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.
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 Tasmania. 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.
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. First 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”
A 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!
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.
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, 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. With 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, 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.
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.
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
We 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.
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!
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.