Again I haven’t been writing a blog for a long time – specially when it comes to blogs in English language.. The last message was from Raiatea, to where we headed back from Bora Bora to put our guest Jinxiu on a plane back to civilisation and haul Qi out of the water to do some overdue repairs.
I will try keep the Raiatea story short as nobody wants to hear too much of broken stuff and sickness. We checked in to the CNI boatyard in Raiatea and had Qi hauled on to
the dry with their trailer. I chose CNI although I usually do not like to haul the boat on trailers because of the wide wing keel, but the travelift of Raiatea Haulout, CNI’s competitor sitting in the same yard seemed very small and I was afraid I would have to remove the wind generator, solar panels and maybe even the backstay to make Qi fit into it. Everything went well and once on the hard we could clearly see, that it was about time to take care of our rudder and skeg. The skeg was flexing badly making the whole rudder unstable and after taking off the rudder we saw that it had a big crack along the front side which is normally hidden by the skeg. I also removed
the rudder transmission which had come loose due to corroded bolts three days into our 21 day passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas. This together with the worn out rudder bearings had been a constant source of nasty noises and anxiety on all our pacific ocean crossings so far. The gearbox once taken out was in a vey bad shape. The bottom of the case was half way gone due to galvanic corrosion and the gears had been exposed to salt water and the corroded remains of the case bottom. On first sight it seemed to be beyond repair.
We had moved our bedroom to the front cabin and the back quarters were turned into a tool shed. Outside glassfibre was being grinded away to expose the wet material inside of the base of the skeg and poleyster dust slowly crept into the boat. Our sweet home had turned into a construction site.
After one week on the hard Gaylyn and I got sick. Both of us had high fever. We had been warned that there was a dengue outbreak on Raiatea and we had tried to keep the mosquitos out of our front cabin, but they would still be waiting for us in the saloon in the mornings and in the evening. Being sick with high fever is bad enough but in the state that Qi was in it was really nasty. On the hard you cannot use the boats toilets so every time you need to go, you have to force your weary body 4 metres down the steep ladder to leave the boat and seek the filthy boatyard restroom. At the same time I tried to keep up a minimum amount of presence to supervise the people working on the boat because we were anxious to get back into the water as soon as possible.
To make a long story short, we got the welders to fix the gearbox and with some minor modifications we got it back in place – as good as new. The rudder was repaired and sealed again, the rudder bearings were replaced and the skeg was reinforced. I might have to do some more work once in Australia but we are convinced that Qi was fit to attack the remaining 3000 nautical miles to Oz.
By the time we were ready to put Qi back in the water our fever was gone but we were still incredibly weak. I had spoken to Phillipe, a friend from the boat Ulani (we had met them in Panama) who entered the boatyard when we were ready to leave and he informed me that what I had was most likely not dengue but zika (some strange virus spreading from Africa). He had fallen sick after his previous visit to the boatyard and he told me that it was not over yet for me and that soon my legs would turn bright red. He was right, for the next two weeks both Gaylyn and I were still very weak and my calves and feet shone in bright crimson colour. By the time of writing the colour is gone but my legs are still shedding the damaged skin.
It took us another few days to gain enough strength to sail to Bora Bora again, where we hoped to hang out in the lagoon, regain strength and meet friends which were gathered there waiting for the weather window for the passage west.
We managed to enjoy our time in Bora Bora, taking it easy, snorkeling with mantas and we eventually had our wedding dinner at the Mai Kai Yacht Club, an extremely delicious meal but also probably the most expensive ones I have ever had.
When we felt better and the weather reports showed fair winds out west we sailed off to Tonga. It was the last of the long passages and we made the 1280 nm in 9 days in low to moderate winds. At the same time it was the first pacific passage without nasty noises from the rudder, feeling at ease with the boat. We had decided to leave out the several little islands on the way because we were getting anxious to get to Oz and part of them had complicated or costly checkin procedures. Already the cyclone season was about to start and we still wanted to explore Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and New
Caledonia. Once in Tonga of course we had to listen to stories full of wonderful experiences other sailors had on Samoa, Maupihaa, Suwarov, Niue or the Cook Islands. Bad luck, we will have to visit them the next time around.
Tonga is very different from the pacific Islands we have visited before. Galapagos and the Marquesas are of volcanic origin and relatively young. They are mountainous and stick right out of the sea without any outlying reefs. The Tuamotus are actually sunken islands. All that remains are the coral rim reefs that have managed to grow fast enough to stay at the surface while the actual island has sunken beneath the sea long ago. The Society Islands are like the Toamotus but at an earlier stage. The vulcanic mountains are still above the surface but they are slowly sinking and the rim reef is often a mile away from the actual island forming a huge lagoon.
