2011


Tonga to New Zealand

Posted by on 1:35 pm in 2011, December 2011 | 0 comments

December 17, 2011

 

We set sail with much anticipation on the 25th of October 2011 for our 1050 mile passage to New Zealand with Tim Spencer from Indiana, Chris Lambertsen from North Carolina and myself aboard Downtime. We had a weather window that looked promising for the 6 days we were to be at sea. This passage is feared by many sailors due to the frequency of low pressure systems that move through this part of the world. We had heard many stories and talked with a few boats that had been damaged by big waves and storm force winds while making this crossing. Daria was the smart one she jumped on a plane and flew back to Russia to spend a month with family and friends while my friends and I sailed Downtime to New Zealand.
We spent the morning clearing out and provisioning and by early afternoon we cleared the pass and had a single reefed mainsail and a full jib pulling us south at over 9 knots on a beam reach which is the fastest point of sail on Downtime. The waters to the lee of the island were nice and smooth as we sailed just beyond the reef on our way south to New Zealand. We had the lines out trolling and it did not take long to catch the attention of a nice Mahi Mahi. Chris gave it his best shot but towards the end of the fight the Mahi shook the bait and we lost the fish. As soon as we cleared the island the conditions changed quickly with the winds increasing along with the size of the waves. We had experienced 3 days of southerly winds and this was the first day of NE winds so the seas were still coming out of the south and made the ride bouncy to say the least. The winds were over 25 knots and we put in another reef and put up the poles since we were going way too fast to fish with the boat routinely going over 10 knotts!
We settled in to the routine of the watch schedule each taking a 3 hour watch at night and 2 hour during the day. I usually like the 3 to 6 am watch since this is the best time to download weather and send e-mail over the SSB radio.
Downtime was in her element gobbling up 200 miles the first day and close to that the next 5 days and only on the last day did we have to start the motors when the winds died down. The weather forecasts were spot on and we had perfect winds the entire passage.
We contacted New Zealand radio when we were 25 miles out and gained clearance to enter their waters along with the 48 hour notice that we had emailed them two days prior. We motor sailed up the Bay of Islands and tied to the quarantine dock in Opua and were met by customs and immigration and were cleared by the most efficient team of officers I had met to date. I can not say enough about the professionalism and efficiency of these officers. Thanks for doing a great job!!
Opua is where most cruisers clear into and they were expecting some 600 boats this season alone! If this was Ecuador there would be 50 boats tied to the quarantine dock waiting days for clearance. The little town is a boaters paradise with several chandleries and boat repair facilities right on the waterfront. It was the beginning of the season here and I had a few things to fix on Downtime and I was able to get transmission work done with just one days notice and repair the cockpit enclosure that was blown out on our way to Fiji.
With the boat all fixed up we found a place to anchor and went to talk to Phil at Car For Cruisers. I wound up buying a 92 Toyota mini van to drive while we spent the summer in NZ. Phil at CFC has a plan where he sells you a car and 6 months later buys it back for a reasonable fee. It is a simple process buying a car here sign one paper and then go to you local post office and pay $135 NZ for 6 month license fee. No long lines at the DMV or registration hassles just give them your license tag number and pay . We should look at this in the states…it might save the postal system? As for the DMV well know body would miss that much at least we would get our mail….
Chris hopped off the boat in Opua to go meet his wife in Auckland and tour the south island for a month. This is the second voyage Chris has made on Downtime along with the maiden voyage 3 years ago from Panama City FL. to Ft Lauderdale. It is always nice to have someone aboard with years of sailing experience behind them and it always a pleasure sailing with Chris. Thanks for all the help Chris!
The Bay of Islands is just like it sounds a huge bay full of islands. The scenery here is almost breathtaking with green rolling hills and beautiful shorelines. It is no wonder so many people fall in love with this country. You can buy a house with an ocean view for about 1/3 of what it would cost in California and the people here are so nice. Everyone I ran into had great attitudes and were most helpful when we asked for anything a refreshing change from the islanders up north.
Tim and I spent a few days in Opua and then sailed south along the coast exploring other anchorages. We had a dock reserved for the first of December in Gulf Harbor Marina and we had a few weeks to make our way down to Auckland.
We anchored where ever we could pick up a internet signal and could get in touch with friends and family back home. One day we took SD up the harbor to Whangarei to find some gasoline. We could not get gas on the water but the nice guys at the yacht repair place gave us a 5 gallon can and directions to the nearest gas station. The gas station was right next to a fish and chips shack and a fishing supply store, like the two most favorite place in the world for me!! We headed back to Downtime with full bellies a tank of gas and some new fishing goodies. Our next stop we anchored next to our friends on Cosulo that we first met up in Tonga for the night.
The next day we headed east out to the Barrier Islands 35 miles offshore. We tried fishing but the water is still too cold this time of the year for tuna and we had no luck. The Barrier Islands are what NZ must have looked like 200 years ago, undeveloped and with very few people living on them. The hills are covered in trees and the views are breathtaking. This is such a nice change from the pacific islands, they all started to look the same to us…We just spent a day out there looking around and then headed back to the mainland with stormy weather on its way.
I wanted to take a look at the marina we were gong to stay at and we sailed to Gulf Harbor the next day with hopes of finding a anchorage close by. Well, no luck on an protected anchorage there. .we spent the night rolling in choppy seas and set off to find a calmer place the next day. We went back north to Hawai Bay and spent a few days there. One day we took SD 8 miles up the bay to Warkworth a cool little town along the river and bought some fresh provisions.
While anchored one morning I was waken by the sound of birds dive bombing bait fish! I got up and saw schools of Kawai (sea trout) chasing bait along with the birds. I rigged a few top water baits and within an hour we landed 5 nice size trout. We followed the school up the bay but they soon the vanished as unexpected as the had appeared.
Next stop was Kawau Island 8 miles to the north where we anchored in Bon Accord Harbor. This is a summer get away island and most the homes along the shore looked empty. That afternoon took SD to the only restaurant on the island and ate some fish and chips and hung out with the locals. There were 20 guys on a weekend fishing tournament and it looked like a rugby reunion from the size of these Kiwi’s. I got the scoop on how to catch Red Snapper and we wished them luck in the tournament.
The last island we visited was Waiheke Island which is 14 miles east of Auckland. Waiheke has some 24 vineyards and is another vacation destination.
By now I had a good sense of which islands were accessible around the marina and was ready to put the boat on the dock for a while. Daria was flying in on the 24th and Tim had a flight out on the 22nd so we headed to the marina and secured Downtime to a dock for only the second time in a over year.
What a year it has been, looking back at all the places we had been. It felt strange to tie up to a dock and know that this is where we would be for the next few months. Some how the thought of seeing New Zealand from a mini van just seems less exciting than discovering new islands by sea…

 
In our next adventure we will be discovering New Zealand

Until then, Live your dreams!! Pete and Daria

Tongatapu Island, Tonga.

Posted by on 1:48 pm in 2011, November 2011 | 0 comments

November 21, 2011

 

Kingdom of Tonga has been an amazing mix of danger and beauty for Daria and I during the last month but our adventure through these beautiful islands was sadly drawing to an end. Out last stop in the island chain was the capital city of Nukalofa on Tongatapu Island.. We had just spent two of the most relaxing weeks we have had in a while enjoying quiet deserted anchorages all to ourselves in this island paradise.

We had weather building out of the south so we set sail on the 18th with the wind still blowing out of the NE pushing us nicely 45 miles south to our destination. As always we were trolling lines and this trip we caught a nice Wahoo that Daria reeled in. We anchored away from the pack the first night for our last night to ourselves aboard Downtime for the next few months. We would be picking up Tim and Chris on the 20th and Daria would fly back home on the 23rd, well to Russia anyways since she now feels Downtime is her REAL home, she would be in Russia for the next month to visit family and friends and to renew her passport which was quickly running out of unstamped pages.
The next morning we jumped in SD and explored some of the outer uninhabited islands. There was one 7 miles to the north that had some of the softest white sand beaches I had seen since Barbuda. We put two sets of footprints for a mile around the island and had a relaxing morning. Later we moved Downtime to the anchorage with the other cruisers and gave away some Wahoo and went to find Tim and Chris, friends of mine that would help sail Downtime to NZ.

