Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

Busy month, busy year--no time to do justice to it right now, but I did want to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to our friends and family around the world!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Racing on Fast Lane

One of the best things about being back in the Melbourne area is the chance to go sailboat racing with my old racing friends. This time, everything came together so I got a chance to race with on my old boat, with (partially) my old crew, and against some of the skippers I used to race against.

Fast Lane and Crew Waiting for the Start

Cheryl, Lilly, Marlene, Amy, Winnie, Nancy, and Me

We only had one crew member aboard who is currently regularly racing (Cheryl, on Foredeck), and we had 2 aboard who had never been racing before (Lilly and Nancy). The rest of us were really rusty. So, no, we didn't win. But we got the spinnaker up and down, gybe it a few times, didn't embarrass ourselves, and had a GREAT time.

Spinnaker Up!

The fleet has changed a lot since I last raced... when I left, there were 3-4 Lindenberg 28's racing, so it was almost "match racing". Since then, those skippers have swapped out their L28's for much simpler (fewer crew required) J/24's. There is now a fairly large J/24 fleet in Melbourne.

We're In the Lead, But Not Winning

The neophyte "I can beat them with one hand tied behind my back" skippers have all 'grown up', and they beat me today handily. Glad to see the Women's Racing in the Melbourne area still going strong.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Checking Out Carisma

Our friend Jim Yates has been 'Getting Ready to Go Cruising' for a couple of years now, but he's gotten pretty serious in the last few months.

Dave and I and a couple of friends went to visit s/v Carisma in the yard.

Checking Out the New Davits

Talking about Rigging

Jim has made a lot of progress in the last year, but is still 'almost ready'.

Good luck, Jim, keep working at it. Remember, you never really FINISH the list! At some point, you just throw the rest of the stuff aboard and leave. Can't wait to share an anchorage with you and Nancy!!

Jim's Website:

Racing on Oriyo

Our friends Winnie and Ralph invited us to race with them on their boat Oriyo in the Indian River Yacht Club 'Race of Champions'. We had fun!

Dave Enjoying the Race

Dave and Ralph Checking Rig Tension in the Middle of the Race

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bottling my Mr. Beer

Well I'm halfway through the beer brewing process on my first batch of Mr. Beer.

I bought the Mr. Beer Deluxe Edition Home Microbrewery System on a whim, from, when I was ordering some other stuff. I started my first batch about 2 weeks ago.

After brewing for 2 weeks, it smelled like it is supposed to smell like--flat beer.

To bottle it, I used recycled Gatoraid Bottles instead of buying the plastic beer-looking bottles from Mr. Beer. They recommend using plastic for your first few brewing attempts--improperly brewed beer can explode.

So now I have to wait at least a week to try my first bottle. I have my bottles in the closet in a cooler--both to help keep the beer at the recommended temperature, and to enclose the mess if they explode on me. Once a day I put a bottle of frozen water in the cooler to try to keep them near the recommended temp of 70 degrees.

I've started a new batch with a different flavor. This one is the Vienna Lager from the Mr. Beer 3-Beer Mix Variety Pack.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

St. Pete Boat Show

We drove over yesterday to the St. Pete Boat Show. We had no pressing needs but went to look around, and also keep in touch with some of our friends who were showing there.

By the time we drove 3 hours over and 3 hours back, we only had 3 hours there. But since we were NOT in the market for a boat, or any major systems, that was plenty of time to go through the 2 tents and see what we wanted to see.

Dave enjoyed talking with Travis at Mack Sails, and a couple of the watermaker vendors. We are still trying to find the right hose to replace the leaky high pressure hose that goes between the pump and the membranes. Our current hose, only 4 years old, sprung a pinhole leak and sprayed salt water all over the engine (oh NO!!). Dave was NOT amused.

So he doesn't want to replace that hose with hose from the same source. But of course that's OEM-branded (Village Marine) stuff and hard to find out specs and part numbers. There is a LOT of inexpensive hose made for the pressure-washer (car wash) industry, but it's not 'FDA approved'. We don't want to save $20 and poison ourselves (or gum up our membranes) with inappropriate stuff. Our search is complicated by the fact that Dave wants to be able to re-use the expensive 'reusable' fittings he bought with the first hose, so we need hose of the same diameter and thickness.

The guys at Cruise RO Water have been the most helpful. Their pitch is that all their stuff for their watermaker kits are 'off the shelf' and they don't try to hide who the manufacturer is, so you HAVE to buy the replacement from them. These are good guys who understand the problems we have out cruising in remote areas. If we can't soon find the right hose that meets our needs, we'll buy replacement hose with additional fittings from them.

We also had fun talking with the young man from Lithium Ion Batteries. He's selling 12v RV and Marine batteries that look like they have a LOT of advantages of the traditional Lead Acid batteries. They are pricey, though. But if we were planning on renewing our batteries, we'd have to take a hard look at it. Our Rolls Batteries are doing fine after 5 years of heavy usage, so we're not shopping yet.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Turkey

We drove over to Largo yesterday morning to spend Thanksgiving with Dave's cousin Bryan and his Aunt Eva Nell.

Our Turkey

Usually I try pretty hard to be somewhere where someone ELSE is preparing the turkey. Traditional Turkey Dinner prep totally violates my 'If it takes longer to cook than to eat...' rule.

But Eva Nell is an invalid and the two guys are pretty hopeless in the kitchen, so it fell upon me to pull the dinner together. Fortunately, Bryan and his aunt's part-time caretaker, Terry, had done some prep of the turkey, so all I had to do was pop it into the oven. And Terry had thoughtfully pre-cooked the neck and innards, so gravy was easy.

Dave Carving

So all I had to do was actually cook the turkey, prepare the gravy, and make the sides. It was fun, the turkey came out great, and the guys cleaned up after dinner while I rested.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dave's USNA Weekend

Dave missed the official Naval Academy Class of 1970 40th reunion last year, but he managed to round up some of his classmates for a mini reunion of the 31st Company this weeekend.

We drove over from Melbourne to Lakeland on Friday to meet a couple of the early arrivals, and go visit the Florida Aviation Museum at the Lakeland Airport. Dave specifically wanted to visit because his Dad was inducted to their Hall of Fame in 2009.

David McCampbell, Navy's Top WWII Ace

We found his plaque easily on the Hall of Fame wall. It's a pretty impressive group of people that Dave's Dad is keeping company with.

Florida Aviation Museum Hall of Fame

If you're into airplanes, the museum is fun to visit. There are tons of actual and model airplanes with an emphasis on pioneers and experimental designs.

The weekend was organized around the annual Plant City Pig Jam, a BBQ competition that classmate Marc Farris attends every year. Marc Farris is the founder and primary force behind BBQTV BBQ TV.

On Saturday and Sunday, while Marc judged and filmed at the Pig Jam, the rest of the guys played golf and then had get-together at Marc's camper. (I went back to Melbourne to help with Race Committee for the ECSA sailing race).

Marc's BBQTV Production Studio

Breakfast at the Waffle House

By Sunday night, the group had dwindled to 3 classmates and had moved to Jim Neale's 'ranch' in the Green Swamp (home of the Florida Aquifer). I joined back up with Dave at Jim's house for one night. Marc and Jim put on a big spread for us.

Final Dinner at Jim's Ranch

We're headed back to Melbourne today for another round of doctor visits, and to get ready for Thanksgiving. We are planning to make a day trip south to Boca Raton on Wednesday to see our friends on Visions of Johanna, who are visiting Florida for a wedding, then over to the Heliker Hotel (Dave's cousin Bryan's house) in Largo for Thanksgiving weekend.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Traveling to Pitcairn as a Tourist

I received the following information from Jacqui Christian at Pitcairn Island, where we visited last year:

"As you know Pitcairn is a small place and has been quite difficult to get to in the past. Recently, my partner Leslie and I have started Pitcairn Travel with the long term goal of providing regular travel to Pitcairn to facilitate more small groups of visitors to boost the economy and share our beautiful island. As you are probably aware, we do not have much of an economy and over the past 7 years we have had to go into budgetary aid from the UK. We are trying hard to build an economy based on small niche market exports and tourism in a scale that will be manageable for the island. As we have no airport, we are unlikely to have mass tourism here so since the final leg of travel is still by boat, we will probably always be for the adventurous at heart. However all we need is about 500 people a year so it is not much in global terms."

"Would you please have a look at our website, and if you like what you see, please share it with your friends so that those who want to come, may find that it isn't quite so difficult now."

"We are also looking for travel agents to work with in helping to book tours if you know some in the adventure travel business. The descendants of the Mutiny on the Bounty are still alive and well and fighting for our future!"

"Warmest regards from Pitcairn,

Jacqui Christian
Pitcairn Travel
PO Box 3, Pitcairn Island, PCRN1ZZ
+64 9 9840163"

I hope everyone has a chance to go visit this really unique spot in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The 2011 SSCA Gam

We are again at the Seven Seas Cruising Association's annual Gam.

