About Us

My photo
We work as ecotourism guides (as well as biologist and boat captain) often on the BC Coast, but also as far ranging as the Arctic and Antarctic. We have an insatiable curiousity for the planet; all its hidden gems and what makes them tick. That and our love of sailing is what inspired us to sail around the Pacific in Narama, our tough and pretty little sailboat.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Landfall Opua, New Zealand

Highest point on Minerva Reef?

We finally had to tear ourselves away from Tonga, the hurricane season is approaching and we are getting excited about all the hiking we would like to do down south.  We had a dramatic first day at sea when a thunderstorm overtook us.  The torrential rain and wind was one thing, but I came a little unglued when I watched lightning strike about 200m behind the boat.  That’s close, too close!!!  The next three days were light sailing and we even had to motor to get into Minerva Reef.  This was an interesting stop.  Minerva is actually two reefs (north and south; we stopped at North Minerva) with the coral forming a ring like an atoll, but there’s no actual land.  Not a palm tree or even a shrub to be seen.  The reef makes for a protected anchorage, but without land in sight it feels like you’re anchored in the middle of the ocean.  At high tide when the seas are rough it gets a little bouncy, but still pleasant.  We had a few days to soak up the experience and walked on the reef at low tide as it dries out, with only the surge of the waves washing across the reef which is nearly half a mile wide. 

Heidi enjoying the easy sailing
We were not the only yacht holed up here, but all five boats left together as the weather “window” had opened.  The passage to New Zealand can be rough and has a notorious reputation, so there was lots of discussion and every GRIB file and weatherfax was analyzed by all of us novice forecasters.  For the very fast yachts it’s a little easier to decide when to leave, but for us small and slow craft, it can be dicey.  It isn’t the conditions as you depart that are the worry but the chance of a strong low pressure or frontal system as you get further south, where the storms pack more punch.  Well the weather gods were with us and we had a lovely passage!  In fact we had our spinnaker up for 2 days of light wind sailing.  It was the first passage where we sailed in sight of other boats the whole time (ie Narama kept up with bigger yachts!).  We enjoyed seeing dolphins and albatross again, in fact the wildlife increase the further south we sailed.

Some passage stats:

North Minerva Reef to Opua New Zealand distance:  800 nm
Best 24 run for Narama:  126nm
Worst run: 106
Time sailed:  7 days
Engine hours:  14
Sail changes:  10
Exploring the tidepools of Minerva Reef

Snorkeling in Vava'u

We spent six weeks in Vava’u (Tonga) and loved it.  We were in the water snorkeling nearly everyday and managed to identify 158 species of fish (well Heidi did, Stephen has an aesthetic appreciation).  Rather than bore with a long species list we put together a slide show of underwater images.  The soundtrack is a recording of Humpback Whales singing that we managed to record on a flat calm day without any boat traffic around.  We thought it was fitting to give you, dear reader, the virtual experience as we did often hear humpbacks singing while we were underwater!

video

Monday, September 26, 2011

Regatta Vava'u

During our first week in Vava’u, Tonga we spent getting our feet on the ground and did a little exploring.  We found a lovely bakery in town (Neiafu), spent some time in the morning market for provisions, then we sailed out the harbour to explore a few of the islands.  We tucked into the lagoon of Hunga Island with one of the narrowest entrance channels we’ve been through.   We walked through the sleepy village and along a trail in the mango trees.  Then we sailed around into the bight of Nuapapu to snorkel the coral gardens. 

Our dramatic dingy-launch finish!
This was all the exploring we had time for before we sailed back into Neiafu Harbour for the beginning of Regatta Vava’u Festival.  We haven’t taken part in any sailing rally’s or festivals with Narama before.  This local festival is the brain child of a few cruisers who fell in love with Vava’u seven years ago when they were sailing across the Pacific and never sailed further.  It was the perfect combination of fun yacht racing, costume dance party in the full moon and lots of other siller events, so it suited us just fine.  The light winds meant that the racing didn’t get too dramatic.  We were happy that we didn’t embarrass ourselves and placed third in the first race which included boats up to 42 feet (ie should be much faster than our 33 feet!)  The final race back into the harbour included a dinghy launch with the finish line inside the pub!  The fact that we don’t have an engine on our dingy was a serious disadvantage, but it did not deter us.  Instead of flying ashore at 20 knots we launched our “dink” at the end of the dinghy dock while Narama was still underway, it was a dramatic finish!

At the end of the festival was another party to hand our some prizes.  There were prizes given for all sorts of things: best dressed boat, best costumes at the first party, participations in events and of course the races.  The trophies for the races were local carvings with the winning boat’s name and they were very smart.  We won a free dive trip for our participation in everything and also received a certificate made of the traditional Tapa cloth.  We think that the organizers did a great job and we certainly had fun!

