Underwater adventures in Tonga

Friday we were in town to get better internet so that I could blog – the local Digicel sim card works well enough for picking up e-mails on board – but the slow speed stopped me working on WordPress. So we headed into town to the Cafe Tropicana, picked up our laundry, and finally returned to Morphie for a few hours before heading back out to the Aquarium Cafe for sundowners. We were pleased to bump into Chris from Sea Bear who we hadn’t seen since Bora Bora, so we had a few cold ones with him and returned back with a take-out pizza as it was a bit late to cook. Was a lovely evening.

Saturday morning we were up really early as we were going whale watching for the day. At 7.30 we left the dock and were heading out. The boat was called Spy Hop, which is actually named after whale behaviour where they sit in the water vertically taking a look around. On board there was a Chinese couple from China TV and a professional marine biologist Fabian who was filming footage for them for an upcoming programme amongst others. He’d worked on the BBC’s Blue Planet Series and was a whale specialist – although his favourite is Orcas rather than humpbacks – and was an interesting guy who gave us lots of information about whale behaviour and what we should expect to see, including what not to do when in the water with them.

We drove around and around and spotted a group of whales, three of them together. A mother, a calf and an escort – an unattached male who fancies his chances for the next round of mating. We were spit into two groups and took turns quietly slipping into the water and snorkelling hard towards them. They were pretty skittish and didn’t hang around although we both did get a good look at them in the water. The females are absolutely huge!!!!  Huge grins on our faces…..and this was just the first encounter. We continued to get in and out of the water for hours after numerous whale spottings and encounters and although we saw them each time they just didn’t want to pose for underwater photographs but we did get some shots as they played around on the surface.

About 2pm the guys said we had to call it a day and were upset that we hadn’t had closer more intense encounters. So, as a sort of consolation prize, they took us snorkelling in Swallows Cave. This was on our list of things to do anyway so we were pretty happy – nice place and great visibility watching the shoals of fish inside. Shame about the graffiti scratched on the walls though, not sure why people feel the need to do this! Thoroughly enjoyed our time here….

Back to the dock – had been a long day – we returned to Morphie, got tidied up, ate the left-over pizza before heading back out to meet Chris again for sundowners. We enjoyed listening to the local Tongan Band and Richard tried the kava which is a root the Tongans grind up and mix with water and is supposed to have a mellowing effect. Didn’t notice any different in his behaviour though as he only had one bowl LOL. We didn’t hang around too late as we were pretty tired after all the day’s exertions so we just said ‘hi’ to the local youngster dressed up for the party and left.

Sunday morning and we had a lie in…..and a lazy day……and really didn’t do much at all apart from eat and relax and stayed on board all day and evening.

Monday morning and we were up really early again being on the dock with all our dive gear ready for a 7.30 am departure. Only problem was the boat had broken down. Deja vu or what?!? We sat around chatting for a few hours and eventually we were relocated to Tin Can….which actually belongs to a competitor dive operation…but was a good result for us.

We headed out to a place called Coral Garden and enjoyed the exceptional visibility. The coral was pretty healthy with lots and lots of different varieties including vast arrays of Christmas trees. Was a pretty good dive despite the lack of large critters down there although Richard did briefly spot a reef shark in the distance. We surfaced, had an interval, before we kitted up for the next dive – and this time we were the other side of this small island so we explored the gulleys and caves. This dive was much more about the topography and the small critters, including Nemo’s family which was lovely. We thoroughly enjoyed the diving here and may go again as it is much more reasonably priced than other destinations so far this season.

Monday afternoon we spent cleaning our gear and returning to Morphie to hang it all up to dry. I had a snooze while Richard identified another hole in dink – he is constantly deflating these days and clearly is coming to the end of his life. In the evening we went out to dinner at the Mango Lounge and had another nice evening with Chris and were joined by Dan who comes from Seattle and is on his boat My Dream. We are all heading to New Zealand this season and the talk is increasingly now about timings…..

Tuesday morning and Richard fixed dink – again – as well doing an oil change while I’ve been blogging.   Beyond going ashore to try and find petrol and some fresh bread we don’t have any other plans for the day although will probably do sundowners. We are still thinking of exploring other islands in the Vava’u Group but, right now, the forecast is 100% cloud cover with rain as another trough of weather comes through. So we might sit that out here. But, if we do, the Blue Water Rally starts here on Friday so we could just stay for those festivities. Decisions… decisions….. decisions.

Bye for now


Niue to Vava’u, Tonga

Tuesday morning we were up very early and headed into the wharf. The surf was running and we struggled to get out of dink and then winch him up to his parking space. Phew!

We were waiting for our whale watching boat to turn up and were very excited about this because they allow you into the water to snorkel with the whales in Niue. We were armed with swimsuits, rash shirts, snorkels, masks and fins only. The guys turned up and reversed their boat down the wharf, hoisted it up, and we took our lives into our own hands again getting into this big rib. The guys were a bit surprised we didn’t have wet suits on – we thought we wouldn’t need them as the sea seemed quite warm to us. Oh well, never mind.

Anyway…we headed out in the small rib which carried the driver, a French dive master, and four New Zealand tourists. We sat around in the bay behind the cargo ship for a while until they spotted a whale spouting towards the north of the island – so we whizzed off. We got to within about 200 metres of the whale and its calf and we entered the water…and swam towards her. Sadly she wasn’t up for company and quickly dived. Richard got a quick glance at her in the water as she dived and that was that. Never mind….

