About Us

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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.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Landfall Australia

This breaching Humpback welcomed us into Autralian waters

After the wind swung and the seas built we were effectively booted out of Huon Island.  It was against our will, as we loved it there and I could have happily spent weeks counting and photographing the nesting birds.  Then the wind stayed in the SSW so we could not stop at Chesterfield Reef which was likely to be another amazing wildlife spot.  So we had a week at sea with perfect sailing breezes, but we couldn’t set full sail and carry on because that would have meant making landfall in Australia on a weekend and the officials make it prohibitively expensive when that happens.  So we continued to shorten sail and leisurely make our way west.  Our autopilot motor finally died shortly after the wind died, so we had to tie the tiller and hand steer more than usual.  We could have arrived two days earlier than we did, but managed to slow ourselves down enough to arrive at midnight on a Sunday.

Our arrival into Australian waters was heralded by a wonderful show.  Lots of breaching, pectoral slapping and breeding Humpback Whales!

It is hard to believe that this amazing adventure has come to an end, for now anyways.  We have mixed emotions as we start preparing to leave Narama for a while.  What a magnificent journey it has been!
Lunch at sea
Our sea berth, the lee cloth holds us in bed.

Trip Stats  Luganville, Vanuatu to Bundaberg, Autralia

Days on passage:  10.5
Total distance: 1101 nm
Average 24 hour run: 98 miles
Best day: 143 miles (en route to Huon Island)
Worst day: 77 miles (en route to Bundaberg, when we had to slow down)
Engine Hours:  42.7
Number of Humpback Whales seen en route:  12
Most interesting Bird Species: Southern Giant Petrel

Thank you for following us on Narama's Voyage

Huon Island en route to Australia

Residents of Huon Island: lots of birds!

A sandy island 0.6nm long in New Caledonia’s most northern reef system lies about 100nm NW of the mainland. Its exposed grassy ridge about 20ft above sea level is home to thousands of birds.  “What sea sickness…” says Heidi as a booby landed on our boom just after dropping anchor. We’d had a super fast 2 day 300nm passage to get here and had our fingers crossed the wind would swing further to the east as even the SSE wind had chop wrapping up the open lagoon. Still it was better than at sea. We found the GPS (WGS 84) longitude agreed with the French Chart 5978 but the GPS latitude placed us about 0.35nm north of our actual position in relation to the island.  Some nice big areas of sand to anchor in just near the island’s centre. We had a fly over by a French patrol plane who politely asked over VHF our past and future ports of call etc, so we were glad we’d put the courtesy flag up and had emailed customs.
Brown Booby adult

The wind did swing overnight, so we went ashore and walked the beach around the island amid the thousands of Brown Noddy’s and Brown Boobies. Both of these were in quite a range of breeding stages, but the less numerous Masked Boobies were courting and incubating.  Hermit crabs were doing a good service as clean up crews for the large numbers of dead chicks and when they weren’t eating they hid under whatever minimal cover there was from the debris washed ashore be it coral blocks, wood or coconut shells. The eastern shore was covered in debris with the reef extending beyond. The western side is more or less exposed to open water.  The only Red-footed Booby we saw was the one that roosted on our spreaders doing injustice to our decks but some how missing the French flag.

Turtles also breed here and a plaque asked for help in with a breeding survey. So we diligently dragged a stick around the island drawing a line that we are meant to inspect for turtle tracks the following morning. Unfortunately the wind returned to the south and we were unable to return to our last bit of paradise. By lunch time the 2-3-foot chop and 20kns finally dragged the anchor and we decided it best to put to sea after one re-anchoring attempt.

