Monday, November 21, 2016

The Joys of Travel

As with all stand-by flyers (i.e. airline employees), our travel day starts with checking the loads on our upcoming flight to Hong Kong on United’s internal computer system. The loads didn’t look good. We opted to wait a day when the computer predicted we’d have a better chance of getting on the airplane. I still remember during our early days of stand-by flying when one wag commented: “Stand-bys get on the plane after they board all the paying passengers, load all the freight, and put on Shamu the Killer Whale.” I still don’t quite know what that means, but it sounded like a great comment on the perils of stand-by flying.

Meryl is thinking "this is the last thing on earth we need to be eating," but it had been six months since a US-style burger.
It was nearing lunch time and I’d never eaten at an In and Out Burger that my California friends always raved about, so Meryl and I walked two miles south down El Camino Real to try the famed drive-in restaurant. To be quite honest, I didn’t get the appeal. I’d much rather have a Dick’s Drive In (in Seattle) burger any day. 

And since the sole of my only pair of leather traveling shoes decided to part ways with it’s upper as we cleared U.S. Customs the previous day, my second priority was to find some place to buy Shoe Goo, the most tenacious (and hard to find) glue on earth. What are the odds that only one block from our hotel was the famous Orchard Supply and Hardware, the venerable California hardware store that carries everything under the sun. Not only did they have Shoe Goo, but they had it in several variants and colors. We were in the USA now and living large!

Just being in a nice hotel (even though it was one of the rainiest weekends in history in Northern California) was like being on vacation for us: a big comfortable bed, wide screen TV, fast Internet, and great restaurants nearby. We enjoyed ourselves and unwound a bit after the long travel days. On Sunday morning we awoke prepared to take the 1:15 pm flight to Hong Kong, only to find the loads looked even tighter than the previous day. On to Plan B (or was it C at this point?). 

The Millbrae Pancake House, packed at even 2:00 pm on a Sunday.
The California Omelette. It was maybe even healthy since it had lots of avocado in it.
We decided to walk the other direction, north along El Camino (in the rain), and came upon a funky restaurant called the Millbrae Pancake House. At 2:00 pm on Sunday there was still a long line out in front, always a good sign for California restaurants. Inside was an establishment that hadn’t changed since the day it opened in 1957. It was everything we wanted: eclectic service, huge portions, breakfast served all day, and great food. It’s funny how a down-home restaurant like this appealed to us after all the exotic dining we’d done in the last five years.

This was most likely our last flight to Hong Kong after years of traveling there and we wanted to enjoy the experience.
The third day was the charm and we scored two Global First Class seats on the flight to Hong Kong. As usual the service was good, including the wonderful hot fudge sundae they serve following dinner. We watched a lot of movies, read a bit, and reclined the seats into the “bed” position for a nice long night’s sleep. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and wandering back to the galley were I looked out the door window to see an expanse of rolling white hills. I’d never realized a lot of this transoceanic flight is flown over land and what I was seeing were the snow-covered steppes of Mongolia.

Since this was about our 30th trip to Hong Kong, we have the arrival routine down pat and soon found ourselves standing in the taxi rank for the 40-minute ride out to our daughter’s house near Clearwater Bay. I was amazed that I even remembered the driving instructions in Cantonese, at least enough to get us close to her house.

Just about then the “messages” bell rang on my phone and I got an urgent note from my daughter saying that a venomous snake was loose in their front yard and “to not go through the front gate under any circumstances.”

Just as we pulled up our daughter arrived from a nearby house and explained that Nash had seen the snake slither across the lawn and was now hiding (the snake, not Nash) on a small ledge (right where I would have put my hand through the gate to open the lock). The police were there illuminating the snake with a flashlight. Christa and Nash escorted us through the neighbor’s yard where we jumped the low fence and ran inside the house. Just about then the “snake catcher” arrived and captured the snake in a white flour sack. It was bright green, about three feet long and called a bamboo pit viper, one of the more poisonous snakes in Hong Kong. They come down out of the hills during cold weather looking for warm places to nest. Nothing like an exciting end to a long day.