Back in the boat and we carried on searching and yes I was feeling a bit cold by now!

Again we spotted another mother and calf and we got really close but, the minute we hit the water, she was gone. The guide reckons the calf was very young and the mother may have been a first-timer as she was being very protective. It was lovely to see them despite them not hanging around long enough for a photo! We continued for a few more hours looking out for fins and spouts but, sadly, that was it for the day.

To make up for it the guys took us snorkelling into a chasm instead. This was great – we got pushed through the narrow hole in the rock and then got sped along by the waves. The noise when the waves hit the back of the chasm was like thunder it was so loud. We thoroughly enjoyed this little adventure and we saw two sea snakes as well – they are venomous so glad they didn’t come too close!

On the way back to the wharf we were told to wait for the barge to unload before approaching the dock. We tied to a mooring ball and sat chatting for a while. Then it was time to go and the boat would only reverse – no forward motion at all!!! They couldn’t fix it – a cable had broken apparently – so we were rescued by a local fishing boat who took us ashore. When we returned to the wharf the surge was huge and we decided it was too dangerous to try and get dink launched….so we had a meal at the Indian and chatted to other cruisers for a while. Was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

Wednesday and we were up early and into town. Thankfully the sea conditions had eased considerably and this view out to the anchorage shows the flat calm sea.

This was going to be a shopping day….and I had plans on making an appointment at the local hairdressers as my hair was completely wild and out of control! Well, of course, sod’s law and all that but the hairdressers had closed that day for two weeks for their annual holiday. Damn….

Exploring a little further we were interested to see the memorial to the citizens who had lost their lives in World War 1. Amazing that this tiny island in the middle of nowhere gave their young men to join the Commonwealth nations. The sad story is that many of them actually succumbed to western illnesses which they had not been exposed to before.

We stopped off at the benches outside Niue Telecom and paid for some wifi and caught up on line for a while. We chatted to the skipper and first mate of the boat (the crew of 10 we met in Palmerston) and there had been some sort of mutiny with complaints from the crew to the owner – so they were trying to work their way through all that as well as some engine issues and running out of cooking gas. Seems like everyone has trouble with their crew at some point or another….

After our internet fix we provisioned up at the supermarket and visited the duty free shop for a beer top up. Heavily laden we returned to dink in the now torrential rain and got absolutely soaked! We were, however, pleased that the swells had reduced a bit and got back to Morphie safely where we had a quiet night on board.

Thursday we had planned to go diving in the afternoon – but the boat wasn’t fixed – so that was cancelled. Was a bit disappointed but what can you do?!? So we just had a lazy day on board in the rain. We were treated to some whale action out to sea during the day to make up for it though.

Friday morning we headed into the wharf to meet customs to do our exit clearance. Overnight four boats had turned up so they were redirected to the customs warehouse and that is where we ended up – to be processed after they had cleared in. This took a while…..and then we were taken to the customs office where we finally received our papers. We were given a lift back to town so we stopped at a local restaurant famous for its fish and chips only to find out that, at 12.30 pm, they had sold out!!! Disappointed but never mind we tried the chicken burger / steak sandwich instead and it was excellent. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

We headed back to the wharf and returned to Morphie. We got dink up on the bow and the outboard onto the rail and did engine checks and other pre-passage preparation and had a pretty lazy day generally.

Saturday morning we slipped the mooring at 7.15 bound for the Vava’u group of islands, the northern area of the Kingdom of Tonga.

The passage was very light winds so we ended up motoring for quite a while. We enjoyed being at sea and watching the island appear before us after a 250 mile passage.

During the time at sea we passed the international dateline so we lost a day and went from being 12 hours behind to 12 hours ahead UK time. We are also now officially Golden Shellbacks. Woo hoo – thanks Neptune for the honour!

On Tuesday we motored around the north end of the island and then worked our way towards Neiafu enjoying spotting the caves, blow holes and small islands as we passed. We found the horrible customs dock and managed to tie up – very worried about our capping rail on the concrete overhang on this commercial-sized dock. Was not happy about being forced to do this…. We managed to get Morphie onto a big tyre hanging down and with fenders next to the tyre we kept ourselves away from the edge and tied up.

We walked to the customs warehouse – got permission to walk to the ATM to get some Tonga Pa’anga as we have to pay fees in local currency – and went back to the warehouse. We took a seat and waited….and waited….and waited. In Tongan culture it is considered bad form to be impatient or show irritation so I did my best to smile and behave! Finally we were visited by the Agriculture people; the Health people; the Immigration people; and the Customs. All with dozens of forms to complete. This whole process took about three hours and, apparently, we were lucky as this was considered pretty speedy!

We returned to Morphie officially cleared into Tonga and managed to get off the dock without any trouble despite being pushed on by the wind. Phew – glad that was over! We motored along the shore and found an empty mooring ball in a huge mooring field and picked it up. We got permission from the owner over the radio and we were set. Yay we’ve arrived! We had a few cold beers and watched the fruit bats flying into the trees and had an early night.

Wednesday morning we were up reasonably early after a very still night on board – felt just like being tied to a dock. We had breakfast and got dink off the bow and the outboard back on. We went ashore and walked around a bit. We were pleased to note a number of bars and restaurants and look forward to trying them out another day. We walked passed the church and found a hairdressers – at last – but the Chinese guy didn’t speak a word of English so gave up on that. We then found another hairdressers so I made an appointment with Tonga’s version of a wee wee for Thursday morning. We also found the laundry. Woo hoo….couple of jobs off the list. We then visited Digicel to buy a local sim card – by far the cheapest way to get internet – and were delighted with the £18 for 5GB for 60 days package. Pretty slow dial-up type speed but hey it means we can get online onboard for the first time since I can’t remember when……..

