People, Places

Nawi Marina, Savusavu Fiji

Home has been the Nawi Marina since Aldabra arrived here on Thursday, May 30. This is a very new marina, still under development. The facilities here are very nice and the people who run the marina are really kind and helpful. The marina is on an island, so when we want to go to town, we take a small ferry boat that goes back and forth on a very regular basis.

Shortly after we arrived in the marina, Johno moved on shore to be with Thursday’s Child. Stephanie decided to fly to Australia to be with her former in-laws. Once I became an empty-nester, I started slowly reorganizing and cleaning the boat after the semi-chaos of the passage.

I also tried to hang out with friends who were here but leaving soon to go cruising in the Lau Group of islands – Ian and Laura on RaLa, Sarah and Bob on Rhapsody, Bjorn and Anneli on MaricX, Ted and Jenny on Southern Star, Alex and Yvette on Blue Beryl and Finn and Talissa on Beluga, among others. I also spent time with Dale and Katrina on Womble and Chip and Kristina on Second Set, who were flying to North America for a while.

Watching a demonstration of using coconut fronds to make a basket

Local singers at a Kava ceremony at the marina

Celebrating Alex’s birthday on Blue Beryl

\With RaLa and Womble, Stephanie and I took our dinghy to a place called Split Rock for a snorkel. It was great to be swimming in warm water after all this time. I also joined the crew of Thursday’s Child for a tour of the Kokomana chocolate farm and factory. And I joined other groups for drinks or dinners out. As most of my friends left, I started getting to know some newer friends, on Sawadiva and Rayfiki, Pulsar, Ticket to Ride. I went with Pulsar on a great snorkeling trip to Naweta Bay and on a tour of a pearl farm. With Ticket to Ride, I went on a tour of sites near Savusavu, including the Blue Lagoon, some hot springs and a waterfall. Our tour guide, Simon was great.

Stephanie and I returning from our snorkel at Spilt Rock

From right to left, the stages of a coco bean from bean to chocolate nibs, ready to be ground

Drying coco beans

Grinding coco nibs into delicious chocolate

Mary Grace and Frank from Ticket to Ride with Simon, our tour guide, at hot springs in Savusavu people use to cook their food

A river on a farm near Savusavu, with a hot spring behind the rock wall

Waterfall near Savusavu

Looking over at Nawi Island Marina from a hotel in town

As the social scene quieted, I spent time exploring the town of Savusavu, buying a few things that I needed and identifying where I would buy provisions right before leaving. I found a few good places to eat in town.

The boat was pretty much ready to leave when Jeff, my new crew, arrived on July 5 from Mexico. Jeff and his wife Jules were my favorite people to buddy boat and travel with in Mexico. They have now sold their boat and moved to a house, which frees Jeff up a bit to do some cruising on other people’s boats. Lucky for me.

The day after Jeff arrived, we set out from the marina shortly after 6:00 a.m. As we left the slip, we noticed the smell of burning electrical wires. Jeff checked the engine but the smoke cleared and he couldn’t immediately find the location of the short. As we continued out to the bay, I noticed that the tachometer and oil pressure and temp gauges weren’t working. Then I noticed that the alternator wasn’t charging the batteries. So we turned around and went back into our slip in the marina. After turning of the engine, we could not restart it, so we were really glad we went back instead of trying to diagnose the problem underway.

We were able to contact a marine electrician, Pillay, who came to the boat that morning. He spent the better part of the day with us, checking and cleaning connections, and finally removing the stater motor and relay. Both were quite fried.

It has been more than a week since this failure occurred. Pillay ordered parts and has been trying to rebuild our starter motor. Meanwhile, Whangarei Marina Services in New Zealand put a starter motor and relay into a DHL shipment. Pillay has had some snags in his efforts, but the shipment from New Zealand may arrive here tomorrow, Tuesday, July 16. So there’s hope, but we still don’t know how long this delay will be. And we’re watching the weather, because we’re on the cusp of a good weather window to head to the southern Lau Group.

While we’ve had this delay, there were also several days of high winds, so other boats came back to the marina. We were able to visit with Womble and Southern Star, Blue Beryl and Beluga. We said goodbye to Blue Beryl and Beluga for the final time as they headed toward Vanuatu, on their way west and then north. Jeff and I have done a couple of hikes and a tour of the chocolate factory. We’ve also shopped for additional provisions and done some chores on the boat. Jeff installed new cooling fans that he brought from Mexico and rewired a couple that had their wiring disconnected. He also recalibrated the autopilot with the help of Alex from Blue Beryl. And we swapped out the watermaker filters before repacking the lazarette.

It’s frustrating to be stuck in the marina for seven weeks, but cruising on a sailboat in somewhat remote locations requires patience. Jeff has been a great sport about our predicament. But I’m hoping we can leave in a couple of days.

Inland Travel, Passages

New Zealand to Fiji

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, the passage to or from New Zealand is notorious, which is why we hired a professional weather router for the passage to New Zealand and now the passage away from New Zealand. Just as we were gearing up to leave after our first weather delay, our router convinced us to delay again. Hanging out on the boat in Opua was cold and we needed to keep ourselves entertained. On Saturday, May 11, Dale and Katrina on Womble took us on an outing over to the nearby town of Russell, where we followed a nice walk to a lookout and had a yummy pizza lunch in town. Later that afternoon, we had a rental car delivered to us at the marina.

Checking out the Bay of Islands from the lookout near Russell

From the lookout near Russell

Aldabra and Womble near Russell

One more Bay of Islands shot

On Sunday, May 12, Johno, Stephanie and I left early in the morning and drove north to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point in New Zealand. The drive there was entrancing as we motored through a giant pastoral setting of farmland, hills and forests. At the cape, we walked to the lighthouse and then took a track down to the beach and back.

The Lighthouse at Cape Reinga

At the lighthouse

We walked the track that led to this beach and then walked along the beach

We then drove south to the dunes on the west coast and slid down on a boogie board after hiking to the top of one of the dunes.

At The Dunes

Walking to the top of the dune

Johno at the top of a dune

Johno sliding down the dune

In the mid-afternoon we checked into an AirBnB in Pukenui and then walked a short distance to a restaurant for burgers. After lunch, we drove to 90-mile beach and took in the breathtaking sight of such a large expanse of wide, hard-packed sandy beach. We stayed almost to sunset before returning to the rental house.

90-Mile Beach

On Monday, we left Pukenui and found a breakfast place on the way. Then we drove to Kerikeri and went for a walk and had a late lunch at the Plough & Feather restaurant before returning to Opua.

On Tuesday, Alex and Yvette from Blue Beryl joined us and we took off in the car. Our goal was a glowworm cave, but it turned out to be a very expensive tour, so we ended up in Kerikeri, checking out hardware stores and second-hand shops and getting a bite to eat.

The next day, Johno and I stopped by Blue Beryl for a visit and met Finn and Talissa on Beluga. Then we set off to hike from Opua toward the town of Paihia.  The walk winds around the edge of the bay and it is quite nice. On the way back, we got stung by wasps. A woman and her dogs were right in front of us and must have disturbed a nest. Johno had what seemed like one sting on his ankle. I had what seemed like six or seven on my calves. The stings were pretty painful but we kept walking back to the boat and didn’t really treat them, although I think I took an antihistamine. (As the days progressed, it became clear that each wasp had stung us multiple times in each spot, so I probably had dozens of stings. Johno’s ankle ended up swelling so much it was hard to walk for a bit. And my stings just kept oozing and itching for many days.)

On Friday, May 17, Johno and Stephanie and I set off on another road trip. This time we drove west to the Kauri forest, where we saw two of the oldest, largest Kauri trees alive. The forest also had an abundance of smaller Kauri trees. A very nice ambassador, Henry, answered our questions about the trees and the other inhabitants of the forest. That night, we stayed in Hokianga, at the Sands Hotel, north of the Kauri forest. We had a lovely dinner and a nice breakfast the next day.

In front of the Kauri tree

Looking out from the hotel room in Hokianga

The next day, on a whim, we drove south again, much farther than expected, to the Kauri Museum, which provided a thorough collection of photographs and antiquities from the days of triumphantly logging Kauri and clearing the land for farming. We stayed for a few hours and then took the long drive back to Opua, arriving just before nightfall.

On Sunday, May 19, Johno and I drove to the farmer’s market in Paihia and then to Bunnings, where we broke down and bought a space heater for the boat. It was still just too cold.

