Rod Heikell's very informal site on sailing around bits of the world and an eclectic collection of things nautical or nearly so.

Skylax blog SOUTH PACIFIC 2008

Skylax blog SOUTH PACIFIC 2008


This edited blog covers our cruising in the SOUTH PACIFIC from PANAMA to NEW ZEALAND in 2008. From Panama it follows on to GALAPAGOS, FRENCH POLYNESIA, TONGA to NZ. I have edited out some items of the general blog and put them on other more directly related pages. The blog runs chronologically backwards, as it were, from NZ through the Pacific to Panama with the latest entries (NZ) for 2008 first and the earliest (Panama) last.








Skylax position reports

We will be posting position reports with Yotreps from September 2007 WHEN WE ARE ON PASSAGE. Position reports can be found at Yotreps from either THE REPORTING BOAT LIST or you can download the YOTREPS POSITION REPORTER and locate our track on the world map.

Yotreps  has a side bar menu with the reporting boat list and also a button to download the Yotreps Reporter (reporter software) and instructions on how to use it. The software is free.

You can find Skylax either by our call sign or name:


Call sign   MGAY



The incredible Ragtime, originally Infidel, was hauled out in Gulf Harbour for a few repairs including checking the chainplates. This incredible sailing boat was built in ply in 1964 (yes, that is 1964) to a design by John Spencer and was light years ahead of her time. She was a 60 ft lightweight flier and although her original keel has been replaced with a modern bulb, the mast replaced by a carbon stick and probably half of her plywood replaced as well, she is still in essence the boat designed and built by John Spencer for the late Sir Tom Clark in NZ. Nowadays she is owned by an American Chris Welch and in the northern hemisphere she has raced more Transpacs than any other boat and won four of them from 1971 to 1974. Add to that a cabinet full of cups from other races and that she sails on her own bottom to most places - she only recently arrived down in NZ from San Francisco for the Coastal Classic.

Hard to imagine that this dates from 1964

For less radical thoughts (mostly) go to Boat design


Skylax icky bottom in Gulf Harbour

Gulf Harbour

Well Skylax is hauled out in Gulf Harbour now and there she will sit until our return in April 09. There is a bit of work to be done on her mast and rig by Phil at Gulf Harbour Riggers and some boatwork by Luke the chippy and I’m happy she is in good hands there.

Gulf Harbour is a bit out of everything to live onboard, you really need a car to get around, but it’s a good secure place to leave a boat for a bit. The day rate in the marina is pretty good at $NZ22 for Skylax, cheaper for long term, and the rate on the hard is only a tad more for the long term option (over 3 months).

Stripping Skylax down in Gulf Harbour yard

Opua Marina

From dodging fronts and motoring through a high Skylax arrived safely in Opua after a relatively easy passage. Opua has come on in leaps and bounds since we last looked at it a couple of years ago. Then it was pretty deserted and there was not a lot of life, in fact it was virtually deserted. Now it fairly hums with activity and at times you can struggle to find a berth although the helpful ladies in the office do all in their power to fit you in. There is now a new cafe right by the marina, excellent showers and toilets, laundry, wifi, and a shuttle bus runs daily into Pahia for shopping (1000 depart and return by concensus of the yachties on board). Nearby there is a good restaurant and of course the ever convivial Opua Sailing Club where you can get food and drink and watch the wednesday night racing from the deck over the water. You get to go three times for free before they ask you to join for a very reasonable fee.
View from the marina office

If you decide not to pamper yourself in the marina you can often find a mooring at very reasonable rates or anchor off. Marina fees for Skylax were around $NZ24 a night (short term). The customs quarantine quay is the detached pontoon off the marina and customs and MAF were polite and efficient, but firm.
There was a fair amount of partying around the place with all the boats arriving from Tonga and Fiji and a not insignificant number decided to stay on a lot longer than they originally planned. There are good facilities ashore for refitting with an excellent chandlers, riggers, boat-builders, sailmaker, engineers and any number of other helpful souls ready to help get the boat back into order.
So Opua gets a lot of thumbs up from cruising yachties and its a great place to arrive after leaving the Tropics.


C-Map glitch

Users of C-Map should check the following

Please read the following bulletin carefully

Affected Chart Products

Certain C-Map MAX electronic chart features, especially underwater objects with negative sounding values, may not display correctly, or at all, when used in conjunction with certain navigation systems (chart plotters) and navigational electronic charting software


Display Anomalies

The software of affected navigation systems and navigational software packages do not always and/or correctly portray some features of C-Map MAX electronic charts on the navigation system’s display when used in combination with various navigation systems (see the attached table). This missing and/or incorrectly displayed chart information may represent a hazard when boaters rely solely on electronic charts for navigation.


Correcting the Display Anomaly

Jeppesen Marine will supply, free-of-charge, to all affected customers a new chart cartridge that corrects the above software problem. (“Affected Customers” are purchasers of affected C-MAP MAX charts with a release date prior to October 2006 in conjunction with various navigation systems).

How to obtain your product corrections: in order to obtain your product correction, please first VERIFY if your electronic charts and navigation system is affected. PRESS HERE to go check.


Ramparasad pictures

Sam off Ramparasad has just given me the pics for his epic voyage from Goa to Darwin in the 1980's in a 28 foot Indian fishing boat. For more go to Small Boat Voyages.


Money laundering in Tonga

I like to think I have a good sense of balance, around the deck, getting on board, getting on board the dinghy. With such cockiness there had to be a fall and I accomplished that in grand style right in front of the Mermaid bar with the whole breakfast group as audience. I’d been into get some jerrycans of water and then popped over to the Mermaid to pay. Moving around the docks I’d arrogantly untie the dinghy, push off and slide in, all in one fluid movement. At the Mermaid I had coffee, paid for the water, and pushed off swinging my legs into the dinghy while sitting on the side. Except the front of the dinghy was full of full jerry cans and so my smooth movement came to an abrupt halt, a reaction as my legs bounced of the cans, and bounced me into the water. Neat eh…

One thing I hadn’t thought about with the new RIB is that the fibreglass bottom and bigger tubes make it a little more difficult to catapult yourself out of the water and into the dinghy compared to the old Avon which sits a lot lower in the water.

Back at Skylax I had to do a little money laundering from a very wet wallet.


Analysis Paralysis


Analysis Paralysis

The passage from Tonga to NZ

The passage from Tonga (or Fiji or New Caledonia/Vanuatu) to NZ is the great lemming leap from the Tropics and settled Trade Wind weather into the sub-Tropics and unsettled Spring weather. Hours, days, weeks are spent analysing weather, signing up for weather routing, downloading shed-loads of GRIB files and generally just worrying about it.

There was a time when you left on passage with just a 24 hour synoptic forecast from a newspaper. Then along came stand-alone weatherfaxes and phoning the local Met office. And then came the internet, GRIB files, and lots of bad advice in forums and other cobbled together web sites. The internet and weather routing services has spawned a group of cruisers who somehow believe that you can pull down a seven day set of GRIB files and set off anticipating a smooth trip with little disruption from naughty lows, fronts, ridges and any other meteorological phenomenon that might blight your trip. Well it doesn’t work that way: weather is weather and as Bob McDavit, the NZ weather guru who helps route yachts down to NZ will tell you, forecasting is just trying to make a pattern out of chaos. We aren’t anywhere close to understanding the complex interactions of pressure systems and making sub-Tropic passages like hopping on a train or plane to get from A to B.

Squall watch on passage to Opua

One of the problems for the Tonga to Opua passage is that lows come across from Australia every 6-7 days. Given that most yachts can’t maintain a sufficient speed to do the 1100 mile passage in 6 days, the likelihood is that you will hit a low somewhere on passage. So it’s a matter of judging how low a low is and how dirty the associated front is going to be. This is where getting weather routing from someone like Bob McDavit helps make sense of GRIB files. While GRIBS are great for the general picture, they don’t give you much of an idea what fronts, troughs and ridges are going to be like and how strong squalls will likely be.