We also found a butcher and managed to get some pork chops and a ham ordered so we are now completely provisioned up all the way to New Zealand I think – will just buy fresh vegetables and dried staples as we run out. Tongan (largely Chinese-run) supermarkets are pretty basic and all carry different things so apparently you have to visit them all and buy what you see when you see it. So should be fun. Guess the meat is organic considering how many pigs we saw wandering around in people’s yards….check out these two cuties!

We are determined to swim with humpbacks before the whales and their calves start migrating to colder waters again so we booked another trip for Saturday.

Wednesday night we headed into town – our first night out for a very long time. The anchorage here is safe, Morphie is securely tied to a strong mooring ball with two pennants for each side of the bow, and the dinghy dock is not very far away. We did a mini pub crawl on the way – the streets here are very dark so we needed to be a bit careful in terms of trip hazards – and found the Bounty Bar. We had made a reservation so sat outside and chatted for a while with some Norwegian and Danish cruisers. Then we went inside and took our seats. I was surprised that some of the young girl tourists were showing shoulders and knees as this is can get them fined – guess the authorities turn a blind eye most of the time. But, to be honest, I’m happy wearing longer trousers – particularly at night – as it is really quite chilly!!!

The girlie show was funny with transvestites dancing and singing along to popular tunes – and they were very imaginative in how they collected their tips from some of the punters. There were a lot of young US Peace Corps around who were pretty drunk and a young guy was set up for the full works from the older dominatrix-type showgirl.

During the show we were joined by Bailey who is a school principal at one of the out islands and a few rum punches later we were new best friends LOL.

The evening finished off with dancing and more drinking…and we finally left about 12.30 am… Was a great evening!

Thursday morning I was up reasonably early but, OMG, I had a bad hangover. And I only drank beer – honest!   Anyway, we headed into town and I took myself to the hairdressers while Richard dropped the laundry off, and then he took himself to a local cafe for a full English breakfast, copious amounts of coffee and felt much better for it. In the meantime I had my hair dyed and cut by Sonia – another transvestite – who told me about life in Tonga as a gay man. He said that although they were allowed to live their lives openly it was illegal to have sex with another man so any relationships had to be conducted in secret and they live in fear of the police knocking when they have a ‘friend’ round. I was surprised by this after our experience in French Polynesia where ‘wee wees’ are treasured members of the community. Sonia said this was driven by the church – there is a strong Catholic contingent plus protestant, Mormons and Seventh Day Adventist communities here in Tonga. Sunday as a day of rest is particularly very important and there are very strict rules about what is and isn’t allowed – eg no swimming from the boat, no working on the boat and not allowed to hang washing up either. Shops are also closed for the day.

We are looking forward to staying here for a few more days before we head off to explore some other anchorages. As well as going whale watching we are also going to do a couple of dives if possible. Even though we will head out to explore this cruising ground we will still have to return to Neiafu to secure our onward inter-island clearance before we can go to the next group of islands in the Kingdom.

Bye for now


Passage to Tonga – part 2

At 18.00 on Sunday evening we were treated to another spectacular sunset. The sun went down very quickly and the dark descended like a big black fog. It was really eerie for a while so I was happy to see some stars and planets appear through the gloom albeit quite dimly. Nothing changed in that we continued to motor sail with a full poled-out genoa in a mere five knots of breeze. It was barely enough to keep the sail full but we wanted to get as much boost from the sail as we could to avoid having to increase our rpms.
Throughout our nightly shift pattern nothing changed apart from who was on watch. One exception was that we crossed the International Dateline (which bends around Tonga) so our status as lowly Shellbacks has increased to the giddy height of Golden Shellbacks. As before we thanked Neptune for keeping us safe and asked him to continue to do so on our future passages. I think he was listening as there was an extraordinary show of bioluminescence in the water…..and no moon whatsoever. At least there were no sea creatures LOL.
This morning – TUESDAY – and we had another nice sunrise. The wind disappeared altogether so we are now motoring with bare poles towards our destination the Vava’u group which are the most northern portion of the 171 islands of which only 36 are inhabited that make up the Kingdom of Tonga. At around 6 am we had Land Ho! where we could see the faint outline of Vava’u ahead.
The sea is a little swelly as we start cutting across the ocean ridges into less depth – well 300 feet is shallower than the thousands of feet before – and this creates some confused seas. We are also battling an adverse current which is slowing us down despite increasing our revs. We have covered 231 miles right now and have an ETA of around 16.00. So plenty of daylight to work our way into the bay at Neiafu. We are not sure whether the customs and immigration will want to clear us tonight or wait until the morning. Either way we know that the process is bureaucratic and time consuming so we are hoping they will wait for the morning. I am very excited to be here – Tonga has always been on my bucket list of destinations – and Richard is looking forward to having some fun!
Bye for now Jan

