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Arrival to New Zealand: two years ago (October 20, 2018 – Jan 1 2019)

S/V Shawnigan arrived into New Zealand late October 2018, 3 years and 2 months from leaving San Francisco. The passage from Tonga was fairly uneventful. Our friend Nic flew out from the United States and hopped aboard in Tonga to help while I (Josie) was away at work as a travel nurse in the United States. Ellamae was also away in the States to spend time with her Papa. The passage details have mostly been forgotten, as I was normally the one recording them in the log, and in my absence that seemed to fall off the daily routine. What I can report is that it took 8 days to sail 1189 miles from Nuku’alofa. The seas were relatively mellow compared to reports of how it can be, but with the swell and wind on the beam, it caused quite a bit (understatement) of water to splash up onto the deck and into the dodger. The wind seemed manageable, and 8 days for Shawnigan is quite good (6.2 knot average)!. Nic was amazing to have on board and I was at ease knowing he was with my husband and kids.

Nota Bene: some of the pictures I used are screen shots from Christian’s Facebook and Instagram pages as a way to capture his thoughts during the time, but also because those pictures were not saved anywhere else that I know of.

Not being aboard our boat and with my family as they arrived to New Zealand was surreal. I had been away for a few travel assignments, but never during a big crossing and one in which felt more monumental. New Zealand had been on the plans (loosely) as a place to sail to and work, place the kids in school, and live life situated in one place for a while. This was a big deal for our family. As Shawnigan made passage, I followed her tracks on our predictwind tracker and received the occasional satellite phone text from Christian with our iridiumGo. At 48 hours prior to arrival, Christian sent our required notice to NZ that we would be making port in Opua in approximately 2 days. I received notice as well. The excitement flooded my soul. Soon our new home would be New Zealand and my family would be “home safe”. When the text came through that they made landfall, I was just getting off a night shift and remember feeling extremely emotional. Tears of joy, a bit of sadness of missing out (admittedly I had FOMO), and a bit of uncertainty, “what will it be like for us there?” and “was this the right move?”.

Many photos came through from Christian as soon as he found wifi and bought a local phone sim card. Everything looked magical. The kids were so happy to make landfall, reportedly cold (relative to tropical zone), but happily chilled. The Customs process was fairly painless. They did have some black beans that needed to be tossed, but otherwise they ate what needed to get eaten and tossed what they knew wasn’t allowed before arrival. After a celebratory pizza dinner and restock on food, they explored and hiked and met new friends around Opua and Paihia.

A few days were spent in and around Opua. Many other cruisers had arrived or were arriving every day around that time so they stuck around to spend Halloween with the other boat kids. Afterwards, they quickly left the docks again to explore the islands and land around the Bay of Islands.

Over the course of 2 months, Christian made his way down the east coast of New Zealand as a solo captain. With multiple explorations along the way, visiting friends from the U.S. (Allison T.) and Lin Pardey (sailing icon), there was no shortage of fun. Arriving into Auckland was an exciting moment for the three onboard, “Big Lights, Big City”. It had been since Panama City that they had seen such a scene. Nina was aboard until Auckland, at which point she flew back to the states to visit family.

While in Auckland, Christian and Taj participated in the ” Auckland Rum Race” with Josh Tucker (Sailor and Sail maker who we met in Tonga with his family).

From Auckland on down to Wellington, Shawnigan was home to only Christian and Taj. The voyage was mostly day hops and manageable, and beautiful with plenty of exploring of various places off the Coromandel, Tauranga, Gisborne and Napier.

Once they got down to Napier however, Christian had to strategically plan his sail down and around and up from Wellington to Mana Marina. This stretch of coast is known for foul weather, gusty winds, rough waters, and potential fog. During his short stay at the ridiculously over-priced marina, he got wind of a potentially a no wind window (whoa, that’s a lot of “winds”). After a short nap, he left at midnight with Taj asleep down below. The window was a good one, but still gusty and foggy around the south point of the north island. He flew shortened sails with the engine running due to the extreme in wind changes. The wind died completely by the evening, and he motored overnight with only short bits of sleep. “Super dad and captain” about sums it up. Once around the point, the current sped Shawnigan up the coast to Mana as if she were on a conveyor belt! As they passed Wellington Bay, Orcas greeted their arrival. Shawnigan arrived safely to her new home at Mana Marina on January 1st, 2019. What a way to bring in the new year.

Taj and I being silly on a video call thousands of miles apart.

Ellamae and I on a video call while she was in Florida and I was in California.

Ellamae flew out to California for a visit while I was there.

