Where we were this Winter

As you might already know, we spent winter in Fiji but that we have done twice before. This winter we decided to dedicate the whole cruising season to Fiji so that on our 3rd visit we would at last make it to the remoter areas – like the Lau Group.
After a quiet crossing – we waited for the right weather for a long time in Opua and finally got it a bit too quiet – and a beautiful stopover in Minerva Reef we arrived in Vuda Point Marina and checked in. We spent a while hanging around Vuda, Musket Cove and spent a lovely week with Gaylyn’s daughter Sam – visiting the Mamanuka and Yasawa Islands. Unfortunately some of the Mamanukas were off limits for us due to the Australian Survivor being recorded there. Just heard from Gaylyn Sam is having a good time watching the show now and seeing how it is all being put together.
Next we set off north following the west coast of Vitu Levu for two days – motor-sailing behind the reefs up to the northern most point of Vitu Levu where we anchored in lee of the the Island of Nananu-i-Rau.
The next day we crossed the Bligh Water to Nambouwalu on Vanua Levu in a beautiful south-easterly breeze that gave us mostly over 7 knots of speed on a 60° wind angle. Just before entering the reefs of Vanua Levu a beautiful Mahi-Mahi took our lure and we managed to bring it in. I still have the scars on my fingers where I attempted to haul him in hand over hand without gloves on..
We spent the night in Nandi Bay, where we had a nice Visit from some locals and set off early the next morning to make the Nasonsoni Passage on a slack high tide. We did not quite make it in time so the current washed us through the narrow channel with about three knots. The interesting part is the eastern exit. Here the swell of the Koro sea runs against the current and the waves run into the pass high and steep. Gaylyn who was keeping a lookout on the bow soon abandoned her exposed position as the bow was dipping dangerously deep into the waves. Luckily it was a rather calm day in the Koro Sea  – you would not want to try it in big swells and east going current.
We headed on close reaching, just making it past the reefs into Savusavu.
Savusavu is a nice place. Plenty of cheap Indian & Chinese restaurants make it almost cheaper to eat out than to cook yourselves. Also there is a big cruising community and plenty of entertainment. It is one of these hard to get away from places, specially if you are going east like us, because you have to wait for the wind to go all the way around to the south or north, so you can sail to Taveuni.

It took two attempts to get to the Lau Group. The first time we made it to Viani Bay, spent some time with Jack Fisher and went snorkeling on the Rainbow Reef. For the first time I realized, how the rainbow Reef got its name. Due to the effects of the high island of Taveuni, that sends the moist air up high and gathers plenty of rain there Rainbows in sky almost constantly. 

Our next stop was Taveuni – the Garden Island, where we wanted to do some hiking. Unfortunately Gaylyn slipped and fell while we were visiting the Water Slides and twisted her hip in a bad way.  I just managed to help her back down the track with the help of a young Fijian who happened to be around to where our taxi would pick us up and get her back on the boat. The next morning her hip was completely seized up – even getting her to sit up or helping her to the restroom was a major endeavor and very painful for Gaylyn. We decided to return to Savusavu to get her hip x-rayed to make sure nothing was broken.

Again we had a good time in Savusavu, Gaylyn took a while to get up and running but after 4 weeks we were ready for annother attempt to conquer the Lau Group. The trip from Savusavu to Taveuni and even more so to the Lau Group cannot be undertaken in any weather. For the first part you want a nice southerly breeze with not to much eastery in it. That lets you beat to east against the wind which is a bit of a pain because it is usually rough and you are pounding into the waves. But the closer you get to Taveuni the more the wind usually comes around to the south so that most of the time we make it into the Somosomo Strait / Viani Bay in one tack. We also managed to haul in a beautiful mahimahi on the way.

To be continued

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Hängengeblieben in Neuseeland

English Version

Wieder einmal bin ich in Neuseeland nicht zum Schreiben gekommen und das obwohl viel passiert ist seit meinem letzten Artikel im November. Die fotografischen Indizien könnt Ihr in der nachstehenden Galerie bewundern:

Gaylyn und ich hatten eine herrliche Zeit, den Großteil des Sommers verbrachten wir in der Bay of Islands. Meine Schwester Dagmar hat im Dezember für 4 Wochen vorbei geschaut und hatte Nadine eine Freundin im Schlepptau, die auch zur gleichen Zeit in Neuseeland reiste. Wir haben die Zeit mit Segeln, Wandern, Schwimmen (nur dir hart gesottenen) und Paddleboarding totgeschlagen. Nadine hat sich mit Gaylyns Cousin John und den Seinen angefreundet und hat nun einer Ersatzfamilie in Neuseeland. Kaum eine Woche später kam Gaylyns Freundin Andree vorbei und blieb für eine Woche.
Danach lies Gaylyn mich eine Weile allein um Ihr Buch in Neuseeland und später in Australien zu promoten. Sie hat sich gut amüsiert in Diversen Backpacker Hotels auf dem Weg und reichlich Zeitungs- und Radio-Interviews gegeben. Am Ende marschierte sie sogar direkt unangemeldet in eine lokale Fernsehstation und schaffte es mit einem Interview auf Sendung zu gehen. Gaylyn ist jetzt ein Prommi!

