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16 December 2005
Chapter 34 – Cruising in Fiji and the voyage to New Zealand (Photos)

Chapter 34 Cruising in Fiji and the voyage to New Zealand
Background

Fiji is about as far from Britain as a place can be, lying across the International Dateline and with some 300 islands plus innumerable reefs and rocks to trap the unwary mariner. Approaching the main island of Viti Levu from Tonga you start to sail past outlying parts of Fiji 200 miles east of Suva, the capital. From there, another 100 miles takes you to the west coast and the ports of Nadi and Lautoka, where we based ourselves for our stay. Beyond them stretch another 50 miles of islands, so you will see that the cruising visitor is spoilt for choice when wondering where to go.
As we had noticed during our brief stay in Suva, Fiji is very British in so many ways; they drive on the left, the road signs are all familiar, the currency bears the Queen’s head. Canned bitter is available as well as the ubiquitous lager. Everyone speaks good English and many people had kind things to say about Britain and the British. We felt instantly at home and welcome.
Roughly half the population are Melanesian by race and the remainder are “Indian”, including both Muslims and Hindus. The industrious Indians have taken over all the professions, commerce and much of the farming and agriculture, while the Melanesians hold jobs in Government and tourism. There is plenty of tension between the two communities and there have been two bloody coups in the last 15 years. If you get into conversation with the locals, it won’t be long before they make a disparaging reference to the other community. Fiji Reconciliation Week took place while we were there, a Government-inspired attempt to narrow the divide. It seemed very low key and probably made little difference. However, Fijians of all backgrounds genuinely welcome visitors and take care that their internal problems do not spoil the pleasure of their guests.

The Mamanucas and the Yasawas

The Mamanuca Islands lie west of Lautoka and the Yasawas, to the North West. With Kate and Steve safely aboard and recovered from their journey we sailed off to Malolo LaiLai, and the resort of Musket Cove in the Mamanucas.
Picture a small island, about a mile long with green, wooded hills rising to maybe 100 metres. There are long, sandy beaches, fringed with palms. Yachts swing to moorings or to their anchors, their flags a mixture of the trans-Pacific cruisers and those from Australia and New Zealand.
Ashore there is a small resort, tastefully laid out with bungalows for guests plus a dining room and bar, a pool, a boutique, a dive shop and a food-store. Under a palm frond roof a group of woodcarvers are at work, adzes glinting as they fashion parrots, dolphins, kava bowls and other souvenirs from the local hardwoods. It is a happy mix of civilisation and the South Pacific, or so Pam and I felt, having had a fair slice of the raw South Pacific! All that was missing was some sunshine but the skies remained grey and overcast. So, after a day of looking around and walking we sailed on, north to the Yasawa group, and came first to the island of Waya. There we anchored and, the next morning, dressed ourselves modestly (long trousers for the men and skirts/pareos and long-sleeved tops for the ladies) and went ashore to pay our respects to the local village chief.
In Fiji, all land belongs to the village, as does the shore and the fish within the waters off the shore. As a visitor, it is essential to present yourself to the local headman, introduce yourselves and present a small gift of yaquona root from which the local brew, called kava, is made. You will be taken to the chief’s house and invited to sit on mats on the floor, with the chief sitting opposite you and your “sponsor” to one side. You lay the bunch of yaquona roots on the floor in front of the chief, who, normally, will take it up and accept it with some ritual chanting and hand-clapping in which any villagers present will join. Then there will be a few minutes of conversation and then you will be welcomed as honoured visitors to the village, invited to walk around, maybe to take some fruit from the trees, fish for your supper and so on.
We had been a little dubious about all this but it turned out to be very straightforward and, we felt, a nice way to do things. Once you have been accepted, many kindnesses may be offered and everyone is very welcoming. If the time of the ceremony is late on in the day you may be invited to stay and drink some kava, with further ceremonial, but we had tried the stuff in Tonga and didn’t like it. We always paid our respects in the morning and so avoided invitations we didn’t really seek.
Leaving the chief’s house for a walk around the village, we were soon surrounded by young children who shyly asked our names, told us theirs in return and became our guides. It wasn’t long before Pam found some sweets in her bag and then we could do no wrong with these delightful youngsters.
Only the weather spoiled our pleasure. It poured for the rest of the day. So, under lighter skies the next morning we sailed north to the next of the Yasawas, Naviti Island. Here we found a deserted cove, no village, no people and only one other boat. The sun shone and we swam over to the reef and found one of the best snorkeling sites ever. The corals and the fish were exquisite. Steve put his kite board together and enjoyed a couple of hours sailing while we lazed and watched him. It was close to Paradise.
Walking across the island the next morning we came to signs of cultivation, then met an elderly Fijian tending his vegetable plot. He greeted us warmly and we asked and received his permission to carry on across his land to the beach on the far side. He told us to look out for his wife as we walked through their settlement and we soon met her, a delightful lady in her late sixties who showed us her house, made in the traditional style, and then invited us to rest our legs and drink coconut milk which her husband had prepared. We learned about their simple life there on Naviti, living largely off the sea and the land, without electricity and the trimmings of modern life it brings. They had lived and worked on the mainland (as the island of Viti Levu is known) but retired to their island home fifteen years previously and were obviously very content.
We could have stayed but sailed on the next day to Nanuya Sewa, also called Blue Lagoon. Picture a narrow sound, with hilly islands on all sides. The deep blue water shows green and brown in places where the reefs come near the surface. Ashore the usual beaches, palms and a newly-built little resort with 8 bures (bungalows) and a bar and dining room. We stayed several days, swimming and walking and enjoying the cuisine in the restaurant while Steve found a near perfect spot for kite boarding. We did the sevusevu (kava) ceremony again with the local chief, who, to our surprise, was a woman. Pam was taught to dance in the local style by the maitre d’hotel from the restaurant, the most brazenly gay person we had met in the entire voyage. He was a very good dancer, said Pam, but mercifully he didn’t ask me to take the floor! A modern catamaran ferry links all the Yasawas with a daily service to Nadi and Lautoka. Kate and Steve decided to return to the mainland to explore further while we continued north to see more of the isles before we all met up again in Vuda Point marina for a last evening and then farewell. It was especially sad to see them go as Kate had told us she was expecting their first child (our first grandchild). We hastily rescheduled our planned trip back to UK to make sure we were there for the birth in mid May 2005.

The voyage to New Zealand

It is about 1100 nautical miles from Fiji to the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, about an 8 day trip at our usual speed. But this passage lies across the prevailing winds and takes sailors out of the tropics and the predictable trade wind belt and down towards the unsettled westerlies of the Roaring Forties. The cruising guides all warn that on most passages a gale is to be expected, maybe from the north (and so behind us) or maybe from the south west (or on the nose). So we were a little apprehensive and paid very close attention to the weather patterns in the hope of spotting a “window” which would take us there safely and without too much heavy wind.
We went back to Musket Cove to wait. There we teamed up with Billy and Tiffany from Clare and passed a happy week, swimming, diving and using the barbecue pits which the resort provides for visitors. We also met Gary from Amadon Light; Gary provides a daily weather summary for cruisers, collating reports and forecasts from several sources. When should we go? Everyone we met had the same question.
At last the “window” arrived. We could expect quite strong south easterlies for the first 4-5 days, after which we might be lucky and keep these winds or a low coming across the Tasman Sea might turn the winds northerly for the second half. If that happened we would get our gale, but at least it would be from behind us.
On advice from other cruisers who had made the run before, we stripped all loose gear – spare fuel cans, dinghy oars, fenders, fishing rods- from Aliesha’s deck and stowed it in the aft cabin. We put double lashings on the dinghy, which we carry upside down on the foredeck when at sea. I climbed the mast to inspect the rigging. We were as ready as we could be, checked out with Customs and Immigration and set off on 27th October.
As we sailed gently south towards the reef pass and the open sea, we heard on the radio from a cruiser who had sailed two days before. They had encountered very strong winds and mountainous seas just south of Fiji, , forcing them to turn back. Unanimously we agreed to stop over in Musket Cove and see if conditions improved. For two days we lurked around Malolo Lai Lai and its sister island, keeping out of sight of visiting officials, since once you check out of a country, you are supposed to depart! In our anchorage the winds blew gently and the seas were calm, but offshore radio reports still told of extreme conditions. It was frustrating, as our weather window was evaporating and we might wait weeks for another one as good.
On the 29th October the local forecast suggested a reduction in wind speed and so we sailed. There was so little wind that at first we motored but as we cleared the reef pass a good breeze filled in and we set full sail. I radioed back that all was well – but I spoke too soon! Within five miles we had left the shelter of the land and met the full force of the reinforced trade wind that was still blowing at gale force. We hove to, rolled up the genoa and set our small jib on the second forestay, balancing that with two reefs in the mainsail. We took off all our clothes and away we went.

It was wildly exhilarating sailing, Aliesha tramping along well heeled, just off close hauled and clocking 6 knots or more. Huge sheets of spray washed over the decks and plenty found its way into the cockpit (which was why we had stripped off) The sun shone and both the air and the water were warm – 28 degrees or so. We laughed with the excitement and wondered how long the blow would last.
As the sun went down that night, the wind eased to below gale force and still we rocketed along, but the seas were down a bit and the motion was easier. In the first 24 hours we managed 145 miles, 140 miles in each of the next two days. By now the wind was down to a respectable 20 knots or so and we had re-set the genoa and shaken out one of the reefs in the mainsail. Still the sun shone and still the sea was warm, but not so warm as we discovered when the occasional burst of spray came over us. Twice daily we collected forecasts in the form of faxed weather charts received over the short wave radio and tried to decide how long these favourable conditions would last. A huge high had settled east of New Zealand, causing the south easterlies we were experiencing. A deep low was coming off the Australian coast into the Tasman – would it track east and turn our winds to the north and give us a second gale, or would it slide down the south western side of the high and leave us our south easterlies?
In the end, the high pressure system won. We kept the south easterly flow all the way to our destination. The wind was pretty steady at about 20 knots just ahead of the beam, our fastest point of sailing. The sun shone most of the time but every night it was noticeably colder. We dug into lockers for fleeces, hats and even gloves. We saw no ships and no other yachts either although, as we knew from our daily radio schedule with “Des” from Russell Radio, we were among a fleet of maybe 50 yachts heading south in the favourable winds. Instead we spent hours watching the seabirds, mostly shearwaters, gliding effortlessly within inches of the water, then performing g racefulwingovers on the lift from a wave.
On Day 6 we saw an albatross, not the largest of the breed but huge nevertheless with a wingspan of maybe 5 or 6 feet. It too glided ceaselessly over the waves in search for food, but its progress was more stately, regal even. Think of how huge a Jumbo jet look against, say, a 737 and you will have some idea of the relative sizes.
That same day we were the subject of a shark attack. On passage we tow a metal propellor attached by 30 metres of rope to a generator mounted on the stern. Jokes had been made about the sorts of fishy life we might attract with this rig but so far it had been left to do its work unmolested. Not today. Looking astern, Pam suddenly saw a flurry of water about where the propllor must be. A black, triangular fin broke the surface, threshed around, then disappeared. It came again, and again, then vanished.
We stopped Aliesha and hauled in the rope, to our surprise, the propellor was still there, although it bore the marks of razor sharp teeth and the rope was almost severed. Take a look at the photograph to see what we mean!
Late on the 5th November we saw land, a few dark humps breaking the horizon. We found ourselves sailing into the Bay of Islands as darkness fell, an occasional firework showing us the way to land. At 0130 on the 6th November we secured to the Customs Dock in Opua. New Zealand Customs cleared us in the most friendly fashion the next morning and we motored into a berth in Opua Marina. There we met up with many of our friends, none of whom had enjoyed such a fast and enjoyable passage.