Species List Huon Island

Brown Noddy 1000’s
Brown Booby 1000’s
Masked Booby 100’s
Lesser Frigatebird  2
Ruddy Turnstone 6-8
Red-tailed Tropicbird 2-3
Sooty Tern 10-12
Black Naped Tern 3-5
Red-footed Booby 1
Masked Booby courtship behaviour

Masked Booby pair

Brown Noddy looking sharp

Our Red-footed Booby friend;
please don't dirty the flag!
Brown Booby chick, still fuzzy
One happy resident biologist

Hermit crabs taking shelter on the beach

Monday, August 6, 2012

Vanuatu Bird Species List

Peppered Moray swallowing a crab whole
White-tailed Tropicbird
Striated Heron
Pacific Reef Heron
Lesser Frigatebird
Red-footed Booby
Brown Booby
Swamp Harrier
Pacific Golden Plover
Great Crested Tern
Bridled Tern
Black-naped Tern
Mackinlays Cuckoo-Dove
Pacific Emerald Dove
Tanna Fruit Dove
Red-bellied Fruit Dove
Pacific Imperial Pigeon
Vanuatu Imperial Pigeon
Coconut Lorikeet
Glossy Swiftlet
White-rumped Swiftlet
Uniform Swiftlet
Vanuatu Kingfisher
Collared Kingfisher
Grey-eared Honeyeater
Cardinal Myzomela
White-breasted Woodswallow
Grey Fantail
Streaked Fantail
Melanesian Flycatcher
Pacific Swallow
Vanuatu White-eye
House Sparrow

Roadside Dragonfly on Malakula Island
Can anyone ID this species?

Kava in Vanuatu

Sunset Kava Bar in Lamap; host Fidel in centre

Lamap on Malakula Island seemed to be Kava Central, with 14 kava bars (nakamals) for its population of only a few hundred.  Our first taste of this peppery, muddy brew was in Vila at a feast we attended.  This really was a thick sludge and I’m glad it was only a small taste and not the usual full bowl.  Possibly it was made from a powder which made it thick.  The usual way to make it is much more interesting.  It takes a few years to grow a Kava plant to produce several kilos of kava root.  The root sells for 250 Vatu/Kg and Vanuatu Kava is the strongest in the South Pacific (or so we were told).  We couldn’t work out the exact ratio but it seems that you need a few kilos of root to make a bucket of kava to drink.  They diced the root into small cubes, give this a rinse and then put it through a mince meat grinder (or on one island they pounded it in a large improvised mortar and pestle). Traditionally this stage was acheived by young boys chewing the root, but times have changed.  Water is then added to the mash which is wrung out through a hessian sack a bit at a time.  The whole grinding and wringing process is then  repeated.  Finally the silty muddy product is poured through a fine cloth.  A ladies slip seemed to be the correct weave.   This sieving out the sediment was done many times during the production and I’m sure it was the reason that Lamap kava was more palatable.  Kava bars in Lamap come in all shapes and sizes, but the norm was a thatched roof with seating underneath.  I think Fidel’s “Sunset Kava Bar” had the most character of all and he was proud to say that he had many regulars.

Stephen takes a turn grinding Kava root for Louie

First it gets squeezed through a hesh sack

Then it gets seived through silk (or fine nylon) several times
The Kava plant;
it takes at least three years before the root can be harvested

Friday, July 20, 2012

Copra and Gardens in Vanuatu

Some of the produce available in the Port Vila market.
It shows some of the amazing variety in the local gardens

During our extended stay in Port Sandwich due to bad weather, we learnt a lot more about the production of copra.  It seems like copra is a staple in the cash economy of the islands.  Not easy cash, but always there to provide income if you’re prepared to put in the hours.  In places where money can be made more easily from tourists, the labour to produce copra in return for about 30 000 vatu (about $350) a tonne is often deemed not worth while.
This coconut plantation had a perfect funnelling effect.
The coconuts rolled downhill towards the house to save time gathering!

First you have to collect the coconuts from beneath the tress laden with them.  On a short walk through one plantation three coconuts dropped off near me in a matter of 10 minutes, so collecting has its hazards.  One family-owned plantation had the perfect topography for funneling the coconuts downhill towards the house, which means less work!  Once collected the coconuts are then split in half by a knife or axe and the hard meat removed.  In Tahiti it was dry enough for the meat to be sun dried, but here in Vanuatu it needs to be smoked for up to seven days, when it loses about half its volume and finally it is put into large hesh sacks that are weighed and bought by agents in the village.  When enough is collected, a ship is then called.  In a few places they have a wharf, but mostly it is loaded by a landing barge pushed up on a beach or taken by lighter to the coastal cargo vessels.  Estimates by those we asked:  it takes about 50 coconuts to fill a sack and 10-15 sacks for a tonne.  A large majority of the copra goes to Post Vila to be made into biofuel which is then used for generating electricity in an effort to be less reliant on imported fuel.  The remainder goes to a plant in Santo (Luganville) to be refined for cosmetic uses.
Copra smoker

