Monday, December 27, 2010

This is NOT the South Pacific

Blue Hill Maine

Home for the holiday's and today we got hit with a pretty major snow storm. I am exceedingly out of my element in these temperatures, but it is nice to see snow again for the first time in 2 years. I am a bit sore from Curling with my dad yesterday. I have him a good game, but blew it in the final end and gave up 3 points to lose. I suppose not bad for not having been on the ice in two years, but still disappointing as I had to miss two shots to lose the game.

Updated Tuamotu Tidal Guestimator

My Tuamotu Tidal Guestimator has been updated for 2011 tidal information and is available for download on our Google Docs Page.

Special thanks to Sherry McCampbell from Soggy Paws for all her help reformatting the program and refining the user interface.

We both found the program very helpful for predicting the currents through the passes of the Tuamotus and with a little experience were able to predict slack tide quite reliably before ever even going to a particular atoll. Very helpful for passage planning so you time your arrival correctly and avoid the scary and dangerous situation of approaching a pass with 7+ knots of current rushing out.

If you do find the program helpful to your cruising, please click the donate button below and buy me a beer. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at and I will try to help you out.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Leaving NZ For Christmas

Viaduct Harbour, Auckland, New Zealand

This photo was from a "Santa Parade" and is quintessential Kiwi Christmas... a sheep dressed as a reindeer on a warm summer day.

I leave tomorrow evening for home. A day and a half in Newport before I head to Maine for 3 weeks before returning to Rhode Island for a few more days before flying back. Can't wait to see the family and friends, though I am not looking forward to the cold.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

news from New Zealand

Hi to all...hard to believe that I have been in New Zealand for a whole month.  It is very green and very beautiful here.  People are exceptionally friendly and greet you with a G'Day each time you pass.  There are only 4.2 million people living here so things seem very sane and low key.  We spent the first week after the boat and the boys got in just putting the boat back together after the passage and also doing some sightseeing in the 'Northland".  There were a bunch of activities at the Opua Marina for all the cruisers as most of the boats were also just arriving.  Bill was very involved in helping our friend Steve Brown (Curious is his boat and we cruised extensively with Steve and wife Trish from Tahiti to Nuie) deal with a very badly infected foot.  He took him to the hospital the minute he had cleared customs and when the antibiotic IV's were not doing the trick saw to it that he was transferred to a larger facility and watched over 2 surgeries to clean the wound out and get him back on his feet and infection free.  Steve was really lucky that they got in when they did as another day or two out to sea could have caused irreparable damage or even more far reaching infection throughout his body. We saw too many skin (mostly staph) infections during the last couple of months...something about the waters in Tonga and Figi is my guess.  The water is a few degrees warmer than usual this year (causing La Nina conditions) and maybe that plays into this..

After leaving Opua we have gone North to the Cavelli islands and then headed Southeast to make our way down the coast towards the Auckland area. We were able to spend one night at Motorua just outside of Opua and catch up with Curious as Steve brings his boat to Auckland and heads back to So. Wales for the holidays. Nice to have a dinner aboard and to see that he is A-OK. As we headed south we stopped at places like Mimiwhatanga Bay and Tutukaka just to give you a taste of the place names here.  I think much of the names are Maori and very hard to keep straight.  Had the luck of some very mild, settled weather to be able to anchor at the Mokohinau Islands.  That anchorage was one of the top 5 of the whole trip and we had a magical stay there.  We anchored in the middle literally of cliffs on all sides.  There were all these arches and caves and a great hike to a lighthouse on the nearby island. We even donned our wetsuits and went for a quick snorkel (our first time in the water since leaving tonga).  but even with wetsuits it was pretty cold so it was a quick dip but did spot some fish that were big and different than the ones of the tropics.  There are tons of Marine Reserves here so much of the land is protected and you can only land in certain spots.  Everywhere we have gone have been amazing sets of trails (they call them tracks) and lots and lots of hiking.  Everything is well maintained and marked and it has been so nice to not worry about getting lost! After the Mokohinaus we went to Great Barrier Island which is pretty much a wild place.  Somewhat reminiscent of Isle Au Haut or parts of Mt. Desert Island in Maine.  Did some hard and wonderful hiking including an all day excursion to the summit of Mt. Hobson (about 2000 ft).  We went to a few different bays and found the spots to be settled even in pretty windy conditions.  Before we left there we had a rainy day hike to a Hot Springs and a good soak in the pools.

From Great Barrier we had a really nice day sail (actually got some of that downwind sailing with following seas that was promised for the South Pacific) to the Coromandel Peninsula. Came to the Eastern coast and about 1/2 way down into an area known as Mercury Bay.  Apparently (previously unbeknownest to me) Gram has wanted to come here since 1995 when he started reading about America's Cup history. In 1988 Michael Fay challenged San Diego for the America's Cup from this area. Needless to say the region is steeped in nautical history and everyone sails or fishes or dives for mussels and scallops.  Speaking of which we have been fortunate enough to find the most delicious green lipped mussels a couple of times and had them as appetizers when we did. Mostly I am amazed by the amount of green pastureland and the lack of built up areas here.  The landscape is rugged but soft at the same time because of the green hills.  Lots of sheep and cattle and you can tell that farming is a prosperous entity here. There do not seem to be billboards on the highways and everything is clean and green. So far except for right in Auckland I have seen nothing but 2 lane highways that snake and wind their way through the countryside. We had thought we would ride our bikes alot more but with the narrow roads and hilly terain we are not so sure that is a good idea.  Have read of nothing but cycle deaths since arriving so it appears to be a dangerous sport.

Yesterday we spent the morning in a small town called Whitianga and happened upon a Christmas parade.  Pretty funny to be watching Christmas parades in shorts (and sweatshirts because it is not that warm to our tropical blood) but then again it is the beginning of summer here.  We have enjoyed being somewhat back in civilization and going to supermarkets again....the lamb and sausages are to die for and the fresh vegies very plentiful and affordable.  The absolute best however is the wine.  You can find really good bottles for $10-12 NZ which is $8-10 US.  We have also gone to a couple of vineyards and enjoyed the small boutique wines that are being produced in the regions that are not the famous ones (Hawkes Bay and Marlborough Sound much further south).  Today we are headed to Cathedral Cove which is said to be drop dead gorgeous and will spend the night if conditons allow.  Otherwise will have to find a more protected spot nearby before heading to Waiheke island tomorrow to meet our friends Ralph and Sharon who will cruise with us for awhile.  Gram will take a ferry from Waiheke to Auckland on Thurs. and then shuttle to the airport that evening for his flight back to USA.  He will spend a month at home visiting family and friends in Maine and Rhode Island.  Zak has just one more final next Friday and then will also head to Sierra's for the holidays and his Christmas break. Bill and I plan to stay sailing till just before New Year's and then bring the boat in to settle down to it's new home at Gulf Harbor Marina.  We hope to spend a few days in Auckland and may even do some other inland tour before I leave on Jan 8. Our very best Holiday wishes to all and we are really looking forward to seeing many of you in the not too distant future.  Cheers....and love   Jo

Friday, December 10, 2010

Internet in New Zealand is Crap!

Whitianga - Mercury Bay - New Zealand

Sorry for not writing anything in a while.  We have been having a wonderful time exploring northern New Zealand with Great Barrier Island being a highlight that included several long (all day) hikes on the well maintained (or being improved in some cases) DOC tracks that cross the island.  My feet are a little worse for wear, but it was a wonderful time.  We are now back to mainland, exploring the Coramandel Peninsula and Mercury Bay, a place I have wanted to visit since I started reading about America's Cup history and learned of the cute little Yacht club that Michael Fay used to challenge San Diego and send the cup into its first foray into the New York Courts in earnest.

Quite a pretty place, this New Zealand, but the internet is crap and more expensive than just about anywhere we have been on the trip so far.  Word is it will get better in the next few years as new cables are run and fiber optic gets run through the country, but right now it is quite frustrating as you can blow through $5 in about 15 minutes or normal surfing.

Getting ready to head home soon.  Hopefully the rents will keep up the blog in my absence.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Bay of Islands NZ

A nice Sunday morning learning about the birth of a nation.

Friday, November 26, 2010

news from New Zealand

Long time and many miles but at last we have landed (in New Zealand that is). It really is quite lovely here and I especially am happy to be a bit more on terra firma. Still doing some cruising but it is now in coastal water and much more like cruising in Maine. It is very beautiful here...very rural and pastoral. The hills are green and full of sheep grazing, the roads in all but Auckland just 2 lanes winding thru the hills and valleys. People exceedingly friendly and pretty laid back. They definitely only work 8 hr (or less) days and use every weekend to recreate either sailing or trekking. Seems like a really healthy lifestyle. It is very nice being back in a first world country with supermarkets and phones and clean facilities (not that I wish we hadn't had the explorations of all the places we have visited along the way that were not what we are used to).

