Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Out and About in Whangarei

Charlie the Tank Tester
Now that we’ve been in Whangarei for almost two months, one of the most impressive things I’ve noticed is not just how friendly the people are but also how trusting they seem to be.  For example, in order to get our propane tank filled it had to be certified to meet New Zealand standards.  So I took it to T & L Industries where Charlie said he could have it done in a few days.  I gulped as that meant going without propane for that period of time.  Charlie said, “No worries, mate.  You can borrow this tank until yours is ready.” And he handed me a tank, certified and full of propane.

One of the first things we did when we got to Whangarei was to get our refrigeration fixed.  I called a local company and they dispatched their technician, Warwick.  Pleasant, thorough and good natured, he got to work right away.  The problem turned out to be elusive but after coming and going a few times he got it fixed.  About ten days later I got a call from his office asking me if I’d like to ‘pop by’ and pay the bill.  A similar sequence of events just occurred for some work that an electrician did for us.

Our friend, Mark, on Merkava, is looking into have his fuel and water tanks replaced while he’s here.  He did some research and found one of the best stainless steel welders in the area.  When Mark asked him what he thought was the best material to build tanks out of, he was expecting him to say something like “monel” or “316 stainless”.  Instead the welder thought for a moment and said, “Plastic.”

Consistently I’m finding people going out of their way to help, to point me in a direction that can better suit my needs or might be a better value.  Perhaps I’ve been jaded from living in Southern California for so long that I’m suspicious of most people that I’m doing business with.  However, here I’m starting to let my guard down.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bicycles and Beer

Town Basin Marina - Whangarei
Photo by Yuka Morino

The big news on Rutea is the arrival of our new Strida folding bicycles.  We received three of them from my brother, Paul, and they’re just so much fun!  Not only are they brilliantly functional – they collapse to almost the size of an umbrella and unfold in just a few seconds – but they’re very attractive to look at.  Even a quick spin around a parking lot and you can tell that the components used to build the bike are first-rate.  The ride is incredibly smooth and with very little effort you can find yourself whizzing along at a surprising speed – no worries though because the front and rear disc brakes are impressive with how quickly they can stop the bike and rider.
 Yuka with Merkava in the background

I’ve been just riding around on the less-traveled streets for now as it’s been a long time since I have ridden a bike in traffic.  On top of that, New Zealanders aren’t particularly tolerant of bike riders (nor are they of pedestrians).  It’s a little odd because the drivers here seem very patient with other drivers but you’d better pay close attention before you step off a curb as it seems like no one will stop for you.  I’ve talked with New Zealanders about this and they admit it and shrug their shoulders.  Regardless, I’m having fun riding around, running errands and generally just goofing off.  One of my favorite things to do is to ride over the Victoria Bridge and visit my friends Mark and Yuka on Merkava.  Mark always offers a cold beer, regardless of what time it is.

Last night, Mark, Yuka, Corie and I went out to McMorrissey’s Pub in downtown Whangarei, just a short walk from the boat.  On Monday nights they have a lamb shank special that comes with a pint of beer.  Mark and I each order a double shank while Corie ordered a chicken burger and Yuka ordered sweet potato fries.  The lamb shanks were served under billowing clouds of steam.  Under the steam were thick, meaty shanks with dark brown gravy smothering them and the large portion of mashed potatoes.  The meat was falling off the bone and almost melted in my mouth.  The flavor was nothing short of exquisite with the faintest taste of grass-fed sheep.  I virtually inhaled my entire meal and even though I was uncomfortably full, for a moment I considered ordering a second round, it was that good.  Instead, I opted for a pint of Guinness Stout and a bowl of Guinness ice cream.  The ice cream in New Zealand is excellent but this was even better.  With lots of chocolate sauce, the ice cream is a unique blend of the sweet cream and the bitter stout.  It works.  It works really well.

The pub itself is supposed to look like an Irish pub and though I’ve never been to Ireland, it does remind me of any number of English pubs where I’ve enjoyed a pint or two.  Dark wood paneling and dark wood tables and chairs are surrounded by Guinness mirrors and Kilkenny signs.  There’s a chalk board where the menu is scribbled out.  The bar has a long line of beer taps with each brew having an elaborate and unique handle.  There are no cushy booths or even a padded chair.  All ordering has to be done at the bar although the bar maid will bring the food you’ve ordered to your table.  But the place has a friendly atmosphere and even though the prices are high compared to the US, tipping isn’t routine.  Perhaps I never gave the pubs in my neighborhood in San Diego a chance (hell, I never paid any of them a visit let alone give them a chance) but I feel very comfortable at McMorrissey’s.  We have all found the Kiwis to be very friendly – almost disarmingly so.  If you come to visit here and you don’t find me on board the boat, take a stroll over to McMorrissey’s.  You just might find me there.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thanksgiving Prayer

By now the previous nine thousand miles are seeming like a bit of a dream. It helps me to look at our photos to remember what an incredible, event filled year it has been and how our lives have been so enriched by the people we have met and places we have seen. One memory that stands out today is our visit to the home of Robert Louis Stevenson in Vailima, Western Samoa. Stevenson spent his last years in Western Samoa writing poetry and short stories. He was loved by the natives that worked on his plantation because he worked right along side of them, slept outside with them, learned their language and retold their stories in his own words. It's interesting how we are able to recreate families when we are so far away from the ones that we love, especially at holiday times.

The following is a prayer written by Robert Louis Stevenson at his home in Vailima. I will be sharing it as we celebrate American Thanksgiving in Whangarei, New Zealand and hope you will find it beautiful enough to share around your table as well!

R of Rutea

On Thanksgiving Day


Behold our family here assembled.
We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell;
for the love that unites us; for the peace that accorded us this day;
for the hope with which we expect the morrow;
for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies, that make our lives delightful;
for our friends in all parts of the earth, and our friendly helpers in this foreign isle.

Let peace abound in our small company.
Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge.
Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere.
Offenders, give us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders.
Forgetful ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully the forgetfulness of others.
Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind.
Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.

Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors.
If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come,
that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath,
and in all changes of fortune and down to the gates of death,
loyal and loving one to another.

As the clay to the potter,
as the windmill to the wind,
as children of their sire,
we beseech of Thee this help and mercy.
At 11/5/2011 6:07 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 35°26.21'S 174°25.02'E

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Sunday, November 20, 2011


Rutea Tied to the Long Dock at Marina Whangarei

It was over two weeks ago that we motored twelve miles up the Hatea River to Rutea's temporary new home.  We have embraced the urban setting and we're looking forward to being in one place for a while.  When I had originally proposed the idea of sailing the South Pacific,  the furthest Ruthie would commit to was New Zealand.   After almost ten thousand nautical miles in the past year, I think we're all looking forward to not moving for while.  Whangarei seems like a great spot to spend some time.

With a population of about 52,000, it's bigger than a town but not quite a city.  At times during the day the bustling traffic can make it hard to cross the street (whereas I find New Zealand drivers, generally speaking, to be very polite, they seem to ignore pedestrians) but one doesn't have to travel far from the city center to be in a complete rural setting.  The center of the downtown area has been converted to a mall and there's a fair amount of foot traffic there although many of the stores appear empty of shoppers.  Most of the restaurants seem busy and at the very center there are few vacant storefronts but just around the corner on Bank Street, which used to be the very center of town, the vacancies might number 50%.  Finding a parking spot is rarely a problem.  Yes, we did buy a car, a 1999 Toyota Estima with 140,000 kilometers on it.  It's identical to the Toyota Previa minivan except it has right-hand drive.  Our model is called the Emina though Ruthie and Corie call it the Enema.  I like driving it and driving on the left side of the road is starting to almost feel normal.