On Monday and Tuesday, we bought a few groceries in Paihia before returning the rental car. Then we did final chores on the boat in preparation for departure.

On Wednesday, May 22, we checked out of the marina and then checked out of the country. Once checked out, you are instructed to leave immediately. So we returned to the boat, cast off the lines around 11:30 a.m. and set off for Minerva Reef. Blue Beryl and Beluga were right in front of us and Southern Star left a bit after us, as did Antinea. Womble and Yuva planned to depart the next day.

Leaving Opua with a double-reefed main and full jib, the winds were light and the seas pretty mild because we were still in the protection of the Bay of Islands. We were mindful that you can’t dilly dally on the passage north from New Zealand because weather systems change and you don’t want to be caught up in something unexpected. So we motor sailed several times in those light winds north from Opua. Once we were out of the protection of the bay, the sea state was very confused and the winds were out of the southwest at 12-18 knots, with squalls up to 25 knots.  Eventually the swells lined up more behind us and we made 145 nautical miles in the first 24 hours.

The sea state the next day was pretty similar to the first day. The winds were maybe a bit more consistent, but we were being pushed west from the rhumb line. We did our first three collections of water samples for our Citizens of the Sea project. Each time, we would drop the torpedo (which contained a filter) into the water and drag it for five minutes. Then we would retrieve the torpedo, put the filter in a vial, and repeat twice. We did that at 10:00 a.m. each day of the passage.

Johno doing our daily lab work for Citizens of the Sea

Waiting to retrieve the torpedo

Stephanie getting ready to remove the filter from the torpedo

Handing off the torpedo to the lab technician

On Friday, May 24, our 24-hour distance was 150 nautical miles. Winds were light and shifty in the morning and we mostly motored. Squalls brought the winds up to 29 knots a couple of times. Winds were more like 15-18 knots by late morning. The swells were big. We did get a wind shift that let us get back closer to the rhumb line. We played with the jib, furling it in a bit with high winds and letting it out in the calmer winds. By Friday night, the winds were a consistent 18-22 knots with 1-2 meter swells. We had lost AIS contact with the other boats. Antinea was ahead of us and Blue Beryl and Beluga were behind us. One tanker passed us going south. It was a clear night.

By early Saturday morning, the wind had dropped from the high teens to 13 knots with 2-3 meter swells. We often used the motor to compensate for our low speed in those swells. We logged 152 nautical miles for the previous 24 hours. By afternoon, the seas were building. In looking at the weather, we started doubting the stop in Minerva Reef. It was likely that we would be held up there for several days if we stopped. But if we turned toward Fiji, we would have a better sailing angle. So we altered course and headed directly to Fiji, against the advice of our weather router. That day we had a much better sail, on a broad reach with fresh winds of 15-24 knots. Womble had already made that decision and Southern Star would make the same call a few hours later. Later that night, the winds dropped to 5-7 knots and we motor sailed in light swells.

By Sunday morning, we were still motoring in light winds and light swells. During my 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. shift, we had to slow down to avoid a collision with Antinea, who crossed our bow on their way to Minerva. Also, the tiller pin for the autopilot sheared off, and I had to switch to the backup CPT autopilot. During the day, with light winds more from behind us and a continued swell, we shook out the second reef to have more sail area. Our distance for the previous 24 hours was 140 nautical miles. We put in a new tiller pin and began using the regular autopilot again. In the late afternoon, with really light winds, we put in the third reef and pulled the main in to motor downwind, with no jib. We pushed up the motor RPMs a bit, partly for variability and partly to reach a new waypoint (that John Martin had given us) by dawn on Tuesday. (Once we made the decision to head to Fiji, John began routing us so that we could lessen our exposure to high winds and convection closer to Fiji.)

In mid-afternoon, Johno got word from Dana on Thursday’s Child that they had gone up on a reef in the Southern Lau Group of Fiji, enroute from Minerva Reef. As their communication continued through the night, it was clear that they were in a very serious situation. Even though we were too far away to help them, I was really glad that we were headed to Fiji at that point instead of stuck in Minerva Reef. That night, we had light winds from every direction, a 1-meter swell, a clear night and a big moon.

Monday brought some cloudy weather. We continued to have light winds and slightly larger swells. The winds were coming from the west, which was good, but they weren’t strong enough for us to turn off the motor. We had sailed 139 miles in the previous 24 hours. The water was getting noticeably warmer.

On Tuesday morning, we reached our waypoint around dawn, then turned slightly to the right to head to our next waypoint. The tiller pin for the autopilot sheared off again, and this time we didn’t bother to replace it. We sailed with the CPT autopilot. During the early part of the morning, we were able to turn the engine off and sail with the main and jib. We had gone 157 nautical miles in the previous 24 hours. By evening, winds built to 18-22 knots. We sailed with the third reef in the main and the storm jib. We had 1-2 meter swells following with 1-meter wind waves on the beam. The night was partly cloudy, warm and humid.

Wednesday started out with 12-18 knot winds and 2-meter swells. The CPT was doing well but our speed was low due to the swells. By late morning, the winds and swells were building, with gusts to 28 knots. Johno started hand steering during his shifts. We had gone only 134 nautical miles in the previous 24 hours. During Wednesday night, the swells brought a lot of water into the cockpit. Johno continued to hand steer for each of his four-hour shifts and Stephanie and I would hand-steer two hours on/two hours off during the other eight hours. We would continue to hand steer for the last 33 hours of the passage.

Stephanie at the helm

By Thursday morning, we were getting close to Savusavu. We had gone 138 nautical miles during the previous 24 hours. Womble and Southern Star had arrived early in the morning. We continued motor sailing all day, slowly.  The weather was very rainy and cloudy and we had low visibility as we approached land and then made our way along a peninsula toward the marina. We approached the Nawi Marina at around 3:00 p.m.  A tender escorted us to the quarantine dock (as did Ian from RaLa in his tender). The officials checked us into the country between 4:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Then we were escorted to our berth. Johno hopped off the boat as soon as we were settled, to make his way to the AirBnB where Thursday’s Child had taken up residence. (They had been taken off the reef and brought to Savusavu by Second Set.) Stephanie and I went up to the restaurant and had dinner with Rhapsody and Pulsar and Second Set before getting a very good night’s sleep.

Gear and Preparation, Places

Boatwork in New Zealand

Well, I guess it’s time for an update. I’ll be leaving New Zealand soon, bound for Minerva Reef and then Fiji.

So here is the long rundown of my time in New Zealand since arriving back here at the end of January. I’ll break this visit into three phases: On the boat in Whangarei Marina in the Town Basin, on the hard in the Riverside Drive Marina Boatyard, and back in the water in the Port Nikau Marina.

During the first phase, in the Whangarei Marina, the weather was mostly pleasant, sometimes muggy during the day but cool in the mornings and evenings.

The first thing I did upon returning was to buy a used car, a 2007 Honda Civic. The paint was cracking and coming off on many parts of the car, but it ran well except for faulty air conditioning, which didn’t really bother me that much. My plan was to sell the car when I left to the same dealer who sold it to me. I expected to recover about half the cost, which was fine because I didn’t spend that much on it. He told me that If I bought a more expensive car, I would still only get about half back, so buying this car was sort of a no-brainer.

Once I became mobile, I started getting around to chandleries and hardware stores. The chandleries didn’t seem as well stocked as West Marine, but they had a lot of gear and the main one I frequented, AllMarine, would order whatever I needed.

I worked with a man by the name of Tristan Campbell, who works at AllMarine and has his own boat-management business called BoatSmart HQ. He looked after Aldabra while I was in California. Upon my return he helped me purchase gear and find people to work on the boat. He found an electronics/electrician technician, a sailmaker and a rigger, among others.

The dinghy was losing air before we left in November, and the leak became significant while I was away. After a few informative discussions with Tim from Northland Inflatables, I paddled the dinghy down river at high tide to pull the boat out at a little “beach” and wheeled it to Tim’s shop. He spent a bit of time trying to find the leak. At first it was worrying because a non-obvious leak is far more expensive to fix. But in the end, he discovered a very obvious leak on the bottom of the tube. I think I know which coral reef attacked it. Once Tim found the leak, I left the boat with him.

