Friday, July 17, 2015

Hello Boppa, Hello Mimi!

Every summer our daughter leaves the heat and humidity of Hong Kong to spend a month vacationing in the Northwest with her family. They have rented a house for the past two years on Payette Lake in McCall and have invited family and friends to visit. We know when we arrive its “full-on-activity-time” with lots of hands-on time to spend with the grand-kids.

We were looking forward to having the whole gang together including Brad and family but unfortunately they were not able to make it at the last minute. We did have an opportunity to see Brody & Bennett last January and would have a chance to catch up again once we got back to Seattle.  We hadn’t seen Quinn and Conner since last summer, almost a year ago.  So many changes during these younger years with Quinn 5 years old, a bit taller, an amazing conversationalist, and more engaging than ever. Conner, who we remember as a little toddler is now a full-on curious and strong-minded little guy who manages to keep up with the older cousins.  We were long overdue for some hands-on time ahead.
Early the first morning, Conner and Quinn are very eager to play with Boppa and Mimi.
This year Christa and Nash purchased a water-ski boat from Walter's cousin so we had lots of opportunity to run around the lake, jump from rock cliffs, water ski, inter-tube, or just tool along gazing at the homes along the lake.  SUP’s (stand up paddle-boards) have become one of our favorite modes of water transport, as well as swimming and playing on the beach, river rafting, hiking, mountain biking, wandering through cute stores in town, two nearby hot springs, music festivals, and much more.  We enthusiastically agree McCall has it all as a summer get away.
Mimi taking Quinn and Conner for a spin around the dock
Quinn mastering the SUP...stand up paddle-board

Over the years, Walter and I have always prided ourselves for being active and outdoorsy, but we quickly realized we had a few limitations at 5,000 ft. as we tried to peddle up Jug Mountain while mountain biking. Phew!  A sea-level life style and the fact we are both getting closer to 70 than we want to admit, made it a little more challenging!  Walter and I hadn’t water skied in decades but we both gave it a try. I was very proud of Walter who managed to get up ... he’s still got it!

Hang on honey, you're looking great!
Christa making it look way too easy!
Very impressive cut Nash!
Conner helping Nash drive the boat
One of the biggest events of the summer is the  Bluegrass Festival in Roseberry. It lasts three nights and draws a large crowd of music fans, young and old. We joined one of Christa’s best friends from high school, Jenny, husband Patrick, and their 3-month-old baby Alya.  The music was great and the crowd just as entertaining. We all enjoyed rocking to the music, especially Quinn and Conner, who with their painted faces, danced the night away.  Wish we had that much energy!

Quinn getting her face painted is really into pink and hearts
Conner looks like he could be in a Ralph Loren ad.
Christa and Jenny buddies since junior high school. What beautiful women they've turned out to be.
Jenny, Patrick, and little Alya
Trying to give Christa a little break we took the  kids to the popular Pancake House for breakfast.  While waiting for a table we wandered around the grounds of the restaurant which had a train, fountains, and lots to occupy hungry children. Fortunately our table was ready just as we completed our excursion around the restaurant grounds.
Keeping the kids occupied before the pancakes arrive
Next on the schedule (we only had four activities that day) was Burgdorff Hot Springs. It was converted from an old mining town and is a funky place to relax in the pools.  We enjoyed soaking in the hot pools with the kids and dodging the voracious deer flies.  
Taking it all in at Burgdorff Hot Springs
Oh how I miss soaking in a tub of hot water
We filled our days with playground time with the kids, made pottery in town, and went on a wonderful scavenger hunt one morning in the near by State Park. We showed the kids how to use a magnifying glass and binoculars and with a little guidance they managed to find every natural item on the scavenger list, except for a bird feather.
Discovering an anthill on the scavenger hunt.
Stickers help make the hunt more fun.
Do you see anything interesting Conner?
Boppa pointing out a clue to Quinn during the scavenger hunt.
Later, that week, Ranne and Reid, Nash’s Godmother and God-brother joined the household.  We have shared many a vacation together with Christa and Nash and extended family and hadn’t seen them for several years. It was so nice to get to spend some time with them in McCall.

