Blog Archive

Sunday 29 March 2020

Aztec Dream Sold

Aztec Dream Sold

They say the two best times in boat ownership are the day you purchase and the day you sell. In some cases that might be true, but not for us. We decided to sell Aztec Dream at the height of our enjoyment of her and the lifestyle, in order to preserve fondly the amazing memories of a lifetime.

Thank you to Drew and the team at Orakei Marine Brokers.

We wish Hugh many years of happiness and fair winds.

Thank you to Phill, we greatly appreciated your assistance with the blog.

Huge thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read and follow our adventures. It has been a great privilege to have shared these with you, and special thanks to Aztec Dream for keeping us safe on the High Seas.

Signing off.

Stay safe and healthy.

Lynne and Steve xx

Aztec Dream

Tuesday 4 February 2020

Heading to Auckland


Just a few final bits and bobs left to do and our time fettling Azzy in Opua will have been very productive, then we will start sailing South towards Auckland.

Aztec Dream is certainly looking very smart indeed, and our broker at Orakei Marine has a number of viewing appointments lined up once we arrive in Auckland.

A big thanks to our New Zealand blog followers John, Brent, Joanne, David and Michelle for their wonderful hospitality, and for sharing such great knowledge.

This will be our fist time visiting Auckland by yacht, but we did have a wonderful time visiting by land in December when we stayed with friends Tina (Auckland) and Vaughan (Waiheke Island), who took time out to show us around and looked after us so well.

Thanks also, to Sally, Melanie, Stella, Daniel, Michelle, Rob, Jonathan, Michael, Susan, Brent, Joanne, Michelle and David who all took time out to come and visit us in Opua. 

Thursday 16 January 2020

Tonga to New Zealand


Although we spent some time in Tonga, a great deal of it was spent having a clear out of old clothes and a general Spring Clean on board Azzy. The clothes, those that were still decent enough to wear, were passed on to a local charity with various other 'Treasures of the Bilge'.

Just rewinding for a moment, we probably should mention the clearing in process to Tonga, as it is a little more convoluted than some other places. For starters, you have to keep the authorities abreast of your arrival date, and they also want to know your estimated time of arrival. Clearly rules made by someone who has never sailed before! Anyway, we sent updates along the way using the sat comms and followed the procedure to call up on the VHF about an hour away. Our hails went unanswered, so we tried again once we had the quarantine dock in sight in Nuku'alofa. Despite calling for more than 20 minutes, no one responded. So much for the strict requirement to give the date and time of arrival!

We finally made it onto the concrete jetty and the authorities appeared soon after. About an hour later we had completed all the entry formalities. We went back outside the harbour and anchored off, and took the rib in so we could nip into town and get some provisions and a data sim card. As there is no dedicated dinghy dock, you take pot luck and just find somewhere you can leave it.

We got a bit lost in the town whilst trying to find the mobile phone shop, so we stopped at the aptly named 'Happy Sailor Tattoo' parlour to ask for directions. There we met British couple James and Angela who run the place. Whilst chatting, we discovered that Angela had lived in East Sussex whilst growing up. A few days later, we discovered that she and Lynne had a mutual friend that Angela had gone to school with. What a small world! We became good friends and would pop in to say hello whenever we were ashore.  

James and Angela

Angela and James are a lovely couple who met five years ago, fell in love and married six weeks later. They both worked in London - Angela as a TV producer in Ad agencies making commercials for global brands, and James owned and ran Happy Sailor Tattoo London. They moved to Tonga three years ago. 
They are passionate about animals and have worked tirelessly in their spare time to help animals in need. They told us that there are no vets at all in the Kingdom of Tonga, and farmers with livestock and owners of cats and dogs rely solely on the help of charity SPAW (South Pacific Animal Welfare), who visit every couple of months or so to run an emergency clinic. In their absence, the clinic is left with limited supplies of drugs (painkillers, flea, tic and worming tablets and some antibiotics) and some non-medically trained nurses to run it. Below is the story of how Angela and James became involved in helping out the charity.

It all started in 2017 when they spotted a severely malnourished street dog with a serious, weeping head injury whilst driving home from work one day. Once home, they couldn't stop thinking of the poor dog and set out again in a torrential rainstorm to find it. When they found him cowering in what little shelter from the rain he could find, they managed to coax him to accept some food and water. Every day for 6 weeks they drove around twice a day to give him more food and water. Angela took videos and photos of him which she sent to SPAW, and Dr Geoff Neal, who is based in New Zealand, helped her remotely by telling her what supplies she could get from the local clinic, which happened to be just painkillers. She prayed the dog would make it until SPAW made it to Tonga for one of its visiting clinic sessions. Angela was very public on Facebook and Twitter about 'Big Head' as she affectionately called the dog, due to the size of his enlarged head. Very soon, he had a following both in Tonga and overseas.