Another important thing I wanted to do was get the boat attached to a battery charger, working off the marina’s shore power. It took a long time to identify the right equipment, which even though new, had to then be tested by an electrical services company before being put in use. After a couple of weeks, I finally had power to the batteries, which meant I could use more refrigeration and power tools. It also meant that I could remove the solar panels from the boat in preparation for putting new ones on. My solar panels had been underperforming, so I was hoping that new ones would give me a boost. The truth is that I keep putting new energy hogs on the boat, which is why it’s hard to keep up with the demand. (Starlink is the newest energy hog, but refrigeration and the autopilot are big contributors to the deficit.)

There were some big projects I wanted to have done while in New Zealand, but in Whangarei, the tradespeople are really busy, so it’s hard to find some skill sets. I did manage to line up people to make new canvas for the boat, a dodger and bimini and a new cover for the dinghy. Their work was to begin later in March.

Riggers are very hard to line up in Whangarei, at least at the busy time of year, but Tristan managed to make arrangements with one, Charlie, who would begin later.

While waiting on the arrangements for work to be done, I did some projects of my own, such as making new covers for the fenders. Another project was to make sure that my OpenCPN navigation software was ready with satellite charts for navigating Fijian waters, which can be quite treacherous because regular charts don’t show a lot of the reef hazards. That project took a long time for two reasons. One is that I have so little storage left on the PC that I have to clean up the hard drive every time I download a set of charts. The other is that I was confused about the process of setting up the charts. I was very pleased once I got that all sorted out.

One other thing I did during that time was to go down to Auckland for a couple of days to take a refresher course on emergency offshore medicine. Because we’ve had such good luck on Aldabra, I haven’t used any of the skills I learned before leaving the U.S.  So, it was good to practice those skills again.

Besides working on the little projects, which took way too much time to complete, I found some nice walks. First, I was walking in a loop that goes up, across and down the river by the marina. Then I started taking trails that start near the marina and go up to higher elevations and beautifully scenic settings. The walks took you through Kauri forests with lots of fern trees. It could be really hot in town but the walks were very shaded and cool.

By hanging out in the marina to get work done, I was missing out on two activities. One was to explore the northern part of New Zealand by boat. I was seeing posts from people who were spending their New Zealand summer discovering gorgeous anchorages surrounded by beautiful landscapes and interesting towns. The other was to travel around New Zealand by car, which many cruisers were doing. I’m sad that wasn’t seizing these opportunities, but New Zealand is a good place to ensure that the boat is ready for some more seasons in the tropics. I’m toying with the idea of returning to New Zealand next year without the boat to travel by land.

The second phase of my stay here began shortly after Pat, my brother-in-law, arrived on February 24th. During that weekend, we started some projects. (Running a solar panel wire, installing new faucets and drains in the heads.) But on Monday, we walked over to talk to Terry at Alloy Stainless about doing some metal repairs on Aldabra. In talking to Terry and the Riverside Drive Marina Boatyard manager, Karl, it was decided that we would immediately bring Aldabra over to haul out in the yard. Pat and I walked back to the marina, let the marina office know what we were doing, and motored downriver the short distance to the yard. It was a bit tricky because the prop was coated with barnacles, so steering was difficult. But we managed to get to get into the slings without incident. We were then hoisted out of the water and put on a hard stand right in front of the metalworks building.

Aldabra on the hard in front of the metalworks shop

And that began the phase of living in the boatyard for a little over a month. Pat was here for the first two weeks, before going traveling with my sister on the South Island. About this time, the weather was starting to get ominously cooler. We got a lot of projects done. And the professionals in the yard got a lot of projects done. It’s hard to say enough good things about the marine tradespeople here in New Zealand once you are part of their work schedule. They are kind, thoughtful and competent. Here’s what’s the professionals did in the yard:

  • Three cracks in the arch welded and then reinforcing arms added to the base of the arch to provide more strength
  • A strengthening metal tube on the bow replaced
  • Two stanchions on the port side rewelded
  • A frame built and installed for the new solar panels on the arch
  • A frame modified for the new solar panels on the dodger
  • Support built for the two new solar panels on the rails so they can pivot up and down
  • Bottom sanded and painted
  • Hull cleaned and polished
  • PropSpeed painted onto the shaft and prop to keep growth at bay
  • Rudder removed from boat and rebuilt
  • Boat measured for all the new canvas (dinghy taken to shop for the canvas work)
  • New light installed for LPG solenoid switch at the panel
  • House batteries tested (and found healthy) and new starter battery installed
  • Software updates installed for B&G electronics
  • Stern light moved farther aft on the arch so that it doesn’t reflect back on the arch
  • Measurements for new rigging wire ordered and parts for the furling system ordered
  • Outboard motor for dinghy serviced
  • Rebuilt rudder installed

Here is what Pat and I did while the boat was in the yard:

  • Cleaned most of the tools with phosphoric acid
  • Unbolted four stanchions from the deck and then rebedded them after two of them were rewelded
  • Cleaned up all the parts associated with the rudder and steering, re-oiled the pulleys and chain. Removed the old packing material in preparation for new packing material and grease to be installed with the rudder
  • Pumped up the accumulator tank for the watermaker, cleaned the water strainer and changed the carbon filter
  • Removed the rusty anchor chain from the boat and put it in the scrap heap
  • Cleaned the anchor locker
  • Serviced and rebedded the anchor windlass, with a new gypsy
  • Installed new anchor chain and rope, marked the chain with paint
  • Installed forward-scanning sonar transducer, cleaned up paddle wheel for speed sensor and cleaned all thru-hulls of dead sea critters
  • Removed mast boot
  • Repacked stuffing gland for prop shaft
  • Put new hose clamps on many hoses throughout the boat
  • Spent some time at the top of the mast running the main halyard back into the mast after accidently letting it run out
  • Cleaned rust off of the hull and polished the stainless steel railings and fittings
  • Removed the seal from the aft-compartment portlight, cleaned the sealant off the portlight and put in a new seal

The rebuilt rudder arrived back at the boatyard on Tuesday, March 28. The rudder was rebuilt by Terry of Alloy Stainless and Craig of Northland Boat Repairs. The yard put the boat in the slings and Patrick of Future Classics boatworks installed the rudder and re-connected all the steering parts. The boat then spent the night in the slings and was put back in the water first thing on Wednesday morning. Tristan came to help and we motored the boat downriver to the Port Nikau Marina.

As soon as I got to Port Nikau, Whangarei Marine Services came to service the diesel engine. Working conditions were good in the mornings but the wind came up mercilessly in the afternoons. I managed to get a few things done, such as servicing and replacing the pump in the aft head and running up a couple of new halyards.

On Sunday, my friends Ian and Laura on Rala came to the marina and helped me move the boat to the working dock near the marina.  We took the mainsail off the boat and then went for a nice walk and lunch. When I returned to the boat, the riggers Charlie, Alexis and Ian, were already preparing the boat for the mast to be removed. On Monday, I had the really fun job of cleaning the bilge and tracing the wires that run down the mast, because they would need to be disconnected to pull the mast.

On Tuesday, the crane came to remove Aldabra’s and Nereida’s masts. (Nereida is owned by Jeanne Socrates, who is the oldest woman to sail non-stop, unassisted around the world.)

Getting ready to pull Jeanne’s mast

My job was to hold the tag lines while the mast was being pulled out

Once the mast was off, I stayed a few more days at the working dock, and then Ian and Laura helped me move the boat back to the original berth on Pier C. The boat stayed there until it was time to put the mast back in a few weeks later. Meanwhile, lots of work got done:

  • Whangarei Marine Services took the heat exchanger out for cleaning and then reinstalled it. They also ordered a new radiator cap for me and aligned the motor mounts.
  • Nick of Canvas and Covers installed the new bimini, dodger and clear side curtains, and delivered the dinghy back with new chaps.
  • Calibre Sails installed reef points for a third reef on the mainsail
  • The mast was cleaned up and polished, new fittings installed as necessary, including newly manufactured tips for two of the spreaders and new sheeves manufactured for the top of the mast. Also new fittings were installed for where the halyards exit the mast.
  • A new deck light was installed on the mast
  • All new standing rigging was installed
  • Several new halyards and lines installed
  • New reefing lines were installed in the boom
  • The jib furler was rebuilt
  • The traveler car was rebuilt
  • New wedges were manufactured to support the mast once it was re-stepped
  • A pin on the boom vang was machined
  • The solar panels were wired to the controllers
  • I drove to Auckland and picked up the liferaft after it was serviced and repacked.
  • Two more stanchions broke and were re-welded, then we re-bedded the stanchions
  • The mast boot was secured around the mast collar after amalgamated tape was wrapped tightly around the mast and the opening
  • New mirrors were installed in the heads

While all this was going on, Ian and Laura relocated to Port Nikau so they could get a rigging inspection. They ended up on Pier C so it was nice to have them as neighbors. The three of us also got a chance to hang out with Dale and Katrina on Womble. We all got a nice hike in together.

