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

Don't eat these fish

Don't eat these fish

All At Sea, the free monthly sailing magazine in the Caribbean, had this informative guide on ciguatera in it's January 08 issue. If you can get hold of a copy it's worth holding onto for reference.

For fish recipes for edible fish see Gourmets and Gormands



Panama Canal Yacht Club is closing

There will be a lot of sad cruisers around when the news that the PCYC is closing, nay has been demolished by the port authority, and officially will exist no more from April 1st. Even sadder is that new cruisers will have little alternative to Shelter Bay Marina now PCYC has gone. Where will cruisers anchored in the Flats Anchorage be able to leave their dinghies safely? Or have a beer, or an all-day breakfast or chilli beef, or talk and trade...

Go here  to the SSCA forum for the whole sad story


Panama Canal Yacht Club - this photo says it all

And less than a year ago we were sitting here drinking beer, planning the transit through the canal, gassing, getting taxis into town and the supermarkets, filling up the water cans... less than a year ago and now this club, loved by yachties over its 80 year history, is gone.


Panama Canal 2008

From the Skylax blog 22-04-08

In 'The Flats' anchorage at Colon

Wi-Fi in the PCYC...


Change of plan


We were halfway to the San Blas Islands when Pete on Penyllan emailed us with news we didnít need but were at the same time grateful, in a grudging sort of way, to get. There is an eight week waiting list to go through the Panama Canal he told us, so we are going to go direct to Panama and get on the list and then cruise off to the San Blas.


A slight change of course had us headed for Colon (pronounced Col-lone) to do the same thing. We left St Maarten on the 10th April and arrived in Colon seven days later, a nice easy comfortable trip covering 1180 miles in seven days and eight hours. We didnít really get into 160 mile plus days until a few days had gone by and we were boat-fit againÖ and our body clocks had adapted to the 3 on 3 off routine through the night. We ate too much, caught no fish (again) despite Lu investing a small fortune on a Penn reel, new 200lb nylon and enough lures to stock a small shop, and as per usual we just held on while Skylax and Mole the autopilot did the work.


So here we are sitting in the Flats anchorage in Colon with 50-60 other boats and thatís not counting the boats in the Panama Canal Yacht Club (PCYC), Shelter Bay Marina over the other side and boats cruising the San Blas while waiting their turn. It seems the canal authorities make a lot more money out of big ships going through (and Pana-Max, the biggest ship that a lock can take, is very big) and so only a dozen or so yachts are being let through every week. But there are rumours around that more will be let through soon, so we are hopeful though itís still looking like June or at best the end of MayÖwe live on the ripe smell of every bit of cruiser gossip that goes around.


At the PCYC Teeto is the man most people use to organise the transit and he, or more usually one of his employees like JC or Lucian do the running around. So we signed up with Teeto JC, our man on the ground proved to be efficient and courteous and whisked us through the whole process pretty quickly. Basically it goes like thisÖ

1.        You go to the PCYC where there is a handy dinghy dock which costs $2 (all prices are US dollars) a day to tie up your dinghy and you can also fill jerry cans with water there (included in the price). You get a receipt.

2.        Just along from the dinghy dock is the immigration office where you get stamped in. They will want to see your boat docs, exit papers from the last port and of course passports.

3.        While wandering up to immigration one of Teetoís helpers will button-hole you and ask if you need help to do the transit. Now some people do it all themselves, but for $35 itís great to be driven around the various offices in an air-conditioned SUV Ė worth every cent I reckon.

4.        You go first to the Panama Canal Office where you present your papers and get an appointment with the admeasurer (why admeasurer and not measurer I donít know), which is usually the next day. Then you go to the port office to get a cruising permit ($69 for three months). Then off to another immigration office to get a visa ($2). In between times JC, who drove me around, organised colour photocopy passport pics (from the passport), talked about Colon and all sorts of other things.

5.        Then you are delivered back to the PCYC until the admeasurer has seen you.

6.        Our admeasurer Caesar, arrived next day, jumped off the big pilot boat onto the deck and measured the length of the boat. Boats over 50ft pay more and thatís all he was really interested in apart from making sure our horn (an aerosol job) worked. I then dinghied ashore to meet him in the PCYC where the paperwork was completed in the bar. You then take the relevant papers from the admeasurer to Citibank, JC driving again, and pay the canal fee ($600) and the buffer, a security deposit ($800) for any damage or transgression of canal rules. The buffer is refunded or not charged once you are through. One thing JC was firm on was that when they asked you in the Canal Office how fast your boat can go, you must say 8 knots. If you go slower than that then apparently the transit will coast an extra $1000. While I have seen the 8 knot figure on the official paperwork, I havenít really been able to nail down the additional $1000 surplus. Still it is no surprise that all the boats here, pretty much regardless of size, can do 8 knots.

Caesar measures up   Pilot boat

7.        You also need four 110ft lines of at least 7/8Ē diameter and fenders. Not surprisingly Teeto can provide the ropes ($15 each rental for the transit) and car tyres wrapped up in plastic to make sure you are adequately fendered ($3 each rental/we took 12). You can also hire a professional line handler at $110 for the transit and having talked to a few people, they are evidently very good and we may employ one. Normally other yachties here go through as line handlers to see what it is all about. You need four line-handlers apart from the skipper.

