Port Chalmers, Alert Level-4 Lockdown

DSC03983Deborah Bay near Port Chalmers has lots of different faces. Glorious when the sun is out, bright blue sky, no clouds, the green hills reflecting in the glassy sea. More dramatic, when the wind is up sweeping the clouds in fast motion across the sky, the sun still beaming through the clouds onto the hills where trees and grass bend sideways in the wind. Mysterious, when the wafts of mist are entering and hanging in the valley. And then there is the angry one: strong southerly winds bringing rain for days, and strong gusts funneling down the valley hitting SAGO on her side healing her over like on a wild ocean passage. “Shut the coxes!” the captain shouts, as water is coming through the bathroom sink, like when sailing. A strong gust flips the dinghy which we had tied on a short line behind SAGO, hoping to protect it from the wind – but no, it flipped including the dinghy motor which ended up swimming upside down in the salty sea.  And the rope of the dinghy anchor (which was in the dinghy when it flipped) had managed to wrap itself around the rudder of SAGO. The water too cold to jump in. Great. No dinghy motor, and unable to start the SAGO motor. Are we being punished for having had a good time before? Hoping that mooring holds. Geoff starts operation “rescue the dinghy motor” as it is getting dark – takes it apart, cleans it with fresh water, puts it back together. In the mean-time some luck, the anchor rope freed itself while SAGO was swinging around. Hurra! The next day, the dinghy motor started the next day at the first pull. Well done, captain.

In the meantime, temperatures got cooler. 10 – 15 degrees inside the boat a normality. Only cold water coming out of the tabs. First, we were patiently waiting for the heater parts to arrive, which we had to order from the UK, as the NZ supplier would not ship them from Auckland as it was lockdown and retailers were shut.  The parts arrived after 4 weeks – an exciting day! However, after a few days of hard work it turned out, the new spare parts did not solve the problem, the heater would still not work, it needed some professional care as there must be a problem with the computer, the closest located in Christchurch. Why does a diesel heater need a computer anyway? So, continue to be cold. Limited power supply also meant that we could not plug in our little electric heater. The only power supply we always had crossing the Pacific was solar. Which was fine in the tropics, but now challenging here 46 degrees south.

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Port Chalmers itself was a ghost town. The “go early, go hard” approach of the government found overwhelming support by the NZ population, and most followed the “stay home – safe lifes” instruction. People were prepared to take sacrifices for the overall community, a good thing. The police also took it seriously, including patrolling beaches and waiting for surfers to come out of the water to reprimand them. We realized only later that there was a big amount of fear around too, and that we were not welcome by some people: The foreign boat which arrived in the bay 3 days into the actual lockdown – surely bringing the virus?! Little they knew that we practically had self-isolated ourselves the 2 months before in Fiordland/Stewart Island, with very little contact to other people. We did call the police and let them know about us when we arrived, in case somebody would complain about us, e.g. doing “boating”, one of the things on the must-not-do-list during lockdown.  “Thanks” said the police officer, “as we will get phone calls about you”. We tried to stay low profile, using the dinghy as little as possible. People were obviously sitting at home in their warm living rooms watching us. Despite of this, some locals were super-friendly, looking for ways to help: Offering us their little nanny-flat in the garden to have long, hot showers, another invited us to pick fresh veggies out of his garden, yumm, and the only other live-abound in the bay came out to see us in his rowing dinghy after the strong southerly winds when we did not came ashore afterwards thanks to the flipped dinghy.

Isolation, being confined to a small space, and home-schooling is nothing new to us, we had chosen it before – on ocean passages, or when looking for secluded anchorages. This was different, being stuck at a place which turned out not to be appropriate for many reasons, and not being able to move. Unsettling in combination with the news from Europe, where COVID was much more prevalent. Not being able to go there, worrying. And the timing – we were just ready to go back to normal life, but there was no normal life anymore!  On a lesser note, with all that time on hand – we also had to look at all the boat jobs to be done, without being able to do them as none of the shops were open to get spare parts, or anything else other than food, e.g. shoes to go for a jog.