We are currently in Opua but have spent a bunch of nites out in the Bay of Islands. The islands out here are magnificent..pretty much uninhabited with great hiking paths and some nice beaches. Water is too cold for swimming but we did go in ankle deep and harvest some yummy green lipped mussels for one nite's worth of appetizers. Thanksgiving was shared with our friends Bruce and Alene that we met in Tonga. We had a roasted chicken rather that turkey as boat ovens are way too small for turkeys but managed all the other "normal" Thanksgiving accompaniments. Some New Zealand champagne for starts with shrimp sushi was novel for this holiday but may have to be entered into the Tday menu in the future. A feast for sure with lots and lots to be thankful for not the least of which is having made it these close to 20,000. miles aboard Visions of Johanna!!!

One of our most exciting days was being treated to a dolphin performance right off the beqam of the boat. We were anchored in a bay here and right after lunch this pod of bottle nosed dolphins (they are a really large variety of dolphins) came over and started doing flips and jumps that were unbelievable. A few hours later at the next bay over where we had just moved to about 6 Orca whales did a swim thru and again seemed to be playing with us. They even swam under the boat! See Gram's blog post( for photos of these 2 marvelous sea events. We have been doing lots of hiking and gone to a few towns to look around...they are small and quaint and it feels like in some ways we are in the good ole 50's. I like it here alot!!! Will continue our way down the coast needing to get Gram to Auckland by mid Dec for his return to the US for Xmas with his other family(Schweikerts). Bill and I will spend another few weeks before bringing the boat into Gulf Harbor the marina where she will stay for the next year. I meet Sierra in NYC Jan 8 for a trade show. The weather will probably kill me (we are freezing here and it's in the 60's) but the prospect of Sierra shortly followed by Emma and Rob and Zak a few weeks thereafter will keep me going at least.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kruising with Kindle Part 1

Bay of Islands NZ
I have now had my Amazon Kindle for 18 months and have grown to like it more each day. The latest great feature I have discovered is that when traveling it makes a very workable email and internet device. In an odd twist of pricing foolishness you can browse the internet for free on the experimental browser. Now in an area where I had other options I would never bother with the klunky interface and laggy screen, but here in NZ where wifi and cell data are crazy expensive it is a godsend. I am in fact writing this entire post on my Kindle and uploading for free.

That isnt to say it doesnt have its issues.

I have actually had 4 kindle e-readers. The first one met its demise last August while reading by my fathers pool during a visit home. It just stopped working after sitting out in the sun. I called amazon, explained what happened, said yes of course it was out in the sun, it is summer and I was reading outside. They were fine with that and had a new one to me in 48 hours.. Number 2 was left in a bus in Ecuador, a much more painful mistake then with a paper book. Number 3 got a broken screen while in the protective pocket in my backpack during a bike trip.

Clearly the screens are pretty fragile and I now have a rigid waterproof case for protection when off the boat. Again Amazon was very responsive and provided a free replacement and luckily we had family coming to visit who could bring the new one and return the broken one without paying for international shipping.

Tomorrow in Part 2 I will discuss actually reading on the device.

Sent from my Kindle -- Update: Sorry, too busy so part 2 will have to wait till after thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's Like The Splash Zone At Seaworld

Bay of Islands NZ

This morning we had VERY large dolphins literally doing acrobatics
just feet from the boat and this afternoon we had a pod of Orcas
(Killer Whales) swim by. We are really enjoying the Bay of Islands.
Great hiking, tasty muscles within easy reach at low tide, and even
entertainment by the local wildlife. It was like the dolphins were
putting a show for us.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Toilets of New Zealand - Post #1

Kawakawa, Bay of Islands - New Zealand

A new subject for the blog which hopefully will have some more entries in the future. Apparently the big thing for small towns in NZ to do is build really fancy public facilities. This one in Kawakawa was designed by Freidrich Hundertwasser.

Besides toilet-seeing, we went to see Steve from Curious in the Hospital (doing much better than yesterday with a bad foot infection), then headed to Paihia and took a ferry to Russel, an old whaling outpost.

It was great to finally see some of the beautiful countryside we have heard so much about.

Arrived NZ

Opua, New Zealand

Sorry this took so long to get up, but we have been crazy busy getting the boat put back together and making some repairs. We have had a few days here in New Zealand, but haven't yet seen anything other than the engine room, electrical panel, and bilges of the boat.

Today we are heading off for a little sight seeing. I will be sure to post a pic this evening.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Almost There

Pacific Ocean
34 18.9S 174 41.5W
58 miles North of Opua New Zealand

Our final passage is just about to come to a close. Winds have eased and come behind us. Right now we are motoring with the reacher up giving an extra 1/2 knot of speed, but the wind keeps coming further behind us, causing our apparent wind to drop so I don't know how much longer that will help any. We just passed our first fishing boat....showed up nicely on AIS and Radar. I have two other targets on Radar right now, so we are clearly approaching land. Yesterday we diverted a hundred yards to check out a floating object that turned out to be a fridge. Mental note, if you ever need an emergency floatation device, this fridge was floating VERY high in the water.

The DC Refer has stopped running, so I think I know what I will be working on when we get into harbor. Pressures seem fine, water pump is running, but the compressor doesn't turn on. Will have to check electrical connections, but unfortunately the starting relays are located in an inaccessable location behind the AC fridge (thank you Morris). In the mean time, I started the genset so I can run the AC fridge for an hour to keep things cool. We have half a freezer of fish stored up (caught another Tuna yesterday) so don't want that to get too warm. I planned on putting the AC Fridge onto the inverter circuit so I can run it at the dock (only works on 60hz and NZ uses 50hz power) so I may just do that sooner if I can't get the DC fridge working quickly. Probably not the most efficient thing in the world, but at least it will keep things cold.

Can't wait to put my eyes on "the land of the long white cloud"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Crisp Clean Air

Pacific Ocean
31 47.5S 175 55.2E
220 miles North of Opua, New Zealand

Right on Ken's schedule the wind died out and we have been motoring with light wind for about 4 hours now, about 30 hours to go. The seas have died off as we came south, so it is quite comfortable, motorsailing in light North-Westerly winds under main and jib with the iron Genny providing the real push.

My outdoor thermometer has stopped working, but water temp is down to 66 degrees and air temp feels like mid 50's with very low humidity. After all this time in the tropics, it actually makes my nose hurt a little to breath this crisp dry air. Luckily it is probably mid to hight 60's in the pilothouse so I am still wearng just shorts and a long sleeve T though my feet are a little chilled.

Last night I made eggplant and shrimp stir fry to finish off our last frozen meat and work on our veggies. We may have 1 or 2 too many cucumbers to eat before we arrive (they confiscate fresh veg) and I am still searching for what to do with the last cabbage (made asian cole slaw last night to go with the stir fry and still have leftovers).

We still haven't seen any other traffic out here...amazing how big and empty the surface of the Ocean is.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Pacific Ocean
28 54.6S 177 41.5E

Our current latitude is about the same as Orlando Florida, but without the warming effects of the warm Gulf of Mexico it is quite a bit cooler here. Water temp is down to 71 degrees and my thermometer stopped working so I am not sure of air temp, but I am rather tempted to close the pilothouse doors to keep the chilly night air at bay. Still wearing shorts, and no sox, but have resorted to long sleeve T-shirts for some added warmth and am considering putting on a fleece.

As usual Ken McKinley has been right on with his weather forecast. We saw high 20''s with gusts to 33 knots yesterday and around sundown it started subsiding. We are currently making 9 knots towards NZ in 20 knots of wind on the beam. Seas are still a bit stirred up so there is still lots of spray on deck, but luckily we can stay in the nice dry pilothouse and not worry about it too much. We should see the winds continue to drop as we aproach a high pressure ridge south of 30 degrees South and will then have to motor for a while, possibly all the way into Opua. A little calmer weather would be nice as my legs are getting tired from bracing all the time and we have some fresh food I need to cook before it gets taken away in New Zealand (we had been expecting another day or two in Minerva when we shopped in Tonga). In the meantime, we have been using our pre-cooked meals which saves a lot of hassle in these sort of jerky, rolly conditions.

We still haven't seen any trafic out here...a good thing really, but it does get lonely and boring. I have been enjoying Chuck Paine's new book "My Yacht Designs - and the lessons they taught me" available direct from the author at Besides being thanked in the foreward and praised in the writup of Visions of Johanna, it is neat to see some of the other projects I worked on as well as get his take and hear his stories from a fabulous career.

ETA is currently under 2 days, but we will slow down when we hit the high, making it more like 50-55 hours to go.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Eastern Hemisphere

Pacific Ocean
25 49.4S 179 33.7E

108 Miles in last 12 hrs = 9.0 kts Average

As usual Visions has quickly taken us along our route, this time crossing the 180th maridian into the Eastern Hemisphere (a first for the girl). Wind is nicely aft of the beam at about 110 degrees True Wind Angle making for good speed and a moderated ride. We are still fairly heeled over (10+ degrees) and the motion is jerky, especially when we are running faster than 9 knots, but all and all, it is not too bad to be flying along at 9 knots with a double-reefed Main, Staysail, and partially reefed Jib in 21 knots of breeze. So far we are holding position to get into New Zealand late morning of the 16th, but we suspect we will be slowed down at some point along the way.

