Sunday, December 30, 2012

Between the Zoo and the Zoo

Taronga Park Zoo

It’s New Year’s Eve and we are anchored off of the Taronga Park Zoo inside a zoo of vessels all vying for front row positions!  You might think that it’s for a race start- Sydney Hobart or something big like that- but it is for the Sydney Harbour (yes, with a “u”) Bridge New Year’s Eve Extravaganza.  This extravagant show begins at 6:00 p.m. with an Aboriginal cleansing of the evil sprits from the Bay Ceremony and lasts until midnight, complete with an air show, two fireworks shows from The Bridge and barges around the Bay, a Parade of Lights, and a light show on The Bridge itself!  We are in a perfect viewing spot along with 500 or so other boats to see the display over The Bridge and Opera House.  THEY say it is going to get more crowded before it gets better!  But hey, the wind is only supposed to be 25 knots this afternoon.  No worries, mate!  Besides, it’s a great way to meet people….

Athol Bay Zoo
  Rutea sailed in to this beautiful harbour a week ago.  Two magnificent headlands mark the entrance to the bay and enclose hundreds of miles of shoreline.  The spectacular city of Sydney wraps around the water interspersed with old Victorian mansions surrounded by beautiful gardens, nature preserves thick with trees and birds, white sand swimming beaches enclosed by shark nets and high rises, cafes and bay-side walk ways.  The water is continually criss-crossed with ferries, sea planes and boats!  Boats!  There are thousands of boats that live in Sydney Harbour.  Interestingly, most of the boats live on moorings, marina berths being very few and very expensive.  From cove to cove there are occasional free, pink, beehive moorings for the transient vessel but we mostly end up anchoring in protected coves for southerlies and a northerly protected cove for….. you know what!  The fetch is l o n g here and in the past week we have had two 30-knot blows.  It always blows hardest from the southeast.  I’m just sayin…..

The North and South Heads of Sydney Harbor
 Now that we are here…. did I say I am surprised to be here?  I was NOT planning to sail so far south again this year…. We are at 33º50.8 South (again).  Now that we are here, Rutea plans to stay for a couple of months (no we are NOT sailing to Tasmania).  We are cove shopping and exploring neighborhoods, surf spots and dinghy docks to see which part of the harbour, or perhaps river tributary, we want to call home for a while.  It’s all good!

The Famous Sydney Opera House and the Famous Harbor Bridge
 In the meantime Rutea is loaded up with food and booze.  Corie has invited a couple of friends aboard, we have cruising friends (brand new and long time) nearby, stopping by and we plan to bring in the New Year Ozzie style!  Yes, it’s all good!

Happy New Year Mate!  Good on ya!

R of Rutea
Sydney Harbour, Australia

Monday, December 17, 2012

Port Stephens, New South Wales

After waiting for five days for the weather to change, we were anxious to continue south and to leave Yamba.  When the forecast on Saturday showed northeast winds, we made sure we were ready and we pulled up the anchor before the sun rose.  As we steamed out the channel, the waves piled high, each one threatening to break on top of us but we avoided any mishaps and soon we were out to sea again, heading for Port Stephens.  Our calculations had us arriving just before sunset on Sunday and we were pleased when the wind filled in, giving us some of the fastest sailing we had ever done.

The wind didn’t last and sometime after midnight we put the engine on, motoring for several hours before the wind picked back up again.  As we sailed into Port Stephens, we called the Port Stephens Volunteer Marine Rescue on the radio, letting them know we’d made it safely (and four hours ahead of schedule).  While I had them, I asked if they could recommend an anchorage as the Australian Bureau of Meteorology had issued a High Wind Warning for the area.  The man I was speaking with suggested Fame Bay, a small bay about 12 miles from the entrance and well protected from every direction except southwest.  As the winds were forecast to come from the southeast, this sounded perfect.

As it turned out, Fame Bay reminded us of places we had been to in Canada with trees coming right to its rocky shore.  It was small – not much room for more than 10 or so boats but it seemed peaceful and isolated.  We dropped our hook and backed down on it hard, which is our usual procedure, simulating forces on our anchor that we might experience in 40+ knots of wind.

I was anticipating that it would be an early evening for me as I had hardly slept the night before – usually I don’t sleep well on the first night of a passage (the truth is, that as a professional insomniac, I rarely ever sleep well) but I surprised myself and easily stayed up until almost midnight.

It was about an hour later that the wind filled in except instead of being from the southeast as forecast, it was from the southwest, the only direction that our anchorage was vulnerable.  With a resigned sigh, I got out of bed as I knew that sleep would not be forthcoming.  I sat in the cockpit and kept an eye on our location using our position relative to other boat’s anchor lights and our chartplotter.  By 0300, the wind was up to 30+ knots and the wind waves were running between 2 and 3 feet.  My heart fell as I saw our position on the chartplotter change, a sure sign that we were dragging our anchor.  I fired up the engine and in seconds Ruthie appeared in the companionway.  “What’s up?” she asked.  “We’re dragging,” I said, “Let’s get out of here.”

It was no easy feat to raise the anchor as the foredeck was pitching wildly.  Under normal circumstances when I’m raising the anchor, Ruthie and I communicate by hand signals but in the pitch blackness it was impossible and the roar of the wind made shouting useless.  Finally, with the anchor in its chock, we made our way out of Fame Bay and swung around to the north to a bay called North Arm.  Between the chartplotter and the radar we maneuvered through the narrow entrance but as we got deeper into the bay it began to shallow and the waves were just as big as they were in Fame Bay.  “This isn’t going to work, either,” I said to Ruthie so we turned around to leave.  With Rutea’s engine running at about three-quarters throttle, we could only make about 3 knots of headway into the wind.

We were just about to clear the entrance when all of a sudden the radar screen went blank.  “Unable to receive information” was what the display said.  Our hearts sank.  We had the chartplotter still but that doesn’t show us other boats that might be moored or anchored.  The radar is like having eyes at night - without it, we feel blind.  Our hearts sank further still when seconds later the engine sputtered and died.

It was almost too unreal.  Surely this had to be a nightmare from which I’d awake, shaking my head, saying, “You’ll never guess what I dreamed last night . . . “ but no, this was the real thing and seconds counted.  The odds of having two major failures simultaneously was stratospheric.  I tried to restart the engine but it wouldn’t start.  Without too much hesitation, I ran forward and kicked over the anchor, letting out as much chain as I could, as quickly as I could.

We were in a bad spot.  The fetch was almost four miles long and the bay was whipped into a fury.  Just off our starboard beam was the buoy marking the entrance to North Arm and less than 150’ behind us was the steep shore where the heavy waves were breaking.  After I got the anchor bridle rigged, I went aft to talk with Ruthie.  In typical Ruthie fashion, there was no panic and she was making one of her famous lists of the things we should be doing, although doing it mentally.  The good news was that the boat was stopped even if it was jumping around like a badly-behaved terrier at the end of a leash.  And, after rebooting the radar, it came back to life.  The bad news was we only had 10 feet of water under the keel and with the seas as there were, it wasn’t enough.

I tried some quick troubleshooting techniques to see if I could find why the engine wouldn’t start but I could quickly tell that the problem was going to be elusive to find.  I called the Port Stephens VMR and told them our situation and they asked me if I wanted them to dispatch a rescue vessel to help us.  After thinking about it for about two seconds, I said, “Yes.”  They advised me that it could take some time for them to reach me and asked that I stay close to the radio.

Things were getting worse.  It appeared that our 30-kilo Bruce anchor was still dragging as now we only had 4 feet of water under our keel.  I went forward again and deployed our second anchor, a 20-kilo Bruce attached to 50’ of ” chain and 100’ of 1” megabraid rope.  The wind lightened slightly.  I activated our masthead strobe light.