We still had the 4 of us though, nice walks and bike tours in the neighbourhood, some sunny, glorious days on the boat, lots of skype calls with family and friends abroad, or staying in touch via messenger. And all healthy! Grateful.

DSC03982After more than 4 weeks trying to do the right thing in Deborah Bay, the police gave us a call out of the blue. “I heard you were in Deborah Bay”, the police officer began. Yes, and we still were! We only had moved from our mooring to the public dock 200m away to get water, an essential service, and stayed there for the night. So why the call? Someone worked out we were not at our mooring anymore, did not see us at the dock among the other sailing boats, and dobbed us in? Which one of you was it, sitting in your warm living room? Thanks very much. What drives people to dob others in, without knowing the full story?  The good thing about this call was that Geoff found out who to contact to get permission to move. The police officer rang back with an e-mail address from the National Crisis Management Center, located in the Prime Minister’s Office.  After long 48 hours, we got the official permission to move to Christchurch a day later, when a slightly less strict alert level would apply in NZ. We checked the weather, and the only window was to leave as soon as possible, around midnight when the new alert level 3 entered in force. And there we went motoring out the channel in the dark, AIS turned off. Wondering if anybody would try to stop us. No, not yet.

Good bye, Port Chalmers, see you in better times! And what a good trip we had, 2 nights, 2 days, feeling a great sense of freedom. Some hours of motoring through the night but then sailing in glorious weather until the wind turned onto the nose and we started tacking into the wind.

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Upon our arrival in the harbor we got a cautious reception. With the marina closed due to COVID-19, the official permission letter avoided us to be arrested, and we were finally welcomed. We made it. Thanks again to all the helpful, friendly people during these times!

 

 

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The Lockdown

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Cruising in solitude without internet through Fiordland and Port Pegasus on Stewart Island and hardly meeting anyone, had left us oblivious how quickly COVIT-19 was spreading around the globe. We got an occasional glimpse into the situation by family e-mails through our HF radio, e.g. informing us about Australia and New Zealand closing borders, however we just could not grasp the severity of the situation.  We were wondering, if we still could travel to Australia and Germany around Easter as planned to see family before the kids start school in Christchurch end of April. Coming back from the wilderness and having our first pub meal since ages in the Oban pub, it became clear that: “Yeah – Na”. Then news out of Europe got worse. Numbers of infections were sky-rocketing, countries there entering into lock-downs.

New Zealand had 12 cases of COVIT-19 then (17th March). Things still appeared to be normal, except that hand-sanitizer on the bar. Six days later, 102 cases and the first two case of community transaction. We were sitting in the all-weather anchorage (Little Glory) in Paterson Inlet, without internet connection, listening to the radio when Jacinda, the Prime Minister, announced that New Zealand will enter into a lockdown within 48 hours, Wednesday 25, 11.59pm. State of emergency, all non-essential business closed, no domestic travel, stay home unless you need to buy food or medicine, or for a short walk. “Be kind” were among her last words. Not much we could do that afternoon (except fishing to get some diner on the table), as we were waiting for some gale weather to pass. In the meantime, VHF radio communication got busy. All hunters and trampers in remote locations without road access were evacuated with boat or helicopter. Including the hunters staying in the little hunter hut in Glory Cove where we were anchored. The following day was the last opportunity to take the ferry across Foveaux Strait back to the mainland. Then all domestic travel would stop. Wow. The people on the little Titi island who had permits for traditional seasonal hunting for mutton-birds, were altogether asked to leave the island and to  go home. All permits revoked. A helicopter for them organized. “Go home”, was the message, ”If you stay, you might not get medical help when needed; helicopter services will stop”.

What are we going to do? We had a look at the weather. No chance for us to get to the mainland in this crap weather during the deadline. Another front to come. We would have to wait until the next front passes to get away towards the end of the week, that would be after the start of lock-down. Staying here for us an option? Probably, if summer was coming. But it was already cold, 10 degrees inside SAGO in the morning, with more rough weather to be expected, and no all-weather harbour. Our heater not working and no chance to get spare parts here. New Zealand friends who we met at Stewart on their sailing boat, offered us there mooring at Chalmers. It looked like a nice place on google earth. Ok, that is where we will go for lock-down.

