‘You and your crew have been cleared to enter the U.S.’
was the answer that followed shortly after we filed the arrival with our yacht Mirabella in New York. In the end, the whole story how to enter the US by Pleasure Boat turned out to be fairly easy.
I wasn’t too sure about it for a long time and maybe some of you fellow sailors can/will benefit from our experience.
Sail to the US as a non-US resident, what is the challenge?
The visa rules that apply if you arrive to the US on a private yacht are different then when you arrive with an official carrier like an airline. For most european citizens and many other countries traveling to the US for tourism is not too complicated. Thanks to the Visa Waiver Program the need for a visa for short term visits is, as the name suggests, waived. One needs to obtain an electronic travel authorization (ESTA) before starting the journey and on arrival you get a 90 days visa waivered stay.
If you arrive by a private pleasure boat, however, you are not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program. In this case you need a B1/B2 Visa, an actual visa. This requires a bit more planning as the process can take some time and involves an in-person interview at your nearest US Embassy.
Cruising friends of ours have done this in the past and we were prepared to go down that road as well. Due to Covid, the waiting times at the US Embassies in the Caribbean (Barbados, Grenada, Bahamas, Bermuda, etc…)varied a lot. Mostly the waiting time was many weeks, possibly months. Not practical for us.
Bermuda however, had a waiting time of one week only. Great, the decision was made quickly, we sail to Bermuda! Unfortunatly, during our sail from Antigua to Bermuda a new Covid-19 wave hit Bermuda and everything went into shut down. By the time we arrived in Bermuda, the embassy stated the waiting time as ‘maybe 6 weeks’. Bummer.
The Visa Waiver program option
So, we searched for alternatives and found various information of cruisers who entered the US with just a Visa Waiver. They all did this in the Caribbean and the story goes like this: You sail to the BVIs with your yacht. You complete an ESTA. Then, from the BVIs, you take a normal ferry to the USVI, get your Visa Waiver for 90 days and return to the BVIs.
Next day or later you sail to the USVI with your own boat. As you posses already a Visa Waiver everything is in order and no B1/B2 Visa is required. The stay is limited to 90days from your first entry.
As we were in Bermuda when the problem with the closed Embassy arose a simple sail to a US Port of Entry with a ferry was not possible. However, we could fly to the US and return to Bermuda within days and then sail to New York.
Unsure if this is really a correct way of entering I asked the US Embassy in Bermuda and they pointed my to the official Customs and Boarder Protection website. But the website was not overly clear and left some room for interpretation in either direction.
How we actually did it
We decided to give it a go anyway. We filed in our ESTA, got it approved and flew to Atlanta for two nights. Visa Waiver and corresponding I-94 optained. A weather window to sail to New York opened shortly after we returned back to Bermuda and so we set sail immediatly.
Before we left we filled in the electronic Notice of Arrival/Departure (eNOAD) and once we arrived we reported our arrival via the Customs and Border Protection App ROAM. Everything as per the book. Within hours after arriving we got the information from Customs and Border ”You and your crew have been cleared to enter the U.S.’
Singapore… the first big city since Sydney was only about 20 miles away. But before exploring this city we had to cross the busy strait between Batam and Singapore. We felt a bit like a rabbit, crossing a busy motorway. We first motored along the traffic separation scheme, observed speed and course of the numerous cargo ships and tankers and then chose the right moment to cross. We found a good slot and made it safely to the other side. We headed towards the quoted area for clearance. Our anchor was not even down yet, when the Officials came sideways in a speedboat to pick up our papers and passports in a plastic bag with a fishing net. It was about the fastest clearance we ever had… cleared in before we even had set one foot on ground. The process was finished a little while later by another boat coming alongside, taking our passports and doing the visual check by calling every one of us by name through a loudspeaker, comparing photo and reality. That was it! Passports were stamped and we were allowed to proceed to the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club.
We passed an incredible amount of cargo docks. We have never seen that many before… and finally made it to the marina. Our friendly agent John came to say hello as well as the Yacht club manager. We could’nt believe our eyes when we saw the big pool area with warm shower facilities. Close to the marina there was a park with a bicycle rental place and big playgrounds. So whenever the kids would be tired of city sightseeing there were alternatives just around the corner, perfect! The same evening we met up with Jeremy at the restaurant. Jeremy and his family crossed the Atlantic also with Jimmy Cornell’s Odyssey on the catamaran INFINITY. We spent some time together in French Polynesia, Niue and Tonga. Jeremy had sold Infinity in Noumea and was back at work in his former hometown Singapore. He told us about many nice places to visit in Singapore.
The next day we were invited at Martin’s place. Martin was André’s boss at Crédit Suisse many years ago. He lives in Singapore with his wife Sandra and his son Maurice since 9 years. They live in a modern apartment complex with a huge pool area where Maurice and the girls could play. In the evening we went to town together, enjoyed the fantastic view of Singapore skyline and ate delicious dumplings in a cool restaurant downdown.
The following days were spent with sightseeing and meeting up with our local friends again. The girls were happy to catch up with Quentin and Theo, their friends from INFINITY. We invited Martin and his family to our boat and slowly but surely Martin got hooked by the idea of joining us for the passage from Thailand to Sri Lanka.
In the meantime the first of our buddy boats had arrived. ALKYONE was going to stay a while in Singapore as Hans flew to Germany to work. The kids enjoyed playing together in the great pool and Amina made good progress in her swimming skills. We enjoyed our time in Singapore a lot and would have loved to stay longer but as we had booked a flight home to Switzerland from Phuket early December we had to move on. Because of a broken starter battery we could not leave Singapore on November 25th as originally planned. André bought a new battery and POLARWIND arrived. So maybe a lucky coincidence. It was nice to spend the afternoon together with POLARWIND. We had not seen each other since Lombok.
