Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall charting our adventures as we sail around the world. This season we spent 5 months exploring Vanuatu and are now on the east coast of Australia.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

A Tongan Feast on Lape Island

A Lape Island house with very old solar panels wired up (by visiting yachtsmen) to power the island's only refrigerator
 
We left the mooring at Neiafu yesterday for a lovely sail between the islands and anchored off the tiny island of Lape (18 degrees 43 minutes south, 174 degrees 05 minutes west). The enterprising and very friendly villagers invite yachties to a Saturday afternoon tour of the village followed by a Tongan Feast.
 
Lape has a tiny village of just 7 families and a school which currently has 11 children attending. The villagers are pretty self-sufficient, growing sweet potatoes, bananas and taro roots as well as coconuts and they produce traditional craft work such as tapa (a stiff fabric made from the beaten fibres of the hiapo tree bark which is then decorated with ink), woven baskets and mats made of pandanus leaves, dried in the sun. The mats are used on the floor for eating and sleeping upon but a finely-woven version is made as a ta'ovala, wrapped around the waist as a decorative skirt (worn by both men and women); it signifies respect to 'God, King and Country'.
 
The Tongan feast was quite an event.  It involves an 'umu which is an underground earth oven – a fire is built in a pit lined with stones and, when the fire dies down, the hot stones slowly bake vegetables and meat, which are wrapped in banana leaves, with earth piled on top. We also had a pig roasted above an open fire and all the delicious food was served on 'plates' made of the bark of banana trees, after a Tongan prayer led by the minister and a wonderful unaccompanied hymn sung by half a dozen locals.
 
The donations they receive in return are used for village projects - for example an impressive new landing jetty was completed recently - and they are looking to start a little kitchen producing taro and sweet potato crisps to sell in the Neiafu market. Very enterprising for a village of just 7 families and 28 people!
 
Our brief time in Tonga so far has given us a better insight into the country and its people. The Vava'u group of islands (the apostrophe features frequently in Tongan – it signifies a brief pause, so Vava'u is pronounced vah-VAH-  oo) are beautiful and in most other parts of the world would have lots of expensive resorts and hotels, with rooms perched on metal stilts above the clear waters, just as we saw in Bora Bora. However in Tonga all land belongs to the crown so land can only be leased for limited terms. Add to this the slightly random nature of internal flights from the international airport at the capital Nuku'alofa 150 miles to the south and it becomes clear why the tourist facilities are pretty low key. Visiting yachts constitute a major portion of the palangi  (westerner) visitors and the rest are mostly back-packers and eco-tourists.
 
The Tongans themselves lead pretty simple lives. To our eyes their homes are pretty impoverished, with open floors devoid of furniture and cooking is often done outside on open fires. Most houses have pigs running around the gardens. On our first night in Neiafu we were taken to a local house in the village for a traditional meal, served in multiple dishes on floor mats whilst we sat, uncomfortably crossed-legged, and tried to ignore the flies (at least each dish was covered in cling film as it was brought in). It was quite a culture shock and our western eyes struggled to adjust to the scruffy surroundings and worrying standards of food hygiene. However the family were charming and it was explained to us that social etiquette, personal dignity and respect are valued in Tonga before material wealth. There are very low crime rates, virtually no begging and no homelessness here – no one goes hungry as goods or money earned are often shared with the wider community and the churches play a very central role. On Sundays work is forbidden and no sporting events take place and Tongans act and dress very conservatively at all times – men will be fined if seen without a shirt in a public place and women are expected to cover their shoulders and wear long skirts or trousers.
 
We're looking forward to learning more about the place – at last we've found a part of the Pacific where western standards and values are tolerated but not necessarily adopted.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Sailing a traditional Vaka


We're certainly enjoying some unusual experiences here in Neiafu (18  degrees 44 minutes south,  174  degrees 00 minutes west, if you'd like to locate it on Google Earth). A meal with a family in their house on Tuesday was quite something (more in another blog) but yesterday we went sailing in a Vaka.