With the increased use of cell phones the demand for cash is on the increase.  Other wise if you ask most people what they do the reply is, “I go to my garden.”  Every family here has a garden plot (or several) and a great variety of fruit and vegetables are grown.  The gardens are usually a good walk from the village or across a body of water to segregate from the cows and pigs that wander freely and would love to raid a garden.  From a young age the ni-Van people carry large knives so that they are able to tend their gardens or drink from a coconut at will (no carrying water bottles).  Not once did we see any one coming or going from their garden with more than a knife in their hands and their bundles of produce on return.  Food is often sent on the coastal boats to family in Port Vila who do not have a garden and an easy, cheep supply of good food.  We believe that the soil in Port Sandwich must be very fertile as we were constantly offered a range of fruit and vegetables.  We did our best to always offer something in return but it wasn’t expected.
A loaded copra boat in Port Sandwich

Vanuatu Kastom

Stephen with Odealia and her four boys on Narama

Our first introduction to the culture of Vanuatu was in Port Vila and it felt a little more produced for tourists, but was still very interesting.  We had a rough crossing from Lifou Island, but luckily it was only two days before we made landfall.  The feast night that we attended in Vila had a ground oven and then a performance by a group of singers from Tanna Island as well as lots of songs by the local kids.  We also had a look at the Museum in town which had local kids learning song and dance and an art exhibit by a contemporary artist as well as many artifacts from the different islands.
Heidi with Louie's family:
Espel holding Simone, Alice one of the village elders, Joe the oldest son and Louie

When we arrived in Port Sandwich on Malakula Island Stephen met Louie a local man whose mother is one of the few in town who still sings the old Kastom songs.  So we arranged for a private performance in their home and met the whole family.  The weather turned sour shortly after and so we ended up staying in Port Sandwich for over 10 days, which meant that we got to know that family very well.  We had Espel and Odealia (Louie’s wife and sister) out to Narama with a bunch of their kids which was great fun.  The next day we took Odealia and her youngest to the local hospital and offered to pay the fee (only a dollar for adults and half that for children) for wounds that looked terrible.  We have been given lovely gifts from them including a grass mat and a tusk necklace and wanted to help them after their generosity. 

The Pig Tusk necklace
given to Stephen by Jean-Marie,
Odealia's husband.
Our next stop after Port Sandwich was Ranon on Ambrym Island.  When we mentioned to a few local people in Malakula that this was our next stop they often said “Oh be careful strong Kastom!”  It seems that although most people in Vanuatu will tell you that they are Christian there are still some strong beliefs.  For example on Ambrym you are not allowed to visit the active volcano at certain times of the year as the spirits will get angry and upset their yam crop.  We didn’t have time to visit the volcano but had a great view as we sailed over.  We did meat Parry a local man who took us on a walk through the village and showed us several carvings by different artists.  We couldn’t resist and traded for one TamTam statue and bought another of a masked dancer.  We also walked to the next village of Ranvetlam and traded for another intricately carved “pig killer”. 

Life sized Tam Tam
Over 4m tall
 used by the chief
to call people tegother

Our small Tam Tam
and the rope we traded for it
The rope is for the carver's cow.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our Boat

For those that have not physically joined us on this voyage, here are the nuts and bolts of our boat.

