Sydney to the Pacific North-West
After nearly a decade of planning and preparation, we finally cut our ties in Sydney and sailed for New Zealand in late 1981, starting a voyage in our yacht “Cera” which was to end eight years later, to the very month.
Our daughter Anita preferred to continue with her work in Sydney, so there was only the two of us aboard as we sailed through Sydney Heads in September, 1981, on the heels of a sou-westerly gale. The ensuing strong northerlies gave us a superbly fast although very rough ride across the Tasman, driving us to a 150-mile-a-day average for the 1,200 nautical miles which we never expect to better! We spent the last few hours of this passage hove to in a nor-easterly gale waiting for the dawn, so that we could see our way in to Opua, in the Bay of Islands, a wet and windy final approach to New Zealand. We subsequently found this to be not untypical of other voyagers’ experience!
In fact, the weather is always a great topic of conversation in New Zealand. That’s not surprising; there is a great deal of it. There are incessant forecasts on the local radio, and very detailed coastal forecasts several times a day try to make sense of the country’s constantly changing mixture of rain and sun, wind direction and speed. In retrospect, we realised that the weather did shape our cruise in Kiwi waters.
Our introduction to local conditions was the six weeks we spent in the Bay of Islands, where our itinerary was governed by wind direction and strength rather than the cruising guide (the excellent book published by the Royal Akarana Yacht Club).
Still, we’re not complaining. As we moved around, seeking shelter from the predominant sou-westerlies, we poked into virtually all of the scores of bays in the Bay of Islands area, mainland anchorages being more numerous and generally better sheltered than on other islands themselves.
To seek the ultimate shelter we motored four miles up the Kerikeri River to the basin a couple of miles from the town, a trip not often undertaken by cruising yachts because of worries (reinforced by dire warnings from “local knowledge”) about depths in the channel. The river basin at Kerikeri had been swept by devastating floods in March 1981, and the pundits claimed that subsequent silting would make the trip a dodgy one. In practice, we found it an easy and well-marked channel at high tide. We spent three happy weeks in the basin, enjoying the friendliness of the local people (one of whom let us tie up to his pile-moored yacht, very close to the wharf) and the quiet beauty of the historically-interesting area. Well sheltered from the winds, our only worry followed a night of heavy rain, when edgy local yachties came down to tie their boats and ours to every conceivable tree, pile and bollard. The floods earlier that year had swept away all the piles, and boats big and small were washed around the basin and down the river like so much flotsam.
North of the Bay of Islands we found the prettiest anchorage of our cruise, volcanic Rare Bay in Whangaroa Harbour. We had a pair of delightful sails up and down the rocky coast to and from Whangaroa, inside the Cavalli Islands, interrupted only by a Customs boat pulling alongside and asking us where we were headed.
As the spring seemed to have arrived by this time (early December – a “late season”, apologised the locals) we set off down the coast to Auckland, calling into several of the beautiful and sheltered harbours on the north-east coast. We had the calmest weather of the summer at this time, allowing some delightful ghosting sails in smooth water as we headed south.
By this time we were quite convinced that earlier plans to sail to the Marlborough Sounds could be scrapped. Every local we spoke to had had a bashing on each of the capes on the east coast (some suggested going all the way round the top and coming back down the west coast), and whenever there was not a gale warning for Cook Strait there seemed to be a storm warning, so we resolved to stay in the (hopefully) sunny north.
After Christmas in Auckland we sailed round the Coromandel Peninsula to the Mercury Islands, a magnificent holiday playground for boating people, with a sheltered all-weather anchorage, plenty of other beaches, delightful walks, good fishing and diving.
Here, we were able to observe some features of yachting, New Zealand style. First, they are really keen boat users. The small anchorage was crammed solid every night, but right after breakfast the air was alive with the sound of anchor chains as everyone set off on the day’s activity. By mid-day the place was practically deserted. As sun fell, back they all came, anchoring (necessarily, but generally more skilfully than we had been led to believe) in extremely close proximity one to the other. Those for whom washing in a nearby stream or waterfall had been the activity of the day returned with boats festooned with drying clothes flying from lines strung in the rigging. Kiwis don’t mind handling their ground tackle; for example, to run they engine they prefer to go for a potter round, rather than sit in an otherwise quiet anchorage with the motor running in order to get the batteries up and the fridge down.
Activities such as swimming in what we thought was pretty frigid water, and particularly fishing, seem more popular among sailors in New Zealand than Australia. Mind you, once the summer arrived properly we found the fishing very good; we generally caught kingfish or a local small game fish, the kahawai, while trolling, and off the anchored boat Norma was often spectacularly successful catching old-man snapper such as seem to have disappeared from NSW coastal waters. When the fish run out, there are cockles, mussels and “pipis” for the taking from the beaches. However, oysters are protected, for reasons we could never fully ascertain; there are millions of them.
On the east coast of the South Island we sailed as far south as Tauranga, on the Bay of Plenty. This is a major commercial port, short on anchorages but with a yacht club with showers and washing machine, and good provisioning in the town. Then, via some rolly island anchorages, back to Auckland, round the rightfully notorious Cape Colville, where wind against tide produces foul, wet, steep, yacht-stopping overfalls, and the towering Coromandel ranges collect tons of cold air to hurl in large bundles at yachts foolish enough to tackle this maelstrom.
Auckland was fun enough to keep us there for six weeks, berthed in a raft-up of other overseas cruising yachts at Marsden Wharf, in the commercial centre of the city. Dirty feet tromping across our decks, plus the amount of money being drained from our cruising funds, finally drove us away to the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, Auckland’s home cruising grounds.
Our favourite was Kawau Island, with a little yacht club complete with shop, showers and washing machine. By this time we were used to the weather, so we were happy to wait for favourable conditions before going anywhere. But we badly mistimed our sail from Kawau to Great Barrier Island, being hit ten miles out by a vicious sou-easter and the short seas which rapidly build up in the Gulf. So we turned, and spent another week in Kawau.
Great Barrier Island is as great a cruising ground as we expected, in our eyes strongly reminiscent of Broken Bay, but with a backdrop of mountains. We climbed the highest, Mount Hobson. New Zealand is a great place for walking, and as we puffed our way round the myriad trails in the North Island we could at least console ourselves that we were not decaying from underactivity.
And so back to the Bay of Islands, in an enchanting moonlit sail, for drying out and antifouling, provisioning for the next leg, and minor work on the boat. This last included extensions to our already cosy dodger, making it even more of an acrylic pilot house; we have noticed that the longer boats have been cruising, the better the shelter they provide for their watch-keepers!