Departure from Minerva was faster than we had hopped, but luckily we did get to do an amazing dive and walk the reef, my two goals. It is a place I would love to get back to some time as it is a magical place.

The Windlass wouldn't work (control box problems) when we went to leave, but luckily we have two windlasses and were able to pull the chain up using the port windlass without too much trouble (just had to shuttle the chain across to the correct hawsepipe as it came up...thank goodness for backups! I will try to figure out what is wrong in Opua and worse case replace the control box with a spare we have aboard.

Otherwise things are uneventful (good for being offshore). It is cooling off dramatically outside, but it is still shorts and T-shirt weather in the pilot-house.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Minerva here we come

23 07S/178 11.5W
South Pacific Ocean
0700 local Tonga time/1800Z
Wind varies - 13 - 20 kn , slowly backing and easing averging 135 deg. T, then clocking to 172 deg T, at 16 -23 knots

Pasage continued to be a speedy one overnight, averaging better than 8.5kn SOG. Seas are up so it is a bit bumpy, but there is only one significant wave pattern and there are not too many lumps with the bumps. Everyone is well, and well sated, on board. We enjoyed Gazpacho with grilled cheese sandwhiches for lunch yesterday, and chicken marbella with cous cous for dinner (thanks, Jo). We also look forward to dinner tonight with our friends Bruce and Aline on Migration, as we will celebrate their first wedding annivesary with them. They were married one year ago at Minerva Reef! How cool is that!

47 nm to go. Hope to be anchored mid afternoon.


22 44.2S 177 45.4W
83 Miles from Minerva Reef

Chuck says about Visions of Johanna in his new book that she is fast and the only way to keep her below 9 knots is to put the engine in reverse. Mom usually convices us to do it by greatly reducing sail, so we had forgotten just how fast this boat is when you let her run. We have covered 160 miles in just 18 hours, averaging 8.9 knots at a true wind angle of about 60 degrees (just 5-8 degrees cracked off of close hauled). The ride is by no means smooth, and we are heeled over nicely, but the motion is completely livable and we only occasionally pound off a wave...she is a truliy amazing boat. Makes you realize how much we have dumbed her down the last 17 months to make things more comfortable for the whole family

With our newfound speed, we should make Minerva Reef around noontime or early afternoon. A bit of rest will be quite nice before we continue on towards New Zealand later in the week weather permitting.

Tonga to Minerva Evening Report

22 02.9S/176 57.4W
South Pacific Ocean
2000 local time
Wind 16 - 24 kn from 148 mag
Seas 6 -9 feet

Flying under the water while Scuba diving through a pass is awesome, and so is flying over the water at 9 to 10 knots on passage. We have a 1/2 knot favorable current and have had 3 hours of 10+ nm's. Wind has been a steady 18 -24 knots from SSE and we are sailing with double reefed main and reefed jib, letting Visions of Johanna run. Seas are 6 - 9 feet, and we are quite steady with only rare pounding. Johanna left us at 6AM this morning as I was concerned about making Minerva by dark. At this point, if conditions remain the same, we should be there by early afternoon Ralph calls us a racing boat, but I remond him that we are simply a very fast cruising boat.

All is well on board. 141 nm to go.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Underway again

21 06S/17523W
West of Tongatapu, Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific Ocean
Tuesday, November 4th Tonga, 2200 GMT - or 9 AM Tonga time,

Winds 141 T at 15-18 knots
COG 223 mag
Barometer 1014 mb

We departed Pangaimotu early this morning, bound for Minerva reef. While we anticipate a close reach in 15 -20 knots of wind, this strategy should set us up for a good passage to Opua, NZ in 4 days or so. We are, of course, receiving routing assistance from our favorite forecaster, Ken McKinley of Locus Weather in Camden, Maine, and will check in with him daily. A Low south and east of us will deepen slightly as it reforms today and tomorrow, and then recede around November 11th or 12th. A high will then fill across the North Island of NZ and we will passage to NZ under a moderate easterly and then through light winds below 30S. A light air passage may not be ideal for all, but it sure beats storms, a sharp stick in the eye, or gales, hands down. We carry 460 gallons of diesel for a reason - and are not afraid to use it at times like this.

Since the last post, we visitd the island of Eua (Aiwah), about 24 miles SSE of Nuku'alofa. It is a beautiful island with vistas thaat reminded me of Easter Island, and one that is rarely visited by cruisers as it has an open roadstead for an anchorage, and only a small protected boat basin. We carefully entered the basin when we arrived and anchored insided, but we blocked the small channel and did not have sufficient time to set a stern anchor before the ferry we quickly moved back outside as weather was settled. We spent a great day hiking and cave exploring on this sunken and emerged atoll (40 million years old, it is similar in geography to Niue) but in the end, decided that the travails of med mooring inside were not worth it, as focus was on passage we headed back to Pagaimotu. It was a good experience and great visit, and provided some sailing time for new crew member Ralph, who says he is here on vacation but keeps fixing things on the boat. A GREAT addition and wonderful crew.

Johanna left the boat this morning at 6 AM, and will spend 2 nights in Tonga before flying to NZ. She remains convinced we will have an easy passage because she is not on board. We'll see what develops, but we could be in Opua, NZ as early as 1 week from now.

240 nm to go to Minerva.


We are leaving Tonga this morning bound for Minerva Reef. Mom is
flying to NZ and we have friend Ralph Kast aboard to help us get
plenty of sleep. Should be about 36 hours to Minerva then we wait for
a weather window to New Zealand. More updates while offshore.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ha'apai Endings

Big Mama's Yacht Club - Kingdom of Tonga

Today is Halloween, exactly 7 years ago that we took delivery of Visions of Johanna and sailed her down to Newport on her first passage. It was snowing when we left Camden and 7 years later, while no where near actually freezing, we are quite cold. Today actually isn't so bad as the wind is down to 15-18 kts (from 20-25 the last week) and the sun is finally out, but I am still tempted to wear socks and put on a jacket when I went up the rig for a pre-departure inspection and to take the shot above. Temps have been between high 60's at night and mid 70's during the day, which isn't really that cold until you add the 25 knots of wind and thinned blood from 16 months in the tropics....we all realize we are going to FREEZE when we get back to Maine.

We had a really great time through the Ha'apai group including some amazing dives we will have to detail later for our followers. We are now in the capital of Tonga, enjoying the great parties hosted by Big Mama. There are tons of boats leaving today for New Zealand. We have crew (Ralph, friend of Johanna Tutone of Cappy's Fame) coming to join us on the 4th and mom flies out on the 11th though we may leave her here a few days early. Final boat prep has begun, though so far it is pretty relaxed as we have plenty of time.

Now it is time for candy....

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wreck Diving in the Haapai

Nuku'alofa, Tongotapu group, Kingdom of Tonga
21 07S/175 10W

Wreck diving or snorkeling is always interesting, but somewhat sobering when it is also current events. We were just in the remote southern anchorage of Kelefesia and spent three cloudy and rainy nights.One day we snorkeled a short distance from the anchorage to the entry pass and the location of S/V La Tortue - a 32 foot ferro cement ketch that went down only 2 to 3 weeks ago. We were in Va'vau at the time, and it was a topic of discussion amongst cruisers, but details remain obscure. All on board were rescued, the ship was eventually scuttled, and friends of the crew salvaged as much as they could. The mast was removed and the vessel was laid down in a ridge beween bombies on the edge of the channel. It is not a navigational hazard.

It was erie to be over the boat, peering down into 30 feet of water or so. The port quarter was holed and the boat was mostly upright. Sea fuzz was already covering the decks, fish were already taking up residence, and there was a coffee cup snuggled in the cockpit. Open hatches almost seemed to beckon but we did not put on tanks and dive inside. We were not friends with La Tortue, but we knew of the boat as contemporary passagemakers... and visual memories of the sunken ship will linger and will always be a cautionary influence for this skipper.

Kelafesia is a stunningly beautiful island, even in clouds and rain. We had fine and adequate protection with winds east of 110 deg. T, and SE swells under 8 feet. Wind from 120 deg. T or more, or swells larger than 9 feet would probably bring some roll and swells over the surrounding reefs. Coral is not colorful, but shapely. The beach is beautiful as well. A small family group of 6 - 8 individuals live on the island in a very basic fashion - certainly no frills such as lights or electricity. The rain we had provoded much running water though.

Now in Nuku'alofa, we left Kelefesia yesterday as several more cloudy days were predicted and there was concern that the wind would shift further south, making the anchorage less comfortable. We have finally arrived at the last port before NZ, and we are here with 25 other boats or so. Talk has shifted from sites to snorkel and dive towards conversations (and rumours) centered around weather windows, departure times, who you have for routing assistance, and little else - save for the occasional mention of provisions and clearance procedures.

