Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Beautiful Bay of Islands ….. December 2016

05 – 10 December:  Russell & Matauwhi Bay – 35 18S 174 07W

After the Bubbles Settled

The celebrations continued for a few days as more and more yachts arrived into Opua.  This was the light at the end of the tunnel for many boats after a long long passage across the vast Pacific Ocean.  We spent a week in the Bay of Islands Marina washing layers of salt off the outside, cleaning and sorting out the inside of Balvenie.  Laundry was done (ah the joys of washing machines) sim cards were activated, Wi-Fi connections made to reconnect with the world.  Then came the task of restocking the lockers with all our old kiwi favourites and undertaking taste tests to find new ones.  We were back “in the land of stuff”, and didn't our wallets know it.

Historic Russell, Hellhole of the Pacific!

We left the marina after a week and headed off 4 miles back out the Veronica Channel to Russell, gosh I like these little short hops!

This has always been a favourite spot for us to visit, although this was the first time we had arrived on our own boat.  Russell was settled long before Captain Cook arrived in 1769 and thrived as a provisioning stopover, mainly for whaling ships.  It expanded quickly in the early 1800’s and for a time became known as the Hellhole of the Pacific, it once had the most public houses (pubs) in NZ and was the countries first capital.

The restored historic Duke of Marlborough Hotel has prime position on the waterfront and was issued the first hotel license in New Zealand in 1840.  When the whaling ships left and the capital was relocated to Auckland things quietened down considerably.  Most visitors arrive now as day-trippers by ferry from nearby Paihia and discover a charming compact sleepy seaside town with handsome historic buildings lining the bay.    
We enjoyed a few nights anchored outside the moored boats, the ferry wash during the day does get a little annoying but tolerable, if you want to take a mooring call Russell Radio on VHF63 and they will allocate you one if there is anything available, they take payment too.

New to the Blog ……..  

Worthwhile Walks

 We are keen on keeping fit and jumping off the back of Balvenie for a swim and snorkel just isn’t an option until the water warms up considerably.  So for now we will enjoy walking, both for exercise, spotting birdlife and seeing the countryside.  Now that we are home we will share worthwhile walks we enjoy and try to give a few directions so if you want to follow in our footsteps you wont get (too) lost.  Warning though, we do like hills and we walk fast.  The DOC signs I refer to are the yellow and green Department of Conservation ones, they normally indicate times of walks and level of fitness required, sometimes they have a map.

From Russell Wharf to Tapeka Pa via Maiki Hill Flagstaff (3hrs – shorter options detailed, good hills) 

From Russell Wharf turn left along the waterfront, past the Duke of Marlborough along road.  Turn right at junction before car park then left straight away and follow the road up the steep hill.  (If you just want to go to the Flagstaff take this road to end then footpath through bush).  On the left there is a marked DOC bush track on the left off the road, it is detailed as alternative route to the Flagstaff, take this downhill to the T junction.  (You can go left here back to Russell only at Low tide).  Turn right up the hill to the road.  Continue up road, another marked track on your left offers a side trip down to a small beach about 10-15mins return. 
Back on road another 100 metres on right is track up to Flagstaff.  Lovely view, also short track across to Sundial up here, in between these two in the car park is track on right which takes you back to original steep road and Russell.   

To continue to Tapeka Pa retrace steps from Flagstaff down short track to road and turn right then left along main road.  Take care, there is no footpath but it is not a busy road.  Along here a way on the right is a marked private track open to the public, it goes down through the bush and there is a boardwalk through wetlands, it re-joins the road just before Tapeka settlement.  This is a small coastal village with no shops.  Follow road to right then around to left then there is a DOC track sign on left at top of road, some uphilling then levels off, this takes you out to the end of the peninsula for a wonderful view of the islands.  Return same way to Tapeka settlement.  From there is a low tide only walk back to Russell along rocks, we were there at low tide but the track wasn't obvious to us so we  returned via the road to Russell.

Here Comes Summer!!

Saturday, 10 December 2016

We Have Circumnavigated the World ~ Opua ….. November 2016

25 Nov -  04 Dec 2016:  Bay of Islands Marina, Opua ~ 38 18S 174 07E

We Are Back in New ZealandPB261813

In the early hours of the 25th of November, under the cover of total darkness Balvenie motored the final few miles into the Bay of Islands. We navigated our way up Veronica Passage and at 02.30am nudged up to the Customs and Quarantine Dock in Opua. (Huge thanks to Conrad on Ruby Danger and Eric and Cathy on Erica for staying up and helping us tie up.) 