A Vaka is a traitional Polynesian voyaging canoe - a catamaran - and these vessels once roamed all across the Pacific, trading and exploring. Over more recent years the ancient navigational skills had been all but lost as people remained on their own islands and relied on commercial shipping for trade, so in 2010 a philanthropic foundation had seven Vakas built in New Zealand, crewed by Polynesians from different islands. The fleet sailed to the Tuamotos (in 29 days) and up to Hawaii, the western seaboard of the USA and back down to the islands. There's an excellent website http://pacificvoyagers.org/the-voyage if you'd like to read more.

The new Vakas are pretty high-tech, beneath their traditional rigs. The hulls are fibreglass (and have comfy, if slighly cramped, bunks for up to 16 crew) with retractable centreboards. The wooden decks (lashed to the hulls with modern synthetic rope) have intricate carvings but a clever deckhouse containing a small galley and navigation station (with GPS and VHF radio) and support a large 2kW solar panel array which provides power to two very funky retractable 10kW electric motor pods to drive the boat in harbour. However they are still steered using a long and very heavy steering oar (which needs up to 4 people to hold it in a blow) and the deck at the helmsman's feet is carved with an ancient star compass; during the voyages the crew learnt to use this to keep a proper course. The vessels are pretty big - 72' long, 21' in the beam and weighing 13 tonnes and the motive power is a distinctive two-masted rig of 1033 square feet. As we discovered for ourselves, they are pretty quick - we were doing over 10 knots in a Force 4 breeze.

'Our'  Vaka, the Hine Moana, sailed with a pan-Pacific crew of Tongans, Fijians and Samoans and her Tongan skipper, the irrepressible Aunofo who crewed on the original voyage from NZ, has chartered now her from the foundation for the nominal sum of $1 for four months. In return S
she has trained a crew of 7 local lads and we were her forth commercial day-trip - we sailed with the crews of Stormvogel and Exit Strategy. We were mightily impressed with the vessel and with Aunofo's skill at handling her - we had some great sailing, with a wonderful reef snorkel as we anchored for a superb lunch.

We really enjoyed our day and here are a few photos:


 The deck 'compass'


 Peter at the helm, with the skipper looking on


High-tech electric propulsion

Monday, 23 September 2013

Safely into Tonga, but where did that day go?

After another very rolly night, with winds up to 27 knots (and sail plan reduced to a furled foresail only), we were delighted to be able to turn the corner at first light this morning and head south along the sheltered west coast of Vava'u. We rafted up with Stormvogel and Exit Strategy at the main wharf in Nieiafu for a very friendly clearing-in process which involved four different officials coming aboard. The crews of each boat looked pretty dog-tired after the challenging passage from Niue but, once again,we are really pleased with how Maunie handled the difficult conditions – Tom on Exit Strategy had to hand steer for a lot of the night due to the big waves knocking the boat off course, whilst on Maunie we had Winnie the Windpilot driving superbly well, with only the occasional drama. We did, however, have one rogue wave dump itself into the cockpit, just as Graham was snoozing in the afternoon sunshine.
 
The harbour here is a long and well-protected estuary with densely-wooded banks. The water's quite deep (and full of jellyfish) but there are commercially-rented moorings for only about £6 per night so we're on one of them, with lots of boats that we already know moored around us. Once we've recovered from our sleep depravation, we'll be in a fit state to explore ashore tomorrow.
 
Sleep isn't the only thing of which we are deprived; we appear to have lost an entire day! This is not as careless as it sounds – we crossed the international date line last night so moved seamlessly from Saturday 21st to Monday 23rd and are now 13 hours ahead of GMT. All a bit confusing but there we are. Luckily Sunday the 22nd September wasn't an important date for us – it'd be a bit of a bugger if it was a birthday.
 