Dave gave a talk yesterday morning called Pacific Crossing Primer. We'll get his presentation (and mine, more of a travelogue) posted on our website here:

Soggy Paws Presentations

Though we could probably give 75% of the Gam presentations ourselves, we still enjoy attending the presentations by others--I've learned at least one new thing at each one.

We are also enjoying meeting old friends and new friends. We organized another CSY Breakfast at Memaw's Barbeque

The 2011 CSY Breakfast Gang

Our New Kia Sportage

Last December, just before we left to go back to the boat, Dave got hit by another driver, and our old 1999 Kia Sportage was totalled.

December 2010 - Dave Wrecks the Kia

So one of our first priorities on arriving in Florida was to find a new car.

2006 Kia Sportage LX

We had been thinking in the $5,000 range, but ended up looking for a newer lower-mileage model, and spent about double that in the end.

We looked at about 20 cars in the small SUV range (Ford Escape, Toyota Rav/4, Honda CRV, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage). We used 4-5 websites (,, eBay, etc), checked specs, reviews, etc, and talked to a dozen used car salesmen. And we slowly narrowed the field down to a Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage 2005-2007, under 75K miles. Though we started out looking at RAV/4's or CRV's, we liked both the design and price of the Hyundai/Kia (essentially the same car).

We finally settled on a 2006 Kia Sportage--it looks brand new, and only 65,000 miles. And it drives like a dream.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Aaahhh!! Back in Florida

Though we really enjoyed visiting with family in Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina, it was kinda cold up there. We were happy to see the Welcome to Florida sign.

We stopped off at the Florida Welcome Center for our traditional free cup of Orange Juice and a free Florida map.

At my cousin Fred's house in Charlotte, we gave a presentation at his yacht club on Lake Norman, entitled Soggy Paws Pacific Adventures. Just a travelogue slide show.

We spent last night in Hawthorne, outside of Gainesville, with my brother, John. It is still kinda nippy even there--the low temperature last night was 40 degrees F. BRRRR!!!

We are now drive south through the Ocala National Forest, and looking forward to the warmer temps of Melbourne.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Back in the USA

Well, we had a busy last week in Tonga preparing to leave Soggy Paws. We stripped her completely in case an early-season storm brews up while we are gone--roller furling sails down, mainsail wrapped tightly with rope, solar panels down, dinghy lashed on deck, all the misc deck stuff removed and stowed below.

We spent about 2 days with Larry, the guy who rents the moorings, surveying the moorings and helping him do a little preventive maintenance. We added a second heavy line to our mooring, and carefully inspected the existing setup. Fortunately, our friends Roger and Amy on Shango had a hooka rig (a setup that provides a constant supply of air to a diver, from the surface), which made working on the moorings much easier.

We left Soggy Paws a couple of days ago and started our 40 hour journey back to the States. Our route took us first by dinghy, then by taxi, then small turboprop from Neiafu to Tongatapu in Tonga. We had a 6 hour wait at the aiport in Tongatapu, and then on to Fiji, where we caught a 747 that took us overnight direct to Los Angeles. We had been braced for a 10 hour layover in LAX, but our flight from Fiji got in 90 minutes earlier than anticipated (must have been a helluva tailwind out there!), and we managed to catch an afternoon flight from LAX to Atlanta.

Everything went pretty smoothly, and we actually managed to sleep some on the plane. The only hitch was that our bags were a few pounds over the limit--we took the opportunity to offload some stuff from the boat--and we paid some overage fees. None too exhorbitant until we tried to check in on Air Tran in LA. They wanted $46 EACH for bags that were about 2 pounds over the limit. Naturally we rummaged in the bags and took out a couple of books and hand-carried them aboard, avoiding the overage fees. We also found that we couldn't activate our insurance on a weekend, so got my sister to come pick us up at Atlanta airport instead of renting a car then.

We fortunately were not affected at all by the big snowstorm that hit the NE US (watching the news about one plane where the passengers got stuck onboard for 8 hours on the ground).

So this week we plan to make our way from Atlanta through North Carolina and down to Florida. Since our car was totalled last year just before we left (not our fault), we are in a rental car until we get a chance to buy something appropriate (anyone in FL have a small SUV for sale?)

We WILL be at the SSCA Gam in Melbourne Nov 11-12-13. Dave is giving a talk on Friday, entitled 'Pacific Crossing Primer'. After 3 years wandering the Pacific, and getting most of the way across, Dave feels pretty qualified to share some advice with other cruisers.

Hopefully we'll get a chance soon to add some pictures to this year's blog entries!!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Neiafu, Tonga Update

My last update, nearly two weeks ago, left us just arriving in Neaifu, Tonga.

Neiafu is the big convergence point for all the boats who have been making their way from French Polynesia via various routes toward the west, so there are literally several hundred boats in the area. Fortunately, it is a big area, with lots of harbors. Similar somewhat to famous gathering places in the Caribbean, like the Marsh Harbor, Abacos area, Georgetown, Bahamas, and the Virgin Islands.

Neiafu isn't a big town, but it is (I think) the next biggest town in Tonga, besides the country's capital of Nukualofa. There is a huge (relatively speaking) population of english-speaking ex-patriots--primarily New Zealander's but also Aussies and Americans. So, for a small place, it is pretty yachtie-friendly. There is a morning VHF net that is run mainly by the local yachtie restaurant/bars. And they have a wide-area VHF system with a repeater on CH 26, which makes it possible for yachts in scattered anchorages out of town to keep in touch with everything.

There is internet here, though painfully slow and fairly expensive (about $3 US per hour). I have a long list of 'Internet To Do' items that won't get done here, that's for sure!!

We are near the end of the 'yachtie season' right now. All the boats around us are talking about weather patterns and what route they will take to New Zealand. Soon, there will be very few cruisers left here. Though the Kiwi's don't usually head back south until about December, all the first year boats are antsy to get to NZ and start getting work done (NZ is a big refit place for cruising boats). We have at least two friends who are already in NZ and a number of the Puddle Jumpers are on their way between Minerva Reef and NZ right now. Within a week, almost everyone we have met all year will be gone.

There is one contingent of Kiwi's hanging out for the last of the Rugby World Cup--the final match between NZ and France--which is this Sunday night (Saturday morning back in the U.S.). On Monday morning, the boats will be streaming out of Neiafu Harbor, cruising south towards NZ.

Ourselves--we spent a week in Neiafu, to get oriented, and then moved out to "Anchorage 11", Tapana, to hook up with Larry and Sherri on the Ark Gallery. These are some retired cruisers who have set out some 'cyclone moorings', and who watch boats for crusiers. We reserved a mooring here before we left Hawaii last April. And the plan is to stay in Vava'u for cyclone season. We have contracted a mooring for the cyclone season for the cost of 400 pa'anga ($250 per month). This comes with a little boat-tending... opening up when it's sunny, checking for issues on board, and running the engine once a month. Once we get back from our trip to the U.S., we will drop the mooring and do some cruising, keeping a close eye on the weather.

We are leaving Soggy Paws here in one week, and flying back to the U.S.
Sherry & Dave
Hanging out in Tonga for cyclone season!
At 10/19/2011 6:11 PM (utc) our position was 18°42.58'S 173°59.24'W

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The F/V Lesila Rescue - Followup

Here is what happened after we dropped the Captain and one crew member off at Niuatoputapu (NTT) and sailed off into the night... The below information is pieced together primarily from conversations with Eric of s/v Secret Agent Man.

It turns out that the crew member was originally from NTT, so when the small boat that came out to pick them up off s/v Shango got back to the town dock, many people had gathered (news of the events had spread by word of mouth through town) on the dock, including several of the crew member's extended family. Some were crying in joy. Eric said it was quite moving, and that the villagers were so grateful to the cruisers for going out of their way to help the fishermen.

So presumably the people of NTT pulled out all the stops to house and feed these two guys, and get their part fixed. But there was still the problem of reuniting them with their boat, which continued to drift west with the other 2 crew aboard, at the rate of about 1.5 knot (approx 1.5 mile per hour). Every hour wasted on shore meant another mile further away.

But there still remained the problem of how to get the two crew back to Lesila. There wasn't a local boat in NTT capable of going to sea, nor any big enough to tow Lesila in. Conversations were started by the owner Nuku Alofa, 300 miles away, trying to find an alternate means. However, the ultimate solution was to press Eric on s/v Secret Agent Man into service. So Eric loaded up the two crew members and set out to rendezvous with the drifting vessel. A regular radio schedule was kept via SSB, so Eric knew where the boat was. By the time he set out, the Lesila was about 50 miles downwind of NTT (nearly a 10 hour sail).

Secret Agent Man finally arrived on scene just before dark, and the two men were transfered back to Lesila with the repaired part. Eric hove to to wait for the results. He also had to loan out a few tools. Eric said that it was a dark night, and the wind had picked up. The Lesila didn't have any lights on. He was afraid he'd run into it during the night.

By 9am the next morning, the Lesila had drifted to 16.29S 174.08W, 85 miles downwind from NTT. And the men had worked through the night trying to repair the transmission, and had finally concluded that they could not repair the transmission.

