Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Travel Report No 70: From Bahamas to Bermuda and the Azores

Travel Report  No 70

From Bahamas to Bermuda and the AzoresFor all the pictures & captions: Picture Gallery No 70

Now that family visits were over, the plan was to sail White Admiral back home to Norway after  more than 10 years of cruising around in the Caribbean. Although we have had a wonderful time, we are now getting older, have had our fill of white beaches and snorkeling and would like to have more time to do other types of travelling.  It is much easier to do ocean crossing with a crew of four rather than two, mainly because of the night watches, and we were happy that two good friends were able to join us for the first leg to the Azores:  Frode Filseth, our old friend and Diana’s colleague, who is an experienced sailor and has sailed with us many times, and Andrew Fraser, an old University friend of Stein’s who studied engineering in Glasgow and is an intrepid traveler. This however was to be his first ocean sail.  

The captain and crew a few days later out at sea: 17th May - Norwegian National Day, hence all the flags.
Stein, Andrew and Frode
Frode arrived on the 10th May and Andrew on the 12th, so more exercise marching to the airport. Frode came through immigration no problem, but Andrew was stopped because he had no return ticket, and had to pay for a flight out of the country which he has hopefully now been refunded. We had ordered a new satellite telephone via Frode, which we knew he had bought, but could not understand why he had not replied to our requests for his bank account number. Now we got the answer, he presented it to Diana with a birthday card, a present from himself, Andrew and their wives, Andreas Hauge (who would join us in the Azores) and his wife, and our old sailing friends Anne and Knut, many thanks to all! The time in Marsh Harbour was spent shopping for provisions and getting the boat ship-shape for the crossing.  Andrew is a keen geo-cacher, so we had a stop first in Hope Town, Elbow Cay, where we also filled water and diesel, and at Man of War Cay, where he could find caches as well as enjoying two interesting islands in the Bahamas.
On the evening of 14th May we were all set to leave, and after a last swim at the Narrows, motored out through the north Man of War channel into the Atlantic Ocean.  Ahead lay 733 nautical miles to St George’s in Bermuda! There was a moderately strong SE breeze the first night and a big swell so we made good progress with the genoa, but it was pretty bumpy. Diana is usually tired on the first day if the weather is rough, so often prepares a casserole dish to eat, this time a chicken stew which we ate on the first day, Stein has to do the serving and any other cooking until Diana is in action again by the second day.  Frode and Andrew soon became friends and made a good team, especially at the kitchen sink where they made short work of the washing-up.  We decided to split the night duties into four, Frode and Andrew would take the first two from 8-11p.m. and 11p.m.-2a.m., alternating as they wished, Stein took the middle of the night watch from 2-5a.m. and Diana the dawn watch from 5-8a.m. This worked well as necessary sail changes could often be made at the beginning or end of Stein’s watch. He generally slept on the sofa in the central cabin, so that it was easy for the person on duty to give him a call if there was any problem. This was particularly important for Andrew who had never had a night duty on a yacht before, but he is a quick learner and was soon able to judge if everything was going as planned, and if any sighted ships were on a collision course or not.

Our biggest problem on this journey was the new  Raymarine autopilot, which had trouble steering, it made us go zig-zag and kept peeping to tell us that we were off-course, so Stein spent quite a bit of time trying to calibrate it, and did eventually manage to get it to steer quite well. This is absolutely necessary for comfort during the night, hand steering is very tiring, even with a crew of four. We began to use our new satellite telephone, nice to be able to send text messages to the family, although we were a bit disappointed that not everybody were able to send messages back, and also that it was not always possible to get adequate satellite connection.
The 733 nautical miles took us five and a half days. For the first two there was a strong SE breeze, then there was a period with variable winds, cloud and  rain when we had to do a lot of motoring, but the wind picked up again the last day with a light NW breeze which gave us a pleasant last night as we approached Bermuda. There was a bright half-moon as we approached and saw the lights on land getting closer, always a thrill after an ocean crossing. After dawn we motored in through the narrow buoyed entrance into St George’s sheltered bay on the north-east side of the island, and we knew from an old Atlantic guide of Frode’s where to tie up at the customs jetty.
Safely tied up at the Custom's Jetty, St George, Bermuda


