Thursday, July 31, 2008

Togo Chasm!

Day 2 of exploring Niue by car! We drove over to the more rugged East coast of the island and explored a couple of smaller 'sea tracks' down to the reef. Then we parked and hiked in for a half hour to Togo Chasm. The first part was a walk through the forest on a fairly good trail. But this was no forest we've ever seen before. The woods were thick with deciduous trees and ferns, along with the occasional coconut grove. At our feet, we walked on a thick bed of leaves but under this thin layer
of rotting vegetation is coral. And if you look off the trail to the side, you see large jagged lumps of coral everywhere among the vegetation. And the only life seems to be the tiny lizards that dart off the path as you walk. Very few birds and nothing else! The canopy almost blocked out the sun. At the end of the forest trail, the view opened up to the pinnacles of coral with huge crevasses running among them. But the locals had made a trail among them and you could pick your way down with
the occasional rope to help you descend. And half way down, you looked into a chasm at an oasis, complete with sand and palm trees, completed surrounded by high dark cliffs. A sturdy ladder dropped about 50 feet straight down to the bottom where you could scramble among the jumble of coral pieces into small caves that led to the ocean. Here, on the windy side of the island, the surf pounded in and exploded up the cliffs. It was quite impressive really!
On the way back we stopped in a small village and drove down to the water where we donned snorkelling gear and swam out to an opening in the reef. Lots of fish and we saw quite a large sea snake, black and yellow banded, and apparently one of the most venomous in the world! The locals assured us they were not aggressive though but watching it swim by about twenty feet below me was still a little unnerving.
Ice cream cones at the local video rental store, beers at the yacht club, showers down by the dock and back on board. Last night one of the whales was back. In the middle of the night I could hear it grunting and snorting and blowing about a boat's length away from us. It was dark with no moon but I could see the white on its flippers and tail.
The weekly plane flies in and out tomorrow (Friday) so Thursday night is beer and sausages night at the yacht club. The handful of tourist on the island, most of which we have met in our exploring with undoubtedly by there. We've requested lamb sausages if possible!
Meanwhile the sun is shining and there is a nice breeze blowing from the East so we are starting to think about the last 250 miles West to Tonga!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Whale song!

I was up reading a book at 3AM (don't ask) when the whales came by and serenaded us from under the boat. It was an incredible sound. Long low pitched hums and high pitched notes, and then pops that sounded like bubbles bursting. It went on for a long time and the sounds filled the boat. I like to think maybe a calf was being born!
Today we rented a car, along with Brian and Cathy off 'Tarun'. We managed to explore the North end of the island. This involved many stops with hikes down to the most incredible caves and pools at the ocean's edge. In two of them, we donned our snorkelling gear and cooled off in the refreshing fresh water that flowed into them to mix with the salt water washing over the reef. In one, you had to walk through a cave system of stalactites and stalagmites that were still forming as we went past them,
huge columns of minerals dripping from the ceiling and forming columns 20 feet high.
Beers at the one resort operating on the island, where the heads of state for the Pacific Rim will stay when they meet here in a few weeks, then on to a small restaurant for fish and chips, wahoo in this case, and more beers.
It was a cloudy, drizzly day mostly but the sun came out off and on. We have the car for two more days if we want it, so plan to explore the other end of the island tomorrow.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jewel of the Pacific

We are enjoying Niue! The clearing in formalities were so simple. The people are very friendly and genuinely happy. The population is now down to about 1500 people. After cyclone Hetta struck in 2004, several thousand residents moved to New Zealand. The devastation is still visible. Complete houses wiped off the cliffs, nothing left but a concrete pad. But they are slowly recovering.
We have joined the yacht club and obtained driver's licenses...not only very colourful but necessary as we intend to rent a car and explore the many caves, chasms, and 'sea tracks' as they call the trails leading down to the edge of the reef. The island is a large, more or less flat, lump of coral and volcanic rock. Beneath it are billions of gallons of fresh water that is pumped up for use by the population. Although a coral reef surrounds the island, there is no lagoon, just very deep water
outside the reef and a shelf up to the edge of the land. Caves have formed from the erosion in the limestone cliffs and the seas boom into them and cast spray high into the air. Small patches of sand are hidden in tiny coves at the edges.
We met Ernie who is in his eighties and came down to the wharf to show us how to operate the crane to lift our dinghy up onto the concrete pad. Then we met Jim and his wife, Mamata, who run an ice cream and beer place at the yacht club. Keith, the Commodore, drove us around and showed us the airport, the jail, the golf course and the school that was all decorated with Canadian flags. It seems the Canadians were very generous with the relief effort after the cyclone and added a section to the school
as well as supplying gear for fishermen.
The currency is NZ dollars and the prices are very refreshing after French Polynesia! Saturday we hiked down some trails to the water for exercise and Sunday we hitchhiked to a small village about 9km down the coast to the 'Washaway' cafe where we sat in the funkiest bar you can imagine with a billion dollar view of the setting sun and ate fish burgers on foccacia bread and drank Spaits NZ beer. We met Willie, the owner, who is also a mechanic and used to run the bakery but gave it to his brother.
He joked about looking up some recipes in the back of some woman's magazine and opening the restaurant. It's a wonderful place and we shared it with a handful of Australians and NZers staying at the only resort down the road and some Germans off a catamaran, plus a couple of locals.
There are humpback whales in the bay. We see them every day and they swim by our boats, sometimes quite close. They come here to have their young, maybe the same whales we saw frolicking in Banderas Bay, Mexico! And yesterday I saw the biggest turtle I've ever seen. It was swimming by the boat and stuck its huge head up to look at us. The depth sounder registers 93 feet below our keel and the bottom is clearly visible, even to the detail of rock formations and little fish swimming around. Apparently
there is no sediment from the island so the water stays clear. No sign of the little venomous sea snakes but we know they are down there!