On November 26th we said goodbye to our friends from ALKYONE and POLARWIND left Singapore towards Malaysia and the busy strait of Malacca. We tried to keep right of the traffic separation scheme and left of the uncountable fishing boats… not an easy endeavour. This was by far the most uncomfortable cruising ground that we have encountered on our entire trip. We had to be constantly vigilant and in addition got hit by very strong thunderstorms. In addition it was also by far the most polluted waterway. There was floating plastic everywhere. We were very happy to reach the beautiful island of Langkawi for s short stopover. Phil from our sailmaker zoomsails lives in Koah and we met him and his family for dinner on our arrival day. The next day we checked in and out on the ferry terminal and Phil took us to a beautiful restaurant of a golf club for an early dinner. Phil suggested that we bring the broken code zero sail to their factory near Colombo, when we are in Sri Lanka. There they could have a look at the sail and we could see where our sails were made. This seemed to be a good plan and we promised to come to the factory in Sri Lanka.
On the first of December we left Langkawi and had a beautiful sail to Koh Lipe. Welcome to Thailand!
So the plan was to sail from Kupang to the Komodo National Park and then move on to Lombok and stay there a while. Very soon we realized that our concerns about nightsailing in Indonesia proofed to be true… André had a quite scary encounter with a fishing boat in his shift. They had no lights at all and were just floating silently. It was quite a shock for him, when he discovered the boat so close! We tried to be as vigilant as possible but some of the fish attracting devices were almost impossible to see at night. So in the end it is also a bit a question of luck if you hit something or not.
After two nights we arrived in Rinca early morning and found a beautiful anchorage in a stunning scenery. We hoped to catch a glimpse of the famous Komodo dragon and were very lucky indeed. From our boat we could observe some monkeys on the beach. And later in the afternoon, when we were all on ALDIVI three Komodo dragons appeared on the beach. We jumped in our dinghies and could watch two of them from very close. This was more than we were hoping for.
Hans from ALKYONE had some information about a spectacular dive spot, so we wanted to have a look the following day. But as we arrived we quickly realized that neither the anchorage nor the dive spot were protected in the present conditions. So we had to find another anchorage. We anchored in a bay on the west side of Kepala and were invited on ALKYONE for coffee and delicious cinnamon rolls.
As we were already a bit late in the season we wanted to move on. Soon the season would start to change and we would end up sailing against the northwest monsoon. So we moved on to Lombok. We stayed in Medana Marina on a buoy and had a fantastic time there. There was a nice restaurant at the marina surrounded by huge green area where the kids could play hide and seek and other games. Jaël was very happy to celebrate her 8th birthday with all our cruising friends from ALDIVI, POLARWIND and ALKYONE.
We made a trip to beautiful Gilli Air, where we did some nice snorkeling & enjoyed a ride in a horse carriage taxi to the kids delight. Another day we hired two busses for all of us and made a lovely island tour. After a short stop at a local market and a tipical ancient local Sasak village we drove to the beautiful Strawberry Hill Gardens Ponds at the foot of Mt. Rinjani. On the way back we took a refreshing bath in the Sendang Gile waterfall just before sunset. It was a bit of a hurry as it was already late in the afternoon. So we decided to visit the waterfall again on another day and do a nice picknick there.
In close dinghy distance to the marina there was a small resort with a restaurant and a pool. We went there for lunch and they showed us a small covered basin with baby tortoises. Jaël and Amina were even allowed to hold them. They were just a few days old. The owner of the resort protect them until they are strong enough to have a good chance to survive in nature.
After 10 days we left Lombok and headed towards Batam, where we wanted to check out from Indonesia. In the distance accross the straits of Singapore we could already see the big city lights. The staff from Nongsa Point Marina was very efficient and helpful. Within half a day we were checked out and had all our documents ready for clearing into Singapore the following day.
Thank you Indonesia for this short but beautiful insight. Maybe one day we will be back to have a closer look. We will keep good memories of your friendly people, delicious food, colorful markets and stunning sunsets.
The passage through the challenging Torres strait could not have been better. The most critical part we crossed on a beautiful and sunny day in very calm conditions. It was my birthday by the way but as we had to have constantly a careful lookout we decided to celebrate the next day when we will have passed the strait.
Once we had passed the critical part with all the reefs some beautiful light wind sailing days in the Arafura sea followed. We sailed silently with the gennaker or sometimes with the Code zero . No banging, no heeling, no waves… it was simply perfect! Every morning I threw the fishing line at sunrise and after maximum one hour there was a nice tuna on the hook. The kids could play lego on the table and I even had a cup of coffee now and then. Normally both does not work on passages because of the heeling. My stomach does not like the combination of coffee and heeling. We even used the BBQ and I think that was the first time we did that on a passage. It was not our fastest passage but definitely one of the most beautiful ones and we all enjoyed it.
After 10 days we reached Kupang at nighttime. The traffic on the last few miles gave us a little taste of how challenging night sailing in Indonesia is going to be… many fishing boats and fish attracting devices…. some with no lights, most of them without AIS. Our friends from ALDIVI who had left Port Moresby before us were already there. Also ALKYONE, a German boat with five kids, who knew ALDIVI and POLARWIND from Fidji and had come from Australia. Normally we avoid to arrive on an anchorage at night but both ALDIVI and ALKYONE assured us that it was no problem and helped us to find a good anchorage spot.
We had many officials on board for the clearing in. One guy started to investigate the cabins and lockers and wanted me to take pictures of him investigating while the lady from health department wanted me to fill out a form. André was with other officials in the cockpit, filling out other forms…but then after a short while they got ready to leave again without really completing the investigation. A quick group selfie and off they went… A bit strange and chaotic but we were cleared in and ready to explore a new continent.
We went ashore all together for dinner on a street with many barbeque stalls offering fish, all kind of seafood and meat. We had to get used to all these zeros of the Indonesian Rupia… we spent over 1 million rupias for the dinner for three families that sounds a lot but it is just about 50 Swiss Francs. Bye the way… for the first time during our travel we hit the mango season!!! Yummy! They were incredibly delicious and cheap.
