Posted by: Carol | May 23, 2012

MotionX-GPS Track: Track 011


Carol’s Iphone uses MotionX-GPS on the iPhone and is sharing with you the following track:

Name: Track 011
Date: May 24, 2012 9:13 am
(valid until Nov 19, 2012)
View on Map
Distance: 3.38 miles
Elapsed Time: 1:58:41
Avg Speed: 1.7 mph
Max Speed: 17.8 mph
Avg Pace: 35′ 07″ per mile
Min Altitude: 0 ft
Max Altitude: 207 ft
Start Time: 2012-05-23T21:13:37Z
Start Location:
Zone: 60K
Easting: 539364mE
Northing: 8126784mN
End Location:
Zone: 60K
Easting: 539112mE
Northing: 8126738mN

MotionX-GPS Commonly Asked Questions

  1. What is MotionX-GPS?
    MotionX-GPS is the essential GPS application for outdoor enthusiasts. It puts an easy-to-use, state-of-the-art handheld GPS on your iPhone.
  2. Can I use MotionX-GPS?
    Sure! MotionX-GPS can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store.
  3. How can I display tracks in Google Earth?
    Follow the directions on the Google Earth web site to download and install the Google Earth program. Save the attached “Track 011.kmz” file to your computer. Launch Google Earth, select File, Open, and open the saved “Track 011.kmz” file.
  4. This email was forwarded to me. Where are the attachments?
    Some e-mail programs do not include the original attachments by default when forwarding an e-mail. In this case, the sender must reattach the original files for them to be included.

Please contact MotionX customer support with any comments or questions.

All the best,

The MotionX Team

US and Foreign Patents Granted and Pending. Fullpower® is a registered trademark of Fullpower Technologies, Inc. MotionX™ is a trademark of Fullpower Technologies, Inc. © Copyright 2003 – 2012 Fullpower Technologies, Inc. All rights reserved.

ver: ; ref-id:

Posted by: Carol | May 23, 2012

MotionX-GPS Track: Track 011


Carol’s Iphone uses MotionX-GPS on the iPhone and is sharing with you the following track:

Name: Track 011
Date: May 24, 2012 9:13 am
(valid until Nov 19, 2012)
View on Map
Distance: 3.38 miles
Elapsed Time: 1:58:41
Avg Speed: 1.7 mph
Max Speed: 17.8 mph
Avg Pace: 35′ 07″ per mile
Min Altitude: 0 ft
Max Altitude: 207 ft
Start Time: 2012-05-23T21:13:37Z
Start Location:
Zone: 60K
Easting: 539364mE
Northing: 8126784mN
End Location:
Zone: 60K
Easting: 539112mE
Northing: 8126738mN

MotionX-GPS Commonly Asked Questions

  1. What is MotionX-GPS?
    MotionX-GPS is the essential GPS application for outdoor enthusiasts. It puts an easy-to-use, state-of-the-art handheld GPS on your iPhone.
  2. Can I use MotionX-GPS?
    Sure! MotionX-GPS can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store.
  3. How can I display tracks in Google Earth?
    Follow the directions on the Google Earth web site to download and install the Google Earth program. Save the attached “Track 011.kmz” file to your computer. Launch Google Earth, select File, Open, and open the saved “Track 011.kmz” file.
  4. This email was forwarded to me. Where are the attachments?
    Some e-mail programs do not include the original attachments by default when forwarding an e-mail. In this case, the sender must reattach the original files for them to be included.

Please contact MotionX customer support with any comments or questions.

All the best,

The MotionX Team

US and Foreign Patents Granted and Pending. Fullpower® is a registered trademark of Fullpower Technologies, Inc. MotionX™ is a trademark of Fullpower Technologies, Inc. © Copyright 2003 – 2012 Fullpower Technologies, Inc. All rights reserved.

ver: ; ref-id:

Posted by: Carol | January 2, 2012

Congratulations go to Mario and Michele Forgione for purchasing two horses with ties to the Las Tres Cruces breeding and training program.   En route to Florida are LTC’s homebred Cameo as well as Lassila de Moyon who was discovered in Mexico by Alejandro Alvarado and then exported to Michelle Parker and Salvador Alvarado in Southern California.  Cameo has a bright future ahead of her and we hope that this wonderful mare, who was started and trained by Las Tres Cruces’ own Alejandro, will develop into the top horse that we think she is with her new rider Steve DiCarlo of Naples, Florida.  Steve will also be campaigning Lassila de Moyon who has already proven himself by winning a HITS Pfizer Million Dollar Grand Prix qualifier with Michelle Parker aboard.  We wish Steve the best of luck with both his new horses and great success in the future.

Posted by: Carol | February 28, 2011

Poster Child

Every fall there is a huge gathering of marine professionals at what is called IBEX. IBEX stands for International BoatBuilders’ Exposition & Conference and it is the largest technical marine event in the world.  Every major vendor of marine items is there. Along with thousands of items to check out, there is an extensive array of hands on exhibitions and seminars.  The next IBEX is scheduled for October 17-19, 2011, in Louisville, Kentucky.

The exciting part for us is that this year IBEX selected the FPB64, represented by AVATAR, to be the signature boat for the event.  Photos of AVATAR are up on the IBEX website HERE and will be used in all the promotional materials.  At the 2010 exhibition huge four-foot tall posters of AVATAR were plastered across the walls promoting the 2011 event.  If you have a desire to print yourself a gigantic poster of AVATAR attacking the waves in New Zealand, you can download the PDF file (7mb) HERE. Of course you can print a smaller version or save the image as a computer screensaver…what ever floats your boat 🙂

The photo was taken by internationally recognized marine photographer Ivor Wilkins of New Zealand.

Posted by: Carol | February 19, 2011

Facebook Link

My blogging engine,, has recently released a new feature called Publicize that announces new posts on my Facebook page as well.  This is just a quick housekeeping blog to implement the new feature.  The AVATAR Logs is a journal and photo site that records our adventures cruising distant seas on our FPB 64 motor yacht AVATAR. We have just concluded a series of posts regarding our recent six-week long voyage circumnavigating the South Pacific islands of New Caledonia.

The main webpage for the blog can be accessed here:

Posted by: Carol | February 16, 2011

Winding Down

The alarm clocks went off at 4 am this morning as today’s itinerary is a 90 mile leg outside the reef in the open ocean.  Because we want to be able to see the reef and coral head hazards at our destination, we leave early in order to arrive when the sun is still high and gives good visibility into the water.

A morning like this morning offers one of the major pleasures of cruising.  Up on the flying bridge tropical breezes are soft on the skin.  A huge yellow full moon was just setting into the black predawn sea, and shortly thereafter a brilliant sunrise of pinks and golds lit up the dramatic clouds over Grande Terre’s rugged coastline and illuminated the spray of the surf breaking against the reef with an irridescent glow.

We laid over an extra day at our last anchorage near Voh, waiting out a weather system that promised 30 knot winds and an unpleasant upwind passage directly into the swells.  As it is, we’re slogging into steep short seas that break across the bow and pelt our bulletproof glass windows with spray.  Still we’re enjoying the rough ride in air conditioned comfort, coffee pot and fridge at hand.

Yesterday during our stopover Mike and I took an afternoon walk to stretch our legs but we underestimated the distance to our goal – a building with a white tower in the distance.  By the time we finally achieved it we had trudged nearly four miles including a few unintended detours.  Our reward, besides the bucolic scenery, was a decent little grocery store in town where we stocked up on a few necessities for our rapidly dwindling larder.  We also chugged down a liter of water and shared a chocolate croissant (a staple in all the markets here in New Cal) before hiking back another three miles.

Tomorrow we’re planning another scuba dive off the barrier reef.  Since La Dieppoise we have chalked up an additional six dives, mostly in the Loyalties.  The dives have been relatively unremarkable, taking into consideration that we have had so many opportunities for spectacular scuba diving over the past few years the bar has truly been raised for our expectations.  The one outstanding exception was Recif Shelter (Shelter Reef), a pinnacle rising up from the ocean floor some 2 1/2 miles offshore of Lifou.  We were fortunate to have calm seas and Rod was able to anchor AVATAR close to the pinnacle on the nearby sandy bottom and Mike and I initiated the dive from AVATAR‘s deck.  It was a beautiful spot absolutely teeming with enormous schools of fish, lush with coral, and sparkling with sunlight and clear blue water.

On my first photo dive this trip the underwater camera housing flooded but thanks to Mike quickly spotting the flashing leak alarm light I was extremely fortunate to salvage both camera and lens without damage!  After that no more untoward incidents.  Here’s the promised slideshow of my underwater photographs from the Loyalties.  They were posted accidentally a few slideshows ago, so my apologies if you’ve already seen them!

We plan to arrive back in the marina at Noumea on Sunday, giving us a day to regroup, pack, clean and organize before heading home.  Rod calculates we will have covered 1,000 nautical miles on our six-week circumnavigation of New Caledonia.  Most likely this is the last post of the cruise.  When I get home to high speed internet I’ll post a high quality slideshow of the images from this trip.

Au revoir


slideshow (requires Flash)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted by: Carol | February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day to all you folks in the Northern Hemisphere.  For those is the Southern Hemisphere, sorry I’m a day late. The photo above is a naturally occurring mangrove swamp near Voh in New Caledonia, not too far from where we are cruising now.  I didn’t take the photo as AVATAR lacks the requisite helicopter, but it seemed an appropriate image for the day 🙂

We have concluded our whirlwind tour of the three main islands of the Loyalties – Maré, Lifou, and Ouvea – where we did a lot of scuba diving (next post); then sailed a few days ago across the approximately 80 miles of ocean separating the Loyalties from the northwest coast of Grande Terre (I just discovered that this is the official name for New Caledonia’s main island.  Also that it is the third largest island in the Pacific after New Zealand and Papua New Guinea).  The east coast of the big island is the wet side, with steep lush mountainsides, raging waterfalls, limestone spires near Hienghene, and an enormous river.  As we rounded the northern tip of New Caledonia the mountains became more barren and dry; not too different from some of the landscapes we see in the desert southwest and Mexico!

The weather has turned gray and rainy on us – with some distant lightning and thunder and drenching rain squalls.  Gives us a good opportunity for a bit of housecleaning and laundry!

Here’s a few landscapes from the last week.

Slideshow (requires Flash)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted by: Carol | February 9, 2011


We have been spending the last couple of weeks exploring New Caledonia’s satellite islands. First we departed Noumea and sailed down New Cal’s west coast to Ile des Pins (Island of the Pines) just off the southernmost tip of the main island, and now we are cruising through the Loyalties, a string of islands some 80 miles offshore of New Cal’s east coast.  Tomorrow we will cross back to the mainland and sail around the top of the big island, ultimately circumnavigating all of New Caledonia.  A stretch of good weather has cut us a break, allowing us to venture farther afield.  Bob McDavitt, the marine weather guru from New Zealand, claims that the huge hurricane Vasi that hit Australia has sucked so much energy out of the southwest Pacific that no more cyclones will be able to form until March!

Besides the distinctively tall narrow pine trees for which Ile des Pins is named, the most dominant visual impact is the vast expanses of intensely turquoise water, intermingled with deeper aquamarines and the mossy greens that betray shallow submerged coral reefs.  On a sunny day the result is a blindingly beautiful expanse of intermingled colors.  Even the small low flying tradewind clouds overhead reflect the sea and take on its color, winging overhead like fat fluffy parakeets.

We spent several days in the main anchorage, Baie de Kuto, adjacent to a curving beach of fine packed sand that fronted a resort, a very small community, and the century old ruins of a prison complex.  Each morning a large ferry arrived from Noumea and departed again that same afternoon, and one day an Australian cruise ship and its multitudes of disembarking passengers spent the day.  For ourselves, we got on a brief fitness kick and burned quite a few miles hiking.  One afternoon Mike and I walked the coast highway from Kuto to the town of Port de Vao and back again, a total of 7 miles. Another morning all three of us hiked to the top of Pic N’ga, the highest point on the island, for the spectacular view.  The humidity here is about 85% and the temperatures in the high 80s, low 90s – we definitely suffer from the heat on these climbs as a result, but it’s preferable to the hard freeze in Tucson!

Here’s a photo of Mike celebrating his arrival at the summit.

The inviting sandy beach also offered a good opportunity to attempt water skiing again.  I have been making sporadic efforts to water ski for the past six years since we started cruising, never with any success. We put in a good effort here and I managed to get part way out of the water several times interspersed with three-point touchdowns before cartwheeling back into the shallow water.  Florida boy Mike was rusty but soon able to get up on the skis and serpentine back and forth across the wake of the dinghy.  Rod as always showed us up on his turn, using only one ski and carving back and forth across the wake generating rooster tails of spray!

It took a week for my arms and shoulders to recover from the effort – the happy ending is that a couple of islands later (Lifou) we found another inviting sandy shore and this time I actually made it to my feet and stayed up!  My first time water skiing since I was nine years old on vacation in the Florida Keys!  We are of the unanimous opinion that not too many old ladies in their sixties take up water skiing as a sport.

Slideshow (requires Flash)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



Posted by: Carol | February 2, 2011

Of Lighthouses and Scuba Diving

The hiatus on the blog is because we are finally out cruising for real! The four cyclones that kept us close to port have all gone their separate ways. The monster category 5 Yasi is punishing Australia as I write but at least it is far away from here!

So with a nice weather window we have been exploring the shores of New Caledonia. We visited a popular day destination for Noumeans – the beautiful Amédée lighthouse on Amédée Island that marks the entrance to the passage of Boulari, one of only 3 natural passages through the reef surrounding New Caledonia.

We arrived at the small island on a Sunday and it was packed with tourists who had arrived by tour boat, jet ski, or (like us) private yacht. The place was buzzing with activity, including a reggae band and 5-minute helicopter rides, so we stayed aboard AVATAR and waited until the end of the day when the hordes departed and then we had the place to ourselves. We walked the perimeter along the prescribed boardwalk through the nesting grounds of bridled terns. They raise just one chick per family in burrows in the sand. In the winter (it is summer here now, of course) they vacate their underground nests and hundreds of sea snakes move into the neighborhood in their stead! (Footnote: at Noumea’s informative public aquarium we learned that the venom of a sea snake is more toxic than a cobra’s and that they can open their mouth wide enough to bite a person anywhere on the body, not just an earlobe! Also that they can swim backwards. So hands off, but it remains true that they are mild mannered and non-aggressive).

