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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Cartagena, a la orden

The navigation from Los Roques to Cartagena was okay until we reached the point of Barranquilla, where we experienced the worst conditions of this trip so far. With about 30knots of constant wind or more at times and waves that filled up the cockpit once in a while, we didn’t sleep much that night.

    Cirrus finally entered the bay of Cartagena passing in between the two buoys of Bocagrande which mark the gap on an underwater barrier designed by the Spanish to defend this entrance, so that the ships had to enter by Bocachica on the South side of the island of Tierra Bomba. Nowadays the Bocagrande pass can only be used by small boats as it is quite narrow.

    We dropped the anchor in front of el Club Náutico in Manga. Manga is a rich residential neighbourhood on an island connected by bridges to the rest of the city.

    In the evening our friend Big Ben, who lives in Cartagena, took us accross the bridge to Getsemaní, the old popular, nowadays bohemian neighbourhood which is also full of travellers (there are many hostels for backpackers). We instantly got charmed by the atmosphere: coloured houses with flowers everywhere, with open windows and doors to get the night air in (couldn’t resist to look through and see the beautiful patios), and a lot of people on the street terraces and on Plaza Trinidad, the main square.

    The day after was paperwork day.  – Warning! Skip this pharagraph if you are not planing to arrive by boat, it is quite boring! – In Colombia everyone who arrives by boat needs to get in contact with an agent to do the paperwork. If you plan to stay 5 days or less this consists in getting an entrance paper by the port authority, and the passports stamped by inmigration. To do so the agent asks you for anything in between 110 – 140 US dollars. It gets more complicated if you want to stay for more than 5 days. I wasn’t able to find clear information anywhere and I write this info based on our experience. If you want to stay for more than 5 days (or actually a week because weekends don’t count) you also need to do:

    • A temporary importation of your boat at the Customs office (DIAN). The agent can do it for you for another sum (50-100 US dollars) or you can do it yourself for free by going to the DIAN with 2 photocopies of each of these documents: the entrance paper issued by the Port Authority, the page on your passport that has the inmigration stamp as well as the page that has your photo, the boat papers, a photo of your boat where its name is visible. At the DIAN you have to visit two desks (you just say that you are coming to do the importation (importación temporal) – and they will guide you around the office, speaking Spanish helps a lot). At the first desk you have to present your photocopies and they will fill up the Aviso de Importación, or Importation Notice, on a computer, give you a copy of  this and stamp all your photocopies. Then you have to proceed to another desk to do the temporary importation. Here you will receive a paper to fill up with your boat details and they will ask you for one set of photocopies (stamped). They will tell you that they will visit your boat for inspection before signing the paper that you just filled up. If your boat is at anchor, they will most probably not come onboard and just ask you to come againg to the DIAN office, where you can collect your signed paper. 
    • Get a cruising permit. We found this a very subjective procedure because the amount of time you can stay without a permit depends on who is in charge of making your entrance paper at the Port Authority. Some say you have to get one after 5 days, others after 8 days and others after 15 days. The cruising permit costs 100 US dollars that you have to pay via transfer to the Port Authority. On our paper it said we had to pay it after 5 days. We stayed 15 days and thanks to the dealing of our agent we didn’t have to pay for a cruising permit. 

    When you are about to leave you just have to contact your agent again and he will get your passports stamped at inmigration and your “zarpe” or exit paper from the Port Authority. A good lesson learnt from all this is that in Cartagena (almost) everything is negociable but it requires time and patience.

    For me, the highlight of our time in Cartagena was my family coming over to visit. They stayed at the only one store hotel in Bocagrande, otherwise a neighbourhood full of skyscraper hotels. Coming from rainy Bilbao, they enjoyed the long beach on the outer side of the bay every morning. This beach is everything but quiet. Actually Cartagena is everything but quiet. Vendors pass every minute saying “a la orden” (at your command), a way to catch your attention to try and sell you drinks, ceviche, massage, mango, bracelets, selfie sticks, shoes, coconut biscuits, excursions, hats, tattoos, etc. On the first day we ended up spending our cash in all sorts of things, like newby tourists, but by the last day we had learnt how to manage the situation.