Designed by Peter Joubert and built by Baker yachts in 1971, she is one of about 25 Brolgas built. 10.16m (33’4”) long, 3.1m beam and 2.1m draught. The latter has been a little deep on occasion for cruising but with half the 11,000 lb displacement in the keel, it’s reassuring in heavy weather.  Being built in the early days of GRP, she is solid, with 7 full or partial bulk heads and forward of amidships has ribs every foot.
A windex and VHF aerial top the mast.  We have a slightly shorter single spreader rig compared to the double spreader rig on most Brolgas. Being an old race boat,  the suite of sails is more than necessary for cruising and we could have easily gone without the #1, 3 jib and a spinnaker. However we have used them all so the list is: Mainsail, trysail on its own track, #1 and #2 jib that fit the furler, #3, #4 and storm jib that hank on a removable solent stay that we tie back for enclosed water sailing or we can’t tack the jib without furling.  Otherwise we leave the #4 hanked on and the storm jib can be attached above it if required. Finally, 2 spinnakers and a blooper. With just the two of us sailing we have found the blooper the handiest light wind sail when used like and asymmetrical spinnaker, as it is easy to set and douse with-out a pole.  For stronger down wind sailing we do have 2 poles, with fore and aft preventers and topping lifts on these poles and the sheets, it becomes quite the cats cradle in the cockpit. Both storm sails have their own sheets that remain on the sails. Self tailing winches never made it to the top of the wish list, but the 8 cockpit winches with cleats and jammers have worked perfectly

The main anchor is a 35lb Delta on 80m of 5/16” chain and that runs over a manual windlass. This is great for simplicity, exercise and saves having to start the engine to sail on and off the anchor. The anchor well drains overboard, a nice alteration we made and we have to flake the chain if more than 30m is out.  A sealable dorade over the forward end of the vee berth and small hatch over its aft end provide good ventilation.  The large fore hatch is kept locked down at sea except in calm conditions and two dorades over the main cabin can be left open for ventilation in all but gale conditions. At anchor in hot weather the wind scoop forcing air down the aft facing fore hatch is our best friend.

The dodger and side curtains on the life rails around the cockpit keep the majority of spray out except in heavy weather and also give a little privacy for using the solar shower in the cockpit.

The life-raft sits on deck under the boom which rather blocks some of the view, we opted for this rather than a valise packed raft taking up more room below.  We have a tiller for steering which can also be connected to an Autohelm 2000 tiller pilot when motoring or the manual Flemming self steering gear (our most important crew member). This has been very reliable and easy to use.  It also swings up out of the water very easily when not in use and his name is Earnest because that’s how he works.

Above Earnest, a radar/solar panel framework holds a 62W and 105W panels.  These go through separate regulators to the single start and house battery respectively. In NZ we upgraded from a 42/62W combination which has given us a lot more power freedom as we hate and rarely do run the engine to charge, preferring to be frugal with power consumption. For charging cameras and computers we have a small 150W inverter that plugs in so we have no fixed AC systems to worry about.

Diving below decks the anchor locker can be accessed through a watertight hatch. Aft of that the vee berth with clothe storage racks above is just long and wide enough for the two us. The pile of paraphernalia under that bunk has never been reduced. Next section aft is a sail locker (always crammed) and head. You can’t stand up in the head, but on a boat that’s a good thing as peeing into a small bowl from a distance is a bad idea. Curtains divide all these areas, so our friends and family who join us have to be pretty down to earth people.  The “saloon” area makes use of every nook and cranny for storage with the galley running down the starboard side and a settee that drops to a double bunk on the port. The double seats of the settee face each other with our GPS radar and SSB receiver between and current charts stored under the table top which is also our chart table when underway.

At the forward end of the settee the mast sits on a large girder that wraps up to the chainplates.  There is a hanging locker to port and to starboard is a diesel heater and oil lamp that keeps the chill off cool evenings.

Our stove is a Swedish Origo non-pressurized alcohol stove that is simple, safe and effective to use. Obtaining fuel has sometimes led us on interesting searches, but only once have we had to resort to our camping stove when in Mexico.  The price of denatured alcohol has also fluctuated so baking bread in our stove top oven has not always been as economical as we’d have liked.  The gimbled stove is housed in a stainless steel cooking area which keeps spills and heat well contained. We did raise the height of the custom pot holders to hold the pressure cooker more firmly given its regular use.  The sink with its wide draining board is a gem and a hand pump for water helps with water conservation.  We have three water tanks, 2 internal keel tanks and a flexible tank for a total of 240L.  For extended periods away from water sources we have another 60+L capacity in jerry cans. Splitting up water like this is good for quantity control and contamination issues should they arise.

