Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Taking inspiration from the wine bottle

The other night we opened a bottle of locally-bought (but Australian) wine - a cheap but quite cheerful little number.

The name has a sailing connotation and, as it happened, proved to be a spookily accurate forecast for when Graham climbed the mast the following day to carry our a routine rig check.

"If Claire Murtagh can do it, I'll have a go!" - Graham at the masthead

The view of the Copra Shed marina and moorings, Savusavu
Whilst at the masthead he noticed that the shackle holding the turning block (pulley) for the Spinnaker Halyard looked a bit worn and so he changed it for a new one, When we examined it in the cabin, it was clear that 2 years' of use had worn it significantly - a breakage wouldn't have been good!

The worn shackle

The coin shows how close a worn shackle was to becoming a broken shackle!
So, in future, we'll study the labels of our wine bottles with more care and it we see one called Shredded Sails we'll definitely stay in harbour.

Tomorrow we're attending a 'chart-marking seminar' rub by an ex-pat called Curly Carswell who has been sailing the Fijian waters for about 18 years. He'll share information on the best anchorages and the places to avoid, as well as tips on how to get the most out of the experience here; should be a useful session. After that we'll stock up on fresh food and head out into the islands.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Photos from Savusavu

Our last boat had a 'clinometer'  mounted on the forward bulkhead - basically a little device that told us how far we were heeling over. Maunie doesn't have one but instead we have Glastonbury Ted.

GT, as he's known, wears various bandanas and neckties made of Galstonbury Festival wristbands, and he acts as an alternative clinometer. If he's upright, all's good, if he does a nose-plant then we're heeling over a lot!

Upright and happy

Heading for a big roll
Nose-plant! The crew are holding on.

We've enjoyed our first evening in Savusavu with a glass of wine in the cockpit as the sun set. 

Today we'll explore the local market to get some fresh fruit and veg and we'll be here for a few days to get our bearings. So far our impressions of Fiji are very positive - the quanantine and customs officials were extremely friendly and welcoming and the small town seems to be busy. After Neiafu it's positively a thriving metropolis and the cars and trucks are definitely better!

Finally, here's the picture of the Windpilot breakage:

a 24mm diameter stainless steel shaft snapped cleanly across

The German makers have already had another boat report an identical failure so have done a re-design and will send us new parts in the next few weeks.

Safely arrived in Fiji

At 9.00am local time we arrived in the anchorage at Savusavu after an easy night - the clear-in process was friendly and efficient and we are now moored up on a finger pontoon in the little Copra Shed marina. Great pizza for lunch with cold beer and wine, so all's well!

We'll post more when we recover from the sleep loss!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Tonga to Fiji Day 3 - a terrible loss (again)

