Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Here we go again!

Well, it's been a long time since we last posted a blog. The blogspot is
called Manbys on Calliope and we haven't been on board much at all since
late October, when we arrived in Opua in the very far north of New Zealand.
We had a quick sail down to Auckland, a great Oyster party at the Royal NZ
Yacht Squadron and then left Calliope in Gulf Harbour, just north of the
city. We hired a car and drove all round North Island, fitting in walks,
wine-tasting, hot springs and Maori culture; we had a few days on South
Island, too, walking part of the Queen Charlotte track and enjoying Picton
and Blenheim. Next, we flew to Australia, explored and loved Tasmania and
enjoyed fun times in Sydney, Adelaide (though the cricket was disappointing)
and Kangaroo Island, as well as an extraordinary few days at Arkaba Lodge in
the Flinders Ranges. Then we had three months back in Europe - Christmas in
Suffolk, catching up with friends and family there and in London, and
fitting in lots of skiing.

Back to New Zealand in early March, where they'd enjoyed a fantastic summer
and it was now turning colder. Hmm...may have got our timing wrong.
Unfortunately, the considerable programme of work on Calliope was running
behind schedule (not helped by humid, tropical conditions when the
newly-painted hull wouldn't dry) and we found ourselves with an
uninhabitable boat and three weeks to spare. There are many, many worse
places to fill in time than NZ's South Island. We hiked the Abel Tasman
track, drove down the splendidly wild west coast and flew up to Fox Glacier.
We cycled the Roxburgh Gorge and rode horses at luxurious Mahu Whenua lodge
above Lake Wanaka. Accommodation varied from fairly basic to extremely
stylish but the welcome was always warm. The birdlife is fascinating and we
are huge fans of NZ's Department of Conservation (DOC) for their excellent
tracks, great signposting, maps and intelligent planning how best to
maintain and improve this beautiful landscape. We made a quick trip to
Melbourne to watch the Melbourne Demons play Aussie Rules, and see the
qualification of the Grand Prix, with Miss Tiggy and Meteorite.

Finally, we returned to Calliope about ten days ago. It feels like coming
home and we are finding our sea legs again. She is in fantastic condition,
with a gleaming hull - same colour (pale grey) but it had faded in patches
due to strong sunlight over the last five years. A few last-minute
adjustments and we headed out of Auckland, past Waiheke Island, which we had
enjoyed exploring in March, particularly the less-visited eastern end, and
on to the Coromandel coast. We met up with Sea Flute and enjoyed dinner
ashore, reached by taking the dinghies up a very long, very narrow and very
tidal creek to Coromandel town. We got slightly lost on the way back in the
dark... We've had some great sailing in the Hauraki Gulf; the boat feels
faster, which may be because she's got a clean bottom, all those tropical
barnacles having been removed and new anti-fouling applied. The light on
these vivid green hills and craggy rocks is gorgeous. But just when we were
getting into the rhythm of life on board, the weather has turned nasty, with
gale force winds, and we have taken shelter in Marsden Cove marina (where
it's fun to be almost next to SunSuSea) to wait until we can head up the
coast to the Bay of Islands, there to wait (again!) until cyclone season is
reliably over before we start the next stage of our adventure. That will
take us to Vanuatu, which has active volcanoes and men who dive from high
platforms (bunjy jumping without any elasticity to the ropes around their
ankles) as well as tribes distinguished by the size of their penis wrappers.
Lots to look forward to! After that we plan to fit in a few days on
Nouvelle Caledonie, where Alex spent five happy months teaching English,
almost ten years ago, before heading for Mackay in Australia and the
Whitsunday Islands. Then in July, it will be Indonesia. Masses of planning
and a fair bit of bureaucracy to be done for all this travelling -- and more
planning for the very exciting event in December, when Pippa is marrying
William Nicholls in Aldeburgh!

Monday, 23 October 2017

We've made it halfway round the world!

Hooray! With the help of various crew, we've successfully brought Calliope to New Zealand. In fact we have had 32 guests on board since January, including the two Kiwis who came with us from Fiji to New Zealand. That includes Pippa and Annemie who came twice! It has been a pleasure to have
you all on board, and we don't have any moments of thinking ugly crew thoughts. It is interesting to remember how you all almost self-selected which legs you wished to do, and we managed to fit almost everyone in! We are glad and proud to have done it all on our own without pro help except
for the last leg - see below.

