On the 17th October, around
noon, Ragnar begins her voyage around the world. We are five on board: Skip the
skipper, Barbara the ship’s mate and Dani the ship’s boy as crew and Jaime
and Rosa, Dani’s parents as guests who accompany us on our first leg.
The preparations were extensive
and we are feeling relieved to finally get away and be able tolet go the stress
of the last months.
Two weeks ago, Ringu Tulku
Rimpoche from Sikkim was on board to bless the boat and us. And together with
the good wishes and prayers from Lama Yeshe Rimpoche, abbot and good friend of
Samyelibg monastery in Scotland, we feel completely protected for the trip.
After saying goodbye to our
dear children and friends we slowly motor out of Palma de Mallorca boat yard
until also the last link – a toilet paper roll between Dani and his sister
Monica – is torn…
The sea is smooth like a mirror,
the sky a little hazy; it is warm, every now and then the sun breaks through.
Sometimes there is a breeze, sometimes it is completely calm and we have to turn
on the engine. At night a h get out of the way of the shipping lanes along the
uge orange full moon rises above
the horizon. We sail by the SE coast of Ibiza
and Formentera in the direction of Gibraltar.
Jaime and Skip catch their
first fish with our fancy new fishing gear: a beautiful tuna fish of about 3 kg
that supply us with a tasty dinner.
Every now and then schools of
dolphins, always in pairs, play around the bow of the boat and little greenish
birds land on deck or in Dani’s hair to take a rest.
On Thursday (Oct. 20) we sail
into Cartagena harbor, have breakfast on calle Mayor and visit the Roman
amphitheatre. Then we continue in the direction of Cabo de Gata, North of Almería.
The wind from the SW, force 5 gusting to 6, is not very advantageous for us, we have to tack a lot and have to get out of the way of the shipping lanes along the coast. Thus we approach the notorious Cabo de Gata only very slowly and with a lot of fatigue. We take refuge and anchor in a beautiful quiet little bay in the lee of Cabo de Gata and have a very peaceful night after a very stressful day. On Saturday morning we finally make it around the cape . Just past it we find an abandoned Zodiac and take it in tow:
a “patera” that Africans use to cross the strait, often without success…
There are several half full cans of
fuel in it, some frayed sneakers, some torn T-shirts…In Aguadulce near Almerïa
we hand it over to the Guardia Civil who don’t seem too pleased about it;
there are many of those boats floating around, and for them taking them in means
hassle and a lot of paperwork.
On Sunday we sail towards
Motril, then to Benalmádena near Malaga, where Dani’s parents say goodbye to
us. We have had a very pleasant time together and feel a little sad to
have to continue without them now towards Gibraltar and the Canary
CHAP.II Ilha do Sal, Cabo Verde Islands 23 Nov. o5
Sorry for not sending any more news since we left Málaga área. We
report from Tenerife, but due to a failure in our software, it never got
onto our website. Also Dani's second-hand laptop broke down, so that we
don't have a ccess toDani's photos until it is repaired..In the meantime
will send reports and selected photos from Scott's câmera to Dani's father
by e-mail, who will then put them onto the website.
We left Dani's parents dockside at Benalmadena (Málaga) and sailed to Gibraltar in a SE wind. We finally saw the Rock with a massive cloud crowning the top. When we came around Point Europa, we got hit by our first Gibraltarian howler (when the wind howls from every direction at the same time). We got down all the sails and motored to the immigration berth, where they asked us, if we had firearms, cigarettes or bottles of booze on board.
Whick- at the time- was strange, because in G, cigarettes and alcohol are very cheap. After spending the night anchored next to the airport runway, we were able
to move to Queen Ann's quarry. We found that G. is a mixture of people from all over the world- English, Arabs, Jews, Hindus and others- and also very very British. We spent 3 days exploring the town, the rock, the monkeys and the military tunnels. We also found the best place to buy charts at G. Chart Agency, 11ª, Block 5, Watergardens, Gibraltar; email: email@example.com. We spent two hours there picking them out; then they told us to come back in 4 hours. When we got there, there were two clerks behind tables up to their chins, correcting the charts with tracing paper, pins and
fine-pointed pens. They did a fantastic job and we were happy to have found them.
Leaving G. on Sunday morning, 30 Oct .in a light SE breeze, cruising along a t 3.5 knots. When Barbara was on watch she yelled out that something funny was happening to the water. It was the tidal whirlpool just off the coast of Tarifa. We were sailing at 4.5 knots through the water and doing 0.5 knots over the ground backwards. We decided to turn the motor on and get as far out of the straits as fast as possible in a very light breeze, with a cluster of dark clouds over the Tarifa coast. After nightfall, all of a sudden the wind increased from a SE force 2-3 to a SW 8 within 5 minutes and
almost knocked us over. We tried to roll the jib in, but there was too much wind, so we took it down and it went over board, being dragged in the water at 7.5 knots. After a hard struggle we got it on deck and tied down. (Skip hurt the palm o f his right hand terribly in this chãos- a nasty big, deep
wound in the shape of a ripped cross which took about a month to close completely and without major problems thanks to homeopathic gunpowder and Staphysagria pills.) It rained a torrential downpour that we had trouble seeing each other in the cockpit, Dani hanging on to the tiller for dear
life, almost breaking his arm. After the rain, the wind shifted to the NW and slowly calmed in force
Then we had 3 days of gentle sailing in a breeze of 2-3 from the NW. On the night of the 4th day the wind increased to a force 8 from the North and we reefed down to only the foresail, but couldn't get the topsail down. We ran for 2 days and 3 nights and then even reefed the foresail and ran through
the night with the boat rolling heavily at 6-8 knots; all these days it was very difficult or impossible to cook anything. We were on emergency rations and tried the noodles that we were given on a regatta and decided we were not hungry. We ended up surviving on apples, cookies, almonds and mejillones
(mussels) out of a can.
In the morning dawn of Sunday 6 Nov. we finally sighted Tenerife and later motor-sailed into Santa Cruz de Tenerife marina del Atlântico. By then our topsail was in shreds and entangled with the red Ragnar flag. When we got alongside the dock, Scott and Torsten were waiting for us and helped us tie
up on the quarry and climb the mast and cut down sail and flag.
Once ashore we took a walk up beautiful green shady streets and were overwhelmed by so much green, green, green after so much blue. We had na excellent lunch, roast chicken, in a nice little restaurant in the old town.
On >Monday we checked out chandlery shops trying to buy all the gear to mend the boat. The next day Barbara and Dani rented a car, getting completely lost in the maze of Sta. Cruz streets. When they finally made it back to the boat, we decided to explore the island and find ourselves on top of the
highest mountain and only activevolcano of Spain, El Teide, about 3798m high! Awe-inspiring and bloody cold and full of white goose-bumped English people in Bathing suits, high heels and Burberry baseball caps. The landscape could have been a cowboy western setting: canyons, lava flows,
Indians behind sage bushes, more lava flows, craters, breathtaking.
After coming down from the volcano we decided to drive down through beautiful and fertile Oratava valley. We guessed it must be lying underneath us, covered by a thick layer of clouds which didn't lift, so that in the end we didn't see much of it. On the road we saw a lady with a basket of fresh
cornon her head. We stopped at the next store to buy some, but it was so freh that it hadn't gotten there yet.. Buit surprise, surprise- the store had its own vinyard and we biought red and white wine without labels. The storekeeper proudly told us that it had been trodden by his family's feet
and therefore was very special.Hmmmm.
After arriving back at the boat we cooked up a vegetable soup on the floor with our new blender. We are not sure if it was the sou por the wine that tasted the feet, but they were both delicious.
The next day we visited Puerto de la Cruz Botanical Garden with its spectacular choice of exotic trees from all over the world, among them na incredible Banyan tree. On Friday 11 Nov we leave Sta Cruz harbor for Radazul marina, some miles further south in order to get fuel and water for our further trip to the Cape Verde islands, but they tell us that we can't dock onto the gasstation because it is all clustered up with boats. So we have to motor all the way back to Sta, Cruz Darsena del pequero again and stay in the boatyard there over night.
On Saturday 12 Nov we finally sail off towards the Cape Verdes: four of us, as Torsten finally decided not to come along. We had a roaring run down the West coast of Tenerife at 8.5-9 knots under stay and main stay sails. The next seven days was a very pleasant down wind leg all the way to Ilha do
Sal. We caught some tuna and golden mackerel and even had a flying fish land on deck. On Sunday 20 Nov at sunrise we sighted the volcanoes of Ilha do Sal and decided to motor-sail so we would get there in daylight.
CHAP III. Sailing around Cabo Verde.
Sailing down the coast of the volcanic and completely desert island of
Sal,ooking for the bay of Palmeira,
we only find it because there is a
large oiltanker anchored off -shore.
We come into the harbor and have to
drop the anchor several times
before it holds.From the shore we hear loud
African disco-music and wonder where we are.We row ashore and are met by Grilo, a young Capeverdian, who helps us during the next week and explains to us that every Sunday afternoon, the people of the quaint ramshackle village really party. Later we go to a backstreet (if you call it a
street, the outer town being a building site) upstaires restaurant and have a good meal of soada de langosta, whereas Scott and Dani have barnacles which they have to scratch out of little lava rocks with pins and then eat without much enthusiasm.
During the night our anchor gets stuck in some rocks in the bay and bends the anchor rollers completely out of shape. The water is too deep for us to free the anchor chain, so we have to find a diver to get it free. The anchor roller needs to be fixed, so we have to cut it off and take it to the lobster factory to be welded and bent back into shape by fantastic Toxa, number one mechanic of the island. We get camping gas from the bakers, tuna croquettes from the water fountain lady, so why not a welder from the lobster factory?
The next day we spend filling our 800-liter water-tank. Normally we would use a hose connected to a tap. But here we have to carry 5-liter water jugs until Grilo lets us borrow hisTaxi, a heelbarrow,which makes it a little bit easier. After 5 trips with 20 jugs we are all exhausted and have an early night.
The next day we go to the islands capital of Espargos where we are told we could buy everything to provision our boat. What we find are some bananas, a few green peppers, some carrots and a roasted vacuum-packed chicken from Valencia.Then we hurry back to the boat, because we are anxious about the anchor dragging again in the huge swell which is coming into the bay.
Another day we go to Sta. Maria, a developing touristic but still authentic village in the South of Sal, full of surf shops and souvenir shops, cafes and some hotels. We have an excellent lunch of grilled
grouper, then go to a completely delapidated pier on the beautiful sandy beach and are glad that our boat is not tied up to it. Afterwards we sit in a fancy cozy beach bar drinking cairinhas and watching the gorgeous bay and pristine turquoise and blue water. Being worried about the anchor again, on the way to find a taxi we look into a real estate agents window and see that the new appartments on the beach are being sold for 35000 Euros.
In the pickup taxi Skip and I sit in the front with the driver and Scott and Dani on the open flat-bed. It starts raining and both get soaken wet by the time we get back to Palmeira. We are told that it hasnt rained sice 2002. As Skip has done a raindance in the harbor the night before, just for fun, he feels a little scred and awed by the effect this might have produced...
Scott and Dani pay a visit to the local rockpool at the foot of a little volcano. On their 45-minute walk there, they meet two young boys and can hold a conversation with them in Mallorquin and Portuguese. By the road they see some desert fruit growing that looks l like a melon but is the size of an apple. One of the boys picks it up and says it isnt good to eat. The boy then sees a bird (like a sparrow) and throws the fruit and kills the bird in one shot.
The rockpool on the coast consists of a cave with a pool in it and another turquoise and clear pool ouside with deep cool water, lovely for a refreshening swim after the long dusty walk.
On Sunday night Grilo takes us to some sidestreet bar where they serve these really spicy pork kebabs with rum punch to wash them down. Everyone huddles around in what is like a backyard with fridge, BBQ and benches, covered with a corrugated roof. It is packed in the street outside, too.
Kebabs are only 50 cents and they must have cooked about 50 while we are there.
After spending a week of being anxious about the anchor dragging,on Sunday morning when Skip looks out of the cockpit and sees the surfers on 2m waves only 50m from where we are anchored, we decide it is time to leave friendly Palmeira. Our next destination is Tarafal, Sao Nicolao island, where we plan to stock up the boat for the crossing, thus avoiding Mindelo on San Vicente with its bad reputation. (lots of thefts and other crimes)After a rough 23-hour sail we arrive in the very picturesque bay of Tarafal, anchor and go looking for a produce market or supermarket, but all we find is actually the Shell store, where we can at least buy some pasta, Mars bars and bay leaves...We take a taxi ride over the mountains to the main town of Ribeira Brava, where we cannot find anything either, but the ride is worth it- over 25 km of cbblestoned road, up and down steep mountain sides with spectacular views of desertlike ragged rocky landscape and lush green terrassedvalleys. At the top of one mountain we get into dense fog and rain, its freezing cold, and back in Tarafal its over 30 centigrades. n the evening we buy a 5kg tunafish from the local fishermen and invite Thomas and Anke from SY Gades for Skips birthday dinner (they had lent us the flex machine to cut off the anchorroller in Sal).
The next day we set sail for Mindelo, san Vicente in order to find some food there. Despite its bad reputation we find it a very pleasant place to
stay. The first time we feel safe at anchor! Coming into the harbor, we are met by the brothers Umberto and Eric in their dinghy, bioth very reliable and helpful, getting water and fuel and showing us where to buy things, f.ex. 25l water jugs in a breadstore- where else? They fill our water-tanks serve as water-taxi, watch and clean our dinghy. We feel very safe and well taken care of in their hands. We find good stores and on Sunday morning, 4Dec, we set sail to cross the big pond.
CHAP. IV Atlantic
Nice weather and a good tradewind from the NE, course 280 degrees, 6.3 knots
and 2000 nautical miles to go...Nobody says much, I guess we all hope and
pray that everything will go well. During the first 2,3 days we see the one
or other sailboat on the horizon, also headed for the Caribbean, but then we
are completely alone. Wonderful sunrises and sunsets, lots of flying fish,
every now and then one lands on deck. Dolphins playing around our bow. The
days pass and we are quite busy with watches, cooking, repairing (pumps,
lines, leaks etc.), cleaning, writing etc. The weather is steady- clear
skies in the daytime, clouds and some rainshowers at night. We sail an average of 12o miles per day. On the 9 Dec, a wonderful sunny and cloudless day we get into a complete calm; the water looks like oil and Dani and Scott jump into the inkblue 5000meter deep ocean and have a swim. But the calm
worries us a bit, too: what if it lasts? Do we have enough food/ water for a long time? We start rationing the water, washing and cooking with seawater.
Our vegetables are rotting away at an incredible speed, but at least we have plenty of cereals and legumes.
On Dec 12, Scott catches the biggest fish of his life: a beautiful big dolphin fish (mahi-mahi) that gives us a good tasty mealfull of proteins. On Dec 13 we still have 970 nm to go, half of the way.Reason to celebrate with a chocolate cake and cream!! Two days later we encounter "salt whistle", a
German yacht on her way to Martinique. They left Tenerife on Nov 29 and got into a hurricane with 71 knots of wind! We are glad that we avoided this storm sailing along South of it and watching its threatening Northern edge.
On the 14th day we can receive a Barbados radio station playing Christmas carols Caribbean style with steel drums and in Calypso rhythm...Weird and exhilarating. Still 240 nm to go to Port St. Chartles on Barbados. We want to get there soon! We are a little exhausted sometimes, moods swing from
meditative to fed up to merry and excited. When the sea is rough and the waves high and coming from all directions and the boat rolls like mad from side to side, we stumble around like drunken sailors. Kettle, knives, porridge fly through the air, coffee gets spilled, legs bruised. Thank God
nobody gets seasick!
On Dec 19 early in the morning we see an auspicious double rainbow in front of our bow- awesome. Everything will go well... Dec. 2o: 110 nm to go!
Wednesday Dec 21 at around 9 in the morning we are rounding the North tip of Barbados and gettinmg hit by a rain squall that makes the island disappear.
We all put on our foul weather gear, only to arrive in close-by Port St. Charles in hot sunny weather. People must have been wondering where we came from...
At the entrance of the port we are told by radio to wait because the Customs officer has not arrived yet. After an hour and no further word we ask permission to tie up to a mooring where we stay for another hour until we are allowed to sail into port. The Customs, Port, Health and Immigration
officers are all very friendly and give us a warm welcome. We are told by the harbor master that we are too small a boat to tie up at their dock (for mega-yachts only), but we are allowed and thankful to go back on the mooring.
After being in the desert islands of Cape Verde and the blue-grey Atlantic so long, tropical lush Barbados appears like Garden Eden. We go to the closeby town of Speightstown to see what we can buy as far as food and water and replacement parts for the boat and find most exotic vegetables and fruit (breadfruit, taro, yams etc.) that we have to learn how to cook.
day we go to Bridgetown, the capital, to see what the yachting scene is like
there. We are a little disappointed not to be able to find any good
chandlery shop. The so-called boat yard is more of a beach discoteque than a
boat yard, where they want Skip to pay a cover charge of 20 Barbados dollars
(10 US) just to ask a few questions.Not very pleasant. Now we understand why
most other boats are going to other places: because Barbados is not an
island that caters to the voyaging yachties.
We are glad to be in Port St. Charles where it is quiet, facilities are well kept and clean, people friendly and the surroundings beautifully tropical.
We enjoy a trip across the island where we can see what Barbados was before the "gated ghettos" of the rich and famous on the West and South coasts were built. Bathsheba on the East coast is a very picturesque seaside village that hasn't changed much in the last 20 years according to an American
resident that we meet there.
We spend a pleasant morning on the porch of his little chattel hoiuse (cottage), having a jam session with Dani playing the bass and harmonica, overlooking the coconut palms on the surfers' beach called "soup bowl".
Afterward we spend the afternoon in a beautiful park and wildlife reserve, enjoying the mahogany trees and the monkeys.
The best form of transport on the island are the local buses: 1.50 BB$ for a ride in a nut house. Wild hiphop/reggae/steelband music, high speed, a hang-on-for-your-life trip! The horn of the bus beeping wildly to the music around every corner of the narrow roadways. Thinking it might be safer to
hitchhike, we got a ride withina minute and had a wild ride to hiphop music with a beeping horn to Holetown, the hotsytotsy shopping district of the island and centre of the fanciest hotels and restaurants.
On Christmas Day we have a very pleasant afternoon at famous Mullins beach, drinking rum punches listening to a fantastic steelband. Afterwards we have a thrilling taxiride home on a hobycat. Later we have dinner at the Fish Pot restaurant in Little Harbor, where Skip and Scott have a first course of
alligator skewers(Barbara prefers seared scallops...) and then a wonderful fish platter as a main.Watching the sunset from the terrace we finally see the famous "green flash" just after the sun has diappeared below the horizon.
On Dec 30 we get invited for dinner by Peter and Gina from the catamaran ankered right next to us. Gina has prepared a typical Bajan meal with breadfruit, fried flying fish, cuckoo (corn meal and okra, mashed), christophenes, carrots, spicy sauces- absolutely delicious! The next day we
decide to spend New Years Eve sailing down the West coast of Barbados watching all the fancy fireworks and then sail on right over to Grenada.
I want to thank all the people that sent us Christmas greetings ! Sorry that we didn't send anything, we were just so involved with everything going on here and as you know we are not very expert with computers and it is not always easy to find one that works properly. We wish all our friends a very
happy new year and we thank you for accompanying us on our voyage and thinking of us!!! You will soon hear from us again!
CHAP. V CARIBIC (Grenada)
We left Port St. Charles and Barbados at around 10 pm on Dec 31, sailing down
the West coast to Sandy Lane to watch all the New Year's fireworks like other
yachts with parties on board around us. After the spectacle we set
course for Grenada, the first "real" Caribbean island, Barbados being a little bit out of the way and still belonging more to the Atlantic. We started off with a pleasant sail, until we got out of the lee of the island.
We sailed through the wonderfuol night trying to keep our speed down so we would arrive in Grenada in daylight, after 36 hours approximately. (You shouldn't approach harbors in the Caribbean at night because of all the dangerous reefs, shoals and absent buoys and lights).
During the day the wind increased and the waves got bigger and bigger. We reefed down to the staysail, trying to slow down. After sunset the wind got up to force 8 from astern and every other wave was coming on board. It was the most amazing night of water from above and water from below. The waves were constantly gushing over the doghouse and flooding the cockpit. If we hadn't strapped on, we would have been washed overboard.
We stillm arrived after only 24 hours, when we hove to off the SW point of Grenada and waited for the sunrise. In daylight we sailed back East towards Prickly Bay, where we tried to anchor; but the anchor didn't hold, so we
finally picked up a mooring buoy where we felt safe and went to sleep until midday, completely exhausted from the rough trip. Later we went to clear Customs and Immigration with a very friendly officer who made us welcome and told us lots of stories about the island being "chewed up" by hurricane Ivan in 2004. We did some shopping , had a delicious pizza at the marina and enjoyed the "happy hour" at the bar.
The next day we went to Budget Marina chandlery tugged away in the corner of the bay and were amazed how well stocked it is. Later Henry from Safari Tours gave us a ride to9 the Grenada Yacht Club at St. George's where we got a special rate tying up at the dock for 6 days, but only paying for 4. We were pleased, and after spending 2 nights in lovely Prickly Bay we sailed to St.George's Lagoon, tied up, plucked in and chilled out: we hadn't been able to sleep so well since Gibraltar, always worrying about the anchor.
On Jan 6 we were picked up early by Campbell, one of Henry's associates, for a tour of the island. We first went up the West coast to Concord Falls, over narrow steep winding roads full of potholes, through little colorful
villages with abundant flower gardens, through rainforests and across mountain rivers., passing nutmeg and cinnamon trees. Grenada is also called Spice Island. They also grow vanilla, cocoa, ginger etc., and the produce
market in St. George's is a symphony of aromas and colors. They also cultivate lots of bananas, plantains (cooking bananas), callalou (a kind of spinach), guavas, passion fruit, sorrel, among others. We drove further
up North to Guayava, a fishing village with a white sand beach full of gaily painted boats and fishermen repairing nets.
The we drove over snakelike mountain roads into the interior of the island. Dense rainforest, bright yellow immortelle trees, bright red coral trees, huge ferns all over and gigantic vines covering whole mountain sides.
But we could also observe many broken tree tops, bald brown trunks sticking out everywhere- remains of Ivan: the rainforest got very badly damaged, even most of the animals disappeared, but it is recovering at an amazing
We climbed down to the Seven Sisters Falls over muddy steep trails and finally arrived at the spectacular fall. Dani and Scott had a breathtaking jump from the top of the 15m fall into the 6m deep basin below filled
with crystal clear fresh water, a pleasure after the hot sweaty hike!
The next day we just chilled out on board in the morning and the took a bus to Grand Anse Beach, almost deserted, lined by coconut trees and seagrape bushes, the turquoise Caribbean lapping at our footprints.
Another day we rented a jeep and drove along the South and SE coast, checking out all the different bays and hurricane holes and driving up to Grenville in the East where we had a fantastic lunch at Ebony's, a place you
will never find unless you ask a local - there is no sign, you have to walk a dark alley, around the backyard and up rickety stairs where you enter into a 17th century colonial house that is considered one of the best of the
island. "To visit Grenada and not eat lambi (conch) at Ebony's is like going on your honeymoon and not make love". We had a very good, well composed meal of conch curry, kingfish, rice, pumpkin, green beans, callalou and breadfruit.
We decided to stay in St. George's 4 more days, and our plan is to leave on Saturday for Carriacou, because Friday is Feb 13 and we have become very superstitious about Fridays: never leave port on a Friday, and even less so on a 13th!!
On Saturday, 14 Feb, we leave St. George's, Grenada, in the direction of
Carriacou, a small island 35 nautical miles NE of Grenada which together with
Petite Martinique forms the state of Grenada.The weather is beautiful,
sunshine and a light breeze. We sail along the lee of the island close to the coast. Every now and then a squall comes down one of the steep valleys.
We have all our sails up, even the iron one, so we can reach Tyrell Bay in daylight. It gets dark here at around 6 pm- too bad, if we cannot see the reefs anymore and the sandy spots where we are supposed to anchor in order
not to damage any coral. We sail by the green coast of Grenada, its lush green mountains, Gouyave- the little fishing harbor-, colorful houses on the hills, coconut groves with little huts.
Near the northern end of the island the wind picks up and the waves get higher.In front of us there are many small deserted islands with beautiful names: the Sisters, les Tantes, Sugar Loaf, London Bridge, Kick 'em Jenny.
The wind now blows strongly out of the east and we decide to sail by Kick 'em Jenny on the western side- which is a little close to the active underwater volcano that last erupted in 1989.
Kick 'em Jenny, the big rock, has a reputation of kicking up a nasty sea as you go north and we have 3 to 4 m waves. But it is fun on deck (though not below) and good old Ragnar enjoys it, too. In front of us Carriacou slowly coming closer. The sea becomes calmer again, and at 4.3o pm we enter Tyrell Bay. There are about 50 boats. We anchor without a problem and at first go in a sandy spot. Immediately we are approached by some boat vendors in their dinghies selling lobster, limes and wine and recommending restaurants. We say 'thank you' and tell them to come back tomorrow, cook up a tasty soup of orange lentils with garlic and ginger and go to bed by the sound of steeldrums , jembe drums and wind wheels after having a glass of wine in the cockpit under the bright full moon. Early next morning we explore the large mangrove swamp of Tyrell Bay: this is a 'hurricane hole' that offers good protection for boats. It is very hot there, the mangroves with their thousands of roots in the water appear impenetrable. We can well imagine that they offer very good shelter in case of a storm.
Afterwards we leave the dinghy tied up to a manchineel tree on Tyrell Bay beach (there is almost no crime in Carriacou) and walk through the village: some supermarkets with just the most basic stuff, some rum shops
(there is only one gas station in Carriacou, but over a hundred rum shops), a sailmaker's, 3 or 4 restaurants, a boat yard, the yacht club and a genuine Italian pizzeria.
Then we take the bus to Hillsborough, the capital of Carriacou. As it is Sunday morning and early all the shops and bars are closed, there is no traffic. Only near the numerous churches do we see people in their Sunday's
best clothes. The houses look well kept, colorfully painted; almost no trace of hurricane Emily that hit Carriacou 10 months after Ivan devastated Grenada in 2oo4. Clean white sandy beach all along Hillsborough Bay, and on
its western edge Sandy Island, a flawless strip of white sand decorated with a few palms and surrounded by reefs. Whow!
At around noon the town is waking up. We go into a rum shop on Main Street that in the back has a verandah overlooking the beach. We have a Carib beer and a Ting (grapefruit soda) and watch pelicans fly over the turquoise water and suddenly dive into the sea and coming back out of the water with a fish in their spoon beaks. The owner, Bill Patterson, a justice of peace, is sitting on a chair at the table next to us and - with a baseball cap over his face - is taking a nap. We get up, say good bye, but he doesn't budge.
Already in the street, Skip realizes that he didn't pay. He goes back in and wakes Bill up. He wouldn't have noticed anything, probably wouldn't have bothered either.
We like Carriacou more and more. We stay two weeks and would have stayed even longer, if we didn't have to go back to Grenada. Tourism is almost non-existent in Carriacou but for the yachties and some people coming in
with the ferry for some hours. Everybody knows everybody, everybody seems to have plenty of time, no hurry, plenty of patience ; there is much joking, much laughter; everybody greets us, talks to us.
We get around the island by bus: each trip costs 1 Euro, it doesn't matter if you go 100 yards or 10 miles. We sit squeezed in between huge bottoms and bosoms, boxes, jerry cans, listening to loud Calypso and Reggae music while sliding through narrow curves or screechingly slowing down because of a sleeping policeman.
From the boat we can see Mount Chapeau-Carre, Carriacou's highest mountain, about 350m high. One day we decide to climb up there. First the road through the rainforest is wide and comfortable, cleared by free-running goats and cows. We come by a house and ask for the path to the top. An 8-year-old boy, Darell, shows us the way: he turns into a hardly visible path and jumps up the steep mountain side like a goat, with us struggling to follow him through dense scrubbery, climbers, thorny asparagus and poison ivy, by beautiful trees with bright red and yellow flowers.
At the top we enjoy magnificent vistas over the whole island, the sea, the reefs, Grenada, Union Island, Petite Martinique and Petit St. Vincent. All of a sudden Darell screams- he wanted to pick up a pretty shell, but the
hermit crab inside feels disturbed and bites him into his finger and won't let go. It takes us quite a while to free him of it! Another hike takes us from SixCrossRoads to Dumfries on the east coast and to a wonderful sandy beach, where a man is burning manchineel trees.
These pretty but toxic trees had been 'chewed up' by hurricane Emily. We ask
for the path to Mount Pleasant and the man tells us that it was chewed up, too,
but that we might find the remains of it if we didn't mind climbing. So we
stumble up a steep slope and jump over tree trunks and struggle through nasty
prickly bushes. When we get out of the woods, we find ourselves right on the
edge of the cliffs amidst meadows with cows and fragrant flowering
frangipani trees. The sea and reefs below Grand Bay below shimmer in all shades of blue, green and turquoise.
We climb up the steep hill and pass by new houses, painted lime green, bright red, pink, lemon yellow and lilac with red, green and blue roofs, surrounded by exuberant greenery. The gardens explode in a symphony of
colors: purple,red and white bougainvilleas, blooming red and yellow and pink climbers. We walk back down to Grand Bay beach, but it is full of seaweed and garbage, so we climb up again. It is very hot and we go into a
rum shop to have a drink.
The scene there is quite surreal: the cool, handsome young owner; an older drunk man that talks to Dani (who doesn't understand much) about the benefits of 'adventuring' while young; a 'demonio' in raggy pants with two
teeth left, laughing diabolically at Skip's dreadlocks; me observing the picture. From outside, the drunk's wife shouting 'you ged out there NOW!'
The drunk doesn't budge, staring into the void. He doesn't get served anymore. In the meantime, kids coming into the shop buying cheese, eggs and chips and staring at us like at aliens.
We walk back to white, dreamlike Paradise Beach, take a swim in the crystal clear water and rest below the mangrove trees. We try to get something to drink at the rastaman's bar, but he is busy practicing shadowboxing in the sand. So we get the beer out of the icebox ourselves and leave the money on the countertop. It's alright, man. Laid back.
When we are not exploring the island, we work on the boat: sanding and varnishing, sanding and varnishing, 6 coats, being closely watched by the natives and boaters who seem impressed.
We feel completely at ease in Carriacou and are even thinking of building a little house somewhere. The land is cheap, no building permits required.
BUT: there are no book stores, no press, not much food around (terrible bread, chicken-wings, chicken-legs, yogurt, cheese and cream only in bad quality; little choice of fruit and vegetables. But pink grapefruit are the
best in the world.
On Wednesday, Feb 1, we sail back to Grenada. We had rainy, squally weather for a while and a big swell, but now there is a weather window of 2 days. In a perfect northeasterly we sail by Kick 'em Jenny and the west coast of Grenada back to St. George's, a very relaxed and pleasant journey.
On Feb 7 is Independence Day. Buildings, cars and boats are decorated with the Grenadian colors, the trunks of the trees alongside the roads get painted in green, red and yellow, people wear hats, shirts and skirts in the
national colors. The streets are immaculately clean, workers mow the lawns until late at night. Police and military practice parading through the streets in Calypso rhythm. Grenada has been independent since 1974, but its short history has been quite turbulent. In 1979 the popular Fidel Castro fan Maurice Bishop started some positive economic and political development which was ended abruptly by US intervention and his execution in 1983. Since then Grenada has been struggling hard to get on its own feet, an effort which was nullified by the disastrous hurricanes Ivan and Emily. Now Grenada is almost completely depending on international aid, mostly from Taiwan.
On Feb 7, at 1.30 am, we go to the Freedom Fest near the airport, a reggae-concert with Grenadian and Jamaican musicians that ends at around 5.30 in the morning. The rest of the day we chill out.
CHAP VII Tobago
On 26 Feb, about 4 pm, we leave Grenada to make a night passage to Tobago,
where we want to meet our friends Pit and Anni.After rounding Point Salines
on the southern tip of Grenada we are closehauled to the wind all the way
across on one tack to Crown Point on the Swtip of Tobago. After rounding it,
we have to motorsail to Scarborough because of the 4knot current coming down
the coast. It takes us three hours to go the 8 nm under full engine, staying
just outside the reefs in about 5 meters of water, keeping all eyes open for
where the waves are breaking.
At the approach of Scarborough there is a reef that comes out 2nm off shore with only one post marking it. So we have to be very careful because of the strong currents pushing us in the direction of the reef. At 4pm we anchor in
the fishing harbor of Scarborough. There is only one other sailboat besides us.
We check in at Customs and find a very pleasant and friendly lady who tells us that we have to come back the next morning to go to Immigration, and she also gives us information about where best to see the carnival parade. We
find a "cool" bar just above the main crossroads which the locals call the "watering hole".We enjoy the evening watching the world go by.
The next morning we are woken by loud music and a lot of noise from the mud people.At 4am carnival starts with people covering themselves in mud and paint and whatever else you can imagine, dancing and drinking in the
streets. At 7am, on our way to Immigration, we pass many bleary-eyed, dazed and mud-covered beings dancing and staggering through the streets.
After 2 hours in Immigration we have a very enjoyable walk through the Botanical Garden of Scarborough. We meet a nice man who shows us different species of trees and edible fruits. He picks up a husk from the ground and
tells us to peel it, put it into our mouths and suck on it. It's a tamarind, quite sour but good.
We then take a walk up Main Street of Upper Scarborough and come across an excellent bakery where they make a mind-blowing carrot cake that gives us enough energy to walk to the very steep road to Fort St. George.There are
some of the biggest and most beautiful trees we have ever seen, growing on the grassy slopes just below the Fort.
In the meantime crowds have gathered along the port area for the children's carnival parade. The sidewalks are lined with chicken-white cruiseship tourists waiting for the merry pageantry.We find ourselves at the very end
of the parade. It is very colorful, but the kids are completely worn out from the dancing in the streets for hours. We chill out at the watering hole and get into an interesting discussion with two friendly Tobagons about the
different music that goes under the name of Calypso. There are two main styles of it: Kaiso and Soca. Kaiso is slower and the lyrics are important, commenting on social issues, ridicule politicians etc. Soca is fast, seems
to be crude and lack wit and craftsmanship, but it gets people up and on the floor! Carnival music is mostly soca: huge trucks packed with loudspeakers blare it at a deafening volume. We recover from that sanding another part of
the boat (a never-ending job).
Before watching the adults' carnival on Tuesday we have lunch at Rasta Ma's restaurant, the best food we have in town. Always trust a Rasta to cook up a good meal!Not all the paraders have the dream figures of the pictures you
mostly see of carnival revelries. They are all sizes, from small to fat and round, from tall to skinny, plump and jolly- some more than you can imagine. Everybody is dancing in the street to the point of exhaustion- and
then dancing some more.
After the parade back to the watering hole where it is like watching a Fellini film: Roman soldiers, Arab knights, belly-dancers, mud people, white people (black people covered with chalk and masks), everybody walking up the
hill or getting into taxis- all amongst the normally dressed folks of the town. It is actually more fun than watching the parade itself! The most spectacular: a 2 meter tall girl in a golden sequined bikini costume with
long white feathers on her head, ducking into the backseat of a taxi.
On 2 March we get a visit from Pit and Anni who take us for a drive to Castara Bay. On the way we stop at a little creek flowing through the rainforest and enjoy strolling down the sandy riverbed with its big
boulders. We are looking for a waterfall, but don't find it. Afterwards we stop for a drink and meet a very nice lady feeding a baby goat with a baby bottle.She tells us that she visits a different Caribbean island every
summer. Asked which one she likes best she answers: Oh, Grenada, I love Grenada. St. Vincent- oh, I love St. Vincent. St. Lucia- oh, I love St. Lucia!
Way up above Castara there is an awesome lookout over the coast. It is set in a little park with lawns, shady sea almond trees and benches, and deep deep down you can see lovely Castara Bay with its sand beach, seagrape trees and houses that look like toys.
The next day we take a 1 ½ hour busride up to Charlotteville in the NWcorner of the island where we meet our friends again. They happen to have a treasure map. After strolling around the lively fishing harbor we decide
to go look for that treasure. After driving up an awfully bumpy dirt-road full of potholes where the oil-pan takes a beating, we park at an old house and take a 15-minute walk down a jungle pathway over a little creek to a
magnificent hidden-away bay and beach lined with trees, bamboos, palmtrees and ginger.
On the treasure map there is an X marked next to a big tree that has a "No trespassing" sign nailed to it.Pit digs and finds a coconut full of treasure which we share among us all, having an enlightening time at this paradisical
beach. Afterwards we drive back to our friends' enchanting hotel where we have the best piña colada ever. Our friends then drop us in nearby Speyside where we meet a good brother, Joseph, who shows us where to buy bus tickets and a couple of hip-flasks of rum to while away the time with some of his friends. While all waiting for the bus to Scarborough, the Baptist reverend of the town joins us. She also waits to see us safely off, chatting about
unruly men and respect and lovingkindness. The one-hour bus ride in the dark of the night is a harrowing hair-pin curved experience. It's actually better at night because you can't see over the edges.
On March 4, Saturday, we up anchor and have a fantastic sail around the southern tip of the island to Plymouth. We arrive at 1 pm, have a pleasant stroll through the village and walk along the beautiful beach of Courland
Bay. There are hundreds of birds there: on the fishing boats, in the air and on the water.The funniest are the pelicans that plummet out of the air into the water to catch a fish, and laughing gulls that follow them and then sit
on the pelicans' heads trying to snitch the fish out of the pelicans' beaks.
(Pelicans normally dive into the water to catch fish and bob up and lift their beaks to swallow their catch.The pelicans here keep their heads under water until they have the whole fish in their beak so the gulls cannot take
it from them.)On Sunday, March 5, we set sail from Plymouth with Pit and Anni. A first time adventure for Anni who has never been on the sailboat before. We have a very pleasant sail along the coast past another Sisters Rocks and finally tack our way into beautiful Man of War Bay. Along the way Anni wishes to see some dolphins, so Barbara starts banging on the side of the boat while Anni is squeaking like a dolphin, and within minutes- like magic- there they are, with big smiles on their faces!
After anchoring in Charlotteville, a cozy little fishing harbor, we jump into the water for a swim and Skip starts scrubbing the waterline, and all of a sudden Barbara points at a big fish in the water just below Skip and
Anni screams "A shark!!!" So Skips jumps out of the water just as Dani plunges into it on the other side of the boat. When we tell him there is a shark, he climbs up the side of the boat like a monkey, really fast!!!
(Afterwards we found out that the "shark" was actually a pilotfish that sucks onto other fish to clean them; this one stayed close to our boat and we fed it; it especially liked salad leaves, less so tomatoes)
The next day Pit and Anni pick us up in a rental car and drive us to just past Roxborough to Argyle waterfalls. We have a very reeelaxed waaalk first through a cocoa plantation and then along the riverbed and through the
rainforest to a breathtaking three-tiered waterfall.We take a dip in the lower pond and then climb up a steep trail to the second pond and then to the " Rasta shower " above.In the shower, when the sun is shining you can
see a rainbow, a full-circle rainbow. A rainbow that you can hold in your hands. Whow!!! On our way back we meet some Rastas who make beautiful calabash lampshades, bamboo ashtrays, balls of cocoa etc.
Tobago is a stunning island with pristine beaches, paradisical bays and green hills covered with the lushest rainforest we have seen so far. It is a small island, 23m by 5 miles, and has only about 50 000 inhabitants that
live mostly along the eastern and southern coast. Most of the rest is virgin rainforest with 250 different species of birds and an amazing amount of tree and plant species. Barbara is freaking out discovering wild bird of paradise
flowers, anthuriums, thousands of heliconias all over, ginger, silk cotton trees..
After asking directions many times we finally find Richmond Plantation House where Pit drives in, blocking the entrance of the driveway. Seconds later a car pulls up and beeps its horn and very patiently waits for Pit to move his car out of the way. What a serendipitous moment! The driver, Arthur Jemmotte, the director of restoration of the 300-year-old plantation house, tells us that it is still being worked on, but that he would gladly let us
have a glance at the inside if we took our shoes off. Unbelievable!!! If you are ever in Tobago, make sure that you go there to see the house and the collection of African artifacts. It's a must! Thank you, Arthur, for this
very special treat!
On the way home we stop at the Blue Waters Inn where Pit and Anni are staying and have another one of these fantastic piña coladas. Hmmm!
The next day we hop a ride back to the inn where we take the glassbottom boat to Petit Tobago natural reserve. There we finally see where the birds that followed us all across the Atlantic nest and hatch their young under
huge Anthurium leaves: snowwhite and gray-striped tropicbirds. After a beautiful walk across the forest-covered island we snorkel, drifting along the reef. Afterwards what else but a piña colada!
On Friday, March 11, we clear out of Charlotteville. (We actually have to clear in AND out; make sure, if you are cruising Tobago, to clear in AND out of the same port in order to go to another port in Tobago/Trinidad.)
On Saturday, after relaxedly watching the fishermen pull their seine-nets onto the beach, we hoist the sails at anchor and sail away to the northwest.
A romping good reach! It is for us a record-breaking time: 90 nautical miles in 12 hours. Now we are back home in Grenada, tied up to the dock, had a good meal and will go to be
CHAP VIII Bequia, ST. Vincent
B E Q U I A
We have been invited to RACE in the Antigua Classics Regatta on April 20 to 25, so we have to move north . On Saturday, March 18, at 12 o'clock, we say good bye to St. George's, Grenada, and set sail for Bequia, a little island just south of St. Vincent, 70 nm from St. George's, all of it upwind.
We stay as close as possible to shore to catch the gusts of wind coming down the valleys. When we get too far off shore, we tack in to take advantage of the shore breezes.After it gets dark we stay on a starboard tack till we are
about 12 nm west of Union Island. There we tack to close the shore. 2nm off Union Island we go on starboard tack again, until we are about 10 nm off Bequia. Then we tack into the harbor, arriving there at noon on Sunday.
At 3 pm we are at Customs/ Immigration (they open at 3) in a beautiful air-conditioned building, and 10 minutes later we are cleared! We then stroll down the beach, find Mac's famous pizzeria and have the well-known
lobster pizza. Yum,yum,yum!! It is so much that we have the rest the next day on the boat.
On Monday we go to the market, one of the nicest markets so far in the Caribbean, full of fantastic vegetables and fruit and extremely nice Rasta vendors that let us taste the things we don't know- passion fruit, starfruit, golden apples etc.
Afterwards we go for a walk over the hill to Friendship Bay. From the roadway down to the beach is a ski jump of a road that Barbara and Dani go flying down. At the bottom of the hill we turn right at a telephone pole, walk through some bushes and find ourselves on another magnificent beach.
After the stroll we arrive at the Mosquito Bar with hanging chairs around the bar where we have - what else?- piña colada, different from Tobago, but just as delicious. After a mouth-watering lunch we take a taxi-ride as far
as we can along the eastern shore of Bequia: many beautiful empty beaches with old coconut palm groves, forests and grazing cattle.
We spend Tuesday cleaning, sanding and varnishing the boat,and in the evening we go ashore and visit the model boat builders' shops. We find a bar with great views of Admiralty Bay in the older, more authentic part of town.
Being on a mooring in dmiralty Bay is like being in a 5 star hotel: early in the morning there is fresh warm bread delivered to the boats (baguettes, banana bread, hmmm), the vegetable man comes around and sells you all the
greens you need, water and gasoil can be delivered, laundry taken,and if you are too lazy to take the dinghy you can always call the watertaxi.
Therre are about 170 sailing yachts in the bay, of all shapes and sizes, from little day-sailers to Bequia wooden schooners (Friendship Rose) to square-rigged 3-masted sailing ships and the occasional white cargo and
cruise ships. Whoops! Here comes the 5-masted Seacloud around the corner!!
Here we are sitting at the upstairs Maria's Internet café, enjoying the hussles and bussles of the waterfront: many dinghy docks with sandy beaches in between, with a walkway around the bay, flanked by coconut palm trees,
seagrapes, frangipanis, cedars and blooming flowers.The music we are listening to- which inspire this writing- is some of the most stunning African drumming we have ever heard. Sorry, name unknown! While at Maria's,
make sure you have a smoothie- mango, pawpaw (papaya) and soursop.
ST. V I N C E N T
On Thursday, March 23, we have abroad reach (doing 7.5 knots) to Wallilabou, St. Vincent. Walilabou is a very picturesque bay right out of Hollywood (Pirates of the Caribbean, with Johnny Depp), actually quite cozy.The
remaining structures from the movie give you the impression of an old Caribbean village waterfront, but at closer inspection you see that it is all make-believe: columns and stone-walls out of Styrofoam, beautiful 17th
century houses from the front and scaffolding and plywood from the back.
When we enter the harbor we are met by Smiley, a boatman who helps us pick up a mooring and tie a sternline to a tree 50 meters from the rocks. He is also very helpful in organizing a boattaxi and a guide to climb Soufriere
The next morning at 6.30 we set off in Brother's watertaxi, weaving in and out along the coastline until we reach Richmond Bay north of Chateaubelair.
Along the way in Cumberland Bay we picked up our guide, Dannyman. From the beach we are looking at the top of the volcano, approximately 3000 feet high, a 2 ½ to 3- hour climb, first along the dried-out riverbed, then
through a gorge some parts only 2 feet wide, and then up,up,up through the dense rainforest until we reach the ridge. Sometimes the pathway along the ridge is so narrow that if you lookat your feet you can see down both slopes of the mountain. After a hard , humid and hot walk we break through the rainforest and enter a volcanic landscape where we don our jackets because of the drop of temperature. At the rim of the crater we have to stay low to the ground otherwise the force of the wind would send us tumbling down the 1000 feet into the crater hole. After a picknick of banana bread, grapefruit and water we start the knee-grinding descent. Halfway down, Skip knows why the volcano's name is Soufriere- he is really suffering! The next day we are all too sore to sail away, so we stay an extra day
CHAP IX St.Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Les Saintes and Guadeloupe
ST. L U C I A
On Sunday, March 26, we sail farther north to St. Lucia to another place called Soufriere , a fishing village where we pick up a mooring and tie up to a tree at Benny's Harmony Beach just north of the Pitons. The water is so
crystal clear that we can see the colorful fish and corals from the deck of the boat. The Pitons are like two big tits. Coming from St. Vincent looking for the island on the horizon you won't see anything, but looking up you'll
see the tops of the Pitons sticking out of the haze, over 2000 feet high and steep like sugarcones.
We go to Benny's for dinner. His wife Marcelene is an excellent cook. The whole family creates such a pleasant atmosphere that we feel like at home.
The next day we meet Junior, the taxidriver. He shows us interesting sites in the Soufriere area. We go La Haute Plantation House with its fantastic view of the Pitons. Then we drive through the volcano and see sulphur
bubbling out of the ground. From there we visit a cocoa plantation, Fond Doux Estate. Theodora, our guide, is very and knowledgeable about how to process cocoa and explaining the different plants of the park.
Along the walk she picks up a ripe cocoa pod, breaks it open and tells us to suck on the white gooey seeds that they call "jungle M&Ms". Yum, yum!!! Then we drive to the Dasheene restaurant from where you have a breathtaking view of the Pitons from a ridge between the two. Skip finds it too breathtaking, feeling like
being choked between Big Bertha tits.
Before going to Marigot Bay the next morning we sail to a mooring in the bay between the Pitons. We have a coffee on the terrace of the Hilton Resort, feeling like being transported by a time machine into the (de)civilized
world. Even the snowwhite powdery beach (imported from Guayana) seems completely out of space. After a fast escape we meet a guard at the perimeter of the hotel property who, when told that we are heading for
Marigot Bay next, says "Why you want to go there?"
At noon we arrive in Marigot Bay and we ask ourselves the same question. Marigot Bay has been described by many as the most beautiful spot in the Caribbean, but it has been taken over by developers and sure is losing its
uniqueness and paradise charm, although they are trying to do an eco job there.
Then off to Rodney Bay to tie up in a marina that could be anywhere in Florida. In this part of St. Lucia it's not like sailing from one Caribbean village to the next, but like traveling from one resort to the next.
We rent a car to see if we can find anything genuinely Caribbean left and we are lucky! We find Labisab Plantation hidden in the interior of the island: a real family plantation, handed down for many generations. A most idyllic
farm set between two mountain rivers, one with a pool where they baptize souls. Everything on the farm is self-produced, even the boards used to build the houses are handsawn like in the old days. The logs are supported
on a scaffold of poles appr. 2.5m off the ground, where one man stands on the top of the log and another underneath, handling a saw 2 m long, pushing and pulling from top to bottom to cut the length of the board, all this
accompanied by singing and drumming to make the work more pleasant.
The farm itself is completely self-sufficient, with enough left over to sell at the market in Castries, the capital. As we are leaving the owner gives us a whole bag full of golden apples, mangoes, papayas, coconuts.
St. Lucia is a wonderful island and has some resorts that are rated among the best of the world, but we see them with different eyes. For somebody that comes only for a short vacation they could offer a glimpse of paradise.
For the people of the island they mean a radical change of lifestyle. Sure they can earn some money here, but at the same time they become dependent on them, too. Old family structures fall apart, as the farmer told us: on
weekends all family members used to get together to help build somebody's house or help with the heavy field work, but now some family members refuse to work without getting paid. What do they get in return? New sofas,
microwaves, computers? What happens to them, if another hurricane destroys the resorts?
We can't help it, but we have the impression that the new menial jobs seem very similar to the ones that people here had in old times on the plantations owned by the rich whites. They are the servants for the few
living in "gated ghettos" again, lower and exotic.
We found that people living in areas unspoilt by tourism seem a lot friendlier, happier and self-confident, though they might live in makeshift houses without luxury items, but by the sea or on clear mountain rivers. The
climate is mild all year round, there is an abundance of edible plants everywhere, nobody goes hungry. We talked to many people about this and they all agree that there are only very few natives that make big money from
these resorts, the main bulk of it going out of the country.
M A R T I N I Q U E
On Saturday, April 1, we sail to Martinique, where we anchor off Fort-de-France, the capital. We find the town completely deserted while we are looking for Customs, which we finally find , but it is closed. We go to
the police station to clear Immigration and are told to come back on Monday to clear Customs. We arrive there only to be told that they don't clear yachties any more and that we have to do that at a chandlery in town.
The town still seems kind of abandoned, probably because of the gigantic shopping-malls near the airport. Also at night the town feels completely deserted without bars or restaurants worth mentioning. It looks like
Fort-de-France has been abandoned like many towns in America because of the malls. What a shame.
After sanding and varnishing the mast on Monday we take the ferry across the huge bay to Anse Mitan, where again we find an artificial Caribbean urbanization. It seems they are leaving their cultural heritage behind.
