We’re back at the BB Yacht Club and have been planning for days to hike up to the island’s highest peak. The weather has other plans, though. As I write this, it’s 5am and it’s been pouring rain for an hour or so. My insomnia is good for water collection, though -20 gallons so far! I guess it’ll be another day at home, which is fine. A few little projects and a big pot of green curry. I was surprised to find some bean sprouts at the store so it’s been Asian week: fresh spring rolls, pad thai and curry. Yum!
06 August 2013… “Maururu” and "Nana", French Polynesia!
It’s almost time to leave and we’re packing in everything we can! We took Calico Jack to a nearby motu for a couple of days, a little change of scenery. Friendboat “Dragonsbane” came along and the four of us did a dive off the boat that was pretty spectacular, in my opinion. There wasn’t a ton to see, but it seems I finally have my buoyancy in check. When I first learned to dive, it was something I mastered easily but now as I add a wetsuit -and, well, maybe I’ve added a few pounds, too!- the requirements for my weight belt have changed and it’s been a little haywire underwater. On this dive, tough, I seem to have it licked and combined with a regulator that no longer leaks, I was having a blast playing around and taking pictures upside down, etc. In attendance were another bushel of those super multi-colourful clams that I love. We also found Nemo –remember that Nemo and Dory don’t live in the same ocean in real life! But the piece de resistance was the wall of eagle rays! There were maybe 50 of them, just lazing in the channel, “flying” gracefully about 30ft away from us. They hung out for about 10-15 minutes before heading off. It was awesome!
When we got back to the yacht club, we had some work to do. Travis finagled a few nights’ free mooring in exchange for a half day’s work reattaching the floating balls to moorings that are otherwise useless. We tooled around the anchorage on CJ, finding 5 of the 6 mooring lines under the surface using GPS positions provided to us by the owner. We marked them and returned with our dinghy to attach the balls and voila! 5 new moorings that will bring in an extra $75-$100 night for them and a few nights’ free mooring for us! Anyway, Travis likes doing that sort of thing. He’s part fish.
Later that day, Calico Jack was recruited for a photo shoot. The owner of the marina was looking to do some photography for promotional material and asked if they could take some shots aboard our boat. Of course, this comes as no surprise to us as we’ve always known CJ is a supermodel sexy b*#@$!! She really is a headturner (we recently met someone who recognized CJ from the Bahamas in 2011!!). We brought her to the dock and a model couple were aboard on the bow, then hanging out on the cabin top, then lounging in the cockpit and aft deck area, then “driving”… I hope that CJ didn’t upstage them… not. We’ll have to check out their website in the near future!
I have to say that Bora Bora is a lot different than what we were expecting. Because it’s such a tourist destination, we were prepared for at least one street lined with bars and tourist shops in some city centre of sorts –kind of like Key West, but on a much smaller scale. Not the case. The main town had an artisan market and a few shops selling handcrafts and black pearl jewelry. There was some local art and, of course, the requisite t-shirts. Other shops were spread around the island. Nightclubs/bars? Besides the bars at the two marinas, there was only one that we could see. We’re led to believe that once tourists are dropped at their hotel, they tend to stay close to “home”. No kidding - taxis here cost a small fortune!
Bora Bora does have a bit of a bigger-centre attitude, though. We were cautious as we pedaled around on our bicycles as traffic in the main town was more than what we’re used to anymore, and less overly courteous –i.e. normal traffic anywhere else! Don’t get me wrong: the locals here are still super-friendly, just as they have been throughout FP. The feeling like we’re back in the big city is strictly a relative thing as we’ve been to some pretty remote places in the last three months. With the exception of Tahiti, every other island and town has felt like we’re on the edge of the earth and each one has been special in its own way.
The tourist brochures tout what a pleasure it is for the residents of French Polynesia to welcome us and share their culture with us. It sounded hokey, but it really is true. The random acts of kindness have been plentiful and have greatly contributed to our positive experience here. When we told our Taha’a friend that we continue to be amazed at how nice the people are in FP, he indicated the beauty around him and said, “Why not? We are in paradise! We have food, we have water. We don’t have to worry about freezing in winter…” All this contributes to their laid-back, friendly disposition by his account.
So “maururu”, thank you French Polynesia and “nana” until we meet again. You’ve been awesome and I know that you will be one of the highlights of our trip!
14 August 2013… Ink
I’ve had a number of inquiries about our tattoos and yes, I’ve been vague, especially about mine. It’s a long story, and one I don’t want to dwell on too much because I don’t want Grandma to think I lied to her (I did get my “family” symbol). But truthfully, it was a bitterly disappointing experience. Having shown the artist photos of the style I wanted, it was amazing to me that he could miss the mark by so far and that he was ok with it –wiggly, uneven lines and all. It looked lazy and thoughtless. To top it all off, he then blew off my questions about it. His attitude was even worse than the tattoo itself. After 25 years of thinking about it and lots of careful research, I was pretty upset. It’s such a personal thing. (Yes, that's the short story!)
Travis was pleased enough with his, but it became badly infected. Scary infected –he couldn’t walk on it for a couple of days. Now that it’s healed, he’ll have to get it touched up due to the damage from the infection, but overall, he’s happy with the design.
As for me, I was on the hunt to find someone talented to fix my mess and I finally consulted an artist in Bora Bora. His initial reaction was thoughtful, and he quietly told me that the tattoo was “disrespectful –that’s on your body!” He really hit the nail on the head and feeling confident that he “gets it”, I booked an appointment. While I knew that I could never have the tattoo I had originally wanted, I felt that it could at least be made into something better. To my amazement, he got it closer than I dreamed possible. Below is the documentary of the transformation of something ridiculous into art, my positive spin on this story –otherwise, you likely wouldn’t be hearing about it at all!
Click on Photo Gallery:
It is for precisely these reasons that we had to skip the first two islands of Manihi and Ahe. We arrived in Manihi on the tail end of a weather cell and the outgoing current meeting the incoming swell made for some sketchy conditions in the pass. Even if we made it safely in, there was the chance that weather would keep us stuck there for longer than we wanted so we decided to continue on. The neighbouring island of Ahe was next on the list except now our timing was off to arrive there with a suitable tide so we blew that one off as well, did an extra overnight and arrived at Rangiroa first thing the following morning. Navigating this pass wasn’t supposed to be dependent on the tide but there were still some substantial riptides and the outgoing current was about 5 knots. Our poor little engine worked hard and we were sometimes at what seemed like a standstill but we arrived safe and sound to the loveliest anchorage we’ve had in months! The water is calm and a beautiful, inviting blue. Happiness is: a wet swimsuit hanging from the lifelines everyday!
Rangiroa is the largest of the atoll islands in French Polynesia–the entire island of Tahiti could fit inside it. Our guidebook says that it’s the second largest atoll island in the world but when I checked online, it was in fact the twenty second! Similarly, the “third highest waterfall in the world” that we hiked to in Daniel’s Bay doesn’t even appear in the top 35 online! So small wonder when we set out to find the police station to do our courtesy check-in only to discover that it wasn’t where it was supposed to be, according to our book. To be fair, this is information that can easily become outdated but we had to laugh when we asked a passing woman as to its whereabouts. She told us that we had better start hitchhiking! And not five minutes later, who should pass us but the gendarme themselves. We waved them down and they kindly took us to the station to fill out the paperwork. Travis joked that it was the first time he’s voluntarily gotten into the back of a cop car, but it was “le hot” and he was “le tired” and it seemed like the lesser of three evils.