Leaving Fiji was hard. We knew nothing about Fiji in advance: that it has 300 islands, delightful people, some of the best diving in the world, white sandy beaches, beautiful reefs, a great hinterland on the two larger islands. Even the touristy bits were good, but that made the remoter places superb. We spent six weeks there, and hardly scratched the surface. Put it on your list of very special places to come to.

So we arrived in Opua, New Zealand, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, nearly seven days after leaving Fiji. It was 1150 NM and, as advertised, tougher than anything since Bonaire to Cartagena and Cartagena to San Blas. But this time it was into the wind! A bit bumpy for the first 36 hours, then good sailing - both we and the Kiwis were probably thinking "do we need them/us on board?" - and then on the third day as night was coming on beating into strong winds and taking water over the bow, coach roof and up over the spray hood, the foil on the genoa broke. That doesn't mean the forestay broke, so the mast was safe, but it meant we couldn't furl away the genoa. We had been sailing in about 20 knots of wind, almost close-hauled, with about two reefs in the genoa, and then it just broke. Why? Probably just wear and tear, maybe we had furled the sail away with a bit too much load on it on many occasions so it weakened. So lifejackets on, Logan, Fraser and Nicky to the foredeck, engine on, Charles on helm. Sail down went well (it is huge), tied up on the rail and the lifelines, back to the cockpit. Then staysail out, start sailing again and thinking about what to do next (is the sail ok there until the morning?). Waves over the bow, funny noises, and there is part of the sail in the water, and a stanchion gone. So foredeck crew back up there, and a long struggle using halyards and winches to get the sail back on board, and then down the hatch into the forward cabin. It took two hours to do that, and we tacked back towards Fiji to get the sail on the upwind side to make it easier to get her back on board. Which is what we should have done in the first place - get it down,
sail off-wind, down-the-hatch - job-easier-said-than-done, hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Crew all safe the most important thing and everyone always tied on and lifejackets on. Logan, Fraser and Nicky were all great. You don't want to go forward in those conditions, but all three were coordinated, calm, and worked as a great team. Proud of the first mate as ever. Damage all fixable - those foils are a known problem and maybe we haven't always been as gentle as we could. How would Nicky and I have coped? We would have had to let the sail go I think once in the water, and letting it go, undoing three points of contact to the boat and keeping control of half a tennis court of sail, would have meant even more damage, and potentially danger, to Calliope and its crew. Is that an argument that we are sailing too large a yacht with systems that are so powerful it enables two people to sail her, but means that, when something breaks, you have created problems squared? Maybe, but I don't think we would have made this trip in a 30 footer, and we certainly wouldn't have had room for 30 friends, and the wine wouldn't have been chilled, and the freezer full of goodies bought months ago! As ever, yachting is full of compromises.
Nicky at helm approaching Opua

Two days of light winds but good sailing cost us maybe 12 or more hours which was fine except it meant we had to go straight into the wind for the
last 200 miles and hit the Tuesday weather we had hoped to avoid. So we motor-sailed the last 48 hours and the last 12 hours we motored straight into 20-25 knots of wind: "bang, slam, did Oyster build this boat properly? Could we have damaged the rig?". No sleep so plenty of time for those thoughts. So finally, we tied up on the customs wharf at 0600. The Kiwis persuaded Charles into a few Rums and Nicky had a good sleep.

Charles arrriving in Auckland

Opua marina in the Bay of Islands is everything a marina should be: clean, modern, efficient, welcoming (our goody bag had loads of information and a tot of rum in it) and staffed by friendly and thoroughly competent people.
The café does great breakfasts and supper in the yacht club was good, too. After being cleared in by customs and bio-security, we motored across the bay to Russell and anchored there - an interesting little town which was New Zealand's first capital and has attractive streets and houses with flower-filled gardens. They were preparing for the arrival of hundreds of yachts which were racing up from Auckland. On Saturday we watched the first arrival, a huge red catamaran, which had taken six hours (the record is just over five). Other boats straggled in for hours and post-race celebrations apparently continued through the night.

