Mountains and Waterfalls and Reflections, oh my! FIORDLAND, Preservation Inlet

 

Heading across the Tasman Sea, the farthest South Allora’s ever been!
I took this pic of Marcus cozily sleeping off watch …
… and then he took this of me in the same state!
Arriving early (too early)!

 

Last Cove, Preservation Inlet

My first series of thoughts were about the precariousness of our situation, and how much we depend on our engine, despite being a sailboat. What in the world would Captain Cook do? We had arrived at the entrance to Preservation Inlet a couple of hours too early, despite our attempts to slow Allora down. No wind but a big southwest swell colliding with a northerly chop was making going slow under power uncomfortable, the mainsail slatting back and forth despite the preventer. We had already decided to edge up toward Dusky Sound (another twenty miles onward) and go in there instead as long as the forecast northerly held off. I’d barely turned Allora in that direction when the wind began building, directly on our nose, gusting up to 16 knots. No harm in poking a little further that way, to kill time. The Puysegur lighthouse flashed bright and high on our beam, a reminder of where in the world’s oceans we were. Puysegur hosts gale winds or stronger 300 days a year. The weather models showed the next gale arriving by afternoon, by which time we needed to be safely tied up at anchor. The first issue with the engine I noticed was that the display at the nav station was off. Weird, I thought. Then I noticed the gauges in the cockpit, shutting off  and popping back on. Very weird. Then the engine warning came on, beeping insistently. What the heck? Thinking mainly at this point of not waking Diana who’d had a very rough night already struggling to get to sleep for the first few hours of my watch, I quickly shut the engine down. Then as we slowed in the airless swell, I pushed the button to start it back up. It flashed and went off. I tried again, it stayed on long enough for me to get a couple slow, battery dead, rolls of the engine. I had been thinking it was time to replace this starter battery, in fact, I had just had a conversation with Willy on Pazzo about how you know when your starter battery is dead. I should have known better than to bring this up with him, since the last boat conversation I’d had with him was about our flawless autopilot, which literally failed the next day (the first time in six and half years). For a few panicked moments I couldn’t think about anything except the weather forecasts I’d been looking at that predicted wind on the nose if you tried to sail for Dusky and no wind at Puysegur until the arrival of the gale. I guess Captain Cook would just have had to sit there roll in the three meter swell and wait for however many hours it was going to be until the gale chased him in. I didn’t like the sound of that at all. I went below and switched the starter battery to combine with the house batteries and the engine started up. Phew! But the engine warning was still blaring CHCK ENGINE. Amazingly, Diana was still sound asleep, despite about the blaring warning lights, or me running up and down the companionway, starting and stopping the engine. Okay, I checked the oil. I checked the temperature. I checked the cooling system. I checked the transmission. All good. The engine sounded absolutely fine. I’d installed the display at the Nav because supposedly it might give me more information than just CHCK ENGINE… how about check battery, or check electrical system? I reluctantly woke up Diana to tell her about the situation. It definitely did not seem like a good idea to head toward Dusky, we agreed. I figured out how to make the engine warning beep a little bit quieter below and she tried to get back to sleep. I started a slow zig zag toward Puysegur lighthouse, chugging along at under 3 knots, keeping a wary eye on the churning cauldron of Balleny Breaks less than a mile northeast of us and slowly got used to the steady ringing of the engine warning. We motored up the stunning Preservation Inlet to Last Cove as I kicked myself for ignoring my instinct to replace that starter battery. I’d checked it and it seemed okay, but it would have been relatively cheap and easy to replace it, just in case, and not be in this situation. Our first anchorage in Fiordland. We’ve been working on how to set our anchor and lines, a sleepless night from the passage and an engine with a steady CHCK ENGINE still blaring did not make it easier. With a big blow coming we wanted to get it right. 300 feet of rode and two lines to shore. 

