Saturday, September 28, 2013

Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga

Just wanted to put this quick post up to show some pictures of the recently caught fish. Richard caught a 36 inch mahi mahi (two others that were somewhat bigger got away at the boat...dang!), and I caught a 36 inch yellowtail tuna.  Both were delicious! Shout out to s/v Wizard for the gaff hook they gave certainly helped out our "fish on board" count!

Richard and his mahi mahi.

Me and my yellowtail tuna.  Nice outfit, eh?
The boots are what make this outfit.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Alofi, Niue

The mooring field in Alofi, Niue.
On Thursday, August 22nd, we picked up our anchors and left Aitutaki heading for Niue. The weather window was favorable and while we enjoyed our stay in Aitutaki, it was time to move on.  The passage from the Cook Islands to Niue was decent, meaning that we didn't encounter any major squalls (or as I like to call them...bonus bathing opportunities) and the winds were from a direction that allowed us to sail some of the time.  Calico Jack also picked up their anchors and we buddy boated most of the way to Niue.  Throughout the passage we were pretty much in radio contact and when we finally reached Niue on the morning of August 27th, they chose the southern approach to the island while Osprey took the northern route.  The distances were comparable and we both reached the anchorage at roughly the same time.

Customs and immigration met us the next day and we cleared into Niue without any problems, adding yet another passport stamp to our growing collection.  With customs cleared, we were ready to explore and started at the Niue Visitors' Centre where we were able to begin exploring Alofi.

Niue is the world's largest uplifted coral block and is nicknamed "the Rock" for obvious reasons.  The entire island is a giant limestone chunk and the shoreline is inundated with caves, some of which are exposed at all times and others are only exposed at low tide.   But the first thing I had to do was get myself a Niuean driver's license.  Luckily, there was no driving test involved because I was a little intimidated about the possibility of having to not only remember to drive on the "wrong" side of the road, but also to negotiate a manual transmission which would have required me to shift with my left hand.  When we got our rental car I was relieved to see that it was an automatic transmission, alleviating at least one of my concerns about driving in Niue.

Traditional Niuean dancing after our Niuean Feast.
While we were at the Niue Visitors' Centre we made reservations to attend a local Niuean island night with the crew of Calico Jack.  The walk to the family run restaurant took 30 minutes and when we got there we found a full bar and the the family setting out platters and platters of traditional Niuean food, including uga, the most coveted coconut crab.  Uga is a terrestrial crab that lives on a diet mostly of coconuts.  The meat is very sweet and quite different from the dungeness crab that we are used to and in abundance in our corner of the world back in the Pacific Northwest.  In addition to the uga, there was the Niuean version of poisson cru (raw fish marinated in coconut milk), pork sausage and spinach, a couple of different curries, traditional salads and other tasty treats.  After dinner, the owner (Talo) and her daughter performed traditional Niuean dances for the diners.  All in all it was a perfect dinner with great food, good company and traditional entertainment.

The coral reef off the mooring field in Alofi, Niue.
Our first snorkeling was right off of the mooring field.  We took the dinghy to the end of the field, tied it up to a mooring ball and then swam towards shore in about 80 feet of crystal clear water.  Closer to shore, we were surrounded by coral islands, chasms, and an abundance of sea life.  Our first encounter with sea snakes was a surprise; these highly venomous sea snakes actually have to swim to the surface to breathe air and then they can return to foraging for small crustaceans and fish on the bottom.  We made sure to keep our distance but the most important lesson was this:  When snorkeling, you are usually looking straight down towards the bottom, where all the action is, and not really paying attention to the surface.  I quickly learned that when highly venomous sea snakes are swimming around you it's a good idea to keep your eyes constantly scanning your surroundings, lest you inadvertently find yourself bumping into a sea snake.  And even though the guidebooks say that you practically have to stick your finger down their throats in order to get bitten, I decided to err on the safe side and informed Richard that I would not be sticking my fingers down any sea snakes' throats. 

The next day we picked up our rental car and started touring the island.  The weather, however, was not very cooperative as it felt as though we were hiking in a typhoon. While in the Marquesas, Sarah of Kyanos, coined the term "swiking" which describes hiking through torrential downpours (it's actually a combination of swimming + hiking = swiking). We're still waiting to see if Merriam Webster will accept "swiking" into the English nomenclature.

Our first stop was Togo Chasm on the eastern shore of the island.  The chasm is located near the shore and it's a relatively short hike through the forest to the beginning of a moon-like terrain complete with limestone pinnacles punctuated with tropical vegetation.  Once you get close top the shore, there is a turnoff that leads to a ladder that goes down about 30 feet to the actual chasm.  The chasm is a long, narrow track of land that looks somewhat like a beach, complete with sand and coconut trees, with towering limestone walls on either side.  We explored the chasm and then headed towards the shore where we climbed through a small cave that opened up to the roaring coast.  The tidal surge was immense and at one point I was standing on a limestone block watching the waves crash through an opening in the cave.  The only problem was that I misjudged the force of the wave and before I knew it, the wave had raced through the cave and threatened to sweep me away!  I quickly looked around me and noticed that there were no hand holds to be found so I hunkered down, expecting the worst.  The wave reached me and with a considerable amount of surge, swept past my feet, about half way up my shins (see video above).  I turned to look at Richard who was quietly motioning for me to return to the safety of the cave entrance...good advice.

