Friday, 31 August 2012

Arrived in Vanuatu

Well, after the last blog post the wind almost died and we slowed right down, so much for hoping for a Tuesday arrival. We could have maybe made it if we had motored the last 16 hours, but we didn't feel like burning all that diesel, so decided just to take it easy. We spent some hours just bobbing around in the swell, but then the wind came up again, then slowed down again. We had everything from 2 to 20 knots those last 24 hours. We hove to most of the night, or more correctly fore-reaching, for we still did 1-3 knots depending on the wind, but it was fairly comfortable, (for non-sailors, we set the sails so they oppose each other and we stay put into the wind only drifting a bit). We arrived in Analgawat on Aneityum (Atamon apparently is the old French word for the island) about 1pm Wednesday, 8 days after leaving Tonga and traveling through two time zones. It was pouring down rain and pretty cold, relatively speaking.

The local police (and customs) officer didn't come out to clear us in until the next morning, but then unfortunately the bank was closed, as it's only open every second day, so we had to stay another day, so we could get some money out and pay our entry fee. Just off the anchorage is a small uninhabited island called Mystery Island. Every month a bunch of cruisie ships stop here and the island is flooded by cruise ship passengers exploring a southern sea 'paradise island. The locals have actually set it up really neat and organised and they make a living of selling crafts, food, entertainments etc to the tourists. I haven't seen so many toilets since New Zealand! We had it all to ourselves and I went snorkeling on the adjoining reef, it was OK, but not spectacular, but I was also a bit limited by a strong current. Phil cut his finger on a fishing knife, so is trying to keep it dry until it heals.

Speaking of fishing knife, we caught no less than three tunas those last 24 hours before arriving here. First two small tunas in a row, we think they were skip jack tunas. These we gave to the customs officer because a little later we got a big beautiful yellow-fin tuna on the hook, yummy, so delicious. Unfortunately we totally forgot to weigh it, but it's the biggest we have caught so far.

Now it's Friday and we got Vanuatu money, paid the entry fee and have wandered through the village. Ni-Vanuatu (as the people are called) are very friendly and smiling, the kids all seem to play soccer, even girls too. Landscape-wise it's very different from Tonga, as here are huge hills/mountains covered in pine-looking trees (as opposed to Tonga's pretty flat coconut islands).

Assuming the foreast we're about to download doesn't come up with any surprises, we're leaving for Port Resolution on Tanna tomorrow very early morning, then it's volcano time! Apparently there's also internet there, so we'll try and get some photos uploaded so it's not just all this boring text.

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Monday, 27 August 2012

On passage to Vanuatu, day 6

After the last post the wind turned more to our stern and also increased in strength to up around 20 knots, plus minus some. This is OK as we're just cruising along with the head sail alone, the sea is quite short, steep and very bouncy. We're rocking and rolling all over the show and are both looking forward to a quiet anchorage. It's amazing how quickly we forget when in a beautiful calm anchorage how rolly it can be. It takes two people to cook, one to hold the bowl to stop it bounce away, so about the fanciest we cook is pancakes...

This sounds like a lot of complaining, but we're still fine, we just looking forward to arriving. Depending on the weather, we'll get to Anatom (or possibly Tanna, if it looks like westerly, but unlikely) either Tuesday late afternoon or else we'll have to slow down and wait until Wednesday morning for day light, but hopefully we can just make it on Tuesday.

Position: 20, 20, 17 S and 172, 11, 25 E
785 miles so far, 135 miles to go

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Friday, 24 August 2012

On passage to Vanuatu, day 3

It was a bit hard to leave Tonga, all the new and old friends, the beautiful anchorages and great weather. In between preparations we went to a Tongan feast at Lape Island (photos already on facebook). It's a very small community with only about 20 adults and a bunch of kids. They are hosting these feasts every few weeks to raise money to further improve boating facilities for cruisers. They have 5 moorings in order to protect the coral (we had to anchor, as the moorings were already taken) and it really was quite corally bottom and I felt bad seeing our chain and anchor going through coral, basically all the beautiful fish's homes. With the funds raised so far they have built a wharf and are now planning to make a floating dock at the end of it. The locals also have a market where they sell traditional Tongan handicrafts to cruisers, which is a nice way to encourage the young to learn traditional crafts and sustain their life on the islands (thus stopping them going to the cities). We met a few new boats and enjoyed hanging out with old friends, especially Sala, whom we'll miss as we continue our travel.