The lighthouse caretaker gave us access to climb up the interior all the way to the observation deck at the top. I counted 231 steps but the guidebooks claim 247. I wonder if the missing 16 steps belong to one last flight to service the light itself or it I really counted that badly! My photo of the lighthouse lantern taken when it activated at dusk shows thick branches and twigs on the roof – part of an osprey’s nest, not sloppy maintenance!

We brought a bottle of wine along with us and toasted to fair weather from our spectacular vantage point overlooking the sea, the setting sun and AVATAR bobbing at anchor below. Then down again before it became too difficult to navigate the narrow spiraling staircase in the dark!

Le Phare Amédée, as it is named in French, at 56 meters tall is the second tallest lighthouse in the world. It was constructed of iron in Paris as a demonstration in 1862 and stood on display in the city as a popular landmark for a couple of years before it was dismantled and sent on its way via barge down the Seine to the port of Le Havre and then across the ocean to New Caledonia in sections, a cargo of some 1200 crates weighing a total of 388 tons. Parisians missed their icon so much the Eiffel Tower was constructed in it’s place! The lighthouse was reassembled in New Caledonia and first lit on the saint’s day of the empress Eugénie, wife of Napoléon III.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next morning we took the dinghy to the outer reef and Mike and I did a warm-up scuba dive just to get back in practice. Next day we located another dive site, the sunken French WWII patrol boat La Dieppoise. It was deliberately scuttled here in 1988 to create an artificial reef and dive attraction. Usually the wreck is marked by buoys but there were none in sight, possibly because of the cyclone, so we had to locate it ourselves. Rod and Mike coordinated a search pattern using a combination of the depth sounder and the Furuno “searchlight” sonar to find an aberration that indicated the location of the ship. When they were confident the Dieppoise had been pinpointed we dropped anchor in the sandy bottom nearby. Then Mike and I launched our dive directly off AVATAR, taking the “giant step” right off the side into astonishingly neon blue water, then pulling ourselves hand over hand down the anchor chain until we reached bottom at 26 meters. There we found ourselves in the midst of a big school of barracuda and a shark on the outskirts. Using Mike’s dive computer compass we set off in the preplanned direction and sure enough, in 40 yards or so, the bow of the ship loomed up out of the blue gloom.

It was an excellent dive, the sunken ship a haven for fish. Clouds of tens of thousands of small fish fry swirled in the recesses and larger fish had staked out their territory in the prolific food chain. Corals and other marine growth had gained a foothold, but the structure of the ship was still intact. Mike and I cruised slowly down one side of the wreck and back again up the other, watching our depth and bottom time, then navigated by compass again back to the anchor chain. Later when I logged the two dives in my logbook I discovered La Dieppoise had the distinction of being the 100th dive of my second diving career!

Posted by: Carol | January 25, 2011

Answer to Mystery Photo

Posted by: Carol | January 25, 2011

Mystery Photo

The photo above is uncropped and unretouched – taken on one of my morning photokayak (new term) excursions. Anyone guess what it is? If you give up, click here for the answer:-)

Photokayaking usually takes place about 5:30 in the morning as it is just getting light. By 6:30 the magic has gone. Early on a good day the coming sunrise casts a soft pastel tint on the clouds and usually the wind has died down creating glassy reflective water. The birds are awake, chirping in the bush. Herons and ospreys are out foraging for breakfast. Gulls and terns fly overhead.

Except for the birds the only other sounds are the lap of water against the bottom of my inflatable kayak, the swoosh of the surf, and the occasional splash of fish feeding in the lagoon or a shower of minnows arcing out of the water. Actually there is quite a lot of noise, but it seems silent. No engines, no voices, nothing artificial except the click of my Nikon.

Occasionally the photo ops aren’t there and then I opt to stow the camera in my dry bag and start paddling for exercise. The other morning I paddled nearly 2 hours before breakfast, circling the perimeter of the bay where AVATAR was anchored. Just guessing maybe covered some 6 – 8 miles with only one timeout for a rainbow photo op!

The slideshow below is a collection of recent results from my morning excursions. If I can get the Internet to cooperate I will eventually post a link to the high resolution slideshow here as well.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted by: Carol | January 22, 2011

Dining Out, Cruising Style

So we decide it’s a good night to take ourselves out to dinner – relieving Rod of cooking duty and Carol of the dish washing regime.

Step One – AM: Move yacht some 10-20 miles to anchor in vicinity of resort.

Step Two – Early PM: Dinghy into shore early to make reservations for dinner at targeted resort. Return to yacht and entertain ourselves for the rest of the afternoon. Starving by 5 PM.

Step Three – 6:45 PM: No one in New Caledonia eats before 7 PM. About 15 minutes before scheduled reservations at 7 PM (we will turn out to be the first arrivals) we shower and dress aboard yacht in preparation for dinner. In my case simple knit pullover dress, carved native necklace, waterproof plastic sandals (Crocs) and a foul weather jacket. Pouring down rain 10 minutes before scheduled departure.

Rain stops. Makes no difference. Either way pile into wet dinghy and race across bay from AVATAR to resort on far shore. Land dinghy on sandy beach, leap from dinghy into shallow surf and all three of us barely manage to wrestle heavy dinghy to high ground and tie off to a fallen tree log. This is the reason for wearing plastic (waterproof) Croc sandals! Knit dress hiked up to above knees.

Trudge across resort grounds to restaurant, pausing to slosh feet and Croc sandals in freshwater stream to eliminate sand between toes.

Enjoy a lovely gourmet meal, menu in French so guessing somewhat as to our choices. Two bottles of French wine, stimulating conversation, elegant environment, slapping at mosquitoes that hopefully are not carrying malaria.

Pay the bill and hike in the dark back to beach where dinghy is tethered. Wrestle dinghy back into water, again sloshing around in shallow surf wearing waterproof Crocs, knit dress hiked up above knees.

Fire up outboard motor and aim military grade spotlight into water off bow, watching out for shallow water and coral reef hazards because low tide. Frighten fish with powerful spotlight – they leap out of the water criss-crossing in front of us.

Race across bay clutching painter and handgrips on dinghy pontoons to avoid sudden ejection into water while continuously scanning water just ahead with said military grade spotlight. Arrive at AVATAR where we clamber onto swim step and rinse legs, feet and shoes with hand held freshwater shower.

Crash into our welcoming beds – this is a typical scenario for dining out while cruising. Written while still under the influence!


Posted by: Carol | January 21, 2011

Hike to Cap Ndoua Lighthouse

The internet has failed us as we cruise farther afield.  This morning (Saturday) in hopes of a dinner out we have relocated to a bay with a resort on the shore.  With civilization our cell service seems to have marginally improved, offering a window of opportunity to catch up on the posting.

Wednesday was our first big hike after training on the sidewalks of Noumea.  Our destination was a lighthouse on Cap Ndoua.  From AVATAR we traveled by dinghy to the starting point and located a track, although at first the path was streaming with runoff from the previous bad weather.  Eventually it connected to a washed out dirt road that accessed the lighthouse on the summit, making navigation simple.   Unfortunately one of the curses of starting at sea level when hiking rugged country is that the uphill part always comes first!

The landscape here is dramatic; volcanic in origin with raw red soil and pumice, exposed and eroded, ground cover clinging as best it can.  There are carnivorous plants here, their tummies filled with insects and lids to prevent escapees!

Overall we hiked some 2.5 miles gaining only net 644 feet in elevation (as recorded by the GPS app in my iPhone) which was a disappointment statistically speaking!  With the steep uphill climb and the spectacular scenery, it felt like a much more heroic accomplishment.

Not the least of the challenge was returning to the boat, our hiking boots caked with red clay and our pants streaked red as well from ground contact in the slippery parts.  The tenacious pigment stains hands and feet orange and paints the deck with rusty streaks.  Before we ever set foot aboard AVATAR we beached the dinghy and jumped in for a swim, fully clothed, in an effort to scrub ourselves clean and enjoy a refreshing cool down at the same time.

Posted by: Carol | January 18, 2011

Repel All Boarders

This morning we are anchored in a protected bay tucked into an island known as Ile Ouen just across from Canal Woodin. The entire bay is surrounded by mountains with raw red soil (think Georgia clay) exposed under a covering of dark green brush. Yesterday morning after running last minute errands (top off the groceries, return the rental car) we finally were able to leave our hurricane haven at Marina Port du Sud. After a small issue with the autopilot which had suffered the effects of excess moisture from the storm, we cast off our lines and motored out through Baie de l’Orphelinat (Orphanage Bay) and headed for a tiny islet for a lunch break and a snorkel.

We had an uninvited guest attempt to join us for lunch. We discovered a sea snake determinedly ascending the stairs from the swimstep to the aft deck. Don’t ask me why sea snakes seem enamored of sunning themselves on a boat, but this isn’t really an uncommon experience. They are highly poisonous but not aggressive, and their mouths are so tiny they would have to gnaw on your earlobe to actually inject their venom. At least that’s what I’ve always been told – I hope it’s not just a pitch from the Tourism Board! We unceremoniously dumped him back into the sea and followed shortly thereafter for our first snorkel of the New Year.

Unfortunately the two hurricanes have had lingering effects on the sea conditions. Although calm on the surface, the depths are still disturbed from the rough weather. Instead of turquoise water with crystal clarity, the visibility was murky from sediment and blurry from fresh water mixing with the salt and the color more of a bottle green. Much of the abundant coral was freshly broken by the heavy surf of a few days ago. And the water temperature was confused, alternating every few feet between balmy bathwater temps and frigid fingers of unpleasantly cold water stirred up from the deep. Still, there were lots of fish including varieties I hadn’t seen before, also a school of squid and a big sea turtle. After paddling about for awhile we waded in to the shore and hiked the circumference of the island. Good shelling, nesting terns and a couple of unidentified raptors, golden sand edged by palms and pandanus. Hopefully the sea will settle in a few days for better diving conditions.

We plan a mountain hike today, bushwhacking because there is no trail here. I photo-kayaked early this morning, mostly for the pleasure of absorbing the peaceful pre-dawn atmosphere when the water is glassy calm and the light is just beginning to touch the mountaintops.

Posted by: Carol | January 15, 2011

Mini Shipwrecks

Sunday morning – blue skies and balmy breezes here today.  Internet on the boat not working so I hiked down to the Best Western Hotel Le Paris to log onto their wifi and catch up on the posting.  The wind howled for a good 48 hours after Vania peaked here, but for the most part at least where we are in Noumea we don’t see much in the way of damage.  Palm fronds and broken tree branches litter the ground, some tattered awnings and a few flimsy signs and fences blown down.  The cleanup crews are already at work and life has returned to normal.

All the big yachts in the marina that were secured with extra lines and tucked behind a substantial breakwater fared well; most of the boats out on moorings, with one or two exceptions (see photo above), made it through as well although they were rocking and pitching wildly.  However the dinghy fleet that the owners of boats on moorings use to paddle out to their vessels did not fare so well.  Here’s a slideshow of the “mini shipwrecks” or click here for a a much nicer presentation!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Yesterday I walked around with my camera for a couple of hours.  All the locals were out in force as well sightseeing the aftermath of the storm.  Most stores stayed closed and although traffic was heavy it was substantially slowed down by the “gawkers”.

Still no cruising in our immediate future however as Cyclone Zelia is projected to skim down the west coast of New Caledonia in a day or two and target New Zealand.  If she stays on track we will just get some wind and rain, but no sense in taking a chance and going out in case the cyclone changes direction unexpectedly.

Posted by: Carol | January 14, 2011

Maybe Not Quite “All Over”!

Video of our neighbor across the dock checking his lines.

Interesting news story…surprised the cruise ship Pacific Pearl sailed directly into the teeth of the hurricane passaging from Noumea to Port Vila in Vanuatu.

It’s Saturday morning and the storm is still howling; wind speed steady 30 knots and gusting higher, blowing rain – but the wind direction has shifted 150 degrees as the other side of the storm passes over. Barometer is rising meaning the storm is moving away from us. Mike and I came back aboard yesterday afternoon…AVATAR is dry, cozy, comfortable and offers a great view out the salon windows. Yellow tail tuna for dinner and a good movie on the Samsung flatscreen TV. There are worse ways to ride out a storm!

The bad news – a second named cyclone (Zelia) has formed between Papua New Guinea and Australia but is forecast to head our direction as well arriving in about 2 days. This time so far the eye is forecast to miss us by some 120 miles. Still puts a damper on our plans to swim and dive in sparkling turquoise lagoons alongside pristine golden beaches in the hot sun!

Sent from my iPad

Posted by: Carol | January 13, 2011

Cyclone Vania Video Taken Near Peak of Storm

I think these videos work – but if not drop me a line. The connection is slow here and I can’t get them to play back for me. But here’s two links to the YouTube videos, and the same two videos are embedded in the blog (hopefully!). Gives you a taste of the excitement.

YouTube Video Link #1

YouTube Video Link #2

Posted by: Carol | January 13, 2011

All Over

Vania has come and gone – apparently arriving ahead of schedule and departing fairly quickly.  All the action peaked at about 11:30 a.m. when I was posting the last blog.  Light drizzly rain now, not that much wind.  Back to the boat?  Just letting y’all know worst is over!  Here’s a few photos; working on uploading video.


New Caledonia’s Loyalty Islands had a 7.0 magnitude earthquake last night to go along with their hurricane woes!  No damage reported and if there was a tsunami generated it was lost in the hurricane swells.


Posted by: Carol | January 13, 2011

Still Waiting…

It’s coming up on noon Friday here in Noumea.  I’m sitting in the hotel lobby by open doors to the sidewalk…the internet works here at the moment but stopped working in our hotel room several hours ago.   The weather is getting exciting but not ultra scarey yet.  Blustery winds and blowing rain, street corners flooding, broken tree branches littering the sidewalks, awnings flapping and a few shredding.  Emergency vehicles speeding by, klaxon horns blaring.  Sitting here by the open doors I am hearing some crashing and clanking noises so presumably something is blowing down!

We have been on orange alert (schools and shops closed) but just now have upgraded to red alert (not allowed out on the streets at all).  Mike pulled in the above forecast awhile ago which shows us directly in the path. Since then our internet at the hotel went down so I starting texting Rod aboard AVATAR.  He picked up a forecast about 2 1/2 hours ago out of Nadi, Fiji, that was an improvement over what we have been reading so far. Rod’s reports from the marina:

8:30 am – Internet and power still working here.  Steady 35 gusting 45.  All’s well.

