Voyage Logs

Southampton to Pin Mill

Sea Bear arrived back in the UK at Southampton docks and was unloaded from the ships deck into the water. Stepping aboard I motored the short distance to the marina. Here I set about preparing her for sea again.

Sea Bear on ship

Re fitting the running rigging, bending on the sails, refitting the canvas work, up the mast to refit the wind instrument and lazy jacks, generally checking things over and a bit of cleaning and all the other odd jobs that needed doing.
After several days of bad weather, gales, high winds grey cloudy skies and rain, which kept me marina bound, at last the weather looked to be improving. I was up and away from Ocean Village by 05.55 to catch the ebb down Southampton water. I skirted the edge of the channel on the mainland side to keep clear of ferries and the like. Calm at first but a light breeze from NW sprang up so up went the main & yankee. It was fairly busy passing Portsmouth with both IOW and Normandy Ferries but was able to keep clear easily. Past the Horse Sand Fort and I set a course for the start of the Looe channel. I was now catching the flood up the channel which I was able to carry almost all the way to Newhaven where I entered the harbour and tied alongside the visitors pontoon. A long but satisfying day, 63 miles 12 hours.

Sea Bear in Newhaven
Leaving Newhaven

A later start next day as I waited for the tide, My sister who lives nearby visited in the morning and we had a socially distant re-union, nice to meet up after being away for over a year and a half. I slipped away just after 10.00. I passed the notable landmark of Beachy Head and then I passed inshore of the Royal Sovereign Shoals. Off Hastings I hove-to to chat to a 40’ Motor cruiser who had put out a Pan Pan with engine failure. Assured myself they were OK, weather was fine, they had an anchor down and were quite content to wait for an arranged tow back to Bournemouth, so I carried on. Past Dungeness and so to Dover. Tricky to enter the marina of the inner harbour with the sun sun low and on my eyes. 56 miles 10 hrs

Approaching Beachy Head

Next morning I had a grandstand view of the Border Force doing their thing with what turned out to be a record number (over 180) of illegal immigrants crossing the channel in rubber dinghies. Again waiting for the tide for an afternoon departure for the short hop up the coast to Ramsgate. 15 miles

Border Force rescuing immigrants
Border force towing in rubber dinghies

An early start from Ramsgate the next day to catch the tide up past North Foreland and then catch the ebb across the estuary. I decided on the route up past the Tongue Deepwater anchorage then through Foulgers Gat through the London Array wind farm. Strange this to be sailing between the wind pylons. Thence up the Black Deep and across the Sunk, across the Gunfleet sands and so to the Medusa channel up to Harwich and so up the Orwell to pick up Sea Bear’s new mooring at Pin Mill. 48 miles 10 hrs.

Butt & Oyster from the hard at Pin Mill

So now I can look forward to exploring an area steeped in yacthing history which is new to me.

Hard Choices

The Covid 19 epidemic has forced many sailors and cruisers with hard choices, with lockdowns, closed ports & borders and a ban on sailing having an effect.   Some have been stuck in one place unable to move, others for example those in the Caribbean have been faced with a difficult choice either to remain where they are and risk being caught up in the hurricane season or to make the trip back to Europe. My friend Thom for example, not allowed ashore in Antigua  headed for home. He is currently in the Azores where he is receiving food and support from Peter Cafe Sport in Horta, but he is not allowed ashore. He awaits better weather to head off for the remaining leg back to the UK. Others have been mauled by bad weather in the Atlantic, two arriving in the Azores having being dismasted.

Others have just had to stay put.  I have friends who have had to cancel their sailing plans for the year and remain either in New Zealand or Australia.

 I consider myself as one of the lucky ones really. Yes I was stuck in lockdown in New Zealand, but it wasn’t a bad place to be  stuck at all and the government there took early and effective action to both limit the spread and effect of the pandemic. Indeed as a write this (5th June) they have had no new cases of infection there for 14 days.

I made my hard choice actually some time before the pandemic truly hit. I had been single handing for 5 years and the past season cruising amongst the Pacific islands I had been thinking of giving up on single handed long distance cruising for a while. There were number of reasons for this, some personal and some practical. Don’t get me wrong I still loved sailing and exploring, particularly in the Pacific and did this mean giving up on my circumnavigation, but somehow it felt time for change.