Passage to Tonga – part 1

We left Niue at 7.15 am on Saturday 16 September having enjoyed our last few days there. Sadly the diving didn’t happen on Thursday as planned as the dive boat broke down but more about that later when I catch up with the blog.
We headed out into reasonably flat seas and very little wind despite the 10-15 knot forecast. So we motor sailed for a few hours and took the chance to make some water. Behind us Silver Lining, a NZ boat, left the Alofi anchorage and started to catch up – they are a Hanse and much lighter and bigger than us so we were expecting them to go whizzing by….
By 12.00 we had enough wind to sail and deployed our whisker pole. Come 18.00 – after a lovely sunset – the fickle wind had filled in to around 10-12 knots and we were sailing along nicely albeit a little slowly. But we kept Silver Lining at bay until around 03.00 on Sunday 17 September by which time they were 1.8 miles ahead of us. Oh well never mind…..
At 06.00 on Sunday morning we had a nice sunrise but with a threat of rain in the air and an increase in the wind. Yay! The wind switched direction and strengthened to 20 knots so we got rid of the pole and had to come off our direct rhumb line route to accommodate the wind now coming from the ESE. Thankfully the rain stayed away as it went either side of us. Sadly this wind event was short lived.
By 12 noon we were still going slowly towards our destination – and Silver Lining had increased the distance between us by five miles….. We just need a bit more wind LOL. We tried everything – including wing-on-wing – to improve our boat speed. And it worked and then it didn’t as the sea state deteriorated and pushed us around for a bit.
We are amazed at the depth of the water here as we get closer to the Tonga trench – about 22k feet! We have already gone across the Seamount Capricorn which is an underwater mountain but still has over 750 feet above it.
Come 15.00 we were frustrated by the fickle light airs and gave up! So we are now motor-sailing with full genoa poled out and are making water again. The distance between us and Silver Lining remains pretty static so I reckon they are motoring now to. We expect to arrive tomorrow afternoon but will let you know. Oh yes and tomorrow afternoon will be Tuesday, not Monday, as we are nearing the international dateline now.
Bye for now Jan

Palmerston to Niue

Our passage from Palmerston started off in light airs – we had some fun when a weather trough came through – and we finally slowed down to arrive in Niue early on Friday morning having covered another 400 miles.

Ten miles out we radioed Niue Radio to let them know of our impending arrival and they told us to just pick up a mooring ball as the yacht club would not be manned yet. Listening in to the VHF we were very concerned to hear that Niue was under a tsunami warning from the Mexican earthquake!!! We radioed them back and asked them whether it was considered safe to approach the coast and were told yes, fine, go ahead we’ll let you know if you need to leave. Guess this is not an uncommon event then?!? So we continued to motor towards the anchorage and were worried when we counted masts as it looked like the mooring field was full – thankfully we managed to pick up the very last mooring right at the back of the fleet. Phew.

We got ourselves organised, dink off the bow and completed the paperwork. By now it was getting on for 9.30 so we headed towards the wharf as we had to meet customs at 10. Here in Niue there is nowhere to leave dink in the water – you have to winch him out and park him on the wharf. We got there but didn’t know how it all worked and were thankfully assisted by some other cruisers who had been here for a few days and had got the hang of the system. Was all a bit nerve racking and we both got a bit wet in the surging water – but at least we were ashore.

We sat in the shade and waited for customs and, within minutes, we were cleared. Woo hoo – fastest ever!!! We wandered into town and found a couple of small supermarkets, the tourist office, the Indian Restaurant, and the Niue Yacht Club. We checked into the tourist office – where they take the money for the mooring balls – and continued walking. We did have a look at the Yacht Club but there really isn’t much to say about this scruffy building attached to a backpackers hostel, so we moved quickly on.  Although we appreciate their excellent maintenance of the moorings.   We found a complimentary one-hour’s wifi signal so quickly caught up online while we ate Indian snacks – very very tasty.

Whilst on line we found out about the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands amongst others….. OMG we were absolutely shell shocked and concerned for friends there as it was our second home for many years prior to going cruising. A special place that we had shared with family and friends onboard charter boats and latterly Morphie. We fired off messages to people we were concerned about reaching out to try and make sure everyone is OK. But the photographs are absolutely terrible….. Heartbroken is the only word to describe how we feel.

Continuing our walk, all the time reeling from the news we had just received, we finally ended up at a cafe overlooking the bay drinking tea and eating cake with beautiful views down to the anchorage below.

Niue is one of the smallest countries and one of the largest raised coral atolls on earth and is affectionately called ‘The Rock’. It is situated 1,500 miles from the closet industrial land mass and, according to their tourist office, is one of the purest untouched environments in the world. Everyone speaks English – their official language – and a type of Maori. Although independent their history is English and they have links to New Zealand – using the New Zealand dollar as their own currency. People are incredibly friendly and everyone waved to us as we walked along. We kept an eye on the anchorage checking for changes in the sea state but knew that we would be informed in enough time to return to Morphie by the huge tsunami sirens dotted along the coast road.

Later on the tsunami warning was lifted – and relax! We returned to Morphie with fresh bread and some reasonably-priced beer from the shipping container that serves as the local liquor store. Much more realistic prices here with 12 cans selling for about £6 and apparently we get 30% off that price when we stock up using our exit papers. New Zealand dollars feel quite familiar with their plastic appearance and the Queen’s portrait on some notes.

Saturday morning the sea was weird…..we were being rolled all over the place on our mooring despite there being absolutely no wind. We looked out and everyone else was getting the same treatment. We headed to the wharf and really struggled to get ashore with the swells lifting us up about four feet at a time. I managed to grab a ladder while Richard brought dink alongside the steps – I got soaked up to my thighs just trying to rescue our bags! The locals thought that the strange motion of the ocean might have been related to the tsunami and earthquake activity in Mexico. What was really interesting too was that apparently all the whales had cleared off just before the warning was issued…..