9:00 am – Forecast 30 minutes old.  Vania now 110 nautical miles from here.  Closest point of arrival 90 miles at about 3 pm.  Category 2 and weakening slowly.  I like my forecast better than yours – ha ha ha.  All probability it won’t be much worse than we have now.

9:17 am – Just been outside to check ropes.  Very windy on fly bridge. Bimini not moving.  Some small boats on the rocks.  I wonder if our wind instrument does under read?

If the center of the storm does miss us by 90 miles that will significantly lower the wind speeds that hit ashore…so fingers crossed. It is relatively exciting here at the moment.  I put on my foul weather gear and tucked my camera under my coat; went out to take some photos and video of the excitement – but gave a wide berth to any overhanging tree branches!  Came back sopping wet.  I’ll post photos/video when I have a chance to process them and hopefully internet still up and running by then.

We had a nice breakfast at the coffee shop associated with our Best Western Hotel le Paris, but they have just now kicked us all out, locking the doors and sending the employees home for the red alert.  We stocked up on a great picnic – bottle of wine, baguettes, croissants, cheese and meat plate, and cookies; also have bottled water and diet cokes in our room.  Not exactly diet fare but oh well – extenuating circumstances!  We are still getting our daily exercise – our room is on the 3rd floor and the hotel has wisely recommended that no one use the elevator (in case of power outage) so we are running up and down the flights of stairs frequently today!

Posted by: Carol | January 13, 2011

No News Isn’t Bad News!


Just a quick update – no change here except wind gusts are
picking up. News reports say Tanna and Erromango in Vanuatu were
pounded; now New Cal’s Loyalty Islands east of here are next in the
path and just about to go onto Red Alert which means no one allowed
out and about.  I believe I translated (?) a posted notice this afternoon that said Noumea was expected to go onto Orange Alert tomorrow about 5 a.m.

Vania is now a Category 2 and expected to strengthen
to a 3 or 4 before she’s done – hopefully after she has passed us
by. AVATAR is trussed and bound like a pig to market and we are
about to take our crucial luggage to the hotel before we have to
cart our bags through a drenching rain! We rented a car for the
next few days so think we might take a little sightseeing detour to
check out the surf along the coast.

So we’ll keep y’all updated as events unfold but if you don’t hear from us it will be most likely because of a power outage or internet or cell phone service down.

LATER:  It’s Thursday night here and we’re in our hotel room ready for bed.
Tonight hopefully won’t be that eventful; tomorrow we will see! We did take a quick drive along the windier side of the island. The locals were out in force on the beaches! Windsurfers screaming through the chop; even a kite surfer braving the elements. Lots of people swimming in the surf. Per Wendy’s comment we spotted a small boat flipped upside down on it’s mooring; a few palm fronds on the roadway and trash cans tipped over. So far winds are gusting between 25-35 knots so it will be another story tomorrow when the gusts start approaching 75-85 knots!


from my iPad

Posted by: Carol | January 12, 2011

Waiting for Vania

Our watched tropical disturbance has blossomed into an official cyclone named Vania. We snagged the above photo from the US Naval Observatory’s website on the internet this morning – it was taken about six hours ago. The scattered string of green-outlined islands directly under the storm is Vanuatu. It looks like the eye is passing right over Tanna where we climbed up the volcano last trip.  The long green island directly in Vania’s path is New Caledonia. Noumea is on the southwest tip of the island.

Here’s a link to a hurricane watch website with some good info

In the marina the harbor captain is posting updated weather reports and dispensing instructions regarding securing the boats. Those in berths are tying on extra lines from boat to dock and bringing in vulnerable items. Those at anchor are jockeying about for a better position. A 125′ luxury motor yacht came in to drop off the owner and guests to check into a hotel. His boat is too large for this marina so he is headed some 40 miles south to a small protected bay ringed by mountains to ride it out. A TV news camera was videotaping the scene yesterday – I’m thinking the cameraman is planning on some before/after footage!

Projections indicate the full force of the storm will hit us in the middle of the night Friday.

So we are just waiting for now. The weather is gray and blustery with fits and starts of showers. Mike and I are on a diet/fitness kick this voyage so we took 2 walks yesterday for a grand total of 5.5 miles. One walk ascends a steep hill nearby for a grand view of the harbor. The other is a very pleasant brick paved walkway along the water’s edge – passing by parks and gardens and maritime WWII monuments. Bougainvillea, Norfolk Pines, palm and flame trees predominate with lots of other colorful flowering shrubs and vines. I took this photo of the yellow flower cluster with my iPhone – a whole tree festooned with these enormous blooms.

2011 01 12 1211799102

Noumea is a vibrant busy city with a population of some 100,000 (population of the entire country is about 250,000). It is very unlike the third world countries we have been frequenting! The city streets are busy with cars, the yacht harbor is jam-packed full with vessels. Most of the wealth of the country comes from mining exports – New Cal produces 25% of the world’s nickel supply.

More later as events unfold (if the Internet stays up!). At least AVATAR is built like a tank with a hull of 12mm thick aluminum plate. No worries about smashing the fiberglass against the dock and neighboring catamaran.


Wind picking up, heavy blowing rain showers.  Increased activity in the marina as everyone gets serious about battening down the hatches.  Still looks like a direct hit from Vania, and she is growing in strength as she approaches.  Mike and I hiked into town (we came back drenched!) and booked a hotel room at the local Best Western for tonight and tomorrow – Rod is invited along but so far he plans to play captain and go down with the ship.

More later – Cheers!

Sent from my iPad

Posted by: Carol | January 10, 2011

Hi from Nouvelle-Calédonie

Jan 2011

11 Tues

Mike missed his birthday this year so I guess he’s on hold for 2011;)  We left Tucson on Sunday Jan 9, slept aboard our Air New Zealand 747 as we crossed the International Dateline, and now it’s morning Jan 11. Another hour until we land in Auckland, a quick connection to our next flight, and by 9:15 am we should be landing in Noumea, the capital city of New Caledonia.

The day before our scheduled departure we discovered our cars had been burglarized overnight in our carport so instead of last minute packing we were distracted by filing a police report, forensics including fingerprinting, and securing the premises in case of a repeat attempt. At the same time the deputies were inundated by an incoming flood of 911s regarding the horrific shootings in Tucson of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and others. In all it was a sad and disturbing day.

Since no one I know has any idea where New Caledonia is – here’s a quick synopsis. New Cal is an island country in Oceania – a 2 1/2 hour flight from Auckland. It is located about 800 miles off the coast of Australia east of Brisbane and the main island is one of the largest of all Pacific islands – about the size of New Jersey.

Settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island was made French in 1853. However under the terms of the 1998 Noumea Accord, over a period of 15 to 20 years an increasing amount of governing responsibility will transfer over from France to New Caledonia.

My college French is just about non-existent 40+ years later so communication may be a challenge! We do have a book aboard titled “French For Cruisers” and I have a Rosetta Stone French language app on my iPhone so maybe I will be able to ask directions to the toilet if my accent isn’t too abysmal. Word has it however that the French influence means the food is terrific.

New Cal has a tropical climate, hot and humid. At the moment it is summer there and temps are in the 90s. I’m really looking forwards to the heat after the recent cold snap in Tucson. The area is subject to hurricanes between November and March so Rod has secured a marina berth for AVATAR in Noumea’s harbor which is a noted “hurricane hole”.

So our latest adventure is just about to unfold. Just thought I’d get up to speed on the blogging.

UPDATE: 8 hours after I wrote the above we are aboard AVATAR, suitcases unpacked, sweaters and jackets shed!  The view from my window seat flying in showed beautiful turquoise seas, ribbons of reef, and multiple small islands. Looks like a very inviting place to explore .  New Cal has the second longest coral reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier, and the largest lagoon in the world.

The bad news – two days ago Rod sent us a weather forecast that showed a week of fine weather coming up – but today that’s out the window and the latest on the weather front is a ‘high’ probability of a cyclone developing in the next few days!!!!  As a result we are staying put here in port – no cruising until the weather sorts itself out! We did just acquire a primo berth in Noumea’s newest marina, Port du Sud, built to hurricane specs so hopefully if the worst comes to pass we’ll weather it ok.  Fingers crossed.

Sent from my iPad

Posted by: Carol | August 21, 2010

Tanna – Mt. Yasur

Today is Sunday August 22 (Vanuatu time) and we are gently cruising back to Port Vila, our latest adventure coming to a close.  We have visited every island in southern Vanuatu except Futuna which has no suitable anchorage – Efate, Erromango, Aniwa, Tanna, and Aneityum.  Our next trip in October/November will focus on the northern part of the chain.

It is a beautiful balmy day with blue skies, puffy white clouds, gentle swells and we are bobbing along downwind at 9-10 knots – occasionally surfing down the waves up to 11’s or more.  In rougher weather a few weeks past AVATAR approached 15 knots in downwind surfing conditions.  Today we are trying hard not to fall asleep on our respective watches.  Tomorrow we’ll rent a car in Port Vila and take an island tour of Efate; next day will be devoted to laundry, housekeeping and packing; the following day our flight out of Vanuatu departs at 7 a.m. so we’ll be waking up early!  Home in Tucson the night of August 25 (Arizona time).

Back to the past – August 10

Finally volcano expedition day!  Our same driver Darwa and the same battered red truck are to be our transportation to Mt. Yasur.  In general Darwa prefers to leave at 4:30 pm from Port Resolution’s village, returning about 8:30 pm which allows for a great night show.  We asked for an earlier departure time to give us time to evaluate the lay of the land before dark, make some decisions about where to set up the camera (on a tripod) etc. but we were warned by the other yachties that no matter how agreeable a driver might seem about adjusting the departure time, somehow it does’t actually happen.

We spent the morning leisurely exploring Irukow Village – a traditional village but with some extra amenities to accommodate visiting boaters – a yacht club with bungalows for overnight stays, an elementary school with some 150 students, at least one church but probably more, a “coffee shop” (this would be a thatched hut with dirt floor, interior walls draped with swaths of colorful tropical fabric, and a picnic table down the center – coffee was served with 2 store bought cookies and a banana), a “restaurant” (a larger thatched hut, similar description), a store with sea shells and handwoven baskets, garden produce and one overpriced dinghy anchor.

We ate lunch in the restaurant and made plans to return for dinner post-volcano.  Our triangular eco-friendly disposable plates were woven from pandanus leaves and slung with a hammock of banana leaf to support the food with bougainvillea blossoms tucked into the corners.  The menu was a smorgasbord of island recipes featuring omelets but we pre-ordered chicken curry for dinner and learned later from the villagers that our hostess Leah spent the afternoon scrambling to come up with a rooster suitable for the pot!

The village circles an open grassy knoll overlooking both the sea the the harbor.  The houses are mostly thatched huts, well kept and landscaped, edged with tropical plants including poinsettias higher than our heads, seashells and the occasional figurine carved from tree fern trunks.  Dirt pathways are raked to spotlessness.  Ladies in flowered Mother Hubbard dresses lounge under the shade trees weaving more homemade baskets; children and skittish island dogs are in abundance as are chickens and chicks, pigs and piglets.  Driving down the main road to Lenakel we passed village after village of similar description, all inviting and attractive, nestled in the rain forest.  Locals walk along the road with loads slung over the shoulders, going to or coming from their garden plots, harvesting food for their meals.

The Vanuatu people (correct term: Ni Vanuatu) are courteous and polite.  Even in the market there is no sales pitch, just a pleasant ‘hello’.  Merchandise is available for sale, take it or leave it, no bargaining.  Everyone introduces themselves with a handshake – ‘hello, my name is David (or Peter, Joseph, Ben, Donald, Sarah, Leah, Priscilla)” – the missionaries have left their mark.  Sometimes a modest request – could we charge a cellphone (lots of cellphones in these otherwise somewhat primitive environments), do we have a bit of rope to repair an outboard motor’s starter cord, could we spare some diesel for the community truck, could Rod maybe repair the misbehaving community generator (diagnosis:  fuel filter had never been changed in all the years they owned it)??? And in trade, would we like something from their gardens – papayas, bananas, coconuts, oranges, kumara, tomatoes?

We field a barrage of miscellaneous and sometimes misinformed questions:  was Elvis Presley’s body ever found, who shot Michael Jackson, what do we think of President Obama, are we millionaires (this last prompted by the misconception that sailboats are powered by wind for free but power boats need lots of expensive diesel fuel, also the conviction that everyone in the USA is a millionaire)????

Finally the day passed and it was time to go – we did manage to leave at 4 pm, a triumph although we had requested 2:30!  This time the passenger load was light – just our crew of 3 plus a village teenager excited to visit the volcano for only the 2nd time in his life.  As a result Darwa was able to offer a lift to some of the passers-by including a portly, barefoot, beamingly toothless old woman who must have been hauling at least 70 pounds of something in a bulging bulbous bag slung over her shoulder.

There was an entrance fee to the volcano and a line of four or five other vehicles bearing tourists from Lenakel.   Single file we all drove up a steep winding roadway edged by steam vents, then the road disappeared and we emerged onto a moonscape of sloping fields of ash, the bleak barren shoulder of the volcano itself.  Mt. Yasur is less than 400 meters high and cars can drive to within 150 meters of the rim – it’s an easy climb to the top, the most accessible live volcano in the world.  The crater is some 300 meters across and 100 meters deep, with three interior vents at the bottom taking turns spitting up showers of molten rocks and smoke and occasional boulders the size of small trucks.  There are gradations of volcanic activity, with a 3 or a 4 being more severe and worthy of caution – but nowhere did we see an indication of the current level.  However we did hear via the yachting grapevine that Yasur was relatively quiet at the moment.

By daylight the volcano was sufficiently impressive, coughing up thick writhing clouds of sulphurous smoke and ash, molten lava bombs and the occasional gigantic boulder from out of its depths and up over our heads.  Direct contact with a lava bomb would disintegrate you.  A molten pebble would melt a hole through your flesh.  One tourist has been killed, others severely singed.  Dull red sparks were visible in the depths if you looked hard enough.  Sulphurous fumes made our eyes sting and throat burn.  And from deep within emanated a continuous threatening cacophony of furious grumbling and growling, roaring and clanking, enough to elicit visions of a dragon complaining deep in its lair.  The southern Tannese once believed that all the universe originated from Mt. Yasur’s gaping, complaining, belching, fiery mouth.