We trekked back to the rental car and headed along the coastal road to our next stop, hoping to find a place to have lunch.  At this point it was still raining hard.  We arrived at the Tavala Arches and waited in the car for the rain to subside, but this never happened. So we ate our lunch in the car and decided to call it a day and return the next day to visit the natural arches, caves, and snorkeling pools.

The Tavala Arches at low tide on the northwest coast of Niue.
The next day, we got an early start and headed north towards the Talava Arches and Matapa Chasm.  The arches were spectacular!  You start by hiking through a forest (and we were hiking this day and not swiking), then you climb into an immense cave complete with stalagmites and stalactites.  The cave opens up to the coast and the coral reef is dotted with small pools cut into the limestone and mini-chasms that are surprisingly deep considering how close to shore they are and depending on how much tide is running over them.  We could have spent an entire day here exploring all the various caves and snorkeling pools, but decided to go and check out the Matapa Chasm where we could snorkel.

Crystal clear waters in Niue.
Now, it should be mentioned that when you are snorkeling in Niue, rainwater that runs off of the island, and through the limestone that comprises the island, enters the coastal waters and is much cooler than the seawater surrounding the island.  In addition, the waters are crystal clear, but the top few feet of freshwater have a shimmering effect that actually makes visibility a little less than perfect.  And did I mention that the fresh water is cold?  I found myself doing more free diving, trying to get below the fresh water in search of the warmer seawater.  This was especially evident when we were snorkeling in the Matapa Chasm.  The chasm was about 20 feet deep, 100 feet long and 30 feet wide and the top few feet of runoff were cold.  But being the trooper than I am, I braved the cold and dove deep and was rewarded with sighting a few fish that I had previously not seen.

Our next stop were the Limu Pools which are pools of various size cut into the limestone reef with caves that you could swim into and surface on the other side and channels cut into the reef.  We spent quite a bit of time here snorkeling and again saw sea snakes, still poisonous, as well as a wide variety of fish.

Richard and me at the Limu Pools.
We visited a couple of other caves, and while I'm not dismissing them, I fear repeating myself as they were quite spectacular as well and provided hours of gunkholing fun.  Each cave boasted numerous "rooms" with ceiling to floor limestone columns of differing colors, and tide pools at the edges where the cave met the sea.

One of the interesting aspects of visiting Niue is how you "land" your dinghy at the dinghy wharf.  The dinghy wharf is a concrete structure that is about 15 feet above sea level. Once you arrive at the dinghy wharf, you attach a crane hook to your dinghy via a bridle. There are a set of stairs that you climb and a control box to operate the crane.  Once the dinghy is lifted from the water, you swing the crane over the wharf, lower the dinghy, and use the "dinghy spatula" to move your dinghy into a parking space on the wharf.  I have to admit that I liked this method of parking the dinghy as you didn't have to worry about incoming or outgoing tides that could either float your dinghy in several feet of water or strand it "miles" from shore.   I have added 7-ton crane operator to my resume as I am sure that this newly acquired skill will open numerous employment opportunities should I decide to pursue this line of work in the future.

The crane at the dinghy wharf.

On our last day in Niue, we met up with friends at the Washaway Cafe on the southern tip of the island for an "honor system" happy hour.  Our friends Heidi and Joe from s/v Huck were there and it was great to catch up with them and make plans to meet up down the road.

We really liked Niue and wished we could have spent a bit more time there but again, the weather looked favorable to make the passage to Tonga so we had to take it.  So after a couple of beers at the Washaway Cafe, we piled 6 people into the rental and headed back to our boats where Calico Jack and Osprey each prepped our boats for the passage to Tonga.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Approaching Aitutaki, Cook Islands.
Another day, another passage another country.  We left our mooring ball in Bora Boar on Sunday, August 10th and headed for the Cook Islands; specifically, the atoll of Aitutaki. The passage itself took four days and we had much higher winds than the GRIB files (weather data) predicted and a fair amount of 3 meter swells to boot.  Upon reaching the northern tip of Aitutaki, we rounded the reef and headed south towards the reef passage. The pass into the lagoon was a bit difficult to enter as the markers were not quite what we were used to and it was really shallow.  One of the reasons we decided to visit this atoll was because the channel into the lagoon is so shallow that only shallow draft boats can enter it and we figured it would be less crowded as a result.  When we arrived, there was only one other boat (a catamaran) anchored in the corner of the postage stamp sized anchorage.  This was on a Sunday and we waited on the boat until Monday to clear in with customs.  Having cleared customs, we lowered out "Q" flag (quarantine) and raised the Cook Islands courtesy flag.

Osprey (l) and Calico Jack (r) at anchor in Aitutaki.
We have been anchored in the small anchorage off of Arutanga village for a little over a week now and have thoroughly enjoyed our time here.  The pace of life is slower and the people are very friendly.  We have rented scooters and toured the island, done some snorkeling off of the northern tip of the island (past the old runway), visited a giant clam restoration program facility, and hung out with Travis and Joanne from Calico Jack.  