 
Gleich nach unserer Ankunft in Neuseeland haben wir begonnen die notwendigen Dokumente für meinen Antrag auf Residency (Aufenthalts- & Arbeitsgenehmigung) zusammen zu stellen. Wir waren schon immer etwas beunruhigt durch die Tatsache dass wir keinen gemeinsamen Platz zum Bleiben haben. Wohin wir auch gehen, immer muss nach ein paar Monaten mindestens einer von uns wieder gehen. Das wird zum Problem wenn jemand krank wird oder einfach mal ein wenig Geld verdienen will.
Den ersten Anlauf im Jahr 2016 hatten wir etwas zu spät angegangen und am Ende lief uns die Zeit davon und wir mussten einen unvollständigen Antrag abgeben der prompt abgelehnt wurde obwohl uns von der telefonischen Hotline dazu geraten worden war. Diesmal waren wir besser vorbereitet. Mein zuständiger Imigration Officer meldete sich schon nach ein paar Wochen und forderte Beweise für ein, dass ich mit gaylyn seit mindestens 12 Monaten in einer echten und stabilen Beziehung lebe. Wir schickten noch ein wenig Material ein und auf erneute Nachfrage bin ich dann die digitalen Fotoalben durchgegangen und habe alle Fotos herausgesucht, auf denen wir beide zu sehen waren. Die wurden dann ausgedruckt, mit Ort und Datum beschriftet und an Imigration verschickt. Danach gab es keine Zweifel mehr dass wir die letzten 4 Jahre viel rund um den Globus herum viel Spaß hatten. Wir mussten nur noch nachweisen, dass wir uns finanziell ein Weilchen über Wasser halten können dann waren wir durch.
Ich habe daher seit dem 31.03.2017 ein Aufenthaltsgenehmigung für Neuseeland. Gaylyn stellt mich seither als Gerwi (German Kiwi) vor.. Es gibt allerdings noch eine Einschränkung – das Visum erlaubt mir für zwei Jahre die Einreise und bis dahin muss ich bestimmte Kriterien erfüllen (z.B. 184 Tage pro Jahr im Lande sein) damit ich dann am 31.03.2019 einen Antrag auf eine permanente Aufenthaltsgenehmigung stellen kann.
Gegen Ende des Sommer wurden wir Jim vorgestellt. Jim ist ein Maori der eine wunderschönes Stück Land am Kerikeri besitzt um das er sich liebevoll kümmert. Er freut sich wenn Yachties vor seinem Strand ankern, ihm Gesellschaft leisten und vielleicht ein wenig beim Gärtnern helfen. Gaylyn ist zwar Vegetarierin, was sie jedoch nicht davon abhält gleichzeitig eine enthusiastische Fischerin zu sein. Jim hat das sofort erkannt und lud uns zum Fischen ein. Nachdem wir vor seinem Strand mit einem Netz reichlich kleine Fische für Köder eingesammelt hatten, ging es raus zum Angeln. Der erste Tag verlief für mich erfolglos. Zum Glück fingen Jim und Gaylyn ein paar schöne Snapper. An der Langleine war noch ein extra großer Brocken so dass das abendliche Essen gesichert war. Am nächsten Tag war ich dann dran und habe nicht nur meinen allerersten Fisch überhaupt sondern gleich darauf noch einen echten Prachtburschen, der mir mächtig Neid einbrachte. Bei Jim gibt es immer reichlich Fisch, Pippis und Austern..
Wir kamen zwei Wochen später noch einmal bei Jim vorbei um ein wenig zu fischen. Ein paar Freunde von Ihm waren schon da und Abends gab es im Feuer gebackenen Kawahai. Am nächsten Tag gab wurde erneut frischer Fisch gefangen und Gaylyn zauberte Poissont Cru sowie ein Fisch-Curry vom Kawahai und dazu gab es in Knoblauch gebratene Pippis.