Nukalofa is the biggest city in Tonga and Tongatapu has about 1/3 of the total land mass of the Kingdom. There are roughly 200,000 Tongans and 2/3 live here on the main island. Tonga is the most densely populated islands in the south pacific with 150 people per Sq/kilometer three times that of Fiji and twice that of the Cook Islands. Traditional law was that each male was given the right to rent 8.25 acres of farm land and also 1/3 acre in the village to build a house on for literally nothing. Their increased numbers are already to great to provide the constitutional land for each male adult and now there is a trend to emigrate to other countries. Around 3000 Tongans leave each year and most emigrate to New Zealand 60%, The States 25% and Australia 15%.

One day we hired a car to take us around the island. We started the morning by going to the Saturday market where at least a hundred vendors had their booths set up. This was like one huge garage sale and you could find just about anything. Food vendors were barbecuing chicken, lamb and goat, others were frying meat pies and other good tasting snacks. The fish vendors were selling all kinds of interesting seafood from sacks of clams to gallon size bags full of way too small fish! Others sold just about anything you would see on the reef from moray eel to sea urchins. We bought some chicken and apples for the road and were soon on our way.

 

It was interesting to see the narrow 8.25 acres strips of land being cultivated. Most the work is still done by hand but there are community tractors that pull small two gang discs to break out new ground. Most the tractors I saw were small 50 to 60 hp Massy Ferguson’s. We arrived during watermelon season and there were thousands to choose from for $3 to $8, a great value at those prices!

 

 
Other roadside stands sold taro root in all sixes. Apparently there are three main varieties that are as small as a potato and others that are three feet long and 10 inches around!! Taro is a starch rood similar to potatos and has to be baked whole or ground to a flour and made into a cake like bread. It is the main staple here and goes good with just about anything.

 

Other fields were fenced and had grazing cattle munching grass under the coconut trees. We even saw one coconut tree with three tops on it!! Now that’s one nutty tree!


Then there were always pigs running around.. Our driver was funny, when I asked does any body steal pigs? He said “yes and then they go to jail.” I asked “for how long” and he said “depends on how big the pig is” small pig is a week and big pig is a month. So I guess “No squealing or you go to the poky Literally” The pigs are for parties and special occasions and everyone respects each others pigs and property here.

Continuing around the island we traveled to the south coast that had miles of rugged coastline with hundreds of blow-holes shooting water into the air. We were lucky to have timed this right being there at low tide and having big sea pushing waves into the jagged shore causing them to splash wildly into the air with a loud roar.

 

Continuing around the island we stopped at some caves and took the $10 tour that was worth the money. It was no Carlsbad Caverns but was interesting to see the island geology.

After that we stopped at a nice resort and had a beer looking out one the ocean with the place to ourselves. Tonga only has about 20,000 people visit each year and if you wanted to go somewhere off the beaten path this is definitely it. This is high season and there was just a few people checked into this resort. There are some really nice resorts here and I was amazed to find so few people enjoying them?

To sum it all up, I was impressed with the amount of farming here. There is a big export demand from countries like Japan to grow pumpkins and other root crops along with the big seafood demand. About 50% of the countries income is from farming exports and 25% from seafood, mostly tuna contracts and 25% tourism. The people are friendly and helpful. The country has a 99% literacy rate and most everyone speaks English which is nice for us travelers.

 

After a day of sightseeing we headed back to Downtime for a good nights rest. The next day looked promising for kite surfing and I was able to spend a few hours on the board. Then the wind slowed a bit and I gave Tim and Chris a lesson! Well Kite surfing looks easy to some anyways.. Chris did a great job flying the kite and done some body dragging and was soon worn out swallowing his fill of salt water. Tim on the other hand was not quite as good with the kite and did some wicked launches out of the water with a nice face plant finish swallowing gallons of ocean each time!! It did not take him long to put up the white flag!! Lessons over we headed to the boat. I had one more brief run that afternoon launching of the back of Downtime but soon ran out of wind.
 

We took SD for one more adventure the next day to Atata Island where there is a small resort and a village of 200 people just 7 miles to the west. We hoped to see a few whales on our way out bu just were not so lucky this day. The resort was currently being renovated and has some 40 bungalows available for rent. Again there were just a couple rented out and we had the place to ourselves.

 

 
Sunday was the big Rugby tournament but we could not find one place open to watch the game. Tonga and many of the other islands we have been to closes everything on Sunday. The Methodists did a pretty good job converting everyone here in the 1800 and now about 35% of the islanders attend church on Sunday. Tonga has the highest percentage of Mormons in the worlds up to 15% and the Mormon church owns the biggest building on the island. They send tons of money over here and provide more support to the people than the government does. We drove by the Mormon High School and the property was something to see! I understand if you are Mormon you get to go to school for free and also to college in Hawaii for little or no cost to the Tongans. Needless to say lot of families become Mormon when their kids get to high school age.

All in all we enjoyed Tonga, it is not to be missed if you are cruising though the pacific. Tonga like any country has its pluses and minuses but for the most part it is a great place to explore, just enough off the beaten path to still be an adventure!!

 
In our next adventure we will be sailing south to New Zealand!

Until then, Live Your Dream!

Peace!! Capt. Pedro and Daria

Ha’apai group

Posted by on 11:33 pm in 2011, November 2011 | 0 comments

November 6, 2011

 
After 2 beautiful weeks in the Vava’u Group we made our way south to the Haapai Group.  The Kingdom of Tonga is a series of islands that lies north to south  over a distance of 350 miles with many different island groups with almost too many places to see.


Our first stop on tour way south was Ofolanga, one of the small islands in the NW part of the Ha’apai Group.  We found ourselves motor sailing most of the way and of course I had to get the lines in the water since it had not fished in weeks.  Well you know that bait I caught the big marlin in Fiji had to be in the water along with my other favorites and for a while I thought I would actually get skunked.  We were 7 miles from our destination motoring at just 5 knots in bumpy seas with overcast weather, not the best fishing conditions to say the least.  And then, Bang the pole with the marlin bait came alive with what looked to be a monster fish!  Well 20 minutes later we had a 40 pound Sierra Mackerel  on the deck!!  This is only the second of these I have caught and this one was by far the biggest.  These fish look like a big fat Wahoo and seem to taste even better if that’s possible?  So much for getting skunked….An hour later we rounded the island and anchored nest to Braveheart and another boat Dana with a couple from Austria aboard and one other catamaran.  We got on the radio and announced we had fish to give away and Dana replied so we invited them over for a drink and gave them a nice piece of Mackerel.   They told us their story over a beer and to sum it up, they left for a sail 9 years ago and are just fell in love with the pacific and have been all over from way down south to  Easter Island  and all the way up to Kodiak Island in Alaska!  Now that is doing some sailing!!

 

The next morning Daria, Bob, Veronica and I all went for a dive off the reef and after the dive we had a nice lunch which Bob from Braveheart fried up some fresh Mahi that he caught on his way down, what a meal!!

After lunch we pulled the hook and motored over to Luahoka which is a postcard perfect little island just 5 miles away and went for a walk around it and then went for a swim.  The coral around the island was spectacular with corral canyons and lots of fish swimming in the clear blue water.

Back aboard Downtime we were relaxing when we heard whales blowing just 200 yards in front of the boat.  We hopped in SD (Supper Dink for the new readers)  and went to see if we could get closer and swim with them.  Well, this was our lucky day!!  We followed a few whales and were lucky enough to stop where we though they would come up next and Daria slid into the water just as one whale swam by.  She was only 10 yards away from a 40 foot whale!! You should have heard the screams coming out of her snorkel!! Too Funny!

Luahoko was no place to anchor overnight so we moved to Nukunamo Island  and anchored in baby blue water with the anchor stuck in white sand.  Later that evening we had Bob and Veronica over and played Monopoly Deal the short version of monopoly and enjoyed a nice fish dinner that Daria whipped up.  Wow what a busy day!  The anchorage was nice and calm and we tuned in early for some much needed rest.  About 4:30 the next morning I kept hearing  this strange squeaking sound?  I got up to see what was loose on deck and fond nothing out of order and went back to bed.  Then there it was again!  Then it dawned on me… it had to be whales singing!! The sounds gradually got louder and louder and soon seemed to be just outside the boat.  I went back topside and saw a mother and her calf just 50 feet from Downtime and they were singing away.  By now it was very loud in the boat and  the sounds were incredible to hear so close.  One sound was like a giant door hinge slowly creaking and the other sounded almost like a dog with a bone stuck in its throat and very raspy.  They say the volume can get up to 160 DB and travel for miles.  Our beds on Downtime are at water level and we heard them like we were in the water with them.  What a way to start the day!!  Later Daria and Veronica took the kayak to the beach and went searching for shells and returned with a bucket full of treasure.

