Thursday, June 26, 2008

Papeete, Tahiti (and the strange outbound clearance process here)

Tuesday we managed to get Med-moored at the marina after the wind dropped back to normal levels.  They put us on the outside dock with the big boats.  Man, do we look small next to those guys!  Glad they put us out here because the inside docks of this marina appear quite tight and it would have been a challenge for us to fit in there.  As soon as we were secure at the dock we found the office for the agent we used to clear into Marquesas.  He will handle our clearance into Tahiti and then our departure from French Polynesia.

The departure clearance from French Polynesia is just plain weird.  Papeete is the only official port of clearance for either arrival or departure.  All the other “official” ports of clearance must mail the completed forms to Papeete.  When you leave Papeete to go visit the other windward islands of French Polynesia, you actually clear out of French Polynesia in Papeete.  They give you the departure clearance paperwork and then you take it to the Gendarmerie at your final island stop (almost always Bora Bora).  The Gendarmerie in Bora Bora stamps the departure paperwork, you mail back another copy of this departure paperwork to Papeete, and then you leave French Polynesia.  That entire process is so strange.  We have never heard of any other place where you clear out weeks or months before you really leave.  So we will be clearing out when we leave Papeete but will not really leave French Polynesia until many weeks later.  Our plans are to visit Moorea and definitely Bora Bora but we haven’t decided about the other islands in between those two.

Tahiti itself is actually 2 islands that are connected by a road.  The larger northern island is called Tahiti Nui and the smaller southern island is called Tahiti Iti.  I just love the name of Tahiti Iti.  The main city is Papeete and is located on the northwestern coast of Tahiti Nui.  We took Le Truck into the city of Papeete and walked for hours trying to find a few small boat items.  Le Truck is the local version of a maxi-taxi – the cheap mode of transportation.  Taxis are supposedly exorbitantly priced so no one uses a taxi.   Bill’s sneakers literally fell apart while we were walking in town; the soles separated and were flopping so badly he was having difficulty walking.  We think it is the extreme heat inside the boat that destroys the glue in shoes.  This is the third pair of sneakers that has literally separated since we moved aboard; and each pair was really in good condition when they fell apart.  So we found a sports store and bought him a new pair.  He was not happy when he later realized that he had paid $160 for a plain pair of sneakers.   Tahiti is an expensive place.   The only reasonably priced things in French Polynesia are baguettes, which cost only about 65 cents each.   The daily baguette is a ritual that we will miss a lot when we leave French Polynesia.

Polynesia is known for tattoos.  The Tahitian word tatau literally means “to hit.”  In ancient times the pigment was made from the soot of a burned candle nut, called “ti’a’iri”, and was thinned with water.  The mixture turned blue once it was introduced below the dermis.  This was done with a tattooing comb, called a “fa”, which was a kind of adze with sharp teeth on one end.  The fa was carved from fish teeth or bird bones.  A mallet was used to hit the fa’s handle and make the pigment penetrate into the skin.  The fa could have a few or a great many points, depending on how large a body part was being tattooed.  Ancient Polynesians believed that tattooing originated with the gods.  The 2 sons of the god Ta’aroa were the first ones to be tattooed; they supposedly did this to seduce their sister.  Men imitated the gods and began to tattoo their bodies.  Tattoos had aesthetic value and were considered sexually attractive, but that was only one aspect.  Tattooing marked the passage from childhood to adulthood.  In some areas it also was a mark of identification, or belonging to a particular group; and was also considered a protective barrier against evil influences.

Each island group does different type tattoos.  The Marquesas traditionally were the most heavily tattooed of any island group.  Marquesan men would shave their heads and tattoo their scalps.  In fact, they tattooed their entire bodies; sometimes even their eyelids and tongues and other ultra-sensitive parts of their bodies.   Marquesan women were more restricted in their tattoo options.  The most frequently chosen body parts were the earlobes and the space behind the ears, the lower back, and the arms and legs.  The Christian missionaries considered the tattoos to be erotic and they certainly could not tolerate any erotic; so the missionaries managed to get King Pomare to ban both tattooing and dancing in 1819 when he officially converted to a Christian religion.  This ban remained in effect until very recently when the Samoans did a tattoo exhibit during the Pacific Arts Festival, which was held in the Hiva Oa, Marquesas one year.  This exhibit rekindled interest in the ancient practice of tattooing and now one often sees young Polynesian men and women with tattoos. 

In the Society Islands it was traditional for both men and women to wear tattoos on the shoulders, arms and legs; but never on the face.  They would tattoo their buttocks uniformly blue and then tattoo the lower back to the hips with several rows of designs.  The Z-shaped broken line was the most commonly used sign and were worn by women on each joint of their fingers and toes.