The wind was blowing a good 30 or more knots in disconcerting gusts that made me stagger – not a good feeling as one peers over the edge into an inferno.  Fortunately our extra half hour gave us time to check out all viewpoints – right, center and left – and Rod directed us towards the highest ridge to the left, upwind of the smoky fumes and with a spectacular view down Yasur’s throat.   I experimented with a few lenses, then mounted one camera on a tripod and hand held a second.  With the gusting winds we never dared take a hand off tripod and camera for a moment.  I had studied up on techniques for shooting 4th of July fireworks and applied them to my settings – manual mode, f/11, exposure 2-4 seconds.  A little tweaking and it seemed to work.

As the sun went down, the fiery heart of the constantly erupting volcano materialized out of the smoke and ash.  Rod and I were pretty stoked but Mike opted to retreat to a safer distance and abandoned the two of us to our quest for a cool photo or two.  Finally Rod and I called it quits and headed back down the cone in the pitch dark, the last tourists off the crater – picking our way down in the dark with black night sky above, sloping black sand footing below.  Fortunately we had LED flashlights to help guide our footsteps down the treacherous barren shoulder back to the safety of the fenced walkway,  parking lot, and our battered mini pickup.

I skipped riding in the truck bed on the ride home and opted to ride in the cab, worn out  by the adrenalin of the night.  Darwa dropped us off at the Leah’s restaurant where she was waiting (napping in the kitchen) with our chicken curry and we had a festive dinner (BYOB – several!) on lopsided picnic tables, illuminated by flashlights, as we celebrated our adventure and survival thereof!

Posted by: Carol | August 20, 2010

Tanna – To Market in Lenakel

August 7-9

From our one-night stopover in Aniwa we sailed another 5-6 hours to Port Resolution on the island of Tanna, named by Captain Cook after his own ship when he first discovered the island in the 1700’s, drawn in by the orange glow in the night sky of Mt. Yasur.  Port Resolution is a protected circle of a bay with high forested hillsides all around except at the narrow entrance.  As we approached we could see Mt. Yasur belching out clouds of ash which then mixed with cumulonimbus clouds generated by its heat to create an impressive display.  From our anchorage in Port Resolution we could no longer see the volcano, but the wind was blowing from the “wrong” direction and the ash cloud blew our way for the first 24 hours, raining down on our deck a fine black grit giving AVATAR a good start on her very own black sand beach.

Port Resolution also features hot springs and fumaroles on the hillside closest to the volcano.  Down on the black sand beach rocky tide pools were filled with near boiling hot water where the locals cooked their meals and visiting yachties experimented with boiling eggs.  At the base of the cliffs were swimming holes where at low tide the hot water mixed with sea water produces bathwater temperatures.  Above on the hillside we could see assorted wisps of steam rising up from fissures in the rock.

We went on an exploratory hike to see the vents starting from the beach where a local woman intercepted us to request a fee of 600 vatu ($6) each for us to walk along the short trail and see the sights.  This seemed a bit excessive to us; however the Tannese don’t have many opportunities to generate income so charging tourists to see the natural wonders is one of the few.  To their credit, the dirt trail was meticulously raked clean and maintained by an elderly couple that we passed part way up.  Also 2 or 3 pole framed rest stops had been constructed at view points.  And the elderly man trailed along after us on the walk, presumably our guide although he didn’t speak any English that we could understand.  He did know which branches of the trail to take to get us to the most interesting spots, and cautioned us if we strayed into a danger zone.  As well as the steam vents, the largest of which rose up from a deep canyon-like fault in the earth, we found rock outcroppings and knobby hillsides that were hot to the touch, and warm red clay which is used for the red face paint worn in ceremonial dancing.

We needed some replenishment of supplies by the time we arrived in Tanna, so our first order of business was to arrange a ride to Lenakel on the other side of the island where a big market takes place three days each week.  Of course we were approached our first morning by the ubiquitous local in a dugout canoe – this time it was Peter who introduced himself and declared that in the absence of his uncle Stanley he himself was in charge of any arrangements we might need.  For the trip to Lenakel he told us to show up in the village next morning at 7:30 to catch our transport.

We presented ourselves next morning as instructed – just Rod and I this time.  Mike and I had hiked a couple of hours the day before along the main “road” and having seen its condition Mike opted out of what promised to be a bone jarring adventure.  It took another hour before our driver was ousted out of his house with all onlooking villagers calling out his name to help us out.  Rod and I climbed aboard our transport – the bed of a battered compact pickup truck with bench seats built from 2×6 boards around its perimeter.  Fortunately for us another yachtie couple, Ken and Di from Melbourne who had been forewarned, showed up with seat cushions which they shared.  Soon the truck was piled high with we four yachties and another passel of locals all off to market, a total of 14 of us piled into that little truck.

The distance from Port Resolution to Lenakel is about 21 km, but it is such a rough road that it takes about 2 hours each way to make the trip making our shopping trip an all-day excursion.  The road is packed black soil, ruts worn for the two truck tires, grass growing down the middle.  Gargantuan pot hole gullies from rain runoff eat away about one-third of the roadway in many spots.  A couple of mudslides from two months ago had been cleared away.  At the worst spots rocks and logs have been thrown into the void to provide a bit of traction for vehicles with poles stuck in the ground marking the edge of stability.  Pigs wallow in mud puddles and scoot across the road in front of us.

Tanna is a big island with rainforest, a central plain with herds of wild horses, and mountains enshrouded in mist.  We emerged from the rainforest only to race across the barren ash plains of Mt. Yasur, wind down and out of  a winding dry wash of a gully, and then creep up and over the highest mountain on the island, its peak cloaked in fog and mist and definitely chillier than at sea level, pausing occasionally to shift into four wheel drive to help the truck and its heavy load over the steepest bits.  At least here was some concrete pavement grooved for extra traction and stability.

Our driver was an 18 year old named Darwa who did an excellent job of maneuvering carefully through the questionable spots, made good time on the straight and level, and didn’t bounce a single passenger out onto the road or off a cliff.  However we could see into the truck’s cab from our perches that the fuel light was lit up on the dashboard the entire trip – Darwa made a couple of detours in search of diesel but came up empty each foray, so we all crossed our fingers we wouldn’t wind up hitchhiking or (worse) pushing our little truck into Lenakel.

Lenakel itself was a bustling little town compared with Port Resolution which is a much more traditional village of native huts and gardens.   Flights from Port Vila carry tourists to Tanna primarily to see the volcano and there are resort bungalows, a few small shops, a customs and immigration office to clear in yachts arriving in the country, schools, churches, and a big market spread out under the dense shade of three massive banyan trees – 2 living and 1 a gigantic dead stump.  We took care of our shopping – loading up on kumara (sweet potatoes), carrots, green beans, tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers, lettuce, bananas, limes; had a coffee in the coffee shop (the ladies were embarrassed to admit the electricity was out but we talked them into boiling the water over a fire out back), met the local celebrity who was one of Vanuatu’s World Cup soccer players, bought a couple of CDs of the local music group Naio, lunched at the market on Vanuatu’s equivalent of a tamale (ground meat embedded in dough and wrapped in a banana leaf) and then repeated the adventurous road trip back to Port Resolution.  We had a few less people going back but a lot more “stuff” to fill up the gaps.

We had thought about taking the volcano tour that evening but after the day’s outing decided to delay that adventure for a day and retire to the comfort of our floating condo.

Posted by: Carol | August 17, 2010

Aniwa and Underwater Photography

Erromango Postscript:  Last posting I forget to mention a special moment that took place as we returned from a scuba outing at Erromango.  Rod, Mike and I were racing across the waves in the big dinghy when the pod of resident dolphins joined us and started surfing the the bow wave, backs rising and falling within arm’s reach!

August 6 – From Erromango we sailed to a very small island named Aniwa where we spent just one night but managed to fit in two dives, one the afternoon we arrived; the other the next morning before we deported.  Aniwa has a huge spectacular lagoon at one end which we explored a bit by dinghy – there was a resort on the lagoon’s beach, very pleasant if you like Spartan island amenities.  As usual the locals came out in their dugouts to check out the yacht.  At night from the anchorage we could see our next destination and the focal point of our entire trip, the island Tanna, some 50 miles in the distance but still dully glowing red from Mt. Yasur’s constant activity.  And while we enjoyed the stars and the view of the distant volcano we heard the distinct exhaling breath of a nearby whale.

We’ve been scuba diving a lot this trip – I think to date I’ve logged 9 dives, not counting multiple snorkeling expeditions as well.  The water is incredibly clear, the reefs are jam-packed with healthy coral, myriads of colorful reef fish and some larger ones as well – we’ve seen barracuda, big grouper, rays, a few sharks, lots of turtles, a big cuttlefish and several small squid.  The other day after diving in the morning with Rod, I went again in the afternoon by myself on a shallow reef that was swimming distance from where we had anchored AVATAR.  By myself I was able to spend an hour or so just a few feet below the surface, staying in just one spot and having time to concentrate on catching a good shot.  Mike sat on AVATAR’s flying bridge keeping an eye on me by watching my bubble trail.

Underwater photography is a challenge unto itself.  First off there is considerable paranoia involved, fear of pilot error causing a fatal flooding of the underwater housing and instant destruction of expensive camera and lens!  Secondly, not only are the subjects in motion (darting fish, tentacles of sea anemones waving in the current) but the photographer is constantly in motion as well, rising, sinking, swaying with the surge or being swept along by a current.  Often by the time the photo is framed and the autofocus locked on, I’ve been carried right past the sweet spot and just have a blurry missed shot to show for it.

Another challenge is keeping track of myself and my surroundings while concentrating on the subject in the viewfinder.  Dangling appendages of dive gear and flapping flippers can break off the fragile coral I’ve come to admire, so at the same time I need to get close to the subject I need to avoid touching the reef and causing damage.  And it’s easy to zero in on the subject and not know what’s happening around me at the same time.  After our dive together on Aniwa, Rod told me he had spotted a grey shark but I missed it as I was in hot pursuit of a big grouper.  Not until I developed my favorite grouper shot on the computer did I spot the shark’s tail exiting the frame on the lower left!

In shallow water there is plenty of sunlight and the colors are natural, but descend into the depths and all the warm colors – reds, yellows, etc. – fade away leaving only blue.  All the images out of the camera start out a foggy monotone but fortunately my editing skills are improving and I’m able to find the “true colors” in all that watery blue.  What at 20 meters depth appears to be a sea fan of black coral turns out to be fiery red when viewed in the sunlight.

I’ll end with a few of my successes; the many failures have been consigned to the digital garbage dump!

Next stop, Tanna.

Posted by: Carol | August 13, 2010


Today, Saturday August 14, we are settled in a beautiful anchorage by the island of Aneityum, the southernmost point of our explorations before heading back in the direction of Port Vila.  The bad weather the guys have been tracking on the weather reports has arrived and we are socked in with a grey cloud of rain overhead and a glassy gray sea below, rocking gently in the swell.

A rainy day aboard AVATAR is actually welcome – just like in Tucson a good excuse not to feel obligated to go outside, enjoy the sunshine, and pursue a good time.  Instead we are on the third load of laundry (full size washer and dryer, one of AVATAR’s perks), comfy and dry in the great room looking through the plate glass picture windows (another of AVATAR‘s perks) at the soggy scenery outside.  And the boat is getting a nice freshwater bath, rinsing off the saltwater and volcanic ash from our last stop in Port Resolution where the volcano Mt. Yasur spews ash up into the sky to rain black sandy grit down on us when the wind blows the wrong way!  A perfect  day to read a book, edit photos in Lightroom, or type a blog!

July 31 – August 6

Continuing on in catch-up mode – we spent a couple of nights by Moso Island and Mike and I squeezed in a shallow practice scuba dive, our first in almost a year!   We kept our eyes open for the rumored dugong that was hanging out in Esoma Bay but didn’t spot him – a dugong is a nine foot one ton sea creature often called a sea cow, gentle and benign, that feeds on sea grass and is similar to but not the same as a Florida manatee.  That night aboard AVATAR we turned on the fish finding sonar to see if we could locate him, but only discovered a turtle floating near the boat.

Then back to Port Vila for some final errands, including a trip to the post office to mail the prints I made of of Tom and Robson.  I wound up buying some Vanuatu stamps – illustrated with reef fish, whales, dolphins, nudibranches and other sea life, as well as images from World War II including the sinking of the President Coolidge.

And then we embarked on the real focus of our trip, which was to visit the islands to the south of Efate, especially Tanna, home of  Mt. Yasur.  Our next trip to AVATAR later this fall will give us time to explore the islands to the north before finishing up in New Caledonia.

First stop was the island Erromango.  We anchored in Dillons Bay by the village there and were greeted by the ubiquitous dugout canoes, including one paddled by David who introduced himself as the local tourist guide and magically appeared every time we headed in to shore.  Our first guided tour was to limestone caves in vine and root tangled cliffs along the beach where the bones of his ancestors were interred in pre-missionary days before the missionaries convinced the natives to bury their dead in the ground.  Clambering up the cliffside using the roots and vines as hand and footholds, Mike and I did a pretty good Tarzan imitation.  It wasn’t horrendously difficult but I had made the mistake of wearing my Crocs and they are eminently unsuitable for this kind of adventure.  I’ve graduated to my lace up hiking boots for future land expeditions!

Another guided tour with David – we meandered through his village and up the river saying hello to everyone we met (close to a hundred?) and photographed nearly everyone in the entire village at David’s request, with the thought that I would eventually burn and send him a DVD of the images to share with the villagers for an evening’s entertainment thanks to the communal generator.  I printed out some 30 snapshots before we left and will work on the DVD when I get home – presumably the address is David, Dillons Bay, Erromango, Vanuatu!  The ladies had been cooking a feast of laplap, Vanuatu’s national dish, a mixture of root vegetables (taro, manioc and yams) plus coconut milk and meat, wrapped in green leaves, tied into parcels with vines, and baked in a ground oven under hot stones.  They saved us a bundle to take back to the boat for dinner – actually it was quite good, especially with the grilled filet Rod had brought from New Zealand.