Victoria Bridge

Rutea is tied up at the marina in Town Basin, almost in the very center of town.  At the north edge of the marina is the Victoria Bridge, which was converted to a pedestrian bridge that is used twice weekly for artists to set up booths and sell their wares.  Just on the other side of the street from there is the town's
Aquatic Center, a huge facility that houses a number of huge swimming pools, hot tubs, water slides and a very well equipped fitness center - all indoors.  On Saturday mornings, just on the other side of downtown (a 10-minute walk from the boat), is the Grower's Market, where there's an impressive selection of fresh produce, fish, flowers and plants.  The prices are lower than the grocery stores and the quality is excellent.  Speaking of prices, though, things are very expensive when compared to the United States.  The current exchange rate is about NZ$1.00 to US$0.78 but we still find many things to be 200%, 300% and higher than we'd pay for the same or similar items in the US.  Gasoline is NZ$2.06 per liter.  To fill our car is over NZ$100.

Hiking Through the Ferns

One of the things we come to love about not just Whangarei but all of New Zealand are the many spectacular and very well groomed hiking trails.  Within 300 meters from the boat, we can be on a beautiful trail that follows the river.  We frequently take walks after dinner, when the long-lasting twilight has eliminated the shadows but it's still easy to see.  Yesterday, we hiked up to Whangarei Falls, about a 3-hour round trip walk through many parks, foot bridges and meadows.  It was a bright, sunny day but cool enough that we remained comfortable even up the gentle climb.

Whangarei Falls

Most of the boats that we've crossed the Pacific with have arrived in either New Zealand or Australia though there are still a few stragglers out there.  Last Friday we drove up to Opua for a day of seminars as part of the Island Cruising Association's All Points Rally, of which we were participants.  It was great to connect with people whom we hadn't seen in a long time and to learn of everyone's plans.  Speaking of plans, once Ruthie returns from San Diego in mid-January, we're going to pack up the minivan and do some camping around the South Island.  As much as we enjoy the North Island, we've been told that the South Island is where the really breath-taking beauty is found.  Before that, though, is Thanksgiving and there's a restaurant that's right at the head of the dock that's putting on an American-style Thanksgiving dinner.  We've told some friends about it and gradually our party has grown to be almost fifteen people.  We'll do drinks on Rutea and then go have dinner.  After dinner, a walk through the woods.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Opua to Whangarei

Hiking On Urupukapuka Island

Before we even left the tropics, we had decided to spend a week in Opua and then head on down to Whangarei.  But after just seven days, I wasn’t all that excited about leaving.  Many of our friends were there and more were arriving daily.  There was a palpable level of excitement as boats completed their passages from Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia and other exotic ports.  After seven to ten days at sea, most new arrivals were looking forward to practice some ‘elbow bending’ at the Cruiser’s Club and they wanted people to listen to their sea stories.  We usually volunteered, enjoying several cold draft Montieth’s Ale while we listened to their lies and exaggerations.

Besides the camaraderie, the nearby towns of Paihia and Russell, which usually cater to vacationers from Auckland, offered a resort-like atmosphere in of themselves.  A steady stream of motorhomes and backpackers flowed through the streets but the cruisers always stood out amongst the crowd.  As spring is ending here and summer beginning, this is the start of the high season.  The retailers are optimistic.

Hahangarua Bay

Almost reluctantly I checked out of the marina, the clerk not wanting to look me in the eye when I said we were going to Whangarei – a bit of rivalry between the two ports.  I paid our tab at the chandlery (“What?” said Ruthie, “The first marine hardware store since French Polynesia and you spend less than $100?  Are you feeling OK?”)  Ruthie’s snide remarks notwithstanding, we cast off at a moment of slack current and headed out into the Bay of Islands.  Our friends on Paikia Mist left just minutes before we did and we rendezvoused in Paradise Bay on Urupukapuka Island.  Once anchors were set, they came by in their dinghy and took us into shore for a terrific hike that almost circumnavigated the island.  We saw some absolutely breath-taking views along with some breath-robbing hills to climb.  Once back on the boat, the wind clocked to the southwest for which we had no protection so we moved over to Hahangarua Bay on Moturua Island and spent a peaceful night.  Late the next morning we pulled up the anchor and left the Bay of Islands, heading for our new temporary home of Whangarei.  The wind filled in to about 23 knots and it only took a few hours before we arrived at Mimiwhangata Bay, our stopping point for the night.  It’s a fairly well-protected bay but with 23 knots of wind, no anchorage is without movement.  The wind died later in the evening and stayed that way.  We pulled up the anchor at 0700, once more back at sea for the next 40 miles.  Once in Whangarei, it’s anybody’s guess as to when we’ll be back on the high seas.

Wait!  This just in!  We have confirmed eyewitness on-the-scene reports that Rutea has been spotted tied up to the wharf at Whangarei Marina.  Said one observer, who preferred not to identify herself, "I hope I get to see them.  They've come such a long way!"  Said another resident, who also didn't want to be identified, "Aye 'ope they don't drink all the floggin' beer in the city."  Stay tuned for further developments.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The North End of the North Island

Top of Mt. Bledisloe

With our friend, Bob, eager to try out the used Nissan he just bought, we headed north out of Opua, past Paihia and to the Waitangi Treaty House, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840.  The treaty was supposed to give the indigenous Maori people all the rights to the land and waters of New Zealand but it also made the Maoris subjects of the British Crown and therefore subject to British law.  It didn't take clever lawyers long to find ways to circumvent the treaty and soon the Maoris were treated like second class citizens with very few rights.  When we entered the museum, a very perky receptionist asked us where we were from.  "California!" we replied in unison.  Had we known that citizens of New Zealand get into the museum for free while foreigners have to pay $25.00 per person, we might have answered differently.  We didn't want to see that stuffy, old museum anyway.

Driving west we found the turnoff to Mt. Bledisloe, a very wealthy Brit who had the mountain named after himself.  It was a short hike to the top where a monument pointed to the direction  of various  cities around the world and their distances.  We're a long way from anywhere here.

Haruru Falls

Continuing northwest, we stopped by Haruru Falls, which were pretty disappointing.  The falls themselves were less than spectacular and the water was dirty.  Ruthie refused to pose for a picture here.  In the parking lot we discussed where to go next and a quick check of Fodor's said that the Waipoua State Forest, with the largest tree in New Zealand, was a worthwhile stop.  Even though it was more than 100 clicks away, we decided to go for it.

We all agreed that driving through the New Zealand countryside was a lot like driving through the Pacific Northwest.  Thick pine forests on rolling hills with bright green pastures, dotted with fat cattle could have been in the northern Willamette Valley..  As we approached the northwestern corner of the country, the Hokianga Harbor appeared off the starboard side of the car.  This 'harbor' extends almost halfway across the North Island.  We stopped for lunch at a small cafe that overlooked the entrance to the 'harbor', which was fairly narrow for such a huge body of water.  It was also our first glimpse of the Tasman Sea, which was calm despite it's reputation for not being so.

Hokianga Harbor

After lunch, we continued on our trek to find the tallest tree in New Zealand.  The road became windy and steep as Bob's Nissan with it's puny diesel engine struggled to keep us moving at a decent speed.  Fortunately, the area is very sparsely populated and we weren't holding anyone up who might have been behind us.  We parked near the massive tour buses that had found their way to the same famous spot.

Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest

Even though the kauri tree is only 173 feet tall, it does have a circumference of 45 feet and is somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 years old.  The New Zealand government goes to great lengths to protect the tree which, apparently, has very shallow roots which are susceptible to viruses.  The tree is kind of out in the middle of nowhere but it's well fenced off and there's a raised wooden walkway all the way from the highway to protect people from walking near it's roots. 

