Sunday, November 29, 2015

An “Astarte” Record Breaking Trip

On Saturday, November 28 at 1340 local NZ time, we safely moored to the Customs/ Quarantine dock in Marsden Cove, Whangarie, New Zealand. The 945 mile trip only took us seven days and three hours. That's was the single best long passage we've had since we started cruising in 2009! Surprisingly, it was on the dreaded passage from the islands to NZ – which is usually a very tough trip. We were not alone out there to enjoy the passage as many boats took this particular weather window from either Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu or Tonga. It was just in time as well, because a storm is brewing just north of Fiji and Tonga and at last look, was heading for Samoa. So it was good to be gone before the official cyclone season starts on December 1. This particular weather window has been rated by "David and Patricia" of Gulf Harbour Radio – the weather gurus, the best window of the season – and many boats beat their own records. Some didn't have as much nice wind as we did – but we were lucky enough to have really nice and relatively comfortable sailing for almost the entire passage. The entire week was sunny with clear skies and even a full moon to light our way through the nights. Just as we were nearing our final destination, did we get our first rain and it was a doozy! But as we moored to the dock – the skies cleared enough and the wind settled so tying up wasn't too traumatic. MPI (Ministries of Primary Industries) – the biosecurity folks were first aboard and our agent was a pleasant women from Auckland who was very thorough but fair. Then the customs guy came aboard and it was like having an old friend on the boat. He cleared us out of NZ last May, as well as into the country this time. He is firm and fair with a good personality if you do everything right. We were pretty well prepared with the paperwork completed prior to his arrival so we didn't waste too much of his Saturday. He had already cleared in nine other boats!

So now we are back in NZ, all legally cleared in with the officials and received our TIE (Temporary Import Exemption) which allows us to buy bits and parts for the boat GST (tax) free. That helps! It is also a reason to keep returning to NZ with a boat! That, plus this really is a lovely country with some of the friendliest "first world" country folks around.

Monday morning, we will head up the Hatea River to the Town Basin Marina where we will settle for a bit to re-provision and get the engine really checked out by an expert. Then we hope to have the opportunity to so some cruising around the area and maybe even make it further afield than in the past years. We also hope at some point, we can make it for a trip to the South Island – though not by boat. We still have to figure that out. The six months will fly by and we know we'll have at least one visitor this coming February and perhaps even two this season.

We always fear this one passage – but this one was all you can wish for. Well that and perhaps a fish on board. We didn't fish the first four days - and we did hook five fish – but two came off the hook and we released the other three as we thought they were too small tuna (should have kept one!).

Special thanks to David and Patricia from Gulf Harbour Radio for all the great weather forecasts and lesson during the whole season as well as for their YIT (yachts in transit) site. Also thanks to the men manning the radios on Tony's Maritime net for keeping track of our passage and being "on watch."

Now its time for a sausage sizzle and a meat pie!
At 11/28/2015 8:36 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 35°50.22'S 174°28.12'E

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Friday, November 20, 2015


It is Saturday, November 21 and we will be untying from the dock in Noumea, New Caledonia and heading to Whangarei, New Zealand. The passage should take around 8 days. We hope this often ugly passage will be uneventful and fast. The only excitement we want is the yelling of "fish on" and the reeling in of a beautiful mahi! The weather forecast looks good for the passage – but we know that can change daily. So we'll leave all fueled up and ready to motor some of it if we must. The boat is well stocked with snacks and the decks are cleared and the dinghy "pukupuku" is secured on deck. So we are off. Our Thanksgiving will be underway so an early Happy Thanksgiving to all.

You can check our progress on the website where we will post our daily position.
At 11/20/2015 8:35 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 22°16.63'S 166°26.41'E

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mato – what a view!

We spent two nice days in Baei de Tortue (seeing the turtle many times or perhaps it was many turtles)...we took a nice walk and had a good dinghy exploration. The walk was like being put in the middle of an animated movie. We were surrounded by hundreds of lovely butterflies...they were everywhere. It must have been mating season for this particular variety – we never saw so many butterflies in one spot (except perhaps in the Testigos in Venezuela way back). Our walk amongst the butterflies took us to some lovely, well maintained gardens and then to the shoreline. Walking along the rocks around a point, we saw many sea snakes skins, a few dead sea snakes and finally a live one! He rushed away under a rock.