We parked dink in his space and picked up our small Mazda hire car. Was a very nice change that they actually drive on the left – woo hoo!

We drove north first to the village of Tuapa where there was a local fête going on. We enjoyed watching the (Polynesian-style) dancers and wandered the stalls which were largely selling food and drinks. Madly this whole event had started at 6am.

We ended up with lamb curry for breakfast – having decided not to get a coconut crab killed as they looked uncomfortable enough trussed up – while we sat on the grass watching the performances.

Many members of the audience, largely family members we think, walked up to the performers and stuck money on their bodies or into their clothes, apparently to show their appreciation. We loved seeing the lady judges dressed in their village finery and clearly there had been some sort of vegetable competition earlier in the day judging by the exhibits lying around.

The island map has a number of sea tracks which are paths / hikes down to the sea where there are caves, pools and beaches. We visited Talava Arches first – a moderate to hard trek – and got lost!!!  We went down beneath an overhang of coral on what looked like a path to find ourselves facing the jungle – without a machete we were not going any further! Having been hiking for almost an hour we decided to give up and returned to the adjacent track which took us down to Matapa Chasm. This was an easy track – although probably not my definition of easy LOL – and it was worth the visit.

We then continued across the top of the island before heading down the east coast. But the road is really just a road through the jungle and there is little to be seen apart from the odd glimpse of the sea through the foliage. So we saw very little especially as most villages seemed to be on the west coast.

What we did come across was lots of abandoned homes rotting into the jungle – many in the grounds of newer homes with manicured gardens. We wandered if this was because of superstition?!? In the Bahamas this happens as they believe the spirit continues to live within the house. Possible some might also be due to cyclone damage. But it was a bit strange to drive through virtually abandoned villages….

Along the side of the road there were numerous graves – some new with lots and lots of flowers and some with little pagodas to house them – and others just disappearing into the bush as they have been long forgotten. It would appear that people are buried on their own property as there was no central cemetery.

A bit bored by the road we crossed back across to the west cost and visited the dive shop and made arrangements with them for later this week. We are particularly keen to do some cave diving as the topography here is so interesting. We then continued visiting sea tracks.

Then we stopped at the Oki Oki Mai Clifftop Cafe and Bar where we had a couple of rehydrating cold beers.  The scenery was just spectacular.

Driving back towards Alofi we were surprised to find that the road disappeared as we drove through a working quarry and thought we must have gone wrong but, no, this was still the main road. All very strange!   We did a couple more stops – still no signs of whales from the whale-watching spots – and returned to the wharf as we were now pretty worn out.

We headed back to Morphie and had an early night after a most spectacular sunset. We parked the car in town rather than on the wharf as the supply ship was due to come in on Sunday. It arrived Saturday evening and just meandered around out to sea overnight.

Sunday morning we headed back to the wharf and timed our arrival as the barge moving containers to and from the supply ship was back at the ship. But the winch wouldn’t work!!! Damn…we’ve paid for our car….and might not be able to use it. The guys on the dock felt sorry for us and fiddled with the breakers and, voila, it worked again. We did wonder if they did this deliberately to discourage cruisers from coming ashore and getting in the way…..just a thought…..

Anyway, we walked to the car and were a bit surprised to find it surrounded by red no-parking cones, which had been put out in preparation for the Sunday morning church service. Oops….we quickly drove away back towards the top of the island. We had spoken to others who said the Talava Arches were worth seeing so we decided to give it another try. Well, we found the track, we spotted where we went wrong, and went the other way – actually following an arrow that we have failed miserably to spot the day before! The path was crushed coral through the undergrowth and some large chunks and tree roots to avoid. Then we arrived at a cave-like entrance and I guess this bit is what made the track get it’s ‘hard’ status LOL. Richard took a break as he ended up carrying my bag for me…. what a nice man!   We managed to scramble through up and down and we were rewarded by these fantastic views. What an amazing place!

Leaving Talava Arches we then went to Limu Pools and enjoyed the scenery again….but decided not to get wet.

We then called it a day – decided we were sea tracked out – and headed to the bottom of the island to visit Avatiele Beach and the Washaway Cafe which is one of the few places open on a Sunday. Well the beach wasn’t really a beach….and the cafe was tucked away up the hill without even spectacular views….so our hopes of finding a beach bar suitable for bobbing remained just a dream. We decided not to stop and returned, instead, to the Scenic Matavi Resort. The hotel is a bit utilitarian in style but quite nicely done and we had a lovely fish and chip lunch in their restaurant overlooking the sea.

We returned to Alofi quite late and had a couple of beers while briefly catching up online before returning to Morphie for another quiet night in the cockpit after another stunning Niue sunset.

This morning, Monday, and we were up very early and got ashore just before the ship started to offload its first containers of the day. We headed to the petrol station – got a couple of petrol cans filled up as well as the car – and then found the lady’s house that does laundry. We dropped off a couple of loads and then to the hardware store to drop off our propane tank for filling.  We finished off by doing a quick supermarket sweep and got a few supplies. Headed back to the wharf and were surprised by the sea state – not much wind again – but quite rolly conditions. We took our life into our own hands and got back into dink and returned to Morphie. All by 11 am.