This is a sleepy little island with one major hotel, a few guesthouses, a handful of tourist shops and some wonderful artists’ boutiques -black pearls are the big thing here, and a major source of income for a lot of these atolls. We spent one day exploring by bicycle, pedaling all the way into “town” and back, stopping when something looked interesting –and at every grocery store we could find! Nothing is grown here so anything fresh is scarce. Goods are imported from Tahiti, arrive by boat on Wednesdays and are gone within 30 minutes so you’d better not sleep in that day! Eggs are a real problem. Apparently they had an outbreak of what sounds like salmonella poisoning a few months ago so they killed all their chickens and now all eggs are imported from the Marquesas Islands or New Zealand. These eggs from the golden chicken are priced at 77cents a piece!
While the island itself hasn’t much to offer but some wonderful peace and quiet, the main event here is underwater! We’ve done some of the best diving we’ve done in years -most of the photos in this chapter will be blue! Dolphins, sharks, turtles, rays… even a sailfish! And the smaller fish aren’t to be outdone, either. There are more species of colourful fish than you could count in a lifetime. So while there’s not a lot “to do” here, we’ve been filling up the days and going to bed early and tired every night. My feet are evidence enough of our recent activities: blisters, scabs and scars alike from fins and hiking shoes and walking shoes. It’s been awesome.
Lousy internet prevented me from posting this earlier so now we’re in Tikehau, only a day’s sail away. It is an atoll island as well, but much smaller than Rangiroa and it’s neat being able to see the complete ring of the atoll as you’re cruising around inside it –inside the crater of an extinct volcano!! It’s crazy, though, how we can be in 80-100 feet of water and still have to watch out for rocks just beneath the surface. I was a bow ornament all day, my eyes peeled for approaching hazards. “Starboard." "Port, port, PORT!!!” I got good sun, though, and it was a great day on the water!
We made our way over to Bird Island and launched the kayak. It was a nice paddle and we did some walking on the island but it took up less time than we thought so we jumped our schedule ahead by making for the main island this afternoon. Good thing, too, since the weather isn’t doing what was forecasted and we have a window to make it to Tahiti if we leave tomorrow. So we’ll enjoy our idyllic little anchorage tonight, with the waves crashing on the reef just on the other side of the motu –so lovely! In the morning, we’ll visit the village and inquire about a fabled spot where we can swim with manta rays (though we’re not counting on it!) and we’ll leave late afternoon for the 36-hour sail into the capital.
p.s. I’m working on photos, I promise! In fact, I have video ready to upload but we’ve been lacking for a good internet connection. Soon come! Is it my fault that The Galapagos were so awesome that I took several hundred photos to sort through? No. I think not.
Photos: Rangiroa & Tikehau, The Tuamotu Islands
28 June 2013… Tahiti
Well, Tikehau was a bit of a bust. It blew like stink and we ended up being stuck there for an extra three days. Travis thinks it would be nice to be a weather forecaster: you can be wrong half the time and still keep your job! The 15-20 knot winds were actually 25-30, and the seas were running around 2-3 metres. Our run down to Tahiti would have put the wind on the nose, making for a crappy day and a half on the water. So, we spent the three days marooned on the boat –we didn’t even splash the dinghy as it would have been pointless. Although it would have made an interesting kite as we lifted it off the bow, the mantas we had come to visit would be hidden in the stirred-up water, if they were there at all.
We were low on fuel & gas and we ran out of water -good thing the rum and wine were holding out! Even still, we got the heck out of there on the third day as we didn’t want to risk being stuck there even longer. It was still blowing pretty hard but at least from a more favourable direction. The first 12 hours were lumpy but it gradually tapered off as Travis had predicted. We slid in sideways, rough and dirty, 36 hours later to flat calm water with a lovely supermoon setting over neighbouring Moorea. Stunning. We waited for sunrise to enter the harbour and motor across the north end of the island inside the reefline; as you turn to head south, you need to radio in to port control to request permission to pass the end of the airport landing strip! It’s interesting watching a plane land that close! We were fueled up, watered and rinsed down, anchor set and caesar in hand all before 8am so we did pretty well. And we can see our anchor at 45ft! The water is absolutely beautiful and it’s a lovely anchorage with a great view of mountainous Moorea next door.
We have really enjoyed French Polynesia so far. It had been sort of a mecca for me, personally, not only because I knew we would be spending a good chunk of time here but also I think it held a certain mystique in my mind. Little prairie girl growing up in a small town had heard of places like Tahiti and Bora Bora, knowing they were far off and exotic, though not knowing exactly where they were. And now here we are and yes, with their crystal clear waters and their green mountaintops, they are just as exotic as I could have imagined. And the people have been so very nice! With the exception of one snotty waitress, absolutely everyone from passerby to store owner to government official has been helpful, welcoming and friendly. And genuinely so! By now, we’re so used to people trying to hustle us that when someone approaches us and offers us something, we’re always looking for a catch –it’s a shame. But here, we’ve heard a few accounts where locals invited cruisers into their homes for dinner just to welcome them to their island! “So many cruisers don’t bother,” one local woman told friends of ours. Upon hearing that, our friends were very happy they’d pushed aside their first instinct and joined her for dinner in her home! Cruising the Pacific has certainly been a totally different experience than cruising the Caribbean and Latin America in that regard, and many others. I’m so glad we have another 6 weeks or so to enjoy these islands -and there are a lot more to see!
Tahiti has been a lot of business. We found a welder to make a new spinnaker pole so that Travis can officially stop hunting for bamboo! They also fabricated a new antenna mount for our internet receiver. It was a bang-up job, done the next day and they even delivered right to the marina; a real class act. Reprovisioning: I almost cried when I found leaf lettuce in the store –and it was affordable! We have our boat registration in hand, which is a good feeling, but we’ve officially given up dealing with the issue of our double-charged security bond. The amount was deducted from the credit card but in the fracas, we lost $25 in exchange; while they had originally offered to cover any expenses incurred as a result of their mistake, they are mysteriously no longer answering my emails. $25 is not worth one more minute of our attention.
Today, Travis is upside down in the bilge checking the engine alignment again. We’ve looked for a mechanic that works out of the nearby marina but no one seems to fit the bill. If things don’t work out after another shot at it today, we’ll have to recruit someone from downtown. The transmission is an ongoing problem as we continue to troubleshoot it.
But it hasn’t been all work and no play –it seldom is! We’ve had a lot of fun meeting up with friends we’ve made in past ports. The Scandanavian Armada is in full attendance again –one boat with three Swedish boys +1 Dane aboard, the other with two Norwegians (if you think two boats aren’t enough to make an armada, it used to be bigger -one boat raced ahead). Originally, we were just randomly bumping into them and now we keep in touch and look forward to sharing a port of call; the same goes for a few other boats.
And there are certainly worse places to celebrate your birthday! A dozen of us got together for happy hour and I got Happy Birthday sung to me in 3 languages (English, Swedish and Danish) by 6 handsome and charming young men. It was a hoot! But a little bittersweet, too, as I think this is the last time our happy gang will be all together -the Norwegians need to hang back to get some work done and the Swedes will be buzzing ahead soon. That’s the way of it on the sea: good friendships are forged quickly and then poof, it’s time to move on; everyone has their own itinerary. However, they are friendships that endure. We’re still in touch with friends from our 2007 trip and you never know where or when you’re going to bump into them again!
Still, we all agree that it’s time to get out of the city and head back to the hiking, snorkeling and diving of the more remote islands. We’d like to have everything wrapped up to join the regatta to Moorea tomorrow but I don’t think it’s going to happen. So, I’m going to go grab some sandpaper and hit the woodwork while we have free and easily available water for rinsing down.
04 July 2013… Dear Grandma,
I have a story to tell you. At first it might sound a bit out-of-place, but just bear with me a second.
After 25 years of thinking about it, I finally got a tattoo this week. What made me take the leap at last? Well, French Polynesia is where tattooing originated; the word “tattoo” comes from the Polynesian word “tatau”. This art form is steeped in tradition and symbolism and has been a huge part of the local culture for hundreds of years. It marks one’s beliefs, social status and coming of age. A true Polynesian tattoo is one’s life story.
