Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Time to Creep up a Creek...

It's little wonder that settlers from Cornwall, Scotland and Ireland felt so at home in New Zealand. With her rugged, meandering coastlines which are often enshrouded in thick blankets of rain sodden cloud; the similarities to their homelands are easy to see.

The fair weather that had kindly swept us to these pleasant isles, had been pushed aside by the more boisterous weather that we'd feared might welcome us. Fortunately we were tucked away in relative shelter by then. With more gales forecast for Sunday and the next few days, we thought it might be time to hide further.

The temptation was to explore up a narrow estuary; as I would in Cornwall. Tucking our boat safely away in some sheltered pool far up river. The tide cutting off access as it drains away, with Impetuous safe from the ravages of the wind.

The image of the weathered sailor waking in the small dark hours of morning to catch the tide is often used but seldom the reality. After a peaceful lie in with our books and several cups of tea, followed by a leisurely breakfast and then coffee; we were ready to wind slowly up the Keri Keri river with the last of the rising tide.

Despite several shallow patches, we were pleasantly surprised at how effortlessly we were able to creep up the estuary without ploughing our keel into the soft mud, always carrying a healthy margin of 50 cm under us.

The river wound its way beyond many twist and turns, passing rolling hills drenched in leaden cloud. Upon each turn the wind that had swept us up lessened as we found our intended shelter. Then at one juncture it left us altogether. We started the engine; which we now refer to as the shoe dryer as we have resorted to drying our shoes upon its hot carcass after any use. 

Eventually we arrived at the estuaries head; 'Standing Stones' where the river is no longer navigable. This is the site of the oldest stone store in the country.  It was built by early traders to store grain and then used as a trading post when they found Northland too wet to grow grain. An impressively solid building, which somewhat dwarfs the white washed timber house located next door; the oldest building in New Zealand.

We walked up from the stone store in that hybrid of precipitation; mizzle. Thicker than mist but thinner than drizzle, mizzle has that unique quality that somehow soaks your clothes from the inside out. It was not to last. As the mizzle gave way to drizzle we lingered in the shops that had the heating on. As we trudged wearily back to the boat at the end of our day, the drizzle turned to rain.

How quickly things change; it was merely a couple of weeks ago that I relished an icy cold beer as it trickled down my throat.  Now we've taken to placing our wine in a saucepan of hot water to get it to what; without fire, we dream of being room temperature. The idea of cold beer now just makes us shiver. Still I'm sure it will be summer soon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Last big passage of the year...

There's nothing quite like the whirr of a wind generator to spur you on for your next voyage. We had encountered the one in motion next to us, together with it's haphazard owner before. As it squealed it's way round up to terminal velocity and back down with every gust, we had no confidence that it would not disintegrate and ornament our boat and potentially our heads with shards of shrapnel. We had to get away from them both...

It was with mixed feelings that we pulled in our lines and anchor from Nuku'alofa's FREE harbour. On one hand Tonga was refreshingly gritty, interesting and fun. On the other hand the fact that it was the very end of the season and all the moderate organised people were already tucked up in New Zealand meant that our neighbours for the last week had all been of a certain ilk... Let me just say that it made for some great parties but it was time to have a dry, quiet week at sea.

We'd walked about the wonderful main market with temperance in mind. There's no good in loading up your boat with sumptuous tropical fruits and weird and wonderful root vegetables in order to check in to New Zealand and see the whole lot go into a big plastic sack headed for the incinerator. New Zealand as an agricultural nation has a real 'thing' about keeping out the pests and viruses it feels threatened by. All through the Pacific rumours flew amongst boaters as to the extent of what would be confiscated. Shells, feathers, stones, baskets, seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, rice, coffee, cocoa... what would they take?

It was the second time of our trip so far, that we'd met someone who cared about spices as much as us. After we'd had our 'spice swap' we really needed to confront the elephant in the room. Gaya like us was facing the threat of her hard won and precious collection being confiscated and our discussions turned to hiding places. Innocently in our view; it's not like the threat seemed big... but just the chance that they might decimate our collections meant we were being inventive. Tim finally brought reason to the table 'you're talking high scale smuggling if you hide the methi seeds there!'