The next day I went for provisioning on the local market together with Jutta and Bernadette. It was great fun. Altough many of the locals did not understand English we got along somehow. There was always someone trying to help. I love to stroll through markets. It is one of my favourite things to do in a foreign country because you can learn a lot about local food and you feel the atmosphere. You discover local fruits and vegetables , you can taste them and you learn about people’s everyday life. Of course the strolling part on a provisioning tour is more limited to the beginning as your bags get heavier and heavier with every stall you stop at. But it is still fun especially on an Asian market, where there are heaps of different flavours, smells and colours to soak in. We squeezed in one of the local minibuses, just next to a fisherman with a bucket of fish and headed back to Teddy’s Bar.
Before heading off towards Komodo National Park we not only had to stock up our pantry we also had to refuel. And I do admit provisioning is the much nicer job than doing the refuel. At some places it is very easy of course. When there is a fuel dock where we can go by boat, it is similar to refuel a car – you basically just plug in the hose and that’s it. But in smaller places it is not as simple as that… There you have to refuel with 20lt. jerry cans. So you have to get a taxi to get the diesel, then load the heavy and super smelly jerry cans in the dinghy, lift them on the boat and fill them one by one in the fuel tank. And then you repeat the whole procedure depending how much diesel you need and how many jerry cans you have. Our local “agent” in Kupang was very helpful though, lent us jerrycans and delivered them full to the dinghy at the beach. We left Kupang and planned to meet each other again in the Komodo National Park. Our concerns about nightsailing in Indonesia proofed to be true…
It was hard to say goodbye… we had spent three unforgettable months in Vanuatu. This beautiful, extraordinary country of about 82 islands and it’s welcoming friendly people who shared parts of their traditions and every day life with us. Also three months of great company… We explored Mount Yasur and Efate with our South African friends from UBEJANE, experienced customs and every day life of Penthecost and Ambae with our German friends from ZIGZAG and enjoyed blue holes and beautiful beaches in Lelepa Island and Santo with our Australian friends from QUINCO.
So it felt strange to finally leave and for the first time after many months there was no friends boat heading for the same destination. Like when we left the Carribean for the Pacific this felt like the beginning of a new chapter of our journey. It was September the 5th, when we dropped the buoy in Aore resort in Lougainville and waved our Australian friends Quinco goodbye. We set sails for the Louisiades in excellent sailing conditions.
Unfortunately our code zero broke. Many hours in the sun had weakened the fabric. In addition André had a fight with some red footed boobies every evening when the sun was down. They wanted to sit on the bimini and on the solar panel but of course André did not like that. So he chased them until they seemed to give up… all except one. One boobie sat on the bow until we reached the pass to sudest island of the Louisiades.
Our first stop was Tagula on Sudest Island. While we were preparing the dinghy a few boys passed by in a small fiberglass motor boat, making some advertising for the shop on land. A little bit later we were ready to go. This shop seemed to be some kind of meeting point as it probably is the biggest store (maybe also the only one)in the Calvados island chain… and we are talking about some really tiny type of store… We met the shop owner Byron, who is also selling diesel and gold (altough the mines are shut down, locals still search and find gold). We asked for a SIM card and wanted to pay with US or Australian Dollars, but he explained us that they do not accept foreign currencies because it is almost impossible for them to change it in the local PNG kina. At the end he just gave us a SIM card and we promised to come back with a chocolate cake for his kids the next day.
There was a nice footpath through the woods and after asking some locals if it is ok, we went for a walk. Everyone we met was greeting very friendly. After a while we turned around and walked back. About half way back to the village we crossed a guy we had already crossed before. He introduced himself as Owen and said he was looking for us. He was curious to know who we are and where we came from and he wanted to show us his new home that he had built all by himself. It was a beautiful hut indeed. Unlike the ones we saw in Vanuatu, this hut was not built directly on the floor. It was built on stilts. We sat down and Jaël was allowed to paint on his wall while we were talking. He told us that he is the president of the local school and would like to show us around the next day.
So next day, after having brought a chocolate cake to Byron, Owen proudly showed us the village and the school. It was a beautiful day. Owen also invited us for celebrating Independance Day with them on Monday. We lifted the anchor next morning to go and explore the anchorage of the neighbouring island called Nimoa. As it was weekend the celebrations for Independence Day had already started. Many beautiful sailing outriggers came from the surrounding islands. We changed anchorage as it was a bit too shallow for our taste and as soon as we had dropped the anchor on a better place the first canoe arrived. And soon we realized that now we were the biggest shop in the bay ;-). The locals paddled in their canoes to our boat with things they wanted to trade. They offered bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, tiny little eggs and oranges. They were looking for clothes, stationary, needle and thread, fabric, fishing lines and hooks, fins and dive masks. We had stocked up in Australia for exactly this purpose but still we should have brought so much more…
In the afternoon we took the dinghy to go on land and have a closer look at the beautiful sailing outrigger boats and the small village near the catholic mission. As soon as we stepped on land we had a bunch of kids around us and Mary, a curious and clever teenage girl showed us proudly around. There was a small hospital, a school and a church. There were two local teams playing football and some teenagers played volleyball near the beach. The sailing boats were fantastic to look at. They are the only way of transport between the islands as there is no ferry or other public transport. But of course these sailing boats are expensive and only few people can afford one. That’s why they are very often loaded to the maximum. The person sitting in the middle always has to bail out the water as they are not 100% watertight.
So if one thinks that what we are doing is adventurous, I must say that it is nothing compared to what these people do. They sail without GPS, without autopilot, without a dry cabin, having just a small space to sit. But this weekend it was just a funride for them. They made a little race up to Nimoa island to join the party there.
Sunday afternoon we sailed back to Tagula to be on time for the Independence Day Celebrations at Owen’s school on Monday morning.
