Monday, June 18, 2012

Happenin' in the Ha'apais

We had a wonderful 3 weeks in the Ha’apai islands of Tonga. Some lovely snorkeling and diving.  Very remote, no provisioning, subsistence fishing villages, beautiful beaches and some convivial fellow cruisers.  Had a great birthday eve party for Derek at the perfect beach on the island of Uoleva. Four other boats were there. We were invited to use the "restaurant" at the very rustic but very nice resort (Serenity) on shore. We had a big pot-luck including the 4 resort guests and 2 owners as well as the several Tongan workers. Masses of food; fish, chicken, lamb dishes and 3 cakes, including Cathy’s famous and rapidly consumed rum cake!  Everyone then gathered 'round the fire on the beach and the guitars were played, rum and kava drunk and songs sung, including some lovely Tonga songs by the locals. 

On a small island in the southern Ha'apais, we visited a fishing camp where they were hunting octopus on the reef - every day, all day... The acetylene tank hanging in the tree is to call the island pigs for feeding, we weren't sure who.

 Octopus cleaned and drying in the trees. Sad reminder of the Billie Holliday song; Strange Fruit.

 Smokin' pods.

The fishermen use a lure made out of cowrie shells, supposed to resemble a rat which the octopus can't resist grabbing, as per a Tongan legend. Or so we were told by the fishermen. It may have more to do with the lure being made out of cowrie shells which octopus prey on.

 Another fisherman. This is our friend Alfredo.

Success! A big Red Snapper. Alfredo and his partner organized a beach barbeque with all the cruisers in the anchorage. Unfortunately, just as he was going to put the fillets on the coals a concern was raised that it might be toxic due to cigueterra poisoning. It wound up being donated to some locals who were more than happy to eat it - and displayed no ill effects. 

Happy times in the Ha'apais!

On the 4th we had a wonderful 13 nm flat water reach behind Uoleva and Pangai, up to Ha’ano to get ready for the next day's sail to Vavau. Great healthy coral for snorkelling with caves, crevasses, drop offs and masses of colourful fish. Next day we left early and averaged 8.5 knots on a close reach for 6 hours. A great sail with the sun out, 20 knots of breeze and screaming along! Hit the big city of Nieafu (pop about 1000) and went out for dinner ashore at the Aquarium where we were warmly welcomed back after our summer away.  A big burger for D, pan fried snapper for C.  Have met up with several friends here, going back as far as our time in Grenada. This morning we are anchored out off one of the small islands, its raining (time to wash the boat!) and Cathy is making some banana pancakes.

Not so happy in the Ha'apais. Actually we were in the Vava'u area by this time. Cathy had a nasty run in with a Portuguese Man of War jellyfish. She went into shock within 5 minutes due to the severe pain and histamine reaction. Luckily we got her back to the boat within minutes and doused in vinegar to neutralize the nematocysts and antihistamines tablets for the reaction. We were very luck that she was not stung over a larger area and that Derek was able to reach her quickly by dinghy.

In the next week or so and when we get a good weather window, we plan to visit the really remote Tongan island of Neiutoputapu, 160nm north of  here and then another 200nm to the French island of Wallis, before heading for SavuSavu in Fiji.

We’re in Tonga and its WARM!

 Welcome to Tonga!
Dropped anchor off Big Mama’s resort (a couple of thatched cabins and an open-air, sand floor bar/restaurant) on Pangaimotu Island, (about a mile from the main port) at 1530, Monday, May 7th, Tonga time.  Stunningly peaceful after 6 days (actually 5 days, 22.5 hours) of rock n roll. Major rock n roll – most of the time we had winds of 25-30+ knots and steep seas 3-4+m, breaking over the boat, tossing us up, then dropping us off the backside. But it was on the beam, so while uncomfortable, it was fast. Average over 8 knots, 200 nautical miles a day. We are very fortunate that Idyll Island can handle it no problem with double reefed main and genoa, while we maintain watch inside using the remote for the autopilot and instruments, warm and dry if tossed about a bit - cooking is a fair challenge (and sleeping, showering etc ….)