The day after we anchored in the Bay of Islands, the wind whistled in the rigging as a 988mb depression passed through (the remains of cyclone Bertie). The nights were cool, and we realised our New Zealand summer was past – a summer which everyone there told us was exceptionally good, “one for the books” as a passing sailor called.
A warm wind came in from the south, the flying fish played chasing games with fast predators, the blue of the sky was interrupted only by the white puffy cumulus, and we knew that, for the first time since our New Caledonia trip five years before, we were truly in the tropics. In a few days we would be closing the barrier reef off south-west Fiji.
The pleasant conditions were a welcome relief from the heavy weather into which we had bashed close-hauled to leave New Zealand behind us, having cleared the port of Whangarei in early May. As the passage came to an end we drifted gently up Nandi Waters to Lautoka and anchored in black mud after a total of eight and a half days, a running average for the trip of 125 miles a day.
Lautoka is the main sugar port, lying on the west side of the big island of Viti Levu. When the crushing season started soon after our arrival the customary pall of black smoke hung over the anchorage, with appalling fallout. The sugar mill, which we visited, is archaic, even surreal in a pre-industrial revolution way. Immense steam engines were turning six-metre flywheels propelled by boilers fuelled with the fibres from the sugar cane, belching black smoke. It is a pleasant city, but with some relief we cruised out to the cleaner air of the many islands to the north and west.
With our holidaying daughter Anita aboard, we first explored several of the “resort” islands. Generally, these welcome yachts, or at worst ignore them. The best resort appeared to be Mana Island, with a pleasant lagoon entered through a very narrow, winding pass.
We found the facilities at Mana to be good, the staff friendly, and the skin diving off the fringing reef – which has a vertical drop-off visible for over a hundred feet – exceptional. The lagoon, however, is wide open to the south, and more sheltered anchorage can be found – the best in the entire western waters, for that matter – off another, smaller resort, Dick’s Place on Malolo-lailai Island. There are a couple of small shops here, and the good shelter from practically all winds makes it very popular with cruising yachts. The bay, entered through a tortuous mass of coral, is called “Musket Cove”. For a dollar a head we became life members of the Musket Cove Yacht Club, with all the facilities of Dick’s Place at our disposal.
Eric and Susan Hiscock, in their new Wanderer V, were among the many cruising people spending several weeks in this lovely spot. This charming and unassuming couple were having some trouble with their new yacht, including breaking their self-steering early on their planned voyage to Tahiti. Diverting to Fiji and suffering the same bad conditions as we had, they hand steered watch on and watch off for a week at sea, a prospect which brings shivers to any cruising spine! We had the pleasure of doing some work on their sails and boom during the weeks we were anchored close by them.
Anita having left us, we checked back at Lautoka for the relevant permissions, and sailed for the Yasawa Islands. Yachts have to check in and out of Customs at each major port and, in addition, to visit the outer islands permission is needed of the relevant District Commissioner, or, in the case of the Lau Group, the Prime Minister himself (these islands are his electorate).
The Yasawas are popular cruising country, but with several traps for the unwary. The only detailed “charts” are a set of plans drawn up by a New Zealand surveyor, Pickmere, and these made life a lot easier. The locally-produced chart, “Lautoka to the Yasawas”, is nowhere near detailed enough to plan anchorages or routes through the dense coral which extends for miles around. The chain of islands, an attractive green line of volcanic hills, lies roughly southwest to northeast; this means that moving north through the group, we were practically always sailing into the sun, which always makes piloting in coral difficult because the sunlight is reflected off the water and you can’t see through it. However, if we had stuck precisely to the book of words in the Yasawas, we would hardly have been able to move at all! So, we took extra special care and used a high conning position to keep us off the coral, which looks like flowers but feels like granite. The view from up in the spreaders is often absolutely gorgeous, with more shades of blue in the sea than you would ever see in a rainbow.
Anchorages in the Yasawas are, with one exception, pretty exposed, and in the windy weather which we had, we spent a lot of time chasing shelter. In calm, settled conditions the number of possible anchorages multiplies many times. The best protected bay is usually called the “Blue Lagoon”, because two films of that name have been made there. The catch is that every afternoon a cruise boat lies right next to the best yacht anchorage, disgorging its passengers for a night of entertainment aboard and ashore. Surprisingly, we soon got used to this, and the crews are usually happy to welcome yachties ashore to join in the fun and to share drinks with the tourists.
The most dramatic anchorage is near the north end of the group, off Sawa-I-Lau island, within which there are limestone caves with clear, deep water, eerily lit by small holes high in the rocks above.
In the Yasawas we became used to the Fiji villagers’ way of life, which includes being welcoming to yachts – especially solitary yachts – to an extent which can be troubling to say the least. Traditional customs here have to be followed. To anchor in a bay where there is a village, and certainly if we wanted to go ashore, permission had to be obtained from the chief of the village, and “sevu-sevu”, a ceremonial offering, presented. This is normally a bundle of yanggona root, a member of the pepper family, from which they make the drink kava. In the evening it is normal to be invited ashore to drink kava, and occasionally to share a meal. Kava itself looks and tastes like muddy water – it is a mild narcotic, and leaves a numb sensation on lips and tongue. It has no intoxicating effect that we or other westerners can discern, but the locals call the stuff “grog” and seem to psych themselves into being mildly intoxicated – sleepy, anyway. Taking alcohol into the villages is very much frowned upon, and there is no question that they are a lot better off on kava! Sadly some of the villagers do see yachts as providers, and we and others were asked to give them various products from paint to (in our case) pills! We kept some paper pads and felt pans for the kids, which seemed to go down quite well, as frankly we weren’t carrying enough supplies to dole them out to the natives, even if we could afford to.
Our route then took us round the south of Viti Levu, where we called in at some mainland anchorages and visited the islands of Yanuca and Beqa. The latter is rather grand, beautiful in a sinister way, where we lay for days in a totally deserted bay which deeply indents the east coast. It is the home of the traditional fire-walking ceremony in Fiji.
From Beqa to Suva we had our roughest, wettest sail in Fijian waters. Actually, the sailing was not all that great in Fiji; the trades blew ferociously, and when they eased every 10 days or so, dozens of cruising yachts would motor out into the calm to their next anchorages as quickly as possible, rationalising (as we did) that the batteries needed charging anyway.
