04. South Pacific, Panama to Australia, WARC 2008

08:54.70N 079:31.34W, 8th Feb 2008, Panama City

Still here. Whokoows what the local drik isc called but we had lots.

08:37.36N 0079:01.95W, 11th Feb 2008, Archipelago de las Perlas

Panama City was fun especially the disco-bus tour through the town on Saturday night. If I remember correctly.

Leg 2 to Salinas, Ecuador started yesterday. These race starts are very exciting. A lot of us got our spinnakers flying for a while which helps the spectacle. Although the only audience was a dozen anchored Chinese container ships. Almost immediately half the fleet decided to play truant and head for the Archipelago de las Perlas about 50 miles from Panama City. Everyone met up in a bay of Isla Contadora and Gerry (Northern Sky) organized a beach barbeque. My Japanese crewman Shin lit a big fire on the beach and surrounded it by an elaborate ceremonial structure of logs that will probably become a tourist attraction in the future. After the burnt offerings of chicken and steak to the sea-gods, Gerry produced a guitar and entertained everyone with a suspiciously professional sing-a-long. Graptolite was not easy to find afterwards as the anchor light bulb had blown.

No idea what we are doing today. Maybe a bit of snorkelling although some steak past its sell-by date went over the side this morning. No dorsal fins have been sighted yet.

07:03.81N 079:26.21W, 12th Feb 2008, 115 miles south of Panama City

We got some snorkelling in on the reefs near the beach on Ilas Contadora and after lunch we upped anchor and headed south along the island chain. It was a slow start in light winds with the kite out, but the wind picked up and by nightfall and we were making good speed. We are doing 3-hour watches at night and with the three of us that’s not too bad for sleep time. Shin has got the impression we only like pancakes for breakfast so he makes them every day. I’ll ask him to make something else tomorrow otherwise we are going to arrive in Ecuador looking like three sumo wrestlers.

01:53.33N 080:10.74W, 14th Feb 2008, in a squall 70 miles off the coast of Ecuador

Shin did a blog in Japanese for us today, but it turned into a row of little squares in the email. We’ll work on the technology.  We caught a huge dorado this afternoon. At least we got it to the side of the boat but it made a final lunge and snapped the line under the keel. It was well over a metre long. Shin said it was “a big brudder”. Can’t argue with that. So far, the score is Fish: 3, People: nil. Fortunately there is still plenty of chicken in the fridge to use up. The weather has turned a bit unpleasant. Cool and damp with lots of rain and the wind is no use at all. I have to say I expected something a bit more scorchio being this close to the equator. It’s only about 120 miles more until the water starts going down the plughole the opposite way. As none of us have sailed this far south before, holding a Navy-style Neptune’s kangaroo court doesn’t seem all that appropriate but we’ll think of something suitably celebratory.

00:30.23N 080:30.54W, 14th Feb 2008, 30 miles North of the Equator

It’s been cold and damp again today. I must have been too long in the Tropics as somewhere on this trip 25 degrees Celsius became ‘cold’. No success with the fish again today although Colin devised some heavy-duty tackle to get the lure deeper in the water and caught a drift net while we were distracted by a fast boatload of what we thought were pirates racing towards us.  The ‘pirates’ turned out to be fishermen trying to tell us about their net. Fortunately, the very strong line Colin was using gave way first. We are fast running out of lures. The Equator should be crossed in the early hours of the morning unless the wind dies altogether. This should sort out the old salts from the weekend sailors when everybody gets woken up to drink champagne in the drizzle.

00:00.00S 080:30.00W, 15th Feb 2008, on the Equator off Equador

We had an unpleasant night when we ran into another unlit tuna drift net in a squall. It took some time to hack ourselves free but as we still had some net wrapped around our prop we had to leave the scene under sail. A few small local fishing boats stood off but offered no comment or assistance. The very heavy rain, and some big ships crossing nearby, didn’t help the situation either. This morning at 07:00 Shin (James Bond) Terosawa used my diving gear (first time for the stuff in the water) and chopped off the remaining net and floats with a knife. Apart from some dodgy English, Shin has been a good find. Besides needing no instruction in sailing he’s an enthusiastic cook, photographer, engineer, diver and probably a lot more things we don’t know about yet. I’ll be sorry to see him leave Grapto in the Galapagos. Three miles to the south, we crossed zero degrees South and the rain started up again. We hove-to, my last bottle of champagne was cracked, and we feasted on sausage, eggs and an expensive can of luxury imported Heinz Baked Beans from St Lucia. The significance of the baked beans and HP sauce perhaps lost on somebody who normally has soup and rice for breakfast. As a homage to tradition, I also had an all-over No.1 haircut. It was curiously liberating.

01:46.99S 080:56.68W, 16th Feb 2008, 25 miles from La Libertad/Salinas, Ecuador

We got some sailing in through the afternoon, but the wind dropped, and we are back under engine again using up the last little bit of diesel before the finish line. As we have been asked to arrive in daylight, we are travelling very slowly about 10 miles off the coast. We can see many fishing boat lights all around. The locals obviously engaged in the traditional seasonal netting of fresh yacht. We also picked up a passenger today who just sits around on the deck waiting for food and drink to be brought. It’s a weary-looking Storm Petrel. This could be either a very good or very bad omen. The luck seems to be with the bird so far.

02:13.00S 080:55.31W, 17th Feb 2008, In the marina at La Libertad, Ecuador

We arrived early this morning, as did many other WARC yachts. Berthing in the marina was not easy. We ended up sitting on the fuel pontoon (without fuel) for most of the day. A problem with an oil spill nearby was making a mess of everyone’s hull and mooring lines. Another problem with the Panama clearance papers had Shin in danger of being repatriated to China for a while. Despite the fact he has never been there. Our Storm Petrel passenger had flown the coop by daybreak, having recovered from whatever was troubling him or her. It makes you feel proud to have helped one of our nautical feathered friends. Eventually we got a mooring off the marina wall and put the dingy into the oil slick to go ashore for dinner. Met up with Nick and Rosie (Kealoa) and John (Quasar) and taxied into Salinas for dinner then drinks later at the marina.

02:13.00S 080:55.31W, 20th Feb 2008, Puerto Lucia Yacht Club Marina, La Libertad

For the first time in my adult life, I have longer hair on my chin than on my head, although, in truth, my eyebrows are probably the longest. I recall the last time I tried this; parts of my beard were ginger. This time, I have distinctly snowy patches. It makes me look ancient. I believe I used to look much more distinguished.

Most of today was spent trying to devise a way to turn the dingy into floating bridge to the marina wall so we could leave the boat independently. The swell and the oil covered mooring lines put paid to that. We also had a trip to the local mall by taxi to scout out the provisioning situation for when we leave. We left the mall with mosquito netting and fly-spray as the local insect life is a bit too friendly. Shin changed the engine oil today. Full marks, but now I have to source more oil filters and oil. My top tip for those thinking of doing one of these jaunts is to stuff the boat with spares from home. It is by far the easiest and usually cheapest place, to stock up.

02:13.00S 080:55.31W, 21st Feb 2008, Puerto Lucia Yacht Club Marina, La Libertad

Berthing for many of us has been terrible. The mooring buoys have not been up to the job of holding the yachts off the marina wall in the swell and some have been grounded and had to escape and anchor off. Today we found we had clattered against our neighbour, Talulah Ruby, while both of us were off our boats. The damage was mostly to ourselves with my flagpole finally breaking in two. It was previously weakened in St Lucia by a previous crew member who shall remain nameless. (It was Lori). The oil and diesel in the sea, lack of potable water, rubbish WiFi and endless rain has made life here a bit miserable.

For the past couple of days, we have been exploring this part of Ecuador. Shin has gone off to the capital, Quito, to do his own thing. Yesterday, Colin and I took a bus trip North up the coast. Saw some sea salt workings, white things at a distance; saw some sealions, brown things at a distance; saw some flamingos, pink things at a distance, and saw some shrimp farms and this literary styling obviously breaks down here. We also saw lots of white birds. Egrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention….. Later we went to a quirky hotel/museum/restaurant full of nautical memorabilia where the old sea captain/owner clearly had a plank short of a full deck. There were lots of ships’s figureheads on display of the big booby kind. After that we visited a church on a promontory dedicated to a plastic statue of a Virgin that drips rust-coloured tears every decade or so. Moving. Later we rolled into a surfing resort called Montañita which is a little like Newquay with palm thatch roofs and muddy streets. The beach was filled with loads of young unattached ladies which made Colin and I conclude that we had arrived here perhaps a little bit too late. Maybe about 30 years too late. Today we took another long bus trip to the big city of Guayaquil. Memorable bits were a city park full of iguanas that you could play with and a zoo boardwalk through a mangrove with other local critters (sloths, monkeys, ocelots, parrots and the like). Provisioning and final repairs for the Galapagos run tomorrow.

02:09.77S 081:10.69W, 22nd Feb 2008, 18 miles West of Salinas, Ecuador

We are off again, heading for the ‘Enchanted Isles’ in the footsteps, or pawprints, or whatever, of HMS Beagle and Charlie D. The Boardroom Warriors in the fleet gave the WCC a bit of a spanking yesterday for miscellaneous cock-up’s with the marina accommodation (not all of it deserved) and everyone seems happy again. Lloyd’s of London must have been having kittens over the oily dinghies. … just had to break off writing to watch some dolphins doing synchronised somersaults. I’ve seen it before in Seaworld but not in the wild. I thought they only did it for girls with bikinis and buckets of fish. … just had to break off again to watch some whales. What a nuisance!

Last night was the Puerto Lucia leaving-do with a free bar. All these places we go to must be horrified by the amount of booze and finger-food we can collectively tuck away. The Minister of Tourism was there. A very nice-looking lady. I sent Colin to collect Grapto’s commemorative plaque from her as I didn’t really trust myself to behave appropriately. Too much finger-food, obviously.

We are now motoring towards the Galapagos and expect to have to motor most of the way. Fortunately, my own cabin is far away from the engine so I’m OK. Which is the main thing.

01:54.07S 082:23.80W, 25th Feb 2008, 150 miles out of La Libertad, Ecuador

This is the first time I have ever been silly enough to set off on a long voyage without having even a drop of fresh water in the tanks. For those of you imagining blazing sun and swollen tongues; out in the less oily water off the coast, we were soon able to make a few hundred litres with our trusty watermaker thus saving ourselves the problem of taking on bad Ecuadorean water. Last night was good sailing. Although little progress was made against a strong W-E current. With music blasting out in the cockpit it felt like we were hurtling along in the darkness. There was also an excellent firework display in our wake from the distressed luminous sea-bugs we churned through. The best light-show since the Devon coast last August. Unusually, we had seven or eight boats in sight most of the time, with several close enough for us to see the headlamps of the night-watch moving on deck. Normally the fleet quickly scatters like a pantry full of surprised cockroaches. Each skipper naturally believing they have a unique gift of insight into the secret workings of Mother Nature. No more sightings of whales yet today. Come back whales, you are safe with us even though we have a Japanese crewman in the galley! Colin now has fishing tackle strung out the back of the boat capable of hauling in submarines but now the fish are not interested in biting. What is going on?

01:46:84S 083:26.21W

What is going on? A few minutes after I sent in that last blog, we hauled out two decent-sized skipjack tuna. They both needed a good wellying with a winch handle to keep them still. Tuna are a bloody fish and the cockpit looked horrendous afterwards. Then, having no freezer and not wanting more fish than we could eat, we put the lines away.

We had some more good views of pilot whales around the boat this afternoon. We need all the entertainment we can get. Progress to the Galapagos is tediously slow. There is a strong current against us and almost no wind. Without motoring we would soon find ourselves back on the beach in Ecuador. And nobody can face that paperwork again. Let’s hope we have enough diesel to last. Shin skillfully sliced today’s catch into sashimi, and also sushi and other stuff I can’t spell, for dinner. Wasabi and other Japanese accoutrements came with it, sourced from Shin’s personal stash.

01:31.17S 084:17.43W,  26th Feb 2008, dusk 325 miles East of the Galapagos

Colin caught a biggie about an hour ago. A huge dorado weighing in at 24 pounds. Hauling the thing aboard and battering it with the winch handle got blood splattered everywhere. Some of the blood will form a permanent souvenir on the underside of the bimini cover. Some of the blood also turned out to be mine as the monster broke off the head of the gaff and flailed it around gouging my leg. Fair enough. It’s not going to be me that gets eaten later. It was difficult to finish off. Shin finally dispatched it by stabbing it in the head with a pair of pointy pliers. Ruthless, but it seemed to work. Cheap alcohol in the gills is also supposed to quiet them down quickly but we’ve tried it out on ourselves already and it doesn’t work. A dorado (a.k.a. mahi-mahi or dolphinfish) is a pretty thing. All yellow, blue and silver. Shin had it filleted and skinned in no time and I’m going to barbecue it on skewers with slices of lime. The crew teamwork is coming together.

