Society Islands (French Polynesia), to Cook Islands (Aitutaki), to Niue Island.
On 2nd July we departed Tahiti for nearby Moorea, (map) after the very pleasant two weeks anchored off Marina Tania Maeva beach Papeete. We passed out of the flat tranquil anchorage through Passe De Taapuna where local surfers were enjoying the surf on the fringing reef and motor-sailed the short 16 mile passage in rock and roll seas as opposing current and wind led us a merry dance. Once in the lee of Moorea the sea settled and we anchored on the western side of Opunohu Bay in a flat calm anchorage a stones throw from a palm clad white sandy beach with a beautiful mountain backdrop. The French Pilot book touted this as the most beautiful anchorage in Polynesia and certainly it was one to beat!! Our anchorage was shallow, with only a metre under the keel and the glistening sand bottom was reflected in the surface ripples. Children from adjacent boats dinghied around following the very conspicuous Manta rays gliding along the bottom. The beach provided a meeting spot for families both cruising and local under the shade of the trees as children frolicked in the safe shallows. Joleen and I dinghied across the Bay to the eastern side of the entrance where a World War II wreck enticed us to a dive. The wreck however was near surface and most of the dive was spent snorkeling around it on the surface. We met other cruisies "Ocean Breezes" UK, "No News" USA, "Wild Sweet" NZ and also Johan and Vicki on "Milou" with who we had shared the ocean enroute from the Galapagos to Marquesas. All in all a beautiful spot that we could have lingered at if our need to keep moving hadn't dictated. We took advantage of a quiet weather window on the evening of 5th July to sail overnight to the northeast and the Island of Huahine.
We entered the pass into Huahine Nui, (map), just after daybreak on 6th July, after 83 miles and a night of largely motoring in light wind conditions and a lot of boat traffic. Anchoring off the nice village of Fare just inside the channel entrance we found a quaint spot with all the necessities right on the quay. We completed internet, and supermarket chores, had hamburgers and then motored south inside the barrier reef to the anchorage at Avea Bay in the southeastern corner of Huahine Iti. This was another pleasant spot in sheltered waters with a mountain backdrop which was to become the norm in the remainder of the Society Islands. The weather was somewhat shifty with rain squalls but our anchorage was secure and we lazed and did a number of boat chores before heading north again on 8th July to Fare village for Ratna and Joleen to dinghy ashore for more supplies before we sailed out of the pass the 17 miles to the Passe De Arapiti to the Islands of Raiatea and Tahaa. We entered the Pass in mid afternoon and motored on inside the protection of the large fringing reef amongst inter-island freighter traffic and a fleet of board sailors scooting across the flat waters with the brisk trade winds blowing. We anchored just on dark in 25 meters, the shallowest water we could find in Hurepiti Bay on the western side of Tahaa Island amongst bungalows and jetties nestled in the trees on the shores.
We departed Tahaa (map) on the morning of 9th July and passed out to open ocean at Passe Paipai between big rollers breaking on the adjacent reef and enjoyed a nice sail northeast with a myriad of cruising and charter yachts all heading to the legendary Bora Bora. It was only 20 nautical miles to Bora Bora and we quickly rolled off the miles entering the eastern Passe Taevanui and then directly across to Bora Bora Yacht Club where Glenn off "Candidus" directed us to a vacant mooring. We were to rendezvous here for Glenn's 65th birthday celebrations along with Steve and Coralyn "Alnilam", Roy "Sea Loone" and Tony "Cariad". Bora Bora was a very popular tourist destination and the hotels not evident in Tahiti were very conspicuous here. The luxury of having our own waterborne transport however provided us with opportunities to find isolated spots not available to others. After Glenn's birthday celebration shared with the other cruisies at the Bora Bora Yacht Club we moved about the island complex to different anchorages and vistas. We spent 7 days in Bora Bora bringing our stay in French Polynesia to a close. A period of one month which would be nice to be repeated again at some time in the spectacular variety of anchorages with nice tropical climate and accommodating locals.
