Friday, October 28, 2016

Australia bound

All roads may lead to Tonga, but it's the path you take once you get there, that determines 
where you will ultimately spend the cyclone (hurricane) season.

To escape cyclone season you have a few options.... you can head south to New Zealand 
(or go way north - never an option for us, and few boats do this), or  another option is to 
keep going west, and you'll end up in Australia. To NZL from Tonga is 1,100 miles and from 
Tonga to AUS is 2,000 miles.

The beauty of living on a boat allows you the flexibility to make decisions like this along 
the way.  Pick a destination, face  your  bows in that direction, and set sail!  No flights 
and hotels to book, no bags to pack.  Our intention had always been to go to New Zealand for 
the cyclone season.  During our time in Tonga however, we looked at the various options, and 
tried to make a decision that was right for us.  We talked with many different boat friends 
and got many different ideas on where to head next.  Ultimately we made the decision to keep 
heading west, and rather go to Australia.  Although a longer journey, the many friends and 
family that we have living there also factored into our decision making, providing a nice 
support base for us while there.  Had we headed to New Zealand, it would have been unlikely 
that we would have had time next season to make it to Australia; and, since we had been 
planning to explore New Zealand by land anyway, as opposed to by boat, we still get to do 
that, by flying there from Australia.  Heading to New Zealand means making a commitment to 
staying there for up to 6 months, because it can be as long as the end of May before getting 
a safe weather window to come back into the Pacific, and we weren't quite ready to make that 

Our tracker will show us headed towards New Caledonia, a 1,100 mile sail from Tonga. We have 
just under 600 miles to go.  We hope to be there in about 4 more days, and we've been on 
the go  for 4 days already, making this the longest passage since our Galapagos to Marquesas 
crossing.  We will have 2 -3 weeks in New Caledonia, a French Overseas territory, (which, to 
the delight of the kids, means cheap baguettes again!!) and all the other wonderful things 
about cruising in a French territory like navigational aids vs the sticks we had become used 
to in recent islands that demarcated a reef pass!! 

Then from New Caledonia we will have the last leg of the journey: 900 miles to the land Down 
Under to make it safely out of the cyclone belt for the cyclone season which officially runs 
from November 1st to March 31st.

While it's always tough to be at sea for long periods, we are excited about the new course 
we have set, and are really looking forward to exploring New Caledonia, an island many have 
never heard of, let alone spent time cruising its many wonders.  An exciting bonus for us 
is that we are hoping to meet up in New Caledonia with Bruce Savage,  who also competed with 
Dave in the 1996 Olympics. We have not seen Bruce for over 20 years, and as luck would have
it, he and his wife are currently cruising New Caledonia on their sail boat, so I am sure we 
will be catching up with them over the odd drink in some nice anchorage!
Finally a beautiful sunset pic we took on the 1st night at sea after leaving Tonga....enjoy :-)

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

All roads lead to Tonga

When we arrived in Tonga about two weeks ago, it was early in the morning, and there was light wind, so we silently entered the Vava'u group of islands, slowly slipping past island after island. What struck us the most, was the singing of the birds. The islands are heavily forested, and obviously full of birds and we listened to them chirping away, welcoming us to their home. We all said it reminded us of the movie "Rio" with the beautiful melody of the singing birds! The trip to the main town of Neiafu is almost like sailing down a fjord, a narrow passage with tall cliffs on either side. It was beautiful, and we were excited to see what Tonga had to offer us.

The second major thing about arriving in Tonga was that we had crossed the International Date line, and we had jumped a day ahead. We never experienced Wednesday, October 12th, because it was now Thursday, October 13th in Tonga!

We spent two days at the main anchorage in the town of Neiafu, taking care of formalities such as checking in, and saying hi to boat friends who had arrived before us. We explored the town a little, the most exciting thing was probably the cheap ice cream cones we were able to buy at a the ice cream shop...the rest of the town leaves much to be desired. Sadly, we found a lot of litter on the ground and generally it was a little run down.

After 2 days in town, we left to explore the beautiful Vava'u group of islands. Our first stop was a great snorkeling spot where we saw tons of starfish, ranging from a beautiful blue, to red to black. We also saw some gorgeous little luminescent blue fish hiding behind lilac tinged coral...

We then moved to Port Maurelle, the anchorage named after Francisco Maurelle, the first European to "discover" Tonga. He was actually not an explorer, he was merely trying to deliver despatches from Manila to the Spanish authorities in San Blas, Mexico. His ship was leaking, his men were sick with scurvy and they had no fresh water left. In Vava'u, he found friendly people whose chiefs supplied him with fresh food and water. We could just imagine a big Spanish galleon anchored in this protected bay with a white sandy beach.