Here is Eric's emailed report (to the Police in Neiafu):

This is Eric captain of the SV Secret Agent Man. I dropped the men off on Lesila last night but they were unable to fix their engine. I spent the night on the radio with Nukualofa radio trying to get them a tow back to Nuiatoputapu. I am unclear what is happening. Please let me know. Their position as of right now 2000 zulu 900AM local is - 16.29S 174.08W

With a still-inoperable engine, and no certain rescue from the Tongan Navy, the Captain begged Eric to take them in tow into NTT or Neiafu. But it was now blowing about 20 knots right from that direction, and Eric's Cal 35 was not designed for that kind of work. He refused, and again offered to take the men off the drifting vessel to safety. But the men refused. By this time, a number of emails and radio contacts had been made, between the people in NTT, and the people in Neiafu, and there was some hope that the Tongan Navy would be dispatched to tow them in.

Eric couldn't do any more for them at that point, so he established a regular radio schedule with them, and set sail for Neiafu.

It was nearly a day later before a Tongan Navy ship was dispatched to tow the Lesila in, and yet another day before Eric got a report from the Captain via radio that they were under tow, headed home to Nuku Alofa. But they did eventually get rescued. Eric is here in the harbor with us in Neiafu.
Sherry & Dave
At 10/10/2011 9:38 PM (utc) our position was 18°39.73'S 173°58.99'W

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Eventful Passage from Niuatoputapu to Neiafu

After watching the weather carefully for several days, to pick a weather window that was not too light or too strong, we left Niuatoputapu early on Sunday morning.

Our friends on Dream Away had opted to leave on Saturday evening, planning a 2-overnight sail, in light winds, for the 170 miles SSW to Neiafu. My Maxsea routing optimization showed that we could conservatively leave on Sunday morning and get in to a reasonable anchorage before dark on Monday, if we got going early on Sunday.

So we were out the pass at 7am and under full sail headed south by 8am. Several other boats left just after us, so there was a parade heading south, on the east side of Niuatoputapu. As forecast, the wind was still a bit light and had a bit too much south in it for a great sail at first. But by 11am it had picked up a few knots and was swinging more east.

Around lunchtime, while Dave was snoozing in the cockpit, I heard a weak and scratchy voice in broken English on the VHF, saying something like "Can you help me, our engine is broken." At first I ignored it--it was so weak that, and the English broken enough, that I assumed it was far away and not intended for us. I heard nothing about a sailboat, so they couldn't be talking to us, right?

Then we chatted with our friends on Shango, they had heard it too, and so had Chesapeake, close behind Shango. Finally (somewhat reluctantly), I called on the VHF "Disabled vessel, can you hear me? Where are you located?" Then Dave took over, with is US Navy officer training... After several minutes of back and forth, with very poor copy (both because of weak VHF and because of heavily accented broken English), we established that it was an 11 meter (35 feet) fishing vessel with a broken engine, and they were located about 7 miles behind us. They had been broken down for a day already, and were basically nowhere near anything for at least several more days of drifting.

At this point, as much as we wanted to keep going, with a fair wind and things awaiting us in Neiafu, we decided that we must turn back and render assistance. It turned out that, good friends that they are, both Shango and Chesapeake turned back with us. It seems overkill, but it was nice to have company, and it turned out that all 3 vessels helped in some critical way.

Shango has an integrated Radar on his chartplotter, which was nice for finding the fishing boat. Shango and Soggy Paws both have active AIS, so it made it easy for us to coordinate our actions over the next few hours. Chesapeak is a pretty fast boat, and they sailed ahead of us to provide advance communications.

When we reached the fishing boat, we quickly decided that towing was not an option. We were 25 miles from Niuatoputapu, in fairly good seas, and Lesila, the fishing vessel, was a heavy steel boat. None of us felt comfortable risking our boats and engines taking him under tow. It turned out that his problem was a broken transmission. So the first thing we did was "loan" (give) him some tools he needed to take his transmission apart. Soggy Paws stuffed a socket wrench and 3 sockets of the required size into a gallon milk jug, and tossed them to Lesila as we sailed past. Then we all hove to to see if they would be able to fix the problem.

About an hour later, the captain announced on the VHF that the transmission had a broken part, and there was no way he could repair it on board. It needed to be welded. So Dave started talking to him about gathering up their passports and things, and we would take the 4 of them back to Niuatoputapu (NTT). The captain, of course, didn't want to leave the vessel. So we explored other options. First, we got the owner's telephone number in Nukualofa (about 300 miles to the south), and we called the number on our satellite phone. He wasn't in and wasn't expected until 7pm, and the person who answered had almost no English. About that time, the Pacific Seafarers Ham Net was gearing up on 14,300, and we called them for ideas. Basically, the answer was, 'You are so remote, and it's not a life and death emergency, it's not likely we could get any assistance for you, but let us know how it turns out.' We did get a few phone numbers for people in Neiafu and Nuiatoputapu to contact, but none of these panned out.

The captain finally suggested that we take him and another crew with us to Niuatoputapu, with the broken part. His plan was to get the part fixed/welded in NTT, and somehow get back to the boat. Meanwhile, the 2 other crew would be left on board, with the GPS and SSB radio, so it would be possible for someone to rendezvous with the drifting vessel the next day.

Shango volunteered to take the 2 crew on their boat, back to NTT, if we would go along for support. We knew at that time that we couldn't reach NTT before dark. We hoped to be able to get someone from the village (or one of the cruisers still there), to come out the pass in a small boat to take the passengers aboard, so that we could turn right around and head for Neiafu.

That seemed like a workable plan. The two crew jumped in the water and swam to Shango, with the part. Chesapeake went with us, sailing ahead and providing first contact via VHF with (eventually) Eric on Secret Agent Man. Eric then contacted Sia and Nico ashore and arranged for a boat to go out and pick the crew up off Shango.

We had a pretty fast sail back north--the wind had freshened enough, and was on the beam. But it was 10pm before Shango had managed to drop their passengers off and turn around. So, 14 hours after originally setting out, we again headed south. We were all pretty tired by then AND knew we had turned a 1-night passage into a 2 night passage. We also knew that bigger winds were forecast on Monday night and Tuesday, and we wouldn't be able to beat them into port as originally planned. *sigh*

Sunday night wasn't too bad, other than the fact that we were all tired.

Monday afternoon, however, the weather started setting in, and we had heavy rain and squally conditions all afternoon and most of the night. On my watch, I spent the whole time reefing and unreefing sails, with the wind varying between 'less than 5 knots' and 'almost 25 knots'. One time I finally gave up trying to sail, and started the engine to motor thru the calm, and not 2 minutes later shut down the engine and had to reef in again, as the wind was back to 20-25kts.

To put the final icing on the cake... Late Monday afternoon, when Shango went to turn his engine on to motor through a flukey wind spot, his engine wouldn't start. He and Dave did some troubleshooting over the radio, but they were unable to solve the problem. So, Shango had to sail through to squally conditions, conserve battery power, and rendezvous with us outside the harbor so we could tow them into port.

We all made it safely, and fortunately, by 8am when Shango sailed into view, the weather had abated a little. Without much trouble, Soggy Paws took Shango in tow for the last 5 miles into the harbor. Chesapeake, also standing by, went ahead into Neiafu harbor to get assistance with finding a mooring for Shango, and get a couple of dinghies lined up to take them onto the mooring.

It all turned out well, but is sure turned out to be quite a different passage than we had envisioned!!
Sherry & Dave
Hanging out in Tonga for cyclone season!

At 10/10/2011 9:38 PM (utc) our position was 18°39.73'S 173°58.99'W

Fun in New Potatoes

We enjoyed our stay in Niuatoputapu (aka New Potatoes).

One fun thing we did was hike the ridge trail. We hitch-hiked early one morning down to near the 3rd village of Hihifo, found the path up to the top of the ridge (thanks to Avril on Dream Away's good directions), and hiked along the ridge top. We found viewpoints for every direction, and the weather was great for taking pictures.

Another fun thing was a 'pig roast' that Sia and Nico hosted at their house (for $25 pa'anga per person). They baked 2 whole (small) pigs and fixed some other traditional Tongan side dishes (taro, greens, etc). We had home-made mango juice to drink. And a fruit dumpling mix for dessert. About 8 boats participated--everyone ate their fill and had a good time.

Another thing that provided a lot of amusement was watching the animals around the village. It is springtime here, so all the animals have babies. As we walk thru the village, there are tiny chickens following the hens, little piglets capering behind their mothers, and even a (horse) foal wobbling next to its mother.

Finally, we had the chance to see the 'about monthly' supply ship come in. Most of the cruiser's dinghied in to the concrete quay to watch the fun and games around the supply ship. About 20 passengers arrived on the freighter, along with lots of cargo. Rumor had it that after the cargo was unloaded, the captain would break open the freezer and sell ice cream from his stocks, but we didn't stay on the docks long enough to watch the ice cream caper (it was hot as heck standing around watching). But later in the evening, we were amazed to see that all the town kids were shinnying out the bow line and jumping off the bow of the freighter. We couldn't believe the captain would allow that. But the kids were having a ball.