Feeling as if we were back in the Mediterranean instead of the Caribbean we decide to push on to St. Pierre in the north of Martinique. St. Pierre sits at the base of Montagne Pelée, a volcano that erupted in 1902, completely
destroying the town and leaving 30000 people dead. Still today there are many ruins to be seen from the disaster. St. Pierre never got back to its old glory as the "Caribbean Paris" of old and we feel kind of uneasy and sad
in the area though it is quite charming and pretty with green rolling hills and well-tended fields.
We find one nice spot called the Butterfly Garden. Unfortunately all the butterflies and birds had been killed because of aerial fumigation of the mosquitoes. But what is interesting is all the musical instruments that have
been made from bamboo and which we are able to play ourselves. We hope to stop there again on our way back for one of their famous concerts on weekends.
D O M I N I C A
We set sail for Dominica on Thursday and have a very pleasant broad reach to Roseau.
Nice to be back on a Caribbean island!! Roseau is a picturesque old Caribbean capital where we enjoy walking through the streets with their bubbling townlife that is so missing in Fort-de-France.
After being helped picking up a mooring by Pancho we have a beautiful walk through the Botanical Garden up Jack's walk. When we reach the top we find buses full of tourists from the cruiseships looking at the view and milling among the souvenir stands. We buy coca colas from one of the ladies who charges us 5 EC$, but after a couple of minutes she comes to us and gives us back 2 EC$ saying that she had mistaken us for tourists instead of locals.. which makes us feel quite at home.
Two days later we sail to Portsmouth which is in Prince Rupert's Bay at the northern tip of the island, another wonderful sail along the coast.
Portsmouth is a fishing village with several huge rusty wrecks lining the waterfront since hurricane Lenny. Shortly after our arrival we are met by Martin, a friend of Pancho's, on his boat Providence and taken for a row up
the Indian river.
This river is like stepping into the past. In Dominica, even more so than on other Caribbean islands, they try hard to preserve their cultural heritage.
It is said that, if Columbus came back, Dominica would be the only island that he would recognize. The Indian river is one of 365 rivers that come down from the mountains and form a swamp land before emptying into the sea.
The mouth of the river is approximately 50 m wide and narrows as you go up-stream until the branches and vines from the trees form a tunnel-like canopy.
The roots of the bloodwood trees along the banks form incredible sculptures.
There are wild hibiscus growing alongside, coconut palms, cedars and huge fern rees. The stillness of the river and the sounds and sight of a multitude of colorful birds make it an enchanting place. If we die and they
don't accept us in heaven, send our bodies to the Indian river!
The next day we take a bus to see a little bit of the countryside, but the bus we happen to pick drops us at a crossing in the middle of nowhere. The busdriver tells us not to worry, another bus would take us to Calabishie on the east coast. After waiting for half an hour we decide to walk in the glowing heat and try to hitchhike. We walk along the roadway which runs parallel to a ravine, the slopes looking vertical with the river deep deep
down, everything covered by dense tropical forest.After a while we are luckily picked up by Moise and his Haitian wife Alexandrine who ask us where we want to go. After telling them that we just want to see some of their beautiful island they decide to give us a tour. We drive down the Atlantic coast, stopping for a drink at a little bar along the beach and then buying some eggs at an egg-farm.Moise then takes us to the Emerald Pool Waterfall where we probably wouldn't have gone after seeing so many waterfalls already. But in the end we are very glad we went there because it turns out to be the most beautiful of them all! It is a 15-minute walk through the rainforest. It is even raining, but we don't get wet because of the canopy of leaves above us. The beauty of the place is hard to
We continue by following the Layou river back down to the sea, stopping every now and then in order to buy limes, some sugar-cane juice and some grilled plantains from vendors by the roadside. Moise and his wife make us feel as if we are on a family excursion. We enjoyed their company immensely!
L E S S A I N T E S and G U A D E L O U P E
We are not looking forward to going back to the civilization of the French islands, but when we get to Bourg-en-Saintes, capital of a group of islands north of Dominica, we are surprised how charming and Caribbean and
nest-like the place is. As there is no Customs to clear in or out here, we have to go to Guadeloupe the next day. But on our way back south we would like to spend more time in this pleasant place.
Upon arriving in Guadeloupe we anchor off Basse-Terre and paddle ashore to clear Customs. Luckily Dani stays on board, for, while we are gone, the anchor drags and Ragnar would have drifted out to sea without us.
As Basse-Terre doesn't provide any anchorage for us and doesn't look very appealing either, we just continue up the coast to Deshaies. We find it a very crowded bay, but the tiny village turns out to be very charming. We
have a delicious meal ashore at L'Amer restaurant to celebrate the seventh full moon since the start of our voyage and also the rescue of Ragnar.
It would be nice if the French authorities put down some moorings along their coastline (like all other islands) and add facilities for the yachting community to make life a little easier. The bay of Deshaies is a good
anchorage, but at night the thermal winds coming down the mountains can reach up to50 knots and more, almost hurricane force. Anchored in 6 m of water with 40 m of chain out, during the night the chain would stretch out
almost horizontally from the force of the wind. Not a good place for a restful sleep!
CHAP X. From Guadeloupe to Antigua
Saturday, April 15, we sail from Guadeloupe to Antigua. Along the way we spot
our first (humpback)whales in the Atlantic jumping out of the water nd
flapping their fins! They swim under the boat and off into the distance.
Long before Antigua we can see Monserrat with its smoking volcano.
In the early afternoon we arrive in Falmouth Harbour and tie up at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina. Day after day the dock becomes fuller of all kinds of old beautiful classic boats. Their brass is so shiny that we decide to polish ours, too, and join the Concours d'´elegance.
On Friday morning we sit in the cockpit, not moving a muscle and not touching a thing, waiting for the judges to come by. And lo and behold! At the prize-giving ceremony we are surprised to find that we win the 3rd place in the privately maintained category!! Hurrah!!!
Saturday, April 1st, is the first day of the race. At 10 o'clock the start of the classic class A which we are in, and then every 15 minutes is the start of the next faster class. But there is absolutely no wind and eventually all 55+ boats are on the starting line, all at the same time, bobbing around like corks, with sails flapping, people having conversations from one boat to the next, all for about an hour, until finally a light breeze pushes the fleet apart. The rest of the race is sailed in light variable winds with occasional rain squalls.
The second race on Sunday is called the Butterfly. This day starts with good wind, reaching down to the first mark which we round just behind famous Eleonora of London and high-tech Ranger just behind us. After a beat to windward and a reach out and a reach back we cross the finish line and head for the parade in English Harbour. As we round the headland we put Dani on the bow as a bow fluff. Upon entering the Harbour there is a roar of applause as the announcer announces our name and describes the boat.
On Monday, the Cannon race. If you only sail one sailboat race in your life make sure it is the Cannon race at Antigua Classic. It's a 6 nm reach, gybe around the buoy, and a 6nm reach back to the start line, twice. As the small boats start an hour ahead of the big boats, we are able to round the first
mark before the big guys catch us. Reaching back we have Eleonora passing us to port and Ranger passing us to starboard going in the other direction.
There is so much traffic of beautifulboats flying along that you don't know where to look any more.The most fantastic race we ever participated in!
Every day after the races there are many social gatherings in the Club, at Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbour, aboard the Carracou boat Jambalaya and - the nicest of them- a champagne evening on board Eleonora.
And, surprise again: the evening of the prize-giving we receive our 2nd trophy for the 2nd best performance over the short course!!
LUCIA - ST. VINCENT - BEQUIA - MUSTIQUE
After a few days of cleaning the boat and chilling out we continue our voyage south to get below the hurricane zone, that is below 12 degrees north.Grenada is at 12 degrees N and got hit terribly twice in the last years, so we will have to go even further south to Venezuela.
First we stop in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, for some days, first tied up at the marina and then anchoring off Pigeon Island for the Jazz Festival weekend.
From there we move further south to Soufriere where we have dinner at Benny's again. Then one night at Wallilabou, St. Vincent, and another night at Petit Byahaut Bay.
CANOUAN - TOBAGO CAYS - UNION ISLAND - PALM ISLAND
From Mustique we continue to Canouan. Canouan is a whole different story.
The island has been divided in two: the northern half is owned by an American real estate company that boasts 5-star Raffles hotel/ spa/ resort/ casino. We are taking a walk around the small island and come to what appears Checkpoint Charlie. There they tell us that if we want to enter their zone we have to pay 100 US$. We tell them that the Beerlin wall fell years ago and turn around and walk back. Not even the locals are allowed to go in there freely. The whole area is a development like Mustique but not
open to the public unless you pay- the price includes the use of a heavy-duty golf-cart, some of their facilities and lunch.
The rest of the island is trying to take advantage of the situation. There is a building boom going on in a variety of styles even before a proper infrastructure seems to be in place. The island as such is quite pleasing to the eye- green hills, white beaches- except the tons of litter everywhere.
If they put up signs "Do not litter! 100 $ fine!" like in the resort area the town would be rich.We are at a mooring off Tamarind Beach Hotel where in the Pirate's Cove Bar
we thoroughly enjoy another piña colada almost as good as in Tobago! Pit, you got us hooked!
On May 28, we leave for the most magical spot in the Caribbean, the Tobago Cays. After threading our way through the reefs and through the channel between Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau Islands we emerge into the lagoon in the center of the Horseshoe Reef, anchoring between the other 2 islands, Jamesby and Barabel. It's quite a feeling to be anchored behind a reef with all the Atlantic Ocean in front of you.
We put the dinghy into the water so we can motor out to the mooring buoys provided for dinghies at the inside edge of the reef. Dani has some fantastic snorkeling between the canyons of coral in less than 2m of water.
Afterwards we stop at a beach and have the whole island and its one palm tree for ourselves.
After a beautiful quiet starry night with the only lights to be seen on Canouan in the north and Union in the south we sail to Clifton Harbor on Union Island. We take a mooring right next to the beach. When we ask Dani to check it he jumps into the water and swims to where the mooring buoy is attached and ends up standing shoulder-deep in the water on top of the rock.
As Clifton is on the windward side of the island the wind is constantly blowing from the east or southeast; so there is no threat of spinning in a circle on the mooring. If the wind came out of the southwest we would be high and dry on the beach.
With its rugged silhouette Union Island appears like the Alps of the Caribbean from a distance. It looks a lot bigger than it is. It is pretty well deserted except in the Clifton and Ashton areas in the south. These two only villages have two completely different atmospheres: Clifton being the place where the harbor happened, and Ashton the one where it was abandoned.
We take a ride around the island on a minibus- it's blazing hot and there is not much shade anywhere here. It takes us about one hour to drive over every road there is. The north and west are still very pristine, an area that is just waiting to be developed, esp. beautiful Chatham Bay.
One afternoon we take a thrilling water-taxi ride across the channel to Palm Island. When we go ashore we walk up a pathway that divides into three, each one with its own sign "Private property. Do not enter. Hotel guests only".
Looking around, wondering where we could go, up pops a man dresses in blue who tells us that we can walk along the beach and only as far inland as the first row of palm trees. We start our walk along the leeward shore which is a marvelous white sandy beach with crystal clear emerald water gently lapping at the shore. On the shoreside are the hotel bungalows scattered among palm groves and manicured gardens- the ideal hideaway if you want to do absolutely nothing . All inclusive 1000 US$ per day per couple in
thatched Balinesian-style houses with large verandahs. A lot of money to do nothing.
Further along the north shore of the island the reef is close to the beach and ashore are a few privately owned houses in a hotch-potch of styles.
After half an hour we reach the eastern shore where we have to cut inland to avoid a point of rocks, crossing a part of the golf course which appears to not be used very often.
After arriving again at the jetty we go the bar to have a drink, but the waitress says "Before you sit down, sir, I want to tell you that we only serve guests of the hotel". We cannot even have a glass of water. The only place on the island to buy a drink is out of a fridge in the gift shop.
As it is impossible to get a water-taxi back we have to wait for the employee shuttle-boat that is full of exhausted-looking workers on their way home to Clifton.
On Thursday June 1 we leave Clifton with joy in our hearts and anticipating our arrival in Carricou, our Favorite island so far. We anchor off Hillsborough, clear in, do some shopping , have a beer in our favorite bar right on the beach and have a lovely chat with the Justice of the Peace who is sitting in the same spot as when we left 4 months ago. And then off and around the corner to anchor in Tyrell Bay, a stone's throw away from a good hurricane hole in the mangroves. If we ever buy a piece of property in the
Caribbean it would be somewhere on this island.
XIII. Carriacou -Grenada -Los Testigos- Margarita -Coche -Cumaná
We stay in Carriacou for a week, from June 1 till 8. In Antigua we met Dave
Godhill, an American who built himself a cozy house and 3 guesthouses in a large
garden right on the beach. He even built the furniture himself and painted
everything in bright Caribbean colors.
He invites us on Whitmonday for a trip to a sailing regatta in Petite Martinique, a little island that we can see from his terrace. Altogether we are 18 persons on his selfbuilt motorboat, and in the easygoing atmosphere
we feel like one big family. With us are his three wonderful children and some friends from Carriacou. We watch the regatta and rescue one of the boats that broke its boom, have lunch on shore and have a look at the
traditional wooden boats that are built on the beach of Petite Martinique.
Before it gets dark we drive back to Windward and then sit on Dave's terrace drinking rum punches and icetea with black sage, peppermint and lemon grass.
On our last evening in Carriacou we have lambi (conch) at the Twilight restaurant overlooking the harbor. Next door a group of women starts singing gospels. A boy races by on a skateboard, and a cow slowly trots home along the beach. Tyrell Bay.
On June 8 we set sail towards Grenada and have a fantastic broad reach all the way to St. George's lagoon, past Kick 'em Jenny, the Sisters, London Bridge and Sugar Loaf. The hurrican season is coming closer, and people are
getting prepared: they clean out riverbeds, reinforce roofs and terraces and cut off dry branches from trees.
We clean the boat, repair the dinghy, launder, stock up, go to the market, meet friends and watch the soccer world championship at the Grenada Yacht Club. Every evening we take a pleasant walk up the valleys and over the
mountains that surround St. George's harbor and find a lot of beautiful hidden spots with grand views.
The day of the Trinidad/Tobago game against England Skip wears the Trinidad flag hanging from the back of his hat which the locals find really nice. They want to beat England, but unfortunately they are not successful.
It is raining a lot and the mosquitoes are bothering us and also the swarms of rainflies that look like big moths, appear just before it rains and then afterwards disappear completely.
We are waiting for a weather-window between all the tropical waves from the east in order to sail to Isla Margarita in Venezuela.Though we are feeling quite at home in Grenada, it's time to get out of the hurrican zone.
On Sunday evening, June 25, the weather moderates and we decide to set sail in the direction of Los Testigos, a group of little islands two thirds of the way to Margarita. We leave just before dark, because we have
approximately 90 nm to do and want to arrive in the day light.
The next morning we anchor in the bay of Playa Tamarindo (Testigo Grande), where there are 15 other boats at anchor. We are very tired and ready to go to bed, when Gina and Pieter that we know from Barbados arrive in their dinghy to say hallo - what a surprise!! They are on their way to Trinidad and tell us that we have to notify the coastguard of our presence. We contact the guardacosta on channel 16 and they tell us that we have to go
and see them. So we have to lift the anchor again and motor over to Iguana Grande, where we anchor, paddle ashore and climb up the hill to the office.
Jesús, the officer in charge, a friendly young guy with blue eyes, inscribes us in a thick registry book. He informs us that on an average 10 yachts arrive here every day. He tells us that normally foreign yachts can stay 2 days, but we can stay three if we want to. We have to clear in officially later in Margarita. Jesús is happy that we speak Spanish, because the other day he had to deal with a Turkish yacht whose crew only spoke Turkish and it took him along time drawing pictures and using sign language in order to receive and give all the information.
Afterwards we motor back across the channel, anchor next to our friends and take a siesta. At 6pm we are awoken by some French sailors that offer us some bonitos that they have caught in abundance.They also gave fish to Gina and Pieter who invite us on board their catamaran to eat altogether.
The next morning we dinghy ashore. There are many colorful high-bowed fishing-boats lying on the white powdery beach- it's amazing how each island has its own style of boats. Along the beach there are about 10 wooden huts surrounded by palmtrees, bougainvilleas, tamarind and flamboyant trees. The rest of the hilly landscape is very arid and desertlike, covered only by thorny shrubs and cacti. Every now and then we see grassgreen and bright yellow lizards and iguanas crawling by. We walk over to the windward side of
the island where there are big waves crashing on the beeach and much driftwood and flotsam lying around. We find wide trucklike tracks of a turtle that came ashore to lay its eggs and then returned to the sea.
In the bar on Playa Tamarindo the owner tells us that her family has been living here for many generations. She says that there are about 250 persons living on the Testigos. Life here is not easy, she compares it with living
on a boat, you have to manage with what you have. Water is a problem. It hasn't rained for 5 months, and she has a huge mountain of laundry that she can't wash.Every now and then they go to Margarita to buy supplies, mostly
rice and legumes. They mostly eat fish, not being able to grow vegetables for lack of water.
Skip and Dani watch a soccer game in the livingroom of her house. The TV is connected to a large truck battery. Barbara escapes from the mosquitoes back into the bar on the beach, next to her a tamarind tree with a monkey on a long line. Daniel, the owner's son, shows her the three-days-old turtles that he collected on the beach- 175 of them! Each turtle lays approximately 200 eggs. When it's hot, they hatch after 72 hours; when it's raining and
cooler it can take weeks. After hatching the little ones walk directly towards the sea and in the ddaytime most of them get eaten by the frigate birds right away. That's why Daniel catches them and feeds them with pieces
of fishuntil they are big enough to be set back into the water. After 5-6 months they weigh about 500 to 600 kg and finally come back to the same beach to lay their eggs.
Daniel and his mother say that they enjoy their life here because they can live in peace and quiet and don't have to worry about thieves. What a difference to the rest of Venezuela!
In the afternoon they set up the TV in the bar where they hang blankets to cut off the blare. There are 12 Frenchmen and us to watch the game France against Spain.In the end France wins, but the Frenchmen don't show much of their joy because Dani , the only Spaniard, is too disappointed. Afterwards we invite Dani, Gina, Pieter and their friend Rob for dinner: tasty fish patties with rice and vegetables, 20 beers, coffee- all for 20 $.
In the morning of June 28 the sky is full of black clouds and it looks like it's going to pour, but an hour later it has all blown away and we set off for Margarita. In the first third of the trip we have a good breeze, but then it dies out and we motor the rest of the way to Porlamar, Isla Margarita, where we anchor at 6 pm. There are approximately 60 boats in the bay. The mountain tops of the island are hidden by thick black clouds, it
must be raining up there, but the rain doesn't reach the coastal area. The sky is dramatic- fire red, blueblack, light blue and sulphur yellow. In the high rises of Porlamar the lights get turned on.
We stay in Porlamar until June 13. Isla Margarita is the most important tourist center of Venezuela and a taxfree harbor, which means that everything here is cheaper than elsewhere. One gallon of gasoil is 40 cents.
The center of town is a typical Southamerican city with thousands of small and smallest shops of any kind, hundreds of areperias (streetstands where they sell corn tortillas filled with chicken, fish or cheese), stands with
vegetables and fruit, men offering to change dollars (the official exchange rate is very low). There are fantastic malls and areas with luxurious houses and ultramodern highrises next to slums.
We walk around town or take taxis, often 30-year-old American Chevrolets that look like they are going to collapse any minute. One day we are driven in an old Russian Lada with faulty steering and without brakes and are just able to stop in the middle of the crossing when the light turns red. They don't have any driving licences here, insurance is not mandatory and for a new car to get a licence plate it usually takes two years. It happens very often that taxidrivers are threatened at gunpoint and forced to hand over their cars.
Clearing in in Porlamar is a joke and a mysterious procedure that takes us a week (with an agent) though we already all have a one year visa from the Embassy in Grenada. We hear on the VHF a Frenchman calling and asking, if he had to stay on board and wait for the Customs to come. He could starve to death before that happens.
At night we have to put the dinghy on deck because they warned us not to leave it in the water. In the dark there are strange elements rowing around in dinghies and you have to watch out that they don't steal anything. We
refuse to get paranoid about all this, but we are cautious and have a club and the spotlight handy to scare off any intruder.
We watch the soccer finals between Italy and France in a bar in Sambil, the newest and fanciest mall. There is an incredibly exciting atmosphere , as many Venezuelans here are of Italian origin and the giant mall echoes with
the cheering and roaring crowd. If you ever want to watch a world cup, this is the place to do it.
On a Sunday our taxidriver Arturo drives us around the eastern part of Margarita . The coastal area looks like a desert, but has some very nice surfing beaches. We drive to La Asuncion, the old capital in the interior,
situated in a green valley, and from there to El Valle, another old colonial town with the famous church of the Virgen del Valle, patron saint of the fishermen.El Valle is a very green town with giant mango trees and parks
that are soothing to the eye after all the arid areas full of cactus.
Some days later Veronica, a Chilean lady that has been living here for over 30 years drives us to the Macanao peninsula, the western part of Margarita that is connected with the eastern part only by a narrow sand spit. In Boca del Rio we visit the new marine museum, where models of fishing boats are exhibited as well as all kinds of fish skeletons, shells etc. On our way back we get into a floodlike rain and watch a gaucho on his horse, both
obviously enjoying the downpour - doesn't happen very often.There are no rivers in Margarita, and on the coast it hardly ever rains. The water comes from the mainland in a thick pipe.
The province of Margarita is called Nueva Esparta and we have been wondering why. The indigenous people didn't like to be colonized, exploited and made slaves by the Spaniards at all (in the 16th century Spain got about 15 tons of pearls from the oysterbanks here every year) and they fought and resisted heroically, like the Spartans. Most of the Margaritans today are a mixture of Indians, some Africans (The Spaniards brought African slaves here to dive for pearls) and Europeans.
It has not been long since Margarita has developed into an international tourist spot. Only a few years ago it was a remote laid back island and now has to deal with all the neagitve sides of tourism (faulty infrastructure,
crime etc.). They are now seriously thinking of connecting it with Puerto La Cruz on the mainland by a 70 km long bridge.
After stocking up in one of the gigantic supermarkets and the equally huge Los Conejeros market we set sail for Coche on July 13, a small island southwest of Margarita. There is no wind, the sea is flat like a plate. We
hoist the main stay sail andmotor.
On the starboard side we can see the green mountain tops of Margarita and then Cubagua - the pearl island,today uninhabitated-; on the port side the mountain range of the Araya peninsula on the mainland and then the
northcoast of Coche with its bizarre sandstone rocks.After cautiously rounding the dangerous northwest tip of Coche with its dangerous only 6 feet deep shoal that stretches 1.5 nm into the sea we arrive at San Pedro, the main village of Coche. We maneuver carefully through the shallow water,dodging all the fishing boats and their nets, and anchor off the Paradise Resort north of San Pedro that looks like an oasis amidst the arid landscape. Houses covered with palm fronds are hidden between palm trees and purple bougainvilleas along the snowwhite sand beach that stretches for miles along the coast. There are already 9 boats anchored, all of them Germans that we know from Porlamar.
Unfortunately there are also three rubberneckie catamarans from Margarita here whose guests enjoy have a great time racing around with jetskis. They especially like to steer them sitting with their backs to the front. Skip
is afraid they might bump into our boat or anchor chain. Fortunately they leave at around 4 o'clock and there is peace and quiet - until 7 pm, when it is already dark and military helicopters start roaring very low and without
light above the tops of our masts.
The next morning we hire an old tattered Chevrolet taxi and drive to San Pedro. San Pedro is a large village with nicely painted houses and wide streets, everything is very clean and orderly. We buy some eggs, a pumpkin
and bread and then take a tour around the island. Only cacti grow here, and vultures circle above our heads.
First we drive to Playa El Amor, where we are received by a group of children that give us pretty shells and accompany us down the rocks to the beach to show us the elephant. Wind and weather have carved the soft
sandstone into sculptures in ocre, red, brown and yellow colors. The children are very well behaved, curious and bright. They tell us the names of all the kinds of shells that we find all over the beach. It is a pleasure
to be with them!Next we drive through the pretty village of Bichar at the entrance of the El Saco lagoon. El Saco is a large hurricane hole surrounded by mangroves and white beaches. We visit the shell cemetery with its
mountains of piled up shells. Finally we drive by the salines, the little airport and the ice factory which are the main sources of income of the island beside the three hotels.
There are 12 ooo inhabitants in Coche, but the birth rate is very high and we are wondering what the future will look like for the young people.
On July 20 we hoist all the sails and set off for Cumaná at the beginning of the gulf of Cariaco on the mainland. We set up our fishing gear and after only a few minutes we catch quite a big ladyfish. Dani sprays gin into its
gills until it passes away rather quietly. Unfortunately it is not as tasty as we would have wished.
During the journey we constantly look out for suspicious boats as we are now in pirate land. But we can only see little freight ships, fishing boats and ferries. Once a fishing boat is coming directly at us at full speed and we
have to turn the motor on in order to dodge it. But then it comes at us again! There is nobody to be seen on deck. Skip blows into the horn several times and finally we see somebody jump behind the steering wheel and turn
the boat.In the late afternoon we are approaching Cumaná. The wind is blowing hard while we are looking for the very narrow and barely marked entrance to Cumanagoto marina in Puerto Sucre. We tie up right next to a coastguard boat and the gasstation. We check in and are pleased that it will only cost us 12 $ a day, water and electricity included; it is well guarded and has a mall right next to it.
The next morning we walk through town and to the huge vegetable and fruit market. Cumaná is the capital of Sucre province, has quite a pretty center with colorful and lively streets lined with big trees and a walkway along
the river Manzanares.
Towards the periphery there are some wealthy areas with luxurious and well fenced in and guarded houses, but also very poor and dangerous sections.
When you walk through town it is advisable not to have anything valuable with you, no jewellery, no watch, co ccamera, no bag, no cellphone. We are feeling alright, maybe also because we speak Spanish and because the people in general are very friendly and helpful. But we have to be careful and always closely watch the area around us.
The people are suffering a lot from the insecurity,poverty and crime in the country. Venezuela is a very rich oil producing state, but any people do not participate in this wealth. Under the leftist Chavez regime the country
has been run down due to an inefficient administration, corruption, nepotism, bankruptcy of many private firms etc. Everywhere you see people standing in line, in the banks, in the offices of authorities, at meat
The climate here is hot and humid, but in the evenings there is usually a strong eastern breeze. In the boat all mattresses, cushions and clothes get damp, and we have to dry them in the sun all the time so they don't become
In the last days we have been sanding and varnishing, scrubbing the deck and Skip has been roaming through all the boatyards, chandleries and carpentries of the town in search of parts and products that we need. He usually he
comes back quite pleased with his encounters with the locals and his findings.
CHAP XIV. Puerto Real and Laguna Chica
PUERTO REAL and LAGUNA CHICA (Peninsula de Araya, Golfo de Cariaco)
10º 33.8 N 10º 34.0 N
64º 07.6 W 64º04.6 W
After spending two weeks in Cumaná we decide to leave on Thursday, August 3, so not to have to listen to the bad, blaring live music from the Retro Bar in the marina over the weekend again.
At 10.30 am we set sail for Puerto Real on the northern side of the Golfo9 de Cariaco, on the peninsula de Araya. Due to very little wind we end up motoring across the 8-mile stretch. The entrance to the tiny village of Puerto Real is surrounded by shoals which - as we find out later- are much more extensive than on the chart.
The bay itself is a very long and beautiful one with a sandy beach at the end of it, the small fishing village sitting on the seaward point. After having a look around we carry on to Laguna Chica.
On the way out of the bay we run gently aground in an area where there are no shoals marked on the chart. Incredibly enough we don't do any damage, but actually - through the gentle pressure on the keel - stop the slight water in-take that we had before! Since then we don't have to pump out the bilge any more!
Rounding the point we head 3 miles further east until we find the almost hidden entrance to Laguna Chica, a bay approximately ¾ miles long and an eighth of a mile wide. We anchor at the eastern tongue of the bay in about 8
meters of water. We are the only yacht anchored in this beautifu7l bay surrounded by greenery along the shore and the little inlets, and red and gray barren hills behind . The color contrast of the blue sea, the green foliage and the red mountains is quite breathtaking, especially in the early morning and late afternoon.
At the end of the bay there is a small fishing village with some scattered houses set in coconut palm and mango groves, a tiny chapel for the Virgen de El Valle, two minute "stores" and a little boatyard where they build the
typical high-bowed colorful fishing skiffs. There is also a big bar where we can drink Polar Ice beer while herds of goats, pigs and roosters stroll around the tables.
After a couple of hours we are approached by a rowboat full of children who bring us a bucketful of mangos and icacas (white mushroom-sized fruit). We give them color pencils and some sugar in exchange, because they tell us
that there is a scarcity of sugar in Venezuela at the moment and they don't have any to sweeten their coffee.
Later, after sunset, we hear singing and laughing echoing across the bay and see the children dancing in front of their little houses and jumping in the water. They seem to have a good time.
On Sunday morning we row ashore and walk over the red dusty dirt road and over the hill to Langoleta, the main village in the area. Very narrow streets with colorfully painted houses and huge shade trees: a very cosy
village with a big main square and a church approximately 3 by 6 meters; along the waterfront fishing boats, nets, boatyards, chickens, dogs and pigs.
We are such an unexpected and rare sight that people are staring at us as if we come from another planet. But then they greet us very friendly and even want their pictures taken. We feel very welcome among them.
Back on the boat some boys come out on a row boat and ask if they can borrow a diving mask. After some hours they come back and offer us a bucketful of clams and conch, which is very nice, but which we decline thinking that they need them more themselves.
After almost a week we try to stock up on food, but there is very little to be had. You have to be in the right place at the right time, f.ex. to catch the vegetable truck that drives by with the loudspeaker blaring "onions, vegetables, get your vitamins", but doesn't stop until somebody flags it down. We decide to go back to Cumaná to get ready for our next adventure.
Tuesday morning, after a beautiful sunrise with a double rainbow arching over Cumaná, we motor back. Along the way we are accompanied by a frolicking school of very happy dolphins who pass by many schools of sardines so they can continue to play with us. At 10.30 am we tie up at the marina in Cumaná, hook up to electricity and water, take showers and the laundry and go shopping.
CHAP XV. Laguna Grande
L A G U N A G R A N D E 10º34 N 64º03 W
Early on Monday morning, Aug 14, we take a por puesto - taxi from Cumanà to Puerto La Cruz, about 50 miles west in the direction of Caracas. In a tattered rusty American car we sway along the steep curvy coastal road, we
in the front and a local family of three in the back, over green rain-forest hills with breathtaking views of the bays and islands of Mochima National Park and the Caribbean Sea.
Just before the descent to Puerto La Cruz our vehicle gives up. But some moments later another taxi stops in front of us- the electrician! How lucky!
He improvises something with the wires and insulation tape and we make it to the bus terminal.
We do some shopping in town and then have a look at Marina Bahìa Redonda- a meeting place for yachties from all over the Caribbean during the hurricane season.
It is a very nice parklike marina with a huge pool, a cosy bar (where they play a lot of domino), shop and restaurant, but it is also a "gated ghetto" with walls and fences and guards because it is situated directly next to a
very unsafe part of the town where thefts and shoot-outs occur quite often.
Marina Cumanagoto, where our boat is at the moment, is also very secured, but we are still able to walk into town whereas in Bahía Redonda we would only be able to move by taxi.
When we come back to the bus terminal we are told that the road to Cumaná has been blocked for hours. We wait and wait and finally hop onto a very comfortable modern bus with airconditioning that takes us back to Cumaná
after 3 hours of slowly negotiating the mud.
On Aug 15 we cross the Cariaco Gulf again and anchor in Laguna Grande. The dolphins accompany us again almost all the way. We motor, for there is no wind at all. Laguna Grande is a huge area with a lot of little bays lined by green mangroves.It is the ideal hurricane hole and an enchanted place surrounded by high red desert mountains where only thorny shrubs and cacti grow. Nobody lives here. But the valleys are exuberantly green and some of the shrubs have bright yellow flowers.
We slowly motor through the lagoon and finally anchor in a narrow channel between an island and the mainland. Just opposite of us we see an eagle's nest in a cactus. It is built like a hammock, and there are two little
eagles in it that are continuously fed by their parents. Grassgreen parrots are flitting back and forth, we hear a woodpecker and watch the pelicans awkwardly plunging into the water head-first to catch a fish.
We can see the whole length of the lagoon and behind the narrow entrance the mainland mountains and after dark some lights of Cumanà. At sunrise and sunset, in rain and sunshine we can watch beautiful color spectacles. The
desertlike landscape changes its colors all the time and reflects itself in the water.
Every now and then fishermen come by with their boats in order to collect shells from the mangroves. They all know us by now and like us because we took some photos of them and sent them to them by the ferry.
On the weekend a group of nine American boats arrive. They all anchor close to us, visit in their dinghies and invite us for happy hour. Nice people, mostly couples that decided to live on a boat after retiring. Many of them
have roamed the Caribbean for years. They are a little anxious here as most of them don't speak much Spanish, relations between the US and Venezuela haven't been too friendly lately and they dread pirates. After two days we
are on our own again. It is quiet again, the doves coo, the eagles circle above our heads and big greenyellow and redbrown butterflies land on our deck.
At night the water glitters like the milkyway. When we stir it with the paddle it glows like a magic wand. When little waves hit the shore the phosphorescence glows like a flashlight rolling along the beach. The hour
before sunrise is the most awesome: the water is silvery and flat like a mirror. It is absolutely still. The hills are black against the sky and one can see only the slightest sliver of the waning moon.
We want to climb on top of one of the higher mountains, but in the valley on the way there we get to an absolutely impenetrable wall of shrubs and cacti.
There are no roadways here, only goat tracks, and even the goats are unable to get through this vegetation. You can only walk on the higher parts of the mountains where it gets too dry for anything to grow. But you cannot cross
the valleys. We try different spots and finally give up.
On Aug.22, we motor back to Cumanà to get some fruit and vegetables, this time for some weeks in advance. We buy green plantains, green pineapples, unripe avocados and a huge cucumberlike watermelon of 11 kilos. Now we are in the salon sitting under a bunch of green bananas and next to us are green mangas (=big mangos)ripening in a box, hopefully.
The weather report sounds a little scary. There is a hurricane cone approaching the Windward Islands from 500 miles west of the Cape Verdes, and a cyclone from Trinidad coming closer in our direction. We have taken
the jib, the awning and the bimini down and secured the boat with a cat's cradle of ropes.
CHAP XVI. Peninsula de Araya
M E D R E G A L V I L L A G E (Península de Araya)
10º 32.00 N 63º 48.20 W
About a month ago we left Cumaná in order to go further east into the Gulf of Cariaco. We had talked to another sailor, Eduardo on "Opa" (one of his ancestors was one of Stoertebeckers pirates.), who recommended us some
anchorages along this coast. But the tiny bays were either too rough, like Punta Cangrejo, or too solitary for us to be able to sleep well. So we decided to go further to Medregal Village, a yachties' meeting point not very far from the eastern end of the gulf.
A Belgian, Jean-Marc, built a hotel there some years ago, with a restaurant, bar, pool, nice garden and showers. Many people leave their boats anchored there while they travel around South-America or go home for a while.
Jean-Marc takes care of the boats,And he is also setting up a boatyard with a haul-out facility so people can
have work done there. The place is secure, at night armed guards patrol the area. It's a very popular and safe place to be.
The only disadvantage is that it is in the middle of nowhere. The next village is miles away, without any connection by bus or taxi. Jean-Marc taxies the people to Cumaná on Wednesdays, Carúpano on Fridays and Cariaco on Saturdays.
After having stayed around the arid, desertlike western part of the peninsula for so long, we really enjoyed to travel overland through the lush vegetation in the eastern part of the gulf-area to Carúpano on the northern
Caribbean coast. Carúpano is a very small but incredibly bustling town, especially on Fridays and on the 1st and 15th of every month when people get paid and can do their shopping.After spending an hour in the Carúpano bank to get some money (30 people in front of us.), we strolled around town and down to the waterfront, to the
big municipal market, back up into town to the park on Plaza Cristóbal, where we sat down in the shade and watched the shoeshine boys polish hiking boots. There are good supermarkets, hardware stores and chandlery shops that make the two-hour but-breaking trip worth while. On the way back not only did we have to fit 9 people into the Toyota Landcruiser but also all the groceries stacked between our legs, piled up between us on the benches to the point that we were packed up like sardines.
Every time we hit a "sleeping policeman" (a traffic bump) a collective groan would rise and cases of beer, cases with ice, trays with eggs and wooden boards would shift around. Many people ask what we are doing all day: to go shopping in Carúpano is a 12-hour excursion altogether. Sometimes it's not as easy as at home where you have your shops just down the street.
One Saturday morning another 45-minute drive just to go to the produce market in Cariaco. The market was very crowded, many people pushing and shoving. We had just bought the last of the vegetables we needed when an old
man standing next to Skip dropped his bag full of little peppers. When Skip bent down to help pick them up, someone reached his hand into his pocket and stole the rest of his money. It was a perfect setup. In the time it took for him to turn around and see who it had been, the thief had disappeared and also the old man - all within seconds. A good lesson learned - never take your hands off your money, even if it is to help somebody.
At this time in summer they have their fiestas for the Virgen del Valle, the patron saint of the fishermen, in the gulf area. People were constantly dressing her in ever prettier clothes and parading her on the coastguard boats from one village to the next. There would be a lot of noise from all the fire crackers and a lot of music and dancing at night. One Sunday morning they even paraded the Virgin around the pool .
In Medregal we enjoyed some good meals and some good company. There were interesting people from all over the world there, and they had a lot of good stories to tell. We were getting more laid back by the day and after 3 weeks decided to return to civilization so we wouldn't end up like the couple that sailed away from Florida 11 years ago for a trip around the world and has only got to Venezuela so far.. So we went back to Cumaná where we are now, stocking up again and getting ready to go west towards Panama.
CHAP XVII. Mochima, El Oculto, Puerto la Cruz
M O C H I M A , E L O C U L T O 10º 20.95 N 64º 20.35 W
P U E R T O L A C R U Z 10º 12.80 N 64º 40.20 W
On Sept. 29 we finally leave Cumaná to go exploring new territory towards the west. At 11 pm, after motoring down the coast, we arrive at the entrance of Mochima National Park. The bay uis approximately 4 nautical miles deep with many hidden coves good for anchoring, but also good for robberies at night. After an hour we arrive at the end of the bay and anchor off Pueerto Viejo, the only village in the area.
Puerto Viejo looks like a small fishing village but actually is quite touristic. Most fishing boats are used as water taxis to ferry the local sunseeking people to the beaches. The village itself is made up of one and a half streets, two vegetable stores - one with half rotten fruit and greenery and the other opens whenever they feel like it-, a couple of restaurants, no real bars because everybody buys their drinks in a store and drinks in the street. Almost every house has a room or two for rent. During the week it's rather nice and quiet, but on the weekend very loud with music and boats ferrying back and forth.
The anchorage itself is very pleasant and gives you the feeling that you are on a lake because you cannot see the open sea.
After spending a week there we move further west- a two-hour trip around the Manare Peninsula to El Oculto Bay. El Oculto is the extreme opposite of Mochima, with one fishermen's camp, completely quiet and without any boat
traffic. We feel like we are onanother planet. Awesome.
After a peaceful night under the full moon we leave early in the morning heading for Chimaná Secunda, another one of the many islands of the Mochima National Park area where there are supposedly tree boas that come to eat at a restaurant (?). On approaching the bay we decide not to stop because it is full of weekend beach rabble (Saturday morning). So we continue on to Puerto La Cruz and its El Morro marina complex.
In comparison to El Oculto we are really landing on another planet. After being in the pampa for so long it is unexpected to be in a marine urbanization like non other we have seen so far. Approximately 5 nm of
Venetian styled canals and fancy houses lining the waterfront, each one with its own personal dock and yacht. We motor to almost the end of it until we get to Marina Maremares that belongs to the 5-star hotel. They offer room
service with breakfast in bed and everything else if you want to pay for it.
We prefer to stick to the special rates they have for cruisers.
On our way to the gigantic cool lobby we cross a hanging bridge over the 4-million gallon pool and walk across the beautifully landscaped gardens full of flowering frangipani trees. Everything is very secured, there are
Puerto La Cruz is a very wealthy city because of the oil and a lot of the rich Venezuelans have a house, apartment and boat here. The Puerto La Cruz area is also a popular Venezuelan tourist location, and yachties from all
over the Caribbean choose it as a safe spot to leave their boats or live on them during the hurricane season.
Maremares is only one of several marinas here. They have about 60 berths here, most of them occupied by US yachts. Americans especially like this marina and they have a little community here with a lively social life. As
soon as we set foot on land we already get invited for a potluck.
The advantage of Maremares is that you can walk somewhere when you get out of the hotel area without having to take a cab right at the hotel entrance.
There is a mall 5 minutes away, and a street full of little restaurants, bars and shops. And there is fancy Plaza Mayor Mall that can be reached by boat. But they still recommend you to chainlock your dinghy at all times. On
the whole the area seems to be pretty safe compared to the rest of the country.
We are glad to have electricity, showers, washing machine and internet access and shops nearby. Unfortunately we have to leave this pleasant place on the 11th Oct. because our berth has been reserved for the Columbus Day
holidays (Oct 12), when it will also cost double of what we are paying now.
We are thinking of sailing further west along the coast then instead of visiting the islands of Tortuga, Los Roques and Las Aves. Last week there was a horrible murder in a little hotel in Los Roques where a young Italian
woman got strangled in her bed. The murderers got away with a camera. The whole country is shocked by this event on those remote and supposedly safe islands, and we don´t feel like going there any more either.
Carenero, Puerto Cabello, Chichiriviche
10º 31.65 N
10º 28.9 N 10º 56.0
66º 05.9 W
68º 01.0 W
68º 14.5 W
11 we leave Puerto La Cruz at 4 in the afternoon, with very good wind until
about 10 o’clock at night when it becomes flat calm and we have to turn the
arrive off the coast of Carenero just before sunrise. So we have to slow down
and wait for the daylight to find the entrance to the harbor as the entrance
buoy lights are not working. As we enter the approach we are met by over 20
motorboats coming out (Columbus Day weekend) and we think the harbor must be
mile into the mangrove bay we anchor in front of the hotel and marina complex.
To our surprise there are still hundreds of motoryachts at the pontoons, along
the seawall and stacked in racks along the shore. We have never seen so many
outboard motor launches in one spot before. It’s like being anchored along a
boat thoroughfare. But after dark it becomes quiet and we have a very peaceful
evening and night.
hotel and marina are a quite fancy private yacht club for people living in
Caracas and other big towns inland, whereas the village of Carenero itself
consists of run-down one-storey
houses, some bars, some vegetable and fruit stores with hardly anything to sell,
some hamburger stands and not much more. Everything is dilapidated and people
are obviously poor. The contrast between the yacht club and the village is
striking. A day before we arrived two
men that tried to steal a dinghy were lynched.
the dinghy to explore the mangrove channels connecting Carenero with Higuerote,
a bigger and much wealthier town further
south; these mangroves are a vast maze of waterways and islands approximately 6
nm long. We motor a little more than half way, drop Dani off so he can hitch a
ride into town and decide to better turn around to make it back to the boat with
the little gasoline we have. But we run out 2nm short and have to paddle back
the rest of the way.
day we go to explore the mangroves in the other direction, but this time we take
the gas can with us. The mangroves there are a great place for bird watching:
pelicans, green parrots, cormorants, cranes, frigate birds and the all-elusive
scarlet ibis. We try to get some pictures of them and somehow – when we
finally have some good shots- they get erased as they are being transferred from
the camera into the PC.
spending the weekend we leave for Puerto Cabello on Oct. 16 and , very typical
along this coast, there is no wind and we have to motor again, 24 hours. At
around noon, on Dani’s watch, Skip is taking a nap and Barbara is sitting on
the toilet , we hear and feel a big
crash. After running on the deck and looking aft we realize that we have hit a
huge tree trunk, about one meter in diameter and 7 m long. So we frantically
pull up floorboards to see if there is any damage. Luckily there is nothing
major though we start making water again, so something must have been banged out
of shape, maybe a seam?
the night we are surrounded by
thunderstorms with heavy lightning that we try to dodge but finally one hits us
and it rains so hard that we can’t see our hands outstretched in front of us
under the bimini. Luckily we only have the
main staysail up; if we had had more up we would have been knocked over.
sunrise we have such a strong wind on the nose that we can’t make any progress
with the motor. So we set the stay sail and tack back and forth along the coast
until we reach Ensa Cata, a pleasant bay 14 nm east of Puerto Cabello where we
spend a quiet night. The next morning, again
no wind at all, we motor the few miles to Puerto Cabello where we tie up at the
whole steep-to coast from Carenero to Puerto Cabello is very beautiful, covered
with tropical vegetation and backed up with very high mountains (up to 3000 m)
and deep valleys that create spectacular views and stunning bays with white
sandy beaches. The old colonial part of Puerto Cabello has been “repainted”
(not reformed), most of the houses are painted in bright Caribbean colors, but
when you look inside many are still in ruins. Very similar to the government:
the outside bright and shiny and behind the façade a desaster.
to clear out of Venezuela and are informed that our one-year visas that we paid
a lot of money for in Grenada are not valid, that we should have left the
country a month ago and that it would be difficult to get the clearance papers.
But lo and behold, by 7 o’clock at night, after waiting for hours for the
immigrant officer who arrives in a splendid blue Landcruiser that we help
finance we are given our clearance and are told to leave the country within 24
have two places we want to stop on our way out of the country, the first being
Morrocoy National Park where according to our charts there are buoyed channels
through the mangrove swamps, but when we arrive at the entrance we realize that
neither the buoys nor the channels exist the way they are on the charts. After
trying for a few hours to find our way to one of the marinas we run aground in
the mud and have to back our way out so we can turn around and head for the open
hours later we are in the approach to Chichiriviche, again looking for
non-existent channel markers between the many tiny flat islands and extensive
shoals. We are lucky to flag down a fishing boat that escorts us into the harbor
where we anchor off Cayo Muerto…. A good name for the last stop in Venezuela.
ashore we find that the town is under full construction: new harbor, new
streets, new palm trees, buildings being repainted, but we are told it will all
be over –if they are finished or not- after the election on Dec. 3.
day, finally leaving Venezuela behind us, we have a fantastic overnight sail
(with wind!!) to Bonaire. Thank God, for the gasoil will not be as cheap
anymore, 4 cents per gallon… During the night we see many freighters crossing
our path and we have one that we can hear and then see for 5 seconds when he
turns his lights on and then off again. He is approximately 100 m crossing our
stern. Boy, what a scare!!
the morning we come within the lee of Bonaire and have an excitingly smooth sail
at 6.5 knots right into Kralendijk, the main village of Dutch Bonaire.
B ON A I R E _ K L E I N C U R A Ç A O _ C U R A Ç A O
11º 59.04 N
58º 38.73 W
58º 51.29 W
clearing in at Customs is a very pleasant experience compared to the hassles in
Venezuela. The officer is very courteous and curious. First we speak
English with him, then switch to Spanish after reading and understanding a sign
in the office that is written in Papiamentu (the local language) and realizing
that it is very similar to Spanish. He tells us about his trips to Holland and
to Germany and is also enthusiastic about our trip around the world.
Immigration we walk around the village and back to Karel’s Beach Bar, the ocal
hang out where our boat is moored , have a few beers, get into a conversation
with a local couple (the wife is deaf-mute, but perfectly follows our
conversation in three languages) and –as we are so tired- get smashed. So we
go back to the boat and have a good day’s sleep.
the morning we meet our Belgian friends from Petroushka, Christian and
Marinette, who happen to be moored 3 boats away and have arrived the day before
after passing through Los Roques and Las Aves Islands. After a few Caipirinhas
and exchanging Venezuelan experiences wedecide to meet the next day and make a
trip around the island in a rental pick-up.
to the north end of the island to Slaagbaai Mount Washington National Park which
is a beautifully preserved natural habitat with saltponds full of flamingos,
cactus landscapes comparable to Arizona, breathtaking seascape on the east side
and awesome blinding white beaches and crystal clear blue water on the west
we drive to the south of the island with its extensive saltpans, more
flamingos, mountains of salt and
tiny huts where the slaves who worked there lived during the week. On the
weekends they were allowed to go home to their village of Rincón, a seven-hour
walk each way.
the boat we enjoy swimming and snorkeling in the pristine water teeming with
thousands of multi-colored fish, black and white striped sergeant majors,
different colors of angelfish and brilliantly colored parrot fish. It’s
incredible! And at the end of the day our friends invite us for a wonderful
dinner with barracuda and wahoo and a delicious mousse au chocolat from the
hear that queen Beatrix is visiting the Netherland Antilles we dress ship in
honor of her presence (we are the only ones!)
are only 13 000 people living on Bonaire, which they keep spotless and orderly
in a very Dutch way – what a relief compared to Venezuela. It is safe to walk
around at any time and one can
carry a camera or watch without worrying to be robbed or shot. But visiting a
supermarket we get scared seeing the carrots from Holland: putting one the scale
it weighs only one kilo…
parents arrive on November 6 and join us on the boat. We have originally planned
to meet them in Curaçao, but then we think it would be nicer for them to join
us in Bonaire to enjoy the island and sail from here to Klein Curaçao and
further to Curaçao.
sail on Friday November 10 at 9 o’clock in the morning we have an exhilarating
broad reach all the 24 miles to Klein Curaçao, an uninhabited tiny island which
you don’t see until you are right there, the highest point f the island being
only 1 m above sea-level. What you do see is the non-working lighthouse and an
old wrecked cargo ship on the windward shore. The leeward side of the island is
one long pristine beach with a couple of palapas (palm frond covered huts). We
enjoy two days of ding nothing, eating fish supplied freely by the fishermen and
strolling along the beach and across the island, swimming and snorkeling.
