Friday, November 27, 2015

Gonzo Anchoring

The main subject of conversation in Taahuku Bay in Hiva Oa was anchoring. What I call gonzo anchoring. On a good day this tiny harbor can hold about 10 - 12 boats comfortably, unless of course a swell is coming and surfing waves are breaking in the harbor. Then all bets are off. 
This was early in the week. Imagine twice as many boats anchoring in this tiny space and then imagine a strong swell coming through the narrow entrance.
During the week leading up to the huge 10th Festival des Arts des Iles Marquises, with over 4,000 participants and guests expected, the art of anchoring reached new heights. The gendarmes scheduled a meeting at the harbor where they explained that the normally small harbor would be almost cut in half to make room for the new Aranui 5 freighter/cruise ship that would be arriving on Dec. 17th. It was the maiden voyage for the new ship and I’m not sure anyone knew if it would actually fit into the small harbor. Anyways, they drew a line from a yellow marker on shore to the end of the breakwater where they launch the racing canoes. You had to be behind that line, and about of the boats in the harbor were not. Add to this the fact that about three to five new boats were arriving each day, to a harbor with seemingly no room. Now to a Frenchman, there is no phrase in their lexicon that means “seemingly no room,” and they just kept shoehorning themselves in here and there. C’est comme ca.

It was "up close and personal" with our neighbors.
We were anchored in nine feet of water at low tide, which scared the bejesus out of me, and we had boats coming in and anchoring behind us in even shallower water. Two 42 ft. Lagoon cats came in one day and anchored behind us. I politely mentioned that “the surf breaks right there,” but being French they made that “poofing” sound with their lips, until of course later that night when some big swells came in and the cats were literally rising straight up out of the water with each wave. They moved the next day, only to be replaced by new boats a day later. I finally gave up on warning people.

That said, all the sailboats were incredibly helpful when a new boat came in to anchor, or an existing boat dragged his anchor and needed help. In Taahuku Bay, all boats set a forward anchor, but when a side wind comes it blows the boats close to their downwind neighbor. This is why most boats had one to two stern anchors — to keep them centered in the very narrow harbor. 

This is a typical cruising boat on laundry day.
The problem came when trying to set the rear anchor. You needed a couple of dinghies to act as tug boats to keep you from hitting your neighbor while you went in your dingy and set the aft anchor. And some of the aft anchors had to be reset several times a day; it was that bad at times. We luckily had two huge aft anchors set at a wide angle that kept us centered in even in the strongest side winds. Still, most days were spent responding to frantic calls for help when some boat decided to go on walkabout.

Our primary project during this circus was trying to get some coats of varnish on our cap rail. It needs to be done religiously every five months, but somehow we always wait until six months which makes it more of a challenge. Everyday Meryl and I would get up at six a.m. and sand and varnish the 98 ft. of teak cap rail on the boat. And each day we would try to view around the mountain peaks to the east to see if any rain clouds were coming, but your vision is severely limited so it was kind of a crap shoot. One day we got about four feet of varnish applied when it started raining, and it can really rain here. We spent the next day laboriously sanding all the little solidified rain bubbles off and beginning the process all over again.

We did manage a few trips into town to do some shopping and connect with the Internet. It seemed that all the locals were busy cleaning up the village and setting up tents for the upcoming Festival. On the weekends a roulette truck parks under the cover at the harbor dock and serves a killer steak and frittes. We went in a couple of times with various boats for a cheap night out. It was fun sitting at the little tables with cruisers from all over the world discussing the fact that it would be impossible to get even one more boat in the harbor, then having three more new boats arrive the next day.

The local Hiva Oa dancers welcomed each island's team as they arrived at the dock with singing and dancing.
On Dec. 13th the Tahiti Nui inter island freighter arrived with the first group of dancers, about 100 from the island of Fatu Hiva. The local Hiva Oa contingency lined the shores with dancers and beat out a tempo on their huge drums, welcoming each group to the dock with a rousing song and dance. This went on non stop for the next several days as teams arrived from the other islands. 

With the varnishing now completed, the boat securely anchored — and in the company of all the French boats anchored just feet away from us —we were now ready to party down and enjoy the Festival.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sometimes You Just Have to Bang Your Fist on the Table

During our wonderful Thanksgiving feast aboard Maluhia, I inadvertently scratched my left ear and immediately felt a sickly wetness on my hand. Meryl looked up startled as blood was dripping out of my ear lobe. She got some paper towels which quickly soaked through. I’d had a tiny red spot on the ear for a couple of months, but it was nothing of any concern. Now it was bleeding profusely. Somehow we got it under control and somewhat embarrassingly finished our dinner.