Back to ocean passages again, (map) and our long haul to New Zealand with only a few islands of the Cook, Niue and Tonga groups to visit. It was almost a shock as we had softened with the flat protected anchorages we had experienced for the past two months in French Polynesia. We departed Bora Bora on the morning of 16th July with 15-20 knot South easterlies allowing us to pole out our genoa and roll our way westwards and downwind. The wind remained reasonably steady from the East for the 412 miles which we completed in 3 and half days to the Island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. We recovered our sea legs, caught Mahi Mahi and settled into the passage routine before anchoring shortly after midnight in the wee hours of 20th July in 20 metres of water on the western leeward side of Aitutaki. We shifted closer to the channel entrance to the small harbour shortly after daybreak. The channel was too shallow for our 1.8 metre draft and although we could perhaps have scraped through, prudence was the better choice for us. "Candidus arrived also in the morning of 20th July and with their shallower draft they safely made their way up the channel with only a few minor bumps to the shelter of the small Aitutaki harbour.
A brief stay at Aitutaki was all we were allowed as the weather became changeable and the anchorage at the channel entrance quickly became untenable as swell from the west had us rolling very uncomfortably and on a lee shore. Joleen attended an excellent traditional dance evening held by the locals on the evening of 20th July along with Glenn and Judy and spent the night onboard with them on "Candidus". We completed our clearance formalities on 21st July and we quickly departed before the weather deteriorated further. In settled trade wind weather the anchorage outside the reef would be quite acceptable and the dinghy ride up the channel is a quick zip particularly with a 15hp outboard motor. There are plans in place to widen and deepen the channel and once this is completed, Aitutaki will be able to welcome a larger slice of the cruising community. The atmosphere at Aitutaki was very relaxed and a perfect place for anyone seeking rest and recuperation. A small island surrounded by a big lagoon with activities if you wanted them or quiet relaxation if you didn't. An old school friend from years gone by, Johnny Hermann, was from Aitutaki but a telephone call was all to be had as he had moved to the bigger metropolis of Rarotonga.
Off from Aitutaki the 474 miles were a mix of boisterous 20 knot trade winds from the SE, then horrible North westerlies in a rough sea which were our first winds on the nose since the Gulf of Panama and a taste of what was possibly in store when we eventually headed south from the tropics to New Zealand. Not a pleasant thought, however we rattled off the miles in somewhat uncomfortable fashion. Ratna's chilli plant became a casualty after travelling with us all the way from the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean. It had to be cast over the side the first day out from Aitutaki, shriveled from salt burn, a sad shadow of its former self. The winds varied 360 degrees around the clock up to 30 knots at times and we reefed, furled and unfurled numerous times as the conditions tested our resolve. Our arrival at Niue coincided with the weather settling back in the usual trade wind easterly direction and after 4 and half days we picked up a mooring off the Niue wharf at Alofi in the dark at 2240 hours on 25th July.
