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Tonga, Vanuatu and New Caledonia 2008

Moet anchored in Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu


Jayden certainly has his sea legs now, with travelling over 2500 nautical miles in his first 7 months of life. I was a bit nervous at first about having a small baby on the trip up from New Zealand, as we were leaving in mid-winter and I was worried that the weather might get rough. I thought Jayden would probably cope fine - I was more worried about how I would cope looking after 2 small boys at sea! It was actually a really nice trip, somehow like a holiday for us after all the boatwork and busy-ness in New Zealand. Jayden was content to sleep and play quietly, and Dylan was wonderful; drawing, writing, reading, making mazes with me, playing with his train set when it was calm, sitting with me on deck and never once asking "are we nearly there yet?"

We arrvied in Nuku'alofa while preparations for the King's coronation were in full swing - every house and home had flags and banners waving, and the streets were decroated with lights and palm fronds and streaming ribbons of red and white. We just missed the King himself, our sailing schedule was a few days after his so we not only missed him by a couple of days in Nuku'alofa, but also in Lifuka and Neiafu!

However we had a wonderful guide into the Tongatapu lagoon, with a group of majestic humpback whales welcoming us into the country. They altered their course to swim alongside us and behind, rising and puffing and gently flicking their tails. Some were at least as big as 'Moet' and Dylan was a little concerned they might swim right into us! Such a privelege to be visited by these animals.

Kiting in Ha'afeva lagoon, Ha'apais; windsurfing off Atata Island, Tonga

Jesse, Shawn and Sanna joined us in Nuku'alofa and we sailed north through the islands together. We all got to go windsufing in Atata island and sampled a Tongan feast while Dylan played with Stephanie, the 4 year old daughter of the owners of the resort. Frans stayed on board fixing up a few things that needed attending to after the long passage. Then it was overnight up to the Ha'apais, a chain of volcanic islands which are pretty exposed to the open ocean. These islands are remote, stunning and seldom visited - you can see why as we had to sail past some beautiful spots. Some of the anchorages marked in our guide were untenable with the combination of wind and strong southerly storm swell that was then coming up from New Zealand. Still, a few are well protected, if sometimes rolly, and it was nice to be the only boat there, feeling like real explorers again, and having this whole cruising playground paradise all to ourselves!

Euaiki (Treasure Island), Vava'u - Frans, Dylan, Sylvia, Jayden, Jesse, Shawn, Sanna

The Ha'afeva lagoon was especially beautiful, Frans kited off the beach, we had a fire a couple of evenings and ate dinner on the beach and toasted marshmallows with Dylan. This was also where Jesse got chased by a leopard shark and he defended himself with the speargun. I am hoping he will tell that story!! On one island we traded for an octopus and while Shawn was cutting it up ready for cooking its legs and suckers were rapidly changing colour again and again in what seemed a deperate yet futile attempt to camouflage itself! Somehow this kaleidoscope display and the large suction pads put me off eating much of the octopus, and Sanna and I left it to the boys.

We reached the main 'town' of the Ha'apais, Lifuka, which was a very slow and sleepy little place on a long flat island. Most of the locals got around by bicycle, the few cars seemed never to go faster than about 15 miles an hour. It was a nice place. We managed to get some fluffy white Tongan bread, and the market also had a few tomatoes and some excellent grapefruits, but that was about it. The beaches were gorgeous, miles and miles of golden sand. We made pancakes and bought cold beer and planned the next step of the journey.

Swallows Cave, sailing in Vava'u, Tonga, Frans and Mark at Treasure Island, Yummy mahimahi

It was a calm overnight sail up to Vava'u, and we bbq'ed our freshly caught mahimahi when we arrived at Treasure Island. We hadn't seen Mark for over a year and he was surprised to see us with another baby! It was great to have a few days in Vava'u to catch up with our friends, though we would have loved to stay a few weeks! At Tapana an impromptu jam session was organised when Frans turned up with his guitar, and then Maria and Eduardo put on one of their famous Spanish parties for our last day. Tapana is a wonderful place and Maria and Eduardo have made a beautiful home on the island, always welcoming to everyone who visits. They can outparty nearly everyone, and it is great to hear Spanish music out here on a rock in the Pacific! Coming into Neiafu we radioed our friends Ben and Lisa who whizzed out in their speedboat to say hi as we were sailing in, just before our dinghy overturned and the sailing rig sank to the bottom of the harbour! Frans jumped over to retrieve the oars, and Shawn later borrowed dive tanks and brought up the mast and boom. A few days in town provisioning for the long passage to Vanuatu, refueling and fixng a couple of things and we were ready to go. The weather was on our side and we had a smooth crossing, 970 miles west in just over 9 days. We left at sunset with all the (big) boys hungover, and both Jayden and Dylan recovering from a slight fever, but it was thankfully nice and calm! After a couple of days the wind picked up and we started making 5 knots average, and we all got into the slow pace of life at sea. Dylan drew numerous drawings of volcanoes, and on the last night before coming into land we could see the smoke and fire, and smell the sulphur from Tanna volcano.