In settled weather for the sub-Tropics the general advice is that you leave on the back of a low and keep to the west of the rhumb line, heading for somewhere around 30S and 175E before turning south for Opua or other ports on the east coast of NZ. The thinking here is that when the next low comes along you will likely have SW winds and getting a bit of westing in will help you lay a course for Opua with SW winds.

There is another consideration not too often thought about. When the lows are not around there will generally be a high and motoring through the high can take a couple of days assuming you are not going to be sitting around waiting for wind. At this time of year most boats have been in the Tropics for some time and the antifouling has lost a lot of its ‘anti’. Boats are pretty fouled up on the bottom. On Skylax we went down and scrubbed the bottom on a number of occasions and it seemed that just a few days later the bottom was dirty, I mean really dirty with fronds of growth all over it, despite our attention. The prop also fouls up badly and you need to try to get it as clean as possible. The result of all this is that you are going to be a lot slower motoring through the low in whatever leftover swell there is compared to when the boat is clean. This all increases the passage time to NZ.

A lot yachts head for Minerva Reef before setting off for NZ and this gives you a 250 odd mile start on the passage. You can then sit here are wait for a weather window for the passage from Minerva Reef to NZ.

As it turned out our weather window wasn’t all that settled. We left Tonga heading for Minerva Reef, but 150 miles out it looked OK, not great, to head on a rhumb line course for Opua. So WE did. We had a front pass over with gusts to around 35 knots though with the wind in the east if just bustled us along towards NZ. Afterwards came the SW winds and we tightened Skylax up getting nudged just to the east of our rhumb line, though secure in the knowledge we would have a couple of days of motoring and then in all probability easterlies for the final part of the passage. Bob McDavit advised us on this and provided routing info by email to our sailmail address.

Motoring through the high was slow with an awkward sea and dirty bottom, but then the promised easterlies slowly kicked in rising to 30 plus knots and times and then even went to the ENE making for a fast final part of the passage. We slowed up on the last night out so we would have a daylight approach to the Bay of Islands and Opua and sailed right down to the buoyed channel leading to Opua.

One other thing that cruisers in the Tropics encounter here is that it is cold after Tropical days and nights. All the woollies come out of the locker where they have been consigned for nearly a year and wet weather gear keeps the wind chill out. Its only Spring in NZ and sitting here in Opua it’s definitely a lot more chilly than up north.

And we did catch a nice tuna on passage


Nuku’alofa Tonga

Before we set off for Nuku’alofa there were mixed reports about the place. Mostly the place was damned as dull, difficult and not a patch on Neiafu. A fair number of yachts decided it wasn’t worth visiting Nuku’alofa and were leaving direct from Neiafu for NZ. We decided we would take a look at the place.

En route to Nuku’alofa we stopped at Pangai in the Happai group which is more or less halfway down the island chain from Neiafu in the Va’vau group. Pangai was a gem far away from the comparative metropolis of Neiafu. You anchor off the sleepy village and can get a few supplies and good food at the Mariners Café run by a yachty who has stopped for a while longer than she thought she would in Pangai.


Getting into Pangai, and anywhere in the Happai group means following meandering channels through the coral that are not always that well marked. You need to do it in daylight with someone up front conning you through. The islands here are all a lot lower than the Va’vau group though not as low as say the atolls in the Tuamotus. A few yachts have come to grief here and you can’t rely on electronic charts.

We had a bit of a lumpy overnighter going from Pangai to Nuku’alofa though in hindsight we could have gone down the channel on the western side instead of cutting across to the Piha Channel on the eastern side that leads into Nuku’alofa. We went out the channel on the western side when we left and it is well marked, wide and easy – it would have saved us being hard on the wind for part of the night, but there you go.

Most yachts arriving in Nuku’alofa anchor off Big Mama’s Yacht Club. Big Mama and Earl run a very friendly club here on a motu about half a mile or so from the harbour at Nuku’alofa itself. You can swim, snorkel over the reef, eat and drink ashore, and the club runs a regular boat across and back from Nuku’alofa. They will do laundry, get fuel, and arrange almost any service needed, all at very reasonable rates.

Big Mama's YC Pangaimotu

The alternative is to anchor with a long line ashore in the harbour which means you can wander into downtown Nuku’alofa at will, but most yachts chose to anchor off Big Mama’s for all or part of the time. The social scene ashore is never-ending and while we were there Earl had his 60th birthday and all the yachtys were invited to a traditional Tongan feast on the club. You only had to pay for booze. No yachtys I talked to had anything bad to say about the place and everyone thought Big Mama and Earl were just great.

Even downtown Nuku’alofa wasn’t as bad as some reports would have you believe. During the riots here that ushered in the democracy movement to limit the monarchy’s power, some of the buildings were ransacked and burnt down. There wasn’t too much evidence about when I was there and things seemed peaceful and calm in that ‘island time’ sort of way. The market in Nuku’alofa is outstanding and once you find the supermarkets there is a good stock of provisions as well as a good butchers and bakery.

To get water and duty free fuel you need to take the boat across to the main harbour. To get duty free fuel you need to wander back and forth from customs and the port authority building and then go to the BP depot to pre-pay (in cash – no credit cards accepted) for fuel. This comes in 44 gallon (c. 200 litres) drums so you may need to split a drum with another boat if the multiples don’t add up. You can get water at the Fish Market which involves going alongside a fishing boat or two, though the fishermen are more than accommodating and will do everything to help.



Around Tonga

Having arrived in Tonga with torrential rain it appeared we had brought it with us for the duration. OR… it just rains a lot here. Seems that there is either a trough, a front or the edge of the SPCZ hovering over this part of the world on a permanent basis. You get 3-4 days of nice sunny weather and then 3-4 days where it is overcast and it rains. Friends of ours who have cruised here quite a lot confirmed that, though only after we had been here for three weeks.

Still its warm, the cruising is wonderful, the people friendly, the snorkelling over the reefs excellent and there are good bars and restaurants ashore in Neiafu.

We had friends arriving here and we soon had Skylax out sailing. With very little sea around the islands and anything from 5-20 knots, it was time to go sailing again instead of hunkering down for passages. And every Friday the Vava’u YC and the Moorings organise a race around the harbour. Simple rules: boats over 30 ft do the long course (about 4 miles) while boats under 30ft do the short course (about 3 miles). First to finish wins: no handicap, no disputes. It’s free to enter and everyone gets a prize donated by a local business. Pretty neat eh.

Pretty soon we are heading off down to the Hapai group and then to Nuku’alofa to wait for a weather window for the trip down to Opua in NZ. We may stop at Minerva Reef. I was a little worried that we didn’t have a chart of it but Tropical Tease prints T-shirts with a chart of North and South Minerva on it so I have one of those I can wear and Lu will just need to spin me around to have a look on the back of my T-shirt and hopefully we can just chug into Minerva Reef on that.

At the moment the NZ survey ship Resolution is in town surveying the approaches to Neiafu which is good because my brand new up-to-date chart attributes the most recent survey to Captain Mostyn Fields of HMS Penguin in 1898. Not surprisingly you don’t put too much reliance on electronic charts around here.

Looking out of Swallows Cave on Kapa Island



The ‘Eric’ siphon method

Long ago when I was in Cochin en route to Malaysia and sucking on a tube to get a siphon going, I met Eric Lambert heading the other way. He expressed amazement I used this awful method. Just put a tube down the pourer to the bottom of the can and the other end into the fuel filler, get a shorter bit of tube and a bit of rag to make the pourer airtight and then blow. The pressure forces the diesel into the long pipe and starts the siphon.

In the picture below Lu is blowing into the breather on the fuel cans we have on Skylax with the pourer pipe kept airtight with the bit of rag, but the principle is the same. So easy and no yucky taste of diesel.