Friday, July 25, 2008


We made it! 1100 miles....not much by plane or driving but if you think about crossing an ocean at 5 miles per hour...well its different that's for sure! The adjustment of leaving those safe anchorages, sleeping through the night, doing town stuff, hanging out...and then just lifting the hook and pointing the bow west. Oh, we did our weather homework but its all speculation; weathermen must be right up there with economists in terms of credibility! Anyway, you pick your window and then take what
you get.
As it was, the passage was probably one of the best we've done so far! After a frustrating start with light winds and some motoring, it filled in and we had great sailing, with constant winds from the right quarter and we flew through the water. Unlike our friends who went north to Samoa, they were beat up a bit with 40 knot winds or more. "Little Wing" was knocked down and busted their mast. But we think they all arrived safely, maybe with a longer list of things to fix. Threw out the hook
on the last day and something struck it but when I reeled it in there was only a small piece missing from the hootchy!
Seeing land after a passage is always a good feeling. We spotted Niue, a long low dark line on the horizon, about 25 miles out. The sky was clear blue with those fluffy white clouds like in the opening credits for the Simpsons.
But that is now and back only a few days we were coasting along in the inky black darkness before the moon came up. Hard to know where the sea ended and the sky began, except for the million tiny dots of light, like someone poked a needle in the canopy of the heavens and allowed a trickle of brilliance to leak through. Then the moon would rise, directly in our wake. It always caught us off guard, even though we were waiting for it. That moment when you glanced back and saw this strange yellowish
light on the horizon and had an instant of panic, worried some ship was bearing down on us. But it was just our old friend and constant companion, so welcome in the long dark nights.
So here we are! Tied to a mooring, an open roadstead on the West side of the island, unsafe if the winds should shift to the West, but not likely this time of year.
Tomorrow we will launch the dinghy and do the official clearance procedure. Should be interesting, because of the constant surge on shore, they put in a concrete wharf with a crane on it and we have to hoist the dinghy up so it does not break up on the wharf!
Billed as 'the smallest country in the world', Niue so far is a very friendly place. Rumours of caves and hot springs and motorcycles to rent! Also told that if you look down into the hundred foot deep water, you can see the bottom! And along with the bottom, you can see myriads of tiny sea snakes! And whales are in the bay, diving under the moored boats and breaching nearby!
Anyway, I'm sure this is very boring compared to what you all are I'll try to spice it up....tomorrow!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sloppy seas!

