Sunday, 20 December 2015

The 12 Years of Christmas

On The First Day Year of ChristmasPC240002

As our 12th Cruising Christmas approaches we have been reminiscing over our last 11 years.  Our planned 5 year circumnavigation has been ever so slightly extended, country by country and year by year.  Now that we are back in our home Pacific Ocean the journey is nearing the end, next Christmas “should” have us back in New Zealand waters, having done the full circle with a few side trips thrown in along the way.  It’s a longish blog update, but squeezing 12 phenomenal years and 64 diverse countries into one update was always going to be a tall order. Enjoy!

2004 ~ The Beginning – Off to the Tropics

On a clear, crisp early May morning we said our final tearful farewells and departed Auckland, New Zealand in company with a dozen boats on the Ponsonby Cruising Club Auckland to Musket Cove, Fiji Rally. 10 long days later we arrived in paradise and our cruising life began.168 sydney

After several weeks enjoying Fiji and slipping effortlessly into the cruising culture we joined the migration west to Vanuatu where the imposing volcanic islands offered a total contrast to the coral reefs, atolls and white sandy beaches of Fiji.

Then the tropics cruising season drew to a close as the threat of cyclones increased so we headed further west to Australia, making landfall in Brisbane, then slowly explored the east coast making our way south to Sydney for Christmas and New Year.

2005 ~ The Paths least Travelled

The journey south continued, down the long eastern coast of Australia, across infamous Bass Strait and on to TasmaniaDSC00812[1]Summer was spent exploring this beautiful island, then as autumn approached cooler temperatures pushed us north, all the way back up to Queensland where we farewelled Australia and headed offshore to the Louisiades Archipelago of Papua New Guinea.  In these small remote islands time has stood still, it was truly an amazing place and we have seen nothing else to compare.

As the next cyclone season loomed we left this Pacific paradise and sailed back to Queensland, Australia.  This is the only Christmas Skipper and I have ever had apart,  I flew home to my family in Auckland for a quick visit and Mark stayed with Balvenie in Cairns.

2006 ~ Leaving the Pacific Behind & on to Asia

Early New Year 2006 we headed south down the Australian Coast, trying to stay out of harms way, dodging tropical storms and cyclones, some just a little too close for comfort.  As soon as it was safe enough to turn north again we joined an armada of yachts heading for Darwin where we all joined the Sail Indonesia Rally.20071227_04

We enjoyed a wonderful 6 months in Indonesia, Borneo, Malaysia, Singapore and onto Thailand for Christmas.  It was an extremely sociable time with activities, sailing, parties and cultural events.  The people and traditions varied extensively from island to island, as did the food and languages ~ one of our best years.

A very quiet Christmas day was had in Phuket, with skipper suffering from a monumental hangover following the Christmas Eve Mega Party at the Jungle Bar, quite a night!  The Christmas day cruiser beach party was attended oh so briefly.

2007 ~ Not Much Sailing, Flights Are So Much Easier!

After cruising Thailand we backtracked to Langkawi in Malaysia and left Balvenie for the monsoon season.  20071225_24First we flew to Auckland for a catch up down under, then returned to Malaysia for some inland touring and boat projects and then flew to England, our other home.   We visited Marks family, bought an old car and drove down to Valencia in Spain to watch Team New Zealand compete in the Americas Cup, drove onto France to join friends on a canal boat, then slipped across the border to Switzerland to visit more friends and hiking in the Alps.

Back to Balvenie to complete boat jobs, provision until we were overflowing and then we departed for Thailand again and spent Christmas with very good friends in the Surin Islands, a couple of hundred miles offshore from Thailand.

2008 ~ Off to Explore “The Old World”

PC250019A busy few months started with crossing the Bay of Bengal as we sailed to the Andaman Islands of India for New Year.  We then moved on to the Indian Ocean with stops at Sri Lanka & the Maldives, as different as chalk and cheese.