01:06.52S 086:45.12W, 27th Feb 2008, 175 miles west of the Galapagos

Even bigger dorado and tuna have been dragged aboard today, gloated over but then released. The crew don’t even bother getting me on deck now. They just show me the photographs. Getting tired of fish, we had steak for dinner. Shin, who is a bit prone to nightmares, woke with a ‘smell-mare’ in the early hours and was convinced the boat was on fire. We spent some time checking the engine and wiring but all was OK. Freaked me out for a while as I thought I might have developed a head-cold without knowing it. We are still having to use the engine against a strong W-E current and the diesel fuel is getting uncomfortably low in the tank. It will be more than annoying if we run out and drift back to La Libertad.

00:53.76S 089:36..82W, 29th Feb 2008, Puerto Baqerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal

Grapto arrived in the Galapagos Islands at 06:22 local time with just a tiny bit of diesel left in the tank. Over 870 sea miles were logged which was several hundred miles more than expected due to the adverse El Nino disturbed current against us. On the approach, about five miles out, we got our first smell of land in five days. It was mostly vegetation with perhaps also a hint of tortoise poo. The sun came up as we neared the finish line and there was a really nice pink sunrise on display. Four or five boats, like us all waiting for daylight, arrived at the same time. Some sealions came to say hello as we anchored in the bay. Charles Darwin has long been something of a hero of mine. Not particularly for coming up with the theory of natural selection, which is all a bit obvious at this remove, but for his personal struggle to challenge some deeply entrenched ideas about Life, the Universe and Everything and get away with it. Here we are in a place that provided some of his evidence and as such it is of big historical importance even if many of the animals here are a bit ugly.

00:53.76S 089:36..82W, 1st March 2008, Puerto Baqerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal

Today we got up close and personal with the local wildlife. A trip out to Kicker Rock had us swimming with sharks and turtles. On the way back we swam with sealions and marine iguana. The sealions are probably the most fun. On the beach they are smelly, noisy and ungainly. But none of those things in the water. The beach near the anchorage is thick with sealions and given half a chance they climb up on the boats at anchor for a spot of sunbathing or sit behind the wheel and pretend to be sailing. The local boat-owners put barbed-wire up to keep them out of the cabins.

00:47.41S 090:04.69W, 2nd March 2008, off Isla Santa Fe

Last night in Puerto Baquerizo we had simple local fare for dinner. Mostly lobster. The restaurant had a problem with big black beetles running around on the tables. One climbed up on a grizzled old chap sat near us, which threw him into a panic. Said it reminded him of his ex-wife. How we laughed!

Shin woke in the early hours thinking he was having another nightmare, but it turned out to be a couple of sealions fighting on the back of our boat. I don’t know why they were squabbling as Grapto has twin ship’s wheels and they easily could have both pretended to drive.

We had an interesting bit of navigation about half an hour ago. We nosed into a sandy bay on the north side of Isla Santa Fe with the GPS telling us we were well inland and up on the side of a hill. The chart says “Here be Dragons” so perhaps the island hasn’t been surveyed for a while.

We are on our way to our next stop which is Puerto Ayora on the Isla Santa Cruz. We will be there later today. Shin will be jumping ship in Puerto Ayora. His replacement will be the lovely Heike from Berlin. She will be coming aboard on Friday for the long trip to the Marquesas.

00:44.91S 090.18.46W, 5th March 2008, Puerto Ayora, Academy Bay anchorage.

We arrived here on Sunday and anchored in the bay along with almost everyone else in the world doing a circumnavigation this year. There could be sixty yachts around us all preparing for the run to the Marquesas.

On Monday we went to the island of North Seymour. All the birds and animals, even fish, here are ridiculously unbothered by us eco-tourists and loaf around so people can have a good gawp. In fact, they are sometimes difficult not to tread on. We quickly had our fill of land iguanas, frigate birds and blue-footed boobies and other exotic birds nesting onshore and Galapagos sealions, marine iguanas and crabs playing on the beach.

The colours here are one of the more striking things. Santa Cruz island, where we are anchored, is very green and looks superficially like Surrey but on islands to the north the vegetation is sparse and the rock is black basalt with dashes of white where the birds sit. The sealions and marine iguanas are also bible-black but then there are flashes of crimson from the male frigates and the bright orange of the crabs all over the rocks and not forgetting the booby’s blue feet. The beaches are white or yellow and under the turquoise sea the fish are every other available colour.

Today, Tuesday saw us on the island of Bartolome. The volcanic rocks are very recent here and tower up into some fantastical black Gothic-style formations. After a hot slog up to the top of a volcano we took to the water with masks and snorkels. Lots of Galapagos penguins, manta rays, white-tip sharks, turtles and the usual collection of fish on show. There are no coral reefs here but the flying-buttresses of lava extend underwater and make a complicated playground.

We are going somewhere else tomorrow and there had better be some giant tortoise around or there will be trouble.

00:44.91S 090.18.46W, 6th March, Puerto Ayora.

No tortoises, giant or regular-sized, so I’m not happy.

We went to South Plaza Island today which is stuffed with land iguanas, sealions and all kinds of other birds and beasts creeping around under big cacti but not a tortoise in sight. Swam with some Galapagos sealions and the crews of Harmonie, Quasar and Viva after lunch.

It looks like our tortoise fix is going to have to be Lonesome George and company at the Charles Darwin Research Station later this week. Jacqui has suggested I give Lonesome a place on the crew so he can see the world and get some new girlfriends. His rope-handling and knot-tying skills will have to be checked out first.

00:44.91S 090.18.46W, 8th March 2008, Puerto Ayora.

A chap has just turned up to fumigate the boat. I have no idea why. We have no bugs. Seems to be some sort of official requirement.

Heike joined the crew yesterday ready for one of the longest stretches of open water on the planet. Heike has already taken charge of provisioning and Colin and I were used as pack-animals at the local Farmer’s Market early this morning. Provisioning here has been difficult as the only supermarket is not so super and has been virtually cleaned out. Departure for the Marquesas is tomorrow.

00:44.91S 090.18.46W, 9th March 2008, still at anchor in Puerto Ayora

On Saturday night it became clear why all the restaurant furniture here is so heavy-duty. After dinner with crews of Kealoa and Talulah Ruby in ‘The Rock’ most of us ended up dancing on the tables. It was just like Yarmouth IoW. There is something about the connection between islands and dancing on tables that needs more research.

We had a stressed Sunday morning, getting ready for departure, when our neighbour made a cat’s cradle out of our anchor chain and theirs. It got even worse when a few miles after the noon start when our GPS stopped working. Not wanting to become a statistic in the Pacific Ocean, we turned back for repairs and to think of alternatives if no local repair is possible. There are another eight WARC boats also still here, mostly for repairs, so we are not in last place yet and as the wind looks like it might improve, this could be the best place to be.

It’s not always true that worse things happen at sea. They happen back at home as well. In memory of ‘Tante’ Grace Andrews (12th March 1915 – 8th March 2008)

00:44.91S 090.18.46W (approx), 11th March 2008, still at anchor in Puerto Ayora

Hans the electronics man couldn’t fix our GPS antenna and a replacement part could easily take days, weeks, maybe months, to be shipped from Miami via rain-soaked Ecuador. So, I have now decided to continue this trip Old School.

“Ah!” I hear you saying, “pre-electronic-age navigation familiar to intrepid nineteenth-century adventurers such as Captain Slocum”. Well, not really. Sextants, dodgy timepieces and goat-chewed charts are also unobtainable here in the Galapagos. This journey, instead, will be more in the manner of the early voyaging Polynesians of the second-century BC. The migratory path of birds will be followed, and ancient sea-turtles will be consulted on the way. It is also hoped that once in a while the little yellow god, for it is he; the backup handheld-GPS, will send us a sign.

02:09.37S 093:06.42W, 12th March 2008, 150 miles southwest of the Galapagos

Colin caught just the one fish today, but it was an 8lb tuna. To try to cut down on the usual winch-handle blood-splattering, this one was welcomed onboard with a shot of Bacardi in the gills. Even so, with me filleting and Colin and Heike turning it into kebabs, it was still a bit messy and I wish I had paid more attention while I had a sushi chef on the crew.

Grapto has been motoring all day towards the southwest in almost no wind hoping to find the elusive SE Trades. We have little idea what the rest of the WARC boats are up to and what conditions they have. With most of the fleet being probably several hundred miles ahead, only a few crackly words could be made out from the daily SSB radio net this afternoon.

04:28.24S 097:04.96W, 13th March 2008, in a rain squall 420 miles southwest of the Galapagos

I’m struggling here to find much to say that is likely to be of interest and it’s much too early on the trip to be making silly stuff up.

The wildlife is keeping its head down. We caught a little bonito for lunch but that doesn’t really count. We did see some spouting whales in the distance to cries of “Thar she blows!” but that’s about it. Heike is having an unpleasant time with the ‘mal de mer’ and is working her way through the medical supplies for a suitable remedy. We’ve all been there, although facing the possibility of many weeks of it with no chance of getting off the boat can’t be nice. The wind seems to be picking up a bit although much of it is related to short-lived squalls coming out of the south east. We are continuing to head towards 6 degrees south, 100 degrees west as per weather-router advice. 

05:10.00S 098:31.00W

Im Gegensatz zu den anderen Tagen hatten wir gestern endlich einmal viel Wind (bis zu 6 Bft). Das führte nicht nur zu uneingeschränkter Freude, sondern zur Reduzierung der aktiven Mannschaft um 1/3 – Heike fiel wegen akuter Seekrankheit aus. Aber auch das hatte Vorteile – Colin hat einen weiteren leckeren Thunfisch gefangen, den wir uns beide dann zum Mittag teilen konnten. Aber wir nehmen nicht nur vom Meer – wir geben auch etwas zurück: Martyn hat heute die Vorräte neu sortiert und dabei sehr viel an die vegetarischen Haie ausgegeben. Das Obst und Gemüse hält sich in dieser Wärme wirklich nicht lange.

Als Belohnung haben sich dann am Nachmittag Wale unserem Boot genähert, die aber beim Anblick unserer sofort herbeigeholten Kameras unter dem Aufschrei „Vorsicht! Papparazzi“ sofort wieder abgetaucht sind.

Wir sind nun auch nicht mehr die Letzten, denn gestern hat sich die Farout aus Puerto Ayora auf den Weg gemacht und ist nun hinter uns. Über Funk hören wir jetzt jeden Mittag auch alle anderen Boote, manche sind aber schon 500 Meilen vor uns. Vielleicht können wir ja doch noch etwas Hilfe bei den Walen anfragen…;-))

Heike

05:41.34S 099:43.94W, 15th March 2008, Pacific

The impeller for the engine cooling water disintegrated last night. That’s another carried spare-part not wasted!

For some reason, the search is on for a song where the word ‘Graptolite’ can be worked into the lyrics. Front runners are ‘Israelites’ by Bony M and ‘Eidelweiss’.  

The wind has picked up finally and we are now living our lives at 20 degrees from the vertical. The worst thing is finding your mattress has slid up the wall of the cabin while it’s been slept on. There is absolutely nothing out there on the water. For you non-voyaging people, having no other human beings within several hundred miles might seem a bit daunting but at night it is a comfort to know that there is no freighter or fishing boat rushing to occupy the same bit of sea as yourself.

Heike has her sea-legs. There is still some chocolate on board, and all is well.

It makes you appreciate what a fantastic invention fishfingers are. Colin hooked a 20lb skipjack tuna this morning. As we are not using rods and reels, the lines get hauled in bleeding-hand-over-bleeding-hand. The Health and Safety Officer has made Colin promise to wear gloves next time. Anyway, guess what we had for lunch? And what we are having for dinner tonight? And tomorrow?

More Grapto lyrics have been concocted by the librettist team of Heike and me. Nothing fit for publication yet but one to the tune of ‘Israelites’ by Desmond Decker (did I say Bony M before?) is looking promising. This is the first verse:

      ‘Get up in the morning looking for good winds

      So that every sail can be filled

      Oh! on me yacht Graptolite’

We are at 07:02.44S 107:53.10W unless we have offended the little yellow navigation god. Jacqui advises me that the ancient Polynesians also used their testicles to locate magnetic north. After some experimentation magnetic variation feels to be about 10degE locally but we need an adjuster to properly swing the compasses to get deviation corrections. Something to try if Hiva Oa doesn’t loom on the horizon like it’s supposed too.