I went back to work on the engine.  It was clearly a fuel delivery problem and it appeared to me that the mechanical fuel pump must have gone out.  Fortunately, we had a spare – if only I could find it.  It took me longer to find the spare fuel pump than it did to install it!  Alas, even with the new fuel pump, the engine would start and run for a few seconds before sputtering and dying again.

At 0430, the Rescue Vessel Danial Thain, a 58-foot, 35-ton all-weather ship sporting two 460-hp engines arrived.  I was still trying to get the engine running and asked them to stand by for just a couple of more minutes but in the end I had to ask them to tow us away.  But first, I had to weigh the second Bruce anchor that I had deployed and with the first Bruce anchor occupying the windlass, it meant I had to do it by hand.  Hand over hand I strained to pull up the anchor, the bow of Rutea plunging and rising, sometimes helping and sometimes working against me.  As I pulled the anchor in, Ruthie flaked the rope and chain into the anchor well.  The worse part was the mud.  It was everywhere.  The chain was covered with a thick layer of slippery, sticky mud and since it was so heavy, I couldn’t hold it away from me.

Once the second Bruce was on board and stowed, the Danial Thain slowly approached and threw a heaving line to which a tow rope was attached.  I unhooked the bridle from our anchor chain and put the bridle through the eye on the end of the tow rope.  Gently, the Danial Thain pulled away, taking the load off the anchor and allowing our windlass to do its job.

The first light of morning was beginning to appear as we were being towed away.  We were in constant radio contact with the Danial Thain and they suggested an anchorage for us with good protection and we agreed.

At 0530, the Danial Thain slowed as it entered Salamander Bay and I released their tow line from our bridle.  We drifted to a stop and dropped our anchor once again, this time into good sand.  The Danial Thain circle and approached, giving us a folded pieced of paper before they pulled away.   The paper said that they had spent two hours retrieving us and even though there was no charge for the service, it would have cost us about AU$200 to have it done and they would appreciate a donation.  We thanked them profusely.

Rutea was a mess.  Her foredeck was covered with mud.  We had mud everywhere.  It was in my hair.  It was on our cockpit cushions.  It was in our galley.  It was on our Cruising Guide to New South Wales.  My clothes looked like they were camouflaged.  But, other than that, there was no damage and no one got hurt.  We had been very lucky.

The problem with the engine turned out to be a kink in a fuel supply hose.  Of course, I had changed the mechanical fuel pump and a couple of fuel filters before I found the problem but the engine now purrs like it always has and I still have a tremendous amount of confidence in it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

By The Numbers . . .

Now that we've been gone for two years, I thought I'd go through some of the statistics relevant to our trip so far.

12,958.3 - Number of miles we've sailed since leaving San Diego.

10 - How many different countries we've visited

97 - Days spent underway

21 - Different  stamps in our passports (American Samoa gave us 5)

1 - Times we've run aground

3,817 - Liters of Diesel we've used

1,079 - Hours we've run the engine

816 - Hours we've run the genset

2,081 - Games of Scrabble played on the iPad

844 - Games of Scrabble won against the iPad's CPU

3 - Number of times I've caught the iPad's CPU cheating at Scrabble

172 - Blog posts (including this one)

Of course, we can't count the hundreds of new friends we've made or the hours we've spent snorkeling.  I don't want to count the number of drinks we've had nor do I want to talk about the amount of money we've spent.  Needless to say, the days we've gone without shoes is exponentially higher than the days they've been worn.  We've spent more time at anchor than at marinas but we did stay at a marina for 5 months in New Zealand.  There have been countless books read and a much smaller number of videos watched.  We've made repairs but not an exorbitant amount.  Obviously, we've had some bad days but they're too infrequent to count.  The main thing is that we're still having fun.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pinned Down in Yamba

Lighthouse at Clarence Head

We hadn't originally planned to sail this far south - we thought we'd sail to Brisbane and spend the summer's typhoon season there but so many people we talked with said, "You've got to spend Christmas and New Year's in Sydney.  You've just got to."  Ruthie was dubious as we'd once again be sailing into higher latitudes (high latitude weather comes at low latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere) but I promised that we'd just 'harbor hop' and we'd stay put if the weather wasn't great.  Me and my big mouth.

We left the protected and shallow water of South Port, destined for Coffs Harbor, which is almost halfway to Sydney.  It was going to require an overnight passage but, hey, we've done lots of those.  About an hour before sunset, an Emergency Weather Bulletin was broadcast on the marine radio calling for severe thunderstorms right in our course.  Fortunately, we were just about 6 miles from Ballina, a small port where the Richmond River enters the Tasman Sea.  We hadn't even considered it as an anchorage as it's very shallow but, under the circumstances, we decided to take a chance.

We had good local information:  All up and down the coast of Australia are Volunteer Marine Rescue stations, most of which are staffed 24 hours per day.  They provide weather information, bar conditions (no, not that type of bar.  Where a river empties into the ocean is called a 'bar' and they can be extremely hazardous if you get the tides and seas wrong.  Crossing a bar can be benign or hair-raising.) and other information that is helpful to boaters.  If you're making a passage, you can file a 'float plan' with the VMR and they'll keep an eye on you the entire trip, passing your information on to the next VMR station who has jurisdiction over the vicinity through which you're passing.  We don't need any hand-holding but it's kind of fun to check in with them on the radio.  Everyone we've spoke with has seemed very eager to help.

We entered Ballina (pronounced băl' ĭ nă) just after sunset and found our way to a small anchorage that the VMR told us was deep enough for our 2-meter draft.  Two boats were there already and we slowly tried to maneuver around them so as not to be too close but not too shallow either.  We ran aground.  With Rutea's powerful engine, we freed ourselves and made several more attempts.  After dropping and retrieving the anchor four times,  we finally settled down for the night, albeit almost in the entrance to the anchorage.

Early the next morning we were underway again, this time our destination was a more modest Yamba, where the Clarence River empties.  We easily found a spot to anchor (a whopping 8-feet of water under our keel!  Woohoo!) and the holding is excellent.  A quick tour through the town finds it to be an interesting cross between quaint fishing village and resort get-away.  And here we sit.

Rutea at Anchor in the Yamba Channel with the Yamba-Iluka Ferry in the Background

The winds have filled in from the south - not that they're horrendous - they're not.  But they would make sailing uncomfortable and I had promised Ruthie that we'd only sail south under good conditions.  The trouble is that there's no break in the weather forecast.  We could easily have southerlies like this for the next 30 days.  So, we're steeling ourselves to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve in our new favorite port, Yamba, New South Wales!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dawn Comes Early

“Dawn comes early on a boat.  Just about sun-up every day.”  (Captain Ron)  And here at 27: 30. south, first light is about 4:00 a.m. and sunrise is at 4:43 a.m.!  That makes for some pretty long days!  You might think that means that we get a lot of extra stuff done…. but not necessarily!  However, when we first arrived I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the Ozzies out sailing already at 5:00 a.m.!  It certainly does help, though, when you are trying to time an early outgoing or rising tide. I think as we sail south it will get lighter later.  The Queenslanders don’t believe in daylight savings time.  They say it fades the curtains and confuses the cows.  However, in more sophisticated New South Wales we will begin daylight savings time and spring forward an hour.

