Alex’s Photo Picks from the Last Two Years

As you are probably aware Sarah and I have been in Thailand for the last 6 weeks or so, bar a one-week side-trip to Cambodia for the sake of getting our Thai visas renewed inexpensively. It’s been wonderful spending time with Sarah’s parents and exploring places by land. There have also been moments of nostalgia. I’ve spent this morning looking through our photographs for the last two years and there are a few that really stand out for one reason or another, so I thought I’d share them with you here. Many of them you will have seen before but there are a few that we either didn’t have (because they were taken by someone else and we only acquired them later on) or which didn’t fit in with the subject matter of whatever blog post we were writing at the time.

We’ve had so many incredible experiences that it was hard to cut down my selection (it’s probably still a little long- sorry about that). There are also one or two that I would have liked to have included here – some videos from the first passage from Bermuda to St. Maarten – but which I don’t have access to at the moment because they are on an ipod that I left in New Zealand. I will post these later; they give some insight into my mental state during that passage and why I don’t think I’m well-suited to single-handed sailing.

So, without further ado, in chronological order:

 

 

Leaving the Las Perlas Islands on the way to Galapagos we caught our first fish of the voyage! Unfortunately, something else got there before I could pull it in…………….

 

 

This view was a welcome one –  making landfall at Pitcairn Island after three weeks at sea. At the time we assumed that this view heralded an opportunity for a rest. Little did we know we’d soon be trundling off to Mangareva at full tilt on an emergency medical evacuation!

 

 

Pitcairn’s reputation for less-than-ideal anchorage conditions is not ill-deserved. We woke up one morning during our second visit to the island and were excited to see another yacht in the vicinity. AIS identified them as S/V Maya. We hailed them on the radio but for some reason they seemed reluctant to stop by for a visit, so they sailed on without anchoring. These pictures of Bob taken by Asma give some inkling as to why they may have decided on that course of action, and why they sounded so baffled on the radio when we told them that we were comfortably re-anchored at Bounty Bay. We have since become very good friends with Herbert and Asma and have laughed merrily over our first encounter with one another. Apparently Asma turned to Herbert and said “I’m sure they were very nice people but now they must be dead, so we’ll never know!”

You can just see Bob’s mast beyond the breaking wave 🙂

 

And here we are nonchalantly raising the anchor:

OK, that was a lie. It wasn’t nonchalant at all. I couldn’t actually stand on the foredeck so I had to do everything braced against the pulpit railing and supported on one knee. Despite my best efforts to control things, the windlass and bow roller came under tremendous load as the anchor was torn from the sand by the rise of a particularly large swell. There are other pictures of the situation above where you can only see the boom and the tops of our heads, but I like this one because you can at least see that there is a boat in there somewhere!

 

 

Now we move on to the Gambier Islands. Below is the stunning view from the peak of Mount Duff. You can see the capital town of Rikitea in the bottom left. The tiny strip of land in the upper right of the photograph is the airport island. The Gambier Islands were truly spectacular. Sarah and I have already discussed that if we were to do a similar trip again we would prefer to sail direct to Marquesas from the Galapagos Islands and then head South to spend the bulk of the cyclone season here in the Gambiers instead of the other way around.

 

 

 

Provisioning in the Gambier Islands was sparse. Being Bermudian, I have a physiological NEED for mayonnaise. So, we decided to try to make it. Below is one of the earlier attempts. Since it wasn’t working by hand-power alone I decided to try an electric whisk………. which we don’t have. So, we improvised!

Note the not-remotely-mayonnaisish gloop in the jar in my left hand. I was not a happy bunny, as you may be able to tell. Fortunately, later attempts were much more successful.

 

 

A typical afternoon scene from the island of Taravai, where we ended up spending the majority of our time in the Gambiers. Complete with grumpy, sneaky horse who attempted to steal lunch, dinner, or rum whenever possible. The problem with being a horse is that one struggles to be inconspicuous, but Dior put in a good effort and was sometimes successful.