My life’s story began very far away from where I am now but I never forget where I came from. In fact, I firmly believe that it’s because I have such a strong sense of home that I’ve been able to run off to all corners of the earth: I always have a home to come back to. Among the symbols I had permanently engraved on me, I have a sunset, for my land of living skies; shark’s teeth for protection (just in case Mom’s worried that her guardian angels don’t fly this far south!); and most importantly, the symbol for family. My solid, down-to-earth family is what made my home. Practical, hard-working people with generous hearts. A very important part of my life’s story. For many people, their family is made up only of themselves and their parents, or even fewer. They weren’t so lucky as to have their grandparents so near to them, or for so long. Your home was my second home for most of my early years as I stayed in town after school for gymnastics, skating, dance lessons, or whatever else was going on. Thank you also for taking me in over lunch hours. While Mom was super-creative with boxed lunches, it was a treat after so many years to have hot lunches every weekday –especially the bread and gravy!
Your life’s story is something truly amazing. From your beginnings in a rural area, you’ve worked hard and have seen a lot. You saw the Great Depression, you sent a husband off to war –and welcomed him home. You raised two smart, creative daughters. You put a brother, a husband and a daughter to rest before you, all with grace and strength while others (I, for one) were falling apart around you. You welcomed new family members with an open heart, be they born or wed into the circle. You were actively involved in the community both with the church and socially –how many nights a week were you party animals out square dancing?! Even into your 90s you were still regularly out and about for tea and lunches with friends. You’ve lived life to its fullest, more than I know -of that I am certain. And for all of this, you’ve told me more than once how grateful you are for the life you’ve had, and for the fact that you’ve had friends and family around you. And I’ve told you more than once that your quality of life has been entirely in your own hands and I routinely brag to people about my Grandma kicking butt!
It’s hard being so far away at a time like this and the urge to come home is strong. However, both you and I know that I can say goodbye to you wherever I am. Or maybe there is no goodbye. While it’s sad to think you are no longer in this world, you are always nearby so long as you’re in my head and my heart, which is where you’ll remain. Love and hugs to you, Grandma. Thank you for being such an important part of my life’s story.
We took advantage of the calm anchorage to send me up the mast to check for worn or missing hardware and it was a smooth trip up and down. I took photos up there just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything but we didn’t double check them until we were back in the rolly anchorage –and we discovered that we had a missing cotter pin. Ugh. Since it’s kind of important to make sure that the big stick thingie stays perpendicular, we had to send me up again to set things right. Said big stick thingie is 42ft off the water and we had some pretty decent swells in the anchorage that morning. It was an interesting ride, but I got ‘er done! I think it’s the first time I’ve had boat bites inside my legs –my falcon talon grip!
As I write this, we're underway again and it seems that it only takes two weeks in port to undo any progress I've made with my sea legs! Today is Day 4, which is becoming the trend for me being up and about. Our next stop: The Tuamotu Islands. They are an archipelago of low-lying atoll islands, the exact opposite of the volcanic mountain islands we just left. We’re looking forward to some diving here as the passes are supposed to be abundant in pelagic fish. Shark hunters!
17 June 2013… And Now for Something Completely Different
“An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef including a coral rim that encircles a lagoon partially or completely. There may coral islands/cays on the coral rim.” So sez Wikipedia. They go on to explain how these are formed, according to Charles Darwin:
17 May 2013… Life at 20 Degrees: Daily Living, Sideways
“Convicts get 20 to life, sailors get life at 20,” Travis says.
It is a particular type of oddball weirdo who wants to be out here. Or, as I put it yesterday, “Only idiots do this!!” as I picked up yet another thing that had been flung to the floor. At least it wasn’t a dozen raw eggs, again. Gross, and a messy cleanup!
This has been the true challenge of this long transit. It's not so much the time it's taking to get anywhere or being confined to 35 feet while doing it -I can always find something to do so long as I’m not heaving over the rail! It's the motion of the boat and having the crap beaten out of you daily. Many tasks that are no big deal on land become Herculean feats afloat. Travis says it builds character. I say it takes a character to do this!!
We wake every morning after a fitful sleep. Even lying prostrate on a boat can be painful! The baaaaack-and-fooooorth motion grinds muscles and bones all night so that you wake up in the morning feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck. After enough stretching to get everything to work again, the morning stumble to the head (early morning, depending on your watch schedule!) provides the day’s first challenges. Timing each step with the waves, you make your way to the back cabin of the boat. Suddenly it feels more like a 90ft boat as you grab on to handholds and countertops as necessary. Oops!! Watch out for the freezer in the back cabin! That one actually requires a pole vault and you’re suspended mid-air, leg in the Captain Morgan’s pose as you wait for the boat to roll back again. If you’re not on your game, you just get thrown about like a rag doll. Bump/bruise #1 for the day.
Once “safely” at your destination, you must time it accordingly to get your shorts down to go about your business. Using the necessary “one hand for you, one hand for the boat philosophy”, this becomes a greater challenge. Lean baaaaaack against the wall and you have both hands, however, once you start moving foooooorth you need to abort the mission and wait for the next wave. After the 4th or 5th try, you’ve reached your goal, blessedly. This is providing, of course, that you have your wits about you so early in the morning. If you don’t, you just ricochet about the head senselessly. Contusions #s 2-5.
You do your morning cleanup while on the throne, where it’s safest. Because you’re smart, you’ve stashed deodorant, soap, toothbrush, etc. nearby your “work area” as necessary. After 4- 5 tries to get yourself back in order, you waddle up top to take your place on watch.
Throughout the day, you’re provided with a few comfortable places to nest. The low side of the cockpit isn’t bad if you keep your knee on the pedestal to keep from being rolled toward the wheel every 3rd beat. Down below, you can read at the table if you sit along the length of the seat. To sit at the computer, however, you wonder why you ever spent money on that “Buns & Thighs” workout as you clench the seat like the talons of a falcon to stay upright.
Sometimes there are chores that need doing. Refueling can be tricky but if you’re feeling Tao, you can actually use the roll of the boat to your advantage! Baaaaaack allows air into the jerry can so that foooooorth has a free flow! Fixing things upside down in a smelly bilge is extra-distasteful, though. Travis often comes up looking a bit green.
Mealtime is an adventure all its own. We’re pretty well stocked with heat & eat items but we always need to access the dry locker for something or other. Introducing: avalanche. There’s no way to open it without something or other flying at you -if you’re lucky, it’s not something heavy. It’s a similar gong show to extract anything from the fridge as you fumble with the lids and whatever it is you’re trying to take out. Now to the cooking. We have fiddles to keep one pot on the stove, which takes care of reheating. When we need to cook with more than one pot, it’s a circus act –or a porn show. We will have one of us manning one pot while the other tends the second but at times, one of us will need both hands to do something: so the other will act as the seat belt by holding on with both hands and wedging the other in front of them against the countertop so they don’t go flying. It looks a bit like dirty dancing. Then to eat the food –you’ll need to tilt your bowl back and forth to keep it from overflowing. Or, you can make it work for you: Travis puts his potatoes downstream of his steak so he gets “gravy”! Then you watch the water come out the tap sideways as you do the dishes.
So, it’s a workout every day. Whoever said that you get out of shape on a long passage didn’t have a boat as rolly as ours. I’m discovering muscles I didn’t know I had as I hold on for dear life! We waddle, we sashay, we swing from handhold to handhold like orangutans and we slide across the rug like we’re on ice skates. We suffer casualties as we fall into things and things fall onto us and for fun, we play connect-the-dots with our bumps and bruises and cuts. I've been having fantasies about what I would do with just one hour per day where the boat wasn't rolling. Have a shower without fear of my soapy butt slipping over the side? Cook rice without having to be the human gimbal? One can dream.