It was definitely time to leave NZ - temps down to 4C overnight (Idyll Island is a tropical boat and we have no heat unless at a dock).  Here in Tonga at 8pm its 27C – same as the water! Customs clearance was the best yet – 4 big friendly guys came out to the boat and were more interested in taking pictures of themselves than filling out forms. But then we are only the 5th yacht to arrive for the season – a heavily salt-caked yacht.  Major boat wash time! 
Tomorrow we’ll go ashore and have a drink at Big Mama’s with some of the other boats here.  Tonight, it’s the big sleep on a quiet boat in a calm anchorage.

Summer in New Zealand

 It was so foggy/rainy we needed a sign to point us to the lighthouse.

 OK, it wasn't raining every day. Some absolutely beautiful scenery in New Zealand.

It’s been a long time sine we’ve updated our blog.  Frankly, after 3 ½ years of tropical adventures, the weather in New Zealand put a bit of a damper on our interest. The Kiwis were the most friendly and helpful people of anywhere we’ve visited and the bit of the North Island that we saw was beautiful, but the weather pretty much sucked!  To be fair though, it was the worst “summer” on record for the North Island and the Kiwis after being optimistic for an improvement right through February, were unabashedly apologetic as March came in like a lion.  While it would have been lovely to have hot, sunny weather, we have had 3 ½ years of pretty much non-stop summer, so we don’t expect any sympathy and we’ll stop whinging now.
The problem with an even bigger gap than normal in our blogging is that we can’t possibly do justice to all of the great experiences we’ve had and the wonderful people we’ve met over the past 6 months.
We spent our first week in Opua celebrating our arrival along with dozens of other yacht crews who participated in the Island Cruising Association’s All Points Rally. John and Jennifer arranged an amazing program of tours (including a wine tasting and a Maori culture night at the Wataingi Treaty grounds), seminars and parties.  After recovering from that, we spent the rest of November getting boat work done by the very skilled craftsmen in the area. Malcolm of CMC Design, was especially excellent, doing a real proper job of fixing our leaking water tanks (buried behind structural bulkheads) and a couple of other things. Malcolm and his lovely wife Joan, have just finished a 9 year, mostly high-latitude circumnavigation including a full circuit around South America (=twice around the Horn!).  Among many others who made us feel so welcome in Opua we want to mention Glen, Margaret, Mike and especially Bob Fassio of Cater Marine, who were amazingly friendly and helpful.
We bought a car from Phil at Cars for Cruisers; a 1997 Nissan Cefiro station wagon.  It was a decent ride - though the in-dash TV didn’t work J.  Its difficult to get around in New Zealand without a vehicle. For a small country they have a lot of roads, and certainly in the North Island, some of the most consistently hilly and twisty we have ever encountered.
Our friends Jim and Jeannie from Victoria were in New Zealand for a few months while we were there and we spent some time with them, including a rain drenched trip to Cape Rienga – the northernmost tip, and a lovely sunny day sailing in the Bay of Islands with their daughter and son-in-law along.  OK, we said no more whinging about the weather, but at Cape Rienga, it was raining and blowing so hard and the fog was so thick, that we had to ask where the lighthouse was and we never did see the ocean, 100m below us – we all became slightly hysterical as we sat in the car waiting for a break so we could dash out and take pictures!

 90 mile beach at the top of the north island. You can drive on the beach here, just pay attention to the tide...

 Gannet colony on the west coast. 

 800 year old Kauri tree. We saw a 2000 year old specimen.  Nice that a few are left to help remind us of our place in the scheme of things.

 To help protect the Kauris, you are required to disinfect your shoes before entering the reserves.