After an expensive five days in a Mooloolaba marina (don’t you just love the way that word rolls around your mouth?) we decided that this Newport- Beach-like- scene wasn’t where we wanted to spend the next four months.   Instead of watching Corie leave for work every day by 6:15 a.m. we opted to again cross the (continuously being dredged) bar and sail on down the Sunshine Coast, past the Gold Coast, into New South Wales and perhaps see a little opera in Sydney!  We timed the tides, listened to the VMR weather said good-bye to Maroochydore, Marcoola and Yaroomba and headed towards Moreton Bay- again timing the tide to eek around Skirmish Point (5 feet under the keel- thank you very much…) anchoring in seven feet under the keel at mid tide in Deception Bay, six and a half hours later!  Whew!  It’s intense sailing down this Aussie coast!  So many bars and not the kind you are thinking of, either!

Sailing across Moreton Bay we could see Brisbane which is twelve miles up the Brisbane River!  That is the other thing about this country…. it is flat!  We sailed passed miles and miles of pristine, white, soft sand beaches with no backdrop except an occasional ancient volcano shaped cinder cone or outcropping of jagged rock jutting up at 90 degree angles.  The air is clean, the water is blue and the surf is non-stop.  You might be pleased to know that we are now out of croc, cyclone and box jelly fish territory and only have to remember to worry about dingos, death adders and sharks.

Now anchored behind Peel Island we discovered the favorite anchorage of the local cruising fleets who were fortunately leaving late Sunday afternoon as we pulled in.  Monday morning finds us almost alone as we plan to walk the mile long beach and venture in to the eucalyptus forest.  You can hear the forest (almost from the boat) as it is full of birds and ZZZzzzers!  Something (I don’t know what they are) that make a crazy, loud, zzzing noise….. like a cicada?  We need to plan our route down through the inside passage to Gold Coast Seaway which like Sandy Straits is very shallow and needs to be timed with sunlight (not a problem) and the tides.  Today and tomorrow we have 25 knot winds from the northwest, but tomorrow night it switches around to 25 knots from the southwest.  Go figure!  Hmmm, so an anchorage in the straits that is protected from the north and the south with a  MLW depth of seven feet!  In the meantime, Neal has made scones for breakfast and the sun has been up for five hours (dawn comes early on a boat!) and all I have accomplished is this meandering blog!

Cheers Mate!  No worries!  See you in Sydney!

R of Rutea
27:30.3 South
153:21.7 East

Found the ZZzzzers!  4 inch long Cicadas!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Great Sandy Straits

Rutea  off Kingfisher Resort

At the southern end of the 70-kilometer-long Hervey Bay, is the northern end of the Great Sandy Straits.  On one side of the Straits is the Australian mainland and on the other is Fraser Island, which, at 120 kilometers, is not only the largest sand island in the world but is also a World Heritage Site.  The island is heavily wooded but the highest place on it isn't much over 200 meters.  It's calm waters was a great way for us to get back underway as often after spending too much time at a dock we'll lose our sea legs.

After spending three nights at three different anchorages, we got up early this morning to make the passage to the southern end of the island.  Our guide books said that most of the time those who are transiting the Straits for the first time will run aground so we had spoken with as many people as we could for advice and suggestions.  The route is long enough that the tide floods and ebbs from two different directions:  In the northern half, the tide floods to the south and ebbs to the north while in the southern half it does just the opposite.  Even though the route is well marked with navigation aids it would have been difficult to make the passage without our chartplotter, which has been very accurate (although, for the first time since we've owned it, today it did show us sailing across an island - disconcerting) in which we had spent a lot of time programming in a route.

There was quite the parade of boats making the same passage at the same very early hour as everyone was watching their tide charts carefully.  We did fine although we did hold our breaths when we saw the depth get down to 3 feet of water under the keel - which is ok but we're used to having thousands of feet under our keel.  I know that people who cruise the east coast of the US will say, "What?  You had 3 feet and you were worried?  Three feet is a lot of room!" but we've been spoiled by the deep waters off the left coast.

Jellyfish in Pelican Bay

Our charts showed a good-looking anchorage at the southern end of the Straits that looked like it would make a good jump-off point for our next open-water passage.  Pelican Bay also must have look good to a lot of other cruisers as it was crowded when we got there and still more boats came in and dropped their hooks.  It didn't help that it's narrow and shallow.  There were millions of jellyfish - some the size of softballs while some were as big as basketballs and bigger.  We didn't go in the water as this is the southern edge of where the saltwater crocodiles live and they can get up to 7 meters long.  It's also the southern edge of where you might find box jellyfish whose poison can kill a person within hours of being stung.  There are lots of sharks but they seem much easier to deal with than crocs or box jellies..

We leave early tomorrow morning for Mooloolaba where we'll rendezvous with our friend Mark and our daughter, Corie.  Hopefully, it will feel good to be out on the Tasman Sea.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia

Downtown Bundaberg

Our arrival at Bundaberg was just as we had predicted - just after sunrise on the 9th of November we steamed up the Burnett River to the Bundaberg Port Marina.  There were several other boats waiting to clear Customs, Immigration and BioSecurity so we waited, not too patiently, for our turn.  As the marina had hosted the Port-to-Port Rally (a rally for cruising boats coming from Vanuatu or New Caledonia) there were few slips left.  Lucky for us our good friends on Dilligaf, Bill and Sue Teasdale, acted on our behalf and pestered the marina staff to get us a slip near them.  It makes life much easier to have a berth in a marina after a long passage.

We didn't waste any time in getting back into marina-mode.  The following day we took the shuttle bus the 20 kilometers into Bundaberg and got phone and internet connections.  Bundaberg reminds me of any small town in the midwest - largely surrounded by big farms (mostly sugar cane), the town has little industry that makes it unique other than the three sugar mills and the Bundaberg Distillery which makes Bundaberg Rum.  I have to admit it was kind of shocking when we stepped into the shopping mall - I knew that we weren't in Vanuatu anymore.  Expensive merchandize spilling out from the stores and crowds of people doing their Christmas shopping.  Without wasting any time, we spent more money that we should have.  We had lunch at one of the bakeries, which are similar to the ones we found in New Zealand.  They offer a wide selection of individual pies, mostly filled with meat or eggs and cheese.  I chose one filled with camel meat, which I had never eaten before.  There was no difference between that and beef, as far as I could tell.

That night the rally sponsors hosted a barbeque.  In a large meadow just across the street from the marina, we could see kangaroos grazing so Ruthie and I walked over there and watched them for a while.  There was no irony lost on us as we returned to the barbeque and ate - guess what?  Kangaroo meat!

We rented a car to run some errands and I was hoping that I could play the part of Mel Gibson in Mad Max.  Alas, I was driving an old beat up Camry instead of a super-charged muscle car and wearing a t-shirt and flip-flops instead of heavy boots and thick leathers.  Also, the coast here is nothing like the Australian outback and I don't look like Mel Gibson.  Well, maybe I do a little bit . . . 

The days of boat projects (mostly cleaning) passed quickly amongst our discussions of where we go next.  The Bundaberg Port Marina is hardly a place anyone would want to stay as it's kind of stuck out in the middle of nowhere.  On Thursday, Corie left with Mark on Merkava in search of surf and more interesting points south.  We sent our anchor and chain in to be re-galvanized so we're stuck until it gets back.  Tonight is the final rally event, a Big Dinner for all participants and it should be interesting as there's some intense thunderstorms brewing.