Stephen had this hat commissioned

Monday, August 29, 2011

Suwarrow

Anchorage Island, Suwarrow Atoll

I shall attempt to describe our last port of call with the adjectives it deserves, but bear with me, for as I write we are sailing along under storm jib only with seas to match.
Swimming with Giant Manta!

Sooty Tern

Suwarrow is a small atoll several hundred miles from anywhere in the Cook Island group. The one main island (all of ½ a mile long) has a semi protected anchorage amongst a lot of coral heads that stick up about a metre off the bottom to snag your anchor chain. But given the right conditions (non reinforced trade winds) this is paradise. Two care takers look after the island for six months, being away for the cyclone season.  If you have read Tom Neale’s or Robert Frisbie’s books about the island you will understand why. The high point of the island is only about 10ft and exposed to the ocean swells. James and John are the two caretakers and hosts; keeping everyone in line and making them feel welcome.  The record 28 boats in the anchorage did not feel busy; it’s just one of those very relaxed places. We snorkeled most days on various reefs or with Manta rays, went lobster hunting on the reef on a moonlit night, enjoyed several potlucks ashore and did a reef walk out to Whale Island (full of nesting birds). The hard part was dragging ourselves away after nearly 2 weeks.  This we did and headed for Niue, but the strengthening high pressure below us sent winds we did not like beating into, so we bore off toward Tonga.  I leave you with a log entry by Heidi on the second last day of this leg ….. “Lie down on cabin floor for 10 min, catch my breath and settle my stomach.  Get up, go climb (bottom hatch board has been in for a few days) into the cockpit and look around. Check the course. Lie on floor, repeat. The end of each 4 hour watch seems like a major victory. The reward: a few hours sliding on your bed where you can’t lose your balance.”…… This trip we had our worst pooping to date that put nearly a foot deep of water in the cockpit, but for all the weather there was no upchucks.  A day at anchor Heidi still talks of sailing to Chile...... what a spirit or is it just a short memoryJ.   Such is the price we sometimes have to pay to visit paradise!
John (caretaker and all round great guy) and Heidi

Potluck dinner in the "clubhouse"

Suwarrow (Suvarov), Northern Cook Islands – Fish Species List

Manta - check out the cephalic fins!! (near the mouth)

After three months in French Polynesia our fish ID skills are improving. So we thought we would share a list of fish species for Suwarrow.  This in not a complete list as there’s always those that you don’t see well enough to ID, or you can’t remember everything that you see while snorkeling and our field guides don’t always have everything for this area.  This list does illustrate the wonderful diversity of species on the reef.  The ones marked with (*) were delicious!


Unidentified Dascyllus - any ideas out there??


Threadfin Butterflyfish
Chaetodon auriga
Redfin Butterflyfish
Chaetodon lunulatus
Teardrop Butterflyfish
Chaetodon unimaculatus
Raccoon Butterflyfish
Chaetodon lunula
Dotted Butterflyfish
Chaetodon semeion
Reticulated Butterflyfish
Chaetodon reticulatus
Speckled Butterflyfish
Chaetodon citrinellus
Saddled Butterflyfish
Chaetodon ephippium
Dot-and-Dash Butterflyfish
Chaetodon pelewensis
Pacific Double-Saddle Butterflyfish
Chaetodon ulietensis
Fourspot Butterflyfish
Chaetodon quadrimaculatus
Ornate Butterflyfish
Chaetodon ornatissimus
Pennant Bannerflyfish
Heniochus chrysostomus
Longnose Butterflyfish
Forcipiger flavissimus
Lemonpeel Angelfish
Centropyge flavissimus
Regal Angelfish
Pygoplites diacanthus
Orangeband Surgeonfish
Acanthurus olivaceus
Achilles Tang
Acanthurus achilles
Convict Surgeonfish
Acanthurus triosegus
Whitecheek Surgeonfish
Acanthurus nigricans
Pacific Sailfin Tang
Zebrasoma veliferum
Bluespine Unicornfish
Naso unicornis
Spotted Unicornfish
Naso brevirostris
Orangespine Unicornfish
Naso lituratus
Moorish Idol
Zanclus cornatus
Humbug Dascyllus
Dascyllus aruanus
Blue-green Chromis
Chromis viridis
Pacific Half-and-half Chromis
Chromis iomelas
Onespot Snapper
Lutjanus monostigma
Blue Damsel
Pomacentrus pavo
Black Snapper
Macolor niger
Bluefin Trevally
Caranx melampygus
Rainbow Runner
Elagatis bipinnulatus
Peacock Grouper
Cephalopholis argus
Coral Grouper*
Cephalopholis miniata
Greasy Grouper*
Epinephelus tauvina
Camouflage Grouper
Epinephelus polyphekadion
Arc-Eye Hawkfish
Paracirrhites arcatus
Bullethead Parrotfish
Chlorurus sordidus
Steephead Parrotfish
Chlorurus microrhinos
Bicolor Parrotfish
Cetoscarus bicolor
Pacific Longnose Parrotfish*
Hipposcarus longiceps
Red-breasted Wrasse
Cheilinus fasciatus
Bird Wrasse
Gomphosus varius
Sixbar Wrasse
Thalassoma hardwicke
Threespot Wrasse
Halichoeres trimaculatus
Checkerboard Wrasse
Halichoeres hortulanus
Redlip Cleaner Wrasse
Labroides rubrolabiatus
Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse
Labroides dimidiatus
Bicolor Cleaner Wrasse
Labroides bicolor
Big-scale Soldierfish
Myripristis berndti
Spotfin Squirrelfish
Neoniphon sammara
Twotone Dartfish
Ptereleotris evides
Goldsaddle Goatfish
Parupeneus cyclostomus
Manybar Goatfish
Parupeneus multifascialis
Trumpetfish
Aulostromus chinensis
Cornetfish
Fistularia commersonii
Orange-lined Triggerfish
Balistapus undulatus
Picasso Triggerfish
Rhinecanthus aculeatus
Indian Toby
Canthigaster solandri
Mahi Mahi*
Coryphaena hippurus
Gray Reef Shark
Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos
Blacktip Reef Shark
Carcharhinus melanopterus
Whitetip Reef Shark
Triaendon obesus
Giant Manta
Manta birostris
Arc-Eye Hawkfish