8.        So adding it all up we are talking around $800 for the transit (Skylax is 46ft) assuming you get your buffer deposit back, which nearly everyone does.


So tonight we will get a date, almost certainly sometime in June, though there is every hope and some indications that we will go through earlier than the given date. Meanwhile the beer and the food in the PCYC is very good and cheap. There are old friends here and new ones to be made. There are always a lot of shades of blue and this one is not bad at all.

AND THE DATE IS JUNE 23RD. But I'm optimistic, so is the canal authority that it will be two and possibly three weeks earlier. Still not great and that puts pressure on us (and all the others) to get through the Pacific before cyclone season starts (November but December really).


 See annotated Google Earth maps of Colon and Balboa


From the Skylax blog 09/05/08

Colon to San Blas

Gotta get out of town


While Colon has itís attractions, and I do like the place, the anchorage in the flats is beset by wash and grime drifting over the docks and onto the yachts at anchor there. For most things in Colon you take a taxi, most rides are a couple of dollars, because there are parts of the city that are dangerous. In the time we have been here we have heard of at least three yachties who were mugged. You donít go out at night. That said Iíve walked into town a few times to send a fax, get petrol and some other little jobs, and as long as you are street-wise, stick to the main streets, and walk with a purposeful manner, it seemed OK.


Once we had sorted a few work things back in the UK via the internet and completed some boat jobs we hauled up the anchor and after a good half hour cleaning the chain off, set sail for Portobelo. This is the bay where Drake based himself while sacking Spanish cities up and down the coast and he reputedly buried at sea off a small islet at the entrance still called Isla Drake. The scourge of the Spanish Main, sacker of cities and privateer for Queen Elizabeth terrorised this coast and for centuries mothers would keep the kids in order by telling them El Terrible Drake is coming to get you. The Spanish then fortified the bay although that didnít stop Henry Morgan from sacking it nearly a century later.


We anchored under San Fernando fort where the jungle comes right down to the waters edge and howler monkeys occasionally can be heard at dusk. The town across the way has basic shopping although you wouldnít leave your dinghy over there at night.


The coast up to the San Blas has anchorages aplenty in small bays on the mainland coast and behind islands, though we only stopped overnight at Isla Grande. Although the weather is reasonably settled with light trades from the N-NE, at this time of year small lows come off Columbia bringing rain, lots of rain and thunder and lightening, but nothing wind-wise to worry about although you get occasional light westerlies.


You clear into the San Blas at Porvenir where the Kunas charge $12 per person to cruise around the islands. These are more cays than islands with fringing coral protecting anchorages. As long as the sun is reasonably high in the sky you can see the reefs and passages through  them. It is no place to rely on electronic charts.

 Puerto Yate

As soon as you arrive at Porvenir the mola ladies in their ulus, dugout canoes, arrive to sell molas. They are pretty insistent and you will often have two or three canoes holding on to the boat and mola ladies imploring you to buy their molas. Yeah, course we bought some. After that itís bon-bon and caramello request time for the kids in the canoes. Apart from one strident lady who told me to get out of the water, (I was cleaning the prop), and get some money to buy her molas, its all pretty amicable.

Home on the cays is a lot of wooden and bamboo buildings with a few more substantial coral block and limestone buildings and some of the alleys between the houses are so tight you need to stand aside to let others through. Toilet facilities are a little hut on stilts perched over the sea.

We sailed around the Lemon Cays, back to Porvenir and the other cays nearby and over to Chichime Cays. Iíve got to be honest here. There are only so many white coral sand beaches fringed by coconut palms that I can take. Three to four days is good for me before heading back to places that have a little more human activity going on and are in their own way just as beautiful. So we sailed back to Portobello and in a day or so will head back to Colon to give John on Quequeg a hand to go through the canal. You need to have four line-handlers apart from the skipper so other yachties generally give a hand to one another.






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 Sailín 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 donít 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 ĎThe Rockí 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.

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. Itís 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 didnít 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.



From the Skylax blog 10-08-08

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 havenít 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. Itís 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 0700-0730. 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 donít 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.


On Atolls and Buoyage


From the Skylax blog 26-08-08

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 Ė 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 Ė 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

Itís 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 ĎAí WITH GREEN TO STARBOARD AND RED TO PORT. There are either buoys or beacons conforming to IALA system ĎAí. 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 donít 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 donít 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

See annotated Google Earth maps for the Marquesas and Tahiti


Provisioning Atlantic and Pacific


From the Skylax blog 07-09-08

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 (ABCís): 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 Ďcruiser mythí 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


Passage Tonga to NZ


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 doesnít 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 arenít anywhere close to understanding the complex interactions of pressure systems and making sub-Tropic passages like hopping on a train or plane and getting 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 canít 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 itís 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 donít 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 Ďantií. 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 wasnít 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 itís definitely a lot more chilly than up north.

See annotated Google Earth maps for Tonga and NZ


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