Half Way Round
After some time back in the UK I will soon be returning to NZ to rejoin my boat Sea Bear. I thought it might be a good time for a brief summary of the trip so far, after all we are halfway around.
Some 2 months after retiring I left the UK in August 2014 aboard Sea Bear singlehanded. My plans was to head for Panama with a loose aim of a circumnavigation, but nothing was written in stone and I was keeping an open mind whether I would enjoy a cruising lifestyle. I had done the necessary preparations, studied the pilot books and passage notes, bought the charts and stocked up with provisions and spares. I had singlehanded before, mostly day trips but this would be the first time I was setting out on a long trip on my own. There was thus a degree of trepidation particularly since I was heading to cross the Bay of Biscay.
After a landfall in Northern Spain I coast hopped south to Portugal then Spain again. At Cadiz, Merel joined me for the trip to Morocco and then the Canaries. She had wanted to cross the Atlantic with me but found she suffered badly from seasickness so sadly but wisely disembarked here.
At Gomera, 2 new crew presented themselves and they came with me first to the Cape Verde Islands and then across the pond to Martinique. Singlehanded again I had originally thought to push on through to Panama but I was seduced by the delights of the Caribbean and spent the next two seasons exploring here. I spent the hurricane season in Trinidad then sailed up the chain of the islands to Cuba. The next hurricane season found me in Panama after a tough passage from Jamaica. Then it was decision time – through the canal or not? After a visit to the delightful Guna Yala islands, I took the plunge, transited the Panama canal and set off to cross the Pacific. A stop over in the Galapagos fulfilled a lifetime ambition then the long haul, 34 days to the Marquesas. It is a long time to be on ones own, hats off to those sailors who tackle the challenge of solo non stop round the world. French Polynesia was wonderful the Tuamotos, Tahiti, the Windwards, Tonga and so eventually New Zealand in time to miss the South Pacific cyclone season.
New Zealand – Feb – March
In February most delightfully, Wendy joined me again for a month, we planned a road trip in the camper van and to do some walks. We did not have much luck with the weather as the day after she arrived it rained and rained for the next 4 days, the tail end of a cyclone sweeping over NZ. It turned out that by the time I left 3 cyclones hit NZ, an unprecedented number this year. We had wanted to spend time in the Coromandel but the weather forecast was bad for North Island for weeks so we headed south where the weather promised to be better. It was not much fun driving down to the ferry at Wellington with the rain and mist and no views to be had but once across to Picton we had sun again. Did a lovely walk out to the end of The Snout, a long peninsular that stretches out from Picton into Queen Charlotte sound.
Heading further south we stopped off at Kaikoura and had another delightful walk around the peninsular there.
We were heading for the Mt Cook area and another long drive took us via Fairlie across to Lake Pukaki and up it with the views getting better and better
before arriving at the DOC campsite at the foot of the Hooker Valley.
It was a beautiful afternoon with no clouds so we grabbed the opportunity to walk the Hooker valley track up towards Mt Cook. A brief visit to the Tasman glacier next day and then we started to head over to the west coast. You have to head a way south and cross the Lindis Pass before you can turn west but the views over the lakes you pass are wonderful and we stayed by the side of Lake Wanaka, just a bit spoiled by the gale force winds we were experiencing.
We hit the west coast at Hasst, it really is the wild west out there and Haast a tiny little place. Unfortunately the weather was not good when we past by Fox glacier and Franz Joseph glacier areas with rain & the clouds very low so we pressed on up the coast to Greymouth
The weather news was that cyclone Gita was headed for NZ and on track to hit the top of south island on the day that we were booked on the ferry back to North Island. We managed to change our ferry booking and hunkered down in Greymouth, staying in a holiday studio whilst the Cyclone passed over. It was nice to have a bit of luxury and it proved a wise decision as the road south of Greymouth and Fox glacier area was cut off, there was extensive flooding and a camper van was rolled on the road.
Once Gita was past we headed on up to Nelson here we visited WOW, the museum of wearable art, walked up the hill to the centre of New Zealand and swam on the beach. We took the very scenic Queen Charlotte road which followed Pelorus sound and the Queen Charlotte sound back to Picton and the ferry back to Wellington.
One of our big wants was to walk the Tongariro Alpine crossing and it looked like we had a small window of opportunity to do that so we drove up to Turangi. Early next morning were were picked up by the shuttle and taken to Mangatepopo for the start of the walk. It turned out to be a beautiful clear and sunny day but with a cold wind, but it is an amazing walk passing the volcanoes and craters.
Next day the cloud was down and there were no shuttle buses running so we really had managed to grab the chance.