The Australians we've met have been very friendly even though they talk funny and drive on the wrong side of the road.  People give the impression that they're interested in us and our travels which is flattering.  On more than one occasion people have gone out of their way to help.  It will be interesting to see if that attitude changes as we migrate to the larger towns and cities.  Weather permitting, we should leave here sometime next week.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

80 Miles to Bundaberg

With the end of this passage in sight, we're now getting antsy to get in. Of course, now the wind lightens up and the seas are running a moderate 2 meter swell - enough to keep Rutea rolling from side to side and everything that's not tied down inside the boat is in a constant state of motion. We're running Dead Down Wind (DDW) which is not our favorite point of sail and the genoa fills and collapses even with the pole out. Regardless, our spirits are high as we anticipate the arrival in yet another new country. Of course, high on the list of Things To Do is to go out for a meal. We've been warned that Australian BioSecurity will confiscate most of our food on board so we provisioned with that in mind. Therefore, most of Rutea's lockers are sparsely filled and her refrigerator, which is normally well-stocked, looks rather sad. We shut down and emptied our freezer altogether.

The sky is overcast and there are occasional showers. Right now, we're crossing the shipping lanes and the freighter traffic is high. Fortunately, we see them all well in advance on our chartplotter as all of them transmit Automatic Identification Service (AIS) signals which tells us the name, position, course, speed and other things about the ship. We transmit our information as well. It takes a lot of anxiety out of a common fear for many cruising sailors. There was a story about a ship that had a sailboat's mast and rigging hanging off it's anchor when it pulled into port and it never knew how it got there. That won't happen to us.

Our chartplotter says 13 hours, 11 minutes until we're in port. Good on ya, mate.
At 11/7/2012 7:02 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 22°13.00'S 155°37.00'E

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Vanuatu to Australia

I'm not sure what day this is. I know that it's November 7 (on this side of the Date Line) but I'm not sure how to describe it in terms of our passage from Vanuatu to Australia. We spent 3 (or was it 4?) days at Chesterfield Reef and we left there two days ago. Our destination of Bundaberg, Queensland, is 230 nautical miles from where we are right now.

The day started off with a good scare from our electronics - the circuit breaker for the autopilot tripped and took out all our sailing instruments. Then I got pooped on by a big wave and has I was hoisting the spinnaker pole, it came off the stud and came crashing onto the deck. Luckily, no one was hurt - not even the deck.

But the afternoon mellowed out, the seas flattened and we started making some good time. Now that it's evening, the wind is picking back up as it so often does. I just furled the mizzen and I'm about to tuck a reef into the main. Corie's cooking spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, then we'll settle in for our routine of night watches.

All is well aboard Rutea.
At 11/7/2012 7:02 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 22°13.00'S 155°37.00'E

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Off to OZ

Hey folks, Corie here. Just thought I'd let you know that we are finally en route to Australia, although we (I) considered taking up residence at Chesterfield Reef. The wind is 14 knots on the beam, the seas have calmed down to a meter or two and we are making good time. If all goes to plan, we will arrive in OZ on (our) Friday morning. And as tomorrow (today?) is election day, get out there and vote for Obama!
At 11/4/2012 8:48 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°52.96'S 158°27.87'E

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Stuck In The Middle With.....

Well, we're not REALLY stuck, but we are having a hard time leaving! However, we ARE in the middle of nowhere, albeit the Coral Sea, with nothing around but shades of blue for hundreds of miles in any direction! We're here with three other boats (two of them are leaving today) and our snorkel gear, dive tanks, books, crosswords, boat projects (yes boat projects even out in the middle of nowhere) and our rapidly diminishing supply of fresh food!

Corie and Mark have been exploring and charting the lagoon by dinghy. They have discovered two thriving coral heads (bomies) about a hundred feet tall. Imagine a hundred foot wall of coral which sinks in to a midnight blue and rises to an aqua hue one foot below the surface of the water. Out of the midnight blue curious sharks swim upwards towards curious snorkelers (me) which then makes me feel less than curious and my heart goes pitter patter! Of course Corie and Mark see the sharks and free dive down forty feet to greet and photograph them and fortunately, that seems to make the sharks feel less than curious and they dart back down into the midnight blue! My area of preference for exploring is the coral surrounded by the aqua water near the surface which is spotlit by sunlight on coral exploding with all of the colors of the rainbow! Red, Orange, Purple, Violet, Green, Blue. It's like swimming over a flower garden in full bloom! There are sea fans, soft corals, hard corals, clams with luminous lips, fish with psychedelic patterns and, oh yeah.... snakes! I have never seen so many snakes on land as I saw in the water over this coral head which Mark named Romancing the Snake and Corie named Snake Charmer! There were long black snakes which slept curled up on the bottom and arose for a sip of air every so often, silver snakes which wound around coral pieces never seeming to need a sip of air and purple snakes which snaked in and out of coral holes and peered at us with small beady eyes. Snakes in the water on/in beautiful coral heads do not look any more cute or charming than snakes on land.

Today we will put two more coats of Teak Guard on the cap rail and hatch covers so we don't arrive in Oz looking like the Beverly Hillbillies. We will bid good-by to Dilligaf and our new Hungarian friends Nellie and Joseph on Epiphany and promise to rendezvous with them in Bundy. Then we await the arrival of our friends on Mystic who expect to arrive tonight, and we will try to guide them in to an anchoring spot after sundown (a real No-No)! Another snorkel and reef exploration or maybe another walk around the islet to photograph more boobies (you name it- red footed, blue footed, yellow footed) and we will unstick ourselves and prepare to leave here by Tuesday for a Friday arrival in Australia. Our weather window is good until the end of the week but I am going to prepare some passage meals just in case "they" didn't mention how rolly it is going to be out there. And then, Oz..... I guess we are off to see the wizard....

R of Rutea
19:52.96 South
158:27.87 East
At 10/31/2012 9:02 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°52.96'S 158°27.87'E

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Chesterfield Reef Still

After two days of snorkeling, crossword puzzles, sleeping, etc, I felt like I needed to get something done. It didn't take long for the obvious answer to rear it's ugly head as our teak cap rail looks like it's been ignored for years. In truth, we had sanded it down to bare wood and coated it with Lingol Teak Guard only last May but the finish was gone from most of the rail and what was left was peeling off in thin, wispy threads.

The irony was not lost on me: Here we were in this remote paradise, the clear water with over 100' visibility, the birds careening overhead, the sun beating down and I've got the generator running with the power sander making the entire anchorage sound like a boat yard in any city. I worked as fast as I could but it's still a time-consuming project. Ruthie did the hand sanding where the power sander couldn't reach. Corie helped for a while but opted to go diving with Mark on Merkava as that was more fun.

Ruthie and I took a break and jumped in the water with our masks, snorkels and fins on. I followed our anchor chain but most of it was buried deep in the soft sand - I never did see our anchor. The wind was almost nonexistent and that improved the water visibility even more. If this place wasn't so remote, it would be a diving mecca.

All of us had been invited over to Epiphany, a Benetau 46, for cocktails in the evening. Joe and Nellie are Hungarian, in their mid-30s and very charming - we warmed to them immediately. They offered scotch as they had bought a case of it while in Gibraltar for US$1.00/bottle - and they don't even drink scotch!
At 10/31/2012 9:02 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°52.96'S 158°27.87'E

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chesterfield Reef

Lying almost smack-dab right in between Vanuatu and the eastern Australia Coast is the 75-mile long, apostrophe-shaped reef of Chesterfield. Since it's claimed by New Caledonia and therefore the French, all of the islands that make up the reef have French names: Ilot Brampton in the north, Ilot Reynard to the east and Ile Longue, which is v-shaped and in the southern part and that's where we're anchored. The shape gives us perfect protection from the southeast trade winds although we're anchored far enough from shore that there's enough fetch to make riding in the dinghy a wet affair.