We also had a short snorkel on the reef one afternoon. The wind was down and the tide was up, and we actually were able to anchor the dinghy inside, and swim out over the reef, to get to the deep water. Much of the reef was pulverized during the tsunami 2 years ago. There is new coral growth coming back, but it is still fairly barren where we were. Lots of fish, and lots of interesting 'profile' (caverns, etc) on the reef.

There were whales about while we were in Nuiatoputapu. We saw them from the ridge while we were hiking, to the west of the anchorage outside the reef. And we saw them fairly close to the entrance to the anchorage as we were leaving. But we never got to go out and try to observe them up close.

We could easily have stayed a week or two longer, to take our time, do some more snorkeling, hiking, and meet more of the local people. But we do need to get down to Neiafu and get settled in soon, so we reluctantly left Niuatoputapu on Sunday morning.
Sherry & Dave
Hanging out in Tonga for cyclone season!

At 10/10/2011 9:38 PM (utc) our position was 18°39.73'S 173°58.99'W

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beautiful Passage to Niuatoputapu, Tonga

The passage to Niuatoputopu, or "New Potatoes", as the cruisers call it, is 180 miles--just barely beyond what we could comfortably conservatively manage in an overnight passage. So the discussion was, do we be conservative, and leave late in the day and plan a 2-overnight passage. Or do we hang it out a little, leave early in the morning, hope the wind holds, push a little, maybe have to motor a little, and arrive at a strange place with a reef entry just before sunset?

I was pushing for the conservative approach, but Dave was adamant that we could make it in one overnight. If we didn't we'd just heave-to and wait for daylight outside the pass.

We ended up with perfect weather--we got a little more wind than we thought we'd get. It was only a few more knots than forecast, but it was enough to boost our speed from the planned 5 knots to 6.5 knots, and we had a BEAUTIFUL beam reach for nearly 30 hours. We arrived at the pass at 2pm, with plenty of good light for getting in and anchoring. Dave, of course, got a pat on the back for making the right choice.

We are now in Tonga, which, though still situated a few degrees East of the actual "International Dateline", is on a time zone that is on the other side of the dateline. So we shifted our clocks from "-11 plus DST" to "+13". That means we lost a day and gained an hour. Today is now tomorrow here.

I have changed my computer clock to match (somewhat reluctantly), so only god knows what date this blog is posting when I email it. It is very confusing... it is Thursday, October 6 here in Tonga, but it is only Weds, Oct 5, in the U.S.

We are enjoying Niuatoputapu (New-ya Tow-pu Tah-pu). It is a very small out-island, which was totally devastated by the tsunami 2 years ago. They have no running water and no central electricity--only cisterns and a few houses and government buildings have solar power. There are about 800 people living here in 3 small villages, with about 10 working cars/trucks. The supply ship comes here every 1-2 months. There is one small store that is out of all but the most basis supplies, unless the supply ship has been here recently.

But the people are friendly, and they all like to practice their English (thank god!). There is one local with a VHF radio and good English that helps organize things for the yachties. Last night we had a nice Cruiser Potluck at Sia's, and tomorrow she is organizing a pig roast for 25 pa'anga per person.

We are looking at the weather forecast, and must leave here on Sunday, in order to have reasonable winds for the our next hop, 160 miles south to Neiafu, Tonga. This will be our last ocean passage for about 6 months!!
At 10/05/2011 7:39 PM (utc) our position was 15°56.49'S / 173°46.08'W

More Samoa Touring - Manono Island

To complete our touring of Western Samoa...

After breakfast at Matavai Beach Resort, we drove to the Manono ferry terminal and took a small boat out to Manono Island, just off the western top of Upolu. Our information was that, if you waited for a ferry boat to fill up, you could go for the local's price of 2 tala per person. But, looking like the tourists we were, we were offered an immediate departure for the 4 of us, for 10 tala per person, round trip. In the interest of making the most out of our time, we decided to accept.

It was an easy ride (inside the reef) out to the island, in our little covered launch. Our plan was to walk around the island and find a place to eat. What we didn't realize was how hot and windless it would be, and that there seemed to only one place that you could request a meal from. After 1 hour of hot walking in the sun, we finally reached Sunset Beach View (or something like that). A small establishment that had a few bungalows to rent, and whom would make us lunch. We met the crew of s/v Mary there, a Dutch family with 2 small children. They had come by bus and on the ferry with the locals, and thought that leg was the best part of the whole trip. They had spent the night at Sunset Beach, and paid double what we had at Matavai.

We had an OK lunch of rice and vegetables for about $5 US apiece, and walked the rest of the way around the island to meet our water taxi driver at 3pm.

On our way back to Apia, we stopped at Aggie Grey's Resort out by the airport. This is a full-on US-style resort, complete with golf course (looking a little parched and empty in the heat), swimming pool, activities desk, and beachfront. We didn't even bother asking the price.

The next day was Friday, and we took care of the business of clearing out of Samoa first, as we were planning on leaving for Tonga over the weekend. Roger and Dave visited Customs, Immigration, and the Port Authority before coming back to pick up Amy and I to go sightseeing. With all the paperwork done, we headed out for Robert Louis Stephenson's house, where the famous author spent the last 10 years of his life, and where he died in his mid-40's, of Tuberculosis. It was a nicely done museum in RLS's original house. After visiting the museum, we hiked to the top of the hill above the house to visit his gravesite (about 2 hours round trip, nice hike).

Our final tourist stop was at the Indian restaurant for dinner. On our way home through town, we stopped and pre-ordered our meal (friends had warned us of long prep time if you waited to order when you sat down to eat). And then had great traditional Indian curry dishes for dinner. A nice restaurant, nice family, and good food for reasonable prices. Located across from Farmer John's grocery store.

Saturday morning we did a 'grocery run', and then turned the car in to the rental car company (Friendly Car Rentals, conveniently located right across from the marina). We spent the afternoon getting Soggy Paws ready for sea, for an early morning departure on Sunday.
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 10/03/2011 12:57 AM (utc) our position was 13°58.03'S 172°16.62'W

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Surviving Samoa

Wow, I can't believe we spent 9 days in (Western) Samoa, and haven't made an update to the blog!

We were super-busy the whole time... between watching Rugby World Cup on TV, socializing, touring around, and a little 'touristas', the time just flew.

We arrived in time hang out with Dream Away and Quicksilver for 2 days until they left on Sunday. They gave Dave and I a cram course in Rubgy rules, as we watched the elimination rounds, including Samoa vs Fiji, Samoa vs South Africa, and England vs France. Avril from Dream Away also spent a lot of time with Dave giving him tips on where to go and what to do in Samoa.

s/v Shango (Roger and Amy) showed up on Sunday from Pago Pago, so we got together with them and rented a car for 4 days. Unfortunately, it took Shango all day Monday to get cleared in. So we set the rental car up for Tuesday morning. Then on Tuesday morning, both Dave and I came down with a pretty bad case of 'traveler's diarrhea'. We rented the car anyway, but I spent all day Tuesday very close to the 'head' on our boat. By Weds Dave and I were feeling better, so we set out with Roger and Amy to 'do' Samoa.

We headed west out of Apia on Wednesday morning to do a clockwise circumnavigation of the island, with planned stops at the major tourist attractions (about 4 or 5 in total). We also wanted to spend the night at a small place that rented 'Beach Fales', but had not made any concrete plans or reservations.

Upolu is a beautiful island, and much bigger than American Samoa. There are some nice low mountains and some pretty beaches. But (from a boater's perspective) there aren't many anchorages, even if you could get permission to go there. Unlike French Polynesia, the barrier reef is not far enough off the island to form a nice navigable lagoon.

The people outside of the the capital city of Apia are still living very traditionally, though not many of their fale's (traditional thatched houses) are not thatched anymore. Corrogated aluminum seems to be the norm, these days.

Unfortunately, driving by in a shiny rental car--we didn't get much chance to interact with the 'real people' of Samoa. And when we did (to ask directions, etc), it seemed they barely understood english. So we didn't get a great cultural experience on this island. The children, as always, were friendly. In one village, it was obvious that the children had been told to leave the ferangi alone. They stood wistfully 100 yards away and didn't bother us. In other villages, the children waved and shouted 'Bye Bye!' and in others, they boys ran alongside the car with their hands out yelling 'Money!'.

I don't know whether the children learned 'Bye Bye' because some adult wanted them to tell the foreigners to go away, or because of a general confusion about Hello and Good Bye. But the 'Bye Bye' seemed to be universal in the villages for the children, all over Samoa, all smiling and waving.

The people in the little villages seemed to very friendly, and as interested in us as we were of them. In the middle of the day, they were all hard at work--farming and keeping their houses and grounds neat and clean. Every house had breadfruit, mango, papaya, taro, and coconut trees. Sometimes a pig or two, and some chickens. Most fales had flowers ornamental shrubs planted, and the yard area kept swept of leaves and debris. We didn't see much evidence of fishing--without protected bays it would be difficult to get small boats out through the surf.