But as human beings, we become conditioned and the real craziness is when there is a brief moment when the boat ISN’T rolling. It’s rare, but when it happens we find ourselves holding our breath and wondering what’s wrong/broken!
Despite it all, here we are just a day away from our destination: Nuku Hiva, The Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. The longest crossing of our whole trip comes to an end: 29 days at sea and 3050 nautical miles -that’s about 3800 statute miles. It is such a distance that we needed to factor the curvature of the earth into our mileage and course!
And we’re arriving none too worse for wear. The boat is in one piece and we haven’t killed ourselves or each other. We did very well -didn’t even need to hide the sharp knives!
22 May 2013… Bonjour de la Polynesie Francaise!
We DID IT!! We awoke on the morning of Day 29 to a volcanic mountain jutting out of the Pacific. And you sure can’t beat a dolphin welcoming committee, either! A huge pod stuck around for well over half an hour and entertained us with belly flops and tail slaps. It’s like they got a kick out of playing the court jester rather than the graceful creatures they are!
On Saturday afternoon of the long weekend we dropped anchor, splashed the dinghy and raced ashore to check in with 15 minutes to spare. We’re glad for that as it seems we’ve been spared the monotonous customs boarding that some of the other boats have had to endure. I guess they’re pretty relaxed, but we’ve heard stories of them sealing off your booze locker if they figure you have too much! Blimey!!
Our transmission stayed in gear until we were properly anchored, which is more than I can say for some of the other boats arriving. Some are limping in here without operating engines or autopilots, tired and crusty, boat and crew both. A month’s constant wear and tear is hell on a boat. Travis is sending me up the mast tomorrow to check for cracked and worn hardware.
We spent the weekend getting the boat back together. Priority 1 was a hull cleaning. We were shocked by the new little ecosystem we had growing on the boat! I wish the photos did it justice because it’s really quite amazing. We had little mussels well up past the boot stripe and soft green growth halfway up the gunwale on the leeward side. How those little buggers hold on to a moving boat long enough to start growing into a recognizable critter remains a mystery to me! It was hard work in an awkward position to scrape/scrub them all off but it was important to save our paint job. The little fishies had quite the feast beneath our boat as we worked!
And I was SO WRONG about the exercise I thought I was getting underway!! I feel like a weakling, and the aforementioned task about killed me!! In a few days’ time, we’re going to hike up a mountain or something to get some exercise. In a few days’ time, I said.
We have the new transmission in our hands as of yesterday afternoon, which we’re happy for. However, had we known what FedEx was going to charge, we might have considered just flying Travis home to pick it up in person! I haven’t added up all the expenses yet, but start with $928 from FedEx and go from there. I may need a stronger drink for the task. Or a ball peen hammer.
Still, it's nice to have it here waiting for us and we should have it installed in the next couple of days. We’ve been taking things pretty easily, accomplishing a few tasks each day. This time is for getting ourselves back together as well, and we’ve been sleeping a lot. Well, I have. Travis gets up in the wee hours and is a whirling dervish in the other 2 cabins. I wake up to something newly tidied, feeling guilty that I’ve slept until (gasp!) 8:00am. This morning, I woke up to No-Travis, but a note instead. He tried twice to wake me –nudging me and everything- but I wouldn’t budge! He went ashore alone, but I had a fantastic breakfast awaiting him upon his return. Mayyyybe I’m forgiven.
It's a rainy day here in Nuku Hiva, good for water collection. We got about 15 gallons overnight which is our only decent haul since our last day in The Galapagos. Which was our only decent haul since Honduras! So that's 15 gallons we won't have to cart out to the boat ourselves.
Rain or shine, it's beautiful here. Big green mountains with a fan club of clouds that hang around their peaks. Every so often the clouds let the sun peek through and I pull out the camera for a "God Shot". You know, like on the religious greeting cards where a beam of light is shooting down from above. I got a great shot yesterday with the neighbour's boat in the foreground. Always the great shot with someone else's boat in it!
Here in Tiaohae Bay, the shoreside town is small & pretty and the people friendly. The Polynesians are just so happy and always have a “bonjour” and a smile & wave for you even as they’re passing you in their cars. And bless them, they’re so patient with my rusty French! After several months in Latin America (and living in South Florida before that), Spanish rolls off the tongue much more easily than the language I used to be fluent in. I’m eager to get my French back up to snuff, it’s been far too long.
And of course, I’ve zeroed in on the fresh produce market. This is always a highlight for me, and not just because I’m a foodie. Visiting a busy market is a cultural experience all its own, in my humble opinion. There’s just something about browsing through the products of these small islands that makes you feel connected to their earth. I know it sounds hokey.
It’s fun to experiment with the local stuff. Almost always, the vendors are gracious and will assist you with alien fruits, tubers and whatnot, often offering a sample when it’s appropriate -and sharing a good laugh if you’re eating it wrong! They seem to enjoy the curiosity and I have yet to encounter anyone who lacks the patience to indulge me. Rather, I’ve sometimes had a little something extra make it into my shopping bag as a gift!
The market here is small and quiet. You can tell that it’s almost all local produce because the selection is small and there are far more fruits than veggies. The odd imported thing will be a surprise you’ll get if you arrive early in the morning, like the lonely 5 ears of corn I spotted a few days ago. The random finds are fun.
27 April 2013… Yippee!! Off Like a…!! Ugh. …Herd of Turtles.
Today at noon marked the end of our first week underway. We’ve logged almost 900 nautical miles which makes for an average of 125 miles per day. That’s pretty respectable for us, especially considering some of our challenges. At hour #12 -yes, the very first day out!- we started having trouble with the transmission. Again –this is our 3rd. After a week of communications with our mechanic back home (nice to have a friend to call on a Sunday –thanks Mark!) and eliminating all other possibilities, we’ve come to the conclusion that replacing it will have to be the solution again this time. Hmph.
Still, we decided that it would do us no good to turn around and head back to The Galapagos, even on that very first day. Shipping time for the transmission will be at least two weeks and there’s also a chance that we would have to pay to clear in again, a $600 hit we weren’t willing to take. So, we’re going to stick to our schedule. We weren’t planning on motoring much anyway - think of the fuel we’re saving!!
Yesterday was more fun as our spinnaker blew out. It ripped at the outermost reinforcement radius and tore all the way up both the luff and the leech. Yep, she was a hankie. It’s unfortunate, since we’re relying 100% on wind right now! It was a used spinnaker we got for free so we weren’t expecting it to last the whole trip but we were hoping it would make it to Australia.
On the brighter side, Travis’ 3rd evolution of the bamboo whisker pole is doing a pretty good job of keeping our headsail from flopping around. This is especially important because it is ROLLY out here! What happened to the Peaceful Pacific? Thankfully, I do seem to have the seasick thing mostly licked. We figure that because the anchorage in The Galapagos was so rough, I didn’t really have a chance to lose my sea legs!
So all in all we’re doing well. Our friends just 100 miles behind us were surprised one morning to discover one of their engine rooms flooding. They are currently holding out the ocean with a hose clamp, a piece of rubber glove and some 5200 –the marine equivalent of bubble gum and duct tape. Another boat had someone fall and hurt their shoulder or collarbone. They’re on meds, but there’s not a lot else they can to until they get to port. I’m always worried about something like that happening, and I move about the boat like a little ol’ granny. It must drive Travis nuts, but it’s better than having to turn around and fish me out of the ocean, or worse. In the end, he can’t argue with the wisdom of his mother who advised me to always have “one hand for you, and one for the boat.” And to stay hydrated. I’m working on that one, too.