After all the drama we were escorted up to our second floor guest bedroom. While it had been a crazy day, it was so nice to be back with our family after almost five months. It was now about 10:00 pm and we were very tired, but are really looking forward to seeing the grandkids in the morning.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Getting Out of Dodge

Our last days on Bora Bora were spent snorkeling with friends from French Curve and Eye Candy on the reef just off the Hilton Hotel. Afterwards we motor sailed over to the MaiKai anchorage where we had access to fairly good WiFi and could resupply at the grocery stores in Viatape.

It was sad to leave after the great time we had at Bora Bora.
On November 7th we exited the pass at Bora Bora and slowly motor-sailed into light headwinds for the 54-mile trip back to Raiatea. It was a beautiful day and we took advantage of the time to relax a little before the chaos of getting the boat ready for haul out and long term storage. We’d been through the haul-out drill five times before and had it down to a science, but we dreaded the long, arduous, and exhausting task we had ahead of us.

Cyclone season had officially begun on Nov. 1st and every cruiser in the area had to decide on a strategy on how to mitigate risk during storm season that effects the mid-Pacific region. The traditional answer is to sail 2,700 miles south to New Zealand, but that means crossing a big chunk of ocean famous for southwesterly gales and large waves. It’s not a passage for the faint of heart. Another option was to sail north of the equator to the Gilbert Islands, but that was not a highly desirable place to spend four to five months just hanging out. Choice three, an increasingly popular choice for cruisers, is to either stay aboard or store the boat somewhere in the Society Islands. This was predicted to be a La Nina year with a lesser than average cyclone probability, so we felt the risks were fewer leaving the boat on the hard in Raiatea than sailing the 2,700 miles (and back in the spring) to New Zealand. 

The next decision was where to leave the boat in the Societies. Apataki offered spacious, cheap and dry storage, but was rather removed from parts and supplies in Tahiti. Tahiti, where we hauled out last year, was a good choice, especially the well protected harbor at Port Phaeton, but tended to be very wet and humid. The third choice was Raiatea where two good boat yards offered secure storage, dehumidifiers, and staff to look after the boat while we were gone. In addition, it was easy to ship over parts from Papeete so the Raiatea Carenage was our top choice for this season. We took a mooring ball just off the Carenage and began meeting with vendors who would help us with various projects during the storage period.

After staying up late at night and monitoring the US Presidential race results (I so hoped when I awoke the next morning that the predicted results would be wrong and we would have our first woman president), we got an early start the next morning by removing all the sails for repair and storage.  The sails on a 44-foot boat are fairly large and stiff and getting them down and flaked on the limited deck space took all our energy.  We discovered a couple of battens in the main were damaged and the luff of the genoa needed some repair. Luckily there was a new sailmaker at the Raiatea Carenage so we made arrangements for him to pick up the heavy sails on the day we hauled out. 

We also had to defrost the fridge, wipe down all the wood with a vinegar, soap, eucalyptus oil solution to deter mold, and go through every cabinet to determine 1) what was stored in them and 2) identify anything extraneous that we could return to Seattle.

I always hold my breath while they lift Flying Cloud out of the water.
On Nov 14th, after praying there would be light wind, we maneuvered the boat through shallow water, alongside a derelict ferry boat, and into the slipway for the haul out. I had watched several other boats being hauled out earlier so I had a good idea what was involved. The Raiatea Carenage had a large Travelift, but we still had to remove our forestay and roller furling to clear the Travelift’s cross beam. I had been worrying about this all week but it turned out to be a fairly easy job with the help of Dominque’s (the yard manager) yard workers.

How Flying Cloud was going to fit into that crowded yard was a mystery to me. They even managed to put two more boats in after us.
The storage area in the yard seemed packed to the gunnels, but somehow Dominque found room right next to friend’s on Cinnabar (our boats are about one foot apart). The Travelift very slowly lifted Flying Cloud out of the water and maneuvered her around various obstacles, eventually squeezing her between between two boats. A steel cradle was rigged below the boat and a ladder was attached to the stern. Soon Meryl and I found a 5-gal can and rigged a one-inch hose from our sink drain to the can so we could still use the kitchen sink. Once on the hard we lost our refrigeration (it’s water cooled) but we still had electricity and running water so the living conditions weren’t too bad (for a boat yard).

