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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Tahanea, Tuamotus

233nm to our last stop in the Tuamotus, a two-night trip. Most of it in 25 knots, lumpy seas, cloudy, pretty much we had the last few weeks now. No moon at night, very dark. We arrived at 4.00 in the morning and stood off until it was light. No issues coming into the pass. Lovely place, uninhabited, spectacular clear water. Around 6 boats anchored here: we are back on the coconut milk run! Met up with 2 kid boats, Olena (who went via the Marquesas) and Alkyone.

DSC01869Snorkeling was great just under the boat: Black-tip-reef-sharks, groupers and other fish liked to hang around SAGO. We were looking at the groupers and the groupers at us. “Catch me if you can” they seemed to be saying “but I got ciguatera!”.  Ciguatera is a type of fish poisoning throughout the tropics, mainly affecting reef fish.  It makes you really sick when you eat a fish who is intoxicated, and the toxin is accumulates in your body. Once you had it, the next time it will be even worse. Nowhere else it is so common as in the Gambier and Tuamotus. One of the toxins causing the disease was discovered in the Gambiers and was even named after these islands we just came from: “Gambierdiscus toxicus”.  Mmmh, better to have beans then tonight and wait for the next passage to get a fish away from the reef.

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The pass was too rough to snorkel. O well. As stormy weather forecasted for the following week, we decided to leave the clear waters of the Tuamotus and head to Tahiti instead to do some chores during the stormy weather.

And it paid off to wait with the fishing. Caught a big Mahi-Mahi on the way!

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Amanu, Tuamotus

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Amanu on a calm day

Now we know why it is called the Dangerous Archipelago!

We got to the pass of Amanu after a lively 4-hour passage in 25 knots on the nose in 3-4m seas. To get into the lagoon of Amanu, you have to go through a narrow pass in the reef. At the end of the pass, the reef does a little dogleg. When we arrived, it was supposed to be slack tide and a good time to go through. But no.  “The tide is rushing out with 6 knots!”, our friends from Makore II told us. They just had tried to go through but turned back because of the strong current.  It apparently does that after it had been blowing for a few days; the lagoon fills up with water which then almost permanently flows out through the pass. “We are still giving it a go”, Geoff said. What else to do anyway? It was late in the day and not really an option to anchor outside the lagoon. No backup plan. So we pushed against the current, slowly but surely, with full gas. The motor’s overheating alarm went off with high pitch peeping noises. Geoff kept on pushing with our maximum speed of 8 knots, moving forward barely with 2 knots, just keeping steerage. There wasn’t any room to turn around, and the ripples on the water looked unnerving. Then we were finally through, hurray! We looked back to see if our friends on Makore II would make it on their second go. And yes, we saw them inching through as well. Hip Hip Hurray! That was only the beginning of the excitement.

We were in the lagoon and headed as quickly as we could to the anchorage, described in the guide as marginal. No other choice, we could not head anywhere else as it was getting dark. Little room in the uncharted anchorage close to the reef and everywhere bombies, 25 knots lee shore and no real swing room, especially not for two boats. Great! Re-anchored twice and still ended up 3m from one pretty shallow bombie, probably so shallow that SAGO’s rudder would hit it at low tide if we swung around. Discovered that the anchor was not really dug in. No good at all, but it was too dark by now to change anything about that. “It’s going to be a long night!” We sat an anchor watch most of the night. Did not drag until the morning when we found ourselves next to Makore II. Barely light, we lifted anchor. Took us much longer than normal, as we had tied fenders around the anchor chain to lift it up so that it would do no damage to any oral. We drifted in still 25 knots of wind, and then “boom”, keel against bombie. Amateur hour. Got finally out of the “anchorage” back into the lagoon, realizing once more that the inside of the lagoon was not charted. We got some google earth maps the day before, so we set of at snail speed across the lagoon to the next anchorage around the shallow spots. Happy to have our anchor down there! Again, not without a little more excitement. We learnt, like many sailors, to respect the Tuamotus the hard way. But luckily some fairing of the lead keel required on SAGOs next haul out is the only lasting evidence.

We had a lovely time then in the pristine lagoon.  Only around 200 people live on the atoll, and not many boats are visiting. Makore II and SAGO were the only boats there during the 6 days we stayed. Boggy-boarding, bond fire, exploring, beach combing, crab hunting. Sleep-over, sun-downers.

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Snorkeling at the star shaped reef in the middle of the atoll was fantastic. Great coral in different colours, black-tip reef sharks and then, what is that huge creature coming towards us? A whale-shark? No, a manta-ray, a gentle, plankton-eating giant with a wing-span as big as our dinghy, and a big mouth between two “horns”, feeding while swimming. And then there came a second manta flapping its big, bat-like wings slowly in the water.

The kids went up the mast to see the star shape of the reef. The water was so clear, Annika could see some sharks swimming from the top of the mast!

We had a great week with the Tassie/French family from Makore II.