In the end I emailed the biosecurity department in New Zealand asking for up to date and specific guidance. We were extremely reassured to hear that many herbs and spices were allowed and others; namely the whole seed variety were subject to inspection. The inferance was that if the inspector had cause for concern they could throw all kinds of things out but that they probably wouldn't. Thus placated we only hid a couple of particularly coveted items just incase we came into contact with an overly zealous inspector.

Even when we were in the Atlantic I'd been thinking about this passage to come. There are many stories about yachts coming to grief on their trip to New Zealand and several boats are lost in her surrounding waters each year. As we got closer, the people we spoke to, who knew, were much more relaxed about the passage. 'Leaving in November or December, it's the best time, it'll be summer when you arrive.' 'I've done it more than twenty times, you'll be fine, don't worry!' So when we set off we were ready for whatever. The forecast seemed like it would be fairly light winds but as we still can't get up to date forecasts at sea yet; we knew this could change as we got near New Zealand and our week old forecast ran out.

We started out Saturday early evening, just clearing Tongatapu by sunset. The breeze was gentle so we were sailing beautifully with all the sails out at around 7knots. The next night the wind got slacker so we discussed the possibility of stopping at Minerva Reefs. We'd not planned to, but a few people had recommended it to us. Intrigued we thought we'd have a look; it was on our way in any case. The wind got up again as we approached but it seemed churlish to miss it so, as we'd arrived at 1am we reefed and carried on for a few hours then sailed back to the pass.

Minerva reefs are two separate coral reef fringed lagoons around 30 miles apart. We entered North Minerva through the unmarked pass just after sunrise, which was obvious by the disturbed waters of the outflowing current. We sailed across the calm lagoon to anchor in the lee of the Reef in the North East corner, had a fry up and then snorkelled out to the reef. The water was markedly cooler and there wasn't much going on. We had the whole place to ourselves,but we didn't need to wait out any weather, it was perfect, so we decided to crack on.

In many ways, even with our restraint in Tonga, the passage was one of almost constant eating as we tried to consume all that we feared might be taken. Meals almost snowballed into each other, as we both expressed the gastronomic concerns we shared over our stocks by cooking and eating them. Breakfast the day we arrived, for example, was left over lamb curry; New Zealand lamb ironically. To compound our worries, it was by far our most successful trip with regard to fishing. The information we had received said no meat. Though we've met plenty of vegetarians who claim fish isn't meat we had our doubts. As it turned out we needn't have worried and we still have a freezer full of fish.

It turned out that the rules were; all fresh fruits and vegetables were thrown out, no questions asked. After that they wanted to see each cupboard where we kept foods but all they took were all dried beans and popcorn. Flours, lentils, quinoa, bulgar, sesame and flax seeds, pasta and rice were all ok. No meat; fresh, frozen or tinned is allowed, freshwater fish; canned or fresh is likewise prohibited but sea fish are fine. They never asked about spices and seemed in a tremendous hurry to chuck a few things out and then move on. They were probably only on our boat for around twenty minutes, it was a bit of a whirl. Wonderfully it was all gratis; we have a six month visa and the boat is fine to stay up to two years.

So here we are in the Bay of Islands. Look at our landfall photos; it's just how we both remember New Zealand to be; a thick veil of cloud covering the impressive landscape.

Down with the Tongan flag and up with the Kiwi; woolly hat covers still bad hair...
This was our landfall... can you see what it is yet?  It's less than two miles away!


Friday, November 28, 2014

Spring Clean

We were both having bad hair days when we took our Tongan flag picture so I thought it would be more interesting to include this grave decoration instead.  The Polynesian graves are often very bright and colourful with murals of the deceased.  This family must have been patriotic.