Sunday morning we sail to Spanish Water Bay in Curaçao, 14 nm away. The first 2
days we anchor in Cabrietenbaai, next to a small boat with two people and seven
dogs on board. Being in the backwaters of the bay we hitch-hike into town on
Monday to clear in in Willemstad, the capital. We are very lucky, for after 5
minutes the first car that comes along stops and we have a very enjoyable ride
with a girl from the island who lets us off at a busstop.
is no problem, so we have plenty of time to enjoy Willemstad, one of six World
Heritage cities in the Caribbean and
a striking mix of Dutch colonial architecture and bright Caribbean colors,
especially Kura Hulanda, an old
dilapidated part of the town that has been beautifully restored. The bridge
across St. Annabaai that divides the town (Punda on one side and Otrobanda on
the other) is a 19th century pontoon bridge (the only one in the
world) that pivots open to let ships go through. Walking across the bridge we
hear a bell start ringing and everybody starts walking fast to get t the end of
the bridge before it opens. Those who are not fast enough end up waiting on the
bridge until it closes again.
happens to be in Willemstad again? The queen. We think she is following us
around. Sitting along the waterfront in Punda there are hundreds of school
children dressed in uniforms walking by after visiting with the queen. They
think that Skip is highly exotic with his dreadlocks – a white Rasta! So they
see two things in one day that they have never seen before!
has about 160 000 inhabitants of 50 different nationalities. It’s a tolerant
multiracial and polyglot society. Almost everybody speaks Papiamentu, Dutch,
Spanish and English.Before the Spaniards “discovered” the island, there were
Arawak Indians living there, then the Dutch came, then lots of jews from all
over (the synagogue in Willemstad was built in 1732), then the English for a
short time, then the Dutch brought slaves from Africa, and the discovery of the
Maracaibo Lake oil fields in 1914 and the construction of the refinery brought
another wave of immigrants from all over the world.
are selling everything for a multitude of tastes. Along a side canal there is a
picturesque “floating market” consisting of many colorful fruit and
vegetable boats from Venezuela. Finding it difficult to catch a us back to the
boat we take a taxi to the new Strada supermarket where the owner tells us after
shopping he would gladly take us to the boat. This is one of the best- stocked
and friendliest supermarkets in the Caribbean, very recommendable
especially if you have to provision for several weeks or months.
A R U B A
12º 31 N 70º 02 W
Sunday afternoon, November 19, after an enjoyable two weeks with Dani’s
parents on board sadly we say good-bye. The next morning after claenring Customs
and Immigration we have a beautiful broad reach sailing up the coast of Curaçao
to a pretty bay near the north end of the island, Grote Knip, where we anchor ,
have a meal and go to bed early to
be prepared to leave for Aruba at 3 o’clock in the morning.
to Aruba is another broad reach starting with calm seas, but halfway there, out
of the lee of Curaçao, the waves build to about 2-3 meters and give us a heavy
rollercoaster ride the rest of the way.
at 2 o’clock in the afternoon we tie up at the cruiseship dock in Oranjestad
to clear in. Immigration are actually waiting for us when we get there, but
Customs are on strike. The harbormaster tells us that we cannot stay at the
dock, so we move to the Renaissance
Marina around the corner. This marina is part of the huge Renaissance/ Marriott
hotel complex and included in the reasonable price is the use of many of the
hotel facilities like showers, swimming pool, beach and private island.
Sanders, a Curaçao-born Dutch, is there to help us with
mooring the boat and everything that we need. He is a 5-star harbormaster
in a 5-star marina, the hardest working, most efficient, helpful and friendly
harbormaster we have come across on our entire voyage. A real thank you,
a Dutch island that lives on tourism. All along the white sand beaches of the
west coast there is one hotel after the other, and in the four days that we stay
in Oranjestad we see 11 gigantic cruiseships on the docks. The first thing that
catches your eye when you arrive is the colorful architecture, a Dutch –
American Disneyland, full of casinos,
jewellery and souvenir shops and pubs. But when you walk some hundred meters
away from the center you also find the real Caribbean and South American
ambience. Aruba has 110 000 inhabitants, many of whom are immigrants from
Colombia, Venezuela and other Caribbean islands.
find really interesting is the Butterfly-Farm where we have a great tour by a
highly knowledgeable guide who explains the life cycle of the butterflies.
Watching blue morphos, owls, black and white tree nymphs, colorful swallow tails
and monarchs he explains the mating process (2-3 days) , the laying of eggs
(each individual species lays eggs on a specific plant and only enough eggs so
that when the caterpillars hatch and start eating the plant they will not
destroy it) and the different forms of chrysalis.
November 25, after waiting four days for a weather window we sail across the
notorious stretch of water between Aruba and Cartagena, 410 nm. We are lucky the
wind is only 20 knots and the waves only 2-3 meters high, but very confused seas
because of the current coming from the south, the wind from the northeast, and
the flood from the Río Magdalena pushing towards the northwest at 6 knots. We
are sailing 20 nm off the coast and even here we can exactly distinguish the
blue sea water from the brown river water, bumping into each other making high
water spouts. We see 3 other sailboats on the way and many tankers. Sometimes hundreds of dolphins accompany us and
once a school of whales, at least
from Cartagena we have a flat calm and motor the rest of the way arriving at the
entrance to Boca Grande at 2 o’clock in the morning. They recommend not to try
it at night because the entrance is only 30 m wide with a submerged wall on both
sides, but because there is a big storm coming up behind us we decide to go for
it. What a relief to pass the red and green buoys and enter the calm waters of
the bay of Cartagena!! We slowly work our way up the bay until we are chased by
a huge tanker and container ship. So we give full gas to get out of their way
and finally anchor off the Club Nautico de Cartagena at 4 o’clock in the
C A R T
A G E N A D E I N D I A S
24.80 N 75º 32.50 W
short rest we call on the VHF to see if we can get a place alongside the dock of
one of the marinas and we go on a wild goose chase with a local pilot on board
who tries to help, but in the end we anchor again off the Club Nautico. Going
ashore we easily clear Customs and Immigration with David, the agent. He
introduces us to John, the dockmaster, who gives us all the information we need
to find parts and do repairs on the boat.
is full of sailors from all over, many of them friends that we know from before,
backpackers looking for rides to Panama (the Panamericana between Columbia and
Panama is still not finished), kids, dogs, an older German carrying a big wooden
cross (telling us he is traveling around the world in a mobile home for Jesus
and Mary and a nun in a habit selling cheese sandwiches. Quite an extraordinary
blocks up the street we find a very fancy supermarket where wcan only walk
around with our eyes bulging at all the goodies we haven’t seen for so long:
fresh brown bread, raspberries, blackberries, turkey for Thanksgiving, real
Spanish chorizos, French and Swiss cheeses and even a buffet counter. It’s
like visiting a museum!
way back to the boat we notice another boat from Palma that is tied up at the
dock. So we say hallo and meet Sinto and his crew: famous Sinto, the blind
75-year old Mallorcan sailor invites us on board to exchange experiences. Quite
an amazing feat on his part to be sailing without the sense of sight! We
thoroughly enjoy the evening listening to his stories and drinking Spanish red
making a long list of everything we need to repair all the odds and ends
find William the taxi-driver who doesn’t ask where we want to go, but instead
asks what we need so he can plan a trip all over town in order to find
everything. We have heard that it is very difficult or impossible to find things
in Columbia, but with William we accomplish everything in one morning. Amazing.
doing work on the boat we explore the historic center of Cartagena. From the CN
we just cross the nearby Román-bridge and are already at the San Lorenzo
bulwark. Cartagena is a fascinating old town, founded in 1553 by Pedro de
Heredia. It is full of wonderful
churches, convents, squares with
shady parks, houses with balconies overgrown by blooming climbers, colonial
palaces and buzzing street life.
wander through the cool breezy lanes, have icecold
lime, mango and pineapple smoothies on Plaza Santo Domingo, breakfast in
the tropical patio of Santa Clara (with a tucan sitting on the chair next to us,
snitching a bite of fruit every now and then), have a superb dinner at the Santísimo
restaurant, admire the beautiful artistic craft at the vaults and take early
morning strolls on the 8 miles of walls and fortifications that the Spaniards
erected to protect the town from English, French and Dutch pirates trying to rob
them of the treasures that they themselves had stolen from the Southamerican Indians. Cartagena is a dream
and well worth a visit. We highly recommend it to anybody that wants to sit out
a hurricane season! One could walk around the town for weeks and discover
something new all the time. And having been in Venezuela for so long we
appreciate the feeling of being in an absolutely safe place.
course there is also a lot of poverty around
here, Cartagena is still the second poorest town in Columbia. Much of the old
town has already been restored, but there is still a lot left to be done,
especially the problems with the infrastructure are immense. But the town is
booming, Bocagrande f.ex. looked like Manhattan when we arrived
in the bay at night. We got the feeling that there many competent people
around that work really hard to improve their situation.
we stop at the Abaco bookstore and café and make friends with Javier. He tells
us that he has a friend named Gonzalo that is restoring a classic John Alden
sailboat and might be able to give us some good advice about hauling the boat
out to recaulk it because we have been taking on water for some weeks now.
Gonzalo- an architect, painter and historian- who after showing us his beautiful
boat and telling us its fascinating history and how he literally saved it in the
last minute from the wreckers takes us to a small boatyard is Cartagenita with
Mario, a friend of his and contramaestro on Gloria, the classic three-masted
square-rigged training ship of the Columbian Naval Cadet School.
Wednesday, Dec.6, we weigh anchor and motor down the bay and through
mangrove channels to Ferroalquimar Boatyard to be hauled out . We start
cleaning the hull: after over a year in tropical waters there isn’t much
growth and after 2 days of scraping and sanding (no high-pressure water cleaner
around) Estéban arrives, the 60-year old caulker with 45 years of experience
that we have known through Gonzalo. He starts hammering away at an amazing
rhythm and is finished in two days. Even the caulkers from the yard cannot
believe how efficient and good a job he did! Painting the anti-fouling and back
into the water in 5 days must be a record for a Columbian haul-out! The job is
perfect and we are not leaking any more. We are lucky that going back to the
Club Nautico John the dockmaster has room for us on the dock!
checking the weather on the Internet we have decided to leave the “Jewel of
the Caribbean” on Sunday, Dec. 17. We think that Cartagena is really a jewel
with all its heritage and all the friendly, expert people and easy access to
everything we needed. Very special thanks again to Javier, Gonzalo and Mario,
the gran maestro Estéban, Vicente and Germán from “Ignacio Sierra”
hardware shops, William the cabdriver and dockmaster John! Our next stop will be
some small islands off the coast of Panama where Internet and telephone may not
be available. So if you don’t hear from us soon we wish everybody a merry
Christmas and a happy new year! And we thank you all for accompanying us on our
journey. It’s a good feeling to know that our friends are somehow with us all
A N B L A S
I S L A N D S (
P A N A M A )
the morning on Sunday, Dec 17, we cast off our lines and wave good bye to
Cartagena.After a brisk 24-hour express train motor-sail we are off the coast of
Panama close to the Pacific, but still with a lot between! From approximately
360 islands in Kuna Yala – where to go first? Where else but Snug Harbor? And
hope that it is!
zigzagging through the reefs and shallows we find ourselves snug behind five
little islands and many reefs, the water calm as a pond. After anchoring we are
boarded by a curious band of 4 young boys in an ulu (dugout) who immediately
become our friends. Among other things they tell us the names and prices of
fish, vegetables and fruits etc. so that we are well prepared for all the
hawkers in other dugouts. We give them some Christmas sweets, a package of color
pencils, and then they are off in a hurry because they see one of the sailas
(chiefs) approaching in a dugout. He warns us that in Playón Chico, his
village, none of the citizens is allowed to board yachts. To stand the dugout
and trade is alright. After paying 5 $ anchor fee and being told that we can
stay for as long as we like we are welcome to see the village. In the afternoon
a fisherman comes by and we buy 3 good-sized fish for 1 $ and have a tasty meal.
morning we paddle to an uninhabited island after another. These tiny islands are
actually cultivated coconut groves belonging to different families of the
village. The village Playón Chico consists of
a multitude of palm thatched
bamboo huts, kitchen shacks and outhouses and
is connected to the mainland by a footbridge. Arriving
later alongside a dugout tied to a bamboo railing we are invited ashore
by Ana and her family and climb into their patio. Sitting around the hearth fire
they show us molas (traditionally sown breast plates) that they want to sell us.
We buy two and hope they will make a pretty pillow case. Ana, a bright 21-year
old woman, then offers us kindly to take us on a tour through the village,
across the bridge to the school and airstrip. Strolling down the runway, off
onto a path along the river, sometimes crossing it on tree trunks, we climb up a
steep muddy slope with some footholes carved into it (with not much to hold on
to) and come out on top of the cemetery hill.
sacred land, where the souls come to rest and contemplate the view on their
homeland, there are built little
huts with grave mounts inside and kitchen huts in the near where ladies are
lying in hammocks or sitting cooking food and accompanying their family members
to the next world. After hearing some of their stories and taking pictures for a
dollar we descend back to the airstrip, where we have to run to the end because
we hear a plane arriving.
the village we buy some sodas and 2 cigarettes in a store and chat with a group
of local people. We thoroughly enjoy the dark cool shade of the shop. Then along
the sandy village pathways, from the breadoven to a mangotree and a banana
stalk- and we have enough for our breakfast. Ana then takes us back to our
dinghy which we would never have found on our own through the maze of the
approximately 300 to 400 huts.
the boat Dani says he is off to buy himself a canoe.Coming back after 2 hours,
looking like a drowned rat, he tells us that he found a small one for 20 $ and
wanted to try ist out. Being 2 m tall he did not really fit and capsized after
100 m with all his belongings, camera included and even losing a shoe. The
people from the village came to rescue him and now have a good story for future
generations. For dinner Dani cooks up a big spider crab and some langostinos.
21 we move 18 nm further west to Isla Tigre (Digir Dupu), a small round island
covered with thatched huts. Going ashore Eduardo greets us at the dock and leads
us to the sailatura where we pay our permit to anchor off the island. The
northern end of the island is an outpost for Lonely Planet tourists, separated
by a bamboo fence from the village which is impeccably clean and orderly and
authentic. All the women are dressed in colorful mola-bluses, pretty
wrap-arounds, shin guards and bracelets out of beadwork, necklaces of finely
worked gold, golden nose-rings,
orange head-scarves and some face-painting. After enjoying a meal in the
restaurant and watching a group of Indian dancers (they are having a fiesta) in
the dark, Eduardo guides us down the rickety dock to our dinghy where Barbara
asks: Are there alligators? Eduardo dryly answers: Only in nights when the dogs
are NOT barking. Skip never saw Barbara paddle so fast and jump
23, island-hopping 6 miles further along the coast, we anchor in the bay of
Narganá, a “modern” town of straw huts, block houses, churches, schools, a
bank (the only one in Kuna Yala, but no credit cards accepted), a clinic and
even electricity from a generator. Together with Corazón de Jesús, connected
with it by a wobbly bridge, they have a population of 2600 people. Minutes after
our arrival Federico welcomes us to his island and tells us that he can help
with everything: gasoline for the dinghy, laundry, garbage, buying fish and
he guides us through the log and tree trunk littered mangrove delta to the Río
Diablo (Devil River). We slowly meander our way past banana and coconut groves,
yucca fields and gigantic mango trees and bamboos. WE see blue and white cranes,
green parrots and red-headed woodpeckers. No alligators… Just the quiet river
slowly moving along.
the boat Federico convinces us to stay over Christmas, so Dani right away rents
a big dugout for Dec 24 and we decide to be Santa Claus and his elf, Skip
walking around town dressed in red foulweather gear stuffed full of pillows, red
Santa Claus cap, with a big green bag of lollypops and candy, and Barbara
dressed all in elf green taking pictures. We are immediately swarmed upon by
hundreds of children and adults from both villages that follow us through the
streets. Everybody is enjoying themselves immensely and Federico is sure that
this event will be remembered for a long time; our pictures even appear in one
of Panama’s newspapers.
to Green Island (Kanildup)on Christmas morning we find fat white worms in the
cockpit. Upon shaking the main sail in its cover (covered since our arrival in
the San Blas), more worms fall out. Uncovering the sail and hauling it up we
find a big flying fish in the folds. It could only have landed there in the
night of our crossing from Cartagena.
ashore on the 200 square meter coconut island of Waisalidup we feel like Robin
Crusoe. After finding four huge Christmas sea stars, a stingray swimming along,
many interesting seashells and fishbones – nice Christmas stocking presents
– we return to the boat and enjoy a meal of fresh fish which we buy 3 for 1 $.
afternoon we are approached by an unknown German couple in a dinghy, Renate and
Dieter, who tell us that we might have some common friends in Frankfurt, the
Veteranos, who organize a petanca match in our friend Pit’s finca in Mallorca
every May. Small world!
26 we continue further west through the inner reefs of San Blas dotted with many
small islands some with only a handful of coconut trees, hardly big enough to be
called islands. In the early afternoon we work our way in between the shallows
and anchor off Mormake Dupu village dock with the help of the brothers Idelfonso
and Venancio in their dugout. The brothers then show us Venancio the mola
maker’s artful and irresistible molas. We buy some though we do not have much
Idelfonso takes us ashore to present us to the chief. He leads us into the
congreso, the big meeting hut where all the adults of the village congregate
every evening to pray and talk about village affairs. As the first chief is not
present we are greeted by the third one and asked to sit down on a wooden bench
in front of the second saila comfortably
swinging in a hammock across from us. Idelfonso who speaks English and
Spanish pleads our case to the saila who only speaks Kuna. He then grants us a 5
$ permit so we can stay and come back to the island for a month. We thank the
saila for his hospitality, shake hands with him and visit the village.
then leads us to his own spacious and orderly hut. In the cool hammock strewn
bed room he shows us a basket full of nuchus: wooden dolls that are believed to
be alive and act as protectors of his almost 2-year old daughter. They fend off
evil influences and bestow the child with good qualities. We cannot take any
pictures of these sacred objects because they might become offended or lose
their power. We can understand this.
village is the most authentic and cleanest we have seen so far. It is also a
small community of only 14 families, about 300 people. The island is tiny and
densely packed with thatch huts between the winding small pathways. Most women
are traditionally dressed. There is no electricity and only two TVs. People get
up in the pre-dawn. The women start caring for their families and the men go
fishing or to the cultivated plots in the jungle on the mainland to harvest
their daily need of fruit and vegetables. Nost men return at around midday and
devote the later hours of the day to family life and village matters and the
congreso. It’s a very quiet and peaceful and healthy life. Kuna transportation
is in dugouts propelled by paddle and sail. Men, women and children are all
expert boat handlers. They are well muscled and have a legendary reputation as
fierce warriors. We feel completely at ease here.
evening, it is already dark, Idelfonso, his wife, daughter and two pretty young
nieces come to see our “house”. We tie the dugout alongside and the women
climb up the ladder that we have put up as they are very small. We always feel
like giants in Kuna Yala. They are all very curious about everything on board.
We spend some very cosy hours with them, chatting and laughing and having coffee
and Spanish Christmas cookies. When they leave it takes the women a while to
figure out that they have to turn around to step down the ladder. Giggling they
disappear in the dark with their ulu.
have planned to leave the island after a short stay, but during the first night
we see a huge fire in the distance that gets bigger and bigger by the minute. We
hear the village people on the dock getting very excited and rushing into their
boats the neighboring island of Soledad Miriá is being consumed by flames!
Idelfonso comes by and asks us if
we would stand by to help. Of course. The fire is seen from many miles away and
over VHF word of what is happening spreads rapidly among the yachties. Many
boats from all over the San Blas risk the reefs at night to be close by
immediately to help any way they can.
midnight some Germans that arrived in a hurry have already installed a Red Cross
first aid and triage center in Mormake Dupu, complete with generator and the nly
electric light on the island. Now they are waiting for the victims to be
evacuated to Mormake Dupu. 114 families (each with 1o to 20 members or more) are
left homeless and without food and clothes. Fortunately there are only minor
injuries: the people all went into the water and some stepped onto sea urchins.
morning all the other villages in the vicinity and the yachties send whatever
they can to help.
was caused by an exploding gas bottle in one of the thatched huts. Idelfonso
tells us that this could not have happened with the traditional open fire. The
government will help rebuild the town in traditional style and will subsidize
the purchase of new gas bottles for every family. So Idelfonso is wondering once
again about the blessings of “progress”…
tells us that the saila has heard that Skip was Santa Claus in Narganá and
would be happy if he could do the same in his village. They are better prepared
and show uo with a real Santa Claus suit and a big bag of candies, and after
sticking some pillows under his pants, Skip is off again doing his job. First we
do a greeting round where all the children and the adults follow us, then
another round giving candies to each of the children in front of their huts and
then to the main square where Idelfonso helps to throw the goodies into the air
so all can scramble to pick up as many as they can. Everybody laughing and
having big smiles on their faces.
Yala is a country of rare beauty and we don’t feel like leaving… Even less
so as Idelfonso urges us to stay for the celebration of the puberty rites for
girls at the beginning of January. On the whole, Kunas drink very little, but
some fiestas provide excuses for a little boozing. Now they have collected sugar
cane, pressed it into juice and then fermented. It is tasted several times by
four selected men who will decide when the chicha will be ready and the 3-day
fiesta can start.
morning of Jan 3, we are invited ashore for the chicha fest . The girls have
stayed in a little hut next to the congreso with their mothers for
two days, getting instructions of how to behave in their future adult life.
Then, during the fest, several rituals are celebrated whose meaning people
cannot or don’t want to explain to us. But we guess that symbolically
everything that they will need in their lives as wives and mothers is being
prepared and provided for them.
the congreso hut, the women on the one side, the men on the other. Around the
supporting poles of the hut the men start braiding ropes in a wild twirling
stomping dance that halts every few minutes so they can down a calabash of
chichi. After the ropes for the hammocks are braided, we are also offered bowls
of chichi. Then we have to have them refilled and offer them to the next person.
The first bowl is quite haard to get doen, the chichi being a brown murky liquid
with quite a pungent taste, but after 3 or 4 it tastes better and better… Ten bowls later (which is
not very much compared to the quantities that the locals have) we are dancing
and stomping and hoo-hoo-ing just
like the natives. How they can keep drinking the stuff for several days without
interruption is beyond comprehension. We
get thoroughly but pleasantly smashed. The next day 2 bowls are enough to send
us over the top.
atmosphere during the whole chichi fest is very peaceful and relaxed, everybody
conversing with each other, the saila singing the blues in Spanish with a big
smile; the women swinging in their
hammocks, mumbling to themselves and smoking pipes, people falling onto the
benches, using walls to support themselves, people playing the flutes in the
lanes and dancing, taking a sip of chichi every now and then.
January 5 we have had enough chicha and decide to walk it off. Idelfonso takes
us with some other yachties to the Río Esadi in his dugout which is so narrow
that sitting crosslegged our knees are touching both sides. When somebody leans
over to look around the person in front of him, the whole boat rolls dangerously
, close to the point of capsizing. It is a wonder, how the locals can go so many
miles across the open sea in such a wobbly thing!
January 6, we leave Mormake Dupu and sail around the reefs to the Cartí Islands
further west. The prettiest of the four is Yantupu with 300 people. A bright
young boy by the name of Rudi takes us for a stroll along the impeccably clean
sandpaths between the huts, each hut with its own flower and vegetable garden.
The people are traditional and friendly Kunas and very proud of their culture.
If you plan a vacation to a remote Indian village, this island would be a good
choice. There are even some huts for rent.
later we sail over to the Lemon Cays and anchor between the outer reefs, close
to a tiny island, where we meet Renate and Dieter from Frankfurt again.
On Jan 9
it’s time to say good bye to the San Blas Islands. So we set off in a westerly
direction towards Colón at the Atlantic entrance of the Panama Canal. Sailing
along the coast inside the reefs on a broad reach, we top just over 10 knots.
Most of the hilly densely wooded coastline is just dotted with a few huts along
the 48 nm stretch. We have another sailboat about an hour in front of us until
we approach Isla Grande, where he takes the outer route and we go through a very
narrow passage between the island and the mainland and arrive first at Pueblo
Garrote near Isla Linton, where we anchor for the night.
morning we have another downwind sleighride down the coast, through the
breakwater right to the anchorage of Colón which is called the Flats. From far
we see about a hundred cargoships and tankers moving to and fro and at anchor,
waiting their turn to transit the canal. Between 35 and 40 ships cross through
the canal every 24 hours.
could be a beautiful town, but it seems to have been abandoned by the Americans
as well as by the Panamanians. The houses are falling apart, the streets full of
garbage and rubble and there is a high crime rate that makes it dangerous to
walk around town. So sorry, no pictures.
contacting our agent Roberto we go through the process of clearing Customs,
Immigration, Port Authority, Canal
Authority and organizing the measuring of the boat to prepare the transit.
anchorage at the Flats is one of the dirtiest ones we have ever been at – a
burning garbage dump ind the near, bulldozers pushing dirt in a landfill area,
huge tankers and freighters being unloaded and spitting out grimy exhaust fumes
and clouds of cement and who knows what else. Everything on board is covered in
an oily grime. Just walking from the cockpit to the bow, the soles of our feet
we are told that we can start our transit at 5 pm on Tuesday , Jan 17. But at 2
pm we receive a radio announcement that we are only leaving at 7.30 pm. And
then, at 5.30 pm, the pilot comes on board and says, let’s go!
So we up
the anchor in a hurry and motor off in the direction of the first lock, only to
be told we are going too fast and have to slow down – which is quite hard to
do because we have a following wind of 25 knots. So we have to put the motor in
reverse to travel the 6 miles to the first lock to slow us down.
first lock we go alongside a converted fishing trawler where we tie up with 6
lines well handles by Roberto’s brotherswho are professional line-handlers. WE
are quite glad to have them on board because it is not as easy as everybody says
it is. The doors close behind us and the water starts bubbling into the lock as
if we are in a washing machine.
rising 27 feet, the doors open up, all the lines let go, and we wait for the
trawler to move into the second chamber. Again: maneuvering alongside, tying it
all up, the doors close again, the water bubbling in to the next level.
Afterwards we repeat the same procedure once more, until we are the level of
Lake Gatún, 26 m or 85 feet in total from sea level.
there through the pitch black night we motor some miles to a sturdy mooring buoy
in the lake, tie up for the night and drop off the pilot. I wish we had mooring
buoys like this in Mallorca, it is big enough that you can walk around it, about
3 m in diameter.
morning the monkeys in the jungle
wake us up just before 6 o’clock when a pilotboat comes alongside and drops
off our new advisor. So off we go in a big hurry, through the Monkey Cut and the
Banana Channel which are short-cuts for smaller vessels in the world’s largest
man-made lake, Gatún. Again we are told to slow down, so we put the boat in
neutral and drift the approximately 40 miles through the lake and the canal to
the Pedro Miguel lock. We are still an hour early, so after pleading with our
advisor that we can’t go any slower, he allows us to tie up alongside a wall
just beneath the beautiful, almost etheric Centennial Bridge where we enjoy a
quiet and relaxing lunch.
and a half later we enter the lock, tie up alongside a boat with about a hundred
American tourists on board, all waving and snapping pictures and asking 1000
questions about our journey, and start our descent towards the Pacific. Out of
the lock and 1 mile across the next lake where we have to slow down again and
wait, we drive into the last set of two locks, the Miraflores locks, that drop
us down to sea level.
Colón we were told to say that our boat can do 8 knots or else we would have to
pay a 440 $ fine for going too slow, and throughout the canal we never went more
than 4 knots and many miles with the motor in reverse or neutral to slow down.
So much for the 8 knots!
the Miraflores locks we find ourselves in the Balboa reach where we pass under
the Bridge of the Americas and tie up at the Balboa fuel dock to refuel and fill
our water tanks and are told that there is no place for us to anchor or pick up
a mooring. Not knowing what to do we call our agent Roberto who tells us to just
go into Playita de Amador Bay. Normally you are not allowed to anchor there, but
the nice lady on the radio must have liked what she saw because she says that it
the Pacific now we feel that a line has been crossed and a new chapter of our
voyage is going to begin.
CHAP XXII. Panama City
8º 54.80 N 79º 31.50 W
8º 37.60 N 79º 01.70 W Contadora
8º 15.97 N 78º 55.21 W La Esmeralda, Isla del Rey
From mid-January until Feb 15 we are staying in Panama City which is a metrópolis with a Manhattan skyline, made up of many different neighborhoods – from the ultra-poor to the mega-rich. From Playita de Amador, where we are at anchor, we have to drive along a 3-mile causeway with water on both sides that was built from the excavation of the Panama Canal to connect the 3 little islands that were just off the coast of the Pacific end of the canal and used to belong to the American-run canal zone. The filling is still going on and fancy stores, restaurants, convention centers, museums and parks are still under construction.
Going towards Panama City we pass through Balboa first, a suburb where you can still see the American influence. Further along the waterfront in the direction of the city comes the completely dilapidated miserable barrio of Tanta Ana where it is not recommended to walk around as a gringo, and then next there is the old town with buildings being restored on every street. When the restoration is finished it will be a cozy quarter with beautiful colonial buildings, ornate churches, museums and government buildings.
Further along, the city increases in wealth until you come to the financial and luxury district where you find 40 to 60-storey highrises: banks, offices, fancy malls and luxury apartments.
We have been told that in the Pacific islands almost everything is very expensive or hard to get, so we decide to restock the boat with as much as possible. Going from shop to shop we find that in the richer areas the quality and choice is a lot better, but of course, the price also higher.
On Vía Argentina we find a fantastic bookstore, Argosy, run by a 84-year old Greek, Jerry, who has an outstanding choice of literary and art books with many hard-covered first editions. The walls are covered with autographed photos from Rita Hayworth to Jack Kennedy and Margot Fonteyn and even the Beatles. The store in itself is a real museum. We get a stack of good books to read during our long passages across the Pacific.
In general, Panama is an incredible melting pot of over 50 nationalities, from Arab, Indian to Chinese, from all over Latinamerica, Europe and anywhere else in the world. It is a real crossroads between east and west.
We find the yachting community very helpful and friendly, with a radio net every morning at 8 o’clock asking if any help is needed and giving any kind of information asked for.
Dani informs us that he doesn’t want to continue the voyage, so we also have to look for a new crew member. After a couple of weeks talking to people and putting up signs, we finally find Gregor, a 31-year old German backpacker who is headed for Australia and willing to accompany us across the Pacific.
Because of all the construction along the causeway, with all the trucks moving material back and forth, burning diesel fuel that would probably not be permitted in Europe, our boat is slowly turning black with oily soot.
The day before we leave we stop at the wholesalers’ vegetable market where they sell 50-pound sacks of onions, potatoes, carrots, grapefruit etc., whole stalks of green bananas, pineapples, coconuts – all at incredibly low prices.
On Feb 15 we set sail for the Pearl Islands, 40 miles off the coast. It turns into a day of motoring because there is absolutely no wind. In the late afternoon we anchor off the southeast coast of Contadora island, famous for giving refuge to the Shah of Iran at a time when nobody in the world wanted him. On the island there are many luxury houses belonging to the rich and famous of Panama.
The next day we sail further south and drop anchor between big Isla del Rey and tiny Espíritu Santo island. After the sun goes down we have a lot of fun playing with the luminescence from the plankton in the water. You can pull up a bucket of water, throw it out again, and it looks like liquid fire. We write our names in the water with the boat pole and Gregor takes a dive oberboard and turns into the light man! A magic spectacle.
Getting an early start, we sail to the tip of Isla del Rey. The Pearl Islands are pristine virgin islands with very few tiny settlements, covered with rainforest; there are beautiful blinding white beaches, hardly a house or boat to be seen, huge frigate birds and pelicans galore. A garden of Eden, a place where you can spend a life in solitude. Hope it will stay like this.
Our last stop here is La Esmeralda village where we have the last possibility to restock water. The people in the panga that come to help us are pretty smashed because Panama is going crazy in the middle of carnaval.
At sunset, with the red sun sinking below the horizon and the bright sickle of the moon and the evening star high in the deep blue sky we set sail for the next 850 miles to the Galapagos.
Sailing to the Galápagos is quite difficult without help from the engine because of many calms, wind changes and strong currents going ever which way. One night with very little wind all of the sudden we spin around backwards 360º, and 10 minutes later we spin around again forwards 360º as if we are in two giant whirlpools.
There is the warm El Niño current from the north, the cold Humboldt current from the south, the Equatorial current from the east and the Counter-equatorial current from the west – all meeting in this area.
The winds are very light, coming first from the northwest,then the northeast and then the southeast, with always a calm in between.Altogether we have to motor 40 hours of our seven and a half day – trip.
Early on Sunday, Feb 25, at 0:40, we cross the equator at 88º W. And at noon – land ho! As the air is so clear we can see the islands from 100 miles away! On Monda Feb 26, at 11:30 in the morning, we drop anchor in Bahía Academia, Puerto Ayora, Isla de Santa Cruz, Galápagos.
CHAP XXII. Galapagos
0º 444.87 S 90º 18.61 W
Going ashore by one of the yellow water-taxis we are a little anxious about how much we will have to pay for staying in the Galápagos because of all the stories we have heard in Panama about the exuberant sums of money that have to be paid for visitors’ permits. Upon arriving at the Port Captain’s office he tells us for a 20-day permit (which is the maximum) it will only be around 200 $.
From there he sends us to Immigration where we thought we would have to pay at least 100 $ per person, but in reality it is only 10 $. (In Ecuador the US-$ is the local currency. They mint their own coins, but the greenback is used like in Panama.)
Altogether it is a pleasant surprise to be greeted by such friendly and efficient people. No agent is needed.
Puerto Ayora, with 22.000 inhabitants the main village of Sta. Cruz island and of all Galápagos, is a very charming and quaint town with lots of people on bicycles, many pickup truck taxis and people greeting us on every corner. The main street along the waterfront is an emporium of tasteful souvenir - and T-shirt-shops side by side with little bars and home-style restaurants.
We were a little worried about if and how to get water and diesel for the boat, thinking of having to carry it all in jerry-cans, but lo and behold, when we are back on the boat there arrives a panga with a bog barrel of drinking water, filling our water-tanks for 15 $. When asked about diesel fuel the captain says, No problem, tomorrow at 8 o’clock we will bring it. There is even a garbage boat picking up the garbage every morning. Things couldn’t be easier. We don’t even need our won dinghy, the water-taxis are efficient and cost only 50 cents.
Anchored in the bay we enjoy the antics of the pelicans swooping low across the water or landing on our bowsprit and our masts; the blue-footed boobies plunging from 50 feet and then bobbing up like corks with fish in their mouth and you would think a big smile on their face. Every now and then black sea iguanas swim by and the sea lion jump out of the water onto the diving platforms or dinghies and climb all over the local fishing boats. The small sailboat next to us with low topsides even had some seals as guests for the night in the cockpit.
The town jetty is a very busy place with water-taxis delivering people to all the charterboats (some of them beautiful old 3-masted schooners, many huge catamarans) and motor yachts for diving excursions, barges from cargoships unloading, red Sally Lightfoot crabs crawling over the black lava rocks and sea lions barking at all the action. One of the busiest town docks we have ever seen.
We take a stroll to the famous Darwin Station where we enjoy the giant tortoises, yellow land iguanas, many colorful birds and cacti. The center is well laid out with pathways and boardwalks to not disturb the natural habitat of the wildlife.
Although the island is very touristic it is a low-key tourism. People that come here are interested in the conservation of wildlife and in the environment and not geared toward beachers, parties and bars and showing off their suntan.
The second evening we are invited to the inauguration of a gallery that is a non-profit business dedicated to the support of local artists. They sell beautiful things made of wood, amazing straw baskets that hold water, jewellery and tapestries. Afterwards there is a party in the Rock-Bar next door with good Ecuadorian live music and caipirinhas – one of our favorite drinks, with lots of lime.
Early in the morning next day we hire a pickup taxi chauffeured by Byron for an excursion into the highlands. First we hike up steep Pinnacle, a cone-shaped volano, the second highest point on the island.
On the way up we pass through different climatic zones: from the coastal arid region to the fertile humid cloudy farming area with coffee and banana plantations and dense jungly woods and trees full of silvery, brown and black lichen. The dirt road ends there and we park the car. Then Byron wants to walk with us to the top as he has never been up there either.
We enter the miconia zone, covered completely with this pretty shiny-leaved shrub that was almost extinct by agriculture and invasive guava and quinine trees that settlers brought to Galápagos. One of the main aims of scientists here is to reinstall the original Galápagos flora and fauna and get rid of the destructive invaders that threaten to take over (mainly pigs, dogs, cats, rats, mice etc.).
Higher up the mountain we come into the fern zone mostly composed of mosses, grasses and ferns. From above we have a stunning view over Sta.Cruz and the neighboring islands.
After descending the mountain we stop at a tiny store to quench our thirst and buy a bag of the famous ecologically grown coffee of the Santa Fé farm.
Our next stop are the Gemelos, two huge sunken craters in the idle of a margarita forest (scalesias). If you think we have giant margaritas in Mallorca – here they are up to 10m and more high! They give you the feeling of being a little hobbit, especially in the pouring rain and fog of the highlands.
From there we drive to the Primacias farm, a cattle farm that is also a sanctuary for the giant tortoises. There is also a long dark lava tunnel. Upon descending the steps in the entrance of the tunnel we come across a pile of bones (the ones that didn’t make it?) that gives us a little bit of a scare. The tunnel itself is a cathedral-high vault with the rain seeping through the cracks, until you are suddenly confronted with a vertical wall, almost entirely blocking the tunnel but for a very low passage above the ground. We have to wiggle our way through the mud and soon afterwards emerge again into the drizzy light of day, completely soiled but excited. On the road we have to dodge a giant tortoise and see egrets standing on cows’ backs in the rain.
We drive back to Puerto Ayora where the sky is blue and the sun never stopped shining and have lunch in the patio of a small restaurant, a legume soup, a lot of rice, some chicken, vegetables and fresh mango juice, for 10 $ for all four of us.
Then we head for Playa Garrapatero. Again we park the pickup and then walk the long pleasant trail down to the beach: through the arid zone wilderness with its high cactus trees, palo santo trees, bright yellow muyuyu trees, thorny green shrubs and dazzling green undergrowth. Pretty little lizards flit across the path, mockingbirds and yellow warblers fly from cactus to cactus. Close to the sea we climb through thick bent manchineel trunks, a mangrove plant whose sap and apple-like fruit are highly poisonous, and emerge onto the blinding powdery beach.
The tide is going out and on the black lava rocks we see the black sea iguanas basking in the sun. On the horizon the island of Santa Fé is rising out of the blue Pacific. We have the whole huge virgin bay for ourselves. The only other person is a ranger sitting on a high platform under a makeshift construction of sticks covered by sheets of plastic, reading the Word of God in a loud voice without taking notice of us.
On our way back it starts raining and we pick up some farmers and give them a ride home. In a tiny village children enjoy themselves taking showers under the water pouring out of waterpipes.
Another early morning we walk along the shore and through lava boulders and cactus groves to Las Grietas. After descending a steep stairway we suddenly find ourselves in a long narrow ravine of black lava rock, closed at both ends and filled with fresh crystal clear water. We thoroughly enjoy the fresh water bath. The water is so resfreshing that we don’t ever want to get out. The sides of the grotto (20m) are almost vertical to a depth of 5 m. Along the bottom swim parrotfish that have worked their way through the crevices in the rocks from the sea when they were babies and have since grown up and can’t go back to the sea.
As we don’t have a cruising permit for the islands and have to leave our boat in Puerto Ayora, we take a charter boat to Bartolomé island on an 8m motorboat that has seen better days. It has quite a list to port and with 16 passengers on board plus four crew, when everybody stands at portside to look at something in the water, we have the feeling that it might roll over.
We start our journey after taking a bus to the north end of Santa Cruz and then motor our way north past the small volcanic island of Daphne Mayor which is a beautifully shaped extinct volcano. Two miles east of it is the island of Daphne Menor that looks like the plug of the crater of its twin island having been shot out like a champagne cork.
After three hours of motoring we anchor off Bartolomé next to a sunken perfectly round crater. Ashore is a real moonscape of sand and molten lava rock. Our guide Jorge tells us that the island is about 4 million years old and that it will take about two million more years until it will be covered by plants like Santa Cruz which is 6 million years old. We are awed by these facts about evolution of vegetation.
On Bartolom’e the first plants are starting to take hold. There is tiny lichen growing on the rocks, very small bluegreen succulent plants with tiny white flowers, a few tuffs of grass, cacti with yellow tips and not much more except in the very low lying dune area close to the beach where mangroves, thorny shrubs and bright green creepers have managed a foothold.
There is an awesome view from the top of the volcano across a small strait to the recent (100 years ago)lava flows of the neighboring island of Santago which cover 7 square kilometers. It looks like black chocolate that has been poured out of the volcano into the sea with two red mountains that were islands sticking out like cherries on top of a mousse.
After climbing back down the volcano we walk along the beach and see bull sharks swimming along the shore and bright red crabs scurrying between the rocks.
It’s quite nice to travel to the different islands in a small group. Some of the other charter boats have 50 to 100 guests on board but no peace and quiet.
The next day we visit another island with the same boat and guide. Seymour Norte is a low lying flat island that was formed by uplifting of the ocean floor and not by volcanic activity. It is a bird and land iguana sanctuary. There we find blue-footed boobies sitting on eggs and doing their mating-dance: they lift one sky-blue foot at a time like a clown, as if they were doing a gig, sometimes 3 hours in a row, spreading their feathers, lifting their bills and tails vertically into the air.
There is also an abundance of the magnificent frigate birds, the males inflating their scarlet chest membrane to attract the females, females sitting on eggs in nests, and young ones that look like white balls of downs. When a frigate bird hatches it is mostly white. By one year old they have a black body with a white head. And mature males are all black, whereas females have a white chest.
For all our bird-watching friends- this island is a must!
After lunch on board the boat we move to the nearby island of Mosquera formed of white sand ringed by volcanic rocks. Mosquera harbors a sea lion colony of hundreds. After wading ashore over slippery rocks we walk the beach between the sea lions, enjoying the playful antics of the young ones and the majestic herding of the bulls protecting and defending their harem.
CHAP XXIV. On the way back to Sta. Cruz
On the way back to Sta. Cruz we motor along the east coast of Baltra Island where we admire the volcanic rock formations that resemble huge organ pipes, pillars and archways.
Another day we take a boat to the island of Floreana, but we are somewhat disappointed. When in the Galapagos and taking different tours it is very important to have a knowledgeable friendly guide and also to be in an interested group of fellow tourists. Our guide on this trip has absolutely no interest in showing us historical and geographical sites and only wants to go snorkeling and diving in Devil’s Crown, an extinct partially submerged crater off the coast, whose fascinating ragged rocks stick out of the sea in a complete circle.
But unluckily we don’t go to famous Postoffice Bay, where there has been a barrel used for mailing letters since the 1700s where seafaring people leave their letters for home to be picked up by anybody going into the right direction. We were looking forward to leaving letters for family and friends and picking up any mail to take across the Pacific. Neither do we go the flamingo lagoon or Asilo de la Paz, where pirates used to fetch water.
On the way back to Puerto Ayora the captain goes below for a nap and leaves the steering to an incompetent crew member who seems to be on a ski slalom course. In a straight line it is approximately 35 miles, but we must have done at least 50. He is constantly writing his name in the water. If this had been our first tour we probably would not have taken any other.
Leaving Sta. Cruz after going to the produce market early on Saturday, March 17, we have a very pleasant broad reach to Puerto Villamil on the island of Isabela. Isabela is the largest island of the Galapagos. It is narrow, but more than 100 km long, running from north to south. It is composed of six towering volcanoes, the highest ones more than 1700 m.
Arriving just after dark, looking for the lights to the entrance to the anchorage, we realize that they are not where they are supposed to be. So we anchor when it is shallow enough and spend a very rolly night in the open sea and at daybreak finally move closer to Pueerto Villamil, the only village on the island (2000 inhabitants).
It is good that we didn’t try to get closer during the night because not all lights are working and neither are they where they are on the charts.
After dropping anchor again at 7 o’clock in the morning we are approached by some Austrian friends that we know from Sta. Cruz, inviting us to go on a tour to the Lava Tunnels at Cabo Rosa with guide Henry.
Altogether we are 10 people in an open flat-bottom skiff with two 75 HP engines in the back. After flying over the sea at 30 knots for approximately 40 minutes , Henry, who is an experienced fisherman, guides us through the breaking waves and rock formations in the lagoon, a maze of black volcanic rocks, little islands, archways, scattered in the crystal clear calm water behind the reef. The whole area is about 16 square miles large. You would definitely get lost and would probably not find your way out again on your own. There is an abundance of sealions, bluefooted boobies, lav gulls, beautifully spotted manta rays and turtles. It is a unique fascinating place!
On the way back Henry takes us by the Union Rock (about 25m high) which sticks out of very deep water and is covered with sea lions and masked boobies which we haven’t seen before.
Sadly we learn that the night before seven whales stranded themselves on the beach of Pto. Villamil and the whole village was out to rescue them. Six died and one survived by being pulled back out to the sea. The next morning this one lonely sad whale is swimming through the anchorage looking for its mates and being molested by tourists from two of the charterboats.
The big foreign owned charterboat businesses are not very good for the economy of the islands. The tourists arrive by plane, are picked up by the charter company buses and then taken to their boats in company dinghies (not by the local water taxis). Then the visitors eat and drink aboard and spend very little or no money in the local community.
We organize a trip to the Sierra Negra volcano which has the second largest crater in the world. After an hour’s driving in a pick-up through the lush incredibly fertile landscape we mount horses for a spectacular 45- minute bone-jarring ride to the top of the crater where there is a breathtaking view of the 9 by 11 km wide crater filled with black hot lava.
After riding along the rim of the crater we descend on the northern outer side of the crater to Volcano Chico. We have lunch beneath a gigantic soaptree and then hike for 2 hours through the moonscape of a kaleidoscopic lava field, looking into bottomless fumaroles from where heat and sulphur gases rise. We are lucky to have a cloud-free view over the southern part of the island and the isthmus of Isabela in the north.
Upon arriving back in the village Henry’s wife Mariana prepares an excellent fish barbecue at their idyllic Club Nautico right on the beach where we enjoy a wonderful evening.After dinner, in the pitch dark, the tide is very low and we have to push Henry’s water taxi across the sandbars and through the rocky channels into deeper water before we can get back on the boat.
Isabela is a very beautiful island and a must on anybody’s itinerary on the Galapagos!
Sorry to say that our time is up on Galapagos with its warm welcoming people. On Thursday, March 22, we will be setting sail for our 3000-mile voyage to the Marquesas.
CHAP XXV. Galápagos - Marquesas
After trying in vain to send the last photos of the Galápagos from Purto Villamil on Isabela Island (the Internet there works at less than snail speed), we take advantage of the afternoon breeze to get as far off shore as possible. By midnight the wind dies out completely and we drift SSW.. All next day we are in a flat calm and Gregor decides to go swimming and pull the boat along…
The next day, Saturday, more of the same, a little wind coming from the NE. And Sunday, our third day out, more of the same. The wind has been changing from E to N to NE to WSW and finally at about noon on Monday it slowly comes out of the SE. Hurrah, hurrah!
Tuesday we find ourselves moving along at 7 knots in the right direction, which is the start of tradewind sailing, we hope. The next day the wind is picking up and we put a reef in the main, take the jib down and make an incredible 160 miles. Thursday another good day and Friday it starts to blow. Friday and Saturday we make a new Ragnar record – 174 miles both days!
We also reef the main stay sail because we find it’s very exhausting keeping up that pace.
On Monday all of a sudden we have a wind shift from the SE to the NE, increasing from force 3 to force 6, so we decide to gybe , but we have a lot of problems because the running back stay is stuck in the baggywrinkles and Gregor has to go up in the rigging and cut it free.
After we get everything secure the wind dies out and starts to come from the SE again. WE enjoy a fine breeze until Tuesday when the wind starts doing funny things again swinging from the SE to the NE again giving us a hard time staying on our course.
As we get closer to the Marquesas the wind keeps getting less and less, from 120 miles a day average we are down to 73 miles.
After flying along at 7 and 8 knots, at 3 knots it feels we are hardly moving.
On Wednesday, April 18, the wind dies out completely, but at 6 o’clock in the morning we can see the island of Fatu Hiva. So we turn on the motor and make it there by 2 o’clock, after 3033 miles.
In all the pilot charts and cruising guides the recommended route which we took is to go SSW from the Galapagos until you get to approximately 6º south and then turn west. They all say that you will find very constant tra dewinds, always from the SE, with clear skies. But we had days of torrential downpours, wind coming from the NNE (which according to the pilot charts is unheard of), we even had winds from WSW. We feel we should call up the Admiralty chart makers and tell them they got it all wrong. But finally we got there and it’s nice to be near land again after 27 days.
During the whole trip we only saw one other sailboat and three cargo ships going towards South America, but otherwise there is not much out there.You start to feel that mankind doesn’t exist anymore, that you are all alone except for the whales, dolphins and flying fish. You even get to the point where you imagine hearing different conversations taking place on the boat, music , hallucinating about seeing sails on the horizon. But being all alone in this vast space of water and sky in a tiny nutshell was never scary. On the contrary, it gave us a feeling of peace and calm and being completely connected with everything.
T U A M O T U (M A N I H I ) - T A H I T I
14º 27’90 S 146º 02’20 W 17º 32’43 S 149º 34’22 W
On Saturday, May 12, we up the anchor and set out on our 490- mile- hop to the Tuamotu. The huge Tuamotu Archipelago stretches over 1000 miles in a SE-NW-direction approximately two thirds of the way between the Marquesas and Tahiti. It was here on the Mururoa atoll that the French tested their last atomic bomb in January 1996.
From the 76 atolls 30 are not inhabited. On the rest are approximately 12000 people who make their living from copra, fish and pearls.
The Tuamotu are a very dangerous area to sail in because the islands are so low, sometimes only a meter out of the water and reefs just under the water and very hard to see depending on the time of day, the light and the weather.
The Tuamotu are atolls that are rests of eroded volcanoes. Wind, rain and waves have eroded the peaks and the sides of the volcanoes until nothing is left of them above the water. Only the reefs that formed to the seaside of the volcanoes are growing bigger and bigger, creating a foothold for sand, soil, coconut palms and other plants. The result is a ring of little islands and reefs encircling a lagoon.
Some of the lagoons are very shallow, others quite deep., but most with coral heads sticking up all over. Some have natural channels dug out by the tide to enter them.
The first three days we have a beautiful breeze from ESE and we are racing across the blue Pacific. Three or four days at sea seems like nothing after our 27-day voyage from the Galapagos to the Marquesas.
At night a young big bird decides to hitchhike with us and lands on the main sail sheet where he wobbles around with his wings outstretched like a drunken sailor until he finally settles down on a roll of rope on the deck. Gregor feeds him with bread crumbs and then the bird stays comfortably until dawn.
On Tuesday morning the weather gets a
little rough. The wind comes up, it starts to rain and we start doing 8 knots.
Wegnesday morning we can see the Manihi atoll four miles off our port bow. We sail down the coast until we come to the lagoon entrance.
Entering a lagoon in the atolls you have to get your timing right: often you can only go through at slack water, sometimes there is up to a 9-knot current flowing out with the tide creating very large waves in front of the entrance.
But we are lucky. We hit the entrance just at the right time and under full sail we shoot through the 40-meter narrow pass. Exciting!
Once inside the lagoon we pass by the village and go a half a mile SE to the anchor spot for yachts. There are seven more boats tucked up behind a small motu (island) covered with sand and coconut trees. Everybody has enough room and a nice view of the lagoon. In and around the lagoon are houses built on stilts, some just a couple of feet out of the water at high tide – these are the pearl farms.