We were lucky for it still to be “relatively safe” to head for the Red Sea, so we ventured up to Oman and Yemen, then passed the Gates of Hell into the Red Sea, visiting Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt.  We did inland travel in all these unique countries and realize how very lucky we were being able to visit them in a quieter time, they were truly exceptional.  At the top of the Suez Canal we popped out into the Mediterranean and headed for Cyprus then Turkey.  What an astounding year with such a blend of landscapes, culture,s religions and languages, there will never be another with such a mix!P6280011

2009 – Exploring Mediterranean Europe

We wintered over in Turkey and before it was really quite warm enough we left Marmaris and started our exploration of the Med.  The Turkish Coast and offshore islands were all covered, then we headed to the Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea, all of them absolute gems.  We touched parts of mainland Greece, transited the Corinth Canal arriving into the Ionian Sea and continued our weeks of Greek Island hopping.  Then we went north to Montenegro and Croatia where we enjoyed endless summer festivals until we pointed Balvenies bow westwards and headed for Italy

Italy and her people stole our hearts and we didn’t want to leave but with autumn storms menacing us and nowhere suitable to stop on her shores for winter we left and headed to Malta where we tied up  Balvenie for several months over winter.  We took this opportunity to head back to New Zealand for summer and England for winter.


2010 ~ Much, Much More of The Med Prawns on the barbie, Christmas 2010 in Cartagena

On leaving Malta Italy beckoned us again and we couldn't resist her charms. Sicily and her other nearby offshore island were all visited and loved, and the west coast mainland was discovered. Corsica and Sardinia just couldn’t be missed and were equally as impressive, but we returned to Italy’s shores again for one last pizza and gelato!

We followed the coast westwards with a minibreak in Monaco, life in the fast lane, certainly not to be missed and then it was on to the glitzy French Riviera where money and champagne flowed from every super yacht we shared anchorages with.

The Mediterranean summers pass by too quickly and early autumn storms started rolling in with too much regularity so we headed across to Spain's Balearic Islands for an all too brief stop then crossed to the Spanish mainland and wintered Balvenie in Cartagena for our 3rd European off season.

2011 ~ Moving to a New Continent and the “New World”

The New Year started with us enjoying a ski holiday in Switzerland,P1090147 then we caught up with Marks family for a belated Christmas in London before we returned to Spain and embarked on some serious boat projects.  We made time for a weeks touring of Southern Spain before we let the lines go and started our journey ever westwards.

Spring was spent marina hopping along the southern Spanish coast, with a side trip down to Mediterranean Morocco, weeks were spent in Gibraltar doing this and that then we got spat out of the Med and sampled our first taste of the Atlantic, cruising more of Spain and then southern Portugal through till late summer.

We joined “The Class of 2011”, heading south in autumn to Morocco where we travelled inland on our most exotic and enjoyable land excursion undertaken. P1010001With the pending Atlantic Crossing overshadowing all our thoughts we headed south to the Canary Islands for a few enjoyable weeks and in early December we embarked on the first stage of our Atlantic Crossing with kiwi friend Tony onboard.  It was a very lively passage and we all regrouped in the Cape Verdes, looking for the best weather window to head to the Caribbean. Christmas came and on Boxing Day we lifted anchor and headed out.

2012 ~ The Many Faces of the Caribbean

Two weeks later we arrived in Barbados and our Caribbean odyssey began.  We had crossed with a great bunch of people,PC270017 from island to island the fun continued, it seemed such a long time since we had had coconut palms swaying in the trades, white sandy beaches, snorkelling and all with the bonus of cheap rum.  Life was good and the tiny island countries passed by, all The Grenadines were delightful then we moved south to Grenada where the chain runs out!

So we turned right and carried on ever westwards across the southern Caribbean, stopping at Venezuela’s remote offshore islands and then the heavily Dutch influenced islands of Bonaire, Curacáo and Aruba.  We sampled South America with a few weeks spent in vibrant Colombia then with the hurricane season approaching we decided to head south west to the San Blas Islands of Panama, out of harms way.PC250008

As with the Pacific Cyclone Season it is about a 5 month off season, when it ended at the beginning of December we headed north to Providencia then arrived in the off shore islands of Honduras in time for Christmas.