Quite a year

We had done it. We had crossed the Pacific. We had reached New Zealand, the other side of the globe. Since we left Jacksonville, Florida at the end of January, we have logged almost 11000 miles. Along the way we have visited Cuba, Providencia, Panama, Galapagos, Tuamotus, Society Islands, Cook Islands, Tonga and Fiji. We have met and enjoyed the company of many wonderful people, some of them fellow cruisers and some of them locals. We have seen some of the most beautiful places on our planet, watched whales, rays sharks and dolphins, swum in crystal clear water, snorkeled over wonderful coral reefs (as well as quite a few dead ones, sadly).

It has been some adventure. Now we have eight months of land-based life to enjoy before we set off on the return voyage to England.

Pam and Dick will add to their account on this site when ALIESHA sets sail again in July 2005
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10 October 2004
Chapter 33 – Pacific Milestones (Photos)

On 14th August we left Bora Bora, our last port of call in French Polynesia, in company with several other yachts. Our goal was to reach Vuda (pronounced VOONDA) Point marina on the west coast of Viti Levu, the southern of the two main Fijian islands, by 20th September. The reason: Kate and Steve would be joining us there for a family holiday. Cruisers hate deadlines; they impose constraints which we would rather not have and cause us to take chances with weather which we would rather not do. But when daughter and son-in-law are prepared to fly thousands of miles to see Mum and Dad for a few weeks, it seems a very small price to pay. Anyway we had five weeks to cover some 2,000 miles and our average cruising speed is 1,000 miles per week so we would have time enough to stop and enjoy a few places along the way.
Our first stop lay 700 miles ahead: a tiny Pacific atoll and part of the Northern Cook Islands, known as Suwarrow. It was originally named after a Russian ship called the Suvarov which arrived in 1814 with the Russian explorer Lazerev aboard. Latterly it has featured in Tom Neale’s book ‘An Island to Oneself’. But not many people have heard of it and the Cook Islanders have renamed it Suwarrow to sound more Polynesian. Today it is a national park and there are no permanent residents.
The passage took seven days which is somewhat slower than our usual average. The first few days out of Bora Bora gave us only light winds and sometimes no wind at all. We had a close shave with an American boat on the second day out when she crossed tacks just a few yards astern of us with her spinnaker flying and moving well through the water. Of the crew we saw no sign. Did they know how close they had come to us? A call on the VHF radio elicited no response. Were they asleep? Some hours later we finally made contact with them through a local SSB net and they had absolutely no idea how close they had come to us. The crew were cleaning brasswork at the time down below and cooking pizza. They were quite shaken at the thought of what might have been if we hadn’t also been on the look-out. They and their boat will remain nameless but we are delighted to say that we have since become very good friends and enjoy their company enormously.
We spotted land about seven miles off and came storming in towards the reef pass on a broad reach in 15 knots of wind. We could see the boats lying calmly at anchor the other side of the reef.

Suwarrow
What a paradise! As we came through the reef pass and around the corner of Anchorage Island the scene that met our eyes was like the best picture postcard you have ever seen: waving palm trees, white sandy beaches and the national flag of the Cook Islands flying proudly from its pole at the head of the small stone jetty.
There were about a dozen other boats lying in the anchorage and we had to search around for a good spot to anchor in between shoal patches and bommies (an Australian term for coral outcrops on an otherwise sandy bottom). On our second attempt we hit it right and settled down to a cold beer and lunch in the cockpit. A passing snorkeler called “Hello” and recognising a British accent we fell into conversation. Some fifteeen minutes later we realised that we shared many things in common with this young attractive snorkeler back home and it was but a short step from there before we found out that her father is my brother’s regular squash partner. How small can this world get!
Like Tom Neale I could write a whole book on Suwarrow and our time there but space doesn’t permit so I will try and condense it as much as possible. I must however mention Papa Joane (pronounced John) who is the official caretaker aged 72, his nephew Baker aged 61 and his grandson Peter aged 15. They come to Suwarrow between May and October every year when the atoll is visited by cruisers making the Pacific crossing and run the ‘yacht club’ of which they are rightly very proud. They built the 2-storey clubhouse themselves. In 1993 Papa Joane was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to his fellow islanders who, unlike their French counterparts in the Society Islands, are very poor.
Every few days when Papa Joane deems he has enough new visitors in the anchorage, he declares there will be a pot-luck dinner that night. The news spreads quickly through the fleet and the galley-slaves amongst the boats prepare all sorts of wonderful and interesting side dishes from whatever food we have available on board. Papa Joane and his merry men go out and catch a sizeable fish around 35lbs and a dozen or so coconut crabs and cook the fish slowly in a clay oven and boil the crabs. The sides of the clubhouse are open to the ocean breeze and as we all gather round the large central table piled high with food and watch the sun go down it seems that life can’t get much better than this. Papa Joane says grace and the feast begins.
One day during our stay, Papa Joane took a party of us off to one of the other motus inside the reef where he said he would catch and cook some birdsfor us. With Baker and Peter along as well three cruisers including ourselves motored across the lagoon, anchored and went ashore in the dinghies. We innocently followed young Peter and Baker who were armed with machetees machetees, across the motu to the nesting sight. How cute the fluffy white booby and frigate bird chicks looked sitting on their nests! How awful when Baker and Peter started despatching them with a short sharp bang to the head with the machetee! They couldn’t understand our repugnance; to them it was meat and a welcome change from fish.
Back to the camp with some dozen dead chicks, they then set about the business of skinning them complete with feathers and removing heads, tails, wings and feet. Really there was so little left, you wondered if it was worth all the bother. However, unbeknown to me, they did leave the intestines and stomach which I found out to my cost when I plunged my knife into the body cavity whilst trying to find a bit of meat . The rest of the food on my plate was now covered in bitter gall and quite inedible. Fortunately fish stew was also on the menu and there was plenty of it! For eight idyllic days we explored other parts of the lagoon, snorkeled, collected shells, fished and went hunting for coconut crabs. But that deadline in Fiji kept niggling at us and on 28th August we finally sailed away heading for Tonga. Farewell Suwarrow – you will always be a very special place for us.

On Passage to Tonga
It was a bit of a shock to hit the maelstrom pouring out of the reef pass after a week of calm water and then to find a heavy ocean swell as we came out of the shelter of the atoll. Our omelette mixture disappeared down the plug hole as ALIESHA rolled heavily in the swell and we were reduced to cheese and crackers for lunch.
Weatherwise it was a very mixed passage: sometimes we had no wind at all and sometimes we were tucking two reefs in the main and the genoa. A small ITCZ (intra tropical convergence zone) meant we had a lot of cloud and the occasional rain squall. One night we were treated to a ‘moonbow’ which is our name for a night time rainbow caused by the light of the full moon refracting through falling rain. The wind came at us from all directions and we were heading all over the ocean at times. Eventually on the fifth day out from Suwarrow and another 700 miles added to the log we spotted the flat-topped islands of the Vava’u group in northern Tonga.
It was evening and we didn’t fancy a night entry into the port of Neiafu which is some way up a waterway system between the islands so we resigned ourselves to another night at sea. In the event it was no hardship as we stooged up and down in a large sheltered bay with a lonely humpback whale for company. We hoped he wouldn’t take a fancy to ALIESHA during our midnight wanderings.

Tonga
In the soft early dawn we entered the channel and enjoyed the evocative scents and birdsong of the waking land. These become very much heightened after long spells at sea. We saw several more humpack whales waiting patiently for the first of the day’s whale-watching boats. After an hour we arrived in the anchorage at Neiafu and dropped the hook. Customs and Immigration don’t work at weekends in Tonga and since this was Saturday we contented ourselves with staying quietly on board and waiting for Monday morning. Sundays are strictly observed and the entire population spends the day attending church services and religious meetings, eating and resting.
Come Monday, the town dock became a hive of activity with many cruisers who had been arriving over the weekend wanting to check in. This was quite a lengthy process as an army of officials dressed in their very smart uniforms which include sulus (a wrap-around skirt worn by men) swarmed over the boats which were all rafted up on the small quayside. The officials looked somewhat bemused by the sheer number of boats and they even started to run out of forms but the whole process was conducted in an extremely convivial atmosphere and no one got agitated. At last after about four hours we were cleared in and we set off to find a mooring ball further up the waterway. Fortunately we had been allowed ashore during a delay in the checking-in process to buy provisions at the local market. The standard and variety of produce is extremely good and cheap here and we gorged on fresh salad and fruit for lunch as if it was manna from heaven. Remember, it was now nearly four weeks since we had seen a shop.
Neiafu is one of the great meccas of Pacific cruisers and we were delighted to meet up with old friends as well as to make new ones. One couple of very good friends we hadn’t seen for two years since leaving Venezuela so that was a very joyous reunion. The Mermaid, a waterside bar with its own dinghy dock, provided an excellent venue for gatherings ashore and kept up a steady supply of food and drink at reasonable prices all day and most of the night.
Although time-wise we could only afford to spend a week in Tonga, we certainly packed a lot in. To celebrate Dick’s birthday on 9th September we arranged to go to a Tongan feast with a party of thirteen of us. The weather had other ideas and we had to reschedule for a few days later. However that didn’t stop us from all gathering in the Mermaid on the evening of the 9th and a very merry celebration ensued. Our friends came up with some ingenious presents for Dick most of which seemed to evolve around Dick’s lack of fishing prowess for which he was now renowned throughout the Pacific.
The weather continued unsettled and three hours of torrential rain the following morning turned the anchorage a milky coffee colour as the run-off from the land poured into the waterway. By Saturday it was a little better and that evening saw us all assembled again for the Tongan feast. A taxi ride down to the south of the island brought us to a beachside venue where the local villagers had all turned out to entertain us for the evening and cook our food.
We began with the obligatory look at various handicraft items: exquisite basketware, wood carvings, shell jewellery etc, all beautifully laid out on cloths on the ground. Two wood carvings and several table mats later Dick and I joined our guests who were also loaded with similar purchases to look at the feast being cooked in a covered pit; it smelt delicious. Then armed with our aperitifs (greeen coconuts into which rum had been poured through a mouth-sized opening in the shell), we sat down to watch a display of dancing by the young boys and girls of the village. A musical accompaniment was provided by several guitars and singing by the whole gathering. The girls wore simple colourful costumes and we were invited to place banknotes in token of our appreciation in the tops of their dresses. The boys thoughtfully provided a basket placed in front of us on the ground. If only someone had warned us to bring low denomination notes! They divided into small groups from three to ten performers at a time with one or two solo spots and there were maybe up to a dozen turns so our wallets took quite a bashing. But it was all in good fun and we, the audience, were rewarded with several leis each around our necks at the end of the performance.
And now for the feast! We entered a long narrow hut made from palm fronds and seated ourselves down at an equally long narrow trestle table which was piled high with food. Curved sections of banana leaf stalks held all sorts of delicacies such as octopus, crab, fish and chicken salads. Little parcels of hot pork, chicken and lamb wrapped in banana leaves in which they had been cooked lay in amongst the salads. Potatoes, yams and tapioca root, pawpaw and colourful chunks of water melon helped to fill any remaining gaps. As soon as a space appeared on the table, the servers would hastily fill it with another dish. It was indeed a feast! We felt a little ashamed at leaving so much food on the table but our host assured us that his pigs would enjoy it in the morning.
And finally to round off the evening – the kava ceremony. In Tonga and Fiji they like to make a drink from the powdered root of the yaquona tree. This powder is carefully mixed with water and poured into a kava bowl around which the assembled group sit. The kava ceremony can be quite formal as when visiting a village and making your number with the chief known as sevu sevu or it can be very informal as when friends gather round to chat about the events of the day. Our ceremony was very informal and as the kava was passed between us in individual bowls we were entertained with more singing and music including a Fijiian rendition of Jingle Bells which seemed slightly bazarre. Kava is non-alcoholic but it is supposed to engender a feeling of well-being and calm. It’s not a particularly pleasant taste but we certainly all felt very mellow and relaxed by the time our taxi returned us to Neiafu. I think that had more to do with the coconut rum myself!