07:47.65S 111:51.12W, 19th March 2008, Pacific Ocean

An uneventful day for sailing. Trade winds good. No rain. No sightings of other vessels. No scurvy and no mutinies. Heike drank the last of a disgusting banana liqueur purchased in Puerto Ayora. She claims most of it must have got spilt on the deck. Nobody else drank it, that’s for sure. Everyone has had enough tuna now to last a lifetime. Even the nasty sausages in the fridge are starting to seem appetizing. If only we could catch a chicken…

08:25.06S 114:28.15W, 20th March, half-way between Galapagos and Marquesas

We are now over half-way across and it’s all downhill from here. I was horrified to discover we had no champagne in the wine cellar for the celebration. It’s not easy being the best part of 1,500 miles from an off-licence. Colin continues to fish even though we definitely don’t want any tuna. All the bites today have immediately taken all the line and snapped it off. This is fine, as anything that can break 100lb test line like it was cotton thread is not something we want either ripping off the transom or snapping at us on deck. It’s getting to be costly for tackle though.

Heike continues to surprise us with her bikinis. It seem like it’s a different one every day. Still, it adds a touch of glamour that Colin and I don’t seem to manage by ourselves.

08:56.03S 119:20.78W Easter Sunday 2008,

In an attempt to attract something other than skipjacks, Colin has deployed some cruise-missile-like lures which cost a fortune in the Galapagos. They are obviously splendid bits of kit as they easily attract creatures big enough to have little problem in breaking the 130lb test line they are attached to. Colin is distraught as he has a bet on with Adrian from Kealoa 8 over who gets the biggest fish. Never mind, we have loads of canned tuna in the stores to fall back on. Some sightings of whales earlier. Big head, big dorsal fin, but yet to be identified. I hope they’re not wearing a selection of our fishing lures.

Heiki has got into the habit of doing a Titanic-style ‘Kate Winslet’ up at the front of the boat each sunset. Guess who gets the part of ‘Leonardo’ to make sure she doesn’t fall off? It’s not a complaint.

Bikini of the day – Captain America stars and stripes.

08:59.93S 122:24.69W, Easter Monday 2008, morning

Seeing the lights of a fishing boat dead ahead last night came as a surprise. It was my first sighting of any other boat, or even aircraft, since leaving Puerto Ayora. They didn’t seem to want to talk on the radio. It can get lonesome on night watch here. According to the patchy figures we get on the daily SSB radio net, we seem to have caught up with the tail-end of the fleet that set out from Puerto Ayora two and a half days before us. Unfortunately, there are also a few boats that set off after us that are now ahead but as they’re real racing yachts it’s not too embarrassing.

We watched the DVD of ‘Master & Commander, Far Side of the World’ during a rain shower earlier. There are some good scenes set in the Galapagos Islands that we can now point to and say we’ve been there. And yes, Lori, there were extra rations of grog for the men! The DVD of the ever so camp ‘South Pacific’ is scheduled for “some enchanted evening” s

Bikini of the day – apricot coloured.

08:59.58S 124:19.02W Easter Monday 2008, evening

We had a 5lb dorado for lunch today. It’s a much nicer fish than those bloody tuna. The fillets were lightly fried in butter with a little lime juice and smoked paprika and served over rice. Rick Stein, if you are reading this, you can include this recipe in your next book if you want.

Guessing from the position reports, I think we got within about 17 miles of ‘Northern Sky’ today but no sighting and no VHF radio contact. Even so, people, and even people we know, that are just over the horizon counts as a party out here. As we are being rolled around quite a bit, sleeping is not usually the deeply refreshing experience it might be but it does mean that napping at other off-watch times is very easy. This slightly sleepy state seems to make time pass very quickly. Too little sleep can also make you psychotic but I’m keeping my eye on the other six crew for signs.

08:41.00S 125:57.00W

Die Crew versucht immer wieder festzustellen, wie viele Tage wir schon unterwegs sind. Aber es ist zu anstrengend, all die schoenen Tage zu zaehlen, so dass wir bei bester Musik von Santana und Scott McKenzie immer wieder aufgeben und statt dessen den tollen Wind und das wunderbare Wasser geniessen. Wahrscheinlich warden wir wirklich irgendwann ankommen muessen, ausser Colin und ich koennen gegen den Captain meutern und doch noch Kurs auf Hawaii nehmen…!

Colin hatte gestern frueh wieder mal geangelt. Dabei hat “irgend etwas” den Haken abgebrochen – Martyn tippet auf ein russisches U-Boot. Und dann gab es doch tatsaechlich rechtzeitig zum Mittagessen frische Dorade! Herrlich!

Statt “Bikini of the Day” weigert sich Colin hartnaeckig, den aus Tauen gestrickten String-Tanga zu tragen….Kann man gar nicht verstehen.

Heike

08:39.89S 127:29.30W 26th March 2008, Pacific Ocean

The wind and sea have been a little more Atlantic-like today with food, drinks and bodies all cheerily defying gravity when you least expect it.

There have been few signs of life out there in the Pacific. No fish, no boats and no Bank Holiday traffic jams. Just some seabirds now and then which seem to be following us. So much for the old navigational method of following them!

The skipper (me) gave one of his masterclasses this evening over cocktails and nibbles. This one was on the subject of knot-tying. My party-piece is tying a one-handed bowline and a true anecdote about me, bowlines and the Duke of Edinburgh. (Another time gentle readers if you have not already heard it). Colin was mainly interested in knots used for terminal tackle, hooks and line-joining when using heavy monofilament. (The uni-knot system works well for those who care). Heike was mainly interested in knots that can be used to secure wrists, ankles and necks.

Bikini of the day – orange one-piece with blue and green piranha fish.

09:19.26S 132:38.34W, 27th March 2008, Pacific

Life has developed into a routine of breakfast, siesta, lunch, siesta, dinner, siesta, nightwatch, sleep, breakfast. Obviously, in reality it’s a bit more complicated than that. But not much. You could insert catch fish and talk on radio, before lunch and have showers and sundowners before dinner and you might get some idea of the hectic social whirl of our existence. It’s more tiring than you might think.

All this is preamble to me saying nothing much has happened today.

Bikini of the day – green string with butterflies.

09:52.56W 135:05.10S 0300 29th March 2008 200 miles from Hiva Oa

We fiddled around a bit with the batteries today. Suspecting one or both of the domestics are not in good shape as we always seem to have the generator on. Could be they were damaged in the Aruba meltdown. They are supposed to last 15 years and will be impossible to get out of their locker as they had to be jumped on to make them fit.

The sky was particularly good for stars this evening. We are fairly sure we recognise the Southern Cross although groups of four stars are not exactly rare hereabouts. Heike was excited to see a light on the horizon but it turned out to be just another star. Reminded me of the time Lori and I nearly took evasive action from the moonrise off Morocco.

Colin has had the pointy bits of a few hooks break off on fish strikes recently. These are not trivial hooks and measure few inches across. The mechanics of it doesn’t seem to make much sense as the bungee cord the fishing line is attached to, and its beer-can alarm, usually barely registers. 

Bikini of the day – fluorescent orange scraps, like tiny little storm jibs.

09:47.86S 138:13.55W, 30th March 2008, 33 miles from landfall Hiva-Oa

If we were in the frozen North we would now be luxuriating with an extra hour in bed as it is apparently the start of ‘Summertime’. As we are actually in the Tropics, in a time warp all of our own, we get no such guilty pleasures. Ship time is still UTC-6 but when we land it will be UTC-9.5 or 10.5 hours behind the UK. So jetlag is still possible even travelling at jogging speed.

We’ve been tracking another yacht on radar for the past hour or two and can see its lights in the distance. This is the first yacht since leaving port so it’s fairly exciting. She seems to be heading south so is possibly not one of ‘ours’ but if she’s still around at daybreak I might call her up.

The next blog should come to you from the port of Atuona, Hiva-Oa, The Marquesas, French Polynesia, Far Side of the World.

09:48.22S 139:01.88W, 1st April 2008, at anchor Atuona Port, Hiva-Oa

We arrived in the Marquesas yesterday morning and we were given flower leis on the dockside. Hiva-Oa is not disappointing. There are towering green mountains with clouds around their summits, tropical flowers everywhere and very few signs of tourism.

Yesterday we stretched our legs and paid respects at the grave of Paul Gauguin and Heike got us all pareos to wear so we could go native in suitable style.

We rented a 4WD jeep today and bounced all over the island along scrapings on the sides of the near-vertical mountains that they laughably call roads. Fantastic scenery and nice black sand beaches but we were mainly on a hunt for ‘tiki’ archaeological sites. We found one on the northwest coast with the help of our very own ‘tiki god’ – the handheld GPS. The forest is just stuffed with fruiting and flowering trees. Everything tropical you can think of and many unrecognisable things. We collected a bagful of mangos straight off a tree on the way back.

We are aiming to leave for the Tuamotu islands tomorrow if our laundry comes back in time.

10:26.56S 139:49.17W, 2nd April 2008, at sea

We got in some food supplies in the morning and stocked up with some more fruit from the mango tree we found yesterday. It must have been a scary sight with the Graptolite hunter-gatherers brandishing boat-hook and machete in the forest.

In the afternoon we were invited to a party being held to celebrate the inauguration of the new Mayor of Atuona. There were local girls there doing traditional singing and dancing and local lads dressed in green grass war-dress doing a Hakka. Thankfully, there are no worries about sexual stereotyping here. The food was excellent although you had to be quick on your toes to get the best bits of the roasted pigs.

We then had just one final task before leaving, which was to take on diesel. We confidently turned up at the islands only petrol station with our jerry cans to be told we could only have a miserly 40 litres. Now this is a volume may have got us out of sight of the Marquesas but it was not enough to reach any other island group with any degree of safety. To be able to leave we were forced into a form of piracy where we took it in turns to put on disguises to get more 40-litre rations. One of the later raids involved Heike with a pillow under her clothes and a bandaged arm. A bit over-the-top, I thought, even though I suggested it. Dragging the full jerry cans back to the dingy a local woman offered Heike a ride in the back of her truck. Doubtless, the kind lady had a very low opinion of the skipper who would send out a heavily pregnant woman to carry fuel.

Just before dark we upped anchor and headed out of the bay back to sea.

“…a dramatic story of life, death, and the epic struggle of man against the forces of nature….gripping….compelling….a story as spellbinding and harrowing as any novel.”

So reads the blurb on the back of the book I’m reading, called ‘Rescue in the Pacific’ about the 1994 “Queen’s Birthday” storm. It’s nothing like that here and now. In fact it’s very pleasant indeed. The depth sounder and radar/chart-plotter problems seem to be sorted although the GPS is still down. It should stop us getting complacent in the Tuamotus which are almost entirely made up of coral atolls and reefs.

The idea now (according to my in-house tour guide) is to go first to the atolls of Manhini and Ahe. A lot of pearls come from these areas apparently. Then we are going to Rangiroa, maybe for some diving. It says in the ‘Lonely Planet’ guidebook that in one of the main villages on Rangiroa, around the middle of the day you could safely fire a gun and not hit anyone. We’ll see. There might be a few ‘popaa’ about in the midday sun. ‘Popaa’ are westerners like us.

11:20.13S 140:49.60W, 2nd April 2008, 330 miles from landfall at Manhini

Heute hat es unseren “Sailmaster” Colin endgueltig hingerafft: Anscheinend ist ihm das Essen beim Buergermeister von Atuona nicht bekommen. Jedenfalls hat er Bauchkraempfe und Durchfall und verweigert derzeit jegliche Futteraufnahme. Vielleicht liegt es aber auch daran, dass er derzeit weder fischen darf noch Tuna bekommt….

Martyn hat mich heute in weitere Geheimnisse der britischen “Nouvelle Cuisine” eingeweiht, die viel mehr als nur Wildschwein in Pfefferminzsauce bereithaelt: Koteletts in Senf-Ketchup-Sauce, Schweinebraten in Cola-Sauce…. Wow! Wenn man dazu noch eine Buechse Gemuese aus der bordeigenen Kombuese kredenzt, verblasst dagegen jedes Captain’s Dinner auf einem Kreuzfahrtschiff! Und zum Fruehstueck durfte ich eine weitere Delikatesse kennen lernen: Toast mit Scheibletten-Kaese und Blaubeermarmelade…wuerg! Wie gut, dass ich ansonsten fuer die Kueche zustaendig bin (nein, nein, das ist jetzt ungerecht, die Koteletts waren wirklich lecker!)

Ein Fischerboot am naechtlichen Horizont hat wieder den Thrill jedes Fernsehprogramms uebertroffen. Insbesondere, da unser Radar uns solche Dinge immer selbst entdecken laesst und sie auch nach der Entdeckung als Regen qualifiziert, obwohl sie angestrahlt sind wie ein Weihnachtsbaum. Das gibt dem Wachfuehrer doch immer noch das Gefuehl, gebraucht zu werden und trotz moderner Technik unersetzlich zu sein.

Uebrigens haben wir der Liste der Tuamotu-Inseln, die wir besuchen wollen, noch eine weitere hinzugefuegt: Fakarava. Die Jungs wollen mal sehen, wie so ein Stempel im Pass aussieht und sich gegenueber der prueden britischen Obrigkeit auswirkt, insbesondere wenn man den ersten Teil des Inselnamens stark betont….