The Kingdom of Tonga has four distinct island groups running North to South over around 500 miles. It's population of around 112,000 live largely on the coralline island of Tongatapu to the South with it's administrative capital Nuku'alofa, along with its king. Vava'u to the North has the town of Neiafu, between these two is the geologically varied Ha'apai group . Further north are the Niuatoputapu group which we didn't visit as the anchorages looked tricky and it was out of our way.  

The islands are formed along the Tongan plate and Tongan trench boundary so there is a lot of volcanic activity in the area.  The western islands are volcanoes created by the Pacific plate subducting under the Australia-India plate at the Tonga trench. The eastern islands are on the Tongan ridge and are largely either low coral limestone islands or sandy cays with a lot of coral reef growing around and between them.  We stayed well clear of areas of recent volcanic activity. There are two islands which periodically appear and then are eroded back away by the sea and there are tales of how when a big bubble of gas erupts from the sea bed your boat could fall into the huge hole in the sea it would create!

When we left the Vava'u group we hadn't checked the weather forecast for a while so were surprised to be struggling to find safe anchorages sheltered from the strong Northerly then Westerly winds as a deep low pressure system passed over. Once this had cleared up we were able to check in and move on along this island chain.

On the island of Haafeva where the trees were dripping with mangos, we were set wondering what the pigs might taste like. We couldn't find anyone selling the meat or doing much else. It felt a bit like New Orleans post Mardi Gras; people were wandering around looking a little vacant with bloodshot eyes presumably from too much Kava. The supply boat had recently unloaded and there had been a wedding and birthday parties. Kava is a root vegetable that is cooked up into a drink and taken as a mild narcotic in several Pacific islands. The only trade we could see going on was a fuel hut with a young guy hand pumping from barrels which had been so recently delivered with a queue of skiffs up the beach.

We were sad to miss visiting Tofua; off which the bounty mutiny occurred; where there is an active volcano. I'd been looking forward to the possibility of hacking our way up to the bubbling lava and steaming lake on this unpopulated island. However, our chart showed the island as only a featureless blob and the wind was still blowing out of the West meaning we would have had a hard slog to windward with uncertain chances of protection. The reefs of these islands can be quite sporadic and unpredictable. Our charts turned out to be largely accurate but certainly could not be relied upon so sailing at night was very much out of the question. We'd several times be looking out for a patch of reef to one side or another only to find ourselves suddenly sailing over it; hard to know which way to go at that point as you can't be sure how high it will have grown up.

As we have been hopping between the islands we have used this opportunity to give the whole boat a big clean. When we launched Impetuous last year, we simply loaded up with all our work in progress and took the lot to Clear Lake. When it was time to go, we just piled everything into the boat without too much thought or organisation. We've since been through our cupboards a few times but with the impending inspection by the New Zealand authorities we thought it high time to have a spring clean. The whole process has been quite cathartic; we've thrown out all remaining cardboard together with quite a few cockroaches, treated everywhere to stop them coming back, set aside beans and popcorn to be given away to our Tongan neighbours as they are not allowed in New Zealand; all in all we've gained three empty cupboards! We have used up the last of our varnish giving the mast a couple more coats and started sewing up a new flag.

We'll leave for New Zealand in the next couple of days on our last big passage of the year.  Here's a few more photos of Tonga.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mariners' Cave

We are currently in Tonga, soaking up the last of the tropical season before we head south to New Zealand; out of the tropics, out of the coming cyclone season, and into the fast approaching summer of the southern hemisphere. All the same, after almost a year in the tropics we're expecting a big temperature drop; so much so that our down duvet was retrieved recently, during a head-sail sail change, from where it lives when not in use. We're both trying to remember where we have stashed our warm clothes; gloves, hats, scant provisioned waterproofs and the thermals I bought ten years ago in New Zealand: The last time I visited during summer. Ready for our trip south.

We still do have a little time to explore this wonderful Kingdom; not often one gets the chance to say that. Only the other day; when clearing in to the Ha'apai group, we sat on regally decorated chairs.