We used the following day, the last day before lock-down, to get organized as our stores were depleted after 6 weeks without supermarket, and we had 6 weeks’ worth of washing in the basket: We sailed to the little town Oban, topped up on diesel, water, gas, and groceries, and could even wash 3 big loads in the hostel. Still everyone very chilled here, phew. It is a tiny supermarket in Oban, a small 4 Squares, where there are no shopping trolleys as they would not fit through the narrow aisles. Just the little hand-held baskets. Filled up 4 of those. For us a normal provisioning, for other people it might have looked as a panic buy!  No, totally normal for us to grab lots of pasta, potatoes and flower, and now fresh stuff. We were not so lucky with our parts we needed for SAGO’s heater. Geoff called 5 suppliers, but all were in the process of shutting down and not interested. Geoff sourced the parts finally in the UK and they were willing to send them via courrier. Crazy times.

We then headed back to our all-weather anchorage Little Glory for the next blow to pass. By the next day, Thursday 26, lock-down had started and we were the only tourists on Stewart Island. When the weather allowed, we moved to the anchorage Sydney Cove to have access to internet and plan our departure. There was a weather window for the next day. For the time being, we enjoyed the beach practicing self-isolation. Only Albatrosses, Wekas and seagulls kept us company and a sea-lion. Saw some Kiwi tracks on the sand.

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We lifted the anchor the next day to go on our 200nm (35 hour) passage to Chalmers. We had not much other choice than going, really. More dangerous to stay here with storms rolling in than heading on a passage in good weather. We called in to the “Good as Gold radio”.  This service is run by volunteer radio-operator Meri who has been looking after commercial fishing boats and recreational boats for more than 30 years, tracking their whereabouts daily and making sure that everyone is well. She is very dedicated and doing a great job in this stretch of water which has the reputation of being the wildest and most dangerous in NZ. She had also checked on us every singe day since we came to Dusky Sound. Thanks Meri. “Boats are not supposed to move around”, she commented this time. The captain explained the situation and we were good to go. Good as gold. Who would be the right authority to decide? We heard other radio operators who were not happy with another sailing boat heading out. I guess we had good reasons. We then read in the online newspaper on the way that the deadline to travel home within NZ had been extended until that night, as people got stuck all over the country. We would only be a few hours late then. It was a nice sail in the end, had the Spinnaker out until 4 o`clock in the morning, seas not bad at all, around 2m, then tried a bit of broad reach but had to turn the motor on when the wind got too light. Around 10 in the morning, we reached our lock-down-home. Hi Chalmers.

Stay safe, everyone!

 

 

 

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Stewart Island, Port Pegasus, Southern Ocean

We are now in the Southern Ocean venturing to 47 degrees South – to the South of Stewart Island. We are well into the roaring 40s, where nothing stops the swell going around the globe, except Chile, and the is often independent of the local weather. The predominant westerly and south-westerly swells are generated south of Australia –the area generating the biggest swell in the southern hemisphere.  Our guide book says, “Stewart Island is a hard and unforgiving part of New Zealand with a rough climate”.

Silke put her scopolamin-plaster behind her ear the night before heading off. Although being able to manage seasickness during the Pacific crossing quite well, it has been annoying during the trip along the West Coast of New Zealand, starting from Milford Sound going south. You basically have the choice to sail in super strong winds, or motor when there is much wind but which is coming from the direction where you want to go, i.e. motoring into the wind. Often there is a two meter south west swell with at least two meter north east swell running at the same time – yuck. This trip is now better, we picked the right time with some luck. We thought we would go to Oban first to stock up but then changed course to Port Pegasus, the southern tip of Stewart Island. At this angle, we had the 15 knots on the beam and we manage to sail most of the time. We arrived before sunset and wait for the sunshine to go past the rugged coastline into beautiful Port Pegasus. We drop anchor in Evening Cove, and tie up with 2 stern lines to shore in addition to anchoring. Looking around we notice -no sand-flies!