Photos and more to follow once we've worked out the options for getting wifi here.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Rolling our way toTonga

We said a fond farewell to Niue yesterday after ten wonderful days there. The process of checking out with Customs and Immigration typified the friendly approach of the people there: the Customs officer apologised that he had no transport so couldn't come to us so could we manage to come to his office at the airport please? Now this is a 5km journey and we didn't relish the prospect of a hot walk but Ira at the Yacht Club came to our rescue: "There's a blue car outside, it belongs to a friend of mine. Just take that." 15 minutes later we were back with the important clearance form and our stamped passports.
 
The passage so far has been uncomfortably rolly. The easterly trade winds have been blowing at about 20 knots for the past two weeks so whilst we've been at a nicely sheltered mooring, the swell out at sea has built up to about 3 metres and were certainly feeling it. However we are making good speed (almost too good, actually, as we've had to reef down so slow our progress a little to avoid arriving at night. We should arrive in Vava'u, in the Kingdom of Tonga in about 24 hours time. We'll be glad to find flat water again!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Playing with a cat

Yesterday we were invited aboard 'Bounty', another German yacht, sailed by Harry and Lucy; we first met them in Panama. They wanted some tips on sail trim and boat handling so, together with Peter & Heidi, we had a lovely day sail. Graham was in his element, tweaking the sails to get maximum speed and suggesting a few tricks to make sail handling easier. It's the first time we've sailed a cruising catamaran and, at 44ft, Bounty is a little different from our last cat, a Dart 18 racing machine but we really enjoyed the experience.





After the sail we were treated to a delicious late lunch in the cockpit (or sofa area, as I think it's technically known in these boats) with roast pork. Harry and Lucy had visited the tiny island of Palmeston where all 60 residents are descended from William Masters who settled there with three wives in the 1800's. A pig was slaughtered for the Sunday lunch and they were given a joint to take away so this is what we ate - lovely!


Back aboard Maunie (which suddenly seemed very narrow) we were treated to a beautiful evening sky: 


Looking forward, we plan to sail to Tonga on Friday or Saturday. The weather looks pretty settled so we just need to time the 2-day passage to avoid arriving at the weekend, when it's not possible to clear in. The Tongans take the concept of Sunday being a day of rest and prayer even more seriously than they do here. So we have a few more days to explore Niue which is great.

Meeting the locals

Di with the lovely Hina, who gave us a lift

The Village Show on Saturday was quite an event. Having arrived at what seemed like the crack of dawn we fortified ourselves with a bowl of Nuie Porridge. This is Arrowroot boiled up in coconut water and is served in half a coconut shell. To imagine its texture, think Solvite wallpaper paste but it tasted ok.


The show featured dancing, singing, scary coconut crabs that would slice a finger off if you got too close and about six different BBQ's on the go; they certainly enjoy their food here.


Coconut crab - a delicacy that fetches about $120 apiece

 Entry No3 in the 'Shiniest Aubergine' class

 A pig roasted in an traditional earth oven

Puppy training 

Local craft work 


The village choir 

Ready for the dancing 


 The dance team

Solo dancers are rewarded by people putting $10 notes into the tops of their dresses.  Graham thinks he's seen this ritual elsewhere.

After all this excitement, we went to church on Sunday. 

All scrubbed-up; first long trousers for months!

The proceedings were nearly all in the unfathomable Nuie language but the singing was amazing. The congregation of about 35 could certainly produce some volume and the 4-part acapella harmonies made the hairs rise on the back of your neck; this wasn't a choir, just the members of the congregation. Feeling suitably virtuous, we hen hitched a lift to a brilliant little beach-side cafe for a very good value and delicious lunch.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Diving at Niue

Graham's dives yesterday morning took him to two dive sites - the first was called Snake Alley and has lots of venomous sea snakes. "It's ok to stroke them", said our dive guide, so we did!


The visibility was amazingly good and we swam into a huge chasm and, with torches, into a cave that was full of very large and surprised-looking lobsters.



All in all, it was a fabulous experience. When we get to somewhere with a more robust internet connection we'll upload some video.