I considered a number of options included selling up or keeping the boat in NZ, but in the end I decided on shipping Sea Bear back to the UK and I had actually set this in motion before lockdown happened.

Originally shipping date had been for March but this gradually slipped to May.

I was posed with a number of difficulties. Shipping was from Auckland, Sea Bear was in Whangarei 100 miles away. Sailing was not allowed under lockdown and was enforced. Marinas were closed. If Sea Bear was shipped I would have nowhere to live. There were no commercial flights from NZ to UK. I faced being stuck and homeless. To cancel or postpone shipping would have meant losing my substantial deposit

For a while these difficulties seemed insurmountable and caused considerable stress and worry. However quite suddenly and in the space of a week they were all solved. I was granted permission to sail to Auckland, a marina  agreed I could stay there and the final piece of the jigsaw I was offered a repatriation flight back to the UK.

So preparations all made, and with mixed feelings, midday high tide on 28th April saw me slip the mooring lines at Riverside Marina, say farewell to my friends there and head off down river bound for Auckland. I was on a fairly tight schedule with just 3 days before my flight out so I decided to push through the 90 mile passage non-stop. Apart from a bit of wind over tide nastiness at the mouth of the river, conditions were pretty good. Sun & clouds with a S-SE breeze about 15 knots, though of course here that wind is blowing straight from the Antarctic so is cold. Later the wind picked up a bit so reefed the main and yankee. The forecast dropping off the wind happened around 1 am and then died completely, time for the engine.  Entering Auckland harbour around 9am, the police launch arrived alongside for a chat but were quite happy, I had already phoned them earlier to notify them I was arriving. Soon I was making fast in Bayswater marina in my allotted berth.

Arrived in Auckland

There were quite a few live-aboards on the pontoon, all very friendly and we had some suitably social distanced conversations.

Bayswater Marina, Auckland
Bayswater Marina, Auckland

I was pretty busy for the next days, preparing Sea Bear for shipping, stripping off the sails, canvas work and running rigging and clearing out the food lockers and other such stuff.

Sea Bear stripped of sails and canvas work
Sea Bear stripped of sails and canvas work

My last problem was that my flight was before the loading date for Sea Bear. The agent suggested someone to help but Steve, a live-aboard a few boats from me offered to deliver Sea Bear to the mv Minervagracht for me. I gratefully accepted and I knew I would be leaving Sea Bear in a safe pair of hands.

Repatriation flight check in
Repatriation flight check in

Flying out was a bit weird, I’d booked a shuttle service to pick me up from the marina, I was the only passenger. Auckland airport was pretty much deserted. Our temperatures were checked before check in and again on 2 hour stop-over in Hong Kong where we were held in effective quarantine. It was a Heathrow that the shambles started and after disembarking we were held for a long wait in a corridor before passport control – not passport control mind where they had laid out queuing lines with provision for social distancing but in this corridor where they allowed passengers from flights from USA and India to pile up  and try and push past. It was a bloody shambles. Hell what was I coming back to?

I hired to car to get back home so avoiding public transport and the flog across London with luggage, tube, trains etc  and not much more expensive than outrageous railway prices, I didn’t even know if any trains were running. Very strange to drive along an almost deserted M25 and M1. So back home and adjusting to life ashore in the midst of badly managed pandemic in a country with the second worst death rate in the world. World class don’t make me laugh – top of the list for incompetence and mismanagement.

Sea Bear is due back in UK  at the beginning of July.

mv Minervagracht
Fitting lifting slings
Hoisting on ship
Aboard

Lockdown in New Zealand

Self isolation on the boat

By now I had planned to be back home in UK but I found myself trapped in NZ with the lockdown.

Corona virus pandemic was starting to grip the world and the NZ government was taking early and tough measures, announcing self quarantine measure for arrivals in NZ and soon following up with a ban on non New Zealanders arriving in the country. At this stage there was only a handful of cases in NZ and with the testing programme they knew that all the cases were people who had come to NZ from infected areas. As soon as there were two cases that they thought might be from community transfer they announced a level 4 lockdown. All cafes & resteraunts and shops apart from supermarkets closed and all business to close. Everyone to stay at home in their own bubble and with no non-essential travel, allowed out only to go to the supermarket and for local exercise.