In the Austral Islands marked their difference by the use of hand-width tattooed bands below the armpits.   Tattooing was much less practiced in the eastern Tuamotu  but was quite common in the western Tuamotu.  Men of Rangiroa (in the northwest Tuamotu) might be tattooed from head to toe with irregular designs such as curved lines, concentric circles or checkerboard designs.  In the Gambier Islands a tattoo was compulsory.  The special mark of that archipelago was a circled tattooed under the armpits of teenager boys.  It was divided into four parts and was progressively inked in during the young man’s lifetime. 

Because dancing and tattooing were banned for so long, no one is certain what the original Polynesian dances were exactly like.  But thanks to many sketched log books and sketches made by sailors back during Captain Cook’s visits to Polynesia, we know what the original tattoos looked like.  At least this tradition was not totally lost.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rangiroa to Papeete, Tahiti

Rangiroa, Tuamotu, French Polynesia

June 20, 2008 Friday

The WiFi connection did not work for almost 2 days so Bill used our SSB to send at email to the company main office in Tahiti.  They immediately responded and explained that there had been an electrical problem at the local dive shop in Rangiroa where their server was located and that they needed a cable to connect and reset the modem.  Bill, being the handy guy that he is, loaded up a laptop and various cables and went ashore to fix the problem.  Two hours later everything was working again – plus we received an additional 600 minutes of internet time as a “thank you.”  This is great because we will be in Papeete, Tahiti next week at a marina and will appreciate the internet access.  Good to know that it was not a waste of money buying the 20 hours air time here after all.  We can use it in Tahiti.

Why didn’t someone tell us that Hillary was no longer in the Presidential race?  When we finally accessed the internet this morning we caught up on some of the news that we have missed since last having WiFi aboard back on April 12th.  Looks like we have missed a lot of news in that time period.  Sometimes it is nice to be so oblivious to the things we can do nothing about.

Winds are very light and predicted to remain same for several days.  We have a reservation at a marina in Papeete, Tahiti to arrive on Monday so we can get our genoa repaired and also meet with a Furuno GPS guy.  We also definitely want to participate in the Rendevouz on June 27-28 that is being sponsored by the tourism department for French Polynesia.  More about that later.  Anyway, since the winds are so light we will need to depart Rangiroa late Saturday in order to sail the roughly 200 miles and arrive on Monday morning.  This should be another calm and slow passage.  Regret that we do not have more time to stay in Rangiroa.  We tried to arrange a tour of a pearl farm for tomorrow before we leave, but they are closed on weekends.  This should be the last place we will visit that does black pearl farming so it looks like we have missed the opportunity for a tour.  But we can watch a video about it at the Rendevouz.

June 23, 2008 Monday
Papeete, Tahiti
17.34.746S; 149.37.258W              Distance sailed 206.6 NM

Tides are so important when entering or exiting the passes in French Polynesia.  We departed Rangiroa through the Tiputa Pass around 4:30 p.m. Saturday.  It was supposed to be outgoing tide but there was 2.8 knot head current against us as we negotiated the exit through the pass.  Waters were swirling all around us in the narrow pass but it was uneventful.   The exit was much easier than the entrance because I could follow the track we had saved on the chartplotter from when we entered.  We very much enjoyed Rangiroa and wish we could have stayed here at least a month.

Slack tide for our destination of Papeete would occur at 10:00 to 10:30 on Monday morning.  This meant that we needed to average only 5.5 knots SOG for the passage.  Winds were light for most of the trip so it wasn’t too difficult to go that slow.  When we were about 75 miles from destination the wind changed direction and was directly on our nose.  A cold front was moving up from the south.  You have to remember that we are in the Southern Hemisphere and that it is now the Austral winter.  So we took in all sails and motored the rest of the way. 

Papeete is located on the northwest side of Tahiti.  As we approached the main harbor entrance the wind and sea was totally calm.  We radioed Harbor Control and received permission to enter.  Our route to the marina would be behind the reef.  We turned right and followed the marked channel around past the airport – requesting and receiving permission to pass by each end of the airport runway.  Would not want to cause a plane crash, and lose our boat in the process.  At times it appeared that we were following a channel that would send us directly into the reef; but the channel turned back toward the island each time, just as shown on the charts.  At times the reef was only about 15 feet from the side of our boat.  That is a little too close for comfort for me, especially in high wind.  As we made the final turn past the southwest end of the runway, the wind hit us full force.  It was calm on the NW side of this island, but it was wild as heck on the SW side! 