The Royal Suva Yacht Club gives the visitor a good welcome, and charges $10 a week for use of all facilities. The Sunday night barbeque is a popular party for all the cruisers. The other Suva anchorage is off the well-known Tradewinds Hotel, much prettier and more sheltered than the club, but further out of town. Still, the hotel lays on a free bus to Suva twice a day, the local bus is cheap anyway, and the nearby town of Lami provides excellent shopping for everyday needs. But Suva is at the windward, wet end of Viti Levu, and it never seemed to stop raining when we were there, which dampened our enthusiasm for this really very pleasant south seas city. So, after a couple of weeks listening to yachties on the radio saying how delightful it was in Tonga, we decided to get on our way again.
Contrasts : Tonga and Samoa
We finally left Suva on a calm, humid day in early September 1982, but were soon overtaken by an unforecast tropical depression which brought driving rain and heavy seas. It also wrote off any plans for visiting one of the Lau group of islands, as these are to be avoided absolutely in conditions of poor visibility; yachts are lost every year somewhere in the group. But as the depression moved through it did at least give us favourable, albeit strong, sou-westers for a fast run to the Vava’u group of islands in northern Tonga.
Cook called Tonga “The Friendly Isles” after having been invited to a feast. What he hadn’t realised was that he was to have been the main course, but his self-confident bearing quashed the natives’ plans and converted his status to that of honoured guest. Whatever their history, the Polynesian people of Tonga now are really among the most charming people you could ever hope to meet, with an approach which is quite different from the more “aggressive” friendliness of the Melanesians of Fiji.
Much has been written about the beauty of the Vava’u group and the main town and harbour of Neiafu, but up to a couple of years ago few yachts went there because of absurd restrictions on movement within the group. This policy was changed abruptly, after a survey showed just how much the yacht visitors were spending, particularly at grass-roots level in the market and villages. Cruising people are now assured of a good welcome and full freedom of movement.
The severe cyclone of March 1982 was a set-back, not only to the islanders’ plantations but also to their plans to attract yachts to the area. There were fewer yachts through Neiafu in 1982 than in 1981. Nevertheless, if we had wanted to stay in the south-west Pacific during the cyclone season we would have chosen Neiafu over Pago Pago, currently the more popular choice. The holding ground in Neiafu Harbour is mostly poor and rocky, but there are other places nearby where protection is as good and the holding better.
Cruising among the Vava’u islands approaches perfection. It is a close-packed group, of volcanic origin, so that most anchorages are virtually land-locked and the sailing is in brisk trade winds but without the usual accompanying swell. The turquoise water is clear and the reefs well-defined and easy to see. Fish are abundant and non-poisonous, but mostly pretty small. We thought that the coral was not “pretty” by tropical standards – the recent cyclone had battered much of the life out of much of it, and in addition we saw several crown of thorns starfish.
Sheltered anchorages are within half a day’s sail of each other, and offer shell-collecting possibilities which are unsurpassed (although threatened by the more rapacious collectors for whom quantity is more important than quality – Norma, among other serious collectors, wouldn’t tell other than trusted friends where the best shells were). We particularly remember one of the most intriguing anchorages in the whole Pacific. This is actually within the high ring of a volcano, Hunga, through which the sea (and a spot of dynamite) has blasted a narrow passage between steep cliffs.
The economy runs at a subsistence level, and yachts are constantly visited by locals bearing market produce and excellent handicrafts in small outrigger dugout canoes. The basketwork is so good, and so cheap, that we bought dozens of examples of this craft for gifts and our own small collection of souvenirs.
Among the Polynesian’s pastimes, along with singing, dancing and church-going, is feasting. This can be enjoyed by the visitor at several levels. The commonest way is to join one of the regular Friday evening feasts which alternate at two popular beaches, costing $6 a head for more than you can eat: variations on lobster, pork, octopus, clams, taro, banana, pineapple, pawpaw, mostly cooked in the “umu” or under-ground oven, and served on the ground on long trays woven from coconut fronds. These affairs were originally started for the half-dozen charter yachts, but the charter operation was pretty dormant when we were there and the feasts are now laid on for any and all of the cruising yachts.
It is possible to arrange private feasts at a nominal (even lower) charge, and a group of us did so on an uninhabited “day-stop” island. The group of villagers who laid it on came with us on the four yachts, bringing a suckling pig (live, in a sack) which ended up in the umu along with several other delicacies, including fish speared in the morning.
At the most personal level, it was common experience among the cruising sailors who took the trouble to get to know the islanders well that they will ask you to their homes for meals which, in our case, varied from sumptuous to simple but were never less than hugely enjoyable.
Invitations to a church service are greeted by raised eyebrows among most yachties, but should be accepted in Tonga as one of the world’s great experiences. We found that the singing was spectacular (and very loud!), with every one in the congregation contributing to the harmony; the elders of the church are regularly moved to tears. They take religion seriously in Tonga, and a notice at the hotel wharf in Neiafu reminds visiting yachts that parties, and even activities such as swimming, are forbidden on Sundays.
We were two months in the Vava’u group and would go back like a shot. But we had to get moving as the cyclone season approached, and in late October sailed north for Pago Pago, on Tutuila Island in American Samoa. We had originally planned to continue east from Tonga, trade winds notwithstanding, and spend the cyclone season (around December/April) in French Polynesia. However, we were longer in the Vava’u group than anticipated, the long beat into the trades was uninviting, and there were several interesting islands in the central Pacific we could visit if we chose a more direct route to Hawaii. Further, however far east we went, we had decided to return to Australia westabout so that we could take in French Polynesia at our leisure some time in the future. In retrospect, this was a lucky decision; six cyclones hit French Polynesia during the season of 1982/83, after decades free of these destructive storms. We feel our guiding star was very good to us on this occasion.
The weather in Tonga had been gorgeous, and we left Neiafu in a spanking “reinforced” sou-easterly trade, but it soon clouded over and reverted to what we had come (resignedly) to accept as standard passage-making conditions: rough, overcast and wet. The waters around Samoa, we discovered, are notoriously rough, and several yachts entered Pago in a highly bedraggled state.
An unforgettable experience approaching Pago, in what had become by that time a howling easterly (number three headsail and two reefs) was for us to see a Korean fishing vessel drift across our bows, engine apparently out of action, and smash on to the reef at the entrance to the harbour. We watched helplessly as the ship’s boats were launched and flares burnt, but it was all too late. Our call for assistance on Channel 16 VHF was unanswered, it being Sunday, but the reef is only a stone’s thrown from the coast road and one of the doomwatchers must have raised the alarm. A tug eventually went out and towed the stricken vessel back into the harbour, but she finally sank just across the bay from where by that time we were anchored. Finally, only the bow portion remained, sticking forlornly out of the water at 45 degrees.
