Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy 2013!

We have already entered the New Year of 2013 here in New Zealand. So "Happy New Year " to you all as you cross over to 2013 soon. We did it quietly in Orakawa Bay at anchor. This is a large bay that gets packed almost every night with New Zealand boats - both power yachts and sailboats. Then in the daytime, many leave and they or others come back late in the day to anchor up again. It is quite entertaining to watch the comings and going of all the boats. Well yesterday, all 100 boats left because the wind shifted to the south - though it was a relatively light breeze and still quite protected in the bay. Many of the boats left for a day of fishing, scalloping, sailing or visiting another spot in the Bay of Islands. Others simply headed just across this bay to Opunga Cove where, by evening, we could see over 60 boats in a tight area. In the cove nearby there were another dozen or so boats. We were alone with one other sailboat in Orakawa and the wind died so it was very pleasant. As midnight approached several fireworks were set off from the boats. It looked like a city - with all the boat lights. Then at midnight, horns blared and fireworks lit up the sky from the beaches and the boats. It was quite a display and we had front row seats. So welcome to a New Year and we hope that it will be a great one for each and everyone of you.

The weather finally has changed to "long periods of fine" as they say in NZ. The remnants of Cyclone Evan are gone and the "ridge" that followed it, has also passed over our area. Now the skies are sunny and clear though the southerly breeze is a bit chilly. Through Christmas and the following several days it was very windy, very rainy and quite grey and dismal. We were locked in and doing a fair amount of internet work and calling trying to help as much as we could with Michael's mom's death. Thanks to Derek and our relatives in Eugene for handling the major portion. We will head back at the end of January for the memorial. It was a sad end to the year.

Now we prepare the boat for the arrival of our most frequent boating guests Dave and Lorna. They come loaded with parts and bits. It is a long flight for them and we appreciate their coming. So we are cleaning the boat top to bottom inside, out and underneath (though that is a cold endeavor in these chilly waters). It will be nice having them here. We also are in the process of finding a place to leave the boat for our trip back to the states at the end of the month. This is still what is called "silly season" here - the NZ summer and holidays - so finding a marina is near impossible. Most are filled and they tell you to call closer to the date of arrival - which makes planning quite difficult.

We are in the New Year and we wish health, love and adventure for each of you.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Greetings from the Southern Hemisphere

We wish each of you a very happy holiday season filled with warmth and surrounded by your family and friends. We miss our families and are especially saddened this holiday with the loss of Michael's mom to our lives! It makes for a sadder holiday for us but we do wish happy times during this season for all of you.

We are lucky to be surrounded by our new cruising friends and it is quite the international tribe so we get to share in interesting traditions from various cultures and nationalities.

It is hard to believe it is the holiday season here in New Zealand because it is summer! We have spent the last three Christmas seasons in tropical climates so you would think we would be used to it. But here, we arrived in colder weather and it felt more like a traditional Christmas season. Now, the days are quite long, the sun is out more, and temperatures are warming up with each passing sunrise.

We are currently experiencing some bad weather - the remnants of tropical Cyclone Evan that hit Somoa and Fiji, but it should pass just after Christmas and we can continue exploring the Bay of Islands.

We continue to be amazed at how far we have come aboard the good ship Astarte. It has been quite the ride and an incredible experience that we treasure. Though there have been some passages that have not been perfect - we try to forget the bad and remember only all the great sailing, incredible places and amazing people.

To each of you we wish a season filled with health, love, happiness and kindness. Be grateful for each other and treasure each day. We do!!!

Michael and Barbara
SV Astarte

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Nestled in Omakiwi

We left the dock FINALLY and are now enjoying the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. It is a group of lovely anchorages, islands, and bays on the North Island of New Zealand near Cape Brett. We left the dock on a rainy Tuesday morning and headed to nearby Russell where we anchored for the night. It was great to be anchored again. The good news is that the steering was so smooth, Michael thought it came undone again. There was definitely a problem and it has been resolved. The engine also was very smooth and the old vibration we had is also gone thanks to the new motor mounts (thanks again Richard). So Astarte is running well and happy to be off the dock. Michael did get in the water at the dock with the jellyfish to scrape the prop clean before leaving. Ick.

After a nice night in Russell, we left the next morning for a well protected anchorage. The low that was formerly Cyclone Evan and went over Fiji, is headed this way with a predicted Saturday and Sunday arrival. It is supposed to bring a big swell (3-4 meters) as well as heavy winds from the SE (30-40 knots). So we found a bay protected from the easterlies with "nil" swell. We were the first to get here and drop the anchor in less than 20 feet of water on a nice sandy bottom. After we got here, the boats started to pour into the place and now there are 13 boats here! It is a little bay, but it seems everyone has enough room to swing. One boat told us they were here in 45 knots once and all that happened was their anchor chain stretched out fully.

The bay is very pretty with hills on three sides covered with all types of trees including the Pohutukawa tree which is also called the Christmas Flower - a bright red flowering tree that blooms in December. So we have our Christmas decorations nearby! There are lots of bird singing in the trees as well, including the Tui which supposedly gets drunk on the nectar from the flowering trees. It is supposed to perform some acrobatic feats while "intoxicated" and make lots of noises along with its normal song. That could be entertaining! There is a nice beach and we'll probably go Pipi hunting one day. More on that if we catch any!

Yesterday we went on a hike. A boat here claimed they knew the trail to go over the ridge and see Whangamumu and a great view. They led us on a walk but they never found the trail to Whangamumu. It was a nice walk on a nice day. We'll explore more if the weather holds over the next few days. We're settled here through the storm and perhaps through Christmas. It is just nice to be on the boat at anchor and away from the dock. The weather is warming up a bit and we have lots of cleaning to do aboard after the many projects and being at a dock so long. So we'll tackle a few projects each day and then relax, explore, meet some folks and enjoy our time doing what we love. Oh, plus there will be some baking of Christmas cookies as well!

We hope everyone is enjoying their holidays and have a safe, happy time with family and friends.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Still at the Dock

We are hoping to untie the lines that keep us in the Opua Marina so that we can start exploring the Bay of Islands area here on the North Island of New Zealand. The good news, is that Michael did a FANTASTIC job getting the steering back in order. After much heartache with getting all the cables, conduits and ends for the job to us in Opua: some parts getting here, others not getting here, the wrong lengths, the right lengths, the right ends, ends not attached quite tight enough etc., the job is completed! It was a big multiple day project with lots of crawling in and out of small spaces, bruised knuckles, bad language and tools borrowed, the job is done. The steering is so much smoother (at least sitting here at the dock) and it was something that - once all the old pieces were out - was a project that definitely needed to be done. So another big one off the list - and off the Santa list as well. The other good news is the engine seems to be in order as well. The injector pump was pulled, shipped to Whangarei and repaired (there was a problem) and shipped back and re-installed, along with the tested injectors, and after much non-starts - the old Perkins coughed into life and is humming nicely. It was a costly project but again, one that was critical to get done. The new ignition and tach are also now installed so that project is also done. Again, while at the dock, all things seem to be working great - we hope we'll be able to say the same once under load!
Before we leave the dock though, Michael has to go into this cold, icky water (with these very large dark colored, long tentacled jellyfish and not much visibility) and get the prop scrapped and the thru hulls cleared so we can be on our way without causing any new damage with overheating.
Now it's time to leave the dock. We have done some last minute grocery shopping to get the boat stocked up for the holidays. Our goal for the next few weeks is to find a great place to drop the anchor and settle into a nice spot for the holidays. Unfortunately, most of our good friends have headed elsewhere this holiday season, so we'll hope to be in an anchorage and meet some new folks, hopefully some local New Zealanders, with whom to share the Holiday spirit. We're actually looking forward to that.
We also are now looking forward to having guests Dave and Lorna who will arrive in early January. Spare parts, new computer, camera and things like fuel lines are already being shipped to them. Plus, Carol has sent on some boat paperwork and our new rain gear. So we'll have Christmas aboard Astarte when they arrive for sure!
For now, we are getting the final bills paid, showers taken, water tanks filled, boat prop scraped and we'll hopefully be off the dock in the next day, We are also keeping our eye on the cyclone that is damaging Fiji right now. It is predicted to then head towards New Zealand as a Tropical we'll want to find safe anchorage to snuggle into as that passes.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Our Christmas List

Dear Santa,
We have been good this year – or at least we think so!  We hope you can locate us this season as we are in a whole new hemisphere and covered a lot of ground over the last twelve months.   The good news for you is that it is summer here and you can warm up a bit while traveling the world.  Plus, because we are a day earlier, you can get rid of a lot of the stuff and lighten your load for the remainder of your visits.