 

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Hao, Tuamotus

480nm to our next and first stop in the “Dangerous Archipelago”, the Tuamotus. After 24 hours of light winds, we had our lively 20-25 knots back for the remaining 2 days and 2 nights. Sailing past Mururoa, where the French did their nuclear testing in the 80s, we were headed to the atoll Hao.

The pass through the reef entering Hao has some reputation. The current can be 12 knots at outgoing tide.  No good if you want to come in and can only motor with maximum 8 knots like us. When there is wind against tide, there can be standing waves. Basically, you got to time when you are coming in. We were just lucky and arrived at a great time after our passage – an hour or so after high tide, and we had only 2 knots current against us. No waves, too easy.

DSC01812Hao has been the logistical base in the times during the nuclear tests. An enormous runway at the airport reminds of that time, a little protected basin for boats, and a memorial displaying an atomic mushroom. Not many cruisers go to Hao, said our guidebook, but obviously not true for this year. When we arrived, in 25 knots, the little basin was full of around 10 cruising boats hiding from the weather. Some tied up to the wall, some on anchor swinging in the middle. Not much space left? Our friends from Alkyone and Makore II, already rafted to each other, offered us to raft up to them. SAGO rafted up to 2 kid boats! 9 kids from the age of 1 to 14. No need to say that the kids had a ball!

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And soon also the local kids played with the cruising kids, even offering them gifts – black pearls and beautiful shells. How nice is that?!!!

 

 

 

The local kids also showed us what to do with the organic waste. Normally, we feed the fish with it, but in the little harbour that was not possible. In Hao, you feed the sweet little piggies. Win-win situation.

How to get some more veggies? The last ship with provisions had been in Hao 3 weeks ago. Not much in the shops. Mhhh. There had not been too much in the Gambiers either. Then the good news traveled fast – a supply ship will come in the next days! Got there just in time to get in line directly at the dock to put your order in and pay. Then you go over where the stuff gets unloaded and pick-up your order. Could not be more efficient!

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A few days later, the 3 kid boats decided to leave together. Still 25 knots out there, but we felt that we wanted to explore somewhere else. SAGO and Makare II heading to Amanu, and Alkyone to some different island. An old lady came to kiss us good bye and gave us more pearls. And heaps of coconuts. Hao has some lovely local people.

On our way out towards the pass, the kid boat Galadriel who we had met in Gambiers, came tacking into the 25 knots of wind down the lagoon towards the anchorage. Some tough sailors!

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Les Gambiers

Grey, rainy and stormy the day after we arrived. Not the way you would think of the south Pacific?!

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Once the weather cleared, nothing stopped us to explored Mangareva after 26 days at sea! Hiked across the island with the Alkyone crew. Met super friendly Gambier people. When a lady saw the kids picking up some of those sweet Pamplemousses from the ground, she came over to us. For a moment, we thought we are in trouble.  However, she continued: “The Pamplemousses on the ground are no good. Come to my garden and have some good ones from the tree!” She cut us a few, the rest went into our backpacks. Thank you!

We also got to know the other boats anchored in Makareva during a birthday party at the beach. Some of them coming from Galapagos, going via Easter and/or Pitcairn island to get off the usual milk run, the others coming from Chile. A much tougher route. Hardy sailors!

On Aukena Island, we explored abandoned ruins from the times of French missionaries.  Oli really got into his dinghy driving. He loves the 8 HP we recently got second hand in Galapagos. Whereas previously, Oli preferred to stay at home on SAGO instead of going ashore, he now is keen to come and drive us wherever we want.

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Only sometimes, someone else get to drive the dinghy.

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Another highlight was a visit of a pearl farm at the outer reef. Eric explained us all about the process. He then let Annika get her own pearl out of the meet of one oyster, a round, nice and perfect one! Our camera was flat then, instead a pic from our afternoon stroll at the anchorage.

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Our last island was Taravai. At first we had trouble to find a pass through the reef as the anchorage is uncharted. Another cruiser told us “It does not get shallower than 3 m”. Well, it was shallower when we had a go at it and edged in slowly, it went down to 1,7m which is our draft… Holding our breath. After we got in, we realized that the pass was near the little island – So it does not get below 3m if you stick to this island! Good that we now  our own google earth charts.

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Not many people live on Taravai. The one family who does, welcomes cruisers to their home every Sunday, and put on a BBQ. We had such a good time with them, and the kids playing with their son (and dogs). Another thank you! A nice introduction to French Polynesia, a bit off the beaten path.

 

P.S. How do you know that the below pic is taken Mangareva, Les Gambiers?DSC01753 (1)

Yes, baguettes, pain-aux-chocolat and the most delicious pampelmousses for breakfast. This could be many places. But here it is still dark outside as you have to get up at 5.30am not to miss the last baguette for the day! Where else would that happen?

 

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From Galapagos to Pitcairn and Gambier

Looking at Google maps, this Pacific crossing looks gigantic! Around 10,000nm.  The longest non-stop passage is ahead of us now, ca. 3,000 nm into the middle of nowhere in the southern Pacific. Pitcairn – a rock in the ocean with only around 40 inhabitants, descendants from the Mutineers of the Bounty. A cool story, and we were curious to meet these people who still are determined to live there despite the isolation and other hardship. This is how we made it there, but could not get ashore, instead heading further to Gambier.