We ended up staying in Port Maurelle for a couple of days as some less than desirable weather came through, and as a result, made some new boat friends! We met "Enchanter", with ex-South African Rijnhart and his Australian wife, Lisa aboard. They also had Canella, a cute doggie aboard, that the kids immediately fell in love with! Then "Jade" and "Enough" arrived...more kid boats!! We had a bonfire on the beach one evening, with adults talking weather and past experiences, and all the kids running around playing "capture the flag" and roasting marshmallows. They had a blast!

At another anchorage we discovered a little village that was in complete contrast to Neiafu. Matamaka was impeccably clean, with no litter to be seen anywhere, and all the houses had fences and beautifully landscaped gardens. You could see they really took pride in their village. We met the school teacher (one of 2) and she showed us the school. It has 2 classrooms for 15 students, ages 5 - 10. Class 1,2 & 3 are in one class (those were her grades), and the other teacher taught class 4, 5 & 6. They had a surprisingly robust library, with many donations coming from visiting yachts.

Despite there being a lot of cruisers in Vava'u, as well as a Moorings charter base, we were able to find some lovely secluded anchorages where we were all by ourselves. We spent one afternoon exploring Swallows Cave and a neighboring cave with no name, that had a "secret" cave accessible only by diving underneath the water through it's submerged entrance. No problem for Dave and dare devil Gaby...a little more coaxing was needed for Ben and myself to go through, but we all did and it was amazing! At the cave entrances there are beautiful coral reefs that are shallow for a bit, and then plunge down into dark blue depths of nothingness.

On Saturday the call came over the radio asking Cool Runnings to rendezvous with Fata Morgana, Invictus, Excalibur, Vida and Mercredi Soir, at a specific anchorage. Maya on Fata Morgana was having an early birthday party, so we upped anchor and headed over to meet all the boats. We baked her a cake in lieu of a birthday present and the kids had to dress up. Gaby went as an archer, with a home made bow, made with the help of Noah on Jade, back in Port Maurelle. Ben went as a surfer :-). There were 12 kids, and since only kids were allowed, I have to take Ben & Gaby's word for it, that a lot of fun was had by all!!

We ended our stay in Tonga with a Tongan Feast, prepared by the family living on the island we had anchored off. Much to the horror of the younger kids, there was a little piggy busy roasting over a fire on a wooden spit! We had seen lots of pigs in Tonga...even out on the reef at low tide, and of course the piglets are always so cute. Well, this little guy was now our lunch!! We had a lovely afternoon of great food and great company, with kids climbing trees and splashing around in the water, and grown ups chatting and enjoying a glass of wine or a cold beer....a great way to spend a Sunday, and a great end to our stay in Tonga!

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Last night at sea before we head to New Zealand

Hi all....Dave here on nightshift. I have not done a blog update for so long so figured rather than doing a daily update we try and email to family, I would do this blog update via Iridium email for a change.

We are on passage to Tonga and are just over 40 miles away...We should arrive early tomorrow morning. Just as the sun was going down tonight, a group of whales swam in front of us. One was wallowing literally 30 feet in front of the bow so we changed course to avoid any possible contact. I took some pics so will try and upload them when we get internet again. These are the kind of things that make you so thankful to witness, and that never get old, no matter how often we see them.

As we sail from Niue to Tonga and head ever further west, we finally changed timezones and lost a day. Niue is -11 hours behind GMT, and Tonga is +13 hours ahead of despite them only being 250 miles apart, Tonga is literally a day ahead, but the same all we had to do was change the date on our watches....not the time ;)

Tonight will also be the last night we spend at sea for a while, before heading from Tonga to New Zealand. We will spend the rest of October exploring Tonga's many islands and then look for a suitable weather window in November to turn south and sail to NZL, hopefully via Minerva Reef if the weather allows a stop over there.

It's incredible how time has flown since we left Madeira Beach in April !!!! I looked over our track in the chart plotter today, and since leaving home we have sailed just over 8,000 miles, with still another 1,200 miles remaining to get to NZL. When looking at the track today, I also reflected on how relatively "green" we were in the beginning, and how far we have come thus far experience wise.

We have certainly gelled so nicely as a family in recent months. I said something similar in a recent email update to our families, but will say it's amazing how many times on even a daily basis our lives depend on each other. In many of these ultra remote and deserted places you are 100 percent on your 911 to call, no home depot etc......if you are injured you better take care of it yourself.....if and when things break, you fix them, or do without.