Crew will join us next week and departure is not immenent; we have the luxury of watchful waiting with ample time to prepare. There is a big resort hosted going away party tonight, and then boats will begin to leave in droves. We will plan departure in about10 - 12 days or so...assuming there is a good weather window, of course.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Happy in Ha'Apai

19 42.8 South 174 17.0 West anchored in 30 ft of crystal clear turquoise water

Hi there...Currently anchored off a small island called Foa in the Ha'Apai(middle group) of Tongan islands. There is a nice resort here run by a German fellow and his Kiwi wife. They have been very kind to us...first day let us borrow 6 bikes (great to not have to get our folding ones out of the foc'sle and dinghy them in) and we rode 15k to Lifuka, the biggest town in this island group. Pretty funny to ride right across and through the airstrip on our way (obviously FAA regulations are a bit laxer here than the US) Saw a few villages, lots of pigs, including a new species we have named belted galloway pigs...yes they look just like the belted galloway cows in Rockport, a graveyard that was decorated with the most amazingly gorgeous quilts...apparently a tradition here in Tonga, then over a bumpy causeway that must be underwater when there are storms at sea. The town was not much but we had pizza out and checked out the small stores. Next day went back to the fresh market (thanks to Boris's offer to give us a lift to and from town) and bought a few other items as well. Slim pickings but finally our food is diminished to the point that we are actually looking for things to supplement the canned goods and bits of dried goods we still have. Yesterday was a rainy day and Gram and I decided it was time to try to redo our food storage and get everything out of the shower as we will soon be in cold enough weather that an indoor shower will be the preferred method of bathing. So we have gone from 5 big storage boxes (2 ft x 1 1/2 ft x 1 ft) full of food in the shower to it all fitting in the cupboards and deep storage that is more generally known as boat stores. For us this is an event to be noted!!! We are so grateful to our friend Connie on Better Days who turned us on to this method of storage in Panama as I know we saved a small fortune and ate alot better for having devoted all that space and at the time expense to oodles of food!

To backtrack a bit...just before we left the Va'vau group we realized we had been there a month and needed to renew our Visas so headed back to the big town of Neifu one last time...because we were so close to town we decided to try to get together with our Tongan family (Coletti, Tupai and kids) one last time so had them all over for dinner. We invited 2 other boats as well so we had dinner for 13(a new record). Had decided on spagetti and meat balls as when we had been invited to their home they kept apologizing that they were serving us Tongan food and not spagetti..of course Tongan food was quite what we wanted from them! So it was an easy dinner however when it started to rain at 5:30 we realized that dining al fresco using the whole front deck as our space was out and had to eat inside in shifts...still lots and lots of fun and since it was still pouring well after we had eaten we invited the Tongans for a sleepover. The two teeenage girls slept in Zak's cabin, Gram gave up his berth to Colletti and Tupai and slept in the pilot house and we put the 2 little kids in the main salon on the bench and settee. Full house(or rather boat) but it was probably an experience of a lifetime for them. Hard to say our goodbyes the next morning as we had become quite fond of their family. The most remarkable memories of these travels will surely be the relationships we have been able to develop with the locals. That being said the beauty and splendor of the places runs a tie for first place!!

Left Va'vau after a few more good dives and some more snorkeling on Sun the 10th. We had to motorsail the 60+ miles but seas were down so we made excellent time. We caught 3 fish along the way...1st a bonito, then a yellow fin tuna, and last a Mahi Mahi. Apparently my begging forgiveness of the gods of neptune worked as I had cursed our tuna catching abilities a bunch of weeks ago when I declared I was sick of tuna and just wanted to catch some Mahi or Wahoo...For weeks all we caught was whitefish and Bill and Gram were very upset with me for jinxing us so I did a forgiveness ceremony and lo and behold tuna again the next day!! YUM SUSHI!!! 1st anchored off Ha'Ano and did some reeef exploration, including one OK but not extraordinary dive. That is the last I have dove as apparently the congestion remaining from my sore throat episode caused a block in my ear and I am still trying to get over that. Really angry as Bill and Gram have gone on a few more dives including one with a dive shop today and I just can't risk it. REALLY really hope that I can clear this up before we leave Tonga (3 wks) as I think this will be it for diving. It will be too cold in New Zealand for much in the way of watersports I'm afraid. This time of year is like May or June for us in the northern hemisphere. We have visited a few other islands (remote ones)...Lofunga,Ofalanga and been out on the water sailing about a bit. In between Lofunga and Ofalanga we had our best ever whale experience where 3 of them were playing about 200 ft from the boat. One of them was jumping completely out of the water and we could see his entire (HUGE) body...what a sight!!! Even more awesome than the usual tail flukes and breaching we have previously experienced.

Have had a bunch of group dinners with Jules and Louis on Simpatica and will have one last eve. with them tonight as they will begin heading to Figi. We will probably move further south with a few more stops along the way before setting ourselves up in Tongatupu (the last island group) where Ralph will fly in to take the boat to NZ with the boys. Hope fall has treated you all well and that life is settled and slowing down in Maine(tourists being just a memory at this point)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Content in the Kingdom of Tonga

I kind of like the way that sounds...the Kingdom of Tonga. We have not yet seen the King tho' I do believe he still exists and resides in Nukolofa which is in the most southern group of islands..the Tongutupu group. We will stop there briefly just before the boys head out to Minerva Reef and onwards to New Zealand and I fly out of there also headed to NZ but taking the easy route!!! I am grateful to not be making this last passage as it is the one that usually contains weather patterns slightly less than optimal and many boats encounter storms along the way. We are fast enough that most likely can beat anything as there will be lots of planning and working with our friend in Camden, meteorologist Ken McKinley who provides weather routing.

We have been really enjoying the Vava'u group of islands. We have gone to lots of the different islands and found so much good snorkeling and diving. This really is a cruiser's paradise made very easy by all the amenities and ease of moving about. Some of our best memories will include the time we have spent with the local family who befriended us. We had a wonderful lunch and visit to their church our first Sunday her and then on the following Sunday we took all of them out for a day sail on our boat. Tupai had the most wonderful smile on his face as he was at the helm and sailing the boat and the kids were just beaming as the wind blew about them. We stopped at a small island and all went swimming and on the return trip they sung to us in the most wonderful harmonies imaginable. We captured some of it on our little video camera along with the sound that it can record. They were singing hymns but since it was all in Tongan it did not necessarily sound religious...just perfectly in tune and well practiced. What a talented family! On Thurs eve. Gram accompanied the oldest daughter Jasmine to her high school ball and had a very interesting time. He reports that they were all dressed to kill (some of the boys in tuxes and the girls in ball gowns) and that the dancing was most remarkable. All very proficient and somewhat practiced with line dancing and waltzing and the like. Between dances however the boys and girls would be on separate sides of the gym with not that much interaction taking place. He had a great time and will savor the night as one of the more memorable experiences of his trip.

We did go out on one of the whale watching boats and had an experience of a lifetime. They put us in the water in close proximity to the whales and we snorkeled and swam out to watch them underneath us. They are so amazing!!! Mostly got to view mother's and their calves hanging around under us. There were too many of us in the waters at the same time because we were on a boat with an Australian filming crew so the whales headed away fairly quickly. We had numerous beautiful views of them breaching and really enjoyed the whole experience of seeing them up so close. Plan to do another trip in the HaiPai group (our next set of islands) as we have heard the experience there is even better! Yesterday on our way between anchor spots we found a group of 3 whales playing very close to us and did a bit of chasing them around, Gram and I jumping off the boat and trying unsuccessfully to catch up to them. Again tho' some amazing views of their tail flukes just 200 yards away from the boat!

I am finally feelling better after having had a touch of some flu thing for the last 5 days. Very hard for someone who never gets sick to be feverish and achey in the tropics. I have not been in the best of moods but am glad to be feeling a bit better today. We are just about to go on a dive with our friend Louis on Simpatica. They have just caught up with us after a year. We last saw them in the San Blas last Sept. We are hoping that they will head out with us at the end of the week as we make our way to the Hai Pai group. Last week we were able to dive 4 days in a row which was really incredible. This one island (Tsungisika) offered the best coral we have seen yet and so w e dove there on two days. The fish are very plentiful and the clarity was quite good but the coral, especially the soft coral in every imaginable color was just to die for.

Can't think of a whole lot more to relate 'cept that I miss the family and friends that are in the US and who I wonder about in my daydreams. I am excited to get to New Zealand but also getting ready to be thinking about home and our return. It will be a bit of a shock to both body and mind to come back in the middle of winter but good to be able to settle in during that quiet time too.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In Memoriam

Vava'u Kingdom of Tonga

We got the bad news yesterday that my grandmother, Mary-Ann Bird, has passed away. My father, Aunt, and Uncle were bedside in North Carolina after she was admitted to the hospital with a bad blood Bourne infection.