 

 

 

We spent a day clearing away the brush from beneath the coconut palms, and made several big fires to dispose of it:

 

 

Unfortunately the heat of the fires produced an unforeseen hazard – spider rain. It literally began raining spiders as they leapt from the trees to the ground. This one landed on Jesse, and Sarah somehow managed to convince him to remain motionless for long enough to snap this shot. He wasn’t taking his eyes off it though, and was poised for some quick action in the event that it should have decided to make a run for it upwards!

 

 

During a sail from Taravai to Rikitea to pick up some supplies, David from S/V El Nido got this shot of Bob. Sarah particularly likes it because if you zoom in on us in the cockpit you can see a lovely bit of impromptu romance 🙂

 

 

Finally for the Gambier Islands, a beautiful shot of Bob lying to a home-made mooring on the South Coast of Taravai, on a wonderfully calm evening.

 

 

 

We both love this shot, taken during a hike in Marquesas. We are on the island of Tahuata. In the distance is the big island of Hiva ‘Oa, and between the two runs the Ha’ava, or Bordelais Channel.

 

 

In Nuku Hiva Sarah took a few dance classes in the local style, and was honoured to be invited (well…… to be honest it was more of an instruction than an invitation!) to perform with the dance troupe in front of a crowd of a couple of hundred people. Here she is in her dance regalia.

 

 

Better yet, for the first time we are now able to offer you a video from one of the performances (yay for fast internet!). Along with some other cruisers and the troupe of local girls she performed two dances, of which this was the final section of the second. I apologise for the shoddy standard of the work on this one. The reason for it is that Sarah is dancing and I have been tasked with capturing the moment. The sound is particularly poor, because it seems I had my finger over the microphone for most of the performance.

Sarah has stipulated that I must make it clear to you here that she only had two days to learn both of the dances, and wishes it to be formally noted that she is opposed to the publishing of this movie in the first place. Ah well, win some lose some. For the greater good, here it is:

 

 

This spectacular waterfall is located on the island of Fatu Hiva. We were fortunate that it hadn’t rained for a little while when we visited. If it had we would not have been able to get anywhere near it. It was a beautifully refreshing swim after a hot hike.

 

 

 

Down to the Tuamotu Archipelago now, to the uninhabited atoll of Tahanea. Sarah snapped this beautiful shot of a yacht that was anchored astern of us as a small squall came through. I love the misty effect caused by the rain pelting down onto the surface of the sea, and the yawing and slight heeling of the boat as the first gust of wind hits.

 

 

 

The squalls soon passed, and we sailed across the lagoon accompanied by a pod of dolphins to a spot known as ‘7 reef’. It was probably the most spectacular spot that Bob has ever anchored. When this shot was taken we had nipped over to a motu about a mile from the anchorage to collect coconuts, and stopped off on this spit of sand for a snorkel. Bob is just out of frame to the right.

 

 

The diving at the South Pass of the atoll of Fakarava was the most spectacular we have done. The site is famous for having a particularly high density of sharks – a sign of a healthy reef ecosystem.

 

 

This shot of a friendly rooster in Rarotonga cracks me up every time. Doesn’t it look photo-shopped? I promise it’s not!

 

 

Leaving Niue we were a little nervous, as the rigging had just broken and been repaired for the second time. As we came out from behind the island we were greeted by a large black cloud. Fortunately we managed to outrun the worst of it and were treated to this beautiful backdrop:

 

 

A day of ‘racing’ with our friends Rick and Jasna aboard their boat ‘Calypso’. At the pre-race skipper’s meeting Rick warned the other skippers that anyone overhauling Calypso was liable to be mooned. One skipper complained and implied that his children would be psychologically damaged by such an experience. Rick responded that he was terribly sorry but he could not afford to be discriminatory and that for moral reasons he was obliged to treat everyone equally. Fortunately for the family with the delicately-dispositioned children they were out of range, but these guys, one of whom was our friend Asma, ended up in an unfortunate tacking battle with us and were subjected to the view not once, but several times. We were dubbed ‘Team Los Culos Blancos’ (why Spanish I have no idea – we were in Tonga!) and awarded a special prize at the prizegiving! Let’s face it though, we weren’t going to win prizes for anything else……….