Our Christmas list is quite long this year – but we'll understand if you can't fit everything in your sleigh.  We are having trouble getting parts and pieces delivered here anyway – so we sure understand if you too have problems.   It seems to be the norm not the exception. 
So here's the list …
A new mainsail – The old one is just that – "old."  It is so old that when we try to heave to or sometimes tack, the sail shape (or lack of shape)  makes it quite a challenge.  It certainly got tested on the latest trip across the Pacific.  But we've made use of her and stretched her use to cover us these past few years.   This is a pretty critical piece of equipment on a sailboat…and it is the first priority on our list!
Engine parts – or if you're feeling very generous a new main engine!  It seems the old Perkins is in need of some major repairs (injector pump, redone injectors, a few fuel lines, some oil leak repairs (you know how these Perkins can be)  and some new spares – lift pump, filters and new belts).   We try to take good care of it with frequent scheduled oil and filter changes and we always filter and treat the fuel.  We just put new motor mounts on as well.  So we'll take whatever you can give us and be very, very  grateful.
Steering cables – it seems though we have ordered these weeks ago – you'll probably get here sooner than the DHL delivery!
Solent Stay – This would allow us one more option when picking a suit of sails for various conditions.  Plus it would be a place to run our storm sail in those really bad conditions.  Nothing fancy here - just sturdy!
Cockpit Sole – There is a lot of soul on this boat – but it seems our cockpit sole has some broken planks and we are getting some water below – so a bit of teak and some woodworking would be handy – surely you have elves capable of expert woodworking!
Galley Counters – We cook and bake a lot aboard and the old galley formica is starting to really show its wear.  It's lifting off the counters and even with lots of elbow grease, the stains just won't budge!
Steering Handle – We love people aboard but the big steering wheel seems to get in the way of folks knees and moving around.  And asking for a folding wheel is just plain greedy – so we'll settle for a cheaper option of a handle that could be put in when at anchor so we could still steer the boat if we removed the big wheel.
Cabin Cushions – Okay, we'll admit this is a pure luxury.  Our cushions are getting a bit worn after four years aboard (and they are the originals with the boat and Astarte is 25 years old. )  But it is a Christmas wish list right?
Underwater Camera – We try to put pictures on our web page for the enjoyment of our readers – and underwater pictures are particularly nice – especially for the marine scientists n our family.  But the Panasanic Lumix we bought drowned.  It wasn't supposed to and it seems the company wouldn't honor its warranty – so we'd suggest a different variety.  One with a housing seems to be the way to go!  We promise to take lots of pictures of the marvelous underwater environment in all these exotic locations.
New Camera – we try to write articles and send pictures with those articles as well as putting many on our log page…but our camera sometimes just won't focus.  That can be a problem – but if you have a spate one, we'd love it – otherwise we'll make do.
Wind Instruments – We've had a bit of wind on this last passage and the electronic wind indicator sometimes just goes beserk and won't tell us the correct direction…that can be a problem.  And at night, its simply too hard to see the top manual windex windvane.  So a replacement would be nice.
Gutters – We make use of rainwater – but we seem to have sprung some leaks in the gutters and they need to be replaced.  We've already replaced all the fittings!  So a bit of vinyl that is UV protected would be nice! 
Varnish Worker – Seeing it will be "off season" for your elves after Christmas, could you spare one  to help us with the interior re-varnishing?  He can stay aboard and we'll feed him well!  We have lots to do and if possible could he bring his own sandpaper, mineral spirits and varnish?   We won't just watch, we'll also work hard to get the job done.
Netbook Computer – We don't need or want the latest, newest or most tricked out gear – just something that will allow us to send and get our e-mails (including that most important weather!); skype calls to our moms, family and friends; and do some internet searching for parts and maintenance information; and do some writing including keeping our log page and a few articles …we really don't use it frivolously.  Ours has been repaired a few times and we get the "blue screen of death" way too often lately.  We think it's on its last legs.
Haul-Out – The boat will need to be pulled out of the water at some point before we leave here to check on a few things like the rudder.  Plus, we'll most likely need some new bottom paint by that point as well. 
Genoa ReCut – Talking to the local sail makers here, it seems that our genoa is not exactly cut properly.  The leads to the sheets are all wrong and it frankly is a bit large.  It is about five years old and has some miles on it (but so do we and we don't need to be replaced!) – So perhaps a bit of a nip and tuck? 
Okay – the list can go on and on but these are the most urgent (and a few not so urgent).  They really aren't too many luxury items on the list (those would be things like a new watch for Michael, new hiking shoes and new MP3 players).  We'll have fresh, boat made cookies on board for you and we should be in an anchorage (hopefully) in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.  We'll have the Christmas lights on for you! 
Cheers , Merry Christmas and Giant Thank You!
Barbara and Michael
SV Astarte

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Touring In the Northland

Sunday is a day of rest and for the last two weeks, a day to explore some of New Zealand. Last week we went to Russell. This week, with our friends Mike and Karen from "Chapter Two," we took another road trip. They have a borrowed car, and being Brits are used to this left hand driving thing, so we took off for some exploring along the coast.

The roads were quite empty, but the surrounding hillsides were filled with sheep and cows. It is a very green and rolly landscape. Lots of hills and valleys. The coastline is quite rocky and rugged with many islands and varying shades of blue water. First stop on the tour was Mangonui (meaning large or many sharks in Maori). This is a pretty little coast town on Doubtless Bay, famous for its fish and chips. Which we, of course, tried for lunch. We then did a pleasant walkabout the town stopping by the many historic (or heritage as its called here) signposts. The gardens are lovely and the older homes quite scenic. The bay is filled with fishing boats as well as a few pleasure craft.

From here, we continued along the scenic road to Whangaroa, Tauranga, Te Ngaere and other small bays and scenic stops. There was a stop for ice cream and many photos along the way. See some that are added to the photo page!

Our last stop was the village of Kawakawa. The little town is quite charming and known for its public toilets. The building housing the facilities was designed by a famous architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. They are quite interesting with colorful ceramic columns, old bottles as glass, tiles made by the local schoo lchildren, metal work in elaborate designs, and bricks from old buildings. It is quite the marvel. The town also has many murals of tiles, interesting lights, a ceramic sofa and a vintage old steam train that runs through the town (we didn't see this). It was a great and full day of sightseeing and we much appreciated being taken along for the ride. At least every so often we get to see something and not be stuck doing boat projects non-stop.

Saturday was a full boat project day including taking down the mainsail, putting on the new "remanufactured" car for the roller furling, and cleaning the bilges (yech!). So we did earn our Sunday off.

Check out the pictures and enjoy with us the beauty of this island nation.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Party in Pahia

We were happily invited to the "Moonwalker" welcome home party last night in the town of Pahia. "Moonwalker is a catamaran that has just completed a seven year circumnavigation with Russell, Corine and the relatively recent addition of Brisa (a two year old). As one card said, they left with two and came back with three! They are from this area so the party was a great mix of locals, cruising friends and family. It was a potluck/barbie with lots of cold brews. The small, very lovely home was packed and luckily the weather held so everyone congregated on the patio.
It was a great feast and we met so many interesting local boat skippers, fishing charterers and boaters. A Maori family also came that are friends of Russell's and Corine's and they did a very moving Maori greeting. The young 13 year old did the greeting and his father translated – it was very spiritual about the earth, ancestors and the gathering. Then they did a song and the traditional "haka." The Maori's greet each other with a forehead to forehead/nose to nose greeting (Hongi) as well, and it was very nice to see this family greet the folks they knew in this way. The 13 year old was an interesting mix of Maori and "typical" 13-year old. Dressed in a baseball hat on backwards, shorts and t-shirt, he then did this Maori greeting in the native language and it was very well spoken. We are sorry we forgot our camera but it will remain a lovely memory.
The party was great fun and it was nice to mix with some local folks as well as see some cruisers we hadn't yet run into since getting here. Our friends Irene and Chris from "Cuttyhunk" who also are home after their completed circumnavigation drove up for the party. There was this group of New Zealanders who circumnavigated and have completed their trip in about the same time frame. They also started the "Drifters" radio net in the Mediterranean and that was the radio net that Michael became a "net controller" for here in the Pacific. We took a picture of the gang of net controllers (well we took it with someone else's camera so we hope to get a copy."
We had several nice sunny days and today it is raining and gray again. We are hoping the boat mechanic shows up today (Bone's was found) – but we still haven't heard from them. We may head into Kerikeri this afternoon with Mike and Karen.
We've now been in NZ two weeks already – and still lots to get done.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

An Outing to Russell

Sunday was a sunny day and the perfect opportunity to take a day off from boat projects and explore a bit. We drove to Pahia, the nearby town with Mike and Karen from Chapter Two and then took a ferry to the island town of Russell. This is a really pretty and quaint little resort town – the first capital of NZ. The ferry ride is a quick trip and took us past our friend's anchored boat, Superted V. They left for the anchorage of Russell earlier in the day. We hiked up a steep hill to the "flagstaff" which has quite a history – being put up multiple times and then cut down by warring Maori's who did not want the Brits ashore. The view from this vantage point was wonderful. We had a great lunch of fish and chips and beer and enjoyed walking around the waterfront past pretty houses with great gardens and white picket fences. We stopped by the oldest church in NZ and an interesting graveyard with some very old graves of Maori chiefs as well as British sailors.
It was a great day and for Michael, it was his first view out of Opua. The sun has come out and we've been able to open the boat up finally and start drying it out. On Monday, we were back to boat projects and have managed to get a few more completed. Michael got the new autopilot control panel hooked up and it seems to work. We have the boom back on the boat albeit without the car to pull our the mainsail. The new "wheels" for that are now having to be machined, so we are still waiting to complete that project. But a few of the boom rebuilds are completed. We ordered our mainsail but are still waiting to get the final measurement on that (plus hand over some money). We did move out of the expensive boat slip today and moved to a less expensive part of the marina – so we have to now dinghy back and forth from the showers, laundry, and boating facilities – but it will save us some dollars.
The mechanics, Kim and Bones, have to return to finish the engine tachometer and ignition panel and when we moved the boat today, there is an idle issue that will need to be looked at as well. But there is a problem as Bones seems to have disappeared. Literally. Nobody can find him. His mom is worried sick and all his friends are driving the roads hoping he didn't crash. He's a nice guy and we hope he is found safe and sound.
We are getting anxious to get out and explore the islands in this area called the "Bay of Islands" and see some of the amazing area. We want to find a good spot to anchor before the holidays and settle in. This is a really popular spot with folks from Auckland who boat up here for several weeks and we hear it gets quite crowded in the favorite anchorages.
But that will happen hopefully soon. For now, boat projects. But there are some new photos up of Thanksgiving, the trip to Russell and the mast removal on Chapter Two. More later.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Summer in NZ

It's supposed to be summer here in New Zealand – but we haven't seen the sun yet!  Though it looks like today we might get lucky!    It's been quite chilly, damp, rainy and very foggy. We realized we have a shortage of warm clothes.  Long pants and long sleeved shirts, sweaters and jackets are at a premium aboard Astarte.  We keep wearing the same things – but luckily there is a laundry here.  The locals say "any day now" for summer to kick in.  It'll be nice to open the boat up and get it really dried out. 