We were welcomed as guests of honour together with a local priest and a politician from Alotau on PNG mainland. A huge flag was presented by the students and another one was hoisted on the flagstaff. A few speeches followed about Papua New Guineas young history of independence and about the challenges the country has to face in the coming years. After this official part some games followed and lunch that had been prepared by some parents. For us this was a very interesting day and for the local kids it was exciting to see some Dimdims like us (Dimdim is the name for white people in Papua New Guinea).
The following day we said goodbye to Owen and moved on to Hoba Bay in Pana Numara Island, where we stayed two nights and after that we sailed to Panapompom, where all the sailing outriggers come from. They are made of a special tree which grows only on Paneati Island just next to Panapompom. On both anchorages we had very nice encounters with local people. In Hoba bay for example lives David who traded a beautifully crafted wooden board with glued shells saying „MIRABELLA“ against dive mask and T-Shirt. He lived in Port Moresby for several years, working as a printer but decided to go back to his home island. He prefers the island life. It is very basic but more relaxed and as there is enough land to grow your own food one is not so dependent on money. In Port Moresby which is an urbanized area with more westerly standards the living costs are of course much higher. It is full of Australian expats and people with a small salary struggle to make a living. In the small village of Hoba Bay we also met Patrick, who showed us how to make baggi necklaces. Like the red mats in Pentecost baggi necklaces are also used to pay outrigger sailing canoes, pigs, family ceremonies, schoolfees etc. They are made of red shells and it is a lot of work as they use very basic tools. We traded one of his beautiful necklaces against a dive mask. On Panapompom Island we met Martin. He showed us his sailing canoe, which was almost finished. But he still had no sail. We offered him our old Genoa sail and he was very happy. A bunch of kids walked with us to the local school an Edith the teacher showed us around. They even have a small garden where they grow some vegetables and salad.
Mirabella trade store was busy again. Twice André had to save some kids, because the weather was a bit too rough for the small canoes and two boys with their baby brother forgot to bring a bailer… so the waves flooded the canoe and they were in trouble. André rescued them with the dinghy and brought them on shore ! Another time a family in a sailing outrigger asked for help. They had a damaged sail and wanted to repair it before heading to their home island Utean. They were looking for any kind of stronger fabric and we gave them a bag that was a gift from the guy who made our lazybag. Hopefully they made it safely back to their home island…
After two weeks in the Louisiades our tradestore run out of stock and we headed towards Port Moresby, to get ready for the next passage through Torres Strait to Indonesia. We arrived in Port Moresby at night. There were several squalls and we had to wait until there was a clear period to pass the harbour entrance through the reef. The marina allowed us to tie on one of the first pontoons near the entrance, which was perfect for us. It was strange to arrive in a city with so many lights after all our time in Vanuatu and the Louisiades, where we visited many places with no electritity.
In Port Moresby there is a big Australian expat community. Many of them live on a boat in the marina, as it is a lot cheaper than renting an apartment. While checking out the Royal Papua New Guinea Yacht club the evening of our arrival André met Cameron who is working for DHL and lives on a Bavaria yacht in the marina. He encouraged us to order our replacement for the broken gas spring of the boomvang in Australia and have it sent by DHL to Port Moresby. Normally this would have been a risky thing as it always takes longer (especially when you are on a tight time schedule) but Cameron was very optimistic that he could speed up things. And he really did! So we ordered the new code zero sail as well to Port Moresby. This one took a little bit longer but at the end it worked out perfectly.
When we aŕrived in Port Moresby I thought how nice it would be to meet some kids boats with a similar route like ours and guess what happened…. After we had changed to another pontoon we saw this aluminium boat with many stickers on it…. ALDIVI was the name. We started chatting and invited them for drinks in the evening. That was the beginning of our wonderful friendship with Alejandro, Bernadette and their three kids Alexa, Diego and Vital from Mexico! They were also heading to Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Red Sea. Jaël and Amina quickly made friends as Diego is the same age as Jaël and Vital the same age as Amina. The following day Jaël and Amina were already invited for a sleepover on ALDIVI. We spent a fantastic day in Port Moresby Nature Park together with our new Mexican friends and learned a lot about the Bird of Paradise (which is on the National Flag of Papua New Guinea) and other local animals. The following day friends of ALDIVI arrived, a German Chilean family on a boat called POLARWIND with two kids, Antonia and Theo. They were also heading for Indonesia, Thailand and the Mediterranean Sea and they knew each other from Fidji. What a nice surprise! This is gonna be great! Indonesia here we come!
Jane is selling beautiful handcrafts in the garden of the museum
Already the arrival in Vanuatu was special… I had the early morning shift and was the first to see Aneityum in the morning dawn. Three dolphins welcomed Mirabella at sunrise. And just to top this perfect setting I heard a strange noise, turned around and just saw the back of a whale disappear next to Mirabella’s port side… it was a mixture between shock and excitment. I don’t need to see the whales THAT CLOSE… but anyway… I thought ” hello Vanuatu, I think I already like you”
So we anchored in this beautiful bay between Aneityum and Mystery Island. We stayed a few days and met very friendly people like Roslyn for example who was a teacher at the local school. But as one can only clear in in Aneityum when a cruise ship is there, we did not want to stress the goodwill of the local police and moved on to Port Resolution in Tanna. We timed our arrival there together with Ubejane, our South African friends. They were coming from Fidji and we were all looking forward to see them again. Last time we had been together was in Opua in November. It was already getting dark when Ubejane arrived at the anchorage but it was perfect time for dinner. They had caught a nice tuna and came on our boat to share it with us. The girls were happy to see Noah and Samuel again.