Cool granite peaks in the back. We made plans to have a little expedition up there. First we have to wait for the right weather. After sitting out a 40 knot-south-westerly, we are ready to start. Up to Dog-Head Peak (named so by Annika). The track was marginally marked, and after some time, we lost it. It got hard to move up through thick shrubs, especially for the kids who often whose head often did not reach above the shrubs. We thought we did not make it, cooked lunch on a rock half-way up.  Already a spectacular view! Would we make it any further?

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Then, by coincidence, we discovered a little trail marker, then the track, – it was going beneath those shrubs! The kids where in down-hill mode already though. Still, nobody gave up, and we made it to the top of Stewart Island (so it felt). Geoff brought some climbing ropes, but the clouds closed in on us. Never mind. We did a mental note. Come back here once the kids are bigger and do more climbing…

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Our next anchorage, Disappointment Cove. We tied with a bow and stern line along the permanent line in the bay. A little bath across the bush led us to a nice beach, where yellow eyed penguins who where hiding though.

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At Small Boat retreat, we got chased by sea lions in the dinghy!

DSC03859We felt privileged to have made it here. After Fiordland to this isolated, secluded and differently beautiful spot.  We did meet another boat here, researchers who were tagging sea lion pubs. The got tangled with their dingy in our stern lines in Evening Cove!

With the next weather window, we headed to Paterson Inlet. There is a little town there, Oban, the first town since we left Nelson more than 6 week ago!  We had been living well on our provisions for that time though, topped up by lots of self-caught fish, oysters, mussels, and rock lobster. Yumm.

Time for ice-cream now?!

 

 

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Dusky Sound/Tamatea – Explorers

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What else to do in Fiordland? – Camping! Despite the sand-flies? Yep. The campsite was just too cool. Itching bites reminding us for a few days of this adventure of a special kind. Never mind! Kids took refuge on a tree at times. “Less sand-flies”, they said.DSC03753DSC03754DSC03751SAGO was anchored nearby and tied up with 2 lines to the shore as there was not enough swing room. The weather which was supposed to crap out during the night. We had prepared ourselves to abandon camp if the wind got up too much to go back to SAGO. It did not happen and we could stay in our little tent until the morning.DSC03763

Dusky sound – worth mentioning the memories of Captain Cook from his trip in 1770.  Like Astronomer Point, where Captain cook observed the transit of Venus again across the sun. We tied up SAGO with 2 stern lines exactly as the Endeavour was tied up. Not sure, how he managed to get this big ship into this little cove?! Or Luncheon Cove, where Captain Cook had rock lobster for lunch. We actually had some rock lobster there, too. A tourist boat with 12 divers on board stopped by with their dinghy and gave us 2 really big ones. Great, thanks! We also loved it there for the sea lions. Who would have thought you find these guys in the forest?  DSC03811DSC03822DSC03810

Worth mentioning also the great Maori explorer after which the sound is named in Maori: Tamatea. He circumnavigated the North and South Island much earlier, around 1500. Talking about explorers, some other great  – contemporary – explorer had her 9th birthday here in Dusky Sound. Happy birthday, Annika!

It was soon time to leave Fiordland. By now, the kids became good little trampers (as long as we have enough gummi bears/pineapples bites/baby fish with us). We love the thick, wild forest with lots of native plants unique to New Zealand, some  of those even descendants from Gondwanaland and among the oldest living things on earth.

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After tramping some of the Dusky Track, we treated us with a movie on our laptop. A tramper from the US came in. It took him like 12 days to get here on foot. What must he have thought when he saw us watching E.T. in the middle of nowhere?