On Passage to Fiji
It was hard saying goodbye to our friends. Few cruisers continue onto Fiji before going down to New Zealand, preferring to wait until the following year. However we were delighted to find that Skip and Ilze on SCOOTS had arrived in Neiafu that night and we spent a happy hour with them, rafted together on their anchor, on our way out to the ocean the following morning. We hadn’t seen them since Tahiti and knew they were now in a hurry to get to New Zealand for family reasons.
We meanwhile were in a hurry to get to Fiji. As we sailed out in the smooth open sea Dick thought he might try for a fish. After all, he had all these wonderful new accoutrements from his birthday party that should ensure a good catch. Surprise surprise! We had a bite and we landed a magnificent golden dorado. Thank you Rudi for giving us your lucky lure. This is the first fish we have landed since the Galapagos!
Our passage to Viti Levu (Fiji) was uneventful. With another 450 miles under our keel we arrived off Suva , the capital and main port, at midnight. Once we were able to pick out the leading lights we were happy to find our way in through the reef pass in the dark. We were anchored by 1 am and felt very smug as we sat drinking our hot chocolate listening to rain drumming on the coachroof above us. We had arrived just in time before the heavens opened.

Fiji
We enjoyed our day in Suva very much: the Royal Suva Yacht Club, the market, lunch in Pizza Hut, shopping in a high-class duty-free shop and even the long protracted process of checking in with C & I. The Fijians are delightful, relaxed and very helpful. But that deadline was drawing ever nearer so the next day we headed off in torrential rain (Soggy Suva it’s called and not for nothing it seems) and made an overnight passage to Vuda Point Marina.
We had fun and games tying up in the marina as we had been asked to prepare ourselves with four 30m lines before docking. In the event we only needed 15m lines and finished up with an awful lot of knitting but with some help from the shore, a boatman astern and much cursing and swearing from the crew as we tried to unravel yards of rope we got tied up bow on to the wall.
Once the dust had settled we looked at each other and smiled in the knowledge that 7,000 miles and six months earlier we had agreed to be in this place by 20th September. We had forty hours in hand! Now at least we had a little time to prepare the boat for Kate & Steve’s arrival. Woe betide them if their flight is delayed; they will get precious little sympathy from us!
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11 August 2004
Chapter 32 - Tuamotus, Tahiti and the Society Islands (Photos)

Mention Tahiti and for most us an image forms in our minds. For the men, it probably includes grass-skirted, bare-breasted dusky maidens, with a touch of Mutiny on the Bounty thrown in for good measure. For the ladies, maybe virile, half-naked warriors, golden beaches, moonlight, romance. We were looking forward to the next leg of our journey. And, while it wasn’t quite like our fantasies, we’ve had a wonderful time in these idyllic islands.

The Tuamotus
Between The Marquesas and Tahiti lie the Tuamotus, also called the Dangerous Isles, a thousand mile-long string of low coral atolls where the highest thing is a palm tree. Each atoll is made up of sandy islets, called Motus, surrounding a lagoon. The lagoons can be deep and can be shallow, abound in fish, sharks and corals and provide shelter from the ocean swells –IF you can find your way in through the reef passes, where currents of up to 8 knots are routinely encountered. They lie about 500 miles from the Marquesas.
We decided to visit two, Ahe, which is quite small, and Rangiroa, the largest atoll in the group, 27 miles long and 15 miles wide. When we reached Ahe, some 4 days out from Oa Pou in the Marquesas, the tide was ebbing fiercely through the pass and, rather than heave-to to await slack water, and then enter in the dusk, we chose to make Rangiroa in full daylight . That night we enjoyed the peace of a quiet, smooth anchorage without any rolling to disturb our slumbers! Heaven.
It was too good to be true. By mid-day, the wind had backed to the south and increased to 20 knots. With a 15 mile fetch from the southern shore, the seas built up and soon ALIESHA was rearing and bucking like a wild horse. Some of the cruisers set off to find shelter on the distant southern shore but we had no detailed chart and dared not follow. Then, about an hour before dark, a local boat came around the anchorage with the news that winds of 120 km were predicted for the coming night. “Where would you advise we went?” we asked, receiving only a very Gallic shrug in reply. So, we went back to sea, motoring out of the pass in the last of the light and sorting out our storm jib and other heavy-weather gear. As night fell and the full moon rose, accompanied by our friends Skip and Ilze on SCOOTS, we sailed gently up and down in the lee of the atoll, waiting for the tempest.
It never came. The breeze stayed at twelve knots all night long. The moon bathed the sea and the nearby islets in silver and the sea was like glass. We laughed, and enjoyed the experience (but later we learned that, in the anchorage in Tahiti, they had those winds, and several boats dragged their anchors and were badly damaged).
So at dawn we sailed in through the pass once again and, through the VHF radio, got some GPS waypoints to guide us across the lagoon to the motus on the southern side, where we joined our friends on TAPASYA. There we spent three idyllic, if breezy, days, swimming and lazing and entertaining each other in the evenings.
Back across the lagoon and onto shore to check out the famous Black Pearls, for which the Tuamotus are famous. Soon we were learning about the different types and sizes and classes and, surprise, surprise, that these pearls are all the colours of the rainbow but NEVER black! Pam fell in love with a greenish one in an elegant silver mount and has enjoyed the admiration it excites every time she wears it.
We might have stayed, but Tahiti called and so, that night, we sailed again, with about 200 miles to go.

Tahiti and Moorea
Tahiti and its neighbour, Moorea, make up the so-called Windward Islands within the Societies. They are a combination of the volcanic Marquesas, dramatic, green and lofty, and the low, sandy Tuamotus, since each island is surrounded by a reef, on which there are a few motus, palm trees and all. Inside the reef is a lagoon, with fish and corals but very few sharks. (I know you want to hear about dusky maidens etc, but you’ll just have to wait!).
We had a fast sail down from Rangiroa and found ourselves facing a night entry into Papeete harbour, no big deal since the French Authorities maintain all the lights and navigation marks to a very high standard. Still our arrival was not without incident. First, while recovering the 100 ft long line that is part of our towed water generator I managed to get it wrapped around the rudder, which promptly jammed. Luckily we were able to sail in the right circles until it came free, saving me from a midnight swim. Then as we approached the reef pass, a 35 knot squall blotted out all the lights, forcing us to turn back to sea until it passed and the visibility cleared. But by 0300 we were safely inside the harbour and had found a quiet spot to anchor until dawn.
Tahiti has for years been one of the major meeting places for cruising boats in the South Pacific. There is a section of the quay in the very centre of the waterfront dedicated to yachts and we had expected to find a hundred or so there, filling all the space, with as many again occupying a less favoured site to the west. There were just eight boats on the quay, and a huge construction site where the overspill should have been. As we wondered what to do, our friends on SCOOTS called us on the radio to see if we had arrived and warned us that boats which anchored on the quay were all being boarded and robbed – hence the empty spaces. We took their advice and motored about 5 miles to the Maeva Beach anchorage, where we were soon settled and catching up with various friends and making new ones.
Next day it started to blow hard from the south, and we were unable (and unwilling) to leave the boat. All day the wind topped 30 knots, gusting to 40 and we wondered if we were in for another 70 knot blow. Luckily it eased at dusk, but one yacht had dragged ashore, luckily without much damage. This pattern repeated itself, on a lesser scale, for the next three days, but finally we got ashore and went to a nearby hotel for our first glimpse of the dusky maidens/ virile warriors etc. A celebrated Polynesian dance troupe were performing for the hotel guests and a dozen of us were able to get in to the bar for a ringside seat.
Reality so often fails to live up to the fantasy. Whether it was the setting (pretty exotic) or the audience (pretty well dead), the entertainment lacked passion and we were, well, disappointed. However, looking on the bright side, the girls, were very pretty, if fully clothed, and the male dancers looked virile and warrior-like, and it was great to get off the boats after so many days cooped up on board.

Papeete
Papeete is a modern, bustling town with a serious traffic problem.. To get into the centre we walked about half a mile from the nearby marina, then boarded “Le Truck”, one of the local buses, a lorry cab and chassis with a home-made passenger compartment on the back. These are THE way to get around on Tahiti. The town has its share of tourist tat shops as well as some really nice ones, a few restaurants, three yacht chandleries, shipyards, ferry berths, the lot. We rather liked the bustle and the noise, for a few days, anyway and it was all so French, with pavement cafes, baguettes, pates and cheese, all the things we had been missing.
We’d arrived in time for the big celebrations around the 14th July. What the storming of the Bastille means to the average Tahitian we have no idea but they have cheerfully highjacked this French celebration and made it their own, with three weeks of canoe racing, parades and dancing and singing. We took in the big parade, the fireworks and more Polynesian dancing, in the open air and before an audience of locals, much more atmospheric this time (still fully clad, gentle readers, but be patient…).
Our friend Dick Campin joined us for one week in this period and with him we went to one evening of the Heiva, as the annual festival of dance and singing is called. This took place in a specially constructed theatre and was part of a competition spread over three weeks. Each troupe (2 dance, 2 singing) came with its own supporters and the atmosphere was electric. We liked it so much we decided to go again for the finals night, of which more shortly.

Moorea
With Dick on board we sailed the 15 miles or so to Moorea and explored the two great bays on its northern coast. We climbed to the Belvedere, a renowned look-out, swam with tame sting rays, sailed through the reef pass into Cooks Bay when the alternator failed and we dared not run the engine, dined under the stars and watched hump-backed whales taking breakfast as we circumnavigated the island en route for Papeete again. The Heiva final was a magical evening. To our delight one of the singing groups and one of the dance troupes we had seen earlier had made the finals and were even better a second time around. And, finally, we saw a real, live, grass-skirted, bare breasted maiden. So energetic are these dances that you do wonder if the costumes will stay in place. That night, one girl lost her top, but with great aplomb covered her embarrassment with a big smile and carried on.