The lagoon is so big that we can see the far side, but not the end of it. It’s like being on a big lake in the middle of the ocean. If it wasn’t full of coral heads we would be broadreaching back and forth across the lagoon all day long.
The water is so clear, salty and warm, it’s like being in a bathtub, with all kinds and colors of fish swimming around you, sometimes a friendly shark.
The next morning we dinghy into the only village of the atoll, Manihi. There its 200 inhabitants have built coral brick houses and wooden huts with thatched or corrugated iron roofs amidst tropical gardens full of flowers and fruit trees. On the sand streets lined with trees there are practically no cars, many people on bicycles and kids playing football – a really jolly atmosphere.
At the village dock the weekly cargo boat from Tahiti has just arrived, so all the people are gathering to pick up the supplies that they have ordered: barrels of fuel, food, furniture, garden tools etc. After walking up and down the main drag three or four times looking for a little refreshment, the people get friendlier and friendlier and finally tell us the only place to go is the little supermarket because everything else is closed because the day is yet another holiday in French Polynesia.
Back at the boat we are just getting ready to chill out when a canoe pulls up alongside. We have to look two or three times , we can’t believe our eyes: there is the local captain of the boat with a flowered Tahitian shirt and two young and very serious looking men dressed in dark green trousers, white shirts with breast plates and ties. The captain finally says, We are not the police! ? And Gregor whispers, Maybe they are Jehova’s witnesses? Close, but no cigar! They are actually Mormon missionaries!
After the captain explains to us who they are, they hand us the Book of Mormon, utter not a peep and continue on to the other boats. The three of us are standing there looking at each other, wondering if what happened just happened?! Quick, get the camera, we need a photo of this! Whow! In the middle of nowhere, one of the remotest places on earth with just a handful of people, two Mormon missionaries with a native in a canoe is something to write home to mother about!
We find out that the native in the canoe is Monsieur Fernand, the baker who brings the yachties baguettes every morning. He comes by the next morning and invites us to his pearl farm. We pack our dinghy on his canoe and he motors us about two miles to windward along the motu (we would have never made it in our dinghy because of a lot of wind and the current coming through the passes), where he drops us off at his pearl farm run by is wife and daughter.
His wife is like a surgeon. Sitting at her workbench with scalpels, tweezers, grips to open shells, even a stand to hold the shells. A real operating theater. The girl brings in different clams which they open, and the mother decides whether the color is good or not. After selecting the one she wants, she cuts off a piece of the lip around the muscle of the mother-of-pearl clam. This she cleans and cuts into tiny pieces.
Now the girls bring in fresh clams to be grafted. The mother opens a clam, insets with long fine tweezers a pellet made from shells from the Mississippi. With another tweezers she inserts a little piece of cleaned lip onto the pellet and tucks both into the muscle pocket of the clam.
The tiny piece of lip dissolves within three weeks and coats the pellet and gives the future pearl the original color of the first shell. Approximately 15 or 16 months later, they have a pearl. The most prized pearls are the dark silver gray ones. The color will be the hue of the outer rim of the inside of the first mother-of-pearl shell.
Out of the thousands of pearls that are grafted very few grow to premium quality. But anyhow, it seems to be a good business. The shops in Tahiti are full of fantastic and expensive black pearl necklaces.
Monsieur Fernand was born in Manihi, but he is an exception here. For many years
he was in the French Navy and traveled all over the world and thus is not afraid of strangers. He tells us that the people in the Tuamotu are very religious, because there is no stability with nature here: terrible cyclones devastate the atolls every now and then, the reefs are constantly changing, there are tsunamis and coconuts can fall on your head and kill you. And any help is a long way away. They are on their own and depend on faith. They never go hungry, though, having breadfruit, coconuts, bananas and all the fish they can eat and chickens running around wild.
On Saturday, May 19, we set out across the lagoon and leave through the gurgling narrow pass with the outgoing tide and set sail for Tahiti, about 250 nautical miles away.
Our route takes us through the pass between the Rangiroa and Arutua atolls. It is dark, we cannot see the atolls, but we can smell them: smoke from coconut husk fires. Early on Sunday morning the wind shifts around to the NE, directly behind us, which makes it very difficult to hold a course. So we decide to motorsail the rest of the way.
On Monday morning we can see Tahiti with its rugged mountains and rainbowed skies and green lush vegetation in the distance. At 5 o’clock in the afternoon we enter the channel between the two reefs and tie up at the town quarry of Papeete. Whow, in the middle of the city! Water, electricity, our own guard! We can just step ahore!
There is only one more boat, the catamaran Lady Jane that we already know from the Marquesas. But slowly the harbor begins to fill with boats coming in from the Marquesas and Tuamotu.
The last time we were tied up at a dock was in Cartagena, Colombia. So we are quite happy to be in the hustle and bustle and the noise of a city. Along the town dock is a wooden boardwalk, where people stroll, jog, ride their bicycles and skateboards. Japanese and Chinese from the cruiseships , camera in hand, come by and ask if they can come on board to have their picture taken, exchanging calling cards; they invite us to Japan we think – it’s all in Japanese-, even bring by a copy of the photo the next day. Newspaper reporters take pictures and we appear in the local newspaper. Friends from other boats stop by.
Just down the quai is a big parking lot that fills up every night with roulettes which are rolling restaurant trucks who open their sides, set out tables and chairs, grills, hotplates and fires and start cooking and serving all kinds of delicious meals.
Some of the locals start with a crepe with a huge dollop of whipped cream, then continue with a giant hamburger. Others take steak and French fries, but we decide for tuna chow mein with lots of fresh vegetables cooked crispy in a wok and served over noodles.
Afterwards we cannot resist the crepes bretonnes with banana, coconut, chocolate and chocolate icecream on top… Yummie, yummie…No wonder the people around here are so big.
Walking through Papeete we find it a very pleasant atmosphere: relaxed people with smiles on their faces, constantly greeting each other with kisses on their cheeks, dressed in bright flowerprint cloth, flowers behind their ears, leis around their necks and flower crowns on their heads. Nobody seems in a hurry, they have time. The combination of Asian, Polynesian and French-European influence creates a very special and cultured ambiance, very different from the Caribbean. Invite us for a drink at the Sheraton Hotel to watch a Tahitian dance group.
On Saturday evening a Chinese-Tahitian and French couple invite us for a drink at the Sheraton Hotel to watch a Tahitian dance group. The girls are dressed in grass-skirts, shaking their hips and bodies at an incredible pace, the men shaking their knees and slapping on their thighs, everybody hooting and hollering – it makes you think of being in a great big pot with boiling water, carrots and potatoes….
There seem to exist three genders here: men, women and in-betweens, all fully accepted. But sometimes this makes a problem, you don’t know whether to say Bonjour Madame or Bonjour Monsieur.
On Sunday morning we dress for church and go to the protestant temple just down the road. All the women dressed in immaculate white with incredible white hat creations, each one with its own shape and design, all decked out to the ninth with flowers and pearls. The preacher holds his sermon in Tahitian which sounds almost exclusively made of vowels, and then the congregation stands up and starts singing the praise to the Lord in Tahitian and moves us to tears.
CHAP XXVII. Tahiti (cont.).
We rent a little car to escape from the city, going south along the road that makes a ring around the island. Tahiti is actually two islands connected by an isthmus, the northern part bigger and being more urban and the southern part smaller and more rural. In the center of the island are high steep-peaked mountain ranges intervened with deep valleys and innumerable babbling brooks that run down to the lagoon. At the base of the mountains is a coastal plain from approximately ½ to 2 miles wide. Where 99.9% of the population live. Along the coast there is a lagoon which is encircled by a reef that has several passes.
First we stop at the black sanded surfing beach of Parara in the southwest where we sit in a little café overlooking the beach and enjoy baguettes and café noir, watching the surfers catching waves. If I had a board, I wouldn’t come out of the water again!
Having heard that there is a Buddhist center in Parara we look and ask around until we find Brenda Chin Foo’s name and house. Brenda is an art dealer and traveler who founded the small center and is now able to sell us the Tibetan prayer flags that our boat always flies.
Further down the road we visit the Botanical Garden with a beautiful lily pond just next to a palm-strewn sandy beach. Beyond the glass-clear smooth surface of the lagoon there is a cocopalm motu (little island) with a wooden poled house with thatched roof, standing on stilts.
We drive across the isthmus,down the west side of Tahiti Iti to the end of the road, looking for the famous surfing beach of Teahupoo. But we are told that today the surf is only a meter and a half high and no real “professionals” are out there. Normally they have guided boats who take you out the pass to the outside edge of the reef where there are pipe-line 3m waves – a surfer’s paradise! International contests are held here everywhere.
We drive back to Tahiti Nui, up the east coast with its narrow windy road and very few houses and villages. Up around the north of the island, getting close to Papeete, we get into the rush-hour traffic (Whow! Sail half-way around the world to get stuck in a traffic jam! No wonder the people who live along the coast and work in Papeete have to leave for work at 5 o’clock to be there by 7…)
Afterwards we drive south out of town again to visit the Museum of Tahiti with its very well organized displays of the volcanic growth of the islands and how they turned into atolls; exhibits of handmade tools, furniture and clothes, spears, bow and arrows and fish hooks of the Polynesians; and photos of the history of the island. We thoroughly enjoyed and recommend this museum. In an annex of the museum they have a modern art show, “Taboo”, with many fascinating paintings and sculptures.
During our stay in Papeete we also visit two exhibitions in the town hall: one of jewellery, mostly black pearls, mother-of-pearl collar necklaces that weigh a ton, others out of different sea-shells, some o heavy they would pull your head to the ground. The other exhibit is about Tifaifai which is the traditional Tahitian patchwork quilt that is usually given as a wedding present.
At night there is a continuous dance festival from all the dance schools of Tahiti. Everybody and his brother must be dancing here, from 3-year-olds up to 90 on the stage shaking and shimmying in grass skirts, flowered print dresses and decorated with leis and crown of frangipani and gardenias.
On Sunday morning, June 3, we take some friends of ours for a day sail to Moorea, the neighboring island. Four hours later we arrive in famous Cook’s Bay, Marie – full of joy like a little kid, Eric a little green in the face. We have a quick and wonderful meal prepared by Marie. After the papaya pie we set sail for the hard beat back to Papeete. The wind on the nose, a heavy sea and different currents in the channel between the two islands make a very uncomfortable ride. And even Marie has a couple of talks with Neptune over the side. Don’t you just love that papaya pie, honey?
On the next Sunday morning we are invited to Marie’s mother’s 80th birthday party. She said we had to come because some of the family would be there. We ask her what we can get her mother and Marie says, 3 m of a red cotton cloth, but without floral design, preferably with a fruit pattern. After looking in all the material stores let me tell you that in Tahiti ALL the material has flower prints. We end up buying a can of Chinese Joyful Morning Tea wrapped nicely in lucky green and red.
To our surprise there are 80 people, all family members, but not all of the family present. After standing around chatting for an hour we all sit down to a nine-course buffet lunch. First there are spring rolls, sushi, then nine different meat and fish casseroles, hand-made noodles, dumplings and a huge wok full of vegetables. And at last eleven different cakes and lucky red hearts filled wish crushed peanuts. After 4 hours Marie gives us a ride back to the boat, laden with grapefruit from the garden and a box of chocolate cake.
CHAP XXVIII Moorea
M O O R E A
17º 30’78 S 149º 51’03 W
On Monday, June 11, we move on from Papeete to Moorea and arrive 4 hours later in Opunohu Bay, the other bay next to Cook’s Bay on the north side. There we drop anchor in Robinson’s Cove, ideally situated next to a beautiful house and garden. Such a calm and peaceful anchorage we have never been in. A little noise from the road, but after being in Papeete tied along the town thoroughfare we can hardly hear it.
In the morning we hitchhike first to Belvedere look-out point with a fantastic view high above the two bays. Afterwards we hitchhike to the northwestern side of the island, getting rides from different people, the last one being a nice Range Rover where just when we are getting comfortable the lady pulls into a parking lot and says we are there.
The following morning we ring the rusty cowbell at the entrance of the garden that caught our attention from the boat. After a while an American speaking lady emerges from the thick bamboo and asks what we want. After telling her that we read about her garden and are from the wooden boat anchored in front of her property she smiles and agrees to show us around. After sitting us down on the porch, she gets out her scrap book and tells us the story of how she became to be there.
Her parents arrived in the 1920s on their own 180ft four-masted schooner, buying a whole valley, building their house, planting their garden. After showing us the enchanting garden, opening a coconut with a machete and then drinking the cool coconut water she tells us of two nice walks in the area.
So off we go through the valley that connects Opunohu Bay to Cook’s Bay. Along the way we pass many pineapple fields, mahogany and teak woods. Approaching the bay we see much more of the village of Paopao than you would normally see from the roadway. Emerging into Cook’s Bay we have a wonderful lunch of chicken wings and spring rolls at a Chinese snack stand.
Walking back the 7 km around the peninsula towards the other bay we stop at the Sheraton Hotel to have a look and drink fresh pineapple juice. From at sea the bungalows that are built on stilts above the water look like the original thing, but up close there is a lot of concrete, but all in all it’s a very pleasant place.
Setting out early the next morning we thumb a ride up to the Belvedere again (at 240 m) and start our four-hour climb to the top of the 3-Palmtree-Summit at about 1000 m: up and down, zigzagging back and forth through the woods, across creeks, winding our way along the face of the mountain through the cool, dark rain forest. Finally we emerge to the breathtaking view from the Three Palmtrees.From there you can see the north and south ends of the island, the reef on the south side shimmering emerald, green and white.
On June 15, thinking it’s Thursday (we never start on a Friday), we up anchor and two minutes later we are stuck on the reef. When we figure out that it is a Friday we think, No wonder, s..t happens. Luckily enough we get pulled off by a passing jet-ski. After checking the hull for leaks and damages, finding none, we continue on to Raiatea, where we pull into the municipal dock, safe and sound, all in one piece, the next noon.
R A I A T E A
16º 40' 96 S 151º 29' 15 W
Early in the morning, sailing through the pass, we enter the lagoon which surrounds Raiatea, headed north to tie up at Uturoa town quarry. What a pleasure to be alongside! We just step off the boat and we are in the middle of town. The people passing by are very friendly and curious, asking where we come from and wherre the boat was built.
After a few days of chilling out, enjoyind the ambience of the town, we decide to go south through the lagoon to Faaroa Bay, where we pick up a free mooring from Sunsail and explore the river at the end of the bay with our dinghy. Winding our way up the river below the cathedral-arched canopy we eventually get to a spot where it gets too shallow and the branches and lianas are hanging too low to go any further.The river banks are strewn with beautiful gardens, small boatsheds and even plots where people take their eternal rest.
After a very quiet night we move further south to Opoa Bay where we tie up at a "dock", an approximately ten by ten meter concrete block connected to the shore with a 20 m crumbling causeway, Ragnar tied up in the middle, but both ends hanging out. It's like being in a camping caravan parked in somebody's backyard. Our closest neighbor has a pearl farm, farther along the shore lives Mato and his numerous family with many boats lying at the water's edge.
Around the corner on the other side is the famous ceremonial site of Taputapuatea. This is the only international site of this kind, here the clan chiefs of all Polynesia have their meetings, because Raiatea is supposed to be the cradle of Polynesia. The first Maori settlement was here, and from here Maoris settled as far as Hawaii, Tonga and New Zealand.
The site itself consists of three major stone platforms (maraes), the biggest being the international meeting point (appr. 100 x 100 m), at one end of which is a wall of massive stones. Each stone is a backrest of a family. There is a smaller marae right at the edge of the sea and this is where the new braves that came to the island had to stay until they were determined worth enough by the elders to live on the island.
Taking a walk around the bay and up the river valley we get a lift by Mato and his son in their pick-up truck. They take us to their garden near the top of the valley. Mato proudly invites us to climb up the mountain to visit his family marae. The Opoa valley and a so the area around used to be the place where the kings of Polynesia came from. The valley is very fertile. Wherever somebody works the fields, vegetables and fruit grow in abundance.Walking back down along the roadway we enjoy the harmonic peacefulness of the babbling brook through the paradisical vegetation. There are mangos, citrus, papayas, starfruit etc. - you could live under a tree. Further down the valley Mato stops on his way back home and gives us a ride to our front door (he actually drives over the causeway onto the dock) and hands us a stalk of bananas. A half hour later his wife comes walking around the corner with a shoulder of a swordfish that weighed 183 kg. Yum, yum... into the frying pan! What a tasty meal!
We walk (hitchhiking where there is no cars is no fun) 6 km to the vanilla farm at the end of the next bay. The aroma from the vanilla just makes you want to eat an icecream cone.
The vanilla plant is a climbing orchid which has to be hand-pollinated because there are no insects to do the business. The flowers all bloom at about the same time and only for one morning - a very work-intensive period. If successfully pollinated the flowers turn into vanilla pods after nine months. Then they are picked and stored in a dark place for some days until they are brown. Then they are spread on cloth for three to four hours in the noonday sun every day, al wways being turned over and inspected. After lying in the sun they are bundled in the cloth and stowed away in wooden boxes where they keep the heat and sweat out the humidity. After a month they are calibrated and individually massaged (to spread the oil evenly inside the pod). Then they are stored in a dark place for another month until the humidity is gone completely and packed in boxes according to size. With all the work involved it's no wonder vanilla is the 2nd most expensive spice there is.
Early tthe next morning Mato comes and asks if it's alright if some friends of his with a fishing boat tie up alongside us to provision their boat. A really nice bunch of fellows starat loading the boat for the next 6 days with all kinds of fresh vegetables and fruit when the abundance starts to land in our cockpit. So much salad, cucumbers, cabbage and spinach we won't be able to eat or store!
After inviting us on board to eat lunch they set out with their 40km long fishing line with thousands of hooks for the next 6 days.
We have been waiting for the wind to change in order to sail to Huahine, but it stays on the nose and we sail back up to Uturoa and then, onJune 27, to Taha'a, Raiatea's sister island. At Taravana Yacht Club in Apu Bay in the southwest we pick up a mooring buoy.
CHAP XXX. Taha'a
T A H A' A
16º 40' 96 S 151º 29' 15 W
Trying to hitchhike around the island we walk 7 km through the pouring rain until the first car stops. The driver asks us where we want to go, we answer, anywhere, and then he and his wife drive us completely around the pretty island - a guided tour would not have been better.
We spend 3 days at the clubcatching up on emails, website, having good meals and enjoying talking to Maui, the young and very pleasant owner from Bora Bora who speaks perfect American after spending several years at school in Wyoming.
Then we sail around the southeast corner of Taha'a to Haamene Bay which is a 4-mile-deep fjord with a quaint little village at the end. The end of the bay being completely landlocked we feel like on a pond. The water is so still you can see your reflection like in a mirror. At night we thoroughly enjoy a romantic paddle across the bay in the moonlight.
Moving around to the northern end of the island we try to tie up at the dock at Patio, but find it too shallow. So we anchor just outside the breakwater. As it is a Sunday we think there is not much going on in town, but going ahore we find many villagers active playing basketball, volleyball, boccia and there is a large wedding-party in a tent among the trees. Other people just sit in the shade enjoying the laid-back atmosphere.
On Monday we sail aaround the NW corner of the island to Tapuamu where we tie up alongside the cargo wharf. The young harbosmaster who speaks perfect American (worked in Alaska) tells us we can spend the night but have to leave early the next morning because there is a freighter coming in. Walking to Taiva, the next village, a lady in a truck stops to give us aride and is very disappointed that we only want to go to the next village - she would gladly have driven us around the island.
IT's a sailor's paradise sailing around the two islands inside the lagoon. For bareboat beginners it's perfect cruising ground.
CHAP XXXI. Bora Bora
B OR A B O R A
16º 30' 44 S 151º 45' 15 W
After a very enjoyable evening with a sunset over Bora Bora in the distance and the drums and dancing on shore we get an early night and sail away from the dock at 6 o'clock in the morning on July 3. Going through the Paipai Pass we leave Taha'a behind us and sail the 20 miles to Bora Bora where we tie up at the town dock of Vaitape at noon.
Many of the cruising guides do not recommend being tied up at town docks but we find it the most interesting and plus it's free. Sandy white beaches, reefs and coral heads we leave for those who have never seen them before.
The village is decked out in festival affair like everywhere in French Polynesia from the end of June to the end of July, celebrating Heiva, the national winter festival. Grass huts with sand floors containing snackbars, restaurants, computer games, pool tables, wheels of chance (where you can win a box of wahing powder or instant coffee and not just a teddybear or doll)are thronging with locals.
Around the borders of the huge central performance square the locals have staked out their bases with colorful woven mats, kept in place on the sand with a few stones, each family having their own taboo zone, their mats being left there over night to be used again the following days.
During the mornings there are different contests: the "mamas" weaving palmfrond hats and baskets, the men cracvking coconuts making copra (100 nuts in 9 minutes!), even javeline throwing: 30 men in a line trying to hit a coconut stuck on a pole 30 feet in the air.
In the evening we listen to choral groups and watch the dancers who are getting better day by day. The drummers send up a rythm that makes it impossible to stand still. The leading bass drum is played by a little boy who doesn't miss a beat.
One of the contests is to build a parade float in one day, starting at sunrise until 8 o'clock in the evening.Each float is put together by a village clan, between 30 and 40 people. The men starting with a flatbed truck build a frame out of wooden poles nailed and tied together, completely surrounding the truck; in the meantime the women are weaving palmfrond mats, tying bunches of flowers together, stringing coconuts and making all the little details. By late afternoon the frame is finished, the mats are tied on and then they start decorating with flowers and bushes and fruit and everything else that grows in the forest. AT 8 o'clock when all is finished all the traffic stops as they move this monsterous float from the field they were built in to the main arena. Hundreds of locals are standing around in anticipation. It's amazing what they can build in one day at the cost of nothing!
We really enjoy Vaitape immensely. The mixture of locals and few yachties and tourists makes for a lively atmosphere.
After almost 3 months of a very pleasant stay in French Polynesia, visiting the different islands and cultures, making some good friends, we will head off into the sunset to the southern Cook Islands, some 500 miles away.
CHAP XXXII Rarotonga
R A R O T O N G A, C O O K I S L A N D (July 24 - Aug 07, 2007)
21º 12' 29 S 159º 47' 11 W
On Wednesday morning, July 18, we up sail and leave Bora Bora through the Tevanui Pass heading SW for Rarotonga, 540 miles away. The first two days we make little progress,
the winds being very light and variable from the ENE to the SE to the S. On Saturday the breeze picks up and our boat speed is 6 knots. While in Papeete, Tahiti, we were
given two messages in bottles and on Saturday at 12 o'clock wwe drop the first one at 18º 37 S and 155º W.
During the day the wind picks up and we have a 130 mile day. Threading our way through the easternmost Cook Islands which do not have deep enough passes into the lagoons
at 18 o'clock just before the sun sets we see Mauke island just S of us. We are happy to see it still in daylight because there are no lights on the northern shore at all.
Then the wind drops completely and we turn on the iron main for the last 98 miles and arrive at Avatiu, Rarotonga at 8.30 in the morning of July 24.
Rarotonga has only one harbor which is open to the N, and when the wind comes from any where from the NW to the NE it gets really rough. We drop two bow anchors and back up to
the wharf leaving the stern of the boat a good 10m from the wall. We have to use our dinghy as a shore boat to be able to climb up a rickety ladder. With the surge and the
waves in the harbor it is like a circus act! Many people slip and fall into the water as try to get up the ladder and ashore. Probably the roughest harbor we've been in !
The island of Rarotonga itself is very mountainous and covered with dense rainforest, and like most of the other Pacific islands is only populated in a narrow belt around the
coast. The public transport consists of two buses, one going around clockwise and the other one counter-clockwise, the entire trip taking one hour.
There are many hiking pathways through the rainforest and we thoroughly enjoy a cross-island walk which takes about 5 hours from Avatiu up a beautiful valley, then along a
steep ridge to the Needle and then down along a riverbed crossing the stream 7 or 8 times until we emerge from the jungle on the southern coast. From there we hitchhike
back to town on a flatbed lumber lorry.
The town is basically two parallel streets- one along the coast with most of the shops, the upper one mostly residential area. The whole area is very well taken care of.
Leaves and litter are rakes up daily, all the gardens and parks well tended, and the houses quaint.
People in general are very friendly and any time we ask for help they go out of their way to explain where and how we can get done what we need doing.
We arrive at the beginning of the festival week which is not as professional as in French Polynesia beut down at home in a laid back style. The dancing and drumming peerformers
from the different Cook Inslands seem even more enthusiastic about giving a good show than in Tahiti. One aafternoon the shamans organize a walk over hot stones and Skip
also finally gets his feet warm!
One night we decide to have some chicken at a 24-hour chicken restaurant, but it is very difficult to eat the chicken with 10 or 15 live chickens running around the restaurant
terrace- it gives us quite a guilty conscience! The main local hang-out is Trader Jack's which is a bar and restaurant overlooking the sea where they serve a very good pizza among other things in a very good atmosphere. All through French Polynesia there is not very much of a bar atmosphere anywhere. People here are very friendly and open. As soon as one sits down, they start up a
conversation, everybody talking to everybody, which makes for an enjoyable evening!
After checking the weather we decide to leave on Saturday morning, Aug 4. 10 minutes before clearing out on Friday we are informed by Gregor, our crew member, that he wants
to stay on the island. Dropping crew from a boat is not an easy thing to do. So we go to the harbormaster and tell him about Gregor's decision and he says that G. will either
have to produce an airplane ticket or a letter from a captain of another boat saying that he will take him along. By the time he gets it together the harbormaster has closed
and Monday being a holiday we cannot clear out until Tuesday morning. Over the long weekend we look if we can find a new crew, putting up signs, but Rarotonga is really
not the place to find any. So on Tuesday morning we decide to set sail just the two of us.
Checking the weather on Monday morning the forecast is 15 to 20 knots of wind from the SE which sounds alright for the 600-mile passage to Niue. We leave on Tuesday, Aug 7,
at around 11 o'clock with help from the other yachties to get our two bow anchors up and start sailing away from Rarotonga WNW. But the breeze dies down at 18 o'clock, when we
turn on the engine and motor through the night until 6 in the morning when the wind starts to pick up again.
The wind was predicted from the SE, but it's actually coming from the NE and N, very little wind, with the barometer going up and down- which is a sure sign that a storm
is getting close.
Thursday morning it starts to blow from the S and SSE picking up in the afternoon to gale-forced winds gusting up to 35 knots. By Friday morning the wind is howling
with waves of 5-6 meters coming up behind us, the wind shifting from the SSE to E and all we can do is gybe and run down wind, keeping the boat from racing down the waves
and keeping the bow from ploughing into the waves in front of us.
Saturday is the worst day: we shorten sail, so we are just running under the mainstay sail, the wind a constant 35 knots, white horses rolling down the waves, foam flying off
the back of them, and then torrential downpours.
Sunday night, with the wind howling and the waves crashing against the stern of the boat, we surf down a big wave into the trough - and then everything stops. No wind, no waves,
so sound, pitchblack sky and sea. It is as if we sail into a vacuum. The only other experience similar to this is like passing into the eye of a huurricane. Luckily the
wind comes up very slowly from the E and we sail along until we are about 20 miles off the NE coast of Niue.
So we turn on the motor which runs for about an hour and then stops dead. Being a pitchblack night with a strong surrent pushing us to the west, no wind to sail by, the
engine not working, the fuel lines all clogged up, we call Niue radio and tell them our problems and ask them to stand by in case we need help. Luckily over the radio we
hear from a motor yacht that is coming up behind us that he would help us if need be.
Finally after trying everything to get the motor running we cut the main fuel line from the clogged up filters, stick it in a jerrycan and luckily the engine starts!! By this
time we are only about 14 miles off the N coast and with the engine normally using 1 liter per mile we think we can get to Alofi harbor with one jerrycan. But what happens is that
after 3 miles the first 20 l are gone and the motor stops again. So quickly we get out another can, get the motor running, start calculating that with 4 cans we might just
make it to the mooring area.
Coming along the coast just as the sun is coming up the motorboat that was behind us finally catches up with us, asks us if we need assistance and we decide it would be
best if he goes ahead to the moorings and organize some help for us to pick up a buoy that we should have enough gas to get there and make one pass at the mooring buoy.
Upon arriving there are two dinghies there waiting to help us. We successfully pick up a mooring with their help and make fast. Looking in our last jerrycan we have appr.
one liter of gasoil left- we just made it! A more exciting first voyage by ourselves we couldn't have asked for!!
CHAP XXXIII. Niue
N I U E
19º 03' 36 S 169º 55' 56 W
Two days of calm three days of howling gales running before the storm gasoil lines clogged upmotor dead -we thought we were going to hell.Upon arriving in Niue we found paradise! (Skip)
Niue is one of the most unknown places in the world, a tiny small island state in the Pacific. It consists of only one island with a decreasing population of about 1400 inhabitants, mostly Polynesians. The land area is only 260 square km, but the sea area 390.000! Niue is a democracy, associated with and supported strongly by New Zealand. People speak
Polynesian and English and use the Nz dollar.
Niue is the largest coral atoll in the world. The whole island rises about 30 m out of the water. There is a narrow fringe of reef all around it, no lagoons. The access to the harbor area of the main town of Alofi is actually man-made, the coral reef blasted out of the sea - the only access to shore for bigger boats.
There are 17 mooring buoys attached to 2-4 ton concrete blocks in approximately 100m of water - which is the only safe place to leave your boat. The swell, surge and tide along the wharf is so strong that all the dinghies and small fishing boats are hoisted out of the water by a crane as you come alongside.
Upon arrival early on Monday, Aug 13, after clearing customs and checking in with the police and immigration, we go to the Yacht Club (which is also Mamata's Icecream Heaven) where we meet Mamata and Jim, the woners of the club, and Keith, the commander of the who give us a very warm greeting and advise us how we can solve all our problems.
Keith even gives us a free tour of the SWern corner of the island showing us the devastation wrought by cyclone Olga which struck the island in January 2004 with winds of 300km/h.
Most of the houses along the coast were destroyed by over 30 m waves, washing them away, leaving only the foundations. Keith tells us about one house where they had a boat parked
alongside which was swept away inland, turned around and with the receding water was left in the very same spot facing the other direction. They were lucky that no damage was
done. Other ones lost absolutely everything.
Now after the storm they will not let any new houses be built along the picturesque cliff edge facing the sea. It's quite amazing standing at the top of the cliffs, looking 30 m down, to think that waves could achieve such a height and power wo wash everything away!
The people are especially friendly and it's the custom to wave to verybody whether passing in a car or walking down the street. Hitchhiking presents no problem - you stick your thumb up and the first car stsops and takes you where you want to go.Trying for four days to get our fuel lines flowing and our motor running we are constantly going up and down the road to the various mechanics on the island (they all get seasick just looking at a dinghy). It seems that we get to know everybody on the island just by hitchhiking back and forth.
Finally by Friday we get it all figured out and we are up and running. The next day being SAturday with a festival in Lakepa on the other side of the island we decide to rent a car. For this purpose we need a Niue driver's license. Going to the police station Maria, the policewoman, informs us that everybody has gone home for the weekend, but it's no major problem - if anybody asks just tell them that Maria said it's alright.
Even at the car agency Les, the woner says, No problem, gives us the car keys and says, When you are finished with the car just drop the key into his mailbox.
Bright and early Saturday morning we drive across the island with David and Lonny from "No regrets" to the fair in Lakepa. We enjoy the morning, eating food that has been
prepared all night long, playing games, and even trying to throw a tika (spear) which is not supposed to fly through the air but skid along the ground (it's not easy!).
One of the ladies fas a fire going and water boiling in a very old cast-iron pot that belonged to her great-grreat-grandmother that is only used for cooking uga. Uga is the coconut crab, a gigantic crab that lives approximately 60-70 years. It tastes a little bit like lobster.
Around noon we decide to explore the differernt sea tracks that descend from the roadway to the water's edge. Each village and/or clan have their own access to the sea, but everybody can walk along them. In the NE of the island near Mutalau we follow one that comes upon the sea next to some caves where there are some small outrigger canoes and fishing gear stored. 30 m below the sea is churning white against the rock - definitely only a calm weather access!
Further along in the NW corner of the island we stop at Matapa chasm which is a very narrow crack in the limestone cliff with a very small outlet to the sea filled with cristal clear water, visibility appr. 100 m down to the bottom.
Niue has no rivers because the frequent rain seeps right through the porous coral stone into the ground. That's why the saes around the island are cristal clear, among the clearest in the world. We are moored in about 17 m of water and you can see the bottom without any problem.
Exploring more of the sea tracks down the western shore everyone of them is different. Some lead down to little coves surrounded by coral islands, others to tiny open beaches, one even passing through a cave full of stalactites before emerging at the water's edge.
Passing through Alofi to rehydrate - as Keith woud say -we ask directions to the Oasis.
We drive to the SE corner of the island to a place called Togo, where we park the car and walk hike a mile through the rainforest until we emerge in a moonscape of coral pinnacles shaped by the spray of the waves that have been crashing against the coast for thousands of years.
Winding our way along the narrow path between the cracks and crevices of the coral pinnacles we come to a deep chasm at the bottom of which we can make out a coconut grove. We climb down a 20 m vertical ladder to the bottom of the chasm and find ourselves in the Oasis, a sandy patch with 20 or 30 coconut trees completely surrounded by high steep cliffs. An enchanting site!
On our way back we stop at the Matavai Resort and after enjoying a sundowner on the pool terrace overlooking the Pacific and watching the sun set we have a buffet "all you can eat"
with a group of other yachties.
The next day we stay on the boat all day, cleaning out the gasoil tank and chilling out.
CHAP XXXIV. Tonga
T O N G A
18º 39'37 S 173º59'02 W
On Saturday, August 25, after saying good-bye to all our friends we head out to sea in the direction of of Vava'u, Tonga, which lies approximately 250 nautical miles WNW of Niue. It should take only two days, but in reality it takes three because Sunday at noon we cross the international dateline and Sunday turns into Monday - we are a day younger! At sunrise on Tuesday morning we can see the island group of Vava'u and work our way into the 6-mile fjord-like entrance to the Port of Refuge and Nei'afu, the capital of the Vava'u group. By 11.30 we are tied up at the Customs dock.
The Customs dock is crowded with boats. We pull up close to the dock and back in within minutes to the amazement of the Customs/ Immigration/ Agriculture and Health officers that are standing on quai watching us. They say that they have never seen anybody tying up that easily before. The American boat before us took about 6 hours to get alongside. It makes us wonder how they got this far. Boarding the boat the officers sit down and we carry on a conversation for a couple of hours. And as we are filling out forms they are ever so relaxed and comfortable that they don't seem to want to leave. It is getting close to lunchtime, so we say our good-byes and move further into the bay to pick up a mooring buoy in front of the Yacht Club.
Tonga (appr. 100.000 inhabitants) comprises four archipelagos with 170 islands (only 36 inhabited). It is a constitutional monarchy where the king has absolute power. Being the first country west of the dateline,Tongans call their country "the place where time begins". The Vava'u group is considered to be Tonga's sailing centre and a focal point for Pacific cruisers with its beautiful clusters of waterways and pristine sparcely inhabited islets at the center of which lies the huge landlocked harbor of Nei'afu. Tonga is located at the edge of a chain of South Pacific volcanoes along an oceanic valley known as the Tongan Trench, the 2nd deepest ocean trench in the world, down to 10.000 meters deep.
Tonga is also the place where Captain Bligh was set adrift after the mutiny of the Bounty.
We wake up in the middle of the first night in Nei'afu wondering where we are and if we are still on the boat, because the boat is as motionless as a house, the only movement is when a fish jumps out of the water, Last time we had such a calm night was on Lake Gatún in the Panama Canal area. There are about 100 yachts in the bay and still enough room for all the rest of cruising boats all over the Pacific. It is such a protected and quiet spot that many cruisers upon arriving decide they don't want to move anymore and stay here over the cyclone season.
Nei'afu is a small town overlooking the harbor. It has a quaint waterfront with restaurants, bars, cafés and shops It was a whaling port until 1978 when the king declared a moratorium on whaling in Tonga waters. Now several operators take tourists on wahlewatching tours instead between June and November during the migration of the humpback whales - an important business for the local economy, surely better than killing whales but nevertheless molesting them a lot and not approved by everybody.
In the morning we are met by a "boat boy" (appr. 60 years old) offering trinkets, bread, fish, lobsters, flags and teaching us the first words of the Tongan language. We decide to go to his
"Tongan Feast" which turns out to be a dinner for the two of us sitting on mats on the floor of his house. It is not quite what we expected and what he promised, but we will never forget it...
We got to picturesque Utukalongalu Market near the waterfront, a farmers' and handicraft market where the produce is displayed in palmfrond baskets and on banana leaves - many kinds of root vegetables (taro, maniok, yams, sweet potatoes, ufi), assorted greens, pumpkins, pineapples, papayas and all kinds of bananas.Many men are wearing tupenus (wrap-around skirts) and both men and women are donning ta'ovalas around their waists and on top of their other clothes- mats made of woven pandanus leaves, a formal dress equivalent of tie and coat. Many women are also wearing kiekies over their long skirts as an alternative - waist bands from which hang strands of woven fibers, cloth or seeds and shells.
The handicraft at the market consists of woven mats,bags, baskets, fans, handcarved bones and shells, enormous sculptures of whales and dolphins and tapa cloth made out of tree bark.
After the market, walking up into town, we stop by the post office to buy some stamps for our stamp collection. We are surprised at the amount and the size of the stamps, some of them being
so huge that if placed on a post card you would barely have room for the address.
Walking along one of the few streets we pass a school just as the children are emerging, all dressed in their uniforms, the boys wearing bright blue ta'ovalas and the girls all in blue
dresses. The mothers waiting on the street for the children seem to be dressed in their Sunday best.
Further through the town we pass supermarkets and hardware stores in buildings that seem to come out of the wild west, with many men sitting around in the shade seemingly with nothing to do.
The rreason for this, we find out later, might be their Kava drinking. Kava is the national drink made from the stems and roots of the kava bush ground up into fine powder and mixed with water. There's nothing like the first spicy slurps of kava from a coconut shell -your tongue and lips feel numb, the body relaxes and your mind feels hazy and lazy. Drinking kava
is extremely popular especially among men, kava parties usually go on until the wee hours of the morning. No wonder they all sit around in the shade with glassy-eyed looks.
At the duty-free shop we find another stupefied kava-drinking salesman that falls asleep while giving us back our change so that we have to take it out of his hand ourselves. He doesn't even notice.
In order to find a rental car place we stop at the tourist office where the lady calls the rental firm asking where it is and finding out that it is right across the street. At the rental firm, asking
for a car, they tell us, Yes, they have cars, but we cannot rent one because they are all booked out for at least three weeks. Not knowing what to do we stop at a taxi stand and the taxi cab driver says, No problem, take my taxi. So we end up driving a taxi all around the island without the driver and along the way people hail us and we have to stop and tell them, We are sorry, we are not taxi drivers.
WE drive along all the roads of rugged Vava'u island (all of them paved five years ago with aid from the European Union), passing through little villages, plantations of taro, coconut and kava,
across causeways conncting some of the adjoining islands, the only real hazard being hundreds of happy pigs roaming wild everywhere and enjoying wallowing in the mud flats at low tide. Most
people don't have pet dogs, they have pet pigs. They have names and come running when they call them.As the weather has been very unstable (stable rain!) we have not been budging from our mooring at Nei'afu. There are many beautiful anchorages in the vicinity, but we are so comfortable where we are at that we are slowly getting port rot.
On one Saturday we go to a real Tongan Feast at Ano Beach. A real joy! Music, dancing and a meal cooked in an umu (underground earth oven), served on a banana leaf table cloth, plates made from banana stalks and bowls made from coconut shells and papaya halves. The tasty morsels are wrapped in banana leaves, even baked apples.
One day we take a tour of the Botanical Garden at 'Ene'io Beach, owned and run by Lucy and Haniteli. Haniteli was the director of agriculure and fisheries of Tonga for 38 years, started planting the garden 30 years ago and can be very proud of what he has achieved. He has planted 500 different species, some indigenous plants almost extinct on the island, others that he is trying to adapt to Vava'u, all grown organically in a beautiful setting on a hillside overlooking a pretty bay. After a very interesting 2-hour walk explaining to us the qualities of the different plants
Haniteli takes us to his visitors' center where his helpers demonstrate the processing of the raw materials into products of daily life:preparing the kava,making noni juice,weaving mats from
pandanus leaves, making baskets from coconut fronds, making coconut milk (grating the coconut, adding water, wringing it with coconut husks to strain it), making tapa cloth (peeling the bark
of the mulberry tree, separating the inner bark from the outer one,putting it into the sea for bleaching,pounding it with a mallet into cloth). A more well-informed tour we have never had!
And at the conclusion of the tour we have Lucy's wonderful meal of fish and chips!
In general we have found Tongans to be very welcoming, gentle and fun-loving people. Familiy and community are of utmost importance for them. They are also very well educated and polite. Personal dignity and respect are more valued than wealth. They are also very religious people, each village having 3 or 4 churches, Nei'afu a lot more. The church bells start ringing at 5:30 every morning, singing at 6. Sundays are sacred - no work, no fishing, no noise, just church and food (onlybakeries are open). There is a very low crime rate and no begging, we feel competely safe and at ease here!
F I J I
S A V U S A V U , V A N U A L E V U
16º 46.71' S 179º19.79' E
On Wednesday, September 19, early in the morning, we set off into the deep blue again under full sail in the direction of Vanua Levu, the northernmost island in the Fiji group, 420 miles away. The first 24 hours we have a phantastic sail, but then the wind drops to absolutely nothing, the sea turns flat as a mirror and we have to motor, seemingly the only beings on the Pacific. Every now and then there is a puff of wind, but not even long enough to figure out which direction it is blowing from. Such a flat calm we haven't had for a long time. 60 hours later we pass the tiny atoll of Wailagilailai. Farther away we can make out the other islands of the northern Lau group. We would love to go there, but we are not allowed to do so, as we have to get a cruising permit from Suva first. As always, thinking what a fine peaceful passage we have had so far, 40 to 50 miles from port mother nature does her thing and sends a black frightening squall down from the mountains of Taveuni, the neighboring island of Vanua Levu. The wind picks up to about force 6, the lightning flashing all around us. Luckily we got the jib, main and stay sails down just before it hits us and we rocket along the Taveuni coast. Once around the southern tip of the island the wind dies out to nothing again.
Shortly after midnight we are approaching the 180th meridian. We watch the GPS going from 179º59.99'W to 180º00.00' and back to 179º59.99'E. We enter the eastern hemisphere and are now on our way back home! We continue along the southern coast of Vanua Levu and then enter Savusavu Bay, one of the most spectacular bays of the Pacific that we have been in.
Approaching upon the harbor area we radio Mike at the Waitui Marina and he is waiting to help us at a mooring buoy and giving us lots of information, explaining the ins and outs and
contacting Health, Customs, Immigration and Agriculture. Unfortunately we arrive on a Sunday and have to pay overtime fees. Usually during weekly office hours there is no charge. Once all is
cleared we paddle ashore and have a fantastic chow mein at the Waitui Marina, cooked by a very friendly Fijian-Indian chef. For two enormous plates of chow mein we have to pay the enormous sum of approximately 5 US$ and for the Fiji Bitter in half litre bottles 2 US$. Considering the price of cooking gas, the water for washing up and the time involved for cooking on board it's actually cheaper to eat ashore.
Sitting at our table dockside is Joe, the chief of the village, and his good Indian buddy, Daniel Welcome. They keep pouring us glasses of beer and tell us it's very impolite in Fiji to say
no when somebody offers you something. So the beer keeps flowing until we end up staggering to the dinghy and paddling in circles back to the boat... Daniel has even invited us to go boar hunting with spears and dogs up in the bush. And not being able to say no we'll see what will happen.
Early the next morning we are visited by Kosi, the main helper at the marina who tells us to turn on the radio to listen to the cruisers' net where we hear all the information about what's
happening in and around town. Afterwards we go ashore to explore the town which is basically a one-street town along the harbor, about one kilometer long and full of shops, restaurants and
services of all kind.
The people in Fiji are a mixture of Melanesians and Indian origin with completely different features from all the other Pacific islanders so far, the Melanesians with dark skin and curly hair, and
the Indians a little less dark and with straight hair. Indians began arriving in Fiji in the late 19th century to work for the British in cane fields and sugar mills. Around 1919 this immigration stopped. Nowadays a little more than half the population is of Indian origin, with a big number of them in businesses and professions. In many places Fijians and Indo-Fijians coexist peacefully together, but there are cultural and racial conflicts between the two groups, and there is a fear of Indian domination to be found among Fijians. There is nothing to be felt of this conflict around here, though. Everything is peaceful, and the mixture of laid-back Melanesians and energetic Indians creates a very special atmosphere.
Back on the boat we are visited by Don Cameron, another schooner captain. Don has travelled the whole world as captain on many different vessels and is now living on his schooner
Scotsman anchored on the other side of the bay. He has been living in Fijian waters on and off for 3 years now. After a very friedly chat we find out that we have a common friend, Peter
Nelson, whom we befriended in Rarotonga. They actually sailed together in the good old days! Schooner sailors are in a small world of their own.
We have been invited by Ula of the handicraft center in town to visit her village. So we take the bus there. It doesn't have any windows but canvas roll-down sides in case of rain. The bus takes
us through lush countryside over the hill to the southern side of the peninsula, passing beautiful views of the sea to the little village of Nukubalavu. On the bus a young man by the name of Wais asks us where we are going. We tell him to the handicraft fair of the village, and he tells us that we have already arrived, and so we get off the bus.
As we are a bit early he invites us to his house to meet his grandparents and then takes us for a stroll through the village and then down to the beach. The village consists of 65 colorful
houses, all nestled together in kind of a beautiful park and amidst flowers. There is wash hanging on lines, there are no streets, just pathways, no cars or scooters, no TVs or any other
of what we think as normal daily life appliances.
After walking along the endlessly long and empty beach lined with coconut palms and full of all kinds of interesting sea shells, Wais tells us that he has to get ready for the craft fair because
he is one of the dancers that put on a show. The villagers are building a church and a kindergarten and try to make some money by organizing this show once a week for some resort guests.
Upon arrival of the guests the kava ceremony begins. First one guest presents a bundle of kava root stems to the chief of the village. Then everybody sits down cross-legged on woven mats around the kava bowl (tanoa). The kava stems are pounded into powder which is then wrapped in a fine cloth, put in the big tanoa and water added while the chief gives a speech of welcome and thank you and blessings to the visitors and villagers. Once the kava is thoroughly mixed by kneading the kava cloth, soaking it and wringing it out time and again, it is constantly stirred with a coconut bowl.
All of a sudden appears a young good-looking warrior dressed in a grass-skirt (liku), grass-armlets and anklets (vesu) and grass-necklace (salusalu), half his face painted black and with streaks of black paint on his chest. Might that be Wais?! He starts off the drinking ritual, first clapping his hands once, then drinking a coconut shell full of kava and then all clapping their hands three
times, shouting maca (it is drained). Thus he first presents the "elders" of the visitors a bowl of kava, they following the ritual clapping their hands once, emptying the bowl and then clapping
three times saying maca. Slowly the bowl goes around to all the guests. some making incredible faces after the first taste, others lining up for more, everybody enjoying the ceremony.
Then the dancing begins, first the ladies dressed in their finery with salusalus around their necks and then a group of fierce-looking warriors in warpaint and grass-skirts and with long spears.
At the pointed end of these spears are red bands which look like hairbands. Upon asking what their significance is Wais tells us that having killed an enemy they would cut the mouth off his face
and put it over the end of the spear as a trophy.The Fijis have a long history of cannibalism, at least 2000 years, until the middle of the 19th century. Upon asking Wais what was the best part to eat, after thinking a little bit he says, The heart when it's still warm...We thought maybe the ears because they may be crispy...
After the resort guests have left the villagers invite us to stay until the last bus of the day. Sitting amongst them we listen to the village council where everybody has the opportunity to voice
their minds and where the decisions of the village are made. Finally they come to an agreement of how the money they made today is going to be spent,and clap their hands. Then the ladies roll up the mats they were sitting on and the men prepare more kava (whow! this is the real stuff now, the other seemed to be watered down), passing tobacco around, singing songs and thoroughly enjoying the conversation.
One of the elders turns to us and says, You are nice persons, you want a piece of land to build on, I give you a nice piece of land! After telling him that we are still on our trip around the world he says, That's OK, when you are finished, you come back and I give you a piece of land! After two hours of enjoying the hospitality we hear the last bus arriving at the entrance of the
village. They sing us a farewell song, wishing us a fair voyage, asking us not to forget their village and to come back. We say our good-byes and how sorry we are to leave, telling them that
this is the nicest village that we have been in so far on our trip around the world.
After some days of torrential downpour and kind of being stuck on the boat we go to church on Sunday morning to pray for the rain to stop and to listen to the phantastic harmonizing of the
Methodist choir. The congregation makes us feel very welcome and they are happy that we have come to their service.And what happens? The rain stops for the day!
On Monday morning we go back to our adopted village,Nukubalavu, for a lovo (earth oven) feast in celebration of the village's saint's day, Saint Theresa. Being a village holiday all the families of the village are present, we being the only outsiders to be invited.
Sitting in the shade of the mango trees alongside a babbling creek chatting with the locals, we watch how the lovo pit is uncovered by peeling the steamy banana leaves off revealing the mountains of well-cooked breadfruit and taro roots. The biggest and nicest taro root is put on a leaf and carried to the chief's house, and afterwards we are also offered a tasty hot taro root on a leaf.
The rest of the food is being cooked by the women in their ovens at home.As is custom in Fiji there is a kava ceremony before the meal with all the men (and Barbara as a guest)
sitting around the bowl drinking coconut shells of kava for a couple of hours. In the meantime the women prepare plates of food and the "table" settings which consist of mats on the floor and a long cloth down the middle for the plates that are put in two long rows inside the village hall. Here the men have their food, whereas the women sit around in little groups at the other end of the hall near the kitchen area.
On each plate there is a whole crab, a whole fish, a chicken curry, octopus, taro, breadfruit slices and other vegetables. Not being accustomed to sitting cross-legged, eating with your fingers off the plate on the floor, it is difficult not to make a mess, but nobody seems to mind. In Fiji it is bad manners to lick your fingers and no napkins being used nobody seems to mind if you just get up every now and then and go out the back and wash your hands under the faucet.
After eating it is back to the kava bowl for a few cupfuls before we make our way back to the boat. We are waitig for the bus which is late in coming, and luckily a taxi arrives with some villagers, and as the taxi driver has to drive back to town anyway he only charges us 65 cents for a 6$ ride.