Für die nächsten 2 Jahre werden wir uns wohl im Sommer in Neuseeland herumtreiben und den Winter auf den Inseln (Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Neu Kaledonien) verbringen. Nächsten Sommer wollen wir in Neuseeland mal nach Arbeit schauen um die Reisekasse aufzufüllen – vielleicht bleiben wir ja sogar mal über Winter.
Aktuell wird es hier mal wieder reichlich frisch und wir warten auf ein Wetterfenster um nach Fiji aufzubrechen. Unglücklicherweise sind zwei verspätete Zyklonen (Donna und Ella) aufgetaucht und das Wetter sieht allgemein noch etwas chaotisch aus im Norden. Daher warten wir noch bis sich das Wetter beruhigt hat. Diverse Boote die schon vorher aufgebrochen sind, sind in teils lebensbedrohliche Situationen geraten und weitere schauen mit Sorge auf die (hoffentlich) vorbeiziehenden Wirbelstürme. Nicht die Art von Wetter mit dem wir uns herumschlagen möchten.
Morgen ziehen die Reste des Wirbelsturms Donna über Neuseeland weg und bringen einen Haufen Wind und Regen sowie kalte Luft von Süden. Wir haben uns in die Marina verdrückt..

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Stuck in NZ

German Version

And again I have not posted while in NZ although plenty has happened since my last post in November. See the photographic evidence in the Gallery below:


Gaylyn and I have had  a beautiful time, spending most of Summer in the Bay of Islands. My sister Dagmar dropped by for a 4 week visit in December and with her came Nadine, a friend from Germany who was travelling NZ at the same time. We had a great time sailing, hiking and hanging out in the Bay of Islands together.  Nadine made good friends with Gaylyn’s  cousin John’s lot  and has an alternative family in New Zealand now. They were followed by Andree – a friend of Gaylyn’s from Australia who joined us for a week.

After that Gaylyn took off to promote her book – first in the South Island of NZ and later in Australia. She had plenty of fun touring the backpackers in New Zealand and doing newspaper and radio interviews in several places. She even walked into a local TV-station and managed to get an interview on TV. She is a real celebrity now.

Shortly after arriving we had started gathering all sorts of materials needed for a second attempt to get me NZ residency. We have always felt a bit uneasy about the fact that we have no common place to stay. Wherever we go one of us will have to leave after 3 to 6 months, so if one of us gets sick or needs to stay for other reasons we are in trouble.

In the first attempt in 2016 we rushed things a bit and ran out of time in the end, missing some documents that had to come in from Germany. This time we had it all sorted. My case officer – an Indian lady came back to me two weeks after handing in the application and asked for more proof of a genuine and stable relationship with Gaylyn. We handed in some more material and ended up sending a whole bunch of photos picturing me and Gaylyn over the last 4 years.The photos we sent were documented regarding the whereabouts and time on the back. That made it quite clear that we had been together and having fun half way around the globe for an extended amount of time. After that the case officer seemed convinced that we were together and only asked for proof, that we could fund ourselves for a while, which was not a problem to provide.

As a result since 31. of March 2017  I am a resident of New Zealand. I can legally work here and basically stay as long as I want. There is still a travel restriction in place though, which means that I can only enter the country for two years and have to meet certain requirements to qualify for permanent residency after the two year period.

Towards the end of summer we got introduced to Jim.  Jim is a Maori who has a beautiful property in the Kerikeri Inlet which he looks after. He enjoys having people around who enjoy the land and maybe lend a hand in the garden. He invited us to come fishing and after catching some bait in nets outside of his little beach we headed off to his favourite fishing spot. On the first day I did not score but Gaylyn and Jim caught some snapper and we had a huge snapper on the long line he had laid out. On day two I caught my first fish ever, and shortly after that a mighty snapper. There is never a shortage of fish, pipis and oysters  when you are around Jim’s place.

We came back two weeks later for some more fishing and ended up having a great feast of kahawai, smoked mullet and snapper, baked in the fire and some more fresh fish the next day served up by Gaylyn as poisson cru  followed by a fish curry and accompanied by pipis fried in garlic. Living off the land…   

So for the next two years we will hang around New Zealand for summer and spend  winter  in the Islands (Fiji,Tonga,Samoa, New Caledonia). For next summer we are actually planing to work and stock up our travel funds – we might even spend a winter…

Currently winter us coming once again in NZ and we are waiting for a weather window to leave to Fiji.  Unfortunately there have been two late cyclones (Donna & Ella) and the weather still looks sort of chaotic to the north, so we are forced to stay a bit longer. Several boats that have left earlier got in some sort of trouble and others that made it to the islands then hand to buckle down to weather a passing cyclone. Not the sort of experiences we are looking for.

