Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Last night at sea before we head to New Zealand

Hi all....Dave here on nightshift. I have not done a blog update for so long so figured rather than doing a daily update we try and email to family, I would do this blog update via Iridium email for a change.

We are on passage to Tonga and are just over 40 miles away...We should arrive early tomorrow morning. Just as the sun was going down tonight, a group of whales swam in front of us. One was wallowing literally 30 feet in front of the bow so we changed course to avoid any possible contact. I took some pics so will try and upload them when we get internet again. These are the kind of things that make you so thankful to witness, and that never get old, no matter how often we see them.

As we sail from Niue to Tonga and head ever further west, we finally changed timezones and lost a day. Niue is -11 hours behind GMT, and Tonga is +13 hours ahead of despite them only being 250 miles apart, Tonga is literally a day ahead, but the same all we had to do was change the date on our watches....not the time ;)

Tonight will also be the last night we spend at sea for a while, before heading from Tonga to New Zealand. We will spend the rest of October exploring Tonga's many islands and then look for a suitable weather window in November to turn south and sail to NZL, hopefully via Minerva Reef if the weather allows a stop over there.

It's incredible how time has flown since we left Madeira Beach in April !!!! I looked over our track in the chart plotter today, and since leaving home we have sailed just over 8,000 miles, with still another 1,200 miles remaining to get to NZL. When looking at the track today, I also reflected on how relatively "green" we were in the beginning, and how far we have come thus far experience wise.

We have certainly gelled so nicely as a family in recent months. I said something similar in a recent email update to our families, but will say it's amazing how many times on even a daily basis our lives depend on each other. In many of these ultra remote and deserted places you are 100 percent on your 911 to call, no home depot etc......if you are injured you better take care of it yourself.....if and when things break, you fix them, or do without.

The kids have come a long way and now actively help with so many critical tasks like taking down the spinnaker or Puff when the winds get too high; they now drive themselves around in the dinghy to fellow kid boats etc, rather than relying on dad ;) They help stand watch while Guds and I rest. Ben loves winching in sails, launching and driving the dinghy, and reminds me so much of when you first get a driver's license! Gaby loves to help clean the underside of the boat and has become fearless diving down to even clean the keels and rudders. She has also taken a shining to cooking, and has created her own hand written cook book.

It certainly was a tough beginning with multiple breakages etc, but it seems as time passes, less goes wrong and more goes right! I am sure it's a combination of us getting to know the boat and ourselves better, being more careful to pick suitable weather windows, and just much more experience in general the more time we spend cruising. I have no doubt there are many tough and challenging times ahead, but they will be overcome and ultimately make us all stronger and better people. Thank you to all of our family and friends, that have helped us along the way, and that continue to help us, and most importantly, thank you to my wonderful wife and partner in this crazy adventure of ours!!!!!

So as I read up today on Tonga and did some planning, it was fun to look back at our track and reflect over the past 7 months. Guds and I talked about what we want to do in NZL and where we want to go and explore in 2017. We are so privileged and blessed to be doing what we are doing as a family, and Guds and I often look at each other and say "can you believe we are ACTUALLY doing this....?!... very cool ;)

So with that, back to looking out for boats, whales etc. It's a moon lit night so hopefully will be an easy nightshift ;)

Cheers and all the best to everyone.... and thanks for all the great emails and well wishes we receive from so many different people!!! We can't wait to catch up with friends and family in NZL and AUS!!!!!

Dave and the Cool Runnings crew.

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Quick Update: Mopelia to Niue

Hi everyone! 
Sorry it’s been so long since we last had an update on the blog, but internet access has not been on our side! We are currently in Niue, also known as “The Rock of Polynesia”, but more on that later. 

Unfortunately I won’t be able to post many pictures, as we don’t have the bandwidth to upload them. I can insert a few to this update that I am doing via email, I wish I could upload more!