We made friends with some of the people who live and/or work in Port Nikau. Ian and Rachel of Gypsea Lane were particularly welcoming and included us in the the social events with other liveaboards. They’re part of a really nice community of fun people.

During this time, my crew members, Stephanie and Johno joined the boat and joined in on the boat chores, including cooking some prepared meals to be frozen for the passage to Fiji. On Thursday, April 25, we moved the boat back to the working dock and the mast was re-stepped the next day. We continued doing chores while the final pieces of the rigging were were completed.

Aldabra’s mast being moved by crane to the boat to be re-stepped

Charlie and Alexis putting the rigging back together after the mast went in

Johno and Tristan working on the traveler car.

On Thursday, May 2, we drove up to Opua for a training session by Citizens of the Sea on how we would take DNA samples from the water each day on our passage to Fiji. After staying for the Citizens of the Sea launch event that night, we drove back to Port Nikau for more work on the boat.

On Friday, we delivered the car back to the dealer who sold it to me and rented a car from the marina. We then worked with Charlie the rigger on the reefing system and the lines running through the boom. On Saturday, Johno and I drove back up to Opua for a briefing on Fiji, put on by the Island Cruising Rally, of which we are a part. During the afternoon, I hung out with Debbie from Thursday’s Child, another California boat, and she showed me sights around Opua, including the towns of Paihia and Kerikeri, and a couple of the local waterfalls.

I drove back to Port Nikau that night and Johno stayed on Thursday’s Child. Meanwhile, Stephanie had stayed back on Aldabra while riggers Charlie and Alexis put the boom and the mainsail back on the boat, and installed the runners for the inner forestay.

On Sunday and Monday, we continued with final preparations for departure, casting off the docklines at 5:00 p.m. on Monday. It was rather emotional for me because I had grown quite fond of several people in Port Nikau. Seeing us off that evening was Blair, the very kind and thoughtful marina manager, Charlie our very busy, solutions-oriented rigger who was also entertaining and warm-hearted, and Tristan, who was such a help to me from the very beginning.

As we departed from Port Nikau, we discovered that we had no GPS signal on our chartplotter. Johno drove the boat using my iPad for navigation while Stephanie and I replaced a cable that restored the GPS. We didn’t know that we needed to restart the entire B&G system after replacing the cable, so we were without wind instruments all night as we motored north to Opua.

The overnight trip north was uneventful and we arrived at the dock a little after 9:00 a.m., where Ray, Debbie and Dana from Thursday’s Child helped us with our dock lines. Johno then went up the mast to check on the wind instruments. Once it was clear that they were properly connected at the top of the mast, we restarted the system and began getting wind speed and direction readings. Whew.

After getting settled into the Bay of Islands Marina in Opua, we did a few additional chores for passage preparation, and caught up with old friends, including Jaime and Fiona on Szel, Alex and Yvette on Blue Beryl, Dale and Katrina on Womble, and Chip and Kristina on Second Set. We’ve also met new people who are part of the rally with us. With the help of Predictwind and our weather router, John Martin, we were scheduled to depart for Minerva Reef this Saturday, tomorrow. A lot of other boats left today, which also seemed like a good time to leave. Shortly after all the boats left, we were alerted by John Martin that predictions for our departure had changed, so we are on hold for a few more days.

It’s brutally cold and windy here and we’re all looking forward to a warmer climate. The plan is to get to Minerva Reef and hang out for a few days and catch some lobster. We’ll then head north to Savusavu on the south side of Vanua Levu in Fiji.

Passages

Passage to New Zealand

On Thursday, November 9, we (along with several boats) pulled up the anchor at 9:00 a.m. and headed to the pass to leave North Minerva Reef. Outside the pass, we put up our mainsail with two reefs and then unfurled the jib. On port tack, we aimed for a waypoint just west of South Minerva Reef. We were on a very close reach at first but later the wind came more from behind and we sailed on a beam reach. Once we passed South Minerva Reef, we aimed for a waypoint that our router, John Martin, had provided, which took us slightly west of the rhumb line to Opua, New Zealand.

This shows our track as we leave Minerva Reef

Day One was eventful from a boat-issues standpoint. First, the pin on the autopilot RAM sheared off and we lost the ability to steer with the autopilot. Johno hand-steered for an hour while Pat went down into the lazarette and replaced the pin. Next, a familiar groan associated with the rudder stock resumed. We had not had problems with it for some time. We opened the port and lubricated the area associsted with the groan. When we did that, we noticed that the four bolts that hold the stock were loose and there was a lot of play. We tightened those bolts.

The seas were big and the wind was in the high teens or low twenties, so the boat was heeled over and bouncing around. Dinner flew off the stove and ended up on the floor but I served it anyway. Later that night, the line that held the anchor in place snapped, and the anchor was riding about four feet below the bow, trying to crash into the boat with every wave. We ran forward to secure it.

For the first twenty-four hours of the passage, we logged 161 nautical miles, which is very good for Aldabra. That’s an average of 6.7 nautical miles per hour. On Friday, conditions stayed very much the same, big seas and ample wind. I had been sleeping on the port-side settee while we were heeled over and I must have put too much pressure on the table because the legs came out of their bases. Everything on the table went flying to the floor and everything under the table shifted from the port side to the center of the boat. While Pat was on watch, Johno helped me put the table right and reorganize everything, and then I tied things more securely. Rather than risk dislodging the table again, I started sleeping very comfortably on the starboard settee.

The bilge pump was going on regularly for seconds at a time. We were taking on water, most likely at the bow. It was not because of the anchor mishap, fortunately. We were taking on water through the anchor windlass opening and perhaps from underneath the bow roller. None of it was threatening the safety of the boat but it would need to be investigated in New Zealand. Coincidently, other boats around us were reporting water coming into their boats. This kind of passage is going to expose issues that might go undetected in more benign conditions.

Johno is rarely seen all bundled up but the passage was getting cold

Pat in his foulies

Bundled up

During the night on Friday, conditions intensified a bit. We had 25-30 knots of wind. It was wet and cold, with fish flying into the cockpit. Johno had to hand steer on his shift. Dinner ended up on the floor again but was still served. We also occasionally lost our GPS info for up to 20 minutes, which meant that we lost our position relative to the other boats on the water.

Johno’s shot of sunrise on Saturday morning

On Saturday morning, our mileage for the previous twenty-four hours was 159 nautical miles. It was a very windy day with very big waves. We continued sailing with a double-reefed main and a bit of jib pulled out. At one point, we were heeled over so much that the forward sink overflowed into the boat because water was being forced back into the boat from the thru hull.

Going into the evening, we were starting to sail more upwind. We slowed the boat down to manage for that wind angle and the big waves. At some point, we suspected that the anchor had come loose again. When we went to the bow to investigate, we noticed that the furling drum was bent forward because we had over-sheeted the jib. Afraid that we had damaged the forestay or the furling system, we furled the jib and sailed for the rest of the night with just the main. We also noticed that waves had broken two stanchions on the port side. We removed the full jerry cans of fuel from the stainless-steel rack on the port side, and secured them in the cockpit to take the stress off the broken railing.

On Sunday, November 12, the morning brought mellower conditions. We had sailed all night with no jib, but Johno had run the lines so that we could put up the storm jib. As soon as I woke up, we ran the spinnaker halyard up to the bow to back up the forestay. Then we hoisted the storm jib. The winds and the seas built during the day. We reached the intermediate waypoint that our router had provided, and started heading for a new waypoint that he thought would help us avoid an unfavorable current. It was slow going with the reefed main and the storm jib. During the previous twenty-four hours, our mileage was just 125 nautical miles.

On Monday, November 13, during my midnight to 4:00 a.m. shift, the winds were subsiding. I had to run the motor to keep us on our line to the waypoint and to keep us above 4 knots of boat speed. I would keep the motor in gear during light winds and put it into neutral when squalls would pass through and bring stronger winds. Our mileage for the previous twenty-four hours was 119 nautical miles. Later in the morning, we ran a new furling line for the regular jib and started using it instead of the storm jib. That helped our boat speed as we sailed all morning. In the afternoon, we motor sailed for several hours.