The weather models, all four that we download via satellite, predicted this narrow window for rounding the great cape on Stewart Island and sailing with an easterly breeze up to the notorious Puysegur before the wind switched northerly with forecast 50+ knot gusts. We put a lot of faith in them, and they were spot on. After a long nap, I started the project of dealing with the starter battery. My idea was to replace it with one of the house batteries. In the process, I had the thought to check the Duo Charger which regulates the battery charging from the engine’s alternators. The installation showed two fuses and as I pulled the wires to find the inline fuse, I noticed the one for the starter battery was a bit loose. I tightened it up, started the engine, and the charging voltage jumped up right to where it belonged. A loose wire. That was all. Three turns of a screw. ~MS

Dropping the Mainsail. Last time we’ll be sailing for quite awhile. Fiordland is either glassy calm or all out gales.
Oh so happy to be in Fiordland!!

The new GEEK garb, protected (hopefully) from sandflies and the chilly temps!

We started to learn about seeing in this new dimension of the reflection!
Totem

The tides can be sizable and what’s revealed at low can be a wonderland of color.
Last Cove
Stern tying still takes awhile to finesse.
Let the storm begin! This is another ‘all weather anchorage,’ so we hoped the name was apt.
Most of the time it was calm inside and were spared the fury of the wind.
Adjusting the snubber and letting every bit of rode out.

 

These rainbow williwaw’s would wash over Allora with about 40kts of wind – I had to hold on tightly to get the pic!

Cascade Cove, Preservation Inlet

We arrived as the announcement came over the PA on a small Real Adventures cruise boat anchored at dead center in the cove, “the generator will be turned off at 9:30 and then back on again at 6:00 for your convenience…” Two crew walked to the bow, short sleeved black uniforms and to our delight, weighed anchor, the boat disappeared past the head of the cove and left us to the cheerful sound of a small waterfall pouring down the rocks next to a stout blue shoreline. We dropped our own anchor and tied up a boat length from shore. One of our books said that brown trout inhabit the river which flows into the lake above the dramatic falls at the head of the cove. A mere two kilometers as the Tui flies. All we needed to do is scramble up the side of the falls, then bushwack along the lakeshore. We clambered up, relying on roots and branches for hand holds, worrying about the way back down, and somehow made it to the top of the falls. The steep sided outlet of the lake forced us up and up over fallen mossy logs and broken rock faces. Every step was a miniature triumph as we inched and wiggled and scooted minutely closer. The edge of the lake, walking in the shallow was better for a while, until it became a mote of surprise waist deep holes and fallen logs. After hours invested in about a kilometer of progress, we admitted defeat and turned back, now knowing what lay ahead. Many times we expressed gratitude for the near absence of sandflies and the forest herself was pure magic of green mosses and deep ferns and wise old trees. Back at the outlet of the lake where for a brief time there had been trail flags to follow, we found a row boat pulled ashore that we had walked right by. Those Long River brown trout will never know how close them came. The biggest challenge was finding our way back down to the dinghy tied up in the outflow below the falls. We had cleverly laid out markings with sticks on our way up to mark the way, but those didn’t work out any better than bread crumbs did for Hansel and Gretel. We cliffed out, over and over again, but eventually, banged, bruised and muddy found a way down, never more happy to find Namo, dutifully waiting to take us home.

Real Journey’s boat on mooring.
Cascade Falls, as seen from our anchorage.
Waterfalls appeared after every rain.
Some anchorages had water hoses attached to falls (fishermen installed) so we filled up our tanks by scooting RIGHT alongside this wall, keeping Allora’s mast clear of the overhanging trees.
I know, let’s climb to the top of the Falls! And then cross that lake up there to get to the river beyond. Extricating limbs from branches. The adventure begins …
Where to now?
Fiordland’s stunning (and impenetrable) bush.
I am wild about Umbrella Moss!
We kept calling out to each other, so as not to get completely lost!
You could spend a lifetime learning about all the ferns of Fiordland.