The next morning we try to escape the rain in Savusavu, so we rent a car and drive to the north side of the island where we find sunshine. The high mountains on the island of Vanua Levu block the easterly tradewinds, causing frequent showers on the east and southeast coast, whereas once you cross the mountain range it is relatively dry.
Driving through the lush dense rainforest up the steep mountains we come to the upper plateau with plantation pine trees which are mostly harvested to make chip board,many of the indigenous hardwood forests having been cut down by the British.
Coming down on the other side we enter the sugarcane region around the town of Labasa. Fiji's second largest sugar mill is located here.The harvesting season is between September and November and there is a line of hundreds of trucks waiting in line to have their loads weighed and then dumped at the mill. Upon asking one of the drivers how long he has been waiting he says, Oh, about 8 hours, but no problem, he still has one more load to do today. At 10 Fiji dollars a ton of cane it makes you wonder if anybody is making any money. Upon further inquiries we are told that the sugar industry hasn't made profit in the last 20 years, but nobody seems to mind much. Labasa town itself has the appearance of a town anywhere in India, with Hindu temples and little mosks, Indian writing on signs, women clad in saris with red bindhu on their foreheads, Indian pop music. After having a hot lunch at a Hare Krishna restaurant we head back to Savusavu. At the top of the mountain at the look-out we have a phantastic view of a solid white rain-cloud and nothing else.
On Thursday we first take a 2 and a half-hour busride to Buca Bay in the southeast of the island and then catch a ferry for a 2-hour ride to Taveuni, one of the larger islands of the Fiji group. The Fijians call Taveuni the garden island. We check in at the First Light Inn which is quite a pleasant place right on the water's edge with a view across the Somosomo Strait to Vanua Levu. Downstairs in the same complex we are told there is a restaurant where we can have lunch. Upon asking what they have, there are basically four choices: a half a chicken about the size of a pigeon, a mutton curry, something else we can't figure out what it is and the fourth dish "meat bones" which has quite an interesting aspect to it. It looks like sawed up thigh bones. Barbara being a vegetarian asks the lady if she can have a vegetarian dish, and the waitress is giving her a funny smile and says, No problem, she can make a stirfried rice with vegetables.
This rice then consists of a lot of rice and 8 peas and 7 kernels of corn. Not one of the better meals we have had. Upon leaving the restaurant we realize that the name of the place is "The Cannibal Café". (Where do these meat bones come from? The hotel seems to be full every night, but in the morning there are always vacancies... Only joking!) One of the reasons for us to go to Taveuni was to see the 180th meridian line. We can't find any line on the ground, but there is a nice sign and a pretty little church across a rugby field which we are told is the only church on the 180th meridian. Walking down the main road we come to the Catholic Mission, built in 1907 by French missionaries on a hill above Wairiki. According to our somewhat unreliable guidebook there should be a painting of the famous battle that took place in the Somosomo Strait between Tongans and Fijians in the mid-17th century. Eventually we find it, but it is a poor work of art and not even correct in its presentation of the battle.
The next morning we have organized a taxi to take us to Bouma National Park and the village of Lavena on the east coast. But to our disappointment the rain gets heavieer and heavier, causing flooding and almost unpassable mud until we get to a spot on the road where the river has risen almost a meter over the bridge not allowing the van to go any further. So we turn around and ask the driver if he knows of any other sites we can see and he takes us to the Waitavala waterslide, a cascade over flat rock shoots which in good weather you can jump in and slide down. But because of all the rain it doesn't seem very advisable.
Not being able to do much more because of the weather, Patrick, our driver, takes us to the Taveuni Estates' Club House where we enjoy a very good pizza (no cannibals here!) cooked in a wood-burning oven. Because of the unrelenting downpour we go back to the hotel where we end up watching three James Bond movies on the boob tube. The next morning, looking across the strait in the pouring rain, we see that Vanua Levu is cloudless and sunny and we decide to cut our stay short and take the ferry back. How nice to be back on the boat!
XXXVI. Koro / Makogai / Ovalau (Levuka)
K O R O
17º 14.43' S 179º 25.66' E
After 17 days, in ordeer to avoid "harbor rot", we decide it's time to move on in our journey. We say good-bye to all our new friends, except one, Wais, whom we take on board as crew member to sail through the islands to meet his parents in Kadavu.
Leaving Savusavu for Koro a little late because of all the formalities we sail 5 miles down the coast the bay and anchor just inside the entrance, off of the Cousteau Resort, a beautifully situated gourmet hotel, owned by Michel Cousteau from the famous oceanographer family. Sitting in the cockpit looking back in the bay towards town we see that it's pouring down rain, whereas here the sea breeze blows across the low peninsula keeping the rain clouds away. The shore is lined with neat houses and gardens nesting in the rainforest of the hills.
After a very pleasant and quiet night we make an earlystart and head for Koro. By 14 o'clock we drop anchor just west of the northeastern coral reef point, 300 m off a white sandy beach and the village of Nacamaki. The three of us go ashore taking a sevusevu (gift for the chief). Inquiring the whereabouts of the chief's house a young man from the village escorts us to a bright yellow clapboard house where the chief appears before us with a bright floral shirt and sulu (wrap-around), sitting on a brightly flora-patterned floor, leaning against his floral patterned couch - sometimes it isw hard to see the man between the flowers. We would have loved to take a picture, but like so may times, some of the best shots you miss because of respect for the people.
After a welcoming speech, inviting us into the village and allowing us to pick fruit and wander about where we like, we walk the idyllic village for an hour and then head back to the boat before low tide or else we wouldn't get the dinghy off the beach over the coral rim.
Going ashore early the next morning we take a walk along the roadway down the east coast through the rainforest and taro fields to the main village of Koro to buy some food (Nacamaki doesn't have much of a store). Five miles on we come to the village of Delaidokidoki. Along the way we meet a fellow, Beni, who wants to walk with us just for the fun of it. It is very hot, and he tells us that he would organize a car to drive us back to our village.
We go uphill to the post office to wait for the car to show up. We can buy cigarettes there but nothing to drink. Asking a man outside where we can get some fresh fish he takes us back down to the center of the village where we find some delicious red snapper (the fish they catch around here gets shipped to Australia and New Zealand). Then asking for fresh bread we are told we have to go a steep pathway further down to another little village at the water's edge to buy it. Then back up again to the post office where we hope the car will be waiting but isn't there yet.
We ask the man in the post office where we can get a cold drink and he tells us just down the hill passed the house where you bought the fish there is a place where they sell fresh fruit juices and
icecream. So back down the hill we go and find that the place is closed. But a kind lady tells us, Oh, just down the other hill there is a store where you can buy cold drinks. Wais offering to get
them disappears down the hill as we trudge our way back uphill towards the post office to meet the car. 20 minutes later Wais appears after a ramble up and down a few of the other hills with some sticky orange soft drink, the only thing they have, but at least it's cold.
Finally after a couple of hours (we are on Fiji time) our taxi arrives, a pick-up truck, which drives us back to Nacamaki. On the way Beni tells us the story about the turtle, which is the sacred animal of the village. The chief always put a bowl of kava on the beach to welcome turtles ashore. But one night a turtle came ashore and found the bowl empty. So he hid in the grass until the next day. After the chief appeared to refill the bowl of kava, from his hiding spot the turtle saw a man approaching and drinking the kava. The turtle jumped out of the grass surprising the man and told him he would turn him into a tree. Nacamaki is the only village where turtle trees grow, nowhere else in the world. The fruit of these trees is a nut which has the shape of a turtle.
It's a Fijian custom that each village has a sacred animal and a nice story to go with it. And rowing back to the boat, what do we see? A huge turtle swimming around the boat!
In the afternoon, back ashore, we meet Keni on whose porch we sit down in the shade and start drinking kava. We tell him about the turtle and he says, Oh, they are always there beca
use the people of thisvillage don't hunt and eat them as they are sacred.
As the sun is going down we move from the porch to the village green where we sit upon finely woven mats and drink more kava. Well after dark we move into the village hall, sit on mats on the floor and drink more kava with the rest of the elders of the village. Outside we hear the rythmic clinking beat of the kava being pounded in a huge metal can with a heavy metal bar, accompanied by guitars, ukuleles and singing inside. Many bowls later we wander (wander?...)our way back to the dinghy to get off shore before low tide.
The next morning Wais and Skip go ashore on a gathering mission. After walking along the beach finding some beautiful shells, Wais picks a coconut palm. He makes a sling from his shirt and ties it between his feet as a brace and up he goes! Thirty meters up Wais breaks loose a coconut and calls, Here, catch!, but then drops it on a rock where it splatters open. There is no way you can catch one of theose things! To keep the coconuts from breaking Wais drops them into the bushes near the foot of the palmtree, the small branches cushioning the impact.
After about 15 coconuts hit the ground Wais scampers down the tree again, cuts a couple of nuts open and we have a nice cool drink. The rest of the nuts he cuts off the outer green shell, leaving only the small inner nut which is a lot easier to carry.
A lady strolling through the underbrush tells us that if we want some oranges (that's what they call lemons here), just a little deeper into the bush there are some wild ornage trees. So off we go looking and comeupon some pigs and piglets, all kinds of birds flying around and eventually find the orange tree. In Fiji it would be hard to go hungry, practically everything you need is growing in the rainforest.
M A K O G A I
17º 26.53' S 178º 57.16' E
After stocking up on coconuts, breadfruit, bananas, oranges and papayas we up anchor and sail 39 miles to Makogai the next day. SAiling in Fijian waters is a very tricky business with many coral reefs far offshore, with very narrow passages between. The entrance into Makogai lagoon is approximately 40 m wide and 4 miles offshore. After winding our way in,
following some waypoints on the chart, we anchor in a little picturesque bay where there is a giant clam nursery and the remains of the former leper colony. From 1916 until 1968 Makogai was the leper island for all the Pacific area. There were over 5000 lepers being taken care of by French nuns. What remains now are wooden houses in pretty good shape considering they are over 90 years old and many bare foundations where the houses have been dismantled and rebuilt in other places.
There are only two villages on the island, the one we are in and the other one on the south point. So the next morning we walk down a path which used to be a well-built roadway, now overgrown again by the jungle. Along the way we pass another site where the Indian lepers lived. Finally we cross a rise in the hills and descend into the quaint little village on the south side. Altogether there are 80 people living on the island today. On the way back we stop along the shore where wais climbs another palmtree, and we have cool drinks of coconut water. It's amazing how cool the water stays in a coconut! When we stop walking millions of mosquitos find us right away, especially Barbara because she is so sweet. So the best thing is to keep moving on our way back to the boat. After a quiet night in the lakelike anchorage we head out through the lagoon, out the pass and sail south towards the island of Ovalau to the town of Levuka which is now a world heritage historical site. At 14 o'clock on Thursday, Oct 16, we anchor just off Beach Street, Levuka.
O V A L A U ( L E V U K A )
17º 40.98' S 178º 50.17 E
Almost all the buildings in Levuka are from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Before becoming British many whalers, sailors and traders came here, trading mostly with sea cucumbers, turtle shells and copra. After Chief Cakobau's cession of Fiji to BRitain in 1874, many European settlers arrived to found plantations, establishments and trading firms. 3000 Europeans lived here, then the capital of Fiji. The town boasted with having 52 hotels. But after Suva became the capital instead in 1882 (Levuka just didn't have enough space) and the coprah market collapsed, Levuka's boom era already began to decline.
Now what is left are various original religious and community buildings and mostly wooden clapboard houses resembling something out of a country western movie. Levuka appears like frozen in time. Morris Hedstrom, the first trading store in Fiji, has been turned into a musem and librrary while across the street they have a new supermarket. Along Beach Street which is the main drag along the waterfront are many trading store full of different patterned materials, hardware goods, canned goods, fresh vegetables, merry Christmas signs hanging from the ceiling, practically everything you can think of on warbed shelves from floor to ceiling.
One of the few places left to get a drink (which in the olden days were many!) is the Ovalau Club. A sign outside says, Members only, but guests welcome. Inside the colonial style building the lounge has a blaring TV, in the middle there is a bar and in the back a giant snooker table with some of the locals having a wild game, between shots wardancing around the table, carrying their queues as spears, hooting and howling as if on the warpath. They should have some Fijians play in the world snooker matches just to make it a little more exciting! Whow, what a show!
Back on Beach Street we love to have dinner at Kim's Paak Kum Loong. The buffet once a week is out of this world, at a very reasonable price. With approximately 30 dishes, all cooked with loving care, this is one of the best restaurants in the Pacific that we have been in! Along the waterfront are ladies sitting under the trees selling produce, shoebox preachers screaming the
word of the lord and singing and dancing; school children playing cards. The fishmonger is sound asleep over the countertop of his little store, a lady comes in and beats on the table, he wakes up and furiously runs after her, threatening her. We want to make an excursion and hire Moon and his fourwheel car to drive us around the island and to Lovoni, the village in the middle of the extinct crater. Practically every turn in the road has a scenic view of the green rainforest, coconut palms and the blue sea and distant islands in the background. Ovalau is a very pretty and interesting island.
K A D A V U
19º 02.84' S 178º 09.45' E
After being locked in the harbor for three days because of strong SE winds (the first direction we have to go) the wind shifts to the NE sending big waves into the harbor, so we decide it's
time to leave. It's Tuesday, Oct. 23. At four in the afternoon we up anchor sand battle our way out through the pass where there are huge tidal waves. We ahve to tack our way out, even under motor. Once outside the pass, we ease off the sheets and head in a SE direction to avoid the reef off the southeastern end of Viti Levu, the main island.
After a pleasant night's sail eearly in the morning at 5 o'clock we find ourselves abeam the ffamous Astrolabe Reef lighthouse. Carrying down the coast we enter the pass to Vunisea which
starts five miles off shore and winds its way through the reef and coral heads. The markings on the navigation poles could practically mean anything, so basically it is zigzagging from one pole to the next, but not getting tto close, just in case... After an anxious hour we finally drop anchor in a sandy basinjust off the town dock of Vunisea, Kadavu's main settlement.
Wais tells us that the main means of transport on Kadavu are the small run-abouts that the locals use to go out around the points into the next bay to the villages there. There are almost no roads
on the island, and those that are there are in pretty bad shape, unsealed and often impassable.
The next morning we organize a ride with a young man who takes us around the southern point to the village of Tavuki where Wais' mother lives. Unfortunately it's the wrong time of day, there
being only two times here, and that is low tide and high tide. Arriving at low tide we have to walk about half a mile through the mud flats to get to the village dock. Walking over the mud flats
is not a nice thing to do, especially barefoot and if you look down at what you are walking on.
There are lots of coiled up snakes in the mud (Wais says those are harmless, even if you step on them...) and sometimes the extremely venenous striped ones in small puddles (they don't seem to find too many victims, though; their mouths being very small...). After a pleasant visit with Wais' mother, stepfather and brother we take a stroll through the village down the beach to the school where Wais says hallo to his sister. Wais will stay in the village over night, so we find our boatman to ride back to Vunisea, first taking a detour up a river through tunnel-like mangroves where Anaconda was filmed. (Are there really anacondas? We don't see any big snakes.)
The town of Vunisea sits on a hill which is actually an isthmus: on the northside the bay we are anchored in and on the southside Soso-lagoon that opens up along the outer reef. From there we
take a boat to the island of Galoa another day. Going ashore we have to walk through the mud flat again. Once in the village we meet the chief and the elders and sit down and enjoy several bowls of the kava that we have brought with us as a sevusevu. In this village, instead of using a cloth to squeeze the kava out, they use a bundle of fibres from the tree hibiscus. This they employ as a fine cone that they scrape along the bottom of the bowl, the liquid going through, but the kava particles sticking to the grass. This they repeatedly shake out onto an aluminum foil so it can be used again. They repeat the process over and over until there is no grit left in the kava. This one tastes really good!
The village itself is very picturesque with an inner little harbor that fills with water at high tide, the village sloping up along a creek through a narrow valley nestling between the hills, a very cosy place. Here in the middle of nowhere the town has ditches dug everywhere in order to lay underground electric wiring to each house. Just over the hill there is a camping spot where the villagers wish more campers would come. If you want to go camping in a wonderful exotic environment , this is the place to be!
On late Saturday afternoon Wais' siblings come on board to have a look at the yacht,they have never been on one before. After many oohs! and ahs! they invite us for Sunday lunch at their house on the hill overlooking both bays, a phantastic site! Wais has quite an extended family, because his father and mother married a second time, so that now he feels like he has two
mothers, two fathers, and 6 brothers and sisters. He feels at home everywhere.
The next noon, walking up to his real fathers house, we meet Wais on the roadway and he says it would be nice if we brought some icecream for desert. So I give him the money and he runs
down the hill to buy some. At his housse we are treated to a wonderful meal, first us sitting down and eating with Wais while two of his sisters are chasing away the flies with dishtowels.
When we have our full, the mother and children sit down for their share, the father having eaten before and watching Gulong, the popular Philipine soap opera on TV. It's a different custom
not to eat together. There seems to be a strict hierarchy in the family. For desert out comes the icecream, a green, pink and orange swirled peppermint sweet,the only one available in the village, kind of hard to eat.
After saying our good-byes we roll down the hill, board Ragnar and get ready to leave for Suva.Leaving at 4 o'clock in the afternoon we have just enough time to clear the reefs before it
gets dark. Through the night the wind is gusting from the SE, sometimes 10 knots, sometimes 35 knots, it's cold and rainy. At 7 the next morning we enter the pass between the reefs into
Suva Bay and anchor off the Royal Suva Yacht Club.
CHAP XXXVIII. Suva
S U V A
18º 07.37' S 178º 25.48 E
Arriving in Suva our expectations are not very high because of all the bad things being said about the capital: garbage everywhere, a lot of crime, dirty and dangerous in the streets. We actually
find it quite pleasant! The only problem is that it rains almost all the time. So you have to judge your time moving around the town, either going early before the starts or late in the
afternoon after the showers.
We thoroughly enjoy the handicraft stalls and the market which we haven't seen the likes of since Cumaná in Venezuela. Hundreds of stands full with vegetables and fruit, crowds in the aisles,
wheelbarrow boys rolling by, a lot of nice actions. Along the thoroughfare in the centre of town there is a huge bus-stop, a taxi-stand, in-door and out-door markets, shoeshine stands and
cobblers, little stalls to eat all kinds of things - all packed within a few blocks. A really bustling town.
We take a cab-ride to the Fiji Museum which is located in Thurston Park, sadly gone to weed, to see the ffamous drua (huge catamaran) built in the last century and there exhibited.
Supposedly the Fijian people sailed as far a New Zealand and Hawaii in this vessel. Also exhibited is a beautiful bilibili (bamboo raft) that would be the envy of Tom Sawyer. It even
has a fireplace! Other exhibits from warclubs to wedding - dresses out of bark cloth make it a very interesting place.
Afterwards we drive to the University bookstore in the middle of the University of the South Pacific campus. We find the store in such chaos, A's next to F's and M's and W's upside down,
we can't find anything. We think we better wait for New Zealand to buy books. For Wais, our shipmate, it is time to go home. So we take him to the ferry and say sad farewells, "hopes to see each other again", and after many handshakes and good-byes he starts his voyage home to Savusavu. A great guy to have on board.
Because it is getting late in the year and close to the cyclone season we decide to leave for New Zealand on Monday, Nov 5. Monday around noon, after the morning rain squalls have gone by, we up anchor and lo and behold! -the anchor is stuck in a giant tyre! After knocking the muddy slime off of it we are abWednesday morning le to wrench the tyre from the anchor. Once free we set sail, sailing across the bay and out the pass.We turn on a broad reach towards the southwest, caning along about 6 or 7 knots.
All the weather gurus said that it was a good moment to go, with a big strong high over NZ, that we should have a southeasterly wind almost all the way,eventually turning to the SW near
The first two days are right on the mark, 156 and 154 miles. But then on Thursday the wind dies down, we turn on the motor, and all of a sudden there is a big crack - the stainless steel rod
connecting the throat of the gaff and the halyard broke in half! Down comes the gaff, leaving the block up at the top. The only way to retrieve is for Barbara to go up the mast, tie a line
onto the block and pull it back down again. No easy feat even in a marina. The next day our weather gurus end up being wrong: the wind comes out of the south, so we have it on the nose the next two days, it is a freezing cold southwind with heavy rain squalls, really nasty.
Monday morning comes with a steadily dropping barometer, the wind gets stronger and stronger until by noon it is blowing about 40 to 50 knots, so we decide to shorten sail. Just after
taking the jub down and getting it secure the boat dives into a trough, burying the bowsprit in a wave, and as the boat comes up again there is a crack like a cannon shot, the bowsprit
breaks off and is hanging in the water. Reacting quickly we get it alongside, tied up tight along the bulwark, all the cables, net and lines piled on the foredeck, everything tied down.
So we heave to for the night, tying the tiller and backing the main.We drift 8 miles north in approximately 12 hours.
The next mornimg the wind is coming lightly out of the SW, it's calm enough that we can clear up the foredeck, cut away the cables and net, tie up the Bobkin chain, straighten out as much as
we can, so we can get underway again.
Wednesday morning, the barometer still dropping, the wind still out of the SW and building, we know we are in for another rough day. By 112 o'clock it is blowing 50 knots, with enormous
waves breaking over the boat. We tie the tiller in the middle, have the staysail sheeted in really tight, the main staysail loosely sheeted, we hobbyhorse our way through the waves in the
In all my life-sailing I have never seen waves like that, short and steep and everyone breaking, slapping against the hull sending cascades of water over the boat.
Luckily these storms only last about 24 hours, and by 6 o'clock in the morning on Thursday the winds have dies down and the sea is becoming calmer. We end up motoring for the day in
the direction of NZ.
Friday morning at sunrise we can see the North Island, and by 12 o'clock we enter the Bay of Islands. By 4 o'clock in the afternoon we are snugly in our berth, after approximately 1520
miles, happy to be here and alive in Opua Marina.
CHAP IXL New Zealand (North Island)
(end of March 2008)
Opua 35º 16.47 S 174º 24.22 E
Auckland 36º 49.28 S 174º 45.82 E
After more than two years of sailing and keeping the website going for all these curious people we spent the last five months having a vacation from both in New Zealand, or Aotearoa - the Land of the Long White Cloud. We thought of letting some of the more than 1500 photos do the talking, but decided that we should mention a few more things.
As far as yachting is concerned, with Opua/ Whangarei and Auckland (the City of Sails), New Zealand is fabulous for boaties. From the amount of boats we see sailing through the harbors and along the coast there must be more boats than New Zealanders. Getting work done - no problem, everybody is willing to help or knows somebody to do what needs to be done.
Upon arriving in Opua in the Bay of Islands in the northeast of the North Island, while clearing in with Customs on board, the agricultural inspectors were approaching in a dinghy and we
overheard one officer say 'I bet you these people are beaners'.
After the Customs officers gave us our clearance it was the agricultural inspectors' turn to see what they could haul away.
In Fiji we got a list from NZ about the ship's stores that we could bring into the country. So we had given what was not allowed away. The first thing that one officer said was 'Where are the beans?'' Beans were not on the list, and our beans and proteine source (we don't carry meat) were all vacuum packed, but he said 'No, no beans allowed in this country!' Having about 50 kg of them on board we slowly worked our way through the ship's stores (beans being at the bottom). Peas were alright as long as they are split. As far as the beans were concerned Skip suggested to split them with a knife. The officers laughed and said 'No way! Your beans are coming with us!' and they headed off with three garbage bags full of our best
organic Japanese aduki beans and other legumes.
On shore we started asking around who could help us with our broken bowsprit. From three different solutions we finally settled on scarfing it together at Ashby's boatyard- which only took ten
days. Making ajustments to the bow anchor-rollers so we could carry our storm-anchor on the bow we got it all back together and sailed to Auckland for Christmas, looking forward to our daughters' and their friends' arrival.
After cozy Opua that only consists of several houses, a restaurant, a general store, the Marina and the boatyard, we then docked at Bayswater Marina just across the harbor from Auckland City centre, 10 minutes away by ferry.
Shortly after our arrival we had bought a second-hand Nissan van in Whangarei in an auto auction.
Later we found out that the best way to buy a car would have been to look on the bulletin boards of backpackers' hostels where you can get the best deals on used cars and campers from people leaving the country. Getting around New Zealand is almost impossible without your own car because everything is far in between.
Auckland is a fascinating city with about 1.3 million inhabitants, a little less than a third of New Zealand's population. It is the most multicultural centre of the country and the Capital of the South Pacific, with hundred thousands of Maoris, Asians and Polynesians and other people from all over the world. Our favorite question is 'Where are you from?' which always leads to an interesting conversation.
Auckland is vast, with lots of green interesting suburbs sprawling out from the nucleus. It touches the Pacific in the east and the Tasman Sea in the west. The city proper is built on 48 extinct
volcanoes, Mount Eden being the highest (196m), with superb views.
Bayswater is part of the North Shore, located between quaint Devonport, Takapuna with its bustling Sunday market and Glenfield with its industrial park where you can find absolutely
everything. In Devonport we even found a world famous paperweight artist, Peter Raos!
In the countryside around Auckland and all over the North Island there are many beautiful little villages tucked into rolling farmland and grazing pastures (NZ has 70 million sheep) or into
picturesque bays with miles and miles of beaches surrounded by forests.
Close to Auckland on the west coast at Pahia and Karekare the sand is so black that it burns your feet. It's comical to watch the people crossing the sand on their way to the sea. They
walk faster and faster, hop from one foot to the other, resting on their towels or hats until they reach the water's edge.
In the north, on 90-mile beach, the sand is white and floury. Driving on the beach is allowed (maximum speed is 100 km), but many cars that are not 4-wheel drive, get stuck in the sand,
hopefully above the high-tide mark, otherwise blup, blup... There are still some junglelike old forests in the north, though most are pine plantations.
The most impressive is Waipoua Kauri Forest near the west coast. Some of the kauri trees are 2000 years old, majestic awesome giants, comparable to the redwoods of northern California.
Coromandel Peninsula, across the Hauraki Gulf on Auckland's eastern side, is densely forested and mountainous with narrow and often unsealed roads winding along the dramatic coastline.
Many people from the big city have a bach (holiday home) there, some fly in with their own helicopter to enjoy sailing, surfing, fishing and walking. Hahei on the east coast is a
particularly charming spot with wonderful white-sand beach and the great Cathedral Cove with its gigantic limestone arch and Hot Water Beach nearby where you can dig a hole in the sand and
relax in your own natural spa.
South of Auckland around Rotorua is NZ's most dynamic thermal area with spurting geysers, steaming hot springs and exploding mud pools. The air is full of sulphur and has a rotten-egg
odour, but doesn't make taking a bath f.ex. in hot Kerosene Creek less enjoyable.
A little further south lies Taupo, on the northeast corner of Lake Taupo, a vast crater lake. From there you can see the snow-covered volcanic peaks of Tongariro National Park soaring almost
3000 m up from the plateau. We took a chairlift up to the top of one of the still active volcanoes, almost freezing our a......off, but the view was superb.
Napier on Hawkes Bay (southeast coast)is a sunny affluent city. Along Marine Parade there are beautiful parks and brilliantly restored timber houses which survived the terrible 1931
earthquake that demolished most of the old brick buildings. Napier was quickly reconstructed in the style of the time, ArtDeco, with its zigzags, geometric shapes, rising suns and pastel
colors. In Napier, accompanied by our friend Anita, we came across the best organic store and the best muffins ever.
Besides of being absolute coffee freaks New Zealanders cherish and are proud of all things classic. We have never seen so many classic bicycles, motorcycles and automobiles still on
the roads anywhere else. We even saw an immaculately conserved old gipsy-wagon. Not to mention all the museums with antique things like the Hyde Park Museum at Te Horo near
Wellington. If you have anything old in your garage send it here! The museum contains anything and everything.
Wellington at the south tip of the North Island is the capital of NZ. The city itself has only little more than a tenth of Auckland's population,but despite its diminutive size it
feels like the perfect capital city. It's compact and walkable and very scenic and enjoyable.
The city centre is Civic Square, a popular venue for outdoor events, full of interesting sculptures.
From there the striking City-to-Sea Bridge links downtown with the waterfront, an extraordinary and highly successful idea. The bridge is broad and decorated with timber sculptures of birds,
whales and celestial motifs -created by a wonderful Maori artist and in complete harmony with the Civic Centre's concrete/ metal and stone buldings and sculptures of architect Ian Athfield.
While Auckland is more important commercially, Wellington seems to be more the cultural city.
It hosts many art festivals, owns the stunning Te Papa Museum and has a buzzing art scene.
Along Queens Wharf and nearby Courtenay Place, Willis Street and Cuba Street is where the action is- eating, drinking, shopping. People in suits, working ties and sneakers, 1968
hippies in full beady dresses, peace signs and all - it's not only multicultural, it's multiaged. Looking down Cuba Street you can only guess what year it is.
Wellington is cramped for space: its many Victorian and Edwardian villas climb up steep hillsides, new houses sprawl into the valleys between the steep rugged hills.
Wellington is also called the windy city, renowned for the persistent chilly winds that whistle through the Cook Strait between North and South Island: you have a coffee in a hot
protected spot, bend around a corner and freeze to death...
CHAP XL New Zealand (South
After enjoying Wellington for some days we took the ferry to Picton at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound, one of the Marlborough Sounds at the northern tip of South Island.
Crossing the Cook Strait can be very rough because the wind funnels between the two islands creating huge seas, but once in the sound the waves died down and it was smooth sailing.
The sounds of the South Island are actually fiords created by retreating glaciers. They are very long and steep-sided, comparable to the ones in Norway, creating a maze of waterways.
On arrival in Picton all the hostels were full and we didn't feel like pitching our tent in the rain and cold, so we decided to drive on to Havelock, the 'green-lipped mussel
capital of the world', where we found a very cozy backpackers with a roaring fireplace in an old converted schoolhouse. Just right to get the chill out of our ones.
We had read in guidebooks that Nelson is one of the sunniest places in NZ, so we moved on to Nelson the next morning. If you take a look at the world map you can see that the South
Island of NZ is even further south than Australia and Tasmania. Sailors refer to this area as the roaring forties. There is open water to the west all the way to Fireland in South America,
so the weather gets very nasty there. But when the sun shines and it gets a little warmer, the hardy Kiwis are out and about in their shorts and T-shirts and often barefoot. Sometimes
we felt quite out of place all wrapped up in our jackets, pullovers and boots. We guess that if you live in such a climate you have to take advantage of every second of sunshine.
In Nelson it was sunny and several degrees warmer and we found a nice room on top of a hill with fantastic view over the town. Nelson has such a good climate because it is protected by
mountains on three sides and only open to the sea in the north (remember: the bad weather comes from the south here). It lies in a wide fertile valley noted for its fruit- and vegetable
growing and its wineries.
On Sunday morning we walked down to the market, full of produce, food stalls, fashion, arts and crafts, and much cheaper than any other store. We met an old man selling toys that he makes
from aluminum cans. He is a real genius, able to make model boats, cars, airplanes, out-houses-all from thrown-away cans. He has been able to make a living from this for over 19 years and he
told us that he can't make enough of them, they sell so well. We would have loved to have a book illustrating how to make some toys, but he told us he didn't have time to write one.
We also visited the Bead Gallery with the most incredible collection of beads we've ever seen, thousands and thousands of beads made from different materials Nelson exudes creativity, artists, potters, fashion designers live there and it's no wonder that the World of Wearable Art Museum (WOW)is there too. Wearable Art can be made of anything, feathers, tin can rings, shells, wire, bark, food - anything can be turned into bizarre garments. We wanted to buy a bra of barbed wire for Barbara but decided it was a bit too pointed...
Driving towards the west coast over Spooners Range we stopped on Hope Saddle, the highest point, and admired the view when we met an elderly German couple who had been riding their bikes all over NZ. Asking them if they didn't find it very exhausting going up and down all these steep mountains all the time they told us that on their last trip they rode their bikes from Alaska
to Patagonia, 25 000 km. So the 5000 km they had been riding in NZ wasn't actually that much.
We continued downwards through Buller Gorge, stopping at NZ's longest swingbridge (110m) which consists of appr. 40cm wooden boards all tied together hanging from two cables. Crossing is no problem, but when a 250-pound person comes from the other direction it's quite a dance to get around, especially with the bridge bouncing up and down and swinging from side to side.
The West Coast is a wild stretch of coastline between the roaring Tasman Sea and the summits of the Southern Alps. When you turn inland from the narrow highway you are alone in dense rainforest, stand amidst the ruins of a gold- or coalmining site or at the banks of a mirrorlike lake or gaze at the dazzlingly turquoise water in a river gorge. There are placid lagoons and white beaches and the unique Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki: geologists cannot exactly explain how these rocks were formed. They appear to be flat stones that are one stacked upon the other hundreds of layers thick. If you split the layers there would be enough stones to pave all of Mallorca.
South of Hokitika, the greenstone centre (jade) and actually rainiest place of NZ, the Alps drop from over 3000m to near-sea level within 5 km, bringing with them Franz Josef and Fox
Glaciers. Stopping at Franz Josef Glacier, the village was swamped by tourists, huge buses, loud helicopters and planes, all quite disturbing after the quiet coastline. We fled to Fox Glacier
instead which had a more meadowy alpine charm and equally dramatic sights - a glacier touching the rainforest!
Some miles further down the coast we thought of pitching our tent at picturesque Ship Creek but we got so furiously attacked by sandflies, one of NZ's best kept secrets, that we hurried on
to Haast. Our guidebook mentioned that the people there are called Haastafarians, so we had an idea of a tiny quaint village with people hanging around in laidback cafes enjoying
themselves. What we found was basically a Wild West farming settlement, the only entertainment being a group of drunk bikers in the one bar.
Moving inland in the direction of Queenstown we finally entered the Southern Alps. This road sneaks up along the Haast River valley and is one of the most scenic we had travelled so far. It
climbs up to Haast Pass, the dense vegetation thinning away into snowcountry covered in golden tussock grass and scrub surrounded by snowpeaked mountains and Lake Hawea and then Lake Wanaka.
In Wanaka we stopped at Puzzling World and thoroughly enjoyed the Illusion House, the Hall of Following Faces and finally the Maze which took us about three hours to find our way out again. Then we travelled up twisty Crown Range Road to the spectacular crest at 1120m and wound our way down towards shimmering Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown.
Queenstown is one of the top tourist destinations of the world. It is only a small town of 8500 people, set in a magnificent scenery with the lake and the awesome Remarkables and
Eyre Mountains and Otago winecountry around. But it's also NZ's adrenaline city with bungy-jumping, rafting, caving, jetboating, skydiving, hang-gliding, snowboarding galore.
Spending one night in Queenstown we chose to move on to tiny Glenorchy instead, about 40 km further on the northern shore of Lake Wanaka. At the little hotel and pub we had a wonderful meal with steaks and prawns cooked on granite hot stones on the table - brilliant! The scenery here is mind-blowing, very remote, steep steep valleys between huge glaciers, pastures, alpine
brooks. No wonder a lot of Lord of the Rings was filmed here.
On our map we found a little dot with the name of Paradise on our map and drove up the dirt road of the valley to find it. After 20 km with only sheep, cows and horses in beautiful meadows we turned around, a bit disappointed. At the hotel the waitress told us that Paradise is only a paddock. So we had been there without realizing it, too busy looking for a sign...
Just over the high mountains around Queenstown is Fiordland, our next destination. But as there is no road we had to drive to Manapouri, jumping off point for cruises on the Doubtful Sound. We had rented a little chalet right on the lake in a complex where no two cottages are the same.
You can make your choice from log cabins to alpine chalets, converted trucks, tents. A very neat and slightly bizarre place with a collection of Morris Minors, pinball machines and many
We took a ferry across Lake Manapouri to the power station and were then driven over Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound. As we arrived the weather had turned bad with a lot of wind and rain.
The captain of the big cruising ship told us that we were lucky because it hadn't rained for two months and there were no waterfalls to be seen, but now there should be nice ones. The weather
got worse and worse, the captain was not able to see anything any more in the torrential downpour, the wind went up to 50 knots and more. After a while it cleared up and we could see hundreds of waterfalls thundering down the rugged peaks and through the dense forest - magical!
Milford Sound being the highlight of NZ tourist attractions we set off early in the morning to avoid bus traffic from Te Anau to the Sound, 120 km. The first part of the road meanders through
rolling farmland and patches of stunning beech tree forests to the Divide where three rivers radiate to the west, east and south coasts.
We stopped at a lookout when Barbara got attacked by two kea birds. They chased her around the parking lot until she pulled out the camera when they stopped and posed. One bird kept hitting the other bird with its claws as if it wanted to be the only one in the picture.
From the Divide, the road falls into the beech forest of the Hollyford Valley. We turned onto the unsealed road to Gunns Camp, a place that gives you the feeling of going back in time a hundred
years. Little miners' shacks and one small general store, toast hanging on the line. The owners were very friendly and carried on a conversation as if they hadn't seen anyone in a hundred years.
The only disadvantage of the place are the man-eating sandflies, otherwise it would have been a perfect spot to chill out. After going through the rough-hewn Homer Tunnel at 1200 m the road
emerges into a spectacular canyon on the Milford side.
In Milford Sound we were aghast to see a myriad of tourists wanting to take daytrips on the big sightseeing catamarans that can hold up to 200 people. We were lucky enough that we booked an overnight cruise on good old MY Friendship with only 10 other passengers, the only way to really enjoy the sound. As the masses disembark at around 4 pm, afterwards the sound returns to peace and tranquillity and one gets the feel of this remote place. Vertical mountain sides tower 1200 m above the water level, with Mitre Peak (1700m) dominating the scene, waterfalls plunge down in spectacular beauty,the fiord walls cast an all-day shadow, seals rest on the smooth rocks below.
On board the Friendship with Turgut the skipper and Caroline the first mate and the other ten guests of different nationalities we had a very enjoyable barbecued dinner and a buffet of desserts
worth of a fine restaurant.
Then we drove down to the south coast to Riverton, Invercargill, Bluff. At Slope Point, the southernmost point of the south island,we could almost see Antarctica... We had booked a room at Hilltop Backpackers in Papatowai on the lovely Catlin coast and were quite surprised when we found it: a quaint three-bedroom cottage on top of a hill with great views of the bay and the valley behind. Upon arrival the house was open, noone there, just a sign saying 'Pick your room and enjoy yourself!'
On our way to Dunedin, still in the Catlins, we stopped at Nugget Point with its old lighthouse and fur and elephant seals and sealions playing in the surf on the rocks deep below.
In Dunedin we parked our bags in the Stafford Gables YHA near the centre for three nights to get a rest from all the driving. Dunedin, the south island's second biggest city after Christchurch, is
NZ's Scottish City, the Edinburgh of the south. In the 19th century it became the prosperous commercial centre for the gold-rush towns of its hinterland, and that is also the time when the
most iconic buildings of the city were built, among them the imposing railway station and the University of Otago. Today Dunedin remains a centre of learning and culture. The hub of Dunedin's
activity is the Octagon, the green heart of the city, bordered by historic buildings, banks and bars, and the shopping district right next to it. Dunedin is full of student life, cafes,art
galleries, music, it has a mellow atmosphere about it.
The town sits at the head of Otago Harbor, a long bay encircled by green hills peppered with villas and protected from the Pacific by the pretty Otago Peninsula with its wealth of wildlife.
Driving out to the end of the peninsula we visited Larnach Castle, more a NZ castle than a European one, but with spectacular views and a very pretty garden.
We were also keen on seeing the famous colony of yellow-eyed penguins, among the rarest ones in the world. When we arrived at the reserve, we saw a total of six because it might
not have been the right time of year. But we have to give the caretakers credit- they put an incredible lot of energy into rebuilding the almost extinct birds' habitat, building nesting sites,
trapping predators and caring for sick birds. Visitors can view the penguins from a system of trenches and hides so as not to disturb the breeding grounds.
On our way up north along the east coast we stopped in Oamaru, a slightly weird town with a cluster of neo-classic buildings full of elegant pillars dating from its glorious time
as refrigerated-meat shipping centre. At first glance there didn't seem to be much going on in Oamaru, but luckily we parked our car in front of a building that was showing a flower exhibition
with the biggest and brightest dahlias we have ever seen. In front of our car there was an ancient steam car parked along the sidewalk and on the other side of the street an even older
high-wheel bicycle -with a huge front wheel and a tiny back wheel. Around the corner of the building we found a steam-train banking its boilers, getting ready to take a wagon full of people
for a ride to the harbor.
We arrived at Christchurch on a cold and rainy day and therefore hopped on the old tram to get a first impression of the city centre. We thought we were in England rattling down the streets:
picturesque Avon River flanked by green lawns and weeping willows and Gothic Revival buildings, an Anglican cathedral rising above the central square, Gloucester Street,Victoria Square, Oxford Terrace... But Christchurch is also a very modern and bustling NZ city sprawling out into the fertile lush Canterbury plain surrounded by breathtaking mountains.
With hindsight we should have spent a lot more time on exploring the east coast. But as we had already booked the ferry back to Wellington we rushed up the stunning Kaikoura area to Blenheim where we visited the Clos Henri winery to buy some bottles of our favorite NZ pinot noir.
The next day we got on the ferry in Picton loaded with trucks full of mooing and smelly cows and chilled out in Wellington's wonderful YHA after more than 5000 km. We then returned to Auckland via the Wairarapa wine region and Napier, where we had some wonderful last days with our friend Anita - a little exhausted and glad to be back on board Ragnar, our home away from home.
CHAP XLI Newcaledonia
N E W C A L E D O N I A
GRANDE TERRE and LIFOU
Nouméa (Grande Terre) 22º 35' S 166º 24' E
Chépénéhé (Lifou) 20º 47.20 S 167º 08.17 E
Once we have enough of the big city marina life in Auckland, we have a pleasant motorsail upthe Hauraki-Gulf to Kawau Island where we anchor in beautiful Mansion Bay, the first time
at anchor after 6 months. We thought of staying only one night, but it is so peaceful thatwe stay a lot longer, side by side with Black Pearl and her owner Brian.
Going ashore for a walk through the pine forest in search of the mysterious wallabies we come across the park ranger and ask him what exactly is a wallaby- a bird? a mammal? a lizzard?
He laughs and tells us that it's little kangaroohs that the ex-owner of the bay imported fromAustralia. After a wonderful 5 km-stroll along the beautiful wooded coastline looking forthe beasts we come back down into the garden of the mansion house and are greeted by three wallabies sitting on the lawn like statues, a colorful peacock and one that looks like he fell into a tub of bleach - a rare white one.
Later we invite Brian for dinner. He says he will provide the fish, rows out around the point and comes back 10 minutes later with three great red snappers which he fillets on the beach.
We have a very enjoyable night with a wonderful meal. Fresher fish and better company you couldn't ask for!
After several days and seeing the barometer fall and fall we decide it's time to go up to Opua in the Bay of Islands again. At Ashby's boatyard we haul the boat, antifoul, repair the
mast sheathing at the gaff throat, varnish the masts and make a new bow net, all with our new crew Emma and Jon, a young English couple who after several years of cruising in the Pacific
want to accompany us on our journey back.
Back in the water, listening to the weather gurus, we finally set sail for New Caledonia on Tuesday, May 6. The gurus have told us to go 300NM north and then turn west where we might
encounter a little blow from a small low pressure system but then would be out of the storm zone and in the southeastern trade winds. But...The low intensifying, the barometer dropping rapidly, on May 8 by nighttime we have gale-force winds from the NNW. On Saturday morning the barometer at 997 millibars, the wind force 6, the jib haliard breaks and wraps around the propeller. Breakers crash over the bow, the ship rocks and rolls, we are barely able to move, feel sick, cannot cook, everything is wet, but we are flying along at 6 knots with very little sail up.
Finally after 5 days the barometer starts to rise, the wind drops and backs more around the compass and then by Wednesday morning turns into a flat calm. We decide to heave to and Emma takes a brave dive overboard in 5000 m of water to free the propeller from the haliard. Being successful we are able to start the engine again and motor out of the calm.
Then the wind freshens and turns into the SE tradewinds. we are flying along at 7 knots, the main stay and the main sails start to rip, but by Friday night we are finally looking for the
Boulari pass leading into the lagoon and Nouméa harbor. At 1.30 in the morning trying to figure out all the different light markers and dodging the reefs we enter the channel leading
into the bay in front of Nouméa. The leading lines directing you right through the middle of the anchorage we slalom our way through the anchored boats into the inner harbor and tie up
at the visitors' berth at 3 in the morning. It took us 11 days and 1084 NM from Opua to Nouméa. Going down to and coming up from New Zealand you can be sure to have an exciting time...
New Caledonia was "discovered" and named by Captain Cook in the 18th century and afterwards visited by French explorers, British and American whalers made landfall there, then sandalwood traders stripped the country. French and English missionaries established themselves in order to deal with cannibalism and often ended up in the pot. In the 1850s the French were looking for a strategic military location and an alternative penal settlement to Guyana and annexed it.
Hostilities between the French and the Kanaks (the Melanesian natives) arose soon because after the discovery of nickel France brought settlers to New Caledonia and took over large tracts of
tribal land for cattle farming. The Kanaks revolted against this and as a punishment were forced into reservations in the mountainous highlands which they could only leave with police
permission. They were outside French law and treated as subordinates.
With this historical background it is no wonder that Kanaks do not always welcome white persons with open arms. Especially on Grande Terre, the main island, one can sense a certain distance
and tension - which dissolves right away when people find out that you are not French. And if you are American their faces beam. During WW II Nouméa, the capital, was a base for the US military. This helped to strengthen Kanak self-confidence because Americans treated them as equals.
Nouméa spreads out among green hills and is surrounded by golden beaches, silent mangrove swamps and sparkling marinas. The city centre is a mixture of old and modern, simple and
sophisticated. The central square at Place des Cocotiers is the heart of the city, with lawns, amazing flamboyant trees, water features and concert areas and the famous Thursday
evenings with traditional dances, fresh produce, arts and crafts and local dishes.
The population is multicultural - Kanaks, Caldoches of European descent, Polynesians and Asians. There is Chinatown, the Quartier Latin, the colorful market at Port Moselle where the musicians play ukuleles while we have a petit café noir and pain au chocolat in the early morning, and the interesting Musée de la Calédonie with its 12m totem pole. In the parks groups of women in brightly colorful dresses and men with the most incredible Afro hairdos sit on the lawns in groups and have a good time.
We visit the phantastic Tjibaou Cultural Centre. Tjibaou was the charismatic first president of the pro-independence leftist front. The ten stylized Kanak "grandes cases" (round meeting places
with steep straw roofs) were designed by Renzo Piano, the Italian architect that also built the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The buildings harmonize perfectly with the traditional ones next to
them, converting their shapes into airy lofty modern structures. It is an awe-inspiring piece of architecture.
In order to explore the rest of Grande Terre (500km long and 50 km wide) we rent a small Kia. The west coast reminds us of southern France, the roads are great, the villages well-kept
and with immaculate sidewalks, the high mountain ranges in the background, the supermarkets well-stocked with tasty French products,the mouth-watering chocolateries.
In La Foa we find a sculpture garden with exquisitely carved totem poles. A wedding party is going on there, with ukulele band and gayly dressed guests and Melanesian bride and white bridegroom posing in front of the sculptures.
Then we cross the mountain range and drive to the east coast. The contrast is stunning: in the east the sea is ink blue, the Pacific - in the west it's milky blue, the Coral Sea; the east coast is
steep and lush, the other side sweeping brown dry pastures. On the east you can hardly see any white person, it is Kanak country. Along the curvy narrow road full of potholes and amidst of
jungle full of fruits and flowers are tiny villages. Many people have set up makeshift stands to sell some coconuts, some shells, some oranges. This coast gives us back the "real" South Pacific
feeling. People smile, wave. In one area about 20 young men lazily sit on the asphalt of the road and chat. There is hardly any car.
As it is getting dark we luckily find accomodation in an old beach resort that is now run by the Koulnoué tribe. The nice young lady at the reception tells us that tonight there is a special
Mother's Day buffet and we gladly partake. Yummie yummie! Good! The guests are mostly locals with a handful of tourists sprinkled in between, all of a robust friendly nature, from little
kids to old grandmothers that serve themselves plates after plates until thee is no tomorrow.
Such variety of courses you can only see in a Las Vegas hotel.After dinner we retire to our round thatched bungalow in a palm grove right along the beach and -after almost stumbling over a tame deer lying in front of our door- to our BIG bed (3m wide, 2.50m long), big enough for a whole family.
The next morning we drive to Hienghène with its spectacular views over the harbor, the bay and the picturesque rocks. We continue some more kilometres further north to the River Ouaïème where if we wanted to continue further up we would have to take the old ferry across. Thinking of the long drive back to Nouméa (450 km) we cross the mountains and drive back on the fabulous roads of the "French" western side of New Caledonia.
On Wednesday, May 28, early in the morning, we leave Nouméa and set sail with reefs in main stay and stay sails and beat our way to windward, tacking back and forth between the maze of reefs and islands toward Woodin Channel and Baie du Prony at the southern tip of Grande Terre. When we anchor at the mouth of the bay in Bonne Anse at 6 it is already pitch dark.
In the morning we find ourselves in a tiny rocky cove surrounded by bush.
We sail up the uninhabitated big Prony Bay to the carenage at the northern end of it and anchor there. We put the dinghy in the water, mount the new outboard and explore the little river to find the thermal pool. After a final bend in the river we wade our way to a little dock and pathway and take a lukewarm freshwater bath, nothing you would linger in.
On our way down the bay we pick up a buoy on the west side of Casy Island opposite the old penal colony of Prony now competely overgrown by forest. Casy is a small island and marine park in the middle of the bay. We go for a walk through the dense forest of giant cyccas, araucarias and palmtrees, accompanied by three nice dogs. Along the coast line there are pretty white sandbeaches and up the hill colorful old mines. After getting lost for a while we finally emerge again at the romantic, now officially closed colonial-style hotel where you can still rent a room for a
night if you bring your own bedstuff and food.A laid-back Frenchman sits on a plastic chair in front of the telephone booth waiting for a call and gives us some advice about how and when to get out of the lagoon the next day.
Early in the morning we struggle our way around Cape Ndoua into Canal de la Havannah where we tack our way to windward and out of the pass. It takes us 6 hours for the 15 NM, under reduced sails and with a lot of motor against the current. Finally in open water we turn north in the direction of Lifou, the biggest one of the Loyalty Islands.
The next morning we round Cape Lefèvre into the enormous Baie de Santal where we anchor off the village of Chépénéhé. We are completely exhausted and wet, it has been raining all the way. So we sleep all day and only go on shore on Sunday morning.
We hitchhike out to Easo peninsula to look at the Notre Dame de Lourdes chapel where atop the church stands a silver statue of Mary looking out to sea. Looking down the cliffs the water is so crystal clear even from this height that we can see the tropical fish and many-colored and -shaped corals.