We supposed that people get used to Pago, and indeed we were there for over a month, but we would have hated to spend the whole four months or so of the cyclone season in the harbour, as several yachts were doing. The local culture is an uneasy mix of Polynesian and American, with the less attractive features of each tending to dominate the people’s approach to life. It is a US trust territory, and millions of dollars of American aid have fattened the bureaucracy and raised the expectations of the local people to an entirely unrealistic level. The inevitable crunch will be uncomfortable, as the locals have forgotten how to subsist. We thought that the market was poor, with much “fresh” produce imported from New Zealand or the States. Unlike Tonga it was impossible to buy local fresh meat, fish or eggs – all are imported frozen. Even coconut milk, of all things, comes in tins from Fiji! Big cars such as Lincoln Continentals and Chevrolet Camaros compete with customised utilities for space on the few miles of narrow roads. Because the multitudinous pigs which roam everywhere else in the south Pacific (and eat rotting fruit where it falls) seem to be regarded as un-American in Pago, fruit flies abound and make most local fruit inedible.
Still, Tutuila itself is a very beautiful, lush, high island, and we undertook some good walks over to the attractive northern bays. There is a splendid, cheap, stop-anywhere bus service. Liquor is cheap, being free of duty, so we stocked up for several months. The main reason we were there at all was that there is good communication and postal connection with the States, from where we had ordered a satellite navigation system, but various logistic difficulties delayed this transaction for a few weeks, so we had to wait while Samoan soft coral grew on the bottom of the boat. Cruising elsewhere around Tutuila is frowned upon, and the few anchorages are open roadsteads anyway; if we had known we were to be there so long we would have spent some time in Apia, Western Samoa, which is very well spoken of.
Finally, however, the satnav at last arrived and was installed. For the seven years for which we have been sailing Cera we have relied on traditional methods of navigation, including use of the sextant for measurement of celestial bodies during blue-water passages. There has been no realistic alternative. However, the US Navy has recently launched a set of satellites which, with the aid of a receiver, enables accurate position-finding at intervals of one to six hours. This will be a huge advance on navigation by celestial bodies alone, which even in the best of conditions (which are rarely experienced at sea!) is only accurate to a mile or two. But we will continue to use celestial navigation as well, as electronics have a habit of failing on ocean-going yachts.
So, after having been assured by the satnav several times that we were indeed still at anchor in Pago Pago, we sailed for the unsurpassable peace and solitude of Suwarrow atoll, in the remote northern Cooks.
To the Central Pacific and Suwarrow Island
To sail into the lagoon at Suwarrow (previously known as Suvarov) atoll is the special dream of cruising sailors around the world. No other uninhabited island in the Pacific has the same combination of unspoilt solitude, beauty and safe anchorage, merits which have been eloquently described by the last of the island’s hermits, Tom Neale, in his book “An Island to Oneself”.
So it was with extra anticipation that we left the noise and bustle of Pago Pago for what turned out to be a pleasant 450-mile close reach to this remote atoll, first sighting it in the pale light of the tropical dawn. Suwarrow is a large atoll, about five miles across, mostly just a ring of coral reef but with a scattering of small islands on the perimeter like beads on a necklace. The one pass through the reef is adjacent to Anchorage Island, where Neale lived until taken off, dying, in 1977. Some shelter from the prevailing south-east Trade can be found in the angle between this island and the reef, which breaks up the ocean swell with a thunderous roar. A sharp weather eye is needed; nearly every year a few yachts get into trouble or are lost at this anchorage, where gales from north or south can blast through with destructive force. Arriving on December 17 we were well into the cyclone season, and as Suwarrow lies near the edge of the danger area we listened carefully to the detailed weather broadcasts from Hawaii at least twice a day.
Naturally, in view of this edginess, we had perfect weather for the first week of our stay! To add to the joy, we had the place absolutely to ourselves for this time, which is not so easy these days; according to the visitors’ book kept at Neale’s old shack we were the 74th vessel to call during 1982, and in the peak season of May-September there were up to eight or nine yachts in the anchorage at one time.
Thus in our solitude we played happy Robinson Crusoes, meandering on the reef, bird watching, swimming, snorkelling and fishing. The large number of black-tipped reef sharks do prevent some of these activities from being completely free of care, and although the creatures are supposedly harmless they are very curious, territorial, and swim in exceedingly shallow water. Norma nearly trod on one when stepping from the dinghy at the reef edge; one as frightened as the other, she and the shark leapt for safety, with the shark in its terror nearly joining Norma in the dink.
Neale’s little shack and outhouses still stand, with visiting yachties doing their bit to clear the paths and gardens. Though not the originals, a cat and several chickens roam free; shy at first, they all soon learnt to meet Norma at the beach as she came ashore to feed them, and trotted with her in convoy to the deserted settlement.
Two other yachts joined us soon after Christmas, bringing with them some cloudy and less settled weather. But the Trades soon returned, and on New Year’s Eve we sailed north-east for Penrhyn, like Suwarrow one of the wide-flung Northern Cook Islands.
The south-east wind backed through north to west during the passage, generally light airs with a few rain squalls, so we had to work quite hard to keep the boat moving and were pleased to see the tops of the coconut palms appear over the horizon on the afternoon of the fourth day. We shot in with the tide through the narrow pass rather late in the day for safe “eyeball” navigation in coral, but the chart indicated a line of beacons leading to the anchorage off the village of Omoka. Beacons there were, yes; but the last one before the anchorage was the wrong colour and thump – at low speed, fortunately, we had hit a coral head for the first time ever. A later check showed superficial damage only, and we were soon safely anchored. Within minutes we were boarded by a pair of smiling young officials, one of whom was busting to get off fishing rather than spend much time with us, and I dealt with them while Norma dealt in vocal manner with the hoards of children who were clambering on the boat fore and aft. (The offending beacon was changed two days later; “we thought it might be wrong” a villager told me.)
Penrhyn was a weird place in many ways, housing a very remote group of people with a very sharp idea of the value of money – the only atoll we knew (then) which charged a fee to anchor in the lagoon.
Penrhyn had recently become a port of entry for the Cooks, and we were only the thirteenth yacht to be “legally” entered; previously, visiting yachts were unceremoniously kicked out after two or three days. But we could stay as long as we liked, within reason, and as the seven-mile diameter atoll forms an almost complete ring of land and lies outside the cyclone belt, we were happy to settle down and relax. We had for company an American single-hander, already there when we arrived, and the two yachts which were with us at Suwarrow also joined us later at Penrhyn. Never before, apparently, had there been so many yachts at one time at the island.
