Bay of Islands

I am writing from our current anchorage in Keri Keri Inlet. We came here last night ahead of (another) storm warning for the region. The anchorage is good we will get a bit of wind but that is compensated by very good holding and lack of swell. But it is looking like the storm warning might need to be downgraded as the wind has eased and the sun is shining.  Since leaving Whangarei we have spent our time in and around the Bay of Islands making the most of the occasional good weather. We have been north to Whangaroa and south as far as Whangamumu and Whangaruru. We have enjoyed some great landings, gained a deeper understanding of the local history, hiked the many DoC tracks and even started to understand how to catch snapper. We have also enjoyed sharing the time with friends that have joined us.  Our plans are to stay local until Spring. We are hopeful that the weather will allow us an opportunity to go to the Three Kings before we start our journey south.

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Update from Whangarei

We spent just over a week on the slip .. it was a busy time with numerous small jobs that had to be done (or we wanted done), a lot of it was simply fine tuning, improving or adapting systems that were already there. The anchor fairleads needed modifying slightly to ensure the chain ran smoothly, we simplified the self-furling gear on both the main and mizzen, added a couple extra drain holes on the swim deck, replaced a couple pipes that should have been done in the Philippines, put some guttering above the Pilot house doors to divert the rain water ….. with boats there is always something needing done.  The major job though was to clean the hull and apply a new or fresh coat of antifoul which we did between the frequent showers of rain.    We came off the slip and Simon headed away for a well-earned break and then Northland got hit with the heavy rain and strong winds over Queens birthday weekend.  I had to shift anchorages … the anchors simply wouldn’t hold in thick river mud. (It would appear there was a hard smooth pan below the mud that the anchor couldn’t/wouldn’t penetrate).  I anchored near Matakohe-Limestone Island in the Harbour and spent a windy night … the wind was gusting up to 58kts and sometimes it felt there was more water in the sky than there was in the ocean as it rained that heavily …. So much for the myth of the “winterless north”.    I won’t say I am enjoying a lazy time, but I am certainly having a lazy time while I wait for Simon to come back from leave. 

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Whangarei

We haven’t exactly just sitting around here in Whangarei … we have been using the time to do some maintenance.  For the first couple weeks we were moored at the ship yards’ jetty, but last night on the high tide they hauled us up onto the hard.    This morning the team water blasted the Hull and sanded it back.  The antifoul that was on the vessel was in reasonable condition and probably could have lasted another 12 months, but because we want to go to Fiordland later in the year we decided to clean it and put a new coat on.  Vessels are required to have a “clean hull” permit to cruise in the Fiords, it is one way to prevent the spread of unwanted aquatic organisms.    What we did discover though when we hauled it out was that a number of bolts holding the rudder in place were loose !!!!!!!!!!! whether they weren’t tightened sufficiently in the ship yard during construction or whether they have worked loose (we have done over 17,000 nautical miles  since leaving Hong Kong) we will never know.  WE will be retightening and securing them in a way that means they cannot work loose.  The thought of what might have been puts a whole new meaning on a rudderless ship … I don’t want to think about it.    We hope to go back into the water next week and when that happens we will make plans, until then we are enjoying the “winterless north” (that’s a myth), the freedom of level two and the maintenance work.   

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A nostalgic walk

A nostalgic walk. After an extended period at sea, we are enjoying the opportunity to stretch the legs. Whangarei has to be one of the best places for boat/yacht lover’s to walk.  Last night we walked down the river and discovered the old coastal scow Te Aroha. It was a sorry sight, it sunk (several times) at its moorings in 2015 while being restored. To see it brought back many memories.  It was built in 1909, reputedly from one Kauri log at Totara North, Auckland by T Lane and Sons. It entered the Cook Strait service and by all accounts did over 10,000 crossings of Cook Strait. It was sold to Capt. Tim Phipps in 1976.  That was my first encounter with her. I was a Fauna Conservation Officer for Wildlife Service in Invercargill. We had discovered Kakapo on Stewart Island in early 1976 and it was decided to build 6 x Portable Bivi’s (huts) and place them at strategic places around southern Stewart Island so we could continue the survey work year round. These huts were built by inmates at the Invercargill Borstal. The question was how to get them to Port Pegasus. I discussed this with Tim who had the Te Aroha in Bluff standing in for the Stewart Island Ferry Wairau which was out on annual survey. He agreed and we loaded the six huts one Friday night and he sailed for Port Pegasus. Bill Black from Te Anau flew down the next morning and lifted them off.  Te Aroha was later sold to Mike and Dee Pigneguy from Auckland. They advertised trips in the Hauraki Gulf on her. When we formed Heritage Expeditions in 1985 it was one of a number of vessels we chartered to offer coastal expeditions. Other destinations included Fiordland, Stewart Island and Marlborough Sounds.  It was good but sad to see her in such a sorry sight.

