Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rough Passage to Beveridge Reef (Niue)

[Kyle]We knew our next sail was not going to be a pleasant one. The forecast all week had been calling for strong winds and big seas to swing forward of our beam for the trip. We didn't have enough time to jump in front of it and our fourteen day limit was up in Suwarrow. I'm sure Harry and Katu would have allowed us to stay longer if we really needed to wait out the weather, but the anchorage would not offer good protection when the weather hit Suwarrow, so we decided it would be safest at sea.

As we left, it was just starting to blow hard from the southeast. We put up a tiny amount of sail and had a pleasant run around the outside of the atoll, which started as a downwind run and progressed to a fast upwind beat in the flat seas in the lee of the reef.

Once we left the southern tip of the atoll, the seas built quickly and we changed tactics. We reduced sail to slow Begonia to between five and six knots. This kept us from launching from one approaching wave into the next and made for a smoother motion. We were still moving around a lot, but at least it didn't feel like we were getting thrown around. We were able to make progress about fifty degrees off the wind heading due south. Our hope was that when the worst of the wind passed and we couldn't make headway, we wouldn't be blown too far downwind. That way we wouldn't have to beat too far back upwind to get to Beveridge.

When the wind picked up a couple of days later, the ride started to get uncomfortable again. We hove to, keeping just enough jib out to keep Begonia from turning through the wind onto the other tack. We then lashed the helm with the rudder centered.

To our happy surprise, Begonia did not slip sideways downwind, but rather continued on her original 50 degree upwind course at just over a knot. With help from the current, we moved sixty miles further upwind in the next day, steering a surprisingly straight course with no input to the rudders.

Our watches got pretty boring then. We weren't really moving, there were no controls to manipulate, so there was little to do except watch for other vessels. Two or three times an hour, an errant wave would come from an off direction, slam into us and break completely over the boat. It seemed to always happen when I was looking the other way and right after I was starting to feel dry again. Bloody waves!

After heaving to for two days, we had actually made it far enough south that it looked like it would be possible to bear off and head across the wind to Beveridge. The only problem was that the waves had built up and we would have to sail parallel to them, which could be anywhere from uncomfortable to dangerous. We decided to test it out for a few minutes and see how it felt.

It wasn't too bad. With more sail up and with the keels un-stalled and producing lift, the roll was dampened to a tolerable level. Most of the big waves just lifted us and rolled under. The remaining distance to Beveridge was such that we would have arrived in the dark at our present speed. The charts around the reef are horrible and wildly inaccurate. Slowing down to arrive well into daylight meant we didn't have to push Begonia too hard.

Two mornings later, we had slowed down even more and were comfortably far from the reef, plus a generous buffer. The radar picked up the line of breakers about half an hour before we could actually see them. Behind, we could see two sailboats at anchor. That was surprising because the weather had been so bad we thought no one would have wanted to be there with no land to offer protection. We took a wide path around the reef toward the pass on the western side.

One of the boats saw us approaching and called us on the radio for a chat. They said they were leaving that morning after a stop at the pass for a snorkel. They explained that other boat was a wreck that had hit the reef two days earlier. He had the family on board, who were all okay, and were taking them to Niue. He explained that a salvage boat was being sent by their insurance company from New Zealand to recover it and asked that we look after it while we were there and to please not take anything. We told them not to worry and exchanged contact details so we could send them updates.

They pulled up anchor just before we got to them. We exchanged waves and dropped ours on the sand shelf near the wreck in eight feet of crystal-clear water. We were tired from the passage so we decided to wait until the next day to have a closer look.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Relaxing Stay in Suwarrow (Cook Islands)

[Kyle]We took a lazy day aboard after arriving and clearing in and an early night. The next morning, we were lounging in the cockpit when Dave from Capistrano swam over. (He swims everywhere.) He said there was a going to be a big pot luck ashore on the beach the later that day and invited us. Jeez, we haven't even been here a day and we already have social plans!

We had a swim and a wash and Maryanne started making some food while I got the dinghy out of lifeboat mode. We went ashore a couple of hours early to have a look around Anchorage Island. Katu showed us the trail to the other side of the island and then explained how we could get back by following the shore around. As we were walking, another boat showed up and motored through the pass. Harry was fishing outside the pass and had to give up so he could return and clear them in. They and another boat that came in after us the same day brought the total in the anchorage to five.