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A great start with 10-20 knots of wind on the beam for the first 4 days. A pod of whales (false killer whales) swam and jumped across the bow while we were all out on deck. Got a Mahi-Mahi every time shortly after we put the rod in the water. What do you want more???

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We even got the washing done  in the middle of the ocean. One of the water tanks got some salty taste and we had to get rid of the water.. Good that we bought a water maker in Grenada to make new one! At that point however we did not know yet that the water maker would give us some trouble during the next week.

 

 

 

 

Then came the forecast of stronger winds and higher seas. Did not sound too comfortable. Combined with the news we got via our SSB radio – 2 catamarans who were 2 weeks ahead of us diverted from their route to Pitcairn to the traditional cruiser route to the Marquesas because of washing machine seas; another yacht who got into a gale with up to 60 knots of wind near Pitcairn – we had second thoughts about our route out of the trade winds. Did some more research regarding the route and read that “many mono halls and nearly all catamarans change course to the Marquesas within 5 days…” But we were still determined to do it. The next 72 hours we had rather boisterous weather, 25 knots on the beam with 3 m seas shortly apart. Comfortable enough though. Shipped lots of water over the bow and waves got us in the cockpit.

It then got quieter for a few days until the forecast showed no wind! Motoring for days, no way, we do not carry that much fuel with us! Also needed some reserve for the trip from Pitcairn to Gambier. So we sailed further west for a few days in light winds in snail speed, trying to avoid to be totally becalmed. The water maker stopped working. Geoff spent some time in the engine room trying to repair. No luck on the first day so we continued to do the dishes with salt water…

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The sea glassed out with a comfortable 2m swell running. We went for a swim with 3,000m beneath us, and Geoff cleared the intake of the water maker. A few hours later, a 2-3m shark swam right towards our transom in the super clear water, looked Geoff into the eye, and turned around again. Everyone got a good look of him, luckily from the safe cockpit. Enjoyed the calm but also keen to get to Pitcairn as we knew that conditions there were favorable now for a landing there while we were bopping up and down in the middle of the ocean. And no fish since the first week! That’s why this part of ocean is called the “desolate area”. No fish, no dolphins, no ships, no nothing. Only us, and the shark.

 

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It followed 10 days of light variable winds to no wind, ghosting along with so many sail changes, spinnaker up and down, wing on wing, poles up and down, then again clause hauled, or bopping, or a little motoring. When we saw an end to it in the forecast, we started motoring almost 2 days until wind was up, and we were sailing close hauled to Pitcairn. Nice, until we saw this black front ahead of us.

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We reefed right down, cleared the deck from poles and all. Within seconds it went from almost no wind to 30 knots, wind hailing and rain pouring down. The front passed through in 4 hours. Then still lively, stormy and cloudy conditions for the next 24 hours clause hauled until we reached Pitcairn.

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All of a sudden, the island was in front of us, covered in clouds. What an impressive rugged island in the middle of nowhere!

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We called Pitcairn over the radio. Very warm welcome over the radio, but they confirmed – conditions no good for landing. As there is no protected anchorage, just an open road-stead, we considered standing off and wait for better conditions the next day, but according to the forecast wind and waves were building up in the next couple of days. So unlikely that we could land and better to meet that weather already in Gambier than on the 3-day passage to get there. Although disappointed that we could not go on land, still glad that we made it to this remote island and got a look from the sea.

The boisterous weather continued on our 3-day passage to Gambier. Worked us to right to the end. We broke every one of the following rules on how to enter a lagoon through a reef:

  • Do not enter in 25+ knots
  • Do not enter in squally foggy and rainy weather so coral or transit islands cannot be seen
  • Ensure your chart plotter is working
  • Do no enter on mid tide to avoid strong currents in pass
  • Ensure sun is high and not in front of you

On top, we had to pick our way through 100’s of buoys that turned out to be pearl farms.

After a total of 3250 miles and 26 days we dropped in Gambier Islands, not long before sunset. Got a warm welcome from our friends from S/V Alkyone, who brought us grapefruit, bananas from Pitcairn plus a baguette!

Blowing 30 knots in the anchorage that night. Good to have the anchor down.

 

 

 

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Galapagos

Where else can you snorkel with a seal, huge turtle, penguins and sharks in the morning, and go for a surf in the afternoon? Or in the boys’ terms: Where else can you take a leak while watching a penguin?

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An awesome place with fascinating animals. We enjoyed so much to hang out with them. Always some entertainment when on anchor, on the SUP, swimming, biking o, hiking or at the fish market.

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Fish market Santa Cruz 

 

No underwater photos – our waterproof camera took in water when doing our mid-ocean swim before coming here. Lots of special moments though in our memories…

After 7 special weeks here (which also included  some boat maintenance AGAIN – this time the rudder), we are off to our next big adventure and heading ca. 3000nm to Pitcairn Islands. Talk to you in around 4 weeks of so!

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