Luckily, Big Head was still alive when SPAW visited the island, and Geoff and the vets operated on his mass and took some 'matter' out. He was left with tubes through his head and was on heavy meds. He was also treated for parasites, tics and fleas. They discovered that the tumour in his head was also growing into his mouth. Angela and James took him home with them to convalesce and renamed him Charlie. They adopted him and made his final six months as comfortable as possible. They described him as being a wonderful dog who never left their sides when they were at home. Despite his injuries, he had a good appetite and became very much part of their family. Angela was with him when he took his final breaths.

From then on, they decided they were going to help dogs whenever they could. They are unable to open a rescue home due to the lack of a desperately needed vet on the island, but they do everything they can to help dogs and cats in need. Angela contacts Geoff in New Zealand and he gives advice on how she can best help in each situation, but with limited drugs in the clinic it is very difficult. The community know to go to Angela if they need pills for their animals, and she will dispense them free of charge. Some tourists have heard about the work they do and arrive from overseas with medication, leads, collars and even dry dog food. A local restaurant also donates bones, which they give to families with lots of dogs.

Angela helps SPAW clinics by fundraising, organising raffles, quiz nights and selling cakes and other baked goods provided by other animal loving people. Last year she produced the Mr Maka Tongan Tigers calendar to help promote animal welfare, and show pictures of men sharing tender moments with dogs. It is her hope that through positive photos they can start getting a message out that dogs are our friends and not things to be hit, kicked or even eaten...

You can read about SPAW on their website. Without them, the island would have absolutely no animal care. There is a link to 'Charlie's Fund'. Any money raised through this link goes directly to Tonga. There is also a short film about Charlie on the bottom of the fund page.

Along with five other people (4 Tongan and one long term resident foreigner), Angela is currently in the process of setting up a new charity called TAWS (Tonga Animal Welfare Society). Their aim is to promote awareness around animal welfare for ALL animals in Tonga. They hope to take education programmes into schools, inform people on how best to look after their animals regarding shelter, food, water, pain relief and so on. They aim to monitor animal welfare and bring in guidelines that must be met. They would also love to get a vet in Tonga and set up a new clinic.

Angela told us she grew up wanting to rescue animals, but life took a different path for her. It is only since she came to Tonga, and without even planning it, she has found herself doing just that - something she cares passionately about. She has daily messages each week asking for help with dogs (abandoned, sick, hit by cars, orphaned at birth), and will never give up trying to help those animals and the people who care.

We think you will agree that James and Angela have the biggest hearts and their cause is a worthy one. We wish Angela and her associates the very best of luck with TAWS.

Now back to our story...

Once the shore side excursion was over, we motored the short distance across the Bay to anchor off Big Mamas resort on Pangaimotu and get some rest. Tonga was badly hit by Cyclone Gita in February of 2018. There was a lot of damage to the island chain and several boats were sunk. There were several wrecks around Nuku'alofa, including a wreck from the 1990's which had sunk as the result of an earlier cyclone. This particular wreck is right on the beach outside Big Mama's resort, and they have used the wreck to advertise the resort. The snorkelling around the wreck is also fantastic as over time it has become a reef.

Wreck outside Big Mamas

Aztec Dream in Tonga

We saw lots of pretty fish in the anchorage and one of the dogs, Buster, belonging to Big Mama, used to jump into the water to catch fish on a regular basis. He was apparently rather particular about the type of fish he caught. He wasn't a fan of the mullet. He would run in the water and chase the fish to the shore, and they would jump out of the water and onto the sand to try and escape him. They were then of course trapped, and easy for Buster to take away and eat. Clever dog!

We found the Tongan people to be extremely friendly and really enjoyed our times ashore both at Big Mamas, and in the main town of Nuku'alofa.

On one shopping excursion to town we treated ourselves to a Tapa with a fishook motif.

Tonga Tapa with fish hook motif

Our biggest challenge was trying to work out a weather window to get us safely to New Zealand, and we decided to pay for routing information from Chris Parker in America as we had used him before.

Chris advised against trying to make the passage to New Zealand in one go, but instead, to stop off at Minerva Reef and use that as a staging post until a favourable window opened up to continue.