After passing the airport we radioed the marina and they informed us that it was too windy to attempt to dock right now.  So we found a spot to anchor and will wait until the wind dies before going into the marina.  We wanted to remove our genoa and get it delivered to the sail loft for repair this afternoon; but there is absolutely no way we can remove the sail in 25 knot winds.  There are a LOT of sailboats here and the anchorage is quite crowded.  Our boat actually swings into the channel a little bit but we are staying anchored in this spot until someone tells us to move out of the channel.   Not like there are a lot of options when it is this crowded.  There are some spectacular waves breaking over the reef in this high wind.  We were supposed to bring our paperwork to the agent to clear us into the Society Islands but it is so rough that we are not about to try to lower the dinghy off the mizzen deck and get the outboard lowered down to it.  The water is way too rough for that to be a safe project.  The authorities will just have to wait until the wind dies down.

At least we have WiFi out here in the anchorage so we can be entertained and catch up on news.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Left Ahe, now in Rangiroa

Raising the anchor at Ahe proved to be no problem.  It was laying on coral and just popped right up; no chain wrapped this time.  Four of us left at the same time; two came to Rangiroa and the other two left for other destinations.  The 89 mile overnight passage was calm and slow (on purpose to arrive at proper tide time).  We arrived about 1100 this morning and entered through the Tiputa Pass. 

Arrival time was planned for what was supposed to be the final hour of incoming high tide.  So the current in the pass should have been carrying us into the lagoon.  Well, the tide info must not have been correct because we had 3 knots of head-current.  The water was quite tumultuous.  But there are range markers on a spit of land inside the lagoon and they helped tremendously.  Bill lined up the range markers and plowed on through the entrance.  The ocean outside the pass was forcing us too far to starboard and he had to continually turn towards port (about 10 degrees at a time) to adjust course to enter in correct alignment with the distant range markers.  A few minutes later we were inside and all was calm.  This pass has 6 knots of current during normal weather and can have 8 to 10 knots of current during bad weather.  That is why it is so critical to time your egress during slack tides.  Most small boats cannot motor against a 6 knot current and make any headway, especially while being pushed sideways by the rough waves coming across beam of boat as when entering this pass.  We motored around the cardinal marker past the spit of land inside the lagoon and made our way to anchor near a ritzy resort.

Imagine our surprise to find The Maltese Falcon anchored here.  Last time we saw her was in St. Martin around February 2007.  We had no idea that she was currently in the South Pacific.  Shortly after we anchored the Falcon pulled anchor and motored off to another section of this huge lagoon.

Rangiroa is very large with a circumference of about 100 miles.  The interior lagoon is 45 miles long and 18 miles wide and is really more like an inland sea than a lagoon.  During a SE wind the waves inside the lagoon can reach 2 meters (6 ½ feet).  The ring around the lagoon is formed by 240 motus or small islands.  The motus are separated by about 130 channels which are called “hoas.”  The hoas are very shallow.  There are only 2 passes that are deep enough for boats to enter.  At the southwestern corner is the “Blue Lagoon” which I assume is from the movie of the same name.  The guide books simply say this is the home of the famous Blue Lagoon but do not mention why this lagoon is supposedly “famous” so all we can think of is the old movie with Brooke Shields as a young teenager.   Rangiroa is the most populated of all the Tuamotu.  There is a junior high school located here which they call a college.  I do not know what the normal school attendance is in the Tuamotu.  In the Marquesas, all children attended primary school on their home island and at age 10 had to go to live in a school dormitory on either Hiva Oa or Nuky Hiva to attend school.  They were only allowed to visit their homes during holidays.  That must be tough on kids that young to be separated from their families for such long periods.  I assume a similar arrangement is used in the Tuamotu.  The population on most atolls certainly would not support middle schools or high schools.

The anchorage in front of the Kia Ora Resort is very pretty.  This is a very nice resort and most of the guests are Asian, with a few New Zealanders.  The US hasn’t discovered this vacation area yet, probably because flying here is not that easy from the US, although it is only an hour’s flight from Papeete, Tahiti. There is WiFi internet access available.  We paid roughly $106 for 20 hours of internet service.  It worked the day we arrived but did not work at all the next day.   We will be leaving here Saturday or Sunday because we are supposed to be in Papeete, Tahiti on Monday and that is a couple hundred miles from here.  Hoping the internet starts working again so we can use up the pre-paid hours before our departure this weekend.  Another cruiser had dinner ashore at the resort recently and said a typical meal costs $90 - $100 per person.  That is not exorbitant.