Not going that way.
Cascade Falls cascading and falling.
A majestic Rimu.
Dancing with the vegetation.
Wild man Marcus with a sandfly friend!
Plate fungi.
Words cannot describe the magical trees of Fiordland’s bush.
Giddy despite the challenges.
So close to that river, and yet so far …
Gorgeous cliff faces.
We ‘hiked’ to the top of Cascade Falls/Cascade Basin
That river is so close, but without deciding to swim, we just couldn’t get there.
Cascade Falls in low light upon our return.
What a day!
A circuitous track, indeed!
Allora stays put while we go off adventuring.
We’re where we’re meant to be!
Heading over to our last anchorage in Preservation, Isthmus Cove.
Marcus was able to maneuver Allora crazy close to these walls because the steep drop offs and sufficient depths.

I found myself seeing abstracts in the tidal zone.
Our last anchorage.

Next stop: Fiordland/Dusky Sound

 

Port Pegasus, Pikihatiti, southernmost region of Rakiura/Stewart Island

Port Pegasus

After a long period in the 19th century of surprisingly energetic efforts to master and exploit the natural “resources” of Rakiuru,  whaling, mining, seal fur trade, fishing and harvesting lumber, New Zealander’s finally left most of this southern island alone, so that ninety-eight percent of the island is under the management of the Department of Conservation (DOC). It is wild again, and feels that way. There are a few DOC huts scattered about, and a system of trails but most of the island is difficult to reach in any other way than a boat. Port Pegasus still has the remans of some of the settlements, rusted and covered in the bush, but arriving by sea it feels beautifully raw and untouched with very few visitors. We saw a few other boats, including Pazzo, who we met in Lyttelton. The fishing was ridiculously prolific. We caught something on nearly every drop of the jig, and it took less than fifteen minutes to have our first legal sized Blue Cod for tacos. All in all, a very special, wild, rarely visited place that was a little chilly from steady winds that certainly had a whiff of Antarctica on them. 

Ben’s Bay Anchorage, Port Pegasus, only accessible by boat.
South Island Robin or Toutouwai, is found only in NZ. They follow hikers hoping to benefit from the stirred up soil.
A preview of the intense reflections seen in Fiordland.
Rosy Sundew, Drosera Spatulata
We have to collect all of our rubbish, so everything gets reused.
Gorgeous hike up the Tin Range Track. There was a tin mining boom here in the 1890’s. We followed the old RR ties up to the top.
Mesmerized by the close up flora.
Allora at her happiest!

Beach found on a 15 minute hike from the protection of Disappointment Cove.
Pretty notably these sea lions rule this beach.
Sea Lions can’t hide their movements!
Fiordland Crested Penguin fledgling.

Tucked up in the all weather anchorage/Disappointment Cove with 5 lines next to s/v Pazzo awaiting a storm.
Plentiful Blue Cod! Yum, yum, more fish tacos!
Jellyfish
Marcus giving Willy from s/v Pazzo a filleting ‘how to.’

Serenity.

Anchors Aweigh!

Just a LITTLE bit queasy, no big surprise!

Flea Bay, Banks Peninsula

Diana has put in some epic kayak explorations already, along the rocks in Flea Bay on Banks peninsula where the cute little Blue Penguins perch under the rocks and baby Fur Seals flop about in confused excitement. 

The rugged coastline of Banks Peninsula!
There is a fabulous Blue Penguin recovery project in Flea Bay.
Moulting Blue Penguins (also called, ‘White Flippered’)


Look for the brand new baby fur seals!

Takamatua Bay, Akaroa

Our friends on Blue Goose – the calm after the winds.

After a day hiding from the southwest wind and rain in Takamatua Bay, we spent a sunny day in Akaroa walking up a hill lined with small wooden houses to the “Giants House,” where a purple haired mosaicist and sculptor (don’t they all have purple hair?), Josie Martin, spent a lifetime creating a magical inspired garden. The expressiveness and joy of her work was dazzling, full of color and peopleness.