Reid and Walter got babysitting duties while the women went to the spa for the day.
Quinn playing with "fun-uncle" Reid. Little did she know she was sitting with a famous Hollywood star, as Reid just starred in the recent movie Area 51 and a remake of the Manson Family.
We took an excursion to another hot springs called Gold Forks Hot Springs, with a beautiful setting of rock-lined pools cascading down stream to a series of five pools. Starting at 105 degrees, each pool a little cooler as you descended down the stream. We all enjoyed chatting and relaxing until it was time to head to the infamous “My Father’s Place,” a very popular burger place with veggie burgers, sweet potato fries, and chocolate chip milk shakes.  Goodness what a nice way to end the day!
Reid, Ranne, and Walter soaking away.
Time always passes so quickly when you are enjoying yourselves and as our time was drawing to a close we focused more on the wonderful time spent being together with family in such a beautiful part of the country. 
Boppa and Mimi can hardly wait to get back next year for more family time together.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Leaving Tahiti for Boise, Now Who Does That?

The next few days were a whirlwind of activity as we were scheduled to fly out of Papeete in only four days. When we are hauled out we lose our bathroom, our refrigeration, and our showers, so the first priority was walking about a mile down the road to a wonderful Carrefour SuperMarche.  We hadn’t seen this selection and quality of food since Panama (and that certainly wasn’t the same as a French supermarket) so that was great. We bought some fresh baguettes (price controlled by the French government at US$ 0.53) and fresh vegetables. Our freezer was still frozen so we hoped we could eke out four more days of cold out of it.

Leaving the boat for two months is no walk in the park. We had a comprehensive list of things to do and we started at the top and worked our way down. We didn’t have someone to watch the boat and we’d had trouble with mold before, so we opted to wipe down everything with a mixture of vinegar and soap and leave all the cabinet and engine room doors open to promote ventilation. As much as we wanted to leave the fans on, it was just too great of an electrical fire risk to make it worthwhile. We did put all the pillows and bedding in vacuum seal bags, took all the sails and running rigging off, filled the heads with fresh water and sealed with saran wrapping, and placed desiccant containers around the boat.

We lucked out that someone I had been conversing with on an email list mentioned that her boat was in our yard and her husband was renting a car when he returned to Tahiti from the States.  We met Tony, an affable Australian living on a bright yellow trimaran and he agreed to drive us up to Papeete on Tuesday (Bastille Day when no taxis or buses were running) to our hotel for our 7:30 am departure the next day. Since the cab ride alone would have been over $125, Tony was a godsend. He even drove us down to the local town of Taravao to the great Ace Hardware store to stock up desiccant containers and other stuff. 

On Tuesday, with the boat put to bed as well as possible, we jumped in Tony’s tiny car and drove the one hour to Papeete. It was Bastille Day so not much was open. We treated Tony to a nice lunch at the local brew pub, then walked down to the City Marina to see if anyone we knew was around. Well, the good news was lots of boats were there, including Full Circle, French Curve, Boxing Kangaroo and others, but everyone was at the once-a-year hevia (Tahitian dance competition) just out of town. We caught a cab back to the Tahiti Airport Hotel, which for $120 turned out to be a great little place overlooking Faa’a Airport. For the first time in eight months we enjoyed a long hot shower, a huge bed, and TV with a lilting French narrative that we couldn’t understand.

At 0’dark thirty we got up and met our taxi for the two-minute ride to the airport (we had a lot of bags). It was so weird knowing we were going to actually get on the flight, versus flying stand-by which is our normal way of travel. While checking in the affable French agent said “You know, we don’t have a lot of people flying from Tahiti to Boise, it’s usually the other way around.”  Certainly food for thought at that early hour.

Instead of waiting for everyone to board the plane and then hope our name got called for stand-by, we actually got on early, stowed all our bags (we’ve got to learn to travel lighter), and sat an enjoyed the phenomenal Air France service. Meryl and I just stared at each other, both thinking that last time we had service and food this good was on a Pan Am flight to Hong Kong.  Looking out the window at the vast Pacific Ocean we had just crossed, we realized what took us three months to accomplish in our boat would be a six-hour flight to Los Angeles.

Once at LAX we used our Global Entry program to scan an image of our fingerprints and pass about two hundred other people waiting in line. If you are going to travel more than two flights a year, Global Entry (which includes TSA Pre program) is worth its weight in gold.