Position at 00.30 UTC Thursday 26th June:
17 deg 25.61 mins south
178 deg 54.71 mins west
110 miles to run to Savusavu
All's very well aboard Maunie today – well almost all, more of this later. We are now in Fijian waters, sailing in between the Lau Group islands at the eastern side, in bright sunshine. The wind has been slowly decreasing through the night so we arrived at the islands at the perfect time, just after sunrise, and we now have gentle seas and a friendly 12 knot breeze so we've both managed some decent off-watch sleep, though Di complained it was very cold last night! At the moment we have the full mainsail and poled-out yankee set and are making about 5 knots which is an ok speed for us to arrive in Savusavu mid-morning tomorrow; overtime fees are very expensive to clear-in outside normal Monday to Friday working hours so we're watching the projected ETA on the chart plotter carefully and we'll probably hoist the Parasailor again this afternoon to speed up a bit.
The islands look very beautiful and it's a real shame we can't stop at them but the penalties for so doing before clearing in to the country at an official port of entry are high (several thousand Fijian dollars plus the threat of expulsion) so we'll have to beat back against the prevailing wind in a few weeks to visit them. The Lau Group islands are pretty much untouched by tourism so only a few foreign yachts visit and we've heard about some amazingly enthusiastic welcomes from the villagers. So for the moment we're content to see them slipping past us as we pick our way through the reefs but it's very exciting to visit our first new country for a while.
We'll arrive at about the same time as an American boat called Bravo who are on the SSB radio net. They are approaching from the south, directly from New Zealand, and reported a really bad night with consistent 30-knot winds and big, 3 metre swells breaking with green water over the decks; neither Adam or Cindy slept at all. The constant washing of sea water has found a leak in the deck somewhere and the salt water has been tracking down a wiring duct under the deck; they suddenly saw sea water running out of their radio set, mounted in a navigation panel in the cabin, so they are worried about what damage has been done to the electronics.
We, unfortunately, had a war story to trade with them. At 21.00 local time Maunie suddenly veered off course and gybed; Dianne was on watch and went straight to the wheel but it took us a couple of minutes to get things back under control. Looking over the stern with a torch, we had a sickeningly familiar feeling when we saw that the new Windpilot rudder had disappeared into the depths of the Pacific. Regular readers of the blog will remember that the original 16 year-old one failed en-route from Tonga to New Zealand last October and that we'd got a whole new unit, of a 'new and improved' design, sent from Germany. Now, after only 1600 miles of sailing, it too had failed with a similar fatigue fracture of the main vertical rudder shaft.
At first light we were able to withdraw the 24mm diameter stainless steel shaft from the top of the unit to find a perfect brittle fracture across it at the point where it was drilled and tapped for the top fastening bolt for the rudder blade. We've exchanged emails with the manufacturer and will wait for further advice; we're one of the first boats to have one of the new design models fitted so unfortunately we've turned into a test boat. Thank goodness the rudder didn't break off when we had the Parasailor up a few hours earlier as a sudden loss of directional control could have been very messy with a huge flapping sail wrapping itself around the rig.
So, now that the shock has worn off, we're counting our lucky stars that it happened when it did and that we are heading somewhere where it'll be possible to get replacement parts sent out from Germany, once a better design solution has been found. We're now running on the electric autopilot, which isn't ideal given our depleted battery capacity but at least the solar panels are recharging the batteries really well at the moment and we'll run the generator for a couple of hours in the night. Never a dull moment....

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Tonga to Fiji Day 2

Position at 02.00 UTC, Wednesday 25th June:
18 deg, 02.37 mins south
176 deg 52.87 mins west
239 miles to run
Our first night at sea wasn't brilliant – lots of rain squalls showing as bright orange splodges on the radar so we did our best to slalom between them. It was, and remains, pretty rolly with the wind directly behind us but at least today we have some sunshine and we're currently making very good progress (over 7 knots) with the Parasailor up. Actually we're going too fast, so will drop it in an hour and then run under just a foresail so as to arrive at the first of the Lau Group islands (the eastern side of the Fiji group) at dawn tomorrow as they don't have any lighthouses and we should be in harbour 24 hours later.
All's well aboard Maunie and we had a brief chat on the radio with Stormvogel – Peter was in very good spirits and looking forward to arriving in Australia – they were 400 miles from Cairns.
That's about it from us at the moment – we're both tired as is usual for the start of a passage but otherwise very well. Would prefer to be watching Wimbledon, though!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Good news from Stormvogel

After an anxious night waiting for news we were very relieved to hear Peter on the SSB net this morning. The team at MRCC Australia (Marine Rescue Coordination Centre) had asked a cargo ship to divert to their position and some wood and two bags of concrete were transferred across to Stormvogel – we presume that they poured concrete into the small bilge section around the centreboard axle to seal it.
Anyway Peter sounded very relieved and happy to be sailing again in what he described as 'great sailing conditions'. One of the other German boats, Voyager, said on the net, "So it's really a good idea to sail with other boats." to which Peter replied drily, "Yes, especially if your boat is called Stormvogel!".
No doubt they'll update their blog www.wiedekamm.com once they've caught up with some sleep.
Meanwhile, we've had a hot and busy morning running around all the various offices to clear out of Tongan waters and are about to set sail )11.30am local time. The forecast looks ok – a bit gentle and variable today then 12-15 knots south-easterlies so we hope to be able to get the Parasailor flying.
We will post a quick update tomorrow.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Culture shocks, terrible cars, the King, plans to head west and worried about Stormvogel

We're planning to set sail for Fiji tomorrow so this is our last full day in Tonga. We'll miss the place, actually, having got used to its slightly chaotic ways and having met some really nice people but we're looking forward to seeing Fiji. We'll be heading to Savusavu on the eastern of the two big islands, Vanua Levu; it's just over 400 miles from here so we'll leave around lunchtime tomorrow (Tuesday) and aim to arrive on Friday morning.