For Christmas we were invited to stay with our friends Sal and Al whom we first met in Trinidad back in 1996, when we were both cruising in the Caribbean. They now have a lovely house on a hill above the little seaside village of Sandspit, about an hour north of Auckland.  We hadn’t seen them since they had spent a year on their boat in BC in 2000-01. It was great to see them again and join in their family’s Christmas celebration.  Thanks you two for the fabulous SUNNY days spent touring and hospitality for us and the Cosgroves.  Our real celebration was when our son Tristan, flew in to Auckland from Victoria, early on Boxing Day morning. It had been a year since we had seen him and it was wonderful to hug him close. 

 Together in the Kiwi rain.

 Cathy and Tristan in the Bay of Islands.

 Tristan wake surfing in front of Idyll Island.

  The dolphins cruised/leapt through the anchorage at Roberton Island on a regular basis.

After Tristan and his ½ Kiwi cousin James, had participated in the Rhythm and Vines 3 day New Years music festival in Gisborne (complete with torrential rain, knee deep mud and roads closed due to slides), we spent some time sailing in the beautiful Bay of Islands. Then it was time to join up with cousins Neil and Christine from Victoria who were in Huia (where Christine grew up on the west coast across from Auckland), in a bach on the beach for Christine’s niece’s wedding. In spite of the torrential rains and flooding of the days before, requiring bailing of the lawn (no kidding!), the day of the wedding was dry, the bride gorgeous and the celebration, traditional kiwi feasting and partying . We were made to feel a part of the family and had a great time.

Then it was time to say “Goodbye”, to Tristan; the difficult part about this nomadic lifestyle of ours.  We returned to Idyll Island in Opua, where we had left her on a mooring. The weather was looking good and we needed to get her down to Auckland to get our watermaker fixed (again!). The calm weather allowed a stop for a dive at Poor Knights island on the way. It is a renowned sub-tropical dive site, the operative word being “sub”! The water was a tad chilly at 17C in our tropical weight wetsuits but lots to see, though very different from our warm water experiences.  We stopped at several nice anchorages along the way, and everywhere were the Kiwi “Fishos”.  It seems their national passion (next to rugby) is fishing and a lot of them spend a lot of time out on the water.

Auckland Harbour was great!  We found a berth right downtown at the Viaduct were all the action is and only paid NZ$45 per night – we would have expected around twice that for our floating double-wide. We took in a couple of movies (Tinker Tailor and The Iron Lady) in the deluxe theatres they have in NZ, where you can be served dinner and a glass of wine while you watch!  After getting our watermaker sorted out by Chris of Lighthouse Marine – a real professional and marine systems expert as well as a nice guy, we headed across the Hauraki Gulf to the Coramandel Peninsula. For several days we had to sit out a weather system in a couple of nice little anchorages (after years in the tropics, it was a luxury to find mud bottoms and no coral heads to get our chain wrapped around!).  The weather cleared and we scooted around to Great Mercury Island. Lots of Kiwi boats there enjoying their summer vacations - and the scallops!  We saw lots of divers and even small “recreational dredges” working the area and assumed that the scallop beds must be decimated. So we jumped in for a closer look and found to our surprise that there were heaps of scallops. We helped ourselves to enough for a very tasty dinner, washed down with some excellent cold Kiwi chardonnay.
After a few days, the next weather system was on its way and so were we.  Back to Auckland to finish repairs to the watermaker (Sea Recovery and their NZ agent Lighthouse Marine, have been excellent with after sales support), have a visit with friends and a bit of shopping. On our way back up to Opua we were able to rendezvous with Al and Sal on their boat “Jack Nesbitt”.  It was fun to see them again on the same boat (a lovely little Victoria 34) that we had first met them on 15 years ago.  We got back to Opua, not quite as calm a sea as on the way down, in time to meet Russell and Jane, whom we had met in St. Maarten just after we started cruising. He’s Kiwi and she’s a Brit, they have a house and kids in Vancouver and they live on their boat which is currently in Turkey! They spent a week with us which started off with another Kiwi wedding of a friend of theirs. Not quite as many guests as the Huia extravaganza, but large quantities of alcohol - these Kiwis do know how to party! The rest of the week with Russell and Jane was very wet and windy, but luckily they had brought a case of wine with them, so between that and the ship’s stores we just about managed. 
 Sal and Al enjoying the view from their home at Sandspit.

