Tuesday, 4 December 2007

I can't believe I did it!

Panama to NZ in 9 months, that’s 9000 odd nautical miles, 10800 statue/road miles for you land lovers! At an average of 5 knots it’s a lot of ocean & I can only think of 2 perfect passages, unfortunately they were some of the shortest ones.
For once I’m speechless! What an achievement, I can’t believe I’ve done it! A novice sailor (in truth, no prior sailing knowledge what so ever!) has sailed on a 41foot boat from Panama to New Zealand. Of course I couldn’t have done it without Bobby who had the boat & also knew how to sail – pretty crucial items! ; )

It’s been a roller coaster of a trip; with amazing experiences & memories, highs & lows & ups & downs. Despite the scary bits we made it with everything in one piece & together. Neither of us will pretend it was easy, even for the most rock solid of relationships this lifestyle pushes it to its limits as nothing else ever can, never mind a brand new relationship. He has been an amazing teacher & partner. Both he & this trip will always have a special place in my life.
I’m heading home to the UK for a holiday & to catch up on some much needed family time. Bobby will return to Fiji for alone time with Barraveigh (it’ll be back to being a boys boat in no time!) Before all that we have a few weeks to explore New Zealand by land! Bobby will also get corrective surgery on the broken finger that rehealed itself at a strange angle.

You will have to wait & see what 2008 holds for me but I still love the nomadic life & the adventures it brings so not ready to return home permanently just yet! I hope to catch up with as many of you as possible when I'm back. For those of you who I don’t know in person but have sent emails & messages full of support & enthusiasm a huge thank you. I really am amazed at how many of you have been following the adventure.

Hope to see you all here again in 2008!

Happy Christmas & a Happy New Year to you all.
Suzi x

sailing to NZ

The last you heard I had just jumped on Golden Opus. It was fantastic to experience the open ocean onboard another boat. As well as having some luxury, it makes you appreciate some of your own boats plus points & we realised that even the big boats with open cheques book policies were having system failures. The trip across the South Pacific has been hard on all the fleet. Couple that with a serious lack of equipment, tools & specialist contractors on the majority of island chains most boats are limping along to their final destination for 2007.

The trip to NZ isn’t easy. Everyone heading down there expects some of the big stuff so boats are prepared beforehand, sails are changed, reefed down & everything is doubly secured to the deck. Majority of yachts pay for a weather router who advises them of the best route depending on the boats specifications, namely speed & what date you leave. It’s expected to be that bad!
I was apprehensive of the passage but looking back it was nowhere near as bad as I had anticipated. Don’t get me wrong we did have some of the “big stuff” but on a bigger boat, with more crew, more sleep & having already had the nightmare sail to Palmerston under my belt, this one was enjoyable.

Life onboard Golden Opus was certainly golden! Bobby & I had our own cabin with a double bed. Not so great in rough weather when the boat is leaning at a 30degree angle. It may well have been a nice big bed but until we found the lee cloth (see photo gallery) we were squashed into each other on one side of the bed or attempting to cling onto the mattress with our fingers & toes to stay put! Very humorous! We also had our own bathroom (head to you sailors) with shower or at least we did until the bathroom in the bow became unusable, not mentioning names any names….John & Cookie!! ; ) The first 2 or 3 days were fantastic. Good winds, the seas were calm & the weather fantastic, the galley was well stocked & the crew, consisting of 3 kiwis, 2 ozzies, 1 yank & 1 brit, were in good spirits. Off shifts were spent lazing on the stern deck reading & relaxing under the warm sunny rays.

It wasn’t to last, the weather changed, the sun disappeared & the seas picked up with big swells & 6-8 foot waves. The head & main sails were reefed & we all begun putting on layers, including thermals, gloves & foul weather gear. I wore everything I had packed, plus anything I could get my hands on & I was still cold, my British blood must have thinned in the humid weather over the last 11 months! In large seas & heeled to starboard it begun to get harder moving around the boat, that’s when I appreciated Barraveigh’s small spaces. A small boat does have some advantages. It’s never far to slip or slide onboard Barraveigh! Should you ever be sat on a toilet onboard a boat healing over with the nearest wall well out of arms reach you’ll understand – just take it from me its not easy to stay put! ; ) Golden Opus isn’t just a much bigger boat than Barraveigh she is also heavier which makes for a nicer ride in the bad stuff. She ploughs through the seas at a steady 7-10 knots, which is a totally different experience to Barraveigh. The high centre cockpit rarely gets soaked by waves breaking over the bow or sides & was the venue for many intense conversations on religion, politics & many other controversial topics! Bobby, John & Cookie were certainly putting the world to rights!

With poor batteries & no generator, power was in short supply, the autopilot was out & hand steering was in. Having managed to get across most the Pacific without hand steering (we love our auto pilot) it was yet another learning curve (that’s for you Dad!). No problem on the calm sunny days but when it got rough in the night I had my only wobbly moment & became too nervous & scared. Overcame it in daylight after some calming lessons from Mike, the captain. I actually begun to enjoy steering the boat through the big waves, it’s a bit like a fairground ride but you’re holding the controls.

The batteries & generator weren’t the only items on the broken list. The gas alarm, which detects a gas (propane) leak, began sounding & wouldn’t go off. I don’t need to tell anyone how bad a situation that is. Luckily for us it was a problem with the alarm & not the gas connections but it did result in the cooker being out of order for some time whilst “the leak” was investigated, also not a good situation when its cold & everyone wants hot drinks & food! The hatch in one of the forward cabins begun letting in water, so bad that it you could have stood under it & taken a shower! Poor John went to his bunk in all his foul weather gear! & finally coming into Auckland harbour the water pump decided to break. An hour from land with 7 smelly members of crew wanting fresh water showers I think Golden Opus decided she had had enough & was well over due her refit.

The highlight of the passage was our final shift. Bobby & I were approaching Auckland. It was still dark & suddenly dolphins, lit up in the sea by the phosphorus, surrounded us. It was amazing to watch them playing in the bow trying to keep up with the boat. The phosphorus was so strong I could see school’s of fish lit up in front of us as they became startled by the boat. The dolphins chased the fish & had a spot of breakfast. It was, as always magical; I never get bored of watching such beautiful animals & to see them playing in the wild just meters from you is spectacular.So many memories from this trip & some very good friends. A huge thank you to the rest of the crew for your fab friendship & fun times. A big congratulation to Mike who completed his circumnavigation at the age of 29, an incredible achievement, which he celebrated in style with a lampshade on his head & a frozen flying fish! ; )

Monday, 26 November 2007

NZ here I come

After a busy busy three days, which included a 24 hour sail to Lautoka & two full non stop days cyclone proofing Barraveigh we have finally left Fijian waters!
It really has been a task getting everything done in 2 days. Both the sails had to come down & be packed away, kayaks, fuel jugs, ropes, cockpit cushions & the rest of the equipment on deck had to be taken off & put in storage. The fridge was emptied & cleaned, all dried food was checked, resealed & restored. Bilge floats were checked, some were replaced, all the thru holes were shut off, fresh water run through the outboard, all the water tanks were topped up & most importantly the gas (propane to you guys on the other side of the pond) was disconnected. Somewhere in the mist of all this I did the mundane laundry & attempted to pack my many souvenirs from the South Pacific into my rucksack! Being tied up in a marina is fab but it does have its disadvantages, one being wildlife! Ants climb onto the boat along the ropes, rats can swim into the exhaust holes, birds make nests inside the boom (we learnt our lesson from Panama!) & we won’t even mention the dreaded c word (cockroaches!). Barraveigh has been left with Vaseline on her ropes (stops the ants), the exhaust holes have been blocked with rags & the end of the boom has been taped up.
We left Barraveigh at 4pm, joined Golden Opus & set sail at 6pm. Exhausted we opted for the final shift & were immediately taken to our beds for some well earned sleep. With six crew & one captain this is going to be a luxury shift pattern compared to passages at sea on Barraveigh, 3 hours on watch with 6 hours off to sleep & relax. We are pretty excited about the leg to New Zealand & both keen to experience being onboard a different sail boat.
That’s all for now as I’m off to catch some zzz’s, so its goodnight & sweet dreams from me.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

all change!

Plans on Barraveigh never stay the same for long! The new plan is to sail to New Zealand as crew onboard a 72 foot yacht called Golden Opus, Ron Holland designed for those of you with boat knowledge! The captain is about to complete his circumnavigation having left New Zealand 8 years ago. We are joining him for the final leg. The boat is gorgeous with all the mod cons & more. Going back to basics after living the high life will be interesting!
We just have to get Barraveigh out of Suva & up to the marina. Easier said than done, a bad weather warning has just been issued for all of Fiji’s waters so we will have to stay in Suva a little longer than we had hoped.
Suva has been fun. We have been doing the tourist thing, changing of the guard ceremony at the Parliament building, checking out the keel of the Bounty (Captain Bligh) at the museum & the huge display of cannibal clubs & human flesh eating forks!
It goes without saying that I have once again been the diligent girlfriend making the never ending visits to every hardware store & marine shop in the city to stock up on supplies but I am reaching my fill, there is only so much a girl can take! ; )
Dan, a fan of Bobby’s articles on http://www.escapeartist.com/, invited us to spend the day at his recently opened zip line canopy tour on the outskirts of Suva. Its great to meet the people who are reading our adventures. Dan has been a huge help, showing us around the city & even taking time out of his own schedule to help Bobby purchase all the items on the “must buy” list. Zip lining was fantastic, I quickly got over my apprehension & initial issues with braking & spinning uncontrollably! It was a thoroughly enjoyable tour of the forest at tree top level. We had a blast, a huge thank you to Dan & his family for their hospitality.

