Sailing Yacht SEA BUNNY

Christmas 2003 newsletter

Written in New Zealand In November

Christmas in Nea Zealand, sailing in the Bay of Islands and Hauraki Gulf before basing ourselves in Tauranga and doing some land tours.  Pacific Sailing season in Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia before returning to NZ

The year in brief

We are back in NZ for another southern hemisphere summer sitting in the saloon finalising this letter while the rain washes the decks as it has for the last three days.

Where have we been?

After our arrival in NZ last November we explored the Bay of Islands, before moving down to Auckland. Here we delighted in 'generator month' extracting the generator and fitting it with a new engine, provided free by the suppliers.

Christmas was spent in the west coast city of New Plymouth with Susan's aunt Riet. A very relaxing time, space to stretch -even a Jacuzzi in the bathroom!

Then out to the islands of the Hauraki Gulf - Waiheke for the wine festival, Kawau for a bit of history of early New Zealand and then a month on Great Barrier for a real away-from-it all experience. This was the period of the America's Cup finals, which we watched from the Port Fitzroy Boating Club, which was very hospitable and laid on food for all days of scheduled racing. Storm over it was time to move down to Tauranga, via a gale-bound stop in Whitianga - and this is February the height of summer.

Once in Tauranga we lifted Sea Bunny out for a concentrated week of bottom painting and hull polishing before heading off by car for our exploration of the southern North Island, taking in Napier (art deco architecture implemented when the town was rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1925), then a couple of days in a delightful homestay in the wilds of the Wiarapa region. At Wellington we caught up with Steve and Margaret, friends from our Algeria days. The Tongariro crossing, “the best one-day walk in N Z”, was next. This is a 17 km hike across the flank of one volcano and around the crater of another, steam vents, hot springs and emerald pools but no spectacular lava flows. Another volcano, apparently the only privately owned one in the world, required a boat trip from Whakatane to White Island, some 20 km off the coast.

Our planned passage NZ to Tonga at the beginning of May was abandoned as Susan had to wait for medical tests. Sea Bunny's departure a month later to Fiji, with an Island Cruising Association rally, enabled us to check in on the island of Kadavu rather than the capital, Suva. The weather conditions which, while not dangerous, were heavier than we might have chosen. Kadavu and the adjacent islands inside the Great Astrolabe Reef, especially Ono, are relatively unspoiled and the people in the villages are very welcoming, often laying on a “lovo” or pig roast for visitors or inviting us to join in village festivities. In return yachties try to help by playing 'Mr Fix It' to repair grass cutters, generators etc.

From Ono we headed up to rainy Suva (200 days rain a year) We were frustrated by strong head winds attempting to sail to the original colonial capital of Levuka, so we flew instead. Time warp Levuka could be the Wild West but only one of the 150 bars that operated in its heyday is still in business. Next it was round to Vuda Point to leave Sea Bunny during our trip to the UK. In the UK we split up for some of the time, Susan at March to be with her mother and Richard in Bath near his father. Catharine and boyfriend Steve provided a London base, Nik and Lou lent wheels, James and Jane provided grandsons Josh and Jake to wear us out and friends provided support and accommodation.

Back in Fiji Sea Bunny again demonstrated how much she likes Vuda Point Marina by developing a severe leak (through the propeller shaft seal) necessitating an immediate U-turn and unscheduled lift out. Once at Musket Cove, the regatta week was good fun, followed by the annual Musket Cove to Port Vila 4 day “race” to Vanuatu. On Efate, a trip to a travel agent resulted in an invitation to church and to local village food, lap lap. Through our new found friends, Douglas and Helen, we attended an island wedding where 26 pigs were killed and, later, their investiture to the Vanuatu Order of Merit. At all these island events we were treated as honoured guests and felt humble and very privileged to be there. Rather then rush through the other islands, we visited Lakatoro on Malekula, where Susan's cousin Valerie taught in the early 70's. The opinion of the locals, one of whom remembered her, was that not much had changed except the height of the trees! We also managed to get to the first day of a local cultural festival on the island of Ambae. Getting there involved a 17 km dirt road trip in the back of a pick-up truck from the anchorage formed in a flooded volcano crater . The reflection on the clouds of the active volcano on Ambryn, 40 miles away, as we approached Ambae at night was most impressive.

Our visit to Vanuatu confirmed the opinion of our cruising friends that it is the Pacific's best kept secret. All too soon it was time to leave as we wanted to have a look at New Caledonia on our way down to NZ. The 40-mile trip from the pass into the barrier reef to the capital, Noumea, was very scenic but yachts are not allowed to stop until they have cleared in at Noumea. Noumea itself, very French, is the largest city in the tropical south Pacific. We stayed in the marina, visiting museums and trying to get the weather window right for the passage to N Z.

After a reasonable passage, with only one short period of strong winds we arrived back in NZ early November, checking in at Opua and then four glorious days sailing back down to Tauranga.

The low points?

Susan's need for medical tests on her liver.

Susan breaking her nose when thrown across the cockpit by a wave on the way from NZ to Fiji.

This year's maintenance issue - deck leaks through the shroud plates (where the plates fixing the wires that hold the mast up pass through the deck) - a wet new lap top!

Three-day flight delay leaving Fiji for UK trip - fuel leaking onto the runway, so missed seeing Susan's sister.

Having to pump using two manual pumps for two hours to prevent the boat from flooding while going back to Vuda Point - we could pump faster than it was coming in but are not sure how long we could have kept it up!

Massive thunderstorm, wall to wall lightning, torrential rain on the trip down to NZ. Hand helds in the cooker!

The highlights

Susan being given the all clear after her liver tests.

The Tongariro Crossing walk in NZ a magnificent 10 hours.

Richard's personal birthday lovo (feast) at Naqara on Ono.

The generator - working OK only the housing is now original!

The flight in a small aircraft from Suva to Levuka over the lagoon.

The UK tour - catching up with relatives and friends. This went all too quickly.

Vanuatu - church, lap-lap, wedding, investiture plus Susan dancing with the president.

Buying a juicer in the UK to enable delicious fresh fruit and vegetable juices.

Our plans

After Christmas in New Plymouth, Sea Bunny will be dried out while we tour the South Island. We have not camped since Algeria and have a new tent. Early May we will head north to the islands again, probably initially via the North and South Minerva reefs (another reef in the middle of the Pacific, with no land) to Tonga, spending a couple of months there before going on to Vanuatu via Fiji. We expect to spend three or four months in Vanuatu before returning again to NZ (or possibly Australia). Our visit to the UK will probably be in November and December.


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