The town of Opua where we are now at the marina is just a "boat" town.  There are a few large marinas, several chandleries (boat stuff stores), lots of repair facilities for engines, refrigeration, electronics etc., marine insurance shops, boat yards, rigging shops and well, just about everything boat related.  Add a small general store with bakery, a hairdresser, coffee shop and a few sailing clubs and you have Opua.  The nearest town is 8 kilometers away – with a bank, grocery store, gas station and more restaurants and shops and the still bigger town of Kerikeri is even a bit further with hardware stores and more.  You need a car to get there but we are quite lucky that several of our friends have either bought or borrowed vehicles.

We have been getting through some of the projects aboard.  Though with every step forward, there are two steps back.  The part we had made for the steering has been built and with one small "rebuild" on it – it seems to work.  Unfortunately, the steering cables we ordered are still two weeks away.  The wheels for the boom car are still not all found – so there is a delay there as well. 

Yesterday, we helped Mike and Karen on Chapter Two take their boat (an Island Packet)  to a dock to have their mast removed.  It was interesting to watch that happen.  That's a big, expensive project.  So we are not alone in our repair and spending mode.  As we were returning by the Q dock with their now de-masted boat, everyone was asking if the dismasting happened offshore.

Many boats have been arriving daily to the Q dock to check in and we've seen torn sails and tired people.  It's nice to be the one's here already!  The customs and biosecurity people have been busy.  They have been using  the search dog most days.  We didn't have the pooch aboard our boat. 

Hopefully we'll take Sunday off and take a ferry to Russell (a nearby island) and stroll around there for the day. 

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from the Southern Hemisphere

We were some of the first in the world to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. We had our feast yesterday (which was Thursday here). We joined about 70 other boaters for a traditional Thanksgiving feast at the Opua Cruising Club. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, cranberry sauce and gravy were on the menu. All the cruisers brought a dessert to share as well, so we had plenty of pies, brownies, cakes and cookies for after the meal. On our table of ten we had a very international crowd of our good friends. We shared our thanks and our meal with Brits, Jean and Matt from "Superted V," and Karen and Mike from "Chapter Two," our Dutch friends Monique and JanBart from "Victory," and Japanese pals Yoshi and Miyumi from "Gaku." We represented the Yanks at the table.

We wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving and want you to know how thankful we are to each of you for the love, care and support you've shown us through the years. Knowing we have family and friends to share our adventure with and who are there for us every step of the way means a lot to us. So a heartfelt "thanks" to each of you.

Thanksgiving is a special day set aside to remember what we are so grateful for, and after our "boisterous" trip across the ocean recently, we are thankful for many things: Family and friends first and foremost. A good ship like Astarte to take care of us. The opportunity to explore so many wonderful places on the planet. The chance to meet people from all over the world. Adventures that are sometimes hair-raising, but always memorable. Checkmarks on the bucket list. Our health. Each other. And the chance to do what we are doing. We know we are incredibly lucky and are grateful everyday for our lifestyle. Thanksgiving is just a day to express it!

Cheers to all of you - we raise a glass in your honor and thank you most sincerely.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Repairs in New Zealand

Astarte took good care of us on our trip from Tonga to New Zealand…now it's our turn to take good care of her. She handled the waves, wind and changing conditions with grace. Now, settled into a slip in the Opua Marina, she gets some respite from the ordeal (as do we).

The maintenance list is lengthy - so buy stock in NZ because the local economy will have a spike! So here is the list of projects underway aboard the good ship Astarte.

Steering repairs: We lost the steering about 100 miles off New Zealand. The cable came off the quadrant and the steering wheel could do 360 degree turns. So after a good fix by Michael off shore, we got into the Q dock and then the boat slip and now it is all taken apart. Our good friend Matt from "Superted V" came by and kibitzed with Michael and offered some good advice (and a drawing for a repair). A new bit will be manufactured that will hopefully solve the problem. That part request is now at the machine shop to be made. The steering cables which we had ordered prior to arriving here aren't in yet - but when they get here - we'll re-do the entire system. It will be a big project and Michael will tackle it himself.

Autopilot repair: It's only money! That's the way to repair things. The control panel for our auto pilot was on its last legs. The screen was unreadable; the beeps stopped beeping when you changed course and it was beeping on its own for no apparent reason. After so much dousing with salt water - it's no wonder. So after many conversations with the Raymarine folks, Michael was told that he could get a new control panel and just plug it in. So for hundreds of our favorite dollars - we ordered one. It arrived and surprise! It's not a match. The hole sizes are different; the plugs are different; the connectors are different… why can't these manufacturers tell you the truth? So with a brand new piece of equipment, Michael has to cut and resolder wires. Ouch!

Mainsail Car Repair: Our mainsail has been hard to pull out and get in because of a car that is old and worn and not running smoothly. It is integrated into the boom and requires the boom ends to be taken off so it can be removed. But of course, that's not that easy as the boom ends are riveted on- not screwed on (leaving us "screwed"). So we took the boom off and walked it to the rigging shop up the ramp and they have drilled out the rivets, taken the car off and are hunting out the six wheels needed to rebuild it. (Three have been located so far). They also replaced the line inside the boom for the topping lift and the line for the mainsail outhaul.

Rig Check: After the weather, waves and crashing we endured, the rig needs a thorough check. The forestay seems a bit loose. So we will get a highly recommended rigger down to do a rigging check and tightening.

Mainsail Replacement: We have been meeting with sailmakers over the last week and getting prices and recommendations for a new mainsail. We knew we needed one and after this trip we definitely know we need one. Ours is quite old and has pretty much lost all its shape. So we have met with several local sailmakers and will order it by week's end. It will take several months to get. A big expense but it will make Astarte handle much better.

Engine Repairs: New engine mounts have been installed already (thank you big brother Richard for delivering the mounts to Tahiti!). Three of the four were bad so this was a good thing to get done and may finally eliminate the vibration we had. We'll see when we finally get it out of the slip. Plus, the mechanics found a water leak that is solved and tightened up several spots that may mitigate some of the oil leaks (it is an old Perkins after all!) Bones and Kim , the mechanics, also will help Michael rebuild the control panel for the engine (which also took too many douses of salt water). So a new panel with ignition switch, oil pressure gauge and tach will be installed). So that is all underway and moving ahead. The screeching noise that we heard was luckily only a mis-sized belt on the alternator - so the correct sizes have been purchased and the belt replaced. Luckily it wasn't the water pump! We do need to reorder some more engine bits as spares - having gone through many over the last three plus years.

Bits and pieces: Then there are all those little things that need a quick fix. Leaky hatches, leaky floors, restocking shelves and major cleaning. Luckily there is a laundry here and we have done loads and loads of wash. Mattress pads that got soaked and blankets that were salt watered have all gone through the wash cycles and dryer. It has been pretty damp outside with a steady drizzle, harder rain, fog or chill - that we were grateful for dryers! We continue to clean the interior and exterior of the boat.

We haven't seen much of NZ yet nor enjoyed the lovely hikes around this area. The goal is simply to get the priority boat projects done while in the slip and then get out of the marina to save some money and finish the rest of the jobs completed at anchor or while exploring the Bay of Islands.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Welcome to the Southern Ocean

That was what a Kiwi friend said to us on the "Drifters' Radio Net" one morning. And the ocean welcomed us by throwing just about everything at us – including rocks! We had some of the greatest sailing we've ever experienced. We had a flat drift. We had the largest and scariest seas we've ever seen. We've had high winds and no winds. We had wind from every direction – but more often than not – not the right direction. We got sun and rain. We got good off-watch sleep, no sleep, or thrown out of the bunk. We broke Astarte records for our fastest day (most miles) and our slowest. It was a real experience.

So here's a recap of our trip from Tonga to New Zealand. You can check out the passage on the "where are we" page and see the track. The first three days were either really slow or great sailing in about the right direction (but we already wrote about that).
At about day three, our friends on "Superted" and "Victory" were now ahead of us and pointing much better to stay closer to the rhumb line. We were doing okay and it was comfortable. Astarte had a "personal best" for miles covered in one day. It felt good to be moving quickly through this ocean.