The next stop was a few miles south at Ha Ano Isalnd and we went ashore to visit the small village there.  The locals had a nice attitude and invited us for a Kava welcoming party.  Well, having had the nasty tasting  kava before I was not to thrilled but we went anyways.  It was nice to be welcomed on the island and by its people.  The island itself appeared to be really poor.  The people seemed to have just given up and it showed. There really was not much else going on.  What they do have is electricity and a love for rugby!!  One house we walked by had 3 foot weeds growing around it with no doors or windows but amazingly had a 42 inch plasma hanging on the wall with the rugby tournament playing.  There were 6 or 7 guys gathered around a kava bowl watching the game but the other men on the island must have been out fishing.   There were not very many kids and we were told that when they get old enough are sent off to boarding school and only return on the holidays and school breaks.

 

Lifuka Island was our  next stop to clear in and as usual finding out where was half the battle.  We asked sever locals and each one gave us a look like we asked them the square root of 46 or something and had no freaking idea?  Heck the island is only 2 miles long and eventually we found the customs office right next to the post office!  Its funny how official an islander can get with a title of “customs officer” It is like giving the road worker a shovel to lean on!  Clearing in was easy just fill out  one page and a show of passports then we were cleared in and were out  in 20 minutes.  I Really see no point of clearing into a country again but it on the “your supposed to do it list” so we did.  The little town had at least 5 or 6 small shops run by the Chinese who practically or most times actually did live their little stores.  There are no prices marked and I think everyone gets charged differently,  for us the ones who looked like they had a few extra dollars we were charged $18  for a dozen eggs and a bag of onions.  Way too much but hey lets hope the next guy gets a break…. It was amazing how much trash was laying around this island.  Pigs ran wild rooting through the rubbish behind the stores and coke cans, chip bags and candy wrappers lined the streets. There was only one central place to put garbage and that was inside a big shed that was stacked to the ceiling with junk.  I guess they haul it when the building is full?  This is definitely a place less traveled and we only saw a few other tourists in town at the only internet café on the island.  Again this café was owned by a European and had a few locals working In the kitchen.  The food was good and internet was so. On the table next to us were some guys from South Africa and they has 20 packs of cigarettes on the table and looked to be recovering from the previous nights rugby game by drinking beer and chain smoking.  I really do not know why one would travel to such a remote place to vacation?

After clearing in we moved the boat to Uiha Island 8 miles down south.  Uiha had a small village that look similar to others we have seen so we just stayed on the boat.  It looks like the villages own a few boats and all the men go out fishing during the day. Just before dark several boats were coming back to the village and must have had 10 to 15 guys on a small 20 foot boat!   We anchored next to Braveheart again and that afternoon Daria and Veronica took the kayak and explored the area and that evening we had dinner together.  In the morning Braveheart was heading south chasing a Nov 1st arrival in NZ and we were heading to the Koto Group.

 

The Koto Group is 35 miles south and just a handful of yachts visit each year.  The islands have a bad reputation for having poor anchorages and bad charts.  We soon found out how bad the charts were and had to keep a sharp eye out for reefs that would pop up out of no where since they definitely were not plotted on the right place on the charts!  You hear stories of boats going aground and this is the type of place it usually happens, remote poorly charted islands.  Thankfully we had clear water and bright skies to be able to see the oncoming dangers.
Ha Afeva was the first island we anchored at.  The pass through the reef was visible but did not line up with our charts on the boat?  We took it slow and safely made it through the reef and anchored on the south side of the island.  From our anchorage I could count 11 other islands and the next day we took SD for a trip to go see some of them.  A few had small villages and others were uninhabited.

Driving around  I wondered what this place must have been like 100 years ago?  I had to be an even more amazing place back then…

 

The next stop was 10 miles away and we anchored in a little bay on “O” Va a beautiful little island just ½ mile across.  We took SD to the shore and spent a few hours walking around the island making the first footprints in the sand in who now’s how long?  All these little islands have beautiful beaches and on most you get the whole island to yourself. The islands are covered in dense vegetation and coconut palms so thick that it is impossible to walk through the heavy growth.  While walking around the islands I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of trees falling into the ocean where the shore is eroding on several of these islands.  The evidence that the oceans are rising is real here and you can see the affects in many of the places I have been.  They say the oceans have risen 10 inches in the last 40 years and will rise another 3 feet by the end of this century.  Three feet of water and most of these islands we have seen will disappear forever.
 

Next stop was the Nomuka Group and our first island was Iki and we tucked inside a mile long reef on the NE side and anchored in 15 feet of water.  The reef gave us good protection during low tide but when the tide was up we were rolling pretty good.  On the trip down we had lines trolling all day without a strike and just when we approached the island, BANG another Mahi hit just a mile from the island we were sailing to. Amazing!.  That afternoon the wind was blowing 15 to 20 so I got out a kite and wouldn’t you know it about the time I launched it dropped down to 12 and I did not have enough wind to pull me up.  It is so frustrating to go through all that work just to have the wind die …again…maybe next time.

After 2 days of stormy weather we set sail for the next island 30 miles south.  On our trip across we first caught a 3 foot white tip shark on a diving lour and just before we came to the island and were skirting a coral head we landed another Sierra Mackerel on the purple marlin bait. Kelefesia Island is surrounded with several other islands and many unmarked reefs.  The entrance to the anchorage has a 70 sailboat laying on the bottom to attest to the fact that this is a dangerous place.  Her mast is still laying on the beach picked clean of any thing of value, the rest of the boat just is laying on the bottom as a reminder to be extra careful in these islands.
 

We slowly motored over the sunken boat to get into the anchorage that was no more that a big open area surrounded by reef 100 yards from the island.  The island was amazing! There were sandstone cliffs that rose up from the beach that had 100’s of layers of different colored tan sand running in horizontal lines on cliffs that are over 100 feet tall.  What a contrast to the palm trees and jungle behind them and the turquoise blue water in front.
We launched the kayak and paddled 2 miles around the island through the shallow lagoon and saw the whole island.  On the NW end we saw a make shift camp area but no one was around and on the far west side was a beautiful beach and a smaller pure sand island that would go under water at high tide.


 

 

Later I was able to kite for a few hours,  luckily this time before the wind died down.  Afterward I left the kite ready on the beach for two days waiting for the wind to return but it never did?  This was the most spectacular island I have ever experiences. We had a calm anchorage, beach and island all to ourselves in clear blue water and perfect weather.
 
The next say we took SD for another adventure to Nuku Island just 3 miles away and found the reef to difficult to pass even in SD.  Next we drove out to Kefikana Rock which would be the smallest island we visited just 40 feet across and 13 feet high, we had time for a few pictures and then headed back to Downtime.  It is a strange feeling being 7 miles out to sea in a 15 foot dingy, I was thinking don’t fail me now SD!!  Well SD was true to form and the 60 Hp Yamaha never missed a beat and soon we were back safe in the anchorage next to Downtime.

 

Later that afternoon our island paradise was interrupted by two boats full of fishermen from a nearby islands.  We went ashore to say hello and brought them hats and tee shirts to open up the trading floor. Also made few pictures from the top of the cliff.

 

 

 

 

 
Fishermen were preparing to spend a night there, so I asked if they were lobster fishermen and yes I was right.  I then asked what they would trade lobster for?  Naturally they replied “KAVA”  well, they were in luck and the next morning they traded 9 lobsters for 2 pounds (1 kg) of kava and everyone was happy.

 
We spent three days in this island paradise and then the weather forecast looked like the winds were about to change and we set sail for Nuku Alofa where we planned to pick up Tim and Chris on the 20th.  The 50 mile sail to Nukua Alofa was interrupted  by a monster Wahoo that Daria did a nice job reeling in all by herself, what a beautiful fish!!  When we arrived it was fresh fish for many of our cruising friends to enjoy…again!
Our next adventure will be discovering Nukualofa.

Until then live your dreams!!

Capt. Pete and Daria

Photos from Ha’apai Group!

