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.