Today (Saturday) we've been to a Village Show (essentially a fete where everyone attends and there are competitions for the biggest taro root (no, me neither),etc. There was singing and dancing from the local kids so it was entertaining, even though it involved meeting Hina, the lovely local lady who'd offered us a lift, at 6.00am! 

The weather looks nicely set for the next 7 days so we're in no hurry to move on whilst the moorings here are so well-sheltered from wind and swell. There's still a lot to see on the island.

Niue above and below water - Wow!

Small photos aren't going to do this place justice but at least you'll get an idea! As well as a couple of days touring by car, Graham also did two dives off the SW corner of the island and had his best diving experience so far (and, yes, he's feeling very privileged to have dived in some pretty amazing places.

The above-water tour has some well sign-posted viewing points and trails:



Huge swell breaking on the SE coast - we were glad not to be at sea!

Below: more sheltered routes to coves and beaches:





Excellent signage at the start of the trails; there were good toilets and showers at all of the swimming coves

Exploring caves

The wifi connection here is terribly slow so we won't tempt fate by trying to add more photos just now - hope to add some from Graham's dive later!



Thursday, 12 September 2013

Exploring Niue with a Bongo Friendee

 
Above: The Niue moorings and one of the spectacular sea caves on Niue
 
We were delighted to discover that the mooring area just of the west coast of the island was sheltered from the wind and free from swell when we arrived on Tuesday at lunch time. We were met ashore by two customs and immigration officials for a very easy clearing-in process and then went into the 'city' of Alofi to the Niue Yacht Club whose local members don't have yachts but work tirelessly to look after the needs of visiting boats. It's they who have provided 20 very good and well-maintained moorings in the deep and coral-strewn water, where anchoring would be perilous, and the NYC 'clubhouse' is the downstairs 'lounge' of a backpackers' hostel. Their website www.niueyachtclub.com gives more information.
 
Niue is about 4 times the size of Raratonga, with a coast road of 62km in circumference, and geologically unlike any island we've seen before. It's known locally as 'The Rock' and is built of porous limestone, with no lakes or streams but lots of caverns and caves;  it's pretty flat with the highest point only 69m above sea level. The water surrounding it is incredibly clear so there is good snorkelling in the many little coves; well-marked 'Sea Tracks' lead you down to amazing caves where ropes are provided to allow access.
 
The island has a tiny population of 1200 as many families left after the devastating cyclone Hattie in 2004 (waves of up to 100ft were reported) so there are lots of deserted houses and it's hard to see how this self governing state (its tiny parliament has 20 MPs who elect the Premier and 3 Ministers) without substantial aid from New Zealand.  During the 5-month tourist season (June to November) a weekly plane from NZ brings in about 160 tourists and a supply ship arrives every month or so to replenish the shops. Each year about 120 yachts visit (we are number 105 this season).
 
We hired a car yesterday (a people carrier called, rather wonderfully, a Mazda Bongo Friendee) and did a little tour up the north west coast with Heidi and Peter. It's a bit like driving in the outer isles of Scotland as the driver of every car you meet (not that many, to be honest) gives you a little lift-one-finger-from-the-steering–wheel wave and everyone seems delighted to welcome you. Today we'll continue the exploration with good walking shoes and snorkelling gear so will add some photos to the blog tomorrow.
 
It looks as though the easterly wind is nicely settled for the next week or so which means that we won't have to leave in a hurry. The moorings become very uncomfortable in a westerly wind and landing ashore becomes impossible so we'll keep a careful eye on the forecast.
 
 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Tuna fishing in the North Sea

A happy fisherman
 
We were delighted to reel in our first ever Tuna yesterday evening. These fish are pure muscle so very heavy for their size and this one, though relatively small, put up a good fight before we finally reeled him in. When Graham gutted the fish, its stomach was full of 2" sprats so our squid lure was its last, fatal snack of the day. We now have six very nice Tuna steaks in the fridge for when we get into Niue later this morning.
 
We decided to leave Beveridge Reef yesterday as the forecast was for increasing wind and larger swells; it seems to have been a good decision. We've sailed goose-winged all the way and during the night the wind increased, with occasional gusts of Force 7. We're therefore well reefed down but still charging along at close to our hull speed and Winnie is doing an amazing job at keeping us on course.
 