After a few days, the weather had really calmed so we moved to a reefy island area called Mato. This was a magical place with water of every color blue. The island actually has a pretty good hill on it with a trail to the top (if you can call it a trail). We climbed up and were rewarded with the most incredible view. We were above some working osprey so we could look down on them as they cruised the skies in search of fish below. The water was so clear, you could actually see schools of sharks along the reefs. As we came down we also spotted what we think were a school of pilot whales....wish we were still at the top for a better view. When Michael went exploring earlier in the day on the beaches in search of nautilus shells, he almost accidentally grabbed a sea snake on the shore. Luckily the snake ran into some does seem there are quite a few in this area. After our hike we went on a snorkel to a nearby reef (swimming distance from the boat). It had a very colorful variety of corals with different structures. There were plenty of fish – including a few of the more friendly shark species. A good sized nurse shark was cruising around where Michael was exploring and a smaller black tip made a pass by Barbara. It was a very nice snorkel though the water was chilly and full wet suits were mandatory.

We enjoyed two very lovely nights in this anchorage but decided we needed to make our way back to Noumea – the big city – to get better weather info and start to think about a departure time for New Zealand. So we sailed until the wind died and had to motor to the big city. Upon arrival we dropped the hook in the bay as we waited to see of the marina would have a space. We lucked out and it was probably the end of zero dollar days (probably for months!)

We have had a little fun in town thanks to the "Inti" folks Connie and Graham also being in the marina. We did a pizza night and that was followed by a bumper car frenzy! There is a small traveling amusement park set up in a nearby parking lot. We joked about playing on the bumper cars and sure enough, we talked the attendant into giving the four of us a deal. It was a blast – with only a little whiplash to claim the next day.

Today (Sunday), we went to the Kanak (the indigenous people of New Caledonia) cultural center called Tjibou. It is a beautiful building and park area. The paths that lead to the exhibition area are filled with descriptions of the various trees and plants as well as rock and wood sculptures. The story of the Kanak and their legends was well told through these items. The exhibit itself was more about the building and contemporary Kanak art. There is a nice display outside of Kanak homes and they were different in many ways from the traditional homes we've seen in other island nations. These are very conical and tall and use stone as well as the wood and thatch from indigenous trees. He thatch is not the palm frond roofing we've seen more often. It was very interesting. The bus ride was uneventful.

Now we play the waiting game and get the boat ready for the tough passage to NZ (though we hope it won't be tough).

Watch this space for when we leave....then you can track our progress on the YIT site.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Trekking around Prony

We settled into life at anchor again and remember what a pleasure it is to be safely on the hook in a beautiful bay. Our first stop was way back in what they call the Carenage de Prony. It is way back and protected from winds from any direction. The water isn't that pretty – though clear – because it is a muddy bottom. But it has lots of places to go for some beautiful walks – and we did our share of them. Day one took us up the hill for a glorious view of the anchorage and the other side of the island into the lagoon. The next hike was up beside a very long river with several waterfalls. One day we went up the nearby waterfall for "showers." Then we went to look for the long trek to the village of Prony on a nearby island. The first day we couldn't find the path so we came back to the boat after a bit of a dinghy exploration. After re-looking at the maps, we tried again the next day and lucked out with a pair of local Frenchmen who knew the way and led us to the start of the path.

This was a LONG hike but very beautiful and along a very nice trail that was well marked (once you got on it!) The village is an old historic site. There you could see the remnants of a penal colony and of course the prisoners were put to work in the mines or the lumber operations. The Prony area is pretty scarred with past lumbering and mining – and there still remains a large nickel mine in operation. This village housed many of the managers of the operations as well as one of the prisons. Now it seems that the old buildings are used as weekend retreats for "Noumeans." We were joined in the anchorage by some new friends for a few days, "Inti" with Connie and Graham and enjoyed some social time with them. We finally left the Carenage and went to Ilot Casy also in Prony. This is a popular weekend spot where lots of people come to camp for the weekend. We arrived on a Thursday and grabbed a mooring ball. There was a large catamaran nearby on another mooring with two Swiss families(five kids aboard between 3 and 8). They left that day and we took a nice walk around the island. There is a resident dog on the island that is very friendly and lives off the kindness of visitors and his own fishing skills! You should see this dog fish! But after he enjoyed a treat from us, he paid off his meal by guiding us around the island. He was pleasant company.

We enjoyed watching all the locals offload from water taxis and small boats with immense amounts of beer and supplies.

We took off from there and made our way through a narrow passage known as Woodin Pass. You want to hit this with the correct tide and in our case we wanted an incoming tide so we could ride it through the cut. We had a lovely sail through the cut and are now anchored off Ouen Island in the Baie de Tortue and as the name suggests, we were greeted by a turtle. It is really quite windy though – blowing about 20 knots, but we are protected from any seas in this bay anchored in about 5 meters of water.

We will slowly make our way back towards Noumea with a few more stops along the way and then we'll start the stressful wait for weather to get to NZ. We don't want to leave for NZ until at least the 15th – or at least that's the target.

For now we enjoy being away from the city and having zero dollar days!
At 11/7/2015 10:35 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 22°21.43'S 166°50.55'E

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