Our Covid conundrum

Covid-19 has certainly touched everybody’s lives, in different ways. Some lost their lives, others their livelihood and many are suffering the hardships of lockdowns. We were certainly fortunate to have been in New Zealand during these unprecedented times, but even we have not escaped the challenges of this pandemic.  

Enduring the cold NZ winter

We certainly did not expect to still be in New Zealand, in fact if it wasn’t for Covid we would have been snorkelling in warm tropical water much further north right now. Instead we have to brace ourselves against the cold, wet weather and accompanying storms.

Landing on the beach at Paradise Bay to do one of the many hikes on Urupukapuka Island.
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Locked Down ‘On the Hard’

Flying back to Whangarei in mid March, after a delightful 10 day jaunt spent touring South Island, the Corona storm clouds continued to gather. Repeated airport announcements advised travellers from overseas that they were obliged to self-isolate for two weeks and quite a few passengers were wearing face masks. I had already decided not to risk the trip I had booked to South Africa at the end of March.

We arrived back on Moondust that evening amidst chaotic evidence of earlier uncompleted tasks and the next morning commenced frenzied activity to get ready for re-launch in 10 days’ time. Days coalesced as we made slow but steady progress, focusing on the most important tasks first. Continue reading “Locked Down ‘On the Hard’”

Challenging passage from Tonga to New Zealand

It was Monday when we pulled up the hook in Tongatapu and, with scant breeze, ghosted west across the inter island waterway, luckily aided by the current. We had delayed our departure waiting for the right weather, as this passage is well known for its challenges and we’d heard that a sailor had just lost his life close to New Zealand after getting it wrong.

We chose to set sail despite the wind being forecast to be forward of the beam, but, as it was calm Karin would not get seasick. For 36 hours it was delightful and we averaged over 5 knots, using the time to stitch in some much need patches on our dinghy’s sun cover.

From the forecast we knew that the wind would turn a full circle back around the compass and my slumber was curtailed at 01:30 on the second night as Moondust reacted to the new wave and wind direction which reached 25kts at 03:00, forcing me to reef down and roll in the genoa a bit. Now we were moving well through the water at around 5-6kts but into adverse conditions of current, waves and wind, thus only making 4 knots over the ground. At dawn we approached Minerva North (there are two reefs about 20nm apart) and finally neared the pass at around 15:00.

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Difficult passage to Tonga

It is 03:30 as I write this on my night watch. We are running before 20 knots of wind with an almost full moon casting its bright track on the ocean. I’m trying to make sense from our diary and log book of the confused blur of the past fourteen days.

Finally our visa time had expired in beautiful French Polynesia and it was time to sail on. Early on Monday, 2nd September I was woken by the sound of the water taxis passing very close, and was surprised as we had anchored well out of the small craft channel across Uturoa in Raiatea. I got up to start the day only to find that we had inexplicably dragged our anchor, were now right in the channel and within 10m of a rock on which the small boat channel marker was erected, with a reef behind it.

With some quick work we got the anchor on deck, where after we sailed across the lagoon and out of one of the western passes. Once beyond of the lee of Raiatea we had 3m swells and about 23 knots of wind which gave us a good start on the 1300 nm passage to Tonga. Sadly Karin’s seasickness kicked in and she needed to remain lying down to prevent vomiting, although with her determination, she always does her share of night watches and sail changes.

Tuesday saw us with more good wind and 4m swells, which aggravated Karin’s condition. Nevertheless we made good progress until at 15:00, when the genoa suddenly started flogging. I grabbed the wheel but felt no resistance and immediately knew that our steering had failed. A trail of hydraulic fluid in the aft lazarette confirmed this. Stunned, we dropped the main sail and rolled in the genoa, dug out the emergency tiller and I wasted quite a bit of time trying to figure out how it worked.

