Tuesday 9 July 2019

Looking back at our wake....

I'm now in a hotel room overlooking Nadi bay having a couple of nights ashore  before flying back to the UK tonight.  I think it's helpful to give Nicki and Richard time to get the boat ready for the next stage in the way that they would like it, whilst giving me time to reflect on the amazing journey we've had from Salcombe 1/2 way around the world to Fiji.

I think it will take months before I get a proper perspective on the trip.  Although it's near the end, it's difficult to shift the focus from the current 'What are we doing today?  Is the watermaker finally fixed properly?' to appreciating the adventure in the round.  Doubtless over the coming months and years our perspective will change and gradually settle down.  Some places and events will grow in the telling and the re-telling whilst others will probably slip from memory until perhaps jolted by a particular sound or smell.  I'm sure that the trip has had a profound effect on Jo's and my outlook - it's just not clear yet in what ways!

We left Salcombe and the end of August last year, and now Tintin is on the other side of the world, having sailed a shade under 14,000Nm.  That's an achievement of which I'm proud, especially as in that time the crew and boat were safe and secure at all times and I'm passing the boat into Nicki's extremely capable hands in 100% working order.

I'm going to try to recap the memories that first come to mind of the trip - so it might be a long blog! I also suspect that I'll get some 'How did you forget so-and-so?' - well, the answer is that I'm not going to cheat by looking at photos or previous blogs - it's just a brain dump.

Before leaving Salcombe we were delayed for a couple of days waiting for a suitable weather window.  When we did leave, we had a great send-off - escorted out of the harbour by a flotilla of friendly boats.
1st stop was Cameret.  Coming out of Cameret we got a rope around the prop and this was my first lesson in listening to the boat.  While motoring there was vibration and were going too slowly but it took my slow brain to work it out.  Halfway across Biscay, James went underwater with Bee on Shark watch to cut away the offending rope.  It was a long motor across a very flat Biscay but we saw loads of whales and dolphins until the wind picked up 100Nm from Spain and we had a good sail into La Coruna.  Onboard was R, J, James, Lizzie (from La Coruna), Bridget & Millie Anderson (as far as Camarinas) Ally Phillips (from Bayona).  Millie produced the lovely Tintin windvane.
NW Spain was a delight, as on our previous visit.  Food was fanastic, anchorages quiet and it was lovely to have the kids on board.  Great Cruising.Down the Portuguese coast to Peniche then Cascais  where we left the boat for a month.

We returned to Cascais with James Heath, Fred and Ben - the Atlantic crew - to sail Tintin to the Canaries.  Several days delay due to the first Portuguese hurricane in 200years.  Our passage to Madiera was windy and lumpy - the roughest we had on the whole voyage.  It got especially hairy as we approached Madiera where we were had 2 large, green waves land in the cockpit before we got into the lee of the island.  Ben and Fred had to leave but Jo, James and I had a relatively peaceful sail down to Tenerife - visible high above the horizon from 85miles.  Again we left the boat for a month.

When we returned on Nov14th it was the start of the 'long trip' for us.  A short hop across to Gran Canaria and then the parties and preparation for the ARC could start.  We met some people who we would get to know much better as we traversed the globe, including Aurora B and Pim.  The excitement around the marina was palpable - for many it was their first ocean crossing.

The Atlantic - and indeed all the ocean passages - do funny things to the mind.  Undoubtedly a long passage with plenty happening and never a moment of boredom and yet the number of firm memories is very limited.  James diving under the boat to clear the prop.  James climbing the mast to thread a new halyard.  Tintin Angling Society catching their first big fish.  Mostly it was rolling downwind in 15-20knots and sunny skies.  It was a great last few miles around the N of St Lucia to be met by rum punch and cheers on the dock.

It was great to meet the kids in Martinique and we had some good diving both there and St Lucia, with Bee and Lizzie getting Advanced PADI Diver.  Christmas Day at the very smart Body-Tonic (or something like that) resort was unique.  I couldn't stand it for a week, but a day there was lovely.

After New Year in Martinique, we returned to St Lucia to prepare for the World ARC.  The kids went home and we were joined by Nicki and Richard.  The World ARC fleet started to gel.  The 1st leg was 1000nm or so across the Caribbean sea to Columbia.  Very gentle sailing until the last few miles when  we screamed into the marina blown by upto 45knots.  Santa Marta surpassed our expectations as a safe and lively city - in stark contrast to nearby Venezuela.

We were delayed in Santa Marta for 2 days by excess of wind.  Aurora B suffered steering failure but recovered admirably. It was a relatively short passage to the San Blas Islands - our first experience of reefs.  We arrived early in the morning to be invited onboard Mango for a sumptuous breakfast.   More stunning anchorages, a brief visit to the crowded village - so exposed to the sea.

Then onto Panama.  Marina was far away from the city but a relaxed place.  We had a visit upriver to the Indian village which left unsure if/how/who was exploiting who.  We had a cock-up with anti-fouling which delayed us by 2 days.  That started the chain of events that led to Richard damaging his arm and meaning the he and Nicki needed to return to NZ.  The passage through the canal was memorable - stuck in a lock with a huge freighter just behind us.

in Panama, we had some entertaining phone calls as we searched for suitable replacement crew - and it was brilliant that Steve stepped in.  From there it was just Jo and I to the Las Perlas Islands.  Were awarded the inaugural Blue Jacket for, I think, coping with adversity.