2013 – Covering the Americas

More of Central America followed with a wonderful time spent in Belize, then onto the eastern tip of Mexico.  We sailed across to Cuba and captured the spirit of this amazing controversial country, taking time off Balvenie and exploring some of the countryside and towns.  This exceptional country was certainly a highlight of our travels.PC260255

We crossed the straits to Florida in May and started our extensive tour of the eastern USA coast.  On Independence Day we rounded infamous Cape Hatteras in perfect conditions watching fireworks displays along the coast.

New York was amazing – just as we expected, Long Island Sound oozed with wealth but the pearl was Maine with outstanding scenery, pocket sized fishing harbours unchanged for decades and the most hospitable people.  As with anywhere in a temperate climate the cold pushed us out then chased us down the coast.  When our lines starting icing over in North Carolina late November it was absolutely time to head south.  Christmas was spent sheltering from a northerly storm in the stunning Bahamas.

2014 ~ Capturing the Heart of the Caribbean

Christmas in Cartagena 2010We took what is called “The Thorny Path” to return to the Caribbean, many many miles to windward, but each one worth it.  After a magical time in the Bahamas we flew through the Turks & Cacaos then returned to the Spanish speaking world, exploring the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico both onboard Balvenie and by car.

The Virgin Islands were superb, we rendevouzed with several friends, had some “competitive friendly sailing” and started our way down the Caribbean chain.   Few shores were left untouched, St Kitts & Nevis, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and St Lucia all offered something different, we were speaking French one week, back to English the next.  Finally we had done the full Caribbean circle when we returned to Bequia, then it was familiar territory down to Grenada as another hurricane season was upon us.PC250133

We left Balvenie and spent the summer home in England enjoying long hot days and all that is beautiful about English summers.  It was a period of serious boat maintenance on our return before retracing our steps north back up the Caribbean Island chain for the last time.

Favourite spots were revisited and we finally got to Antigua and Barbuda, we couldn’t leave the Caribbean without visiting them.  We ended up in St Barts for Christmas, the Caribbean equivalent to the French Riviera, dozens of super yachts filled the marina and lay at anchor,  the rich and famous were out to play big time.  But we found a small cove that they couldn’t fit in and along with several others cruisers enjoyed our laid back Christmas watching how the other half spend their money!

2015 ~ Finally this Year, Our Return to the PacificPC210026

We had a couple more spots on our “Caribbean Bucket List”, first was St Maartens where we ended up leaving Balvenie for several weeks for an unplanned visit to New Zealand.  Before Easter we were back onboard and ready to go.  We slipped through the Virgins again taking advantage of the excellent provisioning for the long passages and remote areas ahead.  We moved quickly across to Haiti, a world apart from more affluent islands and finally we reached Jamaica, all bucket list countries were successfully ticked off.

We awaited a weather window to Panama then more provisioning followed until Balvenie could take no more and groaned at her seams.  We transited the Panama Canal, the Caribbean forever left behind & the Pacific stretching far out in front of us.  The Galapagos exceeded all our expectations, what an incredible wonderland of nature, the bird and sea life were exceptional, it was a breathtaking, unique island chain - surely a one off in this diverse world of ours.

So after crossing the vast South Eastern Pacific Ocean we now we are in the Marquesas, the most easterly part of French Polynesia where we are staying until the end of the Cyclone Season, about another 4 months.  There are close to 100 yachts spread around the islands, so we are not alone.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Lets Stay n Play in Nuka Hiva ..... December 2015

23 Nov – 07 Dec 2015:  Taioha’e, Nuka Hiva, Marquesas ~ 8 54S  140 05W

PB240025 Christmas Comes Early

Nothing much has changed in the last few weeks, can’t believe we have already whiled away 8 weeks here, how times flies when you are having fun or doing boat projects!  Our first reason (excuse) for not leaving here was that our Australian friends Roger and Sasha on Ednbal were putting together a bulk order for food and drink to be purchased by an agent in Tahiti and shipped up here on the Aranui.  They offered us the opportunity to piggy back onto their order so we too did a bulk order and eagerly awaited the ships arrival.  PB240030

The rain gave us a few hours reprieve, dozens of boxes were unloaded, checked, sorted into who’s who piles, carried to the dinghy, ferried home, unloaded and stowed, all in a long days work!  Most food and drink items can be bought here locally (not ginger ale) at the minimarkets (there is certainly nothing as large as a supermarket) prices aren’t too bad considering we are truly in the middle of nowhere, but the convenience of getting all this lot onboard in one go was great.  Well done and thanks to Sasha for the hours she spent organising it all.