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Opua

We are writing to you from Whangarei. We arrived here from Opua yesterday (Friday) after a very pleasant 10 hour journey. After the protracted entry formalities were completed we went to anchor at Te Hue Bay outside of Opua and made new plans. Our first objective and obligation was to repatriate our two foreign crew members, getting flights and additional visas was complicated to say the least but we achieved it and both have left the vessel to enjoy a few days on land before flying out. Secondly we were keen to use the time under level 3 to get some repair and maintenance work done. We are hoping that under level 2 we will be allowed to cruise future afield.  We applied to the authorities (it appears the Health Department is the appropriate agency) to relocate 76 miles south to Whangarei and the Oceania Marine Shipyard to do this work. This approval came through Wednesday evening and we left early Friday morning. We will start the work here on Monday.

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New Zealand

“Whatever Dream ends where the Heart intends?”.  Three weeks ago we were dreaming of tropical Islands today I write to you from temperate New Zealand.  Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t complaining, it is great to be back, there is nowhere else I would rather be right now. We appreciate the work and the many people who facilitated our journey from Papua New Guinea.  PNG is a beautiful country, with many many beautiful people and huge potential for cruising, but under the current State Emergency we felt it was not the best or safest place to be. There was a very real risk of burglaries and attacks from “Rascals” as food and supplies ran low in the villages and towns. Local Police were patrolling the area and had ordered us to a specific anchorage where they could keep a closer eye on us. We believed it was time to leave as did the other two yachts that were there with us. They were both Australian registered and left for Cairns.   We arrived in Opua yesterday after a 2200nm journey. It took us 14 days, overall the weather and sea conditions were good. The two crew were given NZ visas on humanitarian grounds (thankyou NZ) as there was no other way out of PNG for them.  We were all considered to have “self-isolated” during the voyage so we aren’t confined to the vessel.  What now ?? we aren’t sure, our first task is to repatriate the crew to their respective countries.  Simon and I would like to get Strannik to Lyttelton for some maintenance work before making any more plans. Watch this space.   

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Half way to New Zealand

As I write this we are abeam (west) of New Caledonia, we have less than 1000nm to run to Opua. We are over halfway home.  The weather and sea conditions so far have been good.  The first few days south of Papua New Guinea were exceptional,  for the last couple days though we have experienced the expected South Easterly trade winds of about 20 kts and unfortunately near enough to right on the bow.   The forecast for the next few days looks promising.    We are not quite sure what to expect on our arrival in NZ.  If you thought getting information on what you could or couldn’t do during Lockdown was hard .. you should try getting it from overseas, especially when your situation is just a little out of the ordinary.  We have two foreign crew members on board and we are a New Zealand owned but Cook Islands registered yacht???????.  We have lodged a formal application for arrival and any exemptions that might be needed with the relevant authorities through our lawyer in NZ but to date haven’t had a reply… too late now and there is nowhere else to go but home.   We will keep you updated. Stay safe stay well. 

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on our way to New Zealand

We are not sure what or who convinced the Papua New Guinea Government to change its mind and let us (and one other yacht) depart yesterday.  Don’t get me wrong it is a beautiful country with great people and tremendous potential for cruising, but not really the place to be in when they are in a State of Emergency.    We had spent Wednesday writing letters/emails to numerous people who we thought might be able to advance our cause. The NZ Consulate in Port Moresby was very helpful, thankyou Angilia.   We also got a copy of the new State of Emergency Rules. When we couldn’t find anything in them which in our opinion would prevent us from departing, we pointed this out to Customs Department.    We received an email yesterday morning saying that clearance would be given later in the day.  We finally received our certificate of clearance  at 1600 hours and departed at 1615 for NZ some 2200nm away.  The other yacht was planning on departing today (Friday). 

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Stuck in PNG

Things just go from bad to worse…. but you simply have to keep smiling and remembering that there are a lot of people worse off than we are.    PNG Government extended the State of Emergency, but removed the ban on domestic (inter provincial) travel at the weekend.  At the same time, they announced a second case of the virus in PNG. The patient was a middle aged women living in Kokopo (East New Britain).  The Domestic Travel Ban was immediately reinstated on the East New Britain Province and extended to include a ban on all inwards or outwards (domestic and international) travel by Land, Sea or Air.    The day before we had decided to depart PNG and cruise directly to New Zealand and had applied for outward clearance.  This was denied yesterday but we were told it would be reconsidered in 3 weeks.   So as we are effectively prisoners here for at least the next 3 weeks, that is unless we can the decision overturned.    We are now more at risk from the breakdown of law and order here in Rabaul as the shops run out of food and locals go “shopping”, than we are from the virus.    We are appealing the decision working with a NZ lawyer and the NZ Consulate, whether we are successful remains to be seen. In the meantime, we still have plenty of food, books and movies and keep reminding ourselves that there are people in worse situations than we are and our thoughts go out to them.   

