Sailing Yacht SEA BUNNY

Christmas 2005 newsletter

Written late October 2005 en-route Vanuatu to Australia

Another South Island trip before departing New Zealand, leaving many friends there, extensive Pacific Islands cruise visiting Tonga, Samoa, Wallis, Fiji and Vanuatu before crossing to Australia


October 30 finds us writing this back in a “sea” for the first time since leaving the Caribbean in February 2002. This time it's the Coral Sea and we're two days out from Bundaberg, Queensland on passage from Port Vila, Vanuatu as we leave the South Pacific cyclone belt before the season. It's a good passage, with mostly about the right amount of wind, although a boat behind us did blow his mainsail out in a reported 75-knot squall that fortunately missed us.

Approaching New Caledonia we were over flown by the French military making sure we didn't illegally sneak into one of the outer islands there. Approaching Australia now we expect a visitation from a customs spotter plane.

On the passage we've also spent the best part of two days wading through and completing the very thorough Australian quarantine, customs and immigration forms that we have to fill in. We have visas for Australia that would allow us in and out for the next three years but Sea Bunny will probably have to leave after 18 months.

Watching the horror of the tsunami from the comfort of Aunty Riet's at Christmas, while looking out on the 2500 metre dormant volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki/Egmont underlined human vulnerability to the power of nature. An e-mail revealed that our sailing friends on Coco de Mer had made it safely to Phuket hours after the event.

On our next visit to South Island in February/March Susan was learning to walk again after surgery on the second foot, so our tramping (Kiwiese for hiking) was somewhat curtailed. Towards the end of the trip we managed a heli-hike on the Franz Josef glacier and part of the Queen Charlotte track in the Marlborough Sounds. For a second time we took an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound in Fiordland.

A very local experience was the Cavalcade, an annual event where around 600 riders on horseback and in horse-drawn wagons, many in period costume, converged from all parts of the Otago and Canterbury regions on the small town of Lawrence. Some of the riders had been in the saddle for 9 days, crossing mountain passes, snow-covered even at the end of summer, to get there.

Camping in parts of the South Island, even in mid-summer February, was distinctly cold!

NZ is a good place to see at first hand the results of tectonic plate movement - the Southern Alps in South Island and volcanoes and geothermal activity in North Island. The absorbing book that Catharine gave us while Richard was in hospital (The Earth by Richard Fortey) helped us to make sense of it all and of the tsunami.

Before leaving NZ at the end of April we took Aunt Riet up along one of our favourite roads - the Forgotten World Highway which cuts across rural NZ from Stratford near New Plymouth to south of Lake Taupo and is much as it was 50 years ago.

The plan for this year's cruising in the islands was to concentrate on Tonga and Vanuatu. In the event we spent 3in Tonga, waiting for a public servant's strike to end and our mail and spares to arrive. We spent the time cruising in the Hapa'ai and Vava'u groups, much of the time in company with our friends David and Sheila and their catamaran Catennza. Finally we abandoned our packages. (If anyone wrote to us in May/June and hasn't heard since it is because we still haven't got it).

We changed our plans and headed to the remote Tongan island of Niuatoputapu (NTT). A visit by longboat to the neighbouring island of Tahifa, an extinct (?) volcano, where 150 people live was interesting. The whole island appears to be volcanic scoria with a very thin layer of soil in places and is accessible only by two very narrow breaks in the fringing reef where longboats can land provided there are sufficient locals on the beach to pull them up out of the surf before they swamp!

From NTT we went further north to Apia, Samoa for the Teuila festival. This is a week-long fiafia - an arts get together of dancing, singing and crafts from all over the country, and was excellent - a very local affair.

The other Samoan island of Savaii was visited by ferry and toured by road, with an Australian retired geologist guide. Very informative as the island has 400 volcanic cones, several very recent (50 square kilometers were covered to a depth of up to 50 metres by a lava flow in 905).

From Samoa we headed to Wallis Island, which was toured by hitching as no hire cars were available as a conference of chiefs had been convened to try to persuade the French not to replace the king. Despite being very much a French colony Wallis and Futuna has three kings. In the event the French apparently backed down after a couple of days of civil unrest, complete with roadblocks and burning barricades just after we left.

From Wallis we went briefly to Savusavu, where we waited out some bad weather, and Suva in Fiji and then to Vanuatu where we renewed friendships from 2003 before heading off on the annual Port2port rally to Bundaberg.

Travels this year have given us the opportunity to sample a variety of foods and to refine our techniques for preparing some of them. Susan has become a master at preparing sashimi and sushi from fresh tropical fish such as tuna, wahoo and mahi-mahi, most kindly donated by other yachts.

Eating with local families in NTT, Samoa and Port Vila introduced us to several new delicacies such as soursup (custard apple, but much larger than the supermarket version), cocoa samoa (basically cocoa made from roasted and coarsely ground beans - Susan loves it), mutton flaps (ugh!) and turtle (tasty, but causes a guilty feeling). Foods popular with the locals as gifts include tinned mackerel and fatty corned beef or mutton. The local diet is heavy on starch such as taro, cassava or breadfruit. A liquid on sale in the markets in recycled drinks bottles which intrigued us for some time turned out to be dye for painting tapa cloth!

2005 lows

Our new wind generator (makes electricity from wind, not vice versa) failed in June the first time it met gale force winds and the necessary spare was lost in the strike. The US manufacturer still hasn't got its act together to get a replacement to us.

Personally realising the impact of the financial burden of the trappings of religion (new churches and ministers' mansions) on poor subsistence farming communities.

Hearing of bombings in the wider world.

2005 highs

Catharine completed her dissertation and will gain her 2nd MA, this time in urban design. She has also been appointed an associate in the engineering company she works for.

The new covers for the boat cockpit we had made in NZ have transformed its usefulness as a living area in both rain and sun; they also keep insect life out!

By the end of the season Susan is now more confident moving around the boat with her remodelled feet and Richard has coped well with the cruising life after his surgery.

Humpback whale watching in Vava'u.

Playing Yahtze with the primary school teacher on Tahifa, sitting absorbed on a pandanus mat.

Plans for 2006

We are hoping to make a trip to the UK in April; otherwise the next 18 months will be in Australia, December in NSW then to Queensland and the Barrier Reef in May/June.

Hope to catch up with friends with whom we shared champagne in Fiji on the day of Jake's birth, who have swallowed the hook and now farm near Bundaberg. Also cousin Valerie, visiting Brisbane in November/December.


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