For more Practical Boat stuff go to Practical Boat Stuff Pages 1-4


Tonga Formalities

Clearing into Tonga is relatively simple and low-key, though you must play by the rules. In Neiafu you go alongside the commercial dock and the authorities will come to the boat (the offices are all just behind the commercial quay). The only problem with this is that the commercial quay has huge rubber fenders for commercial ships and at low tide these are at stanchion height. Try to time it for high tide and have all your fenders out. With even moderate winds from the SE a slop is set up on the quay. If you can go on the shorter western end where there are sufficient depths and you will be partially blown off.

The officials generally arrive promptly. There are a number of forms to fill in and mostly you will do this yourself, though not necessarily all.

Immigration: Will want your passports, crew list, boat papers and exit papers from the last port. You can be fined if you don’t have your exit paper, but ours was fine even though it said we were going from French Polynesia to the Cook Islands.

Customs: Passports and boat papers.

Health: You need to fill in a form and pay a fee (30 pa’angas in 2008)

MAF: You need to fill in a form and pay a fee (28 pa’angas in 2008). He will take away your old garbage.

If you don’t have the local currency they are happy for you to bring it in later when you have been ashore to the ATM. In general it was all very amicable and they all sat below with coffee and cookies while we shot the breeze and filled in forms.

For more on cruising in the Pacific go here


Taravana YC Tahaa

Raiatea to Tonga

We left Raiatea on the 10th of September heading sort of for Palmerston Atoll or for Niue or direct for Neiafu in the Va’vau group in Tonga. We had filled with water at the Taravana YC on Tahaa, shopped in Uturoa on Raiatea, and the GRIBs showed moderate winds for the next few days down from the 30 plus knots it had been blowing over the last week.

We cleared Passe Rautoanui, the main pass on the west side of Raiatea and big enough to get a good sized ship through, and set a course to go north of the rhumb line to Palmerston. The weather was OK, 15-25 knots out of the east, but overcast. So we bimbled on, past Bora Bora with two reefs in the main and the genny poled out to port with the equivalent No. 2 out. By the next day there was enough lightening around for us to turn all the radios off and put the handheld GPS in the oven. We had thunder and lightening and rain all day and odd squalls up to 30 knots or so, at least until 1500. Ahead I noticed some clear sky for the first time, a perfect circle of blue sky amidst all the cloud that looked a little odd, but welcoming all the same.

59 KNOTS IS NOT WELCOMING. Around 1500 the wind started increasing and by the time Lu was up to take the main off it was climbing into the high 40’s. By the time I was steering downwind with around 3 ft (about the size of the clew reinforcing) of genny out to keep some control the wind was in the 50’s. For nearly two hours we drove downwind with the wind in the mid to high 50’s, the wind instrument measuring 59 as the max. Fortunately the waves were blown flat and after two hours it died down to 40’s and then an hour later to 30’s. A few rogue collapsing waves sploshed into the cockpit but nothing worrying.

Lu and I didn’t say anything until the wind was into the 30’s, but both of us were thinking of our encounter with Tropical Storm Peter in the Atlantic in December 2003 and of what to do next. I kept edging us north towards the safety of equatorial latitudes with both of us wondering if this was the start of a very early season cyclone in the South Pacific. On hindsight it was most likely just a very large squall system, but until the winds were back in the 30’s it was a bit worrying.

It rained off and on for most of the way to Palmerston. We decided not to stop here in the end, friends were arriving in Tonga, so we turned Skylax towards Neiafu after doing a drive-by of Palmerston. It rained off and on, mostly on and mostly heavy, most of the way to Neiafu. Consolation prize was a very nice wahoo so we had fish all the way to Tonga.

We arrived early Sunday morning and because Tongans take Sunday seriously, the Catholic church above the anchorage was transmitting island gospel most of the day, and I mean live, we picked up a mooring and cleaned up and dried out the boat a bit. We were early to bed.

I’ll do a more techy analysis of the passage later and try to find out something about these big squall systems, but thankfully the wind in Neiafu was a gentle 15 knots and the water flat.

For more on cruising in the Pacific go to World Cruising 3

Lu and wahoo dinner(s)


Bob McDavitt

In this part of the Pacific Bob McDavitt is THE MAN when it comes to weather. He has an enviable reputation for interpretting the weather in the South Pacific and then putting into simple terms that simple yachties can understand. Below is the weekly weathergram for the coming week and it may explain why we are holed up here searching through the GRIB files and weatherfaxes for a chink of a weather window. On the GRIBs it doesn't look too bad but when Bob says only go if you like riding a bucking bull then you have to listen. We'll keep pulling down the GRIBs and weatherfaxes to see if we can leave towards the end of this week. Fingers crossed and thank you Bob.

Bob McDavitts Weathergram

Issued 7 Sep 2008 NZST
Bob McDavitt's ideas for South Pacific sailing weather.=20
(Disclaimer: Weather is a mix of pattern and chaos, these ideas come
from the patterned world of weather maps, so please fine-tune to your

South Pacific Convergence Zone SPCZ is steady in strength and patchy in
coverage... It is strongest about Papua New Guinea and Solomons...
Another burst of activity at times between Tokelau and Samoa, and
occasionally over north Tonga, then it sort of stretches from about
Suvarov to midway between Southern Cooks and French Polynesia. There
has been a squash zone between the SPCZ and a Big fat high recently-this
squash zone still affects Southern Cooks to Niue with strong trade winds
and rough seas.
Highlight of the coming week to look for is for a build up in activity
near Suvarov on wed 10 Sep UTC moving South onto Southern Cooks by sat
13 UTC, There will enhance that squash zone even further, with tropical
squalls on its north side and steep big swells on its south side, so I'd
say it IS NOT the week to sail from French Polynesia to Tonga, unless
you like riding a bucking bull.=20

When this system moves off to the south early next week, it may pave the
way for a Low to possibly form about or south of Niue then SW towards
Niue early next week. After that we may have a good weather for sailing
westward ho!

Rest of the South Pacific between Tonga and Australia is looking OK this
week-a gentle subtropical ridge along 30S and average trade winds mainly
along 20S. Computers are picking some kind a drawn out surface trough to
form south of New Caledonia and extend towards Kermadecs by Friday---
probably caused by an upper Jet Stream and - this trough is forecast to
cross Fiji and Tonga on 14 and 15 Sep utc, but not much in it until it
possibly forms that Low south of Niue early next week.

In a reversal of pattern back to winter NZ had a ridge over the weekend
(frosty in places) and is following up with a LOW from the Tasman Sea
this week. The frontal zone is likely to cross the North Island on
Monday and may linger across the south end until Thursday and the Low
itself slowly works its way in pieces across central NZ. On the north
side of this LOW, over the North Island, will likely be squally
westerlies from Tuesday til Thursday. A Southwest flow should clear the
weather over NZ on Friday and then the outlook is for another ridge of
light winds for next weekend. =20

Conditions should be OK for sailing from NZ to Fiji/Tonga after the
Monday front, but wait til Friday if sailing NZ/New Caledonia.
Best day this week to sail Tonga to NZ would be, depending on your
cruising speed, around Mon/tue utc -so that you encounter that trough at
around 30S on Fri 12th, and time you arrival in NZ with a SE flow
maintained by that weekend ridge.

The terms used are more fully explained in the METSERVICE Yacht Pack.
More info at
Feedback to



The Dinosaurs get another chance

Maltese Falcon is a 285 ft superyacht with modern squaresail rig. I used to think of her as a rich man’s grasping for a superyacht that would stand out from the others, but having seen her sail around French Polynesia I’m not so sure. She sails everywhere. In and out of the passes through the barrier reefs, beating to windward against the Trades or squared off for a day sail that is an overnighter for the rest of us. It just may be that Maltese Falcon heralds the return of cargo ships assisted by sail power, or at least it will when oil goes over $200 a barrel as it surely will not too far into the future. The sailing dinosaurs are back.Maltese Falcon sailing out of the pass on the top of Moorea. Just so impressive.