In addition to Calico Jack, who we first met back in Mo'orea in French Polynesia, we have also run into Dolfin of Leith which is a small, 107 year old wooden boat that was given to Iain and Vicki as a wedding present back in the Untied Kingdom.  They have sailed this boat, with their children, Finn (4 years old) and Petra (2 years old) across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, to the Galapagos and then across the Pacific to French Polynesia.  We first met them as we were both approaching Hiva Oa in the Marquesas, having just crossed the Pacific.  They are a lovely couple with plans to sail to New Zealand, where Vicki is from, and settle down there as land based citizens.  They do intend to keep Dolfin of Leith while living in New Zealand.

Joanne and Travis at the Game and Fishing Club.
Here in the town of Arutanga there is a Game and Fishing Club that turns into the local hotspot on Wednesdays through Saturdays.  It seems as though the whole village shows up for dancing, drinking, socializing, playing billiards and darts and we have attended this night spot on several occasions; always a good time.

Last night, Richard and I decided to make reservations at a "fancy" restaurant and treat ourselves to some fine dining.  The open-air restaurant was set back from the road in a lush tropical garden setting, complete with about a dozen tables, a sand covered floor, tiki torches and the ubiquitous smell of mosquito coils burning on the periphery.  We were not disappointed as our meals with first rate and we left very satisfied.  The thirty minute walk back to the boat justified the delicious chocolate cake we had for dessert.

The crowded anchorage in Aitutaki.
Our plan is to leave Aitutaki for Niue by the beginning of this week depending on the weather.  Hopefully, we will be able to secure a mooring ball; otherwise we will have to continnue on to Tonga.  You cannot anchor off of Niue as the coast is nothing but cliffs and steep-to drops into the ocean below.  In addition, the attraction for going to Niue, besides being able to get some of their world famous stamps, is to get the opportunity to swim with the humpback whales which have migrated to Niue to raise their calves.  We have heard reports of people swimming off of their boats with the whales and this is very enticing to us.  There is, also, the small issue of trying to avoid being bitten by sea snakes which populate the waters off of thew island, but according to one guidebook, you basically have to stick your finger down their mouths in order to get bit; something that neither Richard nor I have any intentions of doing.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bora Bora, Society Islands, French Polynesia and Au Revoir to French Polynesia

Osprey downwind sailing to Bora Bora
(photo courtesy of
We left Taha'a on July 25th and headed for Bora Bora. The wind was blowing in the 20-25 knot range with gusts reaching 30 knots.  Luckily for us, the wind was coming from behind us so the strong winds and associated wind waves and swell were not that difficult to handle.  As we were coming out of the pass on Taha'a, just at the point where the reef ends and the deeper waters of the open ocean began, the swells were confused and large but Osprey plowed through them with few problems.  The ride over to Baie Povai on Bora Bora was comfortable and we entered the pass and headed for the mooring balls next to Bloody Mary's, a local restaurant on the water's edge.

Cruiser's happy hour at Bloody Mary's in Bora Bora.
The crew from Kyanos, Dragon's Bane, and Calico Jack all met up at the bar at Bloody Mary's for some happy hour action.  Unfortunately, there was no happy hour and the prices were kind of steep...actually nothing new for French Polynesia.  We had a couple of rounds and ordered some bar snacks before heading back to our respective boats.  We were all hoping that the winds had died down but by the time we got back to our boats we noted that there was still a good 15-20 knots blowing through the mooring field which wasn't too bad but would definitely make the boat swing through the night.

Another cruiser's happy hour, this time at
the Mai Kai Marina in Bora Bora.
The next morning our small fleet moved to the Mai Kai Marina which was just 20 minutes away and picked up a mooring balls there.  Now the Mai Kai Marina has a decent happy hour with two-for-one prices which included pitches (granted the pitchers were 2500 francs which comes out to about $27 a pitcher but we actually feel better getting two pitchers for the price of one).  It was a late night at the bar and no one was up for the massive hiked in the morning that we had talked about over beers so that ended up being the next day.

The hike up Mount Pahia is not for the faint of heart.  First you have to find the trail head which is located on the edge of a banana field.  From there the trail is pretty well marked but for the most part the climb is straight up.  After just a few hundred feet you feel as though you have already gained about 1000 feet vertical...okay, an exaggeration, but it was a VERY steep climb.  Along the trail there are about a half dozen ropes attached to trees that allow you to pull yourself up some of the steeper aspects of the hike.  It took us about 2 hours to make the ascent and the views from the top were unbelievable!  Our group included 14 people and I am happy to say that not only did all 14 of us make it to the top, but all 14 of us made it down as well.  The summit was at 2,159 feet and this was definitely one of the steeper climbs I have ever attempted.

View from the top of Mount Pahia (click to enlarge).

Once safely on the bottom, most of us retired to our boats to rest after the arduous climb. I can say that the crew of Osprey went to bed early that night as we were quite tired from the hike (after all, we aren't getting any younger!).

Sunset from Motu Toopua, Bora Bora.
After a few days at the Mai Kai Marina, we decided to take the boat around to the reef side of Motu Toopua.  The motu is actually more hilly than most motus and the hills are covered in thick vegetation.  We dropped the hook in about 15 feet of crystal clear water and soon had sting rays swimming under the boat.  I scrubbed the gooseneck barnacles off the hull (pesky little buggers) and then dove down with the sting rays below the boat.  That night, we had a potluck on Red Sky Night with Kyanos, Cariba, Compass Rosey and Nyon.  Cariba noted that we had a beautiful red sunset which seemed fitting for our time on Red Sky Night.