On the way back to the village we get picked up by Chanel and his little son. He asks us if we would like to visit the grande chefferie in Nathalo - the seat of the chieftain of Wetr,Lifou's
northern district. We gladly agree as we don't have any special plans for the day and are open for anything that comes up. Chanel is happy as he feels the same way.
We drive to Nathalo and look at the chief's "grande case", a wonderfully built big round hut with a thatched roof and enclosed by a wooden palisade. Here the tribal gatherings and
discussions take place, the chief acts as justice of peace and distributes the land to the families.
Chanel tells us that it was his family that founded the Wetr tribe and the chief used to come from his family, but they gave the power to another clan though they still have a lot of
influence. At the moment the chieftain is in Australia and Chanel is in charge.
Normally when you want to visit anything here or wander around anywhere you have to ask permission from the chief and pay as all the land belongs to the tribes. So we are lucky
to have Chanel as our guide. Next to the grande case is the chief's modern and fancy mansion and the catholic church with its twin spires.
Then Chanel drives us to his own house (in the big chief's car) and invites us for coffee and a bite to eat. Then he, his wife Marie-Odile, three of his children, his sister and us set off for a
family Sunday excursion. We talk about many things, their customs,their style of living, their relationship with the French, independence, their way of building etc. They drive us to
a vanilla farm and a gorgeous forest, show us plants and finally end up in Jokin Bay.
The village sits high on the cliffs at the very north of Lifou, overlooking a vast bay. We climb the steep stairway down to the water's edge. Looking across the cove we can see the caves
where the ancestors used to be laid to rest with their faces toward the beautiful sea and sunset.
Back in Chépénéhé we invite Chanel and his 8-year-old son Johnny to come aboard Ragnar - it's the first time they have ever been on a yacht. Johnny is a curious boy and becomes an instant
deckhand, pulling on every rope, climbing all over and touching everything he can, even taking the tiller and getting ready to set sail.
After an emotional good-bye, many good wishes and promises to write we go back on board. It has been a wonderful day with extraordinary people. Thank you again, Marie-Odile and Chanel! Lifou is a lovely island with friendly, hospitable, respectful and spiritual people, we will not forget it ever.
V A N U A T U
19º 32.07 S 169º 15.90 E
After two days of being hard on the wind we at last have the corner of Tanna in sight. On June 5 we tack up into the lee of the island and finally are able to sail south along the
coast looking for the village of Lenakel. We anchor in the shelter of the wave-breaking reef next to the wharf teeming with people unloading and loading the weekly cargoship from Port
Vila, the capital.
We paddle ashore to clear in. It is low tide and we have to wind our way between the coral rocks to the little ash-colored beach, pull the dinghy through the sand and tie it up to a big tree.
Women in colorful dresses are spreading their wash on the rocks to dry, little children are paddling around in small outrigger dugouts, fires are burning here and there, men sitting in the
shade of trees, everybody is waving and saying hallo.
Just up the hill is the Customs office. We are told that they open at one thirty, another half hour to go. We ask where the bank is and are told that it's up the hill, over the bridge, the white house
on the next hill.
The river bridge is actually just a gully through the river bed. We change some money, cash only, no credit cards, and return to Customs. The officer shows up about an hour later and receives us warmly. Then comes the Quarantine officer, and then we have to walk "a kilometer" up the road to Isangel, the next village, to Immigration. Time and distance are relative terms here and we
hitch a ride on a pickup truck. The countryside is exuberant, huge trees lining the rough unsealed road, people waving to us and smiling. After rather 4,5 kilometers we finally reach the
office and the friendly lady stamps our passports.
Back in the village we are told that the market starts at 5 o'clock in the morning. So we get up early and go ashore to the market place under the big banyan tree across the road at the head of the beach. Women in their finest outfits have spread their garden wares on woven mats and in baskets -rolls of tobacco, bundles of yams, peanuts, meter-long green beans,pawpaws, a splendid array of fruits and vegetables, and everybody friendly and with a smile.
Captain Cook - who else? - called Vanuatu the New Hebrides. After the Europeans discovered it it had quite a turbulent history. First, traders exploited its sandalwoods, and when there
weren't any left they started the dirty blackbirding business: islanders got deported under false promises to work as cheap labourers on cotton plantations and in nickel mines.
In the 19th century Vanuatu's population was about a million, by 1935 it numbered mere 41 000 due to imported deseases to which they had no resistance.
In the 19th century British and French settlers came and bought up (illegally) the most fertile land and grew cotton. Vanuatu was never a real colony, but in 1901 became the Anglo-French
Condominium (also cynically called Pandemonium) of the New Hebrides. The French together with the British formed a dual administration to protect their citizens. There were two police-
forces, two education systems, two currencies, two prison systems, two law systems, two road laws - the French driving on the right side and the British on the left which led to
In World War II the American fleet arrived and the ni-Vanuatus were surprised by their wealth and the equality between white and black persons. The latter encouraged
an independence movement and Vanuatu became an independent state in 1980. Today there are about 250 000 inhabitants, 98 % of them Melanesians. All land is either owned by the
government or the tribes, never by individual persons who can only lease it for a maximum of 75 years.
Vanuatu has three official languages, English, French and Bislama (Pidgin English that is the lingua franca of this Pacific area) besides its over hundred native languages. Their culture is a
mixture of their own customs and beliefs and the ones brought by the French and British.
On most islands people still live in their traditional ways and are nurtured by their commonly owned land and the sea. Not so few still live in their straw houses and don their
grass skirts and penis sheaths. There is still a lot of bartering going on, money is not yet that important, but the situation is slowly changing - school fees have to be paid, maybe
some building material for a concrete foundation or tin roof etc. On the whole people seem to be very content and happy. There is a lot of laughing, singing and dancing going on. People are honest too, no bargaining at the market or in the restaurants, nobody tries to steal anything, nobody threatens you.
We hire a 4-wheel pickup to take us to Mount Yasur volcano at the southern end of Tanna.
Moses and Matthew, our chauffeur, drive us up bumpy dirt tracks through Middlebush, the garden center of the island, past villages in the middle of the jungle, past French and
English schools and churches, over a mountain pass with glorious views of distant shores, and down a steep slope.
At the bottom of the slope we emerge from the jungle onto a volcanic ash plain on the NW side of the volcano, a real moonscape with lava flows, gullies and a monster dune rising up to
the top of the volcano. Smoke is billowing out of the crater, the earth vibrates with the rumble of the always active Mount Yasur.
We cross the riverbed and after paying our fees to the villagers at the bottom of the volcano we drive up and then hesitantly walk the last meters to the top. Moses tells us that it's only
active stage 2 of the 5 stages. Stage 3 is when little rocks fall near you, stage 4 is when big rocks fall close to you and stage 5 is kiss your ass good bye... The rocks are so hot that you
would disintegrate completely.
We timidly look over the edge down into the huge deep crater. Every few seconds the earth shakes from a strong explosion and gigantic plumes of sulphur smoke are pressed out of the hole, black ash and molten rocks are launched hundreds of meters into the air. We decide to step back and enjoy the panoramic view... After half an hour at such a vibrating frightening hot spot we head back to the cool green jungle in search of the Giant Banyan tree. On the way there we stop at a straw hut along the water's edge and have lunch: rice and fish, taro leaves (tastes like spinach), yams and fruit juice, 2.50$ each and good.
We read in the guide book that this tree is the biggest living organism in the world and the size of a soccer field. But what an awsome surprise! It's unbelievable and undescribable
how colossal this tree is. A tree-climbing kid's paradise. We are trying to take pictures of it but you can only get a tiny fraction of it on one photo. We feel like ants before it. Now when
we see one of those huge trees along the roadway we say, Oh, it's just a small baby!
Tanna is an extraordinarily beautiful and fertile island with gentle, polite and friendly people. There is no crime and a treasury of stunning traditions and attractions. It is an island that
we would like to return to one day.
On Sunday, June8, we up anchor in the early morning , turn NNW and have a South Pacific tradewind sleigh ride, 24 hours long, to Efaté Island and Port Vila, Vanuatu's capital.
V A N U A T U
Port Vila, Efaté Island
17º 44.85 S 168º 18.63 E
We pick up a mooring buoy at the well-protected Port Vila harbor on June 9 at 9.30 in the morning after a beautiful 24-hour sail. Nice to be back in a town again, with a 24-hour vegetable- and fruit market, French pastry cafés, and excellent French- run supermarkets. Port Vila is a pleasant mixture of Pacific islanders and both French and English expats, which gives it a slightly cosmopolitan flair. Some highrises along the waterfront, shanty towns and tree-dwellings in the back streets.
A short ferry ride across the bay we visit Ifira Island, a paradisical setting with quaint little houses, each with a beautiful garden, footpaths, no cars, huge mango trees, hibiscus hedges,friendly
people, pigs and chickens - it makes you forget that you are within minutes of the capital. The tribe that lives on the island are the true owners of Port Vila. They work in the town and return to
the peaceful country setting in the late afternoon, living their lives as they have done for centuries, but with running water and all the modern conveniences.
Wandering around we meet a little girl and her three brothers who offer to show us around. We follow them along jungle paths that only kids know about to deserted beaches, stunning cliff side outlooks and eventually to their house and garden in the middle of the rainforest. Walking along we have more and more children following us, and by the time we arrive back at the ferry dock we are a big gang, everybody curious who we are and where we come from.
Vanuatu is slowly becoming one of the nicest Pacific tourist destinations. Roads are being sealed around the island of Efaté, hotels are being built, shops,restaurants and bars are being opened.
As Vanuatu is a tax haven there is much foreign investment. The friendly people are striving hard to make it a pleasant place.
After a week we move further north, with a breathtaking sunset and a bright full moon accompanying us. We hope to get to Pentecost Island by Saturday, June 21, in order to see the last landdiving ritual of the year. The next morning we arrive behind Planter Point in the bay of Port Sandwich in the southeast of
16º 26.35 S 167º 47.04 E
This bay is very deep, a perfect hurricane shelter where you can put the Pacific fleet in. If we had known how protected it is we probably would have stayed here during the cyclone season. It is an idyllic place with golden sand beaches lined with palmtrees and three rivers emptying in it, the villagers rowing across the bay in their dugouts to their fields along the rivers, kids playing
their ukuleles and singing on the beach.
We row ashore and have a pleasant 4-km stroll along the roadway to Lamap passing small tidy native settlements, many people coming out of their houses to say hallo and accompany us part of the way. Going around a bend of the road we smell fresh bread. Looking for the source we find the baker in a little shack baking delicious baguette breads in a converted oildrum, fresh out of the oven, still hot! On our way back we meet a pastor who is preparing a stone oven and tells us that God provides them with almost everything they need to live happily. Before we leave he gives us bananas and grapefruit and wishes us a safe journey. A friendlier bunch of people will be hard to find.
When people do need money around here (for rice, salt, sugar, soap, schoolfees, clothes) they harvest coconuts, roast-dry them into copra and sell it. There are extensive coconut groves
everywhere, with many cows grazing in between the trees. It's a miracle that these cows never get hit by a falling coconut. On Wednesday, June 18, we set off for the neighboring
16º 08.58 S 168º 06.87 E
After an exhilarating 7 to 8 knot reach across the channel, with white horses galloping alongside the bow, we drop anchor at Ranon Bay, just off the black beach. We go ashore and meet Jeffrrey, a very nice young man that is in charge of the new tourist information centre of Lolihor village. He shows us around the village and promises to organize an excursion for when we come back from Pentecost.
On Thursday we have another phantastic 2-hour sail across another channel to Homo Bay,
15º 57.20 S 168º 11.50 E
We arrive at noon and anchor close to the village hidden behind huge trees lining the black volcanic pebble beach. Once ashore we are met by Chief Luke who gives us permission to visit
and courteously invites us for a welcoming bowl of kava later. He tells us that on Saturday we can attend the landdiving ceremony.
Every March the men of southern Pentecost start building 35m-high towers out of banyan tree trunks and branches, tying them together with vines. These towers have seven small platforms at different heights and are erected on a very steep hill with a wonderful view of the country and the sea.
A legend says that centuries ago a man from Pentecost had pursued his wife up a huge banyan tree. She was trying to escape him for whatever reasons. As he tried to grab her she leapt from the banyan. He leapt after her realizing too late that she had tied vines around her ankles. Ever since that event the men have re-enacted the dive. It is a spectacular leap of courage to
appease the spirit of the man and it is also a gift to the gods to encourage a good harvest. This landdiving is where the idea of bungy-jumping came from.
Each diver carefully selects his own vines and the elders check to ensure the vines are strong and elastic enough. At around age eight the boys are circumcised and then they can make their
first jump. Up to 60 males dive. The soil in front of the tower is cleared and then loosened. The women sing and dance around the periphery in white grass-skirts. The youngest divers go first, leaping from as high as 9 m. All divers are wearing small red nambas (penis sheaths) and prepare while their friends tie the vines. When the diver raises his hands, he tells the crowd his most intimate thoughts. The people stop singing and dancing and stand quietly - these could be his last words.
Finally the diver claps his hands, crosses his arms, leans forward and falls. The vines abruptly stop his fall - only his hair has touched the ground to fertilize the yam crop. The crowd dances
and stomps and cheers. The final dive is the responsibility of the "chief of the tower". He jumps from the highest point and must lunge far enough outwards to avoid hitting any branches jutting out below him. It is gut-wrenching to watch, a powerful, awesome ceremony!
After the ritual we return to the boat and shortly afterwards Chief Luke's little son comes by in his pirogue to bring us grapefruit, spinach, snake beans, herbs and a fresh cacao fruit. We give
him crayons and a piece of fabric in return.
The next day we sail back to Ambrym. There is a big party going on, all the villagers are dressed in their finest celebrating the inauguration of the first telephone and internet connection,
an impressive act. The following morning we set out for a walk to a small custom village in the mountains with Jeffrey to see Rom-dancing. Up and up through the rainforest we climb a narrow path to this village of about 20 huts built of bamboo-woven walls and palm-leaf-thatched roofs.
We are shown to the sacred circle where the villagers are already waiting for the ceremony to take place. The inner circle of dancers are clad in nambas and leaves, some have red hibiscus flowers in their hair. The outer circle of dancers is dressed in long thick dry-banana-leaf cloaks and on their heads they wear extraordinary tall conical head-masks. They stomp and chant among giant tamtams (slit-drums) and totem pole idols that line the circle.
Though we ask several peole we cannot find out what the purpose of this famous Ambrym Rom-dance is. It seems to be connected with magic, Ambrym is Vanuatu's sorcery centre.
The practice of magic is generally taboo for women, which could explain why the Rom-dancers are all men. Magic is used to produce good crops, raise and calm storms, healing, banish spirits and control volcanoes, but there is also black magic for malevolent purposes.
During the Rom-dance the village women stay well away from the circle, the sacred hut and the dancers. We foreigners are allowed to approach and take pictures, but it is strictly taboo to
touch the dancers (who would do that anyway?!), the tamtams or the idols or to even get near the sacred hut. Even Jeffrey is not allowed to enter that area.
Tamtams are Ambrym's and Malekula's huge drums hollowed out of breadfruit tree trunks. They are used to send coded messages and also form orchestras for festivities. In northern Ambrym they have rooster faces. It takes about 160 hours to make a small 2.5m tamtam. The design belongs to certain families and can only be used if a fee is paid. Some drums have three or more faces, the more the higher the price and status of its owner.
Only men wealthy enough to own many pigs and to organize feasts for the people can reach higher social levels and influence. In Lolihor there are 12 social grades. Usually when a boy has passed his teens he borrows five to ten boars to pay his bride-price. As soon as he can he buys some sows which become the source of his future wealth and status. It can take years to pay off his debts. Then he celebrates with a special yam feast, usually followed some years later by a grade-taking ceremony.
On Wednesday, June25 at midnight, we make an overnight sail to Norsup Bay in northern Malekula. We anchor off the wharf of Vanuatu's biggest copra-producing plantation. Many men and women are sitting in front of huge mountains of coconuts, spooning out the flesh and roasting it. The plantation buildings out of corrugated iron are rusty, everything looks somewhat dilapidated.
They haven't harvested copra for a while because the price was too low. But now the price has picked up and everybody is busy.
In the morning we wake up from blaring music and loudspeaker: Digicel has set up a van and is selling the first cellphones ever! There is a huge crowd lining up for these fabulous device.
We jump on a pickup truck to Lakatoro, the capital of the district. The road is unsealed, very rough and very muddy after the heavy rain, and our knuckles turn white from hanging on for dear
life. We disembark in front of a stripmall consisting of a supermarket, a butcher and the new Digicel store. Blaring music has attracted almost everybody from the town.
Up the hill in the administrative part of the town we visit the cultural centre which has a small interesting museum with artifacts from the island. We find out that we could visit a very
attractive circumcision and grade-taking ceremony in a village nearby the following week, but decide not to stay that long as we are running out of time. We are already behind schedule,
it is a pity...
Instead we set sail for Luganville on
Espiritu Santo Island
15º 31.5 S 167º 10 E
Entering Segond Channel between Espiritu Santo and Aoré Island we drop anchor 100m off the Beachfront Resort just outside of town, the most accommodating place for yachties.
Luganville itself is not very picturesque being a World War II US Forces depot built out of corrugated iron Quonset huts, reminiscent of a western ghost town that has been repopulated.
But it is quite a friendly place, too. There are a 24-hour open air market and many taxis with very helpful drivers.
During WW II there were half a million American soldiers stationed at Luganville to fight off the Japanese. Sometimes there were hundred ships anchored in Segond Channel. Many Vanuatans
worked for the American Forces, and still today Americans are liked a lot around here.
The scuba-diving around Luganville must be spectacular, especially off Million Dollar Beach where after the war the Americans bulldozed all their military hardware
off a cliff into the sea when nobody showed any interest in buying it at bargain prices. There is also the famous wreck of USS President Coolidge, once a luxury liner that was
requisitioned by the American Forces and sank after it hit two mines.
Luganville being our last stop in Vanuatu we are sorry to have to leave these island paradises where the native culture is diverse and fascinating. Vanuatu is also a perfect place for sailing,
with short fast hops between the islands, hundreds of good anchorages, very few coral reefs to worry about and many good hurricane holes. The people are among the friendliest we have met
so far. It is a shame that we don't have time to stay here longer. The good season to sail across the Coral Sea and through the Torres Strait is coming to an end, so we decide to skip the
Solomon Islands and set sail directly to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.
CHAP XLIII P A P U A N E W G U I N E A , Port Moresby
9º 28'S 147º 09.20 E
After 10 days and 1300 NM of fast sailing we enter the difficult, very rough Basilisk Passage through the scary reefs and drop anchor inside the marina of the Royal Papua Yacht Club on Sunday July 13. Looking around we find ourselves surrounded by fencing, guards in black uniforms patrolling to and fro on the dike around the compound. The locals warn us not to go outside the premises without being accompanied by a guard or in a locked vehicle, not even to the supermarket only 300m away. A real gated ghetto.
The club house itself is the most phantastic one we have ever been in: restaurant and bars with huge TV screens, a wide terrace with a wonderful view of the marina, sea and sunset, gaming
rooms, a fitness centre that would fit in any metropolis, everything teeming with Australians, Kiwis and English expats. Across the street ramshackle hovels, people selling single cigarettes
and betel nuts and the odd outdated candybar or whatever else they could find, trying to earn a daily wage which would be the equivalent of a few beers in the yacht club.
After two days waiting to clear customs (officialdom is somewhat slow here) we are allowed to move into the pontoon-fingered dock and go ashore. Being the bold adventurers that we are the
first thing we do is walk to the supermarket unaccompanied. We are greeted by everybody on the way, 'Good morning! How are you? Have a nice stay!' Awfully friendly people for being so
As we have seen throughout our travels the bad things of a place are always talked about more than the good sides. PNG and especially the bigger cities do have a 'raskol' (bandit) problem,
no doubt. There are many hold ups and hijackings and horrible stories, but we never experienced any.
Early the next morning we get out of the main gate, the guards looking astonished, and we flag down a banged-up, patched taxi. The driver, Daniel, is a Huli wigman from the Southern Higlands
(for special occasions Huli men wear striking decorative woven wigs of human hair - their own-, and paint their faces with yellow and red ochre). Daniel offers to take us to our destination
for the right fair, we don't even have to bargain. He also offers to take us wherever we want to go at a very reasonable price. We explain to him that we want to see the town and take pictures,
but are afraid of carrying our expensive camera, and he answers, 'No worries, my brother Simon will come along and escort you, then you will be safe.'
We agree to meet again the next day for a tour of the town. But first Daniel now drives us to the Holiday Inn where we get in contact with Debbie, the travel agent. We would love to see a cultural event or take a tour to the Highlands. But it turns out that the Warwagira Mask Festival on New Britain Island, one of the most interesting festivals of the year, has already
started, and as flying in PNG is so chaotic (scheduled flights sometimes being delayed for days, strikes etc.)we find it impossible to get there in time. An alternative is a trip up the Sepik
River, a river comparable to the Amazon, but again the flight and organization of the whole trip seem to be very problematic and outrageously expensive.
While we are at the Holiday Inn we decide to have the wonderful buffet lunch. Sitting on the patio enjoying our meal, we look up at the chandelier and are surprised to see that it is made out of
50 or 60 gourd penis sheaths with little lightbulbs in the openings, somewhat unusual to lunch under.
The next morning we set out with Daniel and Simon to explore Port Moresby. First we visit Town, the CBD (central business district) with some modern highrises, banks, hotels and office buildings. Everywhere on the streets there are bloodred stains. We wonder if there has been a riot or if we are in a war zone, but Daniel explains that this is the spit from the betel nut chewers.
Then we continue to Koki market, the best one for fresh seafood, and the picturesque stilt village of Koki. Koki is a Motu settlement (the native tribe of this area), and with two Huli men from the Highlands we are not welcome there and can only look at it from the shore. The two brothers don't speak Motu, one of the three official languages of PNG, only their own language, English and Tok Pisin, the common language in a country where more than 800 languages are spoken.
Next we drive to Boroko, one of the safer districts with lots of shops and a crafts market. All people are staring at us curiously, as we are the only dimdims (white people) around. The
atmosphere is calm and relaxed, but Daniel keeps his eyes on his taxi while Simon stays close to us like a bodyguard, thoroughly checking out our surroundings all the time.
Then to Gordons market, the largest in the country, with an excellent selection of fruits and vegetables, tobacco and wallaby meat (little kangaroo). People there are very friendly and love
to have their picture taken.
Then we head for Parliament Haus with its stunning mosaic façade and the nearby National Museum which is actually closed for the day. But the guard happens to be a bro' (brother; that is another Huli man) of Daniel and Simon and lets us in anyway so that we have the whole museum for us alone.
A treasury! There is a magnificent outrigger canoe decorated in cowrie shells, superb masks, shields, totems, and a stuffed cassowary bird, PNG's biggest bird, as tall as a person, with
15cm-long claws and knees that bend forwards and backwards.
On our way back to the car we pass by a small betel nut stall. Daniel and Simon buy some, crack it and chew it. Suddenly they produce lots of colorless saliva and spit it out in an expert way.
Once the nut is mashed, they take a mustard stick (daka), moisten it with their mouth and dip it into cumbung (crushed coral lime). They bite off the frosted part and chew and spit, this time
blood red. Their teeth and gums are by now blood red, like everybody else's.
Skip wants to try it, too, but has trouble spitting! Many people are standing around, laughing good-humoredly, encouraging him. In the end his mouth is also bright red, but he doesn't feel
like repeating the procedure. It must have tasted awful.
On Sunday Brian offers to take us for an excursion into the mountains with some members of his family and some friends. Port Moresby at this time of the year is very dusty and dry, but as we
wind our way up the narrow road through the Lolaki River valley the landscape becomes ever more green and lush. At Crystal Rapids the river forms a large pond before it flows down in several steps. Along the bank is a parklike area with lawns and huge trees and barbecues. Families with lots of kids come here on the weekend to have a swim and picnick. But only on Sundays - the rest of the week the road seems to be too dangerous (bandits), though Brian claims that he goes wherever he wants to and that in all the decades he has lived in PNG he has only been held up once.
On the following Saturday our friends Faye and David take us to Ela Beach market where people from all over PNG sell their handicrafts and perform dancing, exciting!
We have had a very good time in Port Moresby thanks to all the nice people taking care of us. But we are also a bit frustrated because PNG is such a fascinating country and we haven't been able to see much of it. We would like to come back here one day, with lots of time to spend. The best way to travel around the country would be to befriend a local and invite him along as a guide, as Simon offered. The overwhelming majority of the people are nice and trustworthy, it is a shame that a small percentage of 'raskols' have given PNG such a bad reputation.
Leaving Port Moresby on Sunday morning, July 27, we sail the last 200 NM of the Pacific Ocean and then enter the Bligh Channel at midnight on Monday. After hearing horror stories about the waves and currents there we find ourselves in the morning motoring through a flat calm, with the islands floating above the horizon with upside down reflections like a mirage.
Early Wednesday morning, after sailing by Tuesday and Wednesday Islands, we drop anchor off of Thursday Island to clear into Australia, the Pacific finally being behind us.
CHAP XLIV A U S T R A L I A
T h u r s d a y I s l a n d
10º 35.20 S 142º 13.40 E
Shortly after we are boarded by the authorities - seven friendly officers of customs, immigration and quarantine invade Ragnar, three searching the deck, checking all the lockers, searching the
empty fuel cans, emptying our water cans to make sure nothing is hidden in them; meanwhile down below two officers looking in every nook and cranny while the other two bombard us with questions and forms to be filled out. The big question 'Do you have anything to declare?' but not telling us exactly what to declare is quite confusing at the time.
Our sweet potatoes are taken off our hands, all things made out of wood have to be declared and inspected for wood worms, but being on a wooden boat there seems to be no end. Finally the
quarantine/ agriculture officer is satisfied and leaves the boat. But afterwards the customs officer finds a few things that we have forgotten about (wooden flutes and leg rattles out of seedpods),
being stowed away to prevent breakage. So they have to call the agricultual inspector to come back on board. After four hours we are finally abandoned, told to have a nice day and to stop
by everybody's office to fill out more forms and do more paperwork in general. No wonder yachties fear clearing into Australia and many try to avoid it.
As the Australian Torres Strait islands are a special quarantine zone we even have to get a permit for anything we buy ashore and want to take into mainland Australia. But at least the officers are all very nice and helpful in all this burocratic hullaballoo.
Finally we are able to go ashore. It is a quick ride to the dock in the dinghy, but coming back to the boat against the 8 knot tidal current with choppy little waves we get soaking wet every
time. Not only do we get soaking wet, but also we have a fear of falling out of the dinghy in the crocodile- and very poisonous sea-snake-infested waters. Not our idea of an ideal anchorage.
Ashore the village consists of two wide main streets reminiscent of an American western town, the people very laid back and friendly, nobody in a hurry to get anywhere because on this tiny island there isn't much to see and do. Thursday Island in its hayday was the main pearling port of Australia, with hundreds of pearling luggers, but now none of them exists anymore.
Not having much to do, after three days we set sail for Darwin, 740 NM away.
We have a cracking sail from Boobie Island to Cape Don, clocking runs of 140 NM a day across the Gulf of Carpentaria and through the Arafura Sea. Once past Cape Don, entering the Van Diemen Gulf we have to motor. To go through the Gulf and Clarence Strait between the mainland and Melville Island it is essential to get the timing of the tide right: into the gulf with rising tide until Abbott Shoals, then out through the narrow Howard Channel with the ebbing tidal flow racing along at 9.5 knots, at night, to be spit out into the Timor Sea just north of Darwin.
In the whole passage from Thursday Island we are in shallow waters. Even along the coast of Darwin with its 8m tide it is very important to know where you are so you don't end up drying out on a sandbar one or two miles from shore.
Finally arriving at the approaches to Darwin at around 9 in the morning on Friday, August 8, we anchor inshore of the sandbar off Cullen Bay Marina. We ask on the radio if we can go into the
marina but are told that we have to have the bottom of the boat and all our waterpipes inspected by the Fisheries Department to make sure we don't infest the marina with the green mussel pest.
D a r w i n, Northern Territory
12º 27.24 S 130º 49.46 E
Finally, on Monday, we are allowed through the lock into the marina. We would have stayed at anchor, but because of the extreme tides there is always the possibility that you would end up on the sand at low tide. And swimming is not recommendable in these waters because of the crocodiles. Every year they re-locate 200 crocodiles from the area without any guarantee that it is all of them.
Because of the lock system the marina is like a deep pond, with finger- berths that are completely occupied, but we are lucky enough to be able to find a private berth belonging to one of the million-dollar houses that line the waterfront.
D A R W I N
12º 27.24 S 130º 49.46 E
For most navigators Darwin is the gateway to the Indian Ocean. So the first morning on our way to one of the numerous cafés around the harbor front we are overjoyed to meet several old friends again that we haven't seen for a while. We exchange experiences of what we did since the last time we saw each other, some having been on the east coast of Australia and others having explored other parts of the Pacific. Speaking of future plans some continue directly to South Africa (an awe-inspiring 6000 NM-voyage!), others heading for the Indonesia -Singapore- Malaysia- route like us.
After breakfast we hitch a ride to the centre of Darwin, a strange feeling to be in the Western world again: palm-fringed, clean, wide streets with side-walks, pedestrian zones with an array of shops and cafés, bubbling fountains, manicured tropical gardens and flowerbeds, an overwhelming abundance of fair-skinned people. Darwin is a beautiful modern city, rebuilt after cyclone Tracy destroyed over 60 % of it on Christmas Eve 1974. None of the buildings had been engineered to withstand cyclone winds. Now houses are protected against airborne debris and roofs are anchored to the foundations and hopefully well prepared for any future tropical storms.
And the building boom is still going on. The huge Wharf Precinct is being rejunvenized with apartment towers, a new marina, the Convention Centre and a wave lagoon (swimming off the multitude of beaches is not recommended because of the crocodiles and deadly box jellyfish in the water).
On Thursdays and Sundays, as the sun descends to the horizon, everybody and his brother flocks to Mindil Beach Market. There are buskers and didgeridoo bands, sizzling woks, the roadkill café selling barbecued kangaroo/ water buffalo/ crocodile and ostrich squewers, streams of stalls stocking handmade goodies like seedpot hats, beads, paintings and boomerangs, and offering Chinese massage. Thousands of people are picnicking on the lawn and watching the fabulous sunset from the beach.
While being in Darwin we take the opportunity to have spare gaff saddles made for the boat, check on the cooling system and prepare the ship for the long hot return to the Mediterranean.
Luckily we are in town for the Aboriginal Music and Arts Festival. We enjoy the opening concert sitting on the lawn of the Esplanade listening to the aboriginal bands, the highlight being a group from East Timor. The next day we take a free tour bus to the many aboriginal art galleries, the exhibition at the Convention Centre and the Museum of the Northern Territory.
Darwin is the capital of this state, Australia's Top End. Of the 21 million Australians only 2.2% are Aborigines, and most of them live in the NT where they own about half the land. Aboriginal culture has brought huge benefits to Australia's art, painting, carving, printing are a fundamental part of their lives, a connection between past and present life, between the people and their land. Aborigines are highly artistic people, and we can admire wonderful works of art and would like to take some home, but as they have become renowned worldwide by now, prices have also been skyrocketing. We cannot afford them.
In the evenings we watch shows at the Shell Amphitheatre in the Botanical Garden, the most impressing being a Korean percussion orchestra bringing the crowd to foot-stamping and clapping roars, at the end all dancing around in circles.
Friends tell us that a trip to Kakadu National Park is a must, so we rent a car for two days and drive first to the Mary River Park where we take a boat ride up the river seeing crocodiles, birds and thousands of fruit bats hanging in the bamboo thickets.
Driving further east towards Kakadu through the floodplains (sometimes the water level rises 1.5 meters above the road, as the signs warn) we pass enormous termite mounds, some four meters high. The eucalyptus woods all look blackened from the regular burning of underbrush to prevent raging wild fires. On the endless miles of straight highway without a curve in sight we pass huge road trains, gigantic trucks pulling five trailers behind them. You need at least one kilometer to overtake them.
In Kakadu we spend the night in Jabira's Gagudju Crocodile Inn. Viewed from the air this hotel forms the shape of a 250 m-crocodile, our room being in the third rib area...
Early the next morning we drive to Ubirr to view the rock paintings. We arrive just as the gates open, there are no other tourists around yet. The area is an outcropping of magnificent rock formations thrusting above the flat plain full of billabongs (water ponds) teeming with crocodiles, birds, water buffalos and wallabies. The ochre paintings on the millions of years-old rocks are eight thousand and more years old and depict creation legends of the Aborigines. It is awe-inspiring.
By the time we leave, Ubirr is teeming with busloads of tourists and we are glad to head back the 300 km to Darwin in the
blazing sun, having the aircon going full blast.
CHAP XLV I N D O N E S I A
T I M O R , K u p a n g
10º 09.60 S 123º 34.44
On Tuesday morning, August 26, we go through the marina lock, fill up with duty-free fuel and head for Bali, our next main stop. The islands of Timor and neighboring Rote being the nearest land we head in that direction, approximately 480 NM. There being very little wind we have to motorsail part of the way. Being 40 NM from the coast of Timor, we are passed by a giant whale (longer than our boat which is 13.5 m) steaming his way south only a few meters away from us.
During the night our navigation lights go out, our batteries lose their charge, our autopilot doesn't work any more, and after reading stories of the Indonesian fishing boats without any lights we are the only ones without lights and using our flashlight to signal other boats that we are in the area.
Early on Friday, August 29, roaming the northeast tip of Rote we want to anchor in an idyllic bay, but the anchor only goes down 20 meters, the anchor winch doesn't work any more, not enough electricity. So we haul it up by hand and turn around in the direction of Kupang on Timor hoping to find a solution to the problem.
Just before the city we anchor among the fishing fleet and then fall asleep totally exhausted. Two hours later we are awakened by the yelling and gesticulating fishermen telling us that we are in the wrong spot, in very shallow water, and have to move half a mile further up the coast. The tide is going out fast, there is barely any water left under our keel. Pulling up the anchor again by hand we motor to the right spot for yachts, right in front of the town centre.
We really didn't want to stop in Kupang, having heard horror stories and warnings about clearing in with Customs there. Some weeks ago the 116 boats of the Darwin-Singapore-Rallye had to pay a bond of 10 % of the value of their boats, a huge amount of money. And now we are in Kupang. In order to get out of this mess we get in touch with Napa Rachman to help us take care of the paperwork, which he does in a quick and efficient way. It seems that the system has been brought to order in the meantime and now appears to be troublefree. After two days, on Sunday, we have managed to clear into Indonesia
with Quarantine and Immigration, and after answering questions like 'Have you recently had any dead bodies on board? or dead birds? or stowaways?' we are finally able to drop our yellow Q-flag, and Skip can go ashore to have some cold beers and bring back a delicious barbecued prawn the size of a lobster.
Being so exhausted from our trip we make an early night of it only to be awoken at 4.30 in the morning by the muezzin calling the muslims to prayer. After a while he stops, we fall asleep again to be awoken an hour later by the muezzin again. Quite a unique experience in the still calm of the morning being called to prayer to thank Allah for the day. On shore the town comes to life with hundreds of motorcycles and bemos (public mini-vans)plying their way through the narrow streets and alleys, everybody beeping their horns.
The bemos are all customized-painted with everything imaginable, to the point you are hardly able to see through the windshield and windows. Festooned with multi-colored lights all blinking, side-doors open, with people jumping on and off. Walking through the litter-strewn streets on our way to the market we hop on one and find ourselves packed like sardines 17 to a can in an eight-person vehicle.
Our friend Napa gladly shows us around town and introduces us to Hani, a mechanic that we send up the masts to repair our lights and who also tries to solve our battery problems. After wandering through town from one shop to the next we finally get to a Chinese automotive shop where the proprietor ensures us that we will not find any gel-batteries in Kupang and that our best bet would be to rush to Bali.
Customs has not shown up, they leave us in peace thanks to Napa and the fact that we made an emergency stop. We can clear in with them when we arrive in Bali. On Wednesday morning, September 3, after Napa promises us that he will call his friend at Bali Marina notifying him of our arrival in some days and need of assistance we up anchor by hand and set sail.
R I N C A Island
8º 47.18 S 119º 40.24 E
After a cracking 48-hour sail through the Sawu Sea we pick up a mooring buoy in the channel between Rinca and Kodé Islands, actually the only mooring-buoy - we are lucky.
Rinca is hilly and desolate, yet beautiful and sandwiched between the big islands of Flores and Sumbawa and, like its bigger neighbor Komodo, home to the Komodo dragons. This group of islands and their incredibly rich surrounding coral reefs form the world-famous Komodo National Park.
As we are tied up only a few meters from the beach we can watch the wildlife from the boat. Most guidebooks tend to exaggerate about the charms of a place, and our guidebook says that you can see the dragons, wild boar, makaque monkeys and deer all on the beach. And that's exactly what we can see, quite amazing! Already while we are tying up there are two big dragons
taking a stroll along the beach.
In the early afternoon we paddle ashore in the dinghy and find some dragons in the half-shade of the bush merging perfectly with their environment. We cannot get close enough for a good picture, but then we see one waddling along the sand. So we get back in the dinghy and drift along the water's edge until we are only a few meters away from it and able to shoot some close-ups.
These dragons are actually giant lizards, up to 3 m long.They have enormous claws (15 cm), fearsome teeth and fiery yellow-greenish tongues that they flick constantly. They have small heads, but powerful jaws, a slender neck, massive scaly bodies and long thick tails which can be used as a weapon.
They feed on insects, birds, fish, but also on large animals like deer and buffalo, and can swallow prey as large as a goat. They ambush their victim and bite it and wait for the seven kinds of deadly bacteria in their saliva to do the job, sometimes up to two weeks, before tucking in. They are also cannibals, and the little ones live up in trees for safety until they are one meter in length, which takes about five years. Sometimes Komodos attack people and kill them. They have a very keen sense of smell and can smell something as far as eleven kilometers away. There are perhaps 1100 of them on Rinca.
The Komodos on the beach don't seem to be hungry and are quite used to seeing people around (the place is a stop for yachties and divers), but we are still very alert about them. They seem to be clumsy and slow, but we know that they can develop amazing speed and are good swimmers. It is quite exciting to watch them in liberty at such a short distance.
After resting in Rinca for two days we continue on our journey to Bali on Sunday, September 7. We leave through the western pass just in time before a huge rain squall hits the anchorage. Crossing Selat Sape between the islands of Komodo and Sumbawa we are pushed six miles towards the south from the incredible tidal current running through this pass. Once along the
coast of Sumbawa we can hold a steady westward course along the 150-mile long southern shore of this big island.
Around noon the next day we reach the pass between Sumbawa and Lombok called Selat Alas. Again the current pushes us around, so we have to keep a steady eye on the GPS-compass course not to be pushed into the open sea. But both these selats are nothing compared to the 35-mile wide Selat Lombok between Lombok and Bali. In this pass we have a pretty good idea what the current will do to us, so we crab our way across, steering 40 degrees higher than our true course.
On Tuesday, September 9, early in the morning we arrive off the coast of Bali being quite exhausted fighting the current all night long. We have difficulty finding the entrance to the pass into Benoa harbor as the south coast of Bali is as flat as a pancake, there are no landmarks or markers to be seen. But at around 9 o'clock ferries start coming out of the entrance and we can go in and now see lots of noisy motorboats, jetskis, speedboats trailing parachutes and even flying air-matresses.
Moving up the channel and wondering where we are with all this activity going on around us we finally find Bali Marina where we tie up alongside Nomadess, a luxurious US maxi racing yacht (the marina is packed, not a berth available), to a warm welcome from the Bali Marina staff.
I N D O N E S I A
J A V A
Y o g y a k a r t a
After the first week in Bali, getting things shipshape, installing new gel batteries, sanding and varnishing, fixing lights and many other small things, we decide to take a vacation from the boat and fly to Yogyakarta on Java. We leave at 6 in the morning and get there shortly before 6 due to the time difference.
We stay at the five-star Melià Hotel within walking distance to the Kraton, the old district and still the city's hub. Yogya, as it is called, is a bustling city of half a million inhabitants (and many more with its many suburbs), with over 20 universities and a huge student population. The majority of its main transport are motorcycles, buzzing here and there and parked just anywhere among the shops and stalls, spilling into the streets, making it very difficult for the pedestrians. The traffic seems to circulate in complete chaos, on the right, on the left, up or down one-way streets, it seems to be a question of who has the most nerve, but we never see an accident.
On our way to visit the sultan's palace, the Kraton, we are met by friendly Dibiyo who becomes our guide for the next two days. He tells us to take our time to look at the palace and then meet him again so he can show us the districts around the Kraton where he lives.
Usually there are all kinds of dancing and musical performances at the palace, but as it is Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, there is nothing going on in that respect. We just enjoy looking at the various pavilions and collections and the gardens and then stroll around the historic distric with Dibiyo. Yogya is still headed by its well-loved sultan who still lives in the Kraton. It is said to be Java's heart and soul. Yogya is Java's arts and traditions center, and it is the place where the Javanese language is at its purest. It is a modern city, but in the kampung ( the district around the palace), time seems to have stopped, sustaining a quiet, slow conservative way of life only a stone's throw from the throbbing main streets.
Dibiyo shows us and explains many things that we wouldn't have seen without him, we can talk to people and go into areas that we would never have dared to go into on our own. Yogya consists of many small neighborhoods (kampung), and each kampung has its own neighborhood watch. Each male householder has a duty to be on watch on a specific date to watch for any unorthodox behavior or fires or anything else out of the ordinary, and if there is, he beats a certain rythm on the watch drum until other citizens come running.
In the mornings and afternoons men and women take turns sweeping the streets or preparing the meals. Seemingly a very efficient system considering how clean and orderly everything appears to be - no crime or vandalism in the area, people don't even lock their houses, kids are safe everywhere. Another young man tells us later that he works for the sultan one day a week without getting paid (only a symbolic coin worth maybe one cent), but that he is proud of being able to work for him, it is an honor.
After strolling around the Kraton area and the neighboring districts and along the thick ancient city walls we eventually come to the bird market and a market in a very narrow lane crammed full of food stalls with people buying their first meal of the day to break their fast at sunset. There is an unbelievable choice of delicious foods cooked by the people of the neighborhood. Altogether we spend about 3$ on a large assortment of goodies for the three of us and find a quiet place under a tree where we wait for the muezzin to call off the fast at sunset before we dig into it and have some icetea. We even have some leftovers that we take back to the hotel and enjoy later.
The next morning we meet Dibiyo again. He takes us to the oldest batik master of Yogya to watch him at work and explain the technique of covering various areas of fabric with wax before it is dipped into dye. Once dried the wax is removed and applied to other parts of the material and then again dipped into the next color. This is repeated various times depending on the number of colors used.
Then Dibiyo takes us to a local restaurant kitchen to show us how meals are prepared, something you wouldn't normally see. We are glad to have him with us - and he doesn't even ask for any payment. The kitchen is a real sight, very down to earth, literally, but also very clean.
Yogya is a Muslim city, with a mosque every 200 meters. At the time of prayer calls (five times a day) the whole town resounds with the singing of all the different muezzins. One does not see any veiled women, some head scarves, but most of them are bare- headed and dressed in western style, in a decent way. People assure us that Indonesians are not religious fanatics, that they want to live in peace with people of other faiths - they have to, too, because there are many Christians, Hindus and Buddhists living in the country. Everybody is very friendly, curious about our whereabouts, polite, helpful. Pleasant people.
In the afternoon Dibiyo accompanies us to the bus stop from where to catch the bus to the famous Hindu temple complex of Prambanan, some 20 km away. The bus we catch must be the slowest in the world, the bus driver falling asleep at every red light and only waking half way through the green, but eventually we get there.
The Prambanan temple is a World Heritage site, 1200 years old and spectacular. In 2006 a 6.3 earthquake hit central Java and also did great damage to Prambanan. The main temples are surrounded by scaffolding and the painstaking work of putting thousands of stones back into place will take years to finish.
The next morning we catch the bus to Borobudur, the colossal Buddhist monument near Yogya, one of southeast Asia's marvels. In the northeast we see Gunung Merapi, the uge,unpredictable, almost 3000 m high active volcano looming over the plain. At the bus stop we climb into a rickshaw that takes us to the hotel on the premises. And there it is, Borobudur, rising high and mighty out of a patchwork of green rice fields and swaying palm tops, surviving Merapi's ash flows, earthquakes, terrorist bombs and tear of millions of tourist flipflops to remain as enigmatic and beautiful as it must have been 1200 years ago!
After circumambulating each of the nine different levels of the gigantic building that resembles a tantric mandala we are awed by the peaceful tranquillity and splendid views over the plain and of the volcano. During the two days we spend in Borobudur we walk up again and again and cannot get enough of this highly spiritual place.
The monument was conceived as a Buddhist vision of the cosmos: at the base it depicts the world dominated by suffering through desire and spirals up to nirvana, the liberation from suffering symbolized by the buddhas in stupas.
We walk around Borobudur near and far, overwhelmed by the many aspects and views of this world wonder. Walking through the large park surrounding it, we come to the elephant stables and take an hour's ride on Ela and Mori up the mountain side overlooking Borobudur. From the grin on Barbara's face you could tell she is in a déja-vu world of past lives, remembering experiences of riding elephants in former times...
We visit the museum where we admire the sailing ship that was built according to one of the reliefs of Borobudur and actually sailed from Java to Sierra Leone in West Africa. Later we take another form of transport, a dokar, a jingling horse-drawn two-wheeled cart brightly colored and decorated with bells and tassles, to Mendut temple. This small temple is even older than Borobudur, and it houses a 3 m-high Buddha that sits in western style with both feet on the ground, flanked by Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig) and Vairapana. Upon leaving the temple we are assaulted by hawkers who would have gladly sold their mothers. In some parts of Indonesia the standard practice is to bargain fiercely with the hawkers. If they say a hundred, you can start with 20, and if they settle for anything more than fifty, they think you are a fool. Even after buying something they don't leave you alone. After 5 days in Java we fly back to Denpasar to finally see something of Bali.
B A L I
Benoa Harbor, Balimarina
8º 44.44 S 115º 12.80 E
After a very short glance at Bali's booming tourist area around Kuta and Seminyak where the prices may be ten times the norm we decide it is not for us and head up for Ubud in central Bali. Ubud is another touristic destination, but focused entirely on the rich Balinese culture.
Once there we check into the pleasant spacious and ornate Artini 3 hotel, set in a large lush garden with a big pool bordering rice paddies. Darma, the young and friendly manager tells us that there is a commuter service to take us anywhere in town and that also picks us up whenever we call. Perfect.
There is a long list of events the same evening and he suggests we go look at a legong dance at the Water Palace. The water palace in the centre of town is very picturesque, with a lake full of pink lotus blossoms. We sit spellbound through the performance, watching the dancers' incredible finger- and eye movements and body-language while they are retelling a story from the Hindu Ramayana epics. Bali is the only Indonesian island with a deep-rooted and lively Hindu culture.
After a peaceful night we take a long walk through the rice paddies on the north side of Ubud. Passing along the irrigation canals we finally come to a bridge over a stream that takes us to another ridge where we stop at a makeshift stall and have a refreshening drink. A little further along we meet a Balinese artist who decides to accompany us through the rice fields, down a steep ravine, across a rickety bamboo bridge and up the other side of the ravine where we find another path back to town. After the exhausting 4-hour trek we are happy to be picked up by the Artini chauffeur and taken back to the hotel to relax and cool off by the pool.
The next day we hire a car to take us into the mountains. Because of the heavy traffic on the main roads we ask Budi, our chauffeur, to take us along the back roads, passing through small villages where almost each one seems to have some kind of a celebration. Even Budi is surprised how pleasant and relaxed it is along the byways. All the streets are decorated with a sea of yellow banners on high bamboo poles, women dressed in their finest sarongs carry offerings on their heads, children parade in colorful costumes and headdresses, men in black and white
checkered sarongs and headscarves. The village temples are decorated with ribbons and flowers, bird cages and statues of dragons, brahman priests are clad in white suits, people burn incense and prepare offerings of flowers and food for cremation and other ceremonies, dancers in exotic costumes and masks perform story-lines of famous Hindu epics. Balinese have a vibrant Hindu tradition that imbues their whole lives.
After stopping at many villages, aghast at the diverse and colorful scenery and taking pictures galore we finally reach our first destination, Bedugul near Lake Bratan, high up in the mountains where we visit the Botanical Garden. And what do we find there in the middle of this tropical island paradise? A greenhouse full of cacti and succulents we have growing at home in our garden in Mallorca!
Taking another small and very remote road we pass miles and miles of clementine groves before we arrive at the Gunung Batur area where we have lunch with a superb view of the crater lake and one of the new smoking volcano cones. It is quite cool and dry up here, several of the mountains are over 2000 m high, Gunung Agung, the highest one, even over 3000 m, and we are glad to drive back down the slopes towards Bangli and Ubud with their green rice paddies and balmy climate. The rice terraces are works of art and complete ecological systems: duck herders lead their flocks out for a day's paddle in the flooded fields, at night young boys catch frogs and eels there, other crops are grown there between the three yearly rice harvests and on the levees between the fields. The soil is extremely fertile because of the volcanic ashes, and the pristine water from the mountains irrigates the fields.
On the way back to Ubud we stop at Darma's house near Gianyar for the ceremony of his baby daughter being 6 months old. After meeting with the whole family and having some babi guling (roasted suckling pick) we head back to the hotel. The next day we have to change into Artini 2 hotel because ours is booked out and we have been prolonging our stay. Artini 2 is basically the same, the difference being that instead of having a chauffeur-driven car we have chauffeur- driven motorbikes which are more useful in the crowded centre of town and also more fun.
One morning Barbara takes an interesting cooking course at famous Casa Luna preparing a ceremonial banquet. It involves a lot of pounding spices, meat and vegetables with a volcanic stone mortar and pestle - Balinese work out! In the evening we attend a fascinating kecak-dance at Pura Dalem Taman Kaja. A large group of over a hundred men sit and dance in concentric circles around a pillar of fire, accompanying the Ramayana story with mesmerizing chanting of 'kecak!kecak'. At the end an entranced firewalker dances through the blazing heap of coconut husks with bare feet, impervious to the heat of the coals.
The next morning we head back to the boat in Balimarina to prepare for our trip to Borneo, or Kalimantan as they call it in Indonesia. Early on Sunday, October 5, we work our way out of the harbor and head north through Selat Lombok against the tide and with very little wind. Just before sunset we reach the northeastern point of Bali, mighty Gunung Agung (over 3000m) towering above the island. Heading for the island of Kangean between Bali and Borneo at midday the next day the wind dies down completely and we start to motor. After an hour the motor stops, the fuel filters are clogged with dirt from the terrible Indonesian diesel fuel. While changing the filter, the filter can breaks and there we are without wind and without motor, already in sight of Kangean, just drifting along and wondering what to do. Suddenly we see another sailboat on the horizon and we get into radio contact. It's our American friends Tiffany and Bruce on Vixen. They come to help and lend us a C-clamp so we can hold the filter can in place. We decide to head back to Bali where we hope to be able to get a new filter can.