The next morning two officers from Lenakel had come over to clear us in. The kids enjoyed playing together in the garden of the yacht club and later on we walked to the beautiful village to look if we could find some bread. We found the bakery (a small hut with a big wood fired oven) but all the bread was gone already. We ordered some for the next day and Leah, the friendly lady from the local restaurant, offered to pick it up for us. The village was made of beautiful hand built huts with pandanus leaf roofs and nicely arranged gardens and paths. But there was no electricity, no running water . The village shares 5 water tabs. Even Leah in her small restaurant has to fill water in bottles at one of the tabs. She has a small two flame gas stove in her kitchen. Normally the people cook on an open fire on the floor in one corner of the hut. They grow most of their food like taro and yams roots on their own.
Of course we wanted to see the volcano and Saturday seemed to be a good day for it. We left Port Resolution at 3 p.m. and the kids were very excited. The road was bumpy, narrow and not easy to drive on. Thank god we did not have to drive on our own… We arrived at the Visitor center and were welcomed by the chief and a local dance ceremony. After getting permission by the chief, some last safety instructions and a short drive we were ready to climb the last peak up to the crater…
To stand at the rim of the crater and look down into the boiling lava was really impressive and also a little bit scary. When there was a bigger burst you could feel the heat and smell the sulfur.
Port Resolution – a beautiful village
After our trip to the volcano, we continued towards Efate, the most developed island of the Vanuatu group. We were waiting for an engine sparepart to be sent to Efate and we hoped to speed up the process a bit by being present. That did not really work out and we missed our weather window to sail to Pentecost and see the last land diving of the season together with our friends from ZIGZAG. So we spent a few days in Port Vila experiencing Vanuatu “city life”… the girls loved scootering up and down the seafront promenade together with the boys from UBEJANE while we enjoyed the delicious coffee in Nambawan Cafe. We visited the Vanuatu National Museum where Edgar explained us many interesting things about different customs in Vanuatu and we saw the most stunning fire show at the Mele Beach Bar together with QUINCO.
On the images below some impressions of our visit in the Vanuatu National Museum with Edgar. While telling a story he draws these beautiful pictures in the sand in one run.
Vanuatu National Museum in Port Vila, Efate
Market in Port Vila, Efate
We moved on to Lelepa Island where we wanted to catch up with our friends from UBEJANE and fell in love with that small beautiful island. The water was cristal clear and Ruben (one of the chiefs) and his wife Esther were very friendly. UBEJANE went back to Port Vila und we just wanted to move on when QUINCO turned up. What a nice surprise! Of course we stayed and shared the magic of this island with them.
After a few days we left Lelepa island to meet up with ZIGZAG in Loltong, Northern Pentecost. As they had already been to Vanuatu they had contacts from their last visit and got invited to a local wedding. Of course we did not want to miss that opportunity. In addition we wanted to celebrate with ZIGZAG Irene’s birthday.
Compared to the lonely Lelepa Island, Loltong was something completely different…. Whenever we stepped on land we were surrounded by kids. The Nakamal was the center of the village and of course the weddings were celebrated just nearby. (“Nakamal” is a traditional meeting place in Vanuatu. It is used for gatherings, ceremonies and the drinking of kava. A Nakamal is found in every significant community but design and traditions can vary).
A wedding in Vanuatu is not a one day celebration. There are numerous ceremonies like for example the exchange of the payment, the bride moving out of he8r former home and all her belongings being brought to the ceremony place and of course the actual wedding ceremony. Three couples were getting married and the ceremonies had already started the day before with a special snake dance. On our arrival day it was “payment day”. An uncountable number of woven red mats (typical for Penthecost area) were exchanged as payment between fhe families of the three brides and grooms. They will be stored at home and can be used as payment for special ceremonies or school fees for example.
The following day, Irene from ZIGZAG, the kids and me joined a group of local women to walk to the next village and pick up Diane, one of the brides. All her belongings were piled up in front of her house and another ceremony with exchange of many red mats followed. After that, we all walked together with Diane to the main square in front of the Nakamal where 30 pigs were waiting. She then waited patiently on a mat with all her belongings piled up behind her until the other two brides arrived from their villages. To make a long story short… we thought there would be a wedding ceremony with some custom dance and music, but either we missed it or it did not happen. But nevertheless it was very interesting for us to see.
Irene and Georg from ZIGZAG introduced us to their friends and day by day we got to know more people. It was so interesting for us to get more insight in their every day life. André and Georg built a swing for the kids and tried to fix some solar panel connections. But it turned out that the battery was dead. On the National children day we had the opportunity to visit a boarding school and attend their special ” slow food” programm. The students were divided in groups and they had to prepare traditional dishes.
Slow food Vanuatu style…
Life is hard when you are a chicken in Loltong…
Wedding ceremony Vanuatu style
We felt quite at home and found always a reason to stay. At the end we planned to celebrate Independence Day in Laone and then move on to Maewo the next day. Many of the locals were looking for a ride to Laone to attend the celebrations. So we had a few guests on board… most of them had never been on a sailing boat before and were very excited. The main attraction was a football game between two local teams…
Independence Dayin Laone
The next day we sailed to Asanvari, a beautiful little village on Maewo island. As there were stronger winds predicted for the next few days we just stayed one night and then moved on to Lolowai, on Ambae island, where we should have enough protection. It was one of the most beautiful anchorages we had on our trip so far.
Ambae is the emergent portion of Vanuatu’s largest Volcano which rises 1’496m above sea level and 3’900m above the sea floor. On September 28, 2017, after a week of increasing volcanic activity to Level 4 (level 5 being a major eruption), the government of Vanuatu ordered a complete evacuation of the island. Many people were brought to the neighbour island Maewo. Many of them have returned as soon as the alert level had dropped to start recovering their homes. But who knows when they have to leave again? Definitely not an easy life…. We spent a few days there together with ZIGZAG waiting until the wind calmed down.
As soon as the wind forecast was good, we sailed to Peterson Bay , Espiritu Santo. Our friends from QUINCO were already waiting there for us. It is a fantastic place. There are two blue holes, where you can paddel to from the anchorage: the Matevulu Blue Hole and the Riri Blue Hole. We paddled with our Kajaks to the Matevulu Blue Hole and it was simply magical! The kids had great fun in jumping into the cristal clear blue water and so did we.