We arrived yesterday morning after being hove to for about seven hours about 12 miles from the entrance. The water shoals gradually so the color of the water changes gradually as well. From the dark, midnight blue to the almost-clear water at the shore, the water is a perfect spectrum of the color. The bomies (coral heads that rise up from the ocean floor - that can easily hole a boat at worst or foul an anchor chain at minimum - I don't know where the term comes from but it's an easy way to scare cruisers away from a particular anchorage: "Lots of bomies there, mate," and it's likely that boat will find an anchorage somewhere else) were widely spaced and easily recognized amongst the soft sand. No sooner had we dropped the hook but Corie had her mask, snorkel and fins on and was in the water. She checked out the bomies near us, pronounced they were too deep to be an issue and then swam over to Merkava where she had a beer with Mark. After all, it was after noon somewhere.

The shore is teeming with birds and we can hear their non-stop squawking 24 hours a day. Corie and Ruthie went with Mark to explore the narrow strip of land that is Ile Longue where they found some exquisite shells but also copious quantities of bird shit (we can smell that from the boat 24 hours a day, too). Later in the day Corie and Mark went snorkeling and returned saying it was some of the best snorkeling they had ever done with more and larger fish than they had ever seen. Our friend, Bill, on Dilligaf, said he saw a brown sea snake, which is one of the most poisonous and there are many jelly fish hanging around the boats. We had cocktails aboard Dilligaf and those aboard Tenaya, a 40' Hallberg-Rassy, were invited as well. We had to row there as our outboard is buried deep in the lazarette (too bad Dilligaf was anchored so far away from us! Up wind, too!). I brought my last bottle of single-malt scotch which we all enjoyed. Corie stayed on board and made Hawaiian pizza with pineapples we had bought in Vanuatu. As I fancy myself as something of a pizza connoisseur, I can say without qualifications that hers is amongst the best.
At 10/31/2012 9:02 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°52.96'S 158°27.87'E

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vanuatu to Australia - Day Four

In anticipation of our arrival at Chesterfield Reef, our calculations showed that we'd arrive sometime in the middle of the night at our current speed. The decision we faced was whether to slow down and hopefully time our arrival for the morning or whether to proceed and just heave to once we got there. As it turns out, we did both.

We reduced sail to just a double-reefed main - no head sails or mizzen - but even so, we were still making almost 5 knots. Poor Rutea! I could feel her disappointment as it was a beautiful day and here she was, being exposed to the indignity of sailing with a double reefed main when she should have had all sails up, romping to a distant destination. I later tucked a third reef into the main and whereas that slowed us down more, we still arrived at the entrance to the reef at midnight. I furled the main and hoisted the mizzen, put the wheel hard over and Rutea tucked her head under her wings and went to sleep. We don't often heave to but this was a classic application for the maneuver. For the next seven hours, we all got caught up on some much needed sleep while our boat slipped sideways at about 1 knot per hour.

We dropped the anchor in Chesterfield Reef at 1000, local time. I'll write more about that tomorrow.
At 10/30/2012 00:07 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°52.97'S 159°27.88'E

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Vanuatu to Australia - Day 3

After a near-perfect day of sailing yesterday, the winds picked up right around dusk and stayed at 22-23 knots for almost the entire night. The seas increased and became choppy which made it less comfortable on board. As a swell approached Rutea's beam, she would roll to starboard and as the wave passed under her, she'd roll to port. Even with two reefs tucked in the main and the genoa reefed down, we were still healing at a good angle which intensified the rolling action. Our Speed Over Ground (SOG) was consistently over 8 knots and I even saw us hit 10 knots at one point. All that can make it hard to get a good nights sleep.

However, this morning the winds have eased to about 17 knots and the sky is clear. Chesterfield Reef is less than 80 miles away and hopefully once there we'll be able to catch up on our sleep.

Our friends on Dilligaf are less than a mile off our starboard beam and Mark on Merkava is almost 18 miles behind us - he's no longer in VHF radio range.

Our spirits are good and Rutea's systems continue to operate well. Other than eating too much (Australia's BioSecurity is going to confiscate almost all the food on board when we arrive so we're working hard at depleting our ship-board inventory), we're having a great time.
At 10/29/2012 10:07 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°11.00'S 159°36.00'E

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Vanuatu to Australia - Day 2

We have slipped into our passage-making patterns, this time being easier than most because our conditions are so good. Flat seas, a steady breeze and all the systems working as they should. At 0400 this morning, we made our turn to our current course of 231°M, which allowed us to clear Huon Reef. This puts us on course for Chesterfield Reef which is about halfway between Vanuatu and Australia. It's about 36 hours away and will give us a break before we make the final push into Bundaberg, Queensland. We've been told that there's a good, sheltered anchorage there, albeit out in the middle of nowhere. There's suppose to be a lot of birds that hang out there - we might spend a few days at Chesterfield, which is part of New Caledonia. At our current speed we'll arrive there in the middle of the night so we're going to have to slow ourselves down as we never enter a new-to-us anchorage in the dark.

Our friends on Dilligaf have pulled ahead of us by a couple of miles and our friend Mark on Merkava is now about 12 miles behind us but we're all still close enough to talk on the VHF radio. Other than them, we've only seen a couple of fishing boats.

Our spirits remain high although the conversation often reverts to how much we miss Mexican food. However, we're tough and we can rise to any challenge. If you get a chance, though, drop us a note with a detailed description of your last carne asada burrito. Thanks.
At 10/28/2012 10:45 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 17°52.00'S 162°15.00'E

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Vanuatu to Australia - Day One

I awoke yesterday morning with a groan. The display at the head of our bunk showed True Wind Speed (TWS) at 0.0. Our weather forecaster had promised light winds for our first day of our passage but zero wind meant long hours of motoring and burning up our expensive and acquired-with-much-difficulty fuel (to fill Rutea's two 90-gallons tanks, we have to load our 5-gallon 'jerry jugs' into the dinghy, motor to the beach, carry the empty jugs to the road, take a taxi into town, fill the jugs <almost US$8.00/gallon>, find a taxi willing to haul us and our fuel back to the road that leads to the beach, wade out to the dinghy in water up to our waists carrying the 40-pound jugs, lift them up to Rutea's deck, dump the fuel into the tanks and then repeat until our tanks are full - it can take days to complete the process).

While Ruthie and Corie caught a few more winks of sleep, I made a batch of banana muffins (the once bright green stalk that has hung in our galley has been reduced to a fraction of it's original size and the remaining bananas are mostly black with some yellow streaks) and got us ready to get underway. Motoring out of the Segond Channel our Speed Over Ground (SOG) was less than 2 knots as we bucked a strong current but once clear of land we resumed our normal motoring speed of almost 6 knots per hour. The wind had picked up slightly but was still less than 7 knots so we motor-sailed until I got the idea to hoist our spinnaker. Once up, we cut the engine and were making 5+ knots per hour and when the wind increased to about 10 knots, Rutea got a bone in her teeth and began to see over 7 knots. The seas were flat calm and other than the overcast sky, it was near ideal conditions.

Traveling with us are Mark on Merkava and Bill and Sue on Dilligaf. We seem to be almost perfect cruising companions as we tend to stay within a few miles of each other.

As the sun was starting to set, we doused the spinnaker and unfurled the genoa. The wind remained around 10-11 knots and the seas flat - the almost-full moon meant near daylight visibility. Since it was so calm, I went below and whipped up a batch of Chicken Cacciatore, using a sauce that I had made a few days earlier. I sautéed the plump chicken breasts in olive oil until they were golden brown and then added quartered onions, bell peppers and black olives before I poured the sauce over. I served it to us in large bowls over bow-tie pasta and even though the tropical heat was making us sweat, the steaming dinner hit the spot.