We’re still adjusting to the sea again. Remembering little things about Allora that we forgot. Relearning things we may have come to take for granted. The first leg of our first passage in two years, the winds were light but steady and graciously allowed us to sail to windward with out tacking. The shelter of the shore, never more that twenty miles away, kept the seas mild. It was chilly, but our foulies are pretty bomber and it was a lovely day.

Royal Albatross!

A fisherman came out in his short sleeves to take a picture of us as we sailed closeby downwind and he pounded homeward into it.

Galley antics!

The wind died to nothing under a full moon, after some mechanical glitches right at dusk. At dawn the wind returned for a nice broad reach and then wing and wing downwind all the way to the end of the south island passing “the Nuggets” to enter Foveaux Strait. 

We motored through the night, anticipating 15 to 30 knots on the beam by sunrise, but that never materialized. The famously rough Strait was calm – though with strong, swirling currents that confused our brief attempts to sail. The wind came up like a long slow meditative breath and then relaxed to glassy seas as the sun rose spectacularly and we approached Rakiura/Stewart Island.

The humble main town of Oban, Stewart Island
Sandy beaches but muddy seabed.

We’re learning that anchoring in mud and weeds isn’t the same as sand. Diana used to say we should package the fine, fine powdery pink stuff that came up with the anchor in the Gambiers, and sell it to spas. I haven’t heard that comment about the pungent muds of Rakiura (Stewart Island). Maybe a different brand (“Glory Bay Green Lipped New Zealand Muscle” brand) for the truly hardcore mud bather. It also hasn’t been holding us quite the same way. Not sure to do with the full anchor of weeds that came up the first time our anchor did a little dragging in 30 kts wind. 

Becoming more familiar with these mid latitude winds is going to take a while, too. The basic idea is becoming apparent — fronts every few days followed by strong SW blows, and then they spin around and do it again. Locals have been complaining about a dearth of rain with these fronts, the filmy ferns in the understory are feeling it, rolling up shop and hoping for a change. It’s possible that La Nina is to blame. That doesn’t mean summer is warm here on the edge of the Southern Ocean, even when the sun shines.

Here in Paterson Inlet, after the wind blows itself into a calm, it has been glassy as a lake sometimes. Ninety-Eight percent of Rakirua is conservation land, with trails and huts along some of the bays and coves, and otherwise, lush wilderness. The bush grows slow but lush, and the winds carve a limit to the canopy.

One of the sweet DOC (Department of Conservation) huts along the Rakiura Track.
What do YOU see?!

Blue Cod, with their delicious white meat seem to be ridiculously easy to catch. A little jigging provided us, after quite a few small fish, with a keeper for fish tacos. Reminded me of the one taco, two taco, three taco sea bass of the Sea of Cortez. 

We’re re-learning, too, that it is not, and never has been, all fun and games. The carburetor on the outboard has used up a few hours on a couple of different afternoons. Despite being ‘fixed’ at great expense in Christchurch, the gummed up high speed jet closed up and our outboard carburetor is compromised. We’ll have to be extra careful and baby it. Since we depend on that motor so much, I’m afraid to try to drill out and replace it with the spare jet we have. If it doesn’t go right, we’d be stuck. The closest replacement carb is in Japan and weeks away. 

The classic – making repairs in exotic locations!
Whaler’s Base, Paterson Inlet

Mussels for miles!

Predator free Ulva Island was a particular treat. We walked with a guide, a woman who came here in the 90’s as part of the effort to rid the island of predators, particularly rats, to save the birds. Kiwi, Robins, Bellbirds, Riflemen, Kaka and Kakariki (including one rare Yellow-Crested), huge Wood Pigeons diving and soaring in noisy acrobatics for mating season, and a beautiful extremely rare Saddleback with russet shoulders. Ulva Island has never been logged, and the native trees were breathtaking, Rimu, Totara and Miro . One grand old giant estimated at 1200 years old, with a whole ecosystem of her own thriving in the higher branches. ~MS

These pics were all taken with my iPhone, as one of the first things I managed to do was tip my kayak and lose my beautiful Sony. A lesson in attachment for sure.