Although the British govt was urging all Brits to return home, this was impossible – there were no flights and almost all the transfer hubs for flights had closed.

The morning of the lockdown (25th March), was eerily quiet, gone where the sounds of work in the boatyard, traffic on the roads very light and very few people on foot.

The Hatea loop, a 4.2km cycle and walk way that loops from the Town Basin and canopy bridge and down one side of the river crosses the Te Matau a Pohe bridge (fishook in Maori) and back up the other side, normally very popular and busy, was virtually deserted.

 Te Matau a Pohe

As well as the Hatea loop, I am lucky that right on my doorstep is the Parihaka Scenic Reserve. Parihaka is an eroded volcanic cone 241m high and there are 3 tracks up it. From the top there are marvellous panoramic views over the town & harbour and right down the estuary to Whangarei Heads. My favourite is the Ross track, from the end of the tarmac, the track follows the stream ascending by the side of a small waterfall by a wooden staircase. The track carries on up through the native bush and there are a  number of Kauri trees. Opposite the largest of these is a handy bench for contemplation. I generally push on preferring a non stop ascent. Sometimes I stop in descent when I generally take it slower anyway to ease the creakey knees, legacy of a lifetime of bashing up and down the mountains.

Kauri tree on Ross track

The other tracks start by following the Hatea river, there is a boardwalk through a mangrove swamp then up through the woods before branching up the hillside. Near the top of the Dobbie track are the remains of a Maori fortifications (a Pa site).

It is a good circuit to ascend and descend by different tracks and switch ways up to add to the variety.

My other form of exercise is on the bike, a folding Brompton. A couple of circuits of the loop or taking the 10km Onerhai cycleway/walkway which leads to the Waimahanga walkway, a track following the estuary and partly the course of an old railway line.

All in all it’s not to bad being stuck here in Whangarei, I am probably better off (and safer) here than in the UK at the moment. I was looking forward to being back home and catching up with every one, I am missing my family & friends back in UK. The future is full of uncertainty but others are in a worse situation than me and my thoughts go out to them.

Around and about Whangarei

Back in Whangarei Wendy and I  did some nice walks in the Whangarei Heads area. To Smugglers cove and Bream Head and also over Mt Aubrey with its dramatic pinnacles.

Smugglers Cove
Mt Aubrey

A visit to Tutukaka and the marvellous coastline there walking  from  Matua bay to  the glorious Whale bay with a  swimming here.

Closer to Whangarie a walk along the Matea river to visit Whangarei falls with a swim in the pool here and a walk along the tree walk of AH Reed memorial park with its large Kauri trees.

Whangarei Falls
Wendy on bridge over Hatea river

 

Hugging a Kauri

All too soon Wendy’s time in New Zealand was up .

The Pasifika Fusion festival provided diversion for a day with lots of dancers from the Pacific islands.

Pasifika festival

I walked the Hatea loop several times, shopped at the growers market for fresh fruit and veg, drunk Flat whites in town but also  more energetically cycled the cycle track along the estuary and through the mangroves to the jetty at Onerahi.

On the Hatea loop
Waka Sculpture

Whangarei town centre
Heron preening at the marina

Another day I walked up to the Abbey caves, an area of caves and eroded limestone boulders.

Great Barrier Island Jan 23rd – 9th Feb

Early morning swim Hatfield beach on way from airport

Wendy had arrived for a visit, we made use of the campervan to go to the Bay of Islands music festival in Waitangi then visited Kerikeri for waterfall walks then across to Hokianga harbour and down through the Waipoua forest and the giant Kauri trees. Back in Whangarie it was time to go sailing again. 

Leaving the marina just before midday, at the top of the tide, we slipped the mooring warps and headed off down the river, under the Hatea bridge and away. We anchored for the evening in Urquharts bay, cooked tea and relaxed in the cockpit with a sundowner. The forecast for the morrow looked good for the crossing to Great Barrier island with fine weather and westerlies of 10 to 15 knots. We left at first light, the weather was fine but the winds remained light all day. We did fly the cruising chute for a while but progress was to slow to ensure a daylight arrival so we ended motoring most of the 40 mile passage. Late afternoon saw us anchoring in Nimaru bay, Great Barrier  Island.