Heiki

14:27.58S 146:03.34W, 5th April 2008, Manihi, Tuamotus Achipelago, South Pacific

We had a pleasant sail over the last few hundred miles to the atoll of Manihi (I might have spelt it wrong earlier). On the way I opened up some strange little leaf parcels that were bought on a whim in Hiva-Oa. They turned out to contain tasty dried bananas. Nobody else would eat them, so more for me then. In the distance, the atoll looked like a row of palm trees and it looked about the same closer up. We got to the pass into the lagoon while there was still an hour left of tide flowing out but Grapto has seen worse tides than that in the Solent and so we powered on through into the lagoon.

After anchoring near ‘the’ village we got a fast boat across the lagoon to the ‘Manihi Pearl Beach Resort’ for lunch. A fancy hotel with up-market thatched over-water huts for rooms. The place was almost deserted, so I hope for them that it’s very low season here. We borrowed some bikes from the resort and explored a bit looking for black pearls. We found that they are sold in the food store in the village which takes away a bit of the cachet.

Although we thought that we were the only yacht in the lagoon, two lads called John and Keith from New Jersey dropped by in the evening and stayed for beer and pizza. Their type of sailing makes ours seem like excessive hedonism, but they are of an age where anything is possible and nothing is dangerous.

14:27.58S 146:03.34W, 5th April 2008, Manihi, Tuamotus Achipelago, South Pacific

This is the official part of the trip where you can say “How come Pickup gets to go to such fabulous places when he’s so worthless?”

The Graptocrew went diving today. My first proper dive as it happens although Heike and Colin have done more. The water was crystal-clear, the fish and sharks were plentiful and the coral was huge. It was outside Manihi atoll where the drop-off down to the ocean floor made diving like flying around a mountain. Or falling off a mountain, in my case, until I got the buoyancy under control. I suspect that I’m now well spoiled for more run-of-the-mill dive sites. There will be video posted when I get Wifi again.

After a black pearl buying opportunity we set sail out of Manihi seven miles to the next atoll of Ahe. Ahe is a bigger producer of pearls than Manihi but has no hotels, bars, restaurants, internet cafes or shops that we could find but the natives are friendly and seem to be very happy just strumming their guitars, kicking footballs around and playing with puppies in the street.

14:56.98S 147:42.33W Tuesday 8th April 2008 AM Rangiroa atoll

We took our leave of Ahe and at first light this morning we entered the huge Rangiroa atoll at the Avatoru Pass and anchored.

With splendid Teutonic enthusiasm Heike massaged the skipper’s back, made breakfast, then stripped off and jumped over the side for a swim. Of course the fast outgoing tide that Colin and I noticed after throwing a surplus pancake into the water was not noticed by Heike until she was some distance from the boat and in danger of getting swept out of the pass and back into the Pacific. It was a good job she was still within rescue-line throwing range or there would have been the unusual sight of a British-flagged yacht chasing a swimming naked German girl across the lagoon. We hauled her back onboard like a tuna but she required no subduing with rum or winch handle.

15:00.57S 147:48.79W Thursday 10th April 2008 AM, Rangiroa atoll

For the past couple of days we have been anchored off the very posh Kia Ora Hotel on Rangiroa. Yachts are brilliant for this kind of thing. It’s just like staying at the hotel free of charge except the room service is a bit slow and there are no chocolates on your pillow. The restaurant was excellent and we ate there a few times. Last night there was a hula dancing show for the handful of hotel guests and us. Foolishly, I let myself be persuaded to wiggle my hips in public. I think some of the waiters appreciated it.

We also availed ourselves of the hotels diving centre and compared wiggles with huge Moray eels and Blacktip sharks. This diving thing is a piece of cake and I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get into it although I should probably get a lesson or two sometime.

We are currently sailing across the atoll to go to the Blue Lagoon which is a smaller lagoon inside the bigger Rangiroa lagoon. For those of you not familiar with the scale of these features (I assume most of you), Rangiroa is a mere 38 miles wide.

The satellite phone charger has broken. When the battery is used up there will be no further news until Tahiti and until then you will need to find something better to do with your time.

15:30.67S 147:29.54W, 11th April 2008, South Pacific

The Blue Lagoon, or Lagon Bleu as the French seem to think it’s called, gets my vote for being the prettiest place on the planet. It’s set on the western edge of the Rangiroa lagoon and is about a mile across, the water is a really surprisingly bright turquoise colour and the whole place is fringed with small islets covered in palm trees. Best of all, we had it all to ourselves.

We anchored Graptolite in the main atoll took the dinghy over some coral reefs between two of the islets and puttered around until we found a good place to swim and collect coconuts. The more European of us frolicked around au naturelle a la Brooke Shields.

We are now on our way to Fakarava atoll. We only decided to go there because we liked the name but it seems that there are other WARC boats gathering there as well before going on to Tahiti.

16:57.57S 148:40.73W, 12th April 2008, South Pacific

We revisited our scheduling and decided that Fakarava really needed more than the four and a half minutes we seemed to have allocated it. Also getting to Papeete by the 14th to meet Belinda would not have been easy so we have changed course to the southwest and are now heading directly for Tahiti. We should be there later today. We really need some time in a marina anyway to do some running repairs. As well as the GPS antenna being on the blink, the radar monitor is now not working, the satellite phone is not charging, the wind generator is worn out and most of the light bulbs need replacing. A supermarket run and a laundry would also be quite delightful. I’m going to try using Colin’s antique sat phone to get this email out but if it doesn’t work you are not going to know any of this until we arrive.

17:35.16S 149:36.93W, 14th April 2008, Pape’ete, Tahiti

Grapto made landfall Tahiti yesterday morning. It’s a fantastical landscape of mountains and cloud covered spires. Moorea, the island you can see nearby is similar. Approaching Pape’ete there is a long coral reef offshore with a huge swell running and 2-3 metre breaking waves. There were a lot of surfers about and mostly surfing in the slightly less dangerous waves in a narrow break in the reef that theoretically leads behind the reef to Taina Marina. While fairly adventurous, surfing a 14 metre yacht towards the beach is not a sport I’m intending to take up anytime soon. Giving up on that entrance, we retraced our steps and eventually crossed the reef at Pape’ete town and got clearance to sail across the end of the airport runway between flights towards the marina. What an exciting place this is!

An early start (5:00AM) had us hitch-hiking (no taxis) to a Sunday morning street market in downtown Pape’ete. The fish stalls were as good as any coral reef visit.

This afternoon we had another diving trip, not to a reef this time but to a dive site called ‘The Wrecks’. There was a shipwreck and a seaplane wreck to dive around at about 18 metres. Diving again tomorrow.

The satellite phone is still broken but there is WiFi hereabouts.

17:35.16S 149:36.93W, 17th April 2008, Pape’ete, Tahiti

Bit of a gap in the blogs there. Sorry, but I’ve had better things to do.

On Monday we went diving again. More wrecks and fish. Why would anyone want to dive in the cold, dark and muddy waters of the Frozen North?

Tuesday was my birthday and Heike and Colin laid on a surprise birthday breakfast for me in the cockpit. Smoked marlin, fresh pineapple, croissants, everything. I was later ‘kidnapped’ and found myself on a car ferry going to Moorea.

Up to now, Moorea has to be the most beautiful island I’ve been on. The landscape has an unreal quality with tropical flowers, reefs, blue water and big rock pinnacles. Even the roadside stalls are nice. The local wild bananas taste slightly of oranges and when you buy loud tropical shirts they give you free grapefruit to take away.

We lunched at one 5-star resort, dined at another and for the night they got me an over-water bungalow with a coral reef as a view through the glass coffee table. I’m unable to put into words properly what a great time I had and how much I appreciate my crew as friends. Thank you, both of you.

Belinda has now arrived in Tahiti after falling foul of an airline strike and having to fly between LA and Pape’ete via Osaka, Japan. Crossing the International Dateline twice on one journey would have me out of action for a week. Colin and Belinda are now staying at the Intercontinental in Pape’ete for a few days to recover. Heike and I are going back to sea tomorrow and we might do a quick circumnavigation of Tahiti.

The satellite phone has been repaired and normal service is now resumed.

17:35.16S 149:36.93W, 18th April 2008,  Pape’ete, Tahiti

Normal service seems to be random selections of navigation instruments not working. After disconnecting the shore power and mooring lines to go on a trip around Tahiti, the autopilot, speed, depth and chart-table chart plotter all failed. We reconnected the mooring lines, thought about it for a while and then went for cocktails and dinner. We joined the crew of Quasar V who were there seeing Malcolm off to the airport.

17:30.98S 149:49.22W, 22nd April 2008, Cooks Bay, Moorea

After fiddling with the dead instruments for hours I finally cracked and got an electro-wizard in who reconnected a loose wire in about five minutes flat.

The crew has changed a little. Belinda is now on board and Heike has left Grapto temporarily, to play with an old friend from Germany. Wilhelm was cruelly told to bring over many silly items in his hand luggage which included a freezer; a pressure cooker and a blender. Fortunately for him the airline wouldn’t let him bring the freezer. It was a pity because the adventure could have made an excellent sequel to Tony Hawks’ ‘Round Ireland with a Fridge’. Colin and I replaced the broken GPS antenna with the one Belinda hand-carried so we now have full video arcade capabilities for navigation although the radar is still a bit temperamental. We lunched in the marina on some mussels and bread and wine brought around by Heike. The mussels were not the familiar small black and grey beasties but big bright-green and brown creatures that went well with the location. With renewed confidence in the instrumentation being able to get us through reefs and crashing surf we set off yesterday evening towards Moorea. The sunset over the peaks of Moorea was indescribable and so I’m not going to try to describe it for you. We sailed into Cooks Bay in the dark, past a few mega-yachts that couldn’t find anywhere else better to go, and anchored and ate dinner on the deck waiting for the view in daylight. (Excellent chocolate cake, Heike!) I knew it was going to be a good view as I had seen some of it on my birthday trip. I was not wrong.

16:43.36S 151:26.74W, 23rd April 2008, anchored off Uturoa, Raiatea, Society Islands

The view of the mountains around Cook’s Bay in the morning was amazing. Captain Cook didn’t anchor there though. It was apparently in the next, equally stunning, bay of Opunohu. So we had a look at that as well.

As we turned to head off northwest to the island of Raiatea, about 100 miles away, a traditional outrigger canoe paddled up alongside laden with baskets of flowers, mangoes and pineapples. One of the people onboard was a small, extremely beautiful, Polynesian woman, wearing almost nothing except tattoos around her hips and a large white flower behind her ear. She said, mostly in French, that her name was Iren’aa which apparently means ‘favourite woman of the chief’. When Iren’aa found out we were just about to go to Raiatea she said that was her spiritual home and she would like to travel there with us. It seemed churlish to refuse so I offered accommodation in the forward cabin where Irrenaa insisted on applying scented oils to the skipper and sang of the moving traditional story woven into the designs on her olive skin.

A little later the skipper woke up wondering why this kind of thing only happens in dreams.

Or does it?

16:30.44S 151:45.16W, 24th April 2008, Vaitape, Bora Bora

The morning after arriving at Raiatea, Iren’aa was dropped off by dinghy at a small inhabited coral motu called Fano. We were greeted effusively by family members and we met Iren’aa’s sister, Hinano, who is famous for being the model for the design on the local beer bottles even though she tragically lost an arm in a shark attack some years earlier. Iren’aa gave me a very shiny black pearl and the family gave us a basket of fei bananas, and lychees to take away. 

It turned out that Heike had flown to Raiatea the previous day to charter a yacht from Apooti Marina for a week. We met Heike’s boat at the marina and as we were the ones who were supposed to know what we were doing, we led the way through the pass in the reef at Taha’a and on to the fabled island of Bora Bora. We arrived at Bora Bora (as usual) in the dark and entered through the reef to the sound of drums from the island and found moorings near the Yacht Club. Night approaches (and exits) to these places can be a bit scary; to say the least, and I should really stop doing them.

Bora Bora was once described by James Cook as the ‘pearl of the Pacific’. Two centuries later it seems to have become mainly an excuse to charge the glitterati outrageous prices for everything. It is a pretty place though with its central jagged mountains, its circling island reefs and its blue lagoons.

A swim in the lagoon with stingrays and then tying up alongside the quay in the village of Vaitape was about all we did during the day. We are off now to an expensive hotel to spoil the privacy of somebody rich and famous and have dinner.

16:45.28S 151:38.79W, 25th April 2008, 15 miles southwest of Bora Bora

Dinner at the Bora Bora Hotel must be hard to beat. Guidebooks call the place one of the finest hotels in the world. Probably. Some credit though must go to its very sexy location.

