Countdown to Fiji

My niece and a friend were walking along the Roman Wall in Northumberland. There’s a classic place called Sycamore Gap (photo above) which was actually the location of a scene in the film / movie,  Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. Kevin Costner played Robin Hood. You may remember it. 

As they were walking past, a group of Americans were admiring the vista and one asked the question, “I wonder what kind of tree it is?” There was some considered debate. I wish I’d been there. I’d have said beech or fir or ash. 

When they got home and were sharing their holiday snaps, they could have imparted this impish UK     information to their friends and family.  Apologies to my American friends. 😀

1st October. That’s when I leave these shores for Fiji. I arrive back to boat world on 3rd October. The trickiest bit of the trip is going to be the UK bit. There’s likely to be a train strike on the day I fly. Grrrrr!  Being organised, I’d booked a ticket in advance to get me from Hexham to Heathrow airport, west of London. It’s about 300 miles. Now I have uncertainty and unnecessary stress. Thank you train drivers. 

The UK has been filled with nothing but the Queen’s death. Britain delivered impeccably. We rule the world with pageantry and queuing. I stole a few screen shots to remind myself in 20 years time of the occasion. I didn’t know the military owned so many uniforms. 

Mostly August

My 13 year old nephew said “I’ve just seen Aunty Helen run up the stairs like a wolf”.

I’m taking this as a massive compliment as I’ve had another trip round the sun and I plan to be be able to ‘wolf the stairs’ for a few more years. 😀

Dad continues to astound expectation. In medical parlance, his vital signs now include making ginger biscuits and shortbread. He can walk round the block assisted. He can berate the zapper for the television as well as the next person. He can supervise my gardening exploits.

Dave continues to beaver away in Fiji. (I think!). I’ve booked a flight and I will soon get back to boat life with NZ on the horizon. The mornings are getting chilly here in Northumberland too and I don’t have many clothes so it’s time to get to warmer climes.

Summer 2022

Six weeks have blurred here back in the UK. Best news is dad is home and getting stronger every day. I’ve managed to catch up with a few friends and my varnishing skills from the boat have been put to good use here on garden furniture and a fence.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be heading back to the boat in mid to late September. That’s all for now folks. Short and sweet.

Savu Savu, Fiji to Hexham, Northumberland

I’ve been back in the UK about a week now. Focus is presently family. But I have had some responsibilities. My bro has been away so I’ve been chief dog walker in the mornings.


Dave currently remains in Fiji. He’s been busy sorting a new main sail, some engine pipework improvements and the generator. Plus he’s been on tour with the boys and watching some 7’s rugby which sounded fun.

Bula

Here’s a short cavalcade of adjectives. Welcoming, friendly, cheap, lush and green. That’s our first impression of Fiji. We’re very happy to be here. The vibe is warm, chilled and open plus being able to converse in english is helpful…..although my french did improve after the best part of a couple of years in French Polynesia. Wow, was it really that long?

Warning ….The next section contains sailing jargon so feel free to skip if you have no interest.

How was the crossing? 12 days at sea and a little boisterous. First few days were fast. Grace was humming. We flew the twin headsails poled out and headed straight downwind. A bit rolly but saves miles by not having to gybe the angles. We had a couple of ”oh no” moments. The headsail halyard chaffed through but we managed to wrap the sails before they fell in the sea. Dave valiantly went up the mast a couple of days later but it was too pitchy and rolly to sort it out. He described the experience as ’not very nice’.

Then we ripped the mainsail. We were able to sail with the third reef in plus the stay sail. Not a massive sail area. plus we flew the cruising chute when appropriate. A sail boat without white sails is a bit limited. We chose to put the engine on for a short while at the end of the passage as we wanted to get in. No purists on Grace I’m afraid.

We have decided to buy a new mainsail rather than spend money getting it fixed for it to rip somewhere else. We bought new sails when we got Grace so they are about 10 years old. In my time distorted head, i still think of them as being new but they are obviously not. Wear and tear, UV light, strong winds all contribute to their ongoing damage.

Today Dave is swapping the starter motor on the engine. I’m sat in a cafe (bizarrely it appears to be run by a rather scary South Korean religious cult) looking out at the rain. Thinking about it, i’ve just contributed to their fundamentalist literature costs by buying a smoothie.

In stop press news, I’m unexpectedly flying back to the UK on Sunday. My dad is currently suffering health wise so i’m heading home. Dave will stay here in Fiji for the time being until we know more. Stand by. There may be a lull in transmissions for a while.