The island is named after the “Lady Penrhyn”, which sailed past on her way up to the China Sea after carrying convicts to Port Jackson as one of the “First Fleet”. We prefer the older name, Tongareva, but can hardly cavil at the Sydney connection in its newer one! The islanders make a living from copra, tuna fishing and, more famously, from pearl diving. Penrhyn pearl comes in the form of large flat shells – “mother of pearl” – as well as in the form of beads. These natural pearls may be white, grey, pink or black and grow within shellfish which look more like little clams than oysters. We had been warned by a gem expert in Tonga not to expect bargains in Penrhyn pearls, and this was good advice; we were given a few pretty but misshapen pearls, but for good examples the Australian and American wholesale buyers were paying $100 a carat, way out of our range!
Pearl shells are gathered by free diving, and the divers are rightly famed for their prowess. Because of the need for adults to swim like fish, the kids spend all their free time in the water, which is surprisingly unusual in the Pacific. Incessantly running, jumping and diving from the village wharf, the children did become a pest swimming around and climbing on to the yachts, until some cross words, emphasised by their elders ashore, restored amicable relations all round.
Sadly, we found that by decree of the island council we could not move our yachts to any other anchorage in the large and easily navigated lagoon. The reason: pillaging of the pearl beds by a couple of unscrupulous yachts with scuba gear a year or so before. Although disappointed, we could only sympathise with the islanders’ urge to protect their income. So, again, we walked, fished (exceptionally easy – fish to order within 10-20 minutes!) and took the dinghy to nearby motus for more of the same.
We also went fishing with the islanders, who have retained the traditional ways. In the method we liked most, the fisherman dives while holding the hook and trace in one hand, trailing a line from the boat. In his mouth he has chewed-up coconut or raw bait fish, which he spits out when he sees a promising shoal. As the fish then investigate he hand-feeds his chosen prey, which is then quickly hauled into the boat to beat the ever-present sharks! These sharks – especially outside the lagoon, but inside too – follow all this with great interest and take great lumps out of anything you catch unless you are very quick getting it in.
The sharks somewhat dampened my new found interest in spear-fishing, as although you can snorkel for quite a long time without a shark, as soon as you take a gun, one appears out of the shadows and starts circling. The vast majority were black tipped “reef” sharks, about four feet long, which the natives assured us were harmless, but there were white-tipped black sharks also in the lagoon, which they treat very warily.
After a week the wind came in firmly from the west, which “never” happens in this part of the world according to the pilot charts and sailing directions. But the islanders were not surprised, and said it could continue for months! We were well sheltered by the low-lying land and high coconut palms, and while it rained we enjoyed the company of the friendly islanders, past whose homes it was difficult to walk without being invited in for a visit.
We had arrived in the first week in January, which is the height of the “festive season”. The influence of the missionaries is still very strong, and the festivities are all centred on the vigorous singing of “hymns”, Polynesian songs using Biblical tests for words. The Cook islanders are famous for this, and we were lucky to be there the Monday after the first weekend of the year, the biggest singing day of all, signifying the end of the Christmas/New Year holiday. The village splits into two teams, and from six to midnight these groups vied with each other, singing their hearts out non-stop in the inimitable close harmony of the Cook Islands, alternating from one team to another. We went regularly to church, and were also invited to the big annual “uapo” or religious songfest, at which the groups alternate with songs of ear-splitting intensity and often great beauty in true island style. We counted ourselves especially lucky to have been there at this time.
The mail only went out on the occasional plane or boat to Rarotonga, normally at about two-monthly intervals. The airstrip is crushed coral but long, and was put down by the US in WW2. The Americans used the place as a staging post for aircraft and men, and the remains of a Liberator are still to be found around the village. One of the older locals, a retired policeman, told us that the generator failed when the Lib was past the point of no return, blacking out the airstrip – he organised a rapid line-up of villagers with torches, but most of them went out too early and the aircraft overshot to port, landing in the coconuts. Nobody was hurt, but the base Commanding Officer was court marshalled for letting the lights go out.
This was the last incident of real importance to Penrhyn! It is a truly sleepy place, where the islanders live on fish and coconuts and dream of a trip to New Zealand, where they can work or go on the dole (they have citizenship rights there) and send the money back home. Several of the children here are living with their grandparents while this goes on.
The west wind effectively shut off the narrow but deep entrance to the lagoon on the west side of the atoll, through which we had entered. The Admiralty Sailing Directions and the US “Pilot Charts”, summarizing statistics from decades of observations, agreed that at that time of the year westerlies were virtually unknown – fewer than 2% of observations. Yet it continued to blow and blow. We were finally forced to grope out through a little-used pass on the east side of the atoll, which is normally blocked by breaking water piled up by the “prevailing” easterlies. The pass is unmarked and riddled with coral heads. It therefore gave us some anxious moments as we conned our way out through a steep swell, with me shouting directions to Norma while perched high in the spreaders and clutching the mast as the yacht rolled from side to side.
Our course from Penrhyn was north, to Christmas Island, where we looked forward to exploring its considerable land mass while “Cera” lay secure in what the chart and sailing directions showed as a sheltered inner anchorage, to be reached through a shallow but passable channel. Strong, squally westerlies helped us to a 6-knot average for the first few days, as we sailed into the “inter-tropical convergence zone”, called the “Doldrums” in calmer locations. This is where the climatic conditions of the northern and southern hemispheres meet.
For us, the “ITCZ” represented a 300-mile belt of foul weather, of incredibly forbidding aspect: layer upon layer of cumulus of every conceivable shape and shade, and shifting and quite strong winds punctuated by black rain squalls with gusts of great ferocity. These latter were more common at night, when they were impossible to see coming – the first we would know of them would be the sound of driving rain on deck as the boat heeled, then drove off in a torrent of water in the wrong direction. Leaping into the cockpit we would have to run off before the short-lived gale (anything between 20 minutes and 10 hours) as we fought to reduce sail in the carbon-black, wet night. That’s how we crossed the equator, just before midnight as January became February, 1982. At the longitude we crossed, there is no Doldrum belt in the sense of a band of windless weather – the Doldrums are found at the eastern and western zones of the central Pacific, rather than in the middle. Celestial navigation became next to impossible, and we blessed our new satnav as it faultlessly helped us plot a straight 700-mile path through these troubled waters, giving instant feedback on the fast, west-running equatorial current.