In the morning, Heike brought her boat from the Yacht Club to raft up alongside us in the harbour. After breakfast, she hustled us all onto a helicopter she had secretly rented for a scenic tour. The largesse of the girl is getting worrying and I am beginning to suspect Heike might really be the head a major crime organisation or similar. Swooping around Bora Bora’s lagoons, reefs and mountain sides in a chopper is a bit special. Great trip Heike but you know I was going to let you come back to crew on Grapto next month anyway!

There was some demand for snorkelling later in the morning so we took the boats to anchor off the reef in front of the Bora Bora Hotel. Our on-water dwellings annexing, at no cost, the world’s finest thatched over-water bungalows of the hotel. Or indeed water buffaloes as our resident wordmangler Colin calls them.

It’s Friday afternoon now and we are sailing back to Tahiti to put Belinda on a plane on Sunday.

17:32.38S 149:34.16W, 26th April 2008, Pape’ete Yacht Harbour, Tahiti

An overnight sail has us back in Tahiti. This time on the Yacht Quay. Satellite phone needs topping up and WiFi is not working but I have managed to post a few pictures using Colin and Belinda’s internet in their room in the Raddisson where they are staying on B’s last night here.

More pictures and videos will have to wait.

17:32.38S 149:34.16W, 28th April 2008, Pape’ete Yacht Harbour, Tahiti

Colin took all day seeing Belinda off at the airport. I took the rare opportunity of being on the boat by myself to put equipment back into the places where I tend to look for them.

New crewperson, Jean Collins from Australia, arrived in Tahiti this evening and was waved at on her hotel balcony overlooking the harbour. We are meeting up for the first time for breakfast in the morning. As a type of dating, crewing and getting crew this way is a bit on the extreme side. Not only do you have to travel big distances from home to have that first shy awkward moment, but you are then committed to living together in some squalor for some time thereafter. Now how on earth am I going create a good first impression over breakfast?

17:32.38S 149:34.16W, 29th April 2008, Pape’ete Yacht Harbour, Tahiti

Jean arrived at the boat on Monday morning and all three of us went for a wander around the highways and byways of Pape’ete; crew-bonding while in search of breakfast then lunch. Once more, I seem to have struck lucky in my crew recruiting.

By late evening we had perhaps done too much bonding with micro-brewery beer in ‘Les Trois Brasseurs’ and some dangerous duty-free Ozzie solvent called ‘Bundaberg Rum’, on the boat afterwards. The current crew’s emotional bonding would seem to be now more-or-less complete although the secret dreams and aspirations that we must have exchanged along the way had become a bit hazy for all of us by morning. That’s the demon drink for you!

Today, Jean sorted out the food stores which had become mostly the unwanted residue of many earlier provisioning forays. The blokes did bloke-ish things with epoxy like patching water tanks and sticking bits of wood together. An early night for all.

17:32.38S 149:34.16W, 30th April 2008, Pape’ete Yacht Harbour, Tahiti

There is something about this place, maybe it’s the climate or maybe it’s the attractive people with few clothes and with flowers in their hair that says some skin decoration might be a nice thing to have. My recent encounter with Iren’aa near Moorea was certainly interesting.

There are a lot of people in the west, these days, sporting tattoo designs that would look pretty dreadful on a tee-shirt, let alone something to show at a job interview, but here the artwork is more of an ancient cultural thing and is normally fairly pleasing to the eye.

This is leading up to me saying that one of us recently got some artwork to take away. It is, of course, a very tasteful design and nicely done and, although not small, quite discreet. Who has had the skin-decorators in? All will be revealed in the fullness of time. It is definitely true that travel broadens the mind.

17:32.38S 149:34.16W, 3rd May 2008, Pape’ete Yacht Harbour

After seeing a good number of Polynesian song and dance shows, some amateur, as in Atuona and some very professional as at Rangiroa and three others here in Pape’ete, I think I can safely say that they are much more watchable than the Caribbean equivalent of limbo dancing, fire eating and steel drums. The combination of grass skirts being wiggled by smiling girls and sticks being shaken by scowling men provides a little something for everybody. It is unfortunate that the cost of being here in Paradise is so high. Most people are eating dinner at the food vans parked on the harbour front rather than taking the pain of restaurant prices. It is very good food though and relatively inexpensive but it lacks ambience and they don’t sell wine or beer. On the other hand, there can sometimes be a little money left over after paying the bill to be able to afford a beer somewhere else later.

Now girlfriend and mother have been informed (pleased and not so pleased respectively) it can be revealed that it was Colin (also pleased) that got the skin artwork recently. He will need a lot more to be invited to join in any serious Hakka.

17:35.04S 149:37.18W, 4th May 2008, anchored outside Taina Marina, Pape’ete, Tahiti

We left downtown Pape’ete yesterday and sailed inside the reef to Taina Marina for fuel and provisions. We carelessly fell foul of the local Sunday trading hours and missed collecting some laundry and the morning food shopping window but we did get some diesel. Monday morning we will have another go and then we can leave for Moorea, Raitea etc. Until then we shall just have to bask on the deck or do a little snorkelling on the coral reef nearby. I know it’s tough but somebody has to do it.

17:29.50S 149:51.15W, 5th May 2008, Opunohu Bay, Moorea, French Polynesia

After a bit of rushing about in the morning getting groceries and collecting laundry we set sail from Pape’ete to Moorea again and arrived in the afternoon at Opunohu Bay (fabulous mountain scenery already described following previous visits but this time with additional brooding rain clouds and rainbows).

After me and the crew had a quick snorkel on the reef and a slab of tuna the size of a housebrick for dinner, I had a call from my new Polynesian friend Iren’aa, last seen near Raiatea. It turned out that Iren’aa was also back in Moorea doing some interior design consultancy work for the Pearl Resort chain. There was me thinking she was just a simple local girl, but she apparently spends a lot of time working in Europe and the USA. Iren’aa and her business partner Wilson had been hired to redesign some rooms.

It sounds like a joke but there had been complaints of naked people swimming under the over-water bungalows and looking into the bedrooms through the glass reef observation coffee tables. I was offered free accommodation to test the new room designs but we had already agreed to meet up with Heike and her new skipper Petra on ‘Viva’ who should be arriving at the anchorage soon. Iren’aa was able to take a hotel launch out to meet me at Graptolite instead for a little late evening consultation.

17:30.98S 149:49.22W, 8th May 2008, Cooks Bay, Moorea

We just had two days of excellent diving outside the reef off Moorea. On Tuesday we had a Blacktip sharks and turtles experience. OK and not so very frightening. On Wednesday we upgraded to an enormous gang of huge Lemon sharks circling around us looking hungry. What me worry? You will have to wait for the photos and video to see how big and menacing they were. They actually smile at you when they about to bite.

We had lunch in the Sheraton Beach Resort. It was nothing special except for the price. They had a power cut in the kitchen half way through cooking which didn’t help. When we got back to the anchorage about an hour and a half later, Graptolite had GONE. After a quiet panic and motoring the dinghy around in circles for a while we spotted her in the distance. The naughty girl had gone and sailed off by herself half a mile across Opunohu Bay and was busy getting cosy with the big cruise ship ‘Tahitian Princess’.

There is no explaining how an anchor comes loose after two days and drags so far and so quickly without getting snagged but there you are. It could have been very nasty but it wasn’t. With as much nonchalance as we could muster we climbed back onboard and sailed out of Opunohu Bay towards Cook’s Bay like that’s what we had planned all along.

In Cook’s Bay (stunning scenery blah blah) we met up with Gerry and Isolde from ‘Northern Sky’ and Petra, Peter, Heike and Bill from ‘Viva’. Some of us went to see yet another Polynesian show at the Bali Hi Club and then we all went for dinner at an Italian place.

Back to Opunohu Bay now and then an overnight sail to Huahine. 

16:42.79S 151:02.35W, 10th May 2008, Fare anchorage, Huahine

Just before arriving at Huahine, Colin had a bite from a fish, thus finally christening his expensive fishing tackle bought ages ago in Pape’ete. This fish was a new type for us, eight pounds in weight, long and with big teeth. After anchoring near the tiny town of Fare we had a run ashore then invited the crew of ‘Viva’ over for a fish supper.

Soon after, small niggling doubts surfaced about the species of fish we had in the fridge. After the photographs were checked we realised that this fish was not the very excellent wahoo as we first thought. It was a barracuda. Barracudas being reef predators are unfortunately a bit prone to poisoning people with ciguatera. The fish fillets were gently released back into the wild and ‘Viva’ took it quite well that they had to have canned tuna. We had a visit to a pearl farm this afternoon. Apparently some of the oysters die after having a pearl nucleus irritant of Mississippi mussel shell inserted into their gonads. Are we surprised? Jean has had a contact lens stuck on the side of her eyeball all day after falling asleep with them in. Most of us have had a go at poking at it but it remains stuck and now she’s in denial that it’s there at all. Perhaps Jean’s contact lens will turn into a pearl.

14:40.93S 151:29.05W, 13th May 2008, Tahaa Yacht Club, Tahaa

Now in Tahaa, we were on a mooring off the Yacht Club on Monday night. We had no adventures worth reporting in getting here. Jean has loaned herself out to another boat called ‘Island Prism’ for a little while. Canadian Jim was sailing single-handed and needed the help.

This morning we were a water taxi and took Heike and Bill to the ridiculously luxurious ‘Le Tahaa Resort’ on a little motu off Tahaa. We had a fabulous lunch as taxi fare. Then Colin and I tried to get back into the dinghy. Appreciate that we have done this operation countless times before. Appreciate that we have done this in darkness and well sozzled without mishap. Appreciate that on this occasion we had nothing but water with lunch and it was broad daylight. Anyway we both somehow managed to end up in the sea, wallets soaked and cameras ruined. We provided some amusement to the otherwise bored staff of the resort but that was the only upside. Leaving the resort, we turned left to go clockwise inside the reef looking for another anchorage. There was some very nice warm rain with bright rainbows and then a good sunset over the peaks of Bora Bora to the west. Then it got dark then and we didn’t find any good place to moor until we had done a full circumnavigation inside the reef of Tahaa and were back where we started in the morning. The Pearl Regatta had in the meantime also arrived at the same spot and a mooring buoy was hard to find. In the Yacht Club there was yet another Polynesian dance show to be watched.

16:36.30S 151:33.42W, 14th May 2008 anchored off Le Tahaa Resort, Tahaa

In the morning we sailed about 6 miles across the lagoon between Tahaa and Raiatea. While going ashore in the dinghy there was an idyllic scene with waving coconut palms, yellow flowers that had fallen from trees into the blue water and two girls on a surfboard having a floating picnic. I mention this because it was only about fifty metres from the end of the Raiatea airport runway. Eat your heart out Staines! 

The trip to Raiatea was to do a bit of shopping for oil filters and new cameras. We had no success with either though we did bump into Jean and Jim from ‘Island Prism’ and had a beer. As we sailed back to Tahaa, there was the usual outrageous sunset over Bora Bora and also the scent of vanilla and wood smoke in the air.

16:29.40S 151:45.60W, 18th May 2008, Bora Bora YC

Another trip to Raiatea on Thursday to finally get some fuel and oil filters and get our Heike back onboard. Had a beer with ‘Wizard’ crew then onward and upward again to Bora Bora. We anchored off ‘Bloody Mary’s’ in water that was a bit too deep for our chain, but it seemed to hold and we went to ‘Kealoha 8’ for some late night drinks.

On Friday we motored around the lagoon to the Bora Bora Yacht Club where the World Cruising Club had set up shop. Jean also rejoined Grapto from her little flirt with ‘Island Prism’. The impressively named, although quite modest, Bora Bora Yacht Club had barely reopened after a change of ownership but they managed to put on a good buffet for the fleet. I made the mistake of turning up to the WARC do in native blue pareo and black pearl neckware. Hey, I’m a cool dude with a good tan! There were lots of ladies who thought a bit of touchy-feely was acceptable but it degenerated into some of the more excitable women (you know who you are) running off with my pareo as a trophy. Fortunately for me I needed pockets to hold enormous amounts of local currency so I had shorts on underneath. Ha.

On Saturday morning we had two excellent dives outside the Bora Bora reef with loads of nasty looking sharks. Look forward to seeing Colin’s excellent scary underwater video when I get good internet links. There is a bit where I kick a 10 foot shark to the surprise of both of us. Saturday afternoon was a bit of a waste with a lot of siesta time and we ended up missing the YC dinghy race. I’m sure others will write about it.

Today (Sunday) there was a bit of a blow coming in and some boats left for more sheltered spots or dragged their anchors. We are on one of the few mooring buoys so we could be reasonably smug about it. Nick and Rosie from K8 turned up in the afternoon and we ended up drinking all our wine supplies bought in for the next leg. More provisioning for us tomorrow. The start for the next leg has been delayed until Tuesday. We have opted to go to the Southern Cook Islands and Rarotonga rather than to the delightful but near-deserted Suworrow in the north as we wimpishly appreciate fresh food and other things to be had from civilization after a long sail.

