Two to Tahiti

Under the stars of the Southern Hemisphere we set sail for the atolls of the Tuomotus Archipelago – 3 days and 2 nights of some of the roughest sailing conditions we have seen for many months…back to the days of pirouettes around the boat and extreme caution when opening the fridge door for fear of being struck by flying food stuff! At night we would have snacks available to keep hunger at bay (very little food prep was being done due to the conditions) packets of Scotch Finger biscuits and assorted muesli bars….one night James was on watch and an alarm went off at the steering pedestal. Without glasses on or head torch alight he returned from disarming the noise to the protection of the cockpit and dug his hand into a container of peanuts. Unable to get any out he upturned it into his lap but unfortunately for him it was his water bottle!

Timing your arrival to your chosen atoll is imperative and we sailed through Makemo pass at the right time and even then the current was strong. Once inside the lagoon, we hoisted Rachel up to the first spreaders to keep an eye out for the myriad of coral outcrops (bombies) and slowly made our way to our anchorage about 8 miles from the entrance. The South Pacific delivers here in Makemo, some of its most remote and idyllic settings in this area. To top it off, just up the white coral beach, a BBQ and traditional hut with an old table inside made for beach barbies and a bonfire set the tone for our days ahead. Negotiating the bombies in the dinghy was a whole nother matter, particularly after a few sundowners on the beach! In the dark one evening we hitched a ride back to our boat with our friends from Meteorite…Hugh sped up once we were many meters off the beach when Andy turned to tell him to slow down. Too late! He was catapaulted spear like into the bay with torch and grin still in place. Our laughter rang out loudly across the lagoon.

Slowly but surely we have been making our way, sailing and enjoying this amazing region. We had to make a dash to Fakarava to get Rachel on a plane back to the UK to visit her sick uncle so James and I have been sailing two up since the end of May. This has meant a lot more work for both of us on the boat but has certainly helped in honing my skills both sailing and cleaning!! In Fakarava south we dived “The Wall of Sharks” –  indescribable! Holding on to the coral 20 meters below the surface of the pass with 3 knots of current ripping through the small inlet into the lagoon from the ocean and all above our heads were hundreds of sharks with their gills open swimming into the fast moving water oxygenating and preparing for night feeding. Hundreds of other varieties of fish, marine life, and coral abound making the diving and snorkelling here top class and if I ever go missing you will find me here! 

There has been only one other experience that has surpassed this…at Rangiroa we were lucky enough to be up close and personal with a female dolphin in 10 meters of water…not just stroke, but cuddle and rub her whole body from head to foot as she stood on her tail vertically in the water with eyes closed as if she was in a massage parlour and in seventh heaven. We had been told about this particular 2 year old dolphin – her mother had given birth again and she had been sidelined and craved affection. Never in our wildest imagination did we think we would be lucky enough to come in to contact with her. 

Dinghy exploits are worth a mention also – particularly as my family well know my previous horror stories about driving the tender from “True Blue”! Firstly, “Winkle”our new dinghy is fantastic! Press a button to start her, power tilt, electric pump to clear any water intake etc, etc! As we have not had access to any marinas since we left Panama City, dinghy transport is very important. Unfortunately not all outboards are as easy to handle as ours and there have been several occasions when the girls have had issues while in transit! One evening, Nicky from “Calliope” collected 3 ladies (including me) for a book club meeting onshore in Nuku Hiva. Once we were all onboard she successfully started the outboard and put us in forward gear…but we went backwards and in ever increasing circles. Husband Charles was delivered to the dinghy to sort out the problem admidst the laughter and hilarity. Debbie, Janice and I also hit a coral reef after returning from a successful dive in Fakarava south…the dinghy and outboard from “Meteorite” mounted the reef late in the afternoon when the sun was going down and there we sat! We did manage to drag her off the coral but were not able to start the motor – oops! To the rescue – James and Hugh! The only problem was a piece of coral had become lodged in the propeller and once removed we were good to go. We, the girls, were proud of our ability to get the boat off the reef and not panic…our clear thinking and the hand held VHF saved the day! Of course there was much mirth post event (and a few giggles during).

Our passage back to modern day civilisation, Papeete in Tahiti, was slow and uneventful and our time here is being spent working on the boat and daily visits to the local Carrafour (French supermarket) – just to marvel at the array of food available and to buy fresh baguettes every day.  We have been starved of fresh fruit and vegetables in the Tuamotus and actually had tomatoes and salad items flown into Fakarava to allay the cravings! The lack of decent internet connection (thus this very late post and lack of communication) is now sorted and sated.