First impressions in Suwarrow

When we got done with our walk, we returned to Begonia to pick up the food for the potluck. On the way, we passed by the new boat. It was Pickles, the boat we had last seen in Ua Pou in the Marquesas who helped us out so much on the Day We Couldn't Get Anything Right.

We were a bit late getting back with the food, but we still beat everybody else. Katu was husking coconuts so he could use the fiber for fuel for the fire. Harry showed up with a big tray of what must have been all of the fish he had caught that week. The other sixteen people arrived one boat at a time.

The fire was lit and Harry and Katu went about the long and particular process of preparing the flat metal grill for cooking. They spent an hour scraping it, pouring water on to boil off and then examining it carefully. They did this over and over again until the surface was finally deemed to be ready for the meat. While they did this, we got caught up with old friends and met some new ones.

Sunset & BBQ Fun - Look at the size of those crabs!

It was getting too dark to see so Harry left Katu to cook while he went and retrieved a car battery and a light with their wheelbarrow.

It was a great evening. More than one of us remarked about how marvelous and strange it was to be standing on a beach on an uninhabited island (Harry and Katu are seasonal caretakers and are not residents) eating fish cooked over coconut husks by light powered by a car battery in a wheelbarrow. There was no opulence of any kind, but I doubt any of us could have felt more privileged.

As a cap for the evening, Harry took us to see the coconut crabs. Up until now, we had only seen the island's hermit crabs. They are adorable as they totter around all off-balance, looking for anything to eat. They made an efficient cleanup crew for all of the scraps left by the potluck. We left our plates on the ground and it looked as if somebody's dog had licked them clean (You know who you are!).

Coconut crabs are another story altogether. They are nocturnal, so they only come out of their burrows at night. Like the hermit crabs, they'll eat pretty much anything they can find. Harry explained that they are called coconut crabs because they have the ability to get into a coconut, not because that's what they like to eat most. One look at them and you know why. They are enormous! The first one we saw could have easily straddled a dinner plate. It was nervous because of all of the attention, so it was standing in a defensive posture with its long, spear-like second legs stabbing up toward us two feet apart. It had a whole lot of appendages all waving around. At the front were big claws, then came several sets of legs, with the last ALSO having claws (smaller ones). From its face under its beady eyes waved six antennae; two regular and four with joints like big spider legs. Harry explained that this was a medium-sized one.

I am SO glad the first one of these I ever met was when I was forty-nine. If I had been eleven, these horror-movie monsters would have given me nightmares for the rest of my life. As it is now, I can regard their beady-eyed nervousness as kind of cute. Their expression seems to be imploring us not to hurt them. That said, if I woke up and found one on my chest, I'd scream bloody murder.

Tom Neale, who was the sole inhabitant of the atoll for many years, tells a story about going to one of the other motus and setting up a second get-away home. On his first night there, he fell asleep on the beach. Later in pitch-black darkness, he was awakened by one giving his leg a good snip. Yikes!

Despite the late night, we were up early for the dinghy ride to the nearby manta cleaning station. Again, we arrived first and found nothing. What is it with mantas and island time?

The family from Midnight Sun showed up and shortly after the mantas arrived. The water was the shallowest of all of the feeding stations we have seen; only about four meters. I used my trick of hanging onto some dead coral as the rays passed by. These mantas were especially tame. I was able to swim with one with my head about mid-wingspan. Our eyes were only inches apart!

I dropped Maryanne off at another spot and took the dinghy back to the boat before swimming back to join her. We ended up taking a long, meandering circuit of the anchorage which stretched into miles of swimming along the reefs. One notable find was what looked to be the remains of a relatively recent wreck. The wing keel of a big monohull and a big chunk of the adjacent hull was resting on the bottom. Nearby were several smaller pieces, none with much growth.

We were thinking about what sort of busy evening we were going to have when the early wake-up and the miles of swimming kind of got to us. Maybe tomorrow...

Tomorrow arrived

During the day another boat arrived. Whoops, plus a latecomer – two. It's starting to get a little crowded here. We spent most of the day aboard doing unpleasant but necessary boat things. Meh...

The Day After That

We were up early again for another try with the mantas. Again they were late, although there were more of them this time. There were also WAY more of us. ALL of the dinghies showed up, which gave the place the instant feel of being overrun by too many tourists, we could hardly blame the mantas for not showing up.

