Wandering the Whitsundays

The memories of our previous visits to the Whitsunday Islands had dulled after years of living away, but being back has once again blown us away by the majesty and beauty of this stunning cruising ground. A week’s visit by Tasmanian friends Richard and Samantha Trethewie, and a delightful surprise evening with Crick and Mary Anne Warner (who have been tracking us on YB Tracker) on Hamilton Island have all added to our enjoyment of being “home”. A 4 day catch up with our treasured daughter just a short flight away was the icing on the cake.

Keswick, Goldsmith, Thomas, Shaw, Hamilton, Hook, Hayman, Border and Whitsunday Islands have all provided us with walks, a somewhat chilly swim or snorkel or just a beautiful bay to anchor safely in so as to enjoy the ambience of the island group. Sadly, many of the resorts have been left devastated by Cyclone Debbie and are still in the rebuild stage so most of our non sailing entertainment was centred on Hamilton Island. Golf, go karting and a seventieth birthday party kept the Rally busy!

The freedom of sailing on our own boat has enabled us to visit the outer reef off Airlie Beach normally out of range for most bareboat charter yachts. Hook, Line and Sinker Reefs offer some anchorages, reasonable snorkelling (the coral is regenerating slowly from weather and industry assault) and at Line Reef a waterfall in the middle of the Coral Sea….extraordinary! We had fun hightailing it along its course and being catapulted into the lagoon created by the Reef.

A scenic fixed wing flight over the same area gave us a perfect view of the area of Reef below us.

Plastics have been a blight on the oceans since we started our odyssey and although we have seen much washed up on shores and beaches all over the Pacific, we were very surprised to discover a beach on Shaw Island rubbished with the plastic debris of human existence – toothbrushes, thongs (flip flops), bottles of many shapes and sizes, ropes, just to name a few. With the help of Calum, and his girlfriend Kirsty, we collected as much as we could fit in our tender, “Winkle”, and towed and deposited it in Airlie Beach. Every little bit helps!

Our sights are now set north. James and Calum kept themselves amused on our sail to Magnetic Island hoisting our spinnaker (which coincidentally is red and blue, the colours of the mighty Demons) and then the Cruising Shute – unbeknown to them at the time, our mail sail has become unusable so either or both sails will hopefully get us to Cairns to get it fixed! C’est la vie!

Miss Tiggy on the move again!

The past months have been spent living a nomadic life of a different sort…armed with suitcases, plane tickets and car rental bookings we have traversed the eastern states of Australia staying with friends, enjoying the Christmas spirit and eating and drinking our way well into 2018.

With 5 months from completion of Part 1 of the Oyster World Rally and the resumption of and introduction to new sailing exploits and destinations there has been loads of administrative affairs to contend to, family and friends to touch base with, weddings, birthdays and Rally friends to show off our wonderful country to!

Hiking or “tramping” has become a land based alternative to crossing oceans. The Milford Track and then the Bay of Fires took up most of February the only downside being the loss of 4 toe nails. The weather has not always been favourable! Cyclonic winds and horizontal rain impeded our time in NZ on several occasions – better when ashore than at sea!

Back in our Tassie homeland, J Nathan Tours departed Hobart with a Back Roads Touring size group of Brits and Americans who were treated to true Tasmanian hospitality! Several of our party commented their taste of Tassie was up there with some of their best travelling experiences.

Decision time – where and what next? Continue our “adventure before dementia” or drop the sails and head for land to resume our lives? After much deliberation and discussion our decision to continue on to Indonesia feels right; the sail of Miss Tiggy continues…for now.

The zig zag across the Tasman sea by plane finally ends in mid April and our crew is set for the sail to Vanuatu. Rob Boss, who joined us from Fiji to Auckland returns and Calum Tait fresh from the Scottish swimming team having competed in the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast makes up our team 4. Great news for me – no night watches!

6 days of every type of weather characterised our passage to Vanuatu – no wind, good wind, strong wind, squalls and heavy rain but when we cruised into the island of Tanna on a beautiful sunny morning we realised that our days of shorts, tee shirts and togs had returned! Remote, untamed Tanna is one of the most southern islands of the many which make up Vanuatu. Big smiles of welcome and an active volcano, Mt Yasur, which treated us to a spectacular display of fireworks, made our arrival one to remember. Occupational Health and Safety is non existent in this part of Vanuatu….a walk to the face of the crater where a line was drawn in the volcanic sand by the heel of our Guide – no fence, viewing platform, protective clothing….two hours spent peering into the depths of the earth being entertained by natures most beautiful and deadly show. Any amount of lava, small or large, that lands on you can be a killer.

Erromango, Efate (Port Vila), Epi and Pentecost Islands all delivered their individual flavours to round off our Vanuatu experiences. Having Maryann Kirk as our “local” informant for all things Vanuatu (restaurants, supermarkets, tourism tips and medical) helped the fleet enormously!