A little video of our home for Shawnigan and A Family Afloat.

Ellamae and I arrived by plane into Auckland on Jan 7th. We were picked up by the car dealership taxi that they hired. I had pre-arranged to go look at 2 specific imported Japanese used cars from Goldex Cars and they agreed to arrange a ride from the airport. After the long overnight flight to Auckland, I test drove a few cars, keep in mind that I also had to drive on the opposite side of the street, picked one out, paid for it and started the journey to Wellington.

We stopped at another sailing family’s house in Hamilton a few hours just south of Auckland. This lovely family offered to house Ellamae and I overnight and we had only met them online. New Zealand was proving to be very friendly! After a night’s rest, Ellamae and I drove the remaining way to Mana Marina, just north of Wellington. We almost got lost along the way. We quickly discovered that cell service was patchy in New Zealand when google maps stopped uploading directions. Oops, should have downloaded offline maps. We also discovered that NZ doesn’t do sushi or bubble tea very well, it makes up for it in beauty though.

It was hard to not want to stop at all the beautiful spots along the way, but we were anxious to get to our new home and be reunited with family. We briefly stopped at some hot-springs, called thermal pools here in New Zealand, and one more stop just off of New Zealand’s oldest National Park, the Tongariro crossing.

We were welcomed to our new home at Mana Marina with a lovely BBQ in the communal grass area with fellow live-aboards and marina manager. I finally got to meet the lovely Sara Dawn Johnson , author of a few books including co-author of Voyaging with Kids. Our new life in New Zealand started with a warm welcome of new friends and a summer in the southern hemisphere in January.

6 weeks in Tonga: Part 2 – The Ha’apai group and Tongatapu September-October 2018

Okay okay I’m officially way over a year behind on my posts. Since leaving Tonga to do a travel nursing assignment and then moving to New Zealand to work full time and have the kids in school, I have to be honest, blogging hasn’t been at the top of my to do list.  And to be honest, the ease of using Instagram for posting current photos has taken over my usual blogging effort. That being said, I do understand that not everyone is on Instagram and I usually don’t write as much there either. My apologies.  But I persist none the less, so here it is, over a year later, the second part of our Tonga sailing adventures.  This one isn’t going to be too juicy, as I feel like we really didn’t do that much after leaving the Vava’u Group of Tonga. 

Tonga: Part 2.

Nothing like a little last minute, fly by the seat of your pants plan making… Nursing job in NZ offered, travel assignment in California accepted, confirmation from our friend Nic to fly out and help Christian sail… all to leading us to plan our sailing in Tonga to arrive in Tongatapu by Oct 10th in order for me (Josie) to fly out and Nic to fly in.

#teenytinyoptics

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From the Vava’u group, we headed south to the next group of islands called the Ha’apai Group. This group of islands are less inhabited and more pristine.  Supposedly there are more whales here as well, but while we were there the wind was steadily 20+kts , making the whale watching not so happening. We found ourselves anchored in front of a a cruiser friendly “resort” called “Sea Change Eco Retreat” off of the Uoleva Island.  They have a great beach bar with nice cold drinks, local Tongan beer and good french press coffee.  What more could you ask for on a remote island in Tonga.  Apparently, this was the area where the mutiny on the Bounty started.  We didn’t get any bad vibes from this place, even with that history.  And honestly, I think this Uoleva was one of the highlights of Tonga despite the constant wind and probably the one place we would want to go back to if we sail back there. I think we would have to learn to kite surf to really have a blast there.

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Time was closing in and groups of cruisers started to part ways as each one’s timeline for heading to New Zealand started to differ. We had a few “last” dinners with the last of the cruisers around us ( SV Caramor, Counting Stars, Blue Zulu, Dol Selene), taking turns having each boat over for dinner on our boat or us on theirs.  This starting feeling like the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

img_1830Taj, you have a friend on your shoulder.img_1827Took a sail to town aboard S/V Blue Zulu. Always nice to sail on another boat once in a while. img_1822Kid crew from SV Counting Stars, Blue Zulu and Shawnigan on our visit to town.

IMG_52111864ed0e-3c41-467d-85cd-405e766f9898IMG_3285IMG_3289S/V Counting Stars heading out just after us… also catching the whale sighting.

On our way out of Uoleva to the southern end of the Ha’apai group, we spotted some whales! What a lovely departure gift.  That day we sailed down to Lolofutu where we anchored for a night and met the caretaker aboard the catamaran Wildlife,  a whale watching charter adventure boat .  Not only were they cool, like minded people, but they happen to have kids eager to meet our kids. Always love a new “kid boat”.  They were planning to head to Tongatapu soon as well, so our parting farewell was easy knowing we would meet again soon.