The kids have come a long way and now actively help with so many critical tasks like taking down the spinnaker or Puff when the winds get too high; they now drive themselves around in the dinghy to fellow kid boats etc, rather than relying on dad ;) They help stand watch while Guds and I rest. Ben loves winching in sails, launching and driving the dinghy, and reminds me so much of when you first get a driver's license! Gaby loves to help clean the underside of the boat and has become fearless diving down to even clean the keels and rudders. She has also taken a shining to cooking, and has created her own hand written cook book.

It certainly was a tough beginning with multiple breakages etc, but it seems as time passes, less goes wrong and more goes right! I am sure it's a combination of us getting to know the boat and ourselves better, being more careful to pick suitable weather windows, and just much more experience in general the more time we spend cruising. I have no doubt there are many tough and challenging times ahead, but they will be overcome and ultimately make us all stronger and better people. Thank you to all of our family and friends, that have helped us along the way, and that continue to help us, and most importantly, thank you to my wonderful wife and partner in this crazy adventure of ours!!!!!

So as I read up today on Tonga and did some planning, it was fun to look back at our track and reflect over the past 7 months. Guds and I talked about what we want to do in NZL and where we want to go and explore in 2017. We are so privileged and blessed to be doing what we are doing as a family, and Guds and I often look at each other and say "can you believe we are ACTUALLY doing this....?!... very cool ;)

So with that, back to looking out for boats, whales etc. It's a moon lit night so hopefully will be an easy nightshift ;)

Cheers and all the best to everyone.... and thanks for all the great emails and well wishes we receive from so many different people!!! We can't wait to catch up with friends and family in NZL and AUS!!!!!

Dave and the Cool Runnings crew.

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Quick Update: Mopelia to Niue

Hi everyone! 
Sorry it’s been so long since we last had an update on the blog, but internet access has not been on our side! We are currently in Niue, also known as “The Rock of Polynesia”, but more on that later. 

Unfortunately I won’t be able to post many pictures, as we don’t have the bandwidth to upload them. I can insert a few to this update that I am doing via email, I wish I could upload more!

We left Maupiti in French Polynesia for Mopelia (also known as Maupihaa), a 100 miles, or a night’s sail away. We left at about 3:00pm, and arrived in Mopelia the next day around noon. Mopelia has a pass that is described in the Cruising Guides as “terrifying” and the “most difficult in French Polynesia”. It was definitely a little scary, a narrow little slot through the coral, but we didn’t have too much current, and our strong engines allowed us to get in without a problem. Once inside the lagoon, we found ourselves to be the only boat there! It was beautiful and unspoiled. We met a local guy, Hio, who welcomed us to his home and told us that 20 people now live there, which was quite an increase from recent years. Mopelia was hit by a cyclone (hurricane) in 1989, which destroyed the village and most of the houses. Most of the population left, and never came back. About 6 years ago there were only 3 people living there, so the population is slowly coming back. The people on the island farm copra (coconuts) and trade with the supply ship that comes twice a year. Other than that, they are pretty much subsistence farmers, living on the land in isolation. Hio gave us all beautiful cowrie shell necklaces that his mother had made using the shells found on the beach – what a special gift from people who have so little.

With Hio in Mopelia

After Mopelia we moved on to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. It took us 3 days and 2 nights, and we had squally conditions on the way over. Some light winds, some strong winds, lots of squalls with heavy rain and on the last night we motored to outrun a huge lighting storm behind us. We later found out that our friends on “Vida” who were behind us, got stuck in the storm and had a terrifying experience. We were glad to pull into the shelter of the little harbor in Aitutaki. The Cook Islands are administered by New Zealand, so we now were paying for goods in NZ dollars, and English was spoken everywhere. It was a nice to be in an English speaking place again, but we must say, hats off to the French for allowing cruisers access to their beautiful islands at absolutely no cost at all. Check in and out of French Polynesia, all the way from the Marquesas to Mopelia, was absolutely free. Clearance fees in the Cooks came to over $350, and we were there for 5 days! However, we still enjoyed our stay and found everyone to be friendly and welcoming. We filled up with diesel, and for the first time since we left, we had to fill up with water using jerry cans! As the harbor area is the only place to anchor, we couldn’t use our water maker (we tried, but the water was too dirty, and clogged the filters up right away!). There is fresh water (filtered rain water) available near the dock, so we took our water cans in the dinghy, walked them over to the tap, filled them up, took them back to the boat and emptied them into our tanks. We had to do about 4 trips to fill our water tanks up again, but it was good exercise, and made us appreciate our water maker so much more!! We also had the opportunity to spend a day at the local sailing school, and Dave got to coach the kids in Optimists! Ben and Gaby got to sail as well, and it was a lovely day and a privilege for us to be able to spend a day with the local kids and get to know them and how they live their lives here on the island. We also rented scooters one day and drove around the island to explore. 