16:29.40S 151:45.60W, 20th May 2008, Bloody Mary’s anchorage, Bora Bora

Did I say I was smug about being on a BBYC mooring buoy? Big mistake. The wind blew up as expected during the early hours of Monday. A radio call from ‘Northern Sky’ said they had dragged their anchor and were bouncing on the reef. Heike and I took them our long line in the dingy and Colin hauled them back afloat on Grapto’s winch. ‘Northern Sky’ then rafted up alongside Grapto sharing our buoy. So far so good. It’s all very exciting when it’s somebody else’s boat with problems. No worries, I’ll be waiving salvage rights this time Gerry. A couple of hours later the rusty mooring buoy chain gave way and both yachts, now lashed together, slowly waltzed towards certain destruction on same reef. Fortunately, Colin is a light sleeper. Engines were fired up and our makeshift Polynesian double-hulled canoe escaped seawards.

After some fuelling and provisioning in Vaitape we anchored again off Bloody Mary’s restaurant and did some more snorkelling. I took a speargun but didn’t catch anything although I would like to think some fish were badly frightened. Dinner was had in Bloody Mary’s. They do a drink of the same name with tomato juice and vodka which I’m sure is just a coincidence.

16:52.52S 154:26.57W, 21st May 2008, South Pacific west of Society Islands

The next leg to the Cook Islands started off the BBYC at 1200. Boats scattered in different directions. Some are doing the race leg to the utterly delightful but near deserted Suworrow while we and others are off to the southern Cooks stopping at as many islands as we can along the way.

The first attempt at landfall was at Maupiti which looks like a miniature version of Bora Bora. Unfortunately there is nothing miniature about the surf that pounds across the reef into the lagoon. The waves looked to be about 3-4 metres high in the pass and much bigger on either side. It would easily have been possible to make a dramatic entrance upside down which would have ruined our day. There was no argument from crew about giving the place a miss this time.

After an overnight sail the next place we reached was the tiny atoll of Maupihaa. The pass into the atoll was a bit hairy with 4-5 knots of tide against us, made worse by the longitude of the charts being wrong by 200 metres.  Just coconut palms, a few people and some pigs seem to live there. There were also a few other yachts at anchor. Some radio talk in German was overheard between two of the yachts which was less than complimentary about our presence and about the WARC in general. After identifying the offending boat we made sure that we dropped anchor close enough so that they had something to really complain about. Childish or what? Tee hee. We are now sailing for Aitutaki.

19:10.48S 157:11.64W Freitag 23 Mai 2008

Das Schoene am Segeln ist ja nicht nur, dass man sehr langsam und ab und zu unbequem an die Stellen kommt, wo man hinwill, sondern auch, dass man eben dort hinkommt, wo einen der Wind hinweht. Ich wollte ja eigentlich, dass uns der Wind nach Aitutaki weht. Das wollte der aber nicht, sondern jetzt werden wir wohl in Atiu landen.

Ich versuche ja immer wieder, die Jungs davon zu ueberzeugen, dass eine Insel nicht wie die andere aussieht… aber manchmal ist es wohl wirklich so. Nachdem Colin und ich uns schon ueberlegt hatten, wie wir in den haesslich schmalen und sehr, sehr flachen (1,3 m Wassertiefe…bei 1,7 m Kieltiefe…. grusel) Pass kommen (mit dem Dingi vorausfahren, mit Lot ausloten und dann mit Boot hinterherfahren…), hat der Wind auf Sued-Suedwest gedreht, so dass wir suedlicher gehen muessen und nun Atiu neuer Wegpunkt ist.

Aber dort gibt es eine ganz besondere Attraktion: Tumunus! Tumunus sind Busch-Bier-Trink-Veranstaltungen. Diese wurden eingefuehrt als die Missionare versuchen haben, das Kava Trinken in den Cook Islands zu verbieten. Zu dieser Zeit wurden die Maenner in den Busch geschickt, um dort selbstgebrautes, orangefarbenes Bier zu trinken. Diese Zeremonien werden heute immer noch abgehalten, man trinkt dann Bier aus halben Kokosnussschalen (daher auch der Name), der traditionell als Container fuer das gebraute Bier benutzt wurde. Zwar sind diese Zeremonien auch heute noch illegal, aber ansonsten wuerde es wohl auch keinen Spass machen, in den Busch zu gehen und Bier (wahrscheinlich dann schon warm…ekel) aus ausgehoehlten Kokosnussschalen zu trinken.

Heiki

21:00.41S 159:29.67W 01:00 Sunday 25th May

Aitutaki had to be missed as the winds were not all that keen on taking us there so we sailed for the island of Atiu instead. After timing our arrival to first light on Saturday we found a fairly impenetrable fortress of cliffs and surf with no obvious landing place. Atiu is supposed to be one of the last bastions of the old Polynesian way of life which is not all that surprising given how difficult it is to get on or off. Giving up on Atiu we continued on towards Avarua, Rarotonga. We should arrive there at first light in the morning. As it will be another Sunday in Polynesia, it means that everything will be closed. The practice of eating missionaries should be revived.

21:12.00S 159:47.00W, 26th May 2008, Avatiu, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Rarotonga brings us back to the English-speaking world once more. A bit of Maori is also useful but not essential to get by. As we approached Rarotonga early on Sunday morning the temperature fell and we had some drizzly rain just to make us feel really at home.

First impressions of Rarotonga are that it is a really nice place. The natives are very friendly, the cost of living high on the hog is much less than French Polynesia and the beaches, reefs and mountains are as good as anywhere else in the Pacific. There are some quirky things about the place though, one of them being that most houses seem to have gravestones of ancestors in the front garden. Also every second building seems to be a church of some denomination or other. Strangely, the churches don’t seem to be all that popular for burials.

Some new T-shirts were commissioned today as boat tropical uniform. The design is based on Colin’s tattoo. We rented a car for a trip around the island. Heike always drives in true German style at high speed on the right-hand side of the road. This makes for a white-knuckle ride for passengers when everyone else on the road drives at small-road speed on the left. She claims she never has accidents but the trail of destruction that must be going on all the time behind us makes it hard to believe.

21:12.00S 159:47.00W, 28th May 2008, Avatiu, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

We are still hanging off the harbour wall at Avatiu, Rarotonga. Yesterday we did a couple of dives on the outside of the reef. There were lots of nice fish at 25 metres down but not much that was big and dangerous. Lunch yesterday was a barbecue on the harbour wall. I think it was from somebody’s freezer that needed clearing out!

Last night was an ‘Island Night’ at the Crown Beach Resort. We went all psyched up for some eye-catching exotic dancing from young ladies, what we actually got were some very young girls that couldn’t possibly be filling their coconut-shell bikini tops. It’s not the same thing at all, guys. The bread-and-butter pudding from the buffet was the best bit.

20:56.75S 161:04.97W, 30th May 2008, almost lost in the uncharted wastes between Rarotonga and Niue

Wednesday night was a bit rough with northerly swells inside Avatiu harbour although the lines held. An old orange fender that joined our boat in the Galapagos decided to continue on alone but after a night dithering about near the harbour entrance came back to us on the wash of a departing island freighter.

Thursday lunchtime the voyaging canoe Graptolite once more set sail to discover strange new lands to the west. Our decks fully loaded with taro, drinking coconuts, chickens and pigs for the journey. The animals are actually in the fridge but the rest is more or less true. Thursday night at sea was fairly horrible with steep waves throwing us around. It’s not just a simple porpoising motion that non-yachties might expect but it’s also a rapid clockwise and/or anticlockwise corkscrewing movement and a repeated slamming of the hull onto what feels like wet concrete. It makes it hard to sleep. Especially if you head is also down the toilet.

20:14.94S 166:19.95W, 1st June 2008, between Cook Islands and Nuie

It was a bit chilly last night. I very nearly put on a pair of socks for the first time in six months. We are still bobbing around at sea between the Cook Islands and Nuie with about 200 miles left to go. About 90 miles up ahead there is an isolated bit of almost-land called Beveridge Reef. As we will be approaching in the dark, and a note on the chart says that the reef might actually be 3 miles from its charted position, we might be giving the place a wide berth, but it would have been interesting to drop anchor in an ocean that is normally two or three miles deep.

Not a lot has been happening otherwise. Some minutiae of everyday life; Colin is still catching only tuna of the skipjack variety which none of us much like although they sometimes end up on the table; I am trying to nag Heike into breaking a serious tomato ketchup habit but having no more success than Colin. Cooking a full English breakfast in a Force 6 is my challenge of the day and ketchup is permitted! 

19:17.19S 169:25.23W, 2. Juni 2008

Eifrige Leser von Asterix und Obelix wissen es ja schon lange: In Britannien gibt es Wildschwein in Pfefferminzsauce. Nun habe ich ja schon seit meiner Anwesenheit auf diesem britischen Schiff gelernt, dass es nicht Wildschwein, sondern Lamm in Minzsauce gibt (ja, und es gibt den feinen, aber offensichtlich wichtigen Unterschied zwischen Minzsauce und Pfefferminzsauce, der stets wieder betont wird, aber wohl nur dem seit Generationen in Britannien verwurzelten “Eingeborenen” gelaeufig ist).

Gestern gab es dann einen kulinarisch gesehen rein britischen Tag: Der Captain selbst erfreute die Crew mit einem “Full English Breakfast”: gebratene Eier (die kennen auch andere, weniger zivilisierte europaeische Voelker), Bacon (den kennt der frequentiell Amerika-Reisende gut), fried Bread (verkuerzt laut Colin das Leben um einige Jahre und besteht aus getoastetem Brot, das danach im Fett des Bacon gebraten wird *suendhaft, aber lecker!*), gegrillte Tomaten (irgendwas Gesundes muss es ja auch geben, wie haette sonst so eine Nation ueberleben koennen?) und eine grosse Kelle voller Baked Beans (in suesslicher Tomatensauce schwimmende weiche, weisse Bohnen…. Mag sich jeder selbst seinen Teil dazu denken…). Es fehlte laut Angabe des Kuechenchefs nur noch “Black Pudding”… auf Deutsch: Blutwurst….

Also das, was Asterix beschreibt, klingt dagegen wohl eher noch harmlos…Aber es war wirklich alles sehr lecker!

Natuerlich musste dieser wunderbare Tagesbeginn dann kulinarisch weitergefuehrt werden: Zum Mittagessen gab es dann Lamm mit Minzsauce. Es schmeckt tatsaechlich gar nicht so schlecht, wie es klingt. Aber es ist wohl wie mit vielen Besonderheiten so: Wer nicht Minzsauce mit der Muttermilch aufgesogen hat, gewoehnt sich schwer daran, ist wohl wie mit Peanutbutter.

Fuegt man in Gedanken dann aber ueberall eine ausreichende Portion Ketchup hinzu, beruhigen sich auch mitteleuropaeische Geschmacksnerven schnell wieder. Es geht doch nichts ueber wohlgenaehrte Vorurteile….

Ich muss nun schliessen, weil ich noch mein Handtuch auf die Sonnenliege legen muss, schliesslich geht  bald die Sonne auf….;-))))

Heiki

19:03.29S 169:55.54, 3rd June 2008, on a mooring buoy off Alofi, Niue

It is hard to describe the confusion onboard when the engine stops working; the engine is partly dismantled; the companionway steps are removed; the coastguard and several other yachts are trying to offer assistance over the radio; dangerous land is fast approaching; darkness is falling; the wind is doing funny things and worst of all there is a 20lb yellowfin tuna flapping around on the deck. For the benefit of fellow yotties, the taro root is a potato-like vegetable common in these parts that comes on a long stalk. In an emergency it makes a fine club for dispatching tuna.

We are, of course, pretty experienced in bringing the boat into strange locations entirely under sail, in the dark and with major equipment malfunction (see blogs from Aruba). Unlike the Lithuanian boat ‘Martha’ that piled up on the reef near us a couple of days before in similar circumstances. We had a little help from our former crewman, Shin on the ‘Gray Lady’ RIB and the crew of ‘Andante’ in locating a mooring buoy and then we were safe once more.

The weather has not been too special here, but we rented a car and tried to see the sights. Niue is an unusual raised-atoll and so is mostly hard coral limestone with many caves and sea-caves. A tour around the island in the rain was a bit strange. There is a rapidly falling population here and there are whole villages in the rain-forest that have been abandoned to rot. Like in the Cook Islands there is also the unhealthy practice of burying Mom and Dad on the front lawn in lavish style while the house behind falls down. In some ways it is a very post-apocalyptic scene.

The people themselves though are very welcoming. The under-worked Police happily issued us with local driving licences and the Premier himself gave a speech and joined us for a beer where he told Colin of his great interest in Welsh literature. Perhaps he also said the same to the French and Russians over the fish and chip dinner in the Niue Yacht Club. Niue is the smallest independent nation on the planet, and everyone is good at politics.