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Doubtful Sound – Beneath the Reflections

 

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“Beneath the Reflections” – that’s the title of the Boatie’s guide to Fiordland. It starts off: ”Those privileged enough to spend time in Fiordland find a place beyond superlatives – the landscape is simply stunning. From dramatic peaks, sheer rock faces drop into steep forested slopes whose cloak descends right to the water’s edge.” Yep, that’s where we are. And now, I get it – the title. Took me a while. Once the wind drops out and the water becomes glass, the dark water mirrors every detail. It`s magic. On SAGO, in a dinghy or on a paddle board (in gum boots and thermals), it is like paddling in the sky among clouds, heading towards upside down valleys.

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Then, beneath the reflections, something unusual happens. This area of NZ has the highest rainfall, so lots of rain water soaks through the forest floor, absors tannin giving the water a clear brownish tea colour, and then forms a layer of fresh water floating on top of the seawater. It can be a few cm to 10m. The dark fresh water reduces the amount of light that can penetrate through the water. Light-shy sea life that normally lives in much greater depth lives there like special corals. We don’t see that as we are not divers. What we are profiting is the healthy marine environment for blue cod in the fiords, and crayfish (rock lobsters) mainly at the fiord entrances. That means we still have a rock-star food even without shop since we left Nelson.  Look at those crayfish Geoff brought crayfish home in our own baskets!

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In the fiords, there is further special wildlife. Lots of albatrosses, Fiordland crested penguins, fur seals, and some resident bottlenose dolphins. Those bottlenose dolphins are huge, up to 4m, bigger than their ocean cousins. We get to see a fur seal almost every day. With the dolphins, more luck is required, they hung out with us twice. One of the dolphins sprayed water with his blow hole on Annika. “it’s so cold, the water!”, Annika said. She was jumping up and down on the bow for joy. They did also special acrobatics for us. Cool was that backflip.

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Not all is perfect here though. There are a few downsides.

  1. The weather. A big blow of around 35 -55 knots and one or two fronts seem to come through at least once a week, if not more, bringing strong winds and rain. Need some time to get used to those windspeed announcements on the radio. The fiords are a good hiding place, but they do not necessarily provide shelter from the wind. In the contrary, the wind can funnel through those narrow valleys and rock walls, or bounce back from a rock wall. Where to go is a good question, especially without local knowledge. And then you sit there mostly inside a day or so, waiting for the weather to calm down. The kids don`t mind though, they just stay in their PJs all day, doing the usual like on passage, school, lego, games, movies. Still, it dictates your pace and where to go a lot.
  2. The Sand-flies. There is indeed a superlative of sand-flies. They do not like wind and rain, but if this is gone, they come in thousands. Especially in those protected all-weather anchorages. It’s not really enjoyable in the cockpit then, and if you have to go there, you need to cover up like a terrorist. We do use a mixture of baby oil with Dettol to deter those flies but if there are clouds of hundreds circling around you, they are really annoying. You might want to cut your visit to the beach short too, when there are too many of them. We got to appreciate our deck saloon, where you can be indoors, and look through the windows into the beautiful surroundings.
  3. Boat maintenance. We are still living on sailing boat which requires lots of maintenance. Nothing new, boat maintenance in exotic locations. This time, it has been the big motor, again, and both of the dinghy motors. Murphies law, one of them stalled and has been never properly working since, when Silke and the kids where on an exploration ride up a river. Geoff came on the paddle board to rescue us. Took the both of us to row into those 25 knots of wind back to SAGO.” You can do it!”, Annika shouted, and so we did.

So, would we come back here? Yep, surely. Mostly the good memories will remain. The smell of Dettol will now always remind me of Fiordland, for example. And more fishing and tramping in a nearly unspoiled environment in the land of superlatives. Definitely. DSC03710DSC03701DSC03708

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Caswell and Thompson Sounds – rock star

After our cool stay in George Sound hut, we thought we might check out that little hut at the head of Caswell Sound. “Are we going to stay there over night?” the kids asked. Well, we still needed to anchor. What shall you say? “It depends…”

Like many kids, our kids are looking forward to certain events, when they are certain. Like a birthday – you can count down the days and get really excited. Or a trip to see aunties, uncles, cousins or grandparents by airplane, you know the date and can start the count-down (at least in the days before the COVID-19). Not so much on a boat. You are never really certain where you go, if and when you go. It all depends on the weather, or anchorage. Imagine you tell your kids upon their question: “Can we stay tomorrow at a friend’s house?” “Not sure, it depends on the wind – only if it is coming from the North, not the South”. Or: “Maybe, if we find safe parking near their house.”

