Tonga

We arrived in Vavau, Tonga, after having been bashing around in 30 knots of wind on the last two days of sailing. Fortunately, the waves almost disappeared on the lee side of the island, and we entered the well protected harbour shortly after sunrise.

Tonga is formed of four island groups of which Vavau is the second from the North. With well protected anchorages, it is a very popular charter and yachting base. Once moored in Neiafu, the capital, it was hard to imagine that the wind was really blowing out there.

By now, we have a pretty well established routine when we arrive in a new place after a long passage: clearance, shopping for fruits and vegetables, shower, cold beer, laundry, internet. When all this was done, we moved on to a quieter anchorage not far from Neiafu, Port Murelle.

The weather was grey and rainy. So we spent most of the time underwater, checking out some caves along the shore. Gaspar also took the chance to make good progress at drawing the storyboard for the comic and painting a watercolour for yacht Love, our anchor neighbours.

A week or so later the wind calmed down a bit and so we went on an overnight sail to the island of Nomuka Iki, in the Haapai group, roughly 80 miles to the South. This small island is divided in two, the South side is home to many cows, chickens, pigs and horses and one caretaker, whereas on the North side there is what looks like a summer camp, but no one was there when we went ashore. We walked around to find beautiful beaches and many papaya trees.

The snorkelling there was fantastic with so much live coral and plenty of colourful fishes and squid, as well as black tipped reef sharks, who stuck around the boat after we cleaned the fish Gaspar had catched for lunch.

A couple of days later we set off to Nuku Alofa, the capital of Tonga, where we have been preparing the boat for the passage to New Zealand. We are at anchor in front of Pangaimotu island, home to the Big Mama Yacht Club, together with another 15 boats or so, all about to sail on the same route as us. The main subjects of conversation amongst cruisers are weather and passage planning. If the wind stays as forecasted we will set off tomorrow morning on a 1000 mile trip to Opua, NZ, with a possible stop at Minerva Reef, a reef in the middle of the ocean.

Finally, the good news of the week are that the book “Cirrus en Voyage” will be re-printed by its author and previous owner of Cirrus, Maud Atamaniuk. In it, Maud illustrates their adventures sailing Cirrus in the North Sea and accross the Atlantic. If you are interested, you can get a copy on her website: http://www.cirrus-en-voyage.com. We already got ours onboard and are working hard on the second part of the story, Cirrus en Voyage II 😉.

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Huahine

Tomorrow we are leaving French Polynesia to sail towards Tonga, and this makes us both quite sad. We have spent an amazing time in this country of islands of which there are still too many that we haven’t visited. We feel very fortunate to have been at anchor surrounded by incredibly beautiful landscapes, to have met a lot of friendly people and experienced a different culture.

No matter how many nice places we have already seen, each time we arrive in a new anchorage we find the view stunning. Want a room with a view? Go and live on a boat.

And because very often images say more than words, here are a few photos of Huahine, our last stop in French Polynesia.

Kuna Yala – San Blas

Kuya Yala is an autonomus region of Panama, home to the kuna indians. It covers a long stretch of montanius mainland, from the atlantic Colombian border up to the Colon province, plus 365 islands, of which only 65 are inhabited. This territory is also known as San Blas.

On the three weeks we spent there, hopping from one island to another, we realized that there are two main different Kuna Yala: the remote eastern part, and the touristy western part. Both are incredibly beautiful in their own way: whereas western San Blas is very touristy, traditional kuna villages can be found in the East, where the interaction with the locals is much more interesting; and whilst the water in eastern San Blas is not very clear, it is crystaline on the West, with the most amazing snorkelling spots.

Since we were coming from Colombia, we entered San Blas from the east at Tupbak (Isla Pinos). It felt like entering in a completely different world. 

It is 10 in the morning as we approach the anchorage between the island and the mainland. The only other sailboat on the spot are our friends Miti, who arrived an hour ago. A white sand beach, a million coconut trees and palm roofed houses. On the horizon a kuna indian padelling on his “cayuco” and a eagle in the sky. Silence. It feels like time stopped a long time ago.

The women in San Blas are known for making “molas”, pieces of cloth with colourful designs. Inga and I were curious to see how they make them, so we walked to the village and asked a couple of women who were stitching one. They hid them straight away, and with half a smile they told us that we first had to ask the “sahila”, or boss of the village, for permission. A local kid Rafael guided us around the houses until finally we met the “sahila” sleeping a siesta on his hammock. He gave us permission to see and buy “molas” and as we walked out of his house our friend Rafael started shouting some sentences in kuna, we understood he was calling all the women in the village to come and sell us “molas”.