We transferred to an Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle, arriving at 12:30 am, and made the terrible mistake of going to the Sea Tac Travel Lodge. Even a down-and-out hooker would not spend two hours in this dump. Thank God we had a 7:00 am flight to Boise.  It was hard being that close to all our friends without being able to say hi, but we were on a schedule (finally).

We arrived in Boise and picked up a rental car that our daughter had arranged from the local private jet service and need to be returned to McCall. The guy who took us over to Jackson Jet Center was kind of cool and gave us a brief tour of the hanger, showing us two MIG-23’s owned by private individuals. “There’s a lot of wealth around Boise, we just don’t show it off,” he said.

We took a quick drive over to the Sierra Outlet Store, one of our favorite outdoor stores, where Meryl scored some good deals on clothing. We then met some old cruising friends, Dean and Kris Hearst, who cruised their Manta 38 What If in the Caribbean when we were there. We had a good Mexican lunch (we hadn’t had Mexican food in eight months) and heard about their transition to land so their son, Derek, could finish out high school and go to college. They were nice enough to let me have friends in Seattle forward my renewed driver’s license to them so I would be legal driving in the States. 

Thanks again, guys, so great to see you.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Land Ho!, Tahiti

With the 30-knot wind still roaring through the rigging on July 6th, we knew our decision to wait out the “mamaru” was the right one.  We’ve talked with other sailors about the decision-making process aboard a boat. The worse reason for making a decision to depart in inclement weather is because you have to be somewhere by a certain time. This is the kiss of death to a cruising sailor. 

In our case, we “had” to be in Tahiti because we had scheduled a haul out. On top of all that, we weren’t certain the yard could handle a boat our size so we needed time to get to an alternative yard if that proved true. To add icing to the cake, we (for the 2nd time in our life) had actually purchased a non-refundable ticket from Tahiti to Boise, Id. 

It would have been easy to say “Hey, we’ve sailed in 20- to 30-knot winds before, how bad can it be? The difference here is we have no local knowledge. I’d read about the ferocious Polynesian mamaru’s, strong winds and waves that build from the southeast to southwest and blow for up to three days on end. We made the prudent choice of asking a French boat anchored nearby what he thought, he said “stay put.” Decision made, but we’d have to hustle now to make our haul out time since our time buffer was now gone.
The fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
Ironically by Day 3 (July 6th) the predicted 23-knot winds were down to a whimpering 12 knots, making the decision to depart a no-brainer.  Although we were sailing slowly, it was a pleasant overnight sail with the winds decreasing as we approached the south end of Tahiti in the early morning. 
You are kind of stuck taking "selfies" when you are in the middle of the ocean.
For most sailors, shouting “land-ho” with Tahiti in the distance is a life defining moment. For us it was a home coming to the place we had celebrated our honeymoon nearly 43 years ago (a well remembered event for me since I spent our honeymoon night lying face up in the bed with third-degree sunburns all over my body. Historic note to self: Don’t ride all the way around the island on a motor scooter with no sun protection.) Also, Meryl had flown 5-day trips to Tahiti when she was a Pan Am flight attendant in the 1970s, so she was familiar with the island.

As we rounded the southern point of Tahiti, I saw a disturbing sight and asked Meryl for our powerful Fujion Image Stabilized binoculars. Toward the reef strewn shore at Vaiau Pass I saw a sailboat high up on the reef. Most wrecks look like wrecks. This one didn’t. The sails were still up and flagging in the breeze. We dared not get any closer but kept a close watch on the boat for any signs of life. More about this later.

We paralleled the long reef for about 10 miles, debating which pass to enter into the lagoon at Port Phaeton. We don’t have good cruising guides or information about Tahiti so it’s a little more tenuous for us sailing in unfamiliar waters. We passed the world famous Tea’hupu Reef, one of the most famous surf breaks in the world and host to the upcoming Billabong World Surfing Championships. We continued north and opted for Teputo Pass, which turned out to be very calm and well marked. By following the widely spaced buoys we motored right up to Port Phaeton, a famous hurricane hole located between the big island of Tahiti (Tahiti Nui) and the little island, Tahiti Iti.