The next day, Richard and I and Kyra and Rick of Nyon went swimming with the sting rays and then headed over to a red channel marker to do some snorkeling.  We saw a very large moray eel and lots and lots of multi-colored fish as well as some live coral.  The snorkel site was right on the edge of the deep channel so it provided a variety of underwater levels to explore.  

Potluck group at Patrick's place on Motu Toopua
(photo courtesy of Kiapa).
Another night...another potluck, this time on the property of a local named Patrick.  The crews of Kiapa, Cariba, Nyon, Compass Rosey, Red Sky NightMonkey Fist and Osprey showed up with all of our dishes to share.  Patrick cracked open coconuts for us to drink the milk from, cooked a breadfruit in the firepit and prepared some locally caught fish in coconut milk.  He also brought out a bottle of home brewed coconut liqueur which was quite good (and drained in short order!).  Gab, Paul and Brianna brought out their guitars and Rick brought out his drums for an impromptu jam session.  Gatherings like this are common for cruisers and its a great opportunity to socialize with like-minded individuals as well as discuss future cruising plans.  We thanked our host and asked if he would mind if we all showed up on shore the next morning for a yoga session.  Not only did Patrick allow us to hold our yoga class on his property, he also joined in.  Later in the day, Patrick led us on a three hour hike to the top of the motu where were saw old army bunkers and enjoyed stunning views of Bora Bora and the lagoon.

The next day we left and returned to the Mai Kai Marina as it will be easier to provision for our next passage as well as check out of the country from the town of Vaitape.

So I'm sitting by the pool at the Mai Kai Marina composing this blog which will be my last blog from French Polynesia as our visas expired today.  We will be leaving the country on Wednesday, August 7th and heading to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.  From there we will head to Niue, and then its off to Tonga before heading to New Zealand for the hurricane/cyclone season.

Our route from French Polynesia to New Zealand.

I have definitely enjoyed our time in French Polynesia.  But wouldn't you know, just when my French was getting really good it's time to leave.  I won't have to pull out my French again until the summer of 2014 when we go to New Caledonia so I guess I have some more time to if I could only find someone to speak French with between now and then I'd be all set!

I think I have to say that each of the island groups (the Marquesas, the Tuomotus, and the Society Islands) had something different to offer and for that reason its hard to decide if I had a favorite or not.  The Marquesas were wild and pretty much less developed than the Society Islands and the Tuomotus were some of the prettiest islands (atolls, actually) I have ever seen with crystal clear water and gorgeous sunsets.  The Society Islands were a brief return to urban life with the cities of Pape'ete on Tahiti, Fare on Huahine and Vaitape on Bora Bora; but they also provided lots of opportunities for hiking, exploring, dining out and happy hours with fellow cruisers.  I am definitely looking forward to our next passages and landfalls and am certain that they too will offer amazing opportunities to see new things.

With that said, au revoir from French Polynesia!

A few random pictures of our time in French Polynesia.

Post Mount Pahia hike, Bora Bora
Brianna, Ben and Sarah, happy hour
Mai Kai Marina, Bora Bora.
Patrick grating a coconut
(he makes it look so easy!).
Lionel and Irene of Kiapa at potluck.
Paul, Gab and Brianna jamming at potluck.
Osprey at anchor in Bora Bora from Mount Pahia.
The pass is in the background.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Taha'a, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Richard checking out our approach to Taha'a.
We only spent one night in Faaroa and in the morning we lifted our anchor and headed to Baie Hurepiti, on Taha’a…where the fun began.  When we entered the bay the wind was ripping, gusting to over 20 knots.  We entered the bay and circled around looking for a shallow spot and had to settle for anchoring in about 70 feet of water.  We ended up setting the anchor several times as each time the wind picked up it seemed to pull on the chain we had laid down and swing the boat precariously close to the coral reef which was right off of our aft quarter.  With the anchor finally set, we hunkered down for a night of gusty winds and a wildly swinging boat.

Osprey sailing off of Taha'a (photo courtesy of Kyanos).
At some point during the night, the dinghy flipped with the outboard attached to the transom.  When Richard peeked outside of the cabin in the morning, he noticed the upturned dinghy and we immediately pulled the dinghy up to right it and removed the outboard, setting it on its bracket on the stern rail.  At that point, we decided to lift anchor and proceed to the next bay up the western coast of Taha’a, Baie de Tapuamu.  As we were leaving Baie Hurepiti, just at the entrance to that bay, our anemometer recorded a wind gust of 41.6 knots.  Granted, it was just a gust, but when the gust was over we were looking at consistent winds in the mid to high 20s.  We tucked into Baie de Tapuamu and were treated to a calmer bay which was a welcomed sight after the wild night we had just experienced.  We set our anchor down in about 80 feet of water right behind our friends on Compass Rosey and began the process of working on the outboard motor.  We changed the oil, replaced the sparkplug and worked the water out of the inner reaches of the outboard to no avail.  It wasn’t until Mark from Compass Rosey suggested that we look at the carburetor to see if any water had found its way in that our outboard finally turned over.  As of right now, it works but it seems like there may be some residual moisture somewhere in the inner workings of the motor that needs to evaporate or work its way out for the outboard to be completely right.