This will be our last cell coverage for at least a month as we head further south, down to Port Pegasus and then on to Fiordland. Starting tomorrow (28/2/22), we’ll move over to our Inreach and Iridium systems to communicate! (You can see those details on the Contact Us page.) Be well, friends and fam. We’ll be breathing you into our hearts! ~DS

New Zealand – ‘SWEET AS’

This is a placeholder for the past 2.25 years! Somehow I have managed to accumulate umpteen pictures and not post one, but I still have full intentions of sharing our wild good fortune to have landed in New Zealand before Covid changed everyone’s plans.  BUT, before I get around to that, Allora is going to ‘get around’ the South Island! A clockwise circumnavigation – the first sailing for her rusty crew in waaaay too long, but it feels sweet and right and our awesome boat seems to be showing us what she clearly knows in her bones. We should be out and about for 2-3 months as we explore Stewart Island/Rakiura, Fiordland and Marlborough Sounds. Sometime in early May we’ll haulout in Picton and roll up our sleeves to do a couple big boat jobs, but until then … read our Contact Us page to see how you can shoot us a hello! Be well friends and loved ones, we sure MISS YOU!

 

Tonga to Minerva to New Zealand, dunh dunh DUNH!

It’s just over a thousand miles from Tongatapu at the southern end of Tonga and the northern port of Opua in New Zealand. What makes this passage different from pretty much all the sailing we’ve done so far is the transition from tropical weather (low pressure systems and troughs) to the temperate cycle of fronts dividing high pressure and low pressure which march eastward across the Tasman sea and wash over New Zealand in waves. The ideal passage strategy is pretty well known, but perfect cooperation from the weather is probably pretty rare.

We used a weather prediction software called Predict Wind which allows us to download four different models of wind files (called gribs), GPS (the US model), ECMWF (the European model) and two variations on these models produced by Predict wind PWG and PWE. 

Generally, they are in pretty good agreement for one to three days out and then they tend to disagree on what’s going to happen, sometimes quite radically. The value of comparing different predictions is that it gives you a heads up for ‘what-if’ scenarios. 

The most common strategy for this passage is make a long westward loop, with a stop at the Minerva reefs which provide a good anchorage and a chance to get the latest predictions for the final push.

*See our post from Minerva: minerva-north-haven-in-the-pacific

What everyone looks for are decent (enough) conditions to make that arc as you leave Minerva (not bashing directly into southern head winds) and timing which assures you won’t encounter a nasty cold front north of 30° South latitude.

The ideal is to arrive on the tail of a high just ahead of the front with nice north or even northwest tail winds … but that timing can be risky. 

As we arrived this year in Minerva we’d been looking at the models that suggested ten to fourteen days out that there might be a weather window around November 6th (which is the date we arbitrarily listed with NZ immigration as our arrival date). The European model, however warned of some very high winds from due south or even south west that would make going straight from Minerva tough. Still, the other models weren’t showing conditions quite as strong. They predicted that the high pressure creating this squash zone wouldn’t stall as long as the ECMWF predicted. We got to Minerva very early and waited for daylight to go in (in fact, we now know you can go in and even anchor in the dark, the Navionics charts are accurate and there are no big hazards). We could see boats arriving behind us and some came in after us, but several made the decision to keep going. One Kiwi boat we know left the morning we arrived, also hoping to make a possible earlier arrival in NZ.

 As it turned out the European model called this one, and the boats that continued on had a pretty tough time. One trimaran we know reported 7 meter seas and 50 knot gusts, the captain described it as an ‘exhilarating, wet sail,’  but it didn’t sound very comfortable. I’m not totally sure his crew was in complete agreement.  The experienced Kiwi boat called it “gale conditions.” One boat turned back for Minerva after two days. The bottom line is that no one who continued on was making very much southing, despite getting beaten up. 

