Friday, June 30, 2017

Passage to Tahiti (The Society Islands, French Polynesia)

[Maryanne]Just the title makes me grin with gratitude and amazement that this is my life... So very lucky and so very privaliged to be doing this and making such locations part of my memories for the future.

[Kyle]After a few days at Pakakota in Fakarava, the weather cleared and stabilized and we bid them farewell to sail to the Society Islands.

Leaving Fakarava and the Tuamotus - we found the main supply/cruise ship departing right behind us

Our passage was an uneventful two days of light tailwinds. Our biggest struggles were getting used to the watch schedule and enduring the afternoon heat. We hardly even touched the sails except for a gybe halfway through.

We had been expecting more wind than we got. We should have had to slow down the last night to wait for morning, but instead we were starting to get worried we wouldn't make it in daylight, so we spent almost the whole way looking at our ETA and hoping it wouldn't cost us an extra night at sea. We wanted to be in Tahiti on Friday so we could enjoy a long weekend of being people with a boat in Tahiti and no jobs to worry about.

Arriving in Tahiti in the rain and gloom.. That thankfully lifted as we travelled to our anchorage

The last morning, as we approached the island, the wind finally picked up and our ETA migrated to midday. Tahiti emerged as a particularly gray and unmoving section of the rainy overcast ahead. It took on more form and texture as we sidled up next to it.

A few of the old salts at Pakakota said Tahiti, now known in English as Kentucky Fried Chicken Island, is getting too commercialized. On the eastern side of Tahiti Iti (Little Tahiti) there was no signs of it. Towering green mountains thrust up from the sea unmarred by roads or power lines. I kept looking up at it and thinking "That's Tahiti - THE Tahiti!" Incredible.

At Passe Havae, we turned into a small-looking gap through a line of huge breakers and entered the calm of the lagoon. By that, I mean that the water was calm. We were not calm. The channel between the Passe and our intended anchorage at Bassin Teahupoo was narrow and wound through a thin gap between coral reefs that was in some places only wide enough for one boat.

Surfers make the most of the great waves that surround the passes, and we enjoy the stunning scenery as we wind our way around the narrow channels

We looked around Teahupoo, but only found depths of 30m right up to the edge of covering reefs. We tried a few other places along the inside route and found the same thing. We eventually decided to proceed to our next planned stop at Port Phaeton at the saddle between Tahiti Iti and Tahiti Nui (big). There we found some nice, sticky mud for the anchor at 9m among a dozen or so other boats.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tuamotus: Fakarava - Pakakota

[Kyle]After a couple more days pinned down because of the weather, we moved a few miles up the inside of the atoll to the anchorage at Pakokota Yacht Services. We had read that they have four sturdy moorings available and hoped we could get one of them. We had earlier heard a few of the boats up there chatting on the radio when the weather was at its worst, so we decided to call one of them and ask about the mooring ball situation up there. Shindig advised us the moorings were all taken plus there was another ten or so at anchor, but that the bottom "wasn't too bad" - so we waited out a little longer before moving.

Oh, well. We were itching to get out of our spot anyway. The weather had churned up a lot of sand, so the visibility wasn't good for snorkeling. The shore was rocky, so swimming over in the surf wasn't going to happen. We had no cell service of any kind, so we spent our days doing things like cleaning out the fridge in the morning and reading a book in the afternoon. We couldn't even read outside because it was raining. It felt like we were wasting paradise.

Finally we deemed it safe to move on to Pakakota. There was indeed a crowd there and we had to anchor Begonia way at the far end where there was no question about whether we would be rowing ashore or digging out the dinghy motor. We hadn't actually used the dinghy to get ashore since Ua Pou. Since we seem to spend most of our day snorkeling in the Tuamotus, it seems simpler to make a detour to the beach than to go back to Begonia to get the dinghy.