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Panama Canal

A fast sail down from Cuba brought us within sight of Colon by the late afternoon of the sixth day with just enough time to anchor before dark. The adverse current had meant sailing for an additional 200nm through the water making the passage length just under 970nm against the 766nm over the ground. Now we were at the approaches of the fabled Panama canal; a small boat about to venture amongst the leviathans of the oceans. The approaches to the canal were clearly marked on the chart and evidenced by these huge ships entering and exiting in front of us. We were sure to keep well clear!

A radio call to Cristobal Signal Station advised us to turn to starboard after the breakwater and anchor off Shelter Bay Marina, close to about six other boats. We looked forward to an unbroken night’s sleep.

We knew that the Panama interlude would prove to be hard work with boat spares to be sourced, important maintenance to be done, the larder re-provisioned and the Canal transit to be organised. All of that had to be done from the Shelter Bay area, a one hour bus or boat ride away from Colon and much further from Panama. Then there was the matter of the canal transit itself and Karin’s French Polynesian visa to be organised once we were in Panama.

Panama map

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Cuba’s spectacular Jardines de la Reina

We were excited to be heading for Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s former capital on the south eastern coast and one of the few points of entry. What should have been a three day sail took us five due to the wind shadow caused by the 1900 m Hispaniola mountain chain. Having daughter Megs on board eased the night watches considerably as we could each get six hours’ sleep instead of four.

Southern Cuba sits on an underwater escarpment that rises sharply from depths of thousands of metres and it has some amazing, almost completely land locked natural harbours, Santiago de Cuba being one.

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The old fort that overlooks the narrow entrance to Santiago de Cuba.

After entering via the narrow channel we tied up at the marina and were warmly greeted by its manager who told us to stay on board until the doctor had examined us. A white coated lady arrived, enquired about our health, took our forehead temperatures and cleared us to proceed on shore.

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Marina Marlin in Santiago de Cuba.

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Amazing Antigua

Jolly Harbour on the west of Antigua was an easy landfall and we anchored outside the channel, along with perhaps 14 other yachts and the next morning took the dinghy to clear in and do some shopping. Development along the coastline is first world and substantial; palatial homes, guest accommodation and hotels. We later learnt that much of the coastline is private property above the high tide level, which includes most of the beach, as the tide only rises about half a metre in the Caribbean.

Replacement of our sail being a top priority, I sent out some email enquiries and we later motored around the coast to nearby St. John’s, from where we could get transport. Here we found the anchor holding very poor, eventuating in the need to motor back out a kilometre to Side Hill Bay, where, after several more attempts, the anchor finally held.

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Foray into the eastern Caribbean

At 4 a.m. we sailed north from delightful Bequia, choosing to pass St. Vincent on the windward Atlantic side to minimise the use of our engines.

map of windward islands
Our route from Bequia through the eastern Caribbean to Antigua.

Once around the point a delightful breeze scooted us along at 6-7 knots and later that afternoon blew us into the bay at Anse des Piton at the south end of St. Lucia.

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Anse des Piton bay.

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Carriacou and the Grenadines

Our haul out in Trinidad completed, we headed for Carriacou, 25km north of Grenada. The north west flowing Equatorial Current pushed us in the right direction, which was just as well as the predicted wind only appeared later in the afternoon, when on one of our fishing lines we caught a beautiful Black Hind; a mature fish which was a challenge to scale and fillet, but a delight to eat in a soft, fragrant curry.

Once in the full Atlantic swell Karin began to feel sea sick and turned her attention to one of the buckets, shortly afterwards retiring for an early night. She didn’t get much sleep, but always the stalwart crew member, she refused to rest longer and took her four hour watch between midnight and 04:00. Shortly after dawn we passed the northern end of Grenada and made landfall at Tyrell Bay, Carriacou at around 09:00.

Carriacou is known as the ‘Isle of Reefs’ evidenced by the many shipwrecks we saw. Its people originate both from Africa and Scotland, the latter group settling in the village of Windward and starting the local boat building industry, which persists to this day. Both the appearance and speech of the people in that area still reflect their lineage.

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Some friendly girls of African descent on their way to school.

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