Haamene on Tahaa

We have been sitting gale-bound in Haamene on Tahaa, the island just above Raiatea and encircled by the same barrier reef, since Sunday the 1st September. The bay is partially open east, the direction the wind is coming from, but the depths are only 8-10 metres here and the bottom is mud, good holding once the anchor digs down through a softish layer on the top. So here we are with 60 metres of chain out and the Fortress out as well, more as back-up than to help hold us here.

Mini cruise liner on the putty in Haamene on Tahaa

A few boats have been in and out, mostly out. A couple of days ago we had one of the mini-cruise liners (around 180 ft) that do the Leewards and Tahiti and Moorea. He anchored in what we thought was a bit of an odd place and promptly dropped back into a shallow area. It took several hours to get off powering up the engines to max and stirring up a lot of the bottom mud in the process. Local knowledge eh… A few charter boats have been and a few have left after ineffectual attempts to anchor here. The old 3:1 formula just doesn’t work when it’s blowing some.

On Skylax we have been getting a bit of work done on the books, a few boat jobs done, and getting through a lot of reading material. And at night there is always a DVD. We are both getting a bit of cabin fever now, but it looks like we will be here for a few days more according to the latest GRIB files. Even the neighbours, Peggy West and Tapestry, have been holed up on board and on calmer mornings (only two so far) when the wind drops under 25 knots I have put my wet weather trousers on and motored through the chop to do the baguette run ashore. Wet but worth it for fresh baguettes for lunch.



Provisioning through the Atlantic and Pacific

The following relates to large supermarkets for re-stocking the boats stores. In most other inhabited places you will find small shops where you can get some provisions and also local markets where you can get fresh fruit and vege.

Leaving the Mediterranean


Almerimar: Low cost marina with a good supermarket within the marina and you can trolley provisions back to the boat. Good chandlers and boatyard.

Ceuta: Secure marina with good supermarkets nearby and a general market as well.


Can be some difficulty finding a berth here. You will need a hire car to go to the large Morrisons and also to go to the supermarkets across the frontier in Spain where there is excellent shopping.

Leaving Europe


Cascais: Good supermarket near the marina and you can visit Lisbon as well.

Portimao: Supermarket nearby.



Lanzarote: Excellent supermarkets out of town so you will need a hire car if you are in Puerto Calero or Puerto Rubicon.

Gran Canaria: Excellent supermarkets near the marina in Las Palmas. They will deliver large loads to the marina.


Sint Maarten: Duty free with large well stocked supermarkets. French supermarkets on the French side and Dutch on the Dutch side. You will really need a hire car to go to the largest supermarkets (there is one before you get to Phillipsberg from the Lagoon. Also the best stocked chandlers (Budget Marine and Island Waterworld) in the Caribbean and a whole range of yacht services from rigging to hauling.

Antigua: Epicurean supermarket in Jolly Harbour is well stocked and convenient. Also chandlers and hauling.

Martinique: Good French supermarkets a dinghy ride away in Le Marin.

Guadeloupe: Good supermarket a short distance from the marina in Point a Pitre though you really need a hire car.

Curacao (ABC’s): Good supermarket.

Columbia: Good supermarkets in Cartagena. Alcohol is very reasonably priced.

USA Florida

Good supermarkets like Publix in most of the larger places like Lauderdale or Miami. You will invariably need a hire car. Good yacht services in most coastal areas with Lauderdale probably the best served anywhere in the USA.


Colon: Excellent shopping and good prices in several large US style supermarkets in the town. Very reasonably priced alcohol including Chilean wine, but see the caution for French Polynesia. You will need to take a taxi (the town is a muggers paradise) there and back but this will usually only be $2US or so.


Panama/Balboa: Excellent large supermarket in the Allbrook centre as well as many other shops in the mall. The Allbrook centre is at the new bus terminal and you can either get a taxi (around $4-5 from Balboa YC or Flamenco) or take a local bus.

Leaving Mexico

Puerto Vallarta: Good big supermarkets and local market.


In Papeete you will come across the first big supermarkets after Panama. These are full of French goods and inevitably, given transportation costs, things are a little more expensive than elsewhere. This particularly applies to alcohol (see the caution below). There are also the best yacht repair facilities here until you get to NZ or Australia.


You are prohibited from bringing in more than 2 litres of spirits and 2 litres of wine per person into French Polynesia. If customs searches your boat and discovers more it will be confiscated and you will have to pay a fine of anywhere between 200 to 500 Euros. We are not talking ‘cruiser myth’ here as I have been in the same anchorage as a boat that was searched, 80 litres of wine confiscated and a fine levied. On Skylax we were boarded by customs but explained that we had drunk most of our wine stock on board (nearly true). You are also limited to 200 cigarettes and 250 gms of tobacco.

New Zealand

Good supermarkets in the larger centres like Whangerai, Auckland and Tauranga. Also depending on the exchange rate prices are keen and the local produce excellent. Good yacht repair facilities and spares around Whangerai, Auckland and Tauranga.

For more on provisioning and provisioning tips go to Gourmets and Gourmands page



Bora Bora


Bora Bora is a spectacular island, the volcanic peak jutting up out of the blue lagoon is perhaps the archetypal idea of the South Pacific. It is also one of the most developed islands in French Polynesia with hotels all around the coast. Most of these are luxury ‘thatched huts over the water’ themed developments that have become so commonplace here that there are literally sub-divisions of these hotels ringing the island. All this evident wealth has also brought problems with it that are not evident on the other islands in French Polynesia and one of these problems is theft from visiting yachts.

Early in the morning of the 31st August three yachts were boarded while the owners slept and anything to hand was stolen: laptops, cameras, mobile phones and any cash and valuables lying around. On the last yacht to be boarded the skipper woke up and raised the alarm and the intruder fled. This is not the first time this has happened and there have been reports of yachts being broken into a month earlier. While none of the break-ins have been violent to persons on board, yachts visiting Bora Bora need to be aware of the situation and secure valuables on board.


Cooks Bay


Moorea is a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Tahiti and we had a blasting sail over. Moorea was the setting for South Pacific and the steep peaks in fantastic shapes jutting up into the tradewind clouds are a fantasy landscape. Moorea is a must see and it is the place where Bali Hai existed and Bloody Mary presided over, not Bora Bora as many suppose.

There are two bays on the north side that provide excellent shelter from the easterly trades and in fact from any wind except maybe strong northerlies.

Baie Paopao (Cooks Bay) is the start of the thatched hotel hut subdivisions. Built out over the water the huts have all mod cons and are meant to blend in with the landscape with palm thatched roofs and wooden walls (over a steel and concrete foundation). The thing of it is that there are so many of these hotels with huts out over the water and around the adjacent land that they lose their cache and become just another hotel development.

You can anchor around the bay in 18-25 metres or in shallower water in the lagoon behind the reef at the entrance.

Baie Oponohu or Papetoai is the second bay and arguably the more attractive. The anchorage in the lagoon at the entrance is stunning so of course it can get crowded here. In the lagoon anchor in 3-8 metres on a sandy bottom behind the reef on the east side. The lagoon on the west side of the entrance is very deep for anchoring.

There is a little shop near the lagoon anchorage and the beach and public park ashore is a wonderful place to laze around looking out over the lagoon.

Oponohu lagoon



French Polynesia

On atolls and buoyage


The islands that make up French Polynesia gave Darwin the ideas for his theory of how atolls form. The group has all the stages from the birth to the demise of an island and although you may think this is a bit of academic trivia, in fact understanding how atolls form gives us lots of clues for navigating around the islands. In any case its an interesting bit of trivia to dwell on as you sail around the islands – just how could that big lump that is Tahiti sink beneath its own weight and leave just an atoll, even in geological time.