Checking in was easy and friendly, a minimum of forms to fill out, 35 dollars each to pay, and we were free to explore Bermuda. There was little room for yachts to tie up so an hour later we were lying at anchor out in the bay with other yachts from many countries. Bermuda was new to us all and we spent three days having a good look around.  St George’s is the oldest town on the island, a UNESCO world heritage site, settled in 1612. We found it delightful, with its old well-kept buildings and friendly people. There are no car-hire firms on the island, so we hired a taxi for one day, and were driven around with a running commentary on what we saw. Bermuda looks very prosperous, lots of luxurious homes with well-tended gardens, no litter, small sandy bays and interesting rock formations along the coast.  The prosperity of this old British Colony is due mainly to off-shore banking and to tourism, more than 100 cruise ships stop every year, and the income from these for 2014 is expected to be about 82 million dollars! In addition there are many hotels with visitors from Europe and the States, and a few yachties!  Our patient driver stopped every time Andrew called out that there was a geo-cache nearby, and Andrew and Diana logged 18 new finds! Another day we took a local bus to Hamilton, the capital in the south end of the island, a bright little city on the sea-front with a population of only 1800. Nevertheless it is a busy shopping centre, and we made our way to the marine warehouse for a couple of boat items and new rain-clothes for Stein. His old wet-weather gear was not keeping him dry anymore, so he needed both a good pair of waterproof trousers which we got at the marine store, and a jacket which we found in a sports shop, surprisingly a Norwegian make, Helly Hansen. The city is also very modern and prosperous looking, due to Bermuda’s successful financial and business sectors.  It was amusing to see the dress of the business men which consisted of shirt, tie, jacket and Bermuda shorts! When we stopped one of these men to take his picture he was a little skeptical, but Stein asked so nicely that he let himself be photographed.
Frode, Diana, a local gentleman in typical attire and Andrew. Hamilton, Bermuda.

A Tough Crossing
On 23rd May we were ready to set out on the longest leg of the crossing, 1793 nautical miles to the Azores and Europe! We had managed to get a place alongside one of the quays in St. George’s for the last night, making it much easier for us to get our provisions aboard. As we moved out from the quay, a strong wind caught us giving a little bump and a scratch on the starboard bow. We filled diesel and water at the fuel jetty, took a round in the bay as we tidied up ropes and fenders, then made our way back out through the channel to the Atlantic ocean.  We started off in a fresh SE breeze sailing with the genoa , but by the next day the wind had increased to 35 knots and when Stein saw us surfing at 18 knots for a moment on the speedometer he was quick to reduce sail! The next few days were pretty miserable weather-wise, periods of rain with thunder and lightning, varying winds mostly about 20 knots from N or NW, current which seemed to be against us and bumpy seas. Our new autopilot managed to steer most of the time, but we had periods of hand-steering when there was a strong following wind. Andrew had brought a gadget called Spot which could send out coordinates to up to ten people, so our families and friends could follow our progress using these spots on Google maps. The satellite telephone kept us more or less in touch with families, and Stein and Diana heard about their crazy son Martin’s non-stop 720 km cycle trip from Stockholm to Oslo! It was also surprisingly cold, only about 14 degrees in the sea, and not much more in the air, so we were very happy to have a well-functioning cabin-heater on board.


On the28th May the weather was deteriorating and the barometer falling. By the next day there was 30-40 knots following winds and big, rough seas, and there was no way the autopilot could manage to steer. After two days of hand-steering, doing one hour on and three hours off, we were all tired and on the evening of the 29th, decided that we would lie hove-to for the night with a tiny storm-sail and try to get a good sleep. Once we had done this the boat seemed to be riding the waves ok, and we had our supper with a glass of red wine. But suddenly we experienced the biggest crash we have ever felt as the boat was thrown by what we think must have been a freak wave, which partly broke over us on to port-side. Everything that was loose flew out of its place - books, shells, galley equipment, and we all began to tidy up.  