Mt Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu

We came into Port Resolution early morning, to find 5 other boats there, one of which we had met the year before, and which had two girls on board, so Dylan was happy to have playmates again after 9 days at sea. That afternoon we visited the volcano, Mt Yasur, which was just incredible. Being able to be so close to an active volcano is such a powerful experience. Especially after a long time at sea with nothing but water around. Suddenly this fire is bursting out of the earth through a huge hole, sputtering and spraying upwards, and it is so alive, the earth breathing fire. It is also quite tranquil too, the volcano sort of simmers gently like a pot on a stove, and every so often a booming sound comes from under the earth and then some lava shoots up, and scatters on the crater, but it was all a lot more quiet and contained than I had imagined. At least it was when we visited!

We finally learnt the words to our favourite Vanuatu string band song and have been singing it non-stop ever since. I love the people here, they are always happy and ready to laugh. There are no offices to slave in, peoples work is at home, in their village - their gardens, their fishing, building their houses and canoes, caring for their families. In Vanuatu I see something of life as it should be, where everyone has a place, and the land provides for everyone. We went to a local wedding where the entire village was in attendance. There was all sorts of dancing, traditional and modern, even a Vanuatu version of breakdancing! Young and old partied together, and Jayden was passed around as everyone wanted to cuddle the fat white baby!

New Caledonia

Amadee Lighthouse

Onto New Caledonia, a fast trip for us, 270 miles in 50 hours. It was great just to have a short passage after the two long ones. Dylan couldn't believe how quickly we saw land again! Some dolphins came to greet us on our way in. Flipping, spinning and diving under the bow, welcoming us into the lagoon. We saw them again a week later in exactly the same spot, and they came to play again. No matter how many times we see dolphins, I am always enchanted by them. Dylan was very excited that he could see their blowholes opening and closing!

Noumea's highrises and strip of bars, jet skiis, helicopters and dozens and dozens of multicoloured kites and windsurf sails was such a complete contrast to Tanna, and such a sensory overload after so much ocean time, I almost wanted to turn around and go back to Vanuatu! But it is always fun to be in a city after a crossing, and we were happily tucking into beer and pizza until we worked out the exchange rate... everything here is expensive, even a single onion costs about 2 dollars!!

Amadee lighthouse is beautiful by day and by night with its huge sweeping light, and Dylan, Jayden and I sat on deck watching it light up the night sky. We climbed to the top and threw paper aeroplanes down. There were some nice little waves on the pass - thanks for the great photos Jesse! We headed for Ile Ouen, and Jesse was 'skipper' for the day, sailing off the mooring. The next day he sailed off the anchor singlehanded. No motor, hauling the anchor by hand, reefs around, all by himself, Frans and I down below watching out the windows (ready to assist of course!!). We were very impressed how calmly he managed it - though afterwards he said he was pretty nervous! Fair enough! It would not be an exaggeration to say we very seldom see other boats sailing into or out of anchorages without their motor running, so Jesse really did well after only being on board 2 months. We'll see you on your own boat soon Jesse!!

In Ile Ouen we were visited by dolphins again, and since Jesse said he wanted some rough weather and challenging sailing he was rewarded on his last day with rain and strong winds. So his wet weather gear finally got used. Was a good last sail, and we celebrated safe arrival with brie, baguettes, yummy French sausages and a bottle of red wine.

The sea life here is prolific, and much of the great south lagoon is a protected marine reserve. We've seen several turtle, dolphins and dugongs swimming beside 'Moet'. And giant fish while snorkelling - since in many places fishing is not allowed the huge fish are not afraid and calmly swim around you. Napolean wrasse, rays, seasnakes, and hundreds of migrating terns and other seabirds; it is wonderful to be surrounded by the abundant life.

Jon and Caitie joined us for 2 weeks of surfing up the coast. Some of the best breaks in the south pacific are here in New Caledonia and most of the time no-one to surf them! But that's ok, let the crowds go to Fiji... Jayden was our 5am wake up alarm, and Jon was pulling up the anchor while Caitie cooked up some true Scotish porridge and we motored out to the reef in the still morning. Caitie got barrelled and came back beaming, and so did Frans, after he went kiting in the waves with Steve from yacht Cheers. Besides the high cost of living here, New Caledonia is a great place to be!

Dylan's wave!