Also enjoying themselves here; whilst thinking of the final step south; seem to be most of the stragglers of the Pacific season. Like us, comparatively young and care free (and un-insured!). Some of the boats we had seen during our time in Polynesia, but never got the chance to say hello to, are here. Others we've met too; new and old friends alike. Couple this with our arrival coinciding with a big fancy dressed Halloween party; perhaps you can imagine how we spent our first few days in these islands.

There was one adventure that the Vava'u group of these islands had to offer, that Ruth was insistent that we should not pass up; Mariners Cave. A cave that can only be accessed by diving under the water through its entrance then bobbing up into a limestone auditorium; illuminated by the rays of the sun reflecting from the sea bed beneath. We found it hard to find as our outdated guide had no waypoints, only a rough description, and our electronic charts of the Vava'u group are quite out. 

Ruth thought we were in the right ball park and leapt over the side; with her mask, snorkel and fins. There is no buoy or possible anchorage, so my job was to hover on Impetuous, keeping an eye out upon the swimmer, and collect, when she reappeared. Ruth spent a few moments swimming around the area, locating the underwater hole in the rocks. By the time she had, my stomach had gotten the better of me and I had descended into our own cave upon Impetuous to find something to eat; only for a moment I hasten to add. When I peered out she had gone....

Not surprisingly I was on deck; a little more attentive, when she reappeared. I collected her from the water and innocently asked just where it was she had disappeared to as she had been gone at least 10 minutes. 'The streaks on the rocks, see, just there. Slightly to the left is a huge cave entrance, you can't miss it, its just a short dive under, into the dark!'

I popped up into the auditorium, stalactites hung from the roof of the lime stone cave. But there was not the haunting stillness one can sometimes feel when in such a cave. It was filled with the familiarity of the ocean. The slight swell breaking on the far wall of the cave as one floated around in the warm waters, seemed to prevent me from drifting off in the dark corners of the cave and my mind, where one would expect those vampires to be languishing. 

The sunlight shone from below causing the small wavelets to glow with indigo blue hues at times. When a bigger swell from outside entered the cave one's ears would start to pop as the pressure rose; also causing, we think, a moment of fog on top of the waters' surface as the water vapour in the air started to change state as it was compressed. Then the swell would flow back out, and all would revert to normal. Once again one would be mesmerised; staring at the hues of the water and the geology of the caves, as the sun's strength changed outside.

Should you be visiting these islands, don’t miss the chance to go to mariners cave; especially if, unlike us, you have an underwater camera. 

Aim for a way-point of 18 41.42 S, 174 04.50 W and look for orange and white streaks on the limestone.

Luckily our friends Tim and Gayathra visited the same cave at a different time and have let us use their photo of Gaya swimming in, to give you an idea of the underwater entrance.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

In Sympathy with Bligh...

We'd clung to our anchor listening to the wind howl for a week in Bora Bora before we left. Then 24 hours out our breeze petered out to the occasional puff. Somehow in these conditions Impetuous manages to carry on in the right direction, but when we got down to one knot, we knew we were doing more harm to the sails than we were making headway. We cast a look around on the chart and spied Maupihaa (also known as Mopelia). We snuck into this atoll through the skinniest pass yet; it was only 18m across! 24 hours later the wind had returned so after a walk ashore we returned to sea.

The next morning Ruth's fever started. To this day we're not sure what it was, but she spent the next four days in bed shivering. Prior to leaving Bora Bora, we'd spoken to an English couple who had raved about the beauty of Aitutaki. 'How much do you draw?' they asked, '5ft7ish', 'oh you're lucky, you can get in'. It's funny how we, as sailors are happy to shoehorn our precious homes into a space that we just don't fit. If you were reversing into a parking space that was 10cm smaller than your car, your onlookers would never say, 'ah, a little scrape, you'll get in, you might have to climb out the boot!'. Duncan swam out the kedge anchor 4 times to drag us in through that pass and over the sandbar. Ruth struggled to steer and winch but once we were in, she was back to bed and feeling awful.

