Showing posts from 2015

What to do about Cyclone Season

Tropical Cyclone season is December to March, which is summer here in the Southern Hemisphere. There is a pretty well defined region where cyclones develop. Tonga, Fiji and Samoa are all in this region, so all of us cruisers have to make a plan regarding what to do. Option 1: Head south to spend the summer in New Zealand. This is the most popular choice, but it can be an uncomfortable passage to New Zealand and then another uncomfortable passage back before winter comes to New Zealand. Option 2: Head north to get out of the traditional cyclone zone.  Some people head north, to places like The Marshalls. This is certainly heading off the beaten path. Option 3: There are a few really enclosed anchorages (known as hurricane holes), and some people choose to stay and plan to ride it out if a cyclone comes there way. We like option 4: Leave your boat somewhere safe and go have fun elsewhere. This is what we did 18 months ago when we left our boat in Guaymas, Mexico for the

Whale swim

One of the biggest attractions in Tonga is the humpback whales.  As we already mentioned, we saw a lot of them in the Ha'apai group ( ).  They come to Tonga to mate and to give birth, there are lots of female humpbacks with their calves. In Vava'u, there are a number of boats that are allowed to take people out to swim with the humpbacks. They have to follow a number of rules in order to not disturb the whales.  We talked to people who had done it, and they all had rave reviews.  That convinced us that it was worth doing. We hopped on our tour boat and motored out to find some whales.  It was getting late in the season, but we found a mother and calf.  We went into the water in groups of 4 (plus guide) and had to swim about 100 m (100 yards) to get near the whales (the boat isn't allowed to get too close). We swam near the whales and saw the mom submerged below us. The baby would come up fo


There are lots of ex-pats living in Vava'u.  Some have tried to get the locals interested in cricket.  They are working on a cricket pitch and give lessons.  In order to help drum up some interest, they invite all the visiting yachties to come out for the day.  They do this a couple times per month. The promise was for a day of cricket, with food available.  The locals were supposed to brings crafts and food for sale. That's what happened two weeks earlier when some friends went. The night before we went, it started to rain.  In the morning, it was still raining a bit but that didn't deter us and about 30 other cruisers.  It turns out that the Tongan people are a lot smarter than the rest of us, as they knew to stay home as the ground turns to mud.  We arrived to find an empty field, no food, no crafts, But the rain had stopped! We had traveled an hour to get there, so most people decided to play. Play ball! Malcolm decided to take photos and Dina talked with s

Flying Foxes

Our friends, Chuck and Lauri on Free Spirit, had to leave Tonga for Samoa for their “official” wedding (they have had wonderful unofficial weddings in Mexico and Tonga).  We had spent a lot of time with them here in Tonga and were sad to see them go.  We’ll have to meet up with them in 2016! We wanted to explore the eastern barrier reef islands of the Vava’u group. It is necessary to navigate a narrow channel in the coral to get over there, so few boats head that way. We had waypoints to navigate through the channel and our friends, Alison and Randall on Tregoning, had radioed to say they were already anchored in that area and the pass was no problem, so off we went.  We anchored at Ofu, near Tregoning, later that afternoon. After spending time in the main harbor and the popular anchorages near town, it was a treat to be anchored in a quieter place. We explored the quiet island and the isolated shores. The next morning we went exploring in our dinghy, “Tubby” along with Alison


Entrance to Swallow's Cave One of the most interesting places we’ve seen here in Vava’u is Swallow’s Cave. We were anchored nearby with Free Spirit and Sea Note, and were told it is best to go there in the late afternoon when the sun shines into the cave. It was a bit far for our little dinghy, so we grabbed our snorkel gear and hitched a ride with Ray on Sea Note. He’d been before and enjoyed it so much he was going a second time. Above the water, the cave is probably about 40 feet high, 40 feet wide and goes back about 100 feet from the entrance. Ray drove his dinghy in and tied up to a rocky outcropping inside the cave. Ray told us the water was plenty deep enough, so we put our snorkel gear on and jumped in, not knowing exactly what to expect! WOW!! The water in the cave is crystal clear, the sunlight is streaming in from the cave entrance and there are thousands of little fish swimming in tight “fish balls” which move around throughout the cave. It is surreal. We