Though there are many buses in and around downtown Apia, we were surprised at the lack of buses out in the countryside in the middle of the day. This is in contrast to American Samoa, where there was nearly always a bus in sight, no matter where on the island you were.

Through a litte oversight, we left Apia with only a half a tank of gas. When we realized it, we were down to a quarter of a tank on the far end of the island from Apia. We called the rental car company on the cell phone, and asked them where the nearest gas station was. They told us there weren't any and we would have to return to Apia to get topped off (this turned out not to be true). Dave kept asking everyone we saw about where we could get gasoline (even people walking in remote villages who probably never owned a car in their life). We kept hearing that there was supposedly one in the SE corner, where we were headed. When we finally got to this small town, we found the gas station. It looked new. Roger and Dave (who should have topped the tank off before we left Apia), were relieved. But, alas, the shiny new pump was out of gas. 'Tomorrow' they said. But the nice attendant who spoke good (NZ-accented) English, told us where the next one was, and said we should have plenty of gas to get there (we did, barely).

But the rest of the afternoon was tainted by the fact that we needed to get to the gas station before it closed. We stopped at a couple of place on the south coast, but hurried past a couple more due to the time.

We did have a really nice lunch at a nice resort on a beautiful beach on the SE coast... Letia's. Another cruiser had told us she'd like to have spent the night there, and we considered it. But we still had half a day of sightseeing, and Letia's was a little more upscale than we had envisioned.

We finally reached the next gas station on the mid south coast about 5:30 pm. After filling our tank, we finally got serious about looking for a place to sleep for the night. We stopped at one or two likely places, but they were pretty pricey and not quite what we were looking for. Our search was complicated by the fact that to even see each place, we had to pay an 'access fee' to get into the beach area. The access fee was imposed by the village council who had leased the beach area to the resorts. We paid 5 tala ($2.00 USD) in one place, and 10 tala in another, and still hadn't found a place to sleep. The backseat drivers (me, mostly) were getting restless, and we decided "one more stop, and if that doesn't pan out, we'll go back to the boats (half hour away) to sleep."

But the last stop was golden. We stopped at a small grocery store, to ask the guy if he knew of any inexpensive beach fale's nearby. He directed us to the owner of another grocery store up the road, John Pasina, who's sister was running his 'resort', a small place place down on the beach. Dave and Roger negotiated a good price... 100 tala ($46 USD) per couple for the night, including dinner and breakfast (because there was no place to eat nearby). We ended up at John Pasina's Matavai Beach Resort, and loved it. (Resort is a bit of a stretch for this place). It wasn't mentioned in our Lonely Planet, or in the local tourist brochure, but it was in the Moon South Pacific guide, with not a very good writeup. They said you had to hike in 3 Km, and the water wasn't drinkable. But with our car, there was no hike required, and we had (and they also supplied) plenty of bottled drinking water. We did have to pay a 10 tala 'access fee' at the entry to the men guarding the beach road.

It turned out that Matavai Beach was recently the host for the main body of 'Survivor Samoa', which had just wrapped up a few weeks before. They had about 20 beach fales--little open air sleeping huts--right on the beach, and we were the only guests. We had our pick of the bunch, and they equipped each hut with a nice foam mattress, sheets, and mosquito netting.

We had a sunset swim in the warm water, a simple dinner, and crawled onto our sleeping platforms for a nice night's sleep. We slept well, with only the sounds of a gentle surf, and no dogs, and no roosters. It was pretty magical, overall.

On our way out, we stopped at the 'Survivor' huts on the adjacent beach, and took pictures.
At 10/03/2011 12:57 AM (utc) our position was 13°58.03'S 172°16.62'W

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Safely in Apia Marina

We arrived after an easy overnight passage from Pago Pago to Apia. The wind forecast was for very light north winds, but they ended up NW, and we actually t-t-t-tacked (once, after a long discussion).

At sunset the wind dropped from 10 knots to almost nothing, so we turned on the engine and motored the rest of the way to Apia (about 50 miles).

But the first few hours were a pretty nice sail. We saw whales several times, going around the southern tip of Tutuila (the main island of American Samoa). We caught one fish--a small tunny, which Dave threw back before I even got a picture of him. Between the tuna we got on our way from Suwarrow, and all the meat we bought in Pago Pago, we really don't have any room in our freezer anyway.

We arrived at Apia as planned just after 8am, and were tied up at the dock in Apia Marina by 0830. Clearing in here is easy--you wait on your boat and all the officials come to you...all 5 of them, one-by-one. By 1130 we were fully cleared. All the money is paid on exit, so I'm not sure the total fees for check-in/check-out here.

Staying in the marina is mandatory for yachts. And if there is no space in the marina, you can anchor out, but you still pay the marina fees. It is a very nice marina, with floating docks, water, electricity, cold-water showers, and a 24x7 guard at the gate. For our boat we will pay about $20 USD per night for the marina.

Our friends on Dream Away have been here for 2 weeks, so we will buy them a drink tonight and get the skinny on sightseeing Samoa. They rented a car and even took the car on the ferry to the neighboring island of Savai'i.
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 23/09/2011 10:02 PM (utc) our position was 13°49.67'S 171°45.56'W

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fun in Pago Pago

We had a good time in Pago Pago, and worked hard too.

The first item of business for Sherry was to get on the internet and check and update all the finances--we had been away from the internet for about 6 weeks, so there was quite a backlog. 350 emails, for one thing. Fortunately the Blue Sky wifi signal in the harbor is pretty strong, reasonably fast, and cheap ($20 for 1 week unlimited usage).

I didn't get a chance to back-post any pictures on the blog, but I did spend some time on Facebook. And I got 2 Compendiums updated (Societies, Cooks & Samoas). I also am working on figuring out how to make navigable charts out of Google Earth (Tonga's charts are a little off).

We also had time to do some sightseeing. On one day, we caught a bus up to the 'pass' southwest of town, and then hiked all the way along the ridge on the north side of the harbor, and down into the town of Vaitia, where we could catch a bus back to town. This was a really nice hike, but it was quite windless and hot the day we did it.

We went together with Amy and Roger on Shango, and rented a car for a day. We managed to drive to the extreme east and west ends of the island, do a little shopping, and stop for dinner at Tisa's Barefoot Bar.

On Saturday, we spent half a day at McDonalds watching college football games. Unfortunately, McD's only had ESPN (not ABC), so we didn't get to watch either of our teams play. But it was fun just watching any college team.

I spent half a day doing laundry--we had accumulated several changes of linens, plus about 2 weeks worth of dirty clothes. It was wonderful to go into a big, clean laundramat and get it all done in 2 hours (no wringing!!). It was worth going to Pago Pago just for the laundry...

We also spent nearly a day filling Soggy Paws with diesel. In Pago Pago, you have to prepay for your fuel at the 'business office' for the fuel dock (a little ways out of town). Then make an appointment, and then go fuel up. We opted to take our jerry jugs over to Shango, and fill when they fueled up. The fuel dock is made for bigger boats, so yachts need to wait for high tide to fuel up. Shango got bumped from their first appointment--a tuna boat was refueling until long past high tide. We asked the fuel dock attendant how much fuel the big new tuna boats take on, and he said almost $1 million worth of fuel. On the second attempt, Shango (with Dave and our tanks also aboard) got into the fuel dock without incident.

We spent several days provisioning... starting out with an initial survey of all the stores, in which we *only* spent a couple of hundred dollars. A few days later, with a rental car to help with the logistics, we spent almost $1000 in one day. We followed that up with one more $300 trip. We should be good for about 6 months now, except for fresh veggies, and bread and eggs.

Dave spent a day or two checking out the hardware stores. Pago Pago has both an Ace Hardware and a True Value Hardware store, plus a bunch of non-franchised hardware stores. The main thing he was looking for was high-pressure hose to repair a leaky watermaker line.

We thoroughly enjoyed Pago Pago--the town is MUCH nicer than it used to be (2 of the 3 tuna canneries have closed down, and the 3rd is obeying EPA regulations). We found the people VERY VERY nice. Everyone was friendly and a few people went way out of their way to help us out with minor issues. In spite of a report one someone's blog in 2008 about theft in the harbor, we know of no incidents at all this year, and everyone was pretty lax. We did, once or twice when the wind was right, get downwind of the tuna cannery. Phewie!! But it never lasted very long.

The harbor is still draggy... after anchoring in a recommended spot, and sitting just fine for about 36 hours, we dragged in only 15 knots of wind. Dave was off the boat, but two guys from neighboring boats came and helped me re-anchor. This time, it set well, and stayed fine after that. It was nice to have a nice light wind period to be in this harbor that is renowned for being terrible for anchoring. We got our anchor up without incident, too. There is a ton of debris on the bottom there, including one whole sailboat, rigging and all. Our friends on Two Amigos took hours getting their anchor up.

The last night in the harbor, we got 10 people together and organized a trip to Tisa's Barefoot Bar for their Wednesday night Pig Roast. We took the last bus out to Tisa's for $1, and they organized a taxi back for us at $2.50 each.