Lieutenant William Bligh left Portsmouth in December 1787 bound for Tahiti. After 30days battling mountainous seas and headwinds off Cape Horn they were forced to abandon this route and sail the other way around the world to get to their destination. They stopped at the Cape of Good Hope, Van Diemen's land (Tasmania) then stayed low below New Zealand to use favourable winds before looping round to Tahiti. His wooden sailing ship 'the Bounty' was small for the time; 85ft long 220 tons rated as a Cutter (though it had three masts) and she carried a crew of 46. Their voyage's purpose was to collect hundreds of breadfruit plants in order to transplant these to the Caribbean as an efficient food for slaves there.

Bligh steered his men through this very trying voyage with little apparent difficulty until he encountered a storm off Aitutaki. In sympathy with Bligh, as we dragged ourselves over that sand and coral our engine gave the most horrific knock. It made all manner of odd noises, ran away with itself and then died. Our concerns were heightened by the fact that we were being blown onto shallower water but luckily we were still stuck fast. After our fourth kedge we finally felt the boat even out as she found a little water under her keel. We tentatively started the engine and it gently muttered us into a spot where we could drop our anchor.

As far as we can tell, the problems that led to the mutiny of Bligh's crew lay in the fact that the men had a very good time on Tahiti. When they left, they were now facing another arduous slog of a journey in order to return to England where life was far from easy. Many of them had found lovers and made good friends in the garden of paradise that was Tahiti, and it was more than a wrench to give this life up.

We spent the next day troubleshooting the engine; Ruth from the bed with manual in hand, Duncan at the spanners end. In the background we were forever bumping the bottom, re-anchoring as the tide changed and the wind shifted and howled all the way round the compass. Still unsure what was wrong with Pip we were then Blighted once again when Duncan started to shake and sweat. We'd been there almost a week before we felt we could step ashore.

Aitutaki is indeed a beautiful island. It's hard to describe why, when it clearly lacks the iconic grandeur of Bora Bora, but the lagoon is shallow and brightly coloured whereas the island is verdant, luxurious and is populated by Maori descended Polynesian people who are endearing and delightful.

This photo was taken from climbing up the water tanks up top of the island.  That's why you see corrugated steel. This is just another beautiful tree full of the ear held flowers...

We'd struggled in the society islands to find much in the way of fruit and vegetables. This seemed in disparity to the lushness that was in evidence wherever you looked. Aitutaki was therefore a new kind of playground. When we walked away from the town we found trees rich with breadfruit, grapefruit, limes and chillis. In the petrol store they sold tomatoes cheaply, which were the most sumptuous we've tasted.

Bligh's crew mutineered off Tofua in the kingdom of Tonga, but the rumblings of discontent began off Aitutaki. Pip hasn't murmured any discontent since we left, and we're both now back to full health. Our sail to Tonga was beautifully peaceful and breezy. We'd been spectacularly unsuccessful with fishing ever since the Tuamotus so when we caught two good sized MahiMahi the day before we arrived we were delighted.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Societies....

When Duncan's parents; Chris and Jean; first mentioned a visit, it seemed a long way off. We suggested the society islands as we thought they'd be a sight to be seen. They were unsure at first, then they asked around friends who had seen a little of this side of the world... then they knew it was an opportunity too good to miss. As Tahiti came into view just over two months ago now, I still remember the anticipation for what was to come. By this time we'd been in French Polynesia 6 weeks already. We'd seen the two extremes of atoll formation; the high volcanic peaks of the Marquesas and the sunken remnants of the Tuamotus. Now it was time to revel in the best of both worlds; mountainous islands cosseted by their outlying reefs; turquoise lagoons peppered with motus (small outlying coral islands) surrounded, but safe from the breaking surf.

Chris was kind enough to note down some thoughts of their visit so I've included some of them throughout this blog, in italics as here;

"Duncan was introduced to sailing at three months and although all our children have sailed extensively across oceans in small boats, salt water has always seriously run through Duncan's veins. I suppose it was inevitable that he would cross the Pacific but he caught me by surprise when Ruth and Duncan asked us out. We didn't think twice and although Impetuous was still 700 miles away in the Marquees Islands we booked our flights with air New Zeeland to Tahiti. True to their word we found them waiting for us at Papeete airport. After a short taxi ride we piled into the solid dinghy they had made in Guatamala, and feasted our eyes on easily the most beautiful yacht in the lagoon, for the first time. 