A couple of outstanding scuba dives at Erromango – fingers of limestone reaching out into the sea are covered with a healthy tapestry of all kinds of coral and reef growth, winding gullies separating each finger of reef.  We saw several turtles including one who let us approach within arm’s length and a huge solitary dogfin tuna in the deeper water.

A pod of spinner dolphins lives in Dillons Bay and we could see them at all hours of every day, gently cruising in the shallow water, splashing and playing, sometimes leaping full out of the water and spinning (longitudinally, the only variety of dolphin that spins along its axis instead of somersaulting fore and aft).  Mike and I spent a couple of hours one day snorkeling in their vicinity – our strategy not to swim towards them but float quietly by the reef; as a result they would approach reasonably close to us.  We could see their fins and hear them breathe if we raised our masks out of the water to peer along the surface, and twice they came by underwater close enough for us to see their bodies flash by in the blue depths.

Erromango was a great stopover and we have plans to drop in on the village again on the return to Port Vila.  Rod signed up for a wild pig hunt which involves dogs, big knives, and lots of running through the bush.  I’d take pictures but no doubt it will be hopeless to keep up…he has gone into training for the event and at every island stopover now he goes out jogging to build up his stamina.

Posted by: Carol | August 12, 2010

Catching Up!

Sorry folks – I’ve been very remiss in the blogging department – we arrived in Vanuatu nearly 2 weeks ago and still I am falling into bed around 8 pm each night, occasionally as early as 7:30 pm, absolutely worn out from fresh air and lots of activities!

July 26-30
So to start from the beginning, we flew from Tucson to Port Vila via Auckland – all told a 32 hour trip from doorstep to swimstep! All went smoothly except for a 2-hour delay out of Auckland on Air Vanuatu (co-share with Qantas) while they diagnosed and repaired a part on the aircraft. With long layovers in both Los Angeles and Auckland, we made the decision to join Air New Zealand’s Koru Club which gives us access to their international lounges where hanging out is a lot more comfortable than an airport departure gate. The Koru Club lounges have a comfortable ambiance with sofas, chairs and tables, TVs, wifi, a buffet and free flowing wine – even showers if desired.

The country of Vanuatu is an island chain of some 83 islands in 860,000 square kilometers of ocean, located about 1,000 miles east of Brisbane. Port Vila is the capital of Vanuatu, located on the southwest coastline of the island Efate. AVATAR awaited us on a mooring in Vila Bay’s beautiful harbor, a scenic and busy place with a cruise ship or two passing through, a couple of Australian naval boats in port to help celebrate Vanuatu’s Independence Day (July 30), a sightseeing helicopter coming and going, kite surfers, open dories loaded to the gunnels ferrying locals to work and to school, a small island a stone’s throw from shore with its own private resort, and a large quantity of yachts here for the cruising season. 80% of Vanuatu’s tourism traffic comes from New Zealand and Australia, both only a 3 hour plane trip away.

By the time we unpacked and stowed our suitcases it was time for dinner – just a dinghy ride to shore where an open air restaurant awaited by the dinghy dock – packed sand floor, thatched roof, live music and great food (I had grilled lobster) as we celebrated our upcoming inaugural cruise aboard AVATAR and the next chapter in our cruising lifestyle!

Early to bed and late to rise, next day we explored Vila on foot, stocked up on veggies in the waterfront market, checked out the handicrafts, and wandered through the city streets which had a good variety of shops – I was even able to buy Hewlett Packard ink and photo paper for our printer! And then before the day was too far gone we upped anchor and headed out of town, feeling the better part of valor was to stay away from the city’s Independence Day festivities. This was only the 30th anniversary of Vanuatu’s Independence from a combination of French & British rule and it is celebrated with enthusiasm, the biggest holiday of the year. We saw fireworks for days.

We sailed northwards up Efate’s west coastline towards our first destination – Moso Island, a small satellite of Efate. Moso Island has one village of maybe 250 inhabitants on Esoma Bay located at the mouth of a mangrove lined freshwater river. Mangrove lagoons are one of my favorite dawn kayaking destinations, so next morning I paddled away in pre-dawn gloom with camera in hand to explore. After a couple of hours meandering in the peaceful shallow waterways I started back towards home, but was approached by a local man paddling his handmade dugout outrigger canoe on his way back from a fishing expedition. He introduced himself as Tom, chatted a bit kayak to canoe, posed for a few photos, and introduced his brother Robson who also arrived by dugout. Then the brothers headed off to their gardens to stock up on food because tomorrow was a Sunday and no work is allowed on Sundays.

It takes a local man with help about 3 months to build one of these outrigger canoes entirely by hand and is the most common mode of transportation for villagers. A few locals have “speedboats” – open boats with motors, and a truck or two, but the canoes are universal. Every time we arrive at a new location we are greeted by the occupants of one or more dugouts who paddle up, offer to trade produce from their gardens, circle and inspect AVATAR and invariably comment “nice boat!”.

Tom asked me to mail him the photos I took of him – the address was “Tom, Moso Island, Vanuatu” and he assured me it would get to him no problem.

More later…

PS – Nick sent us a news report a couple of days ago saying that Port Vila had suffered a 7.5 magnitude earthquake that didn’t cause serious damage but did send the residents running for high ground in fear of a tsunami.  We weren’t there at the time and didn’t feel a thing wherever we were when it hit!

Posted by: Carol | July 23, 2010

Where is Vanuatu?

A lot of people have asked, so here is a nice little map to give perspective.

Vanuatu is 3/4 of the way from Hawaii to Australia and is made up of over 80 islands of which about 65 are inhabited.  Vanuatu is in a Y-shaped chain with four main islands, having a tropical climate which is moderated by southeast trade winds from May to October with moderate rainfall from November to April.  The “Cyclone Season” is from December to April and there have been volcanic eruptions on Aoba (Ambae) Island since November 2005.  The highest point is Tabwemasana at 1877 meters.

Posted by: Carol | July 22, 2010

Heavy Weather

Click HERE for slideshow

We’re packing our bags and Monday afternoon Mike and I will fly off to Vanuatu for our first real cruise aboard AVATAR. Vanuatu, located approximately 1,000 miles from New Zealand and Australia, is an archipelago of over 80 islands in the Southwest Pacific with active volcanoes, traditional culture, pristine coral reefs, forests, and beaches. Ambrym Volcano is famous for the lava lakes which regularly appear in the summit craters.

Rod & Nick sailed AVATAR to Port Vila (the capital and largest city in Vanuatu), arriving a few days ago.  They are currently awaiting our arrival.  Nick is the newest member of our crew. He has “babysat” Raven for us for several years whenever Rod was on vacation. Now that Rod has adopted a six months on-six months off schedule, Nick will become our substitute captain, taking care of AVATAR in foreign ports in the absence of Rod and ourselves. Welcome aboard Nick!

The day before Rod and Nick’s departure from New Zealand en route to Vanuatu, the weather and calendar gods cooperated and the helicopter “shoot” we had been trying to accomplish since mid-March finally came together. Ivor Wilkins, one of the world’s premier boat photographers, was finally able to photograph AVATAR being put through her paces.  His mission was to capture action shots of the FPB 64 for future publicity on behalf of the designer (Steve Dashew and Dashew Offshore) and builder (Circa Marine). Getting the right mix of weather conditions to mesh with human schedules was a problem but at the last moment Ivor pulled it off, coming up with dramatic shots of AVATAR plowing through big seas offshore of the Bay of Islands (New Zealand’s North Island) in 35-40 knot winds and 15-20 foot waves. Ivor says these photos will go into his list of all-time favorites just for the action. And with any luck they will show up on the cover of some yachting magazines covering the debut of the FPB 64 series of passagemakers, the “new paradigm” in offshore cruising motor vessels.

Here are Ivor’s comments regarding AVATAR‘s performance in these extreme conditions:“

“The waves were confused, with some big sets coming through at times. Wind speed was gusty and I don’t have any quarrel with 35 knots. In terms of the helicopter: It was one of the more precarious rides. Flying out to rendezvous with the boat, we got hit by some pretty vicious gusts, which had me clutching the door frame (there being no door on at the time). Our original plan was to shoot closer in to the cliffs to get some backdrops, but it was very clear that there were some very strong downdrafts and the turbulence was too unruly. Even over open water, the pilot had his hands full trying to keep on station and there was no way he could hover downwind — the tail would just spin out. He did a great job in working in close at times – maybe a bit close for Rod’s comfort. He said he was about to get the fenders out at one point!”

“The boat was impressive. Punching upwind, you could see the bow working very well, driving into the waves but very quickly shrugging off the water. It never appeared to stagger or lose momentum, even with some short, nasty seas. When it was running across the seas, the stabilisers were clearly doing an excellent job, because it all looked very docile (almost too boring to photograph) with minimal side roll. Running downwind looked very comfortable with the boat holding a very steady course and showing no inclination to slew or wallow. She would pick up on a wave and just accelerate forward, with the bow occasionally popping out. Looked like a nice spinnaker ride, the kind that chews up big daily mileages.”

“I would say that some of these shots will be added to my all-time favourite boat pics, just for the drama of the action. Incidentally, I would include the spinnaker shot of Beowulf in that list as well.”

Steve Dashew, AVATAR‘s designer, has posted a blog and slideshow with photos and his technical analysis of the boat’s performance in heavy weather as illustrated by Ivor’s photographs. Click HERE for the slideshow, and HERE for part one of a three-series blog documenting his observations.  Or click HERE for the portal to the entire series of three blogs and three slide shows.

The result is that Mike’s and my confidence in AVATAR has grown by leaps and bounds as it is obvious that she can shrug off serious weather conditions and stay afloat with aplomb!  We’ve enjoyed receiving emails from Rod documenting his conversion from sailboat skipper to his current position:

“Well I must say AVATAR gets 100% for adverse weather cruising….. Last nite a very large low passed over the North Island. The actual wind speed on the NOAA forecast was 72 knots this morning at Gt Mercury and a steady 65 + at Channel Island and Tiri Tiri.”

“Back to the 100% score. It was (is ) freezing cold , raining, windy 35 knots….we were inside, heater going, a very comfortable trip to Kawau !!!”

“This is by far the most easiest passage NZ to the islands I’ve ever made…..just so relaxed and simple, could be called really boring, but I dont find it boring at all…..”

Last May Vanuatu experienced a 7.2 earthquake which generated tsunami warnings. At the same time Mount Yasur, one of Vanuatu’s largest volcanoes, got active and generated an ash cloud that threatened South Pacific air travel and precipitated the possible relocation of 6,000 villagers!  Hopefully all is quiet now. Mike and I are just looking forwards to some low-key cruising around a tropical island, volcanoes glowing (but not erupting) in the distance, great diving including the world’s largest shipwreck and an underwater post office.  More details as we experience them in person.


PS – A side note: AVATAR‘s sister ship, christened SARAH-SARAH, launched last week in Whangarei.  She is the 2nd of the FPB 64 series to splash into the water.  Hull number 3 is scheduled for a January 2011 launch.

Posted by: Carol | April 14, 2010

Come Along For A Ride!


Most of this past week has been devoted to last minute fixes, shopping for accessories (like plastic boxes) and slowly moving our belongings aboard AVATAR. Friday Circa is turning us loose. We’ll finish bringing aboard all the stuff we have stored in a storage locker nearby on Saturday, and Sunday morning we’re setting off on our first real cruise. Back to Urqhart Bay for starters, then to Great Barrier Island, and then points south including Tauranga.

However to keep you entertained in the meantime, since photo opportunities have been few and far between, here’s a link to AVATAR in motion on one of her early sea trials two weekends ago. It will give you a bit of a feel what it’s like to be aboard. Click HERE for an 8-minute hi-definition video taken by Steve Dashew and hosted on his Setsail website.

And here’s another link to a slideshow Steve put together as a sales tool for the FPB series.

More later, from Great Barrier Island!

Posted by: Carol | April 7, 2010

Easter Holiday Cruise

I’ve been remiss in the updates, sorry! We’ve kept ourselves fairly busy here. Friday through Monday was a four day holiday weekend here in Whangarei; systems on the boat were working pretty well, so Circa let us take the boat out for a mini cruise. We invited Steve Dashew along for the ride, ostensibly to check out the crew cabin for livability! So Friday morning with the cupboards stocked full of provisions Rod, Mike and I sailed out of Whangarei Port and headed to Marsden Point where we picked up Steve; also Todd Rickard (FPB64 Project Manager), Todd’s brother Brian (electronics advisor) and Kelly Archer (Whangarei boat builder and FPB program consultant) who wanted to put in a few hours driving the boat for experience. The boys put AVATAR through her paces, practicing maneuvers, peering at gauges, studying trim and balance, fuel consumption, boat speed, handling characteristics, etc. etc. Of course Steve had an entire set of specs for expected boat performance; this was part of the real scenario testing to see if she lived up to expectations (and yes, she did!).

Friday afternoon after dropping Todd, Brian & Kelly back ashore, we nosed into Urqhart Bay and dropped anchor for the night. Rod suggested an impromptu christening ceremony which sounded great to us! We broke out a bottle of sparkling wine, stood on the bow of the boat, made a little speech, poured bubbly over her nose and formally christened her AVATAR! Steve photographed, Rod videoed, and the ceremony concluded with a shared toast followed by a festive dinner of steak barbequed on the grill!

While anchored in Urqhart Bay, Rod pumped air into my inflatable kayak and I spent an hour or two bobbing around taking photos of AVATAR at anchor. Steve and I both shot interior photos at twilight, and that night I entertained myself taking pictures of the moon rising through low flying clouds. Between us I’m sure we took a couple thousand photos – this is one well-documented yacht!

More tweaking and testing on Saturday, followed by a night at anchor in another nearby bay with a delicious curry for dinner and another interior photo shoot. Steve spent a lot of time on his laptop in (my) office winnowing out the best pix and posting the latest updates to his blog. Early to bed (I’m in boat mode now – exhausted by 9 p.m. and sleeping nine or ten hours a night). It rained during the night and we woke on Easter morning to showers and low hung clouds but as the morning progressed the gloom lifted and it turned into a beautiful day.

Steve was flying home to Tucson Sunday evening so we spent the day motoring out of Whangarei Harbour into the Pacific Ocean in the direction of a mini group of islands named Hen and Chickens. Again, more tweaking, testing, and photo documentation, then in to port to give Steve a ride to Whangarei airport.