We left Maupiti in French Polynesia for Mopelia (also known as Maupihaa), a 100 miles, or a night’s sail away. We left at about 3:00pm, and arrived in Mopelia the next day around noon. Mopelia has a pass that is described in the Cruising Guides as “terrifying” and the “most difficult in French Polynesia”. It was definitely a little scary, a narrow little slot through the coral, but we didn’t have too much current, and our strong engines allowed us to get in without a problem. Once inside the lagoon, we found ourselves to be the only boat there! It was beautiful and unspoiled. We met a local guy, Hio, who welcomed us to his home and told us that 20 people now live there, which was quite an increase from recent years. Mopelia was hit by a cyclone (hurricane) in 1989, which destroyed the village and most of the houses. Most of the population left, and never came back. About 6 years ago there were only 3 people living there, so the population is slowly coming back. The people on the island farm copra (coconuts) and trade with the supply ship that comes twice a year. Other than that, they are pretty much subsistence farmers, living on the land in isolation. Hio gave us all beautiful cowrie shell necklaces that his mother had made using the shells found on the beach – what a special gift from people who have so little.

With Hio in Mopelia

After Mopelia we moved on to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. It took us 3 days and 2 nights, and we had squally conditions on the way over. Some light winds, some strong winds, lots of squalls with heavy rain and on the last night we motored to outrun a huge lighting storm behind us. We later found out that our friends on “Vida” who were behind us, got stuck in the storm and had a terrifying experience. We were glad to pull into the shelter of the little harbor in Aitutaki. The Cook Islands are administered by New Zealand, so we now were paying for goods in NZ dollars, and English was spoken everywhere. It was a nice to be in an English speaking place again, but we must say, hats off to the French for allowing cruisers access to their beautiful islands at absolutely no cost at all. Check in and out of French Polynesia, all the way from the Marquesas to Mopelia, was absolutely free. Clearance fees in the Cooks came to over $350, and we were there for 5 days! However, we still enjoyed our stay and found everyone to be friendly and welcoming. We filled up with diesel, and for the first time since we left, we had to fill up with water using jerry cans! As the harbor area is the only place to anchor, we couldn’t use our water maker (we tried, but the water was too dirty, and clogged the filters up right away!). There is fresh water (filtered rain water) available near the dock, so we took our water cans in the dinghy, walked them over to the tap, filled them up, took them back to the boat and emptied them into our tanks. We had to do about 4 trips to fill our water tanks up again, but it was good exercise, and made us appreciate our water maker so much more!! We also had the opportunity to spend a day at the local sailing school, and Dave got to coach the kids in Optimists! Ben and Gaby got to sail as well, and it was a lovely day and a privilege for us to be able to spend a day with the local kids and get to know them and how they live their lives here on the island. We also rented scooters one day and drove around the island to explore. 

Sunset in Aitutaki
Aitutaki's Lagoon

Our next stop was Palmerston Atoll, also part of the Cook Islands, 150 miles away. This place deserves a blog entry all on its own, and once I get better access, I will definitely post some pictures and describe it in more detail. We are glad we stopped to experience it, but 2 days here was enough, for various reasons. There are 56 people living on the island, all descendants of one William Marsters and his 3 wives. There is no place to anchor, but there are mooring buoys that are placed outside the reef. The buoys are owned and maintained by the family members, and whoever gets a boat on their mooring, had the right to trade with that boat. That family then “adopts” that boat, and you are looked after by that family for your stay. However, “shore leave” is somewhat regulated, as the host family has to pick you up and bring you to shore (you cannot take your dinghy). We were provided lunch both days we were there, and were given a tour of the island. They have a pretty impressive infrastructure for such an isolated, small community, and they even have their own school, “Palmerston Lucky School”, that the 20 or so kids attend. We met the principal, and Josh and Mel, a couple (he is American, she is South African!) who are there for 2 years teaching. We also saw 2 other teachers, so for 20 kids, there are 5 teachers…a pretty good ratio for a good education! The kids enjoyed feeding and naming the 10 or so pigs “our” family had on their homestead. After 2 days the wind switched to an unfavorable direction to be on the mooring buoys (had they come loose, we would have been on the reef in seconds, and we had seen the wrecked hull of a boat that ended up on the reef in 2012), so we decided to move on.

Palmerston Main Street
Palmerston Lagoon

Niue was our next stop after Palmerston, and we arrived here on Tuesday, October 4th, after another squally passage. This time we were not so lucky as to avoid the lighting storm and night # 3 found us in the biggest lightning storm we’ve ever been in. It was all around us, and there was simply no escape. We tried to slow down, we tried to speed up, we tried to change course, but couldn’t avoid it. For about 3 hours we had wind, rain and lightning strikes that lit up the sky like it was daylight! It was very scary, but we survived unscathed and can at least put it down to experience!! 