We had visited Impetuous on land in Houston while she was in her cradle but now the 38ft double ender lay deep in the water and with her bowsprit and wooden mast looked truly spectacular."

We arrived two days early intentionally to Tahiti so we could see a hurricane hole anchorage we'd read about and do a little stocking up at Carrefour (the luxury of French living!). The anchorage did appear to be as safe as reported and we spoke to a couple who'd left their boat there for a few months, they were happy. We're just gathering information for next time; French Polynesia is special as a cruising destination. It's not just amazingly beautiful, there are no fees for us Europeans which makes the European prices in the shops easier to take. You might be surprised just how much of the boat budget gets used up on entry and exit fees, we certainly are!

We'd washed our cushion covers for our impending visitors which seemed a great idea until it came to leaving the boat. Do you leave them up drying on the sheet ropes? hoping they won't blow away or get rained on, or bring them in early... it was time to go so they came in, They got put back in place and we rushed off. We didn't quite know where the airport was beyond how it looked on our charts so after speed marching a mile or so we started asking around; 'ooh la la, Loin!', came the reply, 'what, how many kilometers?', '5...6...7?'  Well, of course it wasn't, we were there within thirty minutes, which was great as we then turned out to be two hours early...(Duncan really paid attention to the correspondences!)

It was very special having Chris and Jean staying with us.  For a start off Chris did ALL of the washing up and got so enthusiastic about catching rain water that we never had to think about it whilst they were here.  Having another couple with us brought home to us just how lucky we are to have all the time in the world wherever we choose.

First off we went to Moorea.  In retrospect there was a lot more to see in Tahiti but at the time we wanted to get sailing and into more peaceful climes.  As our friend 'Jacques' said "Here in Papa'ete we've got a refill on our Carbon monoxide levels!" as the traffic zoomed around us.  Our first bay in Moorea was little visited for obvious reasons, we rolled about like Weebles.  We enjoyed our walks up to the waterfalls but back on the boat we made a quick exit.

Our exit through this pass was pretty exciting with waves breaking over the back deck.  Closely watching the GPS, 'yes we are moving... just....'  Cooks bay on Moorea was astonishingly beautiful.  The water was deep and crystal clear.  A clean, fresh clarity, entirely different from the turquoise clear waters that we stayed in the next night round the corner.  There we shared the anchorage with numerous rays.  Outside the pass we saw a whale with a calf...

After Tahiti and Moorea we headed on to Huahine.  There's no doubt; when we first mentioned that we would be setting out in the evening for this 90 mile trip, there was some clear silent resistance.   I, as a novice just assumed they'd understand and look forward to it, and Duncan of course didn't elaborate or worry about the deafening lack of enthusiasm from his parents.  The night sail was a pleasant one with plenty of wind so I was surprised that Chris and Jean didn't really seem to relish it.  In the morning Jean said 'well if I was impressed before by your long passages, now I'm really amazed by what you two have done'.  We anchored near the pass at Huahine ready for lunch then everyone had an afternoon sleep.

Huahine was a lovely island.  It's peaks were a little less dramatic than the others and perhaps therefore the feel on island was much more agricultural than tourist driven.    

"It seems to me that Duncan has made two very good decisions. The first was choosing Impetuous. I discussed the choice of boat with Ruth giving them both the credit but she was quick to remind me that at the time she knew nothing of yachts, only narrow boats, on which she lived. It was entirely Duncan who chose the Alajuela. Ruth obviously took a leap of faith to devote so much time effort and money into the Impetuous dream! But Impetuous IS simply a dream. She has beautiful lines, the finish of her hull, the varnish work especially her lovely wooden mast, together with her topsides, cockpit and interior all add up to the perfect blue water yacht. We set off from Tahiti for Huahine about 100 miles away. Soon we were clear of the land and picked up a force 5-6 broad reach. The Aries (Beryl) was set, and off we went at 6-8 knots. The long keel gave her amazing directional stability. The cutter rig kept her sails small and manageable and her 13 tons made for an easy motion. In short the perfect yacht for trade wind passages and more than able to take more challenging conditions in her stride."

