimes going backwards….phew….just made it before dark! (The thing is with Hao’s lagoon: it’s big – about 25 miles by 6 miles, in area much like the Solent, and there’s only one narrow opening. If the ocean outside is rough, waves break over the coral reef into the lagoon and the water can only go out via the one opening. Chart says exit speeds up to 12 knots and pilot book says up to 20 knots, but I think they exaggerate.)

I’m very uneasy entering unknown territory in the dark. I don’t like the dark at the best of times, and especially so with coral heads lurking, and this huge empty unlit space ahead, and pulse still over-revving after the kerfuffle of getting in, so after entering Hao lagoon, I dropped anchor as soon as I could. Then, spent the night in range of some of the yappiest dogs you’ve ever heard. Apparently some local folk eat dog….’woof woof and frites’, but I think these were just guard dog pets unused to yachts anchoring off their homestead.

Next morning, I find there’s a little harbour a mile away – not mentioned in my book – and tie up with French, Dutch and German boats. It’s calm, secure, friendly and convenient; and in the evenings local people come and practice their dancing and music alongside. (There’s lots of dancing and music in the month before 14th July.)

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Panorama – Quiet harbour in Hao

That paragraph does not begin to convey the delightfulness of such places. It’s indescribably joyful to have a calm convenient place to tie up, plus young French family astern, where the young girls sing and chatter incessantly, and the elder one, about five, is happy to swing in the bosun’s chair for hours; and young German family at my bow (I’d met them earlier in the Gambier Islands) who seem to think nothing of having sailed here via Patagonia and the Chilean Canals. The boy Leonard, 12, did say he doesn’t like it when it’s very rough and “everyone gets stressy”; and the girl, Zoe, and her mother, Birgit, sometimes feel seasick and school work has to be suspended. And at dusk, on the harbour quay, the rhythm and energy and emotions of Polynesian dance are memories that’ll be with me a long time.

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Ipu is the local medical officer and very friendly – posing in front of harbour

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I liked this tree with its unorthodox posture

Anyway, the French military used Hao as the main support base for their nuclear test programme. The atoll was home for hundreds of Frenchmen until about 2000, and though the French left, there are now the remnants of their presence: houses (useful), jetties and harbour (useful), rusty junk (useless), crumbling rusty sheds (useless), suspicious debris (useless and maybe worse). Plus, I’m told they dumped loads of asbestos stuff and low grade nuclear stuff in the lagoon. The inhabitants of Hao are typically warm and friendly with visitors but they seem keen to be independent of France. Small wonder!

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Necklace of shells in graveyard

 

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Tidy main street on Hao

Bluewater sailing boats move a bit like Pooh sticks drifting down a gentle meandering stream: we meet and separate, meet again, move on…and finally go our separate ways. When I left Hao there were two boats I’d first met three weeks earlier in the Gambiers, the German family on “Kalibu” and Dutch couple, Herman and Rian, on “Lyra”. (Incidentally one of the most beautiful yachts I’ve ever seen, a fine Van de Stadt design somewhere near 50 foot, with an 80 foot mast.) I feel a complete novice in their presence. They’ve sailed here via Antarctica and they’re on their way to Alaska, after a lifetime running charter boats in Baltic and Mediterannean. Herman, a colourful Dutchman of 68 with round thick-lens glasses and general appearance of spritely benevolent maths professor, doesn’t like hot weather! I had both families for meal on “Henrietta” and know I have a lot to learn.

From Hao, it was a two day sail on to Tahanea, another big atoll, though this one doesn’t have any permanent residents, just occasional visitors to collect copra. I came because my book talks of “the multitude of coloured fish and the beauty of the coral”, and I later learn it’s a nature reserve because there’s a rare bird, a Tuamotu Sandpiper (but I’m not a proper ‘birdie’ so I wouldn’t know it even if it pecked my big toe). There were five yachts here when I arrived. It’s not busy like the Caribbean but I’m still mildly surprised to see others who sail to these out-of-the way places.

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Rough beaches but beautiful when very close up

Oh goodness, this post is going on too long. I’ll quickly say that Tahanea did have lovely fishes, though on my own I don’t snorkle in the lagoon passes where they proliferate. The beaches I explored are a jumble of exquisite and varied coral. And here’s a pretty disgusting photo of hermit crabs munching on a dead fish…..P1050646And from Tahanea, I’ve sailed north to Fakarava, where I sense I’m getting near the main sailing thoroughfare through the Pacific. Sailing boats are all over the place and anchorages are busy with visiting boats – about a dozen boats where I’m anchored now. (I know emptier places in the Solent!). I’m told there are tourist resorts (little ones), dive shops, food shops and a bakery and places to eat, and I read there’s an ATM on the island – my first since Panama (no-one told me it would be so hard to get local money).

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Granny, baby daughter Hanihia and mother Agnes (the baby has Tahiti, Scots and French grandparents – gorgeous!) at Matthieu’s place, Fakarava

Finally, it’s worth saying that nothing I had read or heard prepared me for the scale and nature of these Pacific atolls. The three I’ve visited are among the larger ones and each feel almost like enclosed seas of their own, sheltered lagoons as much as 30 miles long and 15 miles wide; and yet, because the surrounding coral reef is so low, you cannot see from one side to the other. Within the lagoon there have been few hydrographic surveys, charts lack detail, and, outside marked channels, you proceed carefully with sun high behind you, watching for coral heads that can reach from the bed of the lagoon, 25 metres deep to nought metres – just like that!

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