We had sailed around the world and were back in New Zealand, we looked at each other in amazement, we had done it, we had really done it.


Yellow flags flying, the Customs & Quarantine Dock is full

PB261815Let The Parties Being

The adrenaline was flowing, as was the rum.  There was little sleep to be had as yacht after yacht arrived during the early hours of the morning and into the day.  Each new arrival joined in the party atmosphere on the dock, all were relieved to have their last big passage of a very long journey across the Pacific finally behind them. The long trip south to New Zealand from the tropics can never be taken lightly.  

The NZ Customs & Quarantine staff did an excellent job of processing us all in a timely manner, considering they had a cruise ship in port too.  They were professional, friendly and welcoming – a great introduction to New Zealand for all our foreign friends.PC031829

20161203_173318We headed into the Bay of Islands Marina for a week to treat ourselves.

The Island Cruising Associations’ All Points Rally festivities were in their final days and we managed to take part in some of the events. It was a very social time and wonderful to have a central focus for us to regroup, say hellos and goodbyes before we all start going separate ways over summer.P1100233


The Balvenie Celebration Party

The numbers for our Welcome Home/Circumnavigation/Magellan Netters/Pacific Crossers party just kept on swelling, I truly thought everyone would be partied out, but no, they came out in force to celebrate – we filled the Opua Yacht Club with nearly 100 happy cruisers. 

My brother-in-law Robert drove up from Auckland (Denise my sister was overseas), Martha and Bryce off Silver Fern (retired cruisers who completed their circumnavigation last year) and with whom we spent many an anchorage on our journey drove cross country, and some of this years cruisers who were already down in Whangarei came up for the occasion too,PB261817 it was a very special fun evening.

The Magellan Net Awards

To add some light hearted fun to the evening we hosted the first and probably the only ever Magellan Net  Awards.  The HF/ SSB Radio on a sailing vessel would have to be one of the most important pieces of equipment onboard.  For us it has been our lifeline for communicating almost everyday when at sea or in remote anchorages for the last 12 years.  It is the offshore cruisers version of Facebook for keeping in touch with cruising friends.

PB261819We have participated in a cruisers net ever since we left Auckland in 2004.  We have “met” hundreds of cruisers over the radio, a handful we never met in person, but most we did and many have become lasting friends.

In Portugal during the summer of 2011 we started up the Magellan Net (nickname Magnet) with friends Andrew and Clare on Eye Candy (still in French Polynesia) for all of us that were sailing across the Atlantic Ocean that season. By November 2011 we had over 30 boats checking in regularly to the net.P1100230 

The boats have changed over the years but the Magnet stood the test of time.  It underwent a necessary split earlier this year, the Poly Magnet stayed in French Polynesia with Eye Candy and helpers keeping it going, the Magnet kept heading west and now south – last week we still had over 20 boats calling in daily, we along with several other net controllers have brought it home to New Zealand and we will try to keep it running while cruising over summer. 

P1100208And So To The Awards

Prizes of a Bottle of New Zealand Wine or Bags of Chocolate fish went to:

Most Entrepreneurial Mini Magneters ~ “Pizza on the Reef” Team (best read the Minerva blog if you don’t know about them), Noah & Ferne on Jade, Horatio & Noah on Enough, Alice, Felix & Tiffen on Kalon and Zara on Aislado.  All under 10year olds!

Most Amazing Mum ~ Michelle on Jade for having 8 mini magnetters making pizza dough in her galleyP1100219

Longest Time Between Checking In and Us Meeting Them ~ Jeanette & Neil on Echo Echo who first checked in while in the Bahamas and we met them finally in Tahiti .  Jeanette also received an honouree award for sounding the most distressed (her version is sea sickness) but she never gave up!

Checked In on the Most Different Boats ~ Bill & Gene on Out of the Bag who also did 2 deliveries while Magnetters on Blue Dream and Kiwi Beanz – crazy or what?P1100215

Best Radio Signal in the Fleet ~ Went to Eye Candy but as they are still in French Polynesia unfortunately they missed out - Omweg gladly took 2nd place and drunk the wine on their behalf, cheers from Ilona & Frans!P1100228

Most Speeding Infringements & Most Exotic Destination ~ Russell, Greer & Family on the catamaran Tika were the only yacht to go to Norfolk Island as well as reporting the fastest boat speed in the fleet doing nearly 19 knots one morning.  Out of the Bag lodged a late protest claiming higher speeds.  Too late, bad luck!