As light dawned this morning we seem to have accidentally sailed into the North Sea – the sky is grey and a big (3m) swell is crowned with white caps of surf whilst a light and relatively cold drizzle envelopes us. We're looking forward to a sheltered (we hope) mooring spot on the west side of Niue.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Safely(!) anchored in Beveridge Reef

Current position: 20 degrees 01 minutes south, 167 degrees, 45 minutes west
 
Do have a look at this location on Google Earth, if you get a moment. We can't quite believe where we are!
 
It goes completely against the grain to purposefully sail towards a coral reef in the middle of open ocean. Particularly when said reef is about 2 miles adrift from its charted position, is unlit at night and has nothing more than 50cm above the water line; only when we were about 4 miles away did the surf pounding on the coral show up on radar, so our decision to heave-to for 6 hours last night, in order to make a daylight approach, was a sound one.
 
This reef must have claimed many ships and the lives of their crew. By the time an alert lookout spotted the line of white surf (if they were lucky enough to approach in daylight), the unwieldy sailing ships of the 19th Century would have struggled to change course and manoeuver clear. For those unlucky enough to hit the reef, there would be no land for temporary refuge, only razor sharp coral, and no prospect of rescue. There's a wreck of a sizeable modern trawler still visible on the eastern rim and no doubt the remains of other ships beneath the water.
 
Given all that, it was a slightly heart-in-mouth approach that we made this morning, armed only with a sketch-map downloaded from the internet which purported to show the true GPS coordinates of the reef and its entrance to the pass on its western side (we were relieved to find that it was in fact accurate). The pass itself, a quarter-mile wide between two coral banks that were dazzlingly white with crashing surf, had a strong tide and choppy water and, as we slid into the lagoon, the water was so clear that the 7m depth looked, disconcertingly, much less. However, our heart-rates subsided as we moved into the relatively calm water in the lagoon and anchored close to the inside of the SE reef; Graham dived over the side to check the anchor and we attached a fender to the anchor chain to buoy it up over a couple of coral heads below the bow before finally relaxing with a well-earned beer on the foredeck. 
 
So we find ourselves in a refuge of calm in the middle of the ocean where the swell remains at about 2m and the wind is blowing a steady 18 knots. What should such intrepid sailors do in this situation? Go and drink, of course!  So we're invited aboard Genesh, anchored close by, for sundowners this evening and then have a team-effort supper planned aboard Stormvogel; after a sleep-deprived passage it should be a fun evening!
 
We'll stay here tonight and, perhaps, tomorrow night before the final 100 miles or so to Niue where we should have internet access to post a few photos....
 
 

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Rarotonga to Niue - Day 4

Position as at 1100 UTC
 
19 degrees, 55 minutes south
168 degrees, 25 minutes west
 
Distance travelled in last 24 hours: 130 nm
 
The latest computer weather models are amazing. The GRIB forecasts we downloaded yesterday suggested that we'd hit the frontal trough, with a big wind direction change, around early evening and sure enough at 8.00pm we sailed into a big black cloud, got rained on a bit and saw the wind swing round, very quickly, from NE to SW. We were able to tack and continue on our course, this time with the boat healing to starboard. The great thing was we were fully prepared for it so there was no drama; if we hadn't had the forecast it would have come as a bit of a shock.
 
The night's sailing wasn't great as the new wind direction was fighting with the old swell direction so it was quite lumpy and uncomfortable. The crews on Maunie and Stormvogel compared notes on the vhf this morning and both agreed it had been a bit of a crap night. However, today we're making better progress and are less than a mile apart, having lost sight of each other in the night. At the moment our speed and course will get us to Beveridge Reef at about 4.00am (which wouldn't be a good idea for an unlit reef that isn't where the charts say it should be) so we're making best speed now and then will heave-to (effectively parking the boat with the sails working against each other to hold us relatively still) tonight for a few hours to make sure of an arrival in good light. Ideally the sun should be reasonably high in the sky to allow us to spot shallow patches in the pass and lagoon. Our only concern at this stage is that the swell is relatively high (over 2m) so this may make an entrance to the reef too difficult, in which case we'll continue onwards to Niue.
 