We went shore and made our introductions to the proprietors, Mattheiu and Agnes. I don't know what I was expecting, but they weren't it. Mattheiu is a shortish guy with strawberry blonde hair, clear, bright eyes and a seemingly boundless store of energy and good cheer. Agnes has a mother's ability to do and see ten things at once and looks like the Hinano beer logo. They have a young daughter that appears to be made of stainless steel. The kid has the wobbly stagger of someone new to walking. She's always tottering off barefoot across the sharp coral toward some sort of greater danger. As expected, she falls a lot, often bumping her steel head on something sharp. When this happens, instead of wailing, she pops back up and totters off in another direction towards the next thing. Occasionally, she'll do something that makes us cringe, like balance herself on top of a stool over a concrete floor or go sprinting toward the end of the dock. Every time this happened, Agnes would appear from the kitchen or behind the building and scoop the kid up at the last moment with one arm while still holding somebody's laundry or a big pot of food in the other.

Exploring around Pakakota Yacht Services

When the kid wasn't training to be a stunt baby, she would bring us stuff. She was constantly giving us flowers or plopping seashells on our laps.

They also had a big dog that leaned in hard whenever she was scratched and two constantly purring cats.

Pakokota is in the business of doing everything. They'll do your laundry, make you dinner, fill your propane or jerry cans, take you to town to do some shopping. They also have bungalows to rent and a shed with a large selection of tools (curiously, no vice, though) and can fix most things. If they can't fix it, Mattheiu has the connections to know who can. For instance, one of the other boats in the anchorage had a generator seize. Mattheiu found a guy in town to machine a new shaft and provide new bearings. While their generator was offline, he lent them a couple of spare solar panels so they wouldn't have to use their engine for charging. Oh, and they also have a strong wifi signal they beam out to the anchorage!

Under the circumstances, we were more than happy to throw them some of our business as well. We dropped off our laundry, made reservations for dinner and signed up for a spot on the next provisioning run. In the meantime, we went for walks and got caught up with the other cruisers.

A visit to town to see the church (those flowers are made with wood and mother of pearl)
And the table set for a meal with the family and fellow cruisers

At dinner, Maryanne and I were the only native English speakers, which meant the table was alive with French. That's good for us. It's hard to practice another language when people keep switching to English. We muddled through as best we could and if we ever really got stuck, someone would switch to English for us.

We learned a little of Matthieu's story. His mother is Scottish and his father is from Monaco. His mother worked as an au pair in the palace. An au pair? How many kids do they have in the...oh!! The family moved to Tahiti when he was four, but he spent summers in Monaco until his teens. He took up sailing and diving and worked for a while as a dive boat captain and offshore fisherman before settling down in Fakarava. His brand of settling down seems like a lot of work as he's constantly building things or fixing things on their large parcel of land. It looks like a fifteen-year project to get it done.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tuamotus: Fakarava (South Pass)

[Kyle]From our anchorage in Tahanea, we motorsailed the short distance to the pass and then headed out for the overnight sail to Fakarava. At fifty miles, it was just a little too far to sail in daylight on the shortest day of the year – unless the wind was really howling (It was not), so we planned a slow sail in light winds.

That worked for the first seven miles, and then the wind dropped to two knots. The forecast called for it to gradually increase from there, so we decided to just bob around in our spot and wait for it.

While we were waiting, we overheard several radio conversations amongst the large group we have been roughly paralleling. They were debating whether to leave right then and also sail overnight or to wait until morning and motor hard through the day. Most elected to stay and get a last night’s rest while one left. Another catamaran (So What) motored past us a few hours later as we were still waiting for the wind to return.

It finally got late enough that we had to resort to running an engine ourselves in order to make it to the pass at the morning slack water. We were keen to transit then, rather than with the whole crowd in the afternoon.

The wind never did pick up, so we ended up motoring the whole way. Ugh!

At daybreak, So What and Begonia were just off of the south pass into Fakarava. So What put out a general request for tide information. I answered that we thought slack was at 7:45, but we were going to try the pass early and see what it was like. They hung back and let us go in first as Guinea Pigs.