It is interesting the things that come to mind when you think back and remember your time with a grandparent. My most vivid memories are of our yearly winter visits to New Jersey while the parents worked in NYC. I can clearly remember the house, particularly the recliner (the first I had ever seen I imagine) and the crust-less PB&J sandwiches our grandmother would make for my sister and I. Can't imagine anyone other than a grandmother going to such trouble.

I also vividly remember our visits to Bay Head, and the old family house we would all visit. Days were filled on the beach and playing whiffleball or ping pong in the basement. Evenings were passed doing puzzles or playing cards. My grandmother was quite the card shark and she taught us all well. I can still perfectly picture sitting with her, Bob, and Sierra and trying to learn bridge one of the last times we visited them on the shore.

I unfortunately saw a lot less of my grandmother once she moved to North Carolina. Sierra and I spent a week down there one of the first summers they lived there. The lake was still a hundred yards from where it would end up along their back yard. She took us horseback riding and spoiled us rotten for a week or so...the kind of stuff grandmothers are perfect for. Since then I have only seen her during her occasional visits to Maine and family weddings, not nearly enough I am afraid to say.

A few years ago we were told after 25+ years that she never liked her original grandmotherly nickname and would prefer to go by Mary-Ann, but old habits die hard and I am sorry if she didn't like it so much, but to me, she will always simply be my Mimi.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Von-Tupe Family Singers

Vava'u Tonga

We are having a wonderful time here in Vava'u, but a highlight has been our interaction with a family here. We don't actually know their last name, but Coletti and Tupe have 3 daughters (Jasmine (16), Lola (14), & Megan (8)) and two sons (Michael (6) and Douglas(1)) and lead a dance troop that performs with some cousins as well in order to pay for their schooling.

We went to their church last week, and this weekend we had them (and 18yo cousin Falou (sp?)) aboard Visions for a pick-nick. The highlight for them was sailing, swimming, and visiting their cousin (Falou's sister) who just started working on one of the out islands. Our highlight was them singing for us while Tupe steered the boat.

They are quite the talented family. I will also be accompanying Jasmine to her school Ball on Thursday (no idea what to expect there).

We have also had some excellent dives and went whale watching, getting to swim with the whales a bit. A few more days here and then we will head down to the Hapai Group.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Long time no speak

Vava'u Tonga

Gosh, it has been too long since I wrote anything...sorry for the silence. Luckily mom wrote a few days ago so at least you have heard something from us. Things are well. We are enjoying Tonga and the excellent cruising grounds it provides. We went whale watching the other day and got to swim with a mother and calf a few times. They didn't stick around for too long, before moving on, but we did get some nice views. Quite a wonderful day. Also have had some nice dives. Now it is time to try to find this refrigeration leak that seems to be getting worse. I also managed to book my flights to get home for christmas yesterday. I will be stateside from Dec 16th to Jan 12 and hope to see as many friends and family members as possible before returning to NZ.

I will try to write more soon

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Va Va Va Vava'u

Vava'u, Tonga

Greetings from the Kingdom of Tonga...We are currently in Vava'u the middle group of the Tongan chain of islands. It is an interesting spot here..great cruising grounds and because of that, home to Moorings and SunSail charter operations so full, full of boats and stuff to do.There are too many anchorages to count and they actually are numbered rather than making us trip up over the Tongan names with more vowels than we know what to do with. Feels rather civilized and American (a mixed blessing in many ways) compared to the other places we have been. Lots of restaurants and we are now running into some of the boats that we saw way back in the San Blas as everyone heads West to spend cyclone season in New Zealand or Australia. It is very protected here with lots of little islands to go explore within this one large bay. Kind of reminds us of Maine(except for the palm trees and warm water!)

Basically Tonga is made up of four main island groups. The first one, the Nuias is the most northern one and we stopped at Nuiatoputapu on our way from American Samoa. The island was isolated and relatively poor even before it was hit hard by the Sept. 30, 2009 Tsunami. (9 people died, most homes and gov't offices destroyed). 800 people live on the island, and there might be two dozen paying gov't or commercial (bank) jobs here. The rest send weavings to relatives on the big islands, and some money flows back. There is also subsistence farming, fishing, etc.

We volunteered to do some of the building of the small prefab homes that the Red Cross from Australia has FINALLY gotten here. The village men were thrilled that we had a battery powered drill - as there are no drills on the island - and making holes and tightening bolts was our role. They had been driving successively larger nails before to pass carriage bolts between 2x4's.They have been living in tents and tin shacks for the last year!! Very difficult to fathom what a tent would be like in rainy season (I think they get 100's of inches a year rainfall) and they would be sharing said tent with 10-15 other people as families are large! We complain of recessions and hardships caused thereof...what a joke in comparison.

We had one bad night in Nuiatopatu. After a really nice Mexican dinner aboard our boat with a couple from Mendocino as they went out to leave we found that their dinghy had come untied and disappeared into the dark of the night. Unfortunately Gram had been the one to tie it up so of course we felt quite responsible. Bill, Gram, Steve and Marjula took our dinghy out in search of it with flashlites and the next disaster hit...the lights apparently stirred up these fish called needlefish and one jumped right thru the front of our dingy putting a big hole in it before lodging itself inside said chamber. They limped back and we declared it a 2 dinghy night. Luckily Steve and Marjula were incredibly Zen and gracious about the whole thing and will just use their kayak until they finish up in Australia in a few weeks. We have somewhat patched our dinghy and can also limp along till we reach New Zealand. Bad luck continued to haunt us with 3 more breakdowns after having had a wonderful maintenance free few months. When we tried to leave the next day we found that the windlass was broken so had to juryrig a way to get the anchor up. That has since been fixed without a whole lot of problems...just a day of labor. Just before we got into Vava'u we landed a HUGE fish. Had a very hard time reeling it in and just before boarding it (when we found it was about a 120 lb tuna) it broke the reel-hopefully not ending our marvelous fishing career- and broke free. Last(or so we hope) in the series of karmic paybacks was upon leaving the main harbor of Niefu to head to one of the outer anchorages we had an exhaust flow alarm followed by engine overheating. Had to shut down immediately and kind of float back to a mooring to work thru that one. So lots of maintenance but we believe all is now well and our bad luck played itself out.

The passage from Niuatopatu to Vava'u was relatively short...about 180 miles so just a short overnight. It was pretty raunchy as they have all been lately. I think that it has been recently declared a La Nina year which brings increased trade winds and we are definitely feeling strong highs and strong winds...winds alone not so much a's the seas that they kick up that make passagemaking a rolly and uncomfortable event. I am pretty psyched tho' as that was my last overnight. I am going to fly from Tonga to New Zealand and a friend of my friend, the other Johanna, who lives in NZ is going to meet us in Tonga and be part of the delivery crew with Bill and Gram. I will be able to stay with Sharon the female part of the couple while Ralph does this sail. After making 12000 + miles I am not feeling like a wimp to bail out of this last long and generally tough leg.

We have been having alot of fun easily moving from anchorage to anchorage here and meeting up with other boats for water activities, happy hours, group dinners and few meals out. We saw a wonderful dance performance by a bunch of kids from the village of Pangiamotu. They perform to collect money to pay for schooling as it costs quite a bit for even a public education here. I think they said they hoped to raise 5000. to pay the tuitions, books, etc for these 10 kids. While there we were invited to join that family yesterday for their church and Sunday lunch. Beautiful rich voices filled the space and it was especially interesting as they place the people in the choir thruout the church making the good sounds fill the place instead of coming from the front. The family we went with and ate with were wonderful and we got to speak at length to Coletti the mother who also is the teacher/leader of the dance troup. She and her husband Tupai seem really ambitious and work at a resort as well as doing crafts and farming to well provide for their 5 kids. The kids are so well mannered and helpful and were a joy to watch. Jasmine is 16 and a track star as well as an ace student. Lola is 14, Megan 8, Brian 6 and Douglas 17 months.Very cute kids and we hope to be able to catch another of their performances this week.

One of the anchorages we spent 2 nights at had some of the best snorkeling we have done. It is called the Coral Garden and was just that. Many many varieties of coral, all different colors and shapes and really just beautiful. We are so happy to be back into the water after a couple of weeks of little to no swimming. Have had one good dive here with lots more on the radar...there is just so much to do that it is hard to fit it all in. We hope to get on a whale watch boat later this week...we saw one great tail fluke as we went between anchorages but would love to get out to the open water for more and possibly even a swim with the whales. Did hear them singing when we snorkeled the Coral Gardens and that in itself is quite magical.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Did you miss me?