Vava'u, Tonga

We’ve heard that over 500 yachts visit Tonga every year. Most of the sailboats coming across the Pacific will be heading south to New Zealand or Australia by the end of the year. Tonga is well positioned as the place to stop heading west and turn south to get out of the traditional cyclone (hurricane) zone. Tonga is also a great place to spend the winter (April-Oct) if you already have your sailboat in New Zealand. This means there are a lot of cruisers in Vava’u! It is a bit odd for us, as we have spent the last two months exploring some quiet places. Of course it is great too; we get to catch up with people we have met along the way. Neiafu Harbour, Vava'u Group The Vava’u group of islands is a lot more developed than the Ha’apai group. There is a real town here, a bunch of restaurants and some boat services. Happy hour at the Mango CafĂ© is at 4pm and they offer beers for $4 TOP (about $2 USD). Many days here are spent getting some jobs done on the boat, meeting fr

Whales in Ha'apai

This time of year, humpback whales have come to the warm waters in Tonga to breed and give birth. We saw some humpbacks as we approached the Ha’apai group and have seen more every day since. Sometimes we see (and hear) the large adult whales breaching (coming up out of the water and splashing back down) in the distance and sometimes they come close to us. We’ve seen some young calves with their mothers and some males trying to show off to get the attention of a nearby female.  Here are some photos and descriptions of our best experiences.... We took advantage of a few days of quiet wind to anchor out at a tiny island (Hakauata) which seems to be a kindergarten for humpbacks. As we approached the island, one young whale came swimming over to check out Tubby. It was about a boat length away when its mother finally swam between it and our boat and escorted it away. A second youngster was practicing breaching right in the tiny bay where we wanted to anchor. It was inconvenient, bu

Remote islands in Tonga - Ha'apai group

Tonga is made up of four different island groups, each separated by 50 to 100 miles. We are in the Ha’apai group, which is sparsely populated and less visited than the other areas. We found a “crowded” anchorage (two other boats!!) in behind the lovely island of Ha’afeva. When we went ashore, many of the villagers were heading back from church and would stop and talk to us. A few invited us to their homes for lunch. We accepted an invitation for the next day and were asked to invite the people from the other yachts. It was a windy and rainy night, but our host still went out and grabbed some lobsters off the reef for our meal. Tom and Lynn from SV Roxanne also accepted the lunch invitation, so the four of us grabbed some items from our “giveaway” piles and headed to the village. The food was great, with fresh lobster and fish complemented with some cassava (kind of like potato). Our host invited us out lobster hunting (it isn't fishing as you just grab them with your h

Arrival in Tonga

We had a lovely 3-day passage from Beveridge Reef to Tonga. It was sunny, with consistent moderate wind, light swell and at night the moon and stars brightened everything. We sailed west from Beveridge Reef and entered the Ha'apai group of islands in central Tonga through the wide and calm pass between Uoleva and Uiha islands. The islands are similar to the Tuamotus - white sand beach, palm trees, surrounded by reefs. We anchored off the beautiful beach of Uoleva island. There was a smoking volcano off to the west and whales in the distance. We were having gin and tonics up on the balcony, looking at the sunset and watching for whales, when a Belgian and French couple, from SV Utopie, dinghied over to say hello. They were the only other boat in the bay. The next day we took a long walk on the beach and found the Uoleva Yacht Club! At the bar, there were Chileans, an Austrian and a Montrealer, in addition to the South African and Zimbabwean owners! That evening, we went to the Yacht

Anchored in the middle of the ocean

There are a few places in the Pacific where there is a coral reef just under the surface. It is good to know where these are so you don't hit them, and good to know where they are in case they are an incredible destination such as Beveridge Reef. It feels very strange to be anchored in 10 feet of water almost 200 miles from the nearest land. The water on the inside of the reef is very calm even though the ocean waves are crashing on the reef just a short distance away. No land here means no silt, no dirt, nothing in the water. That leaves us with the clearest water we have ever seen. No land here also means that water is continually coming in over the reef so the water doesn't warm up even though it is shallow. Even though the water temperature is 20° C (that's 72° F) we put on our wetsuits to go snorkeling! It is 25 feet deep off the back of the boat and we can easily see the details on the sandy bottom, some little fish and sea cucumbers. The water is clear and light blue