Ours was not the only dinghy to flip that night in Baie Hurepiti; Dragonsbane’s dinghy flipped as well.  As a side note, dinghy flipping seems to be a common occurrence in the cruising community.  The reason Mark knew to look at the carburetor is because his dinghy had flipped when he was in Nuku Hiva.  And just this morning we heard Nicole of Bella Star on the VHF radio saying that their dinghy flipped last night as well.  Richard and I feel as though we are in an elite group of cruisers who have a knowledge set that is now complete, or at least we know what to do if our dinghy ever flips again!  And while the outboard will eventually run smoothly (or as smoothly as that sea cow will ever run!) we will not be able to replace our dinghy oars probably until we reach New Zealand (the oars flew out of the dinghy when it flipped, never to be seen again…sad really).

So here we sit in Tapuamu on the island of Taha’a waiting for the weather to turn.  The wind is a consistent mid to high 20s and gusts in the 30s are not uncommon.  We have been swinging on our anchor for the past three days now just waiting for a break in the wind so we can go to Bora Bora.  It’s weird, Bora Bora is about 15 nautical miles away and we can’t even get there right now due to the wind.  If it were just the wind it might not be so bad but in order to get into the lagoon at Bora Bora you need to enter the single pass on the west side of the island.  With the winds the way they have been for the past week it is likely that the swells will have built to unforgiving heights.  We heard a boat the other day on the net stating that they had 25 knots of wind outside of the Bora Bora lagoon and 5 meter seas!  That’s crazy –big waves!  That said, we’ll just sit here and wait it out in Bora Bora’s backyard until the winds subside and we feel comfortable moving on.  Just another day in windy paradise…aita e pe’a pe’a (no problem!).

Today Richard and I dinghied over to the Coral Gardens which is a pass between two of the motus off the west coast of Taha’a.  The dinghy ride over was no big deal as we had the wind on our backs.  Once we got to the motu, we tied the dinghy to a coconut tree and walked across the motu to the ocean side where we were able to get into the water.  There was a small current passing between the motus which helped push along the shallow pass.  The fish and coral were quite spectacular.  The dinghy ride back to the boat was a bit dicey as we were now heading into the wind and there were wind waves impeding our progress.  We made it back to the boat and settled in for lunch.  Quite the adventure.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ra'iatea, Society Islands, French Polynesia

After a little more than a week on Huahine, we lifted our anchor and headed to Ra’iatea.  Our first stop was in Baie Hotopuu on the southeastern corner of the island.  We were able to do a little sailing on the way over, but by the time we found our way into the pass, we started the engine to ensure that we were able to navigate our way into the bay.  On our way in we passed a tiny motu (islet) that had a corrugated tin shack on it and a bucket seat from a car facing the shore.  It might have been someone’s fishing seat or just a place for someone to sit and relax with a maitai while watching the setting sun.  Incidentally, the word maitai comes from the traditional Tahitian language of Reo Mao’hi, and means “good.”

Sarah, Ben, Jacques, Adam and Richard at
the outrigger canoe races in Opoa, Ra'iatea.
Together with the crews of Kyanos and Dragonsbane, we hiked into the town of Opoa one day and even though it was a Wednesday and not a known holiday to us, the whole town appeared to be at the beach that day for a day of outrigger canoe races.  We hung around and watched several of the races and had lunch (chicken sandwiches on baguettes with French fries in the sandwich!).  I always carry a bag of balloons with me in my backpack and started handing out balloons to the little kids on the beach.  Most were shy and had to be coaxed by a parent to accept the balloon but once in their hands, the kids really seemed to enjoy chasing the balloons as they bounced along the shore.

Several in our group grabbed ice-creams and we headed out on the main road for a hike that we hoped would afford us a good view of the anchorage and our boats but that was not to be.  The trees and the curve of the road prevented us from seeing our boats but we enjoyed the hike just the same (a great way to walk off the calories associated with sandwiches that contain French fries).

Dinghy tour with Dragonsbane and Kyanos on Taha'a.
After a couple nights in Hotopuu we pulled up our anchor and headed to Baie Faaroa, a mere 6 miles up the shore.  Baie Faaroa is a deep indentation on the east side of Ra’iatea in addition to having pretty deep depths throughout the bay.  The weather had started building a few days earlier and by “building” I’m specifically referring to the winds.  Over the past few days we had been seeing the winds build to around 15 knots which wasn’t too uncomfortable but definitely something to keep our eyes on in the hopes that it wouldn’t build much further than that.  The highlight of our time in Baie Faaroa was a dinghy ride up the Riviere Faaroa.  While not bursting with animals, the quietly meandering river was a welcomed calm to the windy anchorage.  We ended up landing our dinghies and taking a tour of a “plantation” where our host treated us to fresh coconut water and bananas.

Huahine, Society Islands, French Polynesia

On July 9th we left Mo’orea and headed to Huahine, our third island in the Society Islands.  Huahine has a really laid back vibe that encourages sitting back and relaxing.  We attended a hieva which is a local contest of competing teams that sing and dance.  These month-long events are like a tournament with those teams receiving the highest scores advancing and eventually moving to the championships that are held in Pape’ete.  We watched a local team sing traditional Polynesian songs and dance traditional story-telling dances all under a huge venue set up just for these performances (complete with roulettes or food trucks parked outside for your dining pleasure).  It was a great way to experience the culture and traditions of the Polynesian people in a way that was more authentic than a hula show put on by some big hotel chain.  The singers' voices were sweet and clear and the harmonies were beautiful to listen to while the dancing was full of energy and involved dozens of male and female dancers.