We did all this in 8 days! Our friends on Shango had their tongues hanging out, trying to keep up with us.

We left Pago Pago this morning, in spite of not much wind. It's time to get moving! We only have about 5 weeks before we fly back to the US from Tonga. In that time, we want to see Western Samoa, Niuatoputapu (Tonga), and Neiafu (Tonga), and get Soggy Paws settled on a mooring.
At 14/09/2011 6:53 PM (utc) our position was 14°16.42'S 170°41.72'W

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Anchor down in Pago Pago

We arrived yesterday evening after an easy passage. We have good internet!! Maybe some picture updates from the last month when I get a chance.
At 9/14/2011 6:53 PM (utc) our position was 14°16.42'S 170°41.72'W

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Samoan Weather Forecast

We have started to request the American Samoa weather forecast out of Pago Pago. We were interested to see that it comes in both English and Samoan.

The Samoan version...


Look at all those vowels!!



We are still having a great sail. Clear skies, a few small puffy clouds, and about 14 knots of wind. We saw a green flash at sunset tonight, and the moon was already up as the sun set. It will be nearly full tonight.

It doesn't get much better than this!!

There is a nasty low passing well south of us (causing the big swell), but the forecast for where we are is for settled weather for the next week.
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 9/9/2011 6:05 AM (utc) our position was 14°07.25'S 166°05.75'W

Friday, September 9, 2011

Saying Farewell to Suwarrow

We left Suwarrow finally yesterday morning, after nearly 3 weeks of hanging out.

After the stormy weather, we were blessed with 10 days of beautiful stable sunny conditions.

We had a great time there hanging out with James and John, the Rangers. We snorkeled with Manta Rays, we took a reef walk out to a motu with nesting birds, we learned how to open coconuts the Cook Islands way. We watched the shark feeding several times. We explored some dive spots, and made one very very nice dive.

Suwarrow is a special place. It is so remote that only sailors can visit it--made famous by Tom Neale who came there to live, to experience fending for himself alone on an island. He wrote a book about his experiences called 'An Island to Oneself'. The Rangers are deposited on the island in April with a 6 month supply of basic provisions. They augment their provisions by fishing, by collecting coconuts, growing their own vegetables, and by socializing with the cruisers.

Just sitting in the anchorage on a sunny day is a fantastic experience--the vivid green of the coconuts on the island, the beautiful beach, the turquoise water, the frothy white surf on the reef, the curious black-tip sharks that hang about the boat. It is hard for a picture to convey how nice it was, but Dave got a couple of really good pics, which we will share when we have time and internet.

In Suwarrow we had 'anchorage sharks' the way there are 'anchorage barracudas' in Florida and the Bahamas. It was a little startling to go up on deck and see 2-3 sharks hanging about. It is really intimidating to newcomers to the anchorage, but I snorkeled all over the anchorage area with no problems. These little (3-4') guys are just looking for handouts--which the Rangers have forbidden. They request that all garbage come ashore and go onto the compost pile, and any fish cleaning be done at their station. They then take the fish carcasses and throw them to the sharks on the reef on the other side of the island. Though Charlie's Charts talks about 'aggressive sharks in the anchorage', we have found them to be curious, not aggressive, and have heard of no incident between sharks and cruisers.

With Graham and Avril on Dream Away, we took the dinghies one day up to the Seven Islands area for a snorkel. We found two great snorkel spots (following John on Sete Mares' guidance). It was a bit of a bash in the dinghies, even in moderate winds. Would have been nicer to take a big boat up there, towing the dinghies, the way we did in Mopelia. But the Rangers forbid anchoring anywhere but behind 'Anchorage Island'.

We spent a couple of days there where there were only 2 boats in the anchorage... this was after the 'population' peaked in early August at 28 boats. But a few days later, after the next weather window opened up in Bora Bora, about 8 boats dribbled in over 2-3 days. A whole new group of friends!!

In the lull between groups, we had a chance to sit and talk with James quite a bit. He's a unique individual. In spite of his pot-belly, topknot, tattoes, and toothless smile, he is a very intelligent guy, and very committed to environmental protection of Suwarrow and the Cook Islands. Dave spent quite some time trying to help him with the antenna to his donated VHF--so he could hear incoming boats more than a mile out (without success, unfortunately).

We had one last Sundowners on the Beach to welcome the new boats, and then on the final night, a very nice potluck.

We are now 24 hours into our trip west toward American Samoa and having another beautiful downwind sail.
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 9/8/2011 6:21 PM (utc) our position was 13°38.17'S 165°08.55'W

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Breakfast with Mantas

There is a reef area within a short dinghy distance of the anchorage that is supposed to get regular visits from Manta Rays. But in the two times we had visited in the afternoon, we had not seen one. But friends of ours went a different time fairly early in the morning (for us), and had seen several.

So we broke our normal routine and got going off the boat at 09:15am. There is a buoy on the reef, placed there by the Rangers for our use, for hooking your dinghy to. As soon as we were hooked in, we could see Mantas below us. Everyone (3 dinghies worth) eased into the water to watch. We eventually had about 5 Mantas swimming around below us. They didn't seem to be bothered by our presence, though everyone was pretty good about not trying to get too close.

Unlike the Mantas we saw in Toau last year, these did not seem to be feeding. Instead, we think there is a 'cleaning station' there on the reef. They seemed to be slowly circling the same coral head, each with a couple of little cleaner fish swimming around their body--into their mouth and gills even. We swam with them for about a half an hour until all of us had had enough.

We had our camera with us, and Dave did a great job of capturing the Mantas on 'film', which we hope to share with you some day!!

For those coming behind us, the Manta reef is at 13-15.21S / 163-06.73W. It may or may not be marked with a buoy next year.
At 8/24/2011 8:00 PM (utc) our position was 13°14.86'S 163°06.47'W

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Better Days

It took several days, but the wind has finally eased off and backed a little bit more to the east. (105 degrees T in the GRIB forecast is OK, 100 and less is better, higher than 105 and the chop is in the anchorage).

We had nearly one full day where the wind was in the 30 knot range and about 115 degrees. Nobody left the boats and we had both GPS's on with the anchor watch set tight. One boat dragged quite aways, dragging his anchor out of the shallower area into 50-foot deep water, but he was dragging back towards a reef. Finally at about 4am he stopped moving. In the morning he had a friend take out a second anchor upwind. Amazingly, for the conditions, no one else had any significant problems.

The broken anchor was finally retrieved. It turns out to be a 44-lb stainless steel "CQR" of unknown origin. It does have "CQR" on the shaft, but it looks like it was cobbled together 20 years ago by some workmen that didn't know much about working stainless steel. (pics coming when we've got internet)

The young couple on Saviah are on their first cruise and are really very green. The boat came with that anchor, a nice big heavy plow. So they had no idea what a risk they were taking trusting their boat to that anchor. Another cruiser in the anchorage was overheard saying "Both my primary and my backup are stainless steel anchors and look just like that!" The break occurred at the end of the shaft just in from the shackle, but in looking at all the rust, cracks, and crevice corrosion around the blades and the head-to-shaft connection, it could have let go anywhere.

Latitude 38 should have a separate Puddle Jump seminar on anchors and anchoring techniques. Our advice is "Leave the fancy electronics at West Marine and instead invest in a '2 sizes up' anchor, chain, and windlass system." For our 44-foot somewhat heavy somewhat beamy cruising boat, we have an 88-lb Delta anchor, heavy chain, and swivels and shackles sized (breaking strength-wise) for the bigger anchor. If we were buying a new anchor, it would be about the same size, but probably one of the newer designs like the Rocna or Bugle.

THEN, you have set your anchor WELL. Make sure it is in sand, upright, and BURIED. Back down at full RPM for about a minute, making sure the anchor is under full strain before you ease the throttle. If it drags under those conditions--great--you know you would have dragged at 2am in a squall. Reset it until it is set. Visually inspect it to make sure it is set (every time, if possible). Put out at least 4:1 scope. Then, if in heavy coral, put some buoys to hold the last 50% of the chain above the coral. (That heavy anchor will do no good if your chain snaps due to being wrapped up short around a coral head in a heavy chop). OK, off my soapbox.

With the nicer weather, we've finally been able to go snorkeling again. Yesterday, since it is still somewhat choppy, we stayed close to the anchorage. We found some pretty nice coral and small fishies around the reef behind the boats. Better, in my opinion, than 'Perfect Reef' 3 miles away. Today we hope to go further afield--people keep telling us that the area up by 7 Islands has some excellent snorkeling and diving. But these are 3 miles away across the open lagoon, and we can't take the big boats (due to park regulations).