Tomorrow the remains of cyclone Donna are crossing the North Island and it looks like a lot of rain and wind is coming our way.  We are going to duck in to the Marina later today. 

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Back to NZ

We have arrived in Aoteroa – the land of the long white cloud and indeed we spotted some impressive clouds coming close.  I haven’t written since the Somosomo Strait and Rainbow Reef and much has happened since then. It seems we had too good a time enjoying Fiji to spend much time on the computer. 

In fast forward mode: Left Rainbow Reef, visited the hot springs in Fawn Harbour, stopped over in Savusau, visited Namena Reef with Haveachat and Silhouette, sailed on to the Yasawas via Nabouwalu and Yandua, sailed up and down the Yasawas and Namukas twice and finally took off to NZ. 

I will highlight some of the above:  

Diving Namena Reef was stunning although I must say that my best dive in Fiji was clearly that on the Purple Gardens near Savusavu. But Namena has great potential and we clearly did not explore enough to find the best spots.

After our first trip down the Yasawas we went to Vuda Point Marina  to pick up Gaylyn’s Brother Alec. We enjoyed a beautiful downwind sail in the calm waters of the Yasawa Islands. It was perfect timing too because once we were safely moored in the marina a front hit Fiji with gusts of 40 kn which would clearly have been very uncomfortable to weather on anchor.  

With Alec on board we headed to Musket Cove and to to allow him to have a go at Cloud Break. Again the timing was perfect as there was no wind and the Swells were just right – Alec ended up having a great day on the surf spots around Namotu Island. 

We cruised up the Yasawas once more and had a beautiful time. The Island group although way more touristic than Vitu Levu offers a lot of beautiful beaches, stunning coral reefs and remote villages where sailors are still welcome. We attended our first ever kava ceremony. Although we went through several cups of kava (high tide) we did not get very stoned. I guess you have to spend half a day drinking with the boys before you get a properly drunk on kava.   

Alec caught 3 beautiful big Spanish mackerels and a bonito which supplied delicious fish meals most of our time in the Yasawas. All the same our dwindling food supplies and an upcoming weather window for the trip to NZ put an end to our cruising and we returned to Vuda Point Marina.  

After restocking on fresh food and checking out we left Fiji on Wednesday the 26.10 at 13:00. We were surprised to find a lot more wind on the open Pacific than the  forecast had lead us to expect. Our strategy was to maintain a comfortable close reach around 50 to 60 degrees apparent and thus go rather further west than the direct route would suggest, hoping to catch a westerly breeze once closer to NZ. This approach worked well – we spent almost 6 days close reaching at good speeds, sailing rather by the wind than by a set course. Day 7 brought several hours of a nice north-westerly blow and then a nasty little front with heavy gusts just a day sail north of Cape Reinga.

After getting seriously soaked by the front we spent 12 hours fighting against a southerly breeze that forced  us to go west again with hardly any progress towards NZ. Just when we were forced to tack, to not get on the wrong side of NZ the wind turned to SW as predicted and we had a beautiful sail down the east coast of the North Island. We made it into the bay of Islands under sail and moored up on the quarantine dock in Opua at 6:00 on Friday 04.11 after 8 days and 17 hours.

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Stunning Rainbow Reef

We went Diving yesterday and again today with local dive guide Jack Fisher. He shows you the best places in the Rainbow Reef and takes care of you and your boat while you enjoy the stunning underwater world of the Reef. He is the best option if you want to explore the Rainbow Reef without paying big dollars for every dive and a pleasant company to have on board. Not only does he navigate you safely through the treacherous reefs and currents, shows you where and how to anchor your boat, he is also a fascinating source of stories and insights into Fiji today and decades ago. Many thanks for the Israeli catamaran Shuti and its lovely crew for hosting us yesterday. Below see a gallery of our dives so far. We will continue to explore the reef tomorrow and I will add new pics to the gallery as they come.

Day One, Cabbage Patch

Day 2, Fish Factory:

Day 3, Rainbow Reef South Pass

Posted in Diving, English, Seefahrt | 1 Comment

Fiji in Shades of Grey

If you are expecting some sort of erotic adventure I am sorry to disappoint you. The title is referring to the weather in Fiji. I have recently added code to all my webpages to include Google analytics and Google search console. Google search console lets you learn how your web pages are found by search engines, which keywords lead to your pages being listed in Google searches and which searches actually lead to people landing on your web page. I had some interesting insights.