We moved next morning, sailing around Maunganui point where the wind was strong and gusty and the sea a nasty slop, into the calmer waters of Port Abercrombie and thence to Forestry Bay, Port Fitzoy.

Dinghy landing Forestry bay

Here we rowed ashore and followed the Bridle track first to Port Fitzroy itself then returned to the junction with the Warren track up the waterfall. Farther than expected the timings on the track signs being a bit out. The waterfall itself was a little disappointing – reduced to a mere trickle on account of the drought. Next day a walk took us around to Kiarara bay and a walk up the old forestry road.

Forestry Bay

Back at the boat we made the  short hop to anchor in Kiarara bay . It was very windy the next day so we stayed put.

Moving on again to Kiwiriki bay, a lovely bay this, rocky islands by the entrance and wooded hillside all around, no roads no houses. We did a couple of walks whilst here on the Kiwiriki track. One up towards Maungapiko and the other up to Coffin creek and thence to Kiarara bay. Other times we played about in the dinghy and on the paddleboard.

Kiwiriki bay

After a few days we moved back to Port Fitzroy, anchoring in Forestry bay again. A walk to Port Fitzroy  and up to Lookout Rock rewarded us with fine views and later with bread and fruit from the shop and a delicious burger and chips on the quayside.

Lookout rock above Port Fitzroy

Great Barrier island is off grid, there are few roads and no mains power, poor or non-existant phone signal. Residents rely on catching rain water for their water supply. It is a lovely largely unspoilt place though was once heavily logged for the Kauri trees.

We could have happily stayed there longer but decided to return to the mainland whilst conditions were good. It was calm as we motored out from Port Fitzroy but later the wind kicked in a little NW at first then later it switched to West 17 knots dead on the nose then to SW.

9pm and just dark as we anchored in Uruharts bay , a long tiring passage.

Next day we took the tide back up the river to Whangarie, under the bridge and moored alongside at Riverside drive marina again.

Christmas at Whangaroa

When the weather eased I left the Bay of Islands and headed north. Last year whilst touring in the van I had walked from Totara to Lane Cove and seen a boat anchored there and had wanted to visit the spot by boat ever since. My way north up the coast  took me past the Cavalli Islands and I decided to take the Cavalli Passage, inshore of the islands. The Cavallis are the last resting place of the Greenpeace ship. After her sabotage & sinking by French agents she was salvaged and brought up here to be sunk as a memorial and a dive site. Heading past Flat island , then between Stephenson’s island and Frenchman’s rock and  past Arrow rocks I could head into Whangaroa Harbour where I anchored in Waitepipi Bay. A spectacular spot this, surrounded by steep bush covered slopes with rock towers sticking above them including one called the Duke’s Nose.

Dukes Nose from Waitepipi bay

Next morning it being Christmas day I rowed into Lane cove landing at the little beach here and took my customary xmas day walk  up the Duke’s Nose. The top section was a bit of a scramble but an iron railing was there to provide assistance.

 

Railing up Duke’s Nose

The views were superb. Regaining the boat I cooked my xmas dinner followed by the pudding. I did some more walks whilst here and never saw another soul in the bush.

View from Duke’s Nose
View from Duke’s Nose
Whangaroa harbour

After a few days I decided it was time to head back to Whangarei but before leaving Whangaroa I explored the harbour a little and then anchored in Owhatanga Bay for the night. 

I coast hopped southwards, around the outside of the Cavallis this time.

Cavalli Islands

 Back in the Bay of Islands I anchored at Waewaetorea Bay, Waewaetorea Island  for a quiet New years eve. New years day saw me rounding Cape Brett and down to Puriri bay, Whangaruru harbour. The last hour into here was a bit hectic with 25 knots of wind and me having full sail up, the forecast had suggested 15 knots max. As I have often found, so much for forecasts.

Percy Island Cape Brett

On then to Urquharts bay at the mouth of the Haita river, a gentle wind most of the day then suddenly a 180 deg shift and 25 knots kicking up quite a sea. With the wind on the nose it took a long time to round Bream Head and it wasn’t long before dark that I could drop the hook.