Niuatoputapa, Tonga

Been a bit of time since I wrote last and alot of miles covered. Left American Samoa on 8/15 for a 12 day trip home to help get Zak off to McGill. It was way too short a time at home and I am so sorry to have not seen everyone I would have liked to connect with. I did however have a few choice visits with those near and dear and had some wonderful time with my beloved grandaughter (she changes so rapidly that visiting with her was very key) Zak and I had a great time in Montreal and I feel like he is in a perfect spot for him to explore this new phase of independence. He was pretty independent the past 9 months but had sister and then grandma very close by...this is the real deal but I feel like he is ready to fly!! I LOVE Montreal and it's energy and am totally psyched that we will now have the excuse to go there a few times a year. Also means we will see more of our brother and sister in law and kids in Vermont as it is a perfect stopping point or they would be able to meet us in Montreal at times perhaps. They treated me to a wonderful birthday meal and mini-celebration when I stayed there on my way back.

I had 2 days in Palo Alto with brother Eric and Katie and Lily and Alyson as I flew East to West. Arrived for Aly's 21st birthday which was fun to help celebrate. What a lovely young lady she has grown into!! Did not see that much of Lil as her social schedule is rather full but she looks great and is the same smiling girl she has been her whole life. Got in a nice visit with my childhood best friend Evvie and also a short but sweet visit with longtime surrogate father Sid (Sierra was born in his 2nd home in Inverness some 35+ years ago). All in all it was a perfect way to break up the trip back to Samoa and really made the travels so so much easier than the trip from hell of 2 redeyes to go home. My friend Janet Spurr was on vaca in Hawaii so she was able to meet me there and travel back to Samoa with me for a short but sweet 4 day visit with us.

What we arrived to in American Samoa was pretty awesome. Every minute of every day was filled with activities planned by various members of the village of Fagasa (Forbidden Bay) where the boat was anchored. Bill and Gram had made great inroads into the REAL Samoa and we were hosted by this village in a most remarkable way. There hasn't been a boat here in years and years and their curiosity was only rivaled by their generosity. The nature of the Samoan culture is family is all important and family extends to many generations, cousins,and even strangers like us. We were fed and taken all over the island to see their favorite places. They gave us gifts and extended so many courtesies that it was almost embarrassing. So many parts of the island are still trying to recover from the tsunami that devasted the place last Sept. Many people lost everything and it is only because of the extended family thing that they have been able to recover. We had one really fun lunch out at a place called Tisa's Barefoot Bar and were able to learn alot of the history of the island and it's people from Tisa's son Jason who was there for a month or so. He generally fishes out of Alaska but comes home each year to spell someone else from the responsibilities of the restaurant. Sili,one of the chiefs of the village of Fangasa made us an UMU which is the traditional barbeque that is cooked in the earth. It was an amazing feast and quite a feat to watch. His "boys" (sons and nephews most likely) did the whole thing. They do not eat with us, the guests but stood over us fanning us to keep flies away and heat at bay...a bit uncomfortable for the likes of me but again part of their culture. The respect and reverence that the young people show their elders is pretty amazing and really a shocking counterpart to our American ways. Very well behaved and very curious about us as palangies (foreigners). Before the umu we had gone to the school that our friend Evelyn was principal of and repeated the slide show that Bill and Gram had also presented to the school in Fagasa. We were amazed by the interest and knowledge of the world we have just travelled by these 5th, 6th and 7th graders. Also had the honor of taking Sili to the next bay (Massacre Bay) in our dinghy to allow him to pay respects to his departed auntie who is buried there. It was a lovely beach and we had a picnic lunch and did a bit of swimming and snorkeling.

Evelyn is this amazing American who had lived in Samoa since she was a teenager and is married to the high chief of Fangasa-Lilio. He is one of the kindest men we have met and has such a quiet yet strong and powerful presence that being with him was really cool. We went out our last night there to a dance performance and really enjoyed our time with the two of them. Love the way the men dress up in nice shirts or even ties and jackets and then a lava lava which is like a wraparound skirt! And then there was David ( a fellow who also has been here from Mass. for many years) and his Samoan wife Fui. They had us to dinner, had us to breakfast and gave us many gifts which we will cherish forever. They also drove Janet to the airport after dinner on Thurs. and stayed with her in the line which i am sure was very helpful for her as the chaos at the airport was rather extraordinary in my experience. Fui and David still have two sweet kids still at home who giggled and smiled whenever we spoke to them. We were gifted an AVA bowl (which is a bowl for Kava, a traditional drink of these parts) From what I have read it is drug like in its effects and I wonder when we will get to try out our bowl! It is a beautiful wood piece with 10 legs and will grace our vanity once we put some pads on the feet...

We had hoped to stay for church on Sunday so that I could experience the singing and togetherness of the service but weather dictated a rather abrupt departure on Sat. early afternoon. So off we were, headed 200 miles to our next port and a new country. It was a horrible sail...the worst of the trip according to Gram who actually got seasick but with 30 knot winds at least it was very fast. Arrived in Nuiatoputapu (most Americans call it new potatoes when pronunciation gets their tongue) the northernmost island in the Tongan chain yesterday at 11am...only 22 hrs after leaving Fangasa. We lost Sunday in the process as we have now crossed the international dateline.
Looking forward to going ashorethis morning and getting our first taste at Tongan culture which we have heard is very similar to that of Samoa. Guess for me I will just keep being Queen for a Day...that is how they make me feel!!! Hope to hear some news from abroad as any of you find the time. We were happy to hear that Earl missed the US of course and wonder what else besides fall and apples Sept will bring.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fanned in Fagasa

Fagasa, Amerika Samoa

He have had an amazing time here in the village of Fagasa (Pronounced Fang-a-sa'). The week before mom returned we did lots of work, but found the time to give a presentation to the local 6th, 7th, & 8th graders. They loved it and now we are famous, being called by name all around the village and even in Pago Pago on occasion. We were also invited to a BBQ on Saturday and went to church again on Sunday. We were all ready to leave the Wednesday before mom got back and meet them in Apia, but Sili made us an offer we couldn't refused as he wanted to show us around and have an Umu in our honor while Janet was here so we stayed. Sunday night Sili took Bill to pick up mom and Janet Spur (a sales-rep friend of Mom's). Monday we were taken on a tour of the western side of the island and had Evalyn and Lilio over for cocktails. Tuesday we gave the a presentation to Evalyn's private school children (amazing kids really) and then came back for an Umu. This is the traditional hot rock cooking method. We had BBQ'd meat, and veggies from the umu including breadfruit, bananas, and the most amazing food I have ever had, taro leaves with coconut milk which I can't remember the name of, but is truly amazing, like the best creamed spinach you could ever imagine but without any of the strong spinach aroma. Of course the most mind-blowing part is that as you eat, you are fanned (to keep cool and to keep the flies away) by "the boys" (untitled men in the family). Once we were done eating, Sili, his wife, and cousin ate, and then the boys eat what is left with plates of food taken to other elders in the village. It is slightly uncomfortable being served this way, but it is their custom and they are happy to have visitors and therefore the opportunity to practice their culture.

Janet left after a dinner with David (from Mass) and his wife Fusi (Fagasaian). Today we went shopping and now are at the school enjoying the internet. We got permission to leave quietly on Sunday after church so will be prepping tomorrow for our departure to Nuatapatupu (New Pototoes).

Wednesday we went to Tisa's barefoot bar to snorkel and have lunch and then on Thursday we took Sili to his Aunt's gravesite at Masacre Bay, about 2 miles by dingy. He hadn't been there in 10 years or so and we were so happy to give back to him as he has been an amazing host to us.

Monday, August 23, 2010

King for a Day

Fagasa, American Samoa

Today will go down in our memories as one our most special days. We started off with a visit to church. Sili (our talking chief host) met us at the beach and explained to the Marine Patrol who were waiting on the beach for us that we were here under his invitation. We then headed to church where we were seated in the front rows. While weary of the potential for lightening bolts to come thru the windows, we enjoyed the singing, and were treated to some English readings for our benefit. The singing was amazing by this choir that had just celebrated their 90th anniversary the week before. Dressed all in white, they made up about half the people visiting the church that day and boy could they sing.

After that we were walked to an open sided house to meet the chiefs. We were seated at tables around the perimeter with the 5 chiefs and served a meal with the chiefs. First dish was the Mahi Mahi we had caught and gave to the village and we were thanked for our gift. We were given WAY too much food, but after eating our soup we wrapped up the food in the tin foil it was served on for later. We were then excused while the chiefs had their meeting.

We walked around a bit then visited with a "palangie" Polynesian for "come from away" originally from Virginia, but moved here when she was in 8th grade. She is is married to a lower chief here, but is moving to a different village in a few weeks where he is being installed as the high chief. She was incredibly friendly, is the principal of the private school, and quite the historian. She told us lots of details of the tsunami last year and then took us on a tour of the east side of the island. We learned just how special it was that we were invited to eat with the chiefs and had a truly amazing day.

We will certainly remember this day forever.

Friday, August 20, 2010

To Boldly Go Where No Boat Has Gone Before (in 15 years anyway)

American Samoa

Bill has been a busy bee. Lots of Politicking, including 3 days to visit congress, a lunch, and many meetings with Senators, Representatives, Port Directors, and many others, but we are cleared and welcome to visit Fagassa, where we hear no yacht has visited in 15 years, and we are waiting to hear back from Aoa, where an old chief said that he doesn't remember any yachts EVER visiting. I will let Bill give details on his whole process and what the dedicated might have to go through to follow our footsteps.