Just after the freak wave hit port-side and before we knew about the damage outside. Diana starting to tidy up (Photo by Andrew Fraser) 

As Frode went down to his cabin, he noticed water trickling from under his bunk, and at the same time Stein went out to the cockpit to pump out the engine room as a routine and discovered that the port-side engine was covered in sea-water!! It did not take him long to discover the cause – a big hole in the back steps of the port-side hull! The bottom step must have been pushed in by the wave, maybe because it had the bathing steps resting on it. The most important job was to plug the hole, the port-side was already floating lower in the water. First Stein and Frode tried the plastic kayak, but that was too stiff, then they tried the extra genoa sail – a large amount of polyester cloth - and managed to get it into the hole which pretty well stopped the sea flowing in. Towels and sailbags were added later and all heavy items on that end of the boat, inside and outside, were shifted to the opposite end of the boat to get the port stern to float higher. They bailed out the engine compartment, Frode working the pump from outside, Stein standing in water inside nearly up to his waist, and throwing buckets up through the opening. (It is true as the saying goes that there is no pump as efficient as a scared man with a bucket!) while Andrew and Diana bailed the bilges inside the boat, and gradually we managed to get the place fairly dry. Then we discovered that there was a huge compartment under Frode’s bunk which was supposed to be watertight, but it was also full of water and Stein had to drill a hole and cut it wider with a saw before pumping it out.  We spent the first few hours of the night bailing out as seas kept splashing through the plugged hole, with a little sleep for some, but none for Stein who was up all night. As we had no guarantee that the sail would stay in place we gave a message to Martin that we had some damage and a leak in the boat, and that we would send another report when we were sure we were safe.
Next morning, May 30th, the weather has improved, the waves and splashes are smaller and repairs can begin. (Photo by Andrew Fraser)

By morning to our delight the weather had settled and the day was sunny, the barometer was rising quickly and there was a light NE breeze. This was a blessing as it was now essential to get the hole repaired. Stein got out some old boards which had been in our dinghy before we got an inflatable floor, and cut them and some rubber canvas (from an old water tank) to shape to make a cover for the back steps. This he managed to get into place, hanging with a safety line over the stern, with Frode handing him tools and screws and hoping nothing would end up in the sea, which amazingly it didn’t. When the repair was finished and seemed solid, we felt a great sense of relief, and Diana made raisin buns to celebrate. Never has a lunch been more enjoyed! But then we heard a plane over us, in fact it was circling over us and calling us on the VHF. Andrew is an old pilot and recognized it is a Hercules, it was the American Coast Guard! They told us that they had been given a message that we had a problem and came to see if we needed help, and we were able to tell them that we were now fine. What had happened was that Martin had been trying to call us and send text messages on the satellite telephone, but had not been able to get through, so of course he thought something serious had happened and called the emergency services. We feel bad about criticizing a kind gift, but this showed that the new telephone was absolutely useless for an emergency situation. It had been recommended to Frode as very reliable for this purpose, but we will be taking it back and upgrading to a better model with an external antenna.

We were now nearly half way to the Azores, it was nice to get under 1000n.miles the next day. There was still current against us, where was the Gulf Stream? The weather was now reasonable, in fact we had one day of good sailing in a moderate southerly breeze! Stein had another job to do and that was to see if it was possible to get the port side engine going again. During the first night he had already poured a lot of fresh water over the engine and taken off the starter and alternator and left them submerged in fresh water until we would reach Faial and expert help. Now he changed the oil, took out the injectors, flushed the cylinders with diesel, cleaned all electrical connections with WD40, cleaned and dried the air filter and replaced the starter and alternator with old spares. We all held our breath as he pressed the starter – and hallelujah - after about 20 seconds it coughed into life! This was also worth a celebration, this time in the form of apple-pie and custard!

Horta of Faial, Island in the Azores

The last few days were mostly cold and rough with east or south winds, giving us fairly good progress, but on the 5th June it was again very unpleasant with the wind up to 35 knots, though no more damage. The day before reaching Horta , the weather calmed down, making the last night at sea quite magical, motoring quietly round the north and east sides of Faial to reach the main town of Horta. 
Nearly there! Only a few minutes before we enter the breakwater outside Faial, Horta.
We passed the breakwater outside the harbor at dawn on 8th June after a 16 day trip which was the toughest and most dramatic we have experienced in all our years of sailing. The harbour was surprisingly full of yachts of all nationalities. Out at sea one hardly ever sees another yacht, but when they all meet at the same place in the middle of the Atlantic there are quite a few gathered. We drove near the jetty where the authorities seemed to be, and an official told us on the VHF to anchor until 8 a.m. when we could check in. There were already many yachts at anchor, but we managed to find enough space to join them. Never has it felt better to lie peacefully at anchor in flat water!

