Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Rotoava Town (Fakarava)

[Kyle]Hirifa really filled up in the next day or so and was starting to take on a bit too much of a Disneyland feel. The megayacht arrived and disgorged a bunch of passengers on jet skis who used the anchored boats as pylons for their slalom course. Everyone wanted to be near the beached boat (so many cruisers came to their aid), which meant they were crammed in by us. Time to go.

We left the next morning for Rotoava, way up on the north side of the lagoon. It was a marvelous sail. We had 18 knots of wind just aft of the beam for the whole way up the marked channel on the inside of the lagoon. We were effortlessly going fast and watching motu after motu glide by without having to deal with being thrown around by any stupid waves. Oh, if it could always be like this..

A few short hours later, we arrived at the anchorage at Rotoava. What the hell? Last year, when Agnes drove us up from Pakakota, there were three boats here. Now there were at least twenty, filling all of the available space between the beach and the channel. We swung by one that we had met in Tahanea and he told us the bottom was all sand and his anchor bit right away. At least there was that.

After much searching, we found a spot wedged in between two other boats and dropped our anchor in blue water where there was no sign of the dark coral heads. When I dove on the anchor later, I discovered why. The water was filled with fine silt which obscures the bottom and reflects sunlight back upward as if it were white sand. After pulling myself down the anchor chain, I discovered the bottom was pretty much the same as it is in the South Pass. Our anchor had actually found the only sandy spot big enough for it, but just barely. The rest of our chain was draped over coral heads like tinsel on a Christmas tree. I untangled it as best as I could on a series of dives where each time I headed for the surface, I was convinced I had waited just a little too long, and then returned to Begonia to get a fistful of cable ties.

I returned to the chain and attached the ties to strategic locations. Then I cranked it all up by hand, Maryanne measured and attached floats at the ties, and then we dropped the whole thing back over again. Now all of our chain except the last meter or two by the anchor was safely above the coral.

As we were doing all of this, we noticed several people looking at us like we were being foolish for being unnecessarily cautious. Some seemed annoyed at our string of floats getting in their way as they went by in their dinghies. To them, we were “Those people” – probably a couple of newbies who don’t know you don’t have to use the float-the-chain trick on sand.

Later on as they left, I noticed most of them were having a devil of a time getting their anchors out of the ‘sand’.

Rotoava is one of those places whose diversions can all be experienced in a couple of hours. We did each twice for good measure and then parked ourselves at a creperie on the water in the hopes of using their wifi. It was virtually non-existent, which we expected, as that is par for the course, but they did make up for it by having real ice cream. Ice cream is worth its weight in gold here, which is how I think they came up with the price structure, but who cares? They have ice cream! The village was also supposed to have a place that made real pizza but, alas, that was shut down permanently, so that craving would have to keep waiting.

We were up super early for the next day’s provisioning, which was entirely because every store sells out of their fresh baguettes thirty minutes after they open. Fresh French bread makes everything better, but for the life of me, I have never been able to figure out why it has to be baked at four a.m. instead of something normal like noon. I have no problem making it to the bakery at the crack of two p.m., but dawn just hurts.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Fakarava – Hirifa Atoll

[Kyle]At high tide, we left Tahanea through the middle pass, while Pizza and Eureka took the western one. That kept them in front of us, where we could keep an eye on them. The sail is not far, so the three of us planned on sailing slowly through the night. Being singlehanders, they would be taking short naps along the way. Usually, we are a little bit nervous sailing in close quarters with singlehanders, but Aleen and Adrian have a pretty good system. Depending on where they were, they would schedule radio calls every 30 or 60 minutes to make sure the other one is awake and to take stock. Listening to their interchanges, which ranged from short and all business to, “Jeez, guys, get a room”, convinced us that their situational awareness was almost as good as ours, and we were awake and looking the whole time.

Sail to the Fakarava South Pass once more

We entered the South Pass at Fakarava as soon as it was light enough to do so, since the flood was soon to finish. We were hoping to find one of the nearby moorings free so we could go swim the pass, but they were all occupied. Since we knew from the year before that the bottom there is a Manhattan of coral heads, we didn’t even consider anchoring. At least we’ve seen it once.