We look forward to welcoming the Steffos and Mare Kirk on to the boat in early July – our first visitors since Sal, Will and Theo left us in Antigua in January! 

Addendum – apart from our wonderful crew of Malcolm Bamford, and Lloyd and Sarah Clark who helped us safely across many nautical miles of ocean!!

Bonjour Marquesas

Flying over French Polynesia is a wonderful introduction to the spectacular topography of the region. The atolls of the Tuomotu group, sprinkled in the ocean and donut shaped fall away to the rugged and wild look of the Marquesas – green and fertile squatting in the Pacific. Somewhere below and not far away is Miss Tiggy completing her long trek! As it turned out we were reunited the next day – a relaxed, relieved crew enjoying a beverage at anchor was how I found them.

A couple of nights at the Hannakee Pearl Lodge on Hiva Oa, was enough for James (who couldn’t sleep without the rocking and rolling of the boat and who found the rooster crowing at 3am just too much to take). With the departure of Lloyd and Sarah who were brilliant crew and company for the long passage, Miss T is now back to just 3 – James and I and our girl wonder, Rachel. Time now for exploration of the Marquesas!

Apart from the tepid blue waters, palm trees and white sandy beaches what has made this remote region of the South Pacific so special to us, has been the community spirit and open and friendly welcome we have received here. The principal language is French but Marquesan is bandied around by the locals. The school girl French has been heaved out of the past – you would think after 12 years in Europe it would be better than that. Luckily we have some linguists on the rally!! Life on the islands is like anywhere else…the kids go to school every day and we witnessed swimming races in the bay with lane ropes set up just like a regular Phys Ed lesson or school swimming club.  Nicky, one of our lovely English friends and a teacher by trade, went and spoke to a class  of primary students on Hiva Oa – what a treat for them! The shops shut at midday and reopen at 2 or 3pm after lunch and the internet is available sporadically. 

It is not without frustrations however. Lloyd left us to fly to Nuku Hiva with the intention of staying for 2 nights and then on to Papeete before returning to Australia. He went to the airport to catch his flight only to find it was cancelled and so returned to the Hannakee Pearl Lodge with no information about why it had happened and with no idea of when he would fly out.  Long story short, he lost 2 days trying to get to Papeete. The rainfall in the islands has been very high for the past few weeks so there is little or no fresh salad or vegetables to be found and none expected to be delivered while we are here via the infrequent ferry services from Tahiti. The baguettes are amazing if you get up early enough to track one down – we watched on in one village where the baker had to throw out all his dough because his bread oven had broken down, much to the obvious disappointment and frustration of the local population….there are some very obvious French traits alive and well here.  

A special celebration was held for the Oyster Rally at the local community centre where we were welcomed by the Mayor of Nuku Hiva and treated to an evening of dance, traditional dishes and the usual overindulgence of beer and wine. Locals and yachties alike were dancing together by the end of the evening. Needless to say, it is not like you jump into a car or taxi to get home! Instead of a car park, a large contingent of tenders all vying for position along the dock added to a few too many beverages and a sizeable swell makes for interesting sights when boarding the dinghy! 

In a few days we will begin our next passage to Tahaiti via the Tuomotus Islands but for now there will be some serious exploration of Nuku Hiva and continuous onboard jobs to complete.

Standing down

For three weeks I was not going to post a blog – the length of the sail from the Galápagos to the Marquesas. While the crew of Miss Tiggy, James, Rachel, Lloyd and Sarah were finalising the preparations for one of the the longest passages of our rally, I was on a plane winging my way back to Australia. I have to admit I feel almost traitorous! While I have been sleeping comfortably every night and not having to contend with what James has described as “tedious” swell conditions or running out of cereal and fresh fruit and vegetables, or running out of anything for that matter, our boat has been making her way steadily across the Pacific.

Why did I jump ship?

Sal turned 30 on the 9th April and although we were unable to make it back by her actual birthdate I secretly flew to Noosa to surprise her at her birthday celebrations…thank you to Jude and Skroo for their generous gift of First Point! The added bonus was Will, who flew out from London to spend the birthday week with his sister. The other purpose of my visit has been to spend time with my recently widowed father in Hobart – precious time! I do now feel I can return to my journey with memories of a special time with a special man.