Our trip back to Opua was uneventful but the tide had changed and the entrance to Hokianga Harbor was now white and frothy with tidal-generated waves.  I was struck by how peaceful everything seemed.  Even the occasional on-coming car seemed peaceful, even though it was on the wrong side of the road.  Perhaps I'm just looking for an excuse to stay in one place for a while after so much traveling but I like it here.  I like it a lot.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

New Blog Feature!

The observant reader of this blog may notice the addition of the picture of the two dolphins playing in Rutea's bow wake.  This is actually a link to our Picasa album where you can see other photos of our trip.  Just click on the picture.  At this point, I only have a small fraction of the pictures we have uploaded.  I'm working on it and I suggest you check it frequently.  Currently, the photos are from the time we left San Diego through our arrival at Hiva Oa in the Marquesas.  I sorted through over 500 photographs to come up with those that are uploaded.  I have another 2,000 photos to sort through.  Please let me know if the link doesn't work.

We are enjoying New Zealand very much.  The people we've met so far are very friendly even if they do talk funny.  Our friend, Bob, on the McGregor 65, Braveheart, bought a minivan today so he's invited us to go see the sights of the North Island tomorrow.  We haven't gotten too far from the boat since we arrived.  I'll take more pictures and try to get them uploaded as well.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Nuku'alofa to Opua

Tonga to New Zealand in seven days, ten hours! Breezed through immigration and customs and were carried by the current in to a slip in the Opua Marina. Made wonderful, new friends instantly on the docks (it takes a village to get a boat into a slip in these currents) and immediately began to settle into life in the village of Opua (pop 500).

I have always thought that New Zealand was a little too far to fly to for a vacation.... but who in their right mind would EVER sail here?

R of Rutea
At 10/27/2011 9:00 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 34°45.21'S 174°29.04'E

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day 7 - Tonga to New Zealand

With less than 50 miles to go to Opua, we're having one hell of a sail with Rutea holding pretty much to her hull speed. We've got everything up but the bed sheets and everything vanged down but my pants. It's cool out but there's lots of sunshine. We hope to arrive at the quarantine dock by 1630 local time. We can't see land yet as there's a haze to the west but we should be able to spot it by late morning.

It's been a fairy-tale passage. None of the harrowing conditions that we were promised - instead we got some great sailing in. We did have to motor for a couple of days but that helped keep the passage short. Our spirits are high and we're looking forward to lots of cold, refreshing beverages.

Thanks to everyone who emailed and thought of us. I know it helped. We'll post pictures and write more soon.
At 10/27/2011 7:02 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 34°33.35'S 174°38.08'E

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Day 6 - Tonga to New Zealand

High-Latitude Sunset
Corie managed to connect to the email server in Niue, almost 1,100 miles away, using our single sideband radio but the connection is very slow. I'm actually writing this as we're in the sending and receiving process; I'm typing as fast as I can so please forgive any errors.
Even though the wind is very light and we're motoring, we're having a great time. The seas are flat calm and the sky is clear. It's fairly warm, about 66 and the humidity is low. Our excitement is building as the prospects of landfall draw near. In particular, I'm thinking about a cheeseburger with a very large, cold beer (we don't drink anything alcoholic when we're on a passage).
Even though Rutea's mechanical systems continue to perform well (except her refrigeration), her exterior is in bad need of a thorough scrubbing. Heavy layers of salt cover everything and the deck kind of crunches when you walk on it. I was thinking about stowing the trysail, our very heavy storm sail that's bent onto the mast so it's easy to deploy should we need it but I think as long as it's there it's insurance that we won't need it.
My friend, Norm, on Sarah Jean II, called me yesterday on the radio and told me of his calculations that if we increased our speed by one full knot, we would arrive in Opua in the late afternoon on Friday. "Good call," I said and we increased our engine's RPMs to 1,600. Norm called back a few hours later to tell us that the increase in RPMs had put additional pressure on Sarah Jean's rudder bearing, which had been giving them trouble, and he was forced to back down. He expects this to delay their arrival by a full day.
We should be arriving in Opua, New Zealand, about this time tomorrow. The weather forecast is for more light winds. I'll be able to write with more details tomorrow night.
At 10/27/2011 12:56 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 32°41.94'S 176°00.79'E
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 5 in the Southern Ocean

385 miles to go and we are motor sailing! The southern ocean is flat and a deep, rich color of blue. The horizon looks miles away. The only thing we can see other than blue sky and blue ocean is the bright white sail of Sarah Jean II about three miles off of our beam. The temperature got down last night to 59 degrees! Haven't felt that cool since last December! It made for a wonderful night of sleeping and Corie had to wake me up for my watch! She generously allowed me an extra 15 minutes of sleep! The stars were brilliant and Jupiter cast a glow on the water. I can't believe we are having such benign weather! It is really unusual to have a ten day stretch where there are no "lows" in this part of the world! I don't even care about motoring for the next two days (even with diesel being about $8.00 per gallon)! I was just looking at the weather gribs and next week (just after we arrive) there are a series of lows that are coming across the Tasman Sea from Australia and there are lots of arrows on the gribs with little feathers in bright red and orange colors! We are hoping to arrive in Opua late Friday afternoon before the pubs close! The boats that left Tonga three days after we did are going to have some serious weather decisions to make. They can always stop in Minerva Reef and let the weather pass (hopefully to the south), but the reef is two feet under the surface of the ocean and only provides so much protection from the swells.

It is a real bummer not having a fridge! The freezer is not a big deal, but we were not able to make any meals ahead of leaving Tonga (except for brownies)so our mealtime has not been the high point of the day as it usually is on a passage! However today, since the seas are so flat, Corie said she would make pizza! Whatever we make we have to finish eating entirely or throw out the leftovers! I had to throw out (or rather overboard) a bunch of stuff yesterday- salsa, cream cheese (there was a bug inside the cardboard carton..... it had never been opened....) carrots, parsley, pesto, milk, hard boiled eggs and leftover salmon loaf! Fortunately we still have a bunch of apples (which we need to eat because we cannot take them into NZ- even though they are NZ apples!). Maybe I will make apple sauce or apple pie with whatever are left over! The first thing we are going to buy in NZ is a chilly box and ice until we decide what route to take for refrig repair!

We are spending our days reading YOUR emails, reading novels and of course, our NZ Travel Guides! We are very excited about doing some land travel, some tramping, visiting our Kiwi friends, watching rugby (go All Blacks!) and of course, sailing the islands! The Land of the Long White Cloud beckons and promises a whole new chapter in this amazing adventure.

R of Rutea
At 10/25/2011 6:52 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 29°37.45'S 178°09.20'E

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Day Four - Tonga to New Zealand

Someday I'll learn. It's bound to happen. But, maybe not. It's not that I'm really lazy or really stupid but I'm sometimes too optimistic. Last night before sunset, Corie asked me if I was going to furl the mizzen before dark (she was remembering a previous night when I had to furl it in 20 knots of wind at midnight). I said, no, I think it will be alright. She pursed her lips and said nothing. So last night I'm on watch and a target appears on the radar - we're out in the middle of nowhere and a target - a bright spot on the radar screen - could be another boat, a ship or an aberration. This target turned out to be the formation of a squall, a series of them. So I called Ruthie up from her sleep and I fought with the mizzen to lower and furl it. Good thing I had installed bright deck lights before we left San Diego as the night was pitch black. Even though I'm tethered onto the boat securely with a heavy harness, there's only our thin life lines between me and the sea that's rushing past at 11 feet per second. Add to that a wind that blowing at about 20 knots and seas that won't stay still for a second and it can be interesting. Once the mizzen was secure, I tucked a reef into the main. This quieted the boat down, Ruthie went back to sleep and I resumed my watch duties.