Last stop in French Polynesia

Heading west from French Polynesia there is one last stop. With nothing around it for over 100 nm, Mopelia is the remotest place we have visited so far. It is a beautiful circular atoll made up of coral reefs and sandy motus with a lovely lagoon in the centre. About 30 people, including a few families, live on the atoll and process coconuts for the copra market (the basis of coconut oil). The entrance pass to Mopelia is "interesting". It is not very wide, not very wide indeed. Once you get into the pass you can see the shallow coral ledges just a boat width away on either side. To make it really interesting, there is a constant ebb (out flowing) tide that varies in intensity. It only took us about 2 minutes to motor through the pass. That is a long time to be holding your breath and gritting your teeth. We stayed in Mopelia for 12 days, ostensibly waiting for a good weather window for the 800 mile passage to Beveridge Reef and on to Tonga. It was a great 12 days spent relaxin

Saving the best of French Polynesia for last?

Just 20 miles west of Bora Bora is the beautiful island of Maupiti, our second to last stop in French Polynesia. Like Bora Bora, it has a beautiful mountainous island surrounded by a coral reef. What is missing are all the hotels, cruise ships and tourists. We have been in French Polynesia for 3 months and been to many great places. What we found when we squeezed in through the narrow channel in the reef at Maupiti, however, was the prettiest island and the most amazing blue water. There is a town, where we went ashore and met up with Chuck and Lauri from Free Spirit. The town has a church, a couple of stores and a school, all of which service the 1000 residents. We walked along the road to the best beach. It was tempting to pick the mangoes and bananas we saw growing all over the place, but they all belong to someone. Dina waved down a passing truck, and the four of us hopped in the back and got a ride to the beach. As promised, the beach was beautiful. After a little picnic, we did

Another week in Bora Bora

Once Heather left, the rain arrived. We had two straight days of rain followed by a third day of occasional rain. Many other boats had arrived in Bora Bora, the last stop in French Polynesia before officially checking out of the country and heading west to Tonga, via the Cook Islands, or north to Hawaii. As usual when there are boats moored near each other, there was lots of socializing. Most of us were on mooring balls at the MaiKai Marina. It is the closest to town, were the Heiva festivities were taking place (plus groceries, banks, fuel, propane, etc.). We would often gather for drinks and appetizers on a boat and then all go to the Heiva. Or using the internet at the marina bar would turn into a party. With Chuck and Lauri, from Free Spirit, we rented a car to tour the island. There are some beautiful views of the central mountain as well as the stunning lagoon and the motus that ring the island. We stopped at the Sofitel resort for fancy drinks and a fabulous view then continued

First few days in Bora Bora

We had a nice afternoon sail to Bora Bora. There wasn't quite enough wind so we used the motor, along with the sails, to give us an extra push. We could see Bora Bora in front of us the whole way. Somehow that makes it a bit nicer and a bit easier. Bora Bora is a rugged volcanic island surrounded by a coral reef. The mountain is quite spectacular and the waters are beautiful. Heather hadn't been to a beach in French Polynesia yet and didn't get to go to any beaches when she visited us in Mexico! Most of the nice beaches on Bora Bora have resorts on them and are private, but there is one nice public beach. We anchored nearby, packed our dinghy (Tubby) with a picnic lunch, some beach towels and books, and spent a lovely afternoon on the beach. Back at the boat we moved for the night to a mooring ball in front of the famous restaurant bar "Bloody Mary's". The idea is that they provide the mooring balls and you go in and spend money. We checked our shoes at the do