Lockers fill the port side of the settee area and under the galley bench that runs the length of the saloon area. High in the bilge under the table is fresh food storage as we rarely use the fridge at sea (not making the power to run it continuously).

Tankage for diesel is likewise split with the majority in a stainless tank and the remainder in a flexible tank. This gives about 150L useable fuel. Add 30L in jerry cans and we have a range of about 500nm.

Around the bilge are 2 more anchors and chain. That added to our main anchor and stern anchor with chain and rode in the cockpit, gives us more ground tackle than I hope we’ll ever use.  That said, we’ve had up to 3 set out on one occasion. We do carry a 15’ parachute sea anchor as well and have had the dubious pleasure of using it once a 1000nm east of NZ.

The port quarter berth is a long wide berth and is our sea berth that we hot bunk in. The starboard quarterberth is a bit more of a squeeze and is our “spare room” for storing stuff. Between the galley and the stb quarterberth are 3 big drawers that are bolted locked at sea. Great storage and above is a switch panel, VHF and AM/FM radios.

Our dinghy is a 9ft inflatable Avon Redcrest with a soft bottom and no outboard. It rows very well and carries 4 adults easily.  We have accepted a lift a few times over the years to reach a distant objective, but have no intention on changing. It rolls up and stows easily, we have no fuel worries and enjoy the exercise.

So that is our great little ship Narama in a nutshell.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lifou Island; we bid adieu to New Caledonia

Kids fishing at Tribu Drueulu, Lifou Island 
With no significant light pollution from the village (tribu) of Drueulu on Lifou Island and no moon, the display of stars was amazing.  Pulling out the Field Guide to Stars and Planets, we learnt that the dark spot near the Southern Cross was caused by cosmic dust blocking out the brighter Milky Way and is called the Coal Sack.  Armed with that piece of information we’ll be ready for more star gazing on the way to Vanuatu.
Crystal clear water at the anchorage in Lifou

The trip to Lifou had a quiet start as we motor sailed east from Noumea. We’d rather that than pounding into a strong SE trade wind that kicks up a nasty short chop in the lagoon.  In Woodin Canal a breaching humpback displayed for us. It must be one of the first up here from Antarctica this season. Havannah Pass was ebbing slowly when we thought it should be flooding so we were gently flushed out to sea. Some playful dolphins joined us for a while, some log rolling twice around in the air which was quite spectacular. The wind filled with a dousing of rain and we ran overnight up to Lifou. The water is very clear; Heidi started picking out the bottom at 20m on the way into Drueulu.  The anchorage is a mix of sand and hard flat coral with a few bommies and well protected from the SE trades. We paid our respects to the Petit Chiefs son as the Grande and Petit Chiefs were away. The son (a father of 5 and one day will be the Chief) welcomed us to the village and took our small gift to pass on.  All this was done semi-formerly in his round house. Heidi’s French was stretched a little, but it was a pleasant exchange followed by coffee in his house. The village itself was very neat and tidy. The thatched round houses were very common, usually along side another simple building which seemed to be the one lived in. We hitched across the island to Wé, walked around the many roads in the Drueulu area for some good birding, snorkeled off the white sand beaches and limestone cliffs and crags and watched a round house being re-thatched. We were surprised to hear only about 20 yachts a year come through. We added to both fish and bird species and turtles abound – a beautiful place.