The Leeward Islands – Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora
Lying a hundred miles West North West of Tahiti, these islands are called Les Iles Sous Le Vent. They lie only a few miles apart, have the high peaks, surrounding reefs and enclosed lagoons we enjoyed in Tahiti and Moorea, but are much less developed. We have been here for two weeks now, slowly moving from one anchorage to another, meeting up with old friends and, as always, making a few new ones along the way. One night we organised a beach barbecue for eight boats, something which happens much less often than you might think, as it is rare to get the right beach(accessible and not private), weather (little wind and smooth water) and lack of insects. But Bora Bora was just right and everybody had a great time. The winds have deserted us and we are all waiting for them to return to take up our voyaging again. Ahead of us lie Tonga (1400 miles with Suwarow Atoll in the Cooks), Fiji (another 400 miles) and then New Zealand, 1100 miles south, out of the Tropics and into more temperate climes. Along the way we will cross the International Date Line and re-enter the Eastern Hemisphere, and will have begun the long road home.
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21 July 2004
Chapter 31 - Enjoying the Marquesas (Photos)

After 21 days at sea, we were thrilled by our first glimpses of Fatu Hiva, our chosen landfall in the Marquesas We were also pleased to have caught up with MOOSE, a boat we had befriended in the Galapagos and which had left two days before we had! We sailed to within a half mile of the Baie Hanavave (Bay of Virgins) and then motored in to the anchorage and dropped the hook, finding a spot quite near the head of the bay. The Marquesas are volcanic and very mountainous, but covered in lush green vegetation. In a group renowned for spectacular scenery, Fatu Hiva is reckoned to be the most beautiful and Hanavave is dramatic. Everywhere we looked, we saw faces in the rocks . The mountains soar around the bay and a buttress hides the village from view.. When all you have had to look at for weeks is ocean, this was a real treat and we spent the rest of that day gazing around from the cockpit and pinching ourselves to make sure it was real. That night Irene, Duncan and Hubert invited us on board MOOSE for a celebratory dinner which was great fun and a wonderful contrast to the anti-climax of our arrival in Martinique after our trans-Atlantic crossing in 2001.
Next morning we went ashore to meet the “Authorities”. The Marquesas are part of French Polynesia and Fatu Hiva is not a Port of Entry, so strictly speaking we should not have come there first. However, we knew that many cruisers do and that the authorities were usually lenient, so off we went through the village in search of the “Agent de Police”, the only Authority on the island.
We walked past several local canoes, traditional in design but built in fibreglass! The main street was paved in concrete and the bungalows which lined it were neat, well- presented and with gardens full of beautiful flowers and studded with fruit trees. We saw breadfruit, papaya, lemons and mangoes. And then there were the pamplemouse a giant grapefruit twice the size of the ones Tescos and Waitrose sell. There was a school and a small church, both very well painted. There was a football pitch. From the open doors of every house came the sounds of some soap opera on the televisions which are everywhere. The contrasts were amazing..
Resurrecting our French, rusty after three months of speaking Spanish (well, Spanglish) we were directed to the home of the Agent, who greeted us quite formally and listened to our request for permission to stay for a few days before going to one of the official Ports of Entry to check in properly. “You do realise” he said quite sternly “that you should not have come here?” “Yes” we said, “But we have heard that Fatu Hiva is the most beautiful of all the Marquesas and it is difficult to reach by a sailing boat from Hiva Oa” “Don’t you have a motor” was his reply, but he gave us permission to stay for 4 days.
I then offered him a small present, a length of spare rope, and he seemed delighted. We asked about getting some provisions and he summoned a son who took us to the house of an older son who turned out to be a local woodcarver of some skill and whose wife was able to get us various fruits. We offered money, but she wanted to trade and we produced a variety of things we had been told would be appreciated. In return for three hair slides and a packet of cigarettes, 3 fish hooks and a few biros, we got all the fruit we could carry!
The wood carvings were very finely done and consisted of traditional “Tikkis” (gods) , some turtles and some manta rays, one of which we later bought. They also showed us some “tapas”, not food as in Spain but traditional designs done on a paper made by hand from the bark of certain trees. We didn’t much like the ones we saw, but have since seen others we did like, sadly at much higher prices.
Back in the anchorage we saw many new arrivals, as one by one our friends arrived. That night, 14 boats lay packed into the small bay and more were expected. Some of the locals paddled their outrigger canoes between the boats, practising for the races which take place around the 14th July celebrations.
The next day we set off for the local waterfall, which took us deep into the centre of the island, through the town, along a river which we had to ford and up through fruit plantations and up and up. The last half mile was quite a struggle as the path was muddy and very, very slippery but it was worth the effort and we enjoyed a swim in the pool at the foot of the fall.
Our four days were soon gone and we wanted to stay longer but the Agent de Police was adamant that all the boats must leave before the weekend. Apparently the supply ship was due and there wasn’t room. Not all our fellow-cruisers were so law-abiding; many elected to stay and, as it turned out, there were no sanctions against them. We sailed off to Hiva Oa along with Ric and Mary in CAPENSIS and made Atuona, the port, just before dark that night, only to discover that there was nothing open the next day, not the bank, or the gendarmerie nor the post office. So, early the next morning we sailed away again to the nearby small island of Tahuata, passing more amazing scenery as we went.
Our chosen anchorage had just three boats in it when we arrived but more soon followed and we spent a sociable week-end with our various friends. Sadly, the snorkeling was a disappointment as the water was very cloudy. To make amends, a pod of dolphins entertained us each morning with their antics, leaping clear of the water and falling back with a great splash, the mother of all belly-flops. Someone said it was a way of fishing: the splash stuns any fish in the vicinity and the dolphins take turns, first to splash and then to eat the fish. True or not, it was quite a spectacle. Monday saw us back in Atuona by mid-morning and hitching a ride the 4km to the local town. A jeep soon stopped and the pretty Polynesian lady driver gladly drove us to the Gendarmerie where, at last, we checked in. Most of the locals drive 4x4’s and Land Rovers, Defenders and Discovery’s are the most popular! More contrasts!
We bought essential supplies and were stunned to find that beer costs £2.10 per 50cl can. Shades of home!
Next day we set off with Skip and Ilze on SCOOTS to visit one of the pretty bays on the north side of Hiva Oa, Baie Hanaipa. It was a lovely sail, past more amazing scenery and the bay approach has a waterfall cascading down the cliffs 200 feet into the sea. An islet guards the western arm and looks, from some angles at least, like the head of some African politician, we couldn’t remember which one. About five miles before we reached this, the genoa fell to the deck. It turned out that the snap shackle which attached its head to the swivel had failed and we completed the trip under motor, thanking our guardian angel that this hadn’t happened some few hundred miles out in the ocean. Once at anchor it was simple enough to recover the swivel from the masthead and fit a conventional shackle, so making us ready for sea again and we visited SCOOTS for sundowners.
That night we encountered the Marquesas roll. A swell crept around the headland into our bay, and we rocked and we rolled, so badly that we had to leave our double berth and get into the sea berths in the main saloon, and rig the lee cloths to keep us from falling out. Sleep was impossible and at first light we set off back down the coast to another bay, which we hoped would be more sheltered. Wrong! By then it was too late to move again so we settled down in our sea berths for another broken night. But it wasn’t all bad news. That afternoon, a small boat came by and asked if we would like some fresh meat. “Is it goat?” we asked. “Mais oui”, came the reply, freshly killed and already butchered. They gave us a haunch, we gave them a couple of beers and Pam produced a wonderful curry which did us two nights. Such incidents make cruising the fun it is.
Off early – very early- next day to Hiva Oa, a 75 mile sail which ended with us making a night approach into the port of Taiahoe Bay. We weren’t worried as big ships go there and the entrance has several navigation lights. We felt a bit less confident when the lights we expected to see weren’t there and the ones we did see weren’t on our charts but radar and GPS are a huge help and we found a spot to anchor without difficulty and settled down to a good night’s sleep. WRONG. The Marquesas roll had followed us there and we had our third, awful night. With daylight we saw everyone else had laid a stern anchor to keep them pointed into the swell. We did the same and soon ALIESHA was lying quietly once more. We went ashore, found a laundry, then a bank, several stores and, best of all, a delightful, if empty hotel where we splurged on a very French lunch, sitting by a pool, overlooking the bay. We visited a small museum and learned something about the culture of the Marquesas from its curator, Rose Corser, an American who has spent the last 30 years in the islands. That night one of our friends from Moose celebrated his birthday with a shoreside party on the dock, attended by about thirty cruisers, most of whom we already knew. Two locals produced a guitar and a ukelele and sang us Marquesan songs until we drifted back for a decent night’s sleep. From ashore came the sound of drumming, strange, alien rhythms, clearly traditional. It turned out that this was a local dance group, practising for the 14th July, but sadly we never got to see any of the performances. After a very wet week-end we sailed off to the north of Nuku Hiva and visited Anaho Bay, once again enjoying stunning scenery. Anaho has a secluded anchorage, away from swell and we enjoyed a peaceful and lazy three days there in the company of SCOOTS, a French boat ARAMIS and a German Catamaran, QUINITUC. More parties! While snorkeling we found a golden cowrie shell, quite rare and amazingly beautiful.
Off again to the island of Oa Pou, with its astounding skyline . We enjoyed the small town at the main port and bought some more provisions and admired the church, a happy mixture of Catholic and Polynesian tradition . Once again young men paddled their outriggers at speed around the anchorage. Once again drums beat out strange rhythms and this time we did see a group of warriors practising their dances, the effect being slightly spoiled by the normal tee shirts and shorts they were wearing.
After filling our tanks with sweet water from the quayside tap, we moved around to a small bay with just a little village hidden in the trees. After a difficult landing in the ever-present swell, we negotiated with some of the locals for bananas and pamplemouse, which were literally taken straight from the trees in their gardens. Sadly, the anchorage was one of the rolly kind and we couldn’t lay a stern anchor in the right place to keep us still. So next day we sailed off to the Tuamotus, 500 miles away.
We loved the Marquesas. The scenery is spectacular and the people are friendly. The influence of French culture was welcome, and we are looking forward to seeing the rest of French Polynesia.
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20 June 2004
Chapter 30 – Ocean Voyaging to The Marquesas (Photos)

It was now time to be thinking of tearing ourselves away from these beautiful islands and to start on our 3,000-mile voyage across the Pacific to the Marquesas. We stocked up the boat with plenty of fresh provisions courtesy of Joseph. For $14 30C he supplied us with the following:

½ stalk green bananas
2 pineapples
6 grapefruit
12 oranges
2 lbs green tomatoes
2lbs string beans


At 10:00 hours we raised the anchor and motored out of the anchorage having said our goodbyes to those who would be coming on behind us. We motored out into a calm blue sea in brilliant sunshine, but there was not enough wind to sail. By the following day we had a breeze which put us on a broad reach and from then on we sailed all the way.
Guy and Annika on board Street Legal had been busy organising a single-side band radio net to keep us all in touch as we sailed across the mighty Pacific. We checked into the net mornings and afternoons to start with but after a few days, the afternoons were needed to catch up on sleep. We ran a 3-hour on, 3-hour off watch system from 19:00 to 07:00 which works out at 6 hours sleep a night for each of us broken into two periods. As you can imagine, it doesn’t take long to start feeling tired under this regime. And this is generally supposing that sleep overtakes you as soon as your head hits the pillow which it often doesn’t!
After ten days or so we found it easier to listen to the radio net of the boats ahead of us (Norbert’s Net) and Dick has kept very busy since trying to monitor all four sessions and noting everyone’s positions.
We list here the boats in each net and their nationality:

 
Polly Needs Ya NetNorbert’s Net
Ali Nui S. AfricaGlobitou Canada
Blackbird EireHannah Germany
Capensis S. AfricaMousse Caracou
Caper Czech RepublicSol Vesta S. Africa
Dreamcatcher USAStormvogel Germany
Enya AntipodesPetima Germany
Estrella USATapasya USA
Dancyn USASDF Canada
Kiviana SpainHi C’s S. Africa
Little Aries TurkeyForever S. Africa
Sunfish III Japan 
Scoot USA 
Street Legal GB (hooray!) 
Sundance USA 
Ukelele S. Africa 
Whatever USA 
Wind Rose USA 

As you can see, the Brits are pretty thin on the ground!
To celebrate reaching halfway, both nets asked for a song to be sung over the radio by each boat using a well-known tune set to words of our choosing. This proved to be excellent entertainment and there were some real beauties. Neither Dick or I felt able to sing our contribution so I recited the following poem, with apologies to Alfred, Lord, Tennyson which pretty well sums up our voyage. Hope you like it as much as the nets appeared to!

Aliesha’s Voyage

We left behind the painted buoy
That tosses at the harbour mouth
And madly danced our hearts with joy
As fast we fleeted to the south.