For those who have been aboard Toketie, picture me wedged in on the starboard settee, the heater at my feet (not heating of course), the lee cloth strapped tight on my left side and the cushion on my right. Pillows at my back, a cushion on my lap supporting the laptop. The inclinometer hovers between 15 and 25 degrees of heel and occasionally touches 30 degrees as we slide off a big swell coming up from the south! It's not too bad actually but you do have to be careful walking around as our little
world is moving unexpectedly at times. In the cockpit, Linda is up on the high side with a foot braced against the arch to keep her from sliding down. The full enclosure has been on for days now and just as well as the seas wash over the foredeck and rush down the side decks, occasionally Toketie buries the lee rail. But we are making good time and more or less on the rhumb line to our waypoint at Niue. With a steady 25 knots of wind that gradually backed around to a close reach, we average between
6 and 7 knots speed! With two reefs in the main and half the jib furled up, Toketie flies in this kind of wind!
Sorry for the long silence but the first few days of a passage are always more tiring and the first couple of days of this one were frustrating with light winds and heavy rain and too much of the iron genie (that's the engine for you landlubbers). Linda managed a lasagne yesterday that should keep our bellies full for a few days. Don't know how she does it. Keeping things from flying around down below is a challenge under these conditions.
The weather reports are favourable so with any luck this breeze is expected to hold for a few days at least. We maintain radio contact with several different groups. There is the 0300Z Pacific Seafarer's net of course that tracks ships all over the Pacific and post their positions and weather to Yotreps. Then we have a brief contact, usually just listen in, with a group of mostly American boats heading N to Samoa. Another smaller group is en route SW to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and our friends
on Tarun left Bora Bora today and are following us to Niue then Neiafu in Tonga. It is useful exchanging positions and weather conditions with boats in the area, also a little chitchat and review of weather forecasts. Other than that we are very much alone out here. We have not spotted another vessel since leaving Bora Bora. But we still maintain a visual watch in the cockpit around the clock. At night we find 3 hours to be about the limit to staying awake and the bunk is very welcome.
But we have found the rhythm now and we are clocking along and doing what chores are required along the way. For example, yesterday, before the wind filled in we were drifting about for a few hours so used the time to transfer 40 litres of diesel from the jugs on deck into the tank below. And the starboard jib sheet winch was acting up so I stripped it down and cleaned and greased the gears inside it. Wish I had transferred water from the jugs on deck as that extra weight topsides on the lee rail
is not welcome at the moment but don't know when we'll have another quiet moment.
But we are happier now with wind in the sails and the miles are flowing under the keel. Have heard great things about Tonga so look forward to it. Number one son (by 5 minutes) is planning to join us there for a few weeks before school starts so we are motivated to get there.
As for French Polynesia, it was overall a wonderful experience, though it had its trying moments. It cost way too much for everything, except diesel because we had a tax discount, and are told it is $10/gallon in the Cooks. We will miss the pamplemousse the most but fortunately stocked up from a street vendor just before leaving.
That's all for now, file getting pretty big for uploading! Wish you were here :)

Monday, July 14, 2008

to Tonga!

Left Bora Bora after waiting two extra days for weather to settle down! Very light winds but we are headed West with possible stop at Niue!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Au Revoir French Polynesia!

We have not actually left yet but since we are down to 7 francs we think maybe it's time to move on! That is about 10 cents in real money and won't buy you anything here. Even the beggars would turn their noses up at it....of course there are no beggars, even the locals drive new SUVs!!
But we treated ourselves to dinner at the famous Bloody Mary's and though we did not get to sit at the same table Johnny Depp sat at, we did get the lowdown from the waitress on which of the many famous people who graced the place were born without personalities! More on that over drinks some day....
We also took in another night of the dance festival. The last night was a performance by solo male and female dancers. They were truly spectacular! And the accompanying percussion was outstanding! If you are planning a trip to French Polynesia, be sure to be in Bora Bora in July. The dancing, singing and drumming is well worth it!
We also found Ben's Tex Mex burger joint and had a great fish burger! He ripped us off for the beers though!
Having done the visit to the gendarme to have our exit papers stamped and lined up at the bank to get our bond money back in NZ currency, we are now ready to depart! We anchored on the reef overnight hoping to do some last minute snorkelling but the weather turned cloudy so we opted to hitch a ride into the village and spend our last 2,242 francs on two decent bottles of wine!
So now all we need is the wind! Boats ahead in Samoa reported 45 knots, which is a bit much, but we are not going that far N so may be able to avoid it. Weather patterns here are different and we have to study the high and low pressure systems and convergence zones, keeping an eye on the South Pacific Convergence Zone which can be very active this time of year. Bottom line though, we pick our weather window and once we leave we are committed for about two weeks to cover the 1400nm to Tonga.
Once we start moving, we will be posting position reports on Yotreps and Winlink sites for those who have been following that little dot on the ocean....just look up VA7DXF and you can see our progress!

Monday, July 07, 2008

A swim with the rays!