By 12 o'clock the next day we anchor off Lovina on Bali's northern shore (8º 09.62 S 115º 01.31 E) and are met by Benny and Damon, two fishermen on their spider boat who say they will try to help us. Lovina is a group of small relaxed tourist villages with a black sand beach full of colorful skinny boats with wide curved outriggers that nowadays take tourists on dolphin-watching, snorkeling and diving tours. Fishing is not worth while anymore as the fishermen get too little for their fish since the cost of fuel has been sky-rocketing. On one side we see and hear the Hindu community chanting and celebrating almost all day long, on the other side the Muslim fishing community's muezzins are calling to prayer. As sound carries over the water we are in between and constantly listening to both. We feel really at home here because of Benny's and Damon's hospitality and good care, providing us with fuel and groceries, picking us up to visit them at their home and even inviting us to Damon's sister's wedding.
They find us a new double filter taken from an old Mercedes bus that we instal and by Sunday we are ready to leave again. But after 10 NM the filter starts leaking and we return again to Lovina where Benny and Damon are already waiting for us. After making some washers out of a synthetic material with the help of Damon's uncle, a mechanic from Benoa Harbor, we are finally able to leave on Tuesday morning and head directly to Pulau Bawean (51 43.86 S 112º 40.20 E) where we anchor on Thursday, Oct 15, around noon in a beautiful bay on the north side of the island.
On Friday we go ashore and hire an old van and a driver to show us the island. It is quite remote, it doesn't have an airport yet (it's under construction). The people are gawking at us as if they have never seen a white person before, but they are very friendly and we laugh a lot as we are trying to communicate with them in our basic Indonesian.
Late on Saturday, Oct 18, we leave Bawean and set out for the Kumai River in south Borneo. Again with very little wind we end up motoring most of the way through the Java Sea and by Monday at around noon we have motored 10 NM up the river and anchor along the river bank at the opposite side of Kumai.
B O R N E O
2º 44.47 S 111º 44.04 E
The mouth of the Kumai River is very shallow and plagued with many sand bars. There is only one narrow deep water channel which zigzags its way through the hazards until you reach the river proper. After heavy rains there are floating islands to watch out for, big ships going up and down and many fishermen laying traps and nets everywhere. Luckily we go up the river with the inflowing tide because the outflowing tide and the force of the river can reach speeds up to 8 knots.
Once anchored we are met by Aki who offers to take care of all our needs, taxying us into town and organizing diesel and also a klotok (boat) trip up the Segonyer River to see the orang utans at Tanjung Puting National Park.Early on Wednesday morning a bright blue klotok pulls up alongside us, a boat boy jumps aboard to guard Ragnar while we are gone and we start our 5-hour journey up the Segonyer, a tributary of the Kumai River. At the beginning the river is very wide and still a tidal zone, and the water being brackish fringed with impenetrable palm thickets (palms like to have their feet in salt water). Further up the vegetation turns more jungle-like, a sign that the tide doesn't reach that far.
Then the river becomes narrower and narrower and we eventually turn into a side-arm which becomes even narrower, sometimes only 10 m wide with the jungle-forest hanging overhead until we finally reach Camp Leaky and tie up alongside two other klotoks and go ashore to have our first orang utan experience. After half an hour's walk we reach the feeding station where we thoroughly enjoy the antics of the orang utans climbing up trees and swinging on the vines with their hands and feet and mouths full of bananas, each having their own personality, some indifferent to the people taking pictures, others acting like Hollywood stars posing for a photo shoot and also watching us curiously. The orang utans (5000 in this park) are not in cages, they are completely free and seem to be be very friendly, you could touch them they are so close. The big boss grabs the big bowl and loves to slurp his milk and honey and asks for more, and the ranger goes and pours him another bowl full. If we had an orang utan on board we would have no problems with any gear up the mast. We wouldn't need a bosun chair or a ditty bag
the orang utans being able to climb hand or foot. Some days ago an orang utan got into a canoe and paddled away with it, so far they haven't found a trace of any.
We had planned to spend the night tied to the dock but because the big boss orang utan is so curious pacing up and down the dock and looking at our boat we decide to go downriver a little ways and tie up to a bush. We spend a very pleasant evening there, listening to the frogs, crickets, birds and other animals of the jungle. The next morning we move further down the river to Tanjung Harapan Village where the families of the goldminers live who commute 4 hours up river to their claims. We take a stroll through the village until a torrential downpour starts and we have to run back to the klotok and sit under a canopy until the rain stops. Some proboscis monkeys in the tree nearby peer at us curiously. We wanted to stop at another feeding station but
because of the rain the place would be infested by mosquitoes, so we head back to Kumai.
As our cruising permit is soon to expire we decide to clear out of Indonesia in Pangkalan Bun, the capital of central Borneo, and Kumai. This is no problem whatsoever but a lot of rushing around, first to Immigration and Customs in Pangkalan Bun (which is a very pretty town) and then Quarantine and Harbormaster at Kumai, all at the great expense of 10 $. Later we hear that boats clearing out at Nongsa Point on Batam had to pay fees into the hundreds of dollars.
On Saturday, Oct 25, we set out on the last stretch of our Indonesian tour for Singapore, 625 NM away. After five days of flat calms on Wednesday, Oct 29, at 15.56 we cross the equator at 105º 28.10 E and are back in the northern hemisphere after 20 months in the south!
On Thursday night we are hit by a storm just south of Bintan island, the winds gusting to 30 knots, big waves, the motor stops (bad fuel...) and we get stuck in a whirlpool that spins us around for three hours. Finally by 6 o'clock in the morning we are able to work our way out of this whirlpool and head up the Selat Riau between Bantam and Bintan islands where we drop anchor among the fishing fleet in Tanjung Pinang, with 20 liters to spare.
B I N T A N
0º 56.20 N 104º 26.50 E
While Skip is going ashore in a local sampan to get fuel we are boarded by harbor police inspector Sirait. First we think we might get into trouble because we are already cleared out of Indonesia, but after telling him that we stopped for emergency reasons he comes out with the famous Indonesian saying 'No worries! It's OK!' He just wants to help us by accompanying us around town on his motorbike and even suggests that we should all go together in a water taxi to see the Chinese Buddhist temple and the bright yellow, egg-painted mosque. We feel very good anchored among all the fishing trawlers with very little room to swing at anchor, it's a real party atmosphere. When our boat gets too close to the trawlers the crews just laugh and push us off again.
On Friday (!!!), Oct 31, we move further north to an anchorage off Buau Island at 1º 02.75 N 104º 13.56 E. Relaxing there, waiting for the tide to change, at 5 in the afternoon we start on the last 58 NM stretch across the Singapore Strait to Raffles Marina on the west coast, just opposite Malaysia.
An hour out of the anchorage the motor stops again and after pumping the gasoil for 10 minutes we get it going again and are able to motor, there being no wind. This happens about every 15, 20 minutes. We get into a routine where it takes only a minute or two to get the motor going again.
Crossing the Singapore Strait at night and without wind and the motor constantly stopping - we must be out of our minds, but we don't have a choice. In the shipping lanes the huge freighters and tankers pass by every 10 to 12 minutes. Everything is in the timing to approach a big tanker at full speed within few meters, then turn parallel until it passes and crossing behind, praying that the motor won't stop until we are out of the way of the next monster. Skip is at the bow giving orders, Barbara at the tiller. Miraculously the motor does not stop once until we are across the shipping lane...
Once on the Singapore side the motor stops and we are hit by a fierce rain squall and sail through all the anchored ships to the small craft anchorage just to the east of town where we sit out the thunderstorm and go to bed. By 9 o'clock the next morning, Saturday, Nov 1, the storm has passed and we motor our way the 30 NM around the southern side of Singapore Harbor, weaving between hundreds of big ships, having motor problems as before, the intervals becoming shorter and shorter. But finally at 5.30 in the afternoon we arrive at Raffles Marina to a very warm greeting and cheers. Hurrah, we made it!!
At Raffles Marina we get in contact with German-run MTU, a Mercedes-related firm, who send us a very nice, young and competent mechanic, Ong,who finally finds the source of our problem: a tiny piece of cloth stuck in the filter intake pipe....Unbelievable. Ong tells us it's quite normal, many boats come from Indonesia with similar problems caused by extremely dirty fuel. After cleaning the tanks and all the fuel lines, installing new filters and putting in new copper washers everywhere we are up and running again and are able to go ashore and explore Singapore.
We find Indonesia to be a phantastic country to visit, although it can be a sailor's nightmare with extremely strong currents, very little or too much wind, heavy thunder squalls, many whirlpools, many obstacles like fish blinds made from bundles of bamboo poles up to 20 miles off shore without markings or lights, fishing nets across channels and the many fishing boats with a variety of lights never seen on the water before, wrecks and shoal waters, unmarked reefs, floating islands, tree trunks and most of all the bad fuel. But the highly interesting culture and scenery and the friendliness of the peole make up for disadvantages. Indonesia is a place where you could spend years exploring all the different islands.
S I N G A P O R E
1º 1760 N 103º 45.70 E
Raffles Marina being on the western shore of Singapore Island, a long way away from the center of town, provides us with a free bus to the MRT station. After a half-hour ride on the bus we arrive at the train station, figure out how to buy tickets from the automat, then after another half hour on the fabulous train we emerge from the underground into the heart of Little
India, but not quite where we want to go. We ask directions from several friendly people, all with a different answer, and finally decide to take a cab to our destination, a rigging shop.
After conducting our business we ask the owner directions to the nearest internet. 'After a few rights and lefts and a few hundred meters you'll find one!' But emerging from the building, directly across the street, is what we're looking for. People in these parts seem to have quite a problem giving directions, as almost anywhere in southeast Asia, it's almost better not to ask.
After getting up to date with our e-mails we make the mistake of asking for the nearest post-office. 'Oh, down the street, around the corner, and then 100m on your left!' We wander around for an hour, finally giving up, taking another 15-minute ride across town to the nearest post-office. After buying stamps for our collection and getting a new SIM-card for our cellphone, Barbara makes the mistake to ask for directions for a restaurant she wants to have lunch at. This involves the gentle ladies at the post-office looking through phone-books, street guides, calling different authorities, and after approximately an hour they figure out where it is, but by the time we get there it is already closed. We end up having some fresh juice and some chicken with rice at the food stall.
In order to catch the last free bus we get back on the train and head for the marina after an exhausting day with very little achieved, but that's the way things are here.
The next day, after planning our excursion a little bit better, we catch the early bus hoping to have more time during the day. But arriving in town we find out that shops in Singapore only open at 11 or 12 o'clock. Slowly but surely we are figuring out the rythm of this city.
The central shopping district of Singapore is around Orchard Street where you can find everything and anything all within walking distance, from luxury brands to Chinese gift or medicinal shops. It's like being in New York or San Francisco, but more compact and cosy, with tree-lined streets, coffee shops with fountains, food stalls, a good public transportation system-a shopper's paradise.
Little by little we explore the city, stroll through Indian, Chinese and Malay streets crammed with food-stalls, butchers, electronics, silk shops, cheap souvenirs, whining Chinese and Bollywood music blaring from hundreds of loudspeakers. We visit Buddhist temples, mosques and incredibly kitschy Indian temples and get soaked in sweat. The fruit stalls are full of exotic fruit. It is the durian season (these spiky, somewhat rotten smelling fruit that Asians go crazy about and eat on the spot), but there are also star-fruit, rambutans, the bright pink dragon-fruit that we love (but I have to put gloves on to peel them because they stain so much), mangosteens, mangos and sweet dukus that look like small potatoes. We wander through the Colonial District with its old churches and convents and famous Raffles Hotel, along the Singapore River and by the honey-combed Esplanade Building.
Singapore Island has about 4.5 million inhabitants. Most of them live in state-run highrises spread all over the island, the wealthier ones live in luxurious apartment towers. The island is very green, with many parks and greenery even in the city. Singapore is a very clean and well-organized city, and also very successful economically. Three quarters of the population are Chinese, the rest are Malays, South Indians and a few Eurasians. Racial and religious harmony is a cornerstone of the country, and it seems that all the different people get along fine though one hears the one or other complaint about Chinese dominance.
M A L A Y S I
P o r t D i c k s o n
2º 28.75 N 101º 50.40 E
After two weeks in the big city we leave for Malaysia which starts right across the river from the marina. After 48 hours of strong tidal currents and heavy shipping and the wind on the nose no matter which direction we want to go up the Malacca Strait, we arrive at Admiral Marina near Port Dickson, a good place to leave the boat while exploring inland. The fishing boats that are nowhere to be seen during the day, but are there by the hundreds at night, going every which way, and the tugboats with their barges are the worst. They seem to be passing by, but when they get within a mile, they change course and cross over our bows making us alter course to avoid collision.
Organizing a tiny rental car from one of the dock boys is no problem - no contract, no papers, he just hands us the key and says, 'Have fun!' They seem to be doing good business with their private cars. So off we go to Melaka, 90 km south of Port Dickson on the coast. Upon arriving in town all the street signs are in Malaysian or Chinese, we just park the car in the only empty spot we can see and the first man we meet to ask directions happens to be the owner of the hotel we are looking for. Upon informing us that he is booked up he suggests another hotel just down the street, the Puri Hotel, a beautifully restored old house in the centre of Chinatown.
Already in the 15th century Melaka became a wealthy and powerful port under the sultanates, trading with China, Indonesia and Siam owing to its strategic position on the Strait of Malacca. Chinese settlers came, Arabs, Indians. In the 16th century the Portuguese conquered the city, then, a century later the Dutch, and after them the British. Melaka today is a mixture of all these people and cultures, there are even still descendants of the Portuguese who still speak a kind of Portuguese (cristao) to this day.
Wandering around the town in the blistering heat we happen upon the central trishaw station at Town Square. The Melaka trishaws are the most ornate we have ever seen, each driver trying to outdo the others with flowers, statues, ribbons and lights, even stereo sound systems blaring reggae, hard rock, country or Chinese music. Because of the unbearable heat we hop a ride with Baby Jackson (of Portuguese descent and Catholic, as he proudly tells us), who pedals us around the city, from the Dutch Stadthuys and church along the modern malls and highrises to the Sultan's Palace and the ruins of the Portuguese fort. After a very pleasant ride back to where we started he offers to pedal us to our hotel at no extra charge - what a nice fellow!
Being in such a plush hotel and tired we decide to eat at the hotel restaurant- which is a big mistake. How dare they call this a restaurant...After eating a plate of unrecognizable mishmash we braze the tropical downpour to eat something more appetizing and have a Tiger beer. Around here you are far better off eating from a small food stall on the street.
The next morning we explore Chinatown, early, before the tourists come out and cram the streets. We look at temples,mosques, shrines, stop at the bound-feet shoemaker's store (even the former French president Chirac bought a pair of those baby-sized silken shoes) and walk along the Melaka River.
Then we head back to the marina to organize our next trip to Kuala Lumpur. At the marina the owner of the car asks us if we need fuel and suggests that we should jerrycan it in his car from a gas station where it is almost half the price as in the marina. After six trips we have saved the amount that the rental of the car plus the hotel room and the food in Melaka cost us.
K u a l a L u m p
Our 100km-trip to Kuala Lumpur starts with a 5 Euro taxi ride to the bus station, a 2 Euro bus ride, a 1.50 Euro train ride and a 60 cent monorail ride right into the centre of KL. They have quite an excellent and cheap transport system here, but the bus ride is a little nerve-wrecking with the bus-driver talking on his cellphone all the time, gesticulating with his hands like a Spaniard and holding the steering wheel with his knees. No wonder one reads about so many horrible bus accidents in the newspaper all the time.
When we get off the Komuter train from Seremban at Kuala Lumpur Sentral (they have a great way of spelling English words here, like aiskrim and wain, it makes absolute sense) we think we are on a huge building site. Everything around us looks rather run down and unorganized, there are big cracks in the pavement and big potholes, we are surrounded by delapidated buildings, and everything looks quite Third World. But with the shiny Petronas Towers in the background, until recently the highest in the world. We take the super-modern monorail and get off at the Golden Triangle in the north of the city. And there the impression changes and we find ourselves in a modern metropolis.
KL is Malaysia's capital and biggest city. Much of the old has been and still is being demolished, but some impressive old buildings still remain and also the colorful quarters of Chinatown, Little India and the Malay communities' heartlands. It's this multicultural character that makes KL such a fascinating place.
From our hotel room we have a breathtaking view of KL's skyline and the changing colors of the brightly lit Petronas Towers at night. But the first thing we do in the afternoon is go to the Lake Gardens at the edge of the central city area. These vast lush gardens have many attractions, but the highlight is the Bird Park, a huge walk-in aviary with 160 species of birds, from weird-looking hornbills to the extremely rare cassowaries. You hardly feel the net over the wonderfully landscaped tropical paradise with ponds and waterfalls. There is a group of Arabian tourists, the guys decked out like rappers, the wives fully veiled in black, only the eyes are visible. Brightly colored parrots flit around and sit on your hands and head and shoulders and cling to your shirt, storks and peacocks wander about.
Next to the Bird Park is the Orchid Garden with its amazing diversity of orchids of all colors, even blue ones. And a little further away the Butterfly Park with an additional museum of beetles and spiders, the strangest exhibit being the man-faced beetle. Malaysians are extremely good gardeners, but of course they also have the advantage of the tropical climate and very fertile soil.
A short walk from the Lake Gardens is Merdeka (Independence) Square, once the heart of colonial KL, and close to it several attractive buildings in Moghul- and Moorish inspired architecture and several futuristic highrises with Islamic features. Next to the grandiose State Mosque there is the Islamic Arts Museum with wide open spaces, stunning domes and glaced tilework and fabulous exhibits. We detect a quaint Lebanese restaurant where we delight in eastern Mediterranean dishes, a welcome change from rice and curries and fishhead soups and frog porridge.
As our GPS malfunctions because of a lightning storm, only giving us readings of 0º latitude and 0º longitude we are looking for a new one.At Sun Yat Plaza mall we are overwhelmed by the six floors of high-tech electronics and the choice. Nowadays the technology is so advanced that even cheap cellphones have GPS with integrated chart plotters and internet connection. But the instruction book is as thick as a telephone book and we stick to the handheld Garmin GPS instead. Simple and easy to handle.
We walk to the Petronas Towers and the Suria KLCC mall at their base, a glitzy, several storey-high luxury mall next to the spacious and pretty KLCC park and its lake. And from there to the Menara KL Tower that provides the highest view over KL's hills. Its viewing deck is at least 100m higher than the Petronas Towers' skybridge. From up there one can see how green KL is in spite of the heavy building going on everywhere.
Just north of the capital are the impressive Batu Caves, also the site of several psychedelic Hindu shrines. A flight of 272 steps leads up to Temple Cave, a vast open space in the steep rocks. While toiling up the steep steps, monkeys ar sitting on the posts of the railing curiously watching the tourists.
P u t r a j a y a
From the Batu Caves our taxi driver takes us to Putrajaya, some 20 km south of KL. While KL is Malaysia's principal business and economical center, Putrajaya is the country's new government and administrative one. It is a completely new model township for 350 000 people that is being constructed with detailed planning, innovative urban design and utmost concern
for preservation of the environment. The centerpiece is a huge man-made lake. 38% of the city area are being developed into parks and wetlands.
As yet only 50 000 people live here and it's an eery feeling- there are very few cars on the wide empty streets and very few -if any- people walking around, no visible shops or cafés. But the buildings are impressive, especially the pink-granite mosque with its breathtaking dome, the Prime Minister's office building and the nine futuristic bridges, the longest one spanning 435m. All the buildings are different in style and deliberately eye-catching as Putrajaya is also planned to be a tourist attraction. The city's construction is funded by the national gas corporation Petronas. We only see Malaysian tourists, awed by the grand buildings going up here. Also our taxi driver is very proud of this city, but at the same time he is wondering if all this money wouldn't be better invested into the areas of the country that badly need it.
P e n a n g I s l a n
d, George Town
5º 25' N 100º 21' E
From Port Dickson we move further up the coast to the island of Penang, again motoring. The light wind is coming out of the north, and because of rain squalls and poor visibility we go up the west coast of the island hoping that turning around the northwest corner we might be able to set sail for the last 12 miles to George Town, but to no avail.
Navigating along the Malaysian coast is quite difficult because of the very shoal waters far off the coast. Three miles to the west of the island we are moving through only 5 m of water - not the blue water sailing that we so enjoy and full of fishing boats with fish traps and nets, a real slalom coourse. Not wanting to drop the anchor in the foul mud that you find in most places in southeast Asia we tie up at Tanjung City Marina off the center of George Town.
George Town, Penang's capital, is the oldest British Straits settlement in Malaysia and a fascinating place to wander. It is a bustling and colorful and largely Chinese city, full of tumbledown shophouses, impressive colonial architecture and trishaws ferrying people around the maze of broad streets and narrow lanes. Ancient trades such as rattan weaving, tofu making, woodcarving, joss-stick making and fortune-telling still go on, in scenes which probably haven't changed in a century, while soaring skyscrapers of modern George Town gleam ahead.
There are numberless Chinese and Indian temples, golden Thai and Burmese pagodas, makeshift shrines, ornate Chinese clan houses, neoclassical palaces and old-fashioned little shops everywhere. In July this year George Town became a Uneso World Heritage site which hopefully helps to restore and save much of the huge potential.
We stroll around the congested streets in the blazing heat, soaked to the bone. Every now and then we take refuge in the cool of one of the beautifully restored Peranakan mansions that used to be the homes of wealthy Baba-Nyonya families of the late 19th century, now turned into museums or restaurants. Peranakan means half-caste - a marriage between a baba (Chinese man) and
a nyonya (Malay woman). We also visit Malaysia's largest Buddhist temple , Kek Lok Si, on a nearby hilltop. Its construction started in 1890 and it is still being added on.
Along the north coast is Batu Ferringhi, Penang's wealthy tourist area with many hotels and highrises along the idyllic coastline. This area got badly hit by the 2004 tsunami that completely wiped out the fishermen's settlements on the shore and damaged hotels. Our taxi driver lost his house there when the 5-storey tsunami wreaked havoc at 12.45 on December 26, Boxing Day while he was asleep. He got trapped in rubble and furniture, but survived. Two years later he got kidnapped by a woman who tied his seatbelt around his neck, held a knife against his throat and then knocked him unconscious. When he came to he found himself in a riverbed, seriously injured, and was rescued by somebody. The police only laughed at his unbelievable story and did not help him because he refused to give them money. Neither woman nor his fancy executive taxi were ever found. The taxi driver does not trust police or any state employee or politician any more.
Along the harbor area which was not damaged by the tsunami there are Chinese fishermen's settlements - wooden houses built on stilts over the water. Here the Lim and Chew families live a seemingly idyllic life only a few meters away from the heavy traffic of one of the thoroughfares.
We had planned to rent a car for two days to make a trip over the 13.5 km -long bridge to the mainland, especially to the Cameron Highlands with their cool climate, forests and tea plantations, but we decided against it. As it is the rainy season there are terrible landslides now all the time and anywhere in Malaysia, the newspapers are full of new disasters every day.
L a n g k a w i
6º 17.64 N 99º 41.82 E Rebak Island
On Dec 14 in the afternoon we leave Georgetown, Penang, and head in the direction of Langkawi. Just off the northeast corner of Penang we get hit by a squall, with lots of wind and rain, but only lasting half an hour and then turning into a steady northeast sea breeze. We are able to sail through the night and by 6.30 the next morning we find ourselves anchored in a pretty little bay
just south of the entrance into Rebak Marina. By 11 o'clock we move into the marina and tie up to a pontoon dock.
Rebak Marina is part of a luxury resort on its own small island, the only connection to Langkawi being a watertaxi. Splendid gardens, a beautiful swimming pool and beach, massages under the palm trees and with a sea view and a good buffet. It's also a very good place for a haul out. So we haul the boat to check on everything and replace the wormshoe to get ready for our trip across the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. After three days we are back in the water and head for Telaga Marina on the northwest corner of Langkawi.
Telaga being a newly developed marina and village with a Mediterranean flair and Russian investors is one of the departure ports of Malaysia. As we have to go to Kuah to clear out, we rent a car from a guy in front of the marina. He asks us if we want a good car or a bad one. 'What would be the difference?' Starting the bad and very dirty one by connecting two wires it sounds
like a Formula 1 without a muffler. For 2 Euros more we decide to take the good one which also comes with a road map in Russian script and drive across the island, first to Kuah, the main town, to do our paperwork and some duty-free shopping, and then around the north coast.
Langkawi itself is beautiful when viewed from the sea, with its many beaches and islands, but once ashore there is not much to look at. On Monday, Dec 22, we leave Malaysia behind and sail 140 NM towards Phuket Island, Thailand, arriving in Ao Chalong Harbor at 10 o'clock the next morning.
T H A I L A N D
P h u k e t Island
7º 49.28 N 98º 21.42 E
Ao Chalong Harbor is situated in a huge, beautiful, well protected bay between Phuket and Ko Lon islands. There are over 100 boats anchored, not counting the Thai tour and fishing boats, Ao Chalong being a meeting place for yachties before crossing the Indian Ocean.
Ashore we find it very difficult organizing anything. Hardly anybody speaks any English, directions are hard to understand, information often impossible to get. People are friendly, but also little interested in doing business or learning a language or setting up some kind of service for all the yachts as almost everywhere else in the world. This surprises one especially coming from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. A good cab driver charges 300 baht to Phuket town, but some of the others specialized in rip offs charge 1000. It is actually cheaper to rent a car for a day than hire a taxi for a short trip.
We happen to find a good driver to take us to Phuket town where we meet an even better tuktuk driver. The farther away you get from the tourist hubs, the cheaper it gets, the more honest and nicer the people. The tuktuk drives us all over town and finally to a vegetable market where the driver asks us if we have ever eaten durians. We have seen them, but not tried them, being
somewhat hesitant because of their dubious reputation among westerners. So he asks the vendor to open one so we can taste it. And we find it wonderful! It tastes like a delicious pudding or jelly beans, and it doesn't smell terrible at all! We even buy a bag full of it. But after several hours in the tuktuk and the blazing heat we understand why people complain about the durian smell and why they are banned on airplanes and some markets. It can be nauseating...
On the way back to Ao Chalong with the tuktuk we decide to take a detour and visit the giant Buddha statue on top of the hill overlooking the bay. On the steep road up the hill there are moments where we think we have to get out and push the tuktuk, but we finally make it. The buddha sits in a magnificent spot high above the bay, a sparkling white landmark from sea.
One day we are looking for the farmers' market in Ao Chalong. We ask three different cab drivers, but they all seem to think that the market is in a different place, finally they have an argument with each other about where the market is and how much it would cost to get there. We decide to walk instead and ask directions along the way.
After being told that it is just around the left corner (pointing with the right hand), and after a 6 km trek, we finally arrive exhausted in Rawai, the next village. But it was well worth it: food stalls with sizzling sausages, chicken and beef kebabs, banana-leaf wrapped goodies, fresh vegies and fish, tables full of meat, household goods and nicknacks - everything we need.
On Sunday morning, Dec 28, we have a six-hour sail to Ko Phi Phi Don with Werner, our new crew. Many guidebooks describe this island as the most beautiful in the world. Approaching it and sailing along the picturesque vertical limestone cliffs and white sandy coves with turquoise water it does seem like a dream. But turning the headland into Ton Sai harbor anchorage we
are swarmed upon by a flotilla of speedboats, longtail and charter boats, racing in all directions with white tourists on board, one of the busiest and noisiest places we have ever anchored. There are even boats racing over our anchor chain without any running lights late at night.
Anxious to leave early in the morning we have to wait until the wind shifts the boat that is anchored right on top of us so we can retrieve our anchor. We continue north along the west coast of the island tacking inshore to get a close look at the pretty green island and reach Ao Nang anchorage near Krabi at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. (8º 01.47 N 98º 49.21 E) Being close to the end of the year we decide to stay a few days to celebrate New Year here.
Ao Nang is a quaint little tourist village nestled between the sea and a landscape full of wooded sugar-coned limestone hills, many with vertical sides. Wide, miles-long beaches stretch along the coast, a real paradise for somebody coming for a holiday. Hundreds of longtail boats (canoe-shaped ex fishing boats with powerful diesel engines withour mufflers)carry tourists to the outlying rock islands, hongs and beaches and luxury resorts that can only be reached by the sea. Being at anchor this is a bit nerve-racking.
A nice taxi driver from Krabi takes us to the Tiger Cave Temple (Wat Tham Seua), a sprawling buddhist temple complex. As long as it is still cool we climb up the 1237 steps to the top with the golden buddha. Many of the steps are more than 25 cm high and only 15 cm wide, and the mountain so steep that we have to hang on to the railing in order not to fall. From the top we have a fantastic view of the fertile plain in the east, the fairy tale limestone mountains in the west and the coast in the south.
Back at the bottom, with knees aching and legs like rubber, staggering around, we find another stairway that we thoroughly debate whether to go up or not. Luckily after a few hundred steps we find the pathway gently sloping down into a hidden valley surrounded by steep cliffs. This is where the monks live in basic huts and caves. It is a very secluded peaceful spot with
buddha shrines underneath huge overhanging cliffs and in caves.
Back in Ao Nang we have a pizza in an Italian restaurant along the waterfront promenade where we cannot tell for sure if the person waiting on us is male or female. The pizza cook has very loose wrists and the only straight looking person is the dishwasher boy - who comes out of the kitchen in spike high-heeled shoes. We are beginning to wonder where we are.
The next day our cab driver takes us to Khao Phanom Bencha National Park north of Krabi, a virgin rain forest along the spine of a 1350 m-high mountain, full of wild animals like tigers, leopards, black bears etc. For three hours we climb up the 11-tiered waterfall and then through the dense forest along a faintly marked path. Near the top it peters out and it becomes very difficult to find our way through the underbrush. So down we go along another steep, slippery path, hanging on to roots and lianas, until we get back to the car park.
Back on the boat we watch the New Year celebration in Ao Nang: spectacular fireworks along the shore and hundreds of wish lanterns gently rising into the air. Wish lanterns are inverted plastic bags with a candle-holder at the opening whose heat makes the bag rise carrying the wishes written on a piece of paper into the sky. It is very pretty to watch.
After a late sleep in we up anchor and motor 10 NM to the tiny island of Ko Hong (8º 04.95 N 98º 40.74 E) where we pick upa mooring buoy at the entrance to the hong. A hong is a sea-filled cave whose ceiling has collapsed, creating a lagoon surrounded by steep cliffs and normally with a very narrow entrance. Ko Hong is an especially magic hong with stalactites and colorful cristal formations and lots of trees and mangroves. But again we are bothered by the roaring longtails which luckily disappear at low tide -the entrance to the hong gets too shallow.
We sail back to Ao Chalong the next day and prepare the boat for our 1100 NM-voyage to Galle in Sri Lanka. After waiting for a weather window we leave on Jan 10, 2009. The first two days we do a little over 200 miles until we get to the Great Channel between the Nicobar islands and Sumatra where the wind picks up to 20-25 knots from the NNE. We broad reach, everything double reefed, clocking up 170 NM one day after the other, reahing speeds of 8.5 -9 knots. This is what sailing is about! We reach Dondra Head, the southernmost point of Sri Lanka, on Saturday, Jan 17, after seven days and 10 hours, a record. Rounding the headland the wind and current die out and we drift gently through the night along the southwest coast and by sunrise we are only four miles from the entrance to Galle Harbor. You can only enter it in daylight, the harbor is closed at night for security reasons.
S R I L A N K A
G a l l e
6º 01.97 N 80º 13.43 E
In front of the blocked entrance to Galle harbor we have to wait for the Navy that has to lead us in. This is a safety means because the Tamil Tigers are still not completely vanquished and might place a bomb somewhere. Navy speedboats and divers control the harbor area day and night, and sometimes they even detonate underwater bombs to deal with Tamil saboteurs.
Along the waterfront there is heavy traffic, we see palm trees, stupas, buddha statues, mosks, ruins and modern houses and the big fort. A muezzin is calling for prayer. We clean the boat and put the sail covers up until the Navy boat comes alongside, some soldiers look at the boat and then allow us to enter the harbor.
It is full of yachts because the boats from the Blue Water Rally also just arrived. So we have to drop anchor and then go stern-to at the container dock. When we want to go ashore we have to get into the dinghy tied between the boat and the wall and then climb up a thick iron chain and huge fender to step on shore. Skip later complains about this inconvenience with a lady engineer of the harbor authority, and within a few days they instal a brand new ladder for the yachties.
We clear in with the Windsors, an efficient agency that does all the paperwork for us and helps us with everything else. As the harbor is a high-security zone we need harbor passes. The nice official comes on board and also advises us about where to go on our trip inland. Then the Customs officer arrives, cursorily searches the boat and asks if we have any spirits on board. We can
see and smell that he himself loves liquor. But we have only one bottle of Mount Gay rum which we don't want to give away, so we present him with two bottles of wine in a nice bag instead. Afterwards we have to go to Immigration where we easily get a 30-day visa, and then we can leave the harbor area. This means that we have to pass by soldiers armed with machine guns and
surrounded by sand bags, then show our passports and harbor passes whose numbers are registered in a thick book until we can leave. Outside we are welcomed by three holy cows.
We take a tuktuk in order to get some rupiahs from an ATM. The traffic is frantic, overtaking absolutely crazy, speeding buses (they are the worst), fragile tuktuks, motorbikes, men in sarongs and ladies in saris in between everything. Then we drive to a nice restaurant on the beach, with huge trees providing shade and a thundering swell. The food is very good and cheap.
The next day we visit the town. Galle was first a Portuguese fort and important harbor for ships between Europe and Asia.Then the Dutch destroyed the old fort and built an enormous new one that still exists today. Within the fort area is the old town with colonial buildings and more or less decrepit shophouses. Strolling along the ramparts we have a wonderful view of the Indian Ocean and the new town.Some young men jump from the 18-m-high cliff into the only 2-m-shallow water below, risking their lives for a few rupiahs. On the outside of the fort walls there is a picturesque fish market and colorful fishing boats are lying on the beach.
The labyrinthian new town is bustling with life, the smell of spices, fruit and food stalls are almost numbing. A little farther away from the center the town becomes quiet and laid back,, houses in bright colors stand within dense gardens full of fruit trees, flower and vegetable gardens. On many street corners there are big buddha shrines always decorated with fresh flowers.
75% of the 20 million Sri Lankans are Sinhalese and buddhists, 20% Tamils and hindus, and the rest muslims of Indian and Arabic descent. The official language is Sinhalese, a fact that the Tamils who have their own language and script don't fancy. They feel treated as an unloved minority and this is also the reason for the 30-year-old conflict that has been going on between the Tamil Tigers and the government. Now everybody seems to be tired of the war that has cost a lot of lives, lead to a decrease of tourism and the economy in general. The Tamil Tigers are almost vanquished, they now occupy only a very small territory in the north.
After a week in Galle we rent a car with a driver, Laki, and head inland. To drive ourselves would have been too strenuous and dangerous, there seem to be no traffic rules, or nobody abides by them.
We first follow the coastal road up the west coast toward Colombo, the capital. This area was devastated by the 2004 tsunami, and even today there are still many ruins to be seen and a big spot without any vegetation where the wave flooded a train and over 1500 people died. But there are also many new buildings and hotels along this pretty coast. We stop at one of the long white sand beaches and watch the fishermen pull in a seine net and then open the sack full of quivering silvery sardines.
In Ambalangoda we visit the mask museum. The village is famous for its woodcarvers and the impressive fire, cobra and peacock masks used in dances and others used in exorcising disease demons.
Before we get to Colombo the road to Kandy branches off into the hills. Sri Lanka is mostly a rolling plain, only in the south there are mountains, the highest being Mount Pedro, soaring up to over 2500 m. The capital of the hill country is Kandy, and the road there is narrow, with many curves and heavy traffic. But Laki is an experienced and careful driver, we trust him completely. Every now and then he stops at a roadside stall and invites us to little bags of freshly roasted cashew nuts, sun-warm pineapple and mango pieces and delicious jackfruit. In roadside restaurants we eat rice and curry with lentil dal, pappadams, roasted chillies, some meat, chutney and vegetables. The food is set up like a buffet and we serve ourselves. Sri Lankans eat with the fingers of their right hand, carefully kneading all the ingredients together and putting little balls into their mouths. Whereas we get spoons and forks, eating with the spoon and shoving with the fork. The meals are good and cheap, around 1.50$.
Kandy at 500m is a cool place surrounded by lush wooded hills. In the centre there is a picturesque large lake. The center of town is full of interesting shops that remind us of children's toy shops, hotels and restaurants. But the main attraction is the Temple of the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic.The tooth is said to have been snatched from the Buddha's funeral pyre in 543 BC. It assumed importance as a symbol of Sri Lankan sovereignty -whoever had custody of the tooth had the right to rule the land.
Laki drives us up a very narrow winding road to a guesthouse, "Nature Walk". The very charming owner, Sarath, used to have a hotel in Tangalle on the south coast until the tsunami destroyed it. He then built a new one in Kandy with government loans. When we arrive it is already dark and we only realize the next morning how pretty the view from the terrace is. The powerlines along the road are full of squirrels balancing like tightrope walkers, and in the trees and on the roofs we can watch the antics of monkey families. The guesthouse is immaculately clean, we have a hot shower and a delicious breakfast with hoppers, bowlshaped srilankan rice pancakes filled with curry. The price is very reasonable, Laki's accomodation and food gets paid by the government.
The next day we continue to Sigiriya in the plains north of Kandy. The road there is delightful, with the crowns of thick old trees overlapping and forming a tunnel. We are passing lush forests and gardens full of fruit and pepper plantations. Pepper is a climber that winds around big trees. The corns are the fruit that grow like currants and have to be picked one by one. If you
pick the red ripe corn and wash it and let it dry you get white pepper. If you leave it on the plant it finally becomes black pepper.
Sigiriya is a massive monolith called the Lion's Rock because there used to be a huge brick lion built into the northern side of it. Nowadays only the paws through which one ascends the rock are left. The rock with the flat top rises 200 m straight up over the green plains. It is actually the hardened magma plug of an extinct volcano, pocked with caves and overhangs.
Sigiriya used to be a buddhist hermitage already by 300 BC and an important monastery by the 10th century. In the 5th century it is alleged to have been a royal residence and fortress with the palace and a huge swimming pool (27x21 m)on top. Around the base of the rock there are beautiful symmetric rock and water gardens with rests of fountains that still work today after a heavy rain.
The ascent to the rock is very steep as the sides are vertical or even overhanging.One has to climb up an iron stairway on the outside. Looking down is rather scary when one thinks that one's life depends on some rusty bolts. The rock is full of grooves that were used for the bamboo scaffolding by which people used to ascend it and carry the king to the top. About half way up there is a sheltered gallery full of frescoes of buxom maidens. From the plateauon at the top the view over the green plains, forests, ricefields and ponds with bathing elephants is magnificent.
After Sigiriya we drive back to Kandy via Dambulla and Matale. Dambulla is famous for its rock temple. The five caves full of buddha statues were hewn out of the sheer granite , the caves as well as all the statues. The ceilings are completely painted with colorful lotus symbols. These caves irradiate a deeply peaceful and calm energy, and with all the buddhas around it's like
being in a buddha field.
Many buddhas here in Sri Lanka are lying down, and they are usually very big, 10 m and more. The temples are always surrounded by one or more white dagobas (stupas).
Back in Kandy we stroll around the superb Botanical Garden. There are a coco-de-mer avenue with the biggest kind of coconut in the world, spice gardens, orchids, gigantic araucarias and kauri trees, heaps of monkeys and even more fruit bats hanging like sacks from the trees. The garden is very well maintained and full of people going for a Sunday stroll and married couples having their picture taken. On the wedding day the bride is dressed in white and the streamers of the cars are white. On the following day the bride dresses in red and decorations are red.
After the walk we eat lunch at the nearby restaurant. Janika orders wattalapam as dessert. He says we HAVE to try it. And it's true, it is absolutely delicious, still warm from the oven, made from coconut milk, eggs, cardamom and jaggery (palm sugar).
In the evening we watch a Kandyan dance show. The costumes and masks are amazing, the dancers twirl around like dervishes and do series of flipflops, swallow fire and walk over glowing coals.
Before we continue with our trip the next morning we visit the Buddha Tooth Temple. It is raining hard when we get there. In 1998 the Tamil Tigers threw a 250 kg bomb next to the entrance which destroyed a considerable part of the building (it is now restored). That is why we have to go through strict security controls twice, each tinme our bags and ourselves get searched. The temple is impressive, full of people in their Sunday best praying and making offeriings and standing in a long line to have a glance at the small silver stupa-shaped container that holds the precious relic like a Russian matrioshka. The container consists of six containers one inside the other, the tooth is in the last and smallest one.
Then we drive to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka's highest town at almost 2000 m. The road is said to be very panoramic, but as the clouds are very low we can hardly see anything. Only shortly before our destination we rise above the clouds into the splendid sunlight and can admire the mountainous landscape full of tea plantations and artfully terraced vegetable fields. It is very cold up here, people are wearing anoraks and woolen hats.
Tea is one of Sri Lanka's main export products and has been cultivated here in the hill country since the former coffee bushes all died of a disease. The mostly female and Tamil pickers only pluck two light green leaves and a bud off the bushes, a strenuous work in this steep terrain.
Nuwara Eliya is also called Little London because of the foggy and cold climate. It used to be a British hillstation and there are still many English mansions in pretty English gardens to be seen, a wonderful golf course and a race course for horses. But besides that the town is rather full of grey cement buildings and many beggars. In the center of it there is a bazar that could have jumped right out of a 1001 nights story. Skip buys a bottle of arak, the local palm liquor, just to try it. But the stuff is so utterly disgusting that we leave it behind in the hotel room.
The next day we take the train to Ella. It is supposed to arrive at 9.30, but only appears from Colombo four hours later. Laki buys two first class tickets for us so we can sit in the observation car at the end of the train and have a better view. He jumps onto thestill moving train to secure our seats. But the windows are small, the seats backwards and in front of us there is an elderly Irish couple with two brats that cannot sit still for a second and throw fruit at each other and whirl their shoes around their heads by the strings.
Ella is not very far, but we have to pass through 43 tunnels and once the train has to perform a complete loop around and through the mountain in order to arrive at a level 30 m lower. The views are breathtaking, the slopes almost vertical and beginning right next to the rails. The cars swing from side to side , backwards and forwards. Ella is 900 m lower than Nuwara Eliya and a lot warmer. After 3 and a half hours Laki picks us up at the train station and drives us to the guesthouse perched on a very steep hill. At sunrise we realize how magnificent the view is.
We go for a walk through the tea plantations towards Little Adam's Peak. The tea bushes look very healthy, their dark green leaves glitering in the sun. Here and there there are high cypress and turpentine trees to provide some shade.In between the patches there are the basic little houses of the tea pickers. We talk to some of them: they pick three 6 to 8 kg bags full of tea leaves a day,2000 pickings. And they earn very little. The plantation provides them with free housing, food, education and medical assistance, though. Some children ask us for some rupiahs or a pen and all want their picture taken.
We find the area around Ella the prettiest of the Highlands. It is not as populated, it is ideal for walks, still has a lot of virgin forest and it doesn't seem as over-cultivated and eroded as other regions.
Then we descend into the southeastern plain through Ella Gap. It gets hotter by the minute, palm trees and banana bushes appear again, mango trees and ricefields. Buduruwagala, our next stop, is already in the Yala National Park. The huge trees are standing in water with their trunks, colorful birds flit from branch to branch, crocodiles lurk in the swamps. We walk along a path and our guide points out a termite mound and says that they are the favorite homes for cobras. Oh. Finally we come to a clearing and upon a 15 m-high buddha figure hewn into the flat granite rock wall. The buddha is surrounded by six other figures. There is only a monk in a bright orange robe there, otherwise the place is empty and full of magic. There are four monks living near the monument.
On full-moon days they perform pujas here - sounds enticing.
On the way to Tissamaharama big one-meter-long lizards cross the road and stop in the middle to look at us. Laki dodges them all. The swamps and flooded ricefields are full of water buffaloes, always accompanied by egrets that also love to stand on the buffaloes' backs. There is hardly any traffic , the landscape is vast and quiet. The rivers are completely covered by pink and blue waterlilies and white and pink lotus. Laki turns up the singhalese music and hops happily on his seat.
Along the road there are potters' stalls and many that sell delicious buffalo curd in flat clay pots.
After checking into our hotel in Tissamaharama we drive to Kataragama where there is a huge park full of cows, buffaloes, temple elephants and pretty silver-grey monkeys.It is a sacred place for the three main Sri Lankan religions, with hindu and buddhist shrines and a mosk. Hundreds of people dressed in pure white make offerings of lotus flowers, waterlilies and jasmine blossoms and big bowls of fruit.
On the way back to Galle we stop at Dondra Head lighthouse whose light has shown us the way when we approached Galle. It was only reopened a few days ago after restoration.We climb up the 222 steps and at the top the guide lets us turn on the beacon light, we are the first visitors to do this, what an honor.
We spend our last days in Sri Lanka with updating the website, buying provisions, getting water and preparing for the next leg to Salalah in Oman. Mike from Mike Yacht Service has been of great help for us, delivering directly to the boat, letting us plug in our computer at his house and use his fast internet connection. He also gave us very good advice concerning our trip inland,
lent us a good guidebook and recommended us a good route. A very friendly and honest person.
They say God placed Adam here in Sri Lanka, the garden of Eden. It is a wonderful country!
VOYAGE FROM GALLE TO OMAN
Before our departure from Galle on Feb 5 we decided not to go to Cochin, India as planned as we are running out of time and it would be a rough passage. We have to go through the Gulf of Aden before March 15 because afterwards the winds turn from NE to SW and can make this passage impossible for us.
So we head directly to Mina Raysut (Salalah), Oman, a 1700-NM voyage, just a little shorter than crossing the Atlantic from the Cape Verde Islands to Barbados. At first we head slightly NW from Galle towards the 8-Degree Channel between the Maldives and Laccadives Islands (India). The weather is warm and sunny, the sea calm, and the NNE breeze very light, so that we have to motorsail.We are still under Sri Lanka's lee during the first 60 miles, so the winds are not strong. We make slow progress.
But then we catch the wind that funnels through the Palk Strait between the southern tip of India and Sri Lanka and have a cracking broad reach sail of 170 NM in 24 hours. After that, once in the lee of southern India, the NNE wind dies down considerably again.
Assuming that we would have a very fast passage to Oman we had been thinking of stopping in Uligan, an idyllic and remote island in the Thiladhunmathee Atoll of the northern Maldives. But upon arriving close to Uligan just after dark and it being too dangerous entering at night we decide not to heave to and lose 12-hours sailing time and continue to Salalah.
We sail an average of 110 to 120 NM a day. Sometimes we have flat calms, the wind is unsteady, not the constant strong NE monsoon wind that the pilot books describe and that we have experienced between Phuket and Galle. As our boat is heavy (22 t), we need a strong breeze, ideally about 15-20 knots to sail comfortably. It is sunny and warm, the sea calm, very little traffic - at first a sailboat or a freighter a day, then nothing. No airplanes, no satellites, it is a very remote area, quiet, peaceful and pleasant. The two of us take turns with the 3-hour watches and steering. In order to save fuel we don't turn on the autopilot.
In the beginning we are a little worried about the calms, not knowing how long they will last, asking ourselves, if we should motor or sit them out. Our fuel tanks hold 460 liters of gasoil, plus 8 20-liter jerrycans. We can go about 620 NM with this. That means we have to sail at least 1100 NM. There is always the risk of an emergency where we would have to rely on enough gas in order to get somewhere, so we have to be very careful with the fuel.
On the second day we feel exhausted as usual, but then we get used to the rythm again. As the sea is so calm, we can even cook every day. The boat is well stocked with goodies from Sri Lanka: cheese, wonderful ginger beer, freshly roasted unsalted cashew nuts, papayas, mangoes, bananas, pineapples and the best watermelons in the world.
In the first days we don't see any birds, not even a fish. Now and then there is a whiff of hot air with a smell of frangipanis or smoke or mulch. Or a streak of cold air from the Himalayas when the wind shifts more to the north. Orion is upright now, not upside down like in the southern hemisphere. And we can see the North Star again, and the Great Dipper. The sky is full of incredibly
bright stars until the full moon outshines them all.
One day a cargo ship with a huge bow wave comes by and we can watch a school of dolphins frolicking around it, jumping high into the air. What a sight! And then all of a sudden there are many many flying fish, flying long stretches like silver darts. At night they land on deck, and one morning we find five of them on deck and even below, coming through the open hatches. The deck is full of their scales. In the early mornings the sky is sometimes very cloudy and it looks like it's going to rain any minute. But when the sun comes up the clouds vanish completely.
Outside the 8-Degree Channel we pick up a strong westerly current, and with the NNE wind we think we will end up on the Somalia coast, but eventually the current changes to NNE and the wind comes around to the NE so that we can head directly NW in the direction of Salalah.
The currents in the North Indian Ocean are tricky. The prevailing winter current is west. But in February and March a clockwise circulation setting NE begins to flow along the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula. Sometimes we are pushed so much towards the west that we have to adjust our compass course differing from the true course up to 20º and more.
On Thursday, Feb 12, we are about half way, which is always a good feeling. Wwe haven't used too much fuel, we are doing around 110 NM a day, not very much, but OK. We've found out that there is a pattern to the wind: in the early morning it dies down, but then picks up again in the afternoon. So we are more relaxed about the calms.
Now we see birds again, first only a few, then more and more the closer we get to the Arabian Peninsula. Flying fish abound, schools of dolphins swim around the boat, and every now and then we even see whales. Bamboo logs float in the water, we see the one or other cargo ship or tanker, but no fishing boats. The sunrises and sunsets are spectacular, the sun a big deep red ball
on the horizon. But there are no green flashes as there is a lot of sand and dirt in the air.
The further north we go the colder the nights. Over our warm trousers and sweat shirts, we wear our foul weather gear, socks and shoes and woolen caps. Sometimes we think we see the lights of other ships on the horizon, but it is the phosphorescence in the water. There are patches so dense that we could read a newspaper by the light it creates.
Approximately 200 NM from the Omani coast a cargoship ("Netherland") alters course to pass astern of us on its way to the Persian Gulf. So we call him on the VHF to thank him for going around us (a giant dodging a dwarf!) and have a nice chat. He tells us not to worry about the pirates too much because there are warships from the EU, USA, India, China, Russia, Japan and Malaysia patrolling the area. There have only been new disturbances south of Suqutra near the Somali coast. The captain asks if we need anything. Skip replies laughingly 'Maybe a cold bottle of champagne?' They don't have alcohol on board, sorry, but we are wondering how they would deliver it anyway? Then the captain wishes us a safe journey.