03 May 2013… Why, Oh Why Can’t Things Just Work? -Part 2
And in the middle of nowhere! Travis says that if I were a fan of stupid Captain Ron, I would already know the answer to this. “If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there.”
The transmission is the obvious bummer, and it’s taken another full week to sort out the logistics of getting a new one shipped into French Polynesia -all of it from the destination end. Why can people not understand that we’re in the middle of the ocean?!? And people who are dealing with boaters, no less!! No, we cannot download the form from your website. NO, we cannot receive the monstrous email you sent us, as it only receives 50000 bytes of information. NO, and for the same reasons, we CANNOT scan and email you documents!! Oy. However, we’re on the fast track now. We had documents sent from Canada (thanks, Mom & Dad!), more will be sent from Key West and then we’re in business. Our package will be shipped on Monday, and will hopefully arrive about the same time we do. Here’s hoping.
All of this needed sorting out via a satellite email system that seems to be acting up just now. We still need to get that fixed. It’s disappointing to have it go on the fritz just when we need it the most.
Next, what to do about this sail business. With the spinnaker blown out and beyond repair, we were flying our new headsail but it’s just too heavy for these light winds and it would flog and beat the crap out of the rigging which is potentially damaging. We decided to pull out our old one that we carry along as a spare. It’s lighter and smaller and seems to be doing the trick. Of course, this swap had to happen at midnight. In the rain. I might have been heard uttering a few choice words about sailing…
Then we had an engine overheat problem a few nights ago -we still have to run it every so often to charge the batteries (and it seems a waste that it can't be turning the bloody prop at the same time!). After much investigating, and a little bit of panic where it seemed like we could have done some real damage, Travis found a blockage on the water intake side. Despite the fact that the alarm had failed to go off, it seems we caught it in time. Whew!
While I need to complain about all these things so I can live up to the title of this blog (and truly there were some moments of real frustration when it just seemed that too many things were broken at once!), we’re doing really well. This morning, Day 13, we reached our halfway point. Woo hoo! Only 1525 more nautical miles to go! The sail is finally in “set it and forget it” mode and we have our groove on for passing the time during the days as well as a sleep schedule that works well for both of us. If the winds stay consistent, we should be breezing/limping into Nuku Hiva sometime around the 16th.
10 May 2013… Dude, Where’s My Wind??
Early this week, it disappeared and we’ve been bobbing along in the 3-4 knot range, sometimes with barely enough wind to keep the sail from flogging. But it’s not the diminished speed that stinks so much as the roll of the boat. Having the sails full acts as a stabilizer and without it, we’re treated to one heck of an amusement park ride! I’m curious to see if we’ll have the proverbial drunken sailor walk once ashore.
More mechanical issues this week, this time it's our freezer. We went to defrost it and discovered that half of the contents were thawed/thawing. We have redone the refrigeration on this boat three times, the last was right before we left. Because of lost faith and confidence in it and nightmares about being in the middle of the Pacific with a boatload of rotting food (!), we brought along the portable unit a friend gave us. We always joke that we have a spare for everything, but a fridge?! Ha!! We discovered that the 12V side isn't working so it’s presently plugged into the inverter, underfoot in the back cabin.
Then it was a juggling act to manage the extra power consumption. We won't be able to acquire fuel at our next destination so we have to be careful using both the engine and the generator for charging; but we think we have it dialed in, now. The portable is now our freezer, our freezer is the fridge, and our fridge is acting as a cool box for condiments and whatnot. It all seems to be running smoothly and so it’s using less energy in the long run! If we get stretched thin, we can shut everything off at night to save on power.
So, we managed to save everything and still have some room in the freezer to catch fish! This is an important mission on this leg of the trip for two reasons. First, the free grub in expensive French Polynesia will be a lifesaver. And second, well, it’s just Man vs. Fish! Every day Travis the Hunter/Gatherer is out there fussing and changing lures. We read recently that it’s good luck to have “Beautiful Babe Spit" on the lure. Being the most qualified onboard for the position, I sacrifice my saliva daily to the cause. Our lures all have names, too. Some came with names, but others are the fabrication of our under-stimulated imaginations right now. So far, the Purple Plunderer is leading the race with the most kills. Catch 2000 is a close second, mostly because the triple hook grabs and doesn’t let go! Falling behind are Ol’ Grandad, Mohawk Kenny -and RuPaul. Ok, it may not be PC, but it’s black and red with glitter and pink feathers. Do you have any other suggestions?
Today we have a new contender. If he’s worth his salt, he may be honoured with a moniker by day’s end. If not, he risks being tossed into the bottom of the tackle box with the other nameless dead, so it’s all up to him, now.
Of course, the easiest fish to catch are the ones that jump right up onto the boat! Every morning, Travis clears the decks of all the small flying fish that suffered their sad demise during the night. It’s a regular slaughter house. Recently, small squid have been joining in the race. SPLAT!! went one as he hit our clear vinyl window, leaving a streak of ink in his wake. We were shocked to find one on top of the pilothouse roof, too! The poor little overachiever was probably hollering WOO HOOOOOOO and then …..Thunk. “I saw this going differently in my mind…” he might have been thinking. And then every once in awhile we’ll hear a thud and a flop flop. The flying fish have been getting bigger, up to about 7”, and we run out to save their little lives as they lay gasping for water. Poor little guys!
This week, Travis and I celebrated our 5th anniversary. As is tradition, we asked each other,
-"Are you sick of me yet?"
-"No, are you sick of ME yet?"
When I jokingly expressed relief at this year's usual response, he asked, "Why, were you worried this year?" I had to point out that it might be considered a perilous time to ask such a question: Day 19 at sea with at least another 9 to go and everything on the boat is breaking 1100 miles from the next speck of land. Nuf sed.
It certainly wasn't our intention to be spending our anniversary at sea but I guess it’s appropriate for this year! Festivities included 2 bacon wrapped steaks cut off our roast that we got out of hock in Panama City, freshly whipped potato flakes and a box of our finest red, valued at $2.50. Travis says that the key to a great boxed wine is to pick a good vintage week, and to open it ahead of time so it can breathe. Only the best for us!! The real treat was a bottle of ice wine I'd been hoarding. Actually, it was all a treat. We haven’t had dead cow in well over a month, and the potatoes were a nice change from the rice that’s been our staple.
As I write this, we are on Day 21 with about 840 nautical miles left to go –another week to 10 days. Two nights ago, frustrated by this long windless stretch and drifting around at 1.8 knots, we fired up the engine and put it in gear -and it stuck!! We ran for a full 48 hours, putting some miles under the keel in the right direction. We’re supposed to have more wind starting tonight, fingers crossed. If not, we’re going to have to keep some of these fish on the hook to pull our boat along. Seriously, some of them have almost overtaken the boat as we’ve been reeling them in! Of course, at under 3 knots, it couldn’t have been much of a challenge.
And just as I’m wrapping this up, our new little green lure snagged a good-sized mahi! Henceforth, he shall be known as Beam Me Up, Snotty. A fine name, and one that more than distinguishes him from the competition. If he keeps it up, he may just be promoted to Sir Snotselot. Or Lord Snotty! Oh dear. Cockpit fever is setting in…
Pacific Puddle Jump
& French Polynesia
Personally, I’m more into veggies than fruits but I can’t help but be impressed all the same. Grapefruits here are sweeter and about half the size of your head. Three of them can be had for about $1.50. Similarly enormous mangoes are 3/$2. You couldn’t get ONE for that price back home! As for bananas? The smaller the better. The little ones are the sweetest! So despite my preferences, our hanging basket is laden with a selection of colourful fruits and we’re both loving it.
I’m not sure how I’ve just managed to write half a blog post about fruits & veggies! I suppose that’s what happens when you're deprived for a solid month.