Sunday afternoon we anchored in a channel near a small island named Limestone Island. The island is a wildlife refuge, rich in birds including the nocturnal kiwis (also some resident sheep), with walking tracks to the summit and a great view of AVATAR anchored in the channel bathed by late afternoon sunlight. Steve says he saw us from his airplane window as his commuter flight from Whangarei to Auckland passed overhead. Mike and I enjoyed a casual hike around the island, interspersed with many lengthy photo stops. I was especially taken by the small fantail birds that followed along with us as we walked along the trail. Apparently they are attracted to hikers because bugs stirred up by our passing provide a quick meal. They are aptly named for their habit of fanning out their tail feathers repeatedly as they flit and dart through the brush.

Monday we headed into the Pacific again, ostensibly towards Sail Rock, but an faulty warning sensor cut our journey short; instead we ducked back into Urqhart Bay and spent some time testing the boat’s handling characteristics while using an emergency “get home” sail hoisted from the bow. And finally that afternoon we took AVATAR back to Whangarei Port to make her available for the work crews returning bright and early Tuesday morning.

Now Mike and I are back in our hotel – avoiding the boat during the daytime while the workers swarm through the boat working on last minute details. They work from 7:30 a.m. until quitting time at 3:30 p.m. each day, at which time we take over and start moving our belongings aboard; scrounging through the storage shed, loading our cars with boxes of stuff, then finding homes for all our possessions aboard the boat.

Posted by: Carol | March 31, 2010

New Setsail Blog “Commissioning Chaos”

Hi All,

Here’s a post straight from Steve’s blog which is a pretty good description of yesterday’s activities. I hid out in the master cabin reading a book on my iphone. The big breakthrough of the day was the diagnosis and fix of the hydraulic stabilizer system which had been causing a lot of consternation and frustration over the past couple of weeks.

Late in the afternoon we took AVATAR out for a spin to test the now-functioning stabilizers and enjoyed a two-hour sunset cruise from Whangarei Harbour out into the Pacific Ocean in search of waves. A pod of dolphins raced over to join us, the boat started surfing on following waves thereby picking up an extra 3 knots of boat speed, everything worked perfectly, and the crew of eleven (!) workers and head honchos aboard for this test run went home happy and celebrating a successful day at sea!

Today work is scheduled on the air conditioning system, also fueling up with 7,000 liters of diesel. Circa Marine goes on holiday tomorrow for a four-day Easter weekend and Rod, Mike, I and Steve Dashew are going to take AVATAR to a nearby island and enjoy the cruising life – although knowing Steve he will be poking his nose (and camera) into every nook and cranny checking out and fine-tuning each detail!

Here’s his blog link from yesterday:


Posted by: Carol | March 29, 2010


Open House weekend has ended and all the other owners and prospective owners have exited the scene with one exception due to arrive in a couple of days. Circa’s work crew is still busy aboard fine tuning the systems and details. I spent yesterday afternoon at the Plastic Box store checking out the myriad of choices available to help organize the cupboards and cabinets. The weather so far has been pleasant early fall’ish, with sun and clouds and a breeze – sometimes sweater weather, sometimes not. Yesterday turned more gloomy with gustier winds and some showers in the forecast for a few days. Daylight savings kicks in next Easter weekend.

I have not needed to use my camera. Steve Dashew is such a prolific photographer as he records every detail of the FPB 64 for his own website and documentation – I just snag my favorites and add them to the mix. I planned to load these into a convenient slideshow, but my Zenfolio website is giving me trouble this morning so this is the temporary fix.

AVATAR at anchor in Whangarei Harbor, posing for her first portraits.

Rod, Mike and I on our way out to AVATAR for the open house in our new 13′ powerhouse of a dinghy.

Mike and I enjoying a ride on the flying bridge. The signage is the back of Rod’s t-shirt.

Mike testing out the nav station and chair.

Mike testing out the seating area in the master cabin, comparing notes with the owner of upcoming Hull #2.

And Mike doing some computer work on the great room’s dining table. The table has a vinyl cover to protect the finish from excess wear…it is so beautifully finished that I think we will be afraid to pull the cover off except for special occasions – see next photos for the table in all its glory.

Dining table, high gloss finish!

Socializing in the great room.

Q&A Session at Circa Marine for present and prospective owners.

Getting acquainted over dinner at Amici’s Restaurant in Whangarei

Headed towards AVATAR for the final test ride of the open house weekend.

AVATAR in all her glory with Whangarei Heads in the background on a pretty New Zealand fall day!

Hello USA! I’m afraid AVATAR will never set foot (keel?) in Tucson.

Posted by: Carol | March 26, 2010

Photo Opps

Thursday late afternoon after the work crew had finished up, we moved AVATAR down the bay to Marsden Cove to spend the weekend on display and available for trial cruises out into the ocean so all the other owners and prospective buyers could put her through her paces. The photo above shows Steve (Skip) Dashew, the mastermind behind the FPB series, manning the flying bridge with Mike in the background. Do I detect the tiniest gleam of a smile on Skip’s face?

Steve is such a prolific photographer and blogger, documenting the progress and results of this project, that I have restricted my photography to taking pictures of Steve taking pictures! Except I have to hide so that his photos don’t include me taking photos! As it is, we forgot to put up the forward deck ladder and left the salon door open, creating some Photoshop editing we would have preferred to forego. Here is Steve shooting AVATAR at anchor posing for her portrait, with the Whangarei Heads in the background and late afternoon sunlight breaking through the low clouds of the day.

So for a feast of AVATAR photos I refer you to Steve’s blog which is bursting with images and information, continually being updated with new articles posting about 4 a.m. each morning between daylong stints on the boat checking out her specs and performance! Bookmark the link and keep checking back for the latest details.

FPB 64 50 Latest Posts

Posted by: Carol | March 24, 2010

Hi from AVATAR

Hi all,

Not organized enough for a blog post yet but having a great time getting introduced to the boat. Really beautiful and more spacious than we envisioned. Every day from about 7:30 until 3:30 a crew from Circa Marine are on board tuning up the systems. First day we took the boat out on the water while they tried out the stabilizers…so had a nice ride to the mouth of the harbor and back. Yesterday we stayed tied to the dock all day.

Tonight after work we move the boat to Marsden Cove, a new marina complex, some 40 minutes drive from here, to be on formal display for the upcoming festivities.

Yesterday while the crew kept working Rod and I retrieved artwork from the storage shed and hung paintings, put out some decorative pillows on the sofas and a few knicknacks on the shelves to give the interior a bit more of an inviting look for the open house scheduled for tomorrow & the next day. The owners of hulls #3 & #4 (from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania & Sydney, Australia respectively) have already arrived and didn’t want to wait another minute for a first look so we ended up with an impromptu wine & cheese party in the “great room” aboard the boat. Amazingly (to us after Raven) we fit in 9 people with no crowding and could probably manage a few dozen more for a big party if we utilized the deck space and the flying bridge. A whole different experience from what we are used to.

My favorite spaces so far are the master bedroom which is absolutely beautiful and the kitchen which has a very comfortable feel to the working space. Right now, early a.m., I am sitting high up on the bridge enjoying a great view, comfortable lounging space, and successfully keeping out of everyone’s way as they work.

It is pretty clear that this boat will change our cruising experiences 3-dimensionally! Can’t wait to get started. Next weekend being Easter the yard closes down for a 4-day holiday and barring some critical malfunction they have implied that we can go out cruising Friday through Monday – so we are thinking of heading over to Great Barrier Island for our inaugural cruise. Actually that was our very first destination aboard Raven as well, so we are repeating history. Might even climb to the top of Mt. Hobson although Mike may mutiny as he remembers the steep climb to the top vividly!

More later and maybe some pictures.


Posted by: Carol | March 20, 2010

A Thank You to Dashew Offshore

For two and a half years we have watched AVATAR’S metamorphosis from a stack of aluminum sheets in Circa Marine’s warehouse to the innovative vessel now floating in the harbor of Whangarei. Actually our history goes even further back in time – to December 2004 on our first visit to New Zealand (to purchase Raven) when we visited the FPB 64’s prototype Wind Horse (the one and only FPB 83) then under construction in Kelly Archer’s boat yard.

When Wind Horse went on her maiden voyage to Fiji in 2005, we met up again and went aboard for a fishing trip out of Musket Cove (caught a tuna!). We also collaborated on a photo shoot – as designated videographer I sat on Raven’s boom and shot footage of Wind Horse making passes back and forth demonstrating bow and stern wakes and clean passage through the water – while Steve shot back with his trusty Canon DSLR and took the picture that wound up on our Christmas card that year!

An added perk: Steve and Linda Dashew are good friends and neighbors right here in Tucson! As a result we have had more than the usual insight into the meticulous thought processes and skill, not to mention decades (sorry, Skip!) of hands on cruising experience, that culminated this week with the launch of FPB 64 Hull #1.

The photos and text below are lifted straight from Steve’s series of FPB 64 Updates blogs. For a glimpse into the brain of a legendary boat designer, jump over to the Dashew Offshore website and you will learn everything imaginable about design considerations, from the specs of the smallest shackle to the ambiance of art presentation in the engine room. It is a mind-boggling feat of engineering to combine seaworthiness, performance and ergonomics, giving thoughtful attention to even the tiniest of details, ultimately assembling the pieces of the engineering puzzle into a 29 ton vessel capable of comfortably and safely cruising the world with a crew of two.

Dashew Offshore Website

FPB 64 Sea Trials

FPB 64 Series Notes

FPB 64 Updates

Or just CLICK HERE for the 50 most recent posts, titled everything from Initial Wake Analysis and Hull Shape Revealed to Prop Parameters and Cushion Design.

and now, straight from Dashew Offshore’s FPB 64 Updates blog, here is:

Update 35 – A Brief Tour
by Steve Dashew

We’ve been showing you build photos for so long we figured might as well give you a look at things during the last few days the first FPB 64 is coming together (before she is ready to “show”. It is amazing what being able to look outside the great room windows does for the feeling of spaciousness.

We are very pleased with the way the bridge has turned out. (Note from Carol: carpet not installed yet!)

It is going to be a very efficient command center for short-handed cruising.

A first look at a clean foredeck. The winch is one of four aboard for handling dock lines.

The ladder to the flying bridge shown here hinges back on top of the house so as not to compromise the view from inside.

The flying bridge awning is laced to its own pipe framework.

The entry door has a rain cover (the upper awning is over the flying bridge).

All of the canvas work in these photos is a part of the standard FPB 64 specification.

Posted by: Carol | March 18, 2010

Splash! AVATAR Launches

It was an exciting, exhilarating day yesterday – even living it vicariously here in Tucson! Mike and I haunted the inbox all day long waiting for word that AVATAR had splashed down into the water for the very first time and that all was AOK…anxiously awaiting those first photos as well. Reports are that the launch went swimmingly, and the day was spent putting AVATAR through her paces. Our Captain Rod has been in the thick of things since early March, but it was an unexpected bonus when Circa Marine designated him to be the official driver for “light ship trials” which test conformance to the official design specs, maneuverability, speed, fuel consumption etc. on an empty, as-designed boat – as light as she will ever be before we start filling up the tanks with thousands of gallons of fuel and water, as well as moving our belongings aboard.

Rod is even allowed to sleep aboard, a good way to test things like hot water showers, microwaves, refrigerators, heat and air conditioning, and all the rest of the interior environment.

And what do we think of her appearance? She looks rough and tough and capable – but beautiful in an industrial kind of way. And the interior offers up an unexpected surprise – gleaming (as I once heard a Dashew aluminum boat described) like a piano!

Here are photos from the big day, or click HERE for a slideshow. Lots more to come!

Posted by: Carol | March 15, 2010

Any Day Now!

So close – AVATAR is scheduled to “splash” on Thursday March 18 in New Zealand which is really just the day after tomorrow here in the U.S. Hopefully she floats right side up (really, no worries there – just a good one-liner!). Description from Rod of the procedure in place:

“Tomorrow afternoon AVATAR will be loaded on the trailer for its 800 meter journey down to the travel lift at Docklands 5. At five a.m. Thursday (Wednesday in the U.S.) the power board (electric company) needs to move some high voltage wires and then the trailer will be towed down the road. It needs to be off the road by six a.m. A crane will then come to lift the mast and soon after AVATAR will feel the water……..

that’s the plan……… let’s hope that’s how it works.”

Rod has been asked to move on to the boat Thursday after launch and live aboard permanently from launch date forwards. AVATAR needs someone there 24/7 – especially in the first few days.

Mike and I are flying out of Tucson Sunday evening, skipping a day (our anniversary!) in flight, and arriving Tuesday morning. I think the plan is to re-launch the boat for photo ops and champagne celebration; we’re assured that is the norm for new boats and new owners. Lots of festivities to look forwards to – we are so excited! It’s my guess the crew at Circa Marine who have worked so long and so hard on this project are feeling pretty excited too!

Meanwhile we have been receiving feeds of photos of the interior with the wraps taken off. Even though carpet and upholstery (and artwork!) are not yet installed, finally we are getting a real feel of the indoors environment. Click HERE if you want to see more!

Posted by: Carol | February 9, 2010

FPB64 Sea Trials Scheduled!

More than two years ago we placed our order for a new boat – the innovative Dashew designed FPB64. We committed to the purchase of hull #1 of the FPB64 series around December of 2007. Actually Mike “gave” it to me for Christmas – and I think my jaw visibly dropped for the first time in my life. Now what seemed at the time like a remote concept is at last becoming concrete (actually aluminum) reality. Our new vessel is in the final stages of construction with a “splash” date scheduled for early to mid-March and a “coming out” open house on the calendar for March 26-27 in Whangarei, New Zealand.

Now that the schedule is set, our adrenalin is pumping as we are fed the tantalizing details leading up to this auspicious date. Two plus years of long distance observation and wiring funds in foreign currency while the experts dealt with thousands of details, from massive to minute, regarding aluminum plating and welding, wiring, piping, carpentry, electronics and much, much more. Now the essentials are giving way to wallpaper and headliners, upholstery and light fixtures. My email of today advised me to think about where to hang the artwork!

The steady feed of construction update blogs posted by Dashew Offshore only served to affirm what a mind-boggling exercise it has been to create this incredible vessel, literally made by hand – and described by Berthon International as a “paradigm shift for motor yachting”.