Within a short dinghy ride there was the Turtle Bay Lodge, where we could bring our laundry, have a nice meal and the kids were even allowed to use the pool. Another day we were invited by a local family for lunch at their beach. In the meantime our sparepart for the engine had arrived and André therefore flew to Efate to get it while I did some provisioning. We had not seen a shop since Port Vila and needed to stock up a bit… After coming back André went on a dive trip in Lougainville to see the wreck of SS President Coolidge while QUINCO was already sailing north to Lonnoc beach. A few days later we celebrated there Maya’s 8th birthday. A few days later the anchorage filled with kids boat… ZIGZAG, BRAVE and FAMILY CIRCUS had arrived and now it was Noah’s turn to celebrate his birthday. What a party with so many kids!!! Next day we headed out with three dinghys to a nice dive spot while the kids were playing on the beach. We had a great dive with our friends. How fortunate we are to explore the underwater world on our own… these are the big advantages of our cruising life. One of the disadvantages is for sure the goodbyes and I probably will never get used to them. In the evening we had to say goodbye to our friends from ZIGZAG not knowing if we are gonna see each other again. They were heading to the Banks islands and then to Solomon islands while we wanted to go to the Louisiades in Papua New Guinea.
We were working hard on our friends from QUINCO to join us to the Louisiades but we finally gave up and enjoyed our remaining time in their good company on a buoy in Aore island resort, doing last provisionings for the passage to the Louisiades. One day we will sit together again somewhere in this world, play Skipbo and have a good laugh.
Impressions of André’s wreck dive in Lougainville, Santo – SS President Coolidge
After three unforgettable months it was time to move on. Byebye Vanuatu… you are incredible!
It was very difficult for us to leave Sydney… not only because the good weather windows to sail up the east coast were rare but most of all because we really loved this beautiful city and had such a good time there.
Goodbye got a bit easier, when Dean and his family decided to come and see us in Port Stephens over their Easter holiday… so we left Sydney harbour with a silent promise in our hearts to be back some day.
To make things easier with four adults and four kids on board for Easter we wanted to book a berth in a marina instead of anchoring. So André got a quote of 140 AU$ per day in the Marina of Port Stephens. André wrote to the Marina manager, thanks for the offer and told him that we were on a circumnavigation and this was way over our budget. The answer of the Manager was very short: “Having been in this position myself a few years ago, how about 50$ a day?” What a nice gesture, we did not really expect that he would lower the price! But of course we accepted that deal.
The Anchorage Marina in Port Stephens is very well maintained and set in beautiful surroundings just next to a nice beach and a small playground with BBQ facilities. It turned out to be the perfect choice for our Easter weekend with Dean, Karen and their two girls. But before our friends were joining us we did a beautiful hike to the Tomaree lookout. What a beautiful view on the coastline and Nelson bay. We spent unforgettable Easter days together with our Sydney friends and explored Fingal Bay together. Of course saying goodbye was not easy… thank you Karen, Dean, Emily and Hannah for a wonderful time. We will miss you and hope to see you again on your next holiday in Switzerland.
We left Nelson bay and had a good passage to Southport. At sunrise, just off the coast of Byron Bay we caught a yellowfin tuna. André wrote an instagram post and we received a prompt comment from our Swiss friends from BAJKA : “We can see you😊 we will come for dinner!” They were staying on the campsite of Byron Bay and took our lines in Southport Marina in the afternoon. Jaël and Amina were of course very excited to see their friends Nael and Illian again.
Ela, Lukas and the boys stayed with us for three nights. The kids enjoyed the great playground and Lukas helped André with the installation of our new stove. Then we had to say goodbye, as they were heading back to Sydney. Next time we will see each other back home in Switzerland. We have sailed all the way from Niue to New Zealand together, the kids went to school in Opua and even after they had sold their boat we managed to meet again in Christchurch, Sydney and Southport. We are looking forward to catch up with them back home in Switzerland someday!
We moved to a beautiful anchorage next to South Stradbroke Island. In the evenings the kangaroos were coming to the beach and one afternoon Jaël, Amina and me went on a mission to see some kangaroos close and to find out what their traces looked like.
We spent our time waiting for a good weather window to New Caledonia and did a lot of provisioning. Unfortunately the good weather window did let us wait a bit too long. Normally Dean from Brisbane (a good friend of Karin), wanted to join us for the passage to Noumea. He and his family are getting ready to go on a sailing adventure next year and he would have loved to join us to get more experience in longer passages! But his business was calling… he had to fly to China instead of sailing with us to New Caledonia. We spent a beautiful weekend together with them and Dean took us to an amazing wildlife park where the kids could feed kangaroos and pet koalas.
Finally we left on Amina’s Birthday. We celebrated a day in advance as we already knew it was gonna be an upwind passage. We had to go quite a bit south to make it more comfortable. Jaël stayed in the cockpit every day of this passage. She was afraid to get seasick if she would watch a movie downstairs in the cabin. So they were listening to Kasperli, Globi and fairytale stories in the cockpit. After seven days we arrived at nighttime in Nouméa.
Of course we enjoyed the French flair of New Caledonia. A slice of crispy baguette with a little bit of salted butter, a croissant or a pain au chocolat is hard to beat and makes the crew happy. Also the beautiful market with delicious fresh fish, huge selection of vegetables and herbs were like paradise for the chef of the galley and added a bit of a Mediterranean touch.
We met old friends again, like Jon Petter, Ingrid and Karen-Marie from the Norwegian boat VILJA and Pam and Eric from Pieds-à-mer, which we have not seen since Opua. And we also made a couple of new friends, like Jenni and Neil from SORTIE, TOREA V – an Australian family with 4 kids, ZIG ZAG – a German boat with three kids and QUINCO – an Australian boat with one girl, same age as Jaël. Jaël and Amina enjoyed playing on the pontoon together with Mia, Noah and Lino from ZIG ZAG and Karen Marie from VILJA.