Call me Miss Marple

A Finnish friend called Sami writes crime novels. That’s how he pays for his ship’s biscuits and colourful interior fabrics. I contacted him to offer him the rights to my recent crime busting exploits. He’s just finished his latest novel and I thought a ‘true story’ plot line might pique his interest.

Here’s the intrigue. We are in Bora Bora checking out which takes a couple of days and decided our engine battery may be on its last legs. Dave went to find a replacement and identified one in SuperU but it had no price on it and the helpful shop assistant explained that a call needed to be made to Tahiti. Come back tomorrow at 9am.

We had moored temporarily on the town dock and as it was mid afternoon we decided to stay the night rather than go back out to anchor. Security is always more of an issue being tied to the land and this being a public dock, access is completely open.

I have a scout round the deck at night making sure nothing of any value is accessible and we go to bed. The following morning, I get up, go on deck and notice the two old knackered tennis balls we use on a boarding ladder to provide protection are missing. Hmmm. Someone has been on the boat.

It dawns that a pair of Dave’s expensive walking sandals which had just been tucked under the spray hood cover were missing too. Damn. I’d missed those last night.

This is not a good start to the day. A. Someone has been on the boat. B. There’s no chance of replacing these sandals here and Dave wears them all the time.

After some machinations and grumbling, I head off to the supermarket to buy bread. It’s a really busy day in town as there’s a kids cultural performance event happening. I walk through the throng looking at people’s feet. I’m sleuthing.

In the supermarket, there they are. Dave’s shoes on someone else’s feet. I want a photo of this guy as “exhibit one” so leg it back to the boat to get a phone. What’s the chance he’ll still be around when I get back, especially with so many people around?

Camera in hand I go back to the supermarket, walk down the street, wander around the crowd. There’s no sign of him. Then at a food stall there he is! I sense I need to be a little cautious taking a photo. But I want his face and his feet in the same shot. As I go to take the shot, the perpetrator sees me and actually poses. Really, does this man have no shame?

Then it’s off to the police station with my primary piece of evidence. About 10 gendarmes are involved, some out on the street looking for him, the rest helping in the station.

I’m sat by the the front desk waiting and about 20 minutes later, a barefooted man is escorted off the premises and I’m handed a pair of wet sandals in a bag.

I asked one of the gendarmes if this guy was known and he didn’t give much away but did mention the word ‘fou’ – which means mad or crazy.

So that’s how my second to last day on Bora Bora panned out. Catching the criminal element. We are officially checked out and will depart for Fiji tomorrow. 1800 ish miles. Two weeks, give or take, is what we imagine. Feeling good.

So there you go Sami. Do you think its a blockbuster?

Impending Departure

Let’s start with some numbers.

Grace weighs 17.5 tonnes before you add water, fuel, tins of beans, Dave’s T-shirt collection and enough matching crockery for a dinner party for 12. So about 20 tonnes we estimate in reality.
Since we installed the water-maker back in North Carolina in the States, we have made more water than Grace weighs. Substantial amounts.

The term water-maker is a bit of a misnomer in my book. We don’t actually make water. We start with water, sea water, and the water-maker cleverly removes the salt leaving us with drinking water which has salt in the ratio of 140 to 150 parts per million. A tad, a minuscule amount. You can’t taste it let’s put it like that. Every time we make water, about every 4 or 5 days, it still amazes me that with a couple of pumps, some filters and a high pressure membrane we end up with a great tasting potable safe water. Thanks again Doreen.

$45. (Or £36.50) That’s how much a Club Sandwich costs at one of the Bora Bora hotels with the posh huts over the water. We know this from talking to an American guy on holiday here. I think it comes on a bed of dollar bills and shavings of gold leaf. He said his credit card was taking the biggest hit ever. You say! And he had another 10 days here. There are no bargain basement items for purchase on Bora Bora.

Five. That’s the number of forms you need to fill in to apply to depart French Polynesia. And one of those imprints through to two others making 7 in truth. I collected the forms from the gendarmerie this morning and have just filled them in as best I can. They are photocopied from photocopies I think and a couple of the boxes are missing as the writing is a little askew. Maybe that information is deemed irrelevant by the authorities now.