We anchored quickly and launched the dingy to go see the yard manager, Yvan, about our haul out. A young, smart Frenchman from Breton, Yvan, showed us the new trailer/lift they had just purchased. According to the marking on the lift it had ample capacity for a boat of our weight. I asked Yvan how many boats they had hauled out with the new lift, “Oh,” he said hopefully, “you will be number two!”

"We're pretty sure it will fit on the trailer."

"We're a little less than pretty sure it will fit on the trailer."
We had arrived on Wednesday and the haul out was scheduled for Friday, but Yvan had us come into the carenage the next day to see if the lift would fit our boat. It didn’t, but he assured us they could make some changes to the configuration and sure enough, by Friday afternoon Flying Cloud was happily sitting supported by eight metal braces with our keel on the a huge plank on the ground. Yvan mentioned they were still getting the kinks out of the new lift. The French are good at that.

Our new home for two weeks after we return from the States.
We slept well that night, with a huge sigh of relief that we’d pulled another rabbit out of the hat.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Windy and Glorious Fourth of July

The beaches on the Tuamotus offer a splendid isolation unmatched by other islands in the South Pacific.
We had originally planned on sailing to Tahiti on July 3rd, but listening to the morning radio net and talking with a nearby French cruiser convinced us it would be better to wait a few days. We’re still trying to learn the vagaries of the South Pacific weather patterns, but one word that rang a bell was “mamaru.”  A mamaru is the French term for a strong southeasterly wind that comes through French Polynesia during the summer months. Looking at the GRIB files I saw the next day was supposed to be 17- to 20-knot winds increasing to 25- to 30-knots later. Of more concern were the predicted 10 ft plus swells coming from the southwest, right into the passes on the southwest side of Tahiti Iti were we planned to anchor. With that many red flags being raised we made the decision to wait it out for a few days, even though it would make our arrival for our Friday, July 10th haul out somewhat tight.

Our friends on French Curve, Mark and Cheryl, stopped by and suggested we plan a progressive sundowner party with the three other American boats anchored nearby to celebrate the 4th of July. Since we’d had non-eventful 4th’s at other foreign ports, we jumped at the opportunity.

The only problem was the approaching mamaru arrived a little early and as Meryl was preparing snacks for the party the boat was getting rocked by steady 25- to 30-knot winds. We thought about canceling, but then thought, what the heck.

Mark and Cheryl on French Curve.
As we motored the short distance over to French Curve we got soaked by the spray and waves breaking over the dingy, but as they say, it was warm water. On French Curve we met the two other boats, Helios and NaomaHelios we’d already seen at Tahanea. It was a beautiful Island Packet 38 owned by Dominic and Corinne from San Francisco. He was a former Apple guy (specializing in Apple TV, one of my favorite products) and had recently sailed from Ensenada to the Marquesas. They’d only been cruising for about seven months but where totally loving the experience. The other couple, from San Diego (Mark and Cheryl’s home town), were Ryan and Nicole. They had a classic Erickson 38, another of my favorite boats, called Naoma.

Dominic and Corinne on Helios.
Our hostess, Cheryl, suggested we got around the table and introduce ourselves and tell a little about our background. That was a great icebreaker and uncovered a lot of similarities and things we had in common (besides sailing). Mark was an architect and Cheryl and interior designer who worked on superyachts as a stewardess. Corinne came from a sailing family and instilled the love of sailing in Dominic when they were first dating.

Nicole and Ryan on Naoma.
When we got to Ryan and Nicole, she began by mentioning she had been an ocean lifeguard in San Diego and that she and Ryan were into triathlons and other outdoor activities. As Ryan started, we could tell it was going to be a interesting story. He lived in the Tampa area and sailed a lot with his dad on an ocean race boat. From there he got into cycling and was on the Pro Development team (one step down from Lance Armstrong) and raced with George Hincappe. While very successful, he had to step down when he couldn’t keep up the pace with the faster riders. Something with his muscles. He then continued a career racing sailboats, worked on superyachts, surfed, ran a kite-boarding school, became an EMT, and worked as a jet ski rescue driver for big surfing events. At some point he was diagnosed with MS. Now for most people that would be time to step back and reevaluate life, but for Ryan it was still full steam ahead, this time getting a berth on the Special Olympics and sponsorship racing sailboats. He has more energy than twenty guys and still kite surfs, sails, and enjoys other outdoor activities. Just his stories alone tired me out. If slowing down meant sailing around the world on his Erickson 38, then that’s what he’s doing.

It was also interesting to hear the stories of the other people, with all of us sharing the dream of the cruising lifestyle. We transitioned the party to Flying Cloud (I had to change my clothes after that wet ride), where Meryl served red wine and homemade focaccia bread, then we all dinghied over to Helios where Dominic and Corrine hosted us for Pina Colas and delicious pamplemousse. By now the wind was howling at a steady 30 knots so we decided to stay put, but Nicole and Ryan braved the elements and dinghied over to Namoa to get the crackers and cheese and beers for the next course.

Settled in on Helios we all told stories about our sailing adventures and our lives in general. With Flying Cloud being the oldest couple, followed by French Curve about 10 years younger, it was refreshing to be around the pure energy of the two younger couples (in their late 30s) and to share in their exuberance of life. As the old fuddy-duddies, we left about 8:00 pm (cruisers midnight) and slowly motored back to the boat with the waves breaking over the bow, but the party continued well into the night.

What a great evening with such fun people!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Another Day, Another Tricky Pass

On Monday, June 29th we departed Tahanea at 5:30 pm with just enough light to squeeze out the pass and into open water. We needed to arrive at our next destination, the south pass at Fakarava, by precisely 8:00 am the next morning for slack water. That meant we had all night to go 50 miles, which was fortunate since we had a light easterly wind. After fooling around with several sail combinations we bit the bullet and switched our whole set up around, jibing and running the pole out with our light wind Code Zero sail. Once we got that flying the boat became very stable and smooth. With a full moon directly ahead, it was a somewhat surreal setting just ghosting along at three to four knots. It was our most relaxing and pleasant night of sailing yet.
I know this doesn't look very hairy, but trust me, the current really rips through the South Fakarava Pass.
We arrived a bit early at Fakarava and sailed back and forth about one mile off the pass, looking through binoculars to see if we could ascertain the current. We saw a catamaran that seemed to be taking forever to exit which made us worry we’d gotten the currents wrong, but it turned out he was anchored just off the main channel. We slowly made our way in closely watching the depth sounder and the knot meter the whole way. We relaxed a little when the knot meter showed only .5 knots of current going in, but puckered up again when we got to a somewhat confusing section of the pass where it split in two directions. When the depth got down to about 11 feet I turned the boat to the right (towards the reef, a somewhat unnatural action) where I saw the depth slowly raise back to 12, 13 and 15 ft.

Once through the pass you are still not out of the woods. The waypoints we had gotten from the Soggy Paws web site had us going quite a ways north before a 90 degree turn to port to avoid a huge shallow reef. Everywhere there were coral heads, big black blobs under the surface waiting to ruin our day. When they turn green and then yellow/brown, it’s time to bail. With Meryl on the bow we slowly made our way around the reef and into the anchorage area, where there were even more coral heads, but this time green and brown. We finally found a compromise location and anchored using our new two-buoy technique, this time firmly setting the anchor and then adding the buoys to lift the chain. Diving in the water with my snorkel gear, cognizant of the ever present black-tipped reef sharks, I saw amazingly that our first float lifted the chain exactly over a very large coral head and dropped it down on the other side. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Since we’d been up all night we quickly got the hatches open, the boom moved to the side so the solar panels got full sun, and checked the anchor one more time before crashing for a three-hour nap.  We awoke just in time for dinner and a spectacular sunset over the second largest atoll in French Polynesia. Had just enough energy to finish dinner and dishes and then retire to our berth for a well deserved sleep.

The next day we snorkeled on the reefs just behind our boat with our neighbors on Arbutus, Paul and Sundra. Very shallow reefs and not very many fish, just the occasional black-tips doing their normal “scare the crap out of you” drive-by’s.

That night we watched a great movie our friend Anni had sent, 100 Steps, about an Indian family that leaves India for France where they open an Indian restaurant next to a one-star Michelin restaurant run by a very proper French woman (played by Helen Mirren). We told Paul (a Frenchman) about it and he said he worked for Michelin when he lived in Paris and the (supposedly secret) restaurant reviewers worked in the office just across the hall. He confirmed the status of a one star (incredible food), two star (life changing meals) and three star (God like) in the French culture.

I think in my next life I may be French.