The passage to Minerva Reef was approximately 315nm and took us around 63 hours. We left the anchorage at Big Mamas at 4pm, to time our arrival at Minerva Reef in daylight hours. We started off with a fantastic downwind sail but once outside the shelter of the reef, it was a bit bouncy with confused seas until we were out of the lee of the islands, then all settled down once again. On our approach to North Minerva Reef we could see several masts in the distance. These were the boats already at anchor. We could see them before we could actually see the reef. The entry into the reef was straight forward and we headed to the North East corner to anchor. There are lots of coral bommies inside the reef so it is a challenge to anchor without getting your chain wrapped around one.

Minerva Reef

Minerva Reef North showing Entrance

After a couple of days, we counted a total of 26 boats at anchor inside the reef. Now you might have heard of the expression ‘analysis by paralysis’, and it was interesting to listen to the morning radio net in which the weather and the passage to New Zealand dominated the conversations. about the best time to leave. Our thoughts mirrored pretty much everyone else and we felt it would be best to time our arrival in New Zealand in calm conditions, even if that meant leaving in challenging conditions, or experience them on the way, which is almost inevitable with this passage. Some sailing friends of ours from New Zealand had warned us that this passage is notoriously challenging. They said it's not a case of 'if' you are going to encounter some strong winds, but 'when', and how many times!

A few days prior to leaving, we enjoyed the most mirror calm conditions we have ever seen, not forgetting we just happened to be in a small atoll in the vast Pacific Ocean. Sadly the picture below does not really capture the almost ethereal vista.

Calm conditions in Minerva Reef

Calm conditions in Minerva Reef

One morning, we were awoken to the sound of an aircraft flying overhead. This was actually a New Zealand Airforce Orion. It circled the reef for around 30 minutes, all the while contacting each boat in turn to check in with them. They required the following details:

  • The name of the Captain
  • The name of the boat
  • How many crew were on board
  • Country the boat is registered in
  • Intended arrival port in New Zealand
  • Intended date of arrival in New Zealand
  • Confirmation that the 'Advanced Notice of Arrival' form for small craft had been emailed to the New Zealand authorities.

This was a new experience for us and created quite a buzz of excitement in the anchorage. The only question that was a little difficult to answer accurately was the intended arrival date in New Zealand, as we had no idea how long we were going to wait for a suitable weather window to leave. It was the same for everyone. I don't suppose it really mattered as you are required to email the authorities in New Zealand 48 hours before arrival anyway.
Chris Parker's suggested route was to take us slightly North, and we were in touch with a group of other yachts whose weather router took them slightly South. We kept in touch every day via sat phone to compare our progress. As Chris had predicted, we did encounter some gnarly weather and had about 24 hours of 30 knot winds, often gusting a little higher. Compared to the conditions we had between Maupiti and Niue though, it was mild!

Map showing passage from Tonga to New Zealand

The top red pin is Tonga, the middle one Minerva Reef and the bottom one Opua in New Zealand. The blue pins show the route we took between Minerva Reef and Opua.

As also predicted, we motored for the last two and a bit days in very calm conditions. One abiding memory of the passage was just how cold it had been, especially at night. Having spent so long in the tropics it was a shock to the system. We had layer after layer of clothes, two hats, and thermal gloves on for the night watches.
Even in the middle of the day we found it chilly. Believe it or not, somewhere under this pile, is Lynne having an off-watch nap.

Keeping warm outside on Jeanneau

Arrival in New Zealand

Just outside Opua we were treated to a spectacular sunrise to welcome us to New Zealand. it was very emotional for both of us to think we had sailed Azzy from England, half way around the world.

The clearing in process was lengthy and very thorough. The customs man told us that in some cases, where they suspected the boat was carrying narcotics, they would have the boat lifted out of the water and X-Rayed!
We also declared that we would be listing Aztec Dream for sale in New Zealand, and this entailed getting written permission from customs and confirmation of the Tax we would be liable for. That process took over a month, but we have the form now.

And so we had arrived.

Aztec Dream in the Bay of Islands Marina.

Tuesday 14 January 2020

Maupiti to Tonga via Niue

Maupiti to Tonga via Niue

We timed our exit through the pass at Maupiti to coincide with slack water and made the exit without any issues. Just after we cleared the last channel marker, we spotted two sperm whale flukes nearby, always an impressive sight.

For the next few days the winds were light and variable, and progress was made under sail, motor sailing and sometimes motoring.

Our intention had been to head straight to Tonga, as our broker in Auckland had mentioned the possibility of a viewing, but as we progressed, the weather worsened.