Anyway, departure couldn't be put further off and we left Neiafu late Tuesday afternoon, making this our third day out. We have been very lucky with the weather so far, mainly 10-15 knots southerly, which makes for lovely beam reaching (as we're heading pretty much due west). It also makes for good speed, we have quite often seen 8 knots on the speedo, especially surfing down the swells, but we usually slow down overnight with reduced sails. We're sailing right past Fiji, and yes, it is a little bit unusual not to stop there, but we don't have the time if we are to be enough west and/or north for the cyclone season by end November. Another good reason not to stop is saving money on the entry fees, which isn't exactly cheap (we understand about $250). We can also easily visit Fiji some other time, with or without Sophia.

Currently we're just south of Fiji (Matuku to be exact), so not quite halfway yet. We're heading to Anatom, the most southern island in Vanuatu to clear in and are looking very much forward to going to Tanna to see the active volcano.

Position: 19, 29, 87 S and 179, 30, 80 E.
366 miles so far, 550 to go (916 in total), average speed app 5.6 knots.

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Thursday, 16 August 2012

Preparations for passage to Vanuatu

We arrived back in Neiafu, Vava’u early Wednesday morning. The passage took us only 14 hours. We had 15 knots on the beam the first 8-9 hours, but unfortunately that lovely wind disappeared and we had to motor the rest of the way. The best things on return here were: $3 fish burgers at the market, real NZ ice cream scoops at one particular supermarket and a good undisturbed night’s sleep. That doesn’t actually say that much about Neiafu. 

Back to Ha'apai. We had fun biking around Lifuka and the adjoining island. Our only exercise on the boat is swimming/snorkeling and a bit of walking around on the islands, so it was nice to 'proper' exercise and it was a good way to see several villages and we were rewarded with a lovely beach at the end. It would be great if we had room to store bikes on Sophia, but we don't (too many sails...). To be honest, it's actually very little we could have used bikes here in Tonga. 
We’re now spending the next few days getting ready for the passage to Vanuatu. Our new membrane for the water maker was waiting for us here, so that has to be installed. It’s really easy to get parts sent to Tonga from the US. Both the items we have bought (BBQ mount and this membrane) have arrived in Neiafu 10-12 days after being ordered online with West Marine (using fedex). As the parcels are for a yacht in transit, we haven’t had to pay duties, just some local fees (25 and 42 pa’anga (subtract about 25% to get NZ$)).

Other jobs are: oil filter change, fix a slightly leaking chain plate and tighten a loose stanchion.  Phil is also trying to combine our three auto pilot rams into two hopefully fully functioning one (I reserved the rights a long time ago to say I told you so when they break. I’m pro wind wane, Phil isn’t, I’m sure this won’t be the last time we have problems ). Plus the usual laundry and just general passage prep such as tiding up the boat and making some food and baking beforehand for the first few days at sea.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Swimming with whales

We love Ha’apai. Period. Vava’u is nice too, but different, both got their good points and bad. Ha’apai is nicer, wilder and less busy, but the only downside is the anchorages aren’t as protected as in Vava’u. We have spent quite a few rolly nights where sleep is often interrupted. A big plus to Ha’apai are all the whales. They are everywhere. One night in bed at an anchorage we heard the tell-tale breathing splash and when looking out the front hatch had whales right next to the boat, which was pretty cool.

The absolute highlight so far is swimming with them! At our last anchorage, a tiny island by a big reef/lagoon called Hakau Lahi we spotted a couple just as we were coming in to anchor. The anchor was hardly set before I was in the water swimming towards them and Phil wasn’t far behind. It was a mother and a calf with a male around as well (apparently not the dad, but the next suitor). The visibility wasn’t the best, and I stayed a good 30 meters away a while looking at them above the water. Slowly the mother and calf dove down and approached me underwater. Talk about adrenalin kick when they became visible underwater just in front of me! It’s one of the coolest experiences I have ever had, right up there with New York marathon and micro plane flying. They hung around the anchorage a while and I jumped back in and approached them again, this time the male was checking me out.

We have been snorkelling lots, fishing, beach combing, making bon fires and just hanging out with Sala. We didn’t find any lobsters at Uonukuhihifo but it was a great place anyway. At Haafeva we snorkelled on a super cool wreck, an old Korean fishing vessel, ideal for snorkelling, the top of the bow was above water, and the deepest part of it was probably only 5-6 meters. Near the wreck Phil and I spotted two lobsters, but we weren’t wearing gloves and Sala were too far away to call. Helen did go back a little later and caught one, pretty yummy eating.

Our time here in Ha’apai is almost over, we gotta go back up to Vava’u later this week to pick up our new water maker membrane and get ready for the passage to Vanuatu. We are going to rent bikes tomorrow and cycle around Lifuka, the island where the main town (Pangai) is.

