Tonga can wait

Our plan was to depart Bora Bora and head straight for Tonga – with may be a short stop at Niue on the way. A last minute decision to visit Mauputi, described as a gem and Bora Bora 40 years ago, was as an epiphany; a moment in time when it dawned on us (together with a couple of other Oyster boats) that this could be a place that was incredibly rare in our world – an uninterrupted timeless and understated haven. Somewhere not to be missed. Thus, we diverted our course (by very little) and began to traverse the narrow passage from the Pacific Ocean in to the shallow lagoon. James had rung ahead a local pension owner, Camille, considered by yachties to be the “pass expert” and with thumbs up to proceed we slowly made our way forward. Only 75 meters wide with clearly visible coral reefs on either side just below the surface and breaking waves above – no room for mistakes! Once in we have to wait for jus the right weather to exit.

 All around were were surrounded by turquoise waters of varying depth, fringed by beaches and coral reefs overhung with greenery – paradise indeed. The beauty is similar to the much visited Bora Bora but the way of life is starkly different. Anchor dropped and dinghy down, we headed for the centre of town – typically made obvious to the onlooker by a large Catholic church. Right or left? We turned left and walked along the main (and only) street stopping at several local shops advertising “glacé” but which did not have an ice cream to sell…in fact they laughed when we pointed to preferred choice – “no glacé!!” We arrived at a sign to the local boulangerie and took the path to find a friendly French Polynesian woman hanging out of a window who unlocked her shop to let us in and buy a cold drink. There were at least 3 dogs tied up around the designated shop area that barked incessantly until we turned the corner and were out of sight. 

Further on we were joined by 4 ugly, seemingly ownerless, tough looking muts of various breeds, several with chunks of flesh missing. Amused by the fact that they had adopted us, we watched as they rushed around upsetting all the dogs in the neighbourhood, chasing the chickens and generally running amok….until to our horror when they were confronted by a territorial rooster (bad decision) they proceeded to form a killing pack and bring the poor cock to an unceremonious end in a gutter on the side of the road. Spitting out mouthfuls of feathers they preceded us along the road where they caused havoc with oncoming traffic (one was even hit by a scooter) and caused several fights with other local dogs. All the time they checked on us to make sure that we were still “part of the gang” – not happy when we’re boarded the dinghy for our return to the boat.

All over French Polynesia we had commented that, although many of the homes. are quite basic, the gardens are cultivated with pride and are very beautiful. Swathes of hibiscus bow down to the streets curbs and delicious tropical fruits (mangoes, pamplemousse, bread fruit, limes) hang off trees tempting you to pick them…rule of thumb I believe is every tree belongs to a local who often sells them roadside so do not touch! Back yards also act as the family cemetery and it is not uncommon to see shell decorated marble tombs take up most of their land. We did ask one local what happens if the family moves house – he raised an eyebrow and said, “we don’t!”

The island is lorded over by Mt Tiriano and our aim was to climb to the top with the intention of seeing one of the most amazing views to date. We followed a surprisingly well defined track from the main road and climbed up, clinging to tree roots or anything overhanging until to our delight we encountered several well placed ropes for assistance. Huffing and puffing, with cameras at the ready, our sweaty group reached the summit to see this……

Frustratingly, I cut my hand preparing dinner the night before going diving to swim amongst the huge Manta Rays that reside in the warm sandy waters of the lagoon.  Standing in as bag lady I sat in the dinghy in the rain while the others either snorkelled or used a tank of air to sit under water while the huge rays swum over and around them. So gutted to have missed the opportunity (the risk of infection was too high) I was stilled so pleased that James and the others had the chance to see these amazing sea creatures in their own environment. Next time….??

Passage planning complete, and at just the right time and weather conditions, we navigated the pass ready for a 5-6 day journey from Maupiti to Beveridge Reef, recommended  by a fellow Australian, and described as a sunken atoll with incredible marine life.

As we know, plans are meant to change – the wind had died off and we were back to motoring, when we received a radio call from Dave on “Sea Flute” suggesting we visit Palmerston – an atoll that makes up part of the southern Cook Islands group. “It is only 10 degrees out of our way and we may never come back this way again” This ability to be flexible and change course at the last minute has been an important aspect of the rally – if it suits then let’s do it!  A couple of nights sailing and only 20 miles to go, a wind change meant the anchorage at Palmerston was now on a lee shore (for the non nauticals that means that the wind was blowing on to the shore). On top of that, the location of the island’s mooring lines (which also looked dodgy) meant the back of our boat would have only been 50 metres off a coral reef…not ideal for a good nights sleep! So altered course for Beveridge Reef….and once again were defeated by the  weather! Finally after 7 days of pitching and rolling and little sleep we reached Niue but not before James was slapped in the face at 4am by a flying fish (I actually picked the scales off his face) which resulted in a brilliant deflection back into the ocean for the fish and a facial bruise for the skipper.

Niue is amazing – a tiny nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with the clearest water (visibility about 300 metres), whales jumping out of the sea to greet you and a happy, friendly population of English speaking, Kiwi accented people, all willing to help and have a chat.  There are no beaches or rivers but stunning chasms and gorges hewn out of the rock face around the island, a grand Yacht Club (NYC) which facilitates the allocation of buoys to visiting yachts and anything else that needs to be sorted and 9 holes of mini golf, the view of which would rival “Pebble Beach”. And that’s just for starters. On arrival at the dock the dinghy had to be hoisted out of the water and parked next to the cars in the car park.  We had our first “flat white” coffee for many months topped off with 2 spectacular dives to view underwater caves and a large number of sea snakes as well as another opportunity to dive with dolphins.