A rare ray of sunlight in the convergance zone

A rare ray of sunlight in the convergance zone

An article (sorry it’s in German) about a boat that vaguely resembles an UFO lured people interested in aliens to my page. So I thought lets give Shades of Grey a try, it might attract some poor souls while they are googling the web for erotic delights. Search console will keep me informed about the success of this venture.

But that’s not what my travel blog is really about. The last blog ends when we leave Wallis with destination Fiji. Consequently that is where this blog starts..

Rainy Savusavu

Rainy Savusavu

The passage to Fiji was mostly unpleasant: The first night was a never ending sequence of squalls with rain and plenty of wind, followed by a day and another night of constant rain and wind. The SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone) payed us a lengthy visit. Only the last day was pleasant. We raced through the reefs and atolls east of Vanua Levu into the Somosomo Strait to get through the pass between Vanua Levu and Taveuni before dark. But even average Speeds of above 7 knots only got us there by sundown and we reached our final destination Savsusavu at 3:00 am. It was pitch black in the Nakama Creek but we managed to find a vacant mooring to tie on to. I was slightly shocked when I looked around in the morning and noticed how close we had navigated Qi past a nasty reef that protruded from the water at low tide only 15 m behind our mooring. I must stop this stupid habit of sailing into anchorages at night.

A view of Savusavu - Qi circled in red

A view of Savusavu – Qi circled in red

Savusavu is a beautiful place, I have probably written about it already in 2014 but it can’t be said often enough. Good cheap internet (cheaper than NZ), a good variety of affordable fresh food in the markets and delicious cheep restaurants on shore. We  usually get away with about 13 $US for a meal for the two of us including starters, and drinks. Fiji also features extremely friendly people and not to mention plenty of friendly cruisers. First we were a bit disappointed about the weather though. Quite a bit of rain and no sun in days. Until one morning I noticed how good it felt not to break into a sweat and get roasted by the sun while paddle boarding up the creek and I learnt to embrace the weather. It is actually quite nice to be out of the scourging sun of Wallis and Samoa.

Hanging out in Savusavu we heard about the Rainbow Reef of the Somosomo Strait and that it is one of the worlds top dive sites and I decided I would have to give it a go. Going back east against the trades is quite a challenge so I looked at local dive operators first. Well over 170 EUR per person for the 50 mile trip and a two tank dive made me change my mind. Also we wanted to take a look at Taveuni, which is said to be very beautiful. After looking at buses and ferries to Taveuni I notices that a slight change in the wind to the south was due for Thursday which might allow me to reach Taveuni in only two tacks beating up against about 20 kn of wind.

Jack Fisher - best yachtie guide for the Rainbow Reef

Jack Fisher – best yachtie guide for the Rainbow Reef

So after getting our cruising permit organized we left Savusavu on Thursday at 5:00 am. It was a rough sail, pointing as high as we could into 20 to 28 kn of apparent wind and a nasty 1.5 m sea. These are the times when you look at your rig and listen to the noises of the waves crashing into the boat and ask yourself if you are not too hard on it. It looked like my two tack calculation would not work out and I ended up setting our autopilot into wind vane mode to keep a constant angle of 40 degrees to the wind which was the best we could do in the waves. As the wind increased our averages went well above 6 kn and to our delight the wind gradually turned further to south. I recon this is partly due to the effect of closing in to the lee of the mountainous  island of Taveuni, redirecting the wind in our favor. Sailing at a constant angle to the wind our track described a wide curve only just avoiding to hit land, the course gradually changing from 65° for starters to 100° in the end.

Shuti Crew

Shuti Crew

We arrived in Viani Bay around 2:30 pm and anchored outside of Jack Fisher’s place next to the Israeli catamaran Shuti. After a brief nap I payed Shuti a visit on the paddle board and they invited us to join them on their boat for a snorkeling trip to the reef with local guide Jack the next day. So the next morning we headed of to a dive site called Cabbage Patch and  spent a pleasant day with the crew of Shuti and Jack. Gaylyn entertained the children with games and the delicious lunch reminded us of our Atlantic crossing with Israeli crew.

 

 

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Where the heck is Wallis

My last blog was from Savai’i, the wilder Island of Samoa, so I have quite a bit to catch up on because after a brief stop in (where the heck is) Wallis we have meanwhile arrived in Fiji.

gaylyn having a hip bath

gaylyn having a hip bath

Things were going a bit slow on Savai’i as Gaylyn got sick after having a pina colada (no, not what you think, only one) at a resort on shore. She started to fast which she kept up for almost 2 weeks and as always life turns a bit stale when Gaylyn is fasting. She spends most of her time lying in bed so we are not undertaking any major expeditions and I have to entertain myself.