Richard has been making water and doing other boat jobs while I blogged.  Despite the rough sea conditions we have just risked it again to come ashore so that I can get this published. While I’m doing that he is off collecting the laundry and the propane bottle.  Looking forward to doing more exploring and some diving over the next few days….. We’ll probably stay in Niue until Saturday when the weather looks good for our next passage.

Bye for now


Passage to Nuie – part 2

Wednesday morning (6 September) we were sailing nicely on a beam reach and were enjoying ourselves despite the occasional rogue wave knocking us about a bit.
During the afternoon the wind went further behind the beam so we furled the main away and continued running downwind under the genoa only. We made great progress and were eating up the miles. It remained squally so we got wet now and again but we didn’t mind. By 18.00 we were able to calculate our 24 hour progress and were delighted with the almost 140 miles covered. But this news turned our passage plan on its head when we looked at the remaining mileage and realised that running into this weather trough was going to cause us to rethink our strategy.
We had calculated the passage to Nuie for the forecasted light airs and a slow boat speed of just under five knots which would have meant we arrived early morning into Nuie on Friday. The new calculations gave us an arrival late evening or overnight on Thursday if we maintained the pace. We reworked the numbers but realised that a Thursday afternoon arrival was not possible so we have to slow down to get there on Friday morning. Damn! Was having so much fun……
So Wednesday night and into Thursday we continued to run downwind on a reefed down genoa trying to keep our speed below five knots. It was a pretty cold and wet night and we were both a bit frustrated to be going so slowly but needs must.
Thursday morning and it remained grey, cold and miserable. We ate a hearty breakfast and were pleased when, around 11.00, the sky cleared and the sun came out. The sea, however, was a bit more confused and we were being thrown around a bit. Certainly challenging conditions in the galley!
By 15.00 it appeared the trough had moved away as we were back to light airs, running downwind, across beautiful blue seas….and even the swell had reduced. Yay!
Overnight the conditions remained benign…and at about 3 am this morning, Friday, we sighted lights from Nuie. We are now running along the west coast very slowly waiting for the sun to come up so we can head in towards the mooring field at Alofi, the main town.
Bye for now Jan

Passage to Nuie – part 1

At 17.00 on Monday, 4 September, we dropped the mooring ball and headed straight out on our rhumb line for Nuie. We radioed Bob and his family to thank them again for their incredible hospitality and for letting us spend time on their island.
The seas were flat and there was no wind at all…as expected. We had a number of reasons for leaving for Nuie in these conditions. First is that clearing in with customs and immigration at Nuie on a weekend is not possible. Secondly the ridge of high pressure has brought light and variable winds meaning the mooring at Palmerston – which sits about 50 feet off the reef – could get problematical. Thirdly there is a risk that the South Pacific Convergence Zone may move across Tonga towards Nuie in the next week which will bring squalls and thunderstorms so, although Nuie has no protection, the moorings are heavy duty and regularly inspected. The only potential change to this forecast is a travelling trough which could impact us.
All Monday night we motored…..and into Tuesday. Was lovely to be back on the water despite our slow speed as we conserved fuel on low rpms. During Tuesday afternoon the seas became really confused and we were being thrown around……side to side. Was very uncomfortable and difficult to move around. Was all a bit weird as it was such a beautiful stable day!
Suddenly the sun went down….the moon rose….and the wind filled in to around 15 knots and the sea flattened. Great – engine off. We pulled out a reefed main and a reefed genoa and enjoyed the feel of Morphie as she surged forward on a beam reach. Yay!
We sailed beautifully all night and, of course, it rained hard on my shift….Richard stayed dry…..and I came up on shift for the morning to find it dark, grey and squally. The wind filled in to 28 knots and I reefed the genoa down further and rode out the boisterous conditions. Was great fun despite getting wet again!
Well it looks like we have found the travelling trough as the seas remain confused at around 6 feet and the SE winds are blowing between 20 knots gusting higher. Apart from the odd rogue wave hitting us and the fact that it is cold enough to be wearing foulies we are going along very nicely.
Oh yes, and to put ourselves on Nuie’s time zone – and to match our shifts with the sun rising and setting – we’ll be putting our boat clocks back a hour later today. Right now we are just over half way having covered 210 miles so far.
Bye for now Jan

Palmerston Island

Friday morning we exchanged anniversary cards….before having a leisurely breakfast and eventually went ashore around 10.30 am. Here in Palmerston the entrance through the reef to the shore is particularly difficult so the families shuttle the cruisers (or the yachties as they call us) back and forth to their boats.

Bob took us ashore and we chatted to him and the family and caught up on line. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch so I helped fill the table with goodies and moved it outside where we all tucked in. Another boat had come in earlier – a 50 foot Bavaria – and it had 10 people on board! A mix of American and Danish – and all were pretty much strangers before signing up for the adventure. A real psychological experiment that’s for sure…..

After lunch we were surprised when Bob broke out the beers to help us celebrate our anniversary and Anthony’s birthday (the skipper on the Bavaria). Well….one thing led to another….and the beer was drunk before we moved onto wine…..and actually we didn’t move from the spot for the rest of the day while being royally entertained! Suddenly it was after five and time to return to Morphie. Had been a rather unique anniversary in a very special place. It was really interesting to hear about Palmerston and life ashore.

Palmerston considers itself English despite being part of the Cook Islands. They continue to live a simple life although there are recent modern additions to make life easier – such as the large satellite dish giving them phone, tv and internet access.

