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


Friday, 11 November 2016

Benny & The Jets–2 Days Tonga to Minerva ….. Nov 2016

09 – 11 Nov 2016: Passage to North Minerva Reef ~23 37.165S 178 54.301S

PB101475This 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.PB101489

Our big excitement yesterday morning was seeing two jet streams, we have been wondering when we would start seeing signs of civilisation again ~ the last jet streams 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