The second morn we hooked a fish
And slowly hauled him to our side.
We dreamed he’d make a tasty dish
But he broke free and hurt our pride!

How fresh was every sight and sound
On open main or winding shore
We knew the merry world was round
And we might sail for evermore.

The second day a buzzing sound
Awoke the skipper from his sleep
A chopper circled us around
Then vanished o’er the vasty deep.

The broad seas swell’d to meet the keel
And swept behind, so quick the run,
We felt Aliesha shake and reel
We seemed to sail into the sun.

It seemed that morning, noon and night
Our time went listening to a net.
Then Dick would take another sight
And Pam would bake her best bread yet!

On day eleven we came upon
Jackie and Cyril on Hi C’s,
A banana trade was swiftly done
And away we sailed in a failing breeze.

Our bananas ripening all together
Could be made into chutney or bread.
It’s so much work; we don’t know whether
Flambe might be better instead.

Day after day the wind stayed true
And fair from dawn till starry night.
Then came the day it blew and blew
and hit us with all main and might.

With sails well reef’d we raced along
O’er wild and tumultous seas.
Each passing squall hit hard and strong
And had us almost to our knees.

The miles flew by, the days roll’d past,
Our ocean world at peace once more.
Then into view hove land at last!
We steered our ship t’wards the shore.

At voyage’s end, what bliss to sleep
A full ten hours or maybe more!
Aliesha swings to her anchor deep,
The only sound; the skipper’s snore.


And so we arrived after 3,000 miles and 21 days at sea in the anchorage of Baie des Vierges in Fatu Hiva, a tiny island and the most southern of the Marquesas. Our eyes feasted on the lush green mountains and waterfalls plummeting vertically down the rock face into the sea. It is indeed a South Sea paradise, more of which in the next chapter.
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20 June 2004
Chapter 29 – The Galapagos Part II

More extracts from Pam’s journal:

Monday, 3rd May

We left Wreck Bay late yesterday afternoon and sailed overnight to Isla Isabela. We only managed two hours sailing as the winds were very light. As we neared Isabela and the sun was rising, the sea around us became alive with tuna jumping. By contrast, comatose turtles lay drifting in the current seemingly with not a care in the world.
The beautiful but small anchorage of Villamil on Isabela was very crowded but we managed to squeeze in. Many of our friends who had left Wreck Bay last week were still here and we enjoyed a happy reunion. ?These friends are particularly special to us as they will be our travelling companions on the 3,000-mile voyage across the Pacific when we leave here next week.
All around the anchorage sea lions were playing and chasing large shoals of fish. Boobies, pelicans and frigate birds spent their days ceaselessly in search of fish as did the little penguins that inhabit this island. A short dinghy ride away from the boat is a tiny island where you can walk and watch many white-tipped sharks in a narrow cul-de-sac formed by volcanic lava. A notice to warn people against bathing here probably means these shark are most definitely not vegetarian!
On Isabela proper there is a small sandy beach where you can land in the dinghy and take a drink at the beach bar. One evening the bar put on a barbecue for us all and we were entertained by some local guitarists as we tucked into our food. ? We also enjoyed a visit with Ron & Suzanne to the tortoise centre where we saw a whole range of sizes from 2-year olds to giant tortoises, ? big enough to ride on. But the highlight of our visit to Isabela was most certainly the trip to Volcan Cerro Azul by horseback:

Saturday, 8th May

Our party assembled at 08:00 on the dinghy beach: Guy and Annika off Street Legal (British), Kyler and Antigue off Wind Rose (American), Des, Alison and their two young sons, Gerard and Dillon, off Ali Nui (S. African) and ourselves. Here we were met by Joseph, an engaging young Peruvian by birth who generally looks after all the cruisers and fixes trips and provisions etc. We were driven in an open truck with a cab big enough for three of us to sit in the back up through the dry coastal strip through the transition zone which has some sparse vegetation and then up into the humid zones. This is when it started to rain quite heavily and Dick and I were thankful to be in the cab with Alison, our driver and Joseph. The lush vegetation and beautiful tropical flowers are quite stunning, particularly Angel’s Trumpet which hang in long and massed creamy pink displays everywhere you look.
After an hour’s driving we reached the horses waiting quietly on the side of the road for us in the now heavy drizzle. Now came the fun bit! We watched in amusement as members of the party were mounted on their steeds. At this point let me tell you that being a London girl, I have never been on the back of a horse except for the odd pony ride on the beach. So when I came to mount my horse, it took a great deal of pushing and shoving on Dick’s part to get my leg over the thing. It all looks so easy in Westerns! (Sadly, Dick had his hands full with the riding and so no photos of this epic adventure were taken!)
My horse was called Morro and as we waited for the rest of the party to be mounted, I had a few quiet words with him in my best Spanish along the lines that I was a real beginner and that he was to treat me gently. At last we were off up the dirt track for the 75 minute trek up to the volcano. It soon became apparent that the horses kept to a very strict pecking order and Morro liked to be number 3. Of course that didn’t stop other horses coming up from behind and overtaking where the track permitted. Morro would only take so much of this and then he would take to the hills to get back to his natural place in the line. Some of these forays into the vegetation were somewhat alarming especially as the heavy drizzle was making everything slippery.
There was one particularly bad-tempered horse ridden by Gerard, the elder of the two young boys. Every time this horse drew level with us he would lunge at Morro and give him a nasty nip. I know that because twice he caught me instead! Morro and I wised up to this and would take another foray into the vegetation if we heard young Gerard’s voice coming up from behind.
At last we reached our stopping place for the horses before we continued on foot to the crater. The horses were tethered to trees and were content to munch on the very lush vegetation while the rest of us munched on our sandwiches and eased our aching backsides and thighs.
Joseph led us along a narrow path up to the rim of the crater. The terrain went from what is called the fern and sedge zone to volcanic rocks and lava in almost the space of a few steps. The view before us was one of total desolation as we gazed across the crater at all the lava flows and cones. We descended into the bottom of the crater, Joseph explaining various points of interest as we went. Gerard and Dillon were having a wonderful time hiding in the rocky caves and nooks and crannies left by the lava flows. It was even better when they found hot steam vents and also some bones in one of the caves.
We were all very conscious that the last eruption had been in September 1998! In fact we could easily distinguish the much blacker debris of the recent eruption from the previous eruption of 1979.
We climbed to the top of several lava cones and marveled at the striking colours of the various mineral and ore deposits left by the eruptions. The sheer tenacity of nature was shown in the brilliant green of the ferns growing up the sides of large open steam vents. The views across Isabela were also stunning from the tops of these cones.
Another hour’s walk had us back to the horses. By now of course we were pretty tired and only too happy to let them do all the work. Getting astride the thing was even more difficult with tired and aching limbs and it took the combined efforts of Joseph and Dick to get me up there again!
Antigue and Annika led the way on their mounts and Morro and I came next. Dick was somewhere in the middle of the fleet and in fact I never saw him again till we arrived back at our starting point. Morro had this annoying habit of stopping to crop some of his favourite greenery. I would let him have free rein until I heard the sound of Gerard coming up astern when I would dig my heels into Morro’s rump and we would take off alarmingly with me holding onto the pommel or what passed for one on my home-made saddle. I now understand that this is called a fast trot. Not my favourite rhythm and certainly not one to be recommended with a full bladder!
Having all reassembled again, we said goodbye to our mounts and were trucked off to a very fine country hotel with beautiful grounds where we enjoyed an excellent lunch – it was about 3 o’clock by this time and so we were more than ready for it.
On the last leg back to the beach we ran out of fuel. There’s a lot to be said for horse-back riding after all!
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20 June 2004
Chapter 28 – The Galapagos Part I

We continue with extracts from Pam’s journal:

Tuesday, 20th April

We were awoken by the sound of sea lion pups playing under the boat. Despite wanting to sleep on we couldn’t resist going into the cockpit to watch them play. They tumbled and played tag with each other around and under the boat. As we looked around there were sea lions in various states of repose on upturned dinghies and sugar-scoop transoms. We were thankful that our dinghy was still safely lashed to our foredeck and that we have a flat transom! Later as we dinghied ashore we could see them lying in the sun on many of the moored fishing boats as if they were the owners!
There is no dinghy dock in Wreck Bay; you have to land on the beach and take your chance with the rollers. Having survived this, you then have to drag the dinghy up the beach until it’s above the high tide line and hope like hell the sea lions don’t fancy it for a snooze. Even if you escape this horror, you will almost certainly be got by the local children who love to throw sand balls at each other, never mind if the dinghy gets caught in the crossfire!
Having checked in with Customs & Immigration and the port authority we set out to explore the town. The waterfront had the usual collection of bars and tourist shops, but go back a block or two and there is all the stuff of life; bakeries, booze shops, general stores, vegetable and fruit stores, butchers, ironmongers etc. We met up with Ron & Suzanne and went for a beer on the waterfront. Other cruisers gradually joined us and we all went off in search of lunch. There is no menu; you simply eat what’s on offer that day, but for $2.50 a head who’s complaining! Ecuadorians love their carbohydrates; a typical dish would be fish with rice and pasta. No healthy vegetables or salad! Oh well, when in Rome……….
Various exciting trips are on offer by the good people of San Cristobal and since we are very restricted as to where we can take our own boat, we booked a number of excursions in order to seem more of the islands, the following two being the most enjoyable and interesting:

Wednesday, 28th April

We joined Cuneyt and Seda and a Dutchman called Hoob for a diving expedition to Isla Lobos and Kicker Rock. Our dive master was a very pleasant young New Zealander called Tim who is married to a local girl. They are just starting up their own diving tours so we were pleased to give them the business at a very fair price. Carlos was our boatman for the day.
The first thrill of the day was the sighting of orca whales on the 8-mile trip out to Isla Lobos. As we neared them, Carlos stopped the outboard engine of our 24’ open boat and we sat there in silent anticipation. The theme tune from Jaws came to mind as we listened with baited breath while the water slapped against the hull………. Then suddenly the surface of the sea was broken as four orcas started closing in on an unfortunate sea lion who happened to be swimming not far from our boat. We were horrified as to what we might be about to witness but thankfully the orcas were in a teasing mood and, as far as we were aware ,the sea lion survived his ordeal. We must have drifted for about 10 minutes and for a grand finale, the largest of the orcas suddenly broke the surface not far from our boat, rose up and hung suspended for what seemed like ages while we took photos and then slowly submerged into the deep. Wow, had we been privileged!
“Well Tim” we said “how do you follow that”?. Answer, you go to Isla Lobos where, in the beautiful turquoise shallow water of the cut between San Cristobal and Lobos, you can watch young sea lions playing in the water. They love bits of rope and happily played with the tethered end of our anchor line under the water. Here Tim made all the diving party try on their diving equipment (some of it hired for the day) and test it out in the safety of the shallow water.
Once everyone was happy with their gear we continued on our way to Kicker Rock. This is an amazing rock that rises sheer out of the water to a high peak. At one end it looks as though a slice has been vertically cut out of it with a cleaver leaving a narrow channel between the two. The diving party took to the freezing water (16 deg C) while Carlos and I (Pam) watched and waited from the boat. My Spanish came on a long way in that 30 minutes!
Once we had retrieved the divers back into the boat, all shivering and shaking from the cold, we had to wait an hour for them to warm up before their second dive. Suddenly somebody spotted whales spouting a little way off so we motored out to see what we could find. This time it was just two whales, not orcas, and they were moving fast out to sea .
There was some reluctance on the part of the diving party to reenter the water but Tim finally persuaded everyone it would be worth the pain and took them off to another patch. In the meantime Carlos showed me yet another amazing passage through Kicker Rock, photos of which will be posted here when we reach an Internet café.
With all our hypothermic divers safely gathered in we sped off back to Lobos Island where they warmed up in the afternoon sun as we enjoyed an excellent lunch prepared by Tim and Carlos. Here I took to the water in my snorkeling gear and a hired wetsuit to swim with the sea lions. It was a magical experience, simply amazing. Dick, Cuneyt and Hoob joined me in the water and we had great fun watching the antics of the sea lions as they swam and played around us. However, one mother became quite threatening in her behaviour as unwittingly we had got too close to her young pups so we had to retreat to a safe distance.
Tim then took us all off for a short walk on the island to show us the blue-footed boobies (more of which in the next account) and the frigate birds nesting The male frigate bird displays a bright red inflated sack between his beak and breast to attract a female and there was certainly a lot of courting going on that afternoon!
We returned to the anchorage at Wreck Bay with just enough time for a cup of tea before going to the beach for a cruisers’ pot luck supper organised by Jocylene and Rudy off Globitou. What a life!