We spent three nights in Minerva watching the weather and enjoying that magical spot. The winds blew in the twenties but it’s a very solid anchorage and was perfectly comfortable even when it got a little bumpy at high tide. 

By the time we were ready to leave for the 800 mile leg to New Zealand on November 1, there were 30 boats anchored in Minerva (it could fit a hundred easily). Twenty-three left at the same morning, and we joined them, leaving toward the end of the pack. 

What we were seeing in the gribs that made us go were predictions that the wind should start to swing east as the high finally moved off and that the next front ‘shouldn’t’ hit New Zealand  until the 7th (a weak front) and maybe not even until the 9th or 10th (more of a real front). Based on watching the weather this year, I’d say that made for an unusually generous weather window. 

The two obstacles we needed to plan for were wind and seas that were still more southerly than optimal and what looked to be a big chunk of calm airs for the last two days. For this passage I think most would accept some windless motoring rather than encounter the 6 meter seas and gales conditions off the coast of New Zealand that sunk a boat this year 22 miles from her destination. 

This is the passage that Allora was made for. She sails to windward like a champ so that we were able to comfortably point higher, meaning head south a little sooner, than much of the fleet. She’s also fast with wind ahead of the beam, mainly I think because she handles the seas so well. We started passing boats the first night, most during Wyatt’s midnight watch. Diana had volunteered to help run an SSB radio net (the “Tonga to NZ” net), so we were apprised of most of the boats positions that way. By the end of third day of windward sailing (45-60 degrees apparent) we had passed everyone except a Dutch trimaran. Then the wind began to die, and this is where Allora’s advantages as an offshore passagemaker also shine. We carry 190 gallons of diesel so we had no reason to save fuel and wait to start motor sailing to keep up our speed. Our experienced Kiwi friend, Tony, who’s done this passage many times had counseled us not to let our boat speed drop below five knots, and since we had the fuel we turned directly on the rhumb line and kept her moving. With an 80 horse Yanmar, Allora also motors comfortably at 7.5 to 8 knots (uses more fuel, but we had it, and it is better for the diesel to run hotter). In the end, we used our engine for two days, which is the longest we ever have. But boats that waited to turn their engines on arrived a day later than us, so they ended up motoring pretty much just as long. Boats without the fuel range came in two days after us when the wind began to pick up again. We arrived at 1:00PM on the 6th of November.

Okay, so now please forgive me for a little boasting. A lot went into planning this infamous passage and we’ve been thinking about how it would go for a very long time. We were the first of the “Minerva Yacht Club” boats to arrive in Opua, ahead of the trimaran because they did not have the motoring capacity we do, and ahead of a 52 foot catamaran because that boat could not sail as fast with the wind ahead of the beam.

Part of what made this a great passage was our strategy. Initially, we heeded the common wisdom of heading for “John’s Corner” at 30S 173E. The idea of this approach is that it gets you closer, but you’re still in a position to slow down if a front comes in sooner than predicted so that you confront it above 30 degree where it is less dangerous. Then, as the wind swung more east we headed up, but not right away on the rhumb line, but cutting the corner. We were faster at 50 degrees apparent and getting a better distance made good (DMG) to New Zealand. Boats that headed for the rhumb line too soon fell behind us because the seas were rougher to the east. Boats that waited even longer to head up added a lot more miles to their passage. Using the engine to motorsail when our speed dropped below 5 knots, allowed us to turn on the rhumb line once it was clear that the coast was clear for a Nov 6 arrival, and assured that we could spend one less night at sea. 

Though we love to sail and hate to motor, the conditions were eventually so beautiful and glassy calm it was a different kind of pleasure. With the sails down it was also easier to detour when we spotted a pod of pilot whales and to pause for Wyatt to get some beautiful shots of the first Alabatross we’ve seen. It also gave Diana, Wyatt and I a chance to get the boat ready for inspection by Customs. 