Fastest Mono This Season ~ Couldn’t quite win this ourselves, and we did try.  Well done Jeff, Miriam & boys on Enough (they are longer than us so we reluctantly conceded to them)

Most Patient Magnetter ~ Single-hander P1100202Garry on Freedom Song seemed to spend a good part of the season bobbing around waiting for wind or waiting for the wind to change direction so he could sail.  Then some of these guys wonder why they are single handing!

Most Improvement Checking In ~ Charlie, crewing on Sahula got thrown into checking in one morning and was totally unprepared and well, it was a shambles.  After a little guidance she was spot on in future and was chuffed with her wine for getting it all wrong first time!P1100241

Most Concise Checking In ~ Lanny on Swiftsure missed out as they have headed north to the Marshalls for Cyclone Season (told them not to) but Verner on Windance III was very happy to receive a Pinot Noir for 2nd and enjoyed every drop

Lifetime Achievement Award As Longest Serving Magnetter ~ Tony on Tactical Directions has been with us on the Magnet since it started as he popped out of the Med and headed for Morocco in 2011.PC031831  Actually we first heard Tony on the ‘Sheila Net’ as we all headed north up the eastern Australian coast way back in 2005, he is also our longest cruising friend still out here with us!!  

For those of you that read this and haven’t cruised, it will be hard for you to understand how big a part of our circumnavigation our cruisers nets have been along the way.PC051851  For those of you that are cruisers, well - you know.

We are a small transient community, the Magnet (and all the other earlier models – Namba, Sheila, Over the Top, Sandeq, Turkey Shoot & Dragnet) have been our lifelines.

Thanks to all of you that have shared these times with us as we sailed around the world, we couldn’t have done it without you.

The Circumnavigation May Have Ended But The Memories & Friendships Will Last Forever

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Green Green Grass of Home ….. November 2016


Day 6 Underway Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand

Position at 6 22pm 24 Nov 16

34 30.712s 174 17.694e
Heading 180T,

Speed 4.5 knots sailing

Sunny skies, 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

1710 HRS – Land Ahoy on the Starboard Bow!!!!!!!!!!!!

PB221800We 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 yesterday


Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Been Around The World ….. November 2016


Day 5 Underway Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand

Position at 6.22pm 23 Nov 2016

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. PB221784

Miles to run  172 to Customs Dock in Opua

24 hour run 134 miles, good speeds overnight but slower in light winds today

We Have Circumnavigated the Globe!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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 cruisingIMG_0614 (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.IMG_0622   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

PB231802Day 4 Underway Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand

Position at 5pm 22 Nov 16 

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.IMG_0605  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 ….. November

Day 3 Underway Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand

Position at 5pm 21 Nov 2016  27:53S  176:53EIMG_0610

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 Are Moving On ….. Nov 2016

Day 2 Underway Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand

Position at 5pm 20 Nov 2016   26:00S  178:44EPB161782

Heading 203T, Speed 6knots,  Wind up and down but trying to settle 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 south western corner of the reef at Minerva while the front passed below and the swell increased to over 3 metres.  Except 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.

IMG_0606On Friday the 18th 12 of the slower yachts 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 frequently, but slowly backing around to the east, then it will hopefully settle in to a rhythm for a few days to push us on our way.

All's well on board, just trying to get some sleep.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Magical Moments at Minerva Reef….. November 2016

09 – 19 November 2016:  North Minerva Reef ~ 23 37S 178 54W


Our Passage South  from Tonga

There was a mass exodus from Big Mama’s anchorage off Pangaimotu Island, Tongatapu on this partly cloudy Wednesday morning in November.  PB101480Several of us had gathered at Big Mama’s the previous evening for the “last supper”  (whoops! we were an hour late as we hadn’t changed our clocks to Tongan Summer time, didn’t seem worth it for 2 days)

The consensus was unchanged – Wednesday and Thursday were the best days to sail to Minerva Reef, 270 miles south.  The winds would be out of the south-south-east but light, the swell under a metre, the skies partly cloudy, the moon waxing in the final quarter- ah perfect! 

When we got up at 7am the first 3 boats had already left and we could see them slipping out of the pass to the east.  A couple more left soon after, they exited via the north pass. PB111552 When we left at 9.30am we had Randivag in front of us and Windance III behind us, we all went out the western pass. Funny how we all have different tactics to get to the same place!  3 more left in the afternoon, the mass exodus was underway.PB111547

Day One was somewhat more lively than expected, funny that, we really should know better by now.  The winds were 15 – 18 knots in front of the beam so we sailed as close to the wind as we could without becoming a submarine, the waves crashed over the bow frequently ~ on a positive note the teak deck got a very thorough water blasting, but the clean stainless steel got thoroughly  covered in salt – yet again! 