As a final note, we’re surprised to find that we’re not terribly sticker shocked. I guess we were adequately prepared. Sure, you wouldn’t want to reprovision here but most of the dailies are only a little more than they are in Key West -save the occasional outrageously expensive thing like an $8 frozen loaf of bread! But who cares when fresh baguettes are only 70 cents?!
05 June 2013… Fixing Things & Breaking Things
The Transmission went in without too much hassle. Travis did an alignment on the engine but it still sounded like a freight train going into gear. It seems to be evening out now but just the same, we may hire a mechanic in Tahiti to give it the last tweak it needs. It’s very close, so we’re not worried about damaging it.
But transmission success day was almost doomsday for the laptop. Since I didn’t meet the requirements for the helper’s position (“long arms and no boobs”), I thought I’d spend the day getting caught up on photos while the boys worked. The transmission was on the table and my glass just a little too close to the computer for the lack of space. Me. The one who is always paranoid about exactly this scenario (“Honey, do you mind moving your cup over just a little?”). Me. The one who just two days earlier had been thinking about what a disaster it would be to lose my laptop to just such a tragedy (satellite email, website, photos, blogs…). I reached up to get something and tipped the glass over right onto the keyboard. “No no No NO NOOOOOO!” I flipped it immediately upside down, turned it off and pulled out the battery and hard drive. We cleaned it up as best we could and let it dry for 3 days before turning it on again… It’s amazing: as much as I tear my hair out with technology sometimes, I somehow, inexplicably, seem to have luck with resilient laptops, knock on wood. Mind you, I don’t buy cheap ones, but there has to be a limit to the amount of abuse it can take! My old Dell lasted 7 years in a marine environment and through one good drenching (thanks to a boat leak) and it just kept on ticking. So does this one, thank goodness. The keys aren't even sticky. It’s like nothing happened!
Except a gap in my blogging that snowballed. It just felt like there was always some other thing that needed doing.
One important task was to contact the US Coast Guard because we somehow lost the original documentation for our boat. Retracing our steps, we think the mix up happened upon check-in in The Galapagos. With the confusion of 5 officials in the cockpit, one of them must have picked it up thinking it was a copy. Since our boat papers weren’t required for check-out, we only discovered it was missing as we were checking in to Nuku Hiva. Travis handed the officer a photocopy for their records first, then reached for the original only to discover that it wasn’t there. However, the officer was already at the copier and he made a duplicate of our copy like it was the original. We were extremely fortunate in this as normally, the original is required and we could have been denied entry! We’ve arranged to have a new one sent to Tahiti –FedEx loves us this month. I guess if it had to happen, this is a more convenient place to get one shipped in. Expensive, but easy enough.
Not easy was the task of dealing with the local bank. Apparently French Polynesia has had a problem with cruisers who arbitrarily leave crew or family members behind, as ridiculous as that may sound! Rather than having these wayward souls become a burden on the system, each individual is required to post a bond which basically acts as a repatriation fund. Europeans are exempt but otherwise the amount varies by country of origin and the total for Travis and I was $3400! We were expecting only half that. We are charged in Polynesian Francs and refunded in Polynesian Francs so there’s a hit on the currency exchange both ways plus the bank takes their fees. So you would think they have the procedure down to a science, right? Wrong. It took half the day for them to do the paperwork and she asked us to come back in the afternoon to get the completed documents. Somewhere along the line, she made a mistake with the amount and had to reverse the funds on the credit card. Oy. All in all, it took the better part of the day to get it sorted. So end of story, right? Wrong. We checked our bank statement only to discover that the reversal of the first transaction never went through so we had almost $7000 on our poor little card! To make a long story short, what ensued was 4 hours of our lives we’ll never get back, running back and forth between the bank and 2 internet cafes and finishing up with a solid hour at the counter. When we turned to leave, my meek apologetic smile was met with applause from the waiting room of people that had accumulated behind us –they are patient people, as very few got up and left. I’d like to say this is the end of the story, but it’s still in progress. It’s Bocas all over again (remember the $500 withdrawal that never was?). We left hoping that everything would be resolved. If nothing happens by the time we hit land again, we have the name and number of someone in Tahiti to go waste time with, too.
So we had a lot going on and our last week in Nuku Hiva flew by. It wasn’t all work, though. There were a lot of familiar faces in the anchorage and some new friends were made so that there was always a dinner or happy hour somewhere. We became a rather large gaggle of people, moving from boat to boat to enjoy meals and drinks together. The boys took an afternoon to hike up the side of a mountain and got some fantastic photos –and blisters and sore knees. Later in the week, Travis and I did our own hike over to a resort he remembered that has an infinity pool. We just chilled and had a drink, enjoying the view. The place was empty save a kids’ birthday party. It was pretty cute to hear “Happy Birthday” in 3 languages!
We hauled up the anchor and motored a short 60 minutes over to Hakatea Bay, also known as Daniel’s Bay for the one guy that used to live there. It was a beautiful, small, quiet anchorage half filled with friends so we had a cookout on the beach the first night. The guitar came out and the party had to be finished under cover of a tarp because it started raining! Good times. Daniel’s Bay boasts the 3rd highest waterfall in the world and it was a nice 2-hour hike up to take a swim at the base of it, wading across the thigh-high river three times on the way.
Darwin’s theory starts with a volcanic island which becomes extinct.
As the island and ocean floor subside, coral growth builds a fringing reef, often including a shallow lagoon between the land and the main reef.
As the subsidence continues, the fringing reef becomes a larger barrier reef farther from the shore with a bigger and deeper lagoon inside.
Ultimately the island sinks below the sea, and the barrier reef becomes an atoll enclosing an open lagoon.
The Tuamotu Archipelago is the largest group of such islands in the world, running 1000km from northwest to southeast. Some are unbroken circles, others a chain of coral islets (motus) with one or two navigable passes into the lagoon. They have earned the moniker “The Dangerous Archipelago” because historically many ships have hit the reefs here due to poor charts and strong currents. Even with modern charts and electronics, it’s challenging cruising. The passes have swift currents and riptides and in conjunction with variable weather conditions, careful timing is needed for arriving and departing.
~Edith May Wood left this world peacefully on June 30, 2013 after 95 amazing years. To live life to its fullest and be gone in an instant is the most any of us can hope for and she did it flawlessly. This letter I wrote for her service is intensely personal, which is why it has taken me so long to post it. It is my hope that you, our friends, will see it not as something morose, but as a tribute to a life well-lived.
Kudos you to, Grandma.
16 July 2013… Still Groovin’ in FP
Well, I guess I have some catching up to do! We’re still loving French Polynesia. As always, our movements are dictated by wind and weather and we’ve felt rushed out of a few cool spots, especially the Tuamotus. Still, we’ve really enjoyed everywhere we’ve been.
It was a short trip from Tahiti to Moorea but it felt like arriving in another world. While being in the city has its advantages, it’s the more remote anchorages we love, where we can jump in and enjoy the underwater scenery! While Cook’s Bay is far from remote and we didn’t actually get in the water, it was back to the nature. The island is super low key and the bay itself had us surrounded on three sides by craggy mountain spires that snagged the clouds. Awe-inspiring. We rented a scooter for a day and checked out some stunning vistas. And by bicycle we visited the local fruit juice factory that not only produces the obvious, but they also have a line of interesting liquors and wines. We scored a bottle of pineapple wine that contains nary a grape and is surprisingly dry despite its colour. We have yet to crack it –we’re waiting for our special catch!
