Thursday, April 23, 2009

Yucky weather keeping us in Opua

April 22, 2009  Wednesday

Weather has been crap for the past few days with gales off Cape Brett, the southern tip of the Bay of Islands.  We were very glad to be tucked up in our marina berth as the winds howled and the rain either misted down or poured buckets.  We were very grateful to have 3 heaters on our boat which can operate off shore power.  The sun finally broke through late this afternoon so hopefully the weather will begin to improve.  There is a LOW pressure system well northwest of here that should pass off over the next couple of days.  Barometric pressure is 1000mb this afternoon and it should decrease to 995mb tomorrow and more off to the southwest.  Then a day later a new LOW will form right at the bottom of New Caledonia.  Seems to be the weather pattern for this time of year.  One LOW right after another.

Mid-day yesterday the VHF radio waves were quite active with several distress calls and the ensuing rescue operations.  The Medi-copter flew out to a ship and air-lifted a man who required immediate medical attention.  Apparently he had been injured during rough seas.

The ship arrived many hours later into Whangerei.  Then the NZ Air Force Orion answered a distress call by a sailboat somewhere off the coast of New Zealand.  We could hear the Orion side of the conversation but could not hear the sailboat’s side.  Orion dispatched a rescue helicopter to the sailboat.  Never heard how that one turned out and still do not know if it was a cruiser or a local sailboat.  But they would not have sent out the helicopter unless the sailors were abandoning ship.  Then this morning on the local radio net there was an announcement that a man from Ashby’s Boat Yard here in Opua went out yesterday in his personal boat and towed in a boat that was in distress off Cape Brett.  Kudos to that guy who risked his own safety and risked his own boat to venture out in a gale and save another.  Sorry we didn’t get his name to give him proper acknowledgment.

Yesterday afternoon we attended a meeting hosted by the Island Cruising Association.  John of S/V Windflower was the speaker.  He talked about Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia and provided very helpful information on each area.  We are definitely not going to Fiji, so that part was of no interest to us.  We have flown over and landed in Fiji 4 times and feel that we have seen enough of that reef-riddled area.  Looks gorgeous but is full of what is known as “black reefs.”  The term black reef has nothing to do with the color of the actual reef.  That term is used to describe reefs that are always totally submerged and have no fringing reef near the surface where waves might break and give sailors warning that a reef is under there.  A black reef provides no visible indicators and is a true hazard to boats.  There are hundreds upon hundreds of black reefs in and around Fiji.  Thanks, but no thanks.  Plus, there also is simply not time for us to visit Fiji even if we wanted to do so.  Not if we want to reach Thailand by early December.

John’s description of Vanuatu made it sound pretty appealing.  Definitely a different place and far more primitive than any other place we have visited, except for maybe Kuna Yala of Panama.   Vanuatu was previously known as the New Hebrides and was pretty primitive until the USA built air strips on almost every island there during WWII.   Then Vanuatu was literally thrown into modern civilization.   New Caledonia OTOH sounds less interesting but still worth a visit.  The capitol of New Caledonia is Noumea, and Noumea supposedly is a very cosmopolitan French city.  Of course, there also are secluded bays and beautiful beaches in New Caledonia once you get away from Noumea.  New Caledonia is part of the Loyalty Islands. 

Both the Loyalty Islands and the New Hebrides are in the Coral Sea area of the South Pacific.  How exciting that we soon will be entering a new sea.   Time to start being careful of malaria and dengue fever.  We have lots of insect repellent and screens for the hatches to keep the little critters at bay, and we won’t be going to the areas where these mosquito-borne diseases are most prevalent so the chance of contracting either disease is minimal.  We have malaria prophylaxis in our medical kit but are hesitant to take those little pills because the side effects are as bad if not worse that the disease itself.  FYI, there is no prophylaxis or vaccine for dengue fever.  You either get it or you don’t.  Then you either survive or you don’t.   Not something to spend time worrying about.  Just try to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes 2 hours before or after sunrise.  Bill bought mosquito netting to put over our bed so we will be doubly protected by hatch screen and mosquito netting.  Darn good thing we have a new heavy-duty oscillating fan back in that bedroom!  Worth every millisecond of battery amps it uses!