Bill walked to the Gendarmerie and showed our clearance papers from Marquesas.  They don’t do anything with these papers but you are supposed to go to the office and show them that you are properly cleared into French Polynesia whenever you arrive in Rangiroa.  I was supposed to also go into the Gendarmerie but I fell and hurt my knee shore in Ahe and can’t walk so great right now.  It is nothing and should be healed in another few days.  Bill said the guy in the office was really nice and stamped our passports.  While Bill was gone I did laundry and ran the watermaker.  While I was hanging up the laundry on deck a couple of dolphin (porpoises) came right next to our boat.  Of course I did not have the camera on deck so could not get photos.  They slowly swam along the side of our boat and then slowly around the anchorage.  They were breathing very loudly and very often.  They were so pretty in this beautiful setting and clear water.  We are anchored in only 35 feet depth water here so we can actually see the bottom.  Of course there is coral down there to foul our anchor but we hope raising it won’t be a problem when it is time to leave.  There are supposed to be a lot of sharks in this lagoon but we have not  yet seen any.  The presence of sharks does not prevent anyone from diving or snorkeling.  The dive operators are quite busy here.

While Bill was ashore he visited a store and bought some fresh produce.  He got a head of lettuce, 4 tomatoes, 3 cucumbers, 2 bell pepper, 5 carrots and 3 peaches, plus 4 freshly cooked egg rolls.  The total cost was $52 USD.

This place is so nice.  We could stay here for a couple of months, just exploring around inside the lagoon.  But we don’t have the time to spare, as we are supposed to be in Papeete, Tahiti on Monday.  Will enjoy our short time here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuamotu of French Polynesia

French Polynesia is divided into 5 archipelagos that cover a huge area of the South Pacific from roughly 8 degrees South to 128S and 133 degrees West to 155W .  The 5 archipelagos are:  MARQUESAS to the northeast, GAMBIER well to the southeast; TUAMOTU, the northernmost atolls are about 500 miles SW of Marquesas; SOCIETIES (now also called TAHITI NUI) in the west and northwest; and the AUSTRALS south and southwest of Tahiti.  Like most cruisers, we will not visit the Gambier Archipelago or the Australs.  There is not sufficient time to visit all of French Polynesia within the maximum 90 days that we as US citizens are allowed to remain in this territory, so we will visit those areas that make the most “weather sense” to follow traditional trade winds.  We visited only 3 islands in the Marquesas but that was enough for us.  (Forgot to mention earlier that the Marquesas were home to cannibals until 1930)   The most pleasant surprise to me was that we encountered not one single “no-no” (no-see-um) and I escaped the Marquesas without even one insect bite.  Most beautiful place was definitely The Bay of Virgins on island of Fatu Hiva.  We are now in the Tuamotu and this area is completely different.  The Marquesas are younger islands than the Tuamotu.  The Marquesas are high mountains and have no surrounding coral reef.  The Tuamotu are all atolls; meaning that the mountainous islands have long since sunk back into the ocean and left large lagoons encircled by coral reef and some tiny strips of islands have formed  in various places on the reef circles.

There are 78 islands in the Tuamotu, all but 2 of which are coral atolls.  The Tuamotu atolls extend almost 1,000 miles in NW-SE direction.  This area was called “the Low or Dangerous Archipelago” by the first European navigators because of the risks presented to ships during those days – and continue to challenge vessels today even with our GPS technology.  Due to their low-lying character, the atolls are only visible from a boat during daylight when the vessel is within 8 miles.   (Radar really helps at night!  We identified the atoll of Manihi from approximately 24 miles out during the dark wee morning hours and slowed down sufficiently to arrive during good daylight.)  The Tuamotu were discovered long before the Society islands or Tahiti.  The Tuamotu were discovered by Spanish navigator Quiros in 1605.  Tahiti was not discovered until 1767 by British navigator Wallis.  The Dangerous Archipelago was also visited by Dutch navigators Le Maire and Schouten in 1616 and another Dutch navigator Roggeveen in 1722.  The approximate position of the final 2 islands of the Tuamotu were not recorded until 1835.  It is generally assumed that whaling ships knew of this area during the 17th century but they were very secretive of their whaling grounds and no charting was noted during that time.  But it is arrogant for anyone to say that these islands were “discovered” during the years noted above.  Polynesians had inhabited what is now known as French Polynesia at least as far back as 1200 A.D., and some archeologists place inhabitation back as far as 300 B.C.   We know so little about the history of this area.