Exploring Raiatea and Tahaa

Our next stop was the islands of Raiatea and Tahaa. It was a 15 hour sail, so we left Moorea in the late afternoon in order to arrive the next morning in the daylight. The wind was good, but the seas were a bit sloppy. It was a bit uncomfortable for us, and not what we wanted for Heather's first offshore passage. She was a little seasick, but was quite stoic and managed to sleep through most of it. The two island of Raiatea and Tahaa share the same barrier reef, so we could explore a lot while staying inside the calm waters of the lagoon. As we entered the lagoon near the SE corner of Raiatea, Malcolm was quite impressed with the various shades of blue water and Heather was quite happy the boat was no longer rocking. Our first stop was at Hotopuu Bay. This bay is quite deep so we had to find an underwater hill where we could drop the anchor. Malcolm and Heather took Tubby out to explore Taputaputea marae (ancient Polynesian temple) at the entrance to the bay. This marae was the m

Heather Arrives in Moorea

After the big city of Papeete in Tahiti, we sailed in nice conditions for about 4 hours to Cook's Bay on the northern side of Moorea. It is a beautiful, long cove surrounded by stunning green, lush mountains. It is also a very deep cove. We motored around looking for a place to drop our anchor in less than 30 metres! We found a spot near the head of the cove and not too far from the Bali Hai hotel where all the Pacific Puddle Jump events would take place. The next morning we rented a car from Albert's, as everyone does. We paid for 8 hours, but as the attendant wouldn't be there after 5 PM, he told us to keep it until the next day. We picked Heather up at the airport and started a land circumnavigation of Moorea. We stopped at restaurants, shops, fancy hotels, beaches and lookout points. We also drove up to the famous Belvedere for an awesome view of the north shore of the island. Since we had the car in the evening, we drove to the Hilton for a cocktail and to

A Couple of Days in Tahiti

We awoke in the bay protected by Point Venus, Tahiti. We were tired from the rough passage from Tikehau. Some cruising friends knew we had pulled in overnight and radioed to tell us the new marina in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti and just around the corner from Point Venus, was having a half price opening special. After the rough passage, we weren't too keen on continuing on to Moorea right away, even though it would just be 3-4 hours. Then we heard there was fresh water right on the dock at the new marina and several friends were we went there and ended up staying 3 nights! After being on quiet islands and villages of a few hundred people, Papeete was a busy and crowded city. It felt like the traffic was endless (sometimes there were 20 cars going past) and it seemed like everyone was driving so fast (maybe 50kph/30mph). We ate out too much - but the local food trucks were great! Dina bought more pearls - the Tahitian pearls come in so many beautiful hues: green,

Safety Rules 101

We have a safety rule: we will travel based on the weather, not based on a calendar date. It is a good rule. We shouldn't break it. Safety rules are good, but we were in Tikehau and HAD to go 175 nautical miles to Moorea to meet up with our daughter, Heather, who was arriving on Friday. The forecasted winds were a bit high, but it would just take 24 to 36 hours..... The sail to Moorea was awful. We had strong winds, plus gusts and big swells. We reefed the main and put up the solent (the smaller headsail). After a while, we put in a second reef in the main. We were still over powered and doing 10+ knots. With the large swells the boat was surfing at 13 knots. We were wet due to a couple of rain squalls, plus the swells crashing against the boat were splashing us. Due to the motion and the noise, neither of us could sleep when off watch so we were exhausted. We also realised we were not going to arrive in Moorea until after sunset (another safety rule we have is about not ar

Tikehau - Manta Rays and a picnic

We had an awesome day at Tikehau! It is our last atoll in the Tuamotu Island group before we cross to Moorea in the Society Island group in French Polynesia. We had a lovely overnight passage from Toau. At dusk, a brown-footed boobie landed on the lifeline and, with his large webbed feet, proceeded to balance there the entire night. It was asleep but would move it's tail to balance. Must be a bird thing. We arrived at the pass just after sunrise and went through without a problem. We motored the 8 nautical miles south through the lagoon to anchor of the main village. It is small; one grocery store, one bakery, but two dive shops! We took a walk across the motu to the ocean side and walked to the end and back around to the lagoon side. The next morning we dinghied over to a nearby beach resort (that means several individual thatched roof bungalows on the beach and a restaurant building) to see about an excursion to snorkel with the manta rays. We met Serge, from the Tikehau Village