We have purchased airline tickets for a trip home to Houston for the Christmas holidays.   We had looked at flights about a month ago and had decided we would fly Emerites ---- Bangkok to Dubai to Houston.  Straight and simple.  Unfortunately, we waited to see if the dollar further devalued or if the price changed.  Yep, the price sure changed all right.  Now the price is $1000 USD higher.   Part of that price increase is simply a price increase by the airline.  And part of that price increase is a further devaluation of the US dollar.  For example, on 13 March we made an ATM withdrawal from our US bank account and $500 NZD cost us $260.50 USD.  Then on 13 April we made another ATM withdrawal from our US band account and $500 NZD cost us $291.65 USD.  More than a $30 difference in USD cost in 30 days.  Our US money is not valued much anymore.  In fact, in Vanuatu they will not accept US currency at all, but will accept NZ dollars.  And In New Caledonia they will not accept US currency at all, but will accept Euros.  Also found out that our ATM cards on US banks will not work in New Caledonia, so we need to buy Euros from a bank here in New Zealand before we leave.  It is getting to a point worldwide that it is better to carry a stash of Euros than to have US dollars in cash.   Who wouldda thunk?

April 23, 2009  Thursday

Well, the weather is still crap.  I am SO SO SO ready to get out of here!

Learned this morning that the Indonesian government is now enforcing a temporary import fee on all yachts visiting Indonesia – even in Bali.  There has been a great hullabaloo since December 2008 when Indonesia started collecting 45% of the value of your vessel as a temporary import fee.  Eight boats were caught in this bureaucratic nightmare in the port of Kupang last December when this enforcement started.  The vessels were prevented from leaving the port.  Eventually the matter was resolved with the boats paying $600 each and they were all glad to get out of there.   But only a few ports were enforcing this temporary import fee and it was not being enforced in Bali, which was the only place we intended to visit in Indonesia.   

We planned to hire the Indonautical agency at the Bali Marina to handle our CAIT (cruising permit).  We would get the Social Visa from the Indonesian Consulate in Darwin.  We would clear into Indonesia at Bali; explore the island of Bali; and then sail 985 miles Singapore, stopping at several anchorages if it appeared safe.   We would clear out of Indonesia at Nongsa on the island of Batam, which is only 19 miles from Singapore.    Now we don’t know what we are going to do.  One thing for sure, we are definitely not paying 45% of the value of our boat just for the privilege of sailing through Indonesian waters.  By international maritime law we are allowed to sail through Indonesian waters while flying our Q flag as long as we do not have contact with anyone and do not get off our boat.  It is a long way from Darwin to Singapore and we had looked forward to visiting the exotic island of Bali mid-way. 

…..later in the afternoon

Indonautical responded to my email and clarified some details.  The Indonesian government is now requiring the temporary import fee for any vessel that clears into Bali (or any other port) and plans to stay longer than 14 days.  Indonautical can arrange to bond your boat for a fee of $600 and you do not have to pay the temporary import fee.  HOWEVER, and that is a big HOWEVER, a boat can clear into and out of Bali and stay 14 days or less and is not subject to this temporary import fee.  Let’s see… it worth $600 for the privilege of seeing more of Indonesia and staying longer than 14 days and having to return and clear out of the port where I cleared in..…….I think not.  So this dilemma is solved.  We will stay in Bali 14 days or less; clear out of Indonesia at Bali; and then sail leisurely on to Singapore.

Just received the news that our 8-year-old grandson Zachary will arrive in Brisbane, Australia on June 9 to spend a couple of months sailing the coral coast of Queensland with us.  We are delighted!  This means we will not have time to visit Vanuatu, but we will enjoy the months with Zachary much more than we would have enjoyed seeing those islands.  Zachary will sail with us up to Cairns, where our son Aaron and his family plan to visit us in early August, including our newest grandson who is expected to be born in late June.  Until the baby is born and confirmed healthy and fit to fly half-way round the world at a very tender age, then that trip remains tentative.  Obviously we are excited about the birth of a second grandson and look forward to meeting him in Cairns, and to see our granddaughter BeBe again.  If they are able to make this trip then BeBe will celebrate her eighth birthday while on the boat with us.  How cool it will be to have all 3 grandkids together at once.

People here at the marina are now doubling up on dock lines as there is another gale passing through and more nasty weather predicted to come.  Our weather router just sent an email saying that it looks like there might be a possible weather window to leave around April 30.  Keeping our fingers crossed.

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