What a delight, Niue was an unexpected treasure after the disappointment of only a day at Aitutaki. At Niue the weather behaved and stayed in the east with trades blowing constantly. The moorings (provided by the Niue Yacht Club) on the western side of the Island are in extremely deep water only a stones throw from the island which is a rare raised coral atoll surrounded by vertical cliffs. As a consequence of the surrounding deep water and cliffs, safe anchoring was generally difficult if not impossible and landing places were only recommended at Alofi Dock with a crane to lift boats out of the water as a protection against the ever present ocean swell. The cliffs of Niue had numerous chasms carved by the seas which provided spectacular protected swimming holes once the domains only for earlier Kings and Queens. We hired a car and circumnavigated the Island several times after being issued with a unique colourful local drivers licence. On a visit to Matapa chasm we met TaniRose (a local girl) who Ratna, with her photographic memory for people and faces, recognized from the Niue Tourist brochure. She was now an employee of the New Zealand High Commission and was showing Heather, the new Deputy High Commissioner, her new environment. Heather consequently invited us for tea at her residence and we reciprocated by inviting her, husband Harry and son Johan to "Star of the West" as they had yachting interests as well. Niue was a very compact safe little society and welcoming waves became the norm whether walking or driving around the little island. A warm gesture long forgotten in the rush of everyday life in western societies. Eric, a representative of the Niue Yacht Club (http://www.niueyachtclub.com) kindly provided us with free fresh veges from his and his wife Hine's garden from their new house provided by the French Government. Their old residence had been destroyed in the last cyclone that had passed through Niue. A number of houses on Niue appeared abandoned but these were apparently owned by absentee owners who now all lived in New Zealand. A variety of fruit and vegetables grew wild in the mild tropical climate and in our ventures ashore we came across noni, papaya, chilli's all growing contentedly. Supplies were also replenished from adequate shops, gas bottles refilled, wireless internet connections with the outside world and hokey pokey ice cream (a NZ specialty) was devoured in the ice cream shop. We met other cruisies again who's migration west coincided with ours, "Milou" and "Gunna Too" and also new ones, Alan on "Zebeedee" and Eric on "Irish Eyes", who were both sailing single-handing. "Zebeedee" was also designed by Jay R Benford as was our "Star of the West" but a dory with Chinese junk rig and no engine which provided Alan with some interesting times navigating in windless conditions. Shared meals and happy hours on the moorings amongst huge whales who at this time of the year treated the area as their own added to an unforgettable stay. Our timing seemed to be lucky however as we were later to hear from friends "Candidus" and others who sailed into Niue after we had left and were caught in a nasty westerly weather change. Their crews had been trapped on the Island whilst the weather passed through as the Wharf area was too dangerous for launching of dinghies and whilst the moorings were strong and secure, life aboard was like a washing machine for the skippers. We could have stayed longer, but it was time to move west again and we completed customs and immigration formalities easily at their office which incorporated the Niue Island Bond store, the only retail outlet for alcohol on the Island. We had enjoyed a unique 5 day visit and left with a warm glow.
Niue Island to Vava'U Group (Tonga) to Tongatapu Group (Tonga) to New Zealand.
We departed Niue Island on 31st July for the 170 mile journey to the Northern Vav'au group of Islands of Tonga in company with "Irish Eyes" and enjoyed a brisk sail for the first 36 hours. We crossed the International dateline at 0958 hours on the morning of 1st August which immediately became 2nd August and we had lost a day! We continued in lighter SE winds and arrived at Neiafu Harbour at 0900hrs on 3rd August where we were required to tie alongside the wharf whilst customs, immigration and quarantine formalities were completed. An uneventful trip weather wise except a few hiccups that occurred with the watermaker enroute which required some remedies and resulted in the freshwater flush being forgotten to be completed and 300 litres of freshly made freshwater being pumped back into the sea. Mmmm.
Neiafu, the main town in the Vava'U group of Islands was in a landlocked harbour with numerous moorings occupied by a number of charter boats or visiting yachts and motorboats. We dropped anchor adjacent to the moorings and caught up with Tony and Kim "Navire" who with their visitors Tony and Kay from NZ were friends of Keith and Christine "Achates" and Glenn and Judy "Candidus". The Vava'U Group of Islands are a mix of normal flat and raised atolls similar to though not as high and precipitous as Niue Is. Vava'U is shaped like an Octopus with it's head to the north and various severed tentacles to the south which form numerous Islands offering an anchorage and shelter from whichever direction the wind blows. Consequently this is an ideal cruising ground and the preferred gathering locale for visiting yachts people in Tonga. We explored the friendly township of Neiafu and it's more ramshackle order compared to Alofi on Niue and bought a variety of fresh local food and handicrafts from the local market near the docks. Anchorages were shared with others, tales swapped and an evening beach bonfire potluck meal and other gatherings enjoyed. We met David and Barbara "Calabar" said hello and goodbye to Tim and and Phil "Libelle" who we had last seen at Papeete and were heading west to Fiji and Vanuatu and welcomed Bill and Jackie "Pukkabelle" last seen in Trinidad. "Alnilam" arrived from the Cook Islands and "Milou", "Irish Eyes" and "Zebeedee" from Niue. Vava'U was "filling" with boats as the southern winter sailing season was coming to an end and included the Tall Ship "Soren Larsen" (http://www.sorenlarsen.co.nz/) from New Zealand on one of her Charter trips. The Islands were a launching point for different destinations as everyone sought to avoid the forthcoming tropical summer and threat of cyclones. Whales performed as they had at Niue and held boating audiences captive as they cavorted around amongst the Islands. Caves were explored and "Navire" introduced us to the underwater Mariner's cave which required a heart pumping breath holding plunge for access into it's dark recesses. At Ano beach, where we had anchored, we attended a traditional Tongan Feast with it's large spread of food, including spit-roasted piglets and accompanying entertainment provided by young dancing girls and their kava drinking guitar accompaniment. After 11 very pleasant festive days, farewells to all we moved on south on the morning of 14th August for an overnight trip to the Capital Nuku'Alofa in the southernmost Tongatapu group of Islands.