We kept our visit short and headed back to Begonia via all of our new neighbors, which ate up most of the rest of the afternoon. The newest arrival was Duplicat, who we had first encountered in Fakarava. Rick is an IT guy with lots of knowledge (like Maryanne) and we were able to exchange problems back and forth. A fresh set of eyes can be very helpful in sorting things out.

Word came down that there was another potluck planned for the next night. Oh, boy! Our social schedule way out here is way busier than it is when we're in a city.

Just before the potluck started, a medium- sized military boat showed up. It was Samoan and marked “POLICE”. There were around twenty aboard. They came ashore and explained to Harry that they were rendezvousing with another boat who was to bring them some fuel. He was trying to appear good-natured about it, but was clearly pretty annoyed at never being given notice of such visits. He kept apologizing to us for the disruption to the pot luck and pacing around looking anxious. We weren't bothered. The Samoans were all nice guys and seemed to make a point of staying just long enough for introductions before returning to their boat for the evening.

Two of the boats in the anchorage had cleared out and were planning on leaving the next day. Harry wished them a safe voyage with a traditional chant from the northern Cooks and then he even persuaded shy Katu to do a Haka from the south as a farewell. That was pretty cool.

There were twenty-three of us on the remaining seven boats, which made for lots of variety. We ended up with way more food than anybody could finish. The remainder was put into bowls For Harry and Katu to keep them going until the next one.

In the morning, the Samoans were much more in evidence. Some did laundry, others hung out on the beach and the rest foraged for coconuts. We were particularly impressed with how they weaved big baskets from the fronds at hand to carry their haul. Rumor was they would be staying another night for their rendezvous.

We took a slow day off the island snorkeling and visiting other boats, including Capistrano, who had decided to wait one more day before leaving. Ted, the seventy-nine year old Captain, designer and builder of the boat was kind enough to give us a tour and regale us with stories of his two-plus circumnavigations. We were amazed. His fifteen year-old boat looks like he was delivering it home from the factory.

The departing boats were just pulling up anchor when we surfaced the next morning. The Samoan Police boat was also gone. Harry later told us their orders had changed and they left at first light.

I rigged the sailing kit for the Pudgy and we decided to sail over to the manta cleaning station for another try. We had the usual spotty attendance, so after staying a short while, we put the sails up and headed home. Since we were under sail and not using the motor, we took the long way on a meandering route meant to cover most of the local 'sights'.

Just before we got back into the anchorage, we crossed paths with Duplicat, who had just pulled up anchor and was motoring toward the pass. Just before they would have had to give way to us (power gives way to sail), we tacked and sailed alongside, waving and yelling, “Bon Voyage!” The pudgy was outmatched and we quickly lost that race. We tacked again and headed home.

At Begonia, we switched to oars and rowed ashore. Katu said that one of the other boats had cleared out and wanted to have ANOTHER potluck tonight. Fine, we'll go home and whip something up. I was kind of hoping to get to bed at a reasonable hour, but that was off. Harry hadn't had a chance to go fishing since the previous one, so Katu grilled up some fish from another boat's freezer. Perhaps it's time to ease up on the potlucks for a while.


Maryanne wanted to return to the mooring ball at the manta cleaning station again. Instead of swimming over the bommie at the mooring, she had the idea to swim across a deep channel to a large shallow area a few hundred meters behind. Jackpot! There were mantas everywhere, shuttling back and forth across the bank. We often would see six or seven at a time, but their different markings indicated there may have been fifteen or twenty in the general area. The bank was also shallower than the one by the mooring, so it was a lot easier to get up close without having to dive too deep. It was marvelous! We spent the rest of the morning there with them.

Some awesome Manta Time

We dropped the dinghy off at Begonia and did a long, sweeping snorkel of coral in the anchorage. Along the way, I spotted a Crown of Thorns sea star. This intimidating looking creature is beautiful, but it is also considered invasive, as large populations can decimate coral like locusts. Katu told me one of their ranger duties is to keep records of any found and then dispatch them before they can do any more harm. He said the best way to deal with them is to swim them to a sandy, shallow spot where they would succumb to overexposure to the sun.