The French government used the eastern Tuamotu as a nuclear testing ground from 1963 to 1996.  The area south of 17 degrees 20 minutes S latitude and east of 145 degrees 25 minutes W longitude still remains off-limits to cruisers or visitors.  That area contains many monitoring sensors for seismic, radiation and environmental surveys, and vessels could disturb the area and cause false readings.  Also, there is concern regarding the slight possibility of a partial collapse of the reef as was experienced in Bikini following US nuclear tests.  The other easternmost atolls which are not off-limits now have limited resources.  The inhabitants have turned to the cultured black pearl as their primary source of economic development; second only to tourism.  We have been told that the money behind the black pearl farming comes from Chinese companies but we do not know that as fact.

Tourism is booming on the more northerly situated atolls.  Many of the tiny islands at the atolls now have a small airstrip and it is possible to fly from Papeete, Tahiti.  There are tiny resorts (some built out over the lagoon waters) and truly the place to go if you want to really get away from it all.  Our friends on the catamaran went more southerly to visit atolls that rarely receive visitors.  They are the only boat in one atoll and have been warmly received by the inhabitants.  They have been invited to local homes for meals and celebrations.  They traded rum and were given a tour of a pearl farm.  They also traded a stalk of bananas for a couple of black pearls.  This is really funny to us because they traded a single pencil for a stalk of bananas in the San Blas Islands.  All things being relative, that means that 2 black pearls are worth a pencil.  Like that logic? 

Our experiences in the 2 northern atolls that we have visited so far have been nothing like what our friends have experienced.  In fact, Bill and I are somewhat disappointed in the atolls.  It is not like we expected.  Since we are visiting the atolls most frequented by cruisers, the inhabitants are not as friendly.  They see too many boat visitors to be interested in us. 

From all the photos we had seen before arriving here, we expected crystal clear waters of turquoise and many shades of blue – dotted with patches of coral throughout the lagoons.  Instead, the lagoons are so deep that the water just looks gray with only a few tiny areas near the islets that are pretty.  To be fair, however, the sky has been gray since we left the Marquesas and that is causing everything to look gray.  It is yet again drizzling rain as I type this log.  We will stop at one more atoll and hopefully the sky will be sunny for a few days so we can appreciate the beauty that is supposed to be all around us.

Leaving Manihi was interesting.  When we tried to raise our anchor we found that the anchor chain was hopelessly wrapped around and in huge masses of coral.  We were anchored in depth of 55 feet so it was impossible to see the bottom.  We struggled with it for about an hour and retrieved 30 meters of chain before calling a new friend for assistance.  Darryl on S/V LIBERTY CALL is a single-hander out of San Francisco in a Morgan 32.  We had met Darryl a few days earlier and learned that he is a diver, and he had offered to help if we needed assistance getting the anchor free.  We put the dinghy back into the water and picked up Darryl from his boat.  Took almost an hour with Darryl in the water and Bill on our bow working with the anchor chain and windlass and me on the helm.  Finally we were free!  Do not know how we would have managed this with just Bill and me. 

Darryl planned to go to Ahe -- the same atoll that we were headed to.  Bill brought Darryl back to his boat and helped get that anchor up.  Good thing that Bill stayed to help because that boat came within 10 feet of being up on the reef as they maneuvered to raise the anchor.    The guide books say to anchor in this particular spot because it is a good anchoring area.  Other cruisers need to be aware that the entire anchoring area is full of coral and will foul their anchor rode.  Coral can cut through anchor chain like a hacksaw, so one needs to use extra caution when anchoring in these atolls which are so full of coral.

During the 27 mile sail from Manihi to Ahe we caught a couple of fish.  The first was a barracuda about a meter long.  We have never eaten a barracuda; we have always thrown them back.  But so many people have told us that barracuda is good to eat that we decided to save this one.  If we caught a better fish later in the trip then we would discard the barracuda; otherwise, it would be dinner.  We stunned the fish by squirting alcohol into his gills and open mouth.  Then Bill curled it up into a large plastic crate/box and covered it with a wetted old cloth.  He wanted to make darn certain that this thing was really dead before handling it.  Barracuda have razor sharp teeth and are strong fighters.  Bill filleted it and tossed the carcass into the sea.  As soon as we had cleaned everything up there was another bite on the line.  It was another barracuda, smaller this time.  We definitely did not want another one of these fish since we didn’t know if we would even like it.  Bill played around with it hanging up in the air by the rod and eventually it dislodged off our lure and swam away. Didn’t want the fish but did want to save our lure.