Vava'U to Nuku'alofa is approximately 160 nautical miles and some craft choose to cruise the Ha'Apai group of Islands which lie directly enroute. We were short of time as we had to be in New Zealand before Ratna's passport expired in September and we sailed west of the cluster of Islands which provided a nice barrier to the trade swells and east of the large volcanic Tofua Island. We arrived in Nuku'Alofa on the afternoon of 15th August anchoring in the sheltered Fishing Boat harbour west of the main port and Queen Salote Wharf. Anchoring/ mooring in the harbour required taking stern lines ashore ala Mediterranean mooring and in the trade wind cross breeze this made for some interesting maneuvers however there was space aplenty and we were eventually snug.
Nuku'Alofa is the Capital of the Tonga archipelago and the town was the largest we had encountered since Papeete on Tahiti. Walking to town was quite a distance for 3 year old legs so we hired a car and completed visa requirements for Ratna for NZ, collected our new stand-by Autopilot from DHL and other supply related chores and included a tiki-tour of the Island. We watched the developing weather closely as a low pressure area had developed west of Fiji and Tonga and radio contact with Russell Radio advised waiting for this to move east of us before departing. We followed this advice and after fueling up via tanker, completing clearance requirements we moved out of the harbour to an anchorage off Pangaimotu Island and waited for a break in the blustery weather. This finally appeared as the low was forecast to be east of us on 20th August so we readied everything for our dash south to colder climes. The hull was given a good scrub utilizing our dive gear, stern tube/cutlass bearing tightened and everything made shipshape. We were departing in tandem with "Candidus" and they left midday and we a little later as Roy from "Sea Loone" anchored in the same anchorage came across to bid us farewell.
Tonga to New Zealand, we departed on the afternoon of 20th August on a 1200 mile anticipated hard trip which surpassed expectations as cyclonic winds created a bash southwards. The expected 7 to 8 day trip took 11 days as we hove-to for 3 nights whilst awaiting gale force headwinds to abate. However we arrived at daybreak on 31st August, a circumnavigation completed for "Star of the West". More trip details and photos to come.
Repairs took 3 days in Opua whilst damage to sails and bowsprit were sorted from the torrid sail south from Tonga and we rested our weary bods. Warren and Trish "Mustang Sally" drove up from Auckland, Warren had left "Mustang Sally" in Papeete whilst he sought remedies to engine problems here in NZ. We left Opua on the afternoon of 4th September, day sailing to Auckland with overnight stops at Urapukapuka Island, Whangaruru Harbour, Whangarei Heads and Kawau Island in company with "Candidus". We arrived at Auckland at 1150hrs on 8th September at Bucklands Beach Marina where we were met by friends Keith & Christine "Achates" and Mum Bunting and brother Paul. More details to come
New Zealand (Hauraki Gulf)
Our trip, landfall in Opua on 31st August then Auckland on 8th September became a blur as events on land in Auckland overwhelmed us.
Younger brother Paul tragically passed away on 18th September and we struggled along with his young family for a long time to accept and readjust to the enormity of the situation.