The Marquesas

These are the newest islands that have been thrust up from the sea bottom through volcanic activity. If you look on the chart there are others that are still coming up either through the thrust of tectonic plates and/or volcanic activity. Actually the best example of this is in Tonga where an island keeps popping up and then disappearing through volcanic activity. There are few reefs around the Marquesas and those that exist are fringing reefs immediately off the coast. The water here is so deep a short distance off that coral can only grow in the short shallow band adjacent to the coast – coral grows from around 20 metres up.

Fringing reef at Anaho Bay on Nuka Hiva in the Marquesas

Tahiti, Moorea and the Iles Sous le Vent (Leeward Isles)

These are the intermediate stage of atoll formation. The fringing reef has grown and the islands have started to sink back into the ocean. Much of the fringing reef has become a barrier reef with deep water between the reef and the island. Deep here meaning anything from 10 to 50 metres. Tahiti and Moorea are at the beginning of this stage where the islands have started to sink and Bora Bora is the most advanced with a wide lagoon and motus (small sandy islets, usually with vegetation) on parts of the barrier reef.

Barrier reef on Papeete. The yachts have just left through the pass leading to the Tahiti YC.


These are the final stage in atoll formation where the island has completely submerged leaving just the barrier reef with motus and a large lagoon inside the barrier reef. The lagoons vary in depth depending on the topography can be anything from a metre to 50 metres and more deep

It’s disturbing to think that in a short space of time (geologically speaking) man will likely see the demise of atolls with global warming. Not only will the rise in sea level submerge these motus which are only a few metres above sea level, but global warming also inhibits coral growth and all around these islands you can already see much bleached coral.



The islands are amazingly well buoyed, in fact the buoyage is better than many parts of the world I can think of.

BUOYAGE IS IALA SYSTEM ‘A’ WITH GREEN TO STARBOARD AND RED TO PORT. There are either buoys or beacons conforming to IALA system ‘A’. There are also cardinal marks in places where the buoyage might be confusing. Buoyage in the channel behind the barrier reef is in the direction such that you always have red buoys/beacons on the LAND side and green buoys/beacons on the REEF side. One small thing to be aware of is that some of the beacons are situated on a coral outcrop so don’t skim by too close to the channel markers. And remember to wear your polarised sunglasses which show up the reefs well.

The passes through the reefs will also usually have leading marks. All of the leading marks and buoys/beacons are lit and for the most part reliable, although I don’t recommend coming through the passes at night.

Around Tahiti and the Leewards you can use the passes through the reef without regard to tides. There can be currents up to a couple of knots through some of the passes and in parts of the channel behind the barrier reef, but none of that is worrying when entering.

In the Tuamotus care is needed when timing your entry through a pass. There are two commonly used options for timing your entry and exit through a pass.

  1. Slack water will be one hour after 12 hours from moonrise or moonset. Most GPS units have moonrise and moonset programmed into the unit and you can look it up there. Alternatively make a rough calculation from the actual moonrise or moonset (easily done when on passage). Or of you have an Almanac look in there.
  2. Use tide tables to find slack water. A lot of yachts have tide tables for the world either on the laptop or sometimes on a chartplotter. We use Wxtide (a free programme off the internet) and Pangolin. The Pangolin programme works well. (See Using the 12 hour moonrise/set system you may find that the time for slack water does not exactly coincide, but it will be close.

It should be remembered that much of the flood out of the passes is from the trade wind swell crashing over the windward side of the atoll and exiting through the passes which are often on the leeward side of the atoll. If the trades have been boisterous then the current out of the passes is likely to be strong. If the trades have not been boisterous then the current will be less. But remember there is still a tidal element to be considered and with boisterous trades you need to be a lot more diligent about working out the time for entry and exit from the passes.

And once through the buoyed channel you can end up here: Haapu on Huahine



Around Papeete

Marina Taina

Marina Taina with the anchorage behind

The most popular anchorage is behind the reef off Marina Taina. It can be blowing 20 knots outside and in the anchorage there will be only a light breeze and flat water.

Marina Taina is a friendly place that is remarkably helpful to the yachting population anchored off. If you want to berth in the marina it is around 100 CPF per foot, slightly less than 1 Euro per foot. There is good wifi coverage in the anchorage (Iaoranet and Hotspot) and a dinghy dock outside. The staff don’t seem too worried about yachties filling up with water containers on the dock. There is a fuel dock and with the duty free fuel form diesel is around 1 Euro a litre.

There are several bars and restaurants and it is about a 5 minute walk to the huge Carrefour supermarket on the main road into Papeete.

Le truck

You can get in and out of Papeete from close by Marina Taina on le truck. It costs 130 CPF however far you go and 200 CPF at night. They alledgedly run all night. There are also buses, but they aren’t nearly as exciting as le truck.

Tahiti Yacht Club

On the other side of Papeete to Marina Taina is the Tahiti Yacht Club with moorings that can be rented off the small marina. This is a pleasantly low key place and the staff are friendly to cruising yachts.

Tahiti Yacht Club




Hunk in Puerto Ayora Galapagos

We first met Hunk and its crew of two Swedish lads (yes, quite hunky Lu says) in Colon. They are on a 27ft Albin Vega with an outboard for an auxillary. We met them again in Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos where they left a couple of days after us as the Swedes were playing in the European Cup the next day and the boys sisn’t want to miss it. We didn’t hear from them for a while although I checked up around the radio net and found they had arrived in the Marquesas.

Now we have just met up again and the little Hunk did the Galapagos to Marquesas in a startling 22 days. The guys are a good example of how you can take a tried and proven old boat like the Albin Vega and have an immense amount of fun getting around the world … and not so slowly. Why Hunk? When I asked them they said ‘you know, like those thick body builders or male models, all aspiration but small in the head at the same time’. And a little ironic humour as well as fast passages....



Cruising the Marquesas

Taiohae on Nuka Hiva

Most yachts will head for Atuona on Hiva Oa to clear in. This means you can then cruise the other islands in the group off the wind, whereas if you went to the more northwesterly islands you would be beating into fairly big seas back down through the group. The other ports where you can clear in are Taiohae on Nuka Hiva and, less commonly, Hakahau on Ua Pou.


You must clear in at the gendarmerie at your first port. Some yachts will make landfall on Fatu Hiva and spend time there before going to Atuona, but if the patrol boat does arrive while you are there and you haven’t cleared in, then a large fine will be levied. The days when French customs were more laid back with yachts is in the past.

EU nationals

Anyone from an EU country will not have to pay a bond. You go to the gendarmerie who will fill out the requisite form and you will be given the original to post to headquarters in Papeete and a copy you keep with the ships papers. There is no charge apart from the cost of a stamp for the form to go to Papeete (you need to go to the PO and get this). You will be given a 90 day visa for French Polynesia from the time of your arrival.

Non-EU nationals

All non-EU nationals must pay a bond equivalent to a plane ticket to their resident country. You need to either deposit a bond to that value (assessed by customs) or have a return ticket already in your possession. Bonds will be returned in Papeete or Raiatea, Huahine or Bora Bora. It’s useful to make sure that the bank you deposit the bond with has a branch in the island you are departing from.

90 day visa: EU, Australia, Monaco, Norway, Switzerland, Brazil.

30 day visa: Argentina, Canada, Japan, NZ, USA.

Once you have cleared in you will need to check in with the gendarmerie if there is one at any other port you go to until you get to Papeete. Here you need to go to the yacht clearance station at the harbour and complete formalities. This is quick and friendly. Here also you should ask for the duty free form.                                                                                           


Provisions around the Marquesas are much dependent on the supply ship. If it has not been for a while then the islands will often start to run short of commodities. Some vegetables are grown on the islands but a surprising amount of vegetables are imported from Papeete. On Nuka Hiva where there are two small market gardens the pick-up will come down to Taiohae at around 0700 to 0730. Fruit can often be found in little stalls or word of mouth. The locals all have fruit trees so there is no great demand for it in the shops.