Getting ready for arrival in Niue.  We fly the yellow "Q" (quarantine) flag whenever we enter a new country, along with the country's flag (courtesy flag).  The Q flag is taken down once we are cleared in by customs and immigration.

So now we are here in Niue, an island that rises out of the sea with cliffs all around it, and no natural anchorages or shelter.  Boats pick up a mooring buoy in the slight indentation of Alofi Bay, on the west side of the island, which provides some protection from the predominantly easterly winds.  However, if a westerly blows, as with Palmerston, you run the risk of being swept onto the reef.  The mooring buoys here though, are very strong, and we’ve felt very safe on them our entire stay.  We’ve enjoyed exploring Niue – it is really a unique island, unlike any of the islands we’ve been to before.  Where we’ve been used to seeing beaches and palm trees, here, there are caves, grottos and cliffs!  We’ve been to fresh water chasms, where underground water seeps into pool and mixes with the sea water in narrow canyons.  We’ve explored caves that provide excellent visual aids to lessons on the formation of stalactites and stalagmites, and we’ve snorkeled in pools on the inside of the reef flat that are filled with beautiful coral and fish.  The water here is crystal clear, and swimming off the back of the boat in itself is a treat!

Palaha Caves - Niue

Limu pools - Niue

We’ve been monitoring a low pressure system that has formed in Fiji and will be crossing Tonga in the next few days. There was some concern that it would bring high westerly winds to Niue, and this actually caused a bunch of boats to leave and head to Tonga to find shelter ahead of any bad weather. However, we’ve been watching it closely, and it looks like Niue will be spared of anything really bad, and if anything, it should provide an opportunity of some good wind over to Tonga, if we leave on the tail end of it. We will keep watching it, and will likely leave on Monday for Tonga.

We know that pictures are preferable to text, and I wish I could post some more of the amazing shots we have of these places!  I hope to be able to do a “picture update” one internet becomes better, but for now, farewell from Cool Runnings in Niue!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Out and About in Maupiti

We have been having a wonderful time here in Maupiti.  We are anchored with our friends from Fata Morgana, Moby and Excalibur.  Getting baguettes here requires a very early morning trip to the town bakery, so the advantage of being with other boats is that each boat takes a turn to get the baguettes for all the boats, and delivers them to the boat!  When it was our turn, Dave put his alarm clock on (for 6:00am) so he would be up in time!!  We haven't done that since we left!  Just setting it the night before brought back memories of our "working days"!   
Baguette delivery - cruising style!  Ivo from Fata Morgana delivering our baguettes one morning.
On one of the mornings we all agreed to meet at the dinghy dock at 8:00am, so we could climb Mount Tiriano, the highest peak here on Maupiti.  There were 6 adults and 6 kids and it was quite a climb!  The kids all did a great job, even climbing some rock faces using the ropes provided!

5 of the 6 kids getting ready to climb the mountain:  Victor (12) from Moby, Gaby, Arthur (8; Moby), Benjamin and Maya (12; Fata Morgana).  Missing from this picture is little Anna, all of 4 years old, also from Moby.
The reward when we finally reached the top (about 1,100ft up), was the most spectacular views we've ever seen!    

The spectacular view of Passe Onoiau from the top of Mt Tiriano

Cool Runnings crew at the top of Mt. Tiriano - 1,100 ft up!

The 3 boat families (Moby, Fata Morgana and Cool Runnings) at the top of Mt. Tiriano
We love this picture of Gaby with the view reflected in her glasses!

We had 360 degree views of the island, and I wish I could post all the pictures I took!  This one shows the anchorage.   Cool Runnings is second from the right.

Beautiful Maupiti anchorage
Getting down was almost as difficult as getting up!  (Although it did seem to go a lot faster!!).  We counted this as Benjamin and Gaby's PE lesson...for the week!

Gaby on the way down using the ropes provided

Ben descending the mountain
The next day we took our bikes and circumnavigated the island by land.  Most of the these islands have a ring road that runs all the way around, and other than one hill we had to climb, it was a nice, flat ride, and a wonderful way to see the town, the people and the beauty of the island from the land instead of the water for a change.

We came across this incredible wall made almost entirely of coral and shells.  It was a cemetery, but it was locked when we cycled past.  It did have 2 cute dogs that squeezed in and out of a gap in the gate, and we named them the Guardians of the Gate!

