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.

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.

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.
 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.

Zip Lining Girls
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.  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.
Near Namosi Village
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.
Eye Clinic Vabea, Ono island
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 in Korelevu pass
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

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

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

That Saturday evening after a walk up to the summit of Dravuni, we had
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. 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

Our friends Annemie and Elisabeth met us on Thursday and we spent an
exhilarating 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. 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.
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 Saiasi, 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 motorsailed to Vabea village on Ono,
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!

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.
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

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
Winston destroys, nature grows back
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 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.
Calliope in Bay of Islands by drone initiate
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!

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.
Qamea school
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.

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
Charles at Palmlea
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, 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!
This was your luxury bedroom on Namena

Friday, 25 August 2017

Tonga - The Friendly Islands (with a lot of rain)

Into each life (and ocean passage) a little rain must fall - we had a fair
bit of rain back in May in the Marquesas, which came in short intense
bursts, but not much since... until we reached Tonga. Our crossing from
Niue (just the two of us, as Peter and Sue had left us there) was rough,
rolly and windy and wet. We were trying to go slowly so as to arrive in
daylight, so had a heavily reefed main and a tiny staysail, but were still
rushing along at 8.5-9 knots. Neiafu Bay, in the Vava'u Group of the
Kingdom of Tonga, is amazingly sheltered, yet even in there, boats were
dragging their anchors and pulling the mooring buoys. After checking in
(what a lot of form-filling, which some of you will know I secretly enjoy!),
we went ashore to find internet and re-connect with lots of Oyster friends
we hadn't seen since Bora Bora. Many of them had sailed straight from
there, missing out on all our wonderful Maupiti/ Mapihaa/ Aitutaki/
Palmerston/ Niue experiences - such a shame, we feel.

Hanateli and his botanical garden
We have enjoyed a great tour of the Botanical Gardens at Ene'io, shown around by Haniteli, former Agriculture Minister for Tonga, who started collecting plants when he inherited the land aged 8. The name Ene'io, which means to tickle someone until they say yes, is very appropriate for someone who has managed to extract celebrity and sponsorship funding for his
venture. Hanateli is a charmer who regaled us with stories of Tonga, his life and his garden. He introduced us to his wife Lucy, who works in town at the Ministry for ... well, everything: culture, the environment,  medicine, education. She in turn took us to the hospital eye clinic, and that contact, Mary (Mele in Tongan) has shaped our time in Vava'u so far. The hospital then got in touch itself and through its two clinics in the rural areas, and so to the Town Offices and then to the people by loudhailer
to say "come to eye clinic Monday 0830".

So we have run three eye clinics, one in the remote western end of the island where there were about 60 people waiting for our arrival, and have seen about 120 in all.
We have increased our efficiency dramatically, but it still is particularly rewarding to help people with short sight move 4 or 5 lines down an eye-test chart or see the other side of the road for the first time thanks to our clever eyejuster glasses that can be altered to serve a range of short sight. Charles has tried them, and while he can't read the top line without glasses, he can read to the bottom line with the eyejusters, so they are really a very clever $30 invention. Reading glasses for the older population help them
with their bible reading and sewing. Another Oyster, Meteorite, went east and distributed glasses to over 90 people. That means that we have distributed glasses to 2% of the population of Vava'u of about 12,000. There's a huge need but not all cases are simple. For the more complicated cases (cataracts or diabetic retinopathy) patients have to wait until a surgical team arrives in November. No glasses at all are made in Tonga. All most outsiders know about Tongans is that they are large. That's true, and it means that diabetes is a huge problem and impacts on Tongans'
eyesight and health. The islanders are very friendly; one worries that they are suffering from a diminishing gene pool as many younger and smarter emigrate. Agriculture seems vibrant, tourism albeit undeveloped; aid (from
Australia, Japan and China) and remittances are evident.
Thank you present from a lady with her new eyejusters

Rain, rain, rain. One morning the dinghy was full of rainwater to above the paddles - nearly 20cm! Not wanting to trudge too far through the puddles, I ended up at the nearest school to the town centre, a leaky-roofed
Tongan school singing
English-language primary school with 40 children and 4 teachers. The Head, Dorothy, welcomed me in and I read a book about London, introduced Lucky the Pakeman Teddy in his orange lifejacket and listened to enthusiastic singing. Charles and I returned to give them an inflatable globe, on which we were
able to show them what a long way from London we have travelled.

Oyster definitely know how to throw a party. Most of the yachts navigated their way last Friday through shallows and coral reefs to the uninhabited island of Kenutu, on the eastern edge of the Vava'u Group. There, we were
treated to a Tongan feast, fire-juggling and Tongan dancing. We stayed on for another day and had a barbecue on the beach.
Beach party

The water here is a beautiful greeny-blue and we found some beautiful snorkelling near Mala, nicknamed the Japanese coral garden. There are also lots of caves, but they need better visibility. We are booked to go
swimming with whales again, having found it such an extraordinary experience on Niue.

For now, we are settling in to watch a DVD and hoping for better weather. We've enjoyed The Missing and have lots of ideas of books to read, after a fun session of the OWR Book Club, where we all contributed suggestions. Our next book is Golden Hill, about late 18th century Manhattan.

In a few days we will head to Fiji, about 350NM away, where we'll spend
about five weeks. There's lots to see so we have been planning a route and
on-shore activities.