 

 

At the ‘Coral Garden’ in Tonga we met this incredibly brazen anemonefish. Perhaps a male guarding the eggs, it had no qualms about challenging a creature many, many times it’s own size. I was not intimidated……….. but then I did swim away, so I’m pretty sure he’ll chalk that up as anemonefish 1, biguglyungainlything 0. Fair enough.

 

 

Also in Tonga: Sarah must have taken a hundred shots of the fruit bats trying to get a really good one. I think she managed it with this:

 

 

And finally! Videos can never do justice to actual, real-life experiences but I really like this one. It is a short video of a swim-through at a reef in South Minerva. We spent hours exploring these channels and caves. It was the best snorkelling either of us have ever done. Here’s a small taster of why:

 

Finally, just a quick note to say that we will (I promise!) do one or two blogs soon about our travels in Thailand and Cambodia. Until then, stay warm and enjoy yourselves!

We Love Niue

Just a small photo to truely demonstrate the title

Niue was a bit of a hidden gem for us. We hadn’t heard much about this place during our travels – few of our friends had visited before and those that have did so many years ago when anchoring was difficult and the island catered very little to general tourism, let alone to cruisers. Now things are a little different. Anchoring at this small exposed island has been made much simpler by the availability of mooring buoys allowing up to 12 boats to safely moor in this less-than-sheltered bay. Having said that, any sea swell coming from anywhere west of south causes the boats here to roll violently. Bob was no exception. Trying to cook dinner on what is comparable to a child’s seesaw (whilst standing up) can get tiring very quickly! I wish I could say that was the worst of our problems but unfortunately the rolling made apparent yet another rigging failure which, under the wrong circumstances, could have lead to the collapse of the entire rig. Whilst having to deal with yet another broken piece of rigging in this remote place is less than ideal, we were grateful that the failure didn’t happen at sea and a simple solution was just round the corner.

Each year more cruisers and tourists visit this unique raised atoll to enjoy all that Niue has to offer. This is the highest atoll in the world and this has led to a rather unusual topography with vibrant coral reefs bordering the island, a network of caves on the coast to be explored and interesting landscapes to scramble around in.

The raised atoll of Niue with its creviced coastline and it’s network of caverns and caves

The strange topography of the terrestrial landscape

The wildlife here is also very unique with a number of endemic skinks, birds and marine life. The flat-tailed sea snake (locally known as ‘Katuali’) is an endemic species of sea snake found only in Niue. They are locally abundant and their venom, as with all sea snakes, is the one of the most potent in the world and is capable of killing a fully grown adult human with as little as 1.5 milligrams! To make matters worse, I don’t believe there’s an antidote. Luckily, these sea snakes are very friendly and not in the least bit aggressive. Most people are happy to swim with them and I heard that some of the locals playfully ‘tickle’ them in the water – each to their own I suppose! Apparently you would have to stick your fingers right down their throat for them to bite you which is a lucky thing because these little beasts are very curious and would often swim within inches of us when we were snorkelling.

The friendly but deathly flat tailed sea snake – aka Katuali

As Niue is the only land mass for hundreds of miles it is also a sanctuary for breeding humpbacks and many tourists visit Niue specifically to swim with the whales. Oma Tafua is a Niuean non-profit organisation dedicated to the protection of marine mammals and literally translated means ‘to treasure whales’. When we first arrived we noticed a sign at the local yacht club (which was run by the wonderful Alexa – a volunteer from New Zealand looking after the place until the commodore returned from vacation) which pleaded to private yacht owners to volunteer their boat to Oma Tafua for a day or two to help with the whale monitoring scheme. We jumped at the chance! Rather than paying lots of money to a tour operator to see the whales we decided to volunteer Bob to the conservation cause. What better way to see the whales than by doing it from your own boat with an organisation whose sole purpose is to protect and conserve these wonderful creatures. I’m surprised more boat owners aren’t jumping at the chance to help with this project – Oma Tafua reimburse fuel and mooring costs, they teach you all about the whales, how to approach them, how their research contributes to conservation and, personally, I can’t think of a more rewarding way to see these magnificent and awe-inspiring animals.