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After a great passage down to Tongatapu, we found anchor room in front of Big Mama’s Yacht Club, a well known facility among the cruisers. It use to be a hopping spot, but after a hurricane a few years back that wiped it out, it hasn’t quite recovered, but its getting there.

We spent a few days wondering around the main part of the city.  A large part of one morning was spent trying to find the immigration/port captain to check out of the country.  We walked and walked which felt great. There were many churches, local schools,  clinics, restaurants. There was little to be desired as far as finding good food in Tongatapu though. We found it safest to stick with our own meals on the boat.  However, there was one pizza place though that was pretty good, thanks to S/V Wildlife crew’s recommendation.  The most important thing though…, we found coffee and wifi. A cruisers dream.

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img_1941Tonga probably has as many churches as they have house… well, not really, but there are an aweful lot.  Here’s an old one that was just abandoned and fenced off. So beautiful. Its too bad they dont renovate it and keep it in use or make it into a museum of sorts. img_1942img_1944img_1943img_1893Another church…img_1872img_1886Tongans really hold high value on the deceased… especially the Royal Family. img_1887img_1878Nina getting her hair cut before heading down to New Zealand. img_1904October 9th, 2018: The Family taking me to the airport… a dinghy ride to shore, a taxi to the Nukualofa Airport.  I’ll be away for 3 months, working as a Travel Nurse in California, without seeing them again until I fly to New Zealand with Ellamae in tow. img_1903

img_1819An example of Taj’s homeschooling alphabet art. He attached the dinosaur to the flower.

 

6 weeks in Tonga: part one- Vava’u September 2018

img_1785img_1789Upon our arrival into Tonga, we felt a mixture if great relief and anticipation. We were relieved to be somewhere that we knew we would be at for about 6 weeks and were  anticipating the next step… were we going to get Josie to work in US as a travel nurse again for a 3 month assignment or wait for work in New Zealand.  We had to get both lined up a some point.  Josie’s work in New Zealand  should probably start sometime late December or early January.  Lots to think about and lots of fun to be had at the same time. Finding the balance of continuing the enjoyment of cruising and being responsible to keep the kitty fund coming can be a challenge.

Lets first have fun and worry about the other stuff as it comes up.

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Check into the country: check. Get Pa’anga (Tongan Money) from the ATM: check. Fresh produce from the local produce market: check. Walk around to town to get the general feel for things, check. Find our cruising friends, some of which we hadn’t seen since Tahiti, check check.  Neiafu is a small, but popular port of entry for Tonga in the northern group of islands called the Vava’u Island Group. It lies in the upper group of Tonga.fbd5ce09-0e7f-4b3c-90bd-c455a94a98d3

Checking in was pretty easy, the docking, not so much. The industrial dock is not super small sailing yacht friendly. It’s weather dependent,  has limited space, and tidal dependant.  We happen to have it to ourselves, but it isn’t uncommon for there to be 2-3 boats side tied to each other waiting for many hours for the check-in or check-out process.  This is also the only supposed place to get duty free fuel, which by the sounds of the radio chatter wasn’t quite that easy of a process and was not to be relied on.  Anchoring is also very limited. Most of the waters were at least 70 feet-120 deep up right near to shore and known for some rocky bottoms.  Basically, you crossed your fingers that there was a mooring available. We lucked out, someone had just left one.img_1597Mango Bar and Grill was where most of the cruisers would take their dinghies into shore and tie up.

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Taj driving the dinghy back out to the boat.

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A little boys club time at the Mango bar and grill

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We spent a few days on the mooring just off of Neiafu, exploring the town, visiting friends, meeting new friends, accessing wi-fi, finding the local butcher shop, and pondering what anchorages we should visit over the next 6 weeks.  Tonga has this weird, and thought to be rude by some, anchorage naming phenomenon.  Instead of the proper Tongan names for the anchorages, they have assigned numbers associated to them. This all started with the Moorings charter company. It was easier to provide anchorage numbers to the charter boats than for the people to read and pronounce the names of each anchorage.  I have to admit, as much as we tried to avoid using the #’s and be respectful to the Tongan people, it was a lot easier to use the #’s to let people know where we were at or heading to.  It just became what people did with the exception of a few more popular places.  Hopefully, at some point, the # names will be lost and the traditional Tongan names will be used again.

There were over 40 different anchorages in the Vava’u Island group of Tonga. You can see Moorings Tongan Cruising Guide in the link above or here.