Gaby with the Guardians of the Gate

A close up of the design of the coral and shell wall

On we went around the island, taking in beautiful view after beautiful view.

Ben stops to smile for the camera

Gaby, Ben and Dave take a rest at the top of the hill before the easy free wheel down!

The Cool Runnings bike gang (minus one member!)

At the beach!

Circumnavigating the island by bike
We will now move the boat to a different anchorage, where we hope to snorkel with Manta Rays in the morning.  We can't pick up internet there, so this is our last chance to post, google and email!  We won't have internet for a while after this, so any blog updates may be from our iridium satellite until we reach a destination that allows us to pick up some WiFi again (likely Cook Islands)!

In the next couple of days we will sail about 100 miles to the last of the Society Islands, Mopelia.  This is one of the most remote islands we'll visit.  There are only a couple of people living there, and the only contact they have with the outside world are cruisers, and a supply ship that comes twice A YEAR! We look forward to visiting the last of the Societies.  

Leaving the Society Islands marks a new chapter in our journey as we make our way across the Pacific towards New Zealand via Tonga, stopping in the Cook Islands, Palmerston Atoll and Niue along the way.  We will leave behind these beautiful islands, but take with us countless wonderful memories of the time spent here. In addition, we have met some wonderful new boat friends that have kids aboard, and are on the same journey and quest as us. We have so enjoyed the continuing ever slower pace, and that, together with having the boat back to ourselves, has completely recharged our batteries.

Au Revoir and merci, Îles de la Société!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Farewell to Beautiful Bora Bora

Aerial view of Bora Bora
As Dave mentioned in our previous post, we reluctantly left Bora Bora yesterday.  We had been in Bora Bora for just over 2 weeks, and could see why other cruisers have said they spend a whole month there.  It is absolutely beautiful!  We had read that Bora Bora had lost its charm, and was completely over developed, and some cruisers we had spoken to had said they were going to skip it all together.  Well, we certainly couldn't do that, and we are so glad we didn't!!  After having explored the whole island, both from the water and the land, both Dave and I agree that it was one the most beautiful of all the islands we've visited so far, (however, this may now slip into second place, now that we are in Maupiti!).  Yes, there are hotels and resorts, but there are also plenty of secluded anchorages where you can be by yourself and not even have another boat as a neighbour!  So to us, it was the best of both worlds:  development if and when we needed/wanted it; and seclusion and beauty when that was what we were looking for.  And the shades of turquoise water here in many different anchorages far superseded any we'd seen to date.

This picture of  one of our anchorages was taken by drone flown by Loic on Moby.  Cool Runnings is behind on the left, in front of us is Fata Morgana, Moby is the next catamaran along, and Excalibur is the monohull furthest away

We spent the first week anchored in various places along the north, east, and south east part of the island, usually in about 5 feet of crystal clear water, at times between the St. Regis and 4 Seasons over-the-water bungalow resort, another time off a beach, another time behind a motu at South East corner, snaking our way through a narrow channel in the coral, to get there.  From all of these places we had a magnificent view of Mt. Otemanu, the iconic peak that is synonymous with Bora Bora.

Another drone shot of Bora Bora - you can see some of the resorts with their bungalows on the right side of the picture

 Ben at our anchorage at the south east corner behind the Sofitel private island

Our days were spent doing school in the mornings, spending time researching our next destinations, swimming, snorkeling and simply relaxing.  One day we went to snorkel with the Manta Rays and were extremely lucky to see 5 of these magnificent, gentle giants!  (Dave has posted a short video on this as well).
One of the beautiful Mantas

A little harder to see, but this guy was coming towards us

Some of the beautiful scenery BELOW the water!

Ben and Gaby snorkeling

This is what they were looking at!

On Tuesday of our second week we headed over to the main town, Vaitape, to go and check it out.  The village itself is somewhat quaint, but not really what I would have expected with Bora Bora being such a jet-set destination.  On the other hand, it is nice that it has remained just that:  a simple little village.  On Wednesday we rented a car and toured the island, which is really quite small.  You can drive around it in about an hour if you don't stop.

Bora Bora was the first island created after Raiatea, and it is believed that it has been inhabited since the year 900.  There are many "marae" ruins (such as the ones we saw on Raiatea) which can be found on the island.  The inhabitants of Bora Bora were fierce warriors who often raided Maupiti (our next stop), Tahaa and Raiatea.