Saturday, 1st May

The alarm clock woke us at 04:00 and by 05:30 we had washed, dressed, swallowed a hasty bowl of cereal and were ready to be picked up by our tour boat. We were off in company with thirteen other cruising folk to visit the island of Espanola with an official park guide whose name was Juan
Two hours later we arrived in the small anchorage and, since we didn’t have our own tender to get us to the shore, our skipper arranged for one to be supplied from one of the nearby cruise ships. We stepped ashore between dozing sea lions and set out on a narrow trail across the island’s rocky terrain. However we were not the only living beings on the path that morning; our way was strewn with courting blue-footed boobies who totally ignored our mini invasion and carried on with the serious business of finding a mate.
Blue-footed boobies are endemic to the Galapagos and could easily pass for characters out of a Disney cartoon with their white caps, blue beaks, white fronts and the most amazing blue webbed feet you have ever seen. The male and female stretch their necks side by side against each other and then utter short sharp guttural sounds. The male lifts one foot very deliberately and then places it back on the ground and does the same with the other foot in order to impress the female. It’s fascinating to watch! As we skirted round these courting couples Juan pointed out lava lizards and other sea birds such as the masked booby, brown booby, herons, tropic birds, and waved albatross. The waved albatross looks like a goose when it’s on land but once it’s in the air, it takes on a very graceful form. Juan showed us the spot where these birds launch themselves off the top of the cliff and sure enough there was one already poised for take-off which went without a hitch!
As well as the remarkable wild life on Espanola, there is quite a spectacular blow-hole on the foreshore beneath the cliffs. We took a break from our walk to watch the sea spray shooting high into the air below us and the sun making rainbows through the spray. It was a very wild and beautiful spot. Just below us on the cliff face were a pair of swallow-tailed gulls with their young chick.
Two hours later we were back on our ‘cruise’ boat tucking into sandwiches and fruit. It was still only 10:30! We then motored for twenty minutes to a good snorkeling spot where Juan said we could see white-tipped sharks. He assured us they were vegetarian! So we donned our snorkeling gear and took to the water. Mercifully the water wasn’t as cold as it had been on our previous trip. And we did indeed see two sharks and many wonderful fish. And yes, the sharks appeared to be non-meat eaters!
Then it was off to a wide sandy beach to walk and watch the sea lions basking in the sun before we tucked into a lunch of tuna salad sandwich and delicious water melon. It was now time to head back on the 2-hour return trip. We were very tired by the time we arrived back in Wreck Bay around 15:30 but all agreed it had been a truly great day.
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20 June 2004
Chapter 27 – First Steps into the Pacific

We are writing up the next few chapters during our 3,000 mile Pacific crossing to the Marquesas when sea conditions permit. During our time in the Galapagos we have had many wonderful adventures so we have had to be selective in what we write about. The following are extracts from Pam’s journal starting with our departure from the Flamenco anchorage in Panama:

Monday 8th April 2004

We were away from the anchorage by 07:30 and weaved our way through the ships and fishing boats and the pollution pall that hangs over everything around Panama City. We set the sails but there was little wind and we were soon motoring again.
We reached Las Perlas, a small group of islands 40 miles off the Panamanian coast by early afternoon and dropped the anchor off Contradora. Dick was feeling very unwell with a tummy upset; must be all that ice cream on the crepes we had last night! Contradora is a small village with an equally small landing strip and appears to be a holiday place for wealthy Panamanians but we didn’t go ashore. At 01:00 the following morning we started to roll in a big swell and by 06:15 we were up and away to find a more peaceful anchorage.
Again we had to motor the three hours to Espirito Santo and found ourselves moving through large amounts of debris comprising large tree trunks and branches with the odd coconut shell here and there. Sadly there was quite a proliferation of plastic rubbish as well.
As we approached Espirito Santo we were struck by the beauty of the surrounding islands which are heavily forested down to the waters edge and whose hills were straddled by dark rain clouds. Many of the trees are deciduous and not yet in leaf. The islands are more reminiscent of Scotland than the tropics.
We dropped our anchor off a wide and sandy beach well away from our only neighbour who was a local Panamanian boat we had seen in the anchorage at Balboa.. W turned off the engine and our ears were immediately assailed by the sound of massed insects and birds – a real jungle sound.
At sundown we enjoyed watching all the bird life: the pelicans diving for a late evening snack, white egrets fishing sedately from the waters edge, parrots calling noisily from the tree tops; laughing gulls gliding in the evening breeze and Griffon vultures gliding high above the island. Not so good was the insect life that invaded the cabin after darkness fell despite our mosquito nets and mosquito coils. Thousands of tiny non-biting insects clustered around the cabin lights. We sprayed them several times but more arrived to take their place. In the morning we had to vacuum up a carpet of dead insects from the settee berths before we could sit down.
On Easter Sunday we took some time off from our chores to go ashore on Espirito Santo and explore. We had been told about a path which takes you the 50 yards or so across the island to the seaward side. It took us a little while to find it because it was very overgrown but it was well worth the effort because we came out into a beautiful little rocky cove with a sandy beach and lots of unusual shells.
Over the course of the next few days we had two new cruisers arrive in the anchorage: Little Aries with Cuneyt (pronounced Junate) and Seda, a delightful young Turkish couple, on board; and an American catamaran, Tapasya, with another delightful couple, Ron and Suzann,e on board with all of whom we have become good friends.

Tuesday, 13th April

The forecast for the next three days was good so we set off with our travelling companions, Little Aries and Tapasya, headed for the Galapagos Islands about 900 miles to the south west of us. By the time we cleared Las Perlas the wind had died to a fitful 3-4 knots, not even enough to keep the spinnaker filled. Our friends gradually overtook us and we had almost resigned ourselves to turning on the engine when a breeze filled in. As darkness fell we could see lightning flickering to the east of us and the wind started to increase. We hastily downed the spinnnaker and put two reefs in the main. But it all came to nothing thank goodness and from then on we made good progress but not enough to catch the other two.
One piece of excitement during the evening happened when Dick deployed the towed water generator. This is a rotator which we tow by means of a 100’ line and which is attached at the boat end to a generator which feeds our service batteries with much needed power. Our red ensign which proudly flies off a very smart flag pole on the transom got caught by the towing rope of the rotator and got hopelessly wound up in it. The only way Dick could free it was to hack at the flag until it was clear. Fortunately we carry a spare but from now on we shall confine its use to harbour and anchorages only!

Thursday, 15th April

We heard on the Panama Pacific radio net that a Japanese yacht which had gone through the canal with Little Aries had been boarded and robbed by Colombians on the rhumb line between Panama and the Galapagos. They lost all their electronics as well as valuables and even their charts but were not physically abused. Although we are well to the east of the rhumb line, we feel nervous and have set the radar alarm to warn us of any boats within a 16 mile radius. We have also decided not to divulge our position on the radio net. Other than that, there is little else we can do in the face of armed aggression.

Saturday, 17th April

Last night we had an escort of six gulls who glided in our slipstream round and round the boat all night. We identified them as the swallow-tailed gull which is endemic to the Galapagos; a taste of delights to come. Dick thought they were the souls of lost sailors as they appeared rather ghostly in the dark!

Sunday, 18th April

Dick discovered during his daily check of the deck and running rigging that our kicking strap or boom vang (stops the mainsail from lifting) had lost most of its wire strands. He was able to effect some running repairs which we have to hope will last to New Zealand.
At 15:12 we crossed the Equator and toasted each other with a thimble of Best Havana rum and poured a thimble into the sea for King Neptune. Crossing the Equator is a bit like New Year’s Eve; the anticipation is better than the moment!

Monday 19th April

We got our first sight of San Cristobal in the Galapagos late afternoon rising majestically out of the ocean. Dick had deployed our small fishing rod, the only means we have to fish now since losing our heavy-gauge line in a drift net two days ago. Suddenly there was the sound that brings a thrill to every fisherman’s heart; a reel screaming at full pitch. We had caught a biggie but could we land him? Well it was a bit of a tussle but we finally landed a very respectable 9lb big-eye tuna on the deck and within the hour had dined on delicious tuna steak, potatoes and salad washed down with a chilled bottle of Chilean white wine. We certainly do things in style on Aliesha!
With all the dishes cleared away we made preparation to enter the anchorage at Wreck Bay in San Cristobal. It was getting dark and we had some quite tricky navigation to do around the dangerous reef within the bay. We were directed by fellow cruisers on the VHF and also by various lights that they shone for us to guide us in. The fraternity of the sea is really quite special. We had beaten Tapasya in but not Little Aries who had arrived some 12 hours ahead of us. We were just thankful to put our heads down and enjoy a full night’s sleep.
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7 April 2004
Chapter 26 – We Cross to the Pacific (Photos)