Then, the weather reports started to get more troubling. And we started to see it in the sky and the changing sea conditions. The swell got larger and larger. The winds picked up. We have entered the "squash zone." This is a zone you never want to be in. It is the place that is squished between two weather systems. In this case a very large low and a very large high. Things like isobars get very close together and that means big winds. Big winds mean big seas. And that's what we experienced. We continued on as the conditions worsened. We were past Minerva Reef having chosen not to stop there due to the weather reports. Winds were a steady 30 knots plus and the seas had built to between six and seven meters (16 to 21 feet). The seas were also breaking – so we would get giant waves over the decks. This is where the "rocks" were thrown at us. There was a lot of pumice floating in the water. This is volcanic rock that is very light and actually floats. It comes from underwater volcanoes that have been in the area and we had seen lots of pumice on the beaches. And we saw lots and lots of it in patches as we were sailing. The waves would pick up these rocks and toss them onto the boat – sometimes hitting us in the cockpit. We also got a flying fish flung into the cockpit – almost landing on Michael's lap. Astarte rode these waves and the accelerating winds quite well – but it was a scary time. In fact, at this point, we heard the New Zealand RCC (Rescue Coordination Center) airplane "Orion" on the VHF radio responding to a "Mayday" call. We heard the boat "Adventure Bound" mentioned and thought they were the ones in trouble – we know this boat with Bruce and Marcel. We could only hear one side of the radio transmission – the airplane. Then we figured out that it was a boat called "Windigo" that was in trouble and our friends were the closest boat in the area to help. So they were sent to the sinking boat – 38 miles away and in even rougher conditions than we were experiencing. It took them 18 hours to make that trip with giant following wind and waves. We at this point, chose to "heave to." For non-sailors, this is a maneuver that puts the boat in one position with the wheel hard over one way and the sails set in the opposing position so the boat stays still. It creates a strange "slick" in the water that actually makes the waves almost disappear as they approach the boat. We couldn't get the "perfect" heave to – as the boat was still forereaching (making some forward momentum (at about 2.6 knots). So it wasn't perfect , but it did seem to be a safer thing to do through the night than challenging these large seas and heavy wind in the dark. It was a wet night with the occasional wave still crashing into us – throwing us out of our bunks- but it was much more settled. But it also meant we were not making any headway. We had hoped this "zone" would pass quickly. It did not. After sunup we listened to weather, got an update on the "Windigo/Adventure Bound" rescue and chose to start to move the boat again and try to get out of this system.

Add to the big wind and large seas – cold and wet weather. If it wasn't the waves of salt water soaking us as they crashed into the boat, it was the downpours. At least that was fresh water. Below decks looked like a laundry room as we'd try to get wet clothes dried before the next watch (that wouldn't happen!) Our trawler lamp was on constantly as our "heater" and did manage to keep the boat a bit warmer. Barbara's rain pants were totally non-water proof at this point so she'd outfit herself in trash bags to try to keep dry and warm. It was quite a sight – a real "bag lady! But without those – she'd run out of dry clothes before long!

It was slow going with all our sails seriously reefed (shortened/made as small as possible). But, we made it through the weather and things started to settle again. The winds stayed quite strong and the seas were now a more reasonable three to four meters (still big but they seemed quite good at the time!) The bad part was that we could not make any southwest progress at this point. We went well past the course line and counted on changing wind directions. After the storm, the wind died. It was a flat sea and dead calm. Barbara baked peanut butter cookies (we'd have to give up our peanut butter once in NZ so we thought we'd use it!). It was a beautiful sunny day so we hung out all our wet clothes to dry. We watched jelly fish of various varieties in the water and these amazing petrel birds that were incredible fliers – doing barrel rolls and riding the winds and waves. We drifted and kept getting quite far east of the line to Opua. Then we got a few degrees shift and could make some southward momentum. We still waited for the predicted wind never came.

The wind started to pick up again. Now we head south but we were now too far east of the line and at some point we would have to make some more westerly headway which meant right into the wind and seas.

The weather reports started again – this time a front approaching. Try to get in by Wednesday the weather gurus all said. But we were still far enough out with wind in the wrong direction to make that seem less and less likely. Astarte(and especiallly us) does not like to bang right into seas – and these were now a steep wave (1.5 meters) with very little room between them. It was slow going.

It is now Wednesday night, we won't make it in before the next front hits. The winds build again to 20 plus knots steady and gusts to 30. The seas build but nothing like before. We can't get west! So at about 8:20 pm (2020), we turn on the engine. We ride the waves pretty well and make some progress in the right direction – albeit slowly.

Then, the boat does a 360 turn on its own under autopilot, The sails backfilll and Barbara, who's on watch, gets the boat off autopilot and grabs the wheel. Only the wheel doesn't react. In fact you can turn it totally around and around and around. The steering has broken. Great! "Michael, we have a problem." He comes up and indeed the steering does not work with the wheel. But luckily the autopilot can still steer the boat (it is connected directly to the quadrant). We will hope the autopilot which has also been hicupping a bit – will hold up. The equipment has all been under a lot of stress in the seas and wind.
We now have less than 50 miles to go – and land is in sight and daylight is coming. We make it into the bay where it is still very windy but much flatter in the protected water. We unload the lazarette and Michael fixes the steering – at least temporarily – to get us into the dock. Luckily the customs "Q" dock (quarantine) is a long dock and not many boats are on it. Our friends from Morning Cloud(and finishing a seven year circumnavigation) who arrived at midnight are there and offer to help us by grabbing lines. We have the emergency tiller ready in case we have to resort to that. And our anchor ready to drop as well.

Thursday, November 15 – 1:30 pm: We make it to the dock and tie up. We try to get the boat ready for the customs and biosecurity inspection. This is where lots of paperwork is filled out and certain food products/shells/artifacts etc. are removed from the boat. It all goes smoothly and we are left with more foodstuffs than we anticipated. They take our popcorn, honey, eggs, some mayo, dried beans, onions, garlic and we pass inspection. Then customs/immigration comes aboard for more paperwork...and we're stamped into the country. Now we must leave the Q dock and find a home. It is close to 4 pm and we contact the Opua Marina and get a spot. We need a rest.

We have arrived. The boat has some broken bits but we are not hurt and the boat still floats. As we talk to others – we feel lucky. Many had ripped sails, broken port holes, torn canvas and lots of water aboard. Some folks were also hurt with head injuries, back injuries and even a broken hip. So in the end we feel lucky. We are still together and have another checkmark on the bucket list. But this one was hard-earned.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

What a Trip!!!

We have safely arrived in Opua New Zealand. It was an adventurous trip. We are cleared into the country with very friendly and efficient officials. A more detailed entry will follow but we wanted to send a quick note that all is well aboard Astarte. We are tired and glad to be here. Astarte took good care of us and now we have to do some caring for her. Lots of friends are here and we were warmly welcomed yesterday. It felt good. We slept solidly last night tied up to a dock at the Opua Marina.

More later.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Day Three to NZ

We are into the third travel day to NZ, but have less than 200 miles under our belt. The first two days provided either some great sailing or some annoying drifting. The good news is that the seas are quite comfortable so far – and we are now on a reach – Astarte's favorite point of sail. We had some downwind sailing in very light wind yesterday so we even tried our drifter (a type of sail for you non-sailors). But the winds were even too light to keep that light sail filled – so we doused it and drifted for several hours.

Then the weather reports started to come in about a nasty low forming somewhere out there. It seems the weather authorities from various continents can't agree on where. At one point, we thought it best to turn around and head back...and then another report came in and said it would be worse back in Tonga where some predictions have it forming. The anchorage we thought about heading towards would not be a good place. So we chose instead to continue onward. So send all those good thoughts our way...

We have made good time in the last day and that seems key – making some southing and some westing. Its a beautiful sunny day and we are enjoying one of those fabulous sailing days.

To track where we are – remember to go to the "where are we" page. Michael updates those positions more often than we write logs while underway. So you can track our progress.

We are traveling with our friends aboard "Superted" and "Victory" - but they are much larger and faster boats – so after a few days they will be well ahead of us! We have lots of contact with other boats as well on the various radio nets. Plus, there is still enough of a nice moon to get some light in the late night.

All is well aboard.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

New Zealand Bound

We're off! But not very fast! We left this morning, Friday, November 2 to make our way to Opua, New Zealand. We may (but more likely will not) stop at Minerva Reef. We had planned on leaving tomorrow – but a weather forecast this morning encouraged us to get going sooner to get ahead of some bad weather predicted for Fiji starting on Wednesday. This low will move southeast and potentially cross our path – so we hope to get more miles behind us in the hopes of missing it entirely or at least minimizing its impact. We had been prepping the boat over the last week – and felt very ready to go with only the last deck preps and below decks storage. We had done a lot of cooking in advance; a good deal of packing and storing of bits and pieces; and, cleaned most of the bottom.

So we raised the anchor from the very lovely island of Nomukuiki where we had spent several very enjoyable days. There was a beautiful beach, some nice snorkeling and the good company of our friends. More on that stop later (including the trick or treaters we had on Halloween!) – but for now we just wanted to let everyone know we are underway.