Monday, 12 November 2007

30th October - the day we nearly lost Barraveigh

It didn’t begin well. I was awoken with news that s/v Aquantique had hit a reef in New Caledonia & our friend Bill was awaiting an air evacuation. After 11 years at sea, Bill, an experienced & skilled sailor, was about to complete his circumnavigation. We were stunned & heartbroken for him. It’s left us shaken, disaster can happen to any of us at any time.
From that moment the day steadily got worse. At anchor in the harbour of Suva (capital of Fiji) surrounded by large fishing boats & container ships a squall quickly kicked up. Building to 35 knots (substained) in a matter of moments, large waves began forming, so big they were breaking high over the bow. These are conditions you expect out at sea not in a harbour protected by an outer reef. Anticipating problems Bobby started the engine & moments later the anchor failed to hold & Barraveigh began to drag backwards. Bobby motored forward attempting to hold us in position, battling with the waves that would throw Barraveigh’s bow sky high, anchor chain straining at the cleats. I headed to the bow. Bobby needed to know where the anchor chain was so he didn’t motor too far forward. The waves were crashing so hard it was unsafe to remain up there. The squall continued for the next hour, Bobby successfully keeping us away from the reef & nearby boats but the situation was about to get worse.
Due to a fuel leak we had closed the fuel lines to the engine whilst we were at anchor. Unfortunately in the urgency of the situation neither of us remembered. The engine was being starved of fuel & taking in air. It came to a stop & we quickly set to work on bleeding the engine. It was a horrific situation, watching the distance between us & the tanker close in knowing there is nothing we could do to avoid hitting it. Despite bleeding the engine numerous times it still refused to start.
Someone must have been on our side though as the winds began to ease & Barraveigh ceased moving. It wasn’t over though. With no engine & an insecure anchor we would still be in danger if the winds picked up again. Our only hope was to find a mechanic to look at the engine but in order to find one it would mean going ashore, leaving Barraveigh to fend for herself & praying the winds would remain calm. Our friend Dan saved the day, he drove around Suva looking for a mechanic who would be willing to come out to the boat at such short notice. He returned to the Yacht Club with Tasi , a huge Fijian guy who towered above Bobby. They set to work on the engine & just when it seemed to be going well until Tasi dropped a screw into the bilge, which by now had fuel & water slopping about in the bottom. As always it was an important screw & not a normal size, we pumped out all the dirty gunk, put it through a sieved & still couldn’t find the screw…arrgghh
They headed back to the workshop (still with all our fingers & toes crossed that the winds wouldn’t pick up) & finally returned with another screw. It was nearly 5pm by the time the engine was working & we were safely reanchored. Bobby & I were mentally & physically exhausted. Neither of us had had to say a word, we knew we had escaped disaster by minutes, if the engine had failed earlier there would have been nothing we could have done to stop ourselves ending up on the reef or smashing into the other boats nearby. We had made a big error by not opening the fuel line but Barraveigh survived & we have learnt our lesson the hard way.
Never before has a gin & tonic & a good curry tasted as good as it did that evening!

Bula from Fiji

We made landfall in Savusavu. Again we inadvertently timed our arrival on a Sunday. Under normal circumstances this means you can’t leave your boat until Monday when immigration & customs check you in. Can you imagine being at sea on a 41 foot boat, only to arrive at land & not able to escape – talk about cabin fever! Luckily our good friends on s/v Barefeet were still in Fiji. They greeted us in their dinghy, had already arranged a mooring ball & smoothed the way with the officials, who had given the ok to spend the evening onboard Barefeet for a cold beer, a takeaway curry & a shower – Barefeet we bow to your forward planning!
Engine problems are now added to our list of things that need to be repaired. It is a growing list! The engine began leaking diesel from the throttle into the bilge on our way here. We will still be able to make the 200 odd miles to Vuda Point Marina where it can be fixed. Unfortunately exploring the neighbouring island of Taveuni is now out of the question, it will have to wait until next year. With both engine & generator problems (it’s not working again!) charging the batteries is an issue especially when it rains all day & there is no sun for the solar panels. It’s a toss up between using power for the fridge (which is now working thanks to a spare part from Barefeet) or watching a DVD! We have found the solution, filling the fridge with ice means we can turn it off & have both cold drinks & plenty of power.
The Fijian people are as friendly as I remember from my first visit in 2003. They greet you with a huge smile & “Bula” – hello in Fijian. The population is a mixture of Fijians & Indians, meaning there is no shortage of curry dishes to choose from! From our experiences the two cultures mix well together within the country. Elected governments are overthrown nearly every year although each coup seems to be bloodless & not particularly violent.
Fiji is made up of 300 islands, Savusavu is situated on the south eastern side of the second largest island, Vanua Levu. It’s a small town with few tourists, most shops contain two businesses which appear to be totally unrelated to each other, the stationary shop also sells meat & the barber is also the upholster who also sells fish! We have had fun learning the Fijian way ie moving at a slow relaxed pace. I’m getting better at it but don’t expect a changed person when I get home! I took a 6 hour round trip bus ride to Labasa. Sitting on the bus with all the school children neatly dressed in their school uniforms, locals selling their wares through the open bus windows; drinks, pineapples, snacks & even curries wrapped up in a roti just like a sandwich! It was fun if not a little bottom numbing & the route was certainly scenic. The buses don’t have any glass in the windows, if it rains the passengers assist in pulling the plastic sheeting down over the open air windows. Its fun, cheap & all part of the valuable experience when arriving in a new country.
We are keen to start the trip to Vuda Point Marina near Lautoka but are awaiting an area of low pressure (rain & more rain!) to move away. Stuck in Savusavu with s/v Barefeet we are doing what we do best, drinking, playing cards & name the tune competitions…. Being a Brit amongst American ipods I definitely have the disadvantage. The rain does mean that our water tanks are filling up & we now only drink Fijian rain water – talk about superstar tendencies!

Friday, 19 October 2007

The final passage of 2007 - Tonga to Fiji

It was a strange feeling setting off after a month of pleasant day sails. I was apprehensive of the trip to Fiji after reports of bad sea conditions from friends who had gone before us. Bobby & I were keen to ensure the final journey of 2007 left us with good memories & that love for the ocean would return after our recent bumpy passages. We were in no rush to set off & willing to wait for a good weather window, despite my itchy feet to get moving. Tonga does that to you. It’s the place where after 9 months of sailing similar paths in the South Pacific to our fellow cruisers we all begin to separate, heading off in different directions & at different timelines. The sound of air horns & ship bells being rung in mooring field was constant as boats bade farewell to friends setting off on their passages to NZ & OZ.

We said our goodbyes on the 11th Oct & headed out of Vava’u’s comfortable calm waters & into the ocean. Thankfully it has been a wonderful 4 days at sea. The weather has been warm & sunny, with no need for the thermals & foul weather gear that I had laid out ready for use in the v berth! Light winds have resulted in more engine use than usual but it has also meant a flat calm ocean – I had almost forgotten what it looked like! The sound of the engine makes Bobby anxious so he attempts to sail even in the lightest winds but the sound of the sails slapping as the wind drops makes me anxious. Needless to say the sails get reefed in on my watches to minimise the slapping & as Bobby takes over for his watch they get let out again!!

I spend my night watches staring up at the stars & Milky Way, watching brightly burning planets appearing on the horizon (we have both mistaken them for other boats!) & then rising high into the night sky, the reflection of the moon on the lake like sea & luminescent particles glowing as Barraveigh gently ploughs through the ocean. My final night watch finishes as the sun begins to rise, a new day silently beginning as the darkness gives way to the warm rays. I attempt to absorb every detail to memory, never wanting to forget how peaceful & beautiful it can be out here at sea. I wish I was able to identify more star formations & planets but I keep myself entertained inventing my own - there is the handbag, the starfish, the martini glass, the 3 sisters, the shopping trolley & the kite which I believe is the Southern Cross! ; )

We have ended our failure to catch any fish in the South Pacific, thanks to the lucky lure purchased in Tahiti. The lure, which had been lost months ago, only to find Bobby had put it in one of his “safe”, never to be found again, places! It hooked us a 4 foot Mahimahi, a beautiful aqua marine blue, so beautiful I had trouble putting the gaff (a sharp metal hook) into her gills to pull her onboard for Bobby to kill & filet. It’s just been too long since we caught a fish & I’ve become a softie, which didn’t go down well with the Captain, who pulled her in on his own! Once onboard she quickly lost her blue colouring & turned various shades of green (I hope she wasn’t seasick!). I hate to admit it but dinner was gorgeous!!