The "sacred eels" of Huahine.
We rented mopeds one day and toured the islands.  Huahine is actually two separate islands, Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti, enclosed by a common fringing reef.  Our moped tour took us to archeological sites as well as a visit to the famous “sacred eels.”  Now, I’m not sure what makes these eels “sacred” but that’s what the guide books call them.  The eels live in a shallow, man-made canal and when we visited, the blue-eyed eels were huddled together under an outcropping of the canal wall.  We didn’t know that you could feed these eels, otherwise we would have brought something to feed them and because of our lack of offerings the eels did not display much movement.  I think they were too busy being “sacred” to really put on a show.  They were neat to see though, even if my pictures don’t do them justice.

Safety first while riding mopeds on Huahine.
On our way back to returning the mopeds, we stopped at a hamburger shack on the beach for lunch.  The place was called “Da Best Burgers” and while they were tasty (and the fires were some of the best I’ve had since leaving the States!), and while Richard will disagree, it is here that I believe I got some of the worst food poisoning I have ever encountered in my life (and I’ve had more than a few bouts of food poisoning).  Luckily, we had picked up anchor the next day and moved to a deep bay, set our anchor on a coral shelf (that’s another story) and for the next three days, I alternated my time between the bed and the head.  I was doubled over with stomach cramps that would not quit for most of this time and instantly knew that something was truly wrong.  In the end, I guess you could call it the silver lining (as my glass is usually half full, ha!) I lost about 5 or 6 pounds…bonus!  Not that I recommend this method of weight loss, but there’s nothing like a nasty intestinal bug to shed a few pounds.

We returned to Fare, the main town in Huahine, and spent the next few days provisioning, getting on the internet and hanging out with our cruiser friends at the local yacht club which had a surprisingly good happy hour (250 CFP for a half liter of beer; in the States that’s like less than $3 for a little more than a pint…and believe me, in French Polynesia, that’s a steal!).  I spent a lot of time at Chez Guynette which was a little pensione on the main road in Fare, right next to the dinghy dock.  Dianne and Crombie, Australians, were running the place and I spent several mornings talking to them about their fascinating adventures all over the planet.  Shout out to Dianne and Crombie (and Guynette and Minieux!) and thanks for your wonderful hospitality and “insiders” perspective on French Polynesia (not to mention a decent internet signal).

Mo’orea, Society Islands, French Polynesia

The anchorage in Mo'orea.
We are presently less than 15 nautical miles from Bora Bora and with the weather conditions we are experiencing it might as well be 1000 miles away.  For the past three to four days the wind has been blowing strong…sustained winds in the mid-20s for the most part with gusts up to 35 knots not being that infrequent.  The winds have prevented us from making any significant moves going back almost a week now; though we did move from Ra’iatea last week to Taha’a.  But before all that, we were on the islands of Mo’orea and Huahine so I guess I should backtrack and describe our time on those islands.

Approcahing Mo'orea.
We left Pape’ete on July 2nd and headed for the sister island of Mo’orea.  From our mooring ball in Pape’ete (FYI…the French word for mooring ball translates to dead body) we could see Mo’orea with the sun setting behind its mountain range each night.  The roughly 20 nautical miles from Pape’ete to Cook’s Bay on Mo’orea’s north shore was a pleasant sail with relatively calm seas.  We were able to motor sail but due to the wind pretty much coming in on our nose we weren’t able to cut the motor completely and move by sail power alone.

Cook’s Bay is the eastern bay of the two large indentations on Mo’orea’s north shore that are frequented by cruisers.  It is deep both in terms of how far it cuts into the island as well as the depths found throughout the bay.  Deep bays require more chain to be let out (called scope) so that if the winds pick up, your boat will swing in a prescribed arc, hopefully avoiding dangers such as shoals, coral shelves, and, of course, other boats.  That said, we let out loads of scope and felt comfortable with the situation.  The next morning, Joe and Liz from Set Me Free, dinghied over and asked if we wanted to rent a car with them to tour the island which we readily agreed to and while Joe took care of making the reservation, Richard and I readied the boat for our departure.  You see, the wind had started to pick up a bit and we just wanted to make sure that everything was set up for any situation that might arise related to an increase of wind funneling down the mountains and into the bay.

When we finally got into the car and started driving, we actually stopped the car on the side of the road to look at our boats and, determining that the wind wasn’t too bad and that both boats seemed to have their anchors dug in, we continued on our tour of the island.

Liz and Joe from Set Me Free.  Joe's expression reflects
the general consensus about the pineapple wine.
The entire trip around the island took less than two hours and that was with stopping along the way to see the sites and visit a juice factory.  The guide books talk about seeing this juice factory and in reality, it was just a gift shop with a little bar in the back where we were able to sample pineapple wine (gross) and banana liqueur (palatable).  We also stopped at a grocery store that was near the main town and stocked up on vegetables which isn’t always easy to do.