We hope everyone survived the horrible Hurricane Sandy/Nor'easter combo in the states. Now we hope for weather much more sedate – with just enough wind to keep our progress ahead of the storms.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Calm O'ua Island

We left the rough and tumble of Ha'afeva and calmly and slowly sailed about 10 miles to O'ua island on Saturday. It was good to be away from the constant rocking and rolling of the boat. We had good directions into this "lagoon-like" spot behind O'ua island. The light was good enough to see the reefs and we weaved our way through reefs, bommies and shallows to a very sheltered anchorage. It was as flat as a lake – and we were grateful.

Our friends aboard "Superted V"* invited us to go ashore with them for a walk followed by burger night aboard their boat. We were also joined by the folks from "Victory." The two dinghies were met at the dock by about eight children – all eating raw fish. There were these small fish on the dock that they were nibbling on with great delight – as if they were a favorite candy or potato chip. They had terrific smiles and were all very helpful tying up our dinghies. We weaved our way up a path and then didn't know which way to turn until we were told to climb a short fence (with stumps to help you step over) and walk through what looked like yards. The fences are all up to keep the many, many pigs in their owners' areas. After one fence there was another with a woman telling us to come through her yard. It was all quite funny with the six "palangi" (foreigners) walking through these Tongan people's yards. It had rained a lot the day before so it was quite a muddy trek. That, along with the many mango trees that were dropping fruit, it was a squishy walk.

We found the "main road" - which was the only muddy road - and walked up and down it. Jean was in search of bananas, onions and eggs and we were told there were a few stores. Very few people on this island speak English – so it was quite difficult to communicate. But lots of arm movements, smiles and laughs, we would be pointed in various directions. The most fun was watching Jean imitate a chicken and then a chicken laying an egg to make the point about getting some eggs. The stores are little pantry-like rooms with shelves. They have a small window with wiring over it so you don't go in and look – you ask for things and are given them through the window. Jean got some oil at the first shop. We were then directed to a house with banana trees for the bananas and without getting the price the woman just chopped a big bunch of bananas from the tree It ended up being $15 pa'angas for the large stalk – so the three couples split the bananas and got a good deal for $5 pa'anag each (about 3.90 US) Then came all the other stuff – they brought us cucumbers, a huge bag of yellow bananas, and a papaya for the cost of the bananas. Then Jean did her chicken imitation again and bought six eggs. They were $10 pa'anga but Jean ended up trading some fishing supplies instead. On our way out of town loaded down with good fresh stuff, Michael stopped at another shop. The 20 year old woman there spoke quite good English. Her name was Rachel and we bought some flour from her. On the way back to the dock we were gifted with several coconuts as well. A young boy climbed up a very tall coconut palm to fetch them. He was quite a climber and did it in no time. Our little parade of six white people and at this point about a dozen children made it to the dock. We handed out pencils to all the kids who seemed grateful and told us what they were called in Tongan "penru"(our phonetic spelling).

We had a fun evening aboard Superted V with burgers and sausages and a tasty apple crisp, coleslaw and all the fixings. And we came back aboard and had the first really good night sleep in several nights. It was flat calm and comfortable.

On Sunday morning (today), we decided to go to one of the local churches and that turned into yet another great adventure. Rachel at the store invited us to her church where she said they had the best singing on the island. It was to start at 8:30. So Jean from Superted V joined us as we dinghied in. Being Sunday, the docks were all empty as were the streets. We found our way to the "blue and white" church around 8:20 – and there was absolutely nobody there and no activity. Then Rachel came over to tell us the bells rang ealier announcing that it wouldn't start until 9 am. She invited us into the church and we were joined by about six children all dressed in their Sunday clothes. All very traditional with their woven mat over-skirts – both boys and girls.

Well, 9 am came and went and the children and us are in the church talking – as best we could. Many of the children speak a bit of English – they counted to 100 for us; they told us their names each saying "My name is...." We told them our names. Then very suddenly all the children ran to the front three pews of the church and sat very quietly. We realized a very stern looking woman was approaching the church. This was their Sunday school instructor. Now it was well passed 9 and we were still in the church listening to a lesson in Tonga. At one point we heard the word "palangi" and all the children turned and looked at us. The woman was quite a task master and had a long stick that she would poke or swat the kids with if they weren't paying attention. Ouch. We decided to sneak out and take a walk. After about 15 minutes we heard the children singing - so we headed back inside. Then the bell rang again – this time it rang non-stop for about two minutes. Nobody sleeps through Sunday morning on this island. People started to finally arrive and some of them started singing. It was lovely. The service actually began about 10 am. The service had lots of singing which was very nice. There were about 13 people in the "choir" and they sang quite loudly filling the small church. They harmonized quite well with tenors, sopranos, bass and altos all having their parts. The sermon itself was quite long and it was not a happy sermon – no humor – more hell, fire and brimstone like from a very passionate minister. By about 11 am the service was over . At the end, one of the ministers invited us to join them for a meal. These are people without a lot and they are very generous to share what they have. We saw that the day before with all the fruit and vegetables we were given. We thanked them but passed on their offer as we had not come prepared with gifts to give them in return or anything to contribute to the meal. There are four churches on this small island – how they support them all is amazing with such a small population. We think we did pick the one with the longest service – as we saw the other churches let out much sooner. And we heard from some other folks who attended a different church that they seemed to have a "happier" sermon...though they too couldn't understand a word of it. Listening to Tongan spoken though is quite lovely.

It was a great experience and something that was a very local event – not done for the "palangi" but something they do weekly. Everyone is dressed up in very nice clothes (heels, make-up, traditional mat skirts and long dresses on the women). Everyone was very friendly to us and seemed grateful that we took the time to share in their spiritual service.

*Superted by the way is an old British cartoon character much like Superman or Mighty Mouse – only this one was a teddy bear!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ha'afeva Fury

We should have left with our friends two days ago...but we supported the local economy by having some laundry washed here and that delayed us from departing with them. They managed to hide away in a lagoon like anchorage nestled between three islands where there was no roll from the seas. We had every intention of following in their wake the next morning – but the weather wasn't very good. We felt we needed good visibility to sneak into this spot because of all the reefs and it was raining, grey and windy. So we waited with the hope it would clear by noon or 1300 (1 pm). It didn't – the weather deteriorated as the day progressed. In hindsight, we should have escaped first thing in the morning. Our buddies offered to help us get into the lagoon. But we hate putting people out on our behalf so we stayed here. We are the only boat here.

The day was filled with lots and lots of torrential rain, changing wind speeds and directions and we watched as the barometer plummeted from 1007.6 to 1002.4 in less than three hours. That's fast – and it showed. The skies were very dark and the winds were steady 20-25 all afternoon shifting from the normal east to north then to the northwest.

Then it hit! We watched the barometer drop quickly and a microburst , the front or something hit us right when the barometer was at its lowest point. The wind built very quickly and Michael saw 40 plus and our anemometer registered a maximum of 56 knots of wind. The boat heeled way over, Michael started the engine and we watched and hoped the anchor would hold. We now had a lee shore with a reef behind us. .so holding was now even more critical with less room to drag. We also lost our anchor floats (the floats we tie to the anchor chain to float the chain off the corals). We watched them float away. Don't know yet if the line or the hook broke. They were still tied together and we watched them get to the shore!

Now all is calm. The wind passed. The rain stopped. The barometer is 1010.1 now. It has settled and our favorite roll is back. We will leave this morning for the calm and quiet anchorage where our friends have had some good nights rest! All is well on the good ship Astarte – she did good as did our anchor set. It gives us confidence in the gear.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Family Portraits on Ha'afeva

The island is lovely. The water is clear and in varying shades of blue. The anchorage is very rolly. And the people on shore are quite friendly. Especially an enterprising young woman named Polo. Polo, aged 22, lives on the island and has befriended cruisers. She speaks quite good English and meets cruisers at the wharf dock when they dinghy ashore. She offers to take them into the village for a tour; get them mangoes (now in season and everywhere), papayas or bananas; and, do laundry. We took her up on the laundry offer and she charges "whatever you think it is worth." She said she has a machine and then line dries it. Because the power on the island only runs from 6 pm until 1 am – she does the laundry at night then hangs it out in the morning. We dropped off a bag at 4 pm (Polo met us at the dock to take it) and we got it returned the following afternoon. She gave us a tour of the island along with our friends Matt and Jean from Superted V.

On the island tour, Michael took some photos of some of the locals weaving traditional mats and some small children. When he came back to the boat, he printed them up and when we brought our laundry in, he gave them to Polo to give to the families. She was sorry she didn't get a photo with her dad – so we told her that when we picked up our laundry, we'd take a photo and print it for her. When we got the laundry, we walked back to the village and to Polo and her families' farm and home. Michael took several photos of her, her mom, dad and brother. It made us realize how we take for granted having pictures of our family and friends – and in some places it is a rare commodity and much treasured. After the family photo session, we got some mangoes, Tongan onions (which Polo pulled right out of the ground!) and a lemon right off the tree. The onions are like green onions/chives. We tried some tonight and they don't have a very strong onion flavor.