Next Reason To Stay

With a large contingent of American boats in the anchorage (we have peaked at 59 yachts in here, after only 15 on our arrival!) an evening get together was organised for Thanksgiving, which just happened to coincide with another birthday for skipper.  There is a small Pension and Restaurant owned and operated by Rosie, an American woman who sailed here in the 70’s, liked it so much so made her home here.

PB260002 PB260006

Mark with Dave & Jan off Dulcinea, Suzy, Dena, Terry, Neil, Barry & Sylvia off Iolani, Distant Drummer & Libby  plus there were 2 more tables full, an excellent attendance and evening 

PB280011 Rosie agreed to provide a Thanksgiving dinner, several of us “non Americans” were given honorary citizenship for the evening and we all enjoyed a fine meal of roast turkey & stuffing, chicken, wild goat in coconut milk, poisson cru and a selection of salads, all excellent.  However several of us did comment amongst ourselves in amazement that the fruit salad on the desert table was tinned.  Fresh fruit drips from every tree on this island, just why they used tinned fruit was beyond comprehension.

PB280036Can’t Leave Now, It’s Festival Time

Coming up in mid December is the 4 yearly Marquesan Cultural Festival  to be held down in Atuona on Hiva Oa.  We are still undecided as to whether we sail the 90 miles back down to attend but meanwhile we got to see our very own sneak preview as the dance troupe from Nuka Hiva performed in the Festival of Patrimonie right here on our door step in Taioha’e.

It was a full days entertainment starting with wild pork, goat and vegetables being wrapped in banana leaves and placed in the pre-dug umu (just like a NZ hangi) by 7am, we of course missed this bit, still sleeps time for us! PB280052   During the morning there were basket weaving classes and a walk of the historical sights with commentary in French and Marquesan so skipped those too  ~ but we spent a long hot afternoon ashore sampling the hot steamed food straight from the underground oven, and melt in your mouth fresh tuna caught just hours previously.  There were displays of wood carving & tapa cloth making, children played on the beautiful hand crafted drums and a festival atmosphere filled the air.

Late afternoon, with the hot sun beating down, the first performance began, a group of young high school youths ~ tattoos painted on made them look quite fearsome and their warrior dance had the crowd cheering.PB280024PB280178    We were treated to an excellent display of dance late afternoon and early evening but you can’t see it as we were asked not to post photos online until after the festival in Hiva Oa so we will have to post a special edition of festival photos after Dec 15, but I will say that the costumes and dance moves were fabulous. PC070196

Time To Move On?

There have been so many boats coming and going, the social activities have flowed, way too much food and drink has been consumed, more happy hours, pot lucks, dinners ashore, dinghy fishing competition (no fish caught, well just one that got away by Libby!), snorkelling expeditions and sundowner dinghy raft-ups.

It is great to be back part of an active cruising community but sadly this is a “scattering point”.  We have boats being left here at anchor while owners fly home for a few months, Mezzaluna, Ednbal and several others have departed for Hiva Oa to get prime positions in the small anchorage for the big festival, and newly made friends on  Libby, Iolani and Distant Drummer are actively seeking a weather window to head north to Hawaii.  PC060186

We are definitely not heading to Hawaii, both Skipper and Admiral are in agreement on that one, jury is still out on whether we head south for the big festival or just have a change of scenery in another anchorage here on Nuka Hiva.

Who knows, after 8 weeks in the muddy bottom maybe the anchor just wont come up and we will have to stay put here!

8 days Till The Festival, Best Make Our Minds Up Soon