Meanwhile our boat has been renamed on the SSB (single side band) radio net that is run every day at sea. For the first week she went from “Miss Tiggy” to “Missing Tiggy” and then more recently “Who is Tiggy”!  This was not reflected in the number of emails I have received requesting a variety of stores to be taken back for a restock – boat parts, books, downloaded audio books and podcasts, biscuits, toothpaste, Aussie treats for our Rally mates – the list goes on…even a new pepper grinder. This last request has left me scratching my head as to what could possibly have happened to the brand new one I so recently left behind! I have also been able to supply the Skipper with the latest AFL updates and even get to the MCG for a first hand view. Luckily for me, and unluckily for them, I saw a group of Melbourne players at a coffee shop in Albert Park and they happily made agreed to be photographed with me (for my obsessed Husband sailing across the Pacific, I told them)!

I admit to being slightly over enthusiastic about watching the Yellow Brick tracker on a very regular basis to see how Miss Tiggy is progressing and her current speed (and to make sure she is still on the map). My brother kindly provided me with a paper world map so I could chart her progress over the vast Pacific Ocean…it is not until you watching from afar that you truly realise how lengthy this particular passage is. I have also been emailing Oyster friends to see how they are travelling and their eta into the Marquesas. 

So now I am enroute back to Miss T and am looking forward to rejoining the crew and discovering the islands of French Polynesia.

Two under your feet

The passion and pride of the people of the Galápagos Islands to preserve their unique and breathtaking flora and fauna was delivered to us in the form of our Naturalist Guide, Fabri. For 5 days he joined us on “Miss Tiggy” on our own private cruise through some of the protected sites of this most precious part of the globe. We have been extremely lucky to walk amongst many species of animals and plants and have a first hand view of why this region is so protected by the global community. The paperwork is lengthy and the rules are many but it is worth every minute and more just to be here!  

Our crew of 6 (James, myself, Rachel, Malcolm B, Fabri and Sarah Clark) set off at 0430 on our first day…the itinerary was set by the GNP (Galápagos National Parks) – an am (6 – 12) and pm (12 – 6) visit. Each island we visited is different from the last…the volcanic activity of the region made sure of this. Reptiles make up most of the land inhabitants and the same species has often  evolved in different ways to suit the conditions of their own island habitats. A nature walk every day (including marine, animal and geological information) was followed by a snorkelling session, often surprising us with a sea lion showing off or a large shark or two just mooching around.  We saw equatorial penguins which are small and compact and look out of place in the heat! The bird life is a whole additional story – blue footed booby birds, Frigates, always looking around to steal food from an unsuspecting source. The males Frigates, in order to gain the attention of the female of the species for the mating season, display a large red sack in the front of their necks which they puff into a bladder sized bag; albatross, herons, oyster catchers, wrens…the list goes on. Iguanas come in all shapes, sizes and colours – marine iguanas are a dark grey and are often hard to recognise when sitting atop a lava rock while their landed counterparts vary from golden orange to brown and black and dependent on the location can be small and petite or looking like something out of Jurassic Parkand the era of the dinosaur. The tiny lava lizards will flex their muscles and look like they are doing a series of push ups in an attempt to show off their prowess – size has no bearing! One true favourite is the loving nature of the sea lions who flop out of the water exhausted and lie in groups spooning each other with fins lovingly thrown over the next in line.

Eerily, nothing seemed afraid of us…we walked or swam right up to them and they would just calmly purvey us with one eye open or a querying look as if to ask “who and why have you ended up in my space”? Imagine walking into a zoo with no fences or swimming in an aquarium made up of lava rocks…the difference here is they are free and we are guests in their habitat.  We snorkelled every day, sometimes twice. On our last day Fabri suggested we snorkel around a rocky outcrop – the diversity of marine life here is great, he said. It was overcast and raining and dare I say, almost cold…we had seen two dorsel fins belonging to 2 sizeable hammerheads next to the boat causing us some consternation and little encouragement. After some persuasion we rolled into the sea and started to make our way along the shore. James suddenly bobbed up to let me know he had spotted a 2 metre grey shark ahead – I smiled and said “there are also 2 under your feet!”. 10 minutes later there were 6 of them circling us and even though we knew they would not attack, it was incredibly unnerving!

As Fabri and Malcolm departed we collected a couple of day trippers – Lloyd and Cameron Clark, Timmy Holden and his lovely new wife, Kate who happened to be in the area! Lloyd is joining the crew to the Marquesas with Miss T so it is a revolving door on our boat at the present time.

 Our last days in the Galápagos have been in preparation mode again – this time for the 3000 nautical miles, 3 week passage across the Pacific heading for French Polynesia. 