We arrived at Ahe at slack high tide and had an uneventful entrance through the pass.  BTW, the C-Map electronic charts are not accurate in the Tuamotu.  But we also have some electronic French raster charts and those have been dead-on accurate so far.  It takes about an hour to cross the lagoon from the entrance pass to the anchorage area in front of the village – that is how large these lagoons are.  The lagoon is long and it would take 3 hours to go from one end to the other.  We could tell from the noise when we dropped the anchor that this is another area full of coral.  Darryl anchored near us and then dove on both our anchors and those of the other 3 boats nearby.  Sure enough, this anchorage is exactly like the one at Manihi --  not one anchor was set into the ground; all of the anchors are just lying on top of coral.  Only the weight of our anchor chains is holding our boats in place.  None of us are anchored correctly. 

We invited Darryl for dinner of beer-batted fried barracuda.  It was the first time for all 3 of us to taste this type fish.  Surprisingly it was not bad.  I had always equated barracuda to be the same as gar (boney and bloody), but that is not true at all.  Barracuda is a very firm, meaty type fish; very much like swordfish.  The taste is mild.  It would probably be very good in cioppino.  I seasoned it well with Old Bay Seasoning and then fried it in beer batter and served with a chipolte sauce.  You are not supposed to eat larger barracuda because of the danger of ciguatera.  They feed on smaller fish that feed on reefs.  Anything larger than a meter should not be eaten, and you should not eat the meat that is located near the stomach.  This is not our favorite fish but we would eat it again.

The GPS problem:  it is now solved.  Turned out that the problem with our Furuno GPS was a malfunctioning antenna.  Darryl had a smaller version Furuno GPS for one of his spares and he did not need it.  The antenna on his spare unit works with our unit.  So we bought his spare Furuno GPS so that we can use that antenna with our existing unit.  We still hope to eventually purchase another antenna and that will give us 2 complete Furuno GPS units, as well as our hand-held Garmin and the USB cube.  BTW, Bill did later get the USB cube GPS to work.  We do not know why it would not power on when we needed it during the passage from Marquesas to Manihi.  We think the problem might be related to the SSB radio.  I think the SSB radio grabs the com port used by the USB cube GPS.  I think this prevented it from transmitting data and caused it to appear not to be powered on.  At any rate, we again have a plethora of functioning GPS redundancy.

Bill went ashore to the village twice yesterday; once to try to buy bread and once to bring in a bag of garbage.  The guide books say that you can buy baguettes here but this is not true.  The store does not sell bread. There is no electricity and every building or home has solar panels for power.  Yet every single house has Direct TV and telephone service.  Got their priorities straight, don’t they?  The island is only about 5 blocks wide and maybe a quarter mile long, and there are 2 cars on this island!  Whatever for?  There are obviously no roads and no bridges to the other islands so why in the world does anyone need a car?  There is also a small front-end loader at the concrete wharf.  That makes sense because it would be used to unload the small cargo boats that come from Tahiti.  I have stayed on the boat both in Manihi and in Ahe.  Nothing interested me enough to make me want to explore anywhere.  Planned to snorkel are few places but it has rained each time.  Need bright sun to enjoy snorkeling and see anything.

Late this afternoon (Tuesday, June 17) we will leave for the overnight passage to Rangiroa.  Plan is to go slow and arrive there during slack high tide tomorrow early afternoon.  Winds have been non-existent for the past few days so seas should be quite calm.  Prediction is for winds of less than 15 knots for today and tomorrow so this should be a calm passage.  The guide books say that Rangiroa is the second largest atoll in the world.  I hate it when they say things like that.  Makes me want to know just which atoll is the largest and were it is located.  Here’s hoping the anchor comes up without difficulty this afternoon.  We are again anchored in 50-feet depth and cannot see bottom.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

GPS failed while we were out in the big deep blue enroute to Tuamotus

2008-06-08 to 10  Sunday through Wednesday
Manihi Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
14.27.88S; 146.02.13W      Distance sailed 497 NM

It was a wild ride! 

We left Tahuata in the Marquesas at 0800 Sunday morning and arrived at Manihi Atoll in the Tuamotus at 0800 Wednesday morning.  That means we covered 497 nautical miles in 72 hours and sailed the entire way. Didn’t need the engine until it was time to enter Manihi.  Winds had been 20-25 knots for a full week before we left the Marquesas, so the seas were built pretty high and steep.  Winds were predicted to continue at 20-25 knots for Sunday, 20 knots on Monday and then moderate to 15 knots on Tuesday.  Winds and waves should have been on our port stern quarter so we figured we could handle it from that direction.  Unfortunately, the actuality was somewhat different than the prediction.  Winds stayed 20-35 knots until early Wednesday morning, when it finally gradually moderated down to about 18 knots.  Seas were 3 to 4 meters on 4 to 5 seconds– and those are really big waves when stacked so closely one upon another.   We have an inclinometer mounted at the helm and it indicated that we were heeled over at 45 degrees many times!  We have never heeled 45 degrees before!  Makes one really appreciate that 6500 pounds of cast iron keel bolted on the bottom of the boat so that the boat always turns back upright.  It was impossible to move around on or inside the boat unless we were holding on with both hands.  