We sailed to Île des Pins and did a beautiful hike together with TOREA V.. Afterwards on the beach VILJA and ZIG ZAG, who had just arrived joined. After a few days we headed back to Nouméa as our new Genoa sail was meant to arrive. ZiG ZAG moved already on to Vanuatu. We promised to keep in touch and to meet in Vanuatu again.
We have had a good passage so far… except the last one or two days, where we had strong current against us and increasing winds. Everyone was looking forward to arrive in Sydney and finally after seven days we could see the city lights in the distance…
We knew that we would arrive at night and were told by the Australian Border Force to grab the quarantine buoy in Watson’s Bay and then come to Neutral Bay for clearance the next morning. It was a short night… we were too excited to go to sleep and of course had to celebrate our arrival.
Next morning we motored towards Neutral Bay (which is before the Harbour Bridge) but we could simply not resist doing an extra loop passing the Opera House and going under the Harbour Bridge. There were a lot of “Aaaaah’s” and “Ooohs” until Marco saw a black speed boat coming with a few very official looking guys on board. ” I think they are coming to us” So we turned down the music and put on our serious faces. It actually was the Australian Border Force. ” We were looking for you! We were waiting for you in Neutral Bay!” one of them said. “Aha… Neutral Bay is in that direction? Ok… we are coming right away!” André said. The officer just smiled and said “See you there in 20 minutes!” Of course they knew that we knew were Neutral Bay was….
After the usual clearance procedures we were waiting for the biosecurity check. After about two hours a guy came to our boat, he looked at our Swiss flag and took a picture. Then he greeted in Swiss German and came on board. He introduced himself as Franz Odermatt from Stans in Switzerland. He immigrated 20 years ago as a baker. Of course he spotted the Nespresso machine and accepted with a smile our offer for a coffee. It was strange to sail all that way to Sydney and then be checked by someone speaking strong Swiss dialect from Central Switzerland. After having paid 400 Australian Dollars for a large bag of rubbish, we were ready to go… Sydney here we come.
For the first three nights we had booked a berth in Rushcutter’s Bay Marina but then we wanted to move to a more affordable place. We soon realized that Sydney is not very cruiser friendly. There are just a few anchorages – but all too shallow for us . There are some pink buoys, where you are allowed to stay 24 hours, but how do you want to go sightseeing in town, when there is no dinghy dock around? To make a long story short – after about one week and three Mirabella harbour cruises, André found an affordable mooring in Cammeray marina. It is run by Calvin, a very friendly and helpful guy, who had done a similar sailing adventure with his family. Jaël and Amina made friends with two local geese, who came to our boat every morning.
We had a wonderful time in Sydney! We celebrated André’s birthday, did a lot of sightseeing and caught up with friends from André’s Sydney time. Dean and Karen, who have two daughters of similar age as Jaël and Amina were of course the perfect match. We had a pleasant Sunday sail to Watson’s bay with them, celebrated Emily’s birthday together, enjoyed a delicious dinner in Dean and Karen’s favourite Libanese restaurant and visited them at their home. Some other friends, Tim and Rachelle, who learned sailing in Sydney Harbour together with André back in the old days, flew to Sydney to visit us. We spent a beautiful weekend in Manly beach with them. And to make things even better, our BAJKA friends flew to Sydney as well and we visited Taronga Zoo together.
After an early wake up call we got on the bus to Christchurch Airport and took our flight to Auckland. From there we took the bus downtown to the Central Bus station and changed there to the bus, which would bring us to Opua in a 4 hours drive. It was a long journey with a lot of luggage – we still carried all the stuff from our Switzerland holiday with us – but Jaël and Amina did extremely well.
Mirabella was still in the shed but we wanted to be back on time to see how she looked like and to be able to react if there were any problems. Therefore we had booked an AirBnB in Opua just a little bit uphill from the school. Our hosts Terry and Jocelyn gave us a warm welcome with cool drinks on their beautiful terrace. The kids felt at home immediately… there was a trampoline and a huge box of lego on the terrace and Terry had put fresh corn on the cob and chocolates in our fridge… what else could they wish for!
Next day it was time to go and have a look at Mirabella… wow… what a beauty she was again! The guys from Bluefix had done a fantastic job! Now just the antifouling had to be done and then she would look like new. André decided that this was the right place to do it properly and scratch and sand first all the 20 layers of old antifouling off. A gruesome job. To reduce the costs he worked on it as well.
So it took a little longer than we thought and thanks to Terry and Jocelyn, who are the most generous and friendly people you could imagine, we could extend our stay. Terry helped us out whenever we needed a ride to Paihia or Kerikeri. He took us to beautiful Matauri bay on a Sunday, baked a cake with the girls and invited us often to join one of his deliciuosly cooked dinners on the beautiful terrace.
Finally, after about two weeks, Mirabella got out of the shed, got her mast back on and we could move on the boat again. We were all happy to be back in our floating home and unpack our bags. Since beginning of December we had been living out of them. Jaël and Amina had to be very patient until they could unpack the lego they had got for Christmas. You can imagine what they did first…
The following days we spent getting Mirabella back into ship shape. André sent the anchor chain to Whangarei to regalvanize it, as some parts were a bit rusty and we got a custom made welded reinforcement for our pushpitt, as it had always been a bit wobbly since we had upgraded from a 6 PS to a 20 PS motor.
Camilla, who wanted to join us for the passage to Sydney, arrived and helped us with the boatjobs. Marco, who originally wanted to visit us in Sydney, flew to New Zealand instead, to join us for the passage as well…. quite an adventurous thing for someone without sailing experience. In between last provisioning and boatjobs we also enjoyed more beautiful hikes and celebrated Waitangi day on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. We invited Terry and Jocelyn for dinner on our boat and Jaël and Amina were very proud to finally show them our boat.