Being the well-meaning good citizen that I am, I found a nice long piece of dead coral and pried it off of it's live coral prey. With it clinging to the end of my 'stick' as a thorny ball, I swam for shallow water. After boring of it's defensive ball posture, the star decided to climb down the stick toward me. Fortunately, they're slow, so I had some time, but I was now in a race to get rid of it before it got to me. Oh, did I mention that the Crown of Thorns is one of only two varieties of poisonous stars?

Just as I was about to fling both it and the stick into the sand, it got me. It pushed one of its thorns into my finger near the end of the nail and drove it in until the tip had nearly reached the knuckle. For good measure, I think it also stung me with one of its venomous feet. The pain was quite debilitating for a moment, but I soon regained my composure and we resumed our snorkeling, squeezing my left arm against my chest with the good right one. This seemed to keep the throbbing down.

Maryanne arrived with a much bigger branch of dead coral. We picked up the star again and batted it hockey-style to a spot sufficiently sunny and far from food to improve the chances that the battle would ultimately be won by us. I was in a lot of pain, but it did only seem fair considering my intent. Good on ya, spiky thing, but ow!

I toughed it out for a little while longer. Before we got to the beach, I had to admit to Maryanne that I thought it would be best if we made a beeline to the boat now. When we got there, she removed the spike, which was way longer than I had expected at the time and then cleaned it and covered it with antiseptic cream, etc.

We then went ashore for a circumnavigation walk around Anchorage island, the highlight of which was finding the nests of two placid boobies. They were juveniles, already in their new adult plumage, but they hadn't fledged yet. We were worried we would scare them into making their first leap from the safety of their nests at our approach, but they seemed as curious about us as we were of them.

We ran into the others at the beach (all of 'em). They all had decided not to depart today after all, but were going to wait until tomorrow. Could we meet on the beach later for sundowners? Sure, why not? This was at least easier; a potluck with no food.

We were getting pretty low on sundowner-on-the-beach supplies. The last two of our cold beers had disappeared at the first potluck. Cocktails were too complicated and the only wine we had left was a box of truly awful rose that we had been slowly choking our way through. There was something wrong with that wine. We think it may have spent too many hours on the dock in the sun between leaving the supply ship and being taken to the store. It was at least partially vinager-ized. We seemed to have three, maybe four glasses left in the bag, so we took that as our supply. We would be happy to be rid of it once and for all and I figured the taste would keep us from going through it too quickly.

That was the plan, anyway. What happened was Maryanne poured herself half a glass, took one taste and then just sat there holding it the rest of the night. I would take a couple of big gulps of mine, choking it down like cough medicine, looking forward to being through my share. Maryanne would top me up when I wasn't looking. Later, when I would see her glass fuller than mine, I assumed she had topped it up and that I wasn't pulling my weight, so I would bring mine up to the same level as hers. Damn those wine bags! It's so hard to keep track of the level. In this way, Maryanne had half a glass (half of which she poured into mine to get rid of it) and I had the rest.

I was okay for a while and then suddenly I was not. Not eating lunch wasn't helping either.

We made our excuses and then headed back to Begonia, which essentially broke up the party. When we got there, I was NOT feeling good and collapsed into bed with a minimum of preamble.

In the morning, I felt awful. I had hangover symptoms as expected, but mostly I just felt exhausted. It took me an hour just to muster the strength to roll over. When I did, not just my punctured finger, but my whole arm protested with stabbing pain. I felt around and all of the nodes up my arm felt like they were swollen to almost bursting. That ain't good.

I managed to get up for a few minutes, but just standing there made me feel like I was sprinting. I collapsed into a lump in the cockpit, where I didn't move for a couple of hours. At some point, I noticed my heart was pounding. I could see my watch so I took my pulse. It was 128 beats per minute. I hadn't moved anything except my heart, diaphragm and eyelids for two hours. Usually it's in the low 60s at such a time. I ordinarily need to break into a slow run to get a heart rate that high.

It seemed to be time to admit that maybe we were dealing with something more serious than a puncture wound. It seemed my body was trying to fight a more serious infection. Maryanne did a bit of research and soon produced a course of antibiotics from our medical kit. She also found out that some of the symptoms of Crown of Thorns venom include weakness and dizziness. Not only that, but alcohol thins the blood and speeds up delivery of the poison. Bad, bad and bad.