Setting off at 2am we sailed, bounced, rolled our way to Tonga 2 days later – we crossed the international date line sometime in the early hours, missed a day and motored into the spectacular Vava’u group, the northern most islands of Tonga. 

Celebrations in The Societys

We are now at the half way mark of Leg 1 of the Oyster World Rally – that fact alone is so hard to comprehend.  2 years in the planning and the execution is speeding by at a rate of knots! 

This is by no means a permanent holiday…just a different way of life- vocation not vacation! The days begin and end the same way when not on passage. I still wake up to a cup of tea and James fastidiously cuts up half a grapefruit (known in French Polynesia as a pamplemousse) and a selection of available fruits to throw over his muesli, accompanied by Greek yoghurt.  Every night we climb into bed exhausted by the physical stresses of the day which can be anything  from polishing the copious amounts of stainless steel around the top sides, stringing up a washing line to hang out the smalls, scrubbing floors in the heads, or keeping on top of all the cleaning on and under deck. Maintenance is a daily task. Hygiene is also so important on a boat – if someone gets sick it transfers very quickly in such a close environment and the spread of infection is a constant problem! Just on our boat alone we have had to deal with a bursitis (on the elbow), a seriously infected foot, a nasty infection in a toe nail and a tropical ulcer – nothing heals quickly in the constant heat! Needless to say the antibiotics are being chewed through.

Our off work time is used to the max! In Tahiti we drove to the end of the only road to visit the “Big Wave” at Teahupoo, a Mecca for surfers from all over the world! A series of water taxis of varying shapes and sizes take onlookers out to the watch the surfers contest some huge waves which end up diluted as they reach the shallow reef…the power of nature in its purest form! We trekked into a rich verdant valley in the centre of the island with a guide who underplayed the trek! It encompassed walking, climbing, swimming, jumping, diving and dragging ourselves along to reach a magical Tahitian waterfall of such scenic beauty that it was worth all the bruises and sweat laden smelly clothing. We sailed to Moorea, a short distance away and kayaked and snorkelled to see huge rays and sharks circling, drove around the island in a 2 seater 2 wheel drive that was so difficult to keep on the road that James said it reminded him of “the Brute”, an old touring bus that he and Christopher ran in Tasmania in the early years of the Camping Connection. With our friends the Fluters (a delightful English family of 5) we completed another trek high up into the peak areas of the island in pouring rain and mud….and whenever and wherever we can, we scuba dive. In the what seems limited time we have each day we try to see and do as much as we can possibly fit in, not knowing if or when we will return.

Back to Papeete to collect the Steffos (John & Claire) and Maryann Kirk, our crew from Papeete up to Huahine was complete. James and I had managed the marina moorings alone perfectly until our departure with guests onboard! Unfortunately our anchor had another thrown over it and so when we tried to exit we were being held by tons of weight pinning us to the spot. John jumped into the tender to wrestle with the chain but no luck…we were finally assisted by a dinghy of Marina crew and a lone onlooker from another Oyster.

A mid afternoon arrival back in Moorea and an invitation to a 4th of July part on board two of the American Oysters was the beginning of a very social week. On our sail over I had been training the girls on names, boats and everything OWR so that they didn’t feel overwhelmed. Imagine the surprise of the fleet when Mare and Claire did not only know their names but their boat and crew names as well…so very impressive!! Our stop in Moorea included drinks and dinners with the collective Oysters, snorkelling with huge rays and reef sharks,  a quad bike tour of the pineapple plantation and surrounding deep green gorges….

….and an activity day including outrigger kayak races, team banana carrying, rock lifting, coconut dehusking and cracking plus many demonstrations of Tahitian dancing (beautiful women and buff eye candy men) tie dying, and various methods of tying a pareo. The MC for the day was a very amusing large Polynesian man with a long goatee beard and a keen and polically incorrect sense of humour. When one of our teams beat the local outrigger crew, he asked with horror, “you let the white guys beat you?”

Huahine is idyllic…a place to go to get away from the tourism traps of some of the better known of the Society Islands. Heavily wooded and set inside a protective lagoon similar to the Tuamotos, it is easy to see why the early explorers were captivated by the way of life and beautiful people.  We helped to celebrate the 30th wedding anniversary of Jacek and Dobra on “Shanties” in true Polynesian style with a Polish cocktail or two thrown in! As the wonderful week with our friends drew quickly to an end and they flew back to Papeete we pulled up anchor and headed to Raiatea for some boat servicing and to pick up Rachel. 

Our longest hike to “the plateau” on Raiatea – 6 hours and 55 minutes climbing 640 metres was to view the endangered floral emblem of the islands. A kayak trip, Indiana Jones like, included a visit to a fruit and vegetable farm owned by a local called Andre, who proudly wielded his machete around to donate bananas, coconut milk, some weird fruit that appeared out of the inside of a gnarly beat like pod, bread fruit and misshapen cucumbers to our states for 6 pack of beer. Sadly in the beautiful bay in which we were anchored a number of Oysters had gear pinched from their tenders at night – an anchor, a baler, we lost 2.5 pairs of  thongs (yes 5 in total) and a foiled attempt at 4am to remove a fishing rod.  Tahaa, just north of Raiatea revealed a gem of a restaurant in which we dined a couple of times complete with French Chef Bruno, some fabulous snorkelling and a local rum distillery to top it off. 

We are nearing the end of our stay in French Polynesia and while James and I luxuriate for a couple of days in the St Regis Bora Bora for his birthday, Rachel is preparing the boat for the next leg to Tonga. A few more days of Tahitian hospitality, wonderful French patisseries and supermarkets then across the International Date Line to take us even closer to our destination, Australia.

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.