The islanders farm a wide variety of foods. The traditional taro is most abundant – but they also grow tapioca, tomatoes, green beans, onions and yams. The fruit trees are plentiful with bananas, mangoes and papaya and some citrus. There are also lots and lots of pigs on the island. On our walk yesterday they were rooting along the side of the road and running from one side to the other. Lots of pigs in yards and little piglets running around. We were told that it costs $100 pa'anga for a piglet – so they are a valuable commodity. Cows are also on the island and of course, the flying foxes. We see these critters leave the trees around sunset each night – and they must be fat and happy right now with all those ripe mangoes to nibble (perhaps our bananas on board are safe!)

Polo was a lovely young woman and a pleasure to get to know. She has a great sense of humor and jokes with the cruisers. She trades fresh fruit for things she needs or would like. Her mom asked if I had any perfume on board that she could have. I had given Polo some hand lotions, soaps, and shampoos – and sent along a small perfume to her mom. We do like to support the local islands that we have the pleasure to visit. After all, they are allowing us on to their home islands...but we do prefer buying things from them or using a service they provide rather than just giving handouts. We think they prefer that as well. However, we do enjoy giving a gift to someone who has been nice to us or has gone out of their way to be helpful.

We did enjoy a nice snorkel yesterday after our walk around the island. It was a little rough with big waves and a surge – but the underwater life was quite remarkable. The coral was not as fabulous as on Uoleva – but there were so many new and colorful fish and critters. Barbara saw a moray grab a fish and Michael discovered several new varieties he hadn't seen before. It was a "successful" snorkel.

The nights have not been too restful thanks to the constant roll. We will hopefully head out to another anchorage tomorrow. All the other boats left this spot today so we are sitting alone in this place – but we had to wait for our laundry. Hopefully the weather will be clear enough for a morning departure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sailing Tonga

Today, we had one of the many wonderful sails that we've enjoyed in the Tongan waters. We went about 22 miles from the island of Lifuka to Ha'afeva (sp?). We really have enjoyed our sailing time here – because if you plan it right, you can sail almost everywhere. We have had good winds and have plotted courses between islands (both in the Vava'u Group and here in the Ha'apai Group) to be able to sail. We've burned little fossil fuel and have really had enjoyable days sailing to new island destinations. Most of the time you are sailing in reef protected waters – assuring you of a little swell or wind chop, but no big, ugly seas. Every so often when you come up from 1000 feet to the shallower shelves of 200 feet, you 'll get some waves building up, but it isn't too bad. So this island group has been really wonderful for being a sailboat. If any of our sailing friends are looking for some good cruising ground to charter – consider Tonga!

We officially cleared out of the Kingdom of Tonga for our trip to NZ in the town of Pangai. We will wait for a good weather window to actually depart, but we cleared out so we could go explore the islands to the south and the west and not have to beat into the wind to return to the main port of entry. There is supposed to be a front passing through over the next few days and unfortunately there are very few islands in the Ha'apai group that have protection from the north or west. So we found one that will have some protection and sailed here. We weren't alone in that thought process – as when we arrived, the anchorage already had 12 boats settled in. We found a home after a few tries to avoid destroying any corals (or getting caught in them). We did buoy up our anchor chain to protect a few small bommies.

This area is supposed to have some very good snorkeling. When Michael dove to check the anchor, he said that one coral head slightly behind us was very nice – so we have our own private dive site!

Its very windy today and that made for a fast downwind sail, but though we were sailing at fish catching speed – we fished but didn't "catch." Tinned chicken for dinner!

It's nice to be in a new location – and hopefully it will be comfortable enough. There is a little, but steady roll – and the wind continues to blow harder than predicted. But the holding is good sand – the anchor is well set, so Astarte should have a safe night.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Getting the Boat Ready

And getting ourselves ready as well! The trip to New Zealand is one that you have to really prepare for because it is one of the tougher passages. That means really getting up to speed on weather. This means learning about whole new weather systems and the way things move in the southern hemisphere. It means learning all these new names of weather systems as well as oceans, seas and islands and getting a good sense of the geography of everything and how things move. There are lots of services that offer weather information and it seems to be the talk at every social gathering. One weather guru around these parts has mentioned "analysis paralysis" and you can see how that can happen. So much information to sort through – and the bottom line is that it is guess work especially when planning so far ahead. So the daily routine aboard Astarte includes listening to several radio nets – one exclusively for weather; downloading weather "grib" files for the next 24/48/72 hours (and perhaps longer); a long range large area weather synposis; the weekly weathergram from Bob McDavitt; and then looking at all this data and trying to make some sense of it! Add to that lots of talking about weather for the NZ trip with other cruising boats heading the same way.

Besides weather we are checking all the systems aboard Astarte. Recent projects included taking a good look at the steering system. We re-did the vibration control foam on the wind generator yesterday; we have unpacked and re-packed various lockers, the V-berth, the "walk-thru" and the lazarette, to organize better and to see what was where; and, we've done a food inventory and re-organization. We also unpacked from the "stuff bags" all our cold weather clothes. We found some fleeces, long sleeved shirts and sweatshirts for the passage and for the time in NZ where it will be considerably cooler. These all needed to be hung out to air after being in lockers.

New Zealand is quite strict about what you can and cannot bring into the country regarding food supplies. They do NOT allow any meat products, beans (or anything that can sprout), certain spices, dairy products, eggs or any egg products (no mayo); peanuts or peanut butter, honey ...and the list goes on. We are not quite certain if our tinned vegetables will be allowed as we pull all the labels off to keep bugs/mold and clutter down. They allow certain things if they are packaged in certain countries – but without labels – who knows. So the goal has been to go through as many of the supplies as possible. We haven't done any major food shopping (other than fresh stuff and a few items we go through quickly like boxed milk). There is now a new sport in the anchorages – trading food. What do you have that I don't and what can I trade you for it. We have done substantial swapping with our friends on "Chapter Two." I've gotten dried blueberries, they got some nuts; I got some bread flour for some peanut butter; mayo for Parmesan cheese...and the list goes on. We got an electric transformer in exchange for some dive weights, lentils and dried cranberries. We will also gift some items to some islanders because in NZ they toss the items and that is just a waste.

Because we are using up stores – the menus are also getting more interesting based on what's left in the lockers. We are still pretty well stocked – so we had a fun "brunch" yesterday for our friends from "Victory" and "Superted V" - it was a fun day starting with brunch and ending with dominoes and games.

Tonight, we've made a beef pot pie (five tins used !!!) and will have "Chapter Two" and "Superted V" over for dinner and they each will bring dishes to share as well.

So the agenda is getting ourselves and the boat ready for the passage to NZ and enjoying our last time in the Kingdom of Tonga. We have managed to get a snorkel in everyday and the coral and fish here are magnificent.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Shelling, Snorkeling, Socializing

And several boat projects...

It has been a very pleasant stop here in Uoleva. The long beach walk yielded several beautiful shells, a lovely long hike and meeting some of the locals (or at least ex-pat locals). The beach had pretty steady surf action the day we walked so getting ashore was an adventure. We decided to row in, thinking it would be easier to handle the waves without worrying about the outboard. Plus, we could carry the dinghy higher onto the beach to keep it put of the four foot tidal change here. It all worked without too much drama! We walked the length of the beach and collected a good assortment of shells, watched hermit crabs scatter and saw a mound of pumice rock towards the neck of the island. This must have washed up from one of the areas of active volcanoes at some point. It is very strange "rock," unusual to walk on and light as a feather.

On our way back, we stopped and chatted with Dave who runs a local catamaran sail trips, whale watching trips and snorkeling adventures. He pointed out some areas with the best snorkeling, gave some advice on getting through one reef and was interesting to chat with. It was just before sunset time, so the bugs were quite numerous.

The next day, we organized Astarte some more, got out some paper charts for the New Zealand area (we don't have electronic charts for that area), and baked a cake. We still had time for a nice snorkel to one of the reefs and it was magical! The reef is so incredibly healthy with a wide variety of corals both hard and soft in every imaginable color and texture. The light was hitting it perfectly and it was like a marvelous landscape painting. Add to that an amazing array of colorful fish of various shapes and sizes with stripes, dots and decorations. We saw many we had never seen before and some old favorites as well. The structure was a nice wall – not too deep with lots of swim-thrus and inlets. It was so good we went back the next day!

We also have some of our favorite cruising friends here – so enjoyed an evening of dinner, dominoes and dessert aboard "Victory" with our Dutch friends Monique and JanBart. JanBart had caught a HUGE sailfish and though he tried to release, ended up with the fish and we enjoyed some of that. He gave half of the fish to one of the village churches to share with the island families. We stayed up enjoying a lot of laughs and couldn't believe it was 1 am when we got back to the boat.

Tonight, another fish feast aboard "Superted V" with Jean and Matt. We are always asked to bring "pudding" (that would be dessert). Guess it's good to be known as the chocolate cake boat! Barbara made coconut macaroons and brownies. She made a chocolate cake yesterday for the dinner aboard "Victory." The good news, we won't worry about having too much alcohol aboard when we get to NZ!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Uoleva Island

We are now anchored off of one of the longest white sandy beaches we have ever seen. Like many of the islands in the Ha'apai Group, it is a low palm studded piece of paradise. We left the village of Pangai this morning (Tuesday), and sailed a few hours to this island. We are sharing the long anchorage with two other sailboats. There are reefs crashing on both ends of this island giving the anchorage some good protection against the swell.