Our own celebrations, combined with swapping horror stories about the Fiji-NZ passage, were tinged with sadness: this is the end of the rally for some boats, while others are losing longstanding crew. There is a huge sense of achievement but also, I think, a bit of a blank feeling: what next? As we begin to pack up Calliope, we keep meeting stuff/pieces of paper that shows how much thought went into our preparation. Something that has taken so long in the planning and the fulfilment of a long held dream must, we suppose, lead to a such feelings. A remarkable sense of satisfaction of having done this together, having worked as a team, with separate responsibilities but developing the abilities for each one of us to sail Calliope on our own and to manoeuvre and handle her as a team. Enormous
enjoyment from having shared the experience with all of our children and so many friends. So new challenges to seek, maybe some more circumnavigating?

In the immediate future, what's next is getting to Auckland, where Oyster are putting on another party. I know we'll like Auckland: there's a Calliope Wharf in Calliope Basin. Sadly it's for commercial ships, not us. Our plan is to spend a couple of nights in an Auckland marina and then to
leave the boat for the next few months in a marina 12 miles north of the city. We had a great sail from the Bay of Islands to Cape Brett and south along the Northland coast. It's not living up to its reputation as the 'winterless north', however, and we were very glad of our newly purchased merino and possum sweaters (Australians introduced the possum to NZ and it's now regarded as a pest) and jackets. In Paihia we found a farmer's market and bought avocados and our first strawberries for a year! We combined our little shopping spree with a visit to Waitangi, where the Maori-British
treaty was signed 150 years ago - a well-presented museum and exhibition about a subject which is still controversial. Thanks so much to our ex-skipper Tom Kiff's parents who lent us a car so we could get around - they still remember arriving in Opua from the UK when Tom was only 7 years
old and deciding to stay. Winds increased and the forecast was poor, so we've taken shelter in Bon Accord harbour on Kawau Island and much enjoyed the hospitality of Kawau Boating Club, as well as a rainy walk in the grounds of the 19th century governor's Mansion House - there used to be a
thriving copper mining industry here. The governor was a bit eccentric and introduced wallabies, various exotic birds and even zebra to pull his carriage. Wallabies have since managed to destroy many of the native trees - you can see why New Zealanders are so protective of their shores. Nicky
has just been doing an inventory of foodstores on board (those of you who've been with us know her precious Book) and is quite pleased with her planning. There are still lots of cans under the sole (floorboards), but they can stay there. We've got too much pasta and rice, but again, they have long use-by dates and will keep. The freezer is EMPTY, thanks to the bio-security officer whose heavy-duty bin liner received lots of ready-cooked meals, sausages and ham!

Like most of our posts on this blog, this is a mixture of Charles's and Nicky's input. Our children claim they can always spot who wrote what! But Charles has actually written about emotions here... even in our sixtieth year, we can change and have changed!

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Guest blog by Annemie and Elisabeth

Dear Charles and Nicky,
 Many dream about sailing the Pacific but very few actually do. You have sailed 8000 nautical miles through the South Pacific Oceans since I left you in Panama after our adventure with The Stocks' in the San Blas Islands. You invited me to sail Calliope from Fiji to New Zealand and Elisabeth was kindly accepted as first mate. Due to my not too unrealistic fear of the weather conditions on this Fiji-New Zealand track, you were so kind to offer us cruising the Fiji islands with you both instead.
Ziplining girls
Our Fiji adventure started on September 28th. Calliope was anchored in Suva harbour and you had spent some time ashore in search for civilization after visits to the remote Lau group Islands. We met in the Namosi highlands of Vitu Levu. No fins so far on your feet and hands. However, this trip made you ageless in appearance and in behaviour…..we went zip lining.

Charles had not lost his rock-climbing skills from years ago - together we were sliding over rivers and high jungle treetops.  After that, we drove through the highlands with a map we could not trust. On our way on dirt roads through the tropical forest, with wild orchids and real biodiversity in vegetation, we talked to the people we met on our way and went to visit one of their villages in these highlands, located in a volcanic lush tropical and fertile landscapes next to a little stream. They greeted us with kisses on the cheeks and embraced us. 
Narukinubu village, Vitu Levu
We did not have "Kava" as a gift or any other drug of their own choice (Nicky's expression) but that that was not the villagers' main interest.
We got the impression it was just their way of living with each other, their hospitality and a genuine interest in us.  Lots of wild orchids on our way through the highlands, not a lot of birds and certainly not one single parrot, which Nicky was searching for her embroidery memory of this voyage. C&N first picked up 8 children whose school bus did not come and dropped them at their village, and then transported 5 rugby players picked up from the highlands to Suva, where they would have a tournament that weekend.