April 1st 2004

Is this a good day we ask ourselves to be attempting such a bold venture? Read on and all will be revealed……………….
Dick was already up before the alarm went at 03:00 in anticipation of the big day. After swallowing a mug of tea he went ashore in the dinghy to pick up our three professional line handlers from the Panama Canal Yacht Club. We had about one hour to wait after Alphonso, NG and JC were safely aboard and the dinghy stowed before we up-anchored in readiness to pick up our adviser from the pilot boat. Once we had Jimmy Wong, our Chinese Panamanian adviser, (as the yacht pilots are called) also safely on board Aliesha we set off for the first of the Gatun Locks.
By the time we arrived, dawn was just breaking. Our first job was to build a raft with our buddy boats: CAPER (a Czechoslavakian boat) and BIDULE, a French boat. CAPER was in the centre of the raft and therefore, according to custom, her adviser was in charge of the raft. He was called Cooper who had already put up a black mark that morning with the canal authorities for overtaking a ship on the ‘wrong’ side. So it came as no surprise when he and Dick came to loggerheads over how the boats were being rafted together. Alex, who was the only professional line-handler on CAPER, suddenly found himself taking orders from Dick as well as Cooper and it took all Jimmy Wong’s people skills to calm everyone down and establish the order of command; Cooper as the professional won the day but he was prepared to listen to Dick on matters of seamanship and equanimity was restored.
At 07:00 we entered the first of the three Gatun Locks. These three locks, each of which has two lanes, would take us up the 26 metres to the Gatun Lake which was formed by the damming of the Chagres River to provide firstly a waterway across the continental divide and secondly the 197 million litres of fresh water needed for each lockage. With so much water required, the canal authorities maximise on each lockage and so small craft are always scheduled through with a ship that is not Panamax (the maximum size able to go through the locks) or carrying a dangerous cargo. Our travelling companion for the day was a bulk carrier called SEARIDER which was so wide, it looked as if she only had a few inches to spare on either side. For the upward lockings she went in ahead of us and our little raft filled up the available space at the back of the lock. As the lock gates swung closed behind us (towering some 15 metres above us) and I had my last glimpse of the Caribbean, I felt we were now really on our way to the Pacific.
Each of the lockings went smoothly apart from SEARIDER breaking one of her aft lines and we suddenly had visions of several thousands of tons of ship crushing us all to a pulp on the lock gates, but the dock workers quickly had her under control again. Phew! A complex system of culverts and valves feeds water through the bottom of the lock and as the water level rises it feels rather like sitting on top of a boiling pot of water.
The next excitement comes when the ship puts on a burst of propeller to overcome its initial inertia when it is guided out of the lock and suddenly the whole lock starts to boil again. However SEARIDER was a very well-behaved lady, even if she was fat ,and caused us no undue concern. As the last set of gates opened we motored out into a beautiful lake surrounded by hills and tropical rain forest which spread as far as the eye could see and beyond. We split up the raft and set off under our own steam to travel the four hours across the lake to the Pedro Miguel Locks which are the first of the downward locks. It was important that we kept up with SEARIDER as much as possible as, if she went through the next lock on an earlier locking, we would have to spend the night in Miraflores Lake and pay our line handlers for another day.. So with this in mind we cracked on apace and I served breakfast to the now ravenous crew.
With breakfast over and cleared away we all settled down to enjoy the scenery and the wildlife. But our relaxation was cut short abruptly by the sound of the engine alarm. Dick shot down below and opened up the engine room to find clouds of smoke/steam. When the air had cleared a bit he could see that we’d lost the “radiator cap“and consequently all the coolant from the fresh water cooling system. We quickly shut down the engine, dismantled the sun awning, and unfurled the genoa. Fortunately the breeze was from behind us and we were soon doing 4+ knots over the land.
Despite a long search in a very hot and smelly engine room, Dick could find no sign of the cap. He did find an adjustable spanner and a pair of wire-cutters lost some months ago but no cap and we don’t carry a spare! It seemed that any hope of getting through the canal in one day had now been dashed. Thanks to the combination of some clever improvisation on Dick’s part and a stroke of luck we did make it however. Dick found a wooden bung of roughly the right size which he gently tapped into the opening (having first refilled the radiator with coolant). Then by a series of wedges up to the engine room ceiling he was able to brace the bung sufficiently for it to hold at 2000 revs. Our luck came when SEARIDER also had some engine problems and so we were able to stay ahead of her until shortly before the Pedro Miguel Locks. April 1st can’t be so bad after all!
We kept our genoa up to give us extra speed as we didn’t dare push the engine too hard and at 11:45 I was serving chili, rice and coleslaw to the crew. Then it was all hands to the ropes as we furled the genoa and prepared to raft with our buddies again. This time the raft entered the lock first, SEARIDER coming in behind us. We seemed to wait for ages while SEARIDER was squeezed into the lock with the help of ‘mules’ which are engines running on rails either side of the lock and are used to keep the ship in the centre as they don’t use fenders.
Now we were crossing Miraflores Lake, still rafted together, and our crew decided they were all hungry again. Fortunately I had lots of chili and rice so everyone had another plateful. And so finally into the Miraflores Locks for our photo shoot on the webcam. You won’t believe how long I waved at that camera but nobody seems to have seen me. For those of you who were looking our for us, what you won’t know is that the camera is mounted above the visitor centre and that the balconies were all thronged with tourists who thought we were waving to them!
After one more lock we had arrived in the Pacific. We were almost too exhausted to take it all in. Jimmy Wong, our wonderful adviser who had been a calming presence through all our trials and tribulations and had thoroughly enjoyed himself on the helm all day, was picked up by the pilot boat just before the Bridge of The Americas. We continued down to the anchorage at the Balboa Yacht Club and dropped our crew of valiant line-handlers along with their lines on the pier after a celebratory drink. Dick and I cleared away the detritus of the day: coke and beer cans, water bottles, paper plates, paper towels etc and fell in an exhausted heap. We both suddenly felt quite hungry and, yes, there was still a bit of chili left in the pot!
What a day, what an adventure!
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6 April 2004
Chapter 25 – Contrasts in Cuba (Photos)

Contrasts in Cuba

We had spent several months sailing the east coast of the USA, and found ourselves in Key West, bound for Panama and the Pacific. Cuba lay across the direct route and we decided to spend a few weeks there as we made our way south.

Leaving the USA

Since Castro came to power in 1959 Cuba and the USA have lived next to each other in a state of, at best, acute suspicion and, at worst, something just short of war. Since 1963 there have been restrictions on US Citizens engaging in any economic activity with Cubans. In 1998 this was strengthened so that, if a US citizen does visit Cuba (which is allowed), it is presumed that he or she has spent money there, for which a fine of up to $250,000 is payable, with the option of 12 years in prison and forfeiture of the vessel if they travelled by boat. We learned that in the run-up to the presidential elections in November of this year these regulations were being applied with new vigour. (Bush needs the votes of Cuban exiles in Miami!).
In 1996, after Cuba shot down two US civil aeroplanes, President Clinton declared most of Florida a “Maritime Security Zone” and required all vessels departing from that zone for Cuba to have a special permit issued by the US Coastguard. Our cruising guide clearly stated that this regulation applied to foreign-flagged vessels such as ALIESHA although we thought that, as British citizens sailing on a British-registered vessel, we should be exempt from all of it.
So we called the US Coastguard in Key West and, after being passed around a bit, were assured that we DID need the permit. Off to the Coastguard offices we went, and once there we asked again for confirmation that we had to comply as well as an explanation of how the US could extend its laws to cover other nationals! (Not that we were being difficult, but, well, we ARE British and proud of it). A few telephone calls to Miami and from there to Washington and, guess what, foreign flagged vessels can go to Cuba with none of this hassle! Rule Britannia!
Still, it was an untypical start to a new voyage and we sailed away from Key West with quite mixed emotions.

Marina Hemingway and Cuban officialdom

We sailed overnight in a moderate Northerly and arrived at Marina Hemingway, some 8 miles west of Havana, shortly after daybreak. As required, when we crossed the 12 mile limit and entered Cuban territorial waters we called in on the radio to announce our presence. They already knew we were there!
As we made our final approach we could see enormous waves breaking on the reefs each side of the narrow channel. However, Port Control assured us that the entrance was safe and in we went, soon found smooth water and a long dock populated by the offices of the various Authorities. Within a couple of minutes we were boarded by a Doctor, speaking good English and very welcoming. Once he was happy that we were both fit and well and that we were not carrying any banned foodstuffs (such as American eggs or fresh British beef) we were granted “Free Pratique” and told to haul down our yellow Quarantine flag. This was the signal for the remaining Authorities to swarm aboard.
There were 6 officials in total, two from the Aduana (Customs), one from Immigration and three from the Guarda Frontera, a sort of Border Police as far as we could tell. Innumerable forms we completed by the officials, signed by me as the Master of ALIESHA, then stamped, the stamps then being counter-signed. We were given copies of everything. Many of the forms were the usual immigration stuff but we were surprised to be asked to list the number and make and model of all the electronic equipment we carried.
Then ALIESHA was searched thoroughly by three officials. Every locker was opened and its contents were examined. Particular interest was shown in my bag of used sandpaper(!) and in our drugs chest. Pam’s underwear received special attention from the one female member of the team. Every floorboard was lifted and the bilges were examined. We disliked this very much; ALIESHA is our home and we felt our privacy had been invaded. Finally we were told that nothing banned had been discovered and we were welcome to Cuba!
We motored forward into the Marina proper and to the berth we had been assigned by radio. There the duty dockmaster met us, Jose by name, a cheerful, welcoming man who really did make us feel welcome. We had arrived.

Old Havana

A couple of days later we joined our friends Nout and Yolanda from ATLANTIS and took a taxi to spend the day in Old Havana. Having heard that most vehicles in Cuba pre-date the revolution, we were pleasantly surprised to be driven in a relatively new Lada . The road in to the city firstly runs through a very pleasant area, with old colonial-style houses in well-tended gardens. Many of these buildings are embassies, some are colleges. Then the road runs along the edge of the sea, with crumbling apartment blocks lining the pavement, some showing signs of being restored. Known as the Malecon, this was once a very smart area, something like the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, but no longer. There were many, very old cars, and plenty of newer models, mostly from East European or Japanese makers. The trucks were mostly ancient, emitting clouds of back smoke as they wheezed along.
The taxi deposited us in one of the squares in the Old City, where we were immediately accosted by three men playing “Quantanamera” very badly on a trumpet, guitar and a drum. After a few bars they asked for money, which we declined. To our pleasant surprise, they accepted our rejection, wished us a good day and went in search of other prey. This was a feature of all of the (relatively few) people who did ask us for money; once told “No” they went off without becoming a nuisance.
Yolanda announced that it was time for coffee and we soon seated ourselves at a pavement café , only to be told that they didn’t serve coffee! They directed us to another establishment which did, and we enjoyed our excellent coffee served by charming staff).
As we wandered around the streets of the Old City we were struck by how badly dilapidated most of the buildings were. Signs of renovation were everywhere, with very little mechanisation, but there are years of neglect to correct and it will be a long time before the backlog is made up.
As we turned a corner, Pam was accosted by a tall, bald, black man who held a pencil and a pad of drawing paper. One of his acolytes told us “this is the famous Picasso”. The artist then proceeded to produce a series of lightning sketches of Pam, of me and of the others, each of which was proudly displayed and applauded by his loyal followers. It was rather good fun and we negotiated his initial price down to $2.00, which seemed a fair exchange for the entertainment provided.
Tourists in Cuba are charged for everything in US Dollars and are the main source of foreign exchange. However, the local currency is the Peso, for which the official exchange rate is 26 to the dollar. Foodstuff is priced in Pesos, if you can find a shop or stall selling any, and is very, very cheap. In a side street we found a little market and were able to practice our Spanish and our negotiating skills while buying some fruit and vegetables which were unavailable in the dollar only shops at the marina.
In a quiet corner of Havana is a memorial garden dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales. We paid our respects, rather surprised and touched to find her remembered here in such a way.
Then it was time for lunch. We had passed several State-owned restaurants, which looked fine, but were approached by a young woman who worked as a guide on one of the horse-drawn carriages which do tours around the City. We agreed to take a tour after we had eaten and she suggested one of the state-registered, but privately-run restaurants which are reckoned to offer better value than the state establishments. Off we went, through a maze of busy narrow streets until finally we reached Don Lorenzo’s. The meal was simple, but well-cooked and tasty. The wine was Cuban, red and very drinkable and the bill was reasonable, although not especially cheap. The remaining patrons were all Cubans, which seemed to speak well of its reputation.
Yenemi, our young guide, was waiting with her carriage when we emerged and took us around the City, showing us some of the places we had discovered ourselves and most of the public buildings, which were all in good repair. She spoke good English as was learning German and French so as to be able to help more tourists. After the tour she took us to a bar where we were given freshly-crushed sugar cane juice (Run optional). We asked her about life in Cuba and she gave us many insights into how a Communist State works and how its people fare. In short, everybody is adequately fed and housed and well educated. Health care is good and freely available. There is work of a sort for those who want it. Against that, there is no way to get ahead by working harder. There is no way to leave Cuba and travel abroad. There is no freedom as we understand it (our words, not her, but that was our abiding conclusion).

