Reflections on Season 5

We got home safe and sound last week and were a bit shocked by how cold it was. We recovered over the first few days and watched our first snow fall in years through the windows whilst huddled in front of the fire…  Reflecting on our last season, I thought I’d break it down into chunks.

We were delayed in Guatemala by waiting for spare parts but this gave us the opportunity to go to the orphanage on Christmas Eve which was a very humbling experience.

Finally moving on we headed to Roatan and had some good times in the sun whilst waiting for a weather window towards Panama.  And of course we mustn’t forget Cheeky the monkey…

Then it was the nervous passage through pirate alley around the coast of Honduras and Nicaragua. We were relieved to arrive safe and sound into Providencia which was a lovely place.

We then moved on to Panama and dodged all the ships entering into the canal zone. Whilst in the marina we got ourselves provisioned up and prepared for the passage to the Galapagos and beyond.

We went line handling for two boats prior to going through ourselves and, despite keeping them safe, we were sadly unable to stop Morphie getting damaged on the wall.

On the Pacific side we did some temporary repairs and cleaned the hull before leaving for the Galapagos and also spent some time out exploring Panama City.

This was our first long passage of this trip – around 1,000 miles – and we were very excited to cross the equator and to finally arrive.

What an experience – we had an amazing time visiting three of these unique islands getting close to some of the local wildlife.

After the Galapagos we headed toward the Marquesas, part of French Polynesia. The 3,000 mile passage was challenging particularly for the last 10 days when we had to hand steer as our autopilot had failed. We managed it and were relieved to arrive in Hiva Oa, despite the constant rain!  We hauled Morphie to have the arch welded although we did manage to get the autopilot fixed – but then the windlass completely disintegrated – so we lived up a ladder in the mud bath and were pretty demoralised by this point.

We splashed and headed straight to Tahiti, sadly missing the other Marquesas and the Tuamotu islands. We arrived into Tahiti and, straight away, things picked up with parts arriving from both the USA and New Zealand and we were assisted by human dynamo Guy who helped us do all the repairs. He also spotted a few other issues which we then got resolved quickly. So, finally, after a month in a marina we moved out to start having fun again.

Tahiti grew on us after a while and we enjoyed Papeete, particularly attending the Hiva festival.

We had fun at the other French islands and finally waited in Bora Bora for a weather window to make the next passage. French Polynesia is undoubtedly beautiful but there are limited opportunities to go ashore and we found the whole place a little boring.  Apart from some other holiday makers we had little interaction with locals as French Polynesia is so expensive the locals cannot afford to frequent the bars and restaurants.

We finally had a weather window which then closed down but with customs not playing ball we left anyway….and endured some feisty conditions….so were pleased to arrive safely in Palmerston. This was an amazing place with the families living a simple life. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there.

Then we headed to Nuie and enjoyed watching the whales in the anchorage….but didn’t enjoy winching dink up and down the dock, particularly when the ship was in the harbour. Enjoyed great food and some lovely walks.

Next stop was Tonga where we stayed around Va’vau for the Blue Water Festival and enjoyed the festivities after having done some diving. Two highlights have to be the school brass band followed by the visit to the local school where we were entertained by the children and fed a Tongan feast by their parents.

Then we visited a private island and had an amazing time…..including swimming with humpback whales….. Just plain wow!

Then the weather changed again so we headed back to Va’vau to sit out the rain and celebrate Richard’s 60th birthday before heading down to Nukuʻalofa, the capital of Tonga on the island of Tongatapu.

We enjoyed socialising at Big Mamas bar on Pangiamotu but this was for a very short time before we then started our final passage of the season to New Zealand.

This is a notorious stretch of water so we were very careful picking our weather window – hence our early departure from Tonga – and run pretty much straight to Opua. We had some wonderful sailing days and some rough weather with big seas.

An amazing adventure and although it was tough at times we had an incredible journey and feel very proud of our achievement.    In New Zealand it felt all very English and we enjoyed socialising before putting Morphie to bed on the hard for the season.

So what lessons can we pass on to others planning to follow our footsteps?

Preparation, preparation, preparation is the key word. Everything needs to be checked end to end and if there is any age or wear you need to replace it even if it is working perfectly. You also need to have a way of running downwind either with a poled out genoa or a spinnaker / cruising chute. The stress on the boat of travelling 9,000 miles in mainly following / breaking seas and high winds should not be underestimated and the creaking noises down below are quite scary. Carrying spares is essential and you need to have as much as you can afford to store as access to parts in the South Pacific is limited and importation (apart from into Tahiti) is difficult, expensive and time consuming. The mantra for any South Pacific passage has to be reef, reef and then reef again and before the weather kicks in – once it is upon you it is too late. When we arrived in Tahiti there were very few boats – from tiny 28 footers through to 70 foot Oysters and larger yachts – who had suffered no failures or breakages. Lots and lots of shredded sails too. But if we can do it, so can you! Go for it….just be prepared…..and enjoy every moment along the way.

So what are our plans for the next season? Well, we need to do some upgrades to Morphie – particularly her electronics. So new radar, new AIS, new plotter, new autopilot, new wind / depth / speed instrumentation is on the cards. The original plotters are nine years old and failing and the charts are no longer supported by Garmin so we are moving over to Raymarine products. There are lots of other things we want to do too….as well as explore New Zealand properly. So, for Season 6, we’re going to stay in New Zealand – buy a car – do some land travelling and some sailing but no huge sea passages. We’ll also do some other land travel to and from London to make the most of being in this part of the world just like we did on return with our trip to Hong Kong.

So our intention is to leave the UK in March again so please return to the blog around that time and, to make sure you don’t miss it, subscribe and you’ll get an e-mail when I make some changes. So bye for now and I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.