Then it was 850nm passage to the Galapagos - crossing the Equator just before we reached San Cristobel.  Talk of the town was the incident aboard another WARC yacht.  Steve arrived - eventually - having returned to Ecuador after aborted landing during a thunderstorm of biblical proportions.  In the Galapagos we saw some wonderful wildlife - the sea-lions on park benches and in yacht cockpits (including ours); Iguanas with their own road crossing; wonderful diving and snorkeling; incredible bureaucracy; seeing the shimmering in the water as the Humboldt current met the equatorial current; our first experience of having the boat surrounded by sharks.

From the Galapagos, it was the 'big crossing' - I think we logged just over 3000nm from Santa Cruz to Hiva Oa at a rate of just about 7knots.  Steve failed to add to his tally of 1 tack in about 8000Nm of sailing!  There were a few grey and rainy days in the first 1/2, but generally it was a really easy passage.  We were near Cassiopee for 3 or 4 days in the middle - it's amazing what a difference it makes to see a friendly sail or light on the horizon.

The Marquesas made a big impression.  Part of French Polynesia - but far removed from Tahiti, the islands have a very strong and individual culture.  very friendly, but you really want to get on the wrong side of them.  Visiting a deserted motu at the far end of Hiva Oa really felt like one of the most places in the world.  We said goodbye to Steve and welcomed the children.  Returning from the airport we had our first 'roadkill mangos' - tropical fruit picked up from where it dropped beside the road.  While playing at an anchorage with other WARC boats, James burst his eardrum which put him off diving and swimming for the duration of the trip.  To his great credit, he resolved to use the difficulty to do more work and try to get a 1st.  Which he did.

After picking up Paddy on Nuka Hiva, we gave him his first introduction to sailing by setting off the next day for the 550nm to the Tuamotus.  Our first experience of the reef passages was going into Takaroa - by far the most hair-raising entrance I've experienced.  By comparison, the entrance to Fakarava was a doddle.  Fakarava was the epitome of the Pacific islands - amazing sea and sand with unbelievable diving.  I still have to pinch myself to think we were down at 20m, holding onto some coral to keep us still in the stream as literally hundreds of sharks milled about waiting for dinner to drift pass them.  Apparently it was on the 'Blue Planet' the following week, although the camerawork was probably better.

Rangiroa had more amazing diving - this time swimming with dolphins.  The children returned to the UK to prepare for exams (for some) or more travelling (for Lizzie), and we were joined SWade and Andrew from the WARC team and then Pim.  The church service on Easter day was memorable, especially the singing on the bus back.

From Rangiroa we went to Maketea, almost on a whim.  We'll remember this as one of the most unexpectedly brilliant days of the trip - we felt privileged to meet 'King' (actually just Mayor) Julien and learn about the the island's geography, history and plans from him.  The swim in the freshwater cave -unsure about what we were doing but in the end wonderful - sums it all up.

It was a slightly uncomfortable sail to Tahiti but it was good to have time to regroup once in Papette - a thriving busy place but lacking the soul of most of French Polynesia.

We moved on to Ta'haa via to Moorea so that we could take part on the Tahiti pearl Regatta.  We were joined by Josie (on parole from Raid) and Joe from Charm as our racing advisor.  After the unfortunate ramming incident at the start of the 1st race, we improved over the regatta and the 3rd, round the island, race was awesome.

After the regatta we had a fantastic interlude - Jo sailing on Nica, then visiting 'Alex's bay', climbing the sacred mountain, sharing deserted anchorages with Aurora B, snorkeling in the coral gardens off Tahaa before moving to hustle of Bora Bora.

In BoraBora we welcomed Nicki and Richard back onboard - with all arms working - before we setoff for the next stage.  This was to Tonga via Suwarrow and Nuie.  It turned out to be slow sail with plenty of motoring. A couple of days from Suwarrow, Pim and Richard caught 'The Big Fish' - the 50kg tuna, hauled onto the boat using a block and tackle from the boom.  It fed the whole fleet in Suwarrow at a great beach-side supper.

Nuie was an intriguing mix of Polynesian and New Zealand - reminded us of Maketea but with a more stable history.

During our time in Tonga the weather was grey and rainy, and we probably didn't see it at its best.  We dived in Mariners cave and Swallows Cave - with Swallows Cave giving some particularly memorable underwater shots.  We won a great trophy for the passage from Bora Bora to Tonga - definitely one that will grace the loo in years to come!  Jo flew home from Tonga leaving the crew of Me, Nicki, Richard & Pim for the passage to Fiji.

The highlight of the time in Fiji was definitely the few days of secluded paradise on Yadua (pronounced Yandua).  It was another of those unexpected joys - we had intended it to be an overnight anchorage on the way to the Yasawa Islands, but it so great to be able to spend several days diving and exploring.

So that brings me here.  A truly memorable trip for me.  Nicki and Richard have promised to keep the blog going - they're much better at adding pictures than I am.  The plan is that they will sail in a few days to Vanuatu before leaving the WARC.  The will cruise Vanuatu and New Caledonia before taking Tintin to New Zealand towards the end of September.  I'm happy that the boat is in great hands and am already looking forward to getting back onboard in early Jan.

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