It indeed took us hours to anchor. At the all-weather anchorage, the shore was steep. We anchored close to the shore in the shallowest spot we could find, in 25m, and by the time we had 75m of chain out to get the necessary scope of 3 to 1, and motored backwards towards that wall at the shore to check if we had enough swing room; we were really close to the bank/rock wall, and the chain wasn’t even totally stretched. Going further out was no option, as the we can’t really anchor in deeper water, our windless would not be able to pull anchor and chain up. So, we headed to the fair-weather anchorage in the bay as the wind had died down a little. But similar thing here. In 25m of water with 75m chain out, our rudder was just off the shoaling mud 5m away. The mud was poor holding and SAGO dragged with engine revs. No conditions to leave SAGO by herself over-night… We still went on shore to have a look at the hut. A nice track through the bush along the Stillwater river with soft moss to jump on. Then the relief: the hut was dark, only 2 bunks, and a leaking roof. Nobody wanted to stay anyway and all were happy to go back to SAGO. Stayed one night in the anchorage and then motored towards the Thompson Sound the next day.

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In Thompson Sound finally we could turn the motor off, drift and sail to our anchorage at Deas Cove. We did not tell the kids this time – there was a hut too. Anchoring easy here, in the bay was a mooring with a line attached to the shore and boats ty alongside that rope. The hut turned out to be super-nice! Big and clean with a neat fireplace. And nobody there at the moment! 8 fishermen had been there the previous 3 nights, but had left. Other 2 motorboats pulled up, the first people we have seen since Milford. It turned out they stayed somewhere else and, on top, had too many crayfish and gave us 3! We ended up with a rock-star diner in a rock-star hut. You never know what you get in cruising life!

 

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George Sound/Te Hou Hou – Hut Holiday

We went on a little holiday for 2 nights!  We left SAGO safely tugged in a little bay, anchored and secured with lines to the shore. According to the guide book, the lines meant to prevent that turbulence of the waterfall in the anchorage swirls SAGO around. 3 stern lines to an already present line across the bay, and additionally 2 bow lines to the shore to help the captain to get a better sleep. We made sure that the weather will be all right to leave her by herself. Packed our sleeping bags, food and other essentials, loaded DSC03448the dinghy and stayed in a Department of Conservation (DOC) hut at the end of George Sound. 6 bunks, a fire place, a big table. The kids were so excited! There were even candles to give light when dark. We do not have candles on SAGO. One of the most dangerous things on a floating boat is fire. So, no candles in our usual life. We were all by ourselves, bar some rats, as it is difficult to get here. The hut is only accessible by boat or a few days tramping from inland.

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A tramping track lead from the hut into the hills. A narrow path through the cool forest with lots of old trees covered in moss, fern, like Lord of the Rings really. Very different to a European forest. Tramping day instead of school. The kids were keen this time as it was such a fun track. Only the sand-flies were a pain. But hey, we have some anti-sand-flies-gear! Makes us look like bank robbers too but who cares. Then, a river crossed the path, and instead of a bridge, only a wire crossing?! Did not stop us. After some practice and a few deep breaths, we made it all across. Big smile on both kids face. On the way back, Annika said: “Last time I was nervous, but now I am not. I know now that I can do it.” Oli: “What does nervous mean?” Probably they learned here more than during a school day.