Meat will often be frozen, though there is sometimes fresh meat available. Fish of course is fresh from the fish stall on the quay, but will often all be reserved for the hotels and restaurants.

Most basic stores can be found although there will be shortages of this or that depending on what there has been a run on. Fresh baguettes are made most days although in some places (Taiohae for example) the bakery closes at 0730.

Other facilities

The island capitals will have an ATM at the local bank or the PO. Wifi can be found at the PO or for the anchorage in Taiohae on Nuka Hiva. Taxis are few and far between but the locals will often give you a lift if you stick your thumb out or not. Yacht repair facilities are virtually nil until you get to Papeete. Fuel is available in Atuona, Taiohae and Hakahau. In all these places you need to jerry can it back to the boat.


In nearly all of the anchorages the holding on sand or mud is excellent. In a lot of places you use a stern anchor to hold the boat into the swell. The only place I can think of where you don’t need to do this is Anaho Bay on the NE corner of Nuka Hiva.

In the major towns there is usually a bit of quay or a pier where you can tie up the dinghy. In a lot of these it is useful to use a kedge to hold the dinghy off as there can be a fair amount of surge in places that will push the dinghy onto the rough concrete of the dock.


See annotated Google earth maps for Atuona and Taiohae.



So what sort of boats do people cruise in?

These photos are a snapshot, nothing scientific, of the boats around Skylax in the anchorage in the lagoon off Marina Taina in Papeete that are cruising the Pacific. Many I know and some I don't, but most of the ones I know have cruised from Europe as part of a circumnavigation. So in case you were wondering what sort of boat you need, and getting totally confused by the flashy adverts in yachting magazines, the recommendations from 'experts' and other bad advice, here are the people actually doing it around Skylax. As I say, nothing scientific here...

 Chanticler, a NZ Salthouse 48 finishing circumnavigation. GRP. Crew of 2.

60 ft aluminium boat, looks like it could venture down into the Antartic or other rufty-tufty places. Crew of around 4.

Aqua Libra, a 40ft steel Bruce Roberts Spray design out of the UK. Crew of 2 and small daughter.

Fontaine Pajot 40 something cat. Crew of 2.

30 something ft French steel chine boat.

40 ft French steel centre cockpit boat. Crew of 1?

30ft (?) French chine steel boat. Crew of 1. For some reason the three French steel boats around Skylax are all yellow.

41 ft Jeanneau sun fizz. Crew of 2.

Jellyfish, a NZ 42 Beneteau (ex-charter). Crew of 2.

Ovni 43. Crew of 3?

Peggy West, Irish Nicholson 35. Left Ireland for NZ. Crew of 2.

Ramprasad, ferrocement Golden Cowrie 39. Crew of 1 (sometimes 2). Just behind is Stream Spirit, a Fontaine Pajot Bahia 38. Crew of 2.

Timoraire, a NZ Salar 40 finishing circumnavigation to NZ. Crew of 2.

Timshel, an Australian 45ft (?) ketch. Crew of 2-3.





‘It’s a bit built up isn’t it’. ‘Hate it, not a real place’. ‘We’re moving on to somewhere more real’. Well that was a few of the comments but you need to balance those against others. ‘Love it, love Carrefour, love the restaurants, love the buzz’. ‘Love the anchorage with good swimming of the reef and a bar ashore’. ‘Love the shopping’.

I’m not sure why some cruisers expected to find a few native huts and a pristine beach in what is the biggest city on the leg from Panama to NZ until you get to Auckland. It’s actually not all that big but it has a wonderful range of services, everything from marinas, fuel docks, gas, huge French supermarkets like Carrefour, and lots of bars and restaurants of all persuasions. I’m firmly in the latter camp, especially as we ran out of gas at five in the morning in the approaches to Papeete so no hot drinks until I zoomed off down to the nearby Mobil garage and swapped my empty cylinder for a full one and bought some baguettes at the same time. It’s good to get back to a busy city, even a small one, and indulge in all those things you have run short of.

We are in fact anchored off Marina Taina, there is wifi in the anchorage (good enough for Skype at times), the Carrefour is a ten minute walk away, Papeete central is accessible on le truck, the small trucks with wooden seats and a ply top that run back and forth to Papeete, the fuel dock is nearby, there are restaurants and bars, and yes it isn’t cheap given the strength of the euro (the CPF, Central Pacific Franc, is tied to the euro), but even so it’s great to indulge. There are plenty of smaller more intimate places to come, but for the time being I’m a pig in a muddy place and happy.

View from the anchorage in the lagoon off Marina Taina looking over to Moorea



Dinghy covers

A few years ago, OK about 15 years ago, I had a nearly new inflatable and had just taken delivery of a brand new outboard. I was up the Dinding River in Malaysia getting ready to sail up to Thailand and was proud of my new acquisition. It was shiny and you could read the makers name on the side of the engine cover. I had always looked at those cruising boats that had canvas covers for the dinghy and the outboard as people with an affectation, maybe too much time on their hands and maybe a secret wish to be tailors. Sure the dinghy chaps, (cover: Americans call them chaps because they look pretty much like the chaps that cowboys had over their legs, at least in the movies), looked wonderful and the engine cover looked smart with its canvas cover, but it seemed a lot of unnecessary bother and an affectation.

That evening I motored my dinghy into the wharf, tied it up and went ashore for a few beers with some other cruising folk. As it always does, one thing led to another, a few more beers, some sweet and sour crab and noodles at the Chinese restaurant, and it was fairly late by the time I got back to the dinghy. I couldn’t see it until I spotted the painter and found my dinghy under the wharf jammed against a piling. By the time I extracted it the neoprene was cut to ribbons on the oysters and mussels that grew on the pilings and my brand new outboard was dented and scratched and looked a few years older than it had a few hours before.

I revised my opinion on dinghy chaps and outboard covers in a ‘on the road to Damascus’ like moment, and soon commissioned a local cruiser to make up chaps and outboard cover. You need to protect the dinghy from shellfish on piles, rocks and bits of wire that stick out of dinghy docks, and even concrete which can rub away at a dinghy and abrade the hypalon or PVC that keeps your dinghy air-tight and waterproof.

So when we purchased a RIB in St Maarten prior to setting off for Panama I was keen to find someone who could make up chaps and an outboard cover for the new dinghy and the newish outboard. In Colon where we were held up in the backlog for the Panama Canal we found Breeze and Debby on Blue Sky who made chaps and covers that looked great. Even better the price was half that quoted by the sailmaker in St Maarten. We duly sent the dinghy off to them and they disappeared off to the Chagras River to make the cover up.

It is smart. Flashy even. But it has earned its keep already in places that would have gouged the dinghy and mashed the outboard. It’s so good I hate it when it is grinding up and down on a bit of rough concrete or the shellfish collection on a piling, but that is its job.

One other thing worth getting is a little kedge for the dinghy that you can throw out the back and hold the dinghy off when there is some swell. We use a small folding grapnel with a metre of chain, but in NZ I’ll probably change it for a mini-fortress or danforth. The grapnel works first time about 60% of the time, but in sand and mud the danforth type or a mini-fortress works a whole lot better looking at those that use them.

Very smart dinghy with the kedge out and above in Colon, Breeze & Debby, the best chaps-makers around.

Specs: The dinghy cover is made of Subrella and naughahide which has a better abrasion resistance (the dark brown bits on the chaps). Breeze glued little hypalon patches with the male or bottom part of a snap fastener on it around the inside of the dinghy and the female or top part on the chaps. So they just snap fasten in place around the inside of the dinghy. On the outside a seam with 3mm string (good stuff) in it tightens onto the groove in the strake and fastens at the back to a small hoop screwed onto the transom. That way you get real tension on the string seam to make sure it is nice and tight. Debby also used naughahide around the lifting straps and rowlocks. If you are making one don't underestimate the work involved and it is best to use paper patterns to get the shape and size right.