    I haven’t yet talked about what in my opinion makes Cartagena such a special city: the old colonial neighbourhood, “centro histórico”. The colonial buildings and plazas with a feel of decadency surrounded by city walls made of coral rock take you back in time and make you wonder how it was in the times when Cartagena was the richest city in South America. 

    Unfortunately, like in many places in the World, mass tourism has its effect here as well. As we walked around the pebled streets we constantly got offered the same things as on the beach in the morning, to the point that it became quite annoying. However it is also true that those vendors give some ambiance to the streets and for example the fruits sold by the palenqueras or the fresh limonada de coco are very appreciated in the afternoon heat.

    A good way to realize how big the whole city is, was to go up to Convento de la Popa, the only hill in the otherwise flat Cartagena. The view from the top of the hill is amazing, and the convent itself is very beautiful.

    We also had the visit of Raph, Gaspar’s friend from Brussels who is travelling around Colombia by bike. All his stories made me want to discover the inland of this beautiful country, which weather, landscape and people apparently change dramatically depending on where you go.

    With Raph we went to the buzzing Bazurto market. Here you can buy anything from shoe laces to refrigerators and of course a large variety of amazing fruit and vegetables at very low prices. Be ready to negotiate and keep your head clear while your nostrils get used to the strong smells filling the air and your ears try to hear above reggaeton at high volume.

    Another day we took my family and Raph for a sail to Playa Blanca, 14 nm from Manga. We exited the bay at Bocachica, a pass between two forts made of coral rock: Fuerte de San Fernando and Fuerte de San José. Here is where the Basque commander Blas de Lezo defended the entry to the bay from the English under the command of admiral Vernon. They fought with 6 boats and 3,000 men against a fleet of almost 300 boats and 10,000 men. After six days of battle, Vernon’s army entered the bay and the Spanish retired to Castillo de San Felipe, from where they ended up beating the English. We found ourselves three centuries later sailing the retreat way with Cirrus, which is registered in the UK, hence has got an English flag.

    A couple of hours of saling later we dropped anchor in front of a small beach past Punta Gigantes, far away from the packed Playa Blanca, where thousand tourists come everyday on motorboats from Cartagena. Our spot was perfect with turquoise water and white sanded little beach just for us. 

    In Cartagena we also met back with our Norwegian boat friends Inga and Peter, whom we hadn’t seen since Las Palmas. A couple of days after my family left, we left together to Isla Grande, in Islas del Rosario. We found a beautiful snorkelling spot just North of Canal Ratón, between Isla Grande and Isla Naval, where there is even a wreck of a plane!

    After Isla Grande we sailed to the archipielago of San Bernardo, where we anchored South of Isla Tintipan. Almost all the inhabitants on this archipielago (about 600 people) live in a tiny island called El Islote and there are no houses on the other islans, apart from hotels and some private villas. 

    Tintipan is just stunning. It has got an inner lagoon surrounded by mangrove where you can enter with a yacht, but we preferred the anchorage outside to avoid the mosquitoes, and we went exploring the lagoon by dinghy. Two locals from El Islote, who called themselves Pantera and Cremoso, came to sell us coconuts, fish or beer, and we ended up inviting them onboard and sharing the fish that Gaspar and Peter had just catched. The day after in exchange Pantera showed us the North side of the island and took us fishing inside the lagoon.


    Overall the Caribbean coast of Colombia left me a very good impression and that is also thanks to Big Ben who helped us discover Cartagena and Pachi and Lee who gave us many tips for the islands and also for San Blas, our next stop. Thank you to my sister Lucía for taking the photos.

      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.

      Atlantic here we come!