Sunset out on the water

Johno took this sunrise shot on Tuesday morning

Tuesday started out very mellow with lighter seas and winds. Then the winds and seas started to build. We started sailing on just the reefed main and no jib. It was another 119 mile day. The wind stayed strong all day and into the night. Eventually we tacked over to starboard. Slowly, as we got closer to New Zealand, the seas started to flatten a bit. We turned the motor on before midnight to stay on course.

On Wednesday, November 15, we got to the entrance of the bay at 3:30 a.m. After being in remote locations for so long, it was interesting to listen to all the radio traffic. There was one boat chiding a tanker because it failed to respond to a radio request when they were on a collision course. And then the maritime authorities of New Zealand managed a rescue, which kept me engaged for more than an hour. Johno took the helm at 4:00 a.m. and we continued through the harbor to Opua.

It took us about an hour and a half to get to the quarantine dock. We didn’t quite know where we were going so we ended up on the quarantine dock for superyachts. But the Customs and Biosecurity officials were fine with seeing us there. It took the better part of the day to check in, but we had a good experience with both sets of officials. Later that afternoon, after we were checked in, we took the boat into the marina, and Steve and Sharon from Szel helped us with our docklines. That night, we went to the Opua Cruising Club for drinks and dinner and met up with boat crews we had made the passage with as well as crews we hadn’t seen for some time. It was great fun.

The marina in Opua is very nice. On Thursday morning, Pat and I took advantage of their exceptional laundry facilities and did several loads of laundry, while Johno went for a hike. That evening, we returned to the Opua Cruising Club for another fun night of socializing with all the friends we had made over the last several weeks.

Johno took this on his hike in Opua

The next day, on Friday morning, we checked out of the marina and cast off our dock lines at 9:00 a.m. We motored out of the bay and then sailed downwind, with winds in the high teens, to the entrance of the bay that leads to Whangarei.

Sailing through the Bay of Islands

The scenery on the way south was gorgeous and we had a lovely sail, anchoring in Urquhart Bay just before dark, along with the sailboat Taku. We had a late dinner and slept well before pulling up anchor at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday to motor up the river to the marina in Whangarei. Midnight Breeze was right behind us and we went through the drawbridge together.

Aldabra going through the bridge opening on the way to the marina in Whangarei

After getting settled into our slip in Marina Whangarei, we took showers and then joined some other cruisers at The Judge restaurant in town. We had a very nice visit with Dale and Katrina on Womble, who we hadn’t seen since we were in the Tuamotus in August of 2022.

From Sunday until Wednesday morning, we worked on the boat during the day, getting ready to leave it for a few weeks. During the evenings we visited with cruiser friends, including Dale and Katrina on Womble, Richard and Caroline on Midnight Breeze and Jamie on Szel. Right before we left, we moved to another slip.

Our marina in New Zealand

Then, with our boat projects completed, we hopped on a bus for Auckland. Once there, we took a cab to a hotel at the airport, spent the night and caught our planes back to the States on Thursday afternoon. We arrived early on Thursday morning, just in time for Thanksgiving festivities.

Passages, Places

Passage to North Minerva Reef

On Wednesday, November 1, we sailed in nice conditions out of the pass on the western side of Tongatapu and then continued on course to North Minerva Reef in nice conditions until early afternoon. At about 2:00 p.m., the wind went light and shifted direction. We shook a reef out of the main and furled the jib so we could motor sail for a while and charge the batteries. About an hour later, the wind picked up and we shut off the motor and unfurled the jib. We put the second reef in the main. We sailed through most of the night with two reefs in the main and the jib partly furled. Johno unfurled the jib completely during his watch at 4:00 a.m. 

Night sailing on the way to Minerva Reef

On Thursday, Novembert 2, we continued sailing with good speed with a double-reefed main and a full jib. In the afternoon, we couldn’t hold our course, we were being pushed to the east. We jibed over and sailed for three hours before jibing back. At that point, we had a perfect angle for continuing on to Minerva Reef. After my shift ended at 4:00 p.m., Johno started hand steering and got the boat moving very fast. He clocked 10 knots of boat speed at one point and was having a great time sailing. At 8:00 p.m., Pat took over and we slowed the boat down for the night by furling the jib a bit. Later, we took the main down and just sailed with a reefed jib. When I came on watch at midnight, I calculated that we could go a bit faster and still get to Minerva after daybreak, so I unfurled the jib completely. My shift was uneventful except for hailing one boat that didn’t have AIS and was on a collision course with us. We sorted that out and sailed smoothly until arriving at the entrance to the reef. By that time, Johno was on watch and he furled the jib and took us in through the pass. We anchored on the northeast corner with Szel and Blue Beryl, Amae, Elixir, Blue Marine and Jollity. Midnight Breeze, Susimi and La Vida anchored on the southeast corner but joined us the next day. It was a windy day inside the reef.

Getting ready to enter the pass at Minerva Reef

Saturday, November 4 was a cold and gloomy and windy day. We went to lunch on Blue Beryl, enjoying Ota Iki and sashimi. That night we had lobster for dinner, which Alex had given to us.

On Sunday, many of us took our dinghies over to Pogeyan, and Richard escorted us outside the pass to snorkel what he calls the Blue Lagoon. Richard and Michelle have been coming to the Minerva Reefs for years and are very gracious hosts, showing all of us newcomers where to go. That night, we had a huge potluck on their boat. There were 38 people, having a great time visiting and eating.

Potluck on Pogeyan

We had thought that Monday, November 6 would be our day to head for New Zealand, but the weather routers postponed it. Instead, Johno and Max from Elixir and Isabela from Blue Beryl went lobster hunting and brought back ample lobster for dinner.

Successful lobster hunt

Johno and his lobster

They repeated the hunt the next day, taking lots of other cruisers with them. Again, we enjoyed a lobster dinner. Before their Tuesday hunt, most of the boats in the anchorage (we had now moved to the southeast corner because the wind had shifted) went in their dinghies with Richard to explore the reef while it was exposed by the low tide. We all stood around on the reef and visited, our first time walking in several days, and possibly our last time walking for a week.

Hanging out on the reef

Boats anchored at Minerva Reef

Boats anchored at Minerva Reef, taken from the top of the mast on Aldabra

We all had lots of conversations about when to leave, and even thought we would leave for New Zealand on Wednesday. But on Wednesday, the weather routers agreed that Thursday would be a better day. So Wednesday was spent on the boat, a very gloomy, windy, rainy day.

Passages, Places

Tongatapu

On Sunday, October 15, Johno and I arrived at daybreak at the entrance to the Phia Passage on the eastern side of Tongatapu. We took our sails down and motored quite a long way through the passage until we arrived at Pangaimotu island. Many cruising boats were anchored there and we joined the crowd.

Pangaimotu near Big Mama’s

The anchorage is in front of what was once Big Mama’s restaurant, before the Tsunami. Now Earl and Mama offer services to cruisers who anchor there. They will shuttle people a mile into town. They offer their BBQ, tables and chairs for cruisers to picnic. And they help out in many other ways.

That night, after we had afternoon naps, we joined many cruisers, included Blue Beryl, Szel and Second Set in a potluck BBQ at Big Mama’s. We met new people, including Kristel and Philipe on Amae, and remet people such as JB, Ana and baby Olivia. We had previously met JB and Ana in the Marquesas, before Olivia was born.

On Monday, October 16, Johno and I went to shore and joined up with Alex and Yvette from Blue Beryl on a walk to find the offices where we could check into the island group. We first went to the Port Authority office to pay the port fee. Then, we went to the Customs office across the street. There we got the paperwork that we would need for when we cleared out of the country. From there, we walked just over a mile to town. We checked out the public market and then had lunch at Friends Café, in the oldest building in the city.

Friends Cafe in NukuAlofa

After walking back to the dinghy, we motored the mile back to the anchorage. On Aldabra, we baked brownies that we took that night for a pizza dinner on Blue Beryl with Amae and Szel.

On Tuesday, October 17, we took 10 jerry cans and boarded Second Set for a ride to the wharf. Chip had permission to pull up to the wharf and, with the help of local “fixer” Olini, shuttle jerry cans of fuel from the gas station to the boat. We then syphoned fuel into Second Set and refilled the jerry cans to take back to Aldabra. Amae was there with us to do the same thing, and Jamie on Szel was there for moral support. We then all returned to the anchorage on Second Set and took our filled jerry cans back to our boats. Later that afternoon we had beers on Second Set with Chip and Kristina. It was really windy.