A few last photos of Vava'u to illustrate some of the quirky aspects of life here:

A P&O cruise ship arrived for a day last week so the town was suddenly full of pale-faced, perspiring overweight tourists who looked uncomfortably out of place. 

2000 passengers arrive in Neiafu
But some stayed aboard to watch the football!

No doubt the visitor were as entertained as we are by the wide array of fine sporting motorcars on the streets.

Held together with duck tape!

A small chip in the windscreen 
A secure boot
Since the ship left, the tempo of life has suddenly increased here. There's a big church conference over then next few days so about a thousand people have arrived from other Pacific islands and from as far away as the USA. We keep meeting little groups of ernest-looking God-botherers in matching polo shirts with catchy logos such as "Tonga Mission 2014" as they crowd into the internet cafes in search of a signal from above. The most exciting aspect of this very exciting event has been the arrival of the King of Tonga.
The roads were swept and bunting put out and a slightly rickety archway has been constructed over the main street in Neiafu with a welcome banner for His Majesty. With typical Tongan efficiency, it was completed the day after his arrival but he's here for ten days so will get to enjoy it. We were walking towards it on Sunday morning when the royal motorcade swept past:

The royal 4x4
Must be the King!

We'll try post an update or two from sea but, finally, our thoughts are with Peter & Heidi aboard Stormvogel. They reported on this morning's SSB radio net that they have a serious problem; last night they found water leaking in from the axle of their lifting keel and it seems one of the bearings (newly-fitted in New Zealand) has broken and there was a lot of water sloshing about in the bliges. At one stage they issued a Mayday emergency call but have now withdrawn that, having managed to reduce the water flow to a rate that they can keep up with using their bilge pumps. Thankfully they have 2 other boats, a sailing yacht called Oda and a motor yacht called Southern Star, standing close by with them and they have a call every 2 hours from the Australian rescue centre to check on their progress. Stormvogel has about 800 miles to run to Cairns in Australia so we hope that they can keep on top of the leak until then. We'll update this blog with their news as we get it.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Sailing photos, with Claire & Tony

We've had some great sailing in Force 5 trade winds around the islands - here are a few photos:

Tony does the bow decoration bit

Claire helming

Claire climbs a mast for the first time
A great self-portrait
Tony's photo of one of the Flying Fox bats (about the size of a crow)

A meal at Bella Vista

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A Taste of Tonga

The Taste of Tonga coconut factory
We had a really fascinating visit to a little business called Taste of Tonga. The owners, Ian and Vanessa, had left New Zealand after the Christchurch earthquake with a dream to settle into a tropical paradise. Arriving in Vava'u, they quickly decided that they didn't want to do the 'normal' ex-pat things like setting up a restaurant or doing whale-watching and instead wanted to find something that would operate all year round and would utilise natural resources here.

They quickly realised that coconuts are the most abundant natural foodstuff on the island; it's estimated that 15 million fall from the trees each year but only about 1 million are gathered (mostly to feed pigs). So they set up a little manufacturing operation to cold-press coconut oil, which is much valued in the health-food and natural cosmetics sector in Japan and Australasia. 

As they began to work with the locals to get supplies of coconuts, they also stumbled upon several abandoned vanilla plantations. The world vanilla price crashed a few years ago and Tonga, once a reasonably-sized producer, gave up on the labour-intensive crop; the price has now improved but the skills to grow and harvest the crop had all but been lost. Ian contacted an Australian business called Queen Vanilla and persuaded them to invest in Vava'u as part of their corporate social responsibility programme.

With Queen's backing, some EU and New Zealand aid and, most importantly, Ian and Vanessa's huge enthusiasm and drive, the results have been amazing. 300 growers have joined the Vava'u Vanilla Growers' Association, supplying Taste of Tonga who take the ripe beans and take them through the 3-month drying and conditioning process before shipping them to Queen. Last year was the first crop, just 2 tonnes of dried beans, but the quality was amongst the best Queen had ever seen; this year they hope to ship 8 tonnes. Ian is determined to share the benefits of this success with his growers so is running training courses, producing instruction manuals in Tongan and is setting up a 'tool library' so that the growers can borrow chainsaws, wheel-barrows and spades to improve their plantations. This year they'll be certified Organic so this will increase the value of their beans.

White men can't husk coconuts!