Gahi

Gahi

We left Savai’i and sailed to the beautiful island of Wallis (200 nm east of Samoa) which I stumbled  over when plotting the course from Samoa to Fiji. On arrival at Wallis it was blowing 30 knots from SE and the anchorage of Mata Utu, where you have to check in was untenable so we moved right on to the bay of Gahi.

Wallis is a French overseas territory which automatically implies that nobody speaks English. Luckily they do speak French there so I got along OK – Gaylyn was mostly the silent bystander which she did not overly enjoy. Only on the very last land trip we met the island Judge who was willing and able to speak English with us.

halalo

Qi anchored in Halalo

Wallis also is a bit special in that there is no public transport (no buses, no taxis) and that the internet is hard to find and bandwidth is at the level of a 9600 baud modem (about 1 kbyte/sec). It took 2 attempts to download the first 2 photos of Gaylyn’s brand new grandson Charlie.

To move around you have to hitchhike (some of the older readers might still remember how to do it),  which works really well because the Wallisians are incredibly friendly, pick you up quickly and usually deliver you to where you want to go even if it is nowhere close to were they are actually heading. Also there are a lot of cars because the French take good care of their colonies – it seems everybody on the island owns a 4 wheel drive although it is completely unclear what the Island actually lives of as there is no tourism apart from a handful of visiting yachts. If you walk the streets in Wallis everybody stares at you – the art of walking seems to have been forgotten.

Jungle on Ile Faioa

Jungle on Ile Faioa

The wind kept on blowing rather hard for most of our time in Wallis and Gaylyn kept on fasting so we did not get much done. At least we managed to visit some of the outlying islands which are scattered over the rim reef of the lagoon. Wallis offers stunningly beautiful views over the lagoon specially in areal photos that you can see at the hairdresser in Mata Utu. We visited his shop accidentally because the guys in the souvenir shop next door told us we could get postcards there. Turns out the hairdresser sells everything from haircuts to photos, computer accessories and t-shirts. Coolest shop in Mata Utu. We bought a pair of Wallis t-shirts just to confuse all those who have never heard of the place.

Enjoying the beach on Ile Faioa

Enjoying the beach on Ile Faioa

Unfortunately the water in the lagoon is rather murky, so we found the snorkeling less good than you would expect. As the weather for the trip to Fiji looked rather challenging (sailing upwind with plenty of breeze and waves) I had to announce to Gaylyn that for the sake of safety on board we would have to stay in Wallis until she broke her fast and got stronger again. Gaylyn soon decided that she had had enough of fasting and of Wallis too and started eating again. So after checking out with the friendly gendarmes we left towards Fiji.

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Best Blowhole ever

Sounds a bit boring doesn’t it ? Best blowhole ever – so what.  But this one really left me impressed. I just couldn’t believe it. So I just have to special feature it.

We were touring the island of Savai’i, the wild western sister of Upulo, the bigger of the two main islands of Samoa. One of the attractions you find on the tourist map are the Alofaaga Blowholes located near Taga in the very south of the island.

The coastline here consists of lava flows that look like they are not very old. The black lava is cooking away in the intense sunlight, it feels like you get baked the minute you step onto it. The swell of the southern pacific crashes directly on to the  rocky coast. It seems that the lava is not as solid as it looks. When walking over to where the blowholes are you can hear hissing noises in places and looking into the puddles of salt water you see little bubbles forming periodically from fissures. It seems that parts of the rocks have lava tunnels running  underneath.  Some of these tunnels are directly connected to the surface of the rock by substantial holes that form the blowholes. When a wave crashes in to the mounds of the lava tunnels they create a huge pressure inside the cave which is released through the blowholes. This setup allows you walk up directly to the blowhole and virtually stand next to it while it blows. The holes are partly 10 or more meters away from where the waves crash into the coast.

This guarantees an amazing experience. While you stand next to a big gaping hole you better scan the waves coming in to the coast. Once you get a real big wave, get ready for what is going to happen next. The wave crashes into the rocks and after a 5 second delay the blowhole starts roaring like a starting jet and keeps the pressure up for several seconds spitting out a solid stream of air and water. Only at the end you get some plain water splashing out. The locals know the exact timing and will sometimes throw coconuts into the hole to entertain the tourists.  The coconuts are propelled more than 12 meters up into the air before they drop into the ocean.

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Honorable Mentions

I think I might qualify for an honorable mention by the Darwin Awards . The honorable mention is granted to those who have failed to receive the actual award due to survival but are up and coming to in the competition to win one soon. The Darwin Award is granted to individuals that remove themselves from the gene pool (kill themselves) in such an idiotic way, that their absence is likely to significantly improve the quality of the human gene pool in regards to intelligence.