Posted by on 1:50 pm in 2011, November 2011 | 0 comments

November 7, 2011

Ha’apai Group, Kingdom of Tonga  is one of my favorite place in all South Pacific, so if you have a chance, don’t miss it!!! It’s definitely worth to see! It looks like a mix of Bahamas and Tuamotu!!!
I wish we spent more time there!

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Fresh news!!!

Posted by on 11:28 pm in 2011, November 2011 | 0 comments

November 4, 2011

 
Our adventure started on 15th of Oct from Myrtle Beach, SC, USA, more than one year ago…
Downtime is in New Zealand already, for hurricane season, until May 2012.

We had a GREAT time and met a lot of nice people, made new friends, explored hundreds tropical islands, did some awesome dives, even swam with sharks, dolphins and WHALES, got some completely new experience and sailed more 14000 miles!…
Now we are ready for land adventure, bought a car and found a space in Gulf Harbor Marina!

I’m in St-Petersburg, Russia, exciting to have opportunity to spend some time with my family and my friends and will fly back to NZ on 23th of November!

I will try to write short story with pictures about St-Petersburg, my city is simply beautiful!
And we will publish 2 story about – Ha’apai Group and Nuku’alofa, Tonga!
Could not wait to start our land adventure! NZ is AMAZING country, I fall in love just spent one day there.
 
Until then live your dreams!!
Peace! Daria and Pete

PS: I did some renovations, so anyone is welcome to write some comments!

Tonga, Vava’u Group

Posted by on 2:18 am in 2011, October 2011 | 0 comments

October 12, 2011

 
Clearing into Tonga was another new adventure that started with tying up to the concrete sea wall in the main port of Neiafu. Next we followed the other cruisers clearing in to the customs and port captains office which was located in a big shed with a few old desks near the front doorway and in the back of the shed was pallets of imported goods waiting to be delivered. I filled out a few forms at each desk and then it was off to town to see immigration just a short walk up the hill to get the second stamp in my new pass port. The agent told me Daria would need a visa and it would cost 69 local dollars which he collected and threw in a briefcase. No paperwork was ever completed for this visa and she received the same stamp as I did and it left me wondering if we really did need a visa? Oh Well…
There were so many boats anchored here that we had met along our way and almost 100 other boats anchored in the bay south of town. After clearing in we left the wharf and dropped our hook next to Bob on Brave Heart who we had last seen in Western Samoa some 6 weeks earlier and did some catching up. In all there were 6 boats here that we had met in Suwarrow Atoll and it was fun to catch up with all of them.
Neiafu is the largest city in the Vava’u Group and has 19 restaurants and several grocery stores. At the main dock there is a open air market that sells local craft works along with fresh produce. The watermelons were a big seller and it was interesting how many people we saw carrying a big ol watermelon under their arm on their way home. It was strange that none of the local businesses were owned by Tongans? In most of the islands we been to, the Asians and Chinese run the grocery stores and the other businesses are owned by people that came here for a vacation and fell in love with the place and wound up staying in paradise. The food at most restaurants was pretty good considering what they had to work with from the markets and prices were reasonable.
The main attraction in Tonga this time of year are the Humpback Whales who come all the way up here from Antarctica to have their calves and to mate. Hmmm? humping humpbacks! We saw a few whales on our way into the bay off in the distance blowing a clouds of mist into the air as they surfaced. The Moorings and Sunsail have bases here to charted boats and looked to be doing a fair amount of business renting boats to Ausies and New Zealanders.
The first few nights we spent going out with our friends and then we loaded up on fresh veggies at the out door market and set off to explore the other islands. Vavau has over 100 islands and the Moorings came up with a great idea for their charter customers and gave the main anchorages numbers to replace the hard to pronounce names. It was fun to hear people say we are heading to 16 after we spend some time at 5 on our way to 30 which actually does make sense to me….
We spent our 2nd night at anchorage 6 with a few other boats That afternoon we took SD for another adventure over to anchorage 11 and met Oceans Dream a boat we first met in the Marquesas with Adrian and Jaki aboard from the UK. This turned into a afternoon of catching up and story telling about where we both had been in the last 1500 miles. Lots of fun! Just before dark we headed back home and had a nice dinner aboard Downtime.
 
Our third night we stopped at anchorage 15 which was close to one of the best snorkel sights in Vavau, The Coral Gardens. We anchored next to Neal, Ruthie and Corry on Rutea which is one of the boats we keep seeing this season. In the morning we drove SD over to the reef for a snorkel at the Gardens. All I can say is WOW!! what a variety of coral. There were countless different colors and varieties growing here and we spent over an hour in the clear 75 degree water enjoying the beauty of it all.
Next we took SD around the island to go looking for whales in the pass between the islands. On our way out I was thinking…were going out to look for 45 foot whales in a 15 foot boat? Is this a good idea? We were not so lucky this day and could not find any whales so we headed back to Downtime for some lunch. On our way back I noticed lots of what looked like birds flying around the point of the island so I turned that way to go see. As we got closer and could see better I realized they were not bird at all but giant flying foxes!! We had never seen so many bats, giant bats with a 3 foot wingspan!! I got flashbacks from the horror movies where they swooped down and bit your neck but nothing like that happened. These are fruit eating bats and this must be where they roost during the day. We stopped under one of the trees right where they roosted and it was fun to watch them land. They would fly strait for a branch and grab it with their feet and fall strait forward and hang upside down like all bats do. There had to be hundreds of them hanging in the trees with their wings wrapped around themselves napping.
When we arrived back at the anchorage there was another boat, Merkava that we also first met in the Tuamutos with Mark and Uka aboard from Canada and Japan. Mark is a retired stuntman and he and his wife had just been dive certified and have made over 30 dives in Vavau! They invited Rutea us over for sushi that night and the next few days we all dove together. It was all SD could do to haul five sets of dive gear and our first dive was a cave dive on another island. Mariners cave is a 50 foot deep dive in which you swim into the side of the mountain and into the cave. After this cave we swam a 100 feet or so to another cave which was just a little smaller. The first cave was just so so but the second had a ball of 6 inch silver bait fish that had to number in the thousands! I had seen this on TV but never this many fish in one place in my life! I swam right into the middle of them and was suddenly surrounded by shimmering silver fish so thick I could not see out. A totally amazing experience. The next morning we went to a coral mound in the pass between the islands for another dive. Again we saw lots of interesting corals but the highlight was a 8 foot Leopard Shark that I spotted just lying in the sand. This was the first Leopard shark we had ever seen and he just laid there letting us watch him rest. Theses sharks are half tail and are not dangerous bottom feeders unless provoked. They are tan and brown with spots patterned like a leopard. Finally he had enough and swam slowly away leaving us all amazed.
 
The next day we drove SD out to The Blue Lagoon which really was very blue indeed! As Daria would say. The water inside the lagoon is very shallow with white sand on the bottom, the sand gives the water a turquoise color that turns to royal blue as it gets deeper. We did a photo shoot on one of the islands and then went out looking for whales. The whales tend to be in 1 to 2 hundred feet of water during the day and come in closer at night. We were two miles out on a perfect day and within an hour had spotted our first whales. You first hear them come up for air when they blow a big breath out spewing water into the air. Then you watch what direction they are going and try to get in front of them guessing where they will come up for air next. They usually take two breaths and then go down for another 6 to 7 minutes before resurfacing. It took us a while to get the hang of it but finally two of them came up just 100 feet away, a big mother and her calf. We shut of the motor on SD and just waited and within a few minutes the calf curiously came over to us just for a minute and then swam back to his mother. Even the calf was much bigger than SD and we felt lucky to have been so close to this magnificent creature. Another great adventure in SD!!! I wish after this whole trip is over I could get SD’s viewpoint of this all…..It would be a heck of a story!
Later that afternoon Daria, Mark and I took SD to town to watch a movie one of the cruisers had made for the BBC. We took our portable GPS to get us home in the dark and made the 7 mile trip back from town in total darkness with just a small sliver of the moon in the sky. Very cool!
The movie turned out to be 20 years old and the sound went out during the last 5 minutes of it so I have no idea what it was even about? It was a social event though and at least 60 cruisers showed up and we all had a nice dinner afterwards at the Balcony Restaurant.
On Saturday we drove Downtime back to Neiafu to clear out and to top off the veggie refrigerator. We anchored at anchorage 6 again on out way south next to Larry and Kim on Magenta. That night we All hopped in SD and had dinner at the Spanish restaurant at anchorage 11. This little place put on quite a show. First you are met by the local talent, a Billy Goat who wonders around the place the whole time you are eating along with two year old puppies that were very playful. After dinner the curtain draws and the owners breaks out the guitars, drums and maraca’s and sings a few songs. The meal was tapas (several appetizers), gazpacho, and paellia for $50 local, not bad.
 