Looking back at our tough crossing, it is funny how the bad memories fade, and one remembers the good things. We had a marvelous crew, Frode always calm and good humoured and Andrew acting as though he had done nothing else but steer downwind in 35 knots! (The most difficult point of sailing.) We had lots of good meals and chats together, and did not exchange one cross word in spite of often differing political and religious beliefs. Nature showed herself in different moods, and we saw various forms of wild-life, including dolphins, a turtle, Portuguese Men of War (a nasty jelly-fish also known as Blue Bottle) and sea-birds, mainly skuas and storm petrels.  Andrew wrote in our guest-book that the reality of the crossing did not quite correspond to the smooth, comfortable sail which the brochure offered; at times it was scary and awful! But in conclusion he would not have missed it for anything – it was the experience of a lifetime!

Safely alongside the quay in Faial with another large catamaran outside us. The temporary repair on port side is seen + an extension of canvas that was added a few days later to stop spray and rain from entering.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Travel Report No 69: Family Visits in the Abacos, Bahamas

Exploring in the Abacos

For all the photographs and picture captions:  Picture Gallery No 69

We arrived in the Abacos on the morning of 23rd March and were expecting our first visit on 4th April. This was an unusual luxury to have such good time to prepare, and we decided to use this period to reconnoiter and find the best anchorages for kids, and as always to do the small jobs on the never-ending list. There was now a bad weather forecast for a couple of days with strong northerly winds, so the next day our port of call was Hope Town, which has a round, fully protected harbour, where one has to pick up a mooring or lie in a marina. 
Safe in Hope Town, Elbow Cay

We picked up what seemed to be the last free buoy in the middle of the bay, obviously many boats were making for this shelter, and here we were safe from the strong winds and heavy squalls which raged for about three days. This was the perfect place to be in this weather, another charming spot with a colourful little town, marinas and restaurants along the water-front and the red and white striped Elbow Cay Lighthouse. This is very special as it is one of the last functioning paraffin ones in existence.

Hurricane Lane, Hope Town

We noticed a Swedish flag across the bay, and sure enough not long afterwards we heard a friendly Swedish voice calling to us, wondering who the Norwegians were. This was Magnus Sjøberg, who with his wife Charlotte, live on a big motor boat ‘Swede Dreams’. They moved to Charleston, South Carolina many years ago, so for Diana’s sake we spoke English together. We enjoyed their company and had dinner together on our totally different types of vessel. 
Enjoying a borrowed cycle for a trip around the quiet sand roads of north Elbow Cay.
They let us use their bikes which was great for cycling around the island, especially on the small paths where otherwise  there were only golf carts.  After three days the weather quietened down, even so we had a brisk 20 knot breeze which gave us a quick sail over to Marsh Harbour, the main town of the area where we wanted to do some shopping.

Marsh Harbour has a great big area for anchoring, but the holding is not great. This we realized when we were quietly sitting having breakfast one morning as a woman passed by in her dinghy. She charmingly asked in a French accent if we knew that our boat was moving! This made us jump into action, we discovered we had indeed moved during the night, fortunately not bumping into anyone else, and we motored into a new position where we re-anchored and made sure we were holding.  This was a working stop, we had been here before and it is a charmless town, but the supermarket is great and there is a good hardware store where we could buy the things we needed for the boat.

Our next stop was at a deserted island, one of a little group called Fish Cays. We found there was a nice white beach but it was surrounded by very sharp coral stones, so not a place to return to, but we enjoyed the peace after Marsh Harbour. From here we sailed across to Man o’ War Cay, this time finding the perfect children’s beach and also another interesting community which lives on boat building. Never have we seen a cleaner and tidier industrial area, where they make launches and ferries of different types and lovely little sailing dinghies. The locals are known to be hard-working and God-fearing people, and the island is the only alcohol free one in the Bahamas. We found them very friendly, for example when we were looking for fish to buy and we asked at the hardware store if they knew of any possibility, they phoned round everybody whom hey knew fished regularly before having to tell us there were none to be had as the weather had been too bad.

By now the weather was beautiful and calm again, so we motored across to Baker’s Bay on Great Guana Cay. This has a huge beach, two or three kilometers long with soft sand and shallow water to splash around in. There were a few houses and a new marina at one end of the beach and we went to have a look. Here we found a closed community of rather paranoid rich  Americans, with security control at the road entrance, but we managed to slip in from the beach side. It is a beautiful resort with all the facilities one could wish, but it is not open to the public. We were not even able to use a restaurant unless we came into the marina for a night at a cost of 4 dollars per foot. No thank-you! Another hour’s motoring brought us to Fisher’s Bay on the same island. Here there was much more of a party spirit, with cheap, brightly painted restaurants, and a short walk over to the Atlantic side of the island where one can walk for miles admiring the breaking surf.