On Wednesday, it was still really windy so we stayed on the boat all day. That night, we had drinks and dinner on Szel with Jamie and Fiona, a delightful evening. Blue Beryl was on their own that night because Yvette was flying out early the next morning and the new crew, Fred and Isabela, were joining the boat.

On Thursday morning, we took our dinghy over to Szel and tied it on, joining Jamie and Fiona for a trip to the harbor. With much help from Johhno, we got Szel secure inside the harbor, anchored with a couple of lines to shore. Johno and I then took the dinghy to the dinghy dock and walked into town and had lunch at Friends Café. Jamie and Fiona joined us a bit later. From there, Fiona took a taxi to the airport to fly to Australia to see her son. And shortly after that, Jamie’s new crew, Steve and Sharon, arrived from the airport. While we were in Friends, we started meeting people. Karenza, whom we had met in Neiafu showed up on her way to the airport to go to Fiji to join a boat. We also met Uili Louisi, who runs a climate change NGO. Our trip back to the anchorage was very wet because the winds and seas continued to be whipped up.

On Friday, we stayed on the boat and did some projects. Johno cleaned a large portion of the boat bottom, which would need to be very clean before arriving in New Zealand. We then had drinks and appetizers on Yuva with Jim and Perry to celebrate Jim’s birthday. We had a lovely evening with them.

On Saturday, October 21, Johno and I took the dinghy back into town. We shopped and had lunch at Friends. We saw the folks from Traveller, Saorise, Amae and others. Jamie and Steve and Sharon from Szel joined us later. We walked the mile back to the dinghy with our provisions and stayed on the boat for a bit before returning to shore to pick up Pat, who was coming from the airport by taxi in the late afternoon. After Pat showed up, we helped Szel tie there lines at the wharf and then headed back to the boat so Pat could get settled in.

On Sunday, the day to be discreet if you are going to work on the boat, Johno and I worked on cleaning the boat bottom. I used one scuba tank to clean the keel and rudder and another to clean the prop and shaft. Johnno and Pat replaced a diode on the windass motor. That night, we joined other cruisers for a BBQ at Big Mama’s, which included, Amae, Sea Wind, Yuva, Taku, Midnight Breeze, Susimi, Pangea, Traveller Saorise and Tin Lizzy.

Looking out at the anchorage from Big Mama’s

Cruisers at the potluck

With Pat on the boat, we were ready to head to New Zealand, but the professional weather routers were telling us it wasn’t time yet. So along with the other boats, we waited. On Monday, we sewed new telltails on the mainsail and finished cleaning the boat bottom. On Tuesday, we stayed on the boat all day and made preparations for a passage. On Wednesday, we went to shore with two dive tanks to get filled and one propane tank. We were successful with the dive tanks but had to wait to get the propane tank filled. Next, we walked the mile to town so Pat could see it. We stopped at the post office so Johno could send a postcard and Pat could buy a stamp. We then had lunch at Friends before stopping by the market.

Shopping at the market

Walking with our grocerie along the waterfront

That evening, we had drinks on Szel with the Blue Beryl crew. Pat and I were home by 10:00 p.m. but the party itself went well into the night.

Party on Szel

From Thursday through Sunday, we just waited for the illusive weather window. We all found ways to amuse ourselves, some projects, some exploration, some reading.

On Monday morning, October 30, we got up early and went to shore to check out of the country. We started by walking to the fuel station to get a couple of jerry cans filled. And we went to a bakery we had just found out about. We bought all kinds of yummy things. Then we went back to the dinghy to drop off the jerry cans and got the propane tank to refill at Tonga Gas. Once that was taken care of, we went to Customs to check out of the country. That completed, we walked back to the bakery to buy more goodies and then went to Friends for one last smoothie. We bought a few last-minute provisions and then took a taxi to the dinghy. Once again, the ride back to the boat was choppy and windy and we got drenched.

Final lunch at Friends

On Tuesday, October 31, our weather window still had not materialized so we went back to town again to shop at the bakery and the market and the butchery. We had lunch at Friends and then returned to the boat. That night was very windy and one of the boats in the anchorage was dragging and about to hit another boat. Paul on Susimi alerted us by radio, and Johno and I got in the dinghy and woke up the dragging boat by pounding on their hull. They managed to get their boat moving forward just in time. We were never able to wake up the boat that was about to be hit.

On Wednesday, November 1, we were all set to leave the anchorage at the recommendation of our weather router. But it was super windy and we weren’t sure it was a wise decision. Szel left at 6:00 a.m. and reported adverse conditions outside of the pass. But by 10:00 a.m., the winds had abated and we pulled up anchor. Several other boats left around that time, Amae, Taku, Blue Beryl, Susimi and Midnight Breeze. Following a bit later were Elixir, La Vida, Blue Marine and Kaia.

Leaving Tongatapu

Passages, Places

Tonga’s Ha’apai Island Group

On Wednesday, October 11, Johno and I arrived at the Ha’apai group of the Tongan islands and were anchored in the Haano anchorage at about 4:00 p.m., after a couple of attempts to anchor. We saw whales on the way as well as once we were anchored. Sea Wind, with Lars and Suzane aboard, came in a short while later.

Looking from the boat to shore in the Haano anchorage

Looking from shore out to Aldabra and Sea Wind in the Haano anchorage

We had a quiet night in the anchorage. The next morning, we explored the beach and snorkeled on the nearby reef. On our way back to the boat, we stopped by Sea Wind to meet them. We had seen them in Neiafu but had not become acquainted. Later that day, Rowan and Jenny on Pole Pole joined us in the anchorage and we stopped by to meet them as well.

Johno’s shell find on the beach, two of the shells are homes to deadly creatures

On Friday morning, October 13, we pulled up anchor and motored to Pangai, the main village of this island group, to check in with Customs and Immigration. We anchored outside the harbor and took the dinghy in. We walked to the office and took care of the formalities. On the way back, we stopped at a couple of small stores before heading to the dinghy and back out to Aldabra. We pulled up anchor and motored to the anchorage near Tofanga Island. Johno explored on land while I hung out at the boat.

On Saturday morning, we both went to shore and walked around the larger of the islands in front of the boat. After returning to the boat, I went in the cold water for a bit and Johnno snorkeled around for a much longer time.

At noon, we pulled up the anchor to head to Nuku Alofa in the southern island group of Tongatapu. We had wanted to spend more time in the Ha’apai group, but when we looked at the weather coming up in the next several days, we realized that we would be late to pick up Pat in NukuAlofa if we didn’t start that day. We chose the midday timeframe because we wanted to clear the island group in the daylight. The winds were strong and favorable and we were out of the hazard zone by 5:30 p.m.  Because the winds were so strong, and we were going so fast, we realized that we would get to Tongatapu several hours too early. So, during the night, we  slowed the boat down to a snail’s pace so we would arrive at the pass after daylight.

Events, People, Places

Tonga’s Vava’u Island Group

On Wednesday, September 20, we officially checked into Tonga. We were in the northern island group, Vava’u, which is a paradise for cruisers. The group is made up of multiple islands, higher in elevation than the low-lying atolls of some island groups. There is one large town, Neiafu on the island of Vava’u, and then there are lots of small villages scattered around. There are dozens of places to anchor, either alone or with other boats. The town of Neiafu has much to offer if you have time to explore, and it is a gathering place for ex-pats and cruisers, along with native Tongans.

A main building in Neiafu in front of the small boat marina

That night, we had dinner at Mango, a restaurant on the waterfront that has a good-size dinghy dock. (The folks at Mango get a lot of business from the cruisers and they let us dock our dinghies there even if we aren’t eating there at the moment.) Dinner was with Yvette and Alex on Blue Beryl, but we also talked with Kristina and Chip from Second Set and Craig and Dawn and Jeanie from Russula.

The next day, we went to town again to explore. We started off looking for a bakery we’d heard about, walking away from the main town. Soon, a man stopped in his car and asked us where we were going. He then drove us to the bakery, and after we discovered that their goods were sold out, he drove us to a market that sold bread. It turned out that I had given him some rope the day before, down at the wharf. He repaid that kindness by driving us around.

After doing boat maintenance projects for the rest of the day, we had dinner at Kraken, another waterfront restaurant, with Blue Beryl and Szel and dozens of other boats. It was quiz night, run by the daughter of the owners, and everyone had lots of fun.