Next stop: Toau

Toau is yet another atoll in the Tuamotus. This one has some channels into the lagoon, but we went to the western side where there is a false pass (basically a cul-de-sac). Rumour has it the snorkeling there is great and after spending two hours in the water we'd have to agree. We went to shore and met Valentina and Gaston, the local residents. They had just caught a tuna and sold us two kilograms (4.5 pounds) for less than $20. Malcolm seared some of it up for a delicious dinner and froze the rest. Funny thing happened in the anchorage the next morning... A South African flagged sailboat, Toccata, arrived in Toau and anchored nearby. We called them on the radio with the intention of telling them where two mooring balls were hiding. They came on the radio and said, "Hello. Is your sailboat a Montevideo 43?" We were shocked! We so often dread people asking what kind of boat we have as no one has heard of the 15-20 Montevideo 43's built in South Africa. We usually

Live music and Pearls

The anchorage in the SE corner of Fakarava was very pretty. Lots of sand and very few coral heads to worry about. Steve, on SV LiWard, arranged a party on the shore for all 7 boats in the anchorage. The locals (6 of them) made fried fish, french fries and BBQ'd meat and chicken. Steve is a musician, so he set up mics and speakers and he played guitar and sang with two of the local men who play guitar and ukulele. One of the women sang. It was a lot of fun! The next day we headed to Rotoava village near the northern pass of Fakarava. Although we heard the diving is good here too, we didn't dive or snorkel. Instead we went to town, ordered pastries and ate some ice cream. The following day, after a breakfast of pastries, we headed to the Havaiki Resort (in town) with some friends for their pearl farm demonstration. It was very informative and fun. We participated in the Pearl Lottery. That means we chose an oyster from the pile and were lucky enough to find a good sized Tahitian

Wall of Sharks

It is approximately 55nm between the pass at Tahanea and the southern pass at Fakarava. We wanted to sail overnight at about 4 knots of speed to arrive at the pass close to slack tide in the morning. We were going too fast with just the genoa so we furled it and hoisted just the main sail. Even with a reef in the main (not using the full sail), we were still sailing over 5 knots. We gybed a few times (made a zig zag course) to arrive after sunrise. Regardless of the speed and arrival, we had a very uncomfortable sail. The wind was from aft but the swells, whether they were on the aft quarter or directly behind, kept the boat rolling from side to side. Neither of us got much sleep. Fortunately, the anchorage here in southern Fakarava is great and we've slept soundly here. When we arrived, we both snorkeled to check the anchor and Dina even got in the water AFTER seeing a small (less than 5') shark swimming around the boat. The pass here in the south of Fakarava reputedly


We left Makemo just after sunrise so we'd have lots of time to get to Tahanea. This also corresponded to slack tide so heading out of the pass wasn't too bad as there was just the current from the "overflow" effect. We had a great sail to Tahanea with trade winds moving us nicely. Tahanea is a smaller atoll that is on the way to Fakarava. Our arrival in Tahanea corresponded to slack tide as we had planned. Coming in through the channel was a bit lumpy with all the confused waves but it wasn't too bad. We anchored in nice clear water again and could see some coral heads down below. Malcolm was going to swim over the anchor and see whether it was set nicely. This is a pretty common practice, especially with coral heads around. Dina is very nervous about swimming with sharks. Every atoll has lots of reef sharks so she isn't going to do much swimming or she has face her fear. She decided to go with Malcolm. It would be two minutes, one out to the anchor and one ba


The water here inside the lagoon at Makemo is so clear. We are anchored in 40-50 feet and can see the bottom! We had a wonderful time in the village when we arrived. We placed a pastry order at the bakery and the next morning Malcolm went to collect croissants, pain chocolate, apple turnovers, twisted pain chocolate and baguettes. Not all for us! We took orders for the other boats, too! We thought about going back for cheese as the stores here are surprisingly well stocked. After "breakfast" we couldn't move our pastry-filled bellies to go back into town to buy anything. Instead it was a good reading day. The next day we motored 15 miles through part of the lagoon. Most of it is 40 to 60 feet deep, but there are coral heads scattered around. Malcolm hung out at the bow keeping watch. You need to look for the colour change and perhaps a funny wave pattern. We did just fine, although we had been quite nervous. We arrived at a much quieter anchorage. No town, just a lovely b