Next morning I took the flood tide up the river, it was still blowing hard but there was a bit of a respite up near Whangarei. Under the lifting bridge and thankfully there was a free berth at Riverside Drive. With a strong wind up my tail it was tricky to get in but the skipper of a neighbouring boat took my lines and I was soon all snug and secure . Good to be back in Whangarei.

Bay of Islands Dec 2019

I spent some time for rest in Opua. I also fixed the broken tiller bolt and replaced the broken latch spring on the self steering and bought a new dinghy as my old one was truely on its last legs. I dug out the bike and rode the twin coast cycle way to Kawakawa and back.

Twin coast cycleway

I also walked along the coast path to Pahai,

Opua to Pahia path

went to the thermal pools with Rusty John and also to an open mic night at the Russel boat club. I thought then it was time for more cruising and explore  the Bay of islands.

View from Pahia

My first stop was Opunga cove, a nice place to relax. Then to Robinson bay,  Motuarohia island. A very popular spot this with a nice walk up to an old Fortified Pa on the hilltop.  Captain Cook had  beat me to this place too and had a notable meetings with the Maori here. 

Robertson Island

On to Pipi bay, Moturua island, this is a Department of Conservation island. They made strenous efforts to rid the island of all introduced pests, rats, possums and stoats and the bird life has recovered helped by re-introductions. There is a good walking track on the island which I took. Nice to to get a bit of a leg stretch.

Moturoa Island

The weather turned into strong SW winds of 25 – 30 knots so I moved across to Putakokota bay which was more sheltered but moved later as the wind seemed to be swirling around the headland and I moved a few miles to Parekura bay which offered better shelter.

By next morning the wind had died so I sailed across to Indigo bay Urupukapuka Island. Somewhat confusingly  places often have multiple names. This bay is variously called Indigo bay, Otaia bay or Entico bay, take your pick I guess. Another DOC island again with several good walking tracks, I took the Cliff Pa loop and the Pateke loop tracks, very nice too with good views.

Urupukapuka island

 

Indigo bay Urupukapuka island

 

I didn’t stop in this bay overnight as the weather forecast predicted a wind shift to NW and strong winds so I moved to Orakawa bay and sheltered here from the blow.

Time to restock on supplies so I anchored off Pahai .Rowed ashore and walked to the supermarket to restock and buy some xmas goodies like a xmas cake, xmas pudding, mince pies and some wine. Pahai is not a good anchorage as its is far too rolly with all the wash from the ferries and sight seeing boats so shopping done I moved across to Pomare bay. It was pretty blowy for the next couple of days so I just stayed here.

To Port Villa and passage to New Zealand 5th -26th November

For my time in SW bay, the weather was not good with strong SE winds and very rough seas with a bIg swell. It was better to stay and wait for better conditions. Eventually the forecast was for the wind to ease and go Easterly and the seas to calm a little. It was around 100 miles to Port Villa so at least a 24 hr passage. Weighing anchor early one morning I headed out of the bay and rounded the end of the reef of Ba Arum point before shaping a course for Efate. Grey at first the seas still fairly rough but throughout the day conditions eased some. I couldn’t quite make the correct course due to wind and waves so had to tack  eastwards at some point. The night passed quietly with the wind having eased to easterly 15 – 17 knots, but shortly after dawn with Efate in sight I was virtually becalmed. Actually this did me a bit of a favour as under engine I could set a direct course which probably saved me a couple of hours. Rounding Devils point I crossed the bay and soon could pick up a mooring in Port Villa.

Port Villa mooring field

Here I could shower, drop of my washing, do some much needed shopping for supplies and have a coffee and a meal. I also needed some time to rest and then prepare for the passage to New Zealand. One of the chores was scrubbing the hull so that I might comply with NZ strict bio-security laws. I took 2 long mornings to do this, diving under the hull in a face mask armed with scraper and scotch pad, it is quite exhausting work. Checking the forecast it looked like there was fairly decent weather window coming up so I decided to leave on the Monday. First thing Monday then I took a bus up to the customs wharf to complete my clearance papers and pay the harbour dues. A bit of last minute shopping for bread and fresh veg and then it was time to pack up and stow the dinghy and cast off from the mooring.