On to Taupo and then to Rotorua, the campsite here having pools with volcanic heated water
The Te Puia geyser at Rotorua thermal park was another must see, it was a grey drizzly day but it didn’t matter so much, the geysers, the bubbling mud, the hot rocks were all worthwhile.
The weather looked liked remaining wet and cold up on the plateau so we headed off to Whakatane. The weather precluded a boat out to White Island, NZ’s most active volcano, but we did a great walk from Whakatane Heads along the coast to Ohope.
We revisited Mount Maunganui as earlier in our trip it had rained nonstop there, this time we walked up the mountain for great views and also walked around it.
On to the Coromandel where we did the short walk to Cathedral Cove, a popular spot this, but lovely despite the crowds.
Escaping the crowds we visited the beautiful and deserted Otama beach, a beautiful place for a swim and then to the more popular but still fairly quiet New Chums beach
It was time for Wendy to return to UK so we had a last day in Auckland to walk up Mt Eden and visit the art gallery. We had driven about 4,500 kms in the camper van in our month together and we had had a wonderful time despite the weather.
With Wendy’s departure I drove back up to Whangarei and next day I moved Sea Bear to Riverside Drive marina for a lift out. I spent a few days laying up Sea Bear then caught a plane back to UK. I have things I must do back there and it will be good to catch up with family and friends.
I cannot pretend that the trip across the Pacific, single handed with all the reefs, squalls, storms and big seas did not take it out of me a bit. Yes I had some delightful times, some wondrous experiences but I don’t deny I found it hard at times.
I have decided to have a break from sailing for a while whilst I decide what to do next but will return to Sea Bear in due course, meanwhile this will be my last blog entry until then.
January 29th Pictures from road trip North Island
I took the camper van for a little road trip up through the Far North. A mixture of forest visits for the magnificent Kauri trees, swims and walks along beautiful beaches, tramps through remote forest tracks. Lots of beautiful views.
10th Jan – Some New Zealand travels
I have done a little travelling in the campervan.
I went down to Angies beach first to return a couple of charts of NZ to Ted who had lent me them back in Tonga. On to Auckland mainly to get the bottom bracket replaced on the bike as there had been a recall for a batch of faulty ones. It was grey and rainy there and it continued for my visit to Waitakere Range. I had been looking forward to some walks here but the storm that hit NZ at this time put paid to that. There were roads flooded and closed and pretty bad conditions. I just hunkered down and had to wait for it to pass. By then I was down in Thames, once a gold rush town, in the Coromandel.
I went up the lovely Kauaeranga valley.
The area was extensively logged for Kauri trees, there are few of these left but now it is a conservation area and native forest is re-establishing itself.
Here I walked up the Pinnacles (759m), described as challenging in the book but there are steps, iron ladders & rungs to help progress. Mind you returning to the valley I did feel a little weary after about 7 hours on the go.
The old gold mining area of the Karangahake gorge was next with some more gentle meanderings along walkways cut into the gorge sides and exploring some of the old mine tunnels.
After that a beach visit seemed in order – At Waihi the 9 km long beach backed by dunes is pretty idyllic and uncrowded.
Further south by Tauranga, Mt Maungani beach was very popular and heaving with holiday makers, but a walk up the mountain gave fine views over the harbour and coast.
I passed through Te Puke, which if you didn’t know is the Kiwi fruit capital of the world, to Rotorua, renowned for its thermal activity. I will go back later to see its famous geysers.
17th Dec- Around and about Whangarei
More work on the boat, a project that had been on my mind for a while was to be able to extend the starboard bunk to a double. Almost finished – just need to get the infill cushion covered.
Meanwhile I have also been getting out and about a bit. A visit to the Quarry gardens by bike, a walk in the Coronation scenic reserve and a visit to the Tutukaka coast for a walk and a couple of swims.
17th Nov – 7th Dec – Varnish, walks, waterfalls, vistas & van.
I thought that Sea Bear deserved a bit of TLC, it had been a hard 10 months since Panama. The area around the galley was looking a bit tatty so I decided to revarnish it. I scraped off the old and chipped varnish, sanded down and gave 4 coats of clear varnish and 2 top coats of Ephifanes rubbed effect. This gives a lovely satin finish and is a perfect match for the existing varnish work in the cabin. Of course once you started you realise that the top of the engine cover/companionway steps is looking tatty too as well as the teak strips bordering the cabin sole, the cabin sole itself and the saloon table. So soon there was no flooring the cabin and no steps either making clambering in and out of the cabin a trifle difficult, still all in a good cause. Days later I was thoroughly sick of varnishing but all was done and the cabin looking much better. Well when I say all done there were still some small areas untouched but they will have to wait.