Yvette and Jeanne Socrates at Kraken on Quiz Night

On Friday, we went to town so Tom could shop for gifts. While he and Linda were at the public market, I went to Immigration to get letters for Pat and Johno so they could fly into Tonga without return tickets. I also extended my visa so it wouldn’t run out before our departure from Tonga. We had lunch at a shop that makes custom T-shirts and cooks nice goodies. Back at the boat, Blue Beryl and Szel stopped by to say farewell to Tom and then we took him back to shore to catch a taxi to the airport.

On Saturday, Linda and I went to shore to the public market and bought baskets, then had a late breakfast at Mango. In the afternoon, we went to the small boat marina to catch a shuttle to the boatyard. The owners of the boatyard were hosting the first event of a multi-day festival for the cruisers. We got a tour of the boatyard facilities and were treated to beer and sausages. It was a great time to see some old friends and to meet new people.

Sunday is a special day in Tonga, which is very serious about religion. You are not allowed to work or play. Linda and I stayed on the boat as required, but we did run the storm jib and the trysail up just to check that they were set to use. I have never used either of these sails, but they might be necessary on the upcoming trip to New Zealand. That night Blue Beryl and Szel came over to Aldabra for dinner.

One of the churches in Neiafu

On Monday, Linda and I started the morning at the market, buying baskets. We also did more boat projects before attending the opening dinner for the festival, which was at Mango. The food was good and it was a big social event for all the cruisers, making new acquaintances and renewing old ones.

Opening dinner at Mango

The next day, Linda finished packing for her flight back home. Then we went to the Basque Tavern for a festival-sponsored breakfast. We had just enough time to eat before Linda’s taxi came to take her to the airport. Like Tom, she had made many new friends on this trip and they were all sad to see her leave. After breakfast, representatives from various New Zealand businesses and government agencies briefed us on things we needed to know to enter New Zealand.

I spent the afternoon taking care of laundry, reorganizing the boat and doing a bit of shopping. Alex and Yvette had me over to Blue Beryl for cocktails because they thought I might be lonely. The three of us then went to Kraken for pizza night, another festival event. We got there pretty late so the pizza was almost non-existent. We ordered some food and started planning for the sailboat race scheduled for the next day.

On Wednesday, September 27, Alex and I went to the race committee meeting at Mango at 9:00 a.m. The race was to begin from Mango. Competitors were to run from the restaurant, get in their dinghies and go out to their boats. To speed up our start, one of our crew members, Daisy from the sailboat Traveller, was in her dinghy, waiting for us with the motor running. Alex and I jumped in and Daisy ran us to Blue Beryl, which was quite close to the restaurant. Alex had prepared Blue Beryl by removing the lines from the mooring ball and tethering the boat to the dinghies we had attached to the mooring ball. He just had to attach Daisy’s dinghy, unclip Blue Beryl and we were off. It was a very strategic start.

The race was quite fun. We sailed with Alex, Yvette, Daisy, Kim and her daughter Liz from the sailboat Tranquility, Fred, who would be crewing on Blue Beryl after Yvette flew to New Zealand, and me. We sailed very well and it was a lovely day for racing. We were passed by two or three very fast racing monohulls and a couple of very fast catamarans, but we were pleased with our performance. At the end of the race, we motored to Mango and Fred jumped off and swam to the restaurant to log us in. Later that evening, we attended an after-race dinner at the Basque Tavern, where lots of fun prizes were given. Daisy and I left at a reasonable hour, but a lot of other people made a late night of it.

On Thursday, September 28, the festival activity was an all-day culture event. We were taken in buses from the main town of Neiafu to the other side of the island. There, the Tongan tourist organization had prepared a beach party. We helped prepare some of the food before it went into the Umu, the underground fire. We visited with fellow cruisers and local Tongans, and we were treated to singing and dancing by local children. There were also competitions that the cruisers participated in, such as spear throwing and juggling. The event was a fundraiser for the library, which offers all kinds of activities for the local children. These children performed at the event.

Public library, Neiafu, Tonga

Preparing the Umu

Preparing the food that will be cooked in the Umu

The children at Culture Day

Dancing at Culture Day

Boys dancing, the money being put in their clothes goes to the library

Children singing

The next day, I went to the Falaeu Deli and ordered prepared food for the passage to New Zealand, to be picked up before leaving Neiafu. I then went to a few small markets and found some food provisions before returning to the boat to bake banana bread. That night we attended the closing dinner for the festival, at Kraken, which included a live auction that benefitted two local charities. It was a roaring event with lots of participation.

Wild night at the charity auction

On Saturday, September 30, Alex, Yvette and I went whale watching. The other participants included one cruiser and two couples that were visiting Tonga by land. While out on the boat, we saw many whales spouting and breaching in the distance. And one whale breached right next to the boat. But it wasn’t until later in the afternoon that we got into the water to swim with a mama whale and her baby. We were divided into two groups of four and we each got to get in twice. The experience was magical.

Swimming with a baby whale

That night we had dinner at Mango with Bob and Sarah from Rhapsody, to celebrate Sarah’s birthday. While we were there, Mike and Daisy from Traveller, Craig and Dawn from Russula, and Thomas and Daniel from Saorise stopped by and joined us.

On Sunday, October 1, I left the mooring ball in the Neiafu harbor and followed Blue Beryl outside of that bay and over to Port Maurelle, a bay not too far away. After Alex and Yvette had anchored, Alex came over to Aldabra in his dinghy and helped me drop my anchor. It was nice to get out of town and to be in a more remote bay. That night we had a delicious potluck on the beach with a few of the boats.

The next day, Yvette and I went to shore to explore. We walked to one town and then doubled back to another. We didn’t meet very many people but we did stop by a small resort and talked to the owner and the chef.

Tuesday was a cold and windy day with some rain. I changed the oil and the oil filter in the diesel engine. Alex came over and put a block on the mast for a halyard for the storm jib. Later, Alex and Yvette and I went in their dinghy to see Swallow’s Cave and one other nearby cave. That night we had pizza on Blue Beryl with Bart and Kim and Liz from Tranquility.

On Wednesday, I discovered that my foot switch for my anchor windlass wasn’t working. Alex came over to assess it, and rigged up a toggle switch that bypassed the foot switch. He then helped me pull up the anchor, and both boats left Port Maurelle and went over to anchorage #16. (For convenience, most of the anchorages in the Vava’u group of Tonga are numbered.) It was very windy and rainy there, but that night, a lot of the boats in the anchorage had a progressive get together where they gathered for 30 minutes or so on each boat for cocktails and snacks. I had already planned to cook dinner for Alex and Yvette, so we stayed on Aldabra and had a nice dinner.

On Thursday, we took my dinghy to a beach near the reef, then swam through breakers to get to the outside of the reef. It was a pretty challenging swim and I got winded. I was wearing the wrong fins for pushing through waves and strong current. Once we got to the other side, it was beautiful, but we didn’t stay that long before heading back to the beach. As we were getting ready to head back to Neiafu, the resident of that island came out with some papayas, and then Yvette and Alex went to his house for a visit. After they came back, Alex helped me pull up my anchor. I then drove by his boat and he dived off Aldabra and swam to Blue Beryl while I continued out of the bay. They passed me at one point and I then pulled out my jib and sailed on a broad reach most of the way back to Neiafu. I rolled in the jib when I turned the corner to head to the mooring balls. I followed Blue Beryl until they picked up a mooring. They then called on the radio to let me know that Jamie from Szel was in his dinghy, holding a mooring ball for me. I motored over to him and he helped me attach my lines to the ball.

On Friday, Johno arrived from the airport by taxi in the early evening. We took his luggage back to the boat and then met up with Szel and Blue Beryl for dinner at the Basque Tavern. Johno was tired from traveling so we left around 8:30. Alex and Yvette stayed quite late and had lots of stories for the next day.

On Saturday, October 7, Szel and Blue Beryl left Neiafu, bound for the Ha’apai island group and then south to Tongatapu. Johno and I went to the market, where he bought baskets. (Linda and I have spread our addiction for Tongan baskets to Alex, Yvette, Tom and now Johno.)