It has been a fun passage & one that will be hard to beat, we have eaten well (mainly due to the fish & the fact the fridge has stopped working so we are attempting to eat everything rather than throw it over board!), played games (Bobby refuses to play cards as I continually beat him, Yahtzee is still allowed as he remains the champion!!), spent each afternoon watching the sunset from Barraveigh’s bow & don’t tell anyone but we treated ourselves to a cold beer/G&T each eve when the fridge worked!, watched movies in the cockpit under the stars (thanks to Gil & Fiona for the new DVD’s) & laughed as we throw buckets of cold sea water over each other to bathe & cool down.

I’m delighted that the final leg of 2007 has been an enjoyable, relaxing time. 5 hours of it remain so I’m off to make the most of them!

From one kingdom to another - the UK to the Kingdom of Tonga!

After another bumpy 2 day passage (I dream of flat seas!) we arrived at the Vava’u Group, northern island chain. The scenery was stunning, 100’s of high cliff islands rising out of the sea & humpback whales teaching their young the lessons of life in the sheltered waters. Best of all it was a Sunday, nothing open in town so no rush to check in with immigration & customs. We headed to a quiet anchorage to join our friends Barefeet & Serai (we hadn’t seen Barefeet since leaving Bora Bora!). Crystal clear aqua marine waters, powder sand beaches & afternoon cocktails after a game of frizbee. It’s a tough life but someone’s got to do it! ; ) No peaceful nights sleep for me as the whales kept me awake with their singing, boy is it loud when it bounces off the hull!

Monday morning we headed to the huge dock in Neiafu to check in. It’s not easy to manoeuvre yourself into a 50 foot space in between the other yachts, reminds me of driving lessons learning to parallel park! Throwing lines to the guys on the dock who were at least 2 meters above us was also a challenge; luckily I didn’t embarrass myself with any girly throws! I shouted commands regarding what we wanted done with the line & refused to let them bully me into doing it their way, having already been given my instructions by Captain Bobby – he’s scarier than they are! I’m slowly getting to grips with this sailing lark!

This is a modest country where my bikini wouldn’t have made a good first impression so after a few wardrobe changes & finally given the thumbs up by Bobby, we were ready to welcome the officials onboard. Making the right impression is important, make the wrong impression & they hold the power to make life difficult, pulling your boat apart to search every tiny space, charging for excess alcohol, insisting you throw certain food products away & of course inventing fines & charges for the sake of getting extra money. We have a routine. Bobby puts on a shirt, I put on a skirt & let my hair down (blonde hair is rare in these parts!), I smile offering cold drinks & freshly baked muffins while Bobby does the talking, finding a common interest. It’s worked so far & we have certainly encountered fewer problems than other yachties. Despite all this the process seemed to take all day but we finally escaped & made it to the mooring field with Barraveigh in one piece! The Tongan’s never have a sense of urgency, everything is completed at a VERY sedate pace, rush them & they go even slower, not really what you want when your boat is tied against a huge concrete dock!!

We spent a month in Vava’u sailing around the many islands & heading back to town every 5 days or so when we needed fresh supplies or to socialise at the bars! Finding food supplies was a challenge unless you wanted tins of corned beef, which filled at least half the supermarkets shelves! Being closer to OZ & NZ we expected availability to be better than the out of reach islands but it was not to be. At one point there were no eggs anywhere in town for over a week! It’s part of the challenge of travelling & luckily we still have many supplies from Panama!

Our days were filled with snorkelling the various reefs & multi coloured corals, looking out for new fish or sea creatures, my fav are the starfish; the bright blue’s, the puffed up cushion’s & the fat pink ones! I practised holding my breath & diving deeper to the ocean floor in order to collect sand dollars. I’m certainly more confident in the water but unfortunately not secure enough to make it into Mariners Cave. It’s a huge cave where access is 6 feet underwater. You hold your breath as you swim through an enclosed tunnel before surfacing inside the cavern. I attempted it but I could not get my mind to cooperate. I got as far as putting my head into the tunnel but freaked out hitting the rocks with my flipper & dislodging it off my foot. Panicked I reached out grabbing anything in front of me, which happened to be Bobby’s snorkel, yanking it out of his mouth, not the best idea! We were both ok but Mariners Cave got the better of me!

We explored caves & deserted beaches in the kayaks, spent rainy days watching DVD’s (there were many of them & I soon discovered bad weather makes Bobby unbearable as he paces up & down inside the boat!), watched the England v Tonga World Cup Rugby match, supported the Miss Cosmo show, a 2 day event for the local transsexuals to show off their singing, dancing & performing talents. All ages of the community attended, supporting their favourites. Culturally it’s widely accepted in many of the South Pacific islands. If a couple have no daughters, they bring up one of the sons as a girl in order to assist with the household chores, Nan you should have considered this after having 6 sons!

We attended church where the singing was beautiful & loud enough to lift the roof off, plus we got to look at the locals in their traditional clothing, a material wrap around skirt, for both men & women, over which they wear a tapa mat of varying lengths. It was best described to me, that they appeared to have rolled on the floor & wrapped themselves up in the floor matting! On Sundays everything is closed, the high street was a ghost town, everyone is at home. Having had one two many rainy days & watched too many DVD’s we needed something to entertain us on a damp, grey Sunday! We headed out for an afternoon of “skurffing”. All you need is a powerful dinghy (not ours, which still leaks both air & water!), a surf board, a tow rope & voila you have a combination of water skiing & surfing! Great fun was had by all; I even managed to stand up the first time!

I nearly forgot to mention our minor issue of running aground, a sailors worst nightmare, well that & the 100’s of others! Yes I did happen to be at the wheel. All was well, we were in 60-70 feet of water & making our way out of an anchorage, suddenly the depth monitor began dropping & we parked on top of a coral head, not an ideal spot I know. Bobby jumped in the water to take a look around, he confirmed I had found the only coral head in the middle of the pass, lucky me! It was all very tense. With Bobby directing I slowly reversed Barraveigh off the coral (one other minor problem…I’m still not great at turning the boat in reverse especially when the pressure is on!) We thanked our lucky stars that we had been motoring slowly & there was no damage to Barraveigh’s keel or hull. It sure was a scary moment & has left me very nervous about coral as it’s everywhere & apparently Fiji is meant to be worse!

We have had to say goodbye to many good friends, especially Barefeet, Serai, Antares (who have the cutest baby in the fleet), Bluemoon, Scholarship & Afriki, all of whom are heading for either OZ or NZ to wait out hurricane season. Bobby is still happy with his decision to wait it out in Fiji; we have certainly enjoyed the more relaxed pace of life. Most cruisers are admitting to being tired & looking forward to staying put for a little while. It’s been a long distance to cover with so much to see & constantly working out how many days you can spare in one place before you have to move on. Most people have one long passage still ahead of them but for us there is only the 465 miles to Fiji left!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

a huge thank you

I'm presently surrounded by birthday cards & presents. I have the biggest smile on my face. I'm amazed at how many people took the time to send cards all the way to Tonga & am really touched by all your kind thoughts.

It may be three weeks since my birthday but like the queen I have been able to celebrate again. With one post boat a week the post is VERY slow!

I'm looking forward to watching all the new DVD's, eating my chocolate buttons & flumps & putting all the cards up around the boat!

A huge thank you to all. I'm a very lucky girl to have such special friends & family.
Love to you all
Suzi x

P.S. Jess, your butterfly flew out of the card, across the bar & scared us all!! ; )

Saturday, 29 September 2007


It has been a year since Sally, my beautiful sister died. A year that still feels like yesterday, where every detail is remembered & remains so very painful & sad. We were a typical family; normal ups & downs, happy times & disagreements!! The three Roberts sisters who would stick together at school but argue like crazy at home!! Now it is different. Sally’s death has left a huge gap for each of us.

It was a hard decision to leave my family in January & it’s continued to be hard. So many times I have wanted to fly home for a hug or to give support to Mum, Dad & Gil. Inquest hearings in Kenya always seem to occur during passages at sea so awaiting news has been difficult. It’s been a really tough time as those of you close to the family are well aware. At times I know I’ve had it slightly easier, having escaped many of the painful processes at home but its also been so very, very hard not having my family close by & not always having the ability to call home when I have felt so incredibly homesick & sad.

I cannot thank my parents & Gil enough for the unfaltering & continuing support. They have encouraged me through both the happy & difficult times, didn’t mind if I called during the middle of the night & I suspect, have played down the tough circumstances at home. There have been moments when I wonder why I’m putting them through the extra worry & heartache. I know they are proud of me & trust Bobby to keep me safe. Bobby has kept his promise to them & kept me out of harm's way. He too has been incredible, providing me with the strongest of hugs during the low times & quietly understanding when I can’t sleep though the sad memories. I wouldn’t have made it this far from home without any of them.

