From Bora Bora to New Zealand
Bora Bora is the last island we visit in French Polynesia. It is a wonderful experience and it's an island with a lot of beautiful spots with white beaches and bright green to dark blue waters. One day, we hitchhike around the island with Simon and Allison of the "Roxy". Hitchhiking is fairly easy here and the four of us regularly end up in the back of a pickup truck. This way, we visit the Maritime Museum which consists of just one room with about 10 display cases with models of ships which arrived here more than 100 years ago.
At the end of our trip, we arrive back at the Bloody Mary Yacht Club, where Happy Monster is anchored. Two large signs at the side of the road list the names of many famous guests who have dined here, so we have a drink and some food at the bar as well. Ladies should definitely not wear high heels when visiting here, because the floor is covered in a thick layer of sand. Low tree trunks are used as bar stools, the bar is made from thick, solid wood and everything has been finished with a thick layer of beautiful, shining varnish. A beautiful ambiance on a beautiful island.
How stupid can you be
The disadvantage of this anchorage is that, when the wind is high, gusts of wind blow over the mountains and one night we lie awake because the wind is howling along the deck. We go outside to check whether everything is ok and we see our "Mini" lying safely next to our boat, with our shoes still in it and the outboard motor safely tied to the railing on the afterdeck. We can go back to bed. How stupid can you be.... The wind rises and when we go back outside again because we are hearing strange noises, we can see "Mini" trying to climb up against the railing after she has made an attempt to fly. The shoes have disappeared and are probably somewhere on the bottom of the bay. We sadly remember how Hans has only worn those shoes for just two months; Dory's shoes were cheap and old. We tie up "Mini" in a different way and go back to bed distressed and angry with ourselves.
The sea is wild and the wind is powerful and we make good progress when we stand out to sea again after having spent a week on Bora Bora. During the first few days, we are both seasick quite a lot, but after about three days, both the wind and the seasickness have disappeared and we hoist the spinnaker to make at least some progress. Suddenly, the GPS stops working!! That is strange. We try the GPS on the computer and that one does work. On closer examination, it appears that the fenders, which can no longer be stored inside because we keep getting more stuff, have bumped against the GPS antenna's wire on the back of the ship, causing it to break. After a bit of searching, our spare GPS appears. Fortunately, it works satisfactorily and we are now once again able to find our way to Suvarov.
Near the entrance to Suvarov we appeal for help via our VHF since our depth gauge has broken down as well and to be able to enter the atoll, we have to manoeuvre through a shallow patch. Paul of the "Damarri" replies immediately and welcomes us to paradise. He meets us in his dinghy, equipped with handheld GPS, handheld depth gauge and handheld VHF. He safely pilots us in and then we can start enjoying ourselves.
Suvarov is an uninhabited atoll in which we are anchored peacefully, surrounded by motus, little islands with palm trees and lots of birds. The water is beautifully crystal clear and when we go snorkelling, we discover that the corals here are more colourful than we have seen on other islands.
Our stay here is made even better by the presence of park keeper John, who stays here with his family during the sailing season. Nearly every evening he makes sure the barbie is lighted so we can roast freshly caught fish. In addition, he has a guitar and a hollow tree trunk to make music. So this is the place where Hans starts making music again. He drums on the hollow tree trunk and sings and plays a few songs on the guitar and everyone is wildly enthusiastic. A little girl from another boat dances to his drumming and asks after a while if he can please stop, because she's tired with dancing.
After a week of snorkelling, hiking, guitar playing, barbecuing and drumming, we prepare Happy to start sailing again. It is already halfway through September and to be able to reach New Zealand before the start of the storm season, we decide not to go to Samoa. Instead, we leave for the northernmost tip of Tonga with the nearly unpronounceable name Niuatoputapu, which we can say without a stutter by now. With just the headsail rolled out, we roll quite a bit during the five-day superfast crossing to beautiful Niuatoputapu. There are only three little villages and the people live in primitive circumstances. Except for a few shrieking generators, there is no electricity. Most striking are the pigs which scratch about all over the place, sometimes followed by a whole pack of piglets. The little houses we visited are extremely primitive.
Everyone here is dependent on the supply ship which visits the island once a month and because it always brings too few cigarettes, all hope is placed on the sailors visiting here. We are constantly approached and people beg for cigarettes. In exchange, you can get the most beautiful pieces of woodcarving and other handmade articles. We don't smoke and have to disappoint everyone.