Wyatt’s shots of the Grey Headed Albatross.
©WLS

In the end, we couldn’t have wished for a better passage and we couldn’t be happier with Allora. What a boat!

~MS

Diana disclaimer: All these shots are taken during the placid last two days of our passage. Before that, the camera wasn’t coming out too much!!

 

Minerva North, Haven in the Pacific

©s/v Taurus

Of all the places Allora has taken us, North Minerva Reef, is a stand out. The reef literally emerges only 90cm at low tide, and when walking on what feels like the Pacific’s very precipice, we had the surreal sensation that we’d been transported to another world. I urge you to read this article from New Zealand Geographic, which lays out the inherent hazards and contentious history of this fascinating ‘land:’

empire-of-the-sea

We, like many others, made a stop at Minerva North, to break up the often difficult  passage between Tonga and New Zealand. Most boats poise themselves to try to stop, but the weather conditions have to be right to enter the pass and take the time in ‘pause’ mode as opposed to continuing onward, so we felt lucky to manage 3 days in the fold of the protected lagoon. We weren’t alone, though! The 30 boats at anchor around us were dubbed, ‘The Minerva Yacht Club!’

Wyatt and I freedove the pass and found a wonderland of color and life.
Marcus sought some Giant Trevally in the surf, but the surf almost sought him!
Remnants of a less positive interaction with the reef.

Still Going Strong!

(Why the title of this post? Well, that’s what the young guy working at the airport said when I picked up my own duffel bag! Yeah, he figured I was ‘still going strong’ just to be able to DO that! Poor kid, you can imagine the reaction I gave him?!)

We left Allora in Neiafu, Tonga on a mooring (always a bit disconcerting), and dashed to San Francisco for my brother’s wedding! After that three day, joyous whirlwind, we shot over to Bozeman, Montana for a couple weeks of catching up with friends. We had two indulgent stays: at the Lawson’s whimsical loft and Katy Hood’s historic Southside home (giant thank you’s to both of you) and soaked up some much needed love with our dear ones. I wasn’t quite in the photo mode, so there are only a few here and much else is left tucked in a corner of our hearts. Thanks to Lori (and maybe others?) for a few of the family/wedding shots.

 

“Whales! One o’clock, Starboard bow! Not that far!”

There isn’t much about humpback’s that you can get “used” to
fin and back slipping above the waves
scale inspires awe
flukes waving goodbye, whispering into the drink
surge of whales on the move
juvenile males on a mission
shouldering water ahead of them as they porpoise on the surface
strange knobby heads rushing through the foam
in calmer water, a spy hop, slipping up to peak at YOU
soft blow of a sleeping whale
the sudden totally unexpected wild audacity of a breach
that always always comes out of nowhere
and again
young whale under the stand up paddle board
gripping the camera, ready to go under
calves in the anchorage, sleeping with Mom
arced above her head
curious little ones spy hopping by the stern
or practicing their breaches
flopping, silly half out
then the day they show everyone what they’ve got
~MS

(Rough camera moves, sorry, but the proximity had us sufficiently EXCITED!!!)

 

Lots of love in this mosaic!

Diana spent a day at the school (and several more on the boat) helping them make a mosaic for the school using local materials but also glass from Italy that she keeps squirreled away in the bilges. She donated for a center element, a piece of glass given to her by a mentor in Ravenna. The theme for the month at school was “Love,” so that inspired the design, which was set up so that many kids could work on parts of it at once. Thanks too, to Mike and Katie (s/v Adagio) for jumping in to help. We hung it on the school wall with the assumption that it might outlive the actual building itself. ~MS

 

The Bird Motus of Penrhyn, Cook Islands

A birder’s paradise, the motus around the east side of Penrhyn held nesting colonies of Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Noddy’s and White Terns. An occasional Booby and Magnificent Frigatebird would liven up the scene, but for the most part, the Tropicbirds RULED!