We're buddy-boating with Sarah Jean II, a boat owned by a couple we met in Mexico and of whom we're very fond. Beth and Norm's Saga 43 is a beautiful boat, very well equipped and they're both excellent sailors. With a water line slightly longer than Rutea's but only displacing about half of Rutea's weight, we're almost the exact same speed. We've been within a few miles of each other the entire trip. Crewing on this passage for them is their daughter's boyfriend, Kyle.

Our conditions are almost perfect. We're on a close reach with about 16 knots of southeast wind, the seas are about 1.5 to 2 meters, the outside temperature is 65 and the sky is mostly clear. Our speed over ground is averaging over 7 knots per hour and we've already shaved an entire day off our original ETA. We just past our half way mark. In the past 24 hours we covered 175 miles. The forecast for the rest of the trip is excellent. Our spirits are good and Rutea is doing great.

Thanks again for all the supportive emails. They mean a lot.
At 10/24/2011 10:32 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 27°39.53'S 179°26.47'E

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day 3 - Tonga to New Zealand

It was a rather uncomfortable night with Rutea heeled at about an 18 degree angle until early this morning when the wind finally backed some. Even though I was off watch, I couldn't sleep and so I adjusted the sails which made it more comfortable. The the wind began to build which put a bone in Big Ol' Ruttea's teeth and she began to pull like a team of mules. The exciting upshot of this was that the Time-to-Destination field on our chartplotter began to actually show numbers. Previously, we had too long to go for the counter to work and once it became less than 100 hours, the space that only had dashes now had real, tangible numbers. Of course, gradually the wind lightened and the dashes returned, leaving us to wonder if we were ever going to get there. But our 24-hour distance was 156 miles which isn't too bad for a big old boat, although we did motor for about 6 hours yesterday when our speed dropped to less than 5 knot per hour.

Bob McDavitt, our weather router, writes a weekly weather forecast for the western South Pacific and New Zealand area - he calls them 'Bobgrams'. They're pretty generic but most of the cruisers in this area count on them. There's always a section on travel between Figi/New Caledonia/Tonga and New Zealand and this week he talks about how the going is good right now but to not try to arrive this weekend. We should arrive by Friday.

I don't think we've turned the iPod off since we left. It really helps the time to pass on the night watches. We've talked to some people who watch movies when they're on watch.

We could hit our halfway point tomorrow.

Our spirits remain good and we're grateful for the emails that we've received from our families and friends. Please keep them coming.
At 10/24/2011 12:57 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 25°30.28'S 179°04.56'W

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Day Two En Route to New Zealand

Yesterday started out with the remnants of the seas left over from the big high pressure that had built to 5 meters. It left the ocean pretty sloppy but there was a decent southeast wind and we started out making good time. Often our first day on a passage is tenuous and though we had taken anti-nausea drugs, none of us had an abundance of energy. Gradually the seas flattened somewhat, day faded into night and I started my first watch of the trip at 2030 hours.

The wind had been pretty consistent at about 15 knots and even though we were fairly close-hauled, we were still making 6+ knots per hour. At around 2300 hours the wind began to veer more to the south and built slightly. I waited until Corie came on watch at 0000 and then I furled the mizzen but it left me in a quandary as to whether I should tuck a reef in the main. Enjoying the progress we were making a little too much, we left the main at it's full hoist. The rest of the night passed uneventfully. This morning the temperature outside was 64 degrees - the coldest we've seen since last December.

Our weather router has us making a substantial course change at around midnight tonight but we're thinking that we might start it earlier. It will put us even harder on the wind and it's not forecast to back until Tuesday. Ugh. Oh, well, we're tough.

Thanks for reading our blog, boring though it maybe. I'll get some pictures posted once we get to New Zealand and then you'll have to read the whole thing over again!
At 10/22/2011 7:08 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 22°39.89'S 177°19.02'W

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Friday, October 21, 2011

It's 0600

Saturday morning and the anchor is up! We be sailin'
to New Zealand! Go All Blacks!!

R of Rutea
At 10/21/2011 5:23 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 21°06.86'S 175°11.35'W

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Uoleva to Ha'afeva to Kelefesia

 Kelefesia Island

We had spent a few nights anchored off of Uoleva Island in the western Ha'apai Group. The snorkeling was great and in the same anchorage were some of our closest friends. Beth and Norm on Sarah Jean II were kind enough to host dinner for all of us so we could celebrate Yuka's thirtieth birthday and say good bye as some boats were staying and some were moving on. We were in the latter group.

 Leopard Shark

You would think that we'd be accustom to saying good-bye to people by now as we do it so often. We meet people on other cruising boats, become close friends and then part ways - often to never see each other again. But saying good-bye to the people on Merkava - Mark and Yuka - and Archetuethis - Christine and Jared - was just a little more poignant as we had become good friends with them when we were still in Mexico.

 Yuka's 30th Birthday Party

Regardless, on the following morning at a decent hour, Sarah Jean II and Rutea pulled up our anchors and sailed seventeen miles to the west to the island of Ha'afeva. Coral dotted the sandy bottom and it made me anxious as it's very common for an anchor chain to get wrapped around a coral head, preventing the boat from retrieving its anchor - you never really know until you try to leave. The cool thing about the anchorage at Ha'afeva is that there's a wrecked Korean fishing vessel that met its demise on a reef near by. Since our dinghy is easy to deploy, we picked up Beth and Norm and the five of us snorkeled around the wreck and the reef responsible for sinking the ship. It was very interesting and at the same time a grim reminder of what can happen out there.
Group Snorkel Trip
This morning we got up at 0-dark-thirty, pulled up the anchor (it came up easy!) and continued to make our way south. Dawn broke to a sky that was heavily overcast but the wind was light so I hoisted the main sail up full. We were motor-sailing along and I was checking in to the Southern Cross Net (8161 KHz at 1830 UTC) when out of the blue twenty knots of wind from the northeast hit us. I scrambled up to the main mast and quickly tucked a reef in. Ruthie and I unfurled the genoa and cut the engine. Our course was close enough to the wind that Rutea was heeled over hard, her new portlights under water most of the time. The seas quickly built and the rain started to fall. Rutea's bow would rise up and over a wave, sending a geyser of water skyward as it landed. Gravity would take control of the geyser of water and with the wind's assistance, deposit it all over the deck and cabin. This went on for most of the morning.
Shortly after noon, we approached our destination of Kelefesia Island, the most southerly of the Ha'apai Group. This island is out in the middle of nowhere. Our two guide books differed on the dangers when approaching the anchorage and the charts mentioned 'Blind Rollers' surrounding the entrance. The wind was still honking and we were even discussing skipping Kelefesia altogether as it was sounding a little dicey but we pressed on. Our collective pulses quickened as we powered into the narrow gap between the reefs on either side where it seemed like waves were breaking all around us.
Once the anchor was down and set we took stock of our surroundings. The palm tree-topped cliffs met a wide, sandy beach which faded into the perfectly clear water. The water gradually changed from clear to pale blue to aquamarine. Before we entered the anchorage, I was skeptical that it would suffer from swells entering as they were breaking so close to the entrance. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I found the motion in the anchorage to be better than tolerable. No other boats were there - just Sarah Jean II and us - no other people were on the island, either. There's a small fish camp on the east side but it was deserted.
Giant Clam Shell
It didn't take us long to get into our snorkel gear and check out the reefs that we had just sailed past. Unfortunately, much of the coral was dead and the snorkeling was pretty uninteresting. We did, though, walk ashore where we found many giant clam shells - the ones that are almost two feet across. Since we follow the Sierra Club's rule: 'Take only pictures; leave only footprints', we left all the shells on shore.
All of us were a little troubled that we almost skipped Kelefesia Island as it's a remote gem - just the idyllic, deserted South Pacific island that so many dream of and rarely find. We leave tomorrow morning for Tongatapu, the capital of Tonga.
At 10/15/2011 6:26 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 20°30.13'S 174°44.45'W
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Monday, October 10, 2011