"Secondly, of course, its getting together with Ruth who is clever, highly practical, a quick learner and totally at home on Impetuous whether at sea or at anchor and very active. Indeed often when either of them find a spare moment they are beavering away at some repair or new project. For instance, varnishing the gunwales, repairing sails, making cushion covers and commissioning step ladder, essential for getting out after a swim for the old fogies!"

Chris and Jean swam from the boat at least twice every day, they were like yo-yos in and out of the water so the swim ladder was a good addition for them.  We had managed up until then by climbing out of the sea up the rudder hinges onto the back deck.  A good trick, but perhaps not the most elegant way for visiting dignitaries! 

"I had imagined that our time on Impetuous would include eating ashore in beautiful little French Polynesian restaurants perched on strategic outcrops with splendid views and perhaps even with air conditioning. My thoughts were misguided, we found no such establishments anywhere. They probably existed, almost certainly on Tahiti but we never came across one and apart from a baguette sandwich we never ate ashore." 

"The off islands especially Bora Bora were peppered with exclusive holiday complexes on the motu islands of the reef, where exclusive food was no doubt served. However, there is a plus side to French Polynesia; French food in the supermarkets at not too unreasonable a price. We bought baguettes, Pate de Campagne, endless cheeses, merguez sausages and on and on."

"What came as a real surprise was the truly magnificent, imaginative food cooked by Duncan and Ruth. They occasionally cooked together but usually one would take full control. It didn't matter who, the food was superb. They had caught a large Dorado before arriving in Tahiti and from time to time it was the basis of the evening meal both in the form of fish stock and sometimes frozen steaks from the freezer compartment of the excellent fridge." 

"It will be the use of beans that I will remember most. Beans, which I have never really eaten apart from the Heinz variety, turned up in most meals. You had to think ahead as they needed soaking for various amounts of time and when enhanced by a variety of spices were quite delicious. I'm a toast and marmalade man for breakfast so I remain surprised at how tasty a dollop of chilli beans wrapped in pancake was at 8 O'clock in the morning! The food produced from cuisine Impetuous was spectacular and the need to seek food ashore seemed pointless." 

"No account of our food should exclude fruits which grew naturally on the islands. With the exception of pineapple which we bought but were very cheap everything else was free. Ruth was constantly foraging for limes. Ruth too was getting good at breaking into a green coconut and acquiring the milk through a straw. And, of course, we cracked open the ripe coconuts for their flesh. But the real surprise was breadfruit which grew in profusion and was not obviously harvested by the locals. We picked the large fruit about 6 or 7 inches in diameter, they were cut into chips and fried; delicious!"

Having four strong personalities on the boat was of course occasionally a stretch for us all. For Duncan and I the constant chatter and commenting on everything got to breaking point a few times.  Duncan came up with a novel solution for this; strapped a dive tank on and submerged.  When he came back, the answer to 'how was your dive' was a very heartfelt 'quiet'.   

Chris and Jean have been sailing on their own boats their entire lives together (well over 40 years) and so obviously have their own ways of doing things.  Mostly there were no clashes but it was inevitable there'd be some.  You've already heard their shock and subsequent acquiescence to beans being a large part of the menu.  You've been spared from hearing just how much our lives would be enriched (according to Chris) by the purchase of an outboard motor but it seems the washing up was an even bigger deal; 