While shopping for fruits and vegetables at the Suva market, Elisabeth was cured form her fear of exotic busy markets.  Next day we left Suva harbor for Dravuni. A few days before, C&N had done an eye clinic on Dravuni and handed out solar lights.
When we anchored off in the blue lagoon bay, right in front of the little village, they were instantly greeting us again and we got directions how to get through the reef to the next islands, Ono and Kadavu, and recommendations for the best diving and snorkeling places. Sailing through the Kadavu group islands we passed deserted palmtree rimmed white sandy beaches with lush jungle mountains islands and 2 tree island, which was a large rock with 2 trees on it. The 2 sea tramps knew exactly the dangers of the reefs around and in between all these islands - one of them is that charts are not accurate, so  we learned to sail in good eye sight with the sun above us to be able to find the safe way through the reefs and their islands. While floating on anchor between these islands we snorkeled the great Astrolabe reef.  
Elisabeth reports on these trips:

- After very precise navigation through a reef which Charles was so kind to let Elisabeth have the helm and coach her through, we anchored the beautiful Calliope and raced off with Charles driving the dinghy like a maniac so we would all hold on like we were taking a rollercoaster ride in a theme park. Then when we reached the reef Nicky would slip into her fins and snorkel gear and just jump out of the dinghy without any fear as if she was entering the baby puddle in the swimming pool. She would elegantly swim around in the deep sea far away from any island to scout for the best spot to drop the dinghy's anchor so we could explore the beauty of Fiji's under water life. In the rare occasion of Nicky not succeeding of finding a good sandy patch for our little rollercoaster's anchor, Charles and Nicky would just nods their heads and be like: "well we'll just drag it along with us when we swim then" and so they took us out on their magnificent reef exploring adventures.

Annemie and Elisabeth
I did live up to expectations as I was seasick immediately on our first passage to the Mamanucas/Yasawas. Charles (my partner in the nightshift), decided it was not worth waking me up. No offence, but I flew all the way from Holland for it. "Calliope was sailing herself", was his explanation. Charles' questions while I was helming, were very effective in pointing out the effort I still need to do for a yacht master. The last day he handed over the helm (captains title), or "skip" status to Elisabeth as part of her personal leadership program, made me her admiral and aid and Charles a totally useless and Nicky an extremely lazy deckhand, who would only take exact orders and only when addressed and managed in the right way. In the Yasawas we snorkeled with Manta rays, a black fin shark and lots of very diverse fish. And had a wonderful sundowner on one of the other Oysters.

 Elisabeth and I can now say: we have sailed a tiny part of the vast South Pacific, which covers half of the globe, and we got a glimpse of what you have experienced on your journey through it.

But we have sailed the South Pacific, together, through you and with you.

Annemie and Elisabeth
Fire burn Yasawas

Friday, 13 October 2017

Fiji to New Zealand

Annemie and Elisabeth sailed with us in Fiji for ten days - they are going to write a guest blog, so we'll leave that bit up to them. It was a very happy time.

We left Musket Cove on 11 October at 1200 after clearing out. It's 1050 NM to Opua in Northland, New Zealand. We had strong winds from the south and some lumpy waves for the first few hours, then it flattened out and the wind helpfully went a bit in the east. It is now 0800 on Friday 13th, and we have 18-20 knots of wind from about 110 degrees or about 45 degrees apparent wind off the port bow. So it's very close to a beat, pretty tippy [TOO tippy for my liking - Nicky] (20 degrees), and seas are now probably about 3m - quite full on but fast. We are averaging about 7.5 knots so 180NM in 24 hours and are about 330NM out from Fiji. All being well we should make it into Opua on the 17th with about 10 other boats who left at the same time. On the 17th the weather is meant to get a bit tougher and the wind a bit more from the south so it looks as though our timing should be about right if we can keep up the pace. After 10000NM of downwind sailing this all feels like hard work, but Calliope is really plunging forward, waves over the deck, everything seems to be working ok. But certainly different to have 6 days of a beat. We have Logan and Fraser, two Kiwi sailors, with us and that is really good. Dog bowls are in use, but the food in them has been delicious thanks to the first mate and the freezer. Bit of a panic when I woke up on the day of departure to find the freezer thermometer saying 0 degrees. Luckily taking the water pump that feeds sea water through the system to act as heat exchanger and giving it a good clean of the odd barnacle in there seemed to solve the problem.