During this hard-working passage, Norma suffered rather from sea sickness, and for one night I had a recurrence of the extremely painful renal colic which had hit me in New Zealand, so it was with some relief that we closed on Christmas Island.
The conditions we faced during this passage were being spawned by one of nature’s most malignant children, El Nino. The world would later learn that the 1982-83 El Nino caused countless millions of dollars-worth of damage; the trade winds stopped, ocean currents reversed as warm water swilled from the western Pacific to the east, tropical storms raked French Polynesia and violent seas destroyed parts of the north American west coast. And although we could know none of all this at the time, we were soon to experience at first hand just how much El Nino could change a tiny atoll in the central Pacific, and thus give us perhaps the worst few days of our voyage that far.
It had been a rotten passage from the start, as I have just recounted. So we hungered for landfall and a safe haven, which we expected to find at Christmas Island, one of the Line Island group just north of the equator and now part of the Republic of Kiribati. We knew that good friends of ours had been there a couple of months before, and had found good protection adjoining the main settlement, in the deep anchorage shown in our chart and reached from the outer lagoon through a seven-foot deep channel. This would be just passable for our draft, we hoped.
Six days and 660 miles out of Penrhyn, we approached Christmas Island with even more than our usual caution. The Pacific Ocean chart has “low and dangerous” printed under its name; the chart of the island itself warns of two-knot west-going currents, suggests that the Bay of Wrecks on its eastern shore is “very dangerous”, and records the position of several sunken vessels scattered round the reef. And as further signal reminders to take care, two recently-wrecked yachts lay high, dry and clearly visible on our approach to the fringing reef. One was a ketch we had visited in New Zealand, and the other was a supersonic-looking racing catamaran. On final approach the towering clouds cleared as we closed the coral on the west side of the island, and the wide pass through it was made only slightly awkward by a steep westerly swell.
Christmas Island is the largest island of purely coral formation in the world, partially enclosing in its northern part a large but mostly very shallow lagoon. Just inside the lagoon we handed sails and made ready to anchor, before venturing further and searching for the channel into the anchorage off the village called London. We could see none of the channel markers shown on the detailed Admiralty chart of Christmas Island, but there was nothing strange or unusual about that; few islanders in remote Pacific atolls bother to maintain markers set by their colonial forebears. To our dismay, we found the waters of the lagoon to be as opaque as milk; there could be no conning by eye. So we were relieved to see a little inflatable skimming out towards us. “Great, we exclaimed; “someone’s coming to show us the way in”.
The little boat zoomed alongside. “How much do you draw?” yelled its European driver. “Two metres”, we replied. “Sorry, there’s no way you can get through the channel. It’s been silted in by these westerlies; a whole sand island beside it has just disappeared!”
Norma and I exchanged miserable glances. Oh, no. We were tired, and now frustrated. Would we have to go straight back to sea?
“I can show you a place to anchor further in, just at the end of the channel, if you like?” “Great. Come aboard and guide us. Thanks a lot”. This alternative would mean we were still a long way from shore, but far closer than we were now, and maybe out of the worst of the swell. In we groped and on the way our guide showed us where the channel had been, as a Gilbertese canoe glided out.
Our guide introduced himself as Rieb, from Holland. He had been skipper of the wrecked catamaran, “Stratosphere”. With owner and crew aboard, the cat had lost both centreboards and rudders on passage from Panama; out of food and water, they had finally been driven over the reef ashore on Christmas Island. Rieb had stayed with the boat, with the intention that he should repair and, if possible, refloat her.
The depth sounder was looking gloomy, but did the water look a shade deeper ahead? Abrupt stop. Aground. Again, oh no. At near low tide in the middle of the afternoon we were in no real danger, but the swell was bumping us up and down on the hard coral bottom. Not for the first time we were glad we had an exceptionally strong vessel, designed by a naval architect who is also a professor of engineering. Rieb took our anchor out in his inflatable, and we winched the chain taut in an attempt to pull us free; but to no avail. There was more we would have to do, as we could not allow this pounding on the bottom to continue. “Thanks a lot for your help, Rieb. But we would really prefer to sort this lot out by ourselves now”.
“OK. But I’m sorry I got you into this. Is there anything I can do or get for you ashore”? “A loaf of bread?”, we repied. It had not been a passage which was conducive to bread-baking. “I’ll see what I can do, and I’ll be back later. Hope you get off OK”.
Just as Rieb was leaving, a launch pulled alongside, disgorging two officials, Customs and Police, complete with pads and forms. Our hands were full enough already, but just as I was considering how to ask them politely to get lost, Cera was lifted by a swell and smashed down on the bottom with a tooth-jarring wallop. White eyes in black faces widened. “Is it safe?”
“No, it isn’t”, I replied, “We’re aground. We have to get off. We may not stay at all. Can we come and see you tomorrow, if we stay?” In relieved agreement, the officials left us back to our own devices.
And so to the next step, rowing out a larger supplementary Danforth anchor and taking its line to the masthead via a snatch block on the spinnaker halyard. Taking the line to one of our big headsail winches we were able to heel our stiff sloop over and drag her sideways off the shoal into marginally deeper water. At last, at 1700, we were lying to anchor, in a rather exposed position we thought, but peaceful for the time being and good enough for the night. After a couple of rums and one of Norma’s last remaining bottles of meat for dinner, and although Rieb hadn’t brought our bread, we gratefully turned in.
The next day dawned wet, with a stiff breeze from the NNE causing a sloppy sea in the expanse of the lagoon, which is wide open to ocean swells entering from the west. It was time to be off and away out of it. But as we were considering tactics, out from the tiny settlement of London zoomed another runabout, this time carrying a couple of Australian soldiers.
They told us they were on the island as part of a small international aid scheme, aimed at helping the islanders clear up and salvage the incredible mass of junk, ranging from warehouses through cranes and bulldozers to jeeps, left by the Americans and British who had conducted atom bomb tests in the vicinity many years before. When the military pulled out they just dumped all their stuff – storage sheds, earthmoving equipment, trucks, generators, cranes – where it lay, leaving it to rust into the junk it now is. After years of squabbling, the Line Islands (Christmas, Washington and Fanning) are now definitely part of the nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas, previously the Gilberts). The capital, Tarawa, which is some 2000 miles away to the west, plans to clean up the mess, sell the scrap and develop the island. But the works were slow-moving. Even nature is giving up; a recognised bird sanctuary, for years Christmas Island has been a noted nesting place for terns, millions of them – but over the last year they have nearly all gone, why and to where nobody knows.