With the break in the weather, several boats are leaving today. The current boat count is 14 boats, and it has been holding pretty steady around this number, with boats dribbling in and out. We understand from friends in Bora Bora that there's a new slug of boats holed up in Bora Bora waiting for a break in the weather to head this way, so they should all arrive in a group in 5-6 days. Boats seem to move in waves around this area--centered around the short periods of settled weather. We are going to hang here for probably another week. We have decided not to go to Niue and Beveridge reef, which would have been 500 miles out of our way, and so we have plenty of time to enjoy Suwarrow and the Samoas.
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 8/24/2011 8:00 PM (utc) our position was 13°14.86'S 163°06.47'W

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Finally Calming Down

We spent nearly 24 hours with the winds blowing here at 25-30 knots, with the highest gust recorded at 42 knots. And from a direction in which we are getting no protection from the near reef--only from the rim of the atoll several miles away. Our friend Kennedy on Far Star, a single-hander, dragged about 80 feet in the middle of the night, but fortunately he had dragging room and did finally stop dragging at about 4am. Once daylight came, he, with the help of a friend, set another anchor.

The broken anchor has been retrieved. It is an older stainless steel plow, and got hooked sideways on a coral head and then pulled hard at 90 degrees to the blade. It snapped right at joint between the blade and the shaft. There are obvious signs of 'crevice corrosion'. Those stainless steel anchors sure look pretty hanging off the bow, but they have no place on a cruising boat as a primary anchor.

By yesterday morning, the winds had calmed enough and switched to about 120T (from 135T) and we were getting enough protection that the waves weren't too bad. We were still getting periodic squalls through, but the wind between the squalls was 'only' 20 knots.

Once the weather broke a little, we continued with the cruisers-helping-cruisers activities. Dave from Soggy Paws and Jerry from Challenger held a mini refrigeration seminar over on the big catamaran Sete Mares. The two of them had just finished reviving Jerry's plugged evaporator plate refrigeration system.

Meanwhile, Avril from Dream Away and I were swapping Tongan cruising guides, waypoints, and utility programs. We also managed to brave the heavy chop in the anchorage to go ashore and help James, the head Park Ranger, with his computer issues.

The forecast shows continued easing of the wind, and a little more backing to the NE. We are looking forward to enjoying more of the charms of Suwarrow in the coming week.
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 8/24/2011 8:00 PM (utc) our position was 13°14.86'S 163°06.47'W

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One of Those Nights

If today was one of those days that defined much of the best part about cruising, tonight provides a stark counterpoint, reminding of us of what all of us hate about cruising.

We have had a pretty mild summer, weather-wise. And in the last 2-3 weeks it has been exceptionally fine--winds less than 15 knots and sunny skies.

But tonight, sitting here in this remote atoll of Suwarrow, we are having the worst night I can remember of this whole cruising season. The wind is howling at 25 knots, it's drizzling rain off and on, and the wind direction is such that we're not in a very protected spot. It's a pretty good anchorage in winds anywhere from NW to ESE, but tonight the wind has gone to SE, and we've got nearly a 5 foot 'chop' rolling into the anchorage.

The wind was pretty nasty last night, but eased off during the day. However, the forecast for the next 24 hours is for really crappy conditions. In the late afternoon, the wind started to come back up again and swing more SE. And just at dusk, when most of us had already gone ashore for a potluck (scheduled before the weather forecast was announced), one boat actually broke their anchor. They actually snapped the shaft of their 'CQR'!!! Wow, that would really be a bummer. Fortunately, it happened while they were aboard, and during daylight. So it was only a 'fire drill' and not a disaster that would have put their boat and their dreams on the rocks. The 'engineers' in the fleet haven't had a chance to look at the anchor, but they surmise that it was one of those cheap Chinese knock-offs that are not properly hardened. Fortunately they were still onboard and noticed their boat adrift. They have re-anchored with a backup anchor, but that's pretty unsettling.

We have our big '2 sizes up' Delta anchor out. It is well set--buried in deep sand and checked and double-checked this afternoon. We have heavy oversized chain, and 2 snubbers on. And we tied a second line off to an old submerged mooring that I found while snorkeling around the boat. I wouldn't trust my boat to it, but there's chain down there, around a coral head, and a big line coming up. So it's a backup attachment that we hope we'll never have to test. So we should be sleeping well.

But the wind is howling in the rigging, and the boat is pitching. We are surrounded by our friends, all of whom have most of their money and all of their dreams invested in their boat. Some of whom are maybe not as well prepared as we are. It's one of those nights where boats break lose. We are all on a "lee shore" right now. It would be a bad time/bad place to break lose.

None of us will sleep well tonight...
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga
At 8/23/2011 10:09 PM (utc) our position was 13°14.87'S 163°06.47'W

Collaboration in Remote Places

Today has been a day full of illustrations of one of the great things about the cruising lifestyle--that of "cruiser helping cruiser". In today's modern world, especially in the litigious USA, having someone take time out of their busy day to help another, just out of the goodness of their heart, is a rare thing.

Here are the cooperative activities that have gone on in our anchorage of ~12 boats just today:

- Loose Pointer's dinghy painter parted in the high winds last night, and they asked for someone to take them down to where they could see it beached to leeward, to retrieve it. Kennedy on Far Star volunteered and spent an hour or so helping them retrieve the dinghy and get it operational again.

- Far Star's watermaker isn't working, and he's out of water. He has been offered multiple containers of water from Challenger and Zephyr

- Jason on YOLO has an intermittent problem with an engine alarm on his boat, that he can't seem to find the source of. Several guys went over to YOLO at his invitation to go over what he had done and offer advice. Several other guys, not very diesel-savvy, also went over to listen to the troubleshooting discussion for their own edification.

- Saviah called on the radio and said they had several severe wraps around coral heads that they had been unable to clear, and was there someone with tanks who could help out. They want to move to a better spot for tomorrow's big winds. Dan on Loose Pointer volunteered to snorkel and give directions while they tried to clear it (a 3rd hand is critical), and Warren on Night Fly offered to dive on it if that didn't work.

- Night Fly has fuel problems--he got a bad lot of fuel somewhere in French Polynesia and his engine quit coming in the pass. Several boats have loaned empty fuel jugs so he can empty his diesel tank out. Loose Pointer loaned a small hand pump to help pump it out. Dave on Soggy Paws loaned his Baja filter (Warren's is no longer filtering properly), and some biocide to kill the growth in the tanks.

- Eden has a problem with their outboard motor--the battery on their electric start is dead. Several people offered advice on both reconditioning the battery and starting manually. Jason on YOLO offered the loan of a small battery for a few days.

- Marie Andree on Sete Mares has been nearly disabled by back problems, so Jo on Blue Moon has been giving her daily massages.

- Jerry on Challenger has refrigeration problems, so half of his refrigerated goods are in Soggy Paws' freezer, and half in Far Star's refrigerator. Dave from Soggy Paws has been helping Jerry with his refrigerator issues, with Jason from YOLO looking on, trying to learn. They borrowed a set of 134a gauges from Dreamaway.

- Zephyr is looking for help getting the AIS input into their computer charting program. Sherry on Soggy Paws has volunteered to help out.

- Tomorrow Dave is holding a 'Refrigeration Troubleshooting' session on Sete Mares (a big catamaran with a big cockpit), and anyone who's interested is welcome.

- Several food swaps have gone on
- Soggy Paws looking for saltines
- Rhythm looking for whole wheat flour
- John ashore looking for a cucumber

- And of course there are the information swaps--discussing routes and weather and anchorages. Soggy Paws is regularly handed a 'thumb drive' and asked for a download of our 'Pacific Cruising Info' folder, plus weather updates, and utility programs.

- There is a book swap here, in the Ranger's area. But if there wasn't a convenient one nearby, someone would arrange a book swap on the beach at happy hour. Nowadays cruisers are also swapping DVD's, music, and ebooks on a regular basis too.

Anyway, it is precisely this spirit of community that is one of the big things that we love about the cruising lifestyle. Used to be pretty common in America, but it is pretty rare now.
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 8/23/2011 10:09 PM (utc) our position was 13°14.87'S 163°06.47'W

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Enroute to Suwarrow - Day 5 & Arrival

As of 0800 local August 20
Miles today: 125 Total Miles Behind Us: 628
Miles to go: 0
Wind ESE at 15 kt Large Southerly Swell

We came in the pass at Suwarrow at 0800 this morning. We spent the night lollygagging around trying to sail comfortably without arriving too soon. It really is hard in decent winds to slow down. If you pull in too much sail, the boat rolls uncomfortably. So it is always a challenge to slow down. But we managed to jog along at about 4 knots for most of the night, with teh wind a little aft of the beam.

We originally thought we'd go around the south side of the atoll and hang out on the 'back side' for the night. But the winds picked up later than forecast, so we would have arrived at the south end of the atoll too late. And, on more thought, it would mean we'd have to be very vigilant on watch because of our proximity to the reef. So we changed our plan at midnight, and decided to reach up on the east side, a comfortable 10 miles east of the reef, and gybe at around 5am and reach back for the pass. This meant we had to take the spinnaker pole down (15' long and 4" in diameter) in the middle of the night. But with a moon and reasonable conditions, it was no big deal.

