Dive, Dive, Dive! – Misool, Raja Ampat

We’re having the time of our lives diving here in Misool. Every day we explore a new dive site and discover more underwater delights. Mostly these are wall dives or submerged reefs with masses of soft corals and fans. Sometimes there’s so much to see it’s almost overwhelming knowing where to focus the camera, and unfortunately without a wide angle lens we can’t get the big panorama shots (it’s on our wish list!). We’re still trying to improve on our photography skills, but we’re doing our best to document what we can of this unique and amazing subterranean world.

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What About Bob? – Passage to New Zealand

Bob’s the man. THE man, when it comes to planning a passage to or from New Zealand. Bob McDavitt that is, the weather guru who’s been advising and routing countless boats to and from the Land of the Long White Cloud for many years now. Given the tricky and unpredictable nature of this passage, it was a no-brainer to us to use his expertise in planning this trip. It’s always nice to know there’s someone out there with access to the latest high-tech weather info if we need it.

He’s a patient man, is Bob. He was all set to work out a route for us nearly 3 weeks ago, before George’s brain exploded. Since then we’ve been staying in touch, giving him updates on our progress – “maybe next week”, “no, not yet, sorry”. The Go/No Go decision was becoming excruciating as the days ticked by. Finally, after Bruce’s sterling efforts with the ladies from the Real Tonga airline we had our new course computer for the autopilot and installed it Monday afternoon. Tuesday morning after doing some basic calibrations we dropped the mooring and motored out into the bay for the sea-trial. But no sooner did we put it on “auto” than we got an alarm and message “auto-release” and the thing went back to ‘standby’. What???? Nooooo!!! Back to the mooring we went, where we searched the manuals to try and identify the problem. Nothing seemed to make sense, we called John our friendly Raymarine technician in Australia who was equally non-plussed. In the absence of any useful ideas we went back to basics – unplugged everthing, checked the connections,re-connected it, re-did the calibrations, said a few heartfelt prayers and left the mooring again for a second attempt. We held our breath as we put it on ‘auto’ – it worked! No alarms, no problems, just a bit of tweaking of the settings so we weren’t wandering around our course like a drunk on George St. After an hour or so of going up and down the bay and round in circles we reckoned George’s brain surgery had been successful. “Good news Bob, we’re outta here!”.

The forecast looked good, although the leftover winds and swell from cyclone Tuni were still hanging around. Bob would have preferred us to wait until Thursday to leave, but we were itching to go. Wednesday we raced around, checking out of Tonga (again!), doing last minute provisioning and saying farewell to our cruising buddies who were staying in Vava’u for the cyclone season.

By 2pm we were ready to drop the mooring again (getting good at this by now!). We tucked two reefs in the main and headed out, holding our breath that George would live up to his promise of being well and healthy. He was a little unsteady on his feet to start with, but some extra tweaking fixed the problem and he’s now better and faster and more responsive than he ever was before. Long live George II !!

So we’ve been out here in the wild blue yonder for just over 48 hours – it’s been fast, furious and very bumpy, with winds in the 20-25kt range most of the time, and big big swells initially. Thankfully they’re starting to subside but every now and then a monster comes along that throws a few tons of water over the cabin top. But George is handling it like a pro, and we’re very relieved. The only problem now is that we’re well ahead of Bob’s schedule, and even with the sails reefed down we’re galloping along at 8-9 kts. The winds are supposed to be easing…sometime…who knows when…so for now we’re hanging on and enjoying the ride while it lasts. New Zealand here we come!

What a Difference a Day Makes – Ha’apai, Tionga

“Twenty four little hours” – isn’t that how the song goes?? Life is fickle out here in the cruising world, and there are no guarantees that things will go according to plan. Yesterday our happy Ha’apai world was turned upside down when George the autopilot failed again, with that bleak message “No Pilot” blinking at us maliciously.

Seathan from Rehua, who’s a savvy chappie in all things electronic and mechanical came over to help us troubleshoot the problem. He cleaned up all the connections again and made some improvements and bingo, we were back up and running. Hallelujah! But we were anxious that this was an intermittent fault, so yesterday we did another test, motoring 3 hours south with Rehua and Phileas to give George another chance. And he didn’t skip a beat, performing flawlessly…..until we got to the anchorage when he went AWOL again. Shit, damn, bugger! We had our hopes up that finally all was well and we’d be able to sail south with our buddies. But that bubble has well and truly burst.

This morning Seathan and Bruce had a last-ditch attempt to re-work the problem, trying a few new strategies, but none worked. It’s just not feasible for the two of us to hand-steer all the way to New Zealand in what may be a very gnarly passage, so we’ve sadly had to accept the inevitable – that we can’t continue on without getting the autopilot fixed. Both Rehua and Phileas need to get going to meet their deadlines in New Zealand, so last night we had a very lovely, if rather sad, farewell barbecue on the beach with them. We feel gutted, and it’s hard not to be doing this last leg with our friends, but we wish them fair winds and safe sail, knowing we’ll catch up with them in the not too distant future.

So our only option now is to sail back to Vava’u, where we hope we can get some assistance from Alan at the boatyard. Other wonderful cruising friends, Marce and Jack from “Escape Velocity” have been relaying our problem to Alan, and he’s willing to look at it early next week. Tonight we’re anchored back in Ha’ano, our initial anchorage in the Ha’apai group, and tomorrow we’ll do the rather lonely sail back to Vava’u. Providing we can get parts sent quickly, we’re still hopeful that we can get back out within the next week to ten days. At least we’ll have internet again so we’ll be back on the grid. Here’s hoping for a quick turnaround.