Papeete on Tahiti

Well we left Rangiroa and this

oh and this

Out through Tiputa Pass with surf on either side and 2-3 knots of current flowing in

And hard on the wind to Tahiti. Skylax flew and we had to heave to for 4 hours to wait for daylight before entering Papeete harbour.

So pick the boat in Marina Taina that hasn't had any laundry done for four weeks...


Rangiroa in the Tuamotus

Staysail up as well for a bit more speed in the light stuff

Towards the Dangerous Archipelago

The Tuamotus mean the Dangerous Archipelago and a lot of yachts have been lost on the reefs around the atolls. I have several friends with a lot of sea miles under their belts who have lost yachts here. The atolls themselves can be difficult to spot until 10 or so miles off when you will see the coconut palms. The currents around the atolls are variable in speed and direction. We were headed for Rangiroa where Gypsy Moth IV went on the reef in 2007 and was nearly lost.

We left Anaho Bay on the NE corner of Nuka Hiva on Monday morning with a 35 knot squall and rain pushing us west with just two reefs in the main and nothing else up. Eventually the huge squall system passed and we put out some more sail to bucket on towards Rangiroa. By the next day the wind was a lot lighter and we put up more sail. From the gribs we knew the wind was going to go light, but we reckoned we could still maintain a reasonable speed and get to the Tiputa Pass into Rangiroa by early morning on the 5th day. Overnight the wind lied down to 6-10 knots and we were making only 3-4 knots.

The sea by now was magically calm and so we relaxed, read a lot (I’m on a travellers history of NZ and the South Pacific), cooked some good food, had a glass of wine or two (in wine glasses – it was that calm), and revised our arrival date to Saturday morning instead of Friday. It’s what being at sea is about, none of those desperate journeys to arrive at some scheduled time, just drifting along like sailing ships of yore used to – I’ve been doing lots of reading on Magellan, Cook, Darwin and Fitzroy, the ExEx under Wilkes, so I’m in awe of these guys and their sailing and pilotage skills around a largely unknown ocean.





Getting in through the passes in the atolls is a much debated subject on the radio net. Do you go for one hour after 12 hours from moonrise or moonset, or do you go with the tide tables for slack water. The two do not coincide, often by several hours or so. Much of the flood out of the passes is from the trade wind swell crashing over the windward side of the atoll and exiting through the passes (often on the leeward side). At Rangiroa it was stated that the flood could be up to 9 knots with standing waves and disturbed water. Given things had been so calm for the last three days of our passage I figured little water would have been dumped over the windward side and so there should be little in the way of disturbed water or current sluicing out. We went in around 2 hours after moonset and three hours after slack water on the tide programme (Pangolin) and had up to 1½ knots of current with us and very little disturbed water.

Tiputa Pass on Rangiroa is well marked although I noticed that evening not all the lights were working – in any case I wouldn’t come in at night.

Tiputa Pass from seawards


The anchorage here has a bit of swell coming into it from an unusual south-westerly that’s blowing, but nothing too uncomfortable. And a wireless internet connection. Quelle horreur, wireless communications in paradise.

One hour in …


One hour in the Caribbean Sea

13 29’.12N 075 27’.8W to 13 24’.64N 075 33’.20W

0800 to 0900 local time (-5 hours UTC)

Wind east Force 4. Sea moderate.

1 yellow plastic bag (unusual)

Lots of flying fish

1 orange butterfly heading NW

1 Tropic bird (unusual although there have been lots of boobies and petrels)

Sky clouding over



One hour in the Equatorial Pacific

01 13’.98S 095 20’.72W

1000 to 1100 local time (-6 hours UTC)

Wind southeast Force 5. Sea 2 metre swell. 5% cloud cover with puffy trade wind clouds. Sunny.

Lots of flying fish (when flying are they still a school or do they become a flock or a squadron?)

Small squid on the deck from the night.

Several storm petrels.

1 turtle (Green turtle? Actually I saw it 10 minutes before I started this hour!)



One hour in the north Pacific

05 54’.34S 121 04’.78W to 05 54’.80S 121 12’.41W

1240 to 1340 local time (-8 hours UTC)

Wind ESE Force 4. Sea 1½ metres with local chop. 20% cloud cover. Sunny.

Huge schools of flying fish.

1 petrel (chasing flying fish?)

8 tropic birds.

Large and small petrels catching flying fish in front of Skylax.


I first met Sam in Colon out in the Flats anchorage. We had been on the same radio net on three transatlantics and yet until I rowed over to the present Ramprasad, we had never met. Sam is a wonderfully friendly soul and modest to boot. When he told me about his first Ramprasad below, I was intrigued. He gave me the bits he had written although sadly I can't get the photos up on here yet, though I will so the captions remain in place. Sam has a website at though it doesn't seem to be working at the moment.

Copyright Sam Coles

The First Ramprasad


In the autumn of 1979 I travelled overland to India and in November I agreed to buy an old Indian fishing boat called Ramprasad which was in the ex-Portuguese enclave of Diu. The name means "Offering to or from the Hindu god Lord Ram". It is not an uncommon name among Indian communities both in India and elsewhere - both for boats and people. There is a famous Bengali poet of that name as well as several cricketers. In March 1980 I sailed single-handed to Chapora in Goa - a passage of about 348 miles which I completed in just under 11 days;  I then had the boat hauled out for the monsoon and completion.

For more go to small boat voyages page

Galapagos Puerto Ayora Google map


Galapagos: Puerto Ayora (Academia Bay in Isla Santa Cruz)

You can see the swell coming into the bay on this google map. Yachts (and local boats) put a stern anchor out at approx. 75 degrees off the starboard quarter to hold the bows into the swell. With the swell the anchorage can be a bit stressy, but with good anchoring kit the holding is excellent in hard black sand. When leaving on Skylax we couldn't get the anchor out for 5 minutes when straight up and down it was that well dug in. You go ashore in water taxis as there is nowhere on the docks to leave a tender.

For more annotated google maps go here



Galapagos Formalities

A yacht is allowed to enter at one of the ports of entry, commonly Bahia Ayora (Academia Bay) on Santa Cruz or Bahia Naufragio (Wreck Bay) on San Cristobal. Once cleared in a yacht may not go to another port without authorisation, except in special circumstances (say medical or boat repairs) and for this you will need to supply written documentation to the port captain and await his decision.

While this all sounds very officious, in fact when yachts arrive the port authorities, customs and immigration are friendly and helpful.


In Bahia Ayora it appears to be easier to clear in without an agent than it does in Bahia Naufragio. When you arrive you need to take your boat papers, clearance from the last port, and passports to the port captain. He will fill in the requisite forms and request payment which is currently around $US8.60 per ton for the boat. You then go to the immigration police where there is a $US30 charge per person for clearing out. If you use an agent his fee should be in the $US80-100 range. Ricardo at Bahia Ayora charged us $US80 but also only charged us for 10 tons whereas Skylax is actually 14 tons.

Ricardo Arenas Sail’n Galapagos E VHF Ch 05, 16. Ricardo has consistently been mentioned by cruisers as a reliable agent, but there are of course others.

Once you are cleared in then you are free to wander around the island and to take trips on excursion and dive boats going to other islands. If you wish to take your own boat to another island then a national park guide must accompany you at a charge of $US100 per day. I don’t know of any yachts that did this and it works out much cheaper to go on one of the excursion boats (and they are numerous).

A trip to the highlands in Santa Cruz is well worth it and relatively cheap ($US30 pp includes taxi and guide).