From sea, the pass looked like it was crossed by large breaking waves. The pass cuts in at an angle and it actually passed through smooth water behind the breakers. We had a little current against us, but since it had been calm all night, we had no trouble.

We lucked out. The anchorage is reputed to be very corally, but there were two moorings open, so we picked one up, saving us the whole anchor hubbub. Our mooring was made of heavy line connected to a stout chain wrapped around a coral head that was as big as the boat and probably ten times heavier.

We probably needed sleep after sailing all night, but it was just too tempting to go into the water and have a look around.

First, of course, was to check the mooring. I hadn’t even moved from the stern step before spotting the first Blacktip Reef Shark directly below me, along with a school of Parrotfish. It seems each mooring is assigned a shark. Every now and then the one from the next mooring over would come and swim a bit with ours before returning to its post.

Beautiful Fakarava

Thinking the pudgy with the electric motor wouldn’t be powerful enough to overcome the currents in the pass, we decided to splash out and have a nearby dive shop take us out in one of their boats. We tried to call on VHF, but got no answer. We then swam ashore to them and found them all closed up, so we decided to walk/swim across motus and through the smaller passes until we got to the village. Once there, we walked through the village to the outside of the pass. After checking that the current was going into the atoll, we entered the water and drift snorkeled our way in. A-MAZ-ING! An unbroken seascape of colorful coral near the surface plunged steeply down to the bottom of the pass a hundred feet below. We saw lots more fish of so many varieties, including giant lumbering Napoleon Wrasses and sharks, lots of sharks.

As we passed by the village (not really a village, just a group of dive shacks), the shark population increased until there were more than we could count as they zipped around in every direction. Being careful not to step on one, we climbed out at a restaurant with the idea of thanking the village for the free mooring by throwing them some business. Maryanne found an empty corner of a picnic table, but before she could sit, the owner came up and shooed her off for getting wet footprints on the floor. What? We’re not supposed to get an unfinished deck wet at an outdoor picnic table surrounded by dive shops? Half the people there were dripping. We tried to explain that we were hoping for a snack or maybe a beer, to which he said we would need a reservation for the full prix fixe menu, which was seemed to be priced for divers who are used to forking out $400 per dive. Uh, no thanks. We’ll go back in with the sharks. By then, the current had switched to ebb (out) and we were having a hard time overcoming it. We crawled out on the beach and got home in the same walk/snorkel manner, only in reverse.

The sharks were everywhere

We spent the next day repeating the same snorkeling routes and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. In the afternoon, we decided to start making our way up the atoll to the other side. We picked a spot about halfway and found a nice empty bommie-free spot to drop the anchor while we wait out some changing winds.

It wasn't ALL sharks

At least we thought it was bommie-free. It turns out the water was just really silty and we couldn’t see the bottom, which made it look like white sand. Once I got on a mask and fins, I pulled myself down the chain to see what was down there. It was mostly sand, but there were dead coral heads scattered about. As a precaution, we had buoyed the last two thirds of our chain which was keeping us away from it.

Early in the morning, just before sunrise, the wind shifted to the west and strengthened. Our calm anchorage got much choppier. As daylight arrived, we found ourselves just ahead of shore. It is made up of a short wall of coral and the waves were smashing into it, sending surprisingly large plumes of spray flying. It looked pretty horrific. We double and triple-checked our anchor and floats and we seemed to be holding well without having wrapped around any coral heads. Still, the view out the back is a little disconcerting. The wind is forecast to continue backing to the south and strengthening. That should give us some slight protection from the waves, but also swing us parallel to the shore, which should make sleeping a little easier.

Waiting out some nasty weather

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tuamotus: Tahanea Atoll

[Kyle]We arrived at Tahanea within three minutes of slack water to find an outgoing current of just under two knots. Once inside, we turned the corner and anchored right behind the motu next to the pass. There was a lot of coral, but there was also a lot of sand. Oh, how we love sand! We set the anchor on the edge of a decent-sized patch of it and then put out a buoy to float the last of the chain over a coral head beneath.