Guiding light

Coincidences or karma? Whatever you believe, things happen for a reason and more often than not are out of your control. Most are good such as the arrival of our new crew member, Rachel, who had, coincidentally, sailed on Miss Tiggy on a delivery from Palma to Southampton when she was still called On Liberty. Or bumping into Malcolm Bamford who was joining us in Panama City and who, having just arrived, took a stroll from his hotel to find a restaurant for dinner. He walked up the street in which we were just disembarking from our taxi. A minute later we would have been in the restaurant and out of sight. The appearance of Dobra, the Emergency Physician, who happened to be in Shelter Bay Marina when James’ foot needed medical attention and who we now believe saved Charlie’s life. 

We were pleased and relieved to finally leave Panama City – our last days were marred by a non performing freezer that had not worked since we pulled Miss T out of the water for a bottom scub and several coats of anti-fouling. It was hot and busy and the constant wait for trades people to turn up was frustrating. As great a modern city as Panama City is, the Internet is slow, the roads are choked with traffic, and waiting for service (normally due to a personal mobile phone conversation being completed) made the to call to sea even louder. A few Oysters have been delayed in their departure for the Galapagos due to a variety of mechanical reasons, however our hearts go out to Annie & Tom on yacht Vela who have not been able to set sail for medical reasons. Hopefully they will catch up in either the Galápagos or French Polynesia!

A lovely group of islands belonging to Panama called Las Perlas was our stopping point for a few days and it was here, on our morning of departure, that we found that our Auto Pilot was not working. Turn around and return to Panama or hand steer to the Galápagos Islands? After weighing up all the pros and cons we decided to push forward – not an easy decision as it meant 2 hourly shifts (with 6 hours off) manually steering the boat 900 miles – all day and all night. This may not sound like a big deal however to jump out of bed at 12, 2 or 4 am and concentrate for 2 hours on the compass bearing while looking around into the night for potential risk factors is hard work! There was great relief when our Skipper decided that we could in fact head for the Galápagos Islands and get the problem sorted there as opposed to beating a track back to Panama.

Onwards and upwards! In this case it was more a case of heading in the right direction! As we set sail south we had the wonderful offer of joining 575 Calliope and following them to them to the Galápagos…this meant a leading light that we could fix on and follow as opposed to a compass point – so much easier for us and we are eternally grateful to them!  Charles and Nicky have been great company for the 6 day passage and we have shared information, passage planning suggestions, and even swimming and champagne. Several evenings around 5pm we would stop the boat and jump into the Pacific…we even swam between boats, with our bottle of Moët to celebrate our forthcoming crossing at 00.00.00.

We crossed the equator at 0309 on the 31st March with deck lights blazing – Charles and Nicky were magnificently adorned with long flowing golden locks, an all over tan, and crown and trident to complete their homage to King Neptune. In true Aussie style, the Cres of Miss Tiggy was dressed up in red and blue and all things Demon to encourage Neptune to join the fold of Dees (Melbourne Football Club) supporters! We even sang to him – “It’s a Grand Old Flag”…this video footage is never to be released!!

Our first glimpse of San Cristobal the most eastern of the Galápagos Islands was just as we had expected having watched many programmes about it. We sailed into Puerto Baquerizo and as soon as we arrived were visited but officials for immigration, customs, GNP (Galápagos National Parks) – a total of 7! After much paperwork (the red tape is very stringent) and a visual check of the boat we were cleared in. Nobody uses their tenders to go in and out to the shore so water taxis are buzzing around all over the bay picking up and dropping off at all hours of the day and night. We knew about the sea lions and were greeted at the town pier by a cacaphony of barks, which sounded like a group of old men clearing their throats! They lie around like nude women posing for an artist and every now and again will open one eye to check out the scene or growl at a passer by. After a lovely dinner out we headed back to Miss T and fell asleep very quickly after our 6 day passage of hand steering….the next morning we found that we had been visited overnight by a large fish smelling hairy chap who had slept in our cockpit, on our cushions! Needless to say the next morning was spent scrubbing them within a inch of their lives and a barrier has been set up to discourage a repeat performance.

Our knight in shining armour, in the form of Gavin Needham, a marine engineer from Oyster, fixed our auto pilot in great speed – James and Rachel had been so close! A big relief particularly for our next passage, which is one of the longest…about 3 weeks to t he Marquesas in French Polynesia.

A scuba dive was set for Kicker Rock – swim with the hammerheads! An incredible experience…to see a large shark cruising through the depths and not the slightest bit interested in us! James and I also had an up close and personal moment with a large turtle who was non plussed about the visitors in his area and who swam happily near us giving us a great thrill. The birds and animals of the Galápagos are not afraid; a Naturalist explained this phenomena as due to a complete lack of predators! 

5 days of cruising around the Islands on our own boat with a Naturalist on board should be a highlight!!