Instead, we continued on to Hirifa, the motu on the eastern corner of the lagoon, where we found a big patch of clear sand to drop anchor. Pizza and Eureka followed us, but anchored by a sand bar further away from the trees, where the wind was better for kite surfing. We were all tired from the overnight sail, so we stayed in the rest of the day.

Exploring Hirifa Atoll

In the morning, we could see a lot of boats coming our way from the pass anchorage. It looked like our quiet anchorage was going to get a lot busier. The first came and anchored nearby, and then we heard a “Pan, Pan” on the radio. “Pan, Pan” is the step below “Mayday”. Nobody was in danger of dying, but they were in trouble. It seemed one of the catamarans we had been watching had hit a reef along the way and was taking on water. He didn’t have a Lat/Long but described his position as, “On the reef on the chart by Motu Kokakoka” Yep, you read that right. It was on the chart.

Another nearby boat transferred crew over to help and a megayacht at the South Pass sent over their tender to help tow them off. With all pumps going and a bucket brigade, they were able to keep the boat afloat until they got it to the beach near us at Hirifa. We rowed the dinghy over to see if they needed any help. We figured they would need as much muscle as they could get dragging the boat onto the sand. They seemed to have everything pretty well under control. The leaks were plugged as best as they could and they needed to remove the rudders before they could beach the boat, so we had some time.

When they hit the reef, they punched a series of holes just below the waterline on one hull. These, they were able to stuff with rags at the time and now they were busy filling with underwater epoxy. Their main damage was at the rudder. The shaft had bent and punched the blade through the hull. The location was difficult to get to and out of the reach of their bilge pumps, necessitating the bucket brigade with the first person standing to her waist in water. At Hirifa, they were able to remove the rudder and pack the hole. Now their plan was to get the boat stern to the beach as high up as they could with the goal of fiberglassing on a patch at low tide.

They had twice as many volunteers as space to do the work, so while we waited, we decided to have a look around the village.

It turned out there was no village, just three houses connected by a footpath. We were back in no time, but not before they had already beached the boat. Now their plan was to wait. Wait for materials, wait for low tide, wait to hear back from the insurance company... They were going to be there for a while, so it was, “As you were. Nothing to see here. Go back to your homes…” They were supposed to have paying guests coming in a couple of days…

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Chilling in Tahanea (Tuamotus)

[Kyle]The great thing about Tahanea is that is beautiful. It is the tropical paradise that lives deep down inside everybody’s dreams. Palms with fronds of green and gold sway in the trade winds atop blinding white beaches on uninhabited islands. Outside, the reef, the surf adds its tone to the soothing soundtrack. Inside, the boat rests in water so clear and blue that it looks like it’s floating ten feet above the sand, while multicolored fishes dart in and out of multicolored coral gardens below.

Rain and storms make for rainbows!

The other great thing about Tahanea is that that is it. There’s no airport, no town, no restaurants, no stores, no cell phone service and definitely no wifi. It’s the kind of place where there’s no need to feel guilty about waking up at 10:00, deciding it’s too hot to do much, going for a nap at 2:00 and then waking up in time to enjoy the sunset. If you get restless, you can go for a swim and if you’re really feeling ambitious, you can forage for coconuts on the beach. They make great snacks and getting into one will keep you busy for a while.

That’s pretty much what we did during our stay. We needed a break from the motion and from constantly worrying about how our anchor was holding. For the first five days, the only other boats around took the form of the shimmering mirage of the wiggling tops of their masts seen through the binoculars. We moved closer and then closer until we were sharing an anchorage with a handful of them. Just as we were all about to start socializing, the skies opened up and we all retreated to our boats. Half of the group left to go anchor nearer to the pass on the other side of the lagoon.

The front that brought the rain brought a wind shift that made it necessary for us to join them the next morning. We got lucky, sort of, and had no rain and good light for the trip across the lagoon. I say sort of because as we were milling around looking for a spot, the sky opened up and we were completely drenched within seconds. Free shower!