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After 2 nights, the forecast said 40 knots for George Sound. Time to go back to SAGO to look after her. There were actually 3 water falls leading into the bay. One of them we still could walk up before the rain started when there was not much water in it.  We were wondering what will happen if all those waterfalls fill up heaps with all the forecasted rain. We stayed on SAGO the entire next day during wind and rain. All was fine. Tugged in the bay, we hardly felt the forecasted strong winds. Cool to watch how much more water came down those falls which did not bother SAGO at all. Got into our old routine on the boat, school, boat maintenance…

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Milford Sound

“Average wind speed is 56 knots gusting to 89 knots” says the computerized voice of the local weather station for Milford Sound on VHF radio. We are tucked up in the Deep-Water Basin of Milford Sound, hanging on to a mooring with extra lines, had taken sails and dodger down. 50 knots forecasted which could as well accelerate to 100 knots with the wind bouncing off and channeling through the steep mountain walls, we were told. So far, we felt gust up to 40 knots. How much more will it be? We are having a school, game and movie day, while we are sitting out this ex-cyclone coming from the coral sea down the Australian Coast to Fiordland. That’s fine, we had a few very special days here.

Milford Sound – our first stop in Fiordland. We arrived off the sound entrance a little before sunrise after 3 nights at sea very excited. Renowned for its beauty, 10.000s or so tourists visit Milford Sound every year. It is the only of the Fiords in New Zealand accessible by normal road, and has a little airport. About 15-20 tourist boats go around and around and around the sound all day, every day, carrying 1000s of visitors. It’s so bad they suggest on a still day the smoke from their engines hangs visibly in the air. Kayakers paddle past by their hundreds and walkers walk along the sounds tracks. Still we were excited.

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We waited for the sun to rise so we could see the entrance and headed on in, admiring the steep near-vertical rock walls raising up to 1,600m on both sides, and waterfalls rushing down. Two penguins popped up on SAGO’s side, Fiordland Crested Penguins. Geoff said, “That’s the ones from Surf’s Up”! Our favourite family movie. We took several hours motoring down the sound getting close to the waterfalls and some sea lions. We even shut the engine down and drifted for an hour listening to the silence. We had the sound to ourselves! We wondered where those tourist boats were. Were we too early in the day?

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We then pulled up at the lobster fishermen’s wharf and wandered around the small staff village and tourist area to discover there were only 4 tourists in the entire Milford Sound today compared to the usual 1000s. And those 4 had arrived on SAGO! In the tourist café, we then got some free food – sausage rolls, samosas, cheese and spinach pies offered by the remaining staff. A state of emergency was still in place after storms and heavy rain the week before. It had rained around 1m in 72 hours, and severely damaged the only road leading to the sound. Stuck tourists had to be evacuated by air, some off the Milford walking track when river beds filled up and rose above bridges. So, the only way into Milford sound when we arrived was still via helicopter/plane – or your own boat after a 3-day trip at sea. Also, the fishermen have gone home for a different reason. Whereas they sell usually crayfish to China for good prices where it is eaten mainly at celebrations, now there was no interest due to the sad implications of the corona virus. So unexpectedly, we were swinging by ourselves in the deep-water basin, enjoying the view and silence.

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On day 2, we dinghied to the end of the Milford walking track. Still closed, nobody else there on the usually busy track, we were off to explore the world-famous walk for a little while by ourselves. The serenity was disturbed by some children voices: “Are we there yet?” “I am not walking any further!” Only climbing over the knocked down trees across the pass was a welcome distraction. After 3km or so, the track was totally blocked where half the mountain came down in a slide, rocks and mud washed down a cliff. Turn-around time. I am always surprised how fast we are on the way back.

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Day 3, we headed again to the tourist café, surprised this time to meet a few tourists! The road had been reopened that day for one convoy of cars going to Milford at 9.00 in the morning going back at 3.00pm. The press was there too. SAGO made it into the local news as one of the few people here in the otherwise bustling tourist hub.

 

In the end, we only got gusts up to 45 knots. That was already wild. How would 89 or 100 knots feel like?

 

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Arrived in New Zealand

We sailed more than 10.000 nm since we left Grenada September last year, explored 10 different countries or so, and now arrived in New Zealand – home, at least for some of us!

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After 10 days at sea coming from Fiji, fenders out, ready to tie up at the quarantine dock at Opua, New Zealand

An amazing trip, will start now updating the blog, finally…

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Fiji – Bula, bula!