Elisabeth and family visit

On Friday 4th April we were back in Marsh Harbour, boat restocked and ready to receive Elisabeth, Hugh, Finn aged 5 and Soren aged 3. We had put White Admiral into one of the marinas for the night so they could walk on board. It is an hour’s walk from there to the airport, a good distance for daily exercise so we briskly walked to meet them. The plane from Nassau arrived about half an hour after schedule. We took a taxi back to the boat and two tired children were quickly asleep.  The next morning after a swim in the marina pool we were ready to explore the Abacos together and the weather was looking good. 
First breakfast aboard at Conch Marina for Hugh, Elisabeth, Soren and Finn
No wind, so we motored again, about two hours to Tahiti beach. Here it is easy to entertain children, warm, shallow water and soft white sand – a paradise! From here we decided to go south, first visiting Sandy Cay which we heard was good for snorkeling. Unfortunately the wind had now blown up and it became a bit rough for snorkeling, but with Stein’s help Finn managed well enough to be thrilled at the amount of fish he could see through the goggles, and Hugh saw a big shark swimming just behind his son! (They have never been known to attack swimmers here.) The rougher weather meant also that we could not anchor for the night so we went on south to Little Harbour, a favourite stop from earlier, and picked up a buoy in the secluded harbour. This little bay was first settled by the disillusioned American artist Randolph Johnston when he sailed in here with his wife and three sons in 1951. They first lived in a cave, gradually built not only a home but a bronze art foundry behind the beach. From never having sold an non-commissioned work back in USA, he gradually grew into fame. His son Pete took over eventually, and now also a grandson works in the foundry, keeping up the artistic tradition. Another family income is from the picturesque bar and restaurant and for the $20/night buoys in the harbour.
Lunch at Pete's Bar, Little Harbour,South Abacos
This is a laidback place with an informal bar and restaurant at the water’s edge with sand underfoot, a great spot to eat, drink and chat to locals and yachties. This time we go to know a German family with their two little boys out on a year’s sailing adventure, who were now on their way home and had come the more unusual way via the Bahamas.
After two days here we got news of another cold front with a northerly wind on the way.  As the wind was still from the south, we decided to use it to sail back up north to Hope Town. This time we could sail and with just the genoa had a brisk three hour sail to get there. Again boats were seeking shelter and there were no free buoys, but luckily we got a nice quiet corner in a small marina beside the light-house.  
Soren loved the lolly-pop like Elbow Cay Lighthouse
The kids loved the trip up the many steps inside the light-house and the great view from the top. Otherwise the family enjoyed the swimming pool and restaurant at another marina a short walk away, open to all, unlike the snobbish one we had encountered further north. Three days later we were able to get on our way again, and the weather was back to fair winds and sunshine. Now we could visit the places we had found suitable for the children, the pleasant anchorage at Man O’ War Cay, the huge beach at Baker’s Bay and the friendly pool and restaurants at Fisher’s Bay. 
Elisabeth and Finn in Baker's Bay
The snobbish marina turned out to be better than we had thought as there was a children’s playground and playing field where Finn and Soren were able to play with nobody objecting. At Man O’ War Cay, Diana did a little geocaching, just to have a find from the Bahamas, and Finn got his first geocache! (If you do not know what this is, look up geocaching.com.)
Finally we crossed over to the west side of the sea of Abaco to visit Treasure Cay, new for us all, where we had a night in the big marina, making it easy to use their facilities, especially the swimming pool. From here we could walk to a nearby beach which is proudly advertised as one of the world’s top ten beaches. It was certainly soft and lovely and boasted a friendly restaurant where we had a last evening meal together, most of us enjoying fresh grilled grouper.  

Coco Bar and Restaurant on Treasure Cay provides a meal with a view, 

Here is the view!