The next day we headed farther down south and took one last adventure with SD to see the islands we missed. Driving around this paradise it is not had to understand how people can fall in love with this place, it is simply beautiful! We stopped and snorkeled at a few reefs and after one of these Daria asked if she could drive. We switched places and within 5 minutes of her behind the wheel I felt a big SLAP On my chest! What the heck was that!! It really stung! I looked around and saw a 8 inch squid laying in the back of SD squirting ink all over the place! If Daria had been sitting there it would have hit her right in the face!! Lucky for her she was driving! We invited the squid over for a calamari lunch, mmmm!
 
Our next adventure will take us to the Ha’apai Group
Until then Live your dreams!
Peace! Capt. Pedro and Daria
 

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Savusavu and our passage from Fiji to Tonga

Posted by on 2:19 am in 2011, October 2011 | 0 comments

October 3, 2011

The waters surrounding Fiji have many scattered dangers and if you are not careful you will find yourself on one of the many reefs that surround the some 300 islands here. During our short three week stay in Fiji we heard of 5 boats that had gone aground in the last few months alone. One was a 38 foot catamaran that had lost all her gps navigation systems and had attempted making the Suva pass at night with only paper charts and a compass to navigate by. Well you heard the phrase, “I missed it by that much”? well this guy thought he was still 15 miles out and had time for a quick nap, his alarm clock was the reef pounding on the bottom of his boat!! He woke up with his boat firmly on the reef with both her rudders bent sideways and had torn out both the drive shafts! Water was pouring into the boat and he was sinking fast with no way to save her. By morning there was more damage to the boat as it pounded into the reef half full of water. He radioed for help but had to wait three days before a tug was available to assist him off the reef and tow him to the marina. During this time on the reef he stayed with the soggy boat to prevent looting of his equipment and other gear. To top it all off this was a year he thought he really did not need to buy insurance!! Talk about a bad day!

We spent three days in Savusavu and on the first day met Sam who was looking for work polishing boats. Well, Sam met the right guy and soon he was aboard Downtime making her shine!! Sam is a really nice guy and he like many others here was having a hard time finding work. He did a great job polishing Downtime and we enjoyed getting to know him while he spent two days aboard working. He finished up polishing and we gave him a set of snorkel gear, rain jacket, toys for his kids, hats, tee shirts, and sack full of food along with a fare wage just $8 per hr. (local money) for his time. Thanks for doing a great job Sam!!



While Sam was waxing the boat I was doing a few repairs, one was to fix the wind meter on top of the mast that came loose after 12000 miles. To do this I first put on a harness and clip onto one of the halyards and then Daria uses one of the electric wenches to lift me to the top some 85 feet in the air. No mater how hard I try to prepare I can never seem to have the right tool on the first try and usually make at least two trips to get any job done up there. The first few times up that high were really scary but now it is not so bad but looking down still freaks me out a little. It is amazing how small things look on deck from that height and how quickly you get tired after you use all your adrenaline holding on.


Our main goal here in northern Fiji was to go see the Lau Group only 90 miles to the NW. These islands are said to have some of the most beautiful anchorages in the south pacific and have just been opened to cruisers . But sadly we found out that if we wanted to see the islands we would have to sail all the way back to Suvasuva to clear out for Tonga making the trip almost 300 miles, 200 of which would be into the wind. We thought we might just stop in anyways after clearing out but then heard stories of stiff fines if you were caught so that idea was out.
We left Fiji with a bunch of extra Kava that we thought we would be giving away so if anyone wants a Kava party let us know!
Our weather window for this trip had to be timed just right to be able to make Tonga without motoring the whole way. The trade winds in this area are predominately SE and where do you think Tonga is from Fiji? Ya you guessed it 400 miles to the SE!! On our third day we received a hopeful weather forecast so we cleared out and made our way east. Being a little early we experiences the end of the 25 knot SE winds and big seas as we beat our way up the pass. The first 50 miles were brutal and Downtime was taking a beating and getting drenched in saltwater with every wave she crashed through but they water did bead up nicely after a wax job thanks to Sam. One hatch over the galley was open a crack and saltwater sprayed all over the kitchen, but nothing else went wrong on the trip. We made it to Viani Pass just as the sun went down as the seas calmed as we approached the island and found a place to anchor next to the little town of Somosomo on the island of Taveuni for the night.
We were up with the sun and under way by 6:00 am motor sailing our way NW to the Tasman Strait but we still had SE winds blowing 25 knots for some reason? The best course we could make was 60’ E NE while doing 7 knots. Tonga lay 110’ E SE and it looked like it was going to be a long trip so I decided to throw a few lines out. I rigged a purple cedar plug on one pole and a new bait that I just put together on the other with a 9 inch pink/purple and blue squid skirt with a 4 oz. sinker a #10 double hook and stainless steel leader on thinking I might catch a big Wahoo since a similar one I gave to Don on Katipo a few weeks earlier caught him a 70 pounds!!


We had just finished lunch and were talking about what the weather was “not” doing for us when the pole with the new bait came alive screaming as line tore off the reel!! The fish was huge and we saw him leaping out of the water and tearing across behind the boat at a alarming speed while fighting the line!! We had to slow the boat down fast or we would run out of line!! I had the fishing pole in one hand and the jib furler button pressed down with the other while Daria eased the jib sheet. Next she turned the boat upwind and started the engines but the fish was still taking line so I started putting the hurt on him by tightening the drag on my Shimano TLD 50 reel with 3000 feet of 100# spider wire on it. I knew everything would have to go just right if we were to land a fish this big with this line this light. The pole bent in half as the drag increased and the fish finally slowed down and started taking less and less line. I would slowly make some progress reeling in a few yards and then he would come back fighting and take out another 50 yards in return. I knew this game all to well from the last few big fish we caught and knew it would be at least an hour before a fish this size would tire enough to let me get him to the boat so we just played tug of war for the next hour never really making any progress getting him any closer to the boat. Daria’s job driving was to keep the boat in front of the fish and line from going under the boat while I worked him in slowly. We were making steady progress but a few times the fish would take back all my hard work and I found myself starting all over as the line peeled back off the reel. While fighting him I did not want to set the drag to tight in fear that if he jerked really hard he would snap the line. When you are fishing with spider wire it is a good idea to use a “shock Leader” which stretches 30% to absorb these jerks in the line since spider wire has zero stretch so I use 50 feet of 200 Lb. leader that works great for this problem and we seem to land more fish.

On sports fishing boats you can back down and chase these monsters but on Downtime we can only back down a few knots and have far less maneuverability so it usually it takes much longer to land a big fish. While reeling him in I was wondering what we were gong to do with all that meat if we had to kill him? I also wondered if I could get the hook out how that was all going to happen? These fish are dangerous, powerful and quite angry by the time you get them to the boat so I was just a little worried how to deal with him when he finally did get close. 


After over an hour he finally tired but the fish felt like a 100 pound sack of cement on the end of the pole as I finally got him next to the boat with aching arms and back. I sadly saw that he had swallowed the hook and did to much damage to himself to be release with any chance of surviving. I managed to get a gaff into him which did not make him any happier and tied it to the boat. Then we were able to get a line around his tail and lifted him out of the water with the winch we use to launch SD.
He looked much bigger out of the water and measured over 8 feet and I would guess he weighed over 250 lbs! To bad we had to put him down but the up side is that we would have lots of fresh fish to give away in Tonga! So it was out with the knives and all the work of packaging him into the freezer… will he even fit in there?