Many thanks to those who sent us news updates on Syria – we now feel well-informed but, like everyone else, can't see a tidy solution in the offing. We'll go back to worrying about wind and waves!
 

Friday, 6 September 2013

Rarotnga to Niue - Day 3

Position as at 1200 UTC
 
19 degrees, 40 minute south
163 degrees, 55 minutes west
 
Distance travelled in last 24 hours: 131nm
 
Absolutely lovely sailing for the past 24 hours! The nice thing about having the wind from slightly ahead of us is that Maunie just leans into it and charges along, with none of the tiresome rolling associated with downwind sailing. So, once you get used to the angles, it's very comfortable and we are both sleeping well on our off watches.
 
Stormvogel is just 3 miles behind us and we suddenly have another yacht about a mile to starboard. She's called Genesh and is skippered by rather an infamous American chap called 'Fatty' Goodlander! If you Google 'Cap'n Fatty' or look on the website for the San Francisco sailing magazine 'Latitude 38' you'll find his writing - self-deprecating humour with a lot of sailing experiences thrown in. We chatted on the VHF and learned that this is his third circumnavigation; he's spent over 46 years living on various yachts ("I don't go ashore much, as I tend to get arrested") and this one, a Waquiez 43 ketch, is new to them this year. They are heading to Beveridge Reef too so it'll be interesting to meet Fatty and his wife Caroline in person.
 
It looks as though conditions should be about perfect for a stop at Beveridge Reef, once we break through the frontal trough that's approaching us from the west this evening and after that we should have favourable conditions for the 100 mile hop to Niue. It is, as they say, a small world. Graham's Godmother, Sue, has two sons, both working in New Zealand. Alan, who Graham last saw probably 20 years ago, is a doctor and we've just learned that he spent 3 months on Niue as the island's doctor. 'The Rock', as it's known, sounds a really interesting place (limestone caverns and clear waters with visiting whales) so we're really looking forward to seeing it.

Rarotonga to Niue - Day 2

Position as at 0200 UTC
 
20 degrees, 7 minute south
162 degrees, 9 minutes west
 
Distance travelled in last 24 hours: 140nm
 
We left Rarotonga yesterday lunchtime with some sadness – we felt that there was a lot more we'd like to do on the island (we didn't manage to do the cross-island hike, for example) but we decided that one northerly blow in that terrible harbour was enough. There was another northerly due today so we got out in calm conditions and are now heading west.
 
We're facing some intriguing wind conditions – the direction, as forecasted, is going from NE through N and is now just W of N so we are hard on the wind, sails sheeted in and boat heeling over to port but going well. There's a very light swell so we are making comfortable progress at the moment. Tonight and tomorrow the wind will go further towards the west so we'll find ourselves unable to point at our destination and will be heading S of W so for the past 24 hours we've been heading N of our proper course to gain some northerly miles in hand.
 
If conditions allow, we'll make a slight detour for an interesting overnight stop about 100 miles before Niue. There's an isolated coral reef, just awash, called Beveridge Reef that offers a shelter anchorage (from swell not wind) in the middle of the ocean. Finding it might be tricky as it's reported to be up to 3 miles from the position given on the charts and it won't show up on radar! We'll approach with caution.
 
As we left Rarotoga we had a long and friendly chat with the immigrations officer who was trying to make sense of world politics in the wake of the Syria news; we weren't much help! If anyone can email us with a brief synopsis of the latest news (or a cut and past from the BBC website) it would be good to have – we're feeling pretty cut off from the world, particularly at sea, whilst Big (American) Things are afoot. No doubt the Ftse is in turmoil and oil prices are reaching record levels but, like the lady in Rarotonga, it's be nice to be able to make sense of it all. Any emails, as ever, of any content would be very welcome to maunie (at) mailasail.com

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Video of the Avatiu Harbour washing machine - and planning to move

We've posted a video of the harbour during the northerly wind - you can view it by clicking here Sorry it's a bit low-resolution but the internet's too slow here to upload a bigger file.