I’ll try and upload photos to facebook, but I’m not sure it will be successful, if not it’ll have to wait till Neiafu.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Cruising Ha'apai and spotting whales

Just a quick little post as we're about to download weather, so I might as well do a post at the same time.

We cleared into Ha'apai in Pangai (they want you to clear in and out of the different island groups in Tonga), and checked out the little town there, but headed out again the same day. Our first anchorage was Uoleva, just south of Lifuka. It's a nice beach with lots of coral wrapping around the anchorage. We knew the wind was going to change from the usual SE (trade wind) to more N and up to 25 knots of it, however, there arent' as many all weather anchorages down here. The second day and night got pretty windy and choppy, but it was lovely deep sand, so anchor was safe, we were just a bit uncomfortable. Phil and I were invited over to Denique (yet another Christchurch boat!!) for morning coffee, and we set out in our dinghy, but didn't get far before a wave caught underneath and flipped us over backwards! We swam us and the dinghy back to Soph and Phil started the process of ridding the outboard of saltwater with WD40. Needless to say, we stayed on Sophia the rest of the day!

Before the wind came up, a local guy took us and Sala spearfishing/snorkeling on the reef. He shot several small reef fish (according to him, Tongans like and cook small fish, whereas Palangi (white people) like big fish, which Tongans only eat raw. We got one of the fish and ate it, but it was unfair to the little fish, because we also had the last of the tuna we caught and nothing beats tuna ), and we enjoyed the snorkel, saw a sleeping leopard shark (we think), but the coolest part, was hearing the whale song underwater. Very similar to Dory's whale speak in Finding Nemo, and what I have also been trying to 'speak' to lure in the whales, but until Ha'apai, unsuccessful.

We have seen whales every single day here in Ha'apai, even from the anchorage. Humpback whales are very acrobatic and sometimes throw themselves totally (or partially) out of the water, so splashes is what you look out for when trying to spot them! It's very very cool cruising with whales.

Today we have moved to another anchorage a bit further south again, called Uonukuhihifo (quite a mouthful to try and say), which apparently is the place to try and catch crayfish/lobster, we shall see, will let you kno whow it goes in the next post.

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Thursday, 2 August 2012

Sail to Ha'apai and catching fish!!

It took us 19 hours to sail down to Ha’apai from Vava’u, and it’s only about 70 miles (even less because we left from one of the more southern anchorages), but it was pretty much right on the nose the whole way. That didn’t matter, because it was still a lovely sail, about 5-10 knots southerly, moon and sunshine and not much sea. As we neared our destination we have to give in and motor the last couple of hours, otherwise we wouldn’t have made it in day light. Sala left at the same time, but they motored almost the whole way, so beat us by 4 hours.

We’re going to be sailing around here in Ha’apai with Sala (Dan and Helen, Kiwi and Scott, both our age), as they decided to join us and it will be fun to try buddy boating. Also, their SSB doesn’t work, so they can get weather from us via our sat phone. There are not as many boats down here as in Vava’u, and also not cruisers’ net in the morning.

Back to our sail down here: we finally caught fish!!! We have been trolling almost all the time when we go anywhere, but so far with no luck. But yesterday, the tuna were practically fighting to be the first one on our hook! Phil initially got a small (30 cm) yellow fin (we think) tuna, and after photographing, killing and filleting it (took at least 15 minutes), threw out another hook and instantly (as soon as the lure hit the water), had another one! We could see a whole lot of them circling around the back of Sophia and we got some good videos of it too, while Phil teased them with the lure. We threw a couple back out (one we caught wasn’t yellow like the other, we’re not sure what that was), but all up kept three tunas. Some was turned into ceviche (raw fish marinaded in lemon, flash backs to Chile) and Poisson Cru (raw fish marinaded in coconut cream (which I made from scratch, putting canned coconut cream to shame), Sala got some for their dinner and we still got some left. 

Last subject is pretty gross, so this is your warning in case you’re eating or even just if you’re squirmish.  It’s all part of our cruising experience, so here it goes.

I knew we have to watch for food scraps in our garbage, so we clean everything before throwing it away and throw food stuff overboard. However, in Neiafu  I didn’t want to throw food (veggie peelings etc) overboard, so kept it in a small bin for when we left the harbour. However, on our 5th and last day in Neiafu we woke up with maggots crawling all over the floor!! Arghhh, extremely gross and disgusting. We hunted them all down and looked everywhere else (luckily they didn’t seem to be able to or want to go up onto the squabs, phew) and did a lot of cleaning. Of course they traced back the food scrap bin. From now on ALL food related stuff goes directly overboard!!!