We turned the boat around just as the winds shifted 40 degrees and the best course we could make was right to where we started from earlier that morning. I guess “It Is What It Is” again….So we set our course for Lauthala Island to find a place to anchor for the night. On the way in the work began processing the fish which took some time, I guess my grandfather being a fisherman and a butcher is in my blood and I had the fish cut up nicely in a little over an hour. Daria put it on ice and vacuum sealed over 20 bags full and after a few hours of hard work had it all cooling in the freezer.. We found our icemaker turns into a flash freezer when we have to cool this much fish on board and is a good place to store it until we get to shore and can give it away.
We made it through the reef jus before dark and headed to the closest beach in front of a resort, but were met by security and told Laucala was a private island and then they offered to show us to an anchorage close by and for this we gave them a pack of fish and a few cold beers for their help. We dropped the hook in 80 feet of water and were able to get some much needed rest for the night. By the way if I went back to Fiji without a boat this island is where I would want to stay, what a beautiful island and resort!
We set off early again the next morning to try making it to Tonga, thankfully this time we were having much better luck with the wind and were able to make 90’ course which was much better than the 60’ day before. If we made progress like the previous day it would take us weeks to do the 300 miles at just 12 miles per day and who knows what would we do with all that fish?



 
We cleared the Tasman Strait with “Explores Island” the island we wanted to visit teasing us just 30 miles upwind to our starboard. But if we stopped there we would loose two days and possibly our weather window and might be stuck in Fiji until the next weather system passed by, so reluctantly we sailed passed with hopes we could return next season. We were slowly making progress but the crazy winds were always changing direction and the sails were raised and stowed several times and the motor on and off for most the day just to maintain 5 knots. This was going to be one long trip…to top it all off the fishing conditions were perfect with the birds working all around us feasting on the baitfish the schools of tuna below were driving to the surface. We “REALLY” did not need any more fish aboard Downtime and I held out for about three hours before I had enough of these tuna teasing me! They seemed to be just in front of the boat under the flock of birds all afternoon, the longest I ever have seen a school working bait and finally I could not stand it any longer and rigged two poles with cedar plugs. Cedar plugs are 6 inch long wood cylinders with a lead head on them that tuna find simply irresistible. The baits swim with a erratic motion and the tuna just can not swim past one without taking a bite and all colors seem to work but white with a red head or a plain wood colored one seem to be tuna favorites. The poles were out less than an hour and “BANG” they both got hit at the same time just off of Jeffery’s bank! I was able to land one nice 50lb yellow fin and thankfully the other one shook loose and I only had to clean one fish. OK now I am DONE fishing for a while I promise!
The winds continued to be just out of reach of sailing our course for most of the trip. Our bearing to Tonga was 110’ but the best we could sail was 80’ but 30’ off course, a course that would take us back to Western Samoa not Tonga if we sailed it. If we did not have engines running and were real sailors we would have to tack back and forth and make a 600 mile trip out of a 300 mile one but hey this is Downtime so time to burn some diesel. The motors were on for most of the 3 day passage and thankfully we only had one night of rainy weather and winds less than 15 knots and calm seas the whole way. The last 40 miles like the first 40 miles were the worst with winds on the nose and choppy seas.
We stowed the sails and motored our way into Tonga and tied up to the clearing dock by noon, glad to be back in calm waters. Vavau is the northern most group and a Mecca for cruisers we found lots of boats we had met on our journey anchored here.
 

In our next adventure we will be exploring Tonga!
Until then live your dreams!!
Peace!! Capt. Pedro and Daria

Fiji: Suva and a visit to The Kadavu Group

Posted by on 4:57 am in 2011, September 2011 | 0 comments

September 28, 2011

We departed Lavuka as soon as we cleared in for the 40 mile trip to Suva just before lunch with cloudy skies and brisk winds out of the SE.  Our course was SW and we were close hauled with the winds coming from 60 degrees off our port bow and averaging just over 7 knots.  It was a bumpy, wet ride and we were fighting the clock to make port before dark. We rounded the SE corner of Viti Levu just after 4:00 pm and and found ourselves quickly running out of daylight.  Luckily there was a bay that we could anchor in that we found on the charts and set our course for Luthala Island 7 miles closer across the bay from Suva.

The outer reef into the bay was strewn with the rusty remains of several wrecks and I was more than a little nervous as we past Belcher Rocks and carefully made our way through the shallow cut in the reef.  When you watch the depth meter go from several hundred feet to the low 20’s in just a 100 yards you always wonder just how shallow will it get?  We saw the bottom rise in the clear blue water to just 16 feet before it dropped back to 80, the depth of the inside passage.  Whew!! we had a whole 10 feet to spare!

With the anchor buried in soft mud just before dark and Downtime safely in a protected bay we had a restful night sleep but woke the next day to still more stormy weather.  Our first mission in Suva was to restock the produce refrigerator and after a quick breakfast we set off in SD across the bay to the market.  Wouldn’t you know it, half way across the skies opened up as we made our way to the Yacht Club in pouring rain.  We left SD at the dingy dock and got into the cab with wet butts and off to the market we went.

The cabs here are easy to find and really cheap, it was only $2 US to get to the market a short 10 minute ride downtown.  The market is just short of amazing with hundreds of vendors peddling the local produce. One section is just water melons and pineapples and in other areas you can find most any thing your heart desires produce wise.  Upstairs is where they sell Kava and other dried goods.  Kava is the local nova cane tea drink that numbs your whole body as we would soon find out.  We bought a few kilos to be used as gifts to the chiefs at islands we would soon visit.  Then it was downstairs to do some serious produce shopping.  An hour later we had our Home Depot bags full of all we could carry for about $50 US.   Every vendor had the same prices and treated us nicely, but freshness was what we were looking for and there was plenty of really fresh stuff here.  We finally had to hire a guy with a wheel barrow to follow Daria around to haul all the vegetables she was buying.   Outside on our way to the taxi stand we walked through the flower vendors and there were giant birds of paradise, beautiful orchids  and many other colorful flowers on sale.

Another $2 got us a ride back to the Yacht Club where we were met by the manager with a message that Customs had called them and was wondering where we were at?  We told them we had weather problems and would be in shortly after lunch to clear in. With customs you learn to tell them what the want to hear not necessarily what is really going on.

It took us another 20 minutes to motor SD across the bay in 2 foot chop back to Downtime.  Daria put our market plunder into the refrigerator after a quick rinse/dry and packed it into green food saver bags, which really work by the way…

We weighed anchor and headed back to town with Downtime to meet the customs officials after lunch.   We called them on the radio like we were just clearing port and were directed to anchor in from of the Yacht Club.  When they asked us when we arrived? We said we just dropped the anchor, which we really did just do…that was good enough for them, and $45 later we were all cleared in.  I was told the $45 is for  Bio-Security and looking in just 3 lockers was sufficient for the required search?  They were not to concerned with our herb garden with soil from Roatan, Galapagos and Tahiti, go figure?

There were a few other things we needed to do while we were in Suva one was to get a new Passport for Capt. Pedro and the other a Visa for Daria to visit NZ, oh and some more spare parts!!   Apparently the water maker low pressure pump did not like the salt water bath it took on our way over and was making strange noises due to bearing failure.  We took the motor to Fiji Motor Winders and they cleaned, re-baked and put new bearing in for just under $100 US and had it ready the next morning!!  Unbelievable service!!  Thanks guys!!  To top it off the owner of this shop found a new seal for the pump, one I had already been to 4 shops to find and had all but given up on.  What service!!!

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Our First Look at Fiji

Posted by on 2:32 am in 2011, September 2011 | 0 comments

September 17, 2011

We departed Futuna at 3:00 on the 29th for the short 160 mile sail to the NW shore of Vanua Levu.  We experienced much calmer seas and winds of just 20 knots to deal with this trip, much better than the last passage!  We did not see any other boats all night and go figure around 1:00 in the afternoon Daria and I were watching a movie and I got up to take a look around and we had a 100 foot fishing boat 500 yards off our port bow!!

We enter through a pass in the Great Sea Reef and motored our way SW to a small anchorage just south of Mali Island that the locals call “Boro Boro”.   The inside passage kept us on a close lookout the whole time we traveled through it, we never quite trusted the charts and luckily never ran aground during the 100 or so miles we traveled inside the reef.  The charts here like a lot of other places are old and not very accurate and we would not recommend traveling these waters at night.

The next morning we loaded our bags with toys and things to give away and set off for a trip up the Labasa River that would take us to the small town of Labasa some 5 miles upriver.  The shoreline of the rivers mouth was covered with mangroves and it was hard for us to find the main outlet to the river.  We stopped and asked a local fishing boat “Four Sisters” which was actually being driven by four brothers for directions as we gave them all a Downtime hat.  They offered to show us the way and told us to follow them through the shallow delta to the mouth of the river.  Many thanks guys!! Good luck fishing!!