Bob was the Whale Research Boat for the day. This is Fia, the president of Oma Tafua and the leader of the data collection in Niue. On the left is Libby, one of the volunteers who came along for the experience.

Fia recording the whale song

Alexa (the yacht club volunteer who also came along for the day) looking for whales in the distance

We photographed the tail flukes as each one has its own unique markings, just like human finger prints. The photos can then be used to individually identify each whale. This data is then used to get local population estimates which can be compared over the years.

For the first time in my life I saw a whale breach fully out of the water. I was on deck and heard a very loud noise in the distance, almost like a bomb explosion. I quickly looked round to see lots of water ‘mist’ suspended in the air, slowly falling back down to earth about half a mile away from where we were moored. Whales often breach in unison and once the first one does it, others often follow. As I perplexedly looked at the suspended water wondering what had just happened, another enormous humpback leaped clear into the air, rotated its body and landed on its back in the water creating the most enormous splash. Just amazing!

As well as the most incredible wildlife, I was also taken in by how friendly everyone is on this island. Tourism is still new to the people here and perhaps as a result they still see tourists as ‘real people’ rather than having an ‘us and them’ attitude which is unfortunately the case in so many places nowadays. We made some really good friends with the locals in our short 10 day visit and their kindness and generosity is unparallel to anywhere we’ve visited so far. Fia and Alexa were wonderfully welcoming and we really enjoyed hanging out with them. Fia took us to a wildlife presentation she was giving and even offered us the use of her car and a room in her house to sleep in (although we politely declined as we didn’t want to put her out). Alexa was also fabulous, giving us lots of friendly advice, driving us round to get our scuba tanks filled and she even came on board to help out with the whale research. I hope that we’ll see her again soon as she expects to be in New Zealand when we arrive in a few months time.

Finally, we met a really fantastic woman called Nadia when visiting a local hardware store one day at the beginning of our stay. After explaining where we were trying to get to, she offered to take us to our destination when her shift finished in half an hour’s time. We had a great chat with her and even though we didn’t even buy anything from her shop she was more than happy to ferry us to our destination. But that wasn’t all, she insisted on showing us her village and introducing us to her large family. We ended up spending a lot of time with her and her husband (Francis) and their four children over the coming days. We were invited to a barbeque and a family feast and they even spent a day taking us round the island on our own private guided car tour. We were able to repay the favour a little bit by having Nadia and Francis over to Bob for evening drinks and once we fixed Bob’s broken rig, Nadia even helped us take her for a test sail. Despite the fact that Francis is a fisherman Nadia had never before set foot on a boat of any kind. When we had had them both over for an evening drink Nadia had promptly succumbed to sea sickness, so when we had her out again for a sail we made her stand on the dock and eat two ginger snaps and a seasickness pill before she was allowed into the dinghy. This time she was fine, and even proved herself a gifted helmswoman on her very first sailing trip.

The climb down to Togo Chasm

This is Togo Chasm. Nadia and Francis have never actually visited here despite living in Niue for many years. It was nice to show the locals round 🙂

Alex and Nadia by some lovely salt water pools. It was a little too cold for us to take a swim.

Nadia and Francis on board for sunset drinks. She is putting on a very braved face and you wouldn’t be able to tell how sick she is feeling when this photo was taken.

Me and Nadia taking Bob for a test sail. Once loaded up with anti sea sickness drugs she felt much better and was an absolutely natural on the helm.

We are so grateful to Nadia and her family for making our experience in Niue truly authentic and enjoyable. The people here are fantastic and I wish we could have stayed longer but unfortunately, even with the new moorings, the bay is not suitable for boats to stay for the long term and we were lucky to be able to stay a whole 10 days – most cruisers manage just two or three.

We left Niue after 10 days, leaving behind our new found friends. We set sail for the VaVa’U Islands in Tonga which we’ve been enjoying now for the past few weeks.