We spent the next few days emptying out each compartment looking for extraneous stuff we could take back to Seattle, discovering long lost items, and cleaning all surfaces with the vinegar solution to deter mold. Cathy, a gregarious French woman who would watching our boat for us, rigged up a dehumidifier that would help keep the mold at bay and the boat smelling fresh. We put a tarp over the aft solar panels since the two panels over the boom would provide more than enough electricity to keep our batteries charged.  We got our repaired sails back from Pierre and stored them down below, and essentially removed anything loose off the deck and stored it below.

While walking through the yard we ran into Eric off of S/V Kandu. He was living on Raiatea with his family while the boys attended school. He immediately volunteered to go in his car and search out some large water bottles (we rig them over the lines tying to the boat down to the ground to deter rats from climbing up the lines) and a 50 ft. extension cord to provide power to the dehumidifier. As I’ve said many times before, I am blown away by how helpful other cruisers are to each other. With no car it would have taken us two days to ferret out these items, but Eric was back in an hour.

The night before we left was the typical rush to get last minute items packed. And this trip would be tough to pack for since we were flying from Tahiti (82 degrees) to Los Angeles to San Francisco (62 degrees) to Hong Kong (65 degrees) to Singapore (92 degrees) to Boise (0 degrees) and then driving to Seattle (20 degrees). 
It was nice to get on this Air Tahiti flight to Papeete after all the frenetic activity of the last several days.
The next day Eric and Leslie helped us carry our bags through the muddy boatyard to their car, drove us to the airport, and had a nice farewell lunch with us before departure.  The one-hour flight to Papeete was anti-climatic and we stayed at our old standby, the Tahiti Airport Hotel, since we had an early morning departure.

Flying out the next morning on the Air France flight we got a great view of the City Marina and downtown Papeete.
The next morning we rose at 5:00 am we caught a taxi for the short ride down to Fa’a Airport and boarded a beautiful Air France jet to Los Angeles. As usual we watched all the free movies we could, ate delicious food, and rested during the 8-hour flight. At Los Angeles we quickly cleared customs thanks to the Global Entry Program and caught a 8:00 pm flight up to San Francisco where we stayed at another standby, the El Rancho Best Western. While it seems like a crazy routing for us to fly to Hong Kong, it’s actually substantially cheaper way for us to travel . We finally collapsed into the comfy beds at the hotel, very thankful to be back in the USA if only for a few days. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Hawaiki Nui Va’a Canoe Race

Bora Bora is the South Pacific island most identified with the word "Paradise."
It’s tough to leave Paradise but we had to slowly make our way back to Raiatea for our scheduled haul out on November 14th. We left the idyllic southeast bay of Bora Bora and motored north around the interior island back to the MaiKai Resort and grabbed a mooring buoy. Having spent almost a week on the boat, we decided it was time to see a bit of the island. We walked about 1 mile into town and found a bike rental company. For around $20 we rented some great cruiser bikes and headed clockwise around the island.

The red dots represent our anchoring locations on Bora Bora.
With over 10 major resorts, Bora Bora is the most “touristy” of the Society Islands. For someone used to quiet secluded anchorages, Bora Bora was like being in Times Square for New Years.  We found a nice seaside restaurant near Matira Beach (location of the finish of the famous Hawaiki Nui Va’a canoe race) and just sat and soaked in the ambiance. Bora Bora was one of a few US bases in the South Pacific during World War II and it was interesting to see machine gun "pill boxes" and other remnants from the US Army and Navy. Back on the bikes we completed our circumnavigation of the island with just enough energy to check the bikes in and walk back to the boat at MaiKai. 

The beautiful MaiKai resort where we moored for about a week.
We thoroughly enjoyed pedaling around Bora Bora on our cruiser bikes.

The beach at Matira Point.
Cruise ships Paul Gauguin and Windstar at anchor in Bora Bora.
We hung around MaiKai for a couple of days and then headed due south on Nov. 3rd to join Eye Candy and Plastik Plankton at an anchorage just north of Matira Beach. While there were just a few boats when we arrived, it started to get crazy later in the day when more and more boats tried to squeeze into the area to get prime viewing for the finish of the Hawaiki Nui Va’a the next day. There were quite a few dirty looks and incantations as boats tried to anchor closer than was safe given the conditions.