Since we were soaked anyway, it was no big deal to go out in the rain and set up the rain catchers. We had enough to do a big load of laundry, after which we dressed Begonia in a full set of laundry flags to celebrate the occasion.

Underwater Tahanea

We went ashore to have a look for some snack food and finally were able to meet some of the others who had done the same. We had this idea that we would come home via a drift dive through the pass, but the seas were too high and getting in through the surf proved to be too treacherous. We walked a little further and were finally able to manage the inner half.

As we were drifting back into the lagoon, half of the anchored boats suddenly left and followed each other out of the pass like a family of ducks. A monohull entered through the adjacent pass and anchored under sail. Nice move. I was a little envious. After a while, he pulled up anchor, sailed around for a bit and then did it again. A catamaran entered through our pass (the middle one) and did the same thing near the first guy. As we were swimming past, we noticed it was Aleen and Adrian on Pizza and Eureka. They had left Hao the same afternoon we did. We also noticed that it was Naked Thursday, so we suppressed the urge to swim over and rib them about taking so long.

After a lovely night sleeping on freshly laundered bedding that was sun dried in the trade winds, we emerged to find Aleen and Adrian already out swimming. They were catching fish for lunch and invited us to the beach to help them eat it. Adrian took the fish home and Aleen offered to help attach another float to our chain to keep it away from the coral. The trouble spot was right at my depth limit, leaving me only a couple of seconds to do any work. Aleen regularly free dives below 50m, so 15m was a cute little warm up for her. We gave her the float and after a couple of MINUTES simultaneously fighting against the buoyancy of the float and the weight of the chain to get them clipped together, she surfaced, sounding only a little winded. She don’t need no stinkin’ SCUBA gear…

Exploring and BBQ

At the beach, we learned that they had run out of wind leaving Hao, so they decided to stop at a couple of the islands along the way. It didn’t work and it still took them five days of the last twelve to cover the distance to Tahanea, giving them an average speed of about two knots. Their original plan had been to stay in Tahanea for a month, teaching kite surfing to passing boats, but instead, they were now planning on leaving the next day at the same time we were.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Passage to Tahanea

[Kyle]We left Hao as soon as it was light enough to see our way out. Pizza and Eureka had said they would be leaving with us, but there was no sign of movement on their end of the harbor. The youth DO like to keep late hours.

As we neared the pass a couple of hours later, another boat on his way in saw us on his AIS and called us to ask about conditions there. We were planning on leaving at the tail end of the ebb. We traded estimates for slack water and theirs was four hours later than ours. When we got there, we found just a slight current pushing us out, so I radioed them and told them to hurry while it’s still mild. They sped up to enter an hour after we left and called back to report they had made it in just as it was getting rough.

We had nice, mild sailing for the next couple of days. The wind and seas gradually decreased until it hardly felt like we were moving at all. That was comfortable for the off watch, but it soon became clear that our initial plan of slowing down in the night to avoid getting there before daylight was not going to be necessary. In fact, we were becoming increasingly concerned we wouldn’t make it by nightfall. There were some pretty strong headwinds and rain forecast for the next day and we weren’t really looking forward to trying to pick our way visually across to the protected side of the lagoon through it.

We ended up making it in and to the other side of the lagoon in the last of the good light. We nudged our way into the crook of a sandbar shaped like a “7” and dropped anchor on the edge of a sand shelf in 3 ½ meters of warm, turquoise water.

Finally, we were ready to start our vacation from our permanent vacation. When we entered the pass at Tahanea, it had been 357 days since the last time we did it and we had sailed 15,780 nautical miles to get right back to the same place. That’s just over a quarter of ALL of the miles we have sailed together in the last sixteen years. We both agreed that was probably a bit too much. It was the result of a simple math problem: a lap of the South Pacific is almost 16,000 miles long and if we didn’t want to get snowed in in Chile or take our chances with tropical storms, we had to do it in a year. Now we were finally in a nice, flat lagoon and I promised Maryanne we wouldn’t have to do anything we didn’t feel like doing for at least a week and a half.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Hao (Tuamotus)

[Kyle]After the long sail and early arrival in Hao we needed the afternoon to reset our sleep patterns, but afterward we popped over to Alene aboard Pizza (who had been there to greet us and take lines) to say hi.