Monday morning we re-anchored closer to town for a shorter dinghy ride to do our clearing in and exploring. We spent much of yesterday walking around the town of Pangai and finally finding the immigration and customs office (not big on signage around here) and did our official clearing into this island group of the Kingdom of Tonga. It was a very simple and friendly process. We stopped into several of the small shops and picked up some bread and eggs. We found the "famous" Mariners' Cafe (it is the place that seems to be the information source for the Ha'apai group and offers internet (slow and expensive), beer, pizza, and burgers. We ended up meeting several other boats there last night for a very fun evening of socializing. Michael did have to dash back to the boat to do his duty as net controller for the Pacific Drifters net at 5:30 pm (local time)...then came back to the gathering. He is dedicated.

A bit about the Ha'apai Group: it covers 110square km of the central waters of the Kingdom of Tonga. Comprised of 62 islands of which 45 are uninhabited. It is one of the places that are just getting discovered and more explored by yachts and tourists. There are not a lot of tourist resorts, hotels or restaurants on the islands and the best way to get around is by private boat. We feel very lucky! The islands are much like the beautiful San Blas Islands of Panama or the South Pacific's Tuamotu group in French Polynesia. The islands are low with sandy beaches, palm trees and many surrounding reefs. Getting around is tricky and you do have to be watchful of all the reefs and corals. Not many of the anchorages have all weather protection, so you always need to have an "escape plan" if the weather changes.

Inhabited for more than 3000 years (based on some archeological finds), the islands also have some interesting historic moments. In 1777, Captain Cook escaped being cooked for a "traditional" feast. The infamous mutiny on the sailing ship "Bounty" occurred offshore in 1789 and Captain Bligh and 18 loyal seamen landed on one of the islands after being set adrift. They narrowly escaped as well (and one didn't). And it was in this island group that Tupou, the King was baptized and converted the Kingdom of Tonga into Christianity. There are many of the old kings buried in the islands.

The attraction of the islands though isn't the history but the natural beauty and undiscovered charm of the many islands. Underwater the snorkeling and diving is reputed to be some of the best around and the island walks and beach exploring looks fabulous. The traditional Tongan way of life remains here and many islands have limited exposure to the outside world. Tongan is spoken and very little English is heard. Electricity on the outer inhabited islands is usually limited to a few hours per day.

This looks to be a wonderful place to explore...and we almost hope that a weather window to NZ takes a while to get here!

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Sunday, October 14, 2012


That's where we now are anchored after our overnight passage last night from the Vava'u group. We are now in a new group of islands in the Kingdom of Tonga. But we have been negligent about writing – so first a recap of our last few days in the Vava'u group before we headed further south.

Nuku island was on the list of stops in the Vava'u group and it proved to be a lovely stop – so much so we stayed there for several days. It was one of those spots that had a bit of everything – a beautiful beach island on one side; in the center an open water view protected by a reef to keep the waves and swell down and off on the port side another sandy beached island with steep green covered cliffs. Lots of reefs to snorkel and an area for good tide-pooling. The water colors were every shade of blue in the spectrum. Very pretty.

We cleared out of Neiafu for this next Tongan group and then waited a few days for the weather to get a bit better. We waited for the wind to come out of the east a bit more rather than the southeasterly winds that we had been having. We were heading pretty much south so the less southerly the better.

We left late in the afternoon on Saturday. The trip was 65 miles south – and many folks attempt it in the daytime – but we thought it might be cutting it too close to enter a reef area late in the day after the good light is over. So we opted to do the passage overnight and arrive at first light and that way have all day to find a good spot to drop the anchor. We did have to slow the boat way down to not get here too early as the conditions were quite good for a quick sail. But sitting at an anchorage – you never know what the seas and conditions are "out there" - and we're glad we made that call. It's not a bad over nighter and we had a pleasant sail The seas were a bit choppy – but not the 3 meters (9 feet) that someone told us was out there! They were about a meter to a meter and half (3-5 feet). We had a reefed main and genoa flying and sailed the entire way once clear of the anchorage in Nuku, and upon getting to Lifuka Island and winding our way into the harbor here.

It is a lovely spot facing a sandy beach. We're anchored in about 25 feet – with what looks like a good sandy bottom. A few coral "bommies" are around. The water isn't as crustal clear as we've gotten used to – but this is just northeast of the main town. We need to go into town tomorrow (Monday) to do the official check-in at this island group.

This is a pretty remote group – no ATMs, no internet nor many restaurants or shops (our kind of place!) We'll probably stay here two nights than find a protected anchorage to do some boat projects (wind generator work, bottom cleaning and organizing) as we get the boat ready for the big trip to NZ. We hope to get some more good snorkeling in as well before we leave the Kingdom of Tonga. Now it's the waiting game – waiting and learning about NZ weather patterns. The next passage is one of the more challenging.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012


GPS Matamaka is the "Government Primary School" on the lovely island of Matamaka in the Vava'u group of the Kingdom of Tonga. It has 20 students spread out through grades one thru eight with two teachers. It is a lovely little school with two classrooms and a general room used as a library, meeting room and study hall. The teacher Mr. Mosese Ma'asi was very nice and shared a lot of information about the school, the education system in Tonga and the island. The students were off that day because the next day they would be taking their examinations. There were a few students in the classrooms playing or studying or just hanging out. They were even wearing their uniforms on their "day-off." The rooms were typical of a primary school – lots of posters and craft/art on the walls. The alphabet in both Tongan and English; various math lessons and lots of maps!

The school has a postcard project so if you'd like to send a postcard to the students, they would appreciate it. The address is:
Matamaka GPS
c/o Peace Corps
PO Box 136
Neiafu, Vava'u
Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific

A Peace Corp volunteer had started the project and they have postcards from around the world and love getting them. The students learn both Tongan and English (in fact, in high school all their lessons are taught in English.) We brought some school supplies for them and they were very grateful. The school also has four moorings in the harbour that they let boats use for a $10 pa'anga (that's the Tongan monetary unit) a day. The money is used both to maintain the moorings and goes into a school fund. A very smart thing to do to get cruisers to come by the school (we all usually bring something) to meet the students. Boats with children aboard are invited to put their children in the school for the day (they are even given a uniform for the day).

After our night and day at Matamaka, we moved on back to the big town of Neiafu to get some fuel and send an e-mail to New Zealand (our pre-arrival customs form). We also needed to download our new documentation (thank you Carol!!!).

All is well aboard and we'll be in town just a day or two, clear out of the Vava'u group and wait for weather to head to the next group of islands in Tonga as we prep for the big passage to NZ.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Traditional Tongan Feast

Lape Island is one of the small inhabited islands in the Vava'u group of Tongan Islands. We have been moored off that island most of the week and on Saturday night, the island hosted a traditional Tongan feast. The village has 32 persons – 16 adults and 16 children, a small school, a church and homes. The people are exceptionally friendly, though reserved. They invite people to this feast at no cost – though they accept donations towards a new dock they are trying to build. 94 cruisers or yachties as they call us, showed up for the feast. It was the largest number they ever had. The roasted two pigs and had more that 20 various dishes to share. There were several chicken and vegetable dishes, many fish combinations, the roasted pigs, breadfruit, a taro leave stuffed with corned beef and cooked in coconut milk (delicious!) and a variety of the root vegetables like manioc, yams and what they call figs. Prior to sharing their meal they sang a lovely hymn and offered grace in Tongan. Coconuts were cut open to drink and it was all served on these hand made plates from the trunks of banana trees.

The cruisers were generous with their donations and the village seemed pleased. It was a very fun evening with tasty and interesting new food and good friends.

We also did another great snorkel in the afternoon – a place the locals call "Coral Wonder" and came recommended by a gentleman from Lape island. It was a nice spot and we saw a sea snake – very pretty but very toxic! We also saw a colony of anenome fish, a "crown of thorns" starfish, interesting varieties of butterfly fish and some funky puffers. It was a very pleasant and interesting adventure.

This morning, we moved from Lape Island to a new spot near Matamaka Island. There is a small school on this island and we'll hopefully get ashore tomorrow morning to go visit the school which welcomes boaters. In fact, they have four moorings in the bay that the school has placed here to encourage visitors. It is $10 pa'anga a day for the mooring and the proceeds go to the school. We understand that the kids can see the moorings from the classroom and get excited when boats pull onto one of their moorings. Because it is Sunday and no school, they'll have to notice us in the morning. We have school supplies we'll deliver to the school.

It is still a bit cloudy – but the rain has held off for our snorkeling and the Tongan feast .
We have had to pull out some of our warmer clothes though, as it seems to be getting cooler – especially in the evenings.

There have been several earthquakes over the last week off Tonga but we have not felt anything – but thanks to all who've written us concerned for our well-being. All is well – but it is a bit scary thinking of this giant Tongan Trench underwater!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Amazing Underwater Creatures

The rain stopped for a few hours yesterday and the sun actually came out and that was our signal to get into the water and explore a reef known as "the coral garden." It was a shallow, long reef area filled with a field of stag horn coral – the largest stand we've seen for a long time. There was also lots of other corals and an incredible variety of wonderful fish. As we've explored new islands and countries, we always see new varieties of fish. The water was a bit chilly but very clear.