Apart from two five-minute periods where I sat halfway up, I spent the rest of the day doing my best impersonation of our floor mat. The other two boats in the anchorage left mid-afternoon, but I was too listless to take much notice. By the time I gave up feeling human and went to bed, my heart rate had fallen to ninety. The next morning, it was seventy and I felt only a little tired. I really wanted to spring back into action, but sensibly spent the day resting again, which we agreed was probably the best thing.

Feeling Better

Day three after being stung, I was down to having a really swollen finger and a sore arm below the elbow. I decided these were not things I would be needing much that day so we headed to Maryanne's Manta Spot in the morning, followed by a trip ashore to let Harry and Katu know we hadn't been trying to ignore them. They said they figured we needed a rest after all of the social activity as I'm sure they did as well.

It was low tide, so Maryanne and I took a walk along the fringing reef to adjacent Whale Island to see the nesting birds there. The water was ankle-deep. Maryanne stayed near the breakers, while I followed the inside edge looking for the spot where we left “my” Crown of Thorns. I couldn't find it.

Birds on Suwarrow

The inrush of lots of cool water over the reef from the deep sea made for some stunning variety and color of coral. Inside the lagoon, maybe only 20-40% of the coral surface is alive. Here, it was above 90%. It was difficult to pick our way through while treading only on either dead coral or sand. That was very good to see.

When we got back to Anchorage Island, we took a walk around its perimeter at the edge of the reef as well. The stuff near the pass was also over 90% living. Along the way, we kept surprising Reticulated Moray Eels. Maryanne spotted two in a vicious looking fight. Another one fled from me and tried to take shelter under one of her shoes. I can confirm that she can scream like a girl.

Eels abound in the shallows

Fun Overexposure

It was time to stop goofing around and get some chores done.

We had been leaving it too long, but now it was time to go ashore with a big ol' bag of laundry and our best bucket.

Anchorage has a backup cistern that isn't part of their drinking supply that is tucked a short walk into the jungle. We were told we were welcome to use the water if we needed to do any washing. When we got ashore, Katu changed the story and told us we were welcome to his much more convenient 40-gallon barrel of rainwater at their compound. He then sweetened the deal by offering us the use of his big tin wash basin.

Katu also told us he had gone snorkeling early that morning. He said he found a Crown of Thorns and from his description of the location, it sounded like the same one.

I was feeling back to normal again, apart from my finger, which was at the peak of multicolored gruesomeness.

The laundry was horrible, sweaty work in the midday heat, but we kept ourselves in good cheer by reminding ourselves that at least it wasn't costing us $30 a load like the last batch.

Exploring and Laundry - an odd mix of fun

We took our wet laundry home and then dressed Begonia for what appeared to be a weird and sad parade. It was plenty windy and for the first time since we arrived, we had no afternoon showers. By sunset, everything was dry and smelled of sunshine and clean air that hadn't seen a city for at least a thousand miles. Those pillows were so nice to lay our heads on.

The Crowds are Back

I climbed out of bed to find another catamaran milling around looking for a place to drop anchor. He eventually picked a spot right by us. I guess with only us there, it's hard to judge the size of the anchorage. It turned out to be Hans Peter, a Swiss singlehander who has lived in New Zealand for a while. He built his boat himself. We invited him over for dinner and we got to hear his whole interesting story. He took the long way, leaving from the Baltic and rounding Cape Horn. He told us a lot about Chile and pretty much convinced us not to go as far as the Horn, even though we think he was trying to do the opposite.

Three more boats also showed up that day. We spotted them coming in when we were over at the manta spot and made a point of stopping by each on our way home and saying hi and giving them the lowdown on what's to do. One of them hinted that there were another couple of boats on the way.

Sensing that there was no way seven boats would be able to be in the anchorage without having a potluck as a way of getting to know the group, Maryanne took charge and floated the idea to Harry and Katu for the next evening. It would have been a whole week by then and they were all for it. Harry said he would go out the next day and catch some fish. He has to go all the way out of the pass and into deep water to do so, since there's no fishing allowed inside the lagoon. I'm sure he might enjoy a chance to get out, but it's no minor task for him. We're very grateful.