As soon as our FPB64 is officially turned over to us we plan to embark on some heavy duty cruising of New Zealand waters during the month of April, putting hours on the engine and testing out the systems, all the while enjoying the sound and feel of water under the keel once more. In anticipation of this moment our treasured “RAVEN” was sold last October and we have been dry docked in Tucson ever since. Small consolation that El Nino is giving us a record-breaking wet winter! Now our airline tickets are booked, suitcases already half packed six weeks early and we really don’t know if we can stand to wait it out!

We have christened our new yacht “AVATAR”. Nothing to do with the movie, really, although I admit we waited to see if the film was a bust or a success before committing to the name. But one of the definitions of the word “avatar” seemed most appropriate to this new yacht design, as follows:

Avatar – a concrete manifestation of any abstraction, such as an idea or concept; embodiment.
1. a new personification of a familiar idea

Introduction to the FPB Program

Well we are landlocked in Tucson and missing the water.  Raven is sold (read about it here) and our new FPB64 won’t be ready for us until at least March of 2010.

So today when I ran across the theatrical trailer for Disneynature’s new full-length movie OCEANS, a follow up to Disney’s awesome EARTH, I thought I’d share it with you all.  OCEANS will be released on Earth Day 2010 (April 22, 2010) with a portion of the film’s proceeds going to ocean conservation.  See OCEANS during opening week, and Disneynature will make a donation in your honor to save our coral reefs.

Enjoy the stunning videography in the trailer – just hit the “play” button below. We can’t wait to get back to the real thing! For more info and video direct from Disney’s website click HERE

Posted by: Carol | November 21, 2009

Miss Cindy

Last year in the blog we mentioned our encounter with the 16′ Miss Cindy in Bahia de Los Angeles in October 2008. Officially Miss Cindy is a Turtle Island 16′ Microcat cruiser.  We had a great evening getting to know her solo captain Tony Bigras and were greatly entertained by his stories. He had trailered Miss Cindy south from Canada to Mexico and launched her into the Sea of Cortez at San Felipe (about 185 miles south of Yuma, Arizona). Raven and Miss Cindy crossed paths near the beginning of Tony’s ambitious voyage.

Tonight I came across Tony’s Miss Cindy website referencing our meeting early in his voyage and going on to chronicle his adventures and 4,000 mile voyage from San Felipe all the way south and east via Nicaragua to Cuba, then Florida, before trailering Miss Cindy back home to Vancouver, B.C., Canada in June 2009!

What an adventure!  Fun reading.  Way to go, Tony!

So if you’re interested in a different style of cruising, here’s the link.

Posted by: Carol | October 27, 2009

RAVEN is Sold!

A sad day for us, RAVEN is officially sold.  Of course we have a new boat in the works, the astonishingly innovative Dashew-designed FPB64, but for now we are boatless and high and dry in Tucson. Congratulations and best wishes to Raven’s new owner.  We wish him many years of wonderful cruising aboard his classic Best Boat (to sail around the world on).

GoogleCurrently Raven is berthed at Gulf Harbour Marina near Auckland in New Zealand. Our captain Rod, crew Nick and Pieter, and (at the time) prospective buyer Philip had an invigorating 1,000 mile sail from Tonga to New Zealand late in September after Mike and I flew home from our Tongan vacation.  Forty knot winds for most of the trip sailing into New Zealand winter weather made for an exciting introduction to Raven and surely showed off her mettle. Cuisine for the passage was reputedly McDonald’s cheeseburgers as Pieter flew into Nuku’alofa with 50 burgers in his suitcase.

All our belongings are stowed in a storage container at Gulf Harbour and Raven is undergoing some end of season maintenance and refitting as her new owner moves aboard with all the gear he needs to implement his cruising plans.  As soon as everything is ready to go his plan is to turn Raven around and head east all the way to the Caribbean via the Panama Canal! We’re hoping he’ll drop us a sailmail occasionally to keep us updated on Raven’s whereabouts.

We can’t say enough good things about our outstanding selling agent Sue Grant, the managing director of Berthon International Yacht Brokerage based in Lymington, England. Berthon is one of, if not the, premier yacht brokerages in Europe. If you’re looking to buy or sell a yacht you might want to get in touch.

With the selling agent in Great Britain, both buyer and seller based in the USA and the boat itself in New Zealand, the time zone spread of some 14 hours was a bit of a challenge. Usually someone was going to bed just when someone else was waking up, making the windows of opportunity for phone calls few and far between. But with the internet and email communication all was handled smoothly! It’s hard to imagine international commerce before the advent of cyberspace!

Aside from that interesting complication we couldn’t have enjoyed a more professional and responsive relationship with our broker.  The Dashews have chosen Berthon as the exclusive European agent for the new FPB64 series, also impressed by the “class act” of Sue and her brokerage.

Thank you to Sue

Fair winds to Philip


Goodbye Raven, we will miss you.  Thanks for the wonderful times.

Posted by: Carol | October 1, 2009

Devastation in Niuatoputapu

Tonga_300x20057050The past few days were marred by the devastation that occurred throughout SE Asia and the South Pacific with earthquakes,tsunamis and hurricanes in Indonesia,the Philippines, Samoa and Tonga causing loss of lives and catastrophic property damage all within a few days span of time.  However we are zeroing in on the tragic effects of the tsunami that hit Niuatoputapu in Tonga as a result of the same powerful 8.3 earthquake that affected Samoa a couple of days ago. It has only been a few weeks since aboard Raven we were anchored off Niuatoputapu enjoying the warm hospitality of the islanders in this very remote outpost of Tonga.  Here’s a link to a New Zealand Herald news story describing the damage done to this small island and its inhabitants.  The link follows, as well as a transcription of the story.


“Emergency medical teams arrived at tsunami-hit Niuatoputapu island yesterday, the first outside aid for Tongan victims since the early-morning disaster two days ago.

The death toll for this remote settlement 500km north of the country’s main island, Tongatapu, is nine.

Four residents with serious injuries were flown out to Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, only yesterday because damage to Niuatoputapu’s sole airstrip meant no craft could land immediately after the disaster.

Tongan Government spokesman Alfred Soakai, who had flown over the island, said 90 per cent of homes had been destroyed and the hospital had been seriously damaged.

Two of the island’s villages, Hihifo and Falehau, bore the brunt of three tidal waves, some 6m high, which hit at three-minute intervals after the 8.3-magnitude earthquake. Vaipoa village remained relatively unharmed.

Just over 1000 people live on Niuatoputapu, which sits close to the Samoan border. It is isolated by the expensive cost of infrequent transport to the island.

That isolation has been exacerbated this week as the tsunami severed all telecommunications infrastructure.

Because aid workers were unable to fly directly to the island, a Tonga Defence Services patrol boat loaded with food, medical supplies and tents was sent north from Tongatapu, arriving about 6pm yesterday.

Journalist Pesi Fonua, who was also on the Government-chartered flight over the island, saw scenes of devastation. Coastal villages have all but disappeared, with murky water lapping at shores awash with debris.

“It looked like everything had been flushed out to sea,” said Fonua.

“The amazing thing was that we saw very few people.”

“We flew around a number of times but there was very little movement, I counted about five people.”

It was heartbreaking not being able to land, he said.

“Those people must have been wondering what on earth was happening. We could tell that they were in distress and were expecting general assistance.”

Clean water remains a critical issue. Storage tanks are either unusable or were destroyed.

A radio clothing and food drive started yesterday morning in Nuku’alofa and a French frigate, which is on a goodwill trip to the capital, has been formally asked to take supplies to Niuatoputapu.”

How you can help

Pacific Cooperation Foundation
Deposits can be made at at any Westpac branch. All the money raised will go to the Samoan Government

Red Cross
– Make a secure online donation at
– Send cheques to the Samoan Red Cross Fund, PO Box 12140, Thorndon, Wellington 6144
– Call 0900 31 100 to make an automatic $20 donation
– Make a donation at any NZ Red Cross office

ANZ bank Make a donation at any ANZ bank branch, or donate directly to the ANZ appeal account: 01 1839 0143546 00

Oxfam – Make a secure online donation at – Phone 0800 400 666 or make an automatic $20 donation by calling 0900 600 20

Posted by: Carol | September 6, 2009

Whale Watching Best Day Yet!

CBParker_D3_20090906_Tonga-217-Edit-Edit-EditSunday morning after the big party, we went out on our final guided whale watching trip – as it turns out saving the best for last. Our guide this time was Allan from Whale Watch Vava’u, based out of his Mounu Island Resort and the pioneer of commercial whale watching in Vava’u. He picked us up off Raven from our anchorage near the Full Moon Party, picked up the rest of the swimmers from the resort, and headed confidently out to connect with a trio of whales.

We had an exhilarating day swimming with whales and were very fortunate to have had the opportunity. Most of the whale watching operations are booked solid at the moment, many with their boats taken up by private charters, and we have been scrambling to find space for ourselves. This boat was actually on charter by a Scot named Colin Baxter who therefore had exclusive rights to the boat and was extremely kind in allowing us to come aboard. Colin is an acclaimed professional landscape photographer and serious humpback whale aficionado who has been to all around the world building a portfolio of humpback photos for an eventual book.

Allan took us straight to a mother, calf and escort and we played with them for hours – sharing time with the resort’s other boat, and giving the whales some time to themselves as well. His skill at predicting their behavior without harassing them made every swim a success. In addition he educated us with information about whale behavior. Mother and escort would lie quietly 10-20 meters below the surface while the baby made multiple trips to the surface to breathe and to play, checking us out on each pass. Later in the day he got very playful and started breaching repeatedly. Occasionally the group would move on and relocate, at which point the boat would pick us up and reposition for another whale encounter in a new location.

The Tongan humpback whales have migrated here some 6,000 miles from the Antarctica, spending June through November in tropical waters calving, mating, and raising their offspring until the youngsters are strong enough to make the long trek back to their southern feeding grounds. While here the adults do not eat at all. A mother whale will lose some ten tons, one third of her body weight, during her tropical sojourn. Humpbacks are the most acrobatic of whales, exhibiting exuberant breaching, tail lobbing, and pectoral slapping behavior. They are also noted for their vocalizations and whalesong. Distinctively colored with white markings on the underside, they can be individually identified by the pattern of the markings on their tail flukes.

Late in the day Allan spotted the blow of another whale in the distance, so we said good-bye to our family of three and went off to see what new experiences awaited us. This whale was solitary, quietly lying on the bottom in some 10 meters of water near shore. While we swam above him he lay quietly for up to 20 minutes, then would rise with no apparent effort to the surface, take four breaths, and sink down again for another nap. Allan explained that whales sleep with half of their brain, one eye closed, while the other half remains awake. Because they breathe by conscious effort, unlike our automatic respiration, they need to be partially awake at all times.

Here are a few of the photos of the day, although I look forward to refining them with Photoshop when I get home. One photo, not particularly a good one, shows Mike snorkeling behind the trio of whales – giving you an idea of the contrast in size between a human and a combined total of some 60-70 tons of whale flesh!








Posted by: Carol | September 6, 2009

Full Moon Party (Vava’u Style)

Morning all!

Socked in gray and steady downpour this Monday morning, 2 inches of rain in the forecast. Boat is nicely washed off and we are now filling the water tanks by collecting rainwater. Should have no problem topping off our 2400 liter storage tanks. We’re signed up for another day of whale watching, but don’t know yet if it’s a go. Tomorrow we’re pulling out of Vava’u about 4 am and sailing south to the Ha’apai group some 60 miles away. The rest of the week is forecast for strong winds – close to 30 knots – puts a damper on things but that’s the way the weather seems to have been this season in Tonga.

Neiafu locals organized Tonga’s First Annual Regatta Vava’u a bit on the spur of the moment – only coming up with the idea some 3 1/2 weeks ago – but they did a bang up job. There are 80 or so yachts in the main harbor last time I counted with many more in the anchorages. The organizing committee put together a few races with trophies along with an entire host of extracurricular activities and some 55 yachts signed up for one thing or another. We didn’t choose to go racing, but did sign up for Saturday night’s Full Moon Party which turned out to be quite the event..

The party was held on a smaller island some 20 minutes from here. We sailed out Saturday morning and anchored in a pretty spot nearby, went for a SCUBA dive on a submerged sea mount with lots of good coral and a large variety of fish, and eventually after dinner in the cockpit we took ourselves over to the party in the dinghy by the light of the full moon. First benefit was valet dinghy parking! With a few hundred people in attendance, all arriving by dinghy, the beach and dock was absolutely jammed with inflatables!

I was expecting bonfires on the beach with beer and a boom box – and was very surprised to find an atmosphere best described as a combination of Woodstock, Las Vegas, and Castaway! Somewhere a generator was hidden away – colored banners were strung up haphazardly in the trees and backlit with lights for effect. A mainsail was strung between two palm trees and served as the projection screen for ambient video. Local pubs and eateries had set up a food stand and a bar. The island had a curving hill wrapped around a flat focal point, creating the effect of an amphitheater. A deejay had a good sound system amped up and played dance music the entire night in the flattened area. Even the porta-pottie was special – built out of sticks and thatched pandanus leaves, but with a real plastic seat and toilet paper mounted on a forked stick!

Attendees including yachties of all shapes and sizes, from kids to gray hairs, and nationalities (French, Swiss, Danish, Brazilian, American, Spanish, British, Australian, New Zealanders and more), local Neiafu residents both palangis (foreigners) and Tongans, dressed in everything from glittery outfits with halloween masks to board shorts and muscle tees with handmade pandanus hats. Entertainment appeared sporadically throughout the evening – a host of dancers dressed in glow sticks for a skeletal effect in the dark, three Tongan fire dancers, a glow stick man on stilts.

Posted by: Carol | September 3, 2009

Whale Watching Day 2

CBParker_D700_20090902_Tonga-157We’re back in Vava’u after a not very fun sail from Niuatoputapu. We left Monday morning as the forecast indicated that was our best window for wind direction and strength in a weeklong forecast of continuing windy conditions. Beating into the wind, choppy swells, wind consistently between 25-30 knots – Mike compares the ride to being in a washing machine. After our bouncy but uneventful 18 hour overnight passage we pulled into Port Maurelle in the early morning for a lazy day anchored in quiet waters, catching up on our sleep, washing the salt water off the boat, and going for a snorkel.