Sunset in Aitutaki
Aitutaki's Lagoon

Our next stop was Palmerston Atoll, also part of the Cook Islands, 150 miles away. This place deserves a blog entry all on its own, and once I get better access, I will definitely post some pictures and describe it in more detail. We are glad we stopped to experience it, but 2 days here was enough, for various reasons. There are 56 people living on the island, all descendants of one William Marsters and his 3 wives. There is no place to anchor, but there are mooring buoys that are placed outside the reef. The buoys are owned and maintained by the family members, and whoever gets a boat on their mooring, had the right to trade with that boat. That family then “adopts” that boat, and you are looked after by that family for your stay. However, “shore leave” is somewhat regulated, as the host family has to pick you up and bring you to shore (you cannot take your dinghy). We were provided lunch both days we were there, and were given a tour of the island. They have a pretty impressive infrastructure for such an isolated, small community, and they even have their own school, “Palmerston Lucky School”, that the 20 or so kids attend. We met the principal, and Josh and Mel, a couple (he is American, she is South African!) who are there for 2 years teaching. We also saw 2 other teachers, so for 20 kids, there are 5 teachers…a pretty good ratio for a good education! The kids enjoyed feeding and naming the 10 or so pigs “our” family had on their homestead. After 2 days the wind switched to an unfavorable direction to be on the mooring buoys (had they come loose, we would have been on the reef in seconds, and we had seen the wrecked hull of a boat that ended up on the reef in 2012), so we decided to move on.

Palmerston Main Street
Palmerston Lagoon

Niue was our next stop after Palmerston, and we arrived here on Tuesday, October 4th, after another squally passage. This time we were not so lucky as to avoid the lighting storm and night # 3 found us in the biggest lightning storm we’ve ever been in. It was all around us, and there was simply no escape. We tried to slow down, we tried to speed up, we tried to change course, but couldn’t avoid it. For about 3 hours we had wind, rain and lightning strikes that lit up the sky like it was daylight! It was very scary, but we survived unscathed and can at least put it down to experience!! 

Getting ready for arrival in Niue.  We fly the yellow "Q" (quarantine) flag whenever we enter a new country, along with the country's flag (courtesy flag).  The Q flag is taken down once we are cleared in by customs and immigration.

So now we are here in Niue, an island that rises out of the sea with cliffs all around it, and no natural anchorages or shelter.  Boats pick up a mooring buoy in the slight indentation of Alofi Bay, on the west side of the island, which provides some protection from the predominantly easterly winds.  However, if a westerly blows, as with Palmerston, you run the risk of being swept onto the reef.  The mooring buoys here though, are very strong, and we’ve felt very safe on them our entire stay.  We’ve enjoyed exploring Niue – it is really a unique island, unlike any of the islands we’ve been to before.  Where we’ve been used to seeing beaches and palm trees, here, there are caves, grottos and cliffs!  We’ve been to fresh water chasms, where underground water seeps into pool and mixes with the sea water in narrow canyons.  We’ve explored caves that provide excellent visual aids to lessons on the formation of stalactites and stalagmites, and we’ve snorkeled in pools on the inside of the reef flat that are filled with beautiful coral and fish.  The water here is crystal clear, and swimming off the back of the boat in itself is a treat!

Palaha Caves - Niue

Limu pools - Niue

We’ve been monitoring a low pressure system that has formed in Fiji and will be crossing Tonga in the next few days. There was some concern that it would bring high westerly winds to Niue, and this actually caused a bunch of boats to leave and head to Tonga to find shelter ahead of any bad weather. However, we’ve been watching it closely, and it looks like Niue will be spared of anything really bad, and if anything, it should provide an opportunity of some good wind over to Tonga, if we leave on the tail end of it. We will keep watching it, and will likely leave on Monday for Tonga.

We know that pictures are preferable to text, and I wish I could post some more of the amazing shots we have of these places!  I hope to be able to do a “picture update” one internet becomes better, but for now, farewell from Cool Runnings in Niue!