Vava'u Group to Ha'apai Group in the Kingdom of Tonga

It was hard to believe that we had arrived in Vava'u on September 5th and more than a month later we were still there. Truly one of the great cruising grounds that we've visited as it had many of the things that we treasure - spectacular beauty, pristine anchorages, an active cruising community, decent restaurants, internet access (albeit extremely slow), beautiful clear water and tolerable day time temperatures. It was hard to leave.
Regardless, this morning at 0300 we untied from our mooring in Neiafu harbor and made our way to sea. The wind was freshening and shortly after leaving the main entrance we cut the engine and picked up the course to Ha'apai, about 60 miles due south. The conditions couldn't have been better - the waxing moon, two days from being full, gave us near-daytime visibility. With the wind on a close reach at about 17 knots, Rutea frequently hit hull speed and that was with a single reef tucked in the main. The seas were very slight with only a wind chop. As dawn arrived, we were well out of the lee of Hunga Island and the chop increased. Ruthie and Corie had taken Stugeron, our preferred medication for sea sickness, prophylactically but I didn't. I got sea sick. After five weeks in the flat, protected waters of the Vava'u Group, my inner ear was no longer capable of sorting out the motion. I did take a Zofran that our son, Ian, prescribed for us and it worked remarkably well though it did make me quite drowsy.
The Ha'apai Group consists of 61 islands many of which are unpopulated. Our first stop was at an open roadstead that serves as a pretty decent anchorage off of Ha'ano Island. We had to drop the hook in over 50' of water but we were able to find a good sand bottom with few coral heads. Ruthie and Corie did some snorkeling that they said was fantastic while I tried to sleep off my drug-induced stupor.
We only plan to stay here for about five days but there's a BFH (Big Fat High pressure area) approaching that's going to reinforce the trade winds into the 30-knot range before the end of the week. That might just force us to sit tight until the BFH breaks down. Since we have about another 100 miles to go until we get to Tongatapu (where we go to officially check out of Tonga and fuel/provision for the run to New Zealand), we'd like to have that passage not be a challenge.
Last night we watched Australia play South Africa in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup. The World Cup happens every four years and South Africa has won it several times. In a very tough game, Australia came away with an upset victory. We have become converts to rugby. North American football seems so boring after watching rugby. For example, in rugby, the clock almost never stops. There are two forty-minute periods. In last night's game, an injured player was being attended to by the team's medical staff but he was lying right near where his teammate was attempting to kick for a penalty. The penalty kick proceeded anyway, the clock running the whole time. Since the clock runs almost continuously, there are no commercial breaks - only at half time. The rules are pretty simple and though the terminology is different, it's a very exciting game. There's still a few games left for this World Cup. Check it out.
At 10/10/2011 6:55 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°40.31'S 174°17.44'W
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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Decisions, Decisions . . .

We're having a tough time. It's getting close to the time when we should be leaving the Vava'u Group and continuing south. The days tick by and cyclone season keeps getting closer - it officially starts on November 1st but it's very rare to have one that early in the season. We've contracted with a highly respected weather router in New Zealand to prepare as safe a passage from Tonga to New Zealand as possible. At first I told him that we'd be ready to go anytime after October 1. Then I emailed him back and said anytime after October 15.

Now I've learned that there's an organized rally from Tonga to New Zealand departing Tonga the first five days of November (it doesn't start on a specific day due to weather considerations). It kind of sounds like fun to travel with a group of boats and it's something that we've never done. There's already quite a good-sized fleet underway and so far their conditions have been very good. We're monitoring them quite closely.

The next group of islands south are called the Ha'apai Group and many cruisers don't stop there as there are few protected anchorages and the passages between islands are strewn with coral reefs. Some people say the diving and snorkeling there is almost as good as the Tuamotus but that's hard for us to believe. The Tuamotus were nothing short of mind-boggling.

South of the Ha'apai Group is Tongatapu or 'Tonga' to the locals. It has the largest population in all of Tonga and provisioning there would give us a much better selection. On the other hand, boats are strongly advised to have rat guards on their lines before they tie up to the wharf to get fuel. Apparently, rats will make a beeline for ships lines to make their way on board - rat guards are like big pie tins that you fix to your dock lines and the rats can't get past them.

There is the possibility of sailing straight from Vava'u to New Zealand. We like it here. Over 40 protected anchorages. Lots of other cruising boats. Great diving/snorkeling (today we beached the dinghy on the north side of the beach on Vaka'eitu and hiked across the island to the south shore where we found a deserted beach about a quarter-mile long. We donned our masks/snorkels/fins and swam out over the shallow reef. Out about 100 yards from shore, the reef dropped straight down giving us the feeling of free falling. The cliff formed by the reef was splashed with beautiful coral and thousands of brightly colored tropical fish were darting this way and that. Large underwater ravines in the coral wind their way towards shore providing excellent places to explore. The visibility had to be in excess of 80 feet.). On the other hand, the provisioning is lousy and expensive. And visiting Tongatapu puts us about 120 miles closer to New Zealand.

For the last few days Corie has been the invited guest aboard a beautiful 80' motorsailer. The owner is a former Hollywood film producer. He has four crew members, some of who are close to Corie's age. It's been a good break for all of us to have some time apart even though we get along remarkably well.

We're going to head back to the main port of Neiafu tomorrow to study the weather closely. There might be a front moving through next week and I think I'd prefer to wait it out here than in Ha'apai.

Rutea and all of us are doing great. How are you doing?

Nofo a.
At 10/6/2011 5:38 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 18°43.24'S 174°06.09'W

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Nuapapu and World Cup Rugby

To seek refuge from a predicted north wind, we anchored off the small island of Nuapapu, which offers good protection from both north and east winds. It wasn't long after we had our anchor set when a small homemade launch approached and a young man speaking flawless English invited us to visit the primary school where he teaches. The following morning we followed his directions, "Turn left after leaving the wharf, look up the small cut, take the steps towards the big mango tree and follow the path . . ." One of the students met us on the path and showed us the way through the small village. Sleeping pigs squealed to life as we approached and within a few minutes we were crossing the stile into the school yard.

There are about 15 students between grades 1 and 6, with the students between 6 and 12 years old. As soon as we arrived they moved all of their desks and chairs to the walls, creating an open space in the middle of the room. The linoleum on the floor was in bad disrepair and many of the furnishings were falling apart. Still, things seemed neat and orderly. We were given chairs and the students sat on the floor in two rows facing us. One very pretty little girl put beautiful leis around each of our necks. The students then stood, one at a time, and introduced themselves in English. They told us who their mother and father are, their age and what they want to be when they grow up. The teacher then asked us to introduce ourselves. They sang us songs in both Tongan and English, did a traditional dance and recited some of their lessons. The teacher explained to us that compulsory school ends at grade 6 and if a student wants to continue they must first pass a test and then be willing and able to move to another village where higher grades are taught. Not only does the school cost the families a significant amount (by Tongan standards) but it's often difficult for the children to adjust not being at home, especially in a culture where family life is very important. I asked them to teach us some words in Tongan and they taught us hello - Malo e lelei; thank you - Malo; please - Fakamolemole; goodbye (if you're the one leaving) - Nofo a; goodbye (if someone else is leaving and you're staying) - Alu a. We took some pictures of the class as we were leaving and one small boy put his arms around Ruthie.