The Tuamotus are a large group of atolls and comprise the middle section of French Polynesia.  Let me try to explain what an atoll is.  Imagine a volcano forming a mountainous island.  Then coral reef forms around the edges of the island.  Then the island sinks back into the ocean, leaving the coral reef encircling a large lagoon.  Over eons sand gradually fills some spots in the coral reef circle and forms scattered small islands around the lagoon.  That is an atoll.  Most atolls have a single pass through the reef which allows access in and out of the lagoon.  Current caused by tidal change often reaches up to 9 knots flowing in or out of these passes, so it is critical that one negotiates the pass during slack tide. 

Manihi Atoll has a lagoon that is 15 miles long and 6 miles wide.  There are at least a dozen tiny islands fringing the lagoon.  The lagoon is deep (we passed in areas of 132 feet depth on our way from the entrance/exit pass to the anchorage area), but it is also filled with coral heads.  Water can be 80 feet and then be 2 inches deep.  Luckily the water is clear and that makes it easy to find your way around the coral heads.  Manihi is famous for black pearl farming.  There are black pearl farming stations all over the lagoon and it really looks funny to see these houses built up on sticks (like beach houses in Bolivar but right out in the middle of the water).  There are also small floating balls marking where pearl strings are placed throughout the lagoon. 

As we began our entry through the coral reef encircling Manihi Atoll this morning so that we could reach the pass between 2 of the tiny islands, the wind suddenly jumped to 33 knots --- right on our beam!  This was somewhat nerve wracking to say the least.  We could not see the reef line because it started to rain and the high wind was blowing us toward crashing waves.  Thanks to our 100 hp Yanmar engine I was able to drive through the reef and through the pass without incident.  There is a shallow coral bar that one must pass over just inside the pass.  Our depth gauge indicated only 3.2 feet of water beneath our keel as we entered the lagoon.  Thank goodness we entered at slack high tide.  The depth quickly dropped to 80 feet and we managed to cross the lagoon without taking out any of the black pearl strings or stations or hitting any coral heads.

However, when we attempted to anchor in the 33 knots of wind we ran into problems.  The anchor chain somehow got wrapped around at least 2 coral heads which we could not see in the 60-foot depth where we had to anchor.  It was a challenge getting the anchor back up but we finally did it.  We then moved a short distance away and this time managed to anchor without incident.

On day 2 of our passage our GPS decided to stop working.  It could not get a fix.  Now that is a bad feeling being hundreds of miles out on the ocean and not being able to tell exactly where  you are or where you are going.  We remember how to do the vector triangles that we learned when getting our captains licenses, so it would have been possible to get where we wanted to land.  But not something we wanted to deal with.  Bill pulled out our primary GPS back-up – and the darn thing would not even power on!!!  So he pulled out our second GPS back-up and we were in business.   Reminded us of last fall when we went from 3 computers down to only 1 within one week.  We just went from 3 GPS units down to only 1 within a half hour.

We finished the passage using a Garmin hand held GPS connected to our laptop and it worked just fine with Maxsea.  Good thing we had lots of batteries in stock because the hand held GPS really eats batteries.  Once we were anchored Bill investigated the problem with the primary Furuno GPS.  It appears to be just the GPS antenna is malfunctioning.   Now we need to get someone to find a replacement for us and ship it to Tahiti.  Hope we have enough batteries to keep the Garmin hand held unit operating until we reach Tahiti.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hiva Oa again and back to Tahuata

2008-06-03 to 07  Tuesday through Saturday
Atuona,Hiva Oa and Hanamoenoa, Tahuata in Marquesas

Tuesday we made the 10 mile trip over to Traitors Bay on Hiva Oa – directly into 20 knot wind and large seas and 1.5 knot head current.  Strange thing was that on our return trip the following day, we still experienced the head current going the opposite direction.  Traitors Bay was exceptionally crowded – far more boats than were there last week.  Boats must use both bow and stern anchors in this bay to keep nose into the constant incoming swell and to keep from swinging into one another.  This time the beam of our boat was only about 18 feet from the boats on either side of us.  That is way too close for comfort when anchored in such a crowded and rough bay.