The ladder to the pool

The ladder to the pool

Much has happened since my last regular blog on the beautiful island of Upolu/Samoa. Gaylyn has summed up some of it an article (Call to Action). In this article I will concentrate on the events that occurred at our last visit to To Sua – the beautiful Ocean Trench on Samoa.
To Sua is an ocean side park that attracts a lot of tourist and locals – probably the sightseeing hot spot on Upolu. Apart from blow holes, rock pools, cliffs and most beautiful gardens it features 2 big vertical holes of between 10 and 30 meters of diameter and about 12 meters depth, that contain a mixture of fresh water and ocean water. The two major holes are connected by a tunnel and there is also a dive thru connection to the open sea. Our marina neighbor Chris had invited us to join him to visit the place once more and this time we had heard of the swim through cave and taken goggles so that we could give it a try. Failing to take flippers might have been the first in a series of mistakes.

The cave I never got to see

The cave I never got to see

You have to negotiate a steep and slippery ladder to descend the last 7 meters to the pool that horrifies anyone who dislikes heights and is a serious barrier for little children or people with disabilities. Once in the pool I inspected the swim through cave from the outside and seeing the bodies of people inside noted, that it is a rather shallow dive of not more than 4 meters to where you can take a breath. Obviously there was a cave in the middle that was easy to reach and allowed you to take in air. After taking a deep breath I dove down and headed towards the cave.

Anyone who has been diving knows that when wearing googles your vision is restricted. You see mostly what is in front of and below you. Looking upwards requires an effort that involves taking your head all the way back or even bending your back backwards. When swimming swiftly it will reduce you speed to get you to rise to the surface.  Also in water that is not perfectly clear it is hard to judge distances correctly.

A beautiful hole in the ground

A beautiful hole in the ground

Starting into the cave I saw the light of the ocean in what appeared to be not too much of a distance. Drawn by the light I totally ignored what I had learned about the cave being only 4 meters away and swam towards the luring shine without ever bothering to look up. It took a while until I noticed that the end of the tunnel was not as near as I thought – it never crossed my mind though to stop and just rise to the surface even when my diaphragm started to twitch indicating that I was seriously running out of air.

Chris - a smart diver

Chris – a smart diver

I arrived at the surface of the ocean on the last of my breath an in a state of panic. My last thoughts before surfacing were about how long I would have before lack of oxygen would take me out. Not even then did I grasp my mistake. Instead I  worried about Gaylyn and Chris, knowing that I was most probably the most skilled free diver of the three of us in terms of being able to hold my breath.  When Chris surfaced half a minute later he was totally relaxed. He told me about the huge cave inside that runs for most of the distance of the passage. Obviously there is more to being a skilled diver than being able to hold your breath.

I still was so terrified by my experience that I decided to climb the steep face of the cliffs to return to the pool the dry way, rather than have another go at the cave. This turned out to be another most stupid decision, because I almost wet myself climbing the steep and slippery rocks.

tosua1Now this could be the end of the story. But obviously one serious panic and another fit of fear climbing the cliffs was not enough for the day. Back in the pool Chris told Gaylyn how easy it was to get to the cave. He had just crawled along the ceiling of the tunnel until he found air again. Gaylyn who had wisely stayed out of the cave so far decided to give it a go. Watching her go in from the outside I noted with horror that she was crawling away in the wrong direction. She was not going towards the blue light of the ocean but into some remote corner of the cave with no guaranty of finding air. Luckily Chris took off shortly after her and I was hoping he would take care of things.

Later it turned out that Gaylyn had been lucky enough to end up in a tiny cave with enough air to breathe. Seeing someone dive in she thought it was me again and called out thinking I was making the same mistake once more. Instead she heard Chris answer from the big cave and eventually found her way to meet him there.

Conclusion: Sometimes we forget that we are not 20 any more. Sometimes we even forget all the lessons we have learned since and also to stop and think when things do not work out as expected. On this day I have come close to drowning in the abundance of air only two meters away from me. I seriously think this would have qualified me for the Darwin Award had I not survived. As my substandard genes remain in the gene pool I will have to make another attempt to receive the award.

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Samoan Affairs

For the first time since Panama we have openly disobeyed official orders. I was about to write for the first time ever, but then our exit from Panama crossed my mind.  I will write about that another time – maybe. Our passports are missing an exit stamp from Panama, after lying to an immigration official and then taking off hurriedly skipping immigration exit procedures.