That brings us to mid-March and our scheduled haul-out at Norsand boatyard in Whangarei, a day’s sail back down the coast. We just managed to sneak in and find a nice protected bay a few miles down river from Whangarei before another front came through. Winds to 40 knots (~75 kph) and lots of rain.  When the weather cleared we proceeded to Norsand where they specialize in catamarans and the guys were incredibly attentive to detail to make sure all went smoothly, and it did. Once we were securely installed “on the hard”, we had 3 days (in driving rain and wind – sorry, no more whinging) to organize the work to be done before making our first trip home since we left 4 years ago! It was a bit unplanned and unfortunately precipitated by the unexpected and severe stroke that our sister-in-law in Calgary had recently suffered.
We flew via Shanghai on Air New Zealand who lived up to their reputation for excellent service, even in cattle class. Without a visa, we had only 36 hours in Shanghai.  A brief glimpse of modern China, but fascinating nonetheless. We stayed at the big new Howard Johnson’s and it was beautiful – not your average HoJo. We successfully managed a couple of lunches in little local restaurants where they spoke no English, but dinner turned out to be a bit beyond us. We tried several spots, but the picture menus, while helpful in figuring out what we might be ordering, put us off our feed a bit – especially the full colour shots of the whole bullfrog and skinned duck, head, feet and all, in the soupbowls. Maybe next time…  We spent several hours at the Shanghai museum – wonderful to see the reality of all those millennia of artistry. We finished by taking the MagLev train back to the airport. The fastest train in the world, we hit 431 kph, with no real sense of speed until we passed the other one going the other way at the same speed – like an explosion.

We flew straight to Calgary and spent a few days visiting with Cathy’s brother Jon and his wife, Marge, who is dealing with her stroke amazingly positively. Jon and their adult kids are supporting her every waking hour. It was pretty inspiring to see how they are all pulling together to deal with this unfortunate event. We then flew to Victoria where we stayed with cousins Neil and Christine who made their house our house. Thanks guys! Friends Jim and Renate who were cruising on their boat in the Bahamas, very generously gave us the use of their nice little Subaru wagon for the entire time we were there. 

We drove up Vancouver Island (500km) to spend a long weekend with Tristan in Port Hardy. He has really set himself up nicely.  He took us out on logging roads to the area where he is doing environmental impact assessment and mitigation for a major wind farm project. We also got out to San Josef Bay on the west coast where we had many ocean canoeing adventures back in the old days pre-Tristan.  He is renting a nice house with a couple of friends, a view out over the straits and a neighbourhood black bear.  We were invited to join him (Tristan, not the bear) and his friends at a house party and had a really good time in spite of being twice the age of everyone else there.  Back in Victoria we had a great family Easter dinner at Neil and Christine’s.  And many more dinners and lunches with family and friends. Thanks to all. It was wonderful to see everyone again and we were amazed at how easily we seemed to slip back into that reality.  A bit of a whirlwind though, made more whirly by us deciding to compress our storage locker to the next smaller size. Hard to believe we thought we needed to keep all that stuff! 
After 3 weeks it was time to get back down under to Idyll Island to get her ready for the trip back to the tropics.  Back at the boatyard we found that the work had progressed well, though with a few surprises (new windlass, rebuild of both engine exhaust systems, etc); nothing a few more boat bucks (B.O.A.T. = Break Out Another Thousand) couldn’t solve…  Then we were back in the water – all good – and proceeded to load up with provisions for the next 6 months and off to Tonga!