We took a morning row ashore to have a walk and forage for some coconuts. As we emerged from the trail onto the beach on the pass side of the island, we could see a sail approaching on the horizon. Harry and Katu went out to meet them, and then another appeared and then yet another. By the time they were done clearing in the last boat, a Norwegian singlehander named Harold, it was too late to go fishing. Fortunately, one of the new arrivals had caught way too much the night before and was looking for a use for it. Problem solved!

Unlike the previous potlucks, everyone was pretty punctual and we actually managed to get all of the cooking done before it got dark, which was way easier than trying to do it by headlamp. It was a great crowd.

We were particularly taken with Harold. He hadn't planned to stop in Suwarrow and was all smiles and amazement at the place. His circumnavigation so far has taken a very long path. From Norway, he sailed west to North America via Greenland. He then sailed down the east coast and then to the Panama Canal. From there, he went counterclockwise all of the way around South America and then through the Panama Canal again. Then he went up the west coast to Alaska before sailing to Hawai'i and then heading south to us. He had stories of staying with the Inuit and being robbed at gunpoint in Rio, where they left him tied to the mast while they fled. Jeez!

It was still a pretty reasonable hour when the crowd dispersed. We were glad for the extra rest. We were planning on leaving the next morning and knew we would have to get up early to get ready. Since we had to go ashore for the potluck, we weren't able to get the dinghy into lifeboat mode ahead of time as usual.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Passage to Suwarrow

[Kyle]A frontal system was soon to pass, which had replaced the southeast trades with a wind from the north. This was good for leaving Maupiti, since the pass is dangerous in wind from most other directions, but bad for heading WNW to the northern Cook Islands. Our plan was to head southwest until the front passed and then turn northwest in the south winds behind it.

We had really fast sailing, although the confused seas driven by the two wind directions made the ocean a bit of a washing machine. The front passed in the middle of the night and we were finally able to start heading where we were trying to go.

My first night watch was a horrible, wet one. Almost as soon as I sat down, I got drenched by a wave. Just as I was finally starting to feel dry, it started raining hard. Well, at least it will rinse the salt off, I thought. Then another wave hit me. It did this over and over again all night until Maryanne got up to relieve me. I was so tired, I opted to skip breakfast to allow me a little more sleep.

Her watch was less bad. As the days passed, conditions improved. The wind and waves shifted more aft and the rain all but stopped. It wasn't until the fourth day that the clouds started to break, allowing us glimpses of the sun and stars.

On the fifth night, we finally got close enough to our destination at Suwarrow atoll to need to slow way down. We spent the three hours before sunrise with no sail up at all. As the time passed, the weather got worse. The sky clouded up and it started raining heavily.

This was not good. Suwarrow is very isolated and has no lights or navigational marks of any kind. Navigation through the pass has to be done visually without aids, which would not be possible in rain and poor light.

We decided to get close enough to actually see the pass to try to gauge the conditions. As we approached, another squall came through and obscured the island completely. We pulled down all sail again and waited it out while trying to radio the ranger station for advice. They didn't answer.

Aw, hell! The wind forecast for the next few days was not the best for proceeding to our next destination, so we really weren't keen on continuing. Our best option would be to sail over to the leeward side of the atoll and heave to there until the weather cleared in a day or two. It would still be windy, but at least the seas would be flat. We had both really been looking forward to being anchored in a nice flat lagoon.

On about our fifth call to the rangers, one of the two boats anchored inside the lagoon answered our call. He said the charts for the area were accurate and that the few real hazards were easy to see even in the poor light. We decided to give it a go.

He was right. The pass was big and wide and the current wasn't too bad. We found our way in without any trouble and then dropped anchor close enough to them that they probably wished they hadn't been so encouraging. The other boat in the anchorage was Capistrano, who we had met briefly in Bora Bora.

The minute the engines were shut off, we were met by the rangers, Harry and Katu. They explained their VHF was out of order and then went about alternating duties as Customs, Immigration, Wildlife Department and Environmental Control. They were friendly and efficient and had us cleared in after a quick fumigation and a few minutes of form-filling and passport stamping. When Harry got out the cash box to collect our fee, he called it the Bank of Suwarrow. He's got a new audience every time he tells that one. It never gets old. Since the weather was still pretty miserable, we didn't feel so guilty spending the rest of the day putting the boat back in order and catching up on needed rest.