For our marine scientists, the variety would keep you in the water for hours! They included many new types for us as well as some old favorites. Our finds for the day included pipefish, filefish, triggerfish, bannerfish and a giant trumpetfish. Buried in the midst of the stag horn coral , we saw several pipefish – we think they were Messmate Pipefish (Corythoichthys intestinalis) – which are kind of like stretched out sea horses. The other real find was a pair of the Longnose Filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris) that were incredibly colorful spotted little fish. Always in pairs were some Pennant Bannerfish (Heniochus chrysostomus) which are very shy; many variations from the butterfly fish family – so many that it's hard to keep track; Surgeonfish of various colors and designs including the colorfully Striped Surgeonfish (Acanthurus lineatus); curious, but protective damselfish; colorful clown/anemonefish – a darker variety with a bright white stripe that live in the anemones; wrasses of every color and color combination; interesting Sandperch and Lizardfish that stand on their fins on the sandy bottoms; and so many more. It was a wonderful water day and so glad we explored.

We wanted to go to the school on Lape Island to visit it – and bring some school supplies, but the school was closed for a meeting of teachers in Neiafu. Some things are the same everywhere! We remain on the mooring on Lape and may attend the local feast there on Saturday night. We haven't done the "Tongan feast" yet where they roast a pig in the ground in what is known as an umu. It will depend a bit on weather.

We are enjoying it here – it is nice to be away from town and enjoying the beauty of the Vava'u islands.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rainy Tonga

It has been a wet, rainy few days here in Tonga. We moved out of the town to a small island called Lape Island. It is very pretty here – even in the gray weather. We went to the island yesterday to pay for the mooring and the islanders were very friendly. In fact, they gave our friends from Chapter Two some bananas (they wanted to buy some – but they were just given them!) There is a school on the island and we'll probably walk to it today if there is a break in the rain and bring up some school supplies. It is always interesting to see these small island schools and talk to the teachers.

We do enjoy listening to the morning radio network here – especially "the market report." This is not the stock market report – but the local vegetable, fruit and fish market report. The gentleman named "Primy" or "Primrose" gives a daily report telling the listeners about the lovely tomatoes, fresh lobsters or handicrafts. The network is filled with weather, advertisements about the local businesses, all the island feasts, and non-profit announcements.

We had hoped to do some snorkeling in this area which is known as the coral gardens – but it is so gray we may put it off for a day. It just seems like it's going to be rainy for the next several days – so we'll just hang out and get some boat projects completed. We need to go through all our boat provisions to determine what we need to use up before arriving in New Zealand. NZ prohibits certain items from being brought into the country – things like all meat (frozen, canned or fresh), all dairy products and eggs (including mayonnaise), all nuts, beans, fruit and many other items. So the banned items are the high priority to eat at this point. The menus will get more and more interesting as we start to get through the stores.

Last night, we did have a lovely mahi dinner (still eating that giant fish we caught between Suwarrow and Niue) with Mike and Karen from "Chapter Two." It seems we can't stop socializing – though today may be a day of "rest" a few boat projects and a walk to the island. We need to get some laundry done – but there is no place to dry them with the consistent rain.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

The Race to the Party

"Regatta Vava'u" is over and it was a big finish! We left this blog off at the Wednesday let's backtrack to Thursday. It was a rainy – in fact pouring wet day. The "Treasures of the Bilge" swap meet took place early in the morning and Michael headed in to find treasures and to try to sell a part we've carried around for more than three years. We came out ahead by selling and managing not to buy! Then we went on to the VEPA presentation (Vava'u Environmental Protection Association) which included making a recycled pop bottle planter and seeing a presentation on coral. After that, it was off to learn more about facilities and cruising in New Zealand at the "Sausage Sizzle" aboard the barge "Marnis." They provided sausages from New Zealand (quite yummy) and a few brews and lots of great information.

That evening was the "Whangarei City Challenge Race" - and we decided not to sail Astarte around the short course but rather crew on a very fast catamaran named "Citrus Tart" (you'll see a photo of the bright yellow catamaran on the photo page). Steve and Michelle are Australians and quite fun. They built the boat themselves and it is FAST! And very yellow (thus the name!) We had a great time because we finished first in the catamaran class. Yippee!!! We celebrated with a bottle of champagne aboard before heading to the prize event.

Friday was the BIG race from Neiafu to the finish line at Tapana . . . or better known as Anchorage #11. We entered this race and there were three classes: catamarans, monohull boats under 40 feet and monohulls above 40 feet. We were in the above 40 foot class with the toughest competition.

But we held our own – coming in to the finish line ahead of some and behind a lot of others. There were about 22 boats in the entire race and it was fun and Astarte looked great and performed quite well . . but it was exhausting with only the two of us. The wind was perfect and the course forced you to sail at every point of sail – ending in a lot of tacks down to the finish line.

There was the big prize party at the end of the race and we won a prize for the "Most Spirited" boat during regatta. We had "dressed" the boat daily with a different message in signal flags and participated in many of the events. So we were given a very nice book by Jimmy Cornell, "World Voyage Planner." We also won a bunch of fun prizes like beers, bread, ice, a T-shirt and DVD.

The final party, called the "Full Moon Party" took place on Friday night and themed "Fire and Water." We decided we wouldn't dress up (costume) for this event. The evening started with some pre-party wine aboard "Chapter Two," followed by the party. Music, lights, dancing, performances all made for a fun evening on the beach. This is a big event for locals as well as the yachties so it was packed. Late into the night, they did a beach performance with fire, dancers and then lit a giant "burning man." Very cool.

It was a fun, well organized regatta and we enjoyed participating. We got to know many of the boaters much better and will enjoy spending more time with many in New Zealand.

Because we couldn't end the fun, on Saturday night, we enjoyed a potluck feast aboard "Super Ted V" with Matt and Jean. The crews of "Cuttyhunk," "Barraca," "Victory" and "Gato Go," were all there and we feasted, laughed, and enjoyed a musical festival with Tom from "Barraca" on guitar and musical lyrics on three computers in the cockpit. Oh times have changed!

We again stayed out well past midnight (two nights in a row). That was probably not such a good idea as some big squalls came in at 0400 (4 am) that included a wind reversal. That meant that many boats were suddenly stern to the shore with big winds blowing. We got close to some local moored fishing boats and had to bring in some anchor rode – but we held well. In the morning though, we decided to leave at first light and find a better anchorage for the new direction of wind. The anchorages we tried though were all packed so we headed back into town. As did a lot of other boats!

The good news is, we can post some pictures and check some e-mails. The bad news - we are back in town. We'll leave again tomorrow for an outer anchorage as it is again a very rainy, squally day today.

Regatta is over – now time to find the quiet place and snorkel and relax while we wait for the weather window to start our way further down the Tongan chain and prepare for the trip to New Zealand!

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Thursday, September 27, 2012


You've heard about biathalons and decathalons, but what about a tridecagon-athlon? Well, the crew of Astarte entered the Tongan Tridecagon-athlon – part of the Regatta Vava'u festivities. It's a 13-event team competition. The events were quite odd with names like: "Giants, Wizards, Elves", "Oeuf Toss", "Centepede", "Battle-Hip", "Pass the Person", "Tow the Line", "Blind Man's Bluff", "In the Bag", "How Low Can You Go", and a few others .

It was one of those fun and wacky afternoons that will be memorable. The good news is we came in first (well, the scoring was such that in the end – we all came in first!). The silly games were things like rock/paper/scissors; potato sack races, three-legged races that were actually six-legged; egg tossing, limbo, and pie eating. A few new games like hitting a big ball that hangs from a rope with your hips and moving one of your teammates along a course without using any hands. No one got hurt and everyone had a good time. Good music and a few beers helped the festivities.

We came home a bit tuckered out.

That was the Monday events. Tuesday was another regatta day and we decided to race Astarte in what was called the "Boot and Rally" race. We went to the skippers' meeting to find out the race rules which were quite unusual. It was a pretty long course, past a few different islands. . . and required you to get off the boat and go get secret words from two different places. The first place was a cave called Swallows Cave – and inside the cave on a carved tiki was a secret word. The next place would be a beach. So we invited Monique and Jan Bart (off the Dutch boat, "Victory") to crew with us. We towed their dinghy – (faster engine than ours) and as we passed the spots with the clues, Jan Bart jumped in the dinghy (literally) and took off while we continued sailing. He caught up with us with the clue and we continued along the course. It was a good plan. Some boats chose not to tow a dinghy and instead swam to the cave and shore to retrieve the clues. Astarte sailed quite well even with a main sail that is a bit "tired" and out of shape. We hit 7.8 knots at one point! The race took about 3 hours and we finished 4th in the monohull class. The hardcore racers upfront, ran spinnakers and didn't drag dinghies. But we had a good time. We ended the race back at our mooring with a champagne toast!

Later that day we enjoyed a nice presentation on whales and then an old series of historical and documentary films – including some silent films about Tonga. It was another full day of regatta fun and festivities.

In Regatta Vava'u, you get points by participating in the events, visiting local establishments and doing things like decorating your boat. We think it's interesting that most of the boats really participating in the various events are the New Zealanders, Aussies, Brits, Canadians, and Dutch. It seems there are only a few American boats that are diving in. Their loss! We are having a really good time being involved. The regatta continues through the weekend. We have met many new folks and really gotten to know some acquaintances of the past much better.