Ian with his vanilla beans

The beans drying in the sun

Interested visitors
Ian is a visionary bloke and is aiming  to make Taste of Tonga completely waste-free. The coconut husks from his processing plant already go to the vanilla growers as mulch for their plants, the other coconut waste feeds his 70 pigs and he's currently planning to buy a small gasification plant which will burn the remaining shells and husks to generate electricity to make the factory self-sufficient for energy. He has all sorts of other schemes on the whiteboard in his office - even one to recycle the offal when he slaughters his pigs to feed land crabs in pens in the nearby mangrove swamps; he'll sell the crabs to local restaurants on the understanding that they'll return the shells to him so he can grind them into the feed meal for his hens and ducks as a valuable calcium source!

If ever a business deserves to succeed it's this one. We'd love to be able to come back in a couple of years to see how it has progressed. You can read more about it here 

Saturday, 14 June 2014

New crew aboard Maunie

Tony and Claire from Auckland arrived aboard on Friday, after a slightly challenging journey which included an unscheduled night in Nuku'alofa when the internal airline decided to cancel their flight. This happens quite a lot and in fact yesterday we saw the afternoon plane circle Neiafu a few times and then head back to Nuku'alofa without landing because it was raining here!

Their arrival coincided, unfortunately, with a weather front so we had a hot, windless and humid first day (so some refreshing swimming) and a rainy second morning. The weather's cleared up now and we've met som lovely locals and enjoyed a Tongan Feast on Lape Island last night. This morning Claire & Tony are experiencing the Catholic Mass in Neiafu whilst Graham & Dianne enjoy a nice coffee in town!

The entire primary school on Kapa island  with their head-teacher on a beach clean-up as part of Environment Week

Claire tries her hand at coconut processing, with village elder Colio supervising.

Tony enjoys a refreshing coconut drink

Di at the head of the queue for the Feast

Sailing in for church - T&C multi-tasking with helming and tooth-brushing
Local fishermen preparing their nets

Notice the safety features!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Good deeds

Feeling slightly virtuous, we are, after a couple of good deeds this week: 

Number 1:
Three days ago a new boat came up on the SSB radio net. Hokura was on passage from New Zealand to Tonga and reported that their engine was dead  - they'd just had a new engine intalled but after a few days at sea it started running badly (they have an engine-driven compressor for a freezer so it needs to be run every day) and they discovered the engine sump had water in it. It sounded spookily like the problems which afflicted Stormvogel en-route to Madeira. We volunteered to help, so on Saturday morning sailed out to meet them and towed them into Neifau harbour; as we were coming in we were hailed by a locally-owned trimaran which had lost its propeller and wanted a tow as well! We decided that safety dictated just one boat behind us but we managed to radio for help on their behalf.

Not Stormvogel!

Anyway, Hokura, with Kiwi skipper Doug and English Crew Anna and Andy were very pleased to be led safely to a mooring buoy after 12 days at sea. The batteries had barely enough power to operate the fresh water pump and they were pretty tired. Unfortunately for them, Customs and Immigration don't operate at the weekend so they were trapped aboard for a further day and a half, looking longingly at the cafes and bars only a few hundred yards away; we had them over to Maunie for coffee and cake yesterday.

Number 2:
A local voluntary organisation called VEPA (Vava'u Environmental Protection Association) put out a call for help the other day. They were planning a big volunteer clean-up of the harbour quayside area and wanted qualified divers to help with underwater removal of litter and other nasties, so this morning Graham joined the team. There were 9 divers, plus an equal number of shore volunteers, and we retrieved a dismaying amount of cans, bottles, old tyres (Graham found a tractor tyre and a shoreside team hauled it in on a rope), car batteries, even an old car engine. It was fairly tricky diving because the silt soon got disturbed as the diving team worked its way along the shore so visibility was less than a metre in places. 

The volunteer team (80% 'Palangis' - the Tongan word for foreigners - plus a few locals) worked hard but frankly it was pretty depressing to find so much crap on the sea bed. One of the VEPA organisers said that they were really fighting a losing battle as the locals just seem to regard the harbour as a handy rubbish dump but she felt that the very public location of the clean-up (right beside the busy market) meant that their efforts would not be ignored so they just hoped that it would force some changes in behaviour. 