Begonia at Peaceful Hao

There, we met Adrian, her boyfriend, who had his monohull Eureka rafted up to Alene’s catamaran. Alene is an American journalist/filmmaker who has managed to eke out a living in Polynesia getting paid by the word. She’s very ebullient and athletic and likes to free dive for fun. Adrian is French and teaches kite surfing from his boat, wherever he and Alene happen to be. Apparently, kite surfing is perfect exercise because Adrian has a couple of six-packs that all of his other muscles ride on. The whole thing is covered with a perfect tan. And then there’s the accent. Every time he says anything, I notice both Maryanne and Alene smile a little more than normal. He seems to have a perpetual problem with his shorts. They seem to be so loose, they are in constant danger of falling off. I’d wish they were tighter, but I’m not sure that wouldn’t be worse. I’d love to hate him, but he’s just so nice and easy going.

The next day, we decided to prove to ourselves that we were still young and vibrant by digging out the bikes and doing the 18km ride to the pass.

Exploring Hao

We started by going to the old military base. Most of the buildings there were being slowly reclaimed by nature, but there were a few off to the side that seemed to be occupied by people that had taken up residence. We then went past the airport and its ridiculously long runway to the future site of a giant fish processing factory planned by the Chinese.

After that, the road narrowed and turned to sand for what seemed like a really long way before we finally spotted the backside of the entrance marker we had spent so much time the previous day trying to put behind us.

It was on the long ride back that we both realized we had maybe bitten off more than we could chew, endurance-wise. I don’t think it was the exercise, per se, but rather doing all of it on a bike seat. There comes a time when your body is just not having any more of sitting on that seat. I made Maryanne promise me no long bike trips the next day.

I was a little annoyed the next morning when Maryanne suggested we ride into town to “get a few bits”. I honestly would have preferred walking, but she won me over by saying we would be back in no time.

Ha! Of course, the first place we went didn’t have what we wanted, so we had to ride all of the way to the other end of town to another store. They didn’t have it either, so we rode around for an hour looking for a hidden third store. None of the businesses in Hao have signs because everybody there already knows where everything is. When we finally found it, we discovered it was closed for a ridiculously long lunch.

Now we had a choice. We were on the opposite side of the village from Begonia, so we could go all the way back home, wait twenty minutes and come all of the way back or… we could see if we could find the other end of the road. If we did, we would be able to say we cycled every single road on Hao. I DO like achieving a goal.

So off we went, butts protesting, in search of the south end of the road. It was actually very nice, way prettier than the ride north. The south side has all sorts of perfect little tropical bungalows, each nestled under a canopy of palm trees and with large patios looking out over the turquoise and emerald waters of the lagoon. As we rode by, everybody stopped what they were doing to give a big wave. Some yelled “Bonjour” or “Ia Orana”.

After we had killed enough time, we returned to the now open store and filled my pack with many heavy things. Maryanne wanted to keep taking little side trips to see just one more thing. That’s because she wasn’t wearing a heavy pack. I managed to persuade her to skip most of them and call it a day. We both really needed to get off the bikes.

In the morning, Maryanne was off the boat within five minutes of waking and riding into town for fresh bread while I started the coffee. She returned with a baguette for each boat in the harbor and two for us. It was still warm from the oven. Fresh baguettes in the morning are just glorious. I just wish the bakeries didn’t sell out by 7:00.

Maryanne then made an off-hand comment about wanting to top up on a few provisions once the other stores opened. I REALLY wanted to look to busy to join her. I really did, but I couldn’t leave her to carry everything home by herself, so it was back on the bike for another tour of the town’s shops. Bicycles are great, but I’m ready to do something else for a while.