The start of the Hawaiki Nui Va'a canoe race in Raiatea.
We awoke to a beautiful day on Nov. 4th and could see the flotilla of racing canoes, safety boats, spectator craft, and helicopters outside of the fringing reef heading our way for the race finish at Matira Beach. The canoes had left Raiatea around 7:00 am that morning and were now outside the reef and headed towards the only pass into Bora Bora. They would then do a 90 degree turn and head south towards the finish. As they entered the lagoon it was like watching a flotilla slowly approaching, all easily marked by the swarm of helicopters overhead. We decided to dingy one mile south so we could watch the finish at Matira Beach. In our little dingy, traveling alongside Plastik Plankton, we were astonished as 30 ft. spectator boats raced by at 25 knots just feet away from us to get places at the finish line.  

The crowd of over a thousand people cheering on the racing canoes.

The 6-man racing canoes can hit up to 11 knots sprinting towards the finish.

The winning boat from Tahiti:  Team OPT.

We managed to squeeze in a small opening near the finish line and get our dingy anchor down in about three feet of water. No sooner had we anchored then the first racing canoe came surging by. These guys had just raced 54 miles through ocean waves and were now racing towards the finish line at about 11 knots. It was an absolutely amazing athletic performance from these superb rowers.  The crowd of several thousand people went wild cheering the winning Tahitian boat on to the finish. Shortly there after, canoe after canoe began finishing the grueling race and hit the beach for cheers, congratulations and a few cold beers. As mentioned before, this is the Super Bowl for Pacific Islanders and 90 6-person teams from around the world participated. Tahitian canoes took the first four places and the American Red Bull team placed 12th.

Realizing that the hundreds of spectator craft would all be leaving later in the day and powering through our anchorage, we decide to head back early and re-anchor around the corner in the relative peace of the old Hilton Hotel lagoon. It was quite a day.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bora Bora -- The Epitome of Paradise?

We left the Bloody Mary's area and motored the short distance north past the town of Viatape to the MaiKai Marina, a perennial favorite of cruisers. They have mooring balls, a good restaurant, $2 beers at Happy Hour, and best of all, the fastest (a relative term) Internet in all of French Polynesia.

The MaiKai Marina has an excellent reputation among cruisers for great service and food.
We meet with Winsome (Irwin, Jay and Jay’s friend Kristina), Serenity (Paul and Jen) and Hawaiian boat called Just Drifting for a long Happy Hour at the MaiKai. It is such a beautiful setting with an infinity pool leading out to the beautiful islands with the setting sun in the background. Also, dinner and appetizers are quite tasty I might add.

We spent the next few days doing the normal stuff:  shopping at the SuperU, doing laundry, and getting the boat ready for varnishing. We purposely didn’t schedule much for our Bora Bora stay knowing we just wanted to hang loose and get our personal batteries recharged and get organized for our 5 month haul-out.

The southwest side of Bora Bora is a cruiser's paradise.
On Oct. 18th we headed north around the top of Bora Bora (but inside the barrier reef) and then due south to visit the southeast corner of the island. Cruisers had all raved that this was the place to be so we thought we’d check it out.  Looking on the charts the passage looks very daunting, with shallow water and reefs everywhere. But after talking with Winsome and other boats we learned it wasn’t all the bad, and with some very specific instructions of where to go we had a nice trip around the backside of the island where all the luxury resorts are located.

The technique is to go down the east side staying just off the over-the-water bungalows of the various hotels. The water is fairly clear of bommies (small reefs) and maintains a 10-12 foot depth most of the way with a nice sandy bottom.  Reminded us of the Bahama's and all the shallow turquoise waters. 

These speedboats operate all day and night ferrying hotel guests to various locations on Bora Bora.
The first couple of nights we anchored between the St. Regis and The Meridien, with their hundreds of bungalows all arranged like little houseboats at a marina. Because many of the hotels are located on the motu reef side of the island it means all transportation is via boat so there is the constant flow of taxi, tour, and resort boats going in and out at all hours of the day and well into the night.  