The two Australians knew Rieb, of course. The previous day he had told them I was a doctor. And thus they came to the bad news. He had been injured the previous night. Could I come in and see him? There was no doctor on the island. So, aborting plans to set sail, we again launched the dinghy and took the long ride to the settlement.
Rieb was badly knocked about. Our request that he find us some bread had been hard to fulfil, as the island has no baker, just a little store with limited provisions. However, he had managed to wheedle a loaf out of the back door of the cement-block fishermen’s lodgings, and was rushing back to the waterfront on his motorbike so that he could bring us our bread before dark. Which is when, and why, he skidded and crashed heavily on the crushed coral of the road surface.
Despite the attentions of the island nurse his numerous abrasions were already beginning to fester in the damp equatorial heat; so, what with dealing with him, and advising the island administrator that he should be flown out for X-rays and hospital treatment as soon as possible, it was nearly dark before we got back to the boat and, once again, too late to leave. The wind had veered to the southwest, it was raining, and heavy black clouds to the west were the last we could see of the sky before we were enveloped by the black of what was to be a busy night.
We had set two anchors as a precaution, although our favourite Australian-made plough anchor was holding well, as usual. But the wind continued to veer and strengthen, and through the pitching and tossing we soon discovered a jarring regular input, indicating that the anchor chain was snagged on a coral head that was, from the feel of it, very close to the boat in ten feet of water. Our rope line to the chain, set to relieve the snatching loads as the bow buried and reared, carried away. We dared not allow much more scope, for fear of coral heads behind us in the shallow water. We would have to try to unsnag ourselves.
So we fired up the yacht’s trusty Perkins diesel and motored round where we thought the coral head must be, deducing the direction of the tangle from the way we had swung. We could see nothing whatsoever beyond the boat; no shore lights, just pitch black, so we kept directional sense by way of the compass. To our vast relief, on the second try we unwound ourselves with a bang and the chain settled into its customary, soothing catenary.
Soon after the welcome dawn we recovered our now misshapen Danforth and undamaged plough, and with few regrets at leaving so soon, cleared the pass out of Christmas Island. It had been a terrible time in many ways, but we had learnt a lot about the use of ground tackle in poor anchorages and in a short time we would be in gorgeous Fanning Island where, it turned out, we were to enjoy three weeks of idyllic conditions.
Fanning, like Christmas, is one of the Line Group of islands, which form a district of what is now the Republic of Kiribati. The capital, Tarawa, is in the Gilberts some 2000 miles to the west. Fanning was until recently owned and operated solely as a copra plantation by a branch of Burns Philp, but it has just been bought back by Kiribati and is newly a port of entry.
Kiribati had taken back the lease from BP shortly before, and the future was uncertain. The recent change in administration has brought some unease, as no-one (including the plantation manager) was at all clear who was going to be paid, by whom, or when. Work on the plantation had stopped, and the BP supply ship, which normally brought “dry” stores (flour, sugar, tins etc) and transported the people was no longer expected to come.
But the people seemed happy enough, as well they might in what has turned out to be the nicest inhabited island we had visited – the fishing was easy (when lazy, I could shoot fish with the spear-gun from the deck of the boat!), coconuts and other fruit and vegetables were plentiful (breadfruit which makes good chips, pumpkin, taro, etc). It is a pretty, bean-shaped atoll about four miles across, with a deep, fast-flowing pass just to the north of the main settlement. There are no permanent residents, the plantation labourers and their families being detached there from the Gilberts for pre-arranged periods. The people seemed happy in their idyllic surroundings, where excellent fish abound and the soil (very lush for an atoll) grows ample taro, squash and breadfruit.
An oceanographic research team from the University of Hawaii had a 70-foot steel schooner on charter there, and the team was occupying an astonishing group of well-preserved, grand old colonial buildings which once housed the staff of the only relay station for the first cable to be laid across the Pacific. Now sadly neglected and overgrown, having been deserted when the cable was superseded some 20 years ago, the buildings – with an adjoining tennis court, swimming pool, messes, workshops and so on – are a mute reminder of the age when however remote the area, the European settlers would work to make it a little piece of home.
The anchorage off the plantation settlement was uncomfortable in the tidal streams, and we soon moved across the pass to join two other yachts in a calmer backwater, cooled by the north-east Trades, where we could at last fully relax after what had been a fraught fortnight!
The Gilbertese are a shyly friendly people, and we enjoyed their company at a wedding party, where the gloomy-looking couple (tears are in order at such occasions) were entertained by island dancers, singing and speeches. We had to contribute by way of an address, with the police/immigration officer translating. (We had become friends, because I had treated his infected leg when he “cleared us in”, and had advised on the rather hopeless treatment of an infant with osteomyelitis). There was a splendid feast of spit-roast pig, various stews and island vegetables, complete with their special favourite, tins of Camp Pie!
We thought that Fanning was a near-perfect atoll, but it was our last for some time, as we decided to skip the westerly detour to Palmyra on our way to Hawaii. After all that ocean, and living the simple life par excellence for so long, we were looking forward to a new contrast of the sort which makes such a joy of cruising: this time to the bright lights, big shops, restaurants and general bustle of the modern world which, at Fanning Island, seemed so far away.
North to Hawaii
The tidal stream runs very strongly out of the pass at Fanning, and we shot through like a bullet into the rather alarming overfalls outside, where the trade wind was continuing to blow at the 18-20 knots from the NNE – exactly where we wanted to go – which it had held for several days already. Resigned as we were to yet another windward passage, we were pleased that the trade did veer a little as we sailed along, and the 1,050 miles turned out to be a pleasant and uneventful trip, albeit hard on the wind on starboard tack the whole way. We reflected that it would have been paradise going the other way! On our eighth day at sea we drifted into the waters off Waikiki, Honolulu, sharing a gorgeous sunset with scores of tourists out on massive charter catamarans with itsy-bitsy sails.
It was Saturday, and Customs would not clear us until Monday, so through Sunday we lay tied to Ala Wai marina’s loading dock, which is hard by the roadside in the shade of the Ilikai and Hilton hotels. We were kept busy chatting to local people and visitors interested in our voyage, and enjoyed the luxury of lunching on fresh ham, lettuce, and a glass of wine!