      We are off for 2520 nautical miles from El Hierro to Marie Galante in the Caribbean! Cirrus is full and crew’s spirits are high. It looks like we will have a pretty windy start, good to put everyone in the mood.

      If you want to follow our progress you can do so in the following link: https://share.garmin.com/Cirrus. You can also send us messages from that link. We will read them with a lot of pleasure!!

      That’s all for now, see you next year!! 

      Thomas, Matteo, Gaspar and Rocio

      Cirrus au port

      Cirrus at sea and Cirrus in the harbour are two different things.

      At sea everything must have its place, safely secured so that it won’t fly off and land in a crash on the opposite side. Cockpit lockers must be ordered so that we can easily take out the different sails as we adjust the sailplan to the intensity of the wind. If we first need to dig the sails below the kite board, the snorkeling masks and the bimini, it does  not work.

      But when we are in a harbour, Cirrus changes. The BBQ is attached to a stanchion, the clothes are drying on lines strung everywhere we can, towels are drying after the last swim, the solar shower is hung from the spinnaker pole, the cockpit table is pulled out and the bimini set to provide us some shade.

      Cirrus loves sailing – Lisboa to la Graciosa

      We arrived in La Graciosa on the 6th of October after five days of really cool sailing. The first three days the north easterly wind was quite strong so we tested Cirrus’ downwind potential, under spinnaker but also with the jib poled out. Like this we reached a speed of 9.2 knots yiiihhaaaa!!

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      Lunch and dinner were sorted as we caught one mahi-mahi after another.
      The wind started to calm down on the fourth day and so did the sea… we managed to keep the spinnaker up for a while despite the light wind, but the wind pilot Giorgio doesn’t like it light so we had to hand helm until the night arrived.

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      We decided to turn on the engine at night and leave Polentxo, our new autopilot, do the job, because doing one man watch and helming is not that fun (you need your hands to cook some instant noodles!)
      The wind picked up a little bit from the south west the day after, so we sailed upwind until we started seeing some volcanoes coming out the water… The Canaries!

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      Hundreds of dolphins accompanied us until el Rio, the stretch of water between Lanzarote and La Graciosa. We tacked up the strait and dropped the sails by the entrance of the port of Caleta de Sebo.
      Well done Cirrus, you have safely brought us to paradise.

      Portugal

      I am now writing from the island of La Graciosa, in Canarias, where we arrived a few days ago after five days of sailing from Lisboa.
      The trip has somehow slowed down a little bit since we left the waters of Galicia, with its million places to stop, there are so many beautiful moorings and little ports in there that one would need at least a whole summer to explore them all.
      Once in Portugal, there are not as many places to stop along its West coast, making us stay in fewer places for longer time. This is pretty cool, because we keep on crossing the same boats that are also going South like us, and we have made a few friends, like our Viking friends from Norway, Inga and Peter, on their Hallberg Rassy 38 Miti are now in Las Palmas and Charlotte and Magnus on their Ovni 39 Aluminati are somewhere in the South of Portugal.


      Our first stop was Leixoes, a commercial harbour near the town of Porto. The sailing from Baiona was…foggy… and it was not really sailing, it was more like motoring by night under the fog in a “field” of fishing pots. My face says it all in this picture, at “sunrise” approaching Leixoes. To make it worse, the autopilot had stopped working, so we had to helm under engine, clearly not my favourite activity.

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      Fortunately, we were about to meet my parents and sister, who had come to visit us in Porto, so my “angriness” disappeared pretty quickly.
      We were very lucky to find a spot in the marina, which was otherwise full, advantages of having a small boat! It was also possible to anchor in the port, but with my family coming to visit, we thought it was easier to walk in and out the boat.
      Porto is just beautiful, really worth the visit, here are some photos taken by my sister Lucia.


