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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The home run

We always knew the most challenging part of our eight year Bandit adventure would be the last leg down to New Zealand.  Our country’s offshore waters have a fearsome reputation amongst sailors – this is almost the roaring 40s after all.  And, as expected, the reputation was justified.  After a (mostly) wonderful passage from Tonga, via Minerva Reef, we hit a particularly nasty southerly system off Northland.  For 24 hours we had winds up to 50knots, lumpy seas and, despite being well reefed down, tore our mainsail and bimini.   We also had heavy rain hence full wet weather gear was worn for the first time – not the best welcome to New Zealand for Team Bandit!.




 It was wonderful having good friend and seasoned sailor Alastair Shanks on board for this leg.   It made night watches a breeze and Alastair’s high spirits when conditions became trying was infectious.  But of course it wasn’t all rough and tumble; for six days we had magical conditions with light winds and flat seas.   Bandit trickled along under spinnaker while the boys played chess, we all enjoyed lunch at the cockpit table and caught fish – serious fish.  Our best haul was a 30kg plus yellow fin tuna.


 Leaving Tonga was tinged with sadness as it meant, for now anyway, the end of our nomadic cruising lifestyle.   Since buying Bandit in Gibraltar in 2005 we’ve cruised more than 40,000miles, visited 29 countries and sailed across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.   We’ve made lifelong friends in the cruising community and learned so much from the pool of knowledge that exists therein.  Many of our land based friends have been able to join us and share in our fantastic lifestyle as we’ve sailed half way around the world.   Many others have followed our adventures on our various blogs and it gives us a huge thrill to know people are living vicariously through us.   A big thank you to all our blog followers – you know who you are.


So – what next?  Well first up there was a bit of housekeeping to attend to.  David and I have been together 15 years, engaged for four…and the time seemed right to formalise it all in the Bay of Islands.  Our sailing friends Ross and Jo Blackman live in Russell, have a beautifully renovated deconsecrated church on their olive grove, former cruiser Ida Birch is a marriage celebrant in the Bay of Islands and well……let’s just let the photos do the talking.

Morgan and Blackman   Portrait      5a1DSC_7458DSC_7462          DSC_7466DSC_7519

It was a memorable, happy, funny and wonderful day that we will never forget.  But – back to reality.   What is next for Team Bandit?  Hmm…a land based life appeals but neither of us plans to get too serious about settling down just yet.   It’s a big wide world out there and we find that the more places we visit the more we realise there is to see.   We’ll spend the summer enjoying the Marlborough Sounds on Bandit but as the leaves start to change colour we know will start to get twitchy.   Watch this space!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The heavenly Ha’apais

Many cruising yachts miss the Tongan Ha’apai group of islands and what a shame that is.  They are an idyllic South Pacific paradise and one of the nicest cruising rounds we’ve visited in 10 years of sailing.  Our time there was spent visiting deserted anchorages and local villages, meeting friendly islanders and snorkelling in crystal clear water.  Tonga has been a fantastic wind down time for us after the long Pacific crossing and given us time to take stock before the final leg down to New Zealand…we hope to be underway tomorrow.


The Ha’apai group is notorious for its shallow ground, numerous reefs and coral heads used to be called the Dangerous Isles for that reason.  It deserves its reputation and navigating here certainly had its challenges.  While our charts were mostly accurate, there were uncharted areas so we had to keep a good lookout.  Given the stunning water clarity, eyeball navigation was straightforward as you can see in the photo above..the coral is clearly obvious.



The Ha’apais are low lying therefore offer little protection from anything other than prevailing trade winds so we kept a wary eye on the weather.  Highlights were yet more close encounters with whales - we often had to alter course to dodge them – and some interesting expeditions to local villages to trade for fruit.  The locals are incredibly shy and often hide from foreigners as they are not confident with their language skills.   We had to be persistent but it paid off and we met up with some lovely islanders.


DSC_7307  DSC_7383


Our Timaru friends Gerald and Susie Morton flew to Pangai in the Ha’apai group to join us for a few days.   In advance we ordered lots of sunshine, light winds and plenty of whale encounters.   The weather Gods duly obliged and we had hot cloudless days.  The whale encounters didn’t get any better than in stunning Nukupule when Susie and Gerald woke one morning to the sound of whales.  They raced on deck to see two right beside Bandit…just checking us out.


Nukupule was a magic spot.   We were the only boat in sight and the snorkelling was the best we’d had in a long time on pristine colourful coral with lots of fish.  The tiny palm tree clad island was ringed with a beautiful white sandy beach and it was fantastic to be able to share this piece of paradise with good friends.



After Gerald and Susie left we worked our way down the Ha’apai chain stopping at Ha’efeva, O’ua and Nomuka and then Pangiamotu, off Nuku’alofa.  We’d heard negative reports about Nuku’alofa but couldn’t understand why.  The provisioning was fantastic, we found a wonderful coffee shop (flat whites – joy of joys!), a great bar for yachties 200m from our anchorage (Big Mama’s) and, best of all, fast internet on the boat.  What’s not to like?


Our English friends Tom and Susie from Adina were anchored beside us so there was some serious socialising to do before they headed for Fiji.   We had several meals on Adina, drinks ashore and dinner on Bandit – phew! As always, it was a farewell tinged with sadness. The camaraderie amongst the cruising community is something we will miss enormously. The day before they left we went on Adina to the boat harbour dock while they fuelled up.  Obtaining duty free fuel here is an exercise in patience and tenacity.  The fuel comes in drums which have to be pumped – fine until the pump stops working.  Kiwi ingenuity soon had a siphoning system in place and Adina’s tanks full.



Seasoned sailor and good Marlborough friend Alastair Shanks flew into Nuku’alofa yesterday to do the 1000 mile leg down to Opua with us.  It will be fantastic to have someone of Alastair’s experience on board.  We hope to be in Opua mid October (all going well).  You can check our daily progress on our other blog – or email us at – but please, no attachments as email comes through a satellite phone.