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Duke of York

I wish we could share our self-isolating situation with our family and friends … we are amongst the most blessed self-isolators  I think. The PNG government gave us permission to cruise around New Ireland and New Britain, where there are some beautiful anchorages.  The only restriction is that we aren’t meant to make contact with the locals.  Papua New Guinea has gone down into lock down for 14 days, I am not sure everybody observing it but there is certainly a lot less canoes and “Banana” boat traffic around. We are anchored off Makada Island, it is in the Duke of York group of Islands (off shore of Rabaul).  We plan to move on in a few days but while the weather is settled we will stay here.  We all went snorkelling the other day … not far from anchorage there are two Japanese tanks, in a couple metres of water. It was a simple snorkel and a great way to spend a few hours.  I have managed to get a few hours reading in and I want to take this opportunity to recommend / promote a special book to all of our readers, who like me are fascinated by Russia and Russian history. I have just finished Sophy Roberts recently published book “The Lost Pianos of Siberia” it is a great read. This morning, after several days of preparation, we finally launched and tested our Blueye Underwater Drone. We made a few tentative dives, exciting times ahead. We are working on understanding/perfecting the camera functions before our next dive. 

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Self isolation

Our thoughts go out to you all in the many countries that are asking you to self-isolate, we hope that you will be able to use the time constructively and meaningfully. I am imaging all the unread books and articles that could be read or the many photographs that need cataloguing. Whatever you do try and enjoy the time.     We are self-isolating here in Papua New Guinea on board Strannik. The Customs Department approved our revised voyage plan, on the understanding that we don’t take on any other passengers. So this afternoon after topping up our fuel tanks (we have 15,000 Litres on board which will keep us going for months) ,  filling up the freezers and fridges (we estimate we have at least 2 months food on board) and stocking up on more fishing gear  we sailed for the  Duke of York Islands. We plan a few days here before slowly cruising down the south coast of New Ireland and beyond. We also have over 2,000 movies and similar number of books on the ships hard drive….    Self-isolation for us is not a hardship …. But we wish we could share the experience and time with friends and family. 

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New Britain Trench

From Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. Just a few weeks ago I was thinking that I would be getting underway for New Ireland on a trip of a lifetime with a team of  International researchers to study Becks Petrel.  It was an ambitious project that was one of the reasons I was supporting it. We had hoped to catch and tag at least another 6 birds, locate nesting burrows at 2000 metres in the mountains of southern New Ireland and visit local villages to enthuse them about the bird and conservation in general.    Instead I am on board with my crew, Simon, Martha and Riccarda planning where to anchor for the next month(s) to avoid the virus.  All the researchers that were either here or on their way were recalled to their home countries, many of them arriving back only hours before their borders closed.   There is only one reported case of the virus in PNG at present but I think it is only a matter of time before many more are reported.  We have stocked up on food, fuel and fishing gear,  there are a lot worst places to sit this one out and there are a lot of people a lot worse off than we are.    During the last two weeks we completed a cetacean survey along the section of the New Britain Trench which runs along the south coast of New Britain.  We ran transects during the day and anchored at local villages during the night, enjoying their hospitality and clean clear waters for swimming and snorkelling. The results of that survey will be published soon, some of the researchers are on compulsory self-isolation in their respective countries, so will have plenty of time to analgise the data.    We have a meeting with PNG immigration on Monday to discuss our revised plans, once they are confirmed we will get underway and we will keep you posted. 