This is our 5th river that we have taken SD up and river adventures never get old.  This river was one of the larger waterways we have navigated  and the calm water was murky green and up to 20 feet deep in places.  The river wound its way through the low-lying tree covered swamps.  The wildlife was scarce and I think most the fish were all caught decades ago but the trees along the shores were amazing.  We almost felt like we were deep in the Amazon or some tropical jungle and the only people on earth.  Then back to reality we would round another bend and a few fishermen heading down would motor by and all give us a friendly wave and smile.

After several miles the trees thinned out along the shore and you could see farm ground in the clearings. Most of the faming is of sugar cane, cassava root, yucca root and taro root.  The cassava and yucca are a starchy root that they use to make cakes with the ground cassava and a potato like side dishes from baked or boiled yucca. Either of them well cooked is hard to tell from a potato in my opinion.
The river took us right to through the center of the town but first we motored by a busy lumber mill and sugar cane fields.  Along the way kids came running and waving to the banks out their small homes along the shore and we pulled up close and gave those gifts and candy.  This is one of the poorest countries we have been to but you could not tell from the attitude of the people, everyone seemed to be happy and content with life. At one home there were even saw pigs living an a pen over the water, I don’t think the kids would swim there though?

In the middle of town there is a two lane bridge crossing the river along with a well worn sugar cane railway bridge that had been worn into a unusable state years ago with rotting timbers and twisted tracks.  Now they haul the cane on small tractor pulled trailers and old two ton trucks to the mill miles down the bumpy road at the edge of the bay at Malau. It would be hard to imagine harvesting crops this way back in the states but here manual labor is still available and it is all cut and loaded by hand?  Every piece of cane is hand chopped with a machete and loaded onto the wagons and trucks for the ½ day trip to the sugar mill.  Nobody is in a hurry and the work slowly gets finished.  I could only imagine the hours of hard labor it takes to load a 400ft ship full of raw sugar!

At the turn of the century as the sugar industry was developing Fiji imported over 60,000 workers from India to work the fields.  The islands population is now about 50 % Indian and the rest consist of Fijian’s and Some European descendants.   Virtually all Fijians are Christian and only about 12% are Catholic.  The Indians here are mostly Hindu with some Muslim.  There have been several coo’s in the last decade when the Indians tried to take over the government but failed, but the Fijians will not throw them out of the country because it would cause economic meltdown since the Indians like most places run most the small businesses.

 

Further up the river lay a fleet of fishing boats that look like they have not worked in quite a while.  Here in Fiji like many other places in the world they are experiencing fewer and fewer fish every year.  And with the price of fuel raising it makes it harder and harder to justify going out to catch them.   The fishermen we do see catch whatever they can and keeping everything that gets caught in their modern nets.  It is not hard to see what is happening….There are so few mature fish left to repopulate the rising demands…that soon they will disappear altogether.

We enjoyed our trip up the river and on our way back to Downtime we stopped by the village on Mali Island.  As we pulled up to the village all the kids came running to greet us.  Wow there were a lot of kids!!  There had to be around 30 and our bag of goodies did not last long.  One of the women of the village greeted us and offered to give us a tour.  We gladly accepted and were followed by a group of happy kids that had the candy wrappers flying!   The kids here are so much different than back home.  Most never even have seen a gamboy or play station and are happy running around swinging a stick and drawing in the sand.

The village had 30 or something homes and was located 2 miles off the mainland.  They had two or three small boats to fish and go to town with. There is no electricity and the water comes from a small spring up the hill.  There was a central place to shower which was no more than a little shack with a hose.  Other sources of water in the small village are provided by water faucets scattered throughout the homes.  The homes are simple structures, 4 walls and a tin roof with a few dividing walls.  The cooking area is built off the back of the home and the food is cooked outside over wood fires. Looking inside the homes the first thing I noticed was the lack of furniture.  I do not think there was a chair in the whole village and most are content sitting cross-legged on the ground on woven mats.  The floors are covered in woven mats that soften up the hard concrete floors.  The windows if there are any are “always” open with colorful curtains blowing in the wind and most have the doors wide open.

This is was a small village and the Chief has a traditional built Thatched grass home in the center. We asked permission to meet the Chief and when we went inside his home he was laying on his back reading the Bible.  He invited us to sit down and our guide translated for us.  We gave him a Downtime tee shirt and a card with a picture of the boat on it and were able to tell him about our travels and he seemed happy that we stopped by and visited his village.

The inside The Chief’s home was amazingly simple.  The all natural structure was build with traditional expertise I am sure with the skills that have been passed down for generations. Large wood beams lashed together with cords and palm leaves woven to make the walls and the roof.   The home was just 15 feet by 25 feet with two mattress beds (most likely the only mattresses in the village) on the far wall. There were three opening on the end we entered into that provided ventilation and natural light to the building.  The floors were covered in finely woven mats and were quite comfortable to sit on since there were several layers of them.  The chief had some really old pictures of family on the walls and the place felt like a home.

We left the Chief to reading his Bible and hiked up the hill to visit the village’s church.  The view from the top of the hill was something off a postcard and I wish we had been here on a Sunday to worship with them.

Back down to the main gathering area we sat down and talk with several of the other women in the village, They told us living here was one big family and everyone knew everything about everyone, much like we had experienced from visiting other villages much larger.  Again I found myself wondering how all this works?  How do you sustain life on a island?

We thanked them for their hospitality and they gave us a few coconuts for the road.

 

The west coast of Vanua Levu is semi arid and reminded me of the central California coastline. The rolling hills had scattered green trees with patches of brown dry grass.  The mountains are ancient volcanoes that that once spewed their jet black lava but now lie dormant.

These are the first islands that we saw the color brown on; the others were all lush green.  The valleys were planted in sugar cane and mangroves grew along the coastline.

As we zigzagged our way through the reefs inside the passage we would pass the occasional fishing boat and on one reef we saw an entire family scouring the ground for any crustaceans they could find.  I don’t know exactly what they are searching for but they were spread out for miles along the reef as the tide receded.  We covered some 25 miles that afternoon and later just before the sun set we dropped the hook just of the small island of Nakuei, As we settled in another family was finishing up fishing the reef just off this small island and just before dark they past close by and said hello before heading off into the sunset to their own island to the west.

We woke to a drizzling cloudy morning and to a sky with a thousand shades of grey.  The hills were cloaked in clouds and the smoke from the many fires burning in the sugarcane fields.  The smoke and clouds gave the mountains a ominous eerie feeling like they were coming back alive and the volcanoes of the past had awakened as the orange glow of the sun rose through them.  The unsettled weather had produced a sky of many colors with high rippled sand like clouds that were partially hidden by the puffy storm clouds that rolled off the mountain tops.  The gloomy sky turned the water a dark shade of grey-green but we felt the world coming alive for another day as the sun rose over the mountain tops creating even more spectacular colors as it traveled across the sky.

The weather had cooled off since we left Tahiti and now we found ourselves looking for sweatshirts in the morning.  It seems strange weather is occurring all over the world this year.  We heard they had snow in New Zealand for the first time in decades and it has been hot a blazes in Kansas causing terrible drought..

We continued our way south and by mid afternoon had cleared the SW point of Vanua and set our course for Yadua Island 15 miles to the south.  As we crossed the channel I saw a few bait fish jumping and decided to give fishing a go and two hours later we landed a nice Skipjack Tuna.  The winds were blowing from 15 to 25 and we made good time and cleared the tricky pass just before 5 in the afternoon

 

The next morning we lowered SD and went ashore to the small camp that was on the beach.  There were 25 or so people living in makeshift shelters and tents set up along the shore.  We were greeted by the man in charge, Peter who explained that he worked for the Fiji Environmental Agency and was monitoring the iguanas that live on a island close by.  The island is closed to all visitors without permission and home to 3 species of iguana.  The local iguanas are small 8 to 12 inch long and change color from tan to green depending on their environment.  The other iguanas are much larger that someone introduced some time ago and now are threatening to take over the island.  He explained that they just came out here a few weeks at a time to monitor the iguana population and to keep people of the island. I told him if it got out iguana taste like chicken that would solve the overpopulation problem….