We had dinghied out on the reef to look for the area where we heard people swim with stingrays and sharks...but had no luck finding it. So the next day, yesterday, having spoken to someone, we watched for the small tour boats that bring the hotel tourists out about 10 each morning and when we saw them anchoring on the reef, we jumped in the dinghies and headed for them! We anchored nearby and proceeded to swim towards them but were quickly warned to remove our fins and walk. The water on the reef
shelf was about waist deep and had a light layer of sand on the coral. So we slowly waded towards the group of tourists who were in the water with their guides and feeding fish to the stingrays! As we approached the rays were all around us, huge creatures with three foot wingspans or more and long dangerous looking tails! But they were friendly enough and when one of the guides came over and offered one of us a fish to feed them, they sucked it out of the hand and swarmed around us. With my goggles
on, I stuck my head in the water and noticed about a five foot reef shark circling the outside of the group! Probably why we were asked to stand upright and not splash around. It was a very strange experience, eerie in some ways as these things were capable of hurting you, not to mention the sharks, but they were very friendly and liked being patted.
Today we moved around to Baie de Povai, in front of the famous "Bloody Mary's" restaurant! If you all send one dollar, we might be able to go in for a drink!! Actually the place looks pretty nice and they were very friendly. We have tied to a mooring out front and they say we are welcome if we patronize the place. The list of people that have graced its tables reads like a who's who of Hollywood and other famous people! Everyone from Bill & Melinda to Johnny Depp!

Bora Bora looms!


Baie Tapuamau, Ile Tahaa


Saturday, July 05, 2008

Bora Bora

About 25 miles round to the West side where the only pass allows entrance to the reef surrounding Bora Bora. A steady 15 knot breeze eventually died out and we motored the rest of the way, arriving in time to line up at the bank to order our bond money to be refunded in NZ currency. They said it should be ready on Wednesday!
That night we ate shrimp on skewers from a truck vendor on the side of the road and then paid for grandstand seats to view the entrants to the dance competition that night. The locals had brought blankets and chairs and surrounded the soccer field sized area of sand where the performances were held. As the evening's competition was to go on for over two hours, we opted to pay to sit in the seating area behind the judges. Two local groups put on a spectacular show of choral singing and hip shaking
dancing. Brightly coloured costumes and lots of energy made it a spectacle worth seeing. One group told the story of the first people to come to Bora Bora and how the name evolved. The saga was repeated in English, French and then Tahitian before the dancers took over to enact it.
Earlier in the day, along the side of the main road we saw crowds gathered and poked our way in to find dozens of local men wearing the traditional wrapped cloth around their lower half and clutching a bunch of long narrow sticks! A coconut was suspended on the top of a pole at least 200 feet in the air and the contestants then proceeded to underhand chuck the spears at the tiny target! A few of them found their mark! Guess they have to keep their spear chucking skills up in case they ever decide
to take the country back and start eating the tourists! Not likely as the economy would take such a hit they could no longer afford the new SUVs and scooters they all drive!!
We left the anchorage off the village today and went around behind a small motu to drop in a quiet little bay where there were fewer tour boats racing by and the water was cleaner for swimming. A short trip by dinghy to the reef did not reveal much but maybe we were spoiled after the coral garden on the last island. The weather seems to have cleared again. It is hot with fluffy clouds and a nice breeze!

Coral Garden!

Yesterday we moved to the neighbouring island of Tahaa. Having filled the propane bottle, with butane for about $50, I then transferred the four Gerry cans of diesel from on deck into the aft fuel tank. About a three hour motor in no wind inside the reef took us to Baie Tapuamau where I carried the jugs in to fill with diesel and then did another trip to fill four jugs with water. Picking up the ubiquitous baguette from the little store, we were all set to throw another lamb roast on the barbeque!
Today we took the dinghy out to the edge of the reef that surrounds both the island of Raiatea and Tahaa! From Baie Tapuamau, where we are anchored, it was about a half hour ride to the three small 'motus' on the edge of the reef. We had heard about some great snorkelling and were not disappointed. We pulled the dinghy up on the sandy shore among the palm trees and hiked down a narrow path to the outside of the lagoon. Here, a shallow depression in the reef allows a weak current to flood into
the lagoon from the ocean. Donning masks and fins and using our flip flops on our hands, we drifted through a channel and over the most amazing collection of coral you can imagine. Myriad colours and lots of strange looking sea life with no fear of us whatsoever. Long pointed narrow little fish, almost transparent, not much bigger than a pencil, hovering an inch below the surface so hard to see unless you look up at them. Bigger, funny shaped fish with small mouths and teeth! I hoped they were
not going to nip at my ankles, like some piranha! Lots of tiny brightly coloured fish and camouflaged rockfish as well as sea urchins and the big clam shells with the brightly coloured lips, as if they had just put on lipstick. It was stunning!
The current pulled us along and we could just barely swim against it or hang on to sections of brain corral. At places it was so shallow we risked scraping it but managed it all with no injuries. Other places were too deep to touch bottom. It was like flying over small canyons. The water was crystal clear and a beautiful aquamarine. The sun beat down on us and as there was no wind, it was a perfect day in the water.
The legendary Bora Bora looms on the horizon.