The next day the same thing happened. It didn’t hurt, but I was concerned by the amount of blood. Given my scare with a melanoma two years earlier and the admonition of my dermatologist that this stuff can be serious, I decided to see a doctor. Now that would be a simple task in Seattle, but on a remote South Pacific Island it is another issue. There was a small clinic in Atuona, but it was staffed only by a nurse, the doctor being away at a neighboring island. There was a private doctor, but he would only tell me I needed to see a dermatologist in Papeete. Since we actually had medical repatriation insurance, I decided to contact them to see about a quick flight to Tahiti. That’s when my life got complicated.

In French Polynesia, there are four ways to make contact with the outside world. One is phone. We have a French SIM card in our phone and use “recharge cards” to add time to the phone. A call to the US runs about $5 a minute, meaning that any lengthy call will quickly exhaust the credit balance on the card. This means you have to have lots of recharge cards in your possession and be ready for your call to simply end in mid sentence when the credit runs out. 

The second choice is satellite phone. We actually have two of these on the boat. The problem we were anchored in a narrow harbor surrounded by towering mountain peaks, making voice contact difficult at best. Sometimes it works great (if a satellite happens to be overhead), but most times it’s just an exercise in frustration. 

The third way is to use the satellite system to send an email. This is more reliable, but you can only send text-based messages. Also, all those messages reside on our Windows-based navigation computer (which is built into the boat and not portable).

The most beautiful Internet cafe in the world.
The fourth method is to use your laptop computer and hook up to the Internet. This sounds simple, but it isn’t. To get Internet we have two options:  1) walk about ¼ mile up to an lookout over the ocean where the volunteer “Saviors of the Sea” (French rescue service) has a small hut with Internet access. For $5 you can sit (looking out at the most beautiful view in the world) and do Internet until the power on your laptop runs out (about 2 hours). If there are a lot of cruisers doing the same thing, the speed drops to almost nothing. The other choice is to walk three miles into town and go the local tattoo parlor/restaurant/Internet cafe. That costs $5 per hour, but you can plug into power (and watch guys get tattooed if you get bored).

I will spare you the full litany of my experience, but instead offer a little taste of the levels of frustration cruisers get while trying to contact the US for parts, medical, financial, etc. assistance. My first strategy was to go up to the Life Saving Signal Station and try to access the Internet. Unfortunately they are only open when volunteer staff are available and it was closed when I got there. Walked back to the dock, dinghied back to the boat and began to get frustrated (remember you are doing all this in a hot, blazing sun). I then decided to send a sat phone email to insurance company and eventually got a hold of them, but the reception kept cutting out (those pesky mountains again). I suggested we use email but they insisted on a phone call. Phone reception is not good at the boat, so got in the dingy, went to the dock, walked up to the Signal Station (now open) and hooked up to the Internet.

As frosting on the cake, I got a fraud warning from my credit card company that our most frequently used card had been compromised (someone was racking up charges online) and for me to call immediately. I called on my French cell phone and began my near decline into insanity dealing with young customer support people sitting in nice warm offices who are clueless about the world. Upon reaching a person—and before going through all the security questions —I tried to explain the situation (I’m on a boat on a remote South Pacific Island with no facilities, etc. using a phone whose time would run out shortly . . .). I learned they had no ability to absorb any of this and began asking me a long list of security questions, and then transfer me to someone else who began the same script (with me offering the same admonishments) over again. 

This precipitated my first fist pound to the table, startling everyone sitting around the table and making me look like an idiot. Naturally the phone cut out mid way through all this (costing me about $30) and forcing me to Plan Two: contacting the bank via their web site. With a slow Internet connection this resulted in a second fist bang as their “secure email system” took forever to load. I left an email message (with all the “remote Pacific Island” admonishments) telling them the only way to contact me was through my sat phone email system (which I can use only on the boat and which they refused to use). The result of all of this was they cancelled our most frequently used credit card (and the one that we use for all our automatic payments online) and said they would mail a replacement to us (I will spare you the details of that conversation).