Traditional Round House
Re-thatching underway

New Caledonia Species List

Breaching humpback in Canal Woodin
Pacific Black Duck
Tahiti Petrel
Wedge-tailed Shearwater
Wilson’s Storm Petrel
Little Pied Cormorant
Lesser Frigatebird
Red-footed Booby
Little Green (Striated) Heron
White-faced Heron
Pacific Reef Heron
Eastern Osprey
Brown Goshawk
Swamp Harrier
Whistling Kite
Peregrine Falcon
Buff-banded Rail
Purple Swamphen
Pacific Golden Plover
Wandering Tattler
Silver Gull
Black Noddy
Wedge-tailed Shearwater
Great Crested Tern
Sooty Tern
Black-naped Tern
Fairy Tern
Pacific Emerald Dove
Metallic Pigeon
Coven-feathered Dove
Red-bellied Fruit Dove
Spotted Dove
Coconut Lorikeet
Glossy Swiftlet
White-rumped Swiftlet
Sacred Kingfisher
Marred Honeyeater
Grey-eared Honeyeater
New Caledonian Myzomela
Cardinal Myzomela
New Caledonian Friarbird
Fan-tailed Gerygone
White-breasted Woodswallow
South Melanesian Cuckooshrike
Long-tailed Triller
Melanesian Whistler
Rufous Whistler
Grey Fantail
Streaked Fantail
New Caledonian Crow
Yellow-bellied Flyrobin
Pacific Swallow
Green-backed White-eye
White-breasted Woodswallow
Small Lifou White-eye
Red-vented Bulbul
Common Myna
Striated Starling
House Sparrow
Red-throated Parrotfinch
Common Waxbill

Bottlenose Dolphin
Omura’s Whale
Humpback Whale

Green Sea Turtle
Loggerhead Turtle
Band Sea Snake

We originally took this whale for a Bryde's. It turns out we were wrong!  There are no extra ridges on its rostum (top of the head) and it has a white lower jaw (it's assymettrical, like a Fin Whale, white on one side and dark on the other). After consulting with experts that know more about whale identification than we do, we've determined that it was an Omura's Whale, which has only been photographed in the wild once before, and not in this area of the world.  This species was only described in 2003.  We were pretty excited when we learned all this!

Omura's Whale in the southern lagoon

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dodging Weather in New Caledonia

We are glad we made use of the first few weeks here, as lately a couple of troughs have passed through forcing us to sit out wind and rain in protected anchorages.

After Île des Pins (70nm SE of Noumea) we spent another two weeks exploring Baie de Prony, where there were lots of protected bays.  If we had not run out of food we would have stayed longer… amazing snorkeling on the entrance reef and at Ilot Casey; great walking in several placest; penal colony ruins; and hot springs that were tepid but relaxing for a soak.  Rivers or streams seemed to run from every valley, so we had a good supply of washing water and with a few other boats around we shared some hospitality.   As we sailed off the anchor one day a few Tasmanians that had chartered a boat offered us some extra milk and bread.  This turned into an amusing sail into fluky winds and food tossing contest.  Only one milk had to be retrieved from the water. 

Returning to our favourite anchorage (Baie des Citrons) near Noumea harbour, we used the easy access to food, water and internet.  The beach has a huge buoyed area for swimming which is very popular from dawn till dusk.  We have also had many swims and made use of the beach showers.  Even though the outside temperature has dropped, the sea water is still about 25C, so it’s very pleasant.

While in Noumea we also visited the Museum of New Caledonia and Tjibaou Cultural Centre.  By good luck, the later coincided with the Pacific Arts Festival; so our day was full of entertainment of both traditional and modern music and dance.  Added to the art, architecture and displays it made for a most interesting day. 

We have sat out the last two troughs in an inlet 10 nm north of Noumea that has many bays to move around as the wind shifts.  Most of the land is private and we were warned that some was used for hunting, but walking the forshore at low tide seems ok.  If it wasn’t we would maybe go a little stir-crazy sitting onboard. The biggest mishap during all this was Stephen inadvertently letting the dinghy drift off in a strong breeze after emptying the water.  Not sure how, but in the few seconds it took to realize the only way to get it back was a swim and then a rapid strip, the distance rapidly increased. Having been warned some non-reef shark species inhabit these bays, it was a quick 100m.

We are now back in Noumea and saw another dugong on our way here this morning!  We are waiting for the right weather to head to Vanuatu.  It will likely be early next week. 

We hope that not many more of these troughs pass as Vanuatu has less all round protected anchorages. 