19:03.29S 169:55.54, 5th June 2008, on a mooring buoy off Alofi, Niue, Pacific Ocean

The weather has been somewhat wet today but we put on wetsuits and air-tanks and had a dive with hundreds of sea-snakes through a sea-cave. We have done enough dives now to know this was something a bit special. Tonight’s entertainment was a barbecue in the village hall. There was also local chap (I think a noni fruit farmer) who gave us an excellent Kiwi/Polynesian sing-along accompanied by banjo and ukulele.

While writing this, we got the sound of some very heavy breathing just off the back of the boat. It must have been a whale. We got the spotlights out but saw nothing. The whale watching season has only just started here.

19:00.56S 170:15.99W, 6th June 2008, between Niue and Tonga

It’s a strange thing that the entire population of the country of Niue is only about the same size as the secondary school I attended. My school never had a chip shop and government offices though.

Aside from clearing out this morning with Immigration and Customs we also joined the highly prestigious Niue Yacht Club. Good value at 20 Kiwi. It will be interesting to see what the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes makes of the customary reciprocal membership privileges.

We are now doing a short hop to Vava’u in the Kingdom of Tonga about 200 miles away. Due to the bizarre fact that the world spins from west to east and the weekend has to start somewhere, we will be losing a day at the International Dateline fairly soon. Locally the Dateline is at 172.5 degrees west as it jogs around our side of Tonga so we will get two celebrations close together as we also cross my nominal half-way point a little further on at 180 degrees, just before Fiji.

We wanted to take some uga (coconut crabs) as food for the journey, but none were to be had in the market today. It’s maybe just as well as they are probably quite capable of cutting their way out through a boat’s bottom.

18:41.09S 172:50.60W, 8th June 2008, 100 miles from Vava’u, Tonga

On crossing the International Dateline this morning, two things happened. The first is that, without doing anything fancy, we have now gone from being very late risers, relative to the UK, to being up very early. The second thing is that somebody stole our Saturday from us which seems like a poor reward for travelling so far. This morning we were 12 hours behind Perfidious Albion’s Summertime and now we are now 12 hours ahead. Makes my head hurt. We also had a bottle of iffy NZ champagne at the crossing and had some excellent fresh-caught mahi-mahi for dinner.

Storms are forecast up ahead.

18:39.49S 173:58.94W, 12th June 2008,  Port of Refuge, Neiafu, Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga

We arrived in Tonga early on Monday and found a mooring off Neiafu. We did the usual diving trips on Tuesday in some sea caves and reef drop-offs. The coral here is amazing with fans and soft corals of all shapes, sizes and colours. There have been a few Tongan feasts to get through since arriving, always with some unfortunate piglets getting turned into table decorations. There are a lot of piglets happily running around the streets here that seem to have no idea what’s in store.

Tonight’s extravaganza will be a kava ceremony at the ‘Bounty Bar’ which apparently involves getting anesthetised drinking something like dishwater out of a big bowl. I’ll let you know how it goes. If I can.

18:39.49S 173:58.94W, 13th June 2008,  Port of Refuge, Neiafu, Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga

The kava night had to be given a miss which was a shame. Somebody seems to have slipped a very nasty bug to me recently causing some unpleasant effects that do not need to be described in detail, although I will say thank goodness for the type of compact bathrooms you get on boats that allows the simultaneous use of both toilet and washbasin. This is the first problem of its type for me since setting out, so I’ve done quite well. There are reports of others in the fleet also affected. Jean has also had the same trouble for the past couple of days but has perhaps not had the sympathy deserved. Complications also with deteriorating weather and Belinda arriving in Fiji by air on the 17th is making life difficult. It looks now like Colin will be getting a flight to Fiji while we hobble along behind, storms, fuel and diseases permitting.

18:39.49S 173:58.94W, 15th June 2008, Port of Refuge, Neiafu, Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga

Saturday night we watched the England/All Blacks game in a waterside restaurant with Nick & Rosie and others. Sunday morning saw the faithful called to prayer and dinghies raced ashore with smartly clad sailors to one of the local churches. Not me obviously. I’m still recovering from Ebola or leprosy or whatever and anyway communing with deities is not my scene. Having said that I was curious to see what damage the missionaries had done to these unfortunate people, and I’d been told that the singing was good. After lunch Heike, Colin and I strolled down the near deserted main street following the sound of bells. The big Catholic church didn’t appeal. Too much S&M and ritual cannibalism for me. The Wesleyan Methodist place we found up the road had some good singing coming out of it. All in Tongan. People were still flocking in, dressed in their big pandanus overskirts but as we were fairly immodestly dressed for the occasion, we sat outside for a while listening. Heike went to another church for an evening service, but it turned out to be something like a Rastafarian disco. Big herds of pigs running up and down the road in the dark apparently made the walk back to the dock less than interesting.  

18:30.66S 174:29.54W, 17th June 2008, 25 miles west of Tonga

Colin flew off to Fiji to meet up with Belinda early on Monday morning, Jean jumped ship for an easier life on Gerrie’s boat ‘Wizard’ and I cleared out of Tonga with Customs and Immigration. I found I was also still clearing out some of Tonga in other ways too so to be on the safe side we hung around the harbour until this morning.

This morning saw the first sunshine we’ve seen in many days and it seemed a shame to leave but the paperwork was done and so Heike and I sailed away through the western islands of Tonga towards Savusavu, Fiji. It will take three or four days to get there.

16:46.66S 179:19.81E, 21st June 2008, Savusavu, Fiji

Yesterday we crossed 180 degrees which is a point close enough to be half-way around the world from the UK and something of a milestone. Naturally another bottle of fizzy had to be opened. A bit later, I caught a biggish mahi-mahi but had to wellie it a few times with a new Tongan carved fish-billy for it to come quietly and be filleted.

Before dark, we were in Savusavu, Fiji. There is a fine tradition of bureaucracy here, presumably left over from the time Fiji was British, and a big crowd of officials turned up at the boat with armfuls of forms. We had one sorry-looking orange confiscated but no other problems apart from writer’s cramp and then they gave us a permit to go ashore. But we didn’t and stayed aboard instead and watched ‘The African Queen’ on DVD and ate fish.

This morning we did go ashore to do some shopping and bought a big pile of dried kava root in the market. Kava is a druggy substance which is handed over to the island village chiefs to keep them from becoming hostile. Colin and Belinda also turned up today and we now have the full Fiji cruising crew.

17:16.54S 179:04.39W, 25th June 2008, south of Savusavu Bay, Fiji

This week has seen us exploring Vanua Levu (which is the big island in the north of the Fiji group). On Sunday we rented a 4WD car to look at the western side of the island and came very close to not making it back as the dirt roads here are so very nasty.

The next day we stuck to the heavily potholed sealed roads to take a look at Labasa in the north. A walk in the Waisali Rainforest Reserve on the way was an interesting but sweaty experience. Labasa turned out to be an Indo-Fijian town from the days when sugar-cane was king here. The place could have been anywhere in India and was well off the tourist trail. After a quick curry we headed back to the more Melanesian Savusavu in some heavy rain that flooded the streets knee-deep.

Yesterday, along another dirt road from Savusavu we found the Jean-Michel Cousteau resort which, not surprisingly, is mainly a diving place. We did two tank dives off the reef with them. The coral was good but big fish were in short supply. We are now enroute to the Yasawa Islands in the west which can only be reached by a long overnight sail through some very dangerous-looking waters.

16:44.75S 177:21.36E, 26th June 2008, West of Yasawa Island, Fiji

The overnight sail from Savusavu to the Yasawa Group needed some careful navigation through some tight passes and across Bligh Water but we made it OK. By lunchtime we were off a nice-looking sunny beach on the leeward side of Yasawa Island where we intended to barbeque the mornings catch of a monster 33lb yellowfin tuna. Can’t beat that, we thought.

The fly in the ointment turned out to be that the electric anchor windlass had developed a bunch of problems including blown fuses and corroded cables and so we couldn’t anchor to have our beach barbie. By the time we had made some running repairs while motoring around in circles, the wind was up and it was getting dark again so we are now heading south on another overnight jolly to find spare parts. There are hundreds, nay thousands, of reefs and islets to the south of us so we are actually heading in a westerly direction to try to go around them while it’s dark.

Saturday 28th June 2008, Vuda Point Marina, south of Lautoka, Fiji

After a fairly tricky night weaving through reefs and islets we arrived in Lautoka to clear in with the authorities. Lautoka is the main sugar cane processing and exporting city in Fiji and is colourful but is not all that attractive a place, so we moved on south to Vuda Point. The marina was not on our charts and electronically involved motoring towards a coral beach and well inland through an uncharted channel before finding a berth. I have to say I hate doing that!

We went into Lautoka today in search of some spare electrical parts, but shops shut down around midday on Saturday and we had no success. Colin and Belinda then went off to an expensive resort for some quality time before Tuesday’s flight and Heike and I took a look at the ‘Garden of the Sleeping Giant’ which is a nearby tropical rainforest walk and orchid collection.

17:47.57S 176:49.62E, 5th July 2008, West of the Fiji Islands

It has been a whole week without a blog from me but there is not a lot to tell. Vuda Point Marina was used as a base for a few days to explore Viti Levu island by car. The towns of Lautoka and Nadi were interesting for their Indian-Melanesian cultural melting pot, Hindu temples and sugarcane trains but it was otherwise of limited interest for us jaded global travellers. As in the island of Vanua Levu, the roads are mostly a mix of pothole and speed-bump which doesn’t exactly make motoring a pleasure. Heike has been introduced to curries but it looks like it is going to take a while for her to get used to them.

On Tuesday Belinda and Heike left for Nadi Airport. Belinda, to go back to work; Heike, to have a quick trip home to Berlin. Frau and Herr Richter, I hope you enjoyed your surprise visit. Heike will be back aboard this blog in a couple of weeks from Port Vila, Vanuatu. The next day, the menfolk, obviously bereft without female company, celebrated by sailing to Musket Cove Resort on Manolo Laillai island. Many other World ARC boats were also there. We managed to survive quite well on barbecue food and beach bar drinks.

Today, Saturday, was the start of the next leg to Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu. It’s just a small hop at less than 500 miles. Just before the official race start the sky opened up and there was enough heavy rain for the start to be delayed and then the start changed to a safer guided line-astern procession through the inner and outer reefs. It looked like a Spithead Review of battleships. Nelson would have been proud. Colin and I are now braced for a wet and windy trip to Vanuatu. We have already abandoned German cuisine and have just had beans on toast. Bliss.         

19:37.57S 169:29.79E, 8Th July 2008, Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu

This one was rough! Big seas and 30+ knots of wind for 470-odd miles.

Early on Monday morning the skipper was woken by a loud bang and a shout from Colin in the cockpit, “Martyn, Martyn, we’ve lost the rudder”, “We’re all going to die”. Maybe the last one was me. Maybe it was just in my head. One of the two ships wheel was spinning and Colin was fighting the other one while everything was bouncing around. It turned out that ‘Otto’, our trusty autohelm, had broken a control wire during a particularly nasty gust. It was impossible to repair at sea so we had to hand-steer from then on. “So what?” I hear you say. Everyone has seen films with some unfortunate lashed to the wheel, rounding the Horn. It needs to be said that I rarely touch the wheel on this boat. She can be told to go in a certain direction come Hell or high water by pressing buttons which leaves plenty of time to go below and darn socks or whatever. Standing in the cockpit fighting a wheel through the troughs and crests of waves is not normally what it is about these days and the uncomplaining crew member Otto usually handles it all.

Graptolite doesn’t have the best keel design to be hand-steered anyway and in Force 7’s or 8’s it’s not easy. Colin and I did 2-hour watches around the clock with aching arms and shoulders wearing full wet weather gear. Another two or three crew would have been more than useful.

Is that all? No it isn’t! Our spinnaker pole (the one already snapped in the Caribbean) broke an end-fitting and is now completely useless, the anchor windlass and radar are still waiting on spare parts and worst of all, an old gremlin, the salt-water cooling system on the engine died. It seems like an old story but here we are again hurtling towards an unknown island in what might well have been a bathtub.

The entry to Port Resolution was under sail with a few minutes of un-cooled engine at the very end to help anchor. Port Resolution is very grandly named after Captain Cook’s ship but is in reality just a pretty inlet with only one or two grass-roofed huts visible in the trees. A dinghy ride ashore got us cleared-in then back to Grapto to repair the engine and then a long sleep. It’s now Tuesday evening and I’m sore but wide awake and ready to party.

19:37.57S 169:29.79E, 9th July 2008, Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu

A very interesting day today.