Heading West

Next day we said farewell to Nout and Yolanda and set forth to sail down to Cabo San Antonio on the western end of Cuba and then some way along the south coast before departing for Panama. Only it wasn’t that simple. First we had to Clear with the Authorities. This involved stopping at the special dock and waiting our turn to be boarded by a further three officials. Many forms were inspected, some retained, others stamped and returned. A few new ones were completed and copies handed out. Then, to our horror, they announced that they would search us again. We objected only when the female officer started on Pam’s underwear again and they became less intrusive but once again the process left us with a nasty taste in our mouths which the personal charm of most of the officials and all of the ordinary Cubans could not dispel.
Our first stop was Bahia Honda, 40 miles west. We anchored with three other yachts in a prescribed place and were boarded by three officials from a leaky rowing boat. The whole entry process was repeated, but at about 50% of the level we had met at Marina Hemingway. That night a searchlight was played on us continuously, to prevent Cubans from trying to board us, not with theft in mind but in order to flee to another land. Next morning we left, having radioed the Authorities who boarded each boat in turn and went through the exit formalities, complete with a cursory search.
At Cayo Levisa, a dive resort on a small Cay, things were better. One official, brought out in a motor boat by two men who played no part in the formalities. No searching, a lovely beach and a pleasant bar in the small hotel. We met Mickey and Neil from the catamaran AWAY 2 and wished we could have spent more time in their company. The departure formalities were conducted in the bar and we felt happy enough to offer a beer, which was gratefully accepted.
On through the night to Los Morros, described as a new Marina just north and east of Cabo san Antonio. It turned out to be just a single jetty, with room for two or three boats each side – unless the wind was blowing, when only one side could be used. There was a restaurant, but until another yacht arrived we were the only customers. Richard and Jetty from ECLIPSE did join us in an excellent lunch before we were forced to leave by the imminent arrival of some bad weather. On local advice we went a few miles to a delightful canal through the mangroves, called Cayos de la Lena. There we passed a couple of days in perfect shelter, joined by a Cuban gunboat and a local fishing boat. Many cheerful waves were exchanged but there was no contact – Cubans are forbidden to go on or to approach a foreign vessel.
Finally the weather relented and we had a fast sail to Isla de Juventud on the south coast. The pilot book spoke warmly of Marina de Seguinea but we were disappointed and, once again, found ourselves facing a moderate degree of officialdom, complete with a search of the boat. There was nothing there except a hotel a mile up the road and a Guarda post, who kept us under observation 24 hours of every day.
On the third morning of our stay we had decide to visit Nueva Gerona, the capital of the island. We were to take the local bus, which had arrived and was waiting when up popped an official from the Ministry of Agriculture, there to inspect us again for signs of fowl pest and foot and mouth. “But we are taking that bus” we objected, to which he replied “this won’t take long, I’m taking the bus back too!” He was as good as his word and soon we three were bouncing down the rutted road towards the capital, 40 kilometers away.
At every stop, and there were many, more passengers got aboard. The bus was a modern Dutch single decker, seating maybe 50 people but soon had at least twice that many crammed in.. Every one was well dressed, in very good humour and the journey was really very enjoyable, especially as we had seats!
When we arrived at Nueva Gerona, our Agriculture official offered to be our guide and spent the next two hours showing us the sights (not many) and finding us various shops and stalls where we able to buy a few fresh provisions. We treated him to a drink and I pressed him to take three dollars “for his children” which he eventually did accept. He was a very kind, generous man, and it was hard to feel bad about officials when they could show such concern for tourists.
All that changed next morning when we came to depart and were once again subjected to the threat of a serious search. We objected strenuously, protesting in English and Spanish that it was our house they were invading and that as we had been under constant surveillance all the time we had been there, it was also pointless. Pam was so vehement that the senior official, the Port Captain himself, apologised, limited the search to a cursory look in each cabin for Cuban stowaways and personally handed Pam the dockline as we got underway.
By now Pam wanted out of Cuba, although I was enjoying most of the experience. Still, to get an international clearance for our next country we had to go a further 100 miles easy, to Cayo Largo. Because we encountered head winds we sheltered for 36 hours behind a deserted island, Cayo Tablones, which sits alone some miles from any habitation in the Golfo de Batabano. Just after lunch on the second day, as we were preparing to get under way, we heard an engine and came on deck to find a small open fishing boat beside us crewed by two men. “Lobsters” I thought and asked if they were fishermen. The answer was “No”. The Guarda had found us and had come all that way to check up on us, once more with great courtesy and charm but to check on us nonetheless.
Happily, at our next anchorage, Cayo de Paradiso, a fishing boat did stop by and we were able to trade coffee for spiny lobsters, which made a delicious meal. Maybe Cuba wasn’t so bad after all.
And so finally we arrived at Cayo Largo. This is a resort island with a superb beach and lots of diving. There is a proper marina, not expensive. The officials were charming, the arrival process a formality and we finally both found a place in Cuba we could praise without qualification. That night we dined ashore and found ourselves being serenaded by a four-piece band, talented and good-looking. Next day we walked the beach, swam and enjoyed ourselves without restraint. We found fresh provisions in reasonable quantities and I finally succumbed and bought some cigars.
And then we sailed away. It had been a most unusual visit. We remember the charm and good humour of the Cuban people. We remember the shortages of foodstuffs, the smoking trucks and the old cars. We remember many aspects of old Havana with real affection. We remember some glorious beaches and wonderful swimming. But most of all we remember the intrusive officials, doing their job, to be sure, doing it with courtesy, but invading our space. We will not return.

Pam and Dick Moore are circumnavigating in their 12 year old Halberg Rassy 36 ALIESHA. They transited the Panama Canal at the beginning of April and are currently crossing the Pacific.

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1 April 2004
Chapter 24 – Back in the USA (Photos)

Norfolk VA to Jacksonville FL

We rejoined ALIESHA late on 23rd November. She was fine in her marina berth, but filthy, the result of having a busy shipyard dead upwind. Helped by Gary Naigle and Greta we rushed around in warm sunshine collecting the liferaft, the genoa and sundry bits of electronics which had all been worked on in our absence. We also laid in provisions, topped up the tanks and slipped our moorings early on the Wednesday morning, declining our friends’ kind offer to spend Thanksgiving with them.
The Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) was virtually deserted and we made good progress through the swamp land of south Virginia and North Carolina. The weather changed to a dull grey and the following day we were motoring through rain heavy enough to require the radar to keep us on track as we crossed Albermarle Sound and headed down the Alligator river. That night we anchored with four other sailing boats off Deep Point and were concerned to see a lone kayaker lying motionless off the stern of one of them as darkness fell. Was he some crank, intent on robbing them, or us? No sane person would be out in such a craft at such an hour in such weather. We later met the couple off the boat concerned and they told us that they too had been worried, had eventually decided to confront the kayaker, who turned out to be lost, frightened and suffering from advanced hypothermia. They took him aboard, fed him and warmed him up, and undoubtedly saved his life.
Next day the sun shone and we had a breeze, enough to sail all morning to the port of Bellhaven. Here we entered the small marina, intent on re-provisioning. The stores are some way away and the marina maintains a fleet of aging golf carts which patrons can use to do their shopping! We caused some amusement as we crawled along the busy roads.
The next day, it blew really hard and we were pinned down, unable to leave. The small hotel near the marina was pretty well closed but we persuaded them to run a “Happy Hour” in the bar that evening and invited the crews from all the other boats to come along. The result was one of the finest parties we have had all trip and we made some new friends, notably Nout and Yolanda, from Holland, cruising on their steel cutter ATLANTIS.
On again to Beaufort NC, and south through lovely marshland to Charleston, where we arrived in time to watch the Christmas illuminated parade of boats, quite a spectacle. We caught up with the friends we had made here back in the summer and revisited our favourite restaurant, Slightly North Of Broad (Street) – SNOB for short. The stores were full of Christmas stuff and the city streets were nicely decorated and we did some shopping and felt a pang of nostalgia for home.
Finally we tore ourselves away and motored south, still on the ICW because the weather was too unpleasant for us to sail offshore. We anchored that first night in an exposed reach and were overtaken by a very strong cold front which brought torrential rain and 50 knot squalls. The pole supporting the wind generator, already weakened by other such squalls, went over the side at the height of the storm. Four of the six turbine blades were broken, but luckily our lifebuoy took the hit and the hull was undamaged. Even better, it seemed that the actual generator had not gone in the water, and we hauled it back aboard by its cable and lashed it down, cursing cheap Venezuelan engineering.
Savannah beckoned and we spent a happy day there, enjoying the many squares with their fine buildings, all decorated on a scale we had never seen before. The trees were laden with Spanish Moss, which added its own touch of festivity. Then on again, day after day, until at last we came to the St John River, just inside the Florida border. We had reserved a berth at the Ortega River Boatyard, some 24 miles upstream in Jacksonville, and there we left ALIESHA while we drove off to spend Christmas with Pam’s sister Gillian and husband John, who live near the coast in Foley Alabama.
It was good to be with family at Christmas time and we enjoyed ourselves, walking the local beaches, meeting several of their friends and, best of all for Dick, having a flight in an Ultralight floatplane owned by Jim Hassell. Jim is an instructor and was brave enough to allow Dick to fly the plane for nearly an hour, even landing and taking off again (although Jim’s hands were hovering over the controls all the while!)
Then we flew to Houston to spend New Year with Marc and Esther Horrowitz, with whom we had sailed through the Venezuelan islands and up the Lesser Antilles to the Virgins a year earlier. They have both returned to work for a time, but their hearts are still set on cruising and we enjoyed reminiscing, as well as seeing some of the sights of Houston.
Back in Jacksonville, we had ALIESHA hauled out and set about some much needed maintenance. Three weeks of non-stop labour later, her hull gleamed and her interior varnish shone like new, just in time to collect son Jon and his partner Jo, who helped us take her south.
We left Jacksonville in bright sunshine but was it cold! The first few nights, ice formed on the decks by dawn. The cold meant we could not sail offshore at first, and so it was on down the ICW under power. Still, there were herons and kingfishers and buzzards in the air and dolphins playing in the shallow waters, to say nothing of the unending array of lovely homes lining the waterway. High spot of the trip for us was our visit to the Kennedy Space Center, where we relived the excitement of the early space shots, climaxing with the Apollo moon program. Strange to realise that it had all been so long ago, before either Jon or Jo had been born. And before the ubiquitous PC - we could hardly believe how old fashioned the launch control room looked, with its lines of desks with meters and dials, but very, very few screens.
From Cape Canaveral we sailed offshore to Fort Lauderdale – or, motored, to be more accurate. Still, it did give J&J some more night hours for their log books and they stood their first night watches in charge of the vessel, a big moment in every offshore sailor’s experience.
We all loved Fort Lauderdale. The weather was really warm at last. The city is built on a series of canals and boasts some amazing dwellings (houses just isn’t the right word). J&J toured the shops and the bars while we recuperated from the hectic fit-out, and did a bit of gentle sightseeing ourselves by water-bus. We also collected a $50.00 speeding ticket for going too fast in our little yellow dinghy! I was confident of talking our way out of the fine, doing the visiting Brit act to the full, but it didn’t work! America, we love you.
Jon and Jo flew home after two thoroughly enjoyable weeks and we went to sea and sailed gently down the Keys to Key West. There we met up with our friends Nout and Yolanda on ATLANTIS and also Dean and DeAndra from NEW MOON, last seen in Maine back in August.. Key West is a great place to be on a boat. The waterfront has many good bars and restaurants (One of them owned by Dean and DeAndra). There are a number of big schooners doing trips around the bay but still evoking images of earlier years. There are yachties and power boaters and tourists and locals, many of them characters in their different ways. We spent a week, readying ourselves for the trip to Cuba. It could easily have stretched to two but with so many miles to sail this year, we said our good-byes and sailed away, literally into the sunset.

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