We had quite a gale rip through the bay in Moorea one afternoon and we were glad we had stayed aboard. Calico Jack horses back and forth quite a bit at anchor and we had one gust of about 50 knots hit us sideways, causing the anchor to fail. Yep, Fang was defeated, much to our surprise. Still, it was a challenging situation for him –we’re a lot of windage sideways and the gust was strong enough to almost put our rail in the water on the leeward side. If it weren’t for a boat behind us, we would have just continued to pay out more line until Fang had a chance to recover but we didn’t have that luxury. Travis had to haul him up so we could re-anchor, which isn’t as simple as it sounds. Fang is about 35lbs plus we have 150ft of chain after that. The depth in Cook’s Bay is 70ft so there was a lot of line to haul up by hand even before he could hook the chain to our manual windlass –all in adverse conditions. Our brawny captain was on the bow as I was behind the wheel, revving the engine to heave the bow into the wind as best I could. Thank goodness our dodgy transmission held fast! After about an hour, we were safely re-anchored. Quite the afternoon’s adventure.
After 8 days in Moorea, we sailed overnight to neighbouring Huahine. They dub this the “Wild Island” (in the “untouched” sense of the word) and by all accounts, it’s supposed to be what Bora Bora was before it became so touristy. We anchored off the main town of Fare, which could be scoped out in about the space of a half hour! We were hoping to spend a little more time touring the island but an approaching weather system hustled us out a few days early. Our anchorage was secure enough, but we decided that if we were going to be holed up anywhere we’d rather it be the next island over. Still, we did have the opportunity to check out a Polynesian dance and singing competition before we sped off. We had the privilege of watching the finalists from that island as they vied for a space to compete in Papeete against teams from the rest of the South Pacific. Kind of a big deal. Each performance was a traditional story of the islands and even though we couldn’t understand everything, it was a sight to behold. Joyous vocal performances and vigorous dancing left us wondering how they were still standing at the end of the evening! We could tell they were getting tired –what a workout!
It was a short sail over to Raiatea, which is where we are now. We were surprised to discover that dockage was only a little more than picking up the required mooring ball, so we’re living it up at a big time marina! It’s charter boat central so we share the facilities with all the modern, high end catamarans while we’re on the “geriatric dock”, as our neighbour implied. His boat is 67 years old! At 41, Calico Jack is a youngster by comparison but they’re both classic, beautiful boats among the majority here. We were hopping up and down at the thought of our first hot showers since March, but alas –they’re cold. Still, the limitless water leaves me feeling like I have a new head as I’m actually able to wash out ALL of my conditioner… It’s all about the little things, folks!
Travis has really been looking forward to getting to Raiatea and Taha’a (the two islands share the same lagoon). It’s supposed to be an underwater playground here and now that our tattoos are all healed up we’re anxious to get back into the water. The wind is dying down and we’re headed out tomorrow to our first awesome snorkeling hole.
But for tonight, we are absolutely beat! We walked about 20kms today: to drop off the propane bottle and back, then to town, followed by a hike up the side of a mountain -we got some great photos from the top!- then all the way back down and home again with a full haul of groceries. We’re presently near comatose as we digest tonight’s dinner and battle fatigue at the same time. This weeks’ culinary theme will be fondue and we started off with Beef Bourgignon, the oil fondue (while in the safe tranquility of a marina). Tomorrow, we’ll be having Shabu Shabu or Chinese style fondue, cooking with boiling broth rather than oil (anchorage allowing). Then I have emmenthaler for later in the week and a small brick of chocolate for dessert fondue. Ridiculously enough, I did sacrifice the space to bring two fondue setups along! This is one of the fun things I had no time to do in Key West. To have the time now and no pots seemed unfair, as did the thought of returning home to two rusted, unused pots in 3 years’ time. So the crock pot got ditched in favour of my little indulgence.
And while we keep talking about how tired we are, here we sit at our computers at almost midnight. I should hit the sack. Bonne soiree!
24 July 2013… Terrific Taha’a
Taha’a might turn out to be one of our favourites in French Polynesia! We started out by anchoring off one of the little motus and jumping into crystal clear waters. The snorkeling wasn’t as tremendous as we were hoping, but it was just great to be back in the water. We spent the night there with the waves crashing on the nearby reef. With the moon out, we could see the coral heads on the sandy bottom at 40ft!
The next day, we pulled anchor with 2 missions: (1) to check out one potential dive spot (2) on the way to an anchorage off an uninhabited, sandy motu where manta rays are reported to hang out. The dive spot turned out to be ok, but Travis decided that the visibility wasn’t worth wasting two tanks of air, so onward we went (of course, it might have been beautiful by Key West standards!). We shimmied in to anchor on a shelf that had us in 7ft of water – a refreshing change for the guy who has to pull the anchor! We dinghied into the beach in search of this beautiful sand but what sand was there hurt even Travis’ tough feet! Chivalry isn’t dead: Travis hobbled back to the dinghy while I waded out to meet him (though the sea bottom wasn’t much more hospitable). And oh -the island is no longer uninhabited, either! In case you hadn’t guessed it yet, our guidebooks are a bit old… Still, we went for a snorkel, and while the mantas were on vacation that day (damned union!) there was still some pretty stuff to see.
We decided to move on instead of spending the night there, to anchor off another uninhabited motu with beautiful beaches. Ha!! The only beaches we could see through the binoculars were the ones on the property of a resort that covered half the island! We discovered later that the whole island is private –you can’t stop progress. We anchored in sandy bottom that was almost too shallow to get CJ into and spent a nice evening with the underwater lights on, watching a couple of stingrays hover along the bottom. The sand was so white, it was almost blinding! Also in attendance were a giant sand dollar the size of a small football and one red sea urchin that we released back into the wild after he came up with our anchor at the last stop. It was a calm, starry night with the shadow of mountainous Bora Bora in the distance. Impressive.
We were planning to stay there one more night but the wind was starting to whip so we hustled over to our next destination, Hurepiti Bay. It looked nice and sheltered and Vanilla Tours operates out of the bay so it was on our list of stops, anyway. As it turns out, this particular bay actually amplifies the wind conditions as it howls between the mountains, making it feel 50% gustier, so we were told! No matter for us, since Vanilla Tours provided us with what proved to be a reliable mooring which was comforting since we had to wait an extra day for our tour. However, three friend boats happened into the bay the next afternoon and they were a little leery of the holding. We enjoyed one fun evening with them but they all pulled out the next day, tired of getting knocked around. We also learned later that two of their dinghies had flipped over! Bad news for their outboard motors.
The Vanilla Tour turned out to be much more than just a tour of a vanilla plantation. Alain and Christina Plantier (an appropriate name!) live on a piece of property that could be a plantation itself! This was a full-on botanical tour and it started in their yard. Besides the expected coconut trees, they had starfruit, banana, grapefruit, guava, and noni trees. Frangipani, ginger and bougainvillea of many colours. And the biggest ficus tree I’ve ever seen! It looked more like a banyan and he said they belong to the same family. Of the 2800 varieties of plants that currently exist in French Polynesia, Alain knows which are indigenous and which were brought over, from where –and how! People (both the Polynesians and the Europeans), water, wind and birds are all responsible for what’s here today. He also knows their medicinal properties. For example, that lumpy little noni fruit -which looks bad and smells worse!- is a natural antibiotic . The Polynesians used to apply it to their tattoos to speed healing. It’s also packed full of antioxidants and researchers have found evidence that it may help kill cancer cells. Oh, and got a wart? The milky sap of the frangipani can help with that!