One of the boat's that is on a similar route as Rutea is called Slow Dance. It's a beatiful 80' motorsailor, owned by a former Hollywood movie producer. He has a crew of four people, most of them around Corie's age so she's been hanging out with them. Yesterday they invited us for cocktails and a tour of the boat. The owner was pleasant but a little cantankerous while the South African captain and his brother, the first mate, were very friendly and easy going. The cook made delicious hors d'ouerves. The topic of the World Cup Rugby games came up in conversation and the game for last night was South Africa against Samoa. Having just spent four weeks in Samoa (we attended a rugby game while there), we felt an affinity for the Samoan team. Of course, our South African friends were going to cheer on their country's team and bets were wagered. We all met later in the evening at one of the bars in town to watch the game, which was being played in New Zealand. South Africa scored a try (equivalent to a touchdown in American football) and converted the extra points early in the game. Two penalties by Samoa gave the South African team two more scores and it was looking dismal for Samoa. Yet they battled back, eventually scoring a try but failing to convert the extra points. Still, South Africa was unable to score any additional points and as the final seconds ticked away, Samoa drove down the field with last gasp determination. South Africa was able to prevent them from scoring but everyone was on the edge of their seats. South Africa won, 13 to 5.

Tonight we're going to a bay-side restaurant to celebrate my birthday with three other boats whom we have become very close. I think the World Cup game tonight is between France and Australia. France doesn't stand a chance.
At 10/1/2011 12:15 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 18°39.59'S 173°58.98'W

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Whale Watching

We got up pretty early this morning in an attempt to swim with the whales. Mark and Yuka from Merkava were going to try for a second day in a row and invited us to go along so at 0700 we were underway in our respective dinghies. We swung around Langito'o Island and sped into the passage between Ovaka and Vaka'eitu islands. Mark slowed his 20 hp Yamaha to an idle and we pulled up next to them. About 200 yards off, a humpback whale blew, dove and blew again. Certainly not close enough to swim with but a beautiful sight just the same. We sat, waited and watched the sky as heavy rain clouds approached. In not too long a time, the rain began to fall, light at first and then heavier. Everyone put on their wetsuits except me as I hadn't brought mine. Soon a torrential rain was falling and both dinghies were filling with water (lucky for us Mark had with him a small hand pump). Eventually the rain lightened and then quit altogether and we started up the dinghies and continued west into the open ocean. Once off Totokafonua Island, we stopped again as we spotted more humpbacks in the distance. We waited and watched both the water for whales and the sky as more impending rain loomed. Listening closely, we could hear the whale's songs, at first faintly but gradually louder. Mark and Yuka donned their mask and fins and slipped overboard. Corie did the same. All of a sudden Mark poked his head up, spat out his snorkel and said, "Holy shit!" A large whale had just passed under our dinghies. Unfortunately, Corie couldn't see it even though we were only a few yards away. We waited a while longer and a light rain began to fall. A craving for hot cocoa came over me and Ruthie agreed that she was ready to head back. Corie climbed in with Mark and Yuka - they headed south while Ruthie and I headed east and to Rutea. Once aboard, we peeled off our soaking clothes and made rich, hot cups of cocoa.

Last night we attended a typical Tongan feast on Lape Island. The island is very small and very poor, with about twenty people living in about ten single-room houses. They were hoping to raise money to repair their concrete pier and there was a nice turnout of cruisers. The whole roast pig was the only food I could identify but everything was pretty tasty including the octopus. The small local children with bad coughs were having the time of their lives with all the attention they were getting and they weren't bashful about just plopping down in the lap of any cruiser.

There's a long reef between Vaka'eitu Island and Nuapapu Island known as the Coral Garden. Yesterday we took the dink over there, anchored it in about 10 feet of water and tried to swim out past the breakers. The current was too strong and the waves too big to make it out so we waded to shore and got closer to the breakers. That didn't help. Ultimately, I found that if I walked backwards over the coral I could make progress even though the breakers would force me to lose ground every so often. Finally, I made it out past the breakers and was treated to fabulous underwater scenery. There is a huge variety of brightly-colored coral and tropical fish in every color of the rainbow. After about an hour of snorkeling, we had to face the breakers once again but at least this time we were going in the same direction.

Our plans remain a bit up in the air. There's another group of islands, called Ha'apai, that we'd like to visit plus there's still more places in Vava'u that we'd like to see. No one has given Tongatapu, the most populated island in the Tonga group, very high marks but we'll probably stop there before we jump off to New Zealand, which should be in four weeks or so.
At 9/17/2011 9:40 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 18°43.25'S 174°06.09'W

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Regatta Vava'u

The Vava'u group of islands is a very popular chartering area and most of the major chartering companies are well represented here. In fact, the Moorings, who has chartering bases all over the world, has published a chart of the area and has numbered the good anchoring spots. Now, everyone refers to these anchoring spots by their numbers. For example, right now we're in Anchorage Number 11, a huge, well-protected bay with good holding. It's a good thing that the bay is as large as it is as we're anchored with about 100 other boats.

As part of Regatta Vava'u, we raced yesterday from Neiafu to here. Unfortunately, the winds were extremely light and it made for some very frustrating sailing. Rutea held her own though and even though we wound up putting the engine on within less than a half-mile from the finish line, it was great to be out sailing.

Today is the fourth day of the Regatta and it's a low key day. The Regatta started on Wednesday with a street fair and an evening pub crawl (the Rutea crew is proud to announce that we made it to all seven pubs - upright and under our own power - I think I remember that the last pub, Tonga Bob's, had female impersonators. At least, I hope that's what they were!). Thursday were silly games (we skipped those) and Friday was a race around Neiafu harbor. We had good friends join us as crew and though we raced hard, we still got a DFL (Dead F***ing Last). A good time was had by all and we enjoyed many cold, refreshing beverages both on the boat and at the awards ceremony at the yacht club.

I've got to hand it to the organizers of the Regatta as things have been very well planned. There was a party on the beach last night, complete with a sophisticated sound and light system and even though it rained, I think it was a very successful party.

The main topic of conversation these days is the jump to New Zealand. Many have openly said that they're worried about it as it can be a very nasty stretch of water to cross. We've already contacted New Zealand's top weather guru and hired him to do a weather route for us. Even though October is too early to leave, we've instructed him to notify us of a decent weather window anytime after October 1st. Last year, many boats waited until November for a weather window and one never appeared.

Regardless of the passage that lies ahead of us, we're enjoying Tonga. Even though we're only 350 miles south of the Samoas, it's still substantially cooler here. We can now sleep with a sheet over us which was impossible to do north of here. The heavily forested islands are relatively low lying and while the water isn't as clear as it was in the Tuamotus, it's still beautiful. The people are friendly and many wear ta'ovala, a kind of woven mat that both sexes wear around their waists. The ta'ovala vary in shading, weave and length but to Tongans it's similar to wearing a business suit. Many men also wear lavalavas, a type of skirt. Since Tonga is truly an independent kingdom, it receives no overt aid from a first world country yet there appears to be no poverty or serious crime. Infrastructure appears to be adequate but internet bandwidth is very low - this keeps us from posting pictures for now.

So even though we can't post pictures of our smiling faces, know that we're safe and having fun. We've met several boats that we know from Mexico here and it's good to see them again. We think of all our friends shore-side often and wish you all well.
At 9/11/2011 2:42 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 18°42.27'S 173°59.32'W

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Western Samoa to Vava'u, Tonga

The easterly 'reinforced trade winds' had been blowing pretty steady at 25-30 knots for about three weeks straight so when we saw a break in the pattern, we went for it. As is all too typical, the winds went to almost nothing and we wound up having to motor a substantial percentage of the passage. Still, the seas were very calm and it allowed for some restful sleep. For those of you who have never slept on a small sailboat crossing blue water, imagine trying to sleep while a moving crew was in the process of moving the mattress you were sleeping on - sometimes you just have to hang on while you sleep.