{Maryanne: Suwarrow was long called Suvarov after the Russian vessel that first spent time there. Suwarrow is a modern but more native friendly name for the island. It is part of the Cook islands.}

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Maupiti (with Manta Rays)

[Kyle]After clearing out at Bora Bora, we left the wharf at Viatape at the very first of the light. Five other boats appeared from various directions and we all left the pass one after the other, sailing towards the end of the long shadow Mt. Otomanu cast by the just-risen sun. I thought we got up early, but we were fifth. All of the boats appeared to be heading towards the pass entrance at the island of Maupiti, 25 miles west. Their pass is reputed to be tricky and is best entered with the sun high in the sky, which means we all had to leave as early as possible to make it happen. It looked like we had a proper race at hand.

There were five catamarans including us, and one big monohull. The two biggest cats were charter boats just over 60'. We had no hope of catching them, particularly since the charter companies prohibit sailing at night and their instructions for Maupiti insist that if the pass is found to be too dangerous to enter, the boat has to be back in Bora Bora by nightfall. This meant they kept both engines going the whole way in addition to sail. A few hours later, all we could see was the tops of their sails disappearing over the horizon.

Next were a couple of cats a little larger than us. We did our best to hold our own against them, but they also seemed to be pulling ahead of us.

At least we should be able to stay ahead of the monohull, even though it was bigger. Their theoretical maximum hull speed is higher than ours, but the drag increase at that point for catamarans is much more gradual, so in a decent wind, we should be able to go a knot or two faster and keep up with them.

We had perfect conditions; wind just aft of the beam and light enough to carry full sail. It wasn't enough. They crept up behind us and altered coarse slightly to pass us on our starboard side. Just as I was trying to figure out if they had actually put us into sixth, the wind picked up ever so slightly and they headed for the horizon – behind us. Woo hoo! Yay math! We're not last! It's the little things...

After a couple of hours, they had receded until just their mast was showing and then we lost it in the clutter of Bora Bora. It also seemed like we were actually gaining on the other two cats, but we weren't sure because we were all on slightly different courses, so it was hard to tell if they appeared to be getting closer because we were overtaking them or because we were all converging.

By the time we arrived outside the pass at Maupiti, we were definitely looking back at them. Ha, ha! We beat the big guys (this time). Finally, our relatively skinny hulls and our almost complete lack of heavy gear for creature comforts paid off. We may not have air conditioning or plenty of water for long, hot showers, but we got here twenty minutes earlier than you, so take that!

The pass was mild, so we were able to go in and anchor just to the west, where we found a nice sandy spot with no coral. We ran the checklist and after a couple of minutes spent making sure each hot engine was still in good health, I was completely overheated. Since sitting by the register and letting cool, dry air blow over me was not an option, I opted instead for a refreshing reconnaissance swim.

We had anchored near a Manta cleaning station and wanted to see how long it would take to swim there from Begonia the next morning when they are active. Our swimming route took us through a buoyed no-anchoring zone, implemented to protect the rays. We hadn't even crossed the line yet when we saw the first one meandering about near another anchored boat. We watched him until he took off and then swam to what we thought was the area of the cleaning station before heading back. It had been a pretty long day and we were ready to wrap it up.

We found the same Manta in about the same spot on the way back. We could see people on deck on the nearby boat and stopped by to say hi and to tell them about their companion. The owners were two French doctors from New Caledonia. With them was another French crew who had been bopping around the islands of the South Pacific his whole life. They offered us coffee, so we came aboard and dripped on their stern steps while chatting. When we were done, we invited them for drinks the next evening.

We were up early in order to get to the cleaning station, where the big manta come to have themselves cleaned by little wrasse every morning. I wish we could train them to do it in the afternoon. We were having no luck until our new friends swam over from their boat a few minutes later. Katherine spotted the first one as it lazily circled the bommie where its wrasse lived. We saw another and then another. Boatloads of tourists arrived and soon the water was full of multicolored fins on the surface as the mantas circled below.

Leaving Bora Bora and arriving in Maupiti

Unlike in Bora Bora, these were in slightly shallower water, which allowed me to dive down and spend a little more time at their depth. I learned that if I could get hold of a bit of dead coral to keep me down without having to burn energy fighting my buoyancy, I could stay down for almost a full minute. After a little trial and error, I learned that if I dove to the spot where the manta just passed, I could stay as it came around for its next pass without spooking it. In this way, I was able to remain still as it passed inches overhead, seemingly unconcerned with my presence. It was so cool! I did get the timing wrong a couple of times and really had to struggle to remain still until it was well clear.