Wednesday Mike and I went out again with Dive Vava’u, a first rate diving and whale watching operation. Windy as usual – same 25 knots stirring up the chop. We made 4 or 5 attempts to swim with the whales, donning our snorkel gear and waiting on the swim platform at the aft end of the boat, then sliding in (no splashing allowed – scares the whales away) and taking off in a 50 yard sprint to close with the whales. Four or five repeats of that scenario is good aerobic exercise in the rough water! On our first attempt we did see the whales for a moment – a mother and calf who would have been happy to hang around except for their male escort who rounded them up each time and drove them off.

Eventually we gave up the swim attempts and went looking for surface activity with a great deal more success. Good views of a female and calf – she laying on her side waving a flipper in the air and splashing it down on the water’s surface – according to our guide that is female behavior to attract a male. Flippers (pectoral fins) on a humpback whale are exceptionally long, up to 17 feet or about 1/3 the length of the whale’s entire body, therefore often referred to as wings.


We also had really good luck with breaching whales – I missed seeing the pair that breached in tandem – only saw the resulting huge splash. Another whale breached one time not too far from the boat, and then we lucked on an exuberant performer who breached 7-8 times, affording good photo ops. It’s a bit of a challenge to photograph breaching whales as they erupt quite unexpectedly out of the water – but when they repeat it ups the odds of pointing the camera in the right direction at the right time.

The whale in the breaching photos has a yellow patch under his throat – it is a colony of barnacles. One theory about why whales breach is that it is an attempt to dislodge parasites like those barnacles.

We plan to continue to go out whale watching on the premise that the more opportunity, the better the odds of success. However today (Friday) is socked in gray and drizzly – no wind and calm water for a change, but not very inviting. So I think we’ll just stay on Raven catching up with the internet and other mundane matters.

Photo Tip:  Double-clicking on any photo will open it up as an enlargement.





Posted by: Carol | August 28, 2009

Island Adventures

CBParker_G10_20090828_Tonga-046We are anchored in the main harbor of Niuatoputapu (translation: Very Sacred Coconut), about 160nm north of Vava’u. We made the overnight trip last Tuesday uneventfully and pulled into the main anchorage early Wednesday morning, having been entertained during the night by an iPhone app called pUniverse which located us by GPS satellite and then offered up a view of the night sky – showing stars, planets and constellations in live view mode as we pointed the phone in any direction!

After catching up on our sleep, we cleared in at the administrative center north of town, met a few friendly locals and were brought up to date on this week’s upcoming events. There are about 12 yachts anchored here at the moment and the local villagers seem well-organized with plans to keep the yachties entertained and occupied while generating a little cash flow. So far on the schedule is a pig roast, a dinner party at the one and only local resort, a tapa weaving demonstration (dinner included), and lunch Sunday on a nearby motu (little island). One of the yachts is here from France by way of Cape Horn with a family of four aboard – mom, dad, teenage son and daughter. Another sailed here direct from Seattle – 6,000 miles non-stop and single handed, a voyage of some 2+ months at sea. Another, en route from Canada to New Zealand, has a cat aboard who does not like sailing!

The weather forecast is windy and getting windier each day through Sunday, then a couple of nice days, then a big storm with rain due later next week. That makes it a bit hard to whale watch, although there are lots of humpbacks cruising the six mile stretch of water that separates the main island from a neighboring island named Fatahi, formed by an old volcano and classically cone-shaped.

Yesterday a local guide named Niko took us in his open boat across the strait to Fatahi for a day’s hike up the volcano. Overall it was a death-defying day and today we are resting our sore muscles and taking it easy in recuperation. Actually I think my muscles may require more than just a single day to recover – I am definitely stiff and creaky!

Niko picked us up at 7:30 a.m. and we headed straight to Fatahi, trolling two fishing lines during the crossing. Sure enough, a mahi mahi struck Rod’s line. He reeled it in while I videoed. Niko turned the fish over to a village woman living on Fatahi to be cooked up for our lunch at the end of our hike. When I get back to internet service I’ll post the video – Niko has asked me to burn it on DVD for him and his family.

Before our big hike we spent a little time in the village while Niko ran errands and made a few deliveries. Biggest laugh of the day was the telephone “switchboard” service. Niko’s brother is employed by the Telecom company on Fatahi, housed in a small shack with the one and only phone line for the island, a big antenna and a bullhorn. During our wait a phone call came in for one of the villagers. Niko’s brother took the call, then used the bullhorn to bellow out a summons throughout the village to alert the recipient.

Off we went on our hike – Fatahi is a perfectly cone-shaped volcano rising up from the sea to nearly 2,000 feet. The start of the hike was somewhat moderate, but finally we were going straight up – impossible on just two feet, we had to pull ourselves along the track with whatever handhold came our way – tree branches, ferns, rocks! At one point we took a coconut break – Niko skinnied up a handy coconut palm and brought down one each, whacking them open with his bush knife. Drinking coconut juice is extremely refreshing, and when it’s gone the shell is cracked all the way open revealing the coconut meat inside for a quick snack. Fortified, we continued on – as things were looking hopeful Niko told us only another 5 minutes to go. An hour(!)later we did actually get to the very top! Great view – we could see across to the main island, and looking down we could see the flying sea birds below us and at the base of the extremely steep cliffs we could see tiny humpback whales among the whitecaps in the sea. The guidebooks say on a really clear day (this wasn’t) it is possible to see all the way to Samoa some 150 nm to the north.

Mike and I were pretty proud that we managed to hang in there and actually make it to the summit, figuring it was all downhill after that! But we didn’t count on our guide leading us literally downhill – straight down! First we descended into the actual crater which is now a verdant rain forest, back up the far rim, and then we launched ourselves straight down a steep open slope of fern and bracken. Not a switchback or traverse in sight! I finally resorted to sitting on my rear end and scooting downwards using both legs and arms to avoid hurtling head over heels.

That took care of about 1500 vertical feet of the return trip (and ruined a perfectly good pair of shorts) but we had descended on the opposite side of the island and still had to hike a narrow forested path (Niko referred to it as “the road”) back to our starting point at the village. Luckily our mahi mahi was still waiting for us – we thought it might have been completely devoured by the time we showed up around 2 p.m. However we were treated to a nice lunch of coconut milk mixed with mango, fried chunks of mahi mahi, and baked plantain. A plantain looks like a large square banana but tastes more like a potato!

Mike and I were both pretty beat, but we straggled back to the harbor to board our boat home. A dozen or so Tongan men were waiting for us at water’s edge with a boat of their own waiting to launch. Two of them were in hunting mode, running gracefully along the jagged reef, one with a net and one with a sharpened stick for a spear, pursuing small reef fish. They brought several in to the beach and the Tongan men knifed into them, still flapping, and ate them raw seasoned with sea water. Yum?

As we loaded our boat and donned foul weather gear for the return trip, the Tongan men launched their boat (dry on the beach) by rolling it down a path of rolling logs. Then both boats put out to sea. We had 3 or 4 of the men aboard our boat but the second boat still looked top-heavy with some dozen or so very large men perched aboard.

The trip home was pretty adrenalin inducing in itself – the wind had kicked up to some 20-25 knots and big swells were rolling through the strait topped by white caps and occasional breakers. Niko was obviously a skilled navigator and the boat seaworthy – we just kept a good grip on the boat as it plunged through the sea, doused by wave after wave. Although it was clear a capsize would be life-threatening, Niko tells us he routinely goes out in even 40-50 knots of wind so this was just routine to him. The foul weather gear did absolutely no good – water just poured in through the neck and soaked us anyhow. It was about an hour’s passage, and by the time we cleared the entry channel into the protected anchorage Raven and a hot shower were looking really good!

And just to add the final punctuation to the day, it turns out the Tongan men were prisoners along with a couple of guards sent to Fatahi as a work force to harvest kava before returning to “jail” (really just a house) on Niuatoputapu.


Posted by: Carol | August 21, 2009

Whale Watching Day 1

Our flight to Vava’u was uneventful except for the two-hour delay departing Tucson. Made us a bit nervous as the LAX-Tonga flight only goes once a week, so if we missed our connection we were in for some creative rescheduling or a week long vacation in Los Angeles! There was a noticeable number of underwater photographers aboard the flight as I could tell from both overheard conversation and the type of luggage on the baggage carousel.

It always feels wonderful to step off the airplane and take in the clean humid air of the tropics, low flying clouds, and palm trees lining the runway. And Rod waiting with the dinghy at the dock to load up our suitcases and ourselves for a quick ride to Raven and the start of our alternative lifestyle. Off come the shoes, on go the shorts and T-shirts, and we are back into Raven mode.

Yesterday we signed up to go out with Whale Watch Vava’u, one of several whale watching tour boats that pursue the humpback whales in season. We were out on the water some eight hours tracking down a friendly whale. The first half of the day was only moderately successful, doing what our guides called “hit and run”. It was easy to locate whales – they are everywhere, but the ones we located were on the move and not inclined to play. Eventually when the boat got into good position, we’d slip into the water in our snorkel gear and kick off quickly to try to get a glimpse of the whales underwater as they glided by. Often they are in groups of 3, a mother and her baby escorted by a hopeful male suitor.

Our second hit and run encounter was a single male who dove down below us – we could just barely make out his tail in the blue gloom, but he was singing. Even those aboard the boat could hear the song, but in the water with our heads submerged it was an amazing experience to be immersed in whale song – as much a feeling as a sound as it echoed through the water.

Finally late in the day we got a radio tip that a swimmer-friendly whale and calf were hanging out near shore. We gave up on the random hit and runs and motored over to wait our turn to swim with the whale. Whale watching etiquette requires that only one boat works with a whale at a time, but must give up its place to another boat after 45 minutes, so we bided our time.

Well worth the wait! Mama whale was quietly suspended motionless in shallow water only about 6-7 meters deep. Her calf was only a few weeks old and he was playing around close to her body. On first view he was upright in the water, tail pointed down to the ocean floor, head peeking above his mother’s back, balanced by his flukes on her head and watching us watch him. However he swam loops around and about, quietly entertaining himself while mother never moved – just hung there, all 40 tons of her, while we floated at a respectful distance and enjoyed the experience.

No camera and photographs for me as I really hadn’t had enough time to assemble the housing and be sure that it was secure and flood-proof. Very easy to make a mistake and ruin several thousand dollars worth of equipment so I made the decision to leave it behind for our first outing. However I don’t know if we’ll have this kind of opportunity again – it was very special! Fingers crossed! And camera at hand from now on!

We had met up with friends from Tongatapu who were vacationing in Vava’u. They went whale watching along with us aboard the same boat, and after a nice hot shower to warm up we met again for a wonderful dinner at the best restaurant in town – The Dancing Rooster. Delicious food, great company, swimming with whales – a wonderful first day in Tonga!

Today we sail out of Neiafu Harbor and head for Port Morelle, a pleasant anchorage not too far away where there’s good snorkeling including some limestone sea caves for variety. Swallows Cave extends above and below water and can be entered by dinghy before diving up and down the vertical columnar space filled with fish. Mariner’s Cave has an underwater entrance – dive down to swim through the entrance, then rise to the surface and air space inside the cave. As the water level inside the cave rises and falls with wave action, the air fogs up and clears again from compression and condensation.

We plan to spend the weekend there, come back into the harbor to top off our diesel, then head north to the Niua Group some 160 nm from here. Very remote and beautiful, a population of only some 300 Tongans, and lots of whales.

Posted by: Carol | August 16, 2009

Back to Tonga!


About Tonga in general

Malo e lelei (“Greetings” in Tongan)

Our bags are packed and Tuesday afternoon we board our plane(s) for the long flight back to Raven, currently anchored in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga.  Why?  See photo (and no, I didn’t take it – hope I’m lucky enough to get something nearly as good)! It is humpback whale season and I’m super excited about the rare opportunity to swim with and photograph the humpbacks and their babies in Tonga’s clear waters.

Coincidentally this article about photographing whales showed up in my inbox just yesterday. Talk about timely!  As well I’ve inserted a link to a recording of humpback whale song, also a link to the excellent Dive Vava’u website about diving in Tonga and Tonga in general.

This is our last cruise aboard Raven; at its conclusion she sails for New Zealand to be sold. However the trip Rod has outlined for us sounds terrific. Spend several days in Vava’u, taking advantage of the commercial whale watching outfits there. Then cruise some 160nm north to the very remote Niuatoputapu Island for a week. Then back to Vava’u, down to the Ha’apai Group and finishing in Nuku’alofa mid-September.  Tonga consists of some 170 islands sprinkled over some 700,000 square km of ocean, and divided into four main island “groups”. On this voyage we plan to visit all four groups, from the Niuas in the far north to Tongatapu in the south, with the Ha’apai Group and the Vava’u Group between.

En route back to Tucson we plan to detour to New Zealand for a couple of days to check in with Circa Marine and see the latest progress on the FPB64.

An Underwater Photographer’s Guide to Humpback Whales in Tonga

Whale Song Recording

Dive Vava’u Website

Posted by: Carol | June 16, 2009

RAVEN Is For Sale!

Update October 27, 2009



Photo Gallery

Sundeer 64 Data Sheet

Cutter Rig Diagram 1

Cutter Rig Diagram 2

Interior Layout

It’s almost time for us to say good-bye to Raven. Our new FPB64 (Hull #1) will launch late this year and we haven’t figured out a good way to enjoy two boats at once! Sadly for us, this week we officially listed Raven with an international yacht broker. For further information contact us (using Comments at the bottom of this post) and we will put you in touch. We do have one more cruise planned aboard Raven in the Kingdom of Tonga this coming August/September. After that Raven will head to New Zealand where she will be officially available for trial in the Auckland area. Early inquiries and/or offers are welcome of course, but the logistics of prepurchase surveys are better off accomplished in New Zealand.

If you are seriously interested in blue water cruising, the Sundeer 64 is one of the finest boats ever designed in its class. Read what Sailing Magazine had to say in their September 2005 Best Boats issue. The Sundeer 64 is a cult boat with a big fan base, a true collector’s item. Raven was only on the market for two weeks when we were fortunate enough to purchase her nearly five years ago. We anticipate similar enthusiasm this time around. Owning Raven has been a life-changing experience for us – as it can be for you.
Sundeer 64 Interior Layout
Sundeer 64 Cutter Rig 01

Older Posts »