Soren borrowed Yellow Teddy for the flight home: Come back soon, both of you, please!
On 15th April it was time for Elisabeth, Hugh and kids to get back to the airport, they were going on to Nassau for a couple of days before flying home to London and back to work. We motored out of the marina late morning and had to drive for three and a half hours into a light contrary wind to get back to Marsh Harbour, this time we anchored and took the family ashore in the dinghy. After our goodbyes at the airport, we walked briskly back to the boat feeling happy that they had had a good holiday.
Now we had twelve days with just the two of us aboard, time to relax, shop, do small jobs and get the boat ready for the next group of visitors. We spent three days back in Little Harbour which has the best internet connection that we had found, and a good place to work on the boat, this time we had some torrential rain. Stein was keen to do a dive and had bought a second hand buoyancy control jacket from the diving shop in Marsh Harbour, so with a calm weather forecast we sailed to the best diving site at Fowl Cay. It was not as good as expected, the forecast was not accurate so it was quite rough, the coral reef was rather dead although there were plenty fish, and a valve on the newly bought diving jacket broke!

Tonje and her family visit

On 26th April, our daughter-in-law arrived with Oscar 10 months old, her mother Selle Marie and her aunt Karen (Selle Marie’s sister). Martin was not with them as he had recently been on a trip to South Africa to take part in one of the world’s biggest cycling events, so could not afford more time off work. This time the plane was punctual and we ended up jogging the last couple of hundred yards as we saw it landing, and were just in time to give them a sweaty hug. We were happy to see everybody, but of course were especially interested in Oscar whom we had not seen since he was 4 months old, and were delighted to see such a happy friendly boy, already able to walk about!

Back in delightful Little Harbour at the Randolph Johnston bronze art foundry and gallery

And at Pete's Bar next door: Karin, Diana and Selle-Marie
The morning after we were off on our next cruise around the lovely sea of Abaco with this cheerful, enthusiastic group aboard. We visited most of the same places that we had been with Elisabeth and family, with the exception of Treasure Cay, and made a new stop at Lynyard Cay, which is one of the long islands between the Atlantic and the Abacos Sea. There are long beaches on the leeward side where we dinghied across to have a beach-picnic. Some Americans have holiday homes here but they are usually deserted, so it is easy to peek into these houses and have a rest on the terrace! For the first few days the weather was lovely, warm, sunny and light winds, so we were fully able to enjoy the sailing and beach-life.
We did make one small blunder as we were leaving Little Harbour, where there is a shallow buoyed passage through a narrow exit. We chose to do this at low tide, which should have been alright except that we got too near the edge of the channel and suddenly we were stuck in the sandy bottom! It was not possible to motor off, so Stein rowed out an anchor and we pulled ourselves back into deeper water. No damage done!

Diana is 70!

The first of May was a special day for Diana, her 70th birthday! 

Prosecco for Diana's Birthday Breakfast!
We had booked dinner at a resort called Firefly on the west coast of the island of Elbow Cay, and the breeze was in the right direction so that we could anchor safely right in front of their jetty and row the dinghy ashore. 
Anchored outside Firefly Resort
The afternoon was spent sitting at the pool-side, swimming and playing with Oscar, then we had drinks and dinner on the terrace, a great sea-food meal. With a lovely present from the others of an opera subscription for next season, a glass of white wine in hand, watching a lovely sun-set in the tropical evening, being 70 didn’t seem too bad!
Boat and people dressed up to go ashore! (Norwegian flag, St. Andrew's flag of Scotland, Kristiansand's  350 years' jubilee flag from 1991) Karin, Oscar and Tonje.

Diana with her lovely grandson Oscar - the visit was the best present for her birthday! White Admiral anchored in the background.
By this time we were in need of water, shopping and laundry, so in the morning we sailed the short distance to Hope Town where this could be combined with an enjoyable stop.  Here there was a change of weather, so our stay was extended to three nights while another northerly blew itself out. This was no problem, we enjoyed walking on the island, and Oscar loved the swimming pool at the marina where he toddled about charming everybody with his friendly grins and ‘high fives’.
It was back to perfect weather for the last couple of days, good for swimming and collecting shells at Man O’ War Cay where we gathered a lot of sand-dollars, then a last stop at Fischer’s Bay where we walked across the island to have a swim in the breakers on the Atlantic side. 
The sea was a little rough on the reef , but below the surface it all looks calm.
Stein also had a snorkeling trip, but the others thought it was too rough. The ladies were delighted to find a dress shop with lots of lovely summer clothes at reasonable prices, and both Tonje and Karen found dresses to their taste.                
Give me Five! At the Sail Loft, Man O'War Village
But everything comes to and end and on 7th May we motored back to Marsh Harbour where cases were packed, taxi ordered, and we had another round of hugs at the airport. As we walked back to the boat we reflected on how lucky we were to have this life-style and to be able to enjoy the company of our friends and relatives on our boat.                               
But now it was time to think ahead and plan our Atlantic crossing!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Travel Report 68: From Pitcairn to French Polynesia, then back to Spanish Wells and on to the Abacos, Bahamas