They have added solar power to their island. The money for the installation came from the central Cook Islands’ government but the maintenance is down to the islanders. They pay via the meter system each month and the maintenance element is added by the Palmerston central administrative function. This will pay for the inevitable replacement of batteries and panels and for diesel to run the generator on cloudy days. For heavy work the administration has a supply of diggers etc which can be rented out to the islanders when they need them.

Water is collected individually by each family and they have electric pumps to push it through to their standpipe in the kitchen plus the shower and washing machine. So it is a bucket transfer job when washing up for example. There is a central water collection system in the middle of the island near the church for times of drought when the community can access this.

As the island is separated into three sections there are also three cemeteries. Some of the graves are made from blackened charcoaled coral – and the later ones marble. It is really strange to see just the single Masters surname on the majority of the graves.

Which leads to the question of who is allowed to marry who? The rules are simple – anyone can marry anyone else – the only exception to the rule is between brother and sister. So aunts / uncles / cousins etc are all allowed to be with each other. Most men, however, take off to one of the other Cook islands in search of a wife to return to Palmerston with – which Bob did but returned with a cousin anyway! I gently tackled the question over the possibilities of disabilities when continuing to breed from the same gene pool. Bob was quite simplistic about it. Every family loses their first born as it is born sickly and doesn’t survive for long. But, after that, the rest of them are all fit and healthy. They see this as their punishment from God and certainly helps explain the large numbers of small graves dotted around.

On health matters there is a small clinic here staffed by a nurse – so there is someone medically trained on island. But the supply ship only comes every four months so if there is something potentially life threatening – eg a burst appendix – then the person either lives or dies. It is as simple as that. For other things that are not life threatening but need to be done like a hip replacement, for example, then the person would travel to Rarotonga on the supply ship and likely not return to Palmerston for about a year by the time they were well enough to make the journey back. This really brings home just how remote this island is.

Having returned to Morphie before the sun went down we had a quiet night on board. Sadly there were no more whale sightings!

Saturday morning and we were up early again …. and was picked up to go ashore around 11.00 am. We dropped off some rivets at Goodley’s as he needed to fix his boat and I got on with the laundry…. The washing machine is very old fashioned and labour intensive so I was backwards and forwards for a while. And, of course, the minute I pegged it out on the line the heavens opened. Oh never mind….perhaps it’ll be dry tomorrow!  We again wandered the island and enjoyed the sights.

We visited the school and handed over some DVDs of BBC Planet documentaries which we thought would be good for the kids. We met a few of them at school – they range from five to 16 years old. They follow a home-schooling programme and each have individual goals set for them on an annual basis. Beyond that they have to leave Palmerston and go to Rarotonga and live with relatives while they continue their education.

Again we sat and chatted to Bob about life on the island. He is a bit sexist and makes totally inappropriate jokes but you have to get through that and recognise that they are living their lives according to the codes instilled in them from their English ancestor. It dates back to the 1800s with very little intervention from modern times let alone any knowledge or awareness of political correctness. I know that the inequality of treatment of men and women here is driving the Danish girls crazy especially when we are sent to the kitchen to learn how to make doughnuts while the guys sit around drinking coffee and chewing the fat LOL. I’m just going with the flow….

The house Bob lives in was built by his father and extended and added to over the years. He is not the eldest son but is the only one who lives on Palmerston so the ‘head of the family’ title goes to him and he sits on the managing council. Scandalously Goodley’s wife told me that Bob and his wife are not married …. and Bob’s wife TouPou made some scathing comment about Bill’s wife who sits on her fat **** while the rest of the family do all the work. Clearly from the different levels of housing around some have done better than others, perhaps from working overseas or because they are of New Zealand pensionable age. And, although on the surface everything is just lovely and friendly there clearly are some tensions between them. Not surprising on a place this small I guess. In the meantime here is a picture of William Master’s original house built from timbers collected from the reef after a large shipwreck.

Not sure how the time gets away from us but it does….and suddenly it is time to return to Morphie for the evening. Had been another lovely day.

Sunday morning we were up very early and were collected by Bob around 8.30 am as we were all off to church. We were inspected by TouPou and my floaty trousers were not considered suitable attire so had to swap them out for a borrowed skirt. And the Danish girls were kitted out in island dresses. And, of course, there are the hats which are a requirement in church here. Felt like we were all extras in a bizarre old film.

This was the second service of the day – the first being 6am and we attended the 10 am one – and the bell, which was recovered from a shipwreck, is rung to bring people out.

The bell tolled so we all wandered down the high street, greeted the minister, and then went inside. Women sit to the right and men to the left. Finally the pastor came in and the service started. All the readings and the sermon was in English but the hymns were in Cook Islands’ Maori. Bob and his daughter admitted that they know the words to the songs but don’t know the meaning of them although this was TouPou’s first language as she wasn’t born on Palmerston. All very bizarre. The singing was amazing….stunning harmonies…..male baritones singing warrior like followed by high soprano responses from the women. Was a very moving experience especially when I saw TouPou weeping with emotion at some of the words she was singing….

After church we said goodbye to all the other ladies and headed back down the high street towards Bob’s place. We managed to get everyone to stop for me to take a picture – check this out!

Back to Bob’s and it was time for lunch. We had all contributed a dish so the buffet table was groaning and we had a real Sunday feast. Afterwards the Danes all wandered off and left Anthony, Bob, TouPou and us having a glass of wine in the shelter under the palm trees.