We asked what would happen to the waste we'd recovered; only aluminium cans are recyled here (well, they are crushed into blocks and sold to other countries with the necessary kit to recycle the material), there's a huge mountain of glass bottles at the municipal dump with no means of recycling it and everything else gets burned (no doubt at low temperatures, releasing all sorts of toxic smoke and gases). Apparently this year there has been a big effort to collect hundreds of rusting, dead cars and vans that were abandoned around the island and they were cut up for scrap and shipped out in containers. 

It was good to be able to help out but rather depressing that the clean up job was needed to be done.

As we get to know the place better, it's obvious that local and national government systems here frequently work badly, haphazardly or not at all and it often falls to the ex-pat community (mostly Kiwis, Australians, Americans and Brits) to get things going (which probably  causes all sorts of frictions). For example, this year Tonga became the latest place to be infected by Chicken Gunya, a mosquito-borne debilitating illness similar to Denge Fever and tens of thousands of people have been affected - it causes painful swelling of the joints not unlike Arthritis and many people have been almost unable to walk or function. It's said that the Tongan health department was alerted to it by neighbouring nations but put in no preventative measures; people arriving by plane could be carriers of the disease and they then passed it on to the local mosquitos when they got bitten here and the mosquitos then passed it on. 

We had no warning of it from any of the Tongan officials when we arrived and it was only the Palangis with the daily VHF radio net that alerted us to use insect repellent when we went ashore. We're told that Fiji, by contrast, is carrying out a full fumigation of all yachts arriving from Tonga and has issued official warnings to all visitors.

So we see more and more evidence of the ex-pat community getting things organised here for themselves. The latest activitity is to get a couple of New Zealand vets to come up and run animal health clinics for two weeks (there are no resident vets); as you'll probably guess, there's a substantial feral population of dogs and cats so they are also doing a lot of neutering. Gunter, the Swiss chef-patron of a local bar was running the VHF radio net this morning and commented that we should take care coming in to town as "there seems to be a lot of de-sexing going on at the moment!"

Tuesday, 3 June 2014


We have had a worrying few days aboard the good ship Maunie. Our 'domestic' batteries (3 large, 110Ah 12v lead-acid jobs which run on a separate circuit to the engine-starting battery) were suddenly losing charge at a frighteningly fast rate. Overnight, after a healthy recharge from the solar panels, the voltage would drop very quickly (even with the fridge turned off) and we feared that they had all suddenly failed – after 5 years and lots of charge and discharge cycles. We were a bit puzzled, though, since we are very careful not to let them discharge below about 40% of 'full' but we had no experience of battery failure on a boat to compare. We knew that they were getting on a bit (5-6 years is a pretty good lifespan) but expected a gently decline and instead we were seeing something much more dramatic.
Graham was particularly fed up with himself for not getting the batteries capacity-tested before we left (it needs some specialist kit) and had discovered that it's not possible to get them air-freighted (even if we could afford the cost) so it looked unlikely that we'd be able to get anything here other than a normal car battery which is not suited to the deep-discharge cycles aboard a boat.
Thankfully our friend Colin on 'Ithaca' is still in Opua and emails and SSB voice messages to him resulted in immediate offers of help and advice. He contacted a local boat electrics specialist in Opua, Rob Whalley, who kindly took the time to email us over the weekend suggesting that our problem sounded like an internal short within one of the batteries which was then robbing the power from its neighbours. We carried out the test he suggested – disconnecting the batteries and testing them with a volt meter after a couple of hours – and, sure enough, two batteries were still at 12.7v and one was down to 10.9v.
So we've now isolated the dead battery and the other two seem to be fine – we should be able to get a replacement in Fiji but in the mean time we can carry on and stop worrying about imminent power black-outs! We're very relieved and happy and, once again, the value of ever-helpful sailing contacts made via our radio net has been demonstrated.
We're back in Neiafu for a couple of days – a chance to restock on fresh veg and fruit from the market and other food items from the Chinese-run stores. Last night we had a great farewell dinner with Lionel and Irene on Kiapa; they set sail for Fiji this morning but we hope to catch up with them somewhere over there. Irene made Graham's day even better (after the battery fix); when Di said he'd celebrated a 'big' birthday in March she said, in all honesty, 'Your 40th?"  

Photos from Vava'u

Here are a few photos from the last few days:

The anchorage at Eufaka island

Inviting water!

The shallows and reefs are clearly visible as different colours of water

Dark patches of coral reef

Deck work  in progress

Making our own entertainment! Very pleased with 'HOAX' and 'EQUIP' on triple word scores.