Sailing Yacht SEA BUNNY

Christmas 2002 newsletter

Written on passage to New Zealand

The Caribbean, Panama and the Canal, Galapagos, Marquesas, Tuomotus, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Cook Islands, Beveridge Reef, Niue, Tonga and Fiji to New Zealand and some major boat problems on the way.  A busy year!

The Blue Water Rally

We are starting this at 25º 17' S 174º 12' E, half way between Fiji and New Zealand, a year and a day after leaving Gibraltar. This may not seem a fast rate of travel by 747 standards, but it is very rapid by cruising yacht! We sailed south across the Tropic of Capricorn yesterday, so in the last year we have crossed the Tropic of Cancer, the Equator, the International Date Line and the Tropic of Capricorn. There are just the two of us on board, with night watches of 3 hours on, 3 hours off. Since losing sight of another yacht one day out from Fiji, we have not seen another vessel, although there are several also on route to Opua in the Bay of Islands, who we hear on the morning radio roll-call. We chat twice a day with a Canadian boat which is nearest to us, neither of us have caught any fish yet! The temperature is 26º C and the sea temperature is 24º C, down from 28º C inside Fiji's outer reef.

We spent last Christmas and New Year in Antigua, our departure being somewhat delayed by waiting for parts for and repairs to, our generator. In fact this dogged our trip through the Caribbean and was not fully fixed until Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles. Apart from Antigua we only had time for brief stops in Martinique, Bequia and the Tobago Cays before heading west for Bonaire and Curacao. In Curacao friends from our sailing club, David and Katy, who were to stay with us until the Galapagos, joined us. Their first week was spent at the Curacao Yacht Club while the generator was dismantled and rebuilt.

From there we went direct to the San Blas Islands in Panama, missing out the planned visit to Cartagena. This was no great loss as boats that did go there had a very rough passage and a coup started the following week! The San Blas were our first real taste of remote areas, and our first snorkelling over good coral.

On, via the old Spanish fortress town of Puerto Bello on the Panamanian mainland where we caught the last day of carnival (mostly acting out the old times of slavery) to the Panama Canal, which we transitted in one day, rather than the usual two, because of the number of yachts waiting. The canal is most impressive and it is quite daunting to have three yachts in a huge lock within feet of the bow or stern of a huge ocean-going ship. Our pilot arranged for the web-cam in the locks to be trained on us for longer than usual. Unfortunately, because we actually went through quicker than planned, several people we had told missed us.

In Balboa at the eastern (Pacific) end of the canal we lifted the boat out of the water for a scrub. Initially we had intended to dry her out on the beach using our new legs but this plan was abandoned after a nasty incident as a ship went by creating a significant wash.

Leaving Panama we spent a night at the remote Las Perlas Islands in the Gulf of Panama. Swimming was not too attractive as there were clear tracks across the beach where alligators left a freshwater lake to swim in the sea.

On to the Galapagos, where we had a four-day holiday on a cruise ship, during which we celebrated Susan's birthday. It is not permitted to cruise the islands on one's own yacht except with a difficult to obtain permit, and then you have to take a guide and can only go to a very limited number of places - essentially where the organised trips go.

From there we had the longest ocean passage, just the two of us. The 3050 nautical miles to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas took us 22 days. We saw one ship and one yacht, for which we had to alter course in the middle of the night, coming within 100 meters.

In Nuku Hiva we felt we had really reached the tropical islands of the South Pacific (indeed parts of the film were made here). Although on the equator the Galapagos are relatively cool. After a few days' of recovery we moved on via Ua Poa to Raroia, the first of five Tuamotu atolls. These are coral lagoons around 5 to 20 miles across. The ones we visied have passes through the surrounding land into the lagoon. After Raroia we went to Makemo, Katiu, Tahanea (uninhabited) and Kauhi. We were made most welcome on the inhabited islands. On Tahanea the snorkelling was superb. We hung onto the dinghy and drifted through the pass over the coral.

Tahiti next was a bit of a disappointment. The main town, Papeete, is somewhat shabby and several people on the rally were robbed. Some of the boats had a night-time intruder. By contrast the interior of the island was spectacular. On balance we were happy to leave for the next island, Moorea, where Richard took a diving course. Visits to Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora completed our time in French Polynesia.

On to Raratonga in the Cook Islands, where we were joined by our daughter Catharine. It was marvellous to have her along for the month she stayed with us from Raratonga via the isolated Beveridge Reef to Nuie and on to Tonga and Fiji. Beveridge Reef was a fantastic experience. 150 miles from the nearest land the ocen floor comes up from 4000 metres to about 13, completely surrounded by a reef submerged 0.3 m at low water, except for one pass into the lagoon. We were joined there by four other boats from the rally and stayed two nights anchored in perfect shelter in the middle of the ocean, snorkelling and diving. As a result of this stop we were the last to arrive in the independent nation of Niue (population 1800) and, as all the moorings were taken, were obliged to anchor in 40 metres (130 feet) of water.

We only had time for a few days in Neiafu in the northern Vava'a group of islands in Tonga before heading off again to Savu Savu in Fiji, where the local yacht club made us fantastically welcome and the rally participants contributed significant sums towards the local youth sailing programme. Catharine left us there, going straight to the airport from a beach barbeque laid on by the yacht club.

The second port of call in Fiji was at Musket Cove Resort on an island off the west coast of the main island, Viti Levu. After 10 days the rally continued on to Vanuatu and Australia, leaving us and a couple of other boats who were also leaving the rally.

After the Blue Water Rally

We stayed a bit longer in Musket Cove relaxing - and Susan did her diving course. Then it was time to take the boat to the mainland to get some work done while we flew to the UK at the beginning of August.

In the UK we met our new grandchild, Jake Nicholas, who was about two weeks old (born 2 August), visited relatives and friends and did touristy things like the London Eye. Sadly three weeks was not long enough to see everyone we wanted to. It struck us how expensive the UK is now we are not working!

Back in Fiji, we had some problems with the boat and with some of the work that had been done during our absence which somewhat delayed our departure and meant that we went straight to New Zealand, rather than via Vanuatu and New Caledonia as was the original plan.

We plan to concentrate on touring North Island by land (we have bought a car at an auction) and sea this summer before heading back to Tonga and Fiji in May and returning to New Zealand via Vanuatu and New Caledonia next spring (i.e. November) to "do" South Island next summer.


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