Here in Samoa it happened again.  We tried to do everything right, waited for two hours to get the paperwork from no less than the prime ministers office. Papers that would allow us to visit the island of Savai’i – the bigger of the two Samoan main islands after officially having checked out of the country. There were indications that this procedure was not agreed upon by customs but I thought that they might have figured it out meanwhile.

So after getting our letter and going through immigration exit procedures I proceeded to customs and stupidly told them what my plans were and showed them the letter to prove it was OK. As a foreign yacht I need to get an outgoing clearance from customs  – a document that states my next port of call, the crew and stores carried on board and that I have legally cleared out of the last port. Unfortunately they did not agree with my plans. I was told that I could visit Savai’i but would have to come back and that I would get my customs clearance only then.

I told them, that I needed a clearance to Wallis immediately and that it made me very sad, that I couldn’t visit the beautiful Island of Savai’i, because I was already cleared out by immigration and could not stay any longer without violating immigration laws. He agreed and started to tell me about nasty people who were violating the laws and visiting Savai’i illegally. He looked at me sternly, saying he hoped I was not one of those reckless people. I just did what I usually do in such a situation – just looked at him with a puzzled expression as if I had not quite understood what he was talking about.  At this point I was actually just very disappointed and thinking that I was going to miss out on Savai’i altogether.

I finally got my clearance but the customs officer confiscated my letter from the prime minister so I  took off to the boat in a very angry mood. We had started our quest at 9:00 o’clock and meanwhile it was 13:00 and I was sweating away in the heat of the day – I was hot and bothered. I proceeded straight to the boat and went right on to leave port. Only then it dawned to me that I had gotten myself in to a totally stupid situation – I was buggered (as they say in Australia).

The weather report predicted wind only for this day – hardly enough to get to Savai’i and no wind for the next 4 to 5 days. I would either have to motor the 220 miles to Wallis using up most of my precious fuel or spend the next 3 to 4 days bopping along on a very still Pacific Ocean. Also it was already too late to reach even the next possible anchorage before dark and I was not allowed to do that anyway. Gaylyn telling me how stupid it was to show customs the letter did not make my mood improve at all.

We took off. The port of Apia disappeared in the distance – very slowly because we were only making 3 to 4 knots of speed. It was about midnight when we reached the first possible anchorage and we decided to carry on and make our final decision once we reached Asau – the place where we were originally planing to stay on Savai’i.  After a pleasant night sail with a full moon, reaching on 7 to 8 knots of land breeze we arrived outside of Asau at 6:00 (giving us an average speed of 3.5 knots or 6.5 km/h – a bit faster than an average person on foot). Because it was still too dark to risk the entry through the reef I decided to heave to for a couple of hours which would allow me to get some sleep.

I was going towards 9:00 when I woke up again – it was time to make a decision. We decided that it was pointless to carry on with no wind and that we would try to claim an emergency stopover if someone cared to ask, pretending that our engine was playing up.

The entry through the reef was rather exiting. I was navigating with google earth footage but the sunlight was so bright that I had problems reading the tablet display properly. In Asau there is a channel going through the reef with the remains of an old sea wall to port and a reef to starboard. The swell breaks over both sides and the entry is hard to spot. You have to go awfully close to the nasty black rocks that remain of the old sea wall to get into the channel. I got into alarmingly shallow water before I understood that keeping a safe distance to the rocks was not an option.

Our friends of the sailing vessel Dione arrived several hours later. Sue of Dione – being a lawyer – claimed that the sole existence of the document from the prime ministers office was enough to allow me to stay. The fact that some customs officer had confiscated it was irrelevant. Well my previous experience with lawyers is that they are quick to tell you how things are supposed to be but that doesn’t really help much if some official has a different opinion on the matter.

We settled in anyway and started to forget about our unclear legal status until the next afternoon

Permitted to stay

Permitted to stay

when a rundown little tinny approached us with two police on board and the barkeeper of a close by resort who acted as the skipper. They were already taking photos of Qi from the outside and kept on doing so after boarding. When I asked them how I could help them they said they had come to see our permit. Gaylyn started telling them that it had mysteriously vanished but I do not like telling bullshit to officials, so I told them that customs hat taken it away.

Savai'i Police

Savai’i Police

They were not overly worried. Instead after telling us they would try to retrieve the document for us, they changed the topic and proceeded into the inside of the boat, made themselves comfortable and accepted our offer of drinks. The policewomen showed interest of my music that was running and her male college tried two glasses of the wine we had just got out for sun downers. They ended up taking plenty of photos of us and themselves and took off after 20 minutes, the male officer slightly clumsy from the effects of the wine.  We have not heard of them again so far..

 

 

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