The kunas base their economy in fishing, agriculture, selling handcraft and tourism. They almost only collect fruit and veg for their own consumption, but they fish lobsters and crabs to sell to tourists or to Colombian lanchas who come and pick them up.

After Tupbak we went to the island of Mamitupu, also very traditional but more open to visitors. There we met Pablo, a kuna who has some cabins to rent and a lot of interesting things to tell. For example, he explained us that in Mamitupu the “congreso”, the governing body of each community of Kuna Yala, reunite every day. Each day of the week there is a different type of congreso, it can be a singing day, when the “sahila” sings the matters of the day or it can be a women congreso day. 

We kept on sailing West together with Miti and our new french boat friends from Shaitanne, a 50 footer with 6 people onboard. We visited Aridup, Puyadas, Sugardup, Chichime and Cayos Holandeses. We spent the days snorkelling and fishing and the evenings eating fresh fish.

Kuna Yala is such an special place and I hope it remains as such for a long time. There is only one thing that doesn’t match with the landscape at all: plastic rubbish. The windward side of those islands is full of it. Some of it comes from the locals, but most of it doesn’t. The kunas don’t have the means to deal with all that plastic. 

Just arrived in Cartagena

It took Cirrus four days to sail 600nm from Los Roques to Cartagena with a last windy and wavy night under storm jib.

Anchored in front of el Club Nautico we have an amazing view on the city and the skyscrapers of Bocagrande. We enjoyed our first “real” fresh water shower since the Canaries. Oh yeah.

We will soon be telling you more about this place as we discover Colombia in company of Big Ben, our friend who lives here.

Un abrazo a todos.

Take me back to Los Roques, Venezuela

“-do we do the customs and paperwork in Gran Roque? Asks Rocio somewhat anxiously

-hmmm… Some people advised us to skip this step though. Do you know how much it could cost?

-I m not sure but it can’t be much. You’ve heard this guy on the VHF? He told us that the Armada Venezolana is stationned there and could come onboard

-sure, last thing we want is a military officer onboard our boat with a reason to hold us back.

-we will arrive on Sunday. We can first anchor off somewhere, then we head to Gran Roque on Monday to do the paperwork

-ok, that’s a plan

-fish on the line!!! Stop the boat!! It is a tuna!!”

That is in essence the discussion we were having during our crossing from Guadeloupe to Los Roques. 

In the end we decided to go and do the paperwork, and also took the oportunity to meet up with our friend Sebas working in a posada, El Canto de la Ballena, such a friendly place with amazing food, if you go to El Gran Roque, don’t miss it 😀

Back to the paperwork, the situation was interesting for two main reasons: the desease of the bollivar and the new park cost.

Regarding the bollivar desease. Venezuela has had an inflation of over 2000% (I have not typed an extra zero by mistake, it is true). As a result there is no local currency available anywhere. For example, the second largest note is 20,000 bollivars. To pay a beer you need 150 000 bollivars. It is easy to understand that at this rate it does not work. So people pay with bank cards, which is ok if you have a local bank card. Not ok if you try to pay with a foreign one, as the official exchange rate is ridiculously low. You would end up paying your beer 100 $. 

So practically there are people working in the black market that will propose to accompany you anywhere you go to pay with their local card, in return you pay them cash in USD. In Los Roques 1 $ was worth at that moment in time 160 000 bollivars (in Caracas 250 000, at the same time, and 120 000 two months ago…).

The second surprise was the new park cost. Since the first of February the cost for being with a boat in los Roques went from 45000 to 1 000 000 per foot! I’ll do the math for you, it turns out to about 300$ for Cirrus (and us 2). For three days we could just not afford it. 

There is a solution for everything though. Here the trick is to argue that you are “in transit”, which gives you 72 hours for free. Theoretically you cannot move the boat during this time. But practically nobody will prevent you from hopping from island to island through the archipelago as you are “leaving” los Roques. 

It took us three days to get through 20 nm of sand banks, islands and reefs with cristal clear water. We visited Francisqui, good for kite surfing, Noronqui, amazing snorkelling and Cayo Carenero, incredibly beautiful. Apart from in Francisqui and El Gran Roque, we had the anchorages just for us. We were alone in paradise.

I wish we could have stayed longer… Maybe next time…