The fact we’re submitting clearance forms means departure is imminent. After almost two years in French Polynesia, we are ready to say our goodbyes and head towards Fiji. Neither of us imagined we’d be here as official temporary residents for this length of time. Other than UK this is by the far the most time I’ve spent in another country. (We don’t count Welsh Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿)

It’s been a blast. Some ups and downs of course, but covid has not really impacted us. We’d already booked to fly back to the UK when the most recent lockdown happened last year so we missed it. And we got vaccinated here which we’re most grateful for. The Marquesas, Tuamotos, Society and Gambier Islands all offer contrasts from deserted remote coral surrounded atolls to holiday resorts to green verdant steep hills and blue blue blue blue water. Gambier was my favourite.

We’ve seen lots and swum with sharkies, fishies and corals, Dave learnt to kite surf, I learnt to wake board. We’ve walked hills and beaches. Next stop Fiji ……unless we call in at the Cook Islands which is unlikely but we have permission to go and stop there.

Two weeks ish at sea. Follow the red dot from Friday / Saturday when we will depart. 1800 miles or so to SavuSavu. Looking forward to fair-winds and moonlit night skies.

And one final afterthought which involves a kind Polynesian man and one coconut. I took myself off for a walk around the south of Huahine. Just along the road but there’s very little traffic and the road follows the ocean so it’s pretty pleasant.

A section was straight and I could see maybe half a mile ahead. As I walked past a property a man came out with a freshly cut coconut, the top removed so the coconut water was ready to drink. ‘For you. It’s hot today’ he said. He must have spied me, gone into his garden and there he was waiting. Random acts of kindness. 😀

Moorea and Huahine

Watching someone crying with laughter and having to hold their stomach because it hurts so much, is in my book a pleasure to behold. It wasn’t our own original story that caused the corpsing. But the retelling of a chum’s tale of a young boy on a beach in Skegness back in the late 1960’s or maybe early 1970’s hanging out in the sand dunes making mischief.

The ‘corpser’ eventually recovered, as did his audience who too, were all suckered into the uninhibited guffawing. A jolly hearty workout all-round.

We hired e bikes with Mr Chuckle and his wife for an explore of Huahine, one of the less touristy, more laid back of the Society Islands. I might be a late adopter, but now I LOVE an e bike. The boost button is a thing of beauty. You still have to pedal and can work hard on those hills if you choose. However a little press of the smiling button provides an unexpected and joyous nudge. Off to eco to trek to sport to turbo. Those were the options my button offered. The battery life diminished quicker the higher up the turbo chain you were but at the end of the day when we were heading back 25 minutes late for our 8 hour hire, no point in getting back with any remaining battery electrons so full assist was initiated.

The day itself was memorable. Huahine is a beautiful place with hardly any traffic on the roads which removes vehicle stress. We came across French and American soldiers lying in the grass beside the road practicing for a cyclone event. (Or that’s what they told us!) My reaction to spotting them was a surprised “Oh, hello”. Is this the correct way to greet active servicemen and women? They were chatty and friendly, the Americans being from Hawaii.

Mrs Chuckle had clocked a hill that gave great views across the whole of the island so we ducked round the no entry sign and cycled up the grass track to a communications tower. From there we were on foot up a wooded rocky ridge. Maybe 45 minutes to the top of Mount Maua Tapu. A dizzy height of 426m above sea level.

Dave then only had one thought in his head. Burger. Izzy’s Burger Emporium in the village of Fare was the place to go. However, by the time we got there, it was 3.20pm and they stopped serving at 3pm. We met a tour guide there who we’d also met earlier in the day. I guess her work was done as was tucking into a large bottle of Hinano beer. Or perhaps she’d been driven to drink.

The guests she was showing around didn’t even bother to get out of the back of the truck at the viewpoint to take photos. They took snaps from their sitting positions. Holidays from the back of a van….really. Maybe the fact we engaged in some conversation and had a laugh with her about having cycled up to the Belvedere rather than sitting in the back of a truck gave us a modicum of credibility.

No burgers so a trip to the supermarket for some late lunch snap sorted us out. We went to the beach and a couple of cruising Finnish friends joined us as they were anchored off Fare.

The last 19 km’s back to Baie D’Avea on the SW corner of Huahine whizzed by, although we did stop to watch a group of girls and women practicing Tahitian dancing.

Back at the hotel it was time for beer and medals. In the words of Wallace and Gromit, “A Grand Day Out”.

Rain

It’s been raining. Not light drizzle that leaves a faint haze of moisture on your hair. Proper rain that fills your dinghy so you can take a bath. Rain that wheedles it’s way behind your window seals to deliver annoying leaks. Rain that stops play when you’re varnishing.