      After the family left, we sailed to Aveiro, 30 nautical miles of sunny spinnaker weather = The Dream. We anchored in Sao Jacinto, a village in the North of the Ria de Aveiro, amongst five or six more yachts. The bay of Sao Jacinto is in fact well protected, and there are not many of these anchorages in the West coast of Portugal. The village has all we wanted: a bakery, a bar and a super long sandy beach. So we stayed for a while. We also did a bit of tourism in the town of Aveiro,” the Portuguese Venice”.


      When we left Aveiro, it was foggy again. We have read somewhere that there is 10% chance of the weather being foggy in summer in Portugal… surely somebody forgot the “not” in the sentence. The forecast was for some good NW wind coming in later during the day and so it did. It was pretty light though so we only dropped the anchor in Peniche the day after at dawn.
      From Peniche, we sailed 6 miles to Isla Berlengha. We took a mooring buoy on the south east side of this spectacular island. The light forecast made us decide to spend the night in there, but we should have checked the waves forecast as well as the wind… after a bouncy night we saw that the swell had increased massively and despite being on the opposite side of the island, the waves were bouncing against the rocks. We left the mooring and surfed back to Peniche, where we anchored behind the pier, well protected from the waves.


      The fog was yet going to accompany us to Cascais. This time at least, there was wind. After some hesitation, we turned the AIS (receptor) on and we decided to keep flying the spinnaker. Once in a while we blew the fog horn in case there was someone out there. We could not see more than 20 metres around the boat, and it was pretty scary when we heard the noise of an engine, but we never saw where it was coming from, probably a plane. Inga and Peter who were at anchor in Cascais sent us a picture of a clear day, but we were only 8 miles away and the fog was so dense that it looked unreal.
      And suddenly, the sky cleared out and we left the curtain of fog behind, as we turned east into the river Tejo, what a relief! Feeling happy we turned the music on and we sailed into the bay of Cascais, just as the sun was setting down. We dropped the anchor and were received by our Norwegian friends on board Miti for a well appreciated glass of wine.
      The anchorage in Cascais was full of other travelling boats, of all shapes and nationalities. It is very interesting to look at them and take new ideas for our own boat – and for our future boat as well 😉 – as it is also cool to watch the RC44 fleet getting ready to race – the two poles of sailing yachts in one place, amazing.


      27th of September, Gaspar is turning old! To celebrate his birthday, we took the train to Lisboa and we explored the city with the excuse of fulfilling his favourite activity: visit pretty much all the “ferreterias” (tool shops) in the area. In the evening we went for a few beers with our friend EJ, who we met for the first time five years ago in the ARC. He showed us around some pretty cool boats that are being prepared for a race starting soon from Spain…
      The next day we sailed up the river and saw the stunning city of Lisboa from the water. We were going to spend the next three days in the marina Parque das Naçoes, getting the boat ready for the trip down to Canarias. This marina was built for the Expo in 1998 and the place is quite surreal. We went out for a walk in the evening in what looked like a futuristic ghost town, we only started to see some people as we approached an area with glass windowed office blocks, people were working inside, we kept on walking and we found a massive shopping mall, and guess what, it was full of people. Fortunately, the area is nicer by day, there are many cool parks and buildings to look at and people are walking around in families and so on. The marina was also built for the Expo and for some strange reason, half of it dries out at low tide, so there are many empty pontoons; it makes you think whether this was the job of a group of politicians playing architects/engineers for a day? Despite all this, the other half of the marina is pretty good and so is its location, not in the center of Lisboa but pretty close by bus, next to the airport, and to a big supermarket that opens every day of the week, it fit our purpose perfectly.


      With the mission of finding somebody out in Lisboa to recode our emergency PLB – which had to be done because we have changed the boat´s flag from French to British – we ended up exploring the city again, discovering some areas with not so many tourists. The job was finally done on the day by a company called Nautel.
      My dad joined us on the 30th and with the boat ready and full of provisions, we set sail to the Canaries on the 1st of October. But that is another story.
      Obrigado Portugal, you have exceeded all my expectations.