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.

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).

Google Earth View of Gulf Harbour Marina

Currently 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.

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.

> http://www.nzherald.co.nz/samoa-tsunami/news/article.cfm?c_id=1502844&objectid=10600831

“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 redcross.org.nz
– 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 Oxfam.org.nz – Phone 0800 400 666 or make an automatic $20 donation by calling 0900 600 20

Whale Watching Best Day Yet!

CBParker_D3_20090906_Tonga-222-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!




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.

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.





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.