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Noonsite also has some useful information on the latest Tonga info.  It’s all about the “latest” as it is ALWAYS changing season to season. Most of the anchorages are fair weather anchorages only, but there a few good ones that a really protected from specific wind directions. We happened to be in Tonga during one of the most windy 6 week stretches of the year, so we were a bit limited on where we went. But we made the best of it and we were with great people, so all was good.

I’m not sure what happened to my anchorage/ farkwar tracking abilities during our time in Tonga. I’m pretty sure I was just trying to enjoy every bit of it that I could in that moment before I had to leave for work and then move to New Zealand for more work. I’ll try my best to re-hash some memories of our time in the Vava’u group (part 1 of our 6 weeks in Tonga).

August 30th: Maurelle bay (anchorage 7), Tonga. After 5 days of “big city” Neiafu life, we ventured out to our first anchorage in Tonga. Maurelle Bay. This lovely spot would end up being where we frequented the most,  with the exception of trips to Neiafu town to re-stock.  Maurelle was just a quick few hours out of town and a beautiful little bay that can fit a good number of your friend’s boats. There was 4 mooring balls that were available and then probably room for about 7 more boats to anchor.  A local would come by to collect a “donation”, I forget how much it was, but it wasn’t too much and  you could stay 5 days with it, but if you left and came back you would have to pay again. A bit funny, but we got over it.  The bay offered swimming, snorkelling, beach walking and easy(ish) access to the caves that are well known in Tonga. Mariners Cave and Swallows Cave.  Swallows Cave offered bats and clear water with many bait fish swimming around in formation. Super cool and easy for the kids. We did see a sea snake in there though…eeek.  Mariners is one of the more popular caves for having to dive down through and up into the open, dark cave. There is a swim through that’s anywhere from 6 feet to 12 feet deep depending on the tide and another one much deeper at  13-15 meters (44-50 feet).  S/V Muskoka took a bunch of us out to Mariner’s Cave and has a bit of footage of me diving down and through the deep tunnel. Here’s the link to their youtube video. The dive can be found at ~5min 10sec of the 14 min video.  (There is also a clip of Taj during one of his many frequent visits to S/v Muskoka : at 7min).Screenshot (229)Screenshot (228)Screenshot (255)Screenshot (257)Screenshot (259)Our friends off of S/V Pelizeno. Screenshot (254)Screenshot (260)

S/V Soggypaws has some good info on the dive sites and many other useful information for Tonga.

September 3rd: Kenutu (anchorage 30), Tonga.  This anchorage was out on the outskirts a bit, but worth the trip. One must follow the chart closely through a bit of a zigzag channel and go with good lighting to avoid running aground or on a reef.  This sweet spot held a good number of boats and offered more beach activities as well as dinghy sailing and kite surfing.  Kenutu was where we made cookies for the anchorage and had all the kids come paddle by the boat to pick them up.  Watch the short video below.

We shared many anchorages with many lovely cruisers. We had a dinghy raft up pot-luck, beach bonfires, many sun-downers rotating between the different boats, pizza parties, birthday parties, and the occasional quiet evenings alone on our own boat.

a028662f-eeec-435e-be09-a25d9a190184Screenshot (237)Screenshot (239)S/V Rogue boys and TajScreenshot (240)Huge , but harmless spider that’s related to a harmful spider.  Size of a baseball. img_1726-1

Calazone making aboard SV Anilaimg_1724

S/V Crazy Love: Contesa 26 From California with Rosie and David aboard.   (see photo down the page of Connor, Crazy’s Loves new owner).

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The video above was taken on one of my swims in Tapana Bay (anchorage #11). Zen life underwater.Screenshot (241)

IMG_5167IMG_5166Screenshot (250)Screenshot (251)Screenshot (245)Connor!!!  Then on S/V Sea Casa…Who now owns S/V Crazy Love! And Julie looking Fab.

Screenshot (244)Happy Birthday Dave, off of S/V Anila. Screenshot (243)Screenshot (242)IMG_3190

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The video below is when we had a impromptu boat-fitness session aboard SV Muskoka.  I gave a little TRX demo / instruction and Laurie Ritchie added her professional Physio tips.

While we were there, we did get to experience a few cultural events. Sunday church is a HUGE thing in Tonga. In fact, most everything is closed on Sundays and the only thing to do is go to church. We are not church goers ourselves, but Nina and I went with a few other cruising families to get that experience. “Wow!”, is about all I can say. The attire that some of the locals wear and the songs they sing are amazing!. We went to the Catholic mass, but a few other cruisers went to the other sermons as well.   The experience is worth every bit of the effort.