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Papua New Guinea

We can’t escape the effects of Coronavirus virus... not even here in Papua New Guinea.  We are anchored in the Port of Lae .. the second largest port/city in the country, this was not in our plans.  We had originally planned to sail from Palau to Rabaul and “open borders” in Rabaul.  However in response to the Virus the New Guinea Government closed all but three PNG ports for International clearance.  Port Moresby, Lae and Rabaul remained open. However, in defiance of the central government, the governor of Rabaul closed Rabaul Port to all foreign ships.  Central Government then reopened all other Ports, so we headed for the Port of Madang, only to be told that the local Quarantine officers didn’t believed they were qualified to clear our vessel and so we were redirected to Lae.    Concerned that this could get even more complicated we engaged the services of local shipping agent to expedite the process as time was running out.  We arrived this morning shortly after midnight with assurances that officials would be on board at 10.00 (local time).    We have just been advised by the agent that there are just two quarantine officers in the Port. One is missing, nobody knows where he or she is, the other was discharged from hospital this morning after an operation.  GREAT. There is nothing we can do but wait. We will update you with our progress or lack of later 

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Squid boat

We are into day 3 of our journey from Palau to Papua New Guinea (at this stage Madang). We are finally south of the NE Trade winds  and sea conditions have improved. There is still a large N – NE swell on the Port Beam but our stabilisers cancel them out and it really is quite comfortable.  We are crossing the West Caroline Basin with depths of up to 4500 metres.    Today we cruised past a fishing vessel … they called us up obviously keen to talk to somebody. It was a Philippine registered squid fishing vessel. They offered us some dried squid in exchange for cigarettes !!!!  It transpires  (from what we understood .. their speech was rather slurred) that they are here for 4 – 6 months at a time, this crew is due to go home in June. There are 24 crew on board and in addition to the ship they have three tenders that they fish from.  They are hand lining (or jigging) for squid, which is then obviously dried, how we are aren't sure.  The vessel is moored to a buoy … which it would appear is anchored to the bottom (4500 metres down) !!!!. We had seen several of these boats and a number of buoys prior to speaking with this vessel.   

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Leaving Palau

Our time in Palau has come to an end … we have an appointment in Rabaul  on 10th March and we still have about 1200 miles to travel to get there so it was time to depart.   Our last day in Palau was spent stocking up the fridge and freezers. Fresh vegetables aren’t easy to come by, some is grown locally the rest is imported …the shelves were pretty bare but we managed to get enough. There was a good selection of frozen meat.     Customs and Immigartion  clearance was very simple and straight forward, no more costs, apart from line handling fees). We departed by way of the East Channel, it is a little more difficult to navigate but it is a lot shorter and more direct for our course to PNG.    The North Easterly Trade winds continue to blow, our course puts the wind and sea on the beam, the stabilisers take the worse of the roll out but we are looking forward to getting south and out of the Trades.  

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Jellyfish Lake

We spent the last couple days at Mecherchar Island, part of the Rock Island group.   It is a large horse shoe shaped Island with a numerous smaller Islands surrounding it and filling in the interior.  One of those Islands is Eil Malk … home of the world famous Jellyfish Lake. (Ongeim’l Tketau). The lake is one of a number inland marine lakes found in Palau, Indonesia and Vietnam. There are two species of jellyfish in this Marine lake, Golden Jellyfish and Moon Jellyfish.  The Golden Jellyfish is a rare subspecies known as Mastigias papua etpisoni and are only found in this lake.       Since they live off algae, they don’t require their stingers to catch their prey. Apparently they can still sting  but it is so ineffective most people don’t even feel it. Swimming with the Jellyfish has become very popular (and lucrative for Palau) , but in 2016 after prolonged drought there was a massive die off  of Jellyfish and the lake was closed. However it was reopened in late Dec 2018 after the population bounced back.  Last year some 47,000 people visited the lake (at USD50.00pp you can sense the pressure that the mangers would have been under to reopen the lake.)    We all enjoyed a swim/snorkel in the lake. We made a point of arriving early to avoid the crowds. It was rather a surreal experience, but one I am glad I made the effort to do.  

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Rock Islands

Well we finally figured out the permit system for the Rock Islands in Palau.    1.     Immigration handing fee = $50.00  2.     Water Vessel Tax = $250.00 for Strannik   3.     PDEF (Conservation Levy) = $100.00 pp  = $500.00 4.     Vessel Cruising Permit (based on length of Vessel) = $80.00 5.     Zodiac Registration Permit =$10.00  6.     Rock Island permits (including Jelly Fish lake) = $100.00 pp = $500.00 7.     Fishing Permit (we are looking forward to fresh Fish) = $20.00 per rod (we have put all money on one Rod.)    Some of these permits are Federal and some State Government and there is an order in which they have to be purchased, some can be purchased 7 days a week, others are only available Monday to Friday.  If we work it on a per person basis it is $USD282.00 pp for 10 days (Permits are only valid for 10 days).  That is very comparable with other sites I am familiar with.  It is not so much the cost but the complexity of the process that I believe needs addressing and perhaps some of the revenue should be put to better nautical charts and maps of the area..    Are the islands worth it ???  .. so far we are IMPRESSED with the scenic value, but wildlife is rare.  The Islands are designated as a World Heritage site, meeting 5 of the 10 criteria.  These islands weren’t created by volcanic activity as was much of Palau, they are in fact remnants of coral reefs that grew on underwater mountain ridges. At the time they were building sea level was about 250 metres higher than it is today. As the sea level dropped the islands emerged.     There are some beautiful protected anchorages, but at 24 metres and with a draught of 2.8 metres  we are a little restricted as to the ones we can use.  