As the end of this voyage looms on the horizon we set plans in motion for storing the boat and work back in Canada.  We feel like we have slowed down.  There has been more quiet time in the last few weeks to reflect, read and relax.  Is this because we are savouring our last bit of “freedom” or have we reached a saturation point of new places?  Whatever it is, we are happy to soak in life at a slower pace for a while in preparation for busier times ahead.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Noumea and Île des Pins

We’ve been in New Caledonia for over three weeks and the time has flown past.  We have explored the city of Noumea, with its lovely museums and world class aquarium.  We’ve enjoyed our daily dose of bagette and brie and practiced our français.  Our (Heidi’s) struggling high-school language skills are always met with friendly and helpful responses and we’re constantly surprised at how well we manage to communicate.  One evening we shared drinks on a local catamaran and chatted well into the evening.  Translation wasn’t always fast enough for the flow of conversation, so Stephen didn’t catch everything, but it was still a wonderful visit.
Golden Trevally in Noumea Aquarium

We visited a few small island anchorages not far from Noumea, including Îlot Signal and Kouen, where we snorkeled along stunning coral reefs and found the most exciting fish diversity that we’ve seen yet!  Unfortunately our underwater camera has died, this means I need to bump up the effort to record in my sketchbook (another New Year’s resolution with good intentions).  Aside from the amazing fish, we’ve also seen nesting Shearwaters, loads of sea turtles and our first Dugong!  The dugong was too elusive for a photo but we were so excited!

From the Sketchbook: Spiny Chiton

Eventually it was time to venture further away from Noumea and the weather cooperated.  We made a 2-day jump to the SE when the trade winds eased; the first day to Baie de Prony in the south of Grand Terre.  After an hour or so of motoring we worried that we wouldn’t get much sailing in, but then ended up tacking through Canal Woodin with the help of current.  By the end of the day we had a reef in, but the NE breeze meant no seas to contend with, so it was a kickin’ day of sailing.  The second day, when we made of the longer jump down to Île des Pins also ended up a stunning sail in a southerly.
View from Pic N'ga over lagoon

We’ve been here nearly a week.  Hiked up the highest bit of land, Pic N’ga, a couple times.  For those who know Stephen well, we managed a bit of off-trail bush-walking on our second descent.  We’ve also rented bikes and went sight-seeing around the whole island and seen heaps of great endemic bird species in our wanderings.
It’s quite idyllic here really.  The local kids play and swim on the beach after school and had a great laugh helping us launch the dinghy one day.  We have a few Sharksuckers (like a Remora, but bigger) now associated with Narama’s hull.  One hangs out on the starboard side, near the sink drain outlet, the other on port side near the heads outlet (hmmm…) They also seem to like eggshells and cucumber peels, but not coffee grounds.  They even went after the leftovers from a can of chipotle chiles from Mexico that I had in the fridge too long.  If that didn’t put them off, then they might be with us to stay!
From Stephen's Sketchbook: Full moon rise over Ile des Pins

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cruising Expenses

Nearly 3 years have passed since we left on this “voyage” and we are occasionally queried as to where the money comes from.  Especially since are not yet retired and living on a pension.  The reality is that it’s not that expensive….. if you’re careful.

 As we keep a close tally on expenses, here’s a summary as to where the money has gone in terms of cruising. To set the scene though; we have a smaller and simpler than average boat, our raison d’être is wildlife and we don’t mean the bar type and we enjoy exercise (no outboard on the dinghy). In the last 32 months we have cruised from Canada to New Zealand, returned to work for 5 months and spent the last 5 months in New Zealand mostly off the boat. The chart below breaks down the expenses for the cruising time only.

 We have met folks who cruise for much less and many for much more. We have gone over our planned budget, but have considered it all well spent as some places we may not get back too (Galapagos in particular).  There are several ways some can reduce their budget. Insurance, both boat and medical being big items. We always buy medical insurance. We buy boat insurance where required by local law and then we go for comprehensive.  If we could rid ourselves of stuff kept ashore this would save us in storage expenses. The fuel expense also covers stove fuel (denatured alcohol) which has been expensive in the pacific.  Marina time is a splurge for us, but nice to wash things down and handy when friends come to stay. We rarely use our fridge and as such eat few animal products, with beans and lentils being consumed a lot.  That said, we do enjoy a beer and steak once and a while.  Boat costs are unlikely to go down, especially with a 42 year-old boat.  In fact with the new paint job in NZ (well overdue) and some rigging replacement (after 25.000nm) the average expenditure there will likely go up.  As this is a comprehensive total, the miscellaneous section includes a computer and camera that have been replaced on route.