Just a small representation of the Tongan baskets that have been acquired

We went to the Falaeu Deli and picked up our order for prepared food. Then we got 120 liters of diesel fuel. We did this by tying the dinghy up to a dock, carrying three jerry cans each up a long, step set of stairs, walking through someone’s yard, and then walking up the road a short way. After the fuel station worker filled up the cans, we went inside to pay. The matriarch of the business was not going to have us walk those jerry cans back to the stairs. She had her son pull the car around and put our jerry cans in. He then drove us back to the house and helped carry the cans down the stairs. What looked to us like a two-hour ordeal took about 20 minutes, thanks to this very kind Tongan man and his mother. This kindness is something that happens more often than not in Tonga. Our last stop for the day was the T-shirt store, where we had lunch.

On Sunday, the day of rest and not walking around town, we cleaned the foot switch for the windlass and Johno reinstalled it. We also changed the watermaker filters. The rest of the day was relaxing and at the end of the day we had sundowners on Rhapsody and then dinner at Mango.

On Monday morning, we joined Sarah and Bob of Rhapsody for a whale watching trip. Also on the trip were Bjorn and Annelie from MaricX and Jim and Perry from Yuva. Our experience was similar to the previous whale watching trip. We motored for hours before finally getting in the water with a mama and baby. The baby seemed delighted to play with us. And the mama would stop and rest and let us entertain her youngster. Another great encounter with migrating whales.

Along with many images in this blog post, Johno shot this video

Although it was spectacular, and we did not seem to harass the whales, I think that will be the last time I participate in this activity. On one hand, the Tongans are very respectful and restrained with the whales. Still, we followed them in a boat for hours before they stopped to play. I have to think that they would be happier if left unmolested. We all had dinner together that night at Kraken.

On Tuesday, October 10, we checked out of the Vava’u island group before trading a couple of bags of dried beans for produce. (New Zealand will make us throw out the beans when we get there, so we wanted to put them in good hands. The woman we traded with was very happy.) Then we went back to the boat, untied Aldabra from the mooring ball, and headed out of the bay. We motored over to Mariner’s Cave where Johno jumped in the water and I stood off with the engine running on Aldabra. Johno swam, looking for the opening to the cave, but the tide may have been wrong and he did not go inside.

We then motored south to anchorage #40. It was in front of a small island with a reef, but very exposed to the high winds. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, although another boat came in and shared the spot with us. At 4:00 the next morning, we pulled up the anchor and motored around a rather large reef area before putting up our sails and pointing south toward the Ha’apai island group. It was a good sail, a close reach with wind in the mid teens.

Passages, Places

Passage to Tonga

On Tuesday, September 12, Blue Beryl and Aldabra motored out of the Suwarrow pass and around to the west side of the island before we turned and put up our sails. From that point on, we went 118 miles in 24 hours. Conditions slowed us down and we motorsailed.

On Wednesday, September 13, the seas were big and on the beam, with considerable wind. We had two reefs in the main and and the jib was furled partway in. The night was fairly mellow and comfortable. Thursday was an uncomfortable day but the night wasn’t too bad.

On Friday, we logged 135 miles for the previous 24 hours. At 4:00 p.m., we had 336 miles to go to the northen tip of the Vavau group, where we would turn a corner and head around in protected waters toward the pass into the island group. We sailed in big seas that day but we were pretty comfortable, 5-6 knots of boat speed in 14-17 knots of wind. We had a reasonable night and were able to stay on course.

Saturday wasn’t a bad day. We logged 126 miles in the previous 24 hours. The seas had abated a bit and the winds were in the low teens during the day.

On Sunday, we had logged 128 miles in the previous 24 hours. The winds and the seas started picking up. By midday, conditions were intensifying. We had an intense night, sailing with no main and a tiny bit of jib out. It was one of those uncomfortable sails that you just want to be over. We rounded the tip of Vavau at 5:00 a.m. on Monday morning. The seas were still big but within about 5 miles, the island started protecting us and the seas flattened out, evening with strong winds brought on by a cape effect.

Because we had just crossed the international dateline, Monday was now Tuesday for us. So it was on Tuesday, September 19, that we entered the pass, just behind Blue Beryl, who had slowed down and waited for us to go in with them. Both boats wound our way to Neiafu, the main town in the Vavau group. Several other boats were at the wharf waiting to check in because it had been a three-day weekend, so we each found a mooring ball, expecting to wait until the next day to check in. Kristina from the sailboat Second Set came over on her dinghy and helped us find a mooring ball. We were moored by 9:00 a.m.

Although we hadn’t checked in, we went ashore that afternoon to get money from the ATM and drop off our laundry at Bubbles. We looked inside a couple of the grocery stores, then stopped by the Basque Tavern for a beer, along with Alex from Blue Beryl.

That night we had a very nice dinner at Kraken with Blue Beryl and Szel to celebrate our arrival. The next day, we got up early and took Aldabra over to the wharf to check in. We stayed there for a few hours while we took care of the check-in formalities, picked up our laundry and got some fruit at the nearby outdoor market. Then we returned to the mooring ball, ready to begin our visit to Tonga.

Passages, Places

Passage to Suwarrow, Cook Islands

On Monday, September 4 at 10:00 a.m., we pulled up anchor at Penhryn Island and headed across the lagoon to the pass, exiting closely behind Szel and Blue Beryl. We all put up our sails and headed to the island of Suwarrow, also part of the Cook Islands. Although we were officially checked out of the Cook Islands, we had permission to stop over in Suwarrow, which is a national park, with just two rangers living there.

As we started out, the seas were bumpy and the winds were in the mid-teens, sometimes higher. We were making good time but the winds were moving from our beam to aft of the beam, putting us on a broad reach. At around 4:00 p.m., we put a second reef in the main and furled the jib in a bit. Blue Beryl sailed passed us right then. It was a bump night and none of us slept much.

On Tuesday, September 5, the seas were still bumpy, with 2-2.5 meter waves, and the winds were getting lighter. By noon, we had made a 138-mile day. We took the second reef out and wind started letting us point more directly to Suwarrow. We could still see both of the other boats on AIS.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the winds stayed light all day, aft of the beam. I took the reef out during my watch on Wednesday morning, but we ended up motoring the rest of the way to Suwarrow.

We got to the anchorage a little after noon on Thursday. John Blair from Ballyhoo stopped by to say hello. We then put the dinghy in the water and went ashore to check in with the rangers. Harry and Tana (my spelling). The process was easy because of our check-out in Penrhyn. We gave them a six-pack of Sprite and a six-pack of Coca Cola. We had heard that they were craving it so we bought some when we were still in Tahiti. To thank me, she gave me a grass broom she had made.

We had dinner that night on Aldabra with Blue Beryl. It was nice to be anchored in flat water.

There were quite a few boats in the Suwarrow anchorage, and the rangers told us that they had been so busy checking boats in and out that they had not had time to do their ranger work. So on Friday, we went ashore with some of the other cruisers and helped clean up an area between the beach and the rangers’ house. Later that evening, the rangers hosted us for a potluck with all the other cruisers. We had fish that Alex had caught and coconut crab that the ranger had caught. Other people brought tasty food and it was a nice evening.

Grilling coconut crab

The rangers, Harry and Tana (my spelling)

Tom enjoying the beach party

Alex grilling fish

The group of cruisers at the beach party

The next day, Saturday, September 9, we mostly stayed on the boat. I helped Tom patch a hole in the dinghy. Linda and Alex worked on sorting through and upgrading our fishing gear.

On Sunday, we transferred some fuel from jerry cans to the diesel tank. I tried to clean the boat bottom, but it was so bad I only got the waterline. I baked a cake and later we went and swam with manta rays on a nearby reef. That night we celebrated Yvette’s birthday on Blue Beryl, with Szel and Aldabra.

Alex and Jamie posing with the pizza Alex made for Yvette’s birthday

On Monday, Alex brought over 30 gallons of diesel fuel, to get us to Tonga if we  had to motor much. Tom fixed the location of the boom bales to improve our reefing system. Several boats left the anchorage, heading to either Fiji or Tonga.

Aldabra and Blue Beryl were the last two boats to leave the Suwarrow anchorage

Even though we had not been in Suwarrow long enough to explore this paradise, the winds were threatening to keep us there for more than a week unless we left right away. So on Tuesday, we went ashore to say goodbye to the rangers.

Saying farewell to the rangers

After we said goodbye. Linda and I walked to the other side of their motu, which faced the pass. We watched as Szel went through and took a few pictures of the island.

Szel heading toward the exit of the pass

I then baked some bread and cooked some sausages and we pulled up anchor around 2:00 p.m. Szel had already left in the morning and Blue Beryl left right before we did.