Nicky here: Life at an angle has its drawbacks: the shower doesn't drain, everything slides off surfaces and sleeping is a real challenge. But we are supposedly exercising our core muscles simply by clenching, balancing, bracing and hanging on, so that's good, I think. The night skies have been
wonderful and I'm learning to orientate myself using the Southern Cross, rather than the Plough. Still, I'm looking forward to arriving in New Zealand. We have a great itinerary in North Island (with a quick visit back to Picton on South Island, which Pippa and I enjoyed so much), and then three weeks in Australia, a substantial amount of it in Tasmania. It will be fun to meet up with Karen, who used to teach at Pakeman, and to spend time with the O'Briens and Bensons, too. Back to London on 10th December, which doesn't leave much time for organising Christmas - but it will be wonderful to see our children and my parents - and I should be there in time to see Pakeman's Nativity play, always a highlight of the season!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Fiji island musings

Malake school
First of October - we've been in Fiji for a month.  I think we've now stepped ashore on only about 15 of their over 300 islands, but we've sailed
past many more. I can't help being struck by how some islands are more lucky than others - not in any superstitious way, but simply by their
geography and location. Off Volivoli resort, just across the bay, lies Malake (or Malarkey as we nicknamed it). It was very unlucky in being badly
hit by Cyclone Winston and its school is still housed in UNICEF tents. But its proximity to the 'mainland' (actually the second-largest island, Vanua Levu) means it has a pipeline with fresh water and will soon have mains electricity.

Dravuni, 40 miles south of the biggest island, Viti Levu, has neither, so islanders draw their water from a well and have to put up with the noise and expense of a generator. However, as my friend Lynne says, you can make your own luck, and that's what the villagers on Dravuni have done.
Blessed with a beautiful beach and close to an easy pass in the reef, they have constructed a pier so that once a month a cruise ship can visit and bring its passengers ashore to buy souvenirs, watch Fijian dancing and sample local food, all of which brings money into the community. Once a
month is enough, they say, so between cruise ships they dismantle the pier and locals use it as a fishing platform out in the bay.

We spent two days in Dravuni last week: we went ashore, taking our sevusevu gift of kava (from Tonga; here it's called yaqonga, but it's the same dried root with mild sedative effects) and met the village chief, Joji (George) and his wife Makarete (Margaret). The following day we ran an eye clinic and dispensed about 45 pairs of glasses. People here are very healthy - the
simple diet of unprocessed food and lots of fish must help - and well educated, but many of them have sore eyes. Very few wear sunglasses and we
wonder whether that's just because they aren't able to buy them, or whether it's linked to their distrust of people hiding their features; when we very first arrived in Fiji, in Vanua Balavu, we were told that dress code was cover your knees, but don't wear a hat or sunglasses when talking to Fijians (and don't carry a backpack - hold bags where they are visible - that's for men, as women are not supposed to carry bags at all!) Living next to expanses of water, in bright sunshine, islanders have sore eyes because of the glare; their houses are also poorly lit. We were able to do something about this last problem as we have a supply of Sea Mercy solar lights: very clever small solar cells attached to a sturdy balloon with hanging points, which when inflated gives off an impressive amount of light. Apart from some old copies of the Fiji Times, the only reading material is the Bible and its tiny print is better deciphered in decent light with reading glasses.

That Saturday evening after a walk up to the summit of Dravuni, we had
Dravuni Church
supper with Joji and Makarete at their home. Despite our morning exercises and stretches, neither of us found it easy or comfortable sitting cross-legged for an hour on the floor! But the food and welcome were wonderful and we agreed to take Makarete round to the island of Ono on Monday morning, where she was going to attend a vocational pastry cooking
course (in the end, she found another lift, so that didn't happen).