Towards the end of February there was finally a good weather window for the passage to Sydney but – our anchor chain was still in Whangarei… The weather window would not last much longer. If we waited until the chain got delivered to Opua we would not be able to leave on time and would have to wait for another window. So we asked Terry , if he could drive André to Whangarei. Although he had a lot of work he drove André to Whangarei to pick up the anchor chain. Thank you Terry! The 28th of February we checked out of New Zealand. Jocelyn, her mom Hine and Terry came down to the marina to say goodbye . They brought us cakes, grapes and a Kiwi bag full of chips etc.
Bye bye New Zealand – this was one of the hardest goodbyes. We have been to many beautiful places on our journey, but this was different. Thank you to all the friendly people we have met, especially in the marina, in Opua school and in Paihia Waitangi Kindergarten. Thank you for making New Zealand such a special place! We will be back one day!
After two days in Auckland we flew to Christchurch. We had booked a beautiful Airbnb in New Brighton. It was the perfect choice to relax a little bit after the eventful weeks in Switzerland and the long flight back to New Zealand. It was a tiny little house with a small garden (with BBQ). Within short walking distance there was the beach and a huge playground with waterplays. Amina and Jaël of course loved it!
Then our two weeks campervan trip began… Amina and Jaël had been longing for this already for a long time. Especially because we would meet our friends (and former neighbours) Barbara and Michi with her two girls Flurina and Seraina, both best friends of Jaël and Amina. They were on a sabbatical and had already spent three months touring Australia. In January they were now flying to New Zealand, to explore the South and North Island for the following three months. The plan was to meet them near Akaroa a few days later and then cruise together for about a week until we would have to head back to Christchchurch.
But the first few days we were on our own. We wanted to visit Hanmer Springs. On the way we passed the vinery Waiau River Estate and we could not resist… we enjoyed a glass of Sauvignon blanc and stayed there over night between the grapevines.
Next day we drove to Hanmer Springs. We stopped at a fantastic camping ground with beautiful walks through the woods just nearby. The Hanmer Springs Thermal bath is beautifully set in a park. There are different rock pools with different water temperatures, a kids pool with waterslides and also a kids area with watergames. You can even picnic on the green. This thermal bath was very different from the ones we knew in Switzerland, where it is usually more an “adult’s only” thing.
We continued to Kaikoura where we were hoping to see some seals. Just when we were having a sundowner at the wharf, enjoying the spectacular view over the bay a guy pulled in with his motor boat. André took the lines and helped him and we started talking. Gary had worked for many years as a ski teacher in Verbier. He offered to take us out with his boat the next morning to see the seals. We arranged to meet at nine o’clock the next day and helped him to get the motorboat out of the water on his trailer. Just before he left, he asked if we had had dinner already. We said “no” and he grabbed a fish out of his cooler and gave it to us. How generous! We had a delicious dinner and saw the seals from very close the next day. We were even invited for coffee at Gary’s place after the boat trip. Thank you Gary and Lynn! You completely made our day!
On our way back to Christchurch we wanted to do a short lunch stop in the middle of nowhere. Shortly after we had stopped two cars pulled in: in the first car there was future crew Camilla, who will join us for the passage to Sydney. She had just seen us, as she was driving by in the opposite direction. The second car was a guy in a pickup. He got out of his car, laid under it and started some serious looking repair works. After a while he threw the drive shaft in his pickup. Apparently his four wheel drive car had now turned into a two wheel drive car only. Before the guy left again he asked us, if we like crayfish… grabbed in a big cool box and gave us a big crayfish. We fried it in the pan right away, there in the middle of nowhere.
We waited for Barbara, Michi and the girls on an idyllic camping ground on the peninsula of Akaroa. Amina and Jaël were completely excited… they had last seen their friends end of August 2017 a few days before we left Switzerland and now we where together in New Zealand. We had a wonderful evening all together.
We drove on a narrow small street to Akaroa the next day. There was a sign “Not suitable for campervans” at the beginning of the road. The road was quite curvy and steep. But the views on the peninsula were breathtaking! We just really hoped that no car would come from the other side as there was no room to cross. Luckily there was no other car and we made it to the bigger road without any problems. But after all we agreed with the sign: “definitely not suitable for campervans”.
Akaroa is a tidy little town with French colonial background. Today many street names and a bakery with delicious baguette remind of that historical background. As the forecast for the next day promised a lot of rain we decided to make some miles and head to Lake Tekapo.
The scenery around Lake Tekapo is simply BEAUTIFUL! The turquoise color of the lake is spectacular. André and I walked up to the observatory and enjoyed the view while Jaël and Amina stayed with our friends on the campingground. We had a great time and would have loved to stay longer, but we had booked the campervan for two weeks only, so we continued to Lake Pukaki after two days. There we had to say goodbye to Barbara, Michi, Flurina and Seraina. As we wanted to see a little bit of the West Coast as well, we had to start heading back. Barbara and Michi had a much wider time frame as they booked the motor home for three months.
It was sad to go seperate ways again, but we were very thankful that it worked out so well and we were able to cruise together almost a week. On the way up the West coast we did a beautiful hike to the Fox Glacier and then continued to Hokitika and spectacular Arthur’s pass ( unfortunately with quite a bit of rain) back to Christchurch.
In Christchurch we gave back the motorhome and moved into an Airbnb and BAJKA was already waiting for us. Amina and Jaël were so happy to see their friends Nael and Iillian again. As BAJKA was already sold they were on a road trip now. The kids enjoyed the huge Margaret Mahy Playground together. Pretty much the best and biggest playground they had ever seen so far. And we enjoyed catching up with Ela and Lukas.
We all enjoyed our land trip in New Zealand. On each and every place we had stopped we could have stayed much longer. We have seen just a few places of this beautiful country – we had to make some choices. But the good thing about New Zealand is: whatever you choose, you will most likely meet friendly and open minded people and enjoy stunning sceneries. New Zealand… we will be back some day!