Mad for Kio Kio, bonefishing in Penrhyn

Every fisherman dreams about a secret fishing hole somewhere. Someplace no one knows about. No one goes. No one (or hardly anyone) has ever fished. A place where you show up knowing you won’t see a single soul and that the fish have never seen a fly. This dream fishing spot is naturally chock full of fish, too, everywhere you turn. 

The Cook Island’s atoll, Penrhyn, might just be that place.

This atoll lays more than 800 miles of open ocean from anywhere. There are no flights. It is visited by just two supply ships a year. The only way to get here is in your own boat, sailing far off of the normal tradewind route. There was a time when expensive flights from the main islands of the Cooks occasionally brought an intrepid fly fishermen from New Zealand, though because there are no hotels or any other tourist infrastructure on Penrhyn the only way to fish these remote flats, even then, was to stay as a guest with the pastor at Te Tautua and have him take you. This apparently did happen at least once. Years ago. Basically, the only people who ever visit, in very, very small numbers are sailors. The intersection of committed bonefishermen and blue-water sailors who can actually get themselves to Penrhyn yields a very tiny slice of humanity. I’d bet there aren’t more than about five of us in the whole world, and that includes our friend Mike, who’s introduction to fly fishing was walking the flats with me in the Gambier and Rangiroa.

The pastor insisted on taking us to his spot, though we had our own dinghy and knew from Google Earth exactly where to go. Wishing to be gracious guests of the island, we accepted the ride. We spotted the first pod of fish even before getting out of the boats and over the next four hours (the limit of the pastor’s desire to stay and harvest noddy bird eggs), I landed at least fifteen bonefish (which is a lot of bonefish), considering the amount of time it takes to land each one and the fact that a fighting ‘kio-kio’ clears the immediate area on the flat of willing fish. Mike caught nearly that many, as well, and we were often doubled up with fish on at the same time. 

We fished this singular spot for a couple weeks going back on our own, and it wasn’t always as good as the first day, the tide and the weather have a lot to say about how good the fishing is going to be, but it was always our spot and the fish were always there. They aren’t as big on average as the bonefish in French Polynesia, but Penrhyn is chock full of them. 

We pinched ourselves regularly to make sure it was not just a dream. ~MS

 

Maupiti, a gem in the Society Islands

For sailors, these outlying islands are tempting and we’ve had Maupiti in our minds since reading an article about it in a sailing magazine while still in Bozeman. It did not disappoint and it was fun to have some days to explore the little, sleepy island some call Bora Bora’s rival. Maupiti was our last stop before saying ‘au revoir’ to French Polynesia. We would have liked to be able to make it to its’ neighbor Maupiha’a (Mopelia), some 130nm  away, but we felt the tug to gain momentum westward …

Stevens/Stevens Rendezvous Society Islands

In May we had the chance to buddy boat with my brother Doug and his family and friends. They flew from Washington and chartered a catamaran big enough to accommodate eleven people on board. We kept a pretty busy schedule touring Raiatea and Bora Bora, hiking, snorkeling, sailing, diving, SUPing and kayaking. A few of us fit in an epic, muddy climb to the top of the peak of Bora Bora. It was great fun to sail alongside my brother, beat him sailing to windward and then watch him blow by us like a ghost ship with the wind behind the beam. He hailed us on the VHF sailing to Bora to tell us that for the comfort of his crew and to keep up with us on the windward leg he was turning on the engine. I said, “That’s awesome (I never expected to be able to beat that catamaran) he said, “Great for you, Marcus…”  Evenings onboard Kiwi will probably stick with us the longest. I guess sunsets are like that. After a long day of whatever and wherevering (usually in the water) their ridiculously spacious Bali 46 was a great place to hang out with no particular agenda, sip a little rum or scotch, a glass of wine or a dark and stormy and enjoy the warm tropical breeze and another delicious meal. ~MS