Within 3 weeks we have seen local males prove their manhood by varying methods. On Pentecost (to which we flew in an old Cessna) every Saturday in May visitors are invited to watch Land Diving, apparently the pre cursor to bungy jumping. No strongly built frames to climb or strong synthetic support to keep you attached as you hurl yourself into a canyon, just a tower built of sticks and vines attached to ankles as the jumper dives down the hillside to the dirt below. All males on Pentecost must jump at some stage of their lives while many of the females from their tribe sway and chant topless to instil confidence in their men.

A week of passage making and two weeks later we witnessed the Australian version of male initiation at the Mackay Rodeo; men of all ages and stages riding large bucking bulls or horses, flinging themselves on top of young terrified steers and wrestling them to the ground along with other testosterone fuelled activities. Local girls in cow girl boots and tight jeans circuited the arena clapping and whistling their cowboy heroes while consuming cold beers or cans of Bundaberg Rum and Coke.

It is great to be home in Australia! Sailing Miss Tiggy, our own boat, through the islands of the Whitsunday group is magical! Gorgeous sunsets and a BBQ on the beach of Goldsmith Island has set the tone for 6 weeks of cruising the Coral Sea up to Cairns.

We made it!

Bula, Vinaka and Kia ora

My final blog from New Zealand marks the end of this adventure.

Our last weeks in Fiji have made us realise that our decision to come back to this magical part of the world is the right one. 6 weeks was just not long enough! More snorkelling, diving with bull sharks, beach BBQ’s and enjoying the company of friends has ended off a fabulous 12 months.

I am writing this from our cabin, while the boat is rocking along, lee clothes set up for the passage and James and I are ready to step back into the real world. It will certainly be different to life over the past year – TV constantly updating us on the antics of our world leaders (good and bad), getting to the supermarket will be a matter of jumping in the car in aiconditioning or heating, going out doesn’t mean having to have a wet butt for the first and last part of the evening and traffic becoming a major consideration. 

On this passage we have been joined by Alan Blunt, a well known retired Aussie yachtsman from west coast USA now resident in the Bay of Islands in NZ, his 18 year old stepson, Frankie Dair, a whizz and up and coming yacht racer and Rob Boss a power boat skipper Brit currently living in NZ. They have been a great crew to help us on our last leg to NZ and we have enjoyed their company and expertise on a fast ride to Opua.

Unusually, therehas been a number of unfortunate incidents on this passage among the fleet – a genoa halyard (the rope that holds the sail up) actually broke and the sail ended up in the water in the dark; a staysail also failed and ditched itself in the ocean; a starboard port hole blew out letting water in and had to be repaired at sea; toilet blockages have had to be dealt with (while the yachts have been hiking along in rough seas..I will leave the rest to your imagination), our VHF radio transmitter came loose on the first spreader and Rob bravely climbed the mast to secure it, and a number of other situations and breakages have had to be rectified along the way. Luckily no-one was injured! The rough seas and the wind ahead of us made this passage one of the roughest and most challenging we have done, including reported cases of sea sickness. What is startlingly obvious is the fantastic support given by the fleet to anyone in need of assistance, or just an ear and voice on the SSB radio for encouragement and to act as a sounding board.  

A few tears were shed as the Land of the Long White cloud appeared upon the horizon…we are back in Australasia…our territory. The day was sunny albeit it cold, the bird life abundant and we were once again escorted by small dolphins jumping for joy. The northern tip of NZ is stunningly beautiful and the Bay of Islands engulfed us late in the afternoon promising good coffee, an array of restaurants and even a small vineyard high up on a hill. Arriving too late to clear in, in typical OWR style, the 3 boats pooled food resources, gathered French champagne and many beers and celebrated our arrival in NZ, while tied up on Q dock…needless to say after a week of alcohol free sailing we woke the next morning feeling somewhat shabby but happy to be there.

There are many moments of reflection as the end of our journey comes closer. The friends we have made, the amazing places, experiences that have been had, and along the way the incredible number of things we have learned….not just about the boat but about the world we live in and about ourselves! Our resilience, what we can achieve (or can’t) and what we are prepared to do or not. It has certainly been a year of incredible activity, education and socialising!!  

After a year long summer when clothing choice came down to togs or shorts and a tee shirt, there was a great deal of discussion about shoes and warmer clothes…it suddenly dawned on me that my suitable attire for the cooler climes were packed away in Sal’s apartment in Melbourne. Ah – some retail therapy of a different sort awaits!

As the suntan fades and my toe nails are coloured – now sporting a lovely coral shellac (first for 12 months), our final Oyster party awaits this evening…..who knows what will come next!

Fijian surprises

Fiji….our thoughts were along the lines of a tourist destination close to Australia full of holiday makers….we could not have been more wrong! The islands and reefs are a mecca for all those with a passion for being underwater.

We cleared in and completed customs and immigration on the island of Vanua Balavu (part of the northern Lau group in the remote east of Fiji) in the  village of Daliconi. A kava ceremony with the village Chief was held and only then were we considered welcome visitors. Post a bus/truck ride across the island to top up on supplies, visit the hospital and meet some of the colourful locals we headed to the Bay of Islands (not NZ), a superb series of limestone outcrops and tiny islands floating in the turquoise waters. Best way to explore?… a dinghy safari! The testosterone levels rose, outboards were revved and about 15 rubber duckies took to the peaceful and pristine waters on a snorkelling adventure like no other. The coves offered up caves for swimming and diving while colourful coral was in abundance.

