Tuesday, December 22, 2015

to all our family, friends and “unknown” blog readers

It is the time of year when our annual Christmas letter gets written...though it seems like yesterday that we just did it for 2014! That means it's time to reflect on what we accomplished in 2015. “Accomplished” may be a bit of an exaggeration of terms. In our life on a cruising sailboat we set our goals and destinations with the changing tides.

2015 started in Whangarei, New Zealand where we spent much of our southern hemisphere “cyclone season.” We celebrated the New Year aboard “Gypsea Heart” with some good friends toasting in the year with the bubbly. Then off to Auckland (with a few stops along the way) where we picked up our guests Kathryn and Mark who made their third trip to “Astarte.” We had a great time celebrating Kathryn's doctorate with sailing, hiking, microbrews, a winery stop and a magnum of champagne. They went off to the south island for more New Zealand adventures and we sailed back to Whangarei and a boat yard! There was plenty of boat work to be done on the good ship “Astarte.” Six years of full time cruising had taken the toll on some systems and it was simply time to do some major work and upgrades. The mast got pulled off, the bottom got scrubbed and painted, the hull got polished, a new cockpit floor was installed, new bilge pumps, new head stays, new water heater and many more big and small projects., “Air Mary” got retired and “Pukupuku” our new dinghy joined the crew. We met some new friends in the boat yard as well, so that made the time pass more quickly.

Post boat yard work, we tested the new stuff with a fabulous trip to Great Barrier Island. The boating part was great fun, the hiking was satisfying and the “land” car trip was more of an adventure than we bargained for – but has provided great stories.

In May, we waited for a weather window for the 1000 mile sail to Vanuatu. Vanuatu was devastated with Cyclone Pam (a Category five) in March – but we were encouraged to still go there and help with our tourist dollars as well as supplies and help we might be able to offer. We found the southern islands in the chain quite damaged by the cyclone yet the people remained positive and hard-working. Many cruising sailboats were doing lots of good work in the islands delivering aid in terms of supplies, doctoring or manpower. The fruit and vegetable gardens were devastated – yet the people remained generous with what they had. We provided what help and supplies we could. As we headed north in the island chain, the islands were less damaged. We made it to several of our favorite places from the previous year but also found many new places to visit. The highlight of the year was the Gaua traditional festival called the Lakona Bay Kastom Festival. This was three magical days of seeing the traditional dances, singing and customs of the country. The people of three villages put on this festival and it was very memorable.

Besides the Banks Island of Gaua, we managed to visit a few new islands and places. We anchored in the middle of an old crater in Lolowai on the island of Ambae. Then we made our way to Maewo, where we were only the fifth boat of the year at “Big Waters” waterfall bay and villages. Lonely Planet described this as “the eighth wonder of the world.” There we hiked up the “Big Waters” and Michael dove off a 12 plus meter portion of the waterfall. He lived to talk about it! (though his shoulder still remembers the death defying jump) We went further down Maewo Island to another bay called Asanvari where we saw another festival with amazing dancing and took some lovely hikes in this area.

We left Vanuatu after nearly four months and had a great passage to New Caledonia. We sorted an issue with the engine there (luckily an easier fix than we had thought) and cruised around some of the islands for a month. Our highlights were a long hike in the Bay of Prony area to Prony Village (once we found the trail) and the other was the stop at Mato Island – a beautiful reef rich anchorage with good snorkeling and a hill view that was outstanding.

We left New Caledonia and made the passage to New Zealand. This is a passage that always makes us nervous. The length is just long enough to get hit by at least one bad front/storm/ridge/squash zone or something ugly weather wise. You wait and wait and hope for a good weather window. We lucked out and waited long enough that we got what was said to be the best window the entire season. That meant we had a fast trip and sailed most of the way. We saw whales and a green flash sunset. We arrived a day earlier than we anticipated.

This season, like the ones in our past, was filled with special moments with old boating friends and the great fun of meeting many new folks. In Vanuatu and New Caledonia, we met many New Zealand, Australian and South African boaters with whom we enjoyed spending time and adventures. They taught us so many things from tying crown knots to “how to fish.” They pointed out great french bakeries and good hikes. We shared many a good evening meal and got some good recipes. Our hopes are that we will meet again at another group of islands or on land!

We did manage to get quite a few articles and photos published this year so that was fun and rewarding. We continue to enjoy that effort.

Now we celebrate the holiday season in Whangarei on a pile mooring in the Town Basin Marina. We are having to make a decision on our engine....so santa if you read our log...all we want for Christmas is a new 60 hp Yanmar or Beta Marine engine. We have “Astarte” all decked out with Christmas lights (for which we won a bottle a champagne). We'll enjoy our time with old friends and new ones and look forward to another year.

Merry Christmas to all and our very best wishes for a happy holiday season!

Peace on earth.

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