The next day we have another cargoship coming at us full speed. Skip grabs the VHF and asks him if he is going to cross our bows or stern? 'Your bows!' - and we have to jybe in order to avoid a collision, the monster passing only a few meters away. Later in the day we meet our first warship (American) who asks us all our details but won't give out any information about
the pirate situation other than 'It's very dangerous everywhere!'
The sea near the Arabian Peninsula is full of patches of plankton - a slimey greenish-yellow biomass that crests glitter like liquid silver. We leave a whitish-green wake like a comet's tail behind us. The water is smooth as oil with all the stars of the sky reflected in it. In the daytime when the sun hits these plankton patches at a certain angle they glow like strobe lights on the water surface. The plankton attracts whales and we see many fin whales blowing water spouts only a few meters away from us.
We have a flat calm on the last 150 NM and motor to Mina Raysut where we arrive early on Friday morning, Feb 20. Normally Friday is not a good day to arrive anywhere in a Muslim country. But the port authority immediately answers our radio call at 6. 30 and directs us to the corner of the commercial port where yachts are allowed to anchor.
O M A N
S a l a l a h
16º 56.16 N 54º 00.36 E
The area is crowded with around 40 boats and it is very difficult to find room. We drop anchor, but are not happy with the situation (no swinging room) so we call the harbormaster on the radio and ask if wwe can tie stern-to on the wall. He says, 'No problem, go ahead!' After rowing two lines ashore, hauling the boat back, he calls on the radio and says ' Not that wall! You can tie up to the rocks!' The rocks being further out in the water, we find that we don't have enough anchor chain out, so we have to reset the anchor. After two hours we are finally settled in and go ashore to take care of the paperwork at the Customs and Immigration office a mile away. Luckily a Customs officer picks us up dockside and gives us a ride.
After the lush and green tropical islands that we have been at the desert landscape of Oman is quite a contrast. The massive mountain range stretching all along the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula seems from a distance to be just rocks, barren of any vegetation, hues of redbrown and black beyond the white and tan sandy coastal plain towering up 1000 meters and more. The
commercial port being approximately 15 km from the center of Salalah, a rental car is a must. Fortunately we meet Mohamed who happens to have a rental car standing there and gives us the key without any paperwork involved.
Along the super highway into town we pass trucks full of goats and camels wandering along the side of the road and the pretty beach. Salalah, situated on the flat dusty coastal plain, seems to be one huge building site with wide boulevards and new fancy buildings mushrooming up everywhere. It is Oman's second largest city with its 170 000 inhabitants, the country itself only has about two million people.
Oman is run by Sultan Qaboos, a beloved, accessible ruler that delivers promises and has been easing the country into modernity since he came to the throne in 1970. Then, all of Oman had only two primary schools (no other ones), two hospitals and 10 km of paved roads. Now it boasts a splendid infrastructure of roads; electricity, a school, a mosque and a hospital in even the remotest Bedouin village; secondary schools everywhere and several universities. The sultan ended the civil war and pacified the country which now has a very low crime rate and well-trained workforce. As Oman has only limited oil resources the sultan emphasizes intensive investment in education, agricultural projects meant to attain self-sufficiency in food-production and the development of tourism with hotels, holiday homes and marina projects.
Along the coast is the small old part of Salalah, Hafah, a warren of older houses and small streets each of which specializes in certain trades: one being men's tailoring, the next street over women's tailoring, then the sweet shop street, mobile phone street, household goods street, which makes shopping quite easy.
In the new parts of town there are modern supermarkets and malls, a large clean new fish fruit and vegetable market, many new mosques, a new soccer stadium, a futuristic theatre and fair ground, universities, luxury hotels. There are almost no people walking along the wide streets, it is too hot, and almost all have their own big air-conditioned cars and vans. Most women are dressed in the black abeyya with the peaked nose, veiled from head to toe, only the eyes are visible. Some streets are lined with palm trees and flowerbeds, but most of the houses and streets are just set into the sand, barren of any vegetation.
Between the old and new parts of town and around the sultan's summer palace on the beach and also around the perimeter of town there are immense plantations of coconut and date palms, bananas, papayas and vegetables. Where there is water, everything sprouts like mad and is green. On the whole Salalah makes a very wealthy impression, orderly, well organized, with very friendly people.
Our old crew member Gregor who is now crew on another yacht has organized a 4WD-caravan into the desert and asks us if we want to join them.Setting out the next morning we drive up into the mountains and see that they are actually full of plant life. OUr ddriver and guide Mohamed tells us that everything turns green here in the rainy season between June and September, transforming the plains, slopes and deep valleys into green pastures with springs, creeks and waterfalls and making the area an attractive tourist attraction for people from all over the peninsula and beyond.
Once through the mountain pass we descend into the desert which is divided into three parts; the rock desert where the frankincense trees grow, the vast sand plains and the sand dunes.
We first drive into the Wadi Dawkah, a barren rocky valley full of gazelles and frankincense trees. These trees grow from the limestone rocks, leafless, and look almost lifeless with their peeling bark and stumped branches. It's hard to imagine that their sap created enormous wealth on the peninsula. Frankincense is the sap that oozes from incisions made in the bark and is then left to harden in the sun. It is used as incense, but also for its perfume and as a medicine. The Dhofar region around Salalah produces the finest quality of it. In the 2ns century AD no less than 3000 tonnes of it were transported to Greece and Rome from the port of Sumhuram, now known as Khor Rori near Salalah.
Afterwards we drive further down into the sand plain as flat as a pancake from horizon to horizon. First the road is paved, but then it's just a dirt track that we speed along at 100 km/h, leaving a huge cloud of sand behind us. There are large natural underground water reservoirs in the area and farms are being created as new wells are being dug. It's dazzling to see the circles of
green vegetation amongst all the sand. What appear to be lakes in the distance are actually mirages caused by the reflection of the sky in the rising heat of the desert: water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink! The colors of the desert are fascinating. Depending on the angle of the sun the sand takes on hues of a kaleidoscope of hues, purple, orange, yellow ochre, brown, snow
white. The sky above is an intense lavender blue.
On the way to the sand dunes near Shisr we drive up a wadi full of tuffs of grass and the thorny poisonous apple bushes, high succulents with fleshy roundish leaves. The ground is full of small poisonous melonlike fruits. And then we see the towering waves of sand rise high above the plain. Climbing to the top of one we almost burn our feet through the soles of our sandals. From the top is a magnificent view of an ocean of sand stretching to the horizon - the Rub al Khali desert or Empty Quarter that stretches far into Saudi Arabia and Yemen.On the way back we stop at an encampment to have lunch with camel meat, chicken, rice and beans and cardamom coffee.
Back in the harbor we meet the captain of a German frigate who gives us the waypoints of the new safety corridor through the Gulf of Aden and tells us to carry as much fuel as we can because there is a flat calm out at sea and we will probably have to motor all of the 600 NM to Aden. Buying some extra jerrycans we load 700 liters on board from the gas station at 25 Euro cents per
liter. We are ready to run the pirate gauntlet. On our last day in Oman we drive east along the coast to Taqa, Khor Rori where we visit the ruins of the old frankincense port and Mirbat with its old merchant houses and wonderful beaches.
Wanting to leave early on Wednesday, Feb 25, we drive to Immigration and Customs but are told that the Immigration officer is busy with a cruiseship that just arrived. So we go back to the boat and there are luckily informed by a friend that even before Immigration we need a port clearance from the harbormaster. In the end, after collecting this paper and then taking it to the
finance authority to have it stamped we go back to Immigration. We are lucky to catch the officer this time as he is on his way to have breakfast. After clearing Customs we are able to leave at noon.
P a s s a g e t h
r o u g h t h e G U L F of A D E N
Of the many boats that are in the harbor 24 have joined a rally group that is planning to sail in a convoy 10 NM from the coast all the way to Aden, but we decide against it. First of all travelling in a convoy is always problematic due to trying to go the speed of the slowest boat, and second because part of the Yemeni coast itself are not considered safe at all. We decide to follow the advice of the frigate captain and take the route along the safety corridor as fast as we can.
Heading out of the port we encounter very light SW wind, exactly the direction we want to go, so we end up motoring. On Thursday morning we see a coalition warship and call them on VHF. After giving them our details of who we are and where we are going we let them know that we will be travelling along the northern edge of the corridor. They inform us that someone will be in
hearing distance of a VHF call at all times, which is ver reassuring.
At 11 o'clock we see five high-speed boats coming towards us and think, oh! there come the pirates! But they are only friendly fishermen. In the afternoon there appear over 30 fishing boats that are chasing a school of tuna that is being chased by a school of dolphins, the sea boiling with action, the fishermen leap-frogging ahead of the tuna dropping their lines, the dolphins jumping
out of the water in delight of the fine meal they are having. Fishermen, dolphins and tuna are all passing out to sea.
Later that evening, already in the dark, while Barbara is on watch, she sees the boats returning home with their lights on, but she also notices two high-speed boats without lights crossing our bows only a few meters away, wondering if they might be pirates. Later in Aden, talking to the harbormaster, he tells us that the fishermen all use lights and that any boats without
lights are most likely pirates. He is convinced that they were.
On Friday, at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, we are buzzed by a British patrol plane who seem to know who we are and tell us to continue on our jouney as planned. Later on two bigger fishing boats with 15 or 20 people on board, pulling three skiffs behind, s give us another scare. Could these be pirates?
Because of the thick plankton in the water and constantly motoring we have to stop every 3 or 4 hours and clean the water-cooling intake-filter which gets clogged up by phosphorescent turquoise plankton. At night it is very difficult to distinguish between the lights of the merchant ships in the corridor and the bioluminescence in the water. Sometimes it is so dense that it is like travelling through a field of light.
On Saturday we are advised by a tanker captain to run without our lights on at night as we are approaching the dangerous zone starting a little west of Al Mukalla and stretching west for about 150 NM. But this only seems suspicious to the other merchant ships who change course to make big detours around us using their spotlights and even shooting off flares because they think we might be pirates. We are feeling somewhat tense and nervous. This area is only being passed by the merchant ships at night and in a convoy.
On Sunday evening when it is getting dark, again without our lights on, we are approached at high speed by a warship. But quickly turning our lights on he slsows down and turns and we get into radio contact and he tells us to turn our position lights on as only pirates run at night without lights. He also tells us to continue down the corridor until we are approximately 80 NM
from Aden before we change course from the corridor for Aden.
Monday afternoon a passing helicopter who again knows who we are informs us that the way to Aden is clear and we should have no problem. We are very thankful for this information because we are the only ship out there all the way to Aden.
Early on Tuesday, March 5, as the sun is rising, we find ourselves in the approach to Aden Bay, leaving the last ocean that we have to cross behind us. Now only the Red Sea and the Med have to be tackled! By 8.30 we drop anchor in the inner harbor, very relieved!!
We really appreciated the coalition forces keeping an eye on us; knowing that they were in radio contact and only 30 minutes away in case of emergency was very reassuring.
Y E M E N
A d e n
12º 47.49 N 44º 58.72 E
Clearing into Yemen is easy and fast. Then we talk to the friendly harbormaster who helps us find a caretaker for Ragnar while we will be travelling inland and also find a mechanic to repair a winch and check the engine.
On the way we see hundreds of girls coming out of school, covered from head to toe except for their eyes. Under their black abeyyas they are wearing sneakers and blue jeans.
Aden looks ramshackle and dirty but also kind of fascinating with the grey-brown mountains and rocks all around it, the huts on and in the steep, seemingly inaccessible slopes, the ruins from the last civil war, the great views of the harbor and sea, and the bustling life in its narrow streets. On the first day we are running back and forth to get permits for the repair jobs and travelling and to
get visas, change money and buy a SIMcard for our cell phone. We are completely exhausted, but we get a lot done.
On the second day Basam, our great mechanic, brings along a bag full of qat leaves as a present. All the people in Yemen chew qat. Basam tells us that we have to try it too! So we pop the light-green leaves into our mouths and chew and chew, putting more leaves into our mouths and keeping the mash in one cheek until it is as big as a golf ball, making it nearly impossible
to speak properly. After four hours one can spit the gooey mess out.
We are not enthusiastic about qat. All it does is give us a numb feeling in our mouths and make us more relaxed. Other people tell us that it makes more talkative (difficult, because the green saliva tends to ooze out of the corners of your mouth when you talk), suppresses hunger and prevents tiredness. Qat is an expensive habit in a country where almost half the population is considered poor. And environmentally the consequences of qat are also bad: over half the water in Yemen is used for watering the qat plants. In other Arabic countries its use is illegal.
One day we go to the Aden Mall where we find a fast internet place with a good Lebanese restaurant and a very good Lulu's Hypermarket that even sells parmesan cheese. On the second floor is the women's fashion area full of brightly colored sequin-studded ballroom dresses, quite shocking and amazing, which leads to the question, 'where do the women wear these?'
In public always veiled and dressed in black we really wonder. After asking some friends they tell us this is what they wear at home while cooking dinner, taking care of the family and milking the goats (we are only kidding!). We really think that when they have the opportunity to go to to a western country then they dress to the nines, but a Philipino waitress that we meet in the café tells us that they wear these dresses at weddings and private parties. But as men and women always celebrate separately these fashionable dresses are only to impress the other women. They would fit in Marie Antoinette's court.
The men from the countryside walking in the mall are dressed mostly in their wrap-arounds with plaid shirts, tailored jackets, with an ornate belt holding their mighty daggers, turbans upon their head, even holstered pistols alongside their holstered cell phones. You would think that in the parking lot instead of cars there would be camels. Many of the men ask if they can stand alongside of Skip to have their picture taken, he being the exotic one!
On March 10 we take a bus to Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. It takes eight hours to get there and costs 8.50$. After the coastal plain we climb into the mountains, a desertic grey-brown landscape with villages and towns on top of the mountains to better protect them from enemies and wild animals and because valleys and flat areas are used for agriculture. Many of
the mountain slopes have ancient terraces that are carefully ploughed and raked, waiting for some rain. Especially near the towns there is garbage everywhere alongside the road. Fields, bushes and the few trees are covered with pink and blue plastic bags, but nobody seems to bother.
After lunch the traffic slows down considerably because everybody gets drowsy from chewing qat. At five in the afternoon we finally arrive at Bab al Yemen, the only remaining city gate of Sana'a.
S a n a ' a
We get off the bus and take a typical Yemeni taxi that would be the pride of any junk yard - not an undented area on the whole car. The lights hanging out and shining in different directions, the seats would do a Mallorquin backyard proud, the doors only opening from the outside with a kick and a push, rearview mirrors non-existent, resembling the winner of a demolition derby and the driver saying, 'Isn't this a nice car?' The streets to the hotel being so narrow the taxi bumps from one housewall to the next with the driver smiling and saying,'No problem, just a little farther!' Finally after squeezing between two walls, scraping on both sides, we arrive at the entrance of the hotel.
The hotel is a restored tower house. We have to climb up 55 steps of different height, resting for a while on each floor and finally arriving at the top floor (mafraj) breathless - we notice that we are at 2400 m of altitude. The room is very cosy with big windows whose half-moon shaped upper parts (qamariyas) are out of stained glass and lit and a view of the old town and the surrounding mountain range that leaves us speechless. We feel like in a fairy tale of 1001 Nights, completely enchanted.
Sana'a is the world's oldest city, and its many layers and patterns make it the most romantic. It is the most exotic place we have seen so far, different from anything else. There are 14 000 tower houses in old Sana'a, reaching up to eight storeys that have been called the world's first skyscrapers. They are built out of mud brick that is considered to be the world's best insulator, keeping the interior cool in the warmth of the day and warm in the chilly nights. Outside the façade is whitewashed with lime and decorated with geometrically patterned lines. The stone foundations of some houses are said to date back at least a thousand years, and the oldest building was constructed 2000 years ago.
We just drop our bag and go for a stroll around the town. Around the corner from the hotel and at the heart of the old town is the Souq al Milh, a vast area of clean lanes and alleys full of everything you can buy, with certain areas specializing in certain things -daggers, belts, shishas (waterpipes), shawls, dresses, household goods, ceramics, sweets (helwa), beans,
spices, raisins, dates, jewelry, incense, herbs, cell phones, whatever. A kaleidoscope of colors and scents. The streets are packed with people, the women in black abeyyas, the men in wrap-around skirts, belts and daggers. There is no blaring music, no pushing, no loud talk, everything is quiet, calm, relaxed, safe and pleasant. Many people greet us and say 'Marhaban! Welcome!' and shake our hands and want to know where we come from and what we think of Yemen and Sana'a. There are very few tourists around. We could spend days just wandering without aim through this work of art, sensing the atmosphere of this mystical and beautiful town.
In the evenings it gets quite cold at this altitude and we like to sit in the hotel's Bedouin goat-hair tent in the courtyard and eat the delicious flat breads that the cook bakes in a big pot. He first shapes them over a rounded basket covered with cloth and then throws them against the hot inner side of the pot where they stick and get brown in seconds. One eats them together with hummus and eggplant puré, accompanied by fresh lime juice. There is no alcohol available in Yemen and many Arabic countries except maybe in some fancy hotels, and then at an astronomical price.
At four o'clock in the morning we are awoken by the prayer calls of the muezzins of all the mosques in the city. First one starts, then the others follow one by one until one feels like in a beehive. It is soothing and one falls asleep again as soon as they finish.
With young Mohamed we drive into the area around Sana'a, first into the Wadi Dahr. We first have a look at the Dahr valley from a high cliff, and it looks like a green canyon. There we are met by an eleven or twelve year-old boy who greets Skip in English, saying his name is Harry Potter. Then he
switches to fluent Spanish when he hears that we are from Spain. He says his name is Javier. When Barbara arrives and he finds out that she is German he answers in fluent German, saying that his name is Konrad Adenauer. Barbara then talks to him in French and he answers in fluent French, saying that his name is Jacques Chirac... He is a language wizzard and also speaks Italian and Japanese. The Yemenis are famous for their intelligence, it is said that they are the brightest Arabs.
Then we descend into the Wadi Dahr and visit the Rock Palace, Dar al Hajar, summer residence of the imans that ruled over this part of northern Yemen. The palace is built on a high rock table, a fascinating building with big cosy rooms and large windows, bathrooms, a harem for four wives, huge roof terraces, patios and fountains, many staircases, cool niches hewn into the rock and a deep well. As it is Thursday (like our Saturday) it is full of school classes. Some of the female teachers are wearing baseball caps over their black abeyyas so they can be recognized by their students. In the courtyard below we can see how the male guests of a wedding party perform a dagger dance.
Afterwards we drive to Thilla in the Haraz Mountains. Thilla is set against a pillar of rock mounted by a fortress - a very picturesque town with beautiful old tower houses and an impressive stone wall with seven gates. We are assailed by young people wishing to act as guides or sell us something. We don't want anything and don't need a guide, so we just have a chat instead.
Then we continue to the neighboring Shibam, where we have lunch in a cosy, clean Yemenite restaurant with a huge dining room, cushions along the walls and low tables. We look at the cave dwellings in the rocks (not inhabited anymore) and then drive up to Kawkaban, a citadel and village perched dramatically 400 vertical meters above Shibam. The view from up there across the
vast plateau is magnificent, but the poverty of the place somewhat depressing.
Yemen is a very poor country. The unemployment rate is sky-high, and also the number of children, half the population is less than fourteen years old. Sana'a is the fastest growing city in the world, it now has over four million inhabitants. In the north of Yemen there is a civil war raging between Bedouin tribes. The government is unable to control the situation though it
spends a third of its budget on military and security.
Our guide Mohamed tells us that he has been married for a year now. He saw his wife for the first time at the wedding. It was his mother that made the choice and he is highly satisfied with it. We never get into contact with any women. They live in their families, and when they go outside they are also separated from others by their abeyyas and veils. Only men work in shops, restaurants, hotels, authorities, one doesn't see any women there, and if, then it is a Somali refugee working as a cleaning lady. People think that girls don't need much education, if they are able to read a Koran sura this is considered to be plenty, more would only give them bad ideas.
Ahmed Al Tayyib from Marib Tours in Sana'a organizes a tour into the Wadi Hadramaut for us and so we take a plane to Sayun in the east on March 14. We cannot take a bus as there is this Bedouin war going on in the area. First we fly over gigantic sand dunes and then a plateau full of canyons which make it look like a brain. Then we see the green Hadramaut Valley and land in
Sayun, its capital, where we are met by our nice driver Abdullah.
Sayun is a very picturesque, idyllic town with high adobe brick houses against a background of yellow- brownish hills and palm tree groves. We look at the Bedouin market and the Sultan's Palace that looks like a huge wedding cake and holds a good museum and a wonderful exhibition of photographs of the region taken in the 1930s. We also buy some of the famous Yemeni
honey at one of the little shops and have tea with a very interesting teacher that speaks perfect BBC-English and writes books about the history of the area. He has never gotten out of the Hadramaut and learned English just by listening to the radio, amazing.
Our hotel is the Alhawta Hotel, a jewel, very simple and very tasteful. We get a lot of ideas here for our houses in Mallorca! In the late afternoon, when it gets a little cooler, Abdullah drives us to Shibam, a 2500 year-old town with around 500 tower houses out of mud bricks up to eight storeys high. Like Sana'a it is also a Unesco World Heritage site.
The walled town is fascinating, but also somewhat desolate and not very welcoming. So we drive across the Wadi bed where hundreds of boys are playing soccer in the sand and climb on top of a small hill to enjoy the view of Shibam, the date groves and the sunset. We are having a cup of tea while Abdullah who speaks very little English is teaching us Arabic instead.
We are having a lot of fun. Back in the hotel we sit around and dance with some Corean and French guests while a Bedouin group plays music.
The next morning, Barbara's birthday, we drive to Tarim and Aynat, further up the river valley. Some villages have been completely destroyed by a weeklong rain four months ago. The river rose so high (16 m!!) that it carried the houses along its banks with it, and the rain made the mud houses that had not been whitewashed melt and crumble away. Now the river is dry again
and it is hard to imagine that disaster.
Tarim is a busy town with a little market and friendly people. It is also quite wealthy as many of its inhabitants set off to seek their fortunes abroad and then returned to build sumptuous palaces in the town. In a small shop we meet a nice old Bedouin with blue eyes and have tea with him. Afterwards we want to go back to our hill in Shibam to watch the sunset again, but then prefer staying in the hotel because Barbara is not feeling so well.
At around nine o'clock in the evening the hotel manager calls and says that a bomb exploded on our hill in Shibam, at sunset. Three Coreans and a Yemeni were killed. The government has organized a plane ready to fly all foreigners from the Hadramaut to Sana'a immediately. If we want to leave too?
We feel shocked. The atmosphere in the hotel is very uneasy, the Coreans are running around with tears in their eyes, everybody is packing their suitcases, Ahmed our agent from Sana'a calls and is overjoyed that we are fine, the hotel personnel is horrified and mad at those crazy extremists. After several calls between hotel management, travel agency and government we decide to continue our trip as planned: continue with Abdullah down the Hadramaut to Al Mukalla on the coast and then fly back to Aden. Though the government insists on sending us two armed soldiers to accompany us. Finally we are the only guests left in the hotel, well guarded by security police.
The next morning Abdullah picks us up after our lonely breakfast. He is depressed because there won't be any work for him for a while. The employees of the hotel are equally depressed and say how sorry they are, how welcome we are, that they are our friends, that people have to be tolerant and shouldn't use violence, and that they wish us a good and safe
trip. Insh'allah! Insh'allah!
We climb into our van, one armed soldier in the front, one in the back. On our way down the Wadi Hadramaut we pass by Shibam and the hill. From the car window Skip wants to take a picture of a Bedouin woman with a madhalla (high 'witch's hat) herding goats, but she brandishes her stick and hits the car...
We drive into the Wadi Do'an, a side valley of the Wadi Hadramaut, first to Al Hajjarayn, an impressive village clambering up the side of a steep cliff. Abdullah drives up the rough cobble stone street into the village and then we walk back down on foot with our armed escort. The atmosphere in the village is rather unfriendly, though there are some people that greet us with a nice smile. But we are feeling uneasy here, like in Shibam, and so do the soldiers that are constantly on guard with a careful eye, checking anything that looks suspicious. We are glad to be back in the van.
Some days later somebody tells us that Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the bombing because they want the Arab Peninsula to be free from tourists. The Corean that was sent to Yemen to investigate about the bombing got killed.
Al Khurabaya, the final village in the Wadi Do'an, is famous for its palace painted in rainbow-colored squares. It was restored by a Saudi businessman with roots in the area, who is also responsible for new schools, clinics and roads. Many people from here emigrated to Saudi Arabia and got wealthy, the Bin Laden clan comes from here too. Skip sees one man that looks exactly like Osama...
From the Wadi Do'an we drive over the plateau towards Al Mukalla. This is a vast flat and treeless region with deep canyons here and there. But there are many low aromatic plants on the ground and innumerable beehives everywhere. Finally we descend from the mountains towards Al Mukalla, down sharp hairpin curves and then through the dry mouth of the Hadramaut, many kilometers wide. The flood has torn away all the roads and bridges and we make slow progress over provisional byways.
Al Mukalla, the once shining white capital of the Hadramaut, is not very shining anymore, it's rather gray and dirty and collapsing though there are some nice parts too. The centre is full of Somali refugees begging in an aggressive way. At the fishmarket we buy a big fresh fish and carry it to a nearby restaurant where the cook puts it into a wire contraption and bakes it in
a fire hole. Then he brings it back with a cucumber dip and a flat bread as big as a wheel. It's delicious!
The next morning Abdullah takes us to the airport. We say good-bye and board the plane to Aden, but then we notice that we are heading east! We find out that we are first flying to Al Ghaida near the Oman border and only then to Aden. The landscape is so interesting and great that we don't mind.
In Aden Nawas and Mohamed from the post shop at the Prince of Wales Pier pick us up. After Al Mukalla Aden appears to be a clean, modern and wealthy place. Everybody is very friendly. When we want to clear out the civil servants' cheeks are swollen tennisball -thick with qat and they are lying around on benches and on the floor while they are watching TV, taking it easy.
Before leaving for Eritrea on Saturday, March 21 we have to get fuel at the fuel dock. Skip has to purchase a diesel voucher and only then we can fill our tank. All these burocratic hassles with permits and vouchers seem to be a remainder of the Soviets that had some influence here in South Yemen while it was a socialist state. After also filling all our jerry cans we finally set sails
again and head for Bab al Mandeb, the Sorrow Gate, at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The Yemeni coast is very picturesque with its high bare mountains and colorful rocks and the white sand in the valleys. It is sunny, warm and the wind is just right.
On Sunday morning we sail into the Red Sea west of Mayun Island, a military zone that we have to stay clear off so we don't get shot at.We continue along the Yemeni west coast passing by Hanish al Kubra and then cross over through the narrow channel between the Jabal al Zuqar and Abu Ali islands towards the South Massawa Channel of Eritrea in Africa.
On Monday the wind calms down and we have to motorsail. On Wednesday we have to struggle against a strong current (5 knots) in the narrow passage between Shumma and Assarca islands, sometimes fearing that we won't make it and might get stranded on a reef like so many other yachts in the Red Sea. Tacking and with the engine on full power we finally get out of this precarious situation, but still have to tackle a shoal that is not marked correctly on the charts. The charts of the Red Sea are all based on incorrect surveys from the early 19th century, and many areas haven't been surveyed at all. Maneuvering very carefully and constantly watching the depth sounder we finally make out a tiny plastic buoy on a stick two meters away from the ship,
the shoal is only 1.60m deep. We are scared and relieved.
The weather has turned nasty, it is very cloudy, rainy and hazy, the sea is rough and the wind on our nose. We cannot see the low-lying coast and islands until we are few meters away. Finally we manage to get VHF-contact with the Massawa port control who direct us toward the harbor and the dock where we tie up on Wednesday, March 25.
E R I T R E A
M a s s a w a
15º 36.80 N 39º 28.80 E
There are two other yachts tied up alongside the quay. Michael the harbormaster helps us to clear in with Immigration and Customs in the later afternoon when all the employees come back from their lang lunch break (it can be unbearably hot here between one and four o'clock, up to 50ºC). We have to pay 15$ per day for the first 5 days and then 8$ per day, which is an appropriate price as they badly need money here in order to improve their facilities, but also a point of complaint for many yachties. For the first payment one has to officially change dollars into nacfas (1:15), whereas on the black market one can get a much better rate.
Among the employees there are many women and we are glad to see women's faces, arms and legs again after all the completely veiled women in Arabia. Eritrea is half muslim and half christian (mostly orthodox). After the clearing-in procedure we can go into town with a shore pass and get a one-month visa and travel permits for our trip to Asmara, the capital.
The old part of Massawa is situated on an island that is connected with Taulud Island and the mainland by a causeway. For centuries Massawa was the most important commercial harbor for Ethiopia, but in the last war between Eritrea and Ethiopia 1998-2000 it got shelled for months and badly damaged. The old town still looks like a war zone.
The area of Eritrea was dominated by Turks, Italians and the British until 1952 when it was declared a part of Ethiopia. Years of unrest and discontent began, and in the sixties a war about independence broke out that lasted 30 years and ended with Eritrea's independence by referendum in 1993.
The country und especially Massawa are only very slowly recovering from the two wars. Though Massawa was declared a Unesco World Heritage site, the aid is slow in coming and in the meantime the inhabitants try to restore and conserve according to their means. They are mostly living on the ground floors of the damaged buildings. There are basic little stores and small cafés all over town, everybody trying to make some kind of money so they can survive. There is much poverty, but the over-all impression of Massawa is as a very friendly, charming and even happy place.
In the balmy evenings everybody is out in the streets, cooking, washing, brewing coffee or tea, chatting. Many people greet and welcome us, curious where we come from. Many ask us for some English books and we give away bags full of them, happy that there are people that want to read!
A s m a r a
On Friday morning, March 27, at 6 o'clock we catch a bus to Asmara, 116 km away and a four-hour ride. The fare is 2$ a piece. Luckily we get the last two seats in the back. The road is in good condition, winding its way through the desert ascending the foothills. After 60 km we begin the serious ascent towards the 3000 m high pass on the way to Asmara. The road winds
back and forth in hairpin-turns and extreme grades. Looking out of the window we can see buses and trucks high above us on the mountain side. We think that must be the top, but on arriving at that height we look up and it seems the same as before -more climbing ahead.Eventually we make it to the top where we have a spectacular view back down the mountain side, seeing the
village we passed through an hour ago directly below us, the buildings being the size of pinheads.
Once over the pass the mountains are covered with cactus and succulent plants, and well-fed baboons sit alongside the road hoping to get something other than cactus fruit to eat.
Arriving at the bus terminal in Asmara we grab our bag and try to find the hotel where we want to stay. Asking here and there nobody seems to know until finally a slender, well-dressed elderly gentleman, Asres, comes along and asks us 'How can I help you?' After telling him that we are looking for the Asmara Central Hotel close to the cathedral he says ?No problem, I'll take you there!' One block from palm-lined Harnet avenue and the cathedral we check into the cosy hotel, leave our bag and invite Asres for a cup of coffee. He takes us back to Harnet Street where we sit at the street-side café Moderno and watch the hustle and bustle of the city.
The passers-by are dressed in many different styles, from the white and black Arab robes that we are used to to acres of kaleidoscope-colored wrap-around cloth, blue jeans, T-shirts, high heels and boots. A real mixture of western, African and Arab fashion. Many older men dress Italian style, in suits with wide lapels seemingly out of the fifties, Eritrean-made Italian shoes, looking good enough to be in any olden-day Italian movie. Many people stop and greet us in Italian.
Asmara was not shelled during the war and still has much of the character of an Italian city. Mussolini that came into power in 1922 had the ambition of creating a new Roman Empire at the Horn of Africa. Therefore he needed a strong industrial basis and invested lots of money, resources and labor in Eritrea, building roads and railways and especially developing the fertile and populated highland area around Asmara. By 1930 Asmara had become 'piccola Roma', Little Rome, well-planned, well-built and beautiful.
Wandering around the city in the early evening we decide to have dinner at the Blue Bird restaurant where we have excellent marinated cabretto (goat meat), the best we've ever had. After dinner and strolling back to the café Moderno the streets are packed with people, reminiscent of Mediterranean promenades, but even more so.
On Saturday morning we head towards the market area which consists of approximately 10 square blocks of the center of town. A market hall for vegetables, one for grains, one for beans, another one for spices, used clothing, used shoes, household goods, arts and crafts, everything imaginable in its own separate area. A western shopping mall is nothing in comparison
to this. The streets are so full of people it seems that everybody in Africa is here.
We make arrangements through Travelhouse for a car and driver to take us to Keren, 90 km northwest of the capital, which has a Monday market, and then back to Massawa. The Keren market is one of the most colorful we have ever seen. It is set in the middle of a dry river bed. People are sitting on mats, the Bilen women dressed in dazzling-colored costumes and selling their wares, crowds are milling about, wheeling and dealing with camels and goats, firewood, charcoal, fresh dates, herbal medicine, woven mats, baskets, dried palm leaves for weaving.
After the market Asmerom, our nice young driver takes us to a magnificent baobab tree, this most African of all trees, renowned for its water-holding capacity. The trunk of this special tree is so big that they have built a shrine inside dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This tree is supposed to have miraculous powers. It is said that if a woman is looking for a husband or wants to have a child, she has to prepare a cup of tea there. If a man then comes along and accepts her invitation to drink the tea, her wish will be fulfilled. When we look at the tree we see a family sleeping in the trunk.
On the way back to Massawa we take the newly built Highway through the Filfil area which is described as descending through three climate zones in two and a half hours through the Green Belt National Park. This region is the only remaining forest in Eritrea. 100 years ago 30% of the country were still covered by dense forest, now there is only this 1% left.
We start our descent from the high plateau at about 2500 m along an empty serpentine road through woods full of wild olive trees and aloe plants. Then we pass through the clouds into the lush tropical rainforest and arrive in a river valley full of mango and orange orchards. Continuing further east along the river valley we emerge in the desert again.
In the rainforest we stop at the Sabur Recreational Center where we enjoy lunch and coffee with Kudusan, the manager of the place. Drinking coffe in Eritrea is a ritual. First the peeled white coffee beans are roasted over a charcoal burner, then pounded in a mortar, the grounds poured into the janera (a small clay jar). Then water is added, the jar set on the burner, and when
the water begins to boil part of it is poured out and poured back in several times until the coffee is ready. Kudusan adds a pinch of ginger, other people cardamom to give it a special flavor. The aromatic concotion is then poured through a tiny string ball in the spout into demi-tasse cups. If you only drink one cup it's an insult, three cups is the rule. It's a wonderful slow and very enjoyable way to have a cup of delicious smelling coffee. We never knew coffee beans were actually white!
Back in Massawa we prepare the boat and leave lovely Eritrea for Port Sudan. Our first impression of the African coast along the Red Sea has been very positive, we are overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people.
S U D A N
P o r t S u d a n
19º 36.53 N 37º 13.37 E
There are basically three routes you can take from Massawa to Port Sudan. The inshore route to Suakin (a popular yacht stop and old harbor and slave trade port, now mostly in ruins and without any facilities) which winds its way through shoals and reefs and uncharted waters and does not leave any room for error. The middle route through the offshore reefs, a little
easier to navigate than the first one, but still with a lot of areas that have not been surveyed. Both these routes are recommended only for day-sailing. So we choose to take the offshore route which is about 80 NM longer, but allows us to sail through the night. There being very little wind from the NNW we motorsail the 320 NM most of the way. On Tuesday
morning, April 7, we anchor in Port Sudan.
Port Sudan is one of the friendliest harbors we have visited on our entire journey. The anchorage is right in the heart of town and gives us easy access to the city and markets. Approximately ten city blocks are all one big souq area, full of life, shops and street stalls. The people are all very friedly, relaxed, curious and kind, asking us where we come from and heading for and eager to have their pictures taken.
Our agent Ahmed takes us to the fish market outside of town where we buy a fish and take it across the street where it is cooked to perfection in a big tent, making a wonderful Friday lunch amidst large Sudanese families. The fish could not have been fresher - directly from the boat, cleaned at the market and tossed into the frying pan all within an hour.
After lunch Ahmed takes us to a nearby fishing village where all the huts are built out of flotsam - amazing structures out of anything and everything salvaged from the sea. The fishermen proudly pose in front of their homes, all created out of the flotsam, costing them nothing. The village is like a work of art.
In the evening the promenade along the harbor front fills with people strolling about, sitting on rugs, playing chess, backgammon and cards, drinking tea from the tea stalls that have been set up, vendors wandering about -not hawking their wares, but quietly waiting for somebody to show an interest in them. Clusters of men sit around smoking sheeshas (hubbly-bubbly waterpipes). There is even a pool-table with a lot of action on the promenade.
We being the exotic ones, passers-by stop and sit and chat with us, invite us for tea, bring us sweets or nuts and want to know how we like Port Sudan. We love it!
So far there are very few tourists in Port Sudan, they all come for the fabulous diving here. There being only 6 or 7 dive boats it's not very crowded anywhere on the spectacularly colorful reefs and dive sites. A word of advice to sailors: if you stop in Port Sudan, make sure to get into contact with Ahmed Foti, a very reliable and friedly agent and guide!
E G Y P T
P o r t G h a l i b
25º 32.02 N 34º 38.33 E
Early on Sunday morning, April 12, we leave Port Sudan for Port Ghalib in Egypt, about 450 NM. Again we take the offshore route up the Red Sea, thus avoiding the dangerous reefs and the long undefined border between Sudan and Egypt that is full of military outposts and hassles.
The first three days there is no wind at all and we motor approximately 350 NM. We only see two or three other ships per day. Then the wind picks up to force 6 from the NW and we spend the next 36 hours beating into it to make the last hundred miles, arriving at Port Ghalib at 10.30 at night.
Arrival at Port Ghalib at night is not recommendable because the fairway buoys and the channel entrance lights are undistinguishable from the lights of the hotel complex on shore. Calling on the VHF asking for guidance the harbormaster sends out a zodiac to wait for us at the fairway buoy. Following the waypoints we almost hit it before seeing it. After guiding us in and tying up at the Customs dock we turn in for a sound sleep.
In the morning looking out the channel, seeing how narrow it is with a pier sticking out into the water right to the channel's edge and a sailboat wrecked on a reef on the portside we were quite lucky we made it at all.
Port Ghalib is a completely new marina/ town/ hotel complex of the highest standard, planned and built by a Kuweiti billionaire. So far only 20% of the project have been realized. The place is stunning, but still rather devoid of people. As Ragnar is such a picturesque boat we are allowed to pick up a mooring buoy and tie stern-to at the corniche in the heart of the
marina instead of in the little yacht harbor around the corner.
In Port Ghalib we organize a car and driver and travel through the Arabian or Eastern desert to Luxor. This road, like many in Egypt, is closed at night and can only be traversed in the day-time. Along it there are numerous heavily guarded check-points, especially when one gets into the Nile Valley, where one has to show the travel permits and pay off the security police.
We spend two nights and days in Luxor, visiting the awesome and unforgettable Karnak and Luxor temples, the Hatshepsut temple in Deir al Bahri, the Valley of the Kings, taking a boat ride on the Nile with Mussa and then continuing to Aswan at the first Nile cataract. Each centimeter of the fertile soil in the Nile Valley is cultivated, yielding three harvests a year. The higher up the river we go, the narrower the valley gets, in some places the desert on the eastern shore even reaches the river bank.
In Aswan we visit the High Dam, a breathtaking masterpiece of engineering, and the temple of Isis at Philae in Lake Nasr. The temple would have entirely disappeared safter building the dam if Unesco hadn't intervened. It was disassembled and reconstructed 20 m higher on a nearby island. We find few tourists at the site and enjoy the peaceful grandeur of this wonderful temple.
Afterwards we take a small boat through the magic nature reserve of the first cataract, full of huge boulders, reeds and thickets and birds, lined by gigantic desert dunes and colorful Nubian villages. We even take a ride on a camel and have tea in a Nubian house.
The day afterwards our driver Romany is supposed to drive us and our guide Mary to Abu Simbel, 280 km southwest of Aswan and only 40 km away from the Sudanese border. All cars using this road through the Libyan desert have to go in a convoy at 3.30 in the morning, but when we get to the starting point we find out that the convoy is not going because of a sandstorm. Only later in the morning can we finally set off and arrive at Abu Simbel in the blazing heat of the early afternoon. The place is packed with coaches and tourists, all wanting to admire the great temples of Ramses II and Hathor. These temples were also saved in a rescue campaign by Unesco from being submerged in enormous Lake Nasr after the construction of the High Dam. They were cut up into more than 2000 huge blocks weighing 10 to 40 tons each and then reconstructed inside an artificially built mountain 65 m higher than the original site.
On Wednesday, April 29, we leave Port Ghalib for Port Suez, approximately 300 NM. According to the weather reports we should have a good weather window all the way to Port Suez, but as often happens in the Red Sea, early on Thursday morning the wind picks up to force 5/6 from the north and we have trouble making any headway. So we tack in towards land, navigating through a chain of reefs sosmetimes only 50 m apart and finally take refuge at Ras Abu Soma marina 14 NM south of Hurghada - also a huge new developing hotel complex. 26º 50.92 N 33º 59.05 E.
The wind continues to blow throughout the rest of the day and the next and we are only able to leave on Saturday morning, May 2, for the Gulf of Suez and Port Suez at its northern end. We think of stopping somewhere in the Gulf of Suez, but according to the guide books if you have favorable weather on this stretch you should take advantage of it and go as far north as you can as the Gulf of Suez is notorious for its strong winds.
On Sunday evening we experience an unusual flat calm and strange optical illusions, the effect of mirages making the water appear to climb up the sides of the mountains, buoys and oil platforms one minute close enough to touch , the next minute seemingly miles away; smokestacks on shore multiplying as you watch, growing taller and then shorter; even giant cargo ships vanishing and only appearing five minutes later. Distance is impossible to tell.
Finally on Monday morning, May 4, we luckily arrive in Port Suez just as the wind starts to pipe up, this time from the south, turning rapidly to the NW and bringing with it a sandstorm. The air is full of sand and the whole ship looks grey from it, outside and inside.
P o r t S u e z
29º 56.80 N 32º 34.41 E
We had been warned by other yachties that the Egyptians are always trying to take advantage of foreigners, charging many times the normal price of things and constantly asking for baksheesh (a bribe)on the side, even a dollar for opening a door. But so far we have experienced very little of this.
Going ashore in Port Suez we are prepared for the worst, but find to our delight that people treat us in a very honest and generous way. A bus ride into town costs half an Egyption pound; at the market we don't have to bargain, we are charged local prices; people are extremely helpful and friendly, taking us places in their cars,advising us where to eat well and cheap and inviting
us for tea. The harbormaster explains to us that Port Suez is an industrial town with few tourists where the people in general don't try to cheat on you.
Because of the sandstorm we are only able to start our canal transit to Ismailia (44 NM), the half-way point, on Thursday, May 7. Wednesday night they had told us we would be leaving at 8 the next morning, but at 5 o'clock there is a knock on the hull and someone shouting 'Ragnar, start your engine! Let's go!' Blary-eyed we drop our mooring-lines and get underway with our nice
I s m a i l i a
30º 35.10 N 32º 16.35 E
Going up along the edge of the very narrow canal, being passed by giant container ships only meters away is awesome. By 2 o'clock in the afternoon we tie up alongside the Ismailia yacht club. As we were unable to get any fuel in Port Suez, we arrive there with very little fuel left on board. Asking the other yachties how to go about getting Diesel, they tell us that it is almost
impossible, that the day before a couple on one boat had their jerrycans confiscated.
After explaining our dilemma to the harbormaster, that we cannot continue up the canal without fuel, he says, 'No problem. Wait until 6 o'clock in the evening until the guards at the gate change!' Word goes around to the rest of the yachties, and at 6 there are 10 people with approximately 100 jerrycans waiting for taxis to arrive to take them to a gas station. It is illegal in Egypt to carry fuel in jerrycans in a car. It is illegal to fill jerrycans at a gas station. It is illegal to carry jerrycans full of fuel into the harbor area. What all this means is baksheesh, as there is no other way of replenishing the tanks.
First the guard, 2$ per jerrycan. Then the gas station attendant - 20% more than the cost. Then the taxi driver -ten times the normal fare. But eventually we get it all straightened out and our tanks are all full and we are ready to leave. We are lucky, because on the last trip to the gas station an Aussie from one of the yachts refuses to pay the guards, so the guards stop everybody
else from going...
Ismailia as it is now was built during the construction of the Suez Canal. Ferdinand de Lesseps, the director of the Suez Canal Company lived here and all the European community. Ismailia's historic town centre with its 19th century villas, tree-lined streets and sprawling lawns is a picturesque and peaceful neighborhood. The idyllic freshwater canal is lined by parks full of blooming trees and flowerbeds. It is a pretty town to stroll around.
Being told that the next leg of our canal transit will start at 5 on Sunday morning, May 10, we are up early, ready to go along with four other boats. By 9 o'clock, wondering if it is going to happen or not, the port captain informs us that the mandatory pilot to accompany us should show up at 10. He arrives at 11 and the first thing he says is 'We are in a hurry! Do six knots!' After telling him that we can only do 4.5 knots against the strong north wind that sprang up at 10, he becomes very impatient, continually talking on our VHF, pounding the winches with his hands, looking at his watch like the white rabbit, saying, 'We are late! We are late!' Skip's answer is,'What happened to our scheduled time at 5 in the morning?'
All through the trip he is trying to push us to go faster, telling us that if we don't make it to Port Said by dark we have to stop at a signal station along the way. He also has the glorious idea of setting up some sails. Our original plan was to be in Port Said by 2 in the afternoon, drop the pilot and leave immediately for Malta. But as we only arrive at 8 o'clock in the evening we
decide to tie up at the Port Fouad marina.
P o r t F o u a d
31º 15.42 N 32º 18.90 E
Normally you give the pilot a maximum of a 10$ tip. Handing this pilot 10$ he takes it in his hands, looks at it like he is looking at a pile of ..., saying, 'Tsk! What is this?' Just in order to get rid of him as fast as we can, we argue until he gets the enormous sum of 20$. Afterwards he asks for a carton of cigarettes, a T-shirt, a baseball cap and a bottle of Pff!Pff! (perfume). He is so insolent that we finally yell at him, 'Get off the boat! NOW!'
In the meantime the marina manager informs us that to stay in the marina costs 21$ the night and that we will need a pilot at 30$ to take us the 100 m out of the harbor, but that if we give him the pilot money now he can do us a favor and arrange it that we can leave early in the morning without a pilot... What a bunch of crooks! After this hassle we are glad to leave Egypt and wonder if we ever want to come back.
On Monday morning, May 11, at 8.30, we are abeam buoy number 5 and back in the Mediterranean, heading for Malta. Staying close to the coast we have a favorable north wind until we are about 20 NM north of the Libyan border. Then the wind turns to the west and our only alternative is to tack to the north. So on Thursday, May 14, we change our plans and course and head for the east end of Crete. The next day, after sailing around the reef-strewn northeast corner of the island we enter the Gulf of Mirabello and tie up at Agyos Nikolaos marina, 517 NM sailed from Port Said and back in Europe!
G R E E C E
C r e t e
35º 11.15 N 25º 43.10 E
Agios Nikólaos is a very picturesque and attractive fishing village on the Gulf of Mirabello, set around a pleasant harbor and a small lagoon. The steep streets and stairways are lined with shady trees and numerous shops and tavernas. Nowadays the town is also a bustling high-end tourist place without having lost its traditional Cretan character and charme.
We make friends with Giannis, the young owner of small Kima restaurant on Ammos Beach near the marina, where we enjoy the mouth-watering famous mézedes (starters that also make a full meal, if one has several of them) - stuffed zucchini flowers, dolmades (rice-filled vine leaves), zucchini balls, grilled octopus, stuffed mushrooms, pureed lima beans with herbs, grilled
sardines, crunchy homemade brown bread with extra virgin olive oil, grilled sardines and many more.
From Agios Nikólaos we drive up the empty winding road to the Katharo Plateau at 1150 m, through enchanting lush vegetation interspersed with bare rock and magnificent vistas of the coast and sea. The plateau is densely cultivated with orchards, vegetables, cereals and vineyards, and thousands of sheep and goats in flocks roam around its slopes. In the background loom high mountains with their tops still covered with snow.
We stop at a small taverna that Katerina, a 65-year-old lady from Kritsá runs by herself in summertime. She grows fruit and nut trees here, potatoes and vegetables, and makes her own cheese and olive preserves. She serves us a delicious vegetable soup and home-made thick creamy sheep's milk yogurt with thyme honey and syrupy raisins. When we leave she gives us a bag full of almonds, olives and a container full of the incredibly good yogurt.
After resting a few days in Agios Nikólaos we want to continue our trip,but the strong force-6-westerly wind keeps us in port. Finally on Saturday, May 23, at 4 o'clock in the morning it is calm enough to set out on our voyage to Malta. By sunrise we have rounded Cape Agios Iannis and luckily have a north wind and can head westward. By early Sunday morning we have sailed 100 NM to the western end of Crete.
Early Monday morning we see a funny cloud on the misty horizon that eventually turns into a three-masted tall ship - the famous Sea Cloud under full sail - a spectacular sight! We heave to so we can admire and photograph her as she sails by.
By Wednesday noon we are approximately 100 NM from Malta, but the wind is shifting around from the south through west to the north. Every time we tack, the wind heads us, so we tack back, but again, after a short time, the wind shifts and we have to go on the other tack. At about 6 o'clock in the afternoon the wind is coming strong out of the west, so we decide to tack and head for the southeastern tip of Sicily. But after 10 minutes the wind comes around to the north, so we tack back towards Malta.
Thursday morning, with a strong northwest swell and a strong southwest current and the wind blowing out of the west, we find ourselves 10 NM off the southeast tip of Malta. Having had enough of the wind shifts, we drop sail and give full power to the iron main and motor the rest of the way to Valletta, the capital of Malta.
Entering at night is not recommendable, as there are no leading lights and the narrow entrance through Marsamxett Bay (the northern bay where most yachts go) is not lit either. But discerning the silhouettes of the forts on either point of the entrance against the background lights of town, we are able to distinguish the entrance.
Calling the different marinas over the VHF to ask about where to tie up, we get no answer. So we decide to pick up the first mooring buoy we come to (which has a line on it the size of a shoe string) in Lazaretto Creek and wait for morning. At 7.30 on Friday, May 29, finally Manoel Island Marina answers on the VHF and tells us to come alongside.
Many people sailing around the world think that sailing in the Mediterranean is easy stuff, but...