Because the seas are so flat, sleep came easy. I was enjoying my watch so much that I let Corie have an extra hour of sleep before I got her up for her watch at 0100. When I got up at 0530, I found that we had passed Merkava and Dilligaf sometime during the night. The seas and wind remained constant. In our first 24 hours we covered 144 miles which is not bad for light winds. We hoisted the spinnaker again this morning and with 10 knots of wind we're making over 7 knots. The sun is out and the solar panels are cranking the amps into our battery banks. None of us can remember a passage with conditions that are this good.
At 10/27/2012 10:46 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°36.00'S 164°47.00'E

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Next Big Leap of Rutea

Querida Familia-

We just received the thumbs up from our ace weather router, Bob McDavitt (a NZ character) to jump off from Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu to Bundaberg, Australia this Saturday (the 27th of October)! This is a big deal because not only is it our last blue water passage for 2012 but we will no longer be sailing in the Pacific Ocean! After 11,505 miles of sailing through the north and south Pacific Ocean, we will jump off and head across the Coral Sea which is bordered by Vanuatu, Northern Australia, Soloman Islands and Papua New Guinea! The Coral Sea contains the Great Barrier Reef and is the spawning grounds of the cyclones that terrorize the tiny island nations of the south pacific. The sea temp (at least where we are now) is 85 degrees but nobody swims in the western Coral Sea north of the Great Barrier Reef because its inhabitants include LOTS of great white sharks, Box Jelly Fish, Salt Water Crocodiles and Sea Snakes! Queensland, where we are headed, and south to the Gold Coast, boasts some of the best surfing, snorkeling and diving in the world and we are excited about exploring this new-to-us part of the world! We plan to stop along the way at Chesterfield Reef, a teeny, tiny reef/atoll about half way from where we are to Oz (as they call it) for a rest, diving and snorkeling. We will be traveling with three other boats: Merkava (Canadian), Geramar (Dutch) and Dilligaf (American).

Vanuatu has been a fascinating, National Geographic experience. To see people living the way their ancestors did has been such an eye opener- and lots of people here live that way. Almost everyone who does not live in the capital, Port Vila, or the former capital, Luganville lives very, very simply. The national dish, Lap-lap, is taro with coconut milk poured over it, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked under dirt and hot stones in the ground. Giant bamboo is still used for cooking over wood fires or for dishes or for clothes pins. Coconut Palms provide thatch for roofs, water for refreshment, milk for essential recipes, and shells for kava. Kava. That is a whole story in and of itself. I'm sure we have told you of kava in bits and pieces, but suffice it to be described as chugging muddy water, without breathing, feeling your tongue and teeth go numb as you try not to throw up, and then trying to relax into a state of indepth star gazing. Villages are known for special talents. Some villages perform traditional dance and singing. Some villages host the island school. Some villages specialize in magic (black magic and white magic). All villages have a church and most people are dressed in raggedy, missionary provided hand me downs. All kids have runny noses which their moms wipe off with their fingers. Most kids have a cough. The poverty is staggering. BUT, everyone has been more than kind, friendly, eager to share what they have and CURIOUS! I have had more than one kid rub my arm up and down to see if the white comes off and our hair has been a source of hours of entertainment! Of course people are very interested in Neal's hair because it looks like theirs does! They love it when he tells them that he is part Ni-Van!

Yesterday we endured one of the hardest parts of the cruising experience. We had to say good-bye to our dearest friends on Sarah Jean II as we parted ways. We have sailed with SJ2 since we left Mexico in 2011 and shared anchorages, dinners, hikes, boat problems, boat projects, snorkels and new countries for the past year and a half. We have encouraged each other onward in hard times, analyzed weather patterns, traded boat parts, felt safety in our numbers, talked about kids and parents and made memories to last a lifetime. SJ2 headed south for New Zealand for this cyclone season and will head back to Canada via Hawaii next cruising season, as we head west to Oz, Indonesia and Thailand. Making new and dear friends is one of the best parts of cruising, but saying good-bye to them is one of the hardest. That would be true of course, anywhere. You never want to let a kindred spirit go!

Back to Passage Preparation! The list is long but Neal has climbed the mast and checked the rigging. Jack lines are run. Genoa is patched. Tri-light is rewired. Nav lights are tested. Hand-held radios are charged. Bilge pumps are tested. Tri Sail is bent to the mast. Ditch Bag is updated. Boat bottom and prop are clean. Water and fuel tanks are full. Visas for Oz have been printed out. Steering is inspected. We have frozen bananas, banana cookies and banana muffins! Passage meals are being prepared and frozen. Our course has been plotted and we are studying our weather grib files. Just a couple more provisions to buy, a visit to Immigration and Customs to check out of the country, a visit to the duty free liquor store and we will be ready!

We will miss a couple of BIG dates while we are en route! The first is Ian's 30th Birthday on November 3rd! OMG! Please wish him well on his next decade! The second is the election.... YES, we have voted but we are still on pins and needles.... And of course, we miss YOU! Hopefully cell phone calls to the US won't be as expensive in Australia as they have been in Vanuatu! Airline tickets are also reasonable and we will be there for quite a while, so if you want to come visit, book your cabin now!

As always, we wish you Fair Winds and Calm Seas wherever you may be and whatever you may be doing.

R of Rutea and Crew
15.34.37 South
167.12.30 East
At 10/24/2012 8:37 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 15°31.37'S 167°09.90'E

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Kastom Dancing

The village of Lutes on the island of Lukienuen has been a gracious host to our flotilla of boats that has now grown to six. As we were sailing from Epi Island, David on Riada II caught a 250-pound marlin and towed it all the way into the anchorage as it was too heavy for them to hoist aboard their Davidson 46. That afternoon, they towed it into the village and it appeared that everyone turned out to watch the massive fish being cut up and divided amongst everyone. We were told that they had never seen a fish that big.

The next day we were given a tour of the island, one more time hiking through a thick tropical jungle. As we continue north, the temperature and humidity increase, taking just minutes for me to be completely soaked in sweat. Our tour culminated in a ride through the mangroves where narrow channels through the brush and trees provide just enough room for the dinghies, sometimes with the outboard tilted up.

After a brief respite aboard our respective boats, we went back to shore and assembled near some bungalows which were built in hopes of attracting tourists (my take is that it would require unusual tourists as the conditions and amenities are extremely rustic - no water or electricity and I doubt you'd find a mint on your pillow at night - much more likely you'd find some enormous, indescribable insect on it). We were lead through a grove of coconut palms and then along a narrow path to a small clearing in the bush. A man wearing a small namba (a woven penis sheath) held on by a thin woven string, his face blackened from burnt coconut shells, came out and greeted us. "You are welcome to watch our dancing," he said with a grin and dashed back into the bush. Moments later, the rhythmic sounds of wood against wood and rattles shaking could be heard from where the man had just disappeared and soon a procession of about 20 men, dancing and singing, wound their way into the clearing. It wasn't precisely choreographed but the movements for most of the men were similar although some appeared to be 'dancing to a different drummer'. Their costumes were varied but all wore the small namba - some had head dresses with leaves in them and some had leaves tucked into the string that held on their namba. One of the oldest men wore a necklace of yellow palm fronds, which was set off by his white hair and beard. They did several dances for us, none of them lasting more than a couple of minutes. Once the performance was over, the men ducked back into the bush and returned wearing their everyday shorts and t-shirts. They shook hands all around, us saying "Sipa!" ('thank you' in the local dialect) and them replying with "Evoy!" (which you also use as 'hello'). Bill on Dilligaf had taken video of the entire dancing and played it back for the men on the camera's small screen. They whooped and hollered as they saw themselves on the screen for what I believe may have been the first time for most of them to see their moving images captured.