It’s been a hard year for so many reasons but most of all I just miss my sister & wish so many things could have been different. I remember you Sally Clare Roberts with both smiles & tears. You would be happy to see my hair long - it always maddened you when I cut it! & I smile to myself knowing you would be mortified that the only make up I now own is mascara & even worse, it’s only been worn a handful of times! Your love for children always shone through. You had such big plans to return & assist the Kenyan school you visited shortly before you died. You would be so very proud of what is being achieved at the school in your memory & how they have benefited from so many peoples generosity. You would have teased Dad, researching the water project without the use of his “Which!” guides, but you would be so proud of him for ensuring the most reliable drinking water system is put in place for the children.

It sure is tough without you here & although a year has past, it hasn’t made it any easier. x

Friday, 28 September 2007


We have been thoroughly enjoying our time in the Kingdom of Tonga. As always time is our enemy & therefore decided to concentrate on exploring only the Vava’u Group of islands in northern Tonga. We are surrounded by islands, all within a days sail. Oh yes day sailing has made a come back & I’m loving it! Long passages at sea have been replaced by half a days sailing accompanied by a gin & tonic! It’s not just me that likes this area, our friendly humpback whales swim & play in these waters with their calves - although nothing will beat our experience back in Palmerston.

With the rush to make it to Australia before cyclone season still very much in the forefront of our minds we were unable to totally relax until Bobby made the decision to weather out the winds in Fiji. It’s not as bad as it sounds, yes Fiji is still very much in the cyclone area but he has booked Barraveigh into a marina which has taken measures to protect the boats should a hurricane come their way. The best bit of this decision (in my opinion!) is we only have one four day passage left to complete until our final destination for this season!! The down side is saying goodbye to all our friends with whom we have spent the last 6 months exploring island chains in the South Pacific. Most boats are heading to New Zealand & Australia for cyclone season.

With the brakes firmly & time now our friend we have unwound & taking our time to get to know Tonga’s beautiful islands.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007


Thank you all for your amazing emails after the “4 days of hell & 24 hours of even worse”. I especially loved the ones from family members telling me to fly home now! ; ) To put you all at ease a little, many fellow cruisers who are about to complete their circumnavigation have all said the trip from Bora Bora has been the worst they have experienced, it can only get better from here!

Your support & concerns mean a great deal. It is a real pick me up to log on & have such lovely messages, especially recently when the passages have been tough or if I’m feeling a little home sick. Sincere apologises if I haven’t replied or send a group email but it’s hard to keep on top of the emails - internet connections are pretty limited in the South Pacific & horrendously slow!

Hope to see as many of you as possible when I return home for a visit in December. Yep I’m coming home for a hot bath & to curl up on the sofa...& of course a few cocktails! ; )
We have arrived in Tonga after a 2 day passage during which we crossed the international dateline. Saturday 8th September 2007 never existed for us…..I’m lucky it wasn’t the 21st September (my birthday in case anyone had forgotten!).

Niue "the rock"

Our 2 day sail to Niue wasn’t as bad as the previous trip but hey nothing can be that bad! The seas were still pretty big & it was an uncomfortable trip. Heartbreaking to arrive at night & have to sail in circles awaiting sunrise to head into the anchorage!

Niue was discovered by Captain Cook in 1774. It is a coral island with limestone rising steeply out of the sea at over 30 meters. It is a diver’s playground with numerous caverns, caves, arches, chimneys. Teamed with the crystal clear waters & amazing visibility to 70 meters other divers couldn’t get enough. Unfortunately the injury prone Bobby managed to get a badly infected insect bite that just grew & grew. He was treated by a doctor & fellow yachtie but it got so bad Bobby eventually headed to the islands hospital. They cut it open so it was now a huge crater, prescribed huge antibiotics & told him to remain out of the water. Not an easy request to follow when you live on a boat! & diving was a definite no, no!

Luckily there was plenty to explore around the island. Bobby patiently sat watching whilst I snorkelled in the various breathtaking spots around the island. Despite having no yachts Niue had a small Yacht Club, everyone’s social meeting place with the huge plus that served the best ice cream I have had since my last pot of Ben & Jerrys in England! As always the people here were friendly & inviting, they couldn’t do enough to help. With no buses on the island hitchhiking was the only option. The local people would go out of their way to take us to where we needed to go even if wasn’t where they were heading.

We waited out a bad weather front with help from another boats DVD collection & continued to tune into the South Pacific Net on the SSB (boats under sail check in twice a day giving their location & weather conditions on the radio). s/v Journey lost her head stay in the terrible conditions & was getting hit by huge waves. They were concerned her mast would come down & would therefore not be able to use the radio to call for assistance. Bobby & I woke through the night checking in with them on the hour, recording their position in case the worst should happen, updating them on weather & the layout of the anchorage. We knew what it was like to be out there & wanted to do all we could to help. Cruisers never fail to rise to the challenge to help each other even if they have never met & I still get a lump in my throat each time.

a "whale" of a time

Our friendly whale that welcomed us to Palmerston remained in the anchorage. She spent the following night next to our boat. Whales sleep on the surface which is why it is so easy to run into them when you are at sea. She slept soundly whilst less than a meter from Barraveigh, who from underneath looks very much like a whale herself! We sat on deck in the early hours of the morning watching her & hoping that she would move away. She slowly floated to the bow at which point we got nervous. She could easily break the chain or pull our anchor (which was wedged on a coral shelf) causing us to drift. At this point Bobby begun speaking “whale” to her, think Doris from Nemo – it was hard to keep a straight face!! As she completed her circle around the boat she lightly bumped us, causing her to startle & dive…only minor issue, it was right next to the rudder, one touch by a huge humpback whale could be disaster. We held our breath until she reappeared & swam away.

But wait it gets better! She continued to hang around the anchorage remaining on the surface the majority of the time. We soon found out why as we quietly dropped into the water next to her. Our friendly whale was pregnant & it seemed she was in labour. She was curious & swam closer, checking us out. We stood our ground, remaining totally still, concerned that if we moved she would see us as a threat. We were within touching distance. It is the most incredible experience, a once in a lifetime. So breathtaking it is hard to put into words, all I can say is check out the photos.

“Our whale” gave birth to her calf in the anchorage during the night. She took a victory lap around boats to show us yachties her baby. We all stood on deck clapping & cheering.

Palmerston Atoll

We were awoken from our deep sleep by an unrecognisable noise. Looking out of the bedroom port hole a humpback whale (3 meters from the boat) was giving us a personal welcome to Palmerston! This place was going to be magical.Unable to leave the boat until we were checked by customs & immigration we set to work on making repairs & putting the boat back into order.

Palmerston has a unique history. William Masters (an English guy) settled on the deserted island with 3 wives from the local islands with whom he had 26 children. The island is divided into 3 sections for the 3 families, they even have 3 separate graveyards!

In 2007 the island remains occupied by only the Masters Family. 68 family members live on the island & many more are living on nearby islands & in New Zealand. There are strict rules regarding intermarriage but there were more stutters & squint eyes than is average amongst 68 people.

It really is an amazing place & takes a while to get your head around the fact that everyone is related, sometimes even twice. Can any of you imagine living on an island with only your extended families?? An island for the Roberts Family…..members of the extended Roberts family I will leave it up to you to decide if it would be a good thing or not!! ; )

The different families compete to “host” you. We will admit to being sceptical, wondering what they wanted in return. The truth is they just want your friendship & company. They never asked for any money or goods but on hearing that their supply boat had been delayed (it arrives once every 3 months & it is presently it is 3 months overdue – no supplies for the last 6 months!) I emptied our cupboards of what we could spare & Bobby handed over fuel. Other “yachties” (this is what they call us!) were able to assist with repairs to generators, electrics etc. Daniela (s/v Iataia), an architect, spent an entire day drawing up the plans for a house whilst her husband calculated the materials required.

The families ferried us to & from the island where they fed us, sharing the supplies of food we had given them, gave us tours of the island, played volleyball & took us fishing. The head of our host family, Edward, was the islands policeman & yes he has had to arrest family members! They were generous in everyway possible way & we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Masters family.

Friday, 31 August 2007

4 days of hell & 24 hours of even worse!