I had long been frustrated by the outside loops for the guard wires on the 2 sternmost stanchions as they had succeeded in doing was to put holes in the old spray dodgers. A stainless steel workshop just down the road had cut off the loops and drilled and sleeved holes in them for me, a smart and professional job.
Meanwhile I had taken the old ripped and tattered spray dodgers to Ronnie at Undercover canvas just down the road and he had made me up some new ones. Fitted they improved Sea Bears appearance.
It hadn’t been all work, I had been for a few nice walks. One up along the river through woods and a treetop walkway to Whangarie falls.
Another short walk around Pataua, on the coast near Whangarie Heads
and another up the Ross track
to Mount Parihaka, (241m) an old volcanic cone, once a Maori stronghold, from where there was a great view out over Whangarei harbour.
In the marina I was visited daily by a duck and her 6 little ducklings, at first no more than little balls of fluff they rapidly grew. If I wasn’t in the cockpit when they came a calling they would paddle around quacking till I appeared and fed them with my stale bread. Somehow I have a soft spot for ducks and mother duck would hop onto the pontoon and take the proffered bread from my fingers.
With a view to taking in some of inland New Zealand I also bought a camper van. To pick this up I had cycled out to Parua Bay. One might have thought it would be relatively easy being a road that follows the harbour out towards Whangarie Heads, but they can be surprisingly hilly these coastal roads and this was no exception. I even had to get off and push at one stage, add the fact that it rained hard too and it wasn’t as pleasant as might have been. Still I rewarded myself by stopping of at Parau Bay Tavern in a lovely setting with a great view out over the estuary and had fish & chips and a beer.
1st – 16th Nov- Opua & Whangarei
It was nice to relax and spend a little time socialising, chilling out and doing a few boat chores. I did have a couple of trips out, shopping to Pahai, a couple of trips to Kerikeri, to see the Stone Store which is New Zealand oldest stone building
and to visit to the Puketi forest for a short walk to see the Kauri trees. Puketi forest is a remnant (a pretty big remnant) of native forest which once covered almost all of Northland before massive clearance by loggers mainly for the huge Kauri trees. These trees are quite something, massive trunks rising so straight and tall, it is no wonder they were prized by loggers.
I also ordered some new sails for Sea Bear, a new yankee and and a new main. I strongly suspect that the main is the original so it hasn’t done badly but now its a bit baggy and showing signs of wear and for much of the Pacific crossing I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would last.
After a couple of weeks I thought it time to head down to Whangarei (It is a Maori name as many are in NZ and Wh by the way is pronounced F). Opua was a good marina with a good collection of marine businesses and in a beautiful area for sailing but otherwise a bit out in the sticks with the nearest town (and not much of a town at that) 5 km away so not good access to shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. I plan to return later to cruise in the area.
The day I planned to leave, it had been a fine sunny morning but just before I left the heavens opened. I waited awhile for it to slacken off but then set out. Took me a long time to get out of the Bay of Islands to get to Cape Brett
and start going down the coast and it ended with a bit of a race against the dark which I just made to anchor in Puriri bay, Whangaruru harbour at about 7.45, but a nice safe anchorage. Left next morning and continued down the coast, which is a lovely coast rocky with little sandy bays. Often times it looked like it was going to rain but it held off all day so I was thankful for that. Past the long sandy Ocean beach and I rounded Bream Head
and went to anchor in Urquharts Bay at a more reasonable time quarter to 6. Next day after waiting for the tide it was along way up the river, broad at first and eventually narrowing in the upper reaches, supposed to be about 12 miles but it felt longer. There was a lifting bridge to negotiate before arriving in the town basin and the marina, just about in the middle of the town. It is the only city in Northland but really only a big town so there lots of marine facilities close at hand and a full array of shops,, cafes, bars and restaurants. It is in a lovely setting and there are also good walks hereabouts. It seems to be a good place to spend some time.
20th-31st Oct – Passage to New Zealand
A lot of talk amongst the cruisers at Nuku’alofa is around a suitable weather window for the passage to New Zealand. It seems to be a passage that many are concerned about. I studied the weather and waited for the strong southerlies we were experiencing to pass before deciding on a departure date.
Friday morning saw me taking the ferry across from Pangiamoto island to Nuka’alofa to get my clearance papers to leave. Harbours dues paid in one office then to Customs for clearance. Shopping for a few provisions and that back to the boat on the ferry.