Back to White Admiral

About our visits to the Gambier Islands, Tahiti and Moorea, then back to Spanish Wells, Bahamas with some of the pictures. For all the selected photos and captions: Picture Gallery No 68

To Mangareva
On march 7th, as Pitcairn gradually faded from view and became a memory, we settled into life aboard ‘Claymore II’. This mainly consisted of chatting and eating. Jane’s good food, fine following weather and the company of fellow Pitcairn tourists made the 36 hour journey most enjoyable. Our main memory is sitting on the rear deck, watching the birds or the sunset, discussing Pitcairn and life in general with the Norfolk islanders, Doc Carol and the intrepid traveler Yalcin from Turkey.
Diana with Carol Nicholson and Yalcin Songur on Claymore II
The mountains of Mangareva presented a dramatic vista as we motored into the big lagoon, bringing back memories of when we sailed in with our children on Red Admiral in 1979. 

Mount Duff of Mangareva, the main island in the Gambier archipelago, the most southern of French Polynesia.

The capital of the Gambier Islands may be tiny, but they have a lot of the cultivated and famous black oyster pearls, a big industry here. And  you can buy them at much reduced price compared to in Papeete if you go to a stall along the sea-side road. 
We may be older, but the palm trees and tropical flowers look just the same! We had time for a stroll along the simple, charming main street of the small village of Rikitea, and were tempted to buy a couple of souvenirs from the big selection of black pearls for which the area is famous.  At the launch to the airport, big Polynesians were loading shell necklaces onto their departing relatives, and feeling sorry for the foreigners with no loved ones to say goodbye, put one round our necks too! 

The ukuleles come out on the half hour ferry trip from Rikitea to the airport island across the lagoon of Mangareva.

After a long wait at the airport we were finally on the plane to Tahiti, but not very happy as we realized we would miss the last evening ferry connection to Moorea, where we had booked up for two nights at a resort. The Norfolk islanders were in the same position and at Tahiti airport when we found out that they had been given free accommodation for the night, we approached Air Tahiti and were met with such service that it was almost embarrassing. Not only were we put in one of the finest resorts in Tahiti, but also given dinner, breakfast and a taxi back and forward! It was pure magic swimming in the huge swimming pool built into sand, and having dinner on the luxurious terrace in the mild tropical evening.
The next morning we were happy to leave Tahiti, which although blessed by nature with beautiful scenery and people, has been somewhat spoiled by unattractive buildings and traffic congestion. The hour and a half ferry ride between Tahiti and Moorea was a pleasure, with a balmy breeze and views of the green dramatic mountains of both islands.


An elderly lady taxi driver gave us a running commentary on her life and her island as we motored round the sea-side road to the west side of Moorea, where we found our relatively simple resort (a lot cheaper than the one we were at in Tahiti)! It was just what we wanted for two days, a simple Polynesian thatched cottage in a flowering garden with a lovely beach, bikes, kayaks and a tropical reef just off-shore, the whole backed by the steep distinctive mountains of the island. Two days passed quickly with walking, cycling, paddling and snorkeling and just sitting by our cottage eating and watching the sun-set. We have done a lot of snorkeling in the Caribbean the past few years, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that the reef fish here in the Pacific had different patterns and colours from the ones we were used to, which made it more fascinating. !

Colourful butterfly-fish near the tail of a large, sleeping nurse shark

Our evening meal was a fine buffet before a local music and dance performance at a nearby, much bigger resort. The Mooreans have their own dances distinctive from the Tahitians – not that we could really tell the difference. The main message in all of Polynesia is  suggestive and erotic, and performed in a very energetic way. You need to be fit to dance in this part of the world!

Dancing the Moorean way demands flexible joints and good cardiovascular stamina - and is very erotic!