I knew for the first couple of days I would have headwinds so would have to tack but was lead to believe by the forecast that the wind would go easterly then fall light maybe even calm before getting into westerlies near NZ. Trouble was as I was to find the forecast was nothing like the conditions I found. I did have to tack quite bit those first few days as I was getting pushed westwards and my rhumb line course was towards the SE/SSE. All this of course adds to the distance to be travelled and the time. 4 days out and I was close to the reefs and banks of the SE end of New Caledonia and my course was heading straight for the Banc de L’Orne forcing me to tack to the East to clear it. 8 days out and a ran into a calm patch so I motored for just over 24 hours to get through this. During this time I had the only rain of the passage. I had spotted a nasty looking rain cloud dead ahead so had altered course to try and skirt it. Looked liked I might succeed at one point  but I either didn’t skirt it enough or there was no avoiding it anyway. Still wasn’t so bad, a brief increase in wind than torrential rain for 20  mins. Still it will have washed away some of the salt coating of Sea Bear.

Relaxing on a benign day on passage

The wind returned so sailing again. The latch spring on the servo paddle of the wind vane steering gear broke so it was disengaged. It say something for Sea Bear’s sailing abilities she kept on her close hauled course no bother and that I only noticed that the tiller was steady whilst the wind vane altered. Peering over the stern the paddle was trailing uselessly in the water. I managed to re-engage the latch and lashed it shut.

10 days out and I was passed by another yacht and we had a chat over the vhf, mainly about the weather. We were less than 300 miles from New Zealand by now and should have been getting SW or W winds however we were faced with relentless strongish SE’lys. These persisted for some 5 days

My worst day was having logged 101 miles noon to noon I had only made 37 miles net gain towards NZ, next day 88 miles noon to noon but just 35 miles gained in the right direction. It was pretty depressing and I was feeling pretty low.

Eventually however just after dawn 15 days out I came within sight of New Zealand, at first the coast had coyly hidden its-self behind a bank of haze but it was gradually revealed.  A big pod of dolphins came swimming around the boat, leaping out of the water as if to say welcome to New Zealand.

Just past Tikitiki rock at the entrance to the Bay of Islands a NZ customs rib came by for a few words. They said they were expecting me as they had picked me up on AIS and the customs would be ready for me at the quarantine dock.  Some I was tying up at the dock and clearance into New Zealand proceeded.

It had been a tough passage, 1557 miles logged as opposed to rhumb line course of 1,100 miles and just short of 15 days, I was glad to get in and felt in need of a rest.

Espirito Santo & Malakula 19th – 31st Oct

Vanihe bay

I had meant to leave Vahine Bay early for the passage to 48 miles to Espiritu Santo but I was awake very early indeed and failing to get back to sleep thought I would get up and leave anyway. So by 3.30 I was underway, still dark of course but no problems or dangers leaving the anchorage in this bay. Following the coast westwards I just needed to keep far enough offshore to avoid the Minerva reef. I had put a waypoint in the plotter to assist here. Later as the light grew I was joined by a group of dolphins, always a delight this. It had started calm and so motoring but gradually the wind filled in SE 12-15 knots. It looked like I might be in for some rain squalls as we were heading for a line of them. Somehow though we managed to slip though, one passing in front and the next just passing behind. Much later I was approaching the Diamond passage which gives access to the big lagoon between the outlying islands and the main island of Santo itself. The passage was hard to make out from a distance but became clearer as we neared, helped by the prominent rusty wreck of a freighter  on the reef of the southern point of Aise island. Diamond passage proves no difficulties at all it being wide and deep. Inside I turned south, thinking to anchor at Palikula bay. The approach was complicated with a narrow and shallow entrance between unmarked reefs, just the water colour to guide you where the reefs lay. I got through the first set and anchored in the recommend outer position. I could see a boat at anchor in the inner bay but I didn’t fancy the way through without a spotter on the bow. I didn’t like where I was, it was calm but a long way from shore and surrounded by reefs I felt trapped. I made a cup of tea and had a bite to eat to recover my composure then weighed anchor and very carefully retraced my path in. Out clear I could breath a sigh of relief and head up to anchor north of the Diamond passage  in the lee of Aise Island where I had a very peaceful night.