When we got back to the boats, the configuration of boats in the bay looked slightly different but none of us really paid too much attention to it and made plans to meet up for dinner that night at a local restaurant.  Once we were seated at our table, Joe and Liz proceeded to tell us that Calico Jack talked with them when we got back from our roadtrip and informed them that 40 know winds were ripping through the bay that afternoon and that they dragged anchor which explained the slightly different configuration of boats in the bay.  Had we known that 40+ knot winds were going to be blasting through the anchorage we would not have left the boat for the entire day.  In fact, 15 knot winds were predicted and these stronger ones took everyone by surprise, from Mo’orea where we were, all the way to Pape’ete where boats broke loose from their moorings and several dinghies had to be chased down.

Friendly stingray.
From Cook’s Bay we moved over to Baie d’Opunohu and anchored in the eastern entrance of the bay with about 20 other boats.  The anchorage was behind the fringing reef that protects Mo’orea from the swells that come rolling in from the open ocean and actually resembles a roadstead anchorage like the ones we saw in Hawai’i.  The snorkeling around the anchorage was average but the big draw was the dinghy trip we took over to the western entrance of the bay where we had the opportunity to swim with and feed sting rays and sharks (okay, we didn’t actually feed the sharks, we just swam with them).  It was a forty minute dinghy ride to the shallows where the rays and sharks hang out and when we got there we dropped our dinghy anchor, hopped out and were immediately surrounded by sting rays.  And yes, these are the kind of sting rays that can hurt you if you happen to get stung by their tail barbs; but these rays are so passive and accustomed to getting fed that they are more like puppies in the water than the dangerous sea creatures that in reality they are under different circumstances.  The rays will swim right up to you and “crawl” up your chest in hopes of getting a handout.  We had bought some tins of sardines when we were in Pape’ete and brought them with us to feed the rays.  All the while black tip reef sharks are circling.  I'll try to upload the video via YouTube in the next few days as the size was prohibitive for posting here.

Richard and me at the Belvedere lookout.
While in Baie d’Opunohu, we hiked to the Belvedere, a lookout point that gives you a fantastic view of both Cook’s and d’Opunohu bays.  The bonus to this hike, which is actually all on a paved road, is that half way to the top there is an ice-cream stand so of course we had to stop on the way down (I tried the soursop and guava ice-creams and they were incredible!).  On one of our last nights in d’Opunohu, we had a potluck dinner on Lazy Bones with Mark and Megan, and also the crew of Chili Cat.  It was at this potluck that I was introduced to Tim Tams, an Australian, chocolate covered cookie, and now I am hooked!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tahiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Nothing like some beer to help ease into land life.
After 12 days in Tahiti, we decided to shove off of the mooring ball we were attached to and venture to Mo’orea which is just under twenty miles northwest of Pape’ete.  Our time in Tahiti was well spent hanging out with old friends and making new ones; not to mention numerous runs to the incredibly huge Carrefour grocery/department store for supplies.  As usual, Kyanos arrived ahead of us despite leaving Fakarava after us.  Their boat is just so much faster than ours but hey, if there is something that I do have, it’s time so no worries.

As we were entering the pass just outside of Marina Taina, we got a call on the radio from our friends aboard Bella Star.  We haven’t seen Aaron and Nicole since their going away party in Ballard, Washington way back in April of 2011.  We were actually quite surprised to meet up with them as we had been following their progress from the Galapagos and thought for sure that they would end up arriving in French Polynesia well ahead of us and therefore end up being at least one island group ahead of us for our entire time here.  But luck would have it and the next thing we know we are approaching a mooring ball with Aaron and Nicole holding the line for us.  What a welcome!  We chatted for a bit and then they shoved off and Richard and I got the boat in “shore mode” which meant taking down the lee cloths, putting the overnight stuff away and then settling in to relax before going ashore to explore.

Richard, Mark, and me.
Once settled in, we heard from Ben and Sarah and also Mark (who is now skippering Compass Rosey on its way to Australia).  Mark agreed to check out the local bar which we heard had a happy hour and report back on the specifics (times, etc).  Come to find out, La Casa Bianca has a happy hour 7 days a week from 5 to 6 PM with two for one beers.  No need to twist my arm, especially considering how expensive French Polynesia is turning out to be.  So now we had a plan and we invited all the boats we knew which included Kyanos, Bella Star, Bella Vita, and Compass Rosey.  We all showed up and had a great time catching up with old friends (we had met Brett and Stacey of Bella Vita in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico) and our Seattle friends, Aaron and Nicole.

Me and Nicole (with Aaron in the background)
Bella Star.
Needless to say, we spent many a nights at happy hour with various people we met while in Pape’ete.  We also rented a car for three days which came in handy when we were transporting our transmission to the marine store to be checked out.  We also used it to go grocery shopping which was a huge convenience.  On the second day that we had the car, Ben and Sarah joined us and we toured the island of Tahiti; we actually circumnavigated Tahiti Nui and most of Tahiti Iti, stopping along the way to see the sights.  We visited caves, archeological sites, waterfalls, and a shoreline blowhole (check out the video below).  As our route took us through Pape’ete on our way back to the marina, we stopped at the waterfront and tried the roulettes (food trucks) for dinner.  We split two plates (poisson cru and a mixed chow mein) between the four of us as well as a side of rice and plate of green beans and walked away stuffed!  The food was really tasty; by the way, this is the second time we’ve eaten at the roulettes and we have yet to be disappointed.