Finally cleared by Customs and Agriculture authorities on Monday, we were then free to move to the Hawaii Yacht Club, where all visiting yachts could tie up bow-to for a maximum of two weeks – nominally “free” berthing, but there was a $50 “facilities fee”! After that two weeks it was usually possible to arrange a transient berth in the State-run marina, but for four weeks only – after that, out! We took three of those weeks, a further expense (as we bemoaned our newly devalued Australian dollar), but we were willing to pay for the great convenience of a splendid location between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, a few minutes from the Ala Moana shopping centre, with water and electricity laid on and our bicycles parked on the floating dock alongside. So, we turned again from yachtspeople into tourists, enjoying the sights of the city, the shops, the restaurants, the concert hall and the movies. We hiked in the hills, and in a borrowed car drove round the island. We visited the Bishop Museum, which is world famous for its Polynesian collection, as well as “old” Honolulu with the Iolani Palace, library, and preserved missionary settlement and church – all very fascinating and beautifully laid out. The zoo and aquarium are also attractively presented, with good collections of animals and fish. There is so much to see and do in Honolulu, we found it positively overwhelming. We had been there before, for a few days on a jet stopover, and this experience was good example of how much better one can come to know a place when pressures of time are eased.
Waikiki is of course the tourist centre, and is where most of the money is generated. It seemed to us that only a tiny proportion of tourists strayed from the beach, shops and restaurants there. It is as though the locals have invisibly walled off this section of the city, to the apparent satisfaction of all; we preferred that section of Honolulu outside the Waikiki enclave! We had re-read Mitchener’s “Hawaii” at Fanning, but even after this reminder, the oriental influence came as a surprise. Our favourite (the cheapest!) supermarket had a heavily Japanese influence, with an incredible array of oriental foodstuffs, what we thought was the most attractive department store is part of a Tokyo chain. We had some superb Chinese and Japanese meals.
After five weeks of this activity we motored out of Ala Wai to Keehi Lagoon, where we slipped (”hauled out”, as they say there) at the big Amfac yard to clean and antifoul the bottom and epoxy the dings on the keel. This is always an unpleasant business, of course, and was made doubly so by our close proximity to sandblasting operations on a huge steel schooner. So we wasted no time, and after only one night out we were back in the water – one of the quickest turnarounds the yard manager could remember!
Keehi Lagoon is the only place in Honolulu it is possible to anchor out, and is thus popular with cruising yachts out of time at Ala Wai and out of money for an expensive commercial berth elsewhere. We were happy to be among some friends also waiting to make the passage to the Pacific Northwest, and to swing once more at anchor. Keehi Lagoon, originally dredged from sand flats to make a seaplane landing area, is actually quite a good anchorage, but a substantial way out of town. The most convenient way to get to the nearest supermarket is to take the “scenic” route by dinghy, across a corner of the main shipping harbour then up a smelly drainage canal which runs right by the shopping centre car park – very glamorous, this cruising! Keehi is also very close to the airport, so that we had to get used to jets booming overhead all day. We did a little work on the boat and fitted the latest gadget, a solar electric panel to help keep the batteries up – our little wind generator had finally disintegrated, and we planned to build a decent wind/water generator once we got to the States.
After hours pouring over Pilot Charts and Sailing Directions we concluded that the earliest practicable period for the passage to British Columbia was during the month of May, by which time the worst of the immense, ferocious north Pacific winter storms have usually retreated to the north and west. The weather is likely to be better in June, and most of the Americans and Canadians sailing home were leaving the trip till then, but we were keen to get as much time out of the short Canadian summer as we could. So, on 6 May 1983, the second time in succession we had braved the fates by starting a passage on a Friday, we sailed out of Keehi for the open sea again.
Apart from those angry north Pacific depressions (which we hoped would be up Alaska way by then) and their associated fronts, the main influence on this long passage is the north Pacific high pressure centre, which in May is usually about 1000 miles to the north-east of Hawaii. The recommended route is to sail north or even west of north from Hawaii, round the top of the high; a more direct route carries the risk of extensive calms, then headwinds latterly. But the high is not a fixed object, it varies in position and intensity, so we therefore planned to sail as direct a route as possible yet hoping still to stay to the north and west of the high, the position of which can be plotted daily by listening to the excellent shortwave (SSB) weather broadcasts from the San Francisco Coastguard radio station. This strategy worked very well for a long way. After bashing our way through the awful, steep seas of the Kawai Channel between Oahu and Molokai we settled (yet again!) hard on the wind, and by 32 degrees N we were able to lay the great circle course to Cape Flattery, with the high to the east and ridging north/south. It got colder and colder – and colder! Socks and several sweaters stayed on the whole time, and Norma complained that the juice in her bottles of meat was going solid and that the tomatoes and bananas had stopped ripening.
But morale was high, especially as Norma’s seasickness (a recently-acquired affliction) had responded dramatically well to “Transderm”, a piece of sticky tape containing the active ingredient which is affixed behind the ear, and we made good time for a couple of weeks. Then it all went wrong! The high just followed us up, sticking to the east of us and not allowing us to get round its top, so that with 700 miles still to go we were headed by a cold persistent nor-easter, forcing us to sail north when, at latitude 44 degrees N, we had every right to expect westerlies.
A constant overcast set in, with dank, cold drizzle turning sometimes to fog. But at last we were able to tack and lay Cape Flattery on port tack, and as we closed the coast the wind backed to the north-west, the skies gradually cleared, and our spirits rose again.
We made Cape Flattery as the sun went down on 26 May, then motor sailed in a beautiful, calm night, lit by the full moon, through Juan de Fuca Straight. The Pilot books are very pessimistic about this seaway, what with its heavy shipping, fishing boats, fast tidal streams, overfalls, fog . . . so it was a bit of a relief to have such perfect conditions. We quickly cleared Customs at a special wharf at the entrance to Victoria’s inner harbour, placed there to cope with the huge influx of US yachts competing in the annual Swiftshore classic, which was to start, as we soon found out, the very next day! So we shared the inner harbour with some 200 of the 400-plus entries. As we had coincidentally arrived at the culmination of the Victoria Harbour Festival, hardly had we set the anchor were we entertained in gorgeous weather by aerobatic displays, choirs and bands on the harbourside, and even a grand firework show! What a welcome this lovely city is giving us to Canada, we thought, and what a climax to our long haul across the Pacific Ocean.
After the first several thousand miles of our voyaging our yacht had proved problem-free, we remained happy and well, and not yet broke; so, as we lay in this lovely city, planning our cruise of the cool but protected waters of British Columbia, we began to draft plans which should see us in the Atlantic in 1984, and relished our good fortune in being able to do so.