Water   Most of the water here is from reverse osmosis water plants and is expensive. Currently it is around $US40 per 100 gallons. In Bahia Ayora some of the water taxis can put a large polyethylene container in the taxi and come alongside. An electric bilge pump then pumps it into your own tanks. Alternatively you can send jerry cans ashore.

Fuel   Diesel is subsidised in the Galapagos and is very cheap (around $US1 per gallon), but you cannot buy it yourself. An agent will usually charge around $US2-2.50 per gallon. Alternatively you may be able to take jerry cans ashore and contract a taxi to go to the petrol station and fill them. He will charge $US5-10 plus the cost of the diesel.

Provisions   Most things are shipped into the Galapagos and then brought ashore on small lighters. Consequently anything shipped in, which is nearly everything except for some fruit and vegetables and a bit of beef or goat, is expensive. Often there will be shortages of items until the supply ship arrives. There is a fresh fruit and veggie market in Ayora on Tuesdays and Saturdays in the morning. It seems everything is a dollar a bag (they supply the bags) so whether you put six limes or a dozen in, it is still a dollar. Potatoes, onions, limes, passion fruit, tomatoes, peppers, and lots of other things are fresh and mostly good quality.

There is also a fish market most mornings.

Everyone lines up for a tid-bit at the fish market in Ayora.

Eating out   Eating out in the local restaurants is excellent and good value. In Puerto Ayora there is a restaurant street where you could get the set lunchtime menu for $US3-4. It usually included excellent soup, a choice of a rice dish or something like fried chicken with rice and salad, a fruit juice, and sometimes a dessert. The up-market restaurants like ‘The Rock’ in Ayora offered superb food at good prices. Alcohol is a little more expensive.

Other   Taxis, which are all twin cab pick-ups (commonly a Toyota Hi-Lux) will take you anywhere in the town limits for $US1 a go. Laundries, Internet cafes, hardware shops and tour operators for excursions.

Bahia Ayora

Ayora has the best facilities for small boat repairs, provisions and eating out. It is also a most uncomfortable anchorage and can have up to a metre of swell rolling in. The holding in coarse black sand is excellent and you will need to lay a kedge anchor off the starboard side at around 45 degrees to hold you into the swell. The anchorage is also very busy with excursion boats, particularly at turn-arounds on the weekend. The excursion boat skippers are well skilled in the fine art of anchoring in small spaces.

To get ashore water taxis run back and forth (VHF Ch 14) and there is nowhere to leave your dinghy on the dock. Costs are around 60 cents per person in the day and $1 at night. They operate 24 hours. The water taxis will also supply water and fuel and are helpful getting kedges up etc.

Bahia Naufragio

The anchorage here is much better protected and you will have a less stressy time of it. The holding is good and you can lay a kedge if you need to keep you into any swell.



Skylax arrived at Hiva Oa on the 2nd July though we hove-to for the night to wait for a daylight entry.


Galapagos to Marquesas planning advice



The trick it appears is to stay in the W-going North Equatorial Current between the E-going North Equatorial Counter Current and the E-going South Equatorial Counter Current so as to get at worst no current and hopefully some W-going current. From reports from boats on passage it appeared that staying just north of the rhumb line route between Galapagos and Hiva Oa or Nuka Hiva would keep you in favourable current for most of the way. We had some current against us for the first 3-4 days, maybe 0.2-0.3 knots of E-going current, and then after that 0.2-0.5 knots of SW-going current all the way to Hiva Oa. Boats that went south of the rhumb line did experience contrary current and usually gybed over to come back north.

Because the North and South Equatorial Counter Currents do shift staying north of the rhumb line route is not going to be an infallible rule, but as a general rule of thumb it should work. It’s unlikely that yachts will go north of the equator and so encounter the North Equatorial Counter Current although yachts on passage to the Marquesas from central America or the west coast USA would hit it at some time. The current was pretty consistently SW going on our measurements and one yacht which hove-to several times reported drifting 5 miles in 11 hours in a SW direction which would bear out our observations.


Old advice used to be go S to find consistent trades. Looking at wind reports over several months and talking to yachts on passage at different times of the year between February to June showed little difference between winds around 10-15 degrees S and winds 0-10 degrees S. If the trades were blowing then they would likely be blowing much the same at 5 degrees S as at 15 degrees S. Add to the general equation that going S means you will likely encounter adverse E-going current from the South Equatorial Counter Current and there seems every reason to take a more or less rhumb line route, or a route just to the N of it, say between 20-80 miles N depending on how you can shape your course.

From Galapagos you will likely encounter SE winds and occasionally S winds just S of the equator for around 5 days to a week. We had the wind on the quarter for nearly a week (end of May) at around 20 knots which made for a fast passage in the first week with six 180 plus days. After that the wind went lighter and became more easterly which meant running wing-and-wing much of the time, although occasionally it would go ESE and we could hold our course with the wind on the quarter.

Other stuff

We caught six fish and landed none. We got two mahi-mahi up to the transom before they got off. Two fish screamed line off the reel before they got off, one of them biting the lure in half so we probably didn’t want to know what it was. Other yachts had more luck though most had the best fishing in the first week and then less luck further on. We will try harder to land fish.

Temperatures between the equator to 5 degrees S were surprisingly cold, especially at night when you needed several layers and even wet weather gear to keep warm.

There are squalls about, some with a bit of rain, but generally no more than 20-25 knots for 10 minutes or so. A couple had 30 knots plus, but that was an exception.

Sam on Rampasad coming into Autuona at the same time as us. We had been in radio contact for most of the crossing.


Puerto Ayora

Panama to Galapagos

This was almost entirely a windward leg and a rainy one as well. Although we were supposed to be well south of the ITCZ, nonetheless we encountered entirely overcast days and rain. Lots of rain. For one period 20 hours of torrential rain. And wind shifts all over the place. Felt like the ITCZ to me… 

We followed a plan to go east of Malpelo Island on starboard tack and then hopefully we could flop over onto port and make it close to the Galapagos on one tack. Fond dreams of Balboa. In fact we tacked back onto starboard with any favourable wind shifts and headed for the equator and then back over to port when the wind switched to SSW-SW. On reflection it might have been better to head down to the equator past Malpelo Island earlier in the trip where the winds were more likely to be S or even SSE. Still we got here in 9 days which included slowing right down so we could make the approach to Puerto Ayora (Academia Bay) in daylight. With surf and reefs all around the bay I’m glad we did.

And yes Neptune did come on board. We gave him lots of fine Monkey Bay NZ sauvignon blanc and because he can´t hold his liquer at 10 in the morning he became most amenable.

Puerto Ayora has to be one of the most uncomfortable anchorages around with a swell up to a metre rolling right in. Yachts put a kedge off the starboard sine to hold them into the swell. On hindsight I would probably go to Wreck Bay on San Cristobal next time which is apparently like a millpond compared to here. 

Still there is lots to see ashore: Even in the bay the birdlife is prolific: frigate birds, pelicans, red and blue footed boobies, wedge tail petrels, gulls and of course a few of Darwin’s fabled finches. Marine iguanas are everywhere and sally lightfoot crabs relive the bare black basalt. A sea lion used Skylax as a backrest while it tenderised a 10 inch sea worm and then popped it down whole. The town is interesting and the people helpful. Provisioning is only so-so but the restaurants are excellent.

We will hopefully leave on Saturday 14th, Friday 13th is simply a no-no.



June 8th

Skylax arrived in Puerto Ayora (Academia Bay) at 1000 local time. We slowed down towards the end and then hove-to so we could make the final approach in daylight. Just as well as visibility was around 2 miles and the approach has surf crashing on the shores all around it. All in all 81/2 days was not bad considering it was windward work all the way except for the last day when we had to slow down anyway.
The anchorage at Puerto Ayora has a fair amount of swell setting into it at this time of year (nearly a metre at the moment) so can´t be described as comfortable.
It may be a while before I can put stuff up on here about the trip but you can plot progress on Pangolin.


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