We had a formal ceremony in the morning with the Port Resolution villagers where there was dancing and an exchange of gifts. We gave them some western bits and pieces and they gave us baskets of fruit and vegetables, banana leaf hats, grass skirts and one very frightened-looking piglet.

In the afternoon we piled into the back of pick-up trucks and bounced along a dirt road to another village where dozens of men and boys gave us a display of dancing while wearing nothing but penis-sheaths. We didn’t see any women there. Who knows what the women traditionally wear?

Moving in the trucks, we bounced through a forest of giant tree-ferns up the side of an active volcano and then stood on the volcano’s rim as darkness fell and stared at the fountains of lava and ash being thrown out. Completely at our own risk, apparently.

Returning to Port Resolution, the villagers had laid on a feast which we ate off banana-leaf plates. The little piggy was very tasty.

17:44.87S 168:18.66E, 11th July 2008, Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

We set sail northwards towards Port Vila but stopped off overnight at the next island of Erromango. We arrived at Erromango after dark and left before dawn so I can’t describe the place although in a village near our anchorage at Dillon’s Bay there is supposed to be an outline of a missionary chipped into the rock before they cooked and ate him. Medium-rare, I hope.

We upped anchor at 05:00 AM and headed towards Port Vila but the strong winds snapped our genoa halyard and our engine also stopped working. The engine was fairly easily fixable but the halyard needed someone to go up the mast. In gale force winds there are usually no volunteers for that job, so we ended up motoring most of the way.

As Colin seems to have cracked the fishing thing, we have lots of fresh mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna in the fridge which we are giving away as fast as we can in case we catch more. First impressions of Port Vila are very favourable. There are places to eat and places to buy stuff for the boat which all makes a pleasant change.

17:44.87S 168:18.66E, 12th July 2008,  Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

A Kiwi called Phil came by the boat today who said he had heard on the yachtie grapevine that we had engine troubles. He gave us a diagnosis then took our halyard away to fix for us. A few minutes later we found the heat exchanger was stuffed with 22 old rubber blades from broken impellers. It looks like our days of having to sail into anchorages might now be over.

Later we went to a big Efate island event, horse racing. There were many western women tottering about in big hats and high-heels like they were at Royal Ascot and the champagne flowed freely. I won 6,000 Vatu with a horse called ‘Texas’ (a place I have lived as an expat) all of which I put on ‘Tom’ to win in the next race. ‘Tom’ (my second child’s name) came in second after a Steward’s Inquiry but it was a good day out. I need to find a better way of picking winners.

17:44.87S 168:18.66E, 13th July 2008, Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

I spent this morning dangling up the mast successfully mousing the fixed genoa halyard and at the same time made the alarming discovery that a shroud wire (holds the mast up) had broken. Not so good especially as it turns out that there is nobody in Vanuatu that has the equipment that can fix it. Some airfreight from Australia might be needed before we can leave.

We had a celebratory WARC lunch in the Yacht Club which continued at the Waterfront Restaurant for dinner. Had a few drinks with a fellow northerner who grew up on Pringle Street, Blackburn. Small world!

17:44.87S 168:18.66E, 15th July 2008,  Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

We now have engine and sails in working order, but the mast is still a bit wobbly. Rigging parts are being made up and airfreighted from Brisbane but we are going to be here in Port Vila for a while yet before moving on to Espiritu Santo. There are worse places to be and there is still lots to do here.

Last night Petra (Viva) and Bob (Andante) had a joint birthday cake and champagne party on a beach on an island in Port Vila harbour. Apart from that it was a quiet night for the master and crew of Graptolite. Wear and tear doesn’t just affect the boat.

17:44.87S 168:18.66E, 17th July 2008, Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

Last night we went to a restaurant called L’Hostalet which is fairly famous in Port Vila for its exotic menu. I had flying fox (fruit bat) in a red wine sauce that was really good. There’s plenty of meat on one fruit bat and there’s no wings, fur, little pointy teeth or a face like Peter Cushing to deal with on the plate. It’s a bit gamey, a bit like hare. Colin had the coconut crab which he tells me has an unusual taste for crab as they mostly scuttle about in the rain forest.

Today we had an abseil down a 50 metre waterfall with Gerrie (Wizard), Petra (Viva) and Val (Blue Flyer). Fun but a bit chilly. It was all very safely organized but that didn’t stop me falling over a rock at the bottom and twisting my ankle. It occurs to me that fruit bats probably have little interest in abseiling. 

17:44.87S 168:18.66E, 18th July 2008, Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

Heike arrived back onboard this morning after an epic journey. She was loaded with very necessary spare parts for the boat but the most critical spare, the shroud wire, is probably still gathering dust in the corner of a warehouse in Brisbane. Most of the WARC fleet has already gone north to Espiritu Santo where they will start the next leg to Cairns on Sunday. I think Grapto will now have to leave for Cairns direct from here sometime early next week.

Had a nice lunch today of baby octopuses (octopi?) and a walk around Port Vila looking for ceremonial penis-sheaths (Sorry Jacqui, nobody seems to sell them so you might have to rethink your Xmas pressie list). Colin is on a PADI course and has been night diving and wreck diving and has lived to tell the tale.

17:43.55S 167:07.48E, 24th July 2008, west of Vanuatu

Colin had a trip up to Santo to dive on the famous 1942 USS ‘President Coolidge’ wreck. He said it was good. Heike and I had a bumpy drive around Efate Island. We found a nice beach covered in sand-washed bits of Coca-Cola bottles chucked over the side when the fleet was anchored there during WWII. I’m now the proud owner of a Coke bottle made in San Francisco in 1942. I’ll hang on to it in case I can get the deposit back.

The replacement rigging wire turned up yesterday and the mast is now less likely to fall off. Some final provisioning and paperwork and we were ready to leave Port Vila for Cairns by the evening.

Victor from South Africa briefly joined the crew, but Australian visa delays meant he had to be left behind on the dock. There’s probably some international dispute about the correct way to be mean to your indigenous population 🙂

Naturally we had a few boat problems to overcome after leaving. It wouldn’t be fun otherwise! The worst was the autopilot breaking a chain link. A bit of cursing and spanner-work sorted it out though.

I’ve still got a sore knee and ankle from my abseiling tumble. A rolling deck is not really the place to rest up. Still, only another 1200 miles to go.

17:22.39S 162:42.76E, 26th July 2008, north of New Caledonia

It’s a bit rough here. The crew have been looking greener than they have since starting out across the Pacific and Heiki has had to be drugged up with scopolamine patches which is my most serious pharmaceutical in the medicine chest for the ‘Seekrankheit’. It seems to work very well. As nobody is eating much, the annoying thing is that it looks like we are going to have to dump a lot of food before we get to Australian waters. The weevils in the ship’s biscuits will not be happy.

We hear Gerrie on ‘Wizard’ to our north has lost his mast and sails over the side yesterday which makes me even more pleased to have waited for my rigging spares to arrive before setting off. Our rigging is getting a good rattling even though we are mostly just motoring into wind.

17:15.82S 160:41.78E, 26th July 2008, 850 miles east of Cairns

The wind is now coming from the southeast, as it’s supposed to, and it’s been very pleasant sailing. The prospect of the crew having a ‘chunder in the old Pacific sea’ is now past.

Colin caught a good-sized Wahoo today. The first for Grapto. It was about 16lbs but we didn’t weigh it. For all you non-hunter-gatherers, a Wahoo is a long fish with very good white meat which should keep us going for a few days. Now we will have even more supermarket food to dump before Australia! An experiment with this fish was to just cover its eyes to keep it still instead of our usual beating seven bells out of it with clubs. Thanks for that tip, Joanne. It worked and saved us a lot of cleaning up. We have about 850 miles to run before Cairns. Arrival could be about 6 days from now for those of you waiting on the dockside for us.

17:10.08S 157:59.75E, 28th July 2008, 700 miles east of Cairns

There is no wind at all now apart from some tiny flurries that makes the wind direction indicator wander around lazily. The night sky is very clear, and we have the unusual effect of stars being reflected on the glassy surface of the sea. I don’t expect I will ever get to travel between the stars but this has got to be a similar effect. On the other hand,…

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe; attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tan Hauser Gate. All those….moments….will be lost….in time….like tears….in the rain….time to die.

I’ll bet that last paragraph confused you, unless you recognized some lines by Rutger Hauer, from the movie ‘Blade Runner’. It has no particular significance. But I like it.

16:59.77S 156:14.42E, 29th July 2008, 600 miles west of Cairns

We found another cable connected to the autohelm was about to break so we fiddled around with spanners for a bit, then while testing the results, ended up with a fishing line wrapped around the rudder. It was time to put on the boat’s scuba gear and take a look. It’s very strange being underwater in the deep ocean. The sunlight streams down and just gets swallowed up, as does anything else that falls into it. I watched my snorkel spiralling down into the darkness for a while but couldn’t catch the thing. There is also the uneasy feeling that you might get swallowed up in a more literal way as well. Big sharks sometimes follow us, licking their fishy lips.

The wind has now picked up but it is coming from the west which is of course exactly where we are trying to go. We are mostly motoring slowly but the diesel is still going fast. It is painful progress, but better winds are forecast.

16:27.79S 154:27.63W, 30th July 2008, 500 miles west of Cairns

It’s been hard going today with big waves washing across the deck all the time and the boat heeled over so much that nobody dares to open any lockers to get food. It’s also been so cold that the oilies have had to have another outing. We’ve been huddled together for warmth like penguins on the pack-ice.

The three-hour night watch alone though is a time to indulge in chocolate and also music on the ipod that nobody else much appreciates coming through the speakers during the day. In my case it’s usually electronic stuff by Jean-Michel Jarre or didgeridoo music. I’m fairly sure Heiki secretly plays Berlin beer drinking songs and Colin plays bagpipe music so I’m not too embarrassed. Maybe we will get some SE Trade winds later today that will give us a more comfortable ride through the outer islands of the Barrier Reef.

16:52.74S 152:00.74E, 31st July 2008, 350 miles East of Cairns

We had a mini-submarine movie fest this evening with ‘The Hunt for Red October’ followed by ‘Das Boot’. It all seems so much more real when you are actually at sea in a small vessel and as Skipper you get to shout orders like “Just one ping” and “Prepare tubes one and two”.

The wind has been a bit variable, but we are making some progress now towards the Australia coast.

You may have spotted a few typos with my blog position reporting recently which can’t be fixed until I get internet access but obviously, we are still in the Eastern hemisphere and East of Cairns, unless the GPS has gone bad again.

17:12.98S 149:21.86E, 1st August 2008, 200 miles East of Cairns

We had a catalogue of problems yesterday, mostly related to water pumps for some reason.

The fun went something like this: **

Oh! The autohelm has stopped working and it looks like it’s because the batteries are too low.

Oh! The batteries are going flat too quickly, turn on the diesel generator to charge them.

Oh! The generator is cutting out. It’s overheating due to a broken seawater pump. It can’t be fixed here. Never mind, turn on the main engine to charge the batteries.

Oh! The main engine is also overheating because it’s not pumping seawater. We’ll have to take the engine apart. Looks OK to me. Let’s put it back together again.

Oh! It seems to be working now. Don’t know why. Better keep the engine running in case we get the same problem starting her up again.

Oh! If we keep the main engine on, we might run out of diesel fuel. I need a shower.

Oh! The freshwater pump for the showers isn’t working. Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!

              ** substitute ‘Oh!’ for something more appropriate.

It’s not all been bad news. A big mahi-mahi was caught yesterday afternoon. Hurrah! but it slid off the back of the boat only half-filleted. This isn’t a real problem though as it still gave us more than enough fresh fish for the rest of this trip. Fingers crossed!

16:51.07S 146:26.02E, 2nd August 2008, 35 miles East of Cairns outside the Great Barrier Reef

There has been no wind worth speaking of and so we have been motoring very slowly through the Coral Sea to save fuel. I’ve no real idea how far we can go when the tank says empty, but I think we are going to find out real soon. Not wishing to seem like complete slobs when we get to Australia, we made a bit of an effort yesterday to tidy up and wash down a few things, although there is no disguising the fact that we have become a floating junkyard of equipment that has not survived the battering of the last 15,000 miles at sea.

16:55.23S 14:46.91W, 3rd August 2008, Cairns Marlin Marina

Yesterday was a bit tedious. We crept along through the Barrier Reef all day in sunshine and very light winds at 1-2 knots. There was barely a ripple. We knew the fuel situation was bad and had no choice but to turn the engine off and drift along under sail. For a while we watched a big whale waving its tail about in the air. By late evening we were in sight of the bright lights of Cairns and anchored in the estuary until daylight. This morning we upped anchor and motored for all of five minutes before the diesel ran out completely. As there was no chance of sailing against the tide and headwind, the Coastguard kindly loaned us a jerry-can of fuel and we completed the last mile or two of the Pacific crossing before lunch. The news this evening of Asolare going to Davy Jones’ Locker has made our problems seem not quite so bad.

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