Provisioning for this trip is a little difficult as New Zealand restrictions are strict on what you can take in, for example no fruit or vegetables, dried pulses popcorn etc etc so you need to stock up on just what you need but no more, tricky when the passage could take from 10 to 15 days depending on winds and weather.
Back at the boat I quickly readied for sailing and left by 2.30, just enough time to exit Tongapatu by the Elgia channel and be clear of all he reefs before sunset. The Elgia channel has a distinct lack of markers of any kind so its eyeball pilotage assisted by electronic charts on the ipad. The electronic charts have to be treated with caution as along with most of the Pacific islands they can be as much as 300 metres out in position.
It was just then a question of settling down to the routine of a long passage. For the first days the winds were light with some calms so progress slow and my first noon to noon run a disappointing 71 miles, but gradually we got better winds in both strength and direction.
Had a bit of disaster on the night of the 5th day. I had been running under light winds of about 8 knots with a pooled out yankee and main. At sunset despite the light winds as a precaution as I normally do I had put a reef in the main and taken a few rolls in the yankee. Just before midnight as I was taking a short nap I awoke with the boat heeled well over, the wind shrieking and torrential rain, It were a wild and stormy night. Turning out I rolled away the yankee with a struggle and reefed the main down to the third reef, By the time I was done I was soaked through.
Next morning I discovered that the yankee had ripped which was a blow but I could swop it out for the working jib that I carried and in the event that was a good choice of sail for the wind for the rest of the passage .
On the 8th day , a lovely sunny day with a good wind and pretty flat seas, I spotted a sail astern and it turned out to be my friends Jan & Richard on Morpheus so we were able to chat on the vhf for a while before they overtook me. My daily runs were improving, 99 miles, 107 miles, 134 miles and now I was about 70 miles from the Bay of Island. By sunset I was doing over 5 knots and just 43 miles off so I slowed the boat down by reefing the main more and finally dropping the staysail as I didn’t want to arrive in the dark. By dawn I was 10 miles off and although I could see the flesh of the light on Cape Brett the coast was coyly hidden in cloud and murk.
The weather though gradually cleared and the coast revealed as I entered the Bay of Islands and made my way into Opua. There were lots of boats about. Midmorning saw me alongside the customs pontoon to await customs clearance and quarantine. No problem with this, and then to a berth in the marina. A bit tricky this with a wind astern and some tide too but berthing successfully accomplished without hitting anything.
Great I had done it – an 11 day passage of 1034 n miles which means I had sailed 7478 miles across the Pacific to arrive in New Zealand. A beer or two is in order tonight I think.
27th Sept – 15th Oct – Neiafu – Ha’appai – Nuku’alofa
I had another bike ride on Vava’u to enable me to see more of the island, this up to Hila ki Tapana lookout to the north of the island, up a steep dirt track past plenty of Taro fields, hot hard work but worthwhile.
I decided to stay on in Neiafu for the Vava’u Blue Water Festival, some of its attraction was that representatives from New Zealand Customs, Opua marina and Whangerai Marine came over to give us cruisers the lowdown on NewZealand, which was very useful. They seem determined to try and make it as easy as possible for yachties to visit NZ and we seemed assured of a good welcome there. There are some restrictions on what you can take to NZ, for example no fruit or vegetables and no plants. They take their biosecurity seriously, they don’t have fruit flies in NZ for instance. I had to so goodbye to my Aloe Vera plant that had been with me since the Canaries, which was a bit of a wrench, but I found a good home for it at the Aquarium cafe.
The festival kicked of with a sausage sizzle at the boatyard, who laid on free sausages and beer. The official opening on the Monday we had a Tongan brass band playing for us- just like a colliery band back home although here the boys and men in the band all wear skirts and then an eve meal. Subsequent days there was a breakfast hosted by Whangarei marine, we visited a primary school where the children put on a show of dancing for us and a Tongan buffet was laid on by the parents, there was a barbecue and party at the Basque tavern, a humpback whale talk and pizza and finally a last night meal .
Festival over, time to move on the the Ha’apai group about 70 miles south so I left early afternoon to be clear of the islands and reefs of the Vava’u group before dark and then an overnight passage to arrive just after first light. There are about 60 islands in this group only about 17 being inhabited, it is not much visited and has very little tourism. I skirted the first islands and anchored at Pangai the main settlement on the island of Lifuka. It is a sleepy little place, not much there and not much going on although it must have been hit by a cyclone in the past so some rebuilding was underway.
It had been my intention to visit a few more of the islands and anchorages here but in the end I decided to give this a miss and head straight for Nuku’alofa on Tongatapu. All the pilot guides suggest you need someone to keep watch on the bow and I think I was feeling the strain of navigating through all the unmarked reefs a bit much on my own.