Church on Sunday, we were told, was at ten, so we duly dinghied ashore just before ten the next day, to find that Fiji Time applied and we were much too early. A hollow tree trunk, 'lali', was beaten at 10 ('start thinking about going to church'), again at 10.15 ('time to start ambling churchwards'), 10.30 ('time to arrive outside the church'). The service began about 10.40 and was entirely in Fijian apart from a welcome and thank you to us in English. The sermon was almost an hour long. A helpful lady in the pew behind us told it was about the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Apart from a few naughty children and the Manbys, shifting uncomfortably on the hard pews, the congregation listened intently and sang beautifully, with added harmonies, when it came to the hymns.

Fiji $7 note in celebration of Olympic gold
All churches in this part of Fiji are Methodist, we were told.
We had one of those champagne sailing days across to Fiji's capital, Suva: flat seas, perfect wind, bright sun. Lovely. We cleaned and polished Calliope all the way across. Suva is a big city, its port noisy with container ships loading, the bay disconcertingly littered with wrecks. There are shopping malls, markets, even a cinema! - all quite a contrast to
the islands. We went ashore at the Royal Suva Yacht Club (of which we are now members) and enjoyed two nights at the Grand Pacific Hotel, built in the 1920s to accommodate passengers from liners; it fell into disrepair in the 80s and has only recently been refurbished. Lovely 25m pool and superb breakfasts.
Zip-lining Viti Levu

Our friends Annemie and Elisabeth met us on Thursday and we spent anexhilarating couple of hours zip-wiring in the forest near Suva, before driving in our luxurious Land Rover Discovery inland to the Highlands. The scenery was stunning: steep mountains above meadows with grazing cows (Dutch Annemie was convinced they were Friesians) and meandering streams. Lunch was hunks of just-imported Gouda as there were no restaurants; even habitations were few and far between. We stopped at one and were given a tour of the village, Fijians as usual smiling and welcoming.

Navunikabi schoolchildren
Church here was at the top of the village, with a shrine outside; this valley is entirely Catholic, with a convent and Catholic boarding school further up the road. Outside Suva we'd seen the familiar Church of Latter Day Saints and Seventh Day Adventist churches, too: these islands have been regarded as ripe for conversion by missionaries of all persuasions. At 3pm, we were driving past a large primary school and children were spilling out at the
end of their day. We asked some where they lived and they told us it was an hour's walk away, so we loaded 7 children in the back amongst the luggage and became the noisy, giggly school bus for a while. Later, having turned back towards Suva, we stopped for a young man hitch-hiking. As soon as we offered him a lift, six of his friends came rushing over. They were a Rugby Sevens team, going to compete in Suva, and the daily bus hadn't arrived that morning. These were strapping young men and we couldn't fit them all in, but managed to squeeze five into the 'bus' and dropped them off an hour later with promises to follow their progress in the rugby tournament.

Not every day is full of action and neither is every day time to move on. Sometimes it's good just to hang out, read and relax. We do, sometimes, really! We can't possibly see all of Fiji's islands this time and we have consciously decided not to rush the southern group of Kadavu in order to visit the more touristy diving resorts in the Yasawa and Mamanuca Islands.
Suva market

After a whirlwind shop in Suva's fantastic fruit and vegetable market, on a grey, choppy-waved day, with the wind right on our nose, making sailing impossible, we motored with Annemie and Elisabeth back to Dravuni. They
were both sick - it really wasn't much fun. But it was great to be welcomed back. Our friend Saiorsie, who has a framed photo of when he met Prince Edward in 1976, came loping along the beach with arms extended in welcome:
had we enjoyed the cassava he had given us and shown us how to prepare? Did we need any papaya? Please could he have a solar light, too?