We usually run a weather update via our sat comms once a day when at sea, and it became clear that we would be faced with gnarly winds in the coming days.

Our strategy was to sail North to avoid the worst of the forecasted high winds, but in the end we had about 60 hours of sustained 30 knots and occasionally gusting towards 40 knots.
Azzy coped as always, but sleep was difficult due to the noise. When the winds finally abated, the sky turned dark grey, followed by biblical rain. As the wind was coming from behind us, we figured the rain would eventually pass, but almost as soon as it did, the wind direction swung by 180 degrees and it all came back again! It rained non-stop for over 48 hours.
It was at this point that we set a course for Niue, if for nothing else, to get some rest and much needed sleep, and to dry out. We had exhausted all our 'wet weather' clothing supply trying to keep dry for the past couple of days.

It is too deep to anchor in the harbour off Niue, so you take pot luck if a mooring buoy is available and luckily for us, one was. However, the bay was almost untenable. The swell was constant and try as we might, it was hard to rest.
We needed to clear into the country and when invited to do so, braved the concrete jetty with the rib and with the help of customs, used a crane to lift the rib out of the water and onto the jetty.
We cleared in, had a little look around the the small town and then went back to Azzy.

Sleep was almost impossible with the rolling, in fact we decided we would rather be at sea, so we cleared out the next morning and set course for Tonga. Sadly, in our sleep deprived state, we forgot to take any pictures of Niue, but we did manage to take a few at sea.

Thankfully the rest of the passage was uneventful.

Clouds at sea Pacific

Clouds at sea Pacific

Clouds at sea Pacific

Friday 3 January 2020

The Society Islands - Maupiti


Maupiti lies approximately 30nm to the west of Bora Bora and is known as Bora Bora's little sister. The small island is surrounded by 5 motus (islets) and a lagoon with colours ranging from lapis lazuli to turquoise. The coral gardens are also packed with colourful fish.

To enter Maupiti by boat, you must enter through the very narrow Onoiau Pass on the south of the island between Motu Pitihahei and Motu Tiapaa. It is advisable to only enter in settled weather as there is a strong current that runs through the pass. That and the close proximity of the surrounding reefs can make it treacherous in the wrong conditions. Fortunately, the weather gods were kind to us and we had near perfect conditions for our stay in Maupiti. Our entrance through the pass was exciting but we found it to be very well marked. 

You can see the entrance is narrow but well marked from this chart. 

Looking back at the narrow pass once we were inside the channel.

Once through the pass, Norwegian friends Kaia and Kjell on yacht 2K guided us to a free mooring buoy close to them. Once settled, we went over to their boat for a drink and a catch up. They very kindly gave us lots of information on what to do and see on the island. Whilst looking out from the cockpit at the surrounding reef, we saw several manta rays swim past. Kaia informed us that there was an area close by that was used by the manta rays as a 'cleaning station'. They go there daily so that remora and other types of fish can clean them of parasites. The water in the area is only around 3 metres deep so you can get quite close whilst snorkelling. Lynne was keen to get a better photo of a manta ray and Kaia offered to take some on her underwater camera which had a zoom lens, unlike the GoPro.

Thanks to Kaia for the photos of the Manta Rays.

The following day we took the rib to the main town of Vaiea and took a hike up Mount Teurufaatiu to get some views of the lagoon. We couldn't climb to the top as it was too slippery underfoot after some recent rainfall, but even at the height we climbed to the views were spectacular. According to our guide book, we should have been able to see some petroglpyhs carved into large boulders in a dried-out river bed along the hike. However, try as we might, we just couldn't find them.

Approaching the island from the lagoon. 

On our way back to the rib, Lynne was beckoned over by an elderly gentleman who was pottering in his garden. He handed her a highly scented tiare (gardenia) flower to wear in her hair. She placed it in the cabin once back on the boat and it kept its beautiful scent for several days. 

Both of us loved Maupiti. It has a real slow-down-it's-the-South-Pacific feeling. There is only one road on the island and very few cars. There are no large holiday resorts, just family-run pensions. This was more like it! It may be referred to as Bora Bora's little sister but it couldn't be more different. 

We took a closer look at the fringing reef on the way back to the boat. 

A beautiful end to a fabulous day. 

Before leaving Maupiti, we debated on whether we should make a stop in Niue or make our way directly to Tonga. We have heard many stories about the challenges of getting ashore in Niue so we decided to go straight to Nuku'alofa in Tongatapu, Tonga. However, things didn't quite go to plan...