We pulled into the Faihava Channel in a pretty heavy rain with the dark clouds touching the ocean's surface. Visibility left a lot to be desired but with the aid of radar and an accurate chartplotter, we were able to pick our way between Tu'ungasika and Luafatu Islands, past Hikutamoli and Lotuma Points and into the very protected bay of Neiafu, which is an international port of entry. We did a drive by of the 50 or so boats tied to moorings but we didn't recognize any of them. On the other side of the bay we spotted Blue Moon, our friends from New Zealand with whom we shared a slip at the marina in La Cruz, Mexico. After an unsuccessful attempt at anchoring, we decided to pick up a mooring. It continued to rain off and on.

We did get calls on the radio from several friends, including the elusive Archtuethis, whom we also hadn't seen since Mexico. The area is filling up as the start of Vava'u Regatta Week is this coming Wednesday. The event has gotten some good press in the cruising magazines and websites so it's possible that this might be it's biggest turn out yet. Ruthie and Corie aren't big on racing but I'm hoping they'll be good sports about it.

This is a major milestone for us - not only did we cross the international dateline but these are the last islands we visit until we jump off for New Zealand, which will quite likely happen next month.

In the northern hemisphere, this is my favorite time of year but I think it's still true down here. I wish everyone all the best.
At 9/3/2011 8:58 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 18°39.82'S 173°58.90'W

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Passage to Tonga Updatee

It's the 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. squall watch again! Tonight when I came on watch we had just been hit by a pretty big squall that had come from the north east. Corie went to bed and I dried up the cockpit. Well wouldn't you know it, but that squall stalled right in front of us and we went through it again! Too big to go around- it was about three miles deep and twelve miles across! So now it's a bit to the north east of us again and I'm just waiting to see if it's going to rev up and move over us one more time! I'm waiting before mopping up the cockpit again, to see what's going to happen. (FYI- we track the squalls on the radar. They show up in color!) There have also been a large flock of boobies following us for a couple of hours. I don't know if they think the boat is a port in the storm for them or if they just think we are kindred spirits! I could hear them squawking at each other- "crazy sailors! only boobies should be out on the water on a night like this!"...

We will arrive in Neiafu tomorrow afternoon. The snorkeling and diving are supposed to be excellent! We just received an email from a friend of ours who "free dove" to 80 feet! She is a small Japanese woman who looks like a mermaid in the water! The Humpback whales have migrated to the Vava'u islands to have their calves and the islands are also the home of giant manta rays. After being in two harbors for the past month, it will be wonderful to be anchored back in water where we can swim off of the boat!

OK- better go look for lights and squalls.

R of Rutea
At 9/2/2011 4:12 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 17°53.57'S 173°47.92'W

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

En Route Apia to The Kingdom of Tonga

It's 4:21 a.m. and I'm in the middle of my night watch. I'm not sure what day it is because we cross the international date line somewhere around here. We probably won't know the date and time until we get to Tonga! No wind right now except for the big squall that just blew over us. We went from six knots of wind to 24 knots of wind in minutes. Then it poured. Now all is calm again and we are motoring along under the southern constellations. Think I'll make a cup of cocoa!