The agent delivered our Duty Free Fuel Permit and she graciously gave us a ride into town so we could visit the ATM and supermarket.  Then the long walk back to the bay.  We tried to hire a taxi at the tourist center but the women working there would not stop yakking to talk to us.  Sometimes French people are the rudest people on the planet.  So we walked and some local driver missed out on making a decent fare.   We arrived back in the bay at noon and found that the Mobile station had already closed for lunch.  They do that here – everything closes for 2 ½ hour lunch.  That meant we were forced to spend the night in the crowded anchorage. 

At 0700 the next morning we were backed up to the rocks behind the Mobile station.  Do not know how boats manage to do this without a bow thruster.  We had to drop the anchor well out in front behind the breakwater and back up close to the large rocks on the steep shore. There was a lot of cross wind and current.  I had to use the bow thruster to keep the boat perpendicular to the diesel pump area while Bill got into the dinghy and brought our stern lines ashore and got them tied off.  Having to climb out of a dinghy and up the steep slimy wet rocks while holding the stern lines and the dinghy painter was not an easy job for him; but he managed to get it done.  He then fed the very long diesel pump line out to me on the boat; then he climbed back aboard and filled our main tank and some jerry jugs while I used binoculars to read the pump so he would know how much was being put where.  The Duty Free Fuel Permit was well worth the permit cost of 5,000 CFP (roughly $67 USD).  We bought 535 liters of diesel.  The regular price was 125 CFP per liter; we paid 88 CFP per liter; so we saved 19,795 CFP or about $264 USD by purchasing this permit.  The permit is only available if you use an agent to handle your clearance.  Otherwise, we could not have purchased duty free fuel until after we clear out of French Polynesia in Bora Bora in a couple of months; and we certainly could not have waited that long to get more diesel.

As soon as our diesel was aboard and paid for we again made the rough trip back to Hanamoenoa Baie on Tahuata.  This is such a nice little anchorage that it would be easy to stay here for weeks.  There are lots of manta rays in this bay but we never did get into the water and swim with them.
Friday was Bill’s birthday.  I baked him an old-fashioned Hershey chocolate cake with the Hershey fudge frosting.  Then we took our dinghy down a couple of miles to Baie Vaitahu to visit a tiny village that rarely get visitors.  Bill and Amy on S/V ESTRELLITA also did this little excursion in their dinghy.  It was a rough dinghy landing on stones being hit with surge and I almost landed in the drink except Amy managed to hang onto my arm and keep me from falling in.  This village was very clean and really nice.  Had a lovely church.  Photos to follow eventually.

Saturday we got into the water and cleaned the scum line off the boat.  The wind was so high and current so strong that it was all we could do to hang onto the lines and not get blown out to sea.  But we did manage to get the water line clean.  Tomorrow we leave for the passage to the Tuamotus.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Baie Hanamoenoa onTahuata (should be called Manta Ray Bay because there are hundreds here)

June 2, 2008 Monday
Baie Hanamoenoa, Tahuata, Marquesas
09.54.50S; 139.06.31W    Distance sailed 47.5 NM

Yesterday we sailed from Fatu Hiva to the island of Tahuata.  Yet again, it was a rough trip.  At least this time the 20-25 knot wind was from behind rather than on our nose.  It rained off and on all day and the seas were fairly large, but it was not uncomfortable sailing since it was a broad reach.  The wind was coming too much from the south and we were unable to hold course to clear the southern tip of the island and had to gybe once.   Then it was straight north up the western side of the island of Tahuata.  Once in the lee of the island there was no wind at all so we turned on the engine and motored to the anchorage.  We trailed one fishing line for most of the day and caught only one thing ----- a red-footed booby!!  Other people catch fish and we catch a darn bird!  Luckily this bird had not bitten the lure, but his wing had the fishing line wrapped around the tip and he could not get free.  Bill reeled it in and managed to get the line unwrapped from the wing without getting pecked or scratched. 

First we stopped at Baie Hanatefau and anchored long enough to eat a late lunch.  This is a very deep anchorage until you are practically on shore, and the bottom is nothing but big rocks so it is impossible to get an anchor to set properly.  Our friends on S/V FREE SPIRIT had arrived in this anchorage an hour earlier.  They decided to leave and go to another bay farther north on Tahuata and we decided to follow them.  None of us would have slept well because we would have worried all night about the anchors.  S/V ESTRELLITA also arrived from Fatu Hiva and also decided to move to the northern anchorage.  So all 3 of us motored to Baie Hanamoenoa, which has a nice sand bottom and is quite calm.  No problem anchoring in this bay.  We arrived just before sunset.

BTW, I know these names are probably difficult for many of you.  Basically, in Polynesia you pronounce every single vowel in a word or name.  An “a” has the soft sound like aahhh.  An “e” has a long “a” sound like in Spanish.  