"I am always happy to wash up. My culinary skills are somewhat limited and I feel that washing up, drying the dishes and generally clearing up is a useful contribution; I feel I am doing my bit!  Normally I enjoy immersing the greasiest of pans into hot soapy water, fresh water of course, putting them onto one cloth to drain before drying them with another, nothing new there, I hear you say! You can imagine by dismay when I was quickly informed that cold salt water was the order of the day and there was a special tub of vim-like salt water soap specially provided! I must admit, my first feeling was one of shock. Cold, salt water, surely not! There was worse to come! You see, if you dry salty dishes with a tea towel, it soon becomes heavy with salt and in the moisture ridden atmosphere of Polynesia never dries. Yes, I found myself drying up with damp salty tea towels. At first I just bit the bullet and followed protocol but as time went on and I became active in acquiring fresh water, either from a tap ashore or sometimes from collecting it from the sunshade,  Anyway, I now felt more confident and started surreptitiously rinsing my clean salty dishes with a quick squirt of fresh. Also I took to washing out the tea towels in fresh and hung them out to dry; that made me feel so much better. Taking a step backwards, I really can see that on long voyages washing up in salt water makes a lot of sense. In time I grew more accustomed to the situation and would perhaps have adapted to it in the end."

This anchorage on Tahaa was the most beautiful snorkelling we've seen.  There is a hotel there called the Tahaa Pearl where people stay in wooden huts over the water (at VAST expense) and yet the gap between the islands seemed hardly visited by them.  The pass between the islands is nicknamed the 'Coral Garden' an apt name indeed and is visited sporadically by trip boats.  Jean came back from her first visit wide eyed with wonder.  The coral and fish were so bright you could see them clearly from outside above, but once you put your mask on and drifted amongst them it was spellbinding.

After Tahaa we sailed over to Bora Bora where Chris and Jean would be flying back from.  We had several days there with them so went right around the island.   The island had a different feel from the others.  It seemed less friendly with it's busy road and commercial feel but there's no doubt it is a stunning place.

"The people of French Polynesia, almost to the last one, were quite delightful. The girls were pretty, usually with a flower tucked behind an ear and the boys were handsome. They invariably smiled, were always ready for a joke and were as helpful as they could be. Even the traditional Polynesian tattoos seemed somehow more acceptable." 

"I was surprised at how they never pushed their wares at us and left us alone at anchor. Some young men were often seen paddling outrigged fibreglass canoes around the lagoon. One chap paddled after us for 10 or 20 minutes, finally catching us as we dropped anchor,with a smile he handed us a diary for us to sign!"

"Bora Bora was indeed beautiful. Much of the lagoon is deep enough to sail in but shallow enough for the sandy bottom and the blue sky to give those perfect turquoise blues and with a backdrop of the volcanic crater perhaps it does deserve the title of the most beautiful island in the world. As we watched Impetuous sail slowly away from the reef island airport a turtle surfaced and with those images, our time in Polynesia came to a close."

Once we'd dropped off Chris and Jean to go back to the world of hot showers and dishwashers we decided we still wanted to see a bit more of the Society islands.  We'd missed Raiatea which is a big mountainous island inside the same fringing reef as Tahaa (of the excellent snorkelling).  Though this looks like a house that might have a vase of flowers in the window and floral bedspreads, it's actually just a shell used by the fishermen to store their equipment on the edge of the lagoon.

Most of the anchorages in the Societies were very deep.  It became a bit of a problem whilst we were moving so often; it's ok pulling up 70m of chain in 25m of water every few days (though still hard) but every day gets a bit much.  So when we found this beautiful spot anchored in 3m of sandy basin we stayed several days, went diving on the nearby wall, varnished, relaxed and enjoyed the peace!

This was one of the biggest ceremonial places of the islands; a Marae on Raiatea.  It was a big platform for dances and offerings with many ancient carved stones overlooking the sea.

Then we returned to Bora Bora and had a few more days there enjoying the scenery and doing some boat jobs.  A squall around the top of the island ripped apart a seam on our mainsail so we took the opportunity to sew a new leech line onto it too.  Thus rejuvenated we wonder if we'll ever get around to rebuilding and fitting our new one.

Bora Bora Maitai yacht club; it's a popular place.  Though it's been a luxurious joy to find french cheeses, baguettes and saucisson on these islands of the pacific, our waist lines will thank us for leaving.  We're getting ready to run out of butter again.

The most beautiful island in the world?  We'll let you know...