Before we left JoJo turned up – this is their pet blue-faced, red-footed booby – and I went and said hi. I also checked out the chickens eating the coconuts and Eric the pig who is being fattened up for Christmas. At Bill’s place they have a baby booby while the mother clicked and flapped her wings if we got too close.

At 4pm Bob and TouPou went back to church while we continued sitting in the shade – oh yes and I rescued our laundry. After they returned we came back to Morphie in Bill’s boat and, as the wind had swung, we were now sitting sideways to the reef and the reef cut had standing waves. Quite an experience – definitely wouldn’t want to try this in a dinghy!

This morning, Monday, and I’m blogging while Richard is doing pre-passage checks. We are now ashore so that I can get it published and then we are going to say our sad farewells to the people of Palmerston. This has been an amazing experience and definitely the highlight of our trip so far this year.

Around five this afternoon we are leaving for our next destination Nuie. The wind is forecast to be light and variable with the potential for rain squalls but the seas appear to have flattened in the last few days…so fingers crossed for a good passage. Nuie is a sheer rock island which is the second smallest country in the world and we’re looking forward to visiting it. It has links to New Zealand – it’s currency is the NZ dollar – and links to an English heritage as, allegedly, there is both a great Indian restaurant and a fish and chip shop LOL. Their flag definitely looks familiar!   Will continue to blog from the passage – we should arrive there around Friday. Hopefully there will be some mooring balls available as this is another place where anchoring is not possible – so fingers crossed there is room in the inn.

Bye for now


Bora Bora to Palmerston Island

Wednesday night we treated ourselves to a meal ashore at the Bora Bora Yacht Club and it was absolutely fantastic.  Lovely evening….

Thursday morning we went to see the Gendarmes again – picked up our exit papers – and returned to Morphie. We got the outboard on the rail, dink up on the bow, and we just did final checks before heading out at around 5pm.  We said farewell to Bora Bora and French Polynesia and enjoyed a lovely view as we departed through the pass admiring the breakers again on the reef.

Then we were treated to a wonderful sunset over the island of Maupiti and we were off.

The passage to Palmerston threw everything at us from low winds to high winds and everything in between. At times it was stunning and we had a wonderful time – and other times it was at best uncomfortable and a bit miserable – with huge seas, grey skies and rain. But we were pleased to get another 693 miles under our belts and boosted our confidence in dealing with difficult conditions. Was probably good practice for the New Zealand leg LOL. Here are some photos from our five day passage.

We arrived into Palmerston at around 10 o’clock on Wednesday morning (30 August) and were pleased that there were other boats already here as we were concerned they may send us on our way in the strong wind conditions. But they had laid new mooring balls in the last 12 months so were confident they would hold and welcomed us to the island. These are laid directly behind the reef so if the wind changes to the west we were told we would have to vacate immediately…. Fingers crossed!  On arrival we were met by Bill Marsters who showed us which mooring ball to pick up.

We were told that our ‘host’ family was going to be Bob Marsters (Bill’s brother) and he would be out to see us shortly for the check-in process. I had already completed the Cook Island forms but, as this officially is not a port of entry, weren’t sure what they would require. First on board was the island’s nurse who proceeded to fumigate using the same spray they use on an aircraft. Then we met Arthur Marsters who is the island’s administrator and cleared immigration with him. Then we showed the FP customs papers to the agriculture guy and we were good to go. Surprisingly they gave us a week’s stay up front without any question….generally it is only three days. Fantastic and means we’ll be here for our anniversary. Woo hoo…. The fees were reasonable at around £60 plus £6 a night for the mooring ball.

We stayed on board for the rest of the day cleaning Morphie and ourselves up and just generally relaxed and enjoyed our surroundings before having an early night. Oh yes…and there are whales here….we saw some broaching in the anchorage during the evening. We are definitely hoping for a closer encounter.

Thursday morning we were up early and felt suitably refreshed. Bob came by at 10.30 am to pick us up and took us ashore. We met our host family and had a coffee with them and some other cruisers.

Bob then took us on an island tour and explained how it all works. Basically the island is split into three segments for three families – there are two heads of each family (usually male) – who run the council of six people. If something is to the good of the entire island the council can make decisions on behalf of the other 50 or so residents. If there is an impact on one family more than the other then it is put to a vote. And yes they are all Marsters with direct links to the original ‘Father’ of the island. William Masters is buried here and his original house still stands to this day.

He used to pay rent to the British crown but struggled at times to pay it – and wrote to Queen Victoria who then granted him and his descendants ownership of this atoll. What a story!  The islanders are all very proud of their English heritage and, although they are under the auspices of New Zealand governance as one of the Cook Islands, they are pretty autonomous in how they manage things.

We toured the island with Bob and it is just simply amazing!  We have never been anywhere more beautiful.  On our return to Bob’s house I was told to go to the kitchen to chat to the women while the men sat outside chatting…..very 1950s!  After a wonderful lunch – which is supplied free of charge to all cruisers by their host families during their stay on the island – we wandered around on our own. We sat down and chatted to two more families and heard their stories. Some of them have lived in New Zealand while the kids were at high school and then returned in retirement. Others have never left. Was a fantastic experience and can’t believe, actually, that we are here!

What a wonderful start to our time here…and looking forward to finding out more later.   But, just to whet your appetite, here are a few photos to be getting along with.

Last night we came back on board – watched more whales in the anchorage but never quickly enough to get a photo – enjoyed a moody sunset and had a quiet night on board.

Bye for now