We returned to the area of the bungalows where a table had been set up with coconuts and fresh mangos, both of which were delicious and refreshing. From there, the entire group walked across the island to the village's nakamal and had a bowl of kava, 100 vatu (about US$1.00) for a huge bowl. It was strong kava but still tasted awful and I had to drink mine with several stops instead of 'chugging' it as is the traditional way. Face it, I'm not very good at drinking kava.

Dinner that night was on board Riada II where David and Carolyn served up huge portions of the marlin they had caught. The sky is very clear and the stars brilliant.
At 10/12/2012 9:24 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°32.41'S 167°50.20'E

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I was going to do a blog post about procrastination but I think I'll put it off.
At 10/9/2012 9:06 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°35.74'S 168°09.81'E

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lamen Bay

It was almost the perfect passage from Efate Island to Epi Island: A southeasterly breeze filled in early and soon all of Rutea's working sails (genoa, staysail, main and mizzen) where pulling like a team of mules. The seas were calm and although we could see squalls not too far away, none of them hit us. Just as we reached the south end of Epi Island the wind dropped (as we expected it to) and a 30-pound wahoo hit the brand new lure that we had been dragging the entire 60 miles. We dropped our anchor in Lamen Bay near the north end of the island, a wide, sandy-bottomed anchorage that gives excellent protection from the prevailing winds. Our friends on Sarah Jean II offered to be the host boat for dinner and the crews from Riada II and Merkava enjoyed a fabulous dinner of barbequed wahoo with all the fixings. Corie found a recipe for making pickled ginger (a must for sushi and sashimi) and I don't think we'll ever be able to enjoy the store-bought kind again.

As we made our way back to Rutea (way past Cruiser Midnight - about 9pm), we saw an orange glow in the northeastern sky. At first we thought it was the moon rising but later realized that it was the glow from the erupting volcano on Ambrym Island, less than 20 miles away. That's probably going to be our next stop but it remains to be seen whether we'll climb the volcano - our guide book says it's a six-hour hike through the jungle, each way.

Yesterday we went in pursuit of finding a dugong, also known as a sea cow, a mammal that is know to frequent these parts. We tried snorkeling in several different parts of the island, even traversing the pass in our dinghy to Lamen Island but with no luck. Beth from Sarah Jean II was back in the water with her snorkel gear on once we got back to where our boats are anchored and suddenly started to shout, "Dugong! Dugong!" Within seconds, all of us had our snorkel gear donned and were in the clear water, watching this 15-foot, one-ton, torpedo-shaped whale (we're not sure if it's a whale or not - can someone with internet access fill us in, please?) feed along the bottom, right under out boats. It was moving slowly, a wake of stirred-up sand flowing from it's head, as it vacuums the sea bed. It seemed to ignore our presence but definitely moved out of our range once I used my underwater camera's flash. Corie did get some great shots of it and even a spectacular video.

Corie also got some great shots of the sea turtles that frequent the bay. Some of these guys must be almost four-feet in diameter and they swim lazily all around our boats, occasionally sticking their noses out of the water and appear to be checking us out. For some reason they seem to like hanging around Rutea's anchor and chain. We're not sure if that's a compliment but we're delighted to have so many of them so close.

I'll try to post some pictures once we get to Luganville but I'm not optimistic that we'll have enough bandwidth there to do so. We should be there by the 18th or 19th.
At 10/9/2012 9:06 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°35.74'S 168°09.81'E

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Port Narvin on Erromango Island

Photo by Dick on Geramar

It wasn’t easy to tear ourselves away from the wonderful anchorage of Port Resolution on the island of Tanna but just after sunrise on the morning of 30 September we pointed Rutea’s bow almost due north to the east side of Erromango Island.  Corie again crewed for Mark on Merkava and all of us enjoyed a pleasant sail in the southeast trade winds.  Our destination was Port Narvin, a small village on the north side of Traitor’s Point, where some friends had heard that the school there was in desperate need of supplies for their schools.  While we were still in Fiji, we had stopped by a stationary store and stocked up on pencils, paper, notebooks, etc in anticipation of our visit.
Ruthie with Chief Joe
The anchorage there was far from ideal and the swells wrapped around the point so Rutea (and all the rest of the boats in our little flotilla) rolled badly while at anchor.  Sleep that night was hard to come by and we were all looking forward to getting off the boat when morning dawned.  As we made our way into shore, we could see a long line of school children excitedly watching us.  Once we landed the dink, we were greeted by the two chiefs, Joe and Andre (there’s actually two separate villages side by side and each village has it’s own chief but by all appearances its one village of about 800 people).  Because the anchorage is so poor, yachts rarely call on this port and now there were six yachts anchored in front of their village.  This had never happened before, we were told.

We were led into the school yard where the students ran around as if there was the promise of ice cream or a long vacation waiting for them.  Gradually they began to file into the small, cinderblock building which was way too small for the one hundred or so students.  The cruisers were given chairs at the head of the classroom, as if on display, and the students gawked and giggled at the collection of old, white people.  Of course, Corie commanded the most attention, being pretty, white and young.  One of the teachers spoke and the students became quiet as a line of older girls filed in with garlands of flowers that they placed around each of our necks.  We were asked to introduce ourselves.  With a guitar, one of the teachers led the students in a couple of songs where the students sang loudly and in beautiful harmony.  The principal spoke, welcoming us and then asked us to circulate through the classroom and grounds, talking to the students.  Corie was instantly mobbed by the girls who were fascinated with her hair.  Ruthie and Beth attracted large groups of students as they read books to them.  I spoke with one of the teachers who told me that there was no road that came into the village.  There is no store, no phones, no power, no doctor or nurse.  The nearest village that has some of these basic functions is a five-hour boat ride away.

After we had spent a couple of hours with the students, Chief Joe and Chief Andre offered to take us on a hike up the mountain.  Wearing only flip-flops, we started to climb the sometimes steep terrain through the jungle.  Chief Joe was barefoot.  The climb proved to be more strenuous than we had anticipated but after about an hour-and-a-half we were at the top, soaked in sweat and looking over a beautiful view of the bay where we were anchored and Cook’s Bay to the south.  Also we were looking over the foundation for a cellular tower that is in the process of being built.  Since there’s no construction equipment on the island, all of the materials are carried up by both men and women of the village.  There were maybe 1,000 sacks of crushed coral (that will be mixed with concrete), each sack weighing about 50 pounds.  There were 55 gallons drums, filled with water, which had also been carried up by hand in 5 gallon jugs, one at a time.  All of the framework and rigging for the tower had also been carried up by the people of the village.

We had been poorly prepared to make the climb, not just in terms of footwear but also we had no water or food with us.  Chief Joe left us for a few moments and returned with a half-dozen fresh coconuts tied to a stick that he carried over his shoulder.  With his machete, he opened a small hole in each one and the cool coconut water quenched our thirst and the coconut meat refreshed us.  On the way back down the mountain, Chief Joe said repeatedly, “Please don’t forget us.  Remember what we’re trying to do here.”  There was almost a pleading in his voice.

I know all of you get more requests for donations than you could ever attempt to grant and I’m very reluctant to add one more.  Regardless, this village has very few prospects – there’s no tourism on the island and yachts are few and far between.  For school supplies, someone has to travel to Efate Island, almost 90 miles away and they have a pathetic budget to work with.  All of us were very touched by this village and would like to help.  They desperately need computers, school supplies and books and I don’t think donations of cash would make it to the right people.  I’m willing to pay for the freight to Vanuatu if you’d be willing to donate anything else – a ream of paper, an old computer that you no longer use, some children’s books or PC educational software (they’d especially like a set of encyclopedias on CDs).  If you can find it in your hearts to send something, I’d be grateful.  Please send it to my home in San Diego and I’ll volunteer my daughter, Caity, to organize the shipment.