Saturday was a wash out. Shame as there was a free festival of activity and health organised in the park. It’s not just local agricultural shows in the british countryside that suffer such fates with precipitation.

Sessions were advertised on big printed boards. The sand football pitch was offering a version of archery I’d never seen before. Two teams of kids fired sponge arrows at each other, their protection provided by face masks and inflatable balls to hide behind. It wasn’t quite Agincourt but with a bit of organisation it could have been. There was certainly lots of intent. Or maybe it was the opportunity to shoot your brother or sister that provided the motivation.

A bunch of adult blokes who were supposedly shooting at plastic shapes got bored with this. It was much more fun to shoot arrows high into the air and watch them fall on the unsuspecting kids. They guffawed with laughter. The blokes not the kids.

The rain arrived like the turning on of a tap and we retreated to Grace. Dripping, followed by stripping then tea. The outdoor activities for the day were over by 11am.

We’ve been on boat upgrades and maintenance for over a week here in Papeete. But it’s been fun too as there are several people around that we know. We’ve tackled the bits of outdoor varnishing we didn’t do last time plus we’ve applied some top up coats. Mechanical things like engines and generators and water makers have been serviced. The gooseneck on the boom has had some attention.

We submitted our application to enter Fiji and two days later received an email saying ‘approved’. Super speedy. Some American friends have also applied. Seven days later they have had no response. “Maybe it’s to do with the Commonwealth” they joked. My response, “we can certainly do common but we have no wealth”.

We are awaiting two packages with some small parts to arrive from the UK. Sometimes packages attract duty, sometimes they don’t. It’s a lottery. One previous parcel which contained some replacement parts from our outboard engine sailed through. To get a second parcel from the same company released into our sticky paws, we had to pay $50 of duty. How, why, logic, no idea.

Then we’ll be off to Fiji. We’ll probably check out of French Polynesia from one of the island 100 miles west from here, Raiatea or Bora Bora then it’s about 1700 miles to Savasava. Our next ocean passage is almost here.

Bora Bora

Sailing though New York, visiting Lisbon and walking the Picos Mountains in Spain were a few ‘let’s make sure we do this’ items on our list when we left the UK. I’m pleased to say we’ve achieved one of our other aspirations. We visited Bora Bora, a small island in the Society Islands, French Polynesia.

Our chum Ken who lives in Bonsall, Derbyshire in the UK sailed to Bora Bora on what I think was the first ever Round the World Rally, an organised sailing event where boats travelled in company on a planned route. I don’t recall the exact year but it was a chunk of time ago. He has a front page newspaper article from a a local Derbyshire paper on his office wall. A fresh faced tanned healthy looking youth smiles as he is ‘the news’ that week. 

He recounts a tale from Bora Bora. Which was the reason we had to go there. 

The schedule on his world sailing trip was fast paced, round the world in 18 months. To put this into perspective, we’ll have been sailing for 6 years come July and we’re not even half way across yet.

Bora Bora is a stop on his itinerary. It’s a stunning place delivering clear water, reefs, hills with views to sell travel magazines and it boasts the Bora Bora Yacht Club where having a Pina Colada as the sun sets is rather a pleasant thing to do. 

Ken is on this whirlwind trip as crew. The agenda is generally sail to the next place requiring a few days at sea, stop, fix things that have broken, clean the boat then have a couple of days to see the place before it’s time to cast off again to the next destination. There’s a fairly tight schedule with weather patterns driving the need to keep moving if the 18 month deadline is to be hit.

Breakages have been dealt with, the boat is clean so Ken and a friend from another boat head off to do the big walk to the top of Mount Pahia. It’s not far to the top in terms of distance but it’s steep, unforgiving and you absolutely earn the view from the summit with every step. It’s hard work and very hot.

A few hours later, Ken and his friend are lying on a white sand beach with a beer having descended and rewarded themselves with a cold beverage. The rally is a whirlwind tour, places merge and blur. There’s no time to draw breath. It’s fun with a relentless pace. Then the line that has drawn us here is uttered on this beach all those years ago ….. “Where the f*ck is Bora Bora!?”

In his honour, we came, we climbed, we raised a glass. It’s likely much busier here than when he passed though all those year ago. Posh chicken coops over the water cost mega bucks per night. Swanky resorts promise a magical pacific experience. There was no one else sweating their rocks off on the hill climb though. That requires effort and no one goes to Bora Bora to expend themselves. Except sailors, from Derbyshire.

To you Ken, my friend. 😀