The land of the “Bula” spirit, home to some of the friendliest people on the planet, and with around 330 beautiful islands to explore, Fiji is the country we would like to return to, one day.

We arrived in Savusavu on Vanua Levu, the northern and more low-key of the two big main islands in Fiji. Savusavu has one main street where you can get everything you need, really, including a rugby ball and lots of kava (a dried root to pound into powder and mix as a, well, soothing drink). You need that kava when anchoring near rural villages, as traditionally you are required to ask the village chief for permission to explore the village and the surroundings as an outsider. You participate in a sevusevu, a gift giving ceremony, and hand over some kava or other presents, and once the village chief accepts your present, you are welcome in the community. So we packed up, we headed towards the East along the south coast of Vanua Levu– into the trade-winds. “Bugger that” thought the three female first mates of three sailing boats – Aghavni, SAGO and Triple Shot, “we will take the bus”. A nice experience on land for the girls and kids, and an opportunity for a 50nm solo sail for the boys. We all met up happy in the anchorage Fawn Harbour!

We found it very easy to connect with the Fijian people. Oli just threw his rugby ball, and usually a few kids or grown-ups) (joined in. Does not matter which age – the older ones are looking out for the little ones, that everybody gets their chance and has fun. Here in Fawn Harbour we spent some time with a caretaker family of an Australian villa, with their lovely 4 boys. We also took them out on SAGO. First time they went out on a “big”sailingboat. Big smiles… until most fell asleep once we got outside the reef, just to wake up for another round of rugby at the beach.

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DSC02725DSC02730More rugby on the island of Qamea. Lots of laughter here with the adults. We thought that Fijians on these outer islands have life sorted out. If you have land, you can grow most of what you need, and live simple, healthy and happy. In remote places, the school boat comes to pick up the kids and bring them to school. Education sorted out as well. According to BBC, Vanuatu is one of the happiest places on earth, what about Fiji?!DSC02753c

 

 

One rainy afternoon, five of the local kids came to play on SAGO. You would think that they get bored in this tiny place. Not cruising or Fijian kids! For hours and hours, they all spent jumping from SAGO in the water, only with a few warm up breaks with hot milo and popcorn. Down and up and down and up….

Very special for us was to see the parents of a friend we knew from Jerusalem, and to spend a few days in their village. Thanks so much for your hospitality! Oli took a special liking in Bale, the Dad. On Fiji day, we had a look at the primary school. A school with a million-dollar view! The perfect day as well as it turned out, not only fun sport activities to watch, and time to play rugby, but also an awesome lunch!  Hope to see you soon, Laura and Maika and kids, somewhere.

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DSC02839DSC02825A different experience of Fiji once we got to Nandi. Here is one of the main airports where most lots of tourists fly in and head of on tour or cruising boats to the Yasawa group or other nearby islands. Nandi marina was very flash, lots of restaurants and tourist shops. A bit of a shock for us really, having been in rather small islands with little consumerism lately (except Tahiti, maybe). We were not sure if we were looking forward to this back in Australia/New Zealand/Europe.

Anyway, we were here to pick up Nana and Poppy, and to have a last cruise with them up the Yasawa group before our trip “home” to New Zealand.

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So more fun in Fiji! We hiked to a cave in the mountains that was used as cyclone refuge some time ago, picking mangos on the way from the trees. Finally Mango season. We also did a litttle rock-climbing with a view on SAGO as a treat on top. How did Nana and Poppy got up there? And not only did we manage to have a surf with the kids in Fiji, the first time since Galapagos really. Although Geoff could get a surf in here and there on the reef around some islands, that was too full on for the rest of the crew. We also saw in Fiji the most beautiful coral across the Pacific, we think, big, in all colours, undamaged, including white soft coral. So, Fiji, we really would like to be back! Then maybe you will send some sunshine to the island of Taveuni and so we can go hiking there?

P.S. Hope you are not getting bored of rugby pics.

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