Birthday Cheesecake from Tricia on Geramar 
We left Port Narvin later that day, my birthday, and traveled overnight to the island of Efate and the capital of Vanuatu, Port Vila.  We once again have internet access, stores, restaurants and traffic.  From here we’ll continue north before we have to decide whether to sail directly west to Australia or south first to New Caledonia and then Australia.  The weather will impact our final decision.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sunday Sail

It's Sunday. We always go sailing on Sunday. Ever since Neal and I have had access to a boat, a Sunday sail has been our family tradition. We used to have to bribe the kids with candy to go out with us, then they started to suggest it. Now we just kind of crave a sail if it has been a while. As Charlie Schneider used to say, "it cleans out the cobwebs".

So today we are sailing, but it is a Sunday like no other before! Mt. Yasur is behind us belching smoke and ash. If it were dark we would be able to see the red glow of it's magma belly. Erromango (land of mango) Island is ahead and beckoning us forward. The ocean is a sapphire blue with a temp is 75 degrees. The sky is cornflower blue with wisps of white clouds, the air a delightful 71 degrees. We have 15 knots of breeze on the starboard quarter. Rutea balances between sea and sky as if she needs no advice from me or Neal.

Tomorrow is Neal's birthday.... I must admit I am a bit panicked because I have nothing, I do mean Nothing, for him! We will spend part of the day visiting the Port Navrin school that we are delivering school supplies to and then maybe snorkel the reef. I think I can pull enough stuff together for a dinner to which we can invite Sarah Jean II and Merkava and share our few remaining Fiji Bitter beers. I ask him one more time- what would you like to do for your birthday?

This. This is all I want for my birthday is Neal's reply. Just this beautiful Sunday sail.

Oh yeah.... Neal just caught a Yellow Tail!

R of Rutea
19.07.66 South
169.24.8 East
Vanuatu Archipelago
At 9/27/2012 9:29 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°31.48'S 169°29.79'E

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Friday, September 28, 2012


Before we left Mexico, our friends, Ross and Julie McDonald, gave us t-shirts from their boat, Boppy's Star. "Wear this when you drink kava with a Fijian chief," Ross instructed me, "And take a picture." It didn't happen in Fiji but I did wear it this evening when three of us visited the local nakamal, what the locals in Vanuatu call a place where kava is drunk.

Kava is the root of a certain species of pepper tree and it seems as though each island group in the southwest Pacific has a slightly different method of preparing it. It wasn't out in the open in Samoa though we did see people drink it. We saw no evidence of it in Tonga (we assume it was still there) but Fiji was Kava Central, with large sections of the markets dedicated to selling kava - both the whole root and in powder form. Fijians also made a ceremony of drinking kava, with much hand-clapping and shouts of 'bula!'. Kava produces a mild euphoria and a numbness in the mouth. We tried it a couple of times in Fiji and thought it tasted terrible (some say it tastes like drinking dirty dishwater except it isn't soapy - to me, it tastes like bitter, muddy water) but we had been told that the best kava was in Vanuatu.

When we were in Anatom, some of the locals put on a 'cultural event' for the cruising fleet that include demonstrations of dance, costumes and culture. They also offered us kava, which again tasted terrible but was much stronger than the Fijian kava. I really liked the buzz - I had to be very careful when I spoke as I felt as though each word was a challenge to enunciate but it was also a pleasant, peaceful feeling. Corie and our friend, Mark, went to a nakamal at the village in Anelghowhat, where men lined up to purchase bowls of kava, much like a bar anywhere in the world - except that the nakamal was no more than a thatched hut with a dirt floor. Corie was the only woman there and the two of them were the only white people.

Today, as Ruthie and I were walking home from the White Sand Beach, we passed by the local nakamal (in this village, women are not allowed anywhere near the nakamal and there's a path that gives it a wide berth for them to use - nor is a woman allowed to watch a man drink kava. We're not sure what would happen to a tourist but if a local woman was to walk through the nakamal, she would be beaten with sticks or so we were told.). I stopped by to ask if there would be enough kava for my friends and me to have some. The man I talked to said there would and that they start making kava at 5pm.

Once back on the boat, I asked my friend, Norm, if he wanted to attend. "They make kava here the old fashioned way," Norm said. Yuck. That means they chew the kava root and then spit it out and make the kava from that. Yuck. When I told my friend, Mark, he said, "Oh, well . . . " and then asked if I was still interested in going. "I'll go if you go," I said. "Crazy fucker," was Mark's reply, but at a few minutes before 5, Mark showed up in his dinghy, ready to go. We picked up Randy from the sloop, Mystic, and made our way into the village.

The nakamal is just on the edge of the village and is nothing more than a clearing in the jungle with a few small thatched roofs around the edges. The dirt is packed hard from the thousands of feet that have attended the kava sessions there. There were a few men off in one corner and we approached them, asking if they had kava available. One man, who we would later learn is Thomas, was silent at first and then got up and extended his hand. We introduced ourselves and shook hands all around. A large pile of kava root was on a mat woven of palm frond and a large knife was being used to cut the root into pieces about the size of a fist. Several of the men had their mouths stuffed full of the kava root and were chewing away. They looked like chipmunks or Louis Armstrong while playing his trumpet except these men had drool coming out of the corners of their mouths. Once they had the root chewed to the consistency that they preferred, they would spit out the chewed root onto a round leaf and place it neatly on the woven mat. It looked like neat piles of vomit. We were invited to sit on a log and wait for the kava to finish being prepared. "Can I chew kava?" I asked of Thomas. He gave me a blank look and then handed me a small piece of root and a couple of leaves for me to spit the chewed kava onto. Different parts of the root had different textures - one part might be like a very tough carrot while other parts where so stringy that no matter how much I chewed I couldn't break it down to the fine vomit-like mash of our hosts. Besides, it tasted awful. Several times I had to stop chewing altogether and breath through my nose as I fought to control my gag reflex. Rather than stuff my mouth like everyone else, I chewed much more dainty portions and would pause in between chews. Sometimes we would talk with our hosts. Simon, one of the kava chewers, asked me something that I couldn't understand. "I can't understand you," I said, "Your mouth is full of kava." My pile of chewed kava was pathetically small and at one point Simon generously offered to supplant it with some of the kava that he was chewing. I quickly but politely refused his gracious offer.

Even though my pile of chewed kava was ridiculously small, I could nor force myself to chew anymore. I approached Thomas and asked if he could make me a bowl of kava from my chewed pieces. Thomas was sitting on a small stone facing another man who was also sitting on a small stone. There was a bucket of water to the side and between the two men were two coconut shell bowls. Putting the chewed kava in a long cloth, they would pour water over the chewed kava, letting it drain into the coconut shell bowls. Then they would twist the cloth, wringing out the liquid. Simon handed the bowl with the cloudy liquid kava to me and said, "Go stand over there and drink it all at once." I did as I was told and I could tell that my small pile of poorly-chewed kava had made a very weak bowl of drink.

Mark and Randy did not chew their own kava. They had bowls of kava that had been chewed for them but I don't know that it was that much stronger than what I had. It wasn't nearly as strong as the kava we had in Anelghowhat but that kava had been made by putting the root through a meat grinder. Regardless, our hosts here in Port Resolution were very hospitable and after we had drunk our kava they offered us baked taro root, bananas, papaya and coconut. As we were leaving, I offered to pay for our kava but they refused. Thomas and Simon invited us to come back tomorrow night.
At 9/27/2012 9:29 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°31.48'S 169°29.79'E

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