Yesterday was busy: at 5.45am, when the water was mirror-still, Charles hoisted me to the mast-head (first time - I'd thought I'd be very scared,
but in those completely calm conditions, it was brilliant) and we replaced the shackle on the genoa halyard, which had snapped the day before. Annemie and Elisabeth went off to climb the hill and get chatted up by villagers who've never heard of Holland, then we motor-sailed to Vabea village on Ono,

Nukolevu pass
where we dispensed many more glasses. While the sun was still high, we went through a pass in the reef and out into the sea, then back in through a narrower pass with thundering surf on either side, Elisabeth at the helm with Charles beside her, Annemie and I on watch at the bow. Supper on board, a quiet anchorage, a good night's sleep and this morning's sunrise was spectacular, with small birds skimming above the water around the boat, the odd splash of a jumping fish but otherwise perfect calm apart from the now-distant surf on the reef. We're hoping to find some good snorkelling (maybe diving) today. It's still September in England but we are enjoying a good start to October here!
Two Tree island

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Life on board

Yesterday we took a taxi to Rakiraki, a busy market town 20 minutes from Volivoli resort, where we are anchored at the moment. It was Saturday morning and everyone was in town to do their shopping - great fun browsing the market stalls amid the almost entirely Indian-Fijian crowds. We were incredibly excited to find mangos, but disappointed to discover after we'd bought them that they won't ripen and are only fit for making chutney.
Rakiraki market, Viti Levu, Fiji
Our taxi driver asked where we were from and we explained we'd sailed over 17,000km at a maximum speed of 15km/hr. It made me stop and think: approaching nine months of living aboard, how have we adapted to our floating home? It is, after all, like a floating caravan, albeit a luxurious one with our own design touches, such as the reading lights in the
cockpit. Space is limited and many items are stowed away in cubby holes, corners and underneath the sole (floor). Charles (high tech) has an app which tells him where spares are stored; I have (low tech) The Book, which
informs me that we only have one more jar of peanut butter, beneath my bedside sole, but are unlikely to run out of lentils, hidden away in the forward cabin.

Some day to day routines are much like those at home. Cleaning has to be done and stainless steel always needs polishing. There's no corner shop or Waitrose and no restaurants to deliver meals. We bake bread and make yogurt - our latest batch has the seeds scraped from a Tongan vanilla pod, which I hope will taste delicious for breakfast tomorrow. No gym or personal trainer, but we do stretches most mornings, inspired by Dinah's yoga. Laundry needs to be done - what a luxury to have a washing machine on board, and clothes dry unbelievably quickly in the sun and breeze, pegged out on the rail. There's always DIY, charging the batteries, fixing things, mending. The difference is, there's nobody else to do it for us. Other differences: no shoes and no news - I don't miss either of those. Our commute is a dinghy ride ashore, almost always resulting in a wet bottom, but so much more pleasant than the Tube. And I think there's a difference in mentality, too, which is perhaps most important. There's no room or time for grumpiness. We are in this together and whatever happens, it's our voyage, our adventure. Nine months in, that feels great.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Fiji - so many islands!

Fiji is huge - its 333 islands and ten thousand square kilometres of coral reef. There are only a few points of entry, so most yachts approaching from Tonga, as we did, would have to sail to Savusavu, fulfil clearing-in formalities and then sail back, upwind, in order to visit the eastern group of islands. Being part of the Rally (27 boats) meant it was worthwhile for customs to come to Vanua Balavu and clear us in there. The team of five officials (health, immigration, customs and ummm - what were they all there for?) went round from boat to boat before we were allowed to go ashore. It was time-consuming, paper-consuming, carbon paper consuming and certainly biscuit-consuming: a packet per yacht, we reckoned. We bent the rules a little and the night before the clearance we gathered on Sea Flute for drinks (OK, we were leaving our boats, but not actually setting foot on land).

Winston destroys, nature grows back
Vanua Balavu was badly hit by Cyclone (aka hurricane) Winston in February 2016 and there's still plenty of evidence of the damage it caused. On one side of the island, coconut trees had been beheaded, their tall trunks standing bare. Apparently they will regenerate in a year or two. Everywhere new houses have gone up, most with bright blue corrugated iron roofs, a gift from Australia. We spoke to a New Zealander who is overseeing the construction of three new school buildings, one in its very final stages in Lomaloma. The village school in Daliconi, where we were anchored, had 16 pupils aged 5 to 11 in one classroom, working in three groups. They sang a couple of songs, one accompanied by complicated drumming. The other, accompanied by actions, was unfamiliar at first, with lyrics in Fijian, but soon became recognisable as 'I'm a Little Teapot'!

The village consists of houses set on
Calliope in Bay of islands, VanuaBalavu
improbably green lawns, with no roads, fences or boundaries between them. As everywhere we've been in the Pacific, chickens and roosters stroll communally - and in the case of the roosters, proclaim daybreak throughout the day. There was a large canopied area, where I ran an eye clinic with Rob and Jeannette of Tianelle and where we gathered in the evening for a welcome party, with Fijian dancing, singing and food.