It feels like an out of control train careering down the tracks or a scary theme park ride that doesn’t end. It has pushed me further than any previous passage, in fact anything in my entire life. I hit bottom, total exhaustion after a never ending battle with the elements left me unable to think rationally & leaving me petrified for our safety.
This has been the roughest passage to date for both of us, one neither of us wish to repeat. We fought confused seas, east south east (ESE) winds of 40 knots; 2 swells, one wind generated from the east & the other a southern ground swell; 5 meter breaking waves that crashed down upon us engulfing the boat. It was harsh conditions that ripped our mainsail & cut through our furler line, very bad news in such bad weathers as we were unable to properly reef or put away the sail. Wearing all our foul weather gear; thermals, waterproofs, boots & most importantly our PFD’s (life vests & harness); we attempted to complete our watches whilst clipped in to stop the breaking waves from taking us overboard. The waves hurtled themselves at the boat, filling the cockpit with salt water, ripping items from the deck & throwing the boat from port to starboard & back again. To top it all off there was no moon during the passage leaving it the blackest of nights & visibility a big zero. Unable to see which direction waves are coming from & when the next big one is going to cover you in freezing salt water is highly disconcerting.
The jugs of diesel strapped along both sides of the boat were broken free with the power of the waves. Bobby climbed forward & we attempted to rescue as many jugs as possible. Not an easy job as mountainous wave’s crash over the boat.
As conditions worsened Bobby deemed it too dangerous to be outside. We were drained, fatigued & I will happily admit I was frightened. We put our faith in the autopilot, shut the companionway & attempted to rest. No chance of being able to sleep, eating was a definite no go & drinking was also a mission with most of it being spilt down my front. As I lay on the bed scared & crying I attempted to recall essential items to take for the life raft just in case.
It wasn’t to be the end of the testing times. With battery power low we needed to run the generator. She wasn’t impressed with our conditions & did not want to run. With power crucially required for the auto pilot, mast lights & GPS, I sat on the floor sliding from side to side, squeezing the fuel ball encouraging it to run. I sat there for an hour with frightened tears running down my cheeks whilst Bobby hopelessly tried to get some rest. It was team work & I knew the importance of letting him rest in order for him to think clearly.
We decided to make an unscheduled stop on a tiny island called Palmerston to escape the weather & rest. As daylight arrived, Bobby returned to the cockpit. Conditions were still terrible but at least we could see what we were battling against. It was another 10 hours of combating the elements until we approached Palmerston.
Unable to furl the headsail was going to cause problems as we came into the anchorage. We radioed ahead & spoke to boats at the anchorage. As we approached, a local boat brought 2 sailors out to Barraveigh. They climbed onboard & immediately set to work on the headsail. It was a relief to have someone else take over. They brought us in safely & got the anchor set securely. Left alone we sat on deck still wearing all our gear, hugging each other with happiness. We were safe & stationary – I can’t even attempt to tell you how that felt. Cheese & crackers washed down with a glass of wine to celebrate our safe arrival was followed by a deep well needed sleep.
Casualties: ripped main sail, broken furler line, ripped biminy (canvas roof over the cockpit), 2 diesel jugs now lying on the bottom of the ocean (we were lucky we didn’t loose them all). The list could have been a lot worse & we are lucky the problems are all fixable.
We made it!!! Barraveigh is a tough old girl who we have up most faith in.

final goodbye to france!

We said our goodbyes to the French Polynesian Islands & left for an 8 day plus passage to Tonga. But not before a few laughable incidents!

Still pottering about in the dinghy (if it was a car I’d have my L plates attached!) Thought no harm could come to me in the short trip across to the dock for a bag of ice -how wrong could I be! Halfway there the outboard begun coughing & spluttering. Having a good idea I was out of petrol I did the sensible thing - crossed my fingers & hoped I’d make it to the dock where someone could give me a tow back. It wasn’t the case & I was left with no power, no oars (had neglected to put them in!) & 15 knot winds, pushing me towards the coral. Typically no one was on the deck of their boat or could hear me shouting. 2 meters away from the coral I knew there was only one way out! I jumped into the water fully clothed & swam back to the boat towing the dinghy! I may have failed in my mission to get the ice but received brownie points from Bobby for not letting the dinghy & outboard get broken up on the coral!

Another good evening drinking at Bloody Mary’s was followed by more entertainment. Returning to our dinghies & unfortunately Chris (s/v Barefeet) stepped directly off the dock into the water completely missing the dinghy! He got off lightly with a small cut on his foot & gave us a few laughs!

Our SSB radio has been a problem since we set off in Panama. Boats had problems hearing us during the big crossing & Bobby was determined to get it fixed for the next leg, which meant ripping up everything in the bedroom to check wiring & replace copper bonding. On the edge of spending 2 more days changing wiring running throughout the boat in the deepest & inaccessible areas, Mike (s/v Wombat of Sydney) suggested the problem could be as easy as whistling into the mike prior to transmitting. Bobby was highly sceptical that the solution would be so easy & ridiculous.. Guess what…. it works!! Don’t ask me how, all I know it its something to do with tuning the radio with whistles!

Believe it or not I still have a milk tooth! It didn’t appreciate being chomped down on a muesli (granola) bar & required a visit to the dentist. Mark from Scholarship set up his dentist’s surgery onboard. Looking very professional in his white coat, I was provided with a huge pair of sunglasses whilst a table lamp was shone into my mouth. I had the full works & no longer have any problems. A big thank you Mark!

Filling with tanks with water at the dock was not as easy as it looked. Coral heads beneath threatened to take chunks out of the boat. After measuring the depth of the highest coral heads it was deemed possible for Barraveigh to tie up on the dock. We remained in place for Wombat of Sydney & Scholarship (larger boats with larger keels) to tie up alongside us where the water was deeper & filled their tanks. We had never noticed the slight tide change but when you are sitting above coral heads with only inches of clearance the smallest of tides makes a huge difference! Bobby dove under the boat to check it out & found he could touch the bottom of the keel with his little finger & the top of the coral head with his thumb! Luckily we got out of there with no disasters, said goodbye to both Bora Bora & the French Polynesian Islands.

Depending on the winds we will either head directly to Tonga or make a stop on route. Keep your fingers crossed that we will have nice weather.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Society Islands

My apologies for the lack of recent updates & therefore extra long news report! We have had a blast here. The best bit – enjoying paradise at a fraction of the price, the honeymoon couples are paying! A waterfront bungalow with a huge bed, crisp white bed linen, fresh water showers, air conditions & tv is appealing but at £400 per night I can do without!
Since leaving Tahiti we visited Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, & of course world famous Bora Bora. They are green, mountainous islands like the Marquesas but with reef encircling them, similar to the Tuamoto’s. We sail through the breaks in the reef (passes), dropping the anchor between the reef & land. Apart from the great food in the supermarkets the other thing the French do well is marking the channels with red & green posts to aid navigation. In one confused moment we motored in circles whilst trying to work out if the marker should be on our starboard or port side. Hugely important, get it wrong & the boat will hit reef…lets just put our indecision down to having too much sun!!
Moorea took our breath away for both good & bad reasons. Gillaume & Julian joined us from Tahiti for the weekend. It was great to share life on board Barraveigh & they were great guests. They arrived on 2 scooters with 2 surfboards, bottles of wine, a case of beer, my fab straw hat & snorkelling equipment – I wish we had taken a photo! Unfortunately overnight one of the scooters was stolen, hugely disappointing but they remained upbeat & continued to have a fantastic weekend.
Swimming with sting rays was the highlight in Moorea. We took the dingy to a swallow area in the middle of the ocean and were instantly surrounded by sting rays. They were very inquisitive, checking us out & swimming by brushing themselves on us. Bobby tried to get a ride on the larger rays, grabbing hold of their wings. Guess they weren’t keen as they’d stop swimming & go into reverse to get him off! Hanging around in deeper water just meters away were black tipped reef sharks. I guess they were friendly sharks & didn’t mind being chased by Bobby & I, who were keen to get a good photo!
During a kayak trip I made a discovery, five sunken Tiki’s the size of our dinghy. I doubt they are authentic but it was a cool find & I rushed back with my snorkelling gear.
The anchorage in Moorea was perfect, surrounded by coral & turquoise waters. Perfect until the wind kicked up. The anchor dislodged & we dragged. Luckily the chain wrapped around a coral head & stopped us from going into the reef but it could easily have been a different story. As daylight arrived & the winds died, we pulled anchor. Not easy with the chain wrapped around a coral head & very little room to manoeuvre. It was tense (especially between Captain & crew!) but we got Barraveigh out of there safely.
A night passage to Huahine was anything but tranquil. Both struggled to sleep during our 2 hours “off watch” due to unsettled seas & with intermittent winds the sails were constantly in & out, & engine on & off. Result a grumpy captain & moody crew! ; )
We remained in Huahine longer than expected waiting out a bad weather front. Much of the time was spent partying with fellow cruisers, followed by a day of movies recovering from hangovers! – vague recollections of dancing onboard Seari before stripping off for a night swim; a night of games with Barefeet, after which Bobby slept in the cockpit with a bucket!; impromptu sundowners on Barefeet followed by a late night of loud music & dancing….very surprised the rest of the fleet were still talking to us the following day! It was a fun filled week with good friends & laughs, oh & bruises – my hammock on the bow collapsed sending my crashing down onto the life raft (Dad, you’ll be pleased to know my cleat hitch was perfect, it was Bobbys bowline that slipped….result a bruise the size of a plate on my calf!!) We even managed to set aside time for an archaeological tour of the island & a walk to many marae’s (old sacred platforms where local people years ago would pray to the gods – once you’ve seen a few you’ve seen enough but it was good to stretch our legs!) It was a great island & one of the favourites!
A quick stop in Raiatea due to empty propane tanks, that’s gas bottles to us Brits (apparently I’ve been baking too many muffins!!) before moving onto Bora Bora!! Pulling the anchor in Raiatea gave us a few problems. Soon realised why when the anchor broke the surface with a lump of coral attached to it (see photo gallery).
We are now in Bora Bora anchored outside the apparently well known (I had never heard of it!) Bloody Marys, a fab restaurant & bar visited by the stars & bus loads of honeymooners! We have visited many islands that have similar offerings as Bora Bora, fantastic turquoise waters, incredible snorkelling & great scenery yet there is something special about Bora Bora even if it is over run with tourists! For that reason (& that I’m not keen on beginning another passage to the next island chain) we have remained here for longer than expected. The Society Islands have certainly woven their magical spell upon us & its hard to say goodbye.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

on the move again!

It was hard to leave Tahiti. The sailing club was relaxed, friendly & felt like home. It was nice to put some roots down even if it was only 2 weeks! It was a friendly city & great island. The island itself is not as you would picture it. It is very green & mountainous; there are only a few beaches, the majority of which are black sand or rocky. The fabulous beaches & crystal clear waters are on the neighbouring islands of Moorea & Bora Bora.
As always there was work to do, trawling around the boat supply & DIY shops (Gilly, you would be in heaven!) in search of items that we never find until the 5th shop, restocking food, fuel & water supplies (first time since the Galapagos Islands! 80 gallons of fresh water in 11 weeks – pretty good going!).We made time for fun days, our first mission: a session of people watching & my much needed burger & chips (I had been dreaming of a meal out for months, cooking everyday is still driving me crazy!!). We play “guess the origin of the tourist”. Bobby believes you can tell a Brit from the shape of their heads whilst I spot the Yank a mile away with his bright white socks & trainers! ; )
As always hitch hiking is the cheapest way around town, which is how we met Gillaume & Julian. 2 fantastic French guys doing their internship in Tahiti. They took us surfing (nice sand breaks especially for me), cooked numerous outstanding meals at their amazing house on the mountain overlooking the beautiful coast. They were even kind enough to lend us a scooter for a couple of days, during which we toured the island. Slightly bum numbing after 8 hours but we made it all around Tahiti & even visited Teahupoo where they hold the world surf contests.
July 4th celebrations were held by Erin & Chris on Barefeet (a very beautiful catamaran) Believe it or not the Euros out numbered the Yanks! Fantastic BBQ with unlimited all American food, burgers, hotdogs, brownies, apple pie & pecan pie! I am still amazed at the food cruisers prepare, especially amazing with the limited food supplies & equipment onboard boats. No Brits or supplies of tea were thrown overboard during the celebrations!!
Our dingy fondly known as “the aquarium” with the amount of water it allows in & the fabulous view of the ocean now possible through the huge hole in the bow ! A painstakingly slow job to repair it & reglue the entire floor. Removing all traces of old glue, sandpapering & then finally the applying glue which had to be done in three phases! Now the waiting stage with all fingers crossed to see if it works – 3 days for the glue to dry! In the mean time we borrowed “Tippy” (she was very aptly named!) from s/v Erie. I was finally given lessons on how to use the outboard & there was no stopping me. It’s a bit like getting your driving licence & no longer being reliant on Mum! I had my freedom back; Tippy & I became great friends!

Tahiti Baby!!

It is an amazing feeling, I sailed across half an ocean to get here! A more amazing feat is we arrived in one piece, without any breakages after having had the worst passage to date (the memory of the pleasant passage to the Tuamoto’s has very much faded!!) We hit numerous squalls, Bobby insists they were squalls but in my opinion they were storms! We sailed in & out of bad weather throughout the passage. As dawn broke on my watch the daylight was quickly replaced by blackness. Best comment of the day goes to the Captain: “Let me know when the wind gets above 25 knots” I informed him that we were already at 32 knots & increasing!
We hated every second of that passage. It was the first time I had thoughts of being sick, trying to cook in the galley during bad weather will do that to you! I dream of salted crisps (chips, for you yanks reading this!) I have no idea why but I crave the salt when we are at sea & unfortunately my supply of Pringles has long since disappeared!
We made it through the pass, into the protected waters of Tahiti Sailing Club & pulled up on a mooring ball. Even Bobby, who hates to pay for moorings, when anchorages are free, was keen to make use of the clubs facilities after the rough conditions. The lure of HOT fresh water showers were too much for either of us to pass up on! My first hot shower since leaving England in January! 5 months of salt water baths & cold water showers in the cockpit with a pesticide sprayer – not such a soft southerner after all!!
I took the longest shower in history & then stood wide eyed & dazed in the aisles of the French supermarket, so many cheeses, fresh meats, fruit & veg, it was as if we have just been transported to France. I haven’t seen a supermarket like this since leaving home!
A good nights sleep (with blankets – yes its that cold here) followed by a day of looking out for our friends, sailing in a day or so behind us. We were lucky. We escaped the worst of the bad weather. They reported 50 knot winds, broken stays, shrouds & engine probs. Comradeship in cruising is similar to the relationship with colleagues in the police. We look out for each other & no one relaxes until the last man/boat is safe. The enemy is the environment & weather. Its pretty emotional watching everyone help each other, assisting the sailing boats in through the pass with directions & heading out there in dinghy’s to show the safest route. You are wrecked after a 3 day/2 night passage & in terrible conditions you don’t get any sleep, to come into the port out of the storm & see friendly faces means the world. Fellow Brits on s/v Seari couldn’t make it in before nightfall & heaved to until daylight. It was unsettling feeling not having everyone securely anchored but they arrived safely the next day.

Atolls & Pearls

We arrived in Kauehi, an atoll in the Tuamoto’s on 17th July after a perfect passage from the Marquesas. (An atoll, in geography terms is a volcano sunk, where the sea level touched the volcano is a ring of coral which is now the island. In simple terms the island is a ring of coral with a break in it (called a pass) which you sail through to get into the salt water lagoon in the centre of the island. It is slightly back to front being anchored in the centre of the island with land 360 degrees around you!
Many boats have sunk around this island chain. The islands are low lying & hard to spot until too late. Luckily the invention of GPS & good old British radar makes present day safer but it is still scary when palm trees look like they are growing out of the sea!
It was our first experience with atolls & passes, made hairier arriving just after slack tide. As much as I enjoyed the 3 day/night passage no one relishes another night at sea with 2 hour shifts so we attempted our first pass on a rising tide. Stressful but we made it & 2 hours later safely anchored inside Kauehi. We remained for a week in paradise. The sea was a 100 shades of turquoise, palm trees bent over the gently lapping water, it was the scene from a holiday brochure but there were no hotels, B&B’s or rooms for rent, it was tourist free (except for a few of us yachties!) This is the picture your mind conjures when you think of the South Pacific Islands.
We snorkelled the heads of coral directly beside us. Just a little disconcerting to be surrounded by them when you are on a boat as hitting one of those things can rip the bottom. A multitude of fish, coral & huge clams lived below. Determined to be able to touch the bottom of the ocean & pick up shells I attempted to crack my inability to dive under the water whilst snorkelling. After swallowing huge quantities of salty sea water I finally mastered it!
We made firm friends with the locals despite our lack of a shared language. The people live off the bounty of their land. They harvest the coconuts, tearing out the coconut flesh, drying it & then selling the copra to companies who press the dried coconut to obtain the coconut oil. The Tuamoto’s are known for the black pearls they produce. The pearl farms are on small wooden pier like structures stretching out into the sea. The pearls & their shells were used though out the village from decorating the church & houses to jewellery & ashtrays. The village priest became my firm friend as I put in orders for personally designed necklaces made from mother of pearl & watched him draw the designs onto the shell, cut them out & sand them down.
Samwell, whom Bobby fondly called “Samwell the savage” due to his wild, rough & ready appearance & huge hair, went with Bobby in search of coconut crab. I wasn’t too impressed when they bought back a HUGE crab, still alive & requested that I cook it for an hour, turning it every 10 minutes whilst they went looking for more! Samwell & his family were very friendly but spoke no English & with our lack of French evenings with them would have been very quiet had it not been for our travel games of connect 4 & jenga!
Bobby returned from a day of exploring having met the local pearl farmer, Frankie. Frankie & his family welcomed us into their home & served us some amazing meals. We ate turtle, oysters (if they produce bad pearls Frankie brings them home to his wife to cook!) & he even went diving to collect blue lipped clams, which we had seen whilst snorkelling (personally it was similar experience to chewing on your flip flop!). They showed us the process of implanting & looking after the oysters so they produce pearls. Bobby was more taken with the huge container of pearls. He was mesmerised, running them through his hands, staring at the different colours & shapes. Mum & Gil – I traded 3 old worn out bikinis for your pearls!! It was fun & definitely a better experience than going to a huge pearl farm with tours for the tourists! As a thank you we had the family on the boat for the afternoon. The kids wore us out, loved Bobby’s super soakers (huge water guns) & didn’t take long to find my hidden supply of sweets/candy! Our final night here was a sad one. It has been hard to leave such a beautiful place, we may only have seen one islands in this chain but we have specialised, met some great people & loved every minute. Next stop Tahiti!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

any questions??

I know some of you out there have got questions about everyday life onboard Barraveigh. How I'm coping with day to day situations such as washing when there is no shower onboard, to practical questions about how much fuel to carry, or more importantly how did we know how much rum & beer we would need for this trip?!! ; ) How do I update this site & keep in contact with family at sea with no internet, to technical questions from you sailors out there about cruising - I may just have to get the Captain to answer those as this sailor is still very much a novice with a capital N!!
Email burning questions no matter how trivial (keep them clean - I know what you coppers are like!!!) & I'll post a ques & answer blog.

For info:
New photos will be updated in a couple of weeks when we arrive in Tahiti & finally have internet connection.
Don't forget to read Bobbys articles on http://www.escapeartist.com/Travel_Mag/Issues/05/
(search under Barraveigh or see previous entry "Bobby becomes a writer" for info). They are fantastic, he has a great knack at describing experiences on the great ocean.

its a miracle!

I'm enjoying this passage! The seas are calm, hardly any swell, the wind has been consistent but I think the fact that it is 4 days long is what has swayed me!! ; ) Its thoroughly enjoyable! It brings home how terrible the Pacific crossing truly was, with those confused seas & being bashed about.
Night watches are strict again, 2 hours about & no sleeping on watch. I'll let you into a secret…Bobby has been caught out! He was 20 minutes late waking me for my watch & sheepily or should I say sleepily(!!) admitted his heavy eyelids had got the better of him!
To keep myself awake on watches I've begun exercising - its only taken 5 months to become motivated!! With a severe lack of room, trying not to sound like Nelly the Elephant (Bobby is sleeping directly below the cockpit) & the boat moving from side to side (swells are not high but we still rock making it hard to keep your balance) its an achievement just to do sit ups & weights! Haven't perfected yoga yet, I'm sure there's a way of getting into position, holding the book & trying to read the next move - I just haven't worked it out yet!! ; ) Jess, I'm improving at suduko, still painfully slow but I did get to level 5 (ok I admit it I did have a peak at the answers!)
Still no luck at catching fish. They are biting; we just have no joy at getting them on the boat. Very frustrating & we have nearly lost all the lure's!! Thai curry just isn't the same without the fish!
We have been sailing wing & wing (also called the butterfly) with the wind behind us. As the winds shifted this afternoon we (that's the Royal "we", should really say Bobby!) put up the stay sail & now hauling arse with 3 sails out. Doing 6.5 knots with winds of 11 knots & increasing. Friends onboard Northern Winds caught us & sailed by a few hours ago, taking photos of Barraveigh as they passed. They are now just a dot on the horizon. The sun is setting & a new moon is rising on what I hope will be our last night before touch down in yet another paradise island!

Thursday, 14 June 2007

its that time again!

After 3 weeks in the Marquesas its time to move onto the next island chain. With the memories of the pacific crossing slowly fading but not totally forgotten I'm in 2 minds about beginning another crossing! At only 4-5 days long it's just a short hop compared to the previous one!

The Marquesan Islands have been breathtaking. Dramatic, stunning scenery, that never fails to amaze. Mountainous & rocky but so very lush & green. The scenery is like something out of Lord of the Rings but with pristine beaches & palm trees. Banana, pamplemoose (similar to grapefruit but much sweeter), bread fruit, lime, mango & coconut trees are in abundance.

Surprisingly it took us 2 days to go onto land after dropping the anchor. As always too many chores! Bottom cleaning took over a week. Barraveigh was awarded first place for being the dirtiest boat in the anchorage! We had growth a meter from the water line as well as underneath!
I can't explain the joy of stepping onto land. The local children met us with cry's "bonbon bonbon" & I soaked up the lush grass tickling my toes. With no local currency, no bank for another 3 islands & a need for fresh fruit, we began trading & bartering. A bottle of rum (bought for $3 in Panama worth $30 here!) for laundry - a good swap in my mind, the thought of hand washing a months worth of laundry was not a chore I was relishing! Another local guy thought he could get the better of Bobby when he took the rum but failed to deliver the goods. Bobby hunted him down & proudly returned with a stock of bananas & a bag of pamplemoose! Lesson learnt - never give up the rum until they bring the goods.

The locals look very similar to the Maori people. They are huge, with the biggest hands & feet I've seen! Their bodies are covered with creative tribal tattoos, some even tattoo their faces. The one surprise, other than their friendliness, is their fluent French. It always takes me by surprise when these huge people start speaking French. Their local dialect suits them better & is great to listen to. Full of vowels & very little else!

Even in the tiniest of villages we are able to buy fresh baguettes & croissants! Fresh bread is heaven, a real bonus as my bread making skills does not appear to be improving!! Happy memories of sitting on the shore looking out at sea sharing freshly baked baguettes, spreading the French butter with my pen knife!

Paradise does come with one drawback - the nonos! Smaller than mosquitoes but just as blood thirsty! They love my sweet English blood & I'm suffering! My back is so badly bitten; it looks like a bad case of the measles. I should be in quarantine! I have made a screen for the bedroom so we sleep in peace, but with the windows closed & no breeze it feels like a prison cell!! Just hoping the itching will end soon or I'll be wearing gloves to bed! It is frustrating to sit on the boat looking at a unspoiled beach but knowing as soon as you step onto it the nono's will attack! I have learnt my lesson, no exercise or hand washing of clothes - both result in a large quantity of new bites!

We have hiked to a number of waterfalls on various islands, including the 3rd highest in the world. If we were anywhere else in the world we would have had to share the crystal clear pools under the waterfall with other tourists but this is the Marquesas & us boaties are the only tourists here!

  • Odds & Ends:
    Mending the entire edge of the headsail (16 meters) with a sewing machine that didn't want to co-operate & a sail so huge I could hardly move it!

  • Eating my lunch on a rock in a shallow stream only to have an eel swim between my feet - yes I screamed!

  • Picking mangos from a tree in a local womans garden. She only allowed me leave once I had filled two bags!

  • Bobby describing his 1st banana since the crossing! "It tastes like lemon meringue"

  • Cooking pizza, scones (from memory no recipe!) & hummus from scratch - still dream of M&S Foods at Brighton station!

  • Eating my first ice cream!

  • Trying to eat a stock of bananas which all ripened at the same time!

  • Sitting in the hammock at the bow of the boat watching the sun set

  • Drinking with our friends in the anchorage as we ended our pacific crossing.

  • Hand washing clothes on shore whilst Bobby killed the nono's landing on my back

  • Finding an English boat with the 2nd series of Life on Mars!

  • Phoning home - bad connection but so very good to hear their voices

  • Finally finding internet connection. After an hour & loosing the connection 20 times I gave in. It can wait

  • TimTams are on the supermarket shelves here! We are hooked on them!

  • Paying $4 for a small head of lettuce! Ouch!

  • Watching a local guy with 1 arm & 1 leg catching octopus - truly amazing especially as Bobby is yet to catch anything with his fishing spears!

  • Making cocktails with coconuts from the beach - when husked the nuts were the size of a football!

  • Falling down the stairs from the deck of the boat. A 2 meter vertical drop hurts but no permanent damage!

  • Sitting in the outdoor waiting room with the locals whilst Bobby saw the doctor about his finger. He is going to need surgery to correct the finger which has now mended itself but it'll have to wait until Oz!

Next stop:
Tuamotus, a chain of atoll islands.
(Explanation: The island is a ring of coral reef with water in the middle which we sail into through a small channel) Home of the black pearls!

Saturday, 26 May 2007

we have arrived! we made it!

22 days & 23 hours. 3000 miles across the South Pacific in a 41 foot boat & I'm here safe & sound! We saw land as the dawn broke & the sun rose from the sea. Towering above sea level, was the mountainous island of Fatu Hiva. Both absorbed in our own thoughts & excitement for a few brief minutes but we still had work to do, sails to pull in, the engine to start (Bobby didn't tell me until we were anchored that he had just noticed that the transmission was leaking & wasn't sure we would make it into the bay!) & unsecuring the anchors which hadn't been used for 23 days! We have made it into the Bay of Virgins, anchored in over 100 feet of water, we are taking in our surroundings. It's impressive. Huge cliffs around the bay covered green green grass & trees. The water was clear & warm & felt good on my skin as I dived in for my first swim in over 3 weeks! We enjoyed our first breakfast at anchor, hot choc, coffee & freshly baked muffins never tasted so good! We praised Barraveigh for getting us here safely & are now wondering what we should do next!