From Somosomo (Taveuni) to Savusavu (Vanua Levu) we scuba dived on the amazing Rainbow Reef, climbed to waterfalls high up in the humid tropical greenery, dined in basic “Wine and Dine” establishments, cuddled the kids, visited the famous Jean Michel Cousteau Resort, stood on the 180 latitude mark (one foot in today and one in yesterday) danced in a conga line and drank kava with the locals and along with Christopher & Sue and Jenny & Greg Moynihan continued to be astounded by the surprises Fiji threw at us.

Life can change as quickly as the flick of a switch – while anchored in beautiful Viani Bay we received the news that Mag, James and Christopher’s mother had passed away on the Gold Coast. Jenny sorted out our flights and within days we were winging our way back to Australia, planning the small intimate family funeral, celebrating the life of my much respected mother-in-law with words of love and shared selected memories of her ninety years. Twice now, in our 12 months at sea, I have lost a woman who I have held in high esteem as progressive women with open minds and hearts who have made a huge impact on my life.  A reminder to us all that we need to live each day to its fullest – this was one of the mantras that my mother -in- law passed on to me. I intend to do exactly that! Rest in peace Mag!

The snapshot visit home gave us a taster of our life post Rally. Cars, shopping malls, stressed people, time constraints, occupational health and safety standards…but also sleeping in a stable bed, going out at night without a wet behind, but most of all, spending precious time with family.

One lesson that we have learned is that plans are meant to be changed. Our intention was always to sail into Australia – our way home after 12 years plus away. The past months in the South Pacific have been amazing and the decision has been made to return here next year to visit new, and revisit some of the fabulous places we have been privy to. Long story short, we will now take Miss Tiggy to Auckland for her summer break and face lift and fly back to Australia in mid November.

Now back at sea the journey continues – there is still plenty of Fiji left to explore!

Whale of a time!

In Vava’u, Tonga it’s all about the whales. Here, deep in the South Pacific Ocean, is one of the rare places in the world where you can join a local whale watching operator, don your snorkelling gear and slide into the water to observe the huge hump back whales lolling about in the bays of the Vava’u group of islands. What a truly magical experience to plunge your masked face into the water and swim within metres of these huge gentle creatures while observing the antics of their offspring at close proximity. But, there are rules which must be obeyed to protect them and the industry that has successfully grown up around them in order to maintain the continuity of their annual visitors to the islands – the fines for breaking them are hefty!

The people of Tonga are friendly and welcoming and always happy to help out. Deeply religious and outwardly conservative, Sunday’s are off limits for shops and activities – even jogging or exercising publicly will raise eyebrows and the possibility of a fine from the local police. It is the Lords day and most family’s spend it at their chosen church followed by a Tongan lunch normally cooked over a fire in an earth pit in their back yard. We visited the Catholic and Methodist services to listen to their magnificent singing – rich voices in complete harmony and sung with from the heart. Afterwards we needed a ride to a restaurant to meet friends for brunch and with no taxis available on a Sunday, we were hoisted into the back of a family van, happy to collect us from the side of the road, and dropped off at our destination.

Provisioning was more difficult here – oh how I miss the supermarkets of the French colonies! Ask a local where to find particular foods and the answer is always the same…the Chinese store. Problem is that all the small grocery shops are owned by the Chinese which all sell the same stuff. There are a couple of specialist deli operators who can offer some meats and small goods but the prices are high as they are brought in by container ships. The local market is open daily, except Sundays, and offers basic fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs etc. One gem is the “Tropicana Cafe” operated almost single handedly by Greg an expat Kiwi who offers everything from a great flat white to garbage disposal, gas refills, laundry and IT support. I even bought a Yoghurt Maker from him! To top it off the Vava’u Villas and Glamping is owned and operated by Ian an ex Launceston Grammar student (James’ school) so we were entertained at dinner by “Rick, Rick, Rickedy, Dick…” – their old war cry!

Mary-Anne and Sandy Wilson joined us for a week on the boat and were immediately thrown in at the deep end with an Oyster beach party and socialising on tap, finishing their stay with a 70’s night of dancing in the local tapas bar with a Spanish DJ.  

Amongst the whale watching, snorkelling, G&T’s and enjoying everything Tongan we managed to watch the Dees wiggle into 7th on the ladder only to lose their last game of the season to Collingwood and drop to 9th by a hairs breath and miss out on the finals…such a disappointing end of a better season. Simultaneously we were being sent articles and pictures of Nick (Riewoldt) as he finished his spectacular career with St Kilda – such a champion. 

Our last day in the Vava’u group presented us with sunshine and fair winds (we had a lot of unseasonal rain during our stay) and a mother humpback and her calf glided by us as we prepared to leave. A few hours into our passage towards Fiji we received warnings from friends still in Nieafu of bad conditions with particularly big swells. Luckily their information was incorrect and apart from an uncomfortable first night of rocking and rolling we had a fast sail to Vanau Balavu in the eastern Lau group..Fiji is next!