Climbing and clambering
Niuatoputapu consists for a substantial part of a ridge which tempts us to climb it. We are told that this is not possible without a guide and so on Saturday morning we climb up the mountain with six boys aged about ten. Before we start climbing, we ask how far it will be and we are assured that it's about 20 minutes. We soon discover that there is no path leading to the top and our young guides clear a path through the bushes with a chopping-knife. Sometimes the climb is so steep that we have to clamber on our hands and feet. Sometimes the boys offer us a hand, but we are afraid that, instead of them helping us, we will accidentally pull them down. After more than 30 minutes of climbing and crawling, we arrive at the top, hot, sweaty and very thirsty. We carry water in our backpack, but what about the boys? That's easy of course: you just climb into a palm tree, pick a few coconuts and provide everyone with a fresh coconut filled with liquid; nothing is better if you're thirsty, no more need for water. After we have rested a bit, we start worrying about going back, because a steep climb is easier than a steep descent. Which is why we don't take the same way back, but we walk across the ridge to the other side, where we can descend more easily. In the distance, we see whales breaching from the water while we take a short rest in an open space with bare rocks. We are in the hot sun, and the boys have a solution for that as well, they simply chop down a small tree which we can hold over our head like a parasol. Once back down, we pick the most delicious mangoes we've ever eaten and we can look back on a wonderful day.
After a week on this beautiful island, full of extremely friendly people, it is time to leave again. The German weatherman says that this is a good moment to leave and we hoist the sail for a two-day trip. Unfortunately, the wind and the current push us off our course and after four days of sailing against the high wind, again with a torn mainsail, we arrive in Vavau, the middle part of Tonga.
Vavau is a large group of islands with Neiafu as its main town where sailors are very welcome. After six weeks, we have finally arrived at a place where we can check our e-mail, eat in a restaurant, shop in a supermarket and, best of all, buy a second-hand sail. The Moorings company, which hires out yachts in this beautiful sailing area, frequently equips these rental ships with new sails. We find a sturdy second-hand mainsail which is actually just a little bit too long and too high, but since we usually sail with reefed sails at sea, it's perfect for us. Happy Monster now has a Moorings logo on its sail. We leave the old mainsail at the sailmaker's.
We sail among the magnificent islands and drop our anchor at the most exotic sites, every now and then we snorkel and enjoy the beautiful beaches. The islands are incredibly green and covered with dozens of different kinds of trees and plants. And all the greenery is of course fed with rain, which we frequently get. But everything is dominated by the last big crossing in the coming months: the trip to New Zealand. Everyone is talking about it, you shouldn't leave too early, because there will still be spring storms over New Zealand, but you shouldn't leave too late either, because then the cyclones (hurricanes) will reach Tonga. There are also different weathermen who give advice on when to leave and they talk about the so-called weather window. In the end, we decide to leave on 1 November, because the weathermen finally agree that a good weather window is approaching.
The last long crossing
After we have agreed with a number of sailors that we will contact each other at the same time every morning on the short-wave radio, we can start our exciting crossing to New Zealand. For several days, we sail along nicely and tolerably towards our destination, but then the wind drops. We've been bobbing up and down for several days, when suddenly we hear a message on the short-wave radio that a dangerous low-pressure area is approaching. There's a lot of panicky talk on the radio about this looming danger, we don't have a transmitter but we can hear the others. There will be a storm in the low-pressure area and it can even turn into a hurricane. The weathermen advise us to temporarily change our southern course to New Zealand for a more westward course in order to avoid the storm. About fifteen boats obediently follow the weathermen's advice, but unfortunately on the eleventh day this course takes us right into the low-pressure area, there's a lot of wind, but fortunately no real storm. We heave to, as the phrase goes, which means we have no speed and the movements of the ship are relatively calm.
After a day, we want to continue sailing, but the wind has shifted and is coming exactly from the direction in which we need to go, so we only make very slow progress. Then the next windless period comes along, we are bobbing up and down again and we treat ourselves to a few hours of motoring. On the sixteenth day, we have grave doubts about the amount of diesel we have left, so we open up the diesel tank. It is difficult to see through the little hole in the top of the tank, which is why Hans tries to gauge the contents with a wooden spoon. He drops the wooden spoon in the tank and can't get it out, but we do know we still have more than enough. We screw down the tank again and at that moment, the wind is suddenly back and it's from the right direction too. The moral of this story: put a wooden spoon in your tank and you'll get the right wind. The last two days we sail like a rocket and finally, after nineteen days, we arrive in Opua, New Zealand. It's like coming home, but we'll tell more about that the next time.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)