Passage and arrival at Tahanea - Kyle snorkels on the Anchor chain and we both enjoy the views

We did a little snorkeling to check that our anchor and chain were free of any coral and then snuck in a quick peek at some of the nearby gardens while there was still daylight. While making a dinner of the squash we had been gifted in Ua Pou, Maryanne threw some scraps overboard. Most of the fish didn’t seem to care, but we quickly discovered the colorful parrotfish LOVE little shredded bits of squash.

The next morning before we got underway, Maryanne took a handful of it with her on an early morning swim, which made her lots of friends.

Our stay at this particular anchorage was intended to be short. The sun was too low in the sky for spotting bommies when we arrived, so we waited until it was sufficiently high the next morning to see our way for a sail across the atoll the next spot.

There, we found three little motus fringed by a wide shelf of white sand. We gingerly approached one. The depth sounder went pretty rapidly from 10m to 2.5m and then stayed there. At 2.5m, we would only need to put out 20m of chain to have more than enough. We slowly scouted a circle with a slightly larger radius. It was all 2.5m Brilliant! We dropped the hook on beautiful, clean, white sand. There was no need to dive on the anchor – from the bow, we could see where it disappeared under the sand and every link of chain in between.

Donated fish, pretty views and Copra drying in the sun

We noticed an encampment on shore, so Maryanne prepared a goodie bag of treats and we swam ashore to meet the occupants. They turned out to be absent, so we left the package and walked the circumference of the island. The east side, facing the outside of the atoll was very different from the inside. Palm trees gave way to desert vegetation. The fringing water was only calf deep and was warmed by the sun. Little life was in evidence except for a few sand-colored minnows and lots of sea cucumbers.

The sandy beach gave way to rough coral and we found ourselves wading through the water in a line that staggered as we avoided disturbing the cucumbers.

Back on the inside, the water deepened and we continued our circuit by swimming. We saw a boat arrive and we went ashore to introduce ourselves.

At the camp were a brother and sister who spend three months a year harvesting coconuts for oil on the three little motus. She had noticed our package and in thanks brought out a big piece of freshly caught fish for us. We asked if there was anything else they might need. They insisted they didn’t and asked us if we would like anything. Well, if it’s not too much trouble, could you spare a couple of coconuts?

She explained there were no good eating coconuts in the immediate area, since they were all being processed. The big tool they use to get them out of the trees was on one of the other motus, but if we came back tomorrow, her brother could get us a few. Otherwise, if we could find one they might have missed, we were more than welcome to it.

We bid them adieu and walked the part of the beach we had missed while swimming. A little distance from the camp, we found two coconuts in the perfect state of readiness at the edge of the beach, which just fit in our sack as a homemade flotation device. We swam them back to Begonia, resting in a pool of beautiful blue bathwater.

When the sun was high enough again the next day, we moved to a different corner of the atoll. We would have been happy to stay on our idyllic little spot, but the pass was north of us, which would have meant getting back to it would be to go directly into the low winter sun. It’s very hard to impossible to spot hazards that direction, so we ‘tacked’ across it by heading to one corner with the afternoon sun off to one side. That would put the pass where it would be possible to get to it in the morning with the sun on the other side.

More snorkelling, more sharks, and heavenly views

Unlike the anchorage before, our spot was in deep enough water that we needed the full length of chain out. Maryanne attached a couple of floats to the chain as it went out and we were again able to float it over the coral heads surrounding the sandy spot with the anchor.

Rather than leave the very next morning, we took an extra day to get caught up on some things we had been neglecting. Maryanne reorganized our remaining food stores. I replaced one of our bilge pumps and the sea water tap with the ones we found at the hardware store in Taiohae. It was noon before we were able to don snorkel gear and return to fun mode.