A very nice side benefit of the visits to congress was that we got to see and hear their opening hymn each day. If you are in American Samoa while congress is in session, it is definitely worth a visit. The session starts at 10:00 am and last about an hour. Proceedings are in Samoan, with occasional English words thrown in as each representative gives a statement, but the opening hymn is beautiful with all the men led by the female clerk and the secretaries joining in from the gallery.

Samoan Congressional Opening Hymn

Here is the audio I recorded. It doesn't quite do it or the acoustics justice, but you get the idea. I imagine this is what a church service here might be like. I imagine we will see next weekend.

We fuel up tomorrow morning, then head on to Fagassa.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

So Good you'll want Samoa

Pago Pago, American Samoa, South Pacific

For reasons that aren't clear, Western Polynesians have an invisible N, so the harbor we are in is pronounced Pango Pango. The harbor is a pleasant surprise....built up and fairly dirty, but with great natural beauty that almost overcomes the container terminal and tuna canneries. Mom flies out tonight so then it will be just Bill and I to get some work done and explore American Samoa and then head west to Samoa (formerly Western Samoa, but they dropped the Western a few years ago). The Samoans are very friendly and we are rather enjoying the place.

The reason I thought of this title is that apparently New Zealand doesn't have Graham Crackers...this would be bad enough for little Kiwi children to suffer, but the real collateral damage is that they therefore don't have So-mores. They love to camp and have camp fires, but they never seemed to have thought of putting marshmellows between cookies with chocolate....almost as amazing as the Chinese never figuring out the fork!

I have started educating Kiwi's, one family at a time...some day I hope they will know me as Johny graham cracker seed, or something.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Vaikona Cave - Extreme Exploration

Vaikona Cave - Niue - South Pacific

The other day we rented a car with Rod and Elizabeth on Proximity and explored the island. It was an awesome day including Togo Chasms, Limu Pools and most of the other attractions on Niue we hadn't gotten to yet. We also went on a REALLY cool hike towards Vaikona Cave. We ignored the "Dangerous - Guided Only" sign as we had heard the hike was very doable, but stopped at the cave entrance with the "Dangerous - Falling Rocks" sign. The cave was steep, somewhat slippery, and we hadn't heard one way or the other how doable it was, plus we had heard conflicting reports on what to expect inside. We continued on the path down to the ocean (VERY COOL) and really enjoyed the hike overall, only getting off trail once, and quickly found our way again. We started asking around and got the skinny from Willie who owns the Washaway Cafe and Crazy Uga Cafe as well as a fishing business (very go get-em guy). He drew us a map and said we "couldn't get lost" - never as reassuring as it sounds. The couple on Quartermoon had been partway in and suggested a rope and climbing harness if we had one.

Today Bill, Rod, Elizabeth, and myself (Gram) headed back - mom smartly decided this wasn't for her. The hike in was enjoyable again and a bit faster this time. The trail is marked with red arrows in trees, but it isn't too hard to loose the path, so keep a keen eye out for the markers (Elizabeth is excellent at this). Also, there are many spiderwebs so a "swizzle stick", i.e a stick held in front of you at head height is rather helpful to clear the way. I have been told there are no dangerous spiders on Niue, but they are rather large. We got to the cave in about 30-40 mins, but it probably took us an hour or more the first time as we stopped to admire the scenery more. The entrance to the cave is just to the left of the danger sign, slightly after you can look down into the open hole.

First a bit of a warning for those following in our footsteps. I would not suggest this cave to just anybody. You have to be fit, and a bit of rock climbing/bouldering experience will really help. Elizabeth decided it wasn't for her and Rod stayed to keep her company. Bill struggled greatly, but I was able to coach him through the climb. I am by no means a climber, but I have gone to a rock gym a few times and am comfortable trusting my life on a rope. We brought a 25m line (30m would have been better) and a climbing harness. I do not have a descender so used 3 wraps on a caribeaner and ascenders would have made getting back up much easier and safer. It is certainly possible to do the climb with the ropes in the cave, but a secondary longer rope made it much easier. I didn't use the harness or caribeaners, but did use the 25m line to lower myself down the face and pull myself back up.

Here is my map of the cave system:

I will also host this file in our documents section (link on the right) for download.

When you enter the cave you have to almost crab walk under the overhang (especially if you have a pack on as I did). After that you come to the first slope which does get a little slick if wet, but isn't too bad. You can climb to the left and it is much better. About 15 feet from the entrance I found a nice rock to tie my line onto. This helped to get down the next steeper slope. There is a yellow line to help with the steepest portion of this face, but I tied on about 5 feet higher on the slope and it was helpful, but not necessary. From there you can get yourself down to plateau and prepare for the real climb. Just about anyone can get to this point and you get a nice view of the large cavern with lots of plants and moss and fairly good light.

From the plateau you will see a knotted pink line that runs down a face and then spans a gap and is tied around a large rock. There is also a vertical line way over to the left but getting there is hard and then you have to lower or raise yourself without any rock wall put your feet on for help (think high school gym class). This rock face is quite slippery so you pretty much have to trust the rope (and/or your rope)and belay yourself down. Once down the face, you must turn and bridge the narrow gap to the rock the pink line is tied around. This rock is not slippery at all and has lots of good handholds so traversing across it is not too difficult especially with the pink line tied around it to use for purchase.

Once around the large rock with the rope you must scurry across several moss covered, wet, slippery rocks to get to the first pool. It seemed the best route was to stay left along the wall and stay as low as possible. At least here there was not very far to fall. Careful crab-walking gets this done fine and you will then find yourself at the edge of the first pool. There are some nice photographic vantage points from here and it is quite pretty. We left our bags, camera and t-shirts and donned our masks and flashlights (torches) as well as our dive camera for the journey to the center of the earth.

The first pool is a nice swim. Slightly brackish water temp was about 72ish degrees, not too cold, but chillier than the ocean. The first swim through is easy, just 1 foot down, and 2 feet to get problem at all. This puts you into a large, dark (one minor source of light in an upper corner) cave. There is a large rock in the middle of the cave. Directions from Willy were to look to the left to find the swim through. We explored this area left of the rock greatly and found nothing, so went to the right of the rock and found a way through. It does appear that you could climb up and over to the 3rd pool by going to the left of the rock and climbing up through a narrow gap. This looked fairly difficult and would likely result in some scrapes. The swim through to the right is fairly difficult.

As you approach the end of the channel on the right it terminates in a underwater crack just large enough to swim up or down through, but not with a lot of clearance. The swim through is under that and then down further under a fairly deep and large rock. I took 3 tries of going down, and back up, going further each time before I was sure this was a valid swim-through with air on the other side. I would not suggest even thinking about this swim through unless you can hold your breath for over 1 minute. It is probably 1.5 meters deep and 2 meters long. Getting down isn't so hard as the water is almost fresh and you can pull yourself along with your hands pretty well, but it is a long swim and the passageway is narrow at the beginning (just to get down, then it is wide open. This swim through will land you in the 3rd cave, much smaller than the first two with a decent amount of natural light, but not tons (photos still need a flash, but you can see without a flashlight. 4 people would fill this and the 4th cave up pretty well.

From there it is a very shallow and easy swim through to cave number 4 which is quite dark and also fairly small. Here we probably saw the best stalactites and stalagmites and other cool formations. I took some photos here (see smiling fools to the left) but we were starting to get a bit cold so we started back. In the 3rd cave we had a bit of hard time finding the swim through back to cave number 2. I dove down to find it, swam along and then surfaced. It didn't look quite right, but I cam up and yelled to Bill, "I'm Through!" as we had been doing to keep the other appraised, only to have him say "No Your Not!" right behind me...Oops. Second try solved the problem and I cam up through the narrow crack about 3 feet below the surface no problem. My light then guided Bill in the right direction for his dive.

The last swim through back is quite spectacular due to the lighting in cave number 1 and the crystal clear, bluish water. We yelled to Rod and Elizabeth that we were back so they could stop worrying. We climbed out, dried off, scampered back across the mossy rocks and I gave Bill the climbing harness back to put on. I climbed back around the rock with the pink rope tied around it then had to make the faith move using the pink line to hold my weight and turn putting my left foot across the gap onto the slippery wall. I could then grab the line we placed and using both lines for stability was able to swing my right foot across so I was now on the face of the cave entrance. Using our line I was able to climb up the slippery face. This is difficult as it is hard to get a good foot hold, but not horrible. When in doubt stay left as the rock is sticker there and there seem to be more edges to get a foot hold on. I was then able to use the pink line to finish the face and got myself onto the plateau to the left along the wall of the cave.