Tonga is very different, it looks like a flat layer of limestone that has emerged from the sea. The Vava’u group of Tonga consists of a huge amount of islands. Some are smaller than Qi, the biggest one allmost 10 nm wide. All of them feature steep limestone cliffs and every now and then a beautiful sandy beach. The islands are covered in forest and palm trees. Spread around them are plenty of coral reefs and in between lots of clear blue water, well protected from the pacific swell. Those are the ingredients to a sailors paradise.
To our great surprise Tonga was full of cruising boats and the Blue Water Festival was on – a series of events sponsored by the Whangarei and Opua Marinas of New Zealand. We grabbed a mooring in the bay of Neiafu and having arrived on a Sunday had to remain on the boat until we could head to the customs dock on Monday morning. After checking in with the extremely friendly customs, quarantine, health inspection and immigration officers we were free to roam the town.
We had a beautiful time meeting up with plenty of boats we had met along the way.
As part of the blue water festival a regatta was planned for Wednesday. We had no plans to participate as Gaylyn had hurt her hands not paying enought attention to the vicious gennacker sheet on the way over and it would have been way too much work to sail Qi alone. On Tuesday evening a frenchmen contacted me at the bar and asked me for information about the race. I told him that I knew where the regatta comitee was (they were in a bar next door) and offered to introduce him to the organizer of the race. He asked me if I wanted to sail with him as race crew and I agreed. The following morning, Gaylyn and I joined Didier our french skipper and Annemeike a female dutch/canadian tourist on his boat ‘See You Later Aligator’, which turned out to be a
french built 38 ft cruiser/racer. Didier seemed to be very confident as well as competent and from the start we were the second boat in the race. The leading vessel was Rewa, a US 60 ft ketch. ‘See You Later Aligator’, beeing built for racing was an interesting boat to sail and moved at astonishing high speeds even in low winds and specially on close reaches it could not be beat. Didier sailed without mercy but still we never managed to catch up with Rewa. At one point Outsider, friends of our on an Australian cat rushed past us with incredible speed but on the next close reach they messed it up and fell back again. On the last tack Blue Note, another Otremer cat overtook so that we came in
overall third and second monohull. We spent annother beautiful day on ‘See You Later Aligator’ sailing back to Neiafu.
The next day was just as exiting as we had booked a tour to go swimming with the whales. We left early and it took a while to spot the first humpbacks. Unfortunately they were not cooperative, played hide and seek with us before they vanished in the deep.. We had almost given up (October is the end of the season and the whales are leaving Tonga) when we spotted a mother and calf dozing in the sea. We had a lovely time watching the calf play around its mother, a truly unique experience.
After that we were ready to spend some time in the outlying islands, exploring the reefs and villages. As we are currently running out of time because of the cyclone season approaching we zoomed through 6 anchorages in 3 days. A pity because Tonga definately deserves more of out time, but we had already picked a weather window to get to Fiji.
We had calculated 4 days for the 430 nautical miles to Fiji and we were anxious to arrive no earlier than Monday morning because the Fijian officials charge vast fees for working outside of their regular office hours. As usual the GFS weather predictions were not quite correct and instead of 15kn we had 25 too 35 kn of wind, nasty seas and
traveled at 6-7 knots speed. As a result we arrived in Fijian waters way too early. We scanned our charts for anchorages in the outlying reefs and islands, hoping to find a place to anchor for a night without being noticed. We decided to try our luck at Wailagilala Island, a circular reef containing a little island that seemed too small and remote to be inhabited.
It turned out to be extremely beautiful, a large sandy shallow surrounded the island, perfect to anchor in 3m of water. The wind was still blowing with 20kn and
the anchorage was a little rocky but after 2 days of large ocean swells we were comfortable and enjoyed the relative calm. There were lots of boobies around that greeted us with there rather harsh voices and were desperate to land on the boat. Their main point of interest seemed to be the wind generator which was spinning at high speed in the strong wind. We were actually happy about the amount of power the generator was producing but the birds constantly kept approaching the rotor and got dangerously close to the blades. We ended up having to stop it and the birds soon lost interest. It seemed to be the spinning rotor they were attracted by and I ended up improvising a black flag that I hung on to the tail of the generator to keep off the boobies.
Meanwhile we are legally checked in to Fiji, or rather almost about to leave it behind again but that is another story that will hopefully not take a month to be told..