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St. Joseph’s Cathedral

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As for the “traditional Tongan feast”, we hopped onto a luncheon at Ene’io Botanical Garden that a few other cruisers signed up for. It’s organised through one of the ex-pat tourist coffee shops in town.  A van picked us up and drove us out and over to the feast location. Apparently its this family farm that goes back many generations. Tours can be arranged for the full farm, but we just did the meal. I believe the meal alone was $40/person. I could be mistaken though, as it was a while ago. Again, just Nina and I went for this event. The roasted pig was as anticipated. I would say the rest of the food was so so. I think the best part was more about the whole experience, the atmosphere and the people we were with more than food itself.  End result, we probably wouldn’t do this particular one again, but if we met a family and they invited us over for a traditional dinner, we would indeed be ecstatic to participate.08166056-ae0b-4cc6-8e32-e526641d9564

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As time was ticking, it was time to start thinking about work.  There was play time and then there was a little thinking about “should I get a travel nurse assignment in The States or try to start work ASAP in New Zealand?”  First step was to look further into New Zealand Immigration  for what I’ll need to do to get a work visa and move to the next step from there.  As we looked into it further it became clear that the best way to go would be to apply for a job and get the job offer first and then apply for the visa.  If all went well with that, the visa would probably take a few months to go through. With that in mind, we decided it would be best for me to pick up a travel assignment back in San Francisco as long as the hospital  in New Zealand was willing to wait for a start date in January 2019.

Sure enough, everything happened to fall right into place. I was able to apply for NICU position at the level 3 NICU in Wellington, New Zealand, get in contact with them to set up an interview all the while setting up a travel assignment in the United States.  I was able to do all of this thanks to the affordable sim cards in Tonga and an APP called MagicJack to call internationally along with a few iridiumGo calls when there was no service available.  As I was organizing my travel assignment, Wellington Hospital offered to do a phone/skype interview. I loaded up my SIM card, had fellow cruisers watch the kids, and Christian motored our boat to an anchorage that we knew would be quiet and had cell coverage in order for me to have the clear call. I dressed up for the part, Christian went for a standup paddleboard tour around the island while I rang in for the interview. Wow, what a cool experience. I doubt many people could say that they had a phone interview off a remote island in Tonga. The interview went well. They were willing to wait until January if they offered the job, I just needed to wait a few days for their response. I rang up the travel nurse recruiter to confirm “a go” for 13 week assignment starting mid October to early January. Then a few days later I was offered the New Zealand job!!! INCREDIBLE!

With all that excitement, we celebrated of course. But we also had to change gears for getting me to Tongatapu to fly out by October 9th.  We had more places to go, more time to play, but on more of a time schedule. We also had to arrange for our friend, Nic, from S/V Cielo Grande, to fly out to Tonga to help sail Shawnigan down to New Zealand.

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Maurelle Bay

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Play dates with other boat kids! (Representing Counting Stars, Magic and La Cigale)

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Playtime aboard Shawnigan

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Taj trying to explain how to play “chest” (as he calls it).

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Tall Ship Picton Castle

Taj had to have this cotton ball in his ear due to a really bad ear infection. It started as just an ear ache and a fever that turned into many days later still having it with a sudden continuous drainage of gunk. We ended up giving him antibiotic and thankfully within a week it was mostly clear up. Our friends on Anila had an Otoscope that they loaned us and from what we could tell, the eardrum was ruptured, and pretty severely. For the remaining time in Tonga, the poor kid had to be really careful about not going underwater or making sure that he had waxy ear plugs in if he did.  I cant help but wonder if the germs from Christian’s staph infections were hanging out on the boat and got into Taj’s ear. I think that’s the nurse in me, but we’ll never know and it all turned out ok.

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A little boat making project with dad.

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Facebook video call with Ellamae, who was in Florida. Thay aren’t real tears, but sometimes I sure felt that they could be.

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Fish and Chips out on the water- I just realised that it actually says “fish and chip”… you do get more than one chip with your order.

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IMG_5193Screenshot (264)IMG_5124IMG_3240Fruit BatsIMG_3219IMG_3220IMG_3189SV Counting StarsIMG_3173Blurry picture of a lot of kids playing in the water together. IMG_3165Taj with the  S/V Bonaire boys. IMG_3160IMG_3147Bonaire and Blue Zulu boys (aka BonZulu)Screenshot (184)Screenshot (206)Screenshot (231)Screenshot (232)Screenshot (233)