In the morning I decided to visit Hog harbour and Champagne beach apparently the finest beach in Vanuatu. Exiting through the Undine passage I headed north up the coast, it turned out to be a sunny day with barely any breeze to help us on our way so we motored for a large part.

Turning into the large bay of Hog harbour past Lathu island I anchored off Lonnock beach. There were a 4 boats anchored here already and it took a while to find a suitable clear patch of sand between the coral to anchor. I spent a few days here, swimming, a walk to the village, a visit to the very low key resort ashore where I treated myself to a meal.

Hog harbour

Of course I visited champagne beach in the dinghy. I found it a bit spoilt really with buildings by the beach built to cater for the tourists and jetty for the cruise ship launches.

Champagne beach

When I left I had a hard beat back against strong SE’erlys to Aise island. This time I anchored south of the shallow patch and this was a better spot than previously. I could could creep further inshore, there was more sand , fewer bommies and I found a good spot in 6m.

There was a small (but still bigger than Sea Bear) yacht inshore of me inhabited by a French man from New Caledonia, a true “vagabond du mer” he was. We had a long chat.

There was a strong wind warning out which persisted fro several days so although I wanted to keep on moving it would not have been good to go to the anchorage at Luganville which is quite exposed to SE & E winds. I did move across the lagoon to anchor at Surundu bay. Entry was through a fairly narrow passage in the reef but the seas were breaking heavily on both sides which at least gives you a good indication where they are. The deep water in the pass is fairly close to the northern reef so it was a little alarming passing so close to the breaking waves. Inside was lovely and sheltered both from wind and waves.

Surundu bay

I dinghed to the beach and hitched a lift in a pickup truck into Luganville, the second biggest town in Vanuatu where I could but some much needed supplies.

Luganville was the centre of American operations in New Hebradies during the 2nd world war and that legacy shows in the broad paved main street and a number of surviving consett buildings.

Luganville market
Luganville market

A few days later with the weather just a little not so rough I sailed around to Luganville via the Segond channel. The anchorage was a bit choppy but not too bad. I wanted to be here as this was around 14miles closer to my next objective of Malakula. This was about 35 miles away so an early start was in order. Dawn was just breaking when I left, a little way back up the Segond channel and I could turn round the tip of Aore island and head for the Diver strait between the islands of Abokisa and Tutuba. Here the wind seemed to be funnelling through the gap blowing had with a big swell so it was unpleasant for a while but through the strait conditions thankfully eased. With the wind from Se I couldnt quite set the course I wanted so I knew I would be in for a far bit of tacking. One tack S was sort of in the required direction but it gradually closed the coast so I had to tack E, not where I wanted to go to gain clearance. After several tacks I could clear the SE corner of Malo island and I know had a better slant on the wind as I headed out across the Bouganville strait towards the NW corner of Malakula. The only fly in the ointment was that it meant passing through the overfalls off Malo, but they looked worse than they turned out to be and I was soon through. Just after reaching and passing the North cape of Malkula the wind died, this wasn’t just because I was now in the lee of the island and it started to rain too, but it didn’t last long. A few more miles which seemed to take forever and I could head into Malua bay where I anchored in 7m off a brown sand beach. A fisherman in his dugout came to say hi and gave me 3 mangoes so I gave hime some fishhooks and a lure.

It had been a tough day 48 miles logged and 10 hours sailing time.

Malua bay

Next day was another tough one tacking first S the E with a strong SE wind 20-25 knots and a big southerly swell running. I’d left at 6 but it was after 4 when I got into Lamboubou harbour. Distance logged 41 miles I was quite sure what conditions inside here would be like as it struck me that the swell would be running straight in, but my options were limited as if was about 20 miles to the next anchorage.

As it turned out although there was some swell running in it was much diminished and the bay was completed sheltered from the wind. In consequence Sea Bear swung on her anchor to align herself at first bow on to the slight swell and then later in the night when the tide turned stern too. There was no rolling just a gentle nodding to lull you gently to sleep.