 

After our short visit with Peter we loaded SD and set sail for the main southern island of Fiji just 35 miles to the SE. We made our way through the pass and anchored of Nananu-I-Ra Island next to another catamaran Endless a Catana 50.  The boat turned out to be owned by Peter, a guy from Germany that Daria had met in Hamburg 2 years ago when she applied for a crew position on Endless.  Later while we were on the internet Daria found another friend she had sailed with was heading our way and when we woke Super Mario was anchored on the other side of us.  Paolo who owns Super Mario a swan 53 is from Italy and was the first boat Daria had sailed within the ABC Islands and later in Los Roques, Venezuela.  Sometimes the sailing world gets so small when you meet people you know, but two boats in one remote anchorage is amazing….

We would have loved to spend some more time catching up but we had a deadline to be in Suva by Tuesday to get my passport renewed and Daria a visa for New Zealand.  We set our course east to Oualau Island off the NW point of Fiji some 35 miles away.  The winds were light and we still had cloudy skies as we motored inside the reef passage.  At one point instinct told me to change course and moments later I saw a giant coral head pass by the side of the boat just a few feet below the surface, it left me wondering how many other near misses we have had in the last few miles inside this passage?
Lavuka is one of 4 ports where you can clear into Fiji and is located on the north shore of the island of Ovalau.  The harbor is just a concrete pier that jets out into the bay and there is little to no protection from the trade winds.  We rode out gusty 20 knot squalls in the rolling anchorage all night and in the morning launched SD and set off to clear in.  We were the only boat in the anchorage but to clear in and it took all morning as we waited for one department after another to complete the process.  Everyone wanted to go to the boat to do the paperwork and after two trips of hauling officials back and forth to Downtime and filling out at least 10 pages of forms we were finished and by noon ready go to Suva but not entirely cleared for Fiji for some reason?

 
Our next adventure will be Suva the capitol of Fiji

Until then live your dreams!

Peace!!!  Capt. Pedro and Daria

Wallis and Futuna Islands

Posted by on 2:40 am in 2011, September 2011 | 0 comments

September 15, 2011

We set sail Wednesday the 24th of August for Wallis island 210 miles to the west. The weather had been a little strange the past few days but the grib files showed winds of 20 to 25 knots out of the southeast and of a good direction and strength for Downtime to be on a beam reach. We had set a double reefed main sail and rolled out 2/3 of the jib before we made our way out of the tricky pass at Asau just before sunset. It was 11 miles to the end of the island and the winds were swirling around until we reached that point. We motor sailed down the coast into the impending darkness and as we cleared the island the winds continued to build. One thing about a weather prediction, you can usually count on them being WRONG! Instead of 20 to 25 we were experiencing 25 to 35 with gusts to 40!!and Downtime was moving way too fast crashing through the huge waves at up to 12 knots! Time to reduce sail!! We rolled up the jib completely and this alone slowed the boat to just under 9 knots while riding down the face of 15 foot waves. The ride was not that uncomfortable and things felt safe aboard the boat. I did not want to dump the main until daylight so I just positioned the sail mid ship and sheeted it tight to catch the least amount of wind and pointed the boat directly downwind taking us off course just a few miles to the north. One good thing about a 200 mile trip is that you have lots of time to adjust your course so a few mile in the beginning is no big deal it is that last mile that counts the most and where many boats are lost.
The next morning we woke to our first view of what we were sailing through, huge seas as far as you could see. It was time to change the sail plan and we turned the boat into the wind and lowered the main and stowed it safely, zipped up in the cover on the boom. With wind like this we would only need part of the jib to maintain forward direction, speed was not an concern since we were already way ahead of our schedule and planned an average of 7 knots. We left at night to time our passage so we would arrive in the morning the following day but now the computer showed us getting there at 2am and averaging closer to 9 knots. We had to slow the boat down or we would pass the island in the dark. We rolled up the jib and were still going over 6 knots in 30 plus knots winds. Briefly we would catch a occasional wave and the speed would shoot up to 9 before it roared passed us. There was no way to go slow the boat down enough and with waves like these no way to get into the pass on the south side of the island, the waves would be huge breaking across the small opening in the reef.
Unable to enter the inlet we changed our course and now had to make 230 miles in 30 hrs to make our next island Futuna before dark. That is just under 8 knots average, so we rolled out the jib and the boat responded and we were now moving at just under 9 knots. Needless to say when you go that fast over a ocean as nasty as this it is a rough ride. Things start breaking and I am always on the lookout for what is coming apart next. On passage I am up all the time and only take short naps during the trip. It turns into one really long day where it is dark at times. You give up on looking for any traffic since you can only see 8 miles at the most at sea anyways, your odds of hitting or even seeing another boat in a ocean this big especially out side of the shipping lanes is got to be about like winning the lottery. I trust my AIS to tell us where the big ships are and to warn me when I am too close to them. This unit I can not say enough about, it is just under $1200 and tells you where all the boats over 50 meters in length and within a 25 mile radius are. All targets displayed are nicely with the ships name, speed, direction and time till closest approach displayed on the navigation screen. I set our AIS for a 2 mile radius and 10 min TCPA before the alarm goes off, this way at least I will never get ran over by a tanker going 30 knots!!
We continued crashing our way across the ocean and sometime during the second night I went below to use the head, I pushed the button to flush and nothing happened? Just Perfect!! I opened the floor access and to my amazement found water sloshing over the 24 volt pump!! Not Good!!! The first thought is “Are we sinking?” Then ”where the #@$# is all this water coming from!!!” Then, “What the $@^* is wrong with the bilge pump?” Next we pulled all the bilge covers to discover the whole Starboard hull is full of water and saw the spare navigation computer floating in a big mess of other spare parts!! Needless to say Capt Pedro is not a happy sailor at this point!! There must have been 200 gallons of nice salty seawater sloshing around and it needed to get off my boat now! I found the spare bilge pump and wired it in, challenging under water!! Once we got the water pumped out we started looking for leaks but all we found was one small drip? The pump must have been out for awhile, who knows?? We hosed out the entire hull with fresh water and wiped it all down and would deal with the things that needed fixing when we dropped anchor. If you don’t get sea sick working down below mopping out the bilge I doubt you ever will!! Daria and I were both feeling a little green by the time we got it all cleaned up. When it was all said and done I replaced a float switch and took apart the other motors and gave them a bath in WD 40 and everything is back to working fine. That sight of water sloshing will haunt me for a lifetime!!
This was our first really rough weather since we attempted to go to Cartagena last fall. The sea is a powerful force not to be taken lightly. 35 to 40 knots are big winds and create huge waves in no time at all. Things to remember are that wind speed and force are squared just like speed and inertia so a 10 mile per hour wind and a 20 are not double but have 4 times more force being generated. Hitting a wave doing 6 knots or 12 knots, is that you hit them 4 times harder!! This is what breaks boats and kills sailors!!
Downtime is an amazing off shore machine, but I can tell the limits when she starts to get unhappy. waves start coming aboard and things start breaking. When water comes over the boat you are going way too fast and need to reduce sail and turn downwind.
The winds kept the sails full and we had the anchor down in a small patch of sand between two reefs off of Horny Island, a small island just south of Futuna. The anchorage was rolly but felt much better than crashing across the big waves. We got a restful nights sleep and found the anchorage to rough to launch SD so we motored over to Futuna and anchored in their small harbor.

 


We had several locals come out to meet us and we gave them hats, tee shirts and candy. The next morning they came out with three big bunches of bananas in appreciation, looks like more banana bread in our future!!

That afternoon Daria roasted a succulent leg of lamb and we had a feast. Amazing how hungry you get spending a few days at sea and not eating regular meals, the leg did not last long…

We woke in the morning and were surprised how close to the reef we were at low tide! It was like we could almost jump off the boat and walk to land. When we anchored it was high tide and we were surrounded by water. At low tide the ocean drops 5 ½ feet and the entire reef is exposed.

The anchor was holding fast and we were not getting any closer so life was good. We turned on our WIFI booster and had “FREE” internet for two days and I booked tickets for my kids and their girlfriends to come see us in New Zealand for Christmas. We really did not see any point in going ashore so we set our sails the afternoon of the 28th and set our course for Vanua Levu the northern island of Fiji just 160 miles to the south west.

In our next adventure we will explore Fiji and some of her 300 islands!
Until then enjoy life and live your dreams!!

Peace!! Capt. Pedro and Daria