 It will soon be time to return to work to refund the cruising kitty, but we have found it possible to travel and enjoy ourselves for just over $1700 a month all inclusive.  Breaking that down, we have had nearly three years cruising for the price of a reasonably fancy new vehicle or a hefty down payment.  If that sacrifice means living aboard another few years, we’ll accept that.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Passage to New Caledonia

From the Sketchbook

Did I really say that we would have nice sailing in my last blog entry?  Superstitious sailors should know better than to tempt fate!

Whew!  We made it!  Our passage from New Zealand was a tough one, in fact it was the roughest weather we’ve had consistently on a passage.  It blew between 15 and 40 knots, but was over 25 most of the time.  It grew rather tedious with big seas, regularly slamming the side of the coach-house and splashing across the cockpit.  One wave managed to come through the cockpit at just the right angle at just the wrong time.  We had the cover over the hatch open and the wave planted itself into the quarter-berth where Heidi was sleeping at the time.  That was a rude awakening and has never happened to us before!  At least this passage was relatively fast.  It took us 7 ½ days and we still had lots of fresh fruit and veg left on our arrival as our appetites weren’t up to eating much!

There’s no species list to report for this passage; Heidi didn’t pick up binoculars to look at seabirds until we entered the pass into the lagoon.  When she doesn’t feel like looking at birds, than that means things are serious!

Here’s a few stats from the trip…

Opua, New Zealand to Noumea, New Caledonia
Narama stats:
Total distance: 884 nm (nautical miles)
Best 24-hour day:  138 nm
Worst day: 103 nm
Average day: 120 nm
Average speed: 5 knots
Highest winds: 40 knot gusts
Sail changes: 6 (includes reefing, but not furling for squalls)
Sails used: between 1 and 3 reefs in the main; furling jib and storm jib
Ships sighted: 4
Engine hours: 4.6 (port to port)

Damage sustained: One bent stanchion and a cracked stanchion base (stainless).  Also, we ripped our cockpit side-covers: the bungy cords on the bottom released pressure, but not fast enough.  Oh yeah, and Heidi’s ego.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Farewell to New Zealand

Beautiful Bay of Islands, NZ

Well after being in New Zealand for nearly six months, it is time to move on.  With a high pressure cell moving towards us from Australia this means nice weather and sailing.  In fact it is hard to leave when we know that the sailing locally here in the Bay of Islands will be lovely, but winter is coming here to the far south, so we’ll bid this lovely place adieu.  It also means saying good bye to many other cruisers that we have met along the way and shared many an anchorage with.  New Zealand seems to be a bit of a crossroads, where some are heading to Fiji, some to Australia and Southeast Asia and some even back towards North America.  We hope to sail in the beautiful lagoon of New Caledonia next.  Safe sailing to everyone heading out to sea somewhere!!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Shipyard: Heidi’s favourite part of boating!

After 15 years, the topside paint (sides of the boat above the water) was looking very tired, so we decided to paint her while here in New Zealand.  After a bit of to-and-fro we decided with International’s two-part polyurethane system.  With the condition of our paint before we started we had to sand it right back to gelcoat in most places first and then start with an epoxy primer.  After two coats of the primer, we painted two undercoats and then two final coats; it meant sanding the entire boat 5 times and painting it six times.  With the usual boatyard full of opinions on how to, when to and what to paint with, we think we had the tools sorted by the last coat and the technique of rolling and tipping nearly figured out.  All would have been perfect(or as close to perfect as we managed) had a 20-second shower not speckled our port side on the final coat.  With another week of rain forecast, we have left the dots as a reminder of New Zealand.  From 30 feet away we’ve had lots of admirers and if you discount the odd run and sag even the pro’s were a little surprised with our final result.  In the end it was worth the arm workout and tensions. 
The steering gear also came off and had a complete polish and service, we replaced our rudder bearings and now after nearly 3 weeks, we’re glad to be floating again.  Women are scarce in a shipyard, so I consider myself lucky to have Heidi working beside me, but that’s how we met in the first place!