Now it was Bill's turn. He climbed around the first rock fine but struggled with approaching the face backwards and making the step across the gap. He tried frontwards a bit, but that didn't work well. He finally made the mental leap to trust his weight on the pink rope and made the step across. At this point he grabbed our line and clipped into the caribeaner with two wraps to act as a belay device. Now he was at least safe and was able to make the step across with his second foot using both lines as well to steady his rotation. He then pretty much pulled himself up with his arms as he didn't have the technique down to get as good a grip on the face. He joined me on the plateau and we were home free. The climb up from there is easy enough with the permanent ropes and with our extra line was quite easy. I coiled our line up as I went, untied it from the rock and we were ready for a quick snack before heading back out the trail to the car, skipping the ocean part this time.

All told it took us over 5 hours, probably 1.5 hours of that was coaching Bill down the rock face into the first cave, but it is still a lengthy trip so leave plenty of time to enjoy it. Time in the water was about 20 mins and hiking was probably 1.25 hours total. We took our time to be careful and safe as you are far from any help with no good way to get there if you get hurt. It was probably the most extreme adventure I have ever had and was a real rush as well as gorgeous and relaxing at the same time. It was also cool to think about how few people on the island, let along the world had ever been in that 4th cave.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

news from Nuie

The island of Nuie at 19 03.3S 169 55.5W

Since I wrote last we made it to Beveridge Reef and spent two days there. It was a unique experience as we really were anchored in the middle of the ocean. The reef there is literally out in the middle of the Pacific and there is NO land in sight. Made us laugh as the most common question we get asked is what do we do at night???Do we just put down an anchor....not quite as most passages have us in 1000 + ft of water but in this case we really did anchor in the middle of nowhere. We had hoped for some really good diving there but either the wicked Crown of Thorns ( a growth that feeds on and destroys the coral) or the cyclones had pretty much wiped out the coral and there was not significant fish life either. So being disappointed and having to contend with a rolly anchorage we cut our stay there short and headed to Nuie on Mon July 26 along with 6 other boats. It was fun sailing in such a caravan/very different from the passages when you see noone for days on end but had to pay alot of attention at night especially. We were the first to make Nuie and pick up one of the moorings there. There is an entity that calls itself the Nuie Yacht Club and they offer alot to the cruisers including moorings in Alofi Bay. Nuie is independent but pretty well linked to New Zealand...much money and infrastructure comes from NZ and many of the officials here take posts for a year or two and are kiwis. When we got here there were about 15 other boats in the harbor and within a few days all the moorings were filled and a few boats even had to anchor (not a good bottom for holding hence the 20 moorings that have been provided). I think on Sun or Mon there were 26 boats here which apparently is a record. One of the main attractions here are the whales which migrate past here in Aug and Sept. Nuie is pretty different topographically. It was a volcano which sunk like the others but has now risen above the sea again so is made up of limestone and coral.There are lots of caves and caverns to explore both in and out of the water.

We have gone on a few dives here and they are pretty different since one of the options is cave diving. I didn't think I would like it all but it has been quite interesting and not scary. The coolest one was a tunnel we went thru and came up in the interior of the island in a cave that had breathable air (regulators were held out of the water while we looked at all the stalagmites and stalagtites that had formed in this moist interior). Felt like Indiana Jones revisited. The rays of light coming thru the crevases and into the pools of turquoise water have been gorgeous and there are some different fish and animal life to be viewed. Snakes...lots of them and electric blue eels and lobsters in the caves have been some of the new finds. We have been able to swim with dolphins twice and yesterday saw whales pretty close by. Tried to be in the water with them but they kept alluding us. Got some great visuals on flukes and tail slapping tho and while under the water on our dive could clearly hear them singing...very magical!

Much of the weekend was devoted to birthday celebrations...our friend Trish on Curious had an Aug 1st bday so Bill and Steve and Gram organized a big pot luck party at the yacht club on Sat. Our two boats provided a bbque feast of fish, pork and turkey kabobs that were grilled to perfection and all attendees brought a dish to share...lots of chatting, drinking and feasting. Ended up with 5 or 6 other early Aug birthdays being added into the celebration so we had a great time. That night just as we got back to the boats we saw lightning and a pretty significant squall blew in. Pretty uncomfortable anchorage that night with swells wrappping around the island and into the harbor. A 57 ft catamaran between here and Tonga actually capsized that night but was rescued the next morning by the freighter that was headed here. The two fellows on board were bruised up an bit but were so lucky that that was all. Unfortunately the boat is still afloat and will have to be watched out for by all the people in these waters for the next few weeks at least. We will be going in a different direction when we do leave so will not have much to think about. Kind of a wake up scary experience tho'. Glad to be on a monohull with a much more stable tipping point and alot more lead and weight under our keel. Think that this was the largest cat to ever go over tho' so ....

On Sunday we went on an around island tour in the hopital administrator's( Anne) car. She took us to a number of caves which we climbed in and around and to a few gorgeous pools. It was kind of a rainy day so we did not snorkle but will hope to go back there this week and check out the snorkelable spots. It is a gorgeous island and very different with these cliffs and beaches per say but still quite lovely. Had lunch at a local place called the Washaway run by a real character named Willy. Huge delicious burgers which have an egg and beets as accoutrements...a tasty treat and a fun place to hang out. Will hope for another Sunday(only day he is open there) when we can go back and snorkel at his cove as well. That night we had another bday celebration on Curious with the 5 of us and another boat(Bubas) a great couple from Australia who have been hanging with us as well. We have become so close to Curious these past 6-7 weeks of cruising together...hope they will remain lifelong friends as they are such wonderful people and we all got on so finely.

Last night we had a farewell dinner for Steve and Trish (and included Anne and another local...Shelley the police chief's wife). Curious left for Tonga very early this morning and we will not see them again til New Zealand as they are on a different route from us at this point. Today I am feeling quite sad at my loss of a wonderful woman friend. She was probably the most compatible with me of anyone we have met on this trip and such a great lady. They will head for Tonga and then Figi where they will leave the boat for a month to fly home to So. Wales to be there for their first grandchild to be born in Sept. We will stay here till mid week next week probably, will watch the weather and pick a window to head up to American Samoa so that I can fly home on the 15th. Bill and Gram will most likely head to Western Samoa to hang out the 2 weeks I am away as Pago Pago (the main anchorage in Amer. Samoa) is good only for provisioning and flying in and out of...not particularly pretty or cultural from what we have heard. So that brings us up to date on the goings on in our little boat world.

Dive to Snake Gully

Niue - Snake Gully

It was an early morning to get to shore, drive to the dive shop, then gear up and get out on the water. The fisherman who was pulling his boat and 30lb wahoo out of the water told us there were Whales in the bay, so first before our dive we headed off in search of a whale interaction. We saw two whales right away, and headed to where they had surfaced. I jumped in to spot the dive boat and see if they were in the area still. I didn't see the whales, but I did see a LARGE Blue Marlin (8'body plus 3'sword at least) about 40 feet below me....VERY COOL majestic fish. The whales surfaced further north, so out of the water and we kept chasing. We got some great views as they surfaced from the dive boat, and one swim by but the single whale was fairly deep so we saw more of the hint of a whale than anything else. Still, very cool and hopefully we will get a better look in the next week. After that we jumped in to swim with some dolphins for a few minutes, then headed to Snake Gully for our dive.

Snake Gully gets its name from the plethora of snakes that call this region home. The snakes vary from 2' to 4' and though VERY poisonous, have very small mouths, so aren't very dangerous to humans. They surface about every 30 minutes to breath and are quite inquisitive when they aren't sleeping. Other than the snakes and some nice early growth coral (Niue was hit pretty hard by a cyclone in 2004ish and the coral is just coming back now) there is a very cool, but small cave with TONS of Lobster and another Chavern with very cool light filtering through the gaps. A lovely dive, but by then we were getting pretty cool in the 80 degree (27 C) water.

Tonight we had Ann (Hospital administrator - read head of state health and human services) and Shelly (Chief of Police's wife) over for dinner along with Steve and Trish. Very nice conversation and a great dinner. Unfortunately, Steve and Trish are leaving us tomorrow and we won't see them again until New Zealand in November for Steve, and January for Trish. We will miss them greatly. About half the harbor had emptied out in the last two days, but we have another week or so to explore Niue and plan to make the most of it.

Pics have been updated through the Cook islands and Niue should be up soon, so go check out the web albums (link on the right). The other big news is that a 57' catamaran flipped on their way here the other day and were rescued by the ship that came in on Monday. The Crew is fine, but it is a wake up call to a lot of sailors here and makes us very glad we have a big heavy keel under our boat unlike a catamaran which is more stable upside down then right-side up. My quick write-up of the incident made the front page of

Monday, August 2, 2010

Happy Birthday Johanna


Johanna’s birthday weekend included caves and caverns, stalagtites and stalagmites, a big birthday barbeque party at the Nuie Yacht Club, and a birthday dinner aboard Curious – along with August 1 birthday girl Trish. A special birthday indeed, and one that nearly sets a new standard.

Hugs and love to and from all…

The Crew of Visions of Johanna