R of Rutea

~~~ _ /) ~~~ _ /)
At 9/1/2011 12:08 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 14°01.19'S 172°16.26'W

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Vailima Brewery

 Notice Our Very Stylish Footwear!

In the Samoa Visitor Guide, a  4”x8”, 100-some-odd-paged color pamphlet filled with advertising and things to do and see in Western Samoa, I found the entry for the Vailima Brewery.  It said that while no formal tours are available, if you call the brewery they will arrange a tour.  The receptionist spoke English but with a very heavy Samoan accent so it was difficult to understand her.  I did understand that she wanted me to send a letter requesting a tour to which I sputtered that we were on yachts, just visiting for a few days and departing soon.  She then asked if we could come next week and I repeated that we would be gone by then.  She then asked if I wanted to talk with Production or Engineering and I said whoever could arrange a tour.  After being on hold for too long, she came back on the line and asked me to call back later.  I persisted and was finally granted a tour at 3pm that afternoon.

Ruthie, Corie and I plus two other couples from other boats climbed into a 10-passenger taxi, with me riding shotgun in the left seat.  The driver’s name was Rambo.  We arrived at the brewery a few minutes early which was a good thing as they were disappointed that all of us were wearing flip-flops (everybody wears flip-flops in Samoa) – safety rules require steel-toed shoes inside the brewery.  No worries, though, they brought out very fashionable steel-toed shoes for everyone, along with fluorescent-colored safety vests – also required.  If the plant was in the production mode, we’d also need hard hats and safety goggles but they had met their target so the production side was shut down for the weekend.  We still had to wear hearing protection inside, though.

Our tour guide was Iki (pronounced ‘Icky’) and she is also one of the plant’s microbiologists.  By no means a large brewery – compared to many – it still employs over 130 people and runs 24 hours per day.  They also bottle Coke, Sprite and Fanta on the same production line as their beer.  Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed to be taken inside the brewery and I missed some great shots of the mammoth tanks that hold the wort, grind the malt and age the ‘bright’ beer.

At one point, Iki opens a valve at the bottom of a large, cone-shaped vat and into her hand pours a tan-colored goo – the yeast they add to the sugared wort which feeds on the sugar and converts it into carbon dioxide and alcohol.  It tastes sweet.  Towards the end of the tour, we stop in Iki’s lab (where she spends most of her time) and she pours us all a taste of Vailima Lager.  It has a mild hop flavor, a slight earthy aftertaste and an alcohol content of 4.9% - the maximum allowed by Western Samoan law.  However, they also brew a lager for export which has an alcohol content of 6.7%, which I like much better.  We bought five cases of the Export in American Samoa before we left there.

Once the tour was over, I had the receptionist call Rambo to pick us back up.  The seven of us stopped at the little restaurant across from the marina for, what else?  A cold Vailima.  Which turned into two cold Vailimas and was then followed by an excellent serving of fish and chips.  On our way back to Rutea, we stopped to chat with Christof and Helena on Valentina, a 36’ Bavaria from Finland.  They convinced us to come aboard and have a gin and tonic with them.  With a smile and a wink, Christof said he doesn’t believe in canals so they sailed around Cape Horn to get to the South Pacific.  They plan on sailing around the Cape of Good Hope to get back to Finland.

Three boats left this morning for Savai’I, the largest of the Western Samoan islands.  I was kind of curious as to how they were doing so I called Whistling Oyster on the VHF.  “We’ve got easterly winds, 20-30 knots and big, confused seas,” said Martin, “but other than that, it’s not too bad.”  We’re going to wait to leave here until Wednesday when the weather is forecast to be milder.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Western Samoa vs American Samoa

After an easy overnight sail, we arrived in Apia, Western Samoa, this morning.  I guess sometime in the late 90s, they decided to drop the ‘Western’ prefix but everyone still refers to it as ‘Western Samoa’.  The first obvious difference is that here there’s a marina, complete with new docks that have all the conveniences of home, e.g., power, water, showers, etc.  Once tied up, we were visited by five different representatives of the various governmental agencies that claim to have an interest in our arrival:  Quarantine, Health, Port Authority, Customs and Immigration.  I lost count as to how many forms we had to fill out – part of the reason for that is I didn’t have one particular form from American Samoa so I had to follow the representative from Customs to his headquarters and explain (plead) my situation to the Assistant Chief Executive Officer.  Perhaps she saw that by the dirt beneath my nails I wouldn’t lie so she gave me a break and didn’t fine me.  Hallelujah!

We walked from the marina through the city of Apia, getting cash at an ATM (the Samoan tala is equal to $.44USD), stopping to peruse the flea market and the public market, both very interesting experiences.   Of course, we nearly got hit by cars several times as we’re not used to cars driving on the left side of the road.  After walking in the heat (it’s very hot here – after all, we’re only 13 degrees south of the equator) for what seemed like forever, we arrived back at the boat, just in time for late afternoon cocktails.  While sipping a refreshing iced beverage, I thought about the differences between American Samoa and Western Samoa.

In ways, they could be twin brother and sister (geologically, that might be an accurate analogy) as they both look similar from a natural history perspective.  But from my point of view, from a sociological perspective, they’re almost as different as night and day.  For one thing, the people look different as the American Samoans are much larger and heavier then their Western Samoan cousins appears to be.  But they also act differently.  The American Samoans, while friendly, don’t seem to be as industrious or interested.  On the other hand, we had hardly stepped out of the marina gates in Apia when a taxi driver stopped us on the road, acted like he was our long lost friend, and proceeded to hustle us for a driving gig.  This confrontational approach happened several times during our short tour, eliminating the possibility of an isolated aggressive individual.

The streets are clean and well-kept in Western Samoa while in American Samoa trash lines almost everything.  Western Samoa has five-story modern buildings while the Rainmaker Hotel, once the premier hotel in American Samoa, lies abandoned four years after it was destroyed by fire.  There’s an organized downtown in Apia, Western Samoa, with sidewalk cafes and upscale stores.  Many people in American Samoa think McDonalds and Pizza Hut are about as good as it gets.  In American Samoa we could barely get our anchors to hold due to all the trash on the bottom of the harbor and in Western Samoa we’re tied up to a slip in a modern marina that’s even equipped with fire hoses – I used one to wash down the boat!

So, from my limited observations, I see it this way:  Western Samoa is the twin sister who’s smart, fashionable and career-minded.  American Samoa is the twin brother who still lives at home, eats too much junk food, plays video games all day long and never finished high school.  Perhaps I’m being too harsh and, after all, I’m neither a sociologist nor a very keen observer.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Go Figure!

 Local Police

OK!  You figure out where we are!

Most people arrive here by air as it is located in The Dangerous Middle!  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are observed on a Monday and taken as a Holiday!  We are GMT minus eleven hours.  The policemen wear lava lavas.  There are over 18,000 Matai (Chiefs) in over 362 villages.  Driving is done on the left side of the road.  Robert Louis Stevenson is buried here.  Home of the award winning Vailima Beer and home of traditional Fire Dancing.  Host of the only marina west of Papeete and east of Figi, paid for in Tala.

Mai fea?  Loe!  You guessed it!  The motu of Samoa where Fa’a Samoa (the Samoan Way) still continues to thrive!  We have been welcomed to the heart of the south pacific where the pace of life is gentle and traditional social customs still preside.   Considering that the western Missionaries have been the most powerful agent of social change here –ever- Samoa keeps a foot in both the traditional and modern worlds.

From our marina slip (the first one since Mexico) we can see the Beach Road of Apia along which are cell towers, malls, banks, hotels, Consulates, a clock tower and tourist bureau.  We can also see the painted, long canoes practicing their paddling on the harbor to the beat of a drum!  Just behind the new buildings are the old flea market, fish market and ramshackle shop after shop of Chinese goods packed so full that you can hardly squeeze down the aisles!

Aside from the National Park, all land outside of Apia  is owned by extended family units whose head is a Matai.  When visiting just about any beach or waterfall you need to ask permission of the local chief.  Village protocol extends to only quiet activity on Sundays, no activity during prayer curfew (6-7 in the evening), when sitting in a fale (house) only sit cross legged- never point your feet at someone and of course, never wear skimpy clothing or your host may be fined!

The big city is a bit of a different story!  The people here hustle!  Aside from seeming to work hard, we are constantly approached to see if we are in need of or want something!  I think Corie has received more requests for dates in the past 24 hours than she has in her cumulative dating life!  Although city attire is fairly traditional we have still seen many bare knees and shoulders and the kids don’t hesitate to whip off their lava lavas (under which are shorts) to snap it at another kid!  Everyone has a cell phone up to his ear but that doesn’t stop almost everyone we pass from saying “hello!”.

We are once again on a learning curve in a new country.  We are trying to figure out what to do and see here,  how best to travel around the island, where to shop, what to eat and how to read between the cultural lines when people offer their services (especially Corie!)!  It’s fascinating and overwhelming all mixed up together like a hot, spiced, tropical stew!  Fortunately for me, we have the luxury of thinking all this out within the comforts of home, surrounded by things familiar.  Tomorrow being Sunday (when everything stops) we will get out the guide books and plan how best to enter this next tropical paradise and once again, go figure!

R of Rutea
Apia, Samoa

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dinghies and Buses

 Will it ever run again?

We reached a significant milestone on Rutea today when Ruthie and I got the outboard running again.  The raw water impeller failed (it was only 10 years old!) when we were in Bora Bora but the spare that we had on hand was the wrong part and we could find no replacement.  This means we’ve had to row our dinghy everywhere or count on the generosity of other cruisers to give us a ride.  Not only does our dinghy row poorly but we’ve had issues with oarlocks.  Ask me about our sad oarlock stories some day over a couple of cold beers. 

All the important stuff . . .

Yesterday we did a major provisioning and we were working out the details over the radio with another boat.  When Pete on Down Time, heard our dilemma, he chimed in to shuttle us back to Rutea when we had finished our shopping.  We took the bus to the Cost-U-Less store and after spending far too much and loaded with huge boxes of food, we hired a taxi to take us back to the dock.  We called Pete as he told us to but he didn’t answer.  Lucky for us Bob on Braveheart had been lurking on our conversation and came in his dinghy.  There wasn’t room for all of us and the food too!

 Corie and Lars on the bus

With the dinghy repaired, we’re now free to move about the ocean again.  Even though we’ve been here nine days, it seems like we haven’t scratched the surface of exploring the place.  The bus system here makes it so easy to go places plus they’re an adventure in of themselves.  There are hundreds – maybe thousands of buses – on this small island.  They are all independently owned, operated and decorated.  Most of the chassis for the buses are either Toyota pickup chassis or for the larger buses, perhaps a full-sized Ford truck chassis but the coaches are made locally out of wood.  Most have plywood seats and vertical seatbacks – they’re wide enough for two skinny people or one Samoan.  Many of them have a DVD player at the front of the bus and rock concert videos are popular.  The outsides of the buses are often painted wildly or sometimes have a more polished warning about drinking and driving.  Most of the buses have names with something in Samoan the most common but others will have religious sayings and some will have the names of cartoon characters.  The drivers honk their horns often and it’s not unusual for a driver to get off their route to drop a passenger off at their home or work.  You pay when you get off the bus and the fare is always $1.00 regardless of how long you’ve traveled.  We have found the drivers to be pretty safe but with a 25 MPH speed limit for the entire island, it not likely that someone would get carried away.
'420' Baseball Cap on the Bus Driver

We’re thinking about heading to Western Samoa on Wednesday or Thursday.  Our guide books and the anecdotes from other cruisers have been positive.  Plus, I’m getting ants in my pants.  We’ve enjoyed Pago Pago but it’s time to move.  Plus, we need to make our jump to New Zealand in about 10 weeks and there are lots to see before we head there.