Day Two conditions were far more favourable, the wind eased to around 12 knots, much more comfortable and lovely sailing on the wind. 

PB111518North Minerva Gets Invaded

Just after dawn on Day Three we were amongst the leaders in the procession of yachts arriving, not just the 12 we knew about but more floated in directly from Vava’u and the Ha’apai, it was party time in this very remote paradise.  The clouds parted, and daylight exposed this mid ocean masterpiece.  North Minerva Reef is like a donut with a little piece nibbled out of the west side to allow entry into the inside ring.  You can anchor almost anywhere in here but we all headed up to the Northern end for the best protection for the next few days.PB111536       

PB111538Boats just kept arriving, we peaked at 26, one of the busiest anchorages we had been in for a while.  The “promised” weather window to migrate south was still developing and no one wanted to miss out !!  Meanwhile the weather was perfect here while we listened to the reports of gales buffeting northern New Zealand and temperatures of 10c in our homeland.   No one was in a hurry to leave this last slice of the tropics!PB111501

The Water Has Got Cold!

We dinghied in company with Confidence and Gypsy Heart to the reef entry to snorkel the pass.  Definitely something to do in company as you don’t want to break down out here alone with the closest land 270 miles away!   Jumping overboard took our breath away, the water temperature felt freezing initially but it wasn’t so bad once we adjusted to it.  We saw live colourful coral, thousands of Sergent-Majors, several white tipped sharks, a brown puffer fish (with a happy looking face on top if you look at the photo again) and several dinner sized fish down in the depths.


One afternoon there was a buzz of activity as we were overflown by the New Zealand Air Force Orion.  VHF Channel 16 burst into (official) life as we were all asked to provide our boat names for them.  They circled a couple of times, were very friendly and professional, wished us all a safe sail then flew off into the sun.  It was reassuring to know we were being watched!  PB131627PB131566

Pizza Delivery in Paradise

The days passed by, a couple of boats left but were replaced by late runners from Tonga.PB141720  There were 7 boats with children onboard so there was a holiday atmosphere as endless activities were planned to keep them all amused.  Michelle on Jade risked total chaos in her galley when she had 8 children making pizza dough one afternoon.  Early the next evening Pizza on the Reef delivered piping hot pizzas to the yachts that had pre-ordered, unfortunately we had moved anchorage so missed out.  All proceeds were donated to a Kiwi Sanctuary in Whangarei, well done to all the budding pizza chefs!PB131619

The snorkelling inside the reef edge was very good and walks on the reef were popular at low tide, especially on the eastern and southern reefs which dried completely.  The reef was vast, about 400 metres deep and in places flat and even enough to run along or even ride a bike ~ no we didn’t take our bikes ashore! 

On the seaward side there were hundreds of indentations along the edge, full of hidey holes for dinner sized fish and lobsters.  Those with spear guns would catch enough to feed everyone in a matter of minutes, and were happy to share them around.  We had a very good diet of fresh fish and lobster during our stay.PB161773   

We  moved around the inside of the reef as the winds changed direction and ended up enjoying 3 anchorages, it was surprising how different the reef was at low tide in the various spots, great to have time to see it all.  We even found the sand cay inside the southern curve, you had to be quick though, it only dried for about 2 hours each low tide.

Is It Really Time To Go? PB161752 

The promised weather window of a big slow moving high continued to develop although shortened slightly by a mild low that was to follow. 

The slower boats in the fleet started to eye up a departure a day before the rest of us so they could arrive into Opua in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands before the low, this meant however that they would leave Minerva and beat into a 20 knot sou’wester and 3 metre swell for the first day, the remnants of the big low we were waiting to pass ~ yuk.PB141724  One boat left and soon after there was a steady trickle heading for the pass.  Half the fleet did go and reported a bouncy first night and little gain of their distance to Opua.  The rest of us enjoyed another peaceful and calm night in our remote Pacific paradise, the last night at anchor on our amazing voyage ~ what a spot to end it all. 

All good things do have to come to an end, this was a major ending for us and 3 other kiwi boats though, we were all on the last leg of our circumnavigation of this huge planet.

Next morning we completed our final preparations for our passage home and lifted anchor at 7.30am.  We were the second yacht to exit the pass out of North Minerva that morning, by 11.30am the last had left, peace returned to this outstanding tiny speck in the South Pacific.

     There Is Nowhere Else To Stop – We Are Going Home