Lamboubou harbour

That 20 miles to the next anchorage turned out to be 30 miles after all the tacking necessary and took me 8 hours. The tacks S were particularly unpleasant straight into a big S swell with the strong SE wind generating waves on top. The only small consolation was a group of dolphins playing around the boat for a while. Eventually however we gained the shelter of Metenover or SW bay, that is shelter from the waves and swell but not the wind. I dropped the hook in about 6m. I had been feeling grumpy about this hard passage as I hadn’t eaten or drank anything since the morning but I could now remedy that.

SW Bay

Maewo & Ambae 12th – 18th Oct

Ambae from Loltong bay

Morning dawned, although overcast it looked suitable for moving on so I weighed anchor and motored carefully out between the shallow patches. Once clear I hoisted sail and set course for Maewo the next island to the north about 10 miles away. The forecast was for an E wind 10-15 knots but oh how wrong this was. It wasn’t long before the weather closed in and I was hit with a vicious rain squall 25 knots plus of wind, torrential rain and almost no visibility. Fortunately I had clear water all around. The squall eased after a while  but then I was hit by an even fiercer one perhaps 30 -35 knots. I was down to just a triple reefed main at this point but the seas were building with breaking crests, it was far from pleasant.

Eventually it passed and the weather looked to be improving. I passed two yachts exiting Asanvani bay my next objective. Entry to this was fairly straightforward as long as good offing was given to Teterigi point and its off lying rocks.

A fairly deep anchorage this I dropped the hook in 14m in sand and rocks. In consequence the anchor chain spent my stay here grumbling over the rocks as the boat swung to the tide and breeze. Nevertheless it was a pretty spot with sea caves, a waterfall that tumbled almost into the sea and a white coral sand beach. I explored the sea caves by dinghy but they were dissappointly shallow, but nearby there were some  nice corals amongst the rocks and some brightly coloured fish.

I visited the waterfall and had a long chat with the owner of the little bar at it’s foot. It was closed at present but he told me of the place and off the dramatic views from here when Ambae erupted in 2018 and off all the ash that it deposited.

Waterfall Asanvari bay

I walked through the village and to the other side of the point for a fine view back to Pentecost.

Pentecost from Maewo

Some Ausies in a big Beneteau were anchored here too, They came over for a couple of chats and seemed quite intrigued oh now I managed on my own.

 

Sunset Asanvari bay

Leaving Asanvani I sailed a little way northwards up the coast of Maewo. This was partly to get a better slant on the wind for crossing to Ambae but also to see some of the waterfalls for which Maewo is renowned and there were lots. It was tempting to go further North but I was aware that time was running out and beside there was a bit of a SW swell which would have made any anchorages up the coast  uncomfortable.

Heading over to Ambae I had a very pleasant sail, wind about 12-15 knots on the quarter and light seas. Oh if only all sailing could be that pleasant!

The entrance to Lolowai bay, which is a drowned old volcanic crater, is a little tricky. You have to skirt closely a steep cliff, once a crater wall then cross a coral flat across the remains of part of the crater wall. My depth gauge read 3m and the boat draws 1.5m so not much water under the keel. There are some leading marks to give you the right line but it is worrying stuff all the same. Once in the depth increases and you are in a wonderful calm  circular basin protected from most directions. I anchored in about 12 m in black sand and could recover my composure with a welcome cup of tea.

Ashore there was a shop and wonderfully they had bread and some beer, I had been dry for days.

Over the next few days I took some walks, SE along the track towards the airport, W up to a lake over the ridge and S steeply up the back wall of the bay to a ridge and followed to a viewpoint looking far down to the bay.

At the boat one afternoon I was visited by a group of swimming children who delighted in climbing aboard (at my invite) and leaping off from the pulpit.

The French couple who I had first meet in Aneityum turned up and anchored in the bay.

I was ready to move on again, a fairly long leg to Espirito Santo for which I would need a very early start. I planned to exit the bay, which you can only do after half tide and anchor just around the corner in Vanihe Bay. All packed up, dinghy stowed and ready late afternoon but a check on the forecast showed a strong wind warning for next day 20-25 knots of wind and rough seas so I put the move off. 

Next day was better on around high tide in the late afternoon using the leading marks I motored out over the coral flat and around the cliff headland to anchor off a black sand beach in 7 m. A lovely spot this too, the beach was backed by steep cliffs and there was no access by land so it was unspoilt.