It was about 107 mile to Nuku’alofa so I left at midday and sailed westwards to clear the islands and reefs before turning south for another overnight passage. I had sort of company for this in the form of another yacht who followed me out, eventually overtook me, but I kept them in sight all night and through the next morning when I eventually lost sight of them in poor visibility and rain of a very grey and cloudy morning when the wind headed me. The entrance to Nuku’alofa is long and although wide encumbered by shallows and reefs but with a distinct lack of markers to help you in. I didn’t enjoy it. I was surprised to pass Dan in “My Dream” on his way out to NZ. I commented that it wasn’t a nice day to be heading out (it was blowing about 20 knots, grey and rainy) but he said he hoped it would get better.
I eventually got in and dropped anchor off the beach of Pangaimotu island. There were a few other boats here that I had seen from time to time on my travels across the Pacific.
Ashore is a beach bar – Big Momma’s Yacht Club which offers a warm welcome.
There is a little ferry to cross to Nuku’alofa itself so I went across for supplies and a look around. It is a bustling busy place lots of shop lots of stalls quite a contrast to Neiafu.
I will stop here a while until there is a suitable weather window to procede to NZ
7th-26th Sept – Kingdom of Tonga
New country, the first job is to complete formalities. Arriving in the dark as I had I had picked up a mooring buoy. Next morning I had to move over to the dockside flying a yellow quarantine flag. The first official to visit was the quarantine officer, to check that you are not bringing any banned products like fruit and veg in with you or carrying bugs on the boat. Into town then, to the bank, work out the exchange rate and to get some local currency to pay the fees. Next to customs office to fill in a great wadge of forms, always a trifle irksome because you have the repeat the same information ie boat name, your name, ships registration, length of boat etc etc over and over again. Lastly the health officer to see if you are healthy and not bringing disease with you . The fee for this goes to the local hospital.
Then it was back to a mooring buoy.
The next few days were spent here in Neiafu, a few jobs to do on the boat first. The major one was to overhaul the wind vane steering as a bush had gone on passage. To replace this I first had to take the self steering gear of the back of the boat so I could diss-assemble it in the cockpit. Stripped down and cleaned up I replaced the bush and bearings, thankful that I had the spares on hand, reassembled and refitted. Last item a bit tricky because its a weighty beast and a dinghy not the most stable platform to work from.
There was some time for socialising, Dan on “My Dream” was here and Thom on “Fathom” and John & Oceana on “Danika” turned up a few days later.
Neiafu is a small place and doesn’t take much exploring but there is a good market for fruit and vegetables and the place comes alive on Saturdays when people gather and hang about in the streets.
In between other jobs I took a walk over to the boatyard on the other side of the island for a look see and also went up Mt Talau. Well its stretching it a bit to call it a mountain, at 310 m hardly a lofty eminence but it is the highest point in Vava’u and is a fine viewpoint to look out over the many islands and inlets that comprise the Vava’u group.
In French Polynesia it was chickens and roosters that were everywhere, here in Tonga it is pigs that roam about.
Apart from the odd day the weather had not been great, grey skies and lots of rain but when it improved it was time to head out to enjoy some of the other anchorages that are here. First stop was to anchor of the tiny island of Nuku, memorable for its fine white sandy spit at one end.
On then to Vakaeitau Island, winding a way between small islands and reefs to cross the reef guarding the delightful bay where I anchored. Anchored her were Ken & Tracy who I had last seen in Portobello Panama, good to catch up over a bottle of wine in the cockpit.
There is just one family lives on the island, like all Togan island heavily wooded. They held a Tongan feast for the cruisers anchored here, roast pig, chicken curry, raw fish marinated in coconut milk and a melange of different vegetable dishes. Two of the little girls dressed in the traditional bark cloth costumes did some Tongan dancing and there was a big fire burning under a huge banyan tree.
After some days I was out of bread, booze and fresh veg so I headed back to Neiafu to restock.
I had a pleasant sail back the long way around as it were passing first north of Lape island and then south of Langito’o island, out towards Foeta island up past Luakmoko island past Kitu island and so back to Neiafu. Jan & Richard of “Morpheus” were here now so I joined them for happy hour at the bar.
Restocked with provisions, next day I dug out the bike and cycled down and across the causeway to Pangiamoto island and followed the roads first to Hikakalea Beach then back tracking across to Utangake island until the road ran out overlooking Mala island. Although the islands are fairly low lying there were enough hills to make it hard work at times.