The weather, we're glad to report, has since calmed down and the harbour is once morelike a millpond. However, the unsettled weather patterns continue and there's another northerly due in on Friday; we're not keen to hand around for a second dose. We think there's a little weather window to head west tomorrow, though it'll involve some sailing to windward and heeling over rather than the nice tradewind reaching and running that we'd like. Our target destination in the independent island of Niue, about 620 miles from here, which should take about 5 days. So today we'll do some food provisioning at the good local supermarket then do the rounds of the harbour office, customs and immigration to clear out of the Cook Islands; we'll be sorry to leave.


Sunday, 1 September 2013

Celebrating our first year - then suffering in the Avatiu Harbour washing machine

Above: Maunie rocks in the washing machine and the specialist baker's stall at the market
 
Yesterday  (the 30th) was the first anniversary of our leaving England at the start of this little adventure. It was also 12 months to the day that the Biscay Alliance with Stormvogel began, so it was fitting to go to a really lovely restaurant (run by an English couple who previously had a restaurant on the Isle of Arran in Scotland) with Peter and Heidi to celebrate. We'd hired very good 125cc scooters (only £12 per day) so had been exploring the island and had been recommended to go to the Vaima restaurant; the 20 minute ride to the south of the island was well worth it as the meal was delicious.
 
We've really enjoyed Rarotonga so far. The locals are lovely and the Kiwi influence means that there are some great places to eat – even lunchtime cafes have delighted us with fresh salads and puddings to die for. We've even been to the cinema! 'White House Down' was from German director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow so the all-action, God-Bless-America plot was pretty much what you'd expect but we enjoyed the novelty of a proper 150-seat cinema, with about 12 other people.
 
Today, unfortunately hasn't been such a good day, though it started well enough with a walk through the excellent Saturday market and we stocked up on fresh veg and salads plus some very tasty bread, quiche and cakes. The problem has been that the harbour is, as we knew from the pilot guides, absolutely useless if the wind comes from the north and today that's where its blowing from. The excellent harbourmaster, Mr Rasmussen (known to all as Ras, he looks like an ex-rugby player and previously skippered the government fisheries patrol boat) reassured us that the wind would veer from NE to NW through the day but wouldn't exceed 20 knots, so it'd be a bit bumpy but ok. We should explain that yachts moor stern-to at the concrete quay so we drop the anchor in the middle of the harbour and reverse, throwing stern lines ashore and leaving the boats about 3m from the wall, using our dinghies to get ashore. Well, so far the wind has got as far as due north so is blowing straight into the harbour and the wind-driven swell is making life very uncomfortable aboard and downright dangerous to climb the ladders onto the quay from a surging dinghy. The problem is exacerbated by the waves reflecting back from the quay wall so we have a horrible double swell making the boats corkscrew around, with big thumps on the transom as the waves cannon back on to us.
 
Knowing this was coming, we took the precaution of laying a second anchor out yesterday afternoon so are safe enough but others haven't been so lucky. Stormvogel's anchor dragged and she thumped the concrete wall with her stern rail a couple of times (luckily with only minor damage we think) before they could get the engine going to clear out and re-anchor. A ever the other crews were all ready to help, taking shore lines and giving encouragement We daren't leave the boat in case we, or the neighbouring yachts, have problems so we're stuck in what we are now calling the washing machine. As we write, the frontal trough has arrived and its now raining hard (so this must be the rinse cycle!); we're praying that the wind will swing around as quickly as it did the other evening when we were at sea and that we'll have a quieter sea and a night that allows us to get some sleep!!
 
Graham's shot some video of the bouncing boats which we'll upload when we can but in the meantime the photos above give you an idea of the harbour.