Back at the ferry terminal, we immediately bumped into the group of Norfolk islanders again,  a surprise as they had to leave  a day earlier than expected (they or their travel agent had somehow got the time zone changes across the Date Line wrong), so we had their company back to Tahiti and were able to say goodbye all over again. We decided we would definitely visit Norfolk Island later this year.
In Tahiti even ferry cleaners are beautiful! With our friends from Norfolk Island -many of whom are also decendents of the Bounty Mutineers: Arthur Evans, Millie Waldon, Possum Westwood, Roib Ryan and Donna Rowlinson
  Now it was time to get back to White Admiral in Spanish Wells, a long journey with flights from Tahiti to Los Angeles, Miami, Nassau and Northern Eleuthera, then a ferry ride to Spanish Wells. We had booked the last local transport more than three months earlier, but Mr Gurney Pinder was there waiting at the airport to drive us by taxi to his ferry, across the narrow straight from Eleuthera to Spanish Wells, a little shopping in the Pinder’s Super Market before he also drove us down the water-front to White Admiral!
Back to the newly painted White Admiral shortly before sun-set.

Return to Spanish Wells and White Admiral

It was exciting to get back to White Admiral as in our absence she had been in R&B Boat Yard, where one of the owners Robert Roberts, had supervised a gang of Haitians who gave her a total paint job. We found her looking good, the top sides shining white and the decks sprinkled with grit in the paint so that it would not be so slippy. The whole job cost US$ 12.800, as opposed to the $65.000 estimate we were given in Florida! Maybe the job was a little less professional compared to what it would have been in the States, but we were very happy with it.
We spent a week on the island. Some of the time was spent on more jobs, mainly sanding and varnishing the deck (floor) inside. Stein used a borrowed orbital sander from Roberts which was very effective, but caused an enormous amount of dust to fly everywhere, and although we had tried to cover things, every surface had to be dusted and washed afterwards. Then we applied 2-3 coats of varnish, depending on how worn it looked, and were very pleased with the big improvement. Otherwise Stein had his usual list of jobs, this time including fixing a diesel leak on the portside engine, filling in old holes on the back platform (not done by the Haitians) and replacing the anchor-winch which had been removed. We did also find some time for socializing; an American Jim Bishop from Charleston, who lives here in the winter, kept his kayak just beside the jetty where our boat was tied up. It was not long before Stein was borrowing the kayak and we were invited to his home for dinner. 
Diana, Chris, Gloris, Jim and Sylvia. Gloris is Jim's neighbour and an excellent cook!

A local lady and neighbour of Jim’s, Gloris Sand, made a delicious meal for us and another Canadian couple, and we got to learn a lot more about this small community. A more charming place is difficult to find, about 1500 mostly white people live on the island in small concrete and wood houses of different pastel shades, typically they drive around in golf carts. There are few racial problems and a very low crime rate, quite different to the capital Nassau, only 30 min away by plane. The main industry is lobster fishing, and thanks to a long, beautiful beach there is also some tourism. Definitely a possible future destination!

Jim Bishop and Geir Støle -another yachty - came for dinner aboard.
We also met the first Norwegian for a long time. Most Norwegians and British who sail to the Caribbean visit the easterly islands and then go directly to the Azores, so most of the visiting yachts we saw here were Americans. A winter visitor told us that in the 28 years he has been coming here that he has never seen a Norwegian flag until he suddenly saw two of them! The other boat was ‘Strega’, from Oslo skippered by Geir Støle from Stavanger, a big friendly guy with whom we had dinner aboard both boats, with the always enjoyable sailing chat.

To the Abacos Islands
By 22nd March, all the most necessary jobs were done, clean laundry collected, food stores replenished, and with a good weather forecast, we set off for the Abacos, the island group further north where our families would be visiting us. We did not make a very elegant exit from the jetty with a rapid tidal current as one of our ropes got jammed between it and a pillar, making us do a 180 degree turn on the way out. Fortunately there were no onlookers to be amused! We followed the buoyed channel around the south and east sides of the island and out through the reef on the north coast. With a light south-easterly breeze we had a very pleasant sail through the night, going a little further than we had planned as we waited for dawn. The Abacos have an archipelago of long islands on the east side, with passages between, and just after dawn broke we sailed through the Tilloo cut into the protected sea of Abaco.  We dropped anchor just off Tahiti beach, named because of its palm trees which made it look like the South Pacific, but unfortunately most of these have been blown away in a recent hurricane. However, it is still beautiful with white powdery sand and a big shallow lagoon, the perfect place to have our families with small children come for a visit.