We were then loaded into the back of a 4x4 and the first stop was the vanilla plantation. Vanilla is actually a vine -to make a plantation, they must first plant trees to support the vanilla. Native to Mexico and Guatemala, it’s been an industry here for only the last 40 years or so, but Tahitian vanilla is distinct in that is has a definite licorice scent. The beans are also oilier so when processed for market, they don’t seem so shriveled up. The problem, though, is that French Polynesia hasn’t the bees to pollenate the flowers! The Spanish tried for a very long time to grow the vines in Europe and other parts of the world: beautiful vines, pretty flowers, but no vanilla beans. They even tried introducing bees but there were so many natural predators that they couldn’t survive. So how to get these vines to produce? It was an 11-year-old kid in La Reunion (near Madagascar) who finally figured it out! Now all the flowers are pollenated by hand. It takes diligence: the flowers only bloom for one day, so you have to be on your game, and only so many flowers per vine are pollenated to ensure the best chance of healthy survival (we don’t want any runty beans!!). The work doesn’t stop there. Once the beans are harvested, all the processing is done by hand. It consists of setting the beans out to dry for a certain number of hours per week, then hiding them in a wooden crate and covering them up the rest of the time. This goes on for about three weeks during which time the beans are turned and sorted by hand. It’s a lot of work, and it gives you an appreciation as to why the real-deal vanilla is so expensive!
After the vanilla part of the Vanilla Tour, we were loaded back into the truck and we went off-roading through areas of broken and muddy trail to beautiful viewpoints, stopping for schooling on even more plants and trees. Some were used for building, others for burning and cooking, more still for natural dyes and one nut was originally used as the projectile in a bocce-like game (petanque). One of our stops was a forced one: a large tree had fallen across the trail. Out came the trusty chainsaw –never leave home without it! We had a snack of fresh grapefruit, starfruit and passionfruit, washing it down with coconut water swilled through bamboo straws. All in all, it was a great tour. Alain is super-knowledgeable and he and Christina are so friendly and accommodating. We felt very welcome on their special little island!
But they weren’t the only ones to make us feel so welcome. We actually had a hard time walking on Taha ‘a because someone was always stopping to give us a ride! On our first outing, we got picked up by William who gave us a little tour of the area and was full of local knowledge. He is a self-professed chatterbox and actively seeks out tourists, ha ha! We were grateful, as we saw a lot more of the interior than we were planning. We were especially impressed by how natural the landscape is. Everything is well-tended, but a tree is allowed to be a tree rather than pruning it to look like a cube, for example! William said that things are changing in that regard. Tahitians are buying up property for summer homes and throwing up fences and walls, and manicuring the landscapes… Again, “progress”, if you want to call it that. But for the time being, there’s still a lot to appreciate about Taha’a if you love the wild jungle like we do.
The wind was still cranking when it was time to leave and we beat our way back to Raiatea, hoping our slip at the marina was still open. No such luck –everyone is holed up for this weather. We’re presently on a mooring ball which isn’t quite tucked away enough to dodge the gusty weather. No hot liquid fondues this week (!) and our sleeping quarters resemble an amusement park ride. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in over a week and Travis is ready to knock me out with a ball peen hammer!
Still, we’re happy for the mooring –it’s secure (no disrespect to Fang). We recently learned that the last anchorage we ran out of had its share of troubles when the blow came through. A large number of boats dragged anchor and some were actually t-boning each other. That could mean some serious damage –dodged a bullet there! All this bad weather is associated with a low pressure system in the southern ocean and there are gale force winds from the Cook Islands all the way through French Polynesia.
We were hoping that the weather would cooperate enough that we could take in a couple of activities we missed here in Raiatea on the way through, but no dice. It’s too windy to enjoy a scooter tour and the pearl farm we wanted to snorkel will probably be washed out. So, it’s over to Bora Bora tomorrow as we’re nearing the end of our French Polynesian tour (sniff!).
Yep, that’s what they say. The whole, entire Pacific. Apparently, this is something best appreciated from the air so barring a $$$ helicopter ride, I turned to good ol’ Google images. It truly is breathtaking. And you know, it’s not been bad a ground level, either!
We were pleasantly surprised to cruise in at about the same time as our three friend-boats we met up with in Taha’a so we stalked them to our first night’s mooring with the promise of a happy hour at the famous “Bloody Mary’s Restaurant and Bar”. In operation since the 70s, it’s the oldest independent (read: non-hotel) restaurant on the island and they advertise the string of celebrities that have crossed their threshold. From humble beginnings, they have gone quite upscale though they still have sand floors -and a “sandal check”! Their gimmick is that you pick out your “caught-that-day” seafood dinner from the display at the entrance and that very portion is cooked to order. We just sat at the bar, but our tuna sashimi was amazing (we’ve been having trouble catching our own!).
The following day, we moved CJ over to the Bora Bora Yacht Club where the staff is friendly and they really have the cruiser’s needs in mind, providing almost everything we need, all on the honour system. We continue to be impressed by this –it’s been the norm throughout FP- and we hope they don’t get screwed over by too many dodgy people! They have bicycles for rent and we toured the 32km around the island soon after our arrival. We like getting our bearings right away and there were several stops for photos and a shop or two.
That evening was a special splurge. A few of our friends very thoughtfully gave us monetary gifts to be used only on something we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford = fun money. We diligently put this cash in a separate envelope, to be enjoyed at a select time. As our very first occasion, we booked a reservation at a posh resort for a traditional Polynesian dinner and show. Dinner was cooked in the traditional “oven”: stacked logs, topped with stones. The oven is lit in the afternoon and when all is good and hot, the food is placed on top and covered with banana leaves. Thanks to the moisture from the leaves, the food is more steamed that BBQd so it retains its own natural juices. Four hours later, it is uncovered and ready to serve. We were treated to the unveiling before it was all carved up: roast pork, ham leg, ribs, fish, lamb & veggies –a veritable feast. Add sashimi, cheeses, salads & breads. Then for dessert: crepes made to order, a chocolate fountain, a variety of tarts, mousses and crème brulee… and over a dozen varieties of ice cream. So decadent. As we digested, we were entertained with traditional dancing and music. They were young performers, but what they lacked in experience was more than made up for in enthusiasm. Unfortunately, they dragged some of the audience up to participate. You can guess why I say “unfortunately”. Travis wisely ran for the dessert bar –I thought about it too, but it would have been too obvious! I thought I was safe, but ended up being among the last chosen to go up and make an ass of myself. And my young male partner was SO enthusiastic that he kept us up there, me shaking my heinie, for an extra long time. GAWD!! Thankfully, Travis doesn’t know how to work the video on the new camera so there will be no evidence on THAT, thank you very much!! A more sincere thanks to Dan & Michele Ross –we had a great time on our splurge!
Sunday Funday has become chore day, which is fair since every other day of the week that ends in “y” could be considered a Funday (not entirely, but almost). Typically, nothing is open on Sundays and anyway, it feels good to get stuff done on the boat, too. This week was sail repair day, ugh. With what little space we have to work with, a 3-hour job turns into 6 hours, but it’s finished. I think the next time we order sails we’ll be going with another company. 2 for 2, we’ve had trouble with both sails –there’s no way it should have needed restitching so soon.
The weatherman said we have only two nice days this week to take advantage of water activities so on Tuesday we headed over to the other side of the island. The mission: to search for manta rays. Again. The first morning out, the visibility was poor and we saw only one, so far away that I would hardly call it a sighting. We were discouraged but we decided to stay overnight and try again the next morning. We swam around for quite awhile and I was starting to lose hope but then there he was…and then another!! They're awesome creatures and I uttered, "Oh My God!" through my snorkel as he turned to face me. As plankton feeders, they coast through the water with their mouths open, filtering the goodies. They look straight out of a sci-fi movie from that angle. We got some great pictures both from Travis’ freediving efforts and my shots from the surface. Photos with both Travis and the mantas give a good indication of their size: Wiki sez they can get up to 18 feet wide! These were about 8 feet and they made Travis look small. We were going to go for a third try but the weather turned early so we aborted Mission 3. That’s ok. Mantas: check!! And hopefully this isn’t the last we’ll see of them.
03 August 2013… Bora Bora: “The Pearl of the Pacific”
(Maybe not the best shot, but considering the visibility, the fact that they're 40ft down
and that it's from my rinky-dink Pentax, it's awesome!)