For three days, we acquired new crew: Stu, a photographer based in Fiji, and Brittany, who works for an Australian yacht magazine. It was great fun to share our experiences and show them what life on board is like.
One day we and three other yachts sailed up to the Bay of Islands (Fiji version, not NZ), where Stu took some amazing photographs of the extraordinary mushroom-shaped rock formations and convoluted bays. On the return trip, Lisanne and Calliope flew their asymmetric sails and Stu's drone flew between them, capturing some incredible footage. It's the property of Ocean magazine, but we hope to be able to post some of Stu's pictures soon. The following day, we returned to the Bay of Islands with most of the fleet and had a great barbecue on a sandy beach. We transferred 300 litres of water onto Boysterous, whose watermaker isn't working, and were invited to supper on board. We had to bite our tongues at times as one of the other guests is a strong Trump supporter!

Qamea school
We had intended to explore the islands south of Vanua Balavu, but it would have meant motoring for hours into the wind and rain, so we headed west and anchored in a bay in Qamea. The following morning we visited the village, school and health clinic, glad that the Chief wasn't around so we didn't have to do sevusevu; this tribute involves drinking kava (crushed pepper root), which tastes like dirty dishwater and has a mildly sedative effect.
Time to head for the village of Somosomo, described by our Sail Fiji app as 'delightful'. We were looking forward to charming restaurants, perhaps a shop or two, possibly even a spa... Somosomo was a disappointment from the rocky, litter-strewn beach, where feral dogs chewed used nappies, to the dingy roadside stalls and the awful 'Wine and Dine' (BYOB if you want wine) restaurant. Oh dear.

Hiring a car the next day gave us the freedom to explore Taveuni. The northern end of the island was much prettier and about a quarter of the island has been designated a nature reserve. With James and Tiggy from Miss Tiggy, we climbed to a waterfall, swam and enjoyed fantastic views. As we walked, we fantasized about our perfect lunch: chilled beer, salad, grilled fish or meat, rose wine... it was getting late and we hurried back to the car, hurtled down the dirt roads, leaping the potholes, only slowing to cross the rickety wooden bridges. On a chance, we stopped at a restaurant called Coconut Grove -- and, oh bliss, on their shady terrace, we fulfilled our fantasy (all except the beer) and more, with decadent cake for dessert, too. The following day Charles dived from a resort on the incredible
Rainbow Reef and I indulged in a massage and much-needed pedicure.

From Taveuni we had a long day's sail in great conditions to Savusavu on Vanua Levu, Fiji's second-largest island . It's a busy little town, with a yacht club (The Copra Shed) and pontoons to tie up to. We prefer being out away from the noise, so we picked up a mooring and then took the dinghy ashore to explore. Fiji-Indians make up 38% of the country's population and that was immediately evident, with masses of small shops, curry restaurants and retailers displaying saris in their windows. Fresh fruit is still hard
to come by but the bustling market had salad, cucumbers and tomatoes as well as mounds of ginger, turmeric root and spices.

Charles at Palmlea
We hired a car again and Charles and I crossed the island to the north coast and the main town of Labasa. Hindu temples and mosques lined the entrance to the town, revealing the background of the population. The Indians were brought to Fiji to work on the sugar plantations. They still don't have
equal rights, which makes politics quite contentious. Outside Labasa, the
sugar mill pumps out sweet-smelling smoke and has a narrow-gauge railway running alongside the road. On the way back to Savusavu, we stopped for lunch and a refreshing swim at Palmlea, a small resort in the hills owned by Julie and Joe, who settled there after five years sailing in the South Pacific.

After a terrific, close-hauled sail yesterday, we are now anchored off reef-surrounded Namena Island,
This was your luxury bedroom on Namena
a lovely spot which used to be a luxury resort until Winston destroyed it. Hurricanes are very much on our mind as we see pictures of the devastation caused by Irma to places we know well in the Caribbean. We'll be able to catch up properly with news when we get to Suva on Vitu Levu in about a week. Meanwhile, much love to all of you faithful readers and happy birthday to Pippa!