Sarah and Ben of Kyanos, Stacey and Brett of Bella Vita,
and Richard at Happy Hour.
But before you start thinking that life is nothing but frou-frou drinks with umbrellas on white sand beaches and stunning sunsets, rest assured that we did some minor boat projects…just to offset the relaxing time that we had on Tahiti.  I even did laundry (something I have not done in machines since Mexico) which ended up taking about three hours late at night and with mixed results (some of the machines didn’t completely work).

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Îles des Tuamotu

Osprey at anchor in Kauehi, Tuamotu
(photo courtesy of
After over a month in the Marquesas we finally pulled up the anchor and, after our third attempt, left the Marquesas and headed for the Tuamotus. The Tuamotus are an archipelago of over 70 atolls (coral fringed lagoons with very little land mass) with crystal clear blue waters, abundant sea life,and coral beaches fringed by coconut a word, paradise. The ocean can be raging outside the atoll and while the winds might be felt inside the lagoon, the waters are typically glass smooth which makes for very comfortable times on the boat.  No more rocking and rolling for us!

Have I mentioned how much I LOVE my GoPro?!
The first atoll we visited was Kauehi, a fairly round atoll approximately 8 miles both north to south and east to west.  As we entered the pass, our buddy Ben from Kyanos, and his new crewmate Rob dinghied over to take some GoPro videos of us approaching the anchorage and also offer some useful information regarding the numerous coral heads scattered across the anchorage. The thing about the Tuamotus is that you are constantly standing watch for coral heads which are a boats worst nightmare; coral can gouge a hole in your hull in no time flat so whenever you enter an anchorage it is always someone's job (usually mine) to stand watch at the bow for anything that resembles coral heads.  Luckily, the water is so clear that it isn't hard to miss them, especially if you enter with the sun directly above you (as opposed to early morning or early evening).  With the anchor down, we pretty much donned our snorkel gear and jumped off the boat into our "backyard" and started to explore the coral reef that was located directly behind us.  The coral formations and fish were amazing and the clarity of the water made it easy to spot numerous new species of fish.  We`also saw giant clams for the first time and they are very striking; the clams are typically embedded into the coral and all you really see are their black and neon-colored lips which close as you approach.

We spent four days in Kauehi hanging out with the crew on Kyanos and had some fun potlucks, walks on the atoll and even a snowball fight...yes, you heard me right, a snowball fight in the middle of the tropical Pacific.  I have a new-found appreciation for what had been a dreadful task, defrosting the freezer.  And now that I have something to do with all that frost all I can saw is that other boaters have been warned and should expect to hear the "clunk" of a snowball hitting their decks if they are anchored next to us. Check out the video.

One day Richard and I were walking back from a hike on the atoll and ran into Ben and Sarah and they asked if I would mind translating for them as they went to purchase some pearls.  seeing this as an adventure, I agreed and they ended up getting a sweet deal on black Tahitian pearls.  They even threw in a pearl for me as a translating fee.  So now I have this single pearl sitting in a tiny container on my boat. Not sure what I'm going to do with it, but if my Mom isn;t reading this, maybe can I surprise her with it when I get back to the states.  Opps, I guess the cat's out of the bag.

Yes, that's a shark and I'm trying to untangle the anchor.
We left Kauehi and made the short trek over to Fakarava. Getting into the atoll at Fakarava involves timing the South Pass carefully because the flooding and ebbing tides can reaches speeds of 5 knots and you definitely don't want that against you as you are trying to either enter or exit. When we came in, right around slack, we only had around 2 knots against us which was quite manageable. We anchored on the east side of the pass and much to our disappointment noted that we were not completely out of the coral beds when we dropped anchor.  Oh well, forget about it for now and deal with it later. And then later came and we had to dive on the anchor. Now diving on the anchor isn't all that bad and I can usually handle depths down to about 20 feet but at that depth you have limited air left in your lungs to things, oh I don't know, like, untangling your anchor chair that has wrapped itself around a coral head.  Oh did, I mention that at the very moment that you decide to dive on your anchor the sharks usually show up?  Okay, let me mention it.  At the very moment that you decide to dive on your anchor the sharks will show up...just to put you on edge.  Everyone can tell you that they are harmless and not interested in you but I would prefer them to be not interested in me AT A DISTANCE, preferably out of my immediate field of view.  The truth is, these black tipped reef sharks, which are typically in the 5 foot range, aren't too interested in you but they do hang around as though they are interested in making sure that you don't infringe on the open water buffet.  Fast forward and the anchor is now free (but don't worry, as we stayed a few more days the anchor had plenty of time to get stuck again).  

Giant clam.
One of the highlights of coming to the Tuamotus is drift diving in the passes.  The way this works is you take the dinghy out to the pass a little bit before the changes from an outgoing tide to an incoming tide and tether your dinghy to your leg then get in the water and drift in with the incoming tide. We experienced this with the crew of Kyanos and had a great time.  We saw all kinds of fish, including marbled grouper and blue and gold snapper, giant clams, in addition to lots of sharks. I know, again with the sharks.  The incoming tide allows you to slowly drift in with the tide and expend less effort snorkeling.  It was amazing!

Our time in the Tuamotus was cut short by the emergence of a favorable weather window which we were quick to take advantage of given our previous experiences in waiting for weather windows.  With that in mind, we picked up our anchor, after I dove on the anchor amid all the sharks to free it from the coral, and headed to Tahiti...finally, Tahiti!