Dot-and-Dash Butterflyfish

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Society Islands and the In-Laws

Moorea skyline
After being in the Tuamotus for over three weeks, we thought that Papeete (the capitol of Tahiti) would be a culture shock, so we opted to anchor at Port Phaeton which is close to the smaller town of Taravao.  This is where we had the good luck of meeting several of the local teachers who were kind and generous in showing us the sights of Tahiti.  A special thank-you to Cecelia who toured us around the island, explained so much of the culture, politics, family life, answered our zillions of questions and showed us the true meaning of hospitality over several days!  It was hard to leave such wonderful new friends!

Heiva Dance Competition on Huahine


Papeete brought a happy reunion with Stephen’s parents, who are game enough to come sailing with us on Narama.  Serendipity is a wonderful thing and we are glad that plans coincided so we could rendez-vous for nearly three weeks.  The crew of “Mystic 2”  (Ian and Wendy) joined us for some glorious trade-wind sailing, swimming and snorkeling in turquoise waters, cycling, many happy hours, card games and stunning sunsets.  We had a beautiful day sail from Tahiti to Moorea along with a pod of Melon-headed Whales and an overnight sail to Huahine.  Over night sailing was a logistical challenge on Narama with four people and not quite enough sea berths – our table folds down to create a bunk, but it’s also our chart table.  We enjoyed the sights of lush green hills and steep mountains surrounded by beautiful lagoons.  We shared many a morning coffee and fresh baguette and lots of
laughs!

Wendy, Ian and Heidi at the Belvedere on Moorea

Here is Wendy’s final entry into our logbook, she says it much more eloquently!

Oh woe is us, its time to go
Our last two week’s thoughts overflow
We’ve dined on local veg and fruit
And fresh baguettes just made to suit.

The tur quoise water beckoned us
Over the side we slipped without a fuss.
There’s fish and coral and rays and all
Each day we swam and had a ball.

On Tahiti we saw a local show,
Dancers and singers all algow.
With wiggling hip and native drum,
And Tahitians cheering made it hum.

We sailed across the rolling sea,
From Tahiti to Moorea and Huahine.
The night time sail, a first for me.
The full moon shining helped us to see.
Ships lights far away and the curling spray
Till the sun came up at the break of day.

Then on Moorea we snorkeled lots,
And walked up Belvedere to view hot spots.
And there were many cruising boats,
Who invited us over, we also played host.

On Huahine we hired some bikes,
To test our muscles and see the sights.
A day away from our sturdy craft,
Narama’s a champ from bow to aft.

We viewed another local show,
With people wandering to and fro.
And dancers showing their agile side,
The singers and drummers performing with pride.

A highlight of our Tahaa stay,
Was a local fisherman who refused any pay.
For bags of fruit he plied us with,
But did accept some rope as a parting gift.

Anchored just inside the reef,
The crashing waves lulled us to sleep.
And with the breaking of the day,
Refreshed, twas time to go and play.

So as we sadly journey home,
We wish you luck where e’re you roam.
It’s been such fun, we hate to part,
So many, many thanks from the bottom of our hearts!



Tahitian Stingrays