Since our four other credit cards had been reissued over the last several months and were sitting at our mail forwarding service in Florida, that left us with a single credit card to use if I had to fly to Tahiti. It also forced me to go to various web sites (small fist bang) to change the billing credit card of many of our auto payments for various services we use (including the one to pay the monthly bill on the sat phone time). Again, imagine doing this with an extremely slow Internet connection while watching the battery on your computer getting to 15%, then 10% . . . (Head bang to table, with everyone convinced you are totally bonkers.)

The next email I opened was from Wells Fargo Bank informing me that the last valid credit card I had in my possession was being reissued since Wells Fargo was switching from MasterCard to Visa (large fist bang resulting in no one sitting at table any more). The new card had already been mailed to our Florida mail service. I’m really starting to lose it at this point.

I email my dear friend Anni Johnson for another in a long list of favors: can I have all the credit cards forwarded to her in Florida and she can ship using her airline discount to Nuka Hiva, our next port of call? As usual, she did this efficiently and without question, reducing the shipping bill from $160 (for four small #10 envelopes) to $65. Anni, you are the best!

Now it was time to deal with the insurance company again. After contacting them via email they insisted on a phone call. I called using the sat phone but they could only hear about every third word, so I switched to the French cell phone (now recharged with another $30 worth of time). They were adamant that I go to the local clinic and get a full “medical work up” before sending me to a specialist in Papeete. Again, every time I dealt with them I got a different person who had to learn the whole “remote South Pacific Island and limited cell phone time” story over again. 

I did walk the three miles to town, found the clinic, went in to find the doctor gone on another island, and having the nurse say (imagine French-accented poor English here) “You have zee red spot on zee ear. You need to zee a dermatologist in Papeete.” As far as getting a “full medical workup,” that wasn’t going to happen since they felt if I could walk the three miles to the clinic I was probably OK.

Again, I will spare you the agonizing details (and about 10 more fist bangs to the table), but the gist of the story was the insurance company finally OK’d me being flown to Tahiti. The problem was they could get me there but not get me back for another ten days since the Festival des Arts was taking place on Hiva Oa and every in-bound plane had been overbooked for the last four months.  The thought of staying in Papeete at $300/day for ten days over Christmas resulted in a big fist bang. 

I finally got a photo of my ear to my dermatologist in Seattle who said 1) this isn’t something that’s going to kill you (like a melanoma), 2) you do have to see a dermatologist, 3) but there’s no immediate rush. I did get the insurance company to compromise and send me on Dec. 22 with a return flight on Dec. 24th, but with their admonishment that if any after care was needed the airfare was all at my expense.

The moral of this story is that Catch-22 and “you can’t get there from here” are well and alive on remote South Pacific islands. It’s the price we pay for living this eclectic  lifestyle. Ironically, the trip to Papeete went fairly smoothly, resulting in a minor medical procedure on my ear, some great Christmas presents for Meryl, and me picking up a 10 ft. inflatable stand-up paddle board that I brought back on the plane with me. 

I sometimes I think this lifestyle is all a huge test of one’s perseverance, patience, and tolerance, and most all, a reminder of all the resources you have available while sitting in your comfortable house or office in the US when you need to deal with issues. At least you don’t need to begin each sentence with . . . “OK, you’ve got to listen closely. I’m on a boat anchored off a remote South Pacific Island with no Internet and extremely expensive cell phone service that will cut-off shortly and . . . click.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving at Atuona

On Nov. 14th we reluctantly left the unspoiled beauty of Kon Tiki Island on Raroia and sailed carefully across the lagoon following our in-bound track around the widely scattered reefs (that were now marked on our charts). NaomaOle, and Silent Sun were ahead of us and reported that the currents in the pass were manageable. 

Once clear of the pass we sailed a slightly lower course than the other boats (who were heading to the more eastward Fatu Hiva in The Marquesas) while we were headed to Tahuata. We had hoped to sail more on a reach, but as usual we were sailing close-hauled into about 18 knots of wind. 

We quickly settled into our “passage-making mode” for the three-day, 420-mile passage.  As usual, it was a rather arduous experience  with the waves hitting the starboard hull and splashing up at times, soaking whomever was on watch. We were so anxious to get to the The Marquesas, however, that we persevered and hunkered down. We had occasional radio checks with Naoma who was about 30 miles to the east of us sailing in identical conditions. We slept, we read, and we slept some more. 