We hung out for a couple of hours enjoying the company of this ray or that before leaving them to the tour boats. The current was against us for the swim home, so most of the rest of the morning was taken up swimming hard watching the coral below inch by. We were pretty beat by the time we got home but, of course we had guests coming, so there was to be no refreshing afternoon nap.

Manta Rays!

{Maryanne: Manta rays have these quite unusual boneless fins either side of their mouth that they generally point ahead of them, streamlined in the water flow. They are called Cephalaic fins, they are amazingly flexible and the mantas can use them to divert water flow into their mouths, but can also set them in some kind of spiral corkscrew shape which we saw them do a lot. The flexibility and versatility of this Cephalic fins is quite fascinating to watch and for me is a little like watching an elephant use its trunk.}

They were delightful company and we learned much about the islands from them, particularly to the west, from which they had come. The next day, they were heading further upwind to Tahiti where Katherine was due to return to her dermatology practice in New Caledonia . The two men would then take the boat to the Tuamotus to be hauled for cyclone season.

Our plans were of the more standard downwind variety. We pulled up anchor the next morning and as we turned into the channel for the pass, we spotted them having one last swim with the mantas. They waved and we honked back. We were only about three miles from the island when we saw their boat come out of the pass and turn the other way.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Bora Bora (part 2)

[Kyle]Our anchorages at Motu Piti Aau turned out to be just as uneventful and wakey as the one by the airport. We stayed for only one night and then move on to another anchorage about halfway up the east coast of Bora Bora.

It was another nail-biter as the depth readout went down into the two meter range and stayed there for much longer than we would have cared for. We were headed for a spot just across the reef from what was reputed to be a Manta ray cleaning station - where they go to have the wrasse clean off parasites.

Begonia in Bora Bora - Snorkelling with spotted rays, turtles and of course MANTA Rays

The next morning, we snorkeled over the reef to the spot and found a few of them gliding over the bottom of the pass. The depth there was about forty feet. That was far enough down that I would only have time to take three quick shots before it was time to start heading back to the surface. There would be no lingering conversations about their life stories.

The giant creatures are deceiving like 747s. Their size makes them look slow, but when you get close to them you have to kick like hell to keep from getting left behind too fast by their one flap per minute pace. Kicking hard us not good for oxygen use at depth. We learned from a fellow cruiser that the mantas didn't appear on the next two days - so we were especially lucky.

Bora Bora Yacht Club (Beautiful place, but bring you BIG credit card)

A morning rainbow before moving to
Bora Bora "Yacht Club"

Bora Bora "Yacht Club"

We moved from the ray anchorage to the Bora Bora Yacht Club. Actually, we first moved to a mooring at the Maikai marina, but after going ashore, we found them closed (closed on Sundays) and with no services whatsoever. We were hoping for at least nice, long showers and Internet, so we headed backwards to the BBYC. They were very nice and their location was beautiful. They are a bit pricey, though. I think they're capitalizing on the trade of tourists who are on their once-in-a-lifetime vacation and don't mind spending $90 for their very own BBYC t-shirt.

We set a new record for laundry - $90USD for three loads - ouch! We really needed it after having guests, but geez! If that happens again, I'll do it myself in buckets. It would still be cheaper, even with 4¢/gallon water. We decided to suck it up and not look back (and topped up our tanks with $25 of water).

We both took LOOONG showers.

Bloody Mary's

Since no fuel was available at the fuel dock until the afternoon as they were still waiting for a delivery. Plan B was to return to the mooring field at Bloody Mary's for the night. Since it wasn't Sunday this time, they were open. Their food was excellent and not too expensive. We spent much of the afternoon on their slow wifi, which they were happy to share. One of my favorite moments was when a chicken, who I assume was named Lunchmeat, came in and started pecking the dropped food bits out of the sand floor.

Bloody Mary's

Once we returned home, it was time to get the dinghy back into lifeboat mode for our next offshore leg. The rest of our stops in Bora Bora would be docks and we wouldn't need it anymore. From here we officially leave French Polynesia and head towards the cook Island (the island of Suwarrow) and then Niue. We'll be out of touch for a while.

Hanging out in Viatape to do paperwork and provisioning.