Captain James Cook visited Bora Bora in 1769 and 1777 and in 1896 the island was annexed by France.  In February of 1942, the Americans set a refueling and regrouping base on Bora Bora, and their influence can still be felt today.  It was the Americans that built the road around the island, as well as the airfield that is still present on Motu Mute today.  (The airport is on an island (motu), and the only way to get there is by boat - go're in Bora Bora!).  By June 1946 the base was closed and the American soldiers left the island.  There are still 8 huge naval guns on the island that were placed here to defend the island against a surprise Japanese attack that never happened.

One of the huge guns still on the island
This shows the whole gun and the bunker in the background
The view from where the guns were located

With our tour of the island under our belts, and another history lesson on the books, we retreated back to the boat.  We also checked out the anchorages on the west side of the island, behind the motu "Topua".  There we found good shelter from the strong winds that had been blowing the last week or so.  We also checked out, and received our international clearance papers from Papeete.

While we were waiting, we were anchored with 4 of our "kid boat friends":  Invictus, Excalibur, Moby (whom we had met in Rangiroa), and Fata Morgana - a new family that Invictus introduced us to.  They have a daughter, Maya, who is 12, so Benjamin and Gaby have a new friend, who speaks English (!!) and they get on famously!  The one night we had a bonfire on the beach:  5 boats:  12 adults (Invictus has friends with them), and 12 kids!  It was awesome, and if I had had an SD card in my camera, I would be able to post the photos I thought I was taking!! (Dave posted a short video of the bonfire in a previous post below).

Dave also got a chance to windsurf after all these years, borrowing a windsurfer from Nicolas from Excalibur.  Excalibur and Moby both had windsurfers and smaller sails for the kids, so one day we had a "kids windsurfing session", which started off great, but then the wind died, unfortunately.  However, it turned into another social event with the adults having drinks on the beach, while the kids just played in the water!  The kids have also been having fun being towed behind the dinghy in our "raft".
Dave windsurfing

It's been 20 years since he last windsurfed - apparently it's like riding a bike!!

More water fun - Dave and Gaby in the dinghy, pulling Ben and their new friend Maya from Fata Morgana

Ben and Maya having fun!

The next morning (yesterday) dawned with the good weather window we had been waiting for, and we took the chance and headed over here to beautiful Maupiti.  We plan to explore this island, and hopefully one more (Mopelia) before leaving the Society Islands behind us.  With fairly decent internet here, I should be able to post some pictures and report on our time here in Maupiti.  One more boat joined us this morning (Excalibur), so now we have 4 of the 5 boat friends that were together in Bora Bora here with us in Maupiti!

Lastly, thanks as always for all the blog comments and emails from everyone with news and good wishes on our journey. We love reading them all!!!! "Maruru"....Polynesian for "thank you"!

Sunset over Bora Bora - Farewell!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hi from Maupiti

Hi all...just a quick note to say we finally reluctantly left Bora Bora today and sailed over to Maupiti. What an absolutely beautiful place BB was.....but the little we have seen of Maupiti this afternoon indicates this may be even better. It's supposed to be a small Bora Bora, but undeveloped and how Bora Bora was 60 years ago.

We had been waiting for a good weather window to sail over and get through its potentially dangerous pass and got a break today so headed out at 9am. We arrived here at around 2pm and seas and wind were nice....We flew just the spinnaker the whole way. Two of our new boat buddies with kids we had been hanging with (Moby and Fata Morgana) also decided to come today so  the kids have their friends. They both have catamarans (51ft and 38ft respectively). We are all about to go for drinks and pot luck dinner on Fata Morgana so this is just a quick update.

With the 3 of us coming in today, we effectively doubled the boat population here from 3 to 6!  A nice change from our last anchorage in Bora Bora, where we counted 20 boats yesterday!

Our plan is to stay here for a few days or week...or more and start watching for weather windows for the next few legs. We have roughly another 3,000 miles to cover to get to NZL by December so have much fun and adventures lying ahead of us :)

All the best to all following our progress and especially all our love to our families back home!!!!
Kind regards Dave, Guds, Ben and Gaby.

Entering the pass at Maupiti

Starboard side of the pass with lookout!