Just west of there is a small marked dingy pass through the reef that leads to some great snorkeling over huge underwater coral beds. At certain times the big manta rays come up in the deep water alongside the reef to feed. We didn’t see them but it was cool to cruise along the edge of the reef where it drops down to about 80 feet of deep blue water.
Clare and Meryl on a nice hike around the southeastern motu in Bora Bora. Raiatea is in the background.
These woman seemed to have her priorities in order.
We then moved as far south as we could to the far southeast corner of the island, anchoring in about 10 feet of bright white coral sand. For 9 days we hung out with Eye CandyPlastik Plankton (Austrian boat), and French Curve. Some days we stayed on the boat, some days we hiked around the motu, and most days we explored various places to snorkel. We had one interesting day when a big charter cat with seven 40-ish American ladies and four older men anchored. The men soon took off exploring in the dingy, and the women, whom I’m gong to assume had consumed a lot of alcohol, pumped up the music, and whooping and yelling, did a rather impressive strip tease.  We didn’t get invited over for drinks so we’ll never know the full story.

It's along the outside edge of this inner reef that the water flows like a river making for a great drift snorkel.
On a recommendation from Eye Candy, we headed around the southeast corner of the motu to an area where there was an interesting drift snorkel. You go around the southern most point then head northeast to the end of an inner reef where you tie the dingy. Then you walk up about 300 yards along the reef, put your fins and mask on, and jump in. During one of these trips I had just gotten my gear on and was waiting for the others when I saw a set of four large waves coming in. I held on for the first three but the fourth lifted me about four feet in the air then dropped me on the sharp edge of the reef. I didn’t feel much but later that day I had a huge, deep bruise on my right thigh that hurt like hell for about a week.

Back to the drift snorkel:  The first day we did the dive the current was ripping alongside the reef at about 3-4 knots. It was like diving into a fast moving river. You could kind of steer but at places where the coral was shallow you literally had to suck up your stomach to clear the jagged edges of the coral. The fish could swim alongside you so that was cool, but it was very difficult to stop mid stream to look at anything. On later days when we did the dive the current was considerably slower which made it a much more enjoyable dive.

When you have bread in your pocket you make friends with lots of fish, in this case, Sargent Majors. (Photo courtesy of  Eye Candy).
Pacific Double Saddled Butterfly Fish (Photo courtesy of  Eye Candy).
Pretend you are walking along the reef trying to be careful about not stepping on a poisonous stonefish. (Photo courtesy of  Eye Candy).
We had seen a group of tour boats further out on the reef so one day we took the dingy’s out to explore. Coming up on a black buoy we saw more sharks then we’d ever seen, probably about 20 total. We’re sure the tour boats feed them so the tourists can get a show. Further over was some nice coral reefs where we explored for about an hour.  At one point Meryl let out a yell and we swam over to where she was pointing at a fish. We were all about two feet above it but still not seeing it until it made a slight movement. Sure enough it was a somewhat rare stonefish. These little puppies blend in totally to the reef and you don’t want o step on them since they are highly poisonous. Just like in Africa where they have The Big Five game animals to see, I had my own Big Five list for diving, which included seahorse (saw in Galapagos), hammerhead shark (saw in Nuku Hiva), stonefish, frog fish, and whale shark (saw in aquarium in Okinawa). Frog fish are also just about impossible to see so that one may take awhile.

For Tahitians the va'a is the ultimate sport. Hundreds of va'a will race from Raiatea to Bora Bora's Matira Beach on Nov. 4th during the Hawaiki Nui Va'a race.
After a week of snorkeling and socializing on the various boats we headed back to the MaiKai Marina where we finished up the varnishing on the cap rails and are now waiting for the arrival of the famous Hawaiki Nui Va'a canoe race from Raiatea. It's the Super Bowl event for Polynesian Islanders and canoeists (va'a) from around the world will compete. The Tahitians are superb paddlers and usually take 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places. They finish arriving at Matira Beach, just south of Bloody Mary’s, on Nov. 4th and we’re told it’s one of the wildest and craziest parties around. We’ll head down in the dingy and check things out.

[Footnote by Meryl]:  We will soon have to leave Paradise and head back to Raiatea in about another week. It seems obvious why so many people love coming to this beautiful island with its green majestically shaped mountains at the center and the surrounding turquoise swimming pool waters transitioning to darker aqua and then dropping into a still darker indigo blue color as the water deepens.  To really enjoy it here as cruisers you have to be willing to ignore all the negatives the crowds bring and realize the locals are catering to the wealthy and we are just the small fish in the sea. But there is lots of room for many fish here in Bora so enjoy!