We got hit by some heavy squalls the second night out that set us low of our course, forcing us to motor sail to windward for about four hours to get the batteries charged. This slowed our arrival time so we arrived in Tahuata at night on Nov. 17th. We could of tried to anchor in the dark at Hana Moe Noa, but decided to slowly reach back and forth in the lee of Tahuata, alternating between languid drifting and then getting hit by a 25-knot gust coming down from the mountains.  At daylight we slowly made our way into the bay and anchored among seven other boats, very very happy to finally be in the relative safety of The Marquesan Islands.

After any passage we always seem to need to fix things and this trip was no different. After resting a day we got to work repairing a broken lazy jack, replacing the genoa furling line and redesigning the lead that seemed to always chafe the line, and cleaning the bottom.  I also had to rotate the underwater inlet for the water maker (which apparently has a definite “upstream and downstream” orientation). In preparation (and out of experience) I fashioned “leashes” from dental floss for each tool I was using underwater to prevent the tools inevitable “sinking to the bottom of the ocean” when they slipped from my hand. 

The job involved holding on to the boat (which is raising up and down in the waves) with one hand, unscrewing four small screws and putting them into a small baggie with the other hand, and not forgetting to breath from the SCUBA rig as I tried to hold the bag of screws in my mouth. Once the screws were out I had to reverse the position of the brass inlet (which also wanted to sink to the bottom), then put caulking on the joint and reassemble the whole thing. You can image what a rat’s nest of dental floss I developed switching from one tool to the next, very much like the children’s game played weaving string between your fingers.

We sailed up to the village of Vaitahu to get provisions, but the shelves were bare. This peaceful village was the site of a violent massacre of 82 islander by the Spanish in the 1800s when they were vying for control of the Marquesas. 
The beautiful church at Vaitahu.
On November 20th we sailing four miles east to the small village of Vaitahu, which features a beautiful church, a bakery, and several small stores. It is a notoriously difficult harbor to anchor in given the up to 50-knot katabatibc winds that roar down the mountain valleys. I stayed on the boat while Meryl dinghied in to get some fresh bread and vegetables, but unfortunately the baker was in jail and the stores had no fresh food. On top of all of that the Post Office closed at 11:30 am so we couldn’t get a recharge card for our iPhone (that would have allowed us to access the Internet for a short while). Meryl did run into a very nice disabled man who gave her a bunch of limes, bananas, papaya, and carrots. We then had a pleasant sail back to Hana Moe Noa where we enjoyed a sundowner with fresh limes. 

The last two days were spent making water (we figured the harbor at Atuona would be crowded with boats and not a good place for water making) and doing a little snorkeling. The next day we took a quick dip into the ocean to cool off and were immediately stung by about a million little “string of pearls,” tiny jellyfish-type creatures that are very difficult to see. A quick vinegar bath seemed to help but the experience forced home the need to wear our one-piece lycra dive suits when we get in the water.

On November 25th we sailed from Hana Moe Noa to Atuona. We did not look forward to this trip since the Bordelais Channel between Tahuata and Hiva Oa is notorious for channeling wind and this is an upwind passage. The wind wasn’t as strong as anticipated, although the waves were still a challenge. Heading northeast, we hugged the shore of Tahuata and then bore off for Taahuku Bay on Hiva Oa. To our delight a very large school of spinner porpoises, over a hundred by our estimate, accompanied us along the way. They were smaller proposes with spotted noses and we laughed as some of them leapt high in air, only to have a gust of wind flip them around and body slam them back to the sea.

Given the variable winds, currents, and strong surge, it is difficult to anchor in Taahuku Bay in normal times. Now stuffed to twice its capacity, it was amazing how everyone helped each other to get well anchored.
We had been dreading getting to Taahuku Bay at Atuona since we knew it would be packed with boats. It’s a tough bay to anchor in on a non-crowded day, and we’d heard they were going to establish anchoring restrictions for the week of the Festival des Arts, but no one was quite sure what they would be.  In this harbor you need a fore and aft anchor, which we are not easily set up to do on Flying Cloud. With the gracious help of Dave on Maluhia we anchored near the front row, seemingly the only space available, only to hear about an hour later that we were in the new “restricted area” and would have to move. I went out in the dingy to pull up the huge Fortress stern anchor but it wouldn’t budge. Dave finally came over and it took two of us to lift into the dingy, the anchor now covered with a huge ball of thick brown mud.

Maluhia, a shallow draft cat, moved to the back row and we soon followed. The good news was there was no one behind us (soon to change) and the bad news was we were anchored in 9 feet of water, which with our 6 ft keel left only 3 feet of wiggle room. One big swell could spell trouble. Once again with Dave’s help we put out a large Fortress 37 stern anchor in about five feet of water, but getting the placement correct was very tricky since any shift of the wind could drive our boat close to a neighboring boat. 

A day later we removed all the junk off the top of the guest berth, then emptied everything from the deep storage to find our back-up 40 lb. Spade anchor. We set that out astern using 100 ft of ” chain (which weighs about 120 lbs), with the two back anchors now forming a wide V. All of this took considerable time and effort, and resulted in me being covered in mud. With those two monsters now set we weren’t going anywhere, but we were still concerned with the depth issue.

Kim and Dave hosted us for Thanksgiving Dinner on Maluhia. It was amazing to me how Kim could put on such a great spread given how limited groceries where on the island.
I forget to mention this very busy and stressful day was Thanksgiving Day. We were very lucky that Kim and Dave on Maluhia had invited us and another American over for a traditional Thanksgiving Day feast. Kim pulled out all the stops with an incredibly good chicken dinner with all the fixings. Thanks, Maluhia, you really made us feel like we were back home with friends and family enjoying Thanksgiving. The only thing we missed was touch football out in the street.

Monday, November 9, 2015

In the Lee of Kon Tiki Island

Well, they didn't say it would be easy. We got a early morning start from South Fakarava on Nov. 6th sailing through the pass with our friends Ryan and Nicole on Naoma (which for some explicable reason I can never pronounce correctly). We were a little late on timing for the pass but the two knots of current against us wasn't too bad. 

Ryan had a great strategy of trying to get as far east as possible before turning north to the Marquesas. He’s a weather guru and watches the weather files we receive several times a days (called GRIBS). His idea was to try to make Raroia and if the wind was south of east we'd continue on to the Marquesas, if not, then we’d bail out to Raroia and wait for better weather.

We'd expected 10-knot south easterlies but got a steady 20 to 24 knots just off the nose. That meant sailing close hauled (something we don't prefer to do) with the bow raising up on each wave then crashing down in the troughs. This results in a virtual shower of salt water on whomever is sitting on the weather side of the cockpit. This happens several times a day and usually when you least expect it. 

A couple of hours of sailing into the wind isn't bad, but we did it 24 hours a day for two days, making 189 miles good to the east. This was quite a coup, but totally wiped out Meryl and I. Poor Meryl has a hard enough time sleeping off watch, but the waves constantly crashing into the hull right next to were she slept (like someone hitting the hull with a huge baseball bat every minute) didn’t help things. We sailed for a day and night and hoped to arrive at Raroia with enough light to transit the pass, but unfortunately we got there two hours too late — in the dark.

Following Ryan’s sage advice, we elected to “heave to” for the night in the lee (the downwind side) of the island. Now this would be fine if we'd done it before, but we hadn't. So in the dark, with waves crashing over the boat and a very dangerous reef just to windward of us (and an ocean full of big sharks if you fall off the boat), Meryl and I got the main down and practiced with different configurations of staysail trim. We finally got the staysail to back wind (pretend you tack the boat but don't let go of the sheets for the head sail and it back-winds). In this configuration the wind is pushing the bow down to the right, but then you lash the helm over the opposite way so the boat wants to sail to the left. If it works correctly, the boat "stalls" itself out and you slowly drift downwind. 

The amazing thing is the boat totally (totally being a relative word in this case) calms down inside and you can actually cook a meal, walk around, etc. This was a godsend to us after the long day and one-half pounding into the waves (you have to remember we’d been sailing at an average speed of 8.5 knots with our fastest being 10.5 knots — that's hauling bananas for a boat our size). With a two-knot current and wind and waves against us, however, we only netted out about 5.5 to 6 knots to weather.

Having sailed right up to the leeward side of the reef (somewhat scary in the total dark), the waves weren't too bad so we traded off on watch — each sleeping 3 hours — and we got finally some much needed rest. No more slamming baseball bats to the hull.

In the morning I checked the pass at 8:30 am, which our Tuamotus Current Guesstimator software said should be slack tide, but it was rocking and rolling like a Class Five rapid in the pass. We elected to sail back and forth in front of the entrance, finally entering the pass at 11:00 am. Going through any pass in the Tuamotus is always a traumatic event, but luckily the currents weren’t too bad this day. We did a zig and zag to clear some reefs and soon we were inside the relatively calm waters of the atoll.

Naoma elected to sail straight across the atoll to the site where the Kon Tiki with Thor Hyerdahl crashed (we'll go there in a couple days), but Meryl need some supplies so we sailed about one mile south to the very small village on the leeward side of the island.

You would never find this grocery store unless you knew exactly where it was was ahead of time. Reggie, the outgoing owner, has a limited supply of goods -- the selection of which is always limited to when the next supply boat arrives. 
The most sought after foods, and naturally the most difficult to find, are fresh vegetables. You literally have to be at the store the day the supply boat arrives to get any selection. Lettuce is just about non existent in the islands.
Luckily we ran into some friends of Naoma's (Chris and Jessica on Silent Sun) who had been staying in Raroia for a month. Jessica (from Silah, Washington!) took us into the village and showed us around to some hidden away grocery stores that we would have never found on our own. These stores never have much, but we did get some eggs, carrots, and potatoes. Plus it was interesting walking around the village with Jessica telling us all the local gossip.

We sleep very lightly at night when the wind piped up knowing we had a reef just in front of us and a concrete wharf just behind. When checking our GPS navigation one morning it showed (erroneously) that we were anchored about 100 ft ashore.
We anchored in a very tight spot, right behind a reef but in front of a large concrete dock. Not much leeway if our anchor were to drag.  We'll head over to the other side of the motu in a couple of days and see Naoma and Ole (Paco is the Spanish guy I helped rescue the French sailboat with in Moorea).

If you want to buy black pearls, you have to know the right house to go to. It's not like they post huge "Buy Pearls Here" signs on the shops.
This is Calico's mom, Senya, and her sister Moea, who showed us their selection of black pearls.
A selection of the famous Tuamotu black pearls. They come in all shapes, sizes, lusters, and colors.
After perusing the morning weather GRIBs we determined the weather still wasn't favorable for the crossing to the Marquesas so we're chilling out here in Raroia. Today we went in town, following Jess’s instructions to find some of the famous local black pearls. She told us to go to Calico's house (a guy we had met the day before ... this is a tiny island with about 300 inhabitants and everyone is related). We meet his mom, Senya and her sister Moea. Senya brought out a small match box with about 10 pearls and then sent her seven-year-old daughter to get some more from a relative. Meryl hemmed and hawed (anyone who has gone shopping with her will be familiar with the process) and in the end we bargained (a little) for seven black pearls. These are grown at pearl farms out in the lagoon and I suspect the men who work on the farms secret away a few for themselves along the way. I even traded two of our blue 5-gal. water jugs for a pretty tear-drop pearl.

With the wind increasing to 20 knots, we decided to head to the other side of the island for better protection. We upped anchor and motored back to the pass then hung a right and went straight across the lagoon about six miles. There are no accurate charts of these lagoons so you just have to keep a careful eye out for the reefs that are scattered helter skelter. Luckily most of them are easy to spot and we marked them on our charts for the trip back.

The beautiful and pristine Kon Tiki Island.
The memorial to the 4,300 mile voyage of the Kon Tiki raft from Peru to Raroia.
We watch a documentary on the voyage of the Kon Tiki and were able to locate the exact location of where the raft crashed on the windward side of Kon Tiki Island.
Raroia is considered a very "sharky" island by divers. Here a small black tip inhabits the shallows until he is big enough to fend for himself outside of the reef.
We're now anchored with Naoma and Silent Sun in front of Kon Tiki island, a tiny island about 300 yards from where Thor Heyerdahl crashed (or landed the raft depending on who you talk to) the Kon Tiki on August 7, 1947 (a month after I was born). There is a small monument on the location with a stainless plaque mentioning the crew member’s names. Heyerdahl wanted to prove that ancients from Peru could have made the 4,300 mile ocean passage in reed rafts constructed from local materials (current thought is the inhabitants of French Polynesia originated from Southeast Asia). He and his crew constructed Kon Tiki in Peru and successfully completed the voyage in 101 days.

Beautiful Fairy Terns populate Kon Tiki Island where they breed and raise their young.
The Fairy Terns can hover in mid air, most likely trying to distract us from a nest or a young chick.
Fairy Terns don't build nests, they just lay the egg on a flat spot on a tree branch. 
A Fair Tern chick, probably in the exact location the egg was laid.
Kon Tiki Island is populated with hundreds of pure white Fairy Terns that fly aerial acrobatics, at times hovering in mid air with a million flaps of their wings like big hummingbirds. They are typically watching their eggs or chicks who are placed on barren branches low in the trees. There is also a rare species of Grey Tern that is found only on this atoll. The next motu south has 200 Tuamotus Sandpipers, the last birds of this species left on earth.

A relatively rare Grey Tern who lays her eggs directly on the coral strewn shore.
You have to be careful walking around on the broken coral as the Grey Terns place their eggs directly on the coral. There are no natural predators on the island which allows these species to place the eggs without benefit of protection or even a nest. The Fairly Terns lay a single egg on a low handing branch of a local tree and when the egg hatches, the newly born chick continues her vigil on the branch until she is ready to fly. You can approach them relatively close and they just sit perfectly still and try to ignore you.
The crews of Silent Sun, Naoma, and Flying Cloud get to know each other at a beach fire on Kon Tiki Island.
That night we had a bonfire on Kon Tiki Island with Ryan and Nicole from Naoma and new friends Chris and Jessica from Silent Sun. Chris was a little tight lipped about his background but as the night (and more beers) progressed we learned his mom was a Pan Am flight attendant in the late 60's / early 70s. He mentioned his dad actually met her in the First Class lounge of a 747 flying from London to New York and secreted her into an alcove where they kissed. They were later married, so the story has a happy ending. What he didn't initially tell us was that his dad was the famous British actor and Tony Award playwright Anthony Newly. He wrote the theme song to the movie Goldfinger and wrote the Broadway plays Stop the World, I Want to Get Off and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He said his dad had been sitting with Buddy Hackett, the comedian, on that flight and one thing lead to another with the flight attendant (Meryl tells me this sort of stuff never happens on flights). Anyway, it was a great story with a Pan Am connection.

The next morning on the Polynesian Magellan (Radio) Net we heard from the sailboat Libby, who had left Fakarava sailing direct to the Marquesas a couple of days after us, that they were sailing hard on in 18 knots of wind and could not lay their original destination of Fatu Hiva, so sounds like our decision to sail to Raroia and wait out the weather was the right one. 

Currently it looks like we will leave here on Saturday, the weather window looks about as good as it's going to get so we'll take advantage of it. It is getting scary late in the season to be sitting here so all the boats are anxious to be heading to a safe hurricane location.

Friday, November 6, 2015

North Fakarava to South Fakarava

Mindful of the rapidly approaching hurricane season and the need to keep moving towards the Marquesas, we departed Cooks Bay on Monday, October 26th. On the way out of the pass we were amazed to see two whales casually feeding in the relatively shallow water. These were the first whales we’d seen in four years of cruising.

As usual, as we turned southeast the wind lightened up and was right on the nose. We had hoped to be able to sail this leg of the journey, but we ended up motor sailing the entire two days to Fakarava.  Since we hadn’t been on an overnight passage for over four months, it was a little hard getting use to the lack of sleep especially with the engine throbbing all night long.

Anchored in the shallows off Rotava in Fakarava.
The current Guesstimator software that we use to judge slack water at the passes was right on for North Fakarava and we motor sailed the three miles to the small village of Rotava, arriving in the mid afternoon. We got a call out from a sailboat called Libby that had heard us on the net and we made plans to get together with them at some point.

It was great to finally get some bike ridding time
You can tell which Tuamotus atolls have pearl farms by the general condition of the buildings and roads. Rotava featured well kept cement/stucco houses and well engineered roads. We ended up renting bikes from Fakarava Yacht Services and riding three or four miles south. There’s only one road on the island so it’s fairly hard to get lost. We stopped at a couple grocery stores (magasin’s) and got some fresh veggies. We also visited a beautiful church featuring a backdrop of local shells behind the altar.

This beautiful proa was designed and built by locals on Fakarava with help from grants from local companies.
The Catholic church in Rotava features a beautiful shell backdrop behind the altar.
Across the street we ran into an interesting young American woman who wanted to show us a newly built local sailing canoe. Some local guys had apparently gotten a grant to construct several of these using modern boatbuilding materials to promote sailing on the islands. It turns out the woman had crewed from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to the Marquesas with some friends of ours. Their trip resulted in some epic stories, including landing a 100 lb. marlin on a small Erickson 38 sailboat.

The unique cocktail tables at the Pension Havaiki.
A bit further down the road we stopped at a high end (for the Tuamotus) resort called the Pension Havaiki that featured it’s own mini pearl farm where for a $100 you can dive down and grab some shells and see if any have pearls. If you are unsuccessful they have some lovely black pearls in settings in small jewelry store, but at very dear prices. The resort also had some neat tables placed out in the water for drinks and fish watching.

We're always amazed at some the unique foods you can find in the small magazins in the Tuamotus.
On the way back we stopped at a small restaurant where we met Terry & Dena from s/v Libby, a beautiful Amel 53 sailboat. They were both former Cisco salespeople and had left San Diego the year before. They had formed a small start up company promoting a new video technology called virtual reality. You wear a ski-type google with a smart phone attached to watch a 360 video. The had a great sample video of a camera mounted on a drone flying through a resort hotel. If you looked up you could see the bottom of the drone, if you looked down you could see the hotel, etc. They also had some cool videos they shot of a mother humpback whale with her baby. Amazing technology!

On Oct 31 we departed Rotava with Naoma, Libby, and Fat Cat to sail inside the lagoon to Hirifa at the south end of the atoll. We chose to follow Naoma who stayed along the shore where a channel (of types) existed. The difficulty in all the Tuamotus atolls is that the inner lagoons are very poorly charted, at best. Sometimes the bommies are marked, sometimes not. And each chart maker has differing levels of detail on their charts. We typically run the MaxSea chart plotting software on our main navigation computer inside, and have an iPad running iNavx software out in the cockpit. The iNavx charts seem to have better detail of the lagoons than the MaxSea, but we typically mark any new bommies we see along the route on the MaxSea as we go.

It was a long, tedious day of motor sailing but we finally arrived at Hirifa at about 4:00 pm. Naoma was already there (they sailed the entire way) and anchored. The location turned out to be one of our favorites in the Tuamotus. There are only a few families that live this far south on the atoll and the scene was one of white sand beaches and swaying palm trees. 

With four boats anchored in close proximity we enjoyed sundowners on Fat Cat and got to visit the other boats over the next several days. Naoma was especially friendly and helpful to us and we really enjoyed our time with Ryan and Nicole. They are both very inspiring people. We took some long walks down the beach and around to the windward side of the island. There is almost no life in the various tide pools at low tide, such a change from fecund Puget Sound. The windward side of the island was totally covered with razor-sharp coral debris and you had to be very careful to not get cut if your foot slipped. This is not someplace I would wear flip-flops or other loose fitting shoes.

There was a restaurant of sorts on the beach where we had all hoped to have dinner, but the owners never showed up during our stay. We basically just chilled, read books, did some small boat projects, and made one more dismal attempt at baking bread. We can get it to rise once, but not again leaving a very dense, compact bread that we use mostly for open-faced sandwiches. We ask everyone we meet what their secrets are for bread making but I think we are destined for failure on this one.

On Thursday, Nov 5th Nomea and Flying Cloud sailed the short eight miles to South Fakarava to position ourself for the long passage to the Marquesas. The last time we were here there were about 30 to 40 boats, this time is was just the two of us. Ironically I ended up anchoring right off the stern of Nomea. It’s very hard to anchor in this area since it’s a mine field of bommies. I ended up jumping in the water, with the omnipresent black-tips swimming around, and repositioning the anchor with floats around a couple of bommies that the chain had become stuck in. The good news is even if your anchor dragged it would quickly jam up against another bommie and hold you fast.

Ryan on Nomea was very good about checking the weather and what we saw was not favorable. To sail to the Marquesas we needed the normally easterly winds to move a bit south, otherwise we will be sailing close to the wind (close hauled) which is uncomfortable as the waves hit the starboard bow and slam the bow down, making it wet and more difficult to steer. As it was we had 20- to 24- knot winds right in the anchorage but we were antsy to get going so we left the next morning a little late around 9:30 missing the slack and getting about 2 knots of current on the nose on the way out. No big deal but it did slow us down a bit.