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!

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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

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…

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

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

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.

New Zealand 3

New Zealand, Work and Play

6th February to 12th March

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Delicate surgery below the waterline

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

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

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

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

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Before…and …

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

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

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

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

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Heading downriver after leaving Whangarei

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

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

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Approaching Cape Brett and Bay of Islands

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

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Janet at the helm

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

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

Sailing with Jane and MartinP1060776

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

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

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….