The Uncertainty of Stainless Steel

We’re here in Niue and have been thoroughly enjoying ourselves for the last month or so, meandering West in a zig-zag pattern in the general direction of Tonga. It’s been exclusively down-wind sailing since we left Rarotonga. In fact, the mainsail had stayed in the bag on the boom for the entirety of that period until we decided to set it for the final few hours of our passage from Beveridge to Niue, mostly to give it an airing but also to provide some stability while we flew the spinnaker. Bob rolls with a sharp, fast motion and it seems I’m the only one who doesn’t mind it too much. Sarah is not a fan of rolling and it seems that Bob isn’t either. We have suffered our second major rigging failure in as many months, while moored in the Bay at Niue.

 

This 5/8″ T-bar appears to have suffered a fatigue failure just as the sta-lock fitting failed a couple of months ago. Sarah and I were on shore and arrived back to Bob after dark to be greeted by the sound of something banging against the mast. At first I thought it must be a halyard that I had neglected to secure properly, but we were both dismayed (to say the least) to discover that it was in fact our Starboard lower shroud – the other end of the same shroud that failed en-route to Raiatea.

Now, one failure of a 2 1/2 year-old fitting could be put down to very bad luck. Two failures implies a very serious problem with the design of the rig. I have always had my doubts about it but figured it would be OK since it has been so for the past 40 years with no particular problems. Mind you, none of these boats, to my knowledge, has ever travelled so far as Bob. And then, most are probably no longer sporting their original 1970’s masts. Only a single set of spreaders and a single set of lower shrouds. A baby stay, intermediate shrouds and running backstays help to stabilise things but it was never going to be great on account of the fact that not only are the chainplates set forward of the mast (so all of the shrouds serve to pull the mast slightly forward instead of the usual aft, or directly out to the side) but the builder didn’t even put them equidistant from the mast, which means the shroud tensions are by necessity unequal. Not ideal. Between the mass of the mast flopping back and forth with every roll and probably some flex in the hull moving the chain plates themselves by a tiny amount, the shrouds load and unload repeatedly, not just at sea but in any rolly anchorage. Unfortunately the only thing that I have any control over at present is the shroud tensions. It is possible that I had them a touch tight (though still nowhere near the ’15-20% of the breaking strain of the wire’ that is apparently officially recommended for shroud tension) so I’ll back off on that a little. We now find ourselves hoping we can make it to New Zealand with the current setup so that it can be completely re-designed and re-built there. I’m thinking of two additional chain plates on the outside of the hull, one forward and one aft for split lower shrouds. We will also look very closely at the feasibility of installing ‘soft’ (non-wire) standing rigging, depending on price, the danger of chafe and it’s resistance to fatigue failures of the sort that Bob’s rigging appears to be prone to. For now, Larry and Sue from s/v Serengeti have given us their spare second-hand T-bar fitting so we should be back in business shortly. If these swells from the SW ever die down and we stop rolling violently back and forth I’ll go aloft and make a close inspection of all the stainless fittings. I’ll also install dyneema straps as backups around as many fittings as possible so that if another one goes while we’re sailing at least we’ll hopefully save the mast.

 

Until the rig looked like it might fall down, the most pressing maintenance issue was a duff VHF aerial. We’d noticed that our VHF range and AIS reception range had plummeted from about 25 miles to about 4. With the help of some advice from Yahav (s/v Cheeky Monkey) and Larry (s/v Serengeti) I was able to diagnose the aerial itself as being the problem component, and, since there was nothing to lose from a non-expert bodge (and no hope of getting a new one for some time yet) I figured I might as well take it to pieces and see if it was salvageable. Unfortunately I didn’t think to take pictures for the blog while I was in the process of butchering it but I can tell interested parties that VHF aerials are actually fairly simple affairs. Some water had managed to get into ours through a tiny crack in the plastic housing at the top (cracked due to relentless UV exposure) and, I think, broken a capacitor which appears to be the only electronic component in the whole thing. I removed the capacitor, soldered a few things to a few other things that may or may not be supposed to be soldered together, patched up all the holes that I’d drilled and/or pried in the housing and stuck it back together with the liberal application of duct tape, hose clamps and sikaflex sealant. It remains to be seen whether this mess constitutes an improvement or an effective destruction of our fixed radio apparatus. We shall see! In the meantime here’s a picture of the result: