Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Green Green Grass of Home - November 2016

Day 6 Underway Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand
Position at 6 22pm 23 Nov  
34 30.712s 174 17.694e
Heading 180T,
Speed 4.5 knots sailing 
Sunny skioes, quite warm
Light winds and flat seas, wind just started to fill in again a couple of hours ago 
Miles to run  34 to Customs Dock in Opua
24 hour run 140 miles, under motor until 4pm this afternoon
We finally sighted land just over an hour ago, think its the Cavalli Islands, now Cape Brett has come into view also    We have slowed down now we are sailing again and may just get in at dawn, cant believe this is it
The numbers for the party at the yacht club have reached over 60, its going to be a great night on Sunday, the end of an era and in case you missed it yesyterday ~~~~~~~ DID I MENTION WE HAVE CIRCUMNAVIGATED??????????

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Been Around the World - November 2016

Day 5 Underway Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand
Position at 6 22pm 22 Nov  
32 29.712s 174 48.694e
Heading 200T,
Speed 5.8 knots under motor - glassy seas no wind at all
Have been motoring since 1 45pm . going through the centre of the high, sunny earlier, 90% cloud cover now
Superb sailing overnight with a glorious starlit night, light winds and flat seas, 
Miles to run  172 to Customs Dock in Opua
24 hour run 134 miles, good speeds overnight but slower in light winds today
Just a short while ago, under motor unfortunately, we crossed over our outward track from Auckland to Fiji so now have officially sailed around the world, what a major milestone that is, we are very proud of ourselves
Shortly before that we came into New Zealand waters, we are now within 200 miles so are now classed as coastal cruising (on our insurance policy anyway), I will be more encouraged when I actually see some coast, and all of this will start to feel more like reality, right now its all a little surreal
On our morning net we have 3 other kiwi boats coming in who are completing circumnavigations also, so we have decided to have a party on Sunday night at the Opua Yacht Club, we did a quick shout for numbers over the net this morning, everyone heading for Opua is coming so there will be over 40 of us (we have one of the boats in Opua advising the OYC so they can buy plenty of vegetables and extra meat for the Sunday night roast !!)
We really wanted to sail the whole way on this last leg, we were the only boat still sailing this morning   When the winds lightened we put the pole up and poled out the headsail     Then the breeze dropped even more so we got out our big colourful cruising chute (quite a production getting it out and setting it up), it wouldn't fill so then we poled it out like a spinnaker and floated along for a while     Finally we (skipper) conceded that if we wanted to get in before the low on Friday morning we would need to motor so all the sails have been put away and we are chugging along in 2 knots of wind   

More dolphins today but they just cruised on by, one suicidal flying fish landed noisily on the deck overnight and woke me up, gosh they make a mess, the boat is filthy covered in salt and fish scales


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Alone Again, Naturally - November 2016

Day 4 Underway Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand
Position at 5pm 22 Nov  
30 06.882s 175 18.946e
Heading 200T, Speed 6 - 7 knots,  Wind up and down still anything between 15-22 knots ESEovernight, eased some today as we sail into the centre of the high  Should start backing to the east then northeast
Seas up overnight but settling down now and hopefully will continue to flatten
30% cloud cover, been a lovely day much warmer with some sun
Miles to run  314 to Customs Dock in Opua
Another 24 hour run over 150 miles, very happy
Yesterday afternoon we had 2 sails appear on the horizon behind us, so lovely to have some company we could actually see  Neither responded to our calls on the radio though and we lost them at sunset as they went on by without lights on   We think we know who they were, 2 boats in Minerva that didnt mix with any of the rest of us, some cruisers are just above the rest of us peasants!!
We have lots of boats around still though, we are all converging on the same point of course and the boats that left Friday are being hunted down by those that left Saturday   The fastest should get in late Thursday afternoon, then Customs will be very busy with 26 of us from Minerva, 2 are coming direct from Tonga, and we know of three from Fiji - all due overnight Thursday or before dark Friday , then its party time in Opua   The final dinner for the Island Cruising Club Rally Week is on Saturday night so we hope to make that and celebrate our arrival home
Not much else to report, no dolphins, no suicidal flying fish on the decks today, a couple of seabirds passing over - all quiet back in the Eastern Hemisphere

Monday, 21 November 2016

Once Upon A time In The West - Nov 2016

Day 3 Underway Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand
Position at 5pm 21 Nov   27:53S  176:53E
Heading 200T, Speed 6knots,  Wind up and down still anything between 10-15knots back to SE    Sea down to under 1metre with wind chop on top,  100% cloud cover and gloomy
Miles to run  466 to Customs Dock in Opua
Just a short one, wind just picked up again and getting bumpy     Crossed the date line so back in the Eastern Hemisphere after all this time, should have lost a day, but we already lost one when we arrived in Tonga, don't think we should lose another!  All ok, would like some more sleep and sun though

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Tide Is High & We're Moving On - Nov 2016

Day 2 Underway Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand
Position at 5pm 20 Nov   26:00S  178:44E
Heading 203T, Speed 6knots,  Wind up and down but trying to settlle at 10-12knots ESE    Sea down to under 2metres and flattening,  80% cloud cover
Miles to run  606 to Customs Dock in Opua
We snuggled in behind the southwestern reef at Minerva while the front passed below and the swell increased to over 3 metresExcept for an hour or so each side of high tide it was very comfortable, all looked a bit gloomy in the grey skies after such an outstanding run of wonderful weather though.
On Friday 12 of the slower yacts decided to leave and start bashing their way to Opua, we couldn't quite see the attraction in going out into over 20knots of wind coming from exactly where you want to go, especially as the weather window has extended about 12 hours at the other end and everyone should get in without problems.
The rest of us waited, yesterday morning dawned  somewhat gloomy but the winds had eased to 10 knots and had backed slightly to the south south west - it was time.   We were 2nd out of the remaining 14 to leave yesterday morning at slack water,  I expect the lobsters and fish are very pleased to see us all leave.
We have had very variable winds, the speeds have gone up and down like a yo-yo, the direction changing just as frequenty, but slowly backing around to the east, then it will hopefully settle in to a rythym for a few days to push us on our way.
Alls well on board, just trying to get some sleep

Friday, 18 November 2016

Walking On The Moon - 8 days in Minerva Reef

23:39:55S  178:55:69W  
We have had the most wonderful week here at North Minerva Reef    The weather has been just superb, we couldn't have asked for a better spell   We have had up to 26 boats in here so its been a busy place with dinghies buzzing around, paddle boards out, snorkelling excursion, lobster and fish spearing and reef walking 
The reef walking has been a popular pastime, many of us have commented it must be like walking on the moon except we are surrounded here by thousands of miles of oceans     We have taken some wonderful photos of our time here, blog posting with these to follow when we get to New Zealand
Departure date is tomorrow (Saturday here), 3 of the slower boats have left this morning to get a head start, but the wind is right on the nose, the rest of us are waiting for a more flavourable wind angle, fingers and toes still crossed!!

Friday, 11 November 2016

Benny & The Jets ~ 2 day passage Tonga - Minerva Reef

23 37.165s 178 54.301w
This morning at 0630 we arrived at what must be the most amazing anchorage in the world.  We have come about 270 miles SSW from the bottom of the Tongan chain and are anchored in 13 metres of depth in the South West Pacific Ocean.
North Minerva Reef has no land (rumour has it there is a tiny sandy knoll that pops up at low tide), just a circular coral reef with a west facing entrance, it is very weird dropping anchor in here when all you can see is ocean.
We had a good sail, we were one of about 14 that left Tongatapu, so far we have 11 arrived here this morning, we have quite a flotilla.
Our big excitment yesterday morning was seeing two jet streams, we have been wondering when we would start seeing signs of civilisation again ~ the last jetstreams we remember seeing were when we sailed away from Panama, at that was 17 months ago.  Of course the other big news was the US election result, well who'd of thought, Donald Trump is going to have sole control of the little red button, maybe we should stay at sea for another few years and ride this out!!
We will update again once we move on, about to look at the weather forecast now, just heard some radio discussion of maybe leaving this afternoon - WHAT!!!!!!!

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Walk The Line ….. November 2016

09 November 2016:  Departure from Tongatapu, Tonga to Minerva Reef

PB071451Filling the Days

Our life seems totally dominated by the weather at present.  We have had overcast skies for days, some thunderstorms, strong winds when lulls were forecast, dead calm when there should have been breeze.  All up the weather has been very unsettled and it is taking toll on all of us waiting to leave, still 19 yachts.  A few have tired of the wait and left, we listen to them on our radio net, their motors running in the background as they have no wind. 

We have snorkelled two of the nearby wrecks, some gorgeous bright pink coral cling to the rusty structures, an assortment of small tropical fish dart in and out of the crevasses, there are many places to hide here.PB071444 

We have now spent the last of our money on more diesel and a few more fresh fruit and vegetables.  If the current forecast models are correct we may be in Minerva Reef for several days, there is absolutely nothing there except lobster to catch and fish to hook, shouldn’t be all bad!

It’s NowTime

Previously when we have been on passage we have used song titles each day for our blog postings, it keeps us amused trying to think of a relevant title  – no reason to stop now!PB061428 

Until we return to land, this blog site will only be updated with text, maybe including a few ramblings of life on the high seas ~ if the seas aren’t too high!!

But if you want to see Balvenie’s actual position on Google Earth, we will endeavour to update it daily via satphone while we are underway (no promises),  you can go to either of the following sites to track our progress.

They will show Balvenie’s GPS position on the satellite map and supply a short update of how things are going.  To get to the text updates don’t scroll down on the map part or you’ll end up at the South Pole and we won’t be there!!  Just scroll where there are words.               PB071454We are in a flotilla of around 15 yachts, the unofficial Big Mamas to Minerva Reef Rally as most intend, like us, to stop in North Minerva Reef and await the next window between fronts to New Zealand.  Conditions for the 2 days sail to Minerva currently look favourable.20161029_143358

Ready To Draw The Last Line On The Circumnavigation Map

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Last Tango in Tonga ….. November 2016

28 Oct – 06 Nov:  Atata & Pangaimotu Is, Southern Tonga ~ 21 07S 175 09W

PA311409Bashing To Windward

When we left Namuku Iti in the Ha’apai Group we imagined we would have a pleasant sail on the wind with a light breeze in flat water about 25 miles south to Kelafasi, the most southern anchorage of the Ha’apai’s.

Instead the wind picked up to over 20 knots, we had more salt water over Balvenie’s  bow than we can remember in recent history, and we couldn’t even lay (point at) our destination.  By the time we could tack and head for the island we were 8 miles due west of it and decided to maybe abandon Plan APA271385 and continue on south another 35 miles. 

This promoted much discussion as it meant a night entry through a reef into the anchorage, not something we have ever done, but we were assured the charts were accurate, the reef pass was 1/2 a mile wide, depth was good and there were lead lights.PA271388  On we carried, we had a better angle to the wind, conditions improved, seas flattened, full sails were raised and we had a ripper of a sail for the rest of the day, safely arriving to anchor on the western shores of Atata Island in the Tongatapu Group by 9pm, phew. 

Big Mama’s 25th Anniversary Party

We heard next morning on our Cruisers Magellan Net that there was to be a party that evening at Big Mama’s Yacht Club on Pangaimotu Island.  We motored the 9 miles around and settled into the anchorage amongst over 20 others yachts, it was party time!

PA271392 PA281395

Big Mama’s Yacht Club anchorage has PA271390become an oasis for yachts gathering in this southernmost group of Tonga. Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa is just a short dinghy or ferry ride away on Tongatapu Island, yet you can anchor here off this pocket sized island with a golden sandy beach and feel as if you are still truly in the tropics.

We had a great night, all the boats joined in so we had quite an international gathering.  An excellent buffet was served and the Nuku’alofa Police Band played till late, (guess they doubled as security!!!)

Should We Stay or Should We Go Now?

The dominating topic of discussion here is THE WEATHER.  A “weather forum” was arranged one afternoon for everyone to discuss possible departure dates, stopovers, tactics, routing etc.  This trip to New Zealand has quite a reputation and everyone wants to try to get it right.PA311416

Several laptops were taken ashore and we were amazed at the different weather programmes we hadn’t seen before being used - technology has come a long way and possibly passed us by!  Also some boats had paid weather forecasts provided by NZ Weather Guru Bob McDavitt and most listen to free professional forecasting offered daily by David at Gulf Harbour Radio in NZ .  Add about 30 participants all with an opinion and it made for quite an interesting discussion and worthwhile outing!

But at the end of the day each boat makes their own decision PA201304and some have left directly to either Opua or Whangarei, others have chosen a stop in Minerva Reef.  We, along with 17 others are still here at anchor, boats are coming and going each day, it is a very fluid and somewhat unsettling situation.

Skipper is working hard every day keeping the hull clean, he reports that it is now as clean as when we antifouled last in St Maarten – he has done a great job and we will blast through the water like a torpedo when we leave.

All Dressed Up With Nowhere To GoPB011418

We have had outings ashore to downtown Nuku’alofa, our  expectations weren’t high so we were pleasantly surprised by this functioning small capital city in the Kingdom of Tonga. 

We found a good cafe for morning lattes, walked past the Royal Palace, filled our bags with fruit and vegetables at the bustling market then stopped at Friends Cafe for a tasty lunch.PB011420  True to its name we ran into cruising friends on Jade, Enough, Babe and Crazy Daisy ~  good to see us cruisers contributing to the local economy. 

We have completed our final paperwork, fuel and water tanks are full, fridge is topped up with fresh produce, the freezer is all but empty to comply with NZ quarantine regulations - just pre made passage meals remain, even the blog is now up to date. 

Balvenie is sparkling inside and out, if only we could pick her up by helicopter and plop her down in the Bay of Islands, instead patience is the name of the game as we wait, and wait, for our weather window!


We Are Ready To Head Home

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Hanging Out in the Ha’apai’s ….. October 2016

15 – 27 Oct 2016:  Nukunamo to Namuku Iti, Ha’apai’s, Tonga ~ 20 15S 174 49W

20161015_182756Starry Starry Night

We were reluctant to leave the Vava’u Group of Tonga, it is a sheltered scenic area and such an easy cruising ground. 20161016_044443 But time marches on, we needed to start heading south to the next island group within Tonga.  We don’t enjoy one night overnight passages, but the distance from Port Maurelle in Vava’u to Nukunamo in the Ha’apai was around 70 miles, just too much to do during the day in the forecast light winds so we opted for an overnighter which should have taken about 14 hours. 

We cleared the last Vava’u Islands as the sun dipped over the horizon and drifted along under full sail in a gentle zephyr of a breeze, the seas illuminated under a bright balloon of a moon.  We don’t remember ever having such beautiful conditions overnight for a windward trip, not a splash of salt water over the bow,PA241333 some evening whale song serenaded us, dawn whale sightings enthralled us.  We had to do too many tacks to lay our course and we ended up sailing 96 miles and taking 23 hours, but for perfect calm weather sailing, it simply does not get any better!

The Ha’apai Group are very different to their northern neighbours the Vava’u’s.  They are small coral atolls most are fringed by golden sandy beaches.  Nearly all have a village ashore, and small passenger boats move regularly between the islands.

The distances between the atolls vary from a couple of miles up to about 20 miles but they all feel quite remote. PA241323 Pangai, the biggest town has around 600 people, there is a small airport, ferry terminal (otherwise described as an office in a disused container!), a couple of Chinese run mini markets, the Mariners Cafe and a handful of government offices  – this is a sleepy laid back part of the world.

The surrounding waters are strewn with reefs and the anchorages feel rather exposed.  This is an area to cruise in light winds from the east and clear skies, but this is not a perfect world and unfortunately we had our share of less than ideal weather . 

All Change as the Winds Change

For a few days after our arrival the winds changed to the west then south west and the clouds rolled in, PA201300not the ideal conditions to search out calmer anchorages through the reefs but we moved as we needed to and found some lovely spots along the way at Tatafa and Uoleva Islands. 

We were in a small gaggle of international boats, countries represented were NZ, Australia, Holland, France, Belgium, Sweden and Scotland.  Beach bonfires were common place late afternoon, weather permitting, a fun time was had by all.

Burst of Blue Again

Clear skies returned, islands and villages were explored and snorkelling excursions were undertaken but the underwater world we found here was rather disappointing,PA241336 it was great to see some live coral again and there were fish around  but they were few and far between.

We had another perfect sail in flat water heading due west towards the spectacular volcano of Kao.  Kao’s perfect cone rises boldly out of the ocean to a height of 1046m, its neighbour Tofua is larger but flat at 500m, however Tofua is still active and smoke wafted out of it almost continuously during our stay.  It must a been one seriously big bang and fireworks display when it blew its top off. PA241320

At Ha’afeva we wandered across the island to the village.  The interior was quite different to what we expected, well fed cows grazed in the shade of trees and are kept for milking, pigs and chickens roam free through the village, PA241321acres of land are cultivated for gardens (pig free) and we were offered the chance to buy much needed fresh supplies - papaya, bananas and spring onions were available. 

Off we went on a walk in the hot sun to our vendors garden to get the produce, what he failed to mention was that it was about 30 minutes each way and we ended up with a stalk of about 200 green bananas, 2 green papaya larger than rugby balls (all still green with no signs of ripening) and enough spring onions to supply the whole anchorage.  Lets hope the fruit ripens so we can eat some before we get to NZ!


In the village there was quite an assortment of properties, the three above were all inhabited, the middle one being the best on the island,PA251381 can’t imagine how the other two might have survived the recent cyclone, maybe they actually rebuilt these with all the bits that blew away!

There is a large Mormon Church and School and it seems several of the villagers now live and work in Utah, the money they send home basically supports their extended families completely.  We had lunch with one of the locals, his brother lives in Salt Lake City and he flies to visit him in the USA every year.  Auka and his wife provided lunch for 8 of us and didn’t want payment but appreciated a few bits and pieces we could offer that were not easily available here.  We have found people with very little are the most generous.


The few days of glorious weather we were experiencing was about to change, no wind and cloud cover were forecast for the foreseeable so we decided to use the last of the wind, do a long day sail and head south to Tonga’s Capital Nuku’alofa.

Would This Be Our Last Landfall Before New Zealand???? 


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

VIP Visitor in Vava’u ….. Sep & Oct 2016


19 Sep – 15 Oct:  Various Spots Around Vava’u ~ 18 42S  173 55W


Exploring the Outer Islands

From mid September to mid October we had a fabulous spell of weather except for just a couple of days when a frontal system came through, clouds rolled in and the skies opened.  During the rains the laundry was done, boats were given bubble baths, water tanks were filled to overflowing everything sparkled and then the clouds cleared and sensational clear days with light breezes returned, just magic.

We made the most of the settled conditions to leave Neiafu Harbour and venture a little further out and visit some of the more exposed anchorages   We had a marvellous few days anchored off Kenutu Island in company with Kinabalu, Confidence & Amarula.


This is one of the eastern barrier islands, it is fringed by reef and the water colours were exceptional.  We had beach bonfires, reef snorkels, island walks and a dingy excursion to find hidden caves and instead found the most hospitable Oz/NZ couple who proudly showed us through their amazing newly built property with one of the best views we have ever seen from a home, (plus they have the cave in their back garden!)P9221066We moved on to explore the Blue Lagoon and South Hunga Island, beautiful spots but disappointing snorkelling.   P9191024Recent batterings by cyclones and possible warmer water temperatures seem to have taken their toll on the coral around these parts, the vibrant live coral we had hoped to see was no where to be found, fish life was varied but not plentiful.

We snorkelled the reef at the Coral Gardens on Vaka’eitu Island, this was the best we saw in Vava’u, but still nothing special.  The highlight of our underwater snorkelling excursions was visiting Swallows Cave, the late afternoon sun sends shards of light piercing through the water down into the depths of the cave.  P9191009PA121249

Huge schools of small fish form tight balls, the light reflects off them and the inky blackness is a magical backdrop, IMG_8730you feel like you are floating in outer space surrounded by thousands of shiny silver torpedoes ~ quite something.

We’ve Got A Visitor

My sister Denise decided to fly up from Auckland and visit us for a few days, it was just going to be a quick trip to catch up with us and have a little peak at Vava’u.  Unfortunately it was made even shorter when her flight from Nukualofa to Vava’u was cancelled because there wasn’t enough wind to land!  Luckily she was able to rebook on the first flight the next morning so we just lost one night.

P9301132It was great to have Denise onboard, she came laden with all sorts of goodies – mainly that we could eat and drink, yummy.  We had worked out a short itinerary for her visit so off we went from Neiafu shortly after her arrival.  Skipper couldn’t resist raising all the sails in the perfect conditions and we had a wonderful sail down to Vaka’eitu arriving in plenty of time for bubbles onboard Balvenie before venturing ashore for the Saturday night Tongan Traditional Pig Roast.   PA011135  

Next morning us girls left skipper in peace to read the Sunday papers (the joys of modern technology!) and we did a walk over the island to a lovely long white sandy beach on the windward side, then we found a short trail across to the lagoon side to a tiny beach with lovely clear water where a few yachts were anchored off.  We had a relaxing dip in the warm waters and dried off in the sun, quite a treat for me, we rarely go ashore for a swim (just jump off Balvenie) and never sit in the sun during the heat of the day – it was lovely for a change!PA021143

Mid afternoon entertainment saw us racing friends on Tactical Directions and Ta-B as we all moved around to the beautiful anchorage at Port Maurelle, staging point for us all for our big excursion the following day.  Tactical Directions cheated and put his main up, instant disqualification – therefore Balvenie won!!

As the sun dipped over the horizon and reddened the sky we drank more bubbles and feasted on local fresh lobster, life’s good.

Swimming With the Whales – WowIMG_8759

Next morning it was an early start, us along with crews on Tactical Directions and Ta-B were all collected at 7.30am by Beluga Diving and off we speed on our Whale Watching day trip.  This has been on my “bucket list” for a very long time, and I understand that Tonga is the only country that actually allows you to get in the water with the whales to observe them.  It was an opportunity that just couldn’t be missed and we hadn’t spoken to anyone who hadn’t swam with the whales on a day tour in the past couple of months – but we were reaching the end of the season, so fingers crossed we wouldn’t be the first!.  Again we were blessed by excellent weather and calm seas, but unfortunately the whales wanted to play hide and seek with us.PA021159 It was a long day with several false starts.  We found whales but none of the mothers with calves were in a “resting state”, it seems they were all giving swimming lessons to their babies, after all they have a big trip to Antarctica coming up soon.  PA021188Our guides found a couple lying about, but as soon as we got in to observe them they shied away, gone in a flash.

Mid afternoon, just as we were giving up hope, we found a resting mother with a playful calf.  In we got as quick as a flash and we spent about half an hour lying in the water watching these giants.  The mother was stationery but the calf moved around, roaming off to have a look around and check us out then returning to mum to report.

Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t great, but the shear size of these ocean wanderers, even as babies will be etched in our memories forever.   There was much excitement as the mother rose for air, PA021190suddenly this giant below us became a mega giant just a few feet away as we all scattered to get out of her way, now that was quite a moment and left the adrenaline pumping for the entire journey home!

Next day it was back to Neiafu for Denise to catch her afternoon flight home.  It had just been a short stay but we fitted lots in and had a great time, thanks for coming Denise and experiencing a little slice of our life. 

Festival Time

PA071205I picked up a nasty bug and was flat on my back for several days while the annual Blue Water Festival activities carried on around me.  Mark raced onboard Tactical Directions in the “Round the Islands” Race, with a gun boat and best crew it was no surprise that they took line honours, well done.

I made it to the final event, the prize giving. It was a great evening with a local school band set up in the carpark providing the music.  They were just great and all under 15!  Tactical Directions picked up the top prize, spot prizes were handed out to nearly everyone, a fun night was had by all. PA071201

More provisioning for fresh produce was done, everyone was talking about leaving.  Some were going to Fiji, some directly to New Zealand, others to Minerva Reef, a few were heading north to the Marshalls.  All were getting ready to leave soon with the cyclone season approaching. 

We had one final big gathering in Port Maurelle, a farewell bonfire for sundowners.  Vava’u has certainly been a special place, we are all sad to leave.

Time To Think About Heading South To The Ha’apai Group