Number of boats seen: 0
Number of fish caught: 0
Types of fish seen: 1 (flying fish)
Number of steps from bow to stern: 12
Amount of food Bobby can eat: unlimited & always hungry
Number of different card games played: 2
Books read: 6 including Savage seas (true story about a boat on the same trip attacked & sunk by whales!)
Fresh veg left: Tomato's, carrots, peppers, potatoes & onions
Number of eggs left: 2
Number of arguments: uncountable!! ; )

I cannot thank Bobby enough for getting all 3 of us (including Barraveigh) here in one piece. It's one hell of an accomplishment & I'm speechless at his commitment, knowledge & effort. It truly is something I never imagined I would do & I'm proud to have shared the longest crossing of his trip.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

so near & yet so far! Day 21 (15/5)

Both totally disillusioned. The stories of the tradewinds, comments of never adjusting a sail & smooth sailing on a flat sea are not our experiences! We have had rough, messy seas, been thrown about & struggled to stay on course as the winds push us south & off our course. We have jibed & tacked, only to end up as south as we were before we started & feeling like we wasted 24 hours. To top it all off we have now lost the wind. After 3 days of sailing with flopping sail as the wind fails to fill them doing a disappointing average of 4.5 knots & 100 miles per day, the wind has disappeared. We've put away the sails & started the engine. Arrival at Fatu Hiva, Marquesas looks set for midday on day 23, a day later than expected.
Its not been easy & it's been an effort to stay focused…passages are definitely not my forte! I now know why planes have been invented & intend to use them! Bobby & I have seen the worst in each other. At times it's been a struggle but we've broken a few death stares & laughed as we uttered our fav comment, "It could be worse, we could be stuck on a small boat together in the middle of the ocean!"
The scenery has remained unchanged throughout the trip - sea, sea & more sea! Flying fish are the only activity seen in the waters & there have been no other boats. Routine has kept us sane & also left us going mad. We have kept our clocks on Galapagos time. The sun is rising later so I don't wake until 9am when its time to start trying to escape the sun! Bobby completes the 10am official radio check in. At 11:30am we plot our position on our chart, working out distance traveled & average speed of the last 24 hours. At noon Bobby runs a radio check in with 5 other boats. We all started this crossing within a day or so of each other so it's good to stay in contact in case anyone needs assistance. We watch an episode of Sex in the City before the battery on my lap top dies & fill in the next few hours playing cards & reading our books until its time to start the generator around 5pm. At which point we escape the noise of the generator below deck. Bobby spends the next hour or so trying to send & receive our limited emails home, reassuring family we are safe & well, whilst I sort out dinner. It's the same routine everyday & both of us are looking forward to breaking it when we arrive. We are desperate to swim in the sea & stretch our legs on land. Fatu Hiva had better have been worth all these days at sea!! ; )

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

not all plain sailing!

Day 10 (4/5/07) We are halfway! 1500 miles completed. It's been far from perfect! Have been, & still are bashed about as 10 foot waves hit us from all directions. Barraveigh loves to surf the waves but can be a little scary when they spin us out, especially if you're below deck. Averaging 140 miles per day at 6 knots.

Cranking Bobby to the top of the mast whilst under way due to a jammed main sail (again!) is not something either of us wish to repeat. The waves continually threw Bobby into the mast & we were both surprised & lucky, there were no injuries.
A sail change to maximize the wind didn't go as planned, the new headsail jammed in the track leaving the last meter plus hanging down. It won't go up & won't come down! On the plus side it still works but it's a constant battle to avoid wear as it slaps on the stays & rubs on the life lines.
We devised plans to unjam the headsail. All failed, the final plan resulting in the sail nearly pushing me overboard. The furler for the headsail wore through, unfurling the sail in the middle of the night. Bobby clambered forward. Attaching a new rope is all very well, but in the dark, up at the bow being hit by waves, strapped onto the lifelines, with a dislocated finger & the headsail slapping about freely, destroying itself, was not the easiest of situations.
The generator also added its own complications & will now only run once everything is emptied out of the compartment & requires the fuel line to be hand pumped for 15 minutes before it can be left to run on its own! Power is essential for the GPS & auto pilot.
Some minor casualties were our stock of eggs - I sat on them after becoming off balanced! Surprisingly some survived the impact! I've been pelted with flying cabbages as they topple out of their hanging netting & have restocked on my supply of bruises!!

It's not all bad! We watch movies at night in the cockpit, nibbling on goodies from home. Down to our last two cream eggs, so it could all be down hill from here! ; ) With the watches relaxed & snoozing being given the ok by the captain, we both fight to spend the night in the cockpit, its cooler, more comfortable & the view is out of the world. The sky is littered with thousands of stars & the Milky Way is so bright it looks like candy floss. Believing Sally is the brightest star up there, keeping a watch on me during these clear beautiful nights & knowing she would be reprimanding me for my greasy hair & lack of enthusiasm for lip gloss & mascara, brings a tear & a smile & makes the tough times a little easier.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

we have left land!

Tues 24th April 2007. 3000 nautical miles, 4 weeks & sea sea sea as we sail across the pacific to Marquesas, northern chain of French Polynesian Islands. Thats 4 weeks, no land, no stopping, just Bobby & I on a small boat..hang on a minute..I want to go home! ; )
Bobby is jumping for joy as we leave the last Spanish speaking country. He should be proud of himself. He's communicated well with officials & locals, sharing jokes & all in Spanish. Its certainly made life easier for us & I wonder how well we will get on with my limited grasp of the French language - really wish I had paid attention at school! Maybe I'll just have to resort to the english's tried & tested method..speak english slower & louder until they understand! ; ) I guess I have plenty of time to read my French dictionary!
At present we are sailing south & will continue to do so until we hit the the trade winds which, fingers crossed will push us west across the pacific. Rumor has it that once you are in the trades there is no need to alter your course or sails for the entire trip. I've been told its a nice easy sail - will keep you posted!!

Saturday, 12 May 2007

the galapagos experiance

The 24 volcanic islands that make up the Galapagos islands are our last land experience before the big south pacific crossing & wow what an experience! Time was divided between just 2 of the islands - Santa Cruz & Isabella. Santa Cruz is the most populated of the islands & the quaint town of Puerto Ayora was a dream. More facilities than the guide books lead you to believe..I was in Suzi heaven, fresh sushi, loads of fab ice cream! Yes I know the animals were why we were there but being able to restock our supplies & have a few treats was a bonus!
A days sail across to Puerto Villamil on Isabella with our guests. Its a sleepy laid back town with sand roads & where they use a bulldozer to keep the sandy roads level! Sleepy is good unless you need things done. Slight nightmare as our guests water taxi failed to arrive therefore missing their ferry back to Santa Cruz. As always money speaks & they managed to charter their own boat back. They were good sports & adapted well to life on Barraveigh. Great time had by all I hope - I certainly loved all my goodies from home..cream eggs yummy!
On both islands we saw spectacular wildlife. We didn't even have to leave the boat, sealions, penguins, iguanas & black tipped reef sharks swam by daily. We saw the huge tortoises that are so old its possible that some of them were around when Darwin explored the islands, blue footed boobies that dive bomb into the sea dropping out the sky like fighter jets - why has evolution given them blue feet? I couldn't tell you but they are very comical & look like they have stepped in wet paint! The cute award has to go to the sea lions & penguins, both appear to be good friends as they play & even work together to catch their dinner. Watching them swim around the boat was a sight I never got bored with. We snorkeled with turtles & families of rays. We kayaked through waterways created by solidified lava & home to white tipped sharks that were bigger than me - not somewhere I wanted to start practicing my 360 degree kayak roll!
The islands were a great experience & I hope that as tourism sours they are able to keep the human footprint to a minimum.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

i made it!!!

I completed my first passage & I’m still totally sane – debatable I know! We arrived here at Santa Cruz, the main habituated Galapagos Island, in the early hours of Friday 6th April. We were tired but excited to explore new land. The waters are a great turquoise colour with sea lions & iguanas swimming between the boats. Blue footed boobies dive into the waters next to us & black tipped reef sharks lurk under the boat.
We decided against purchasing a permit prior to our arrival, so sweet talking the port captain into granting us permission to stay, was a must! We both dressed smartly & I wore a skirt to try & assist matters! Bobby did his thing, friendly banter & chit chat in Spanish, whilst I smile sweetly not having a clue what is going on! It worked & we were not only given authority to stay but to travel to a few other islands.
Our friends & fellow cruisers, Blue Moon & Helen Kate (their boat names) are also here. We have had fun hanging out, seeing the sights & of course drinking!
Unfortunately we haven’t had much time for exploring the island as the “to do list” is back & grows each day as another problem rises. After dealing with an infestation of moths in our store of cereal (it was heartbreaking to throw out 16 packets of cereal – we live on the stuff during crossings!) & a toilet that refused to work (for those of you who know boat talk, the holding tank refused to pump out), I had a small fit, fed up with working non stop & stated “why don’t we just stay in a harbour at home, we provision, work hard, complete a weeks crossing to a new place, then don’t get chance to see it properly because the work starts all over again”!! I’ve mellowed after some deep breathing! ; )
I have my good friends Matt & Cath flying in from England. They arrive Monday (16th) so its all systems go to get everything ready for entertaining & play time. On top of that we also have to be ready to start the next crossing (four weeks!!) when they leave!

i´m a shellback!!

We crossed the equator in the evening of the 5th April 2007. Leaving the comfort of the northern hemisphere & bound for the delights of the southern!
We celebrated with a bottle of champers, sharing it with Neptune & throwing him treasured gifts to request a safe passage. In case this wasn’t enough for Neptune, we also dressed up for the occasion! Deciding this only 2 hours prior to the crossing, we hastily set about making costumes. I became “Miss Neptune”, princess of all weathers, the sun, the stars & the moon (yes I know I’m greedy!) & Bobby became “Surf Crotch” with a fantastic trident made from kitchen foil. We were impressed with our Blue Peter efforts!