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Rock Islands

A cruising permit for the Rock Islands (in the southern Palau archipelago) is valid for 10 days.  We have purchased permits starting tomorrow (Monday 17th) and we plan to spend the next 10 days exploring this world renowned park.  Before we left Koror though, Simon and I hired a taxi with a native Palauan guide and asked him to share his island with us.  Petrus was both entertaining and informative … his commentary, experiences and insights into Palauan life couldn’t have been found in books or on tour bus commentaries. We learned more in the four hours with Petrus, than we could from books or travel articles and we have a greater appreciation of the cultural history and some of the political and social challenges facing this small Pacific nation.  We hope to learn and sense more of the World War 2 history by visiting the Island of Belilou Island, which lies south of the Rock Islands. The battle for Belilou (sometimes spelt with a P) was one of the toughest and bloodiest in the Pacific. So a lot to look forward to in the coming days. 

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Palau

Palau … it’s great to be here but boy is it expensive ….. and unnecessarily over regulated. You need permits for everything and every permit comes at a cost.  Is this model of Resource Management sustainable?  … I simply don’t know, I don’t think so. I suggest that sooner or later it will turn people away. In my experience people are prepared to pay reasonable fees but they need to understand the system and the reasons, which is very difficult here.   I guess the system has grown out of a genuine desire to protect the stunning environment that is Palau, as tourism is one of their primary export earners. But it resembles a money grab rather than a coherent resource management strategy. The American system of governance which was not downsized to suit the Island and its people, certainly doesn’t help.  Federal Government is looking for revenue and the States, of which there are 16, also want their share.    While it is both frustrating and expensive we aren’t letting it affect us. We have spent the last few days anchored in Malakal Harbour in Koror State, (it is the only place you don’t need a permit to anchor)  the weather hasn’t been great with persistent N to NE winds (and rain) but it hasn’t stopped us getting ashore and exploring the town and environs.  We plan to head to the world renown Rock Islands next week. 

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Dinagat Island

We are anchored in 32 metres water in a sheltered, secluded bay on the west coast of Dinagat Island in the Philippines. It is a day off before setting out for Palau some 500 miles to the east.    We have a choice we can leave the Philippines by way of either Hinatuan Passage to the south of us or the Surigao Strait to the north of us .. we will make a decision later today after downloading new weather maps. Both of these passages are reported to have strong tidal flows, but Strannik should have no problems, however if we end up having to push against the tide it will slow us down.    It was through Surigao Strait that  Ferdinand Magellan came into the Philippines from  the Pacific in April 1521 (almost 499 years ago).  There is a small plaque to commemorate this event  on Homonhon Island, I doubt whether we will get to land there on this occasion.  Magellan was killed a few weeks after arriving in the Philippines on Mactan Island opposite Cebu City.  One of his more obvious legacies is the dominance of the Catholic faith in the Philippines, churches and monasteries dominate the landscape, even in the remotest parts of the archipelago.      We look forward to returning to the Philippines .. we feel we are only just starting to understand it .. there is so much to see and do. 

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28 Jan 2020 - Departing for Palau

06 Nov 2019 - Leaving Russia

05 Nov 2019 - Arrived to Japan

17 Oct 2019 - Subic Bay

12 Oct 2019 - Pavla Bay on the way south

11 Oct 2019 - Okinawa

11 Oct 2019 - On the way south

07 Oct 2019 - Enroute to Okinawa

05 Oct 2019 - Snow in Anadyr

03 Oct 2019 - Mission completed

27 Sep 2019 - Job done

24 Sep 2019 - Kolyuchinskaya Inlet

21 Sep 2019 - Nunyamo

21 Sep 2019 - Autumn day in Lavrentiya Gulf

19 Sep 2019 - Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

16 Sep 2019 - Lavrentiya Gulf

13 Sep 2019 - Humpback whales

11 Sep 2019 - Gilmimil hot springs

10 Sep 2019 - Providenyia

05 Sep 2019 - Egvekinot

30 Aug 2019 - Glubokaya Bay

25 Aug 2019 - Tilichiki

24 Aug 2019 - Ilpirskoe village

23 Aug 2019 - Karaga village

21 Aug 2019 - Strannik is in Russia

31 Jan 2019 - Fishing dories