Dave hates to handle the pole at sea--we normally set it before we go out into the ocean, and wait to take it down until we arrive. But we did need to get it down. And with our big pole, one end is permanently affixed to the mast. So the 'pole dance' isn't a real big thing. Dave handled the controls at the mast and I handled the outboard end of the pole--assisted with the foreguy and afterguy. We bring it down until the pole end is at the lifeline, attach it to the lifeline to stabilize things, and then get the topping life, foreguy, and afterguy all sorted out. Our pole stores on the mast, so once all the lines are detached, Dave hauls up on the pole and I attached it to the ring on the mast. Simple (in 15 kts and 5' seas).

We had a good set of waypoints for the pass, and though it was a little early for 'good light' the reefy points we needed to avoid in the pass were all breaking, so easy to see. I would have hung out for another hour, but Dave wanted to go in.

By the time we got the mainsail down and went into the anchorage, the sun was up a little higher and we could easily see the bad spots around the anchorage.

Our anchoring was much facilitate by the fact that about 5 boats pulled out this morning, leaving some nice gaps for anchoring. A few weeks ago the boat population peaked at 29 boats. We now have only 11 boat, including us.

We anchored once in deep water (55'), but once we learned that a couple of catamarans were leaving that were closer in to the island (and therefore better protected from the 20+ knots forecast for tomorrow), we pulled our anchor and moved closer in to take their spot.

The Rangers in their nicely accented (Australia/NZ) Cook Islands accent, came on at 0830 with a short VHF net. They said goodbye to the boats leaving and welcome to the boats leaving. They told us to come in when we were rested to do the formalities (clear into the Cook Islands). Can't wait to meet them!

Passage Statistics, Anchorage to Anchorage
628 miles
5 days
Avg speed: 5.2 knots
Eng hrs: 21.5
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 8/21/2011 12:01 AM (utc) our position was 13°14.87'S 163°06.47'W

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Windows Activation in the Middle of the Pacific

Last night on Dave's watch, our navigation computer, an older Dell laptop that we've had for a couple of years, suddenly came up with a Windows Activation Alert. Dave swears he didn't do anything unusual. He said he accidentally shut the computer down (instead of sleeping it as we normally do when underway). When he restarted it, the 'Windows Activation Needed' banner came up and stayed in the lower right corner. This computer hasn't been connected to the internet in about 2 years, and we've never had any activation warnings before. It is a Dell we bought used and has a Windows XP sticker on the bottom that looks legit.

So I wasn't too alarmed until I rebooted it again, and a warning came up that we'd have to activate in 3 days or Windows would stop working. !!!! There was a convenient 'Click Here to Activate' button.

Well, of course the Activation process requires internet or a telephone. Fortunately, we have a Sat phone, and the conditions aboard were calm and we've got a good signal on the phone. So I called the number listed--first the 'no toll free' number, which is no longer valid, and then the 'toll free' number. The Sat phone doesn't recognize toll free numbers, and so I got the warning that I'll be billed 'international rates' for the call. *sigh*

Anyway, holding my breath that we wouldn't move out of the Iridium 'cell' and drop the call in the middle of the process, I interacted with the voice-prompt computer to say the 54-digit number that was displayed on my Activation screen. It was easy, with the computer prompting for each number group in turn. The only hitch was caused by me mis-reading one of the numbers, but 'he' gave me several chances to re-read the number. Then the computer read off my activation code. Again, slowly, clearly, and in groups that matched the fields on the screen. Click to finish, and Walla! I was activated again. Guess we're good for another 2 years.

Sheesh--fortunately, even if we couldn't resolve the problem--we have 3 other computers aboard, all configured to be able to plug and play as the Navigation computer. But what next, Microsoft!???
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 8/19/2011 10:08 PM (utc) our position was 13°28.71'S 161°49.28'W

Enroute to Suwarrow - Day 4

As of 0800 local August 19
Miles today: 125 Total Miles Behind Us: 513
Miles to go: 96 (1 more day)
Wind ESE at 10 kt Large Southerly Swell
Sailing WNW at 5kt
Sail Config: Genoa poled to port, reefed main vanged to stbd, staysail sheeted in the middle

We motored all day yesterday in mostly glassy conditions until 1am. At our 'change of watch' time, the wind had come up to about 8-9 knots out of the ESE. Since we knew we'd arrive after dark tonight no matter what we did, there was no need to keep motoring once there was enough wind to move at all under sail.

So we set the sails in our nice stable 'Dead Down Wind' configuration, and were surprised to be moving along at nearly 4 knots. We had a nice quiet sail the rest of the night.

Now we are going too fast. Our current ETA at the current speed (10am) of 5.5 knots is about 2am tonight, and the wind is forecast to build to the 15 knot range, so we will probably go even faster. The problem with slowing down is twofold... First, we have been bitten before by slowing down, then have the weather change. Second, to slow down you have to reduce sail, and reducing sail in seas means that you roll more. So we'll keep on at a reasonable speed, and plan to tuck up behind Suwarrow whenever we get there, and heave-to or sail slowly back and forth until daylight. (Dodging our 2 other friends who will also arrive after dark).

We do want to get in as early as possible tomorrow (Saturday), because the winds are building, and the sooner we get in and get settled, the better. The forecast for Sunday is for winds over 20 knots from the SE. Hopefully there will be plenty of room in the anchorage for us to tuck up into a protected spot for the higher winds. The boat count at Suwarrow is now about 12-15 boats, and our little group's arrival will add 5 more. And the normal anchorage is a little exposed to strong SE-ly winds. If the normal anchorage is too crowded, we understand we can get permission from the Rangers to move to a place a short distance away called 'Seven Islands', which is well protected from the SE.

Still having a pleasant sail in mild, sunny conditions. Looking forward to our arrival in Suwarrow!
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 8/19/2011 9:28 PM (utc) our position was 13°29.00'S 161°45.98'W

Friday, August 19, 2011

Enroute to Suwarrow - Day 3

As of 0800 local August 18
Miles today: 126 Miles Behind Us: 388
Miles to go: 214 (approx 2 more days)
Wind NE at <5 kt Seas confused!
Motorsailing WNW at 5.5kt - 1 reef in the main, full staysail

Well, we had 2 1/2 days of perfect sailing weather. But the wind started to drop last night (as anticipated), and at 6am Dave couldn't stand the slopping of the sails any more, and turned on the engine. We anticipate having to motor for at least 12 hours, maybe 24, before the wind fills back in. We still expect landfall sometime Saturday.

Right now (11:30am), the sea is glassy and what sails we do have up are hanging slack. But it beats 20-25 WNW that our friends are having further south.

Our friends on Dreamaway are in sight, about 3 miles ahead of us. We are amazed that we've stayed so close together without really any collaboration. We've had trouble staying this close to Infini after 3 days of sailing in the past, when we've been TRYING to stay close!

I've just finished reading Tom Neale's "An Island to Oneself" about his stay alone on Suwarrow in the early 1960's. Interesting reading, and especially poignant when approaching 'his' island for a visit ourselves. He once spent 13 months without visits from any boats. But now, with GPS, and the internet (sharing of cruising information), they regularly have ~120 boats a year visit. The island is once again uninhabited, except seasonally, 2 Park Rangers are placed on the island to watch over and facilitate cruisers' visits, from April to November.
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga
At 8/18/2011 9:52 PM (utc) our position was 13°58.89'S 159°49.66'W

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Southern Cooks vs Northern Cooks Route

Folks might wonder if we're going to interesting places like Palmerston and Aitutake, as well as Suwarrow. We are not.

The Cook Islands are scattered all over the middle of the South Pacific. Cruisers going between French Polynesia and Tonga generally need to make a choice between the Southern Cooks route, which include either Rarotonga or Aitutake, and then typically Palmerston, Beveridge Reef and Niue. Or via the Northern Cooks route, which includes Suwarrow, and usually a stop at American Samoa and/or Western Samoa.

We could spend a month out here and hit them all, but these islands/atolls are about 300 miles apart, so it would be logistically difficult and a lot of sea miles. Plus we'd be dodging cold fronts this time of year.

We chose the northern route for two reasons--Tom Neale's "An Island To Oneself" is set in Suwarrow, and so it's a cool place to stop. It is now a park, and two Cook Island Park Rangers stay there during cruising season to shepherd the passing cruisers through the atoll. They make it a point to show the cruisers an interesting time. Our friends have just raved about the experience.

The second reason is that the northern route seems to be north of the passing cold fronts. We are congratulating ourselves tonight on our choice, after hearing friends on the radio enroute from Aitutake to Beveridge Reef going through a cold front with 25 knot NW winds. Yuk! We, on the other hand, have 12 knots of gentle northeasterly winds. We are about 350 miles north of them, headed more north, and should not get much weather from the passing cold front. (Remember that we are in the Southern Hemisphere, so north means warmer down here...). The season right now is 'late winter'--the Northern Hemisphere equivalent of February.

If you're totally interested and want a geography lesson, here are some approximate lat/longs of some of the Cook Islands:

Suwarrow 13-13S 163-04W
Palmerston 18-04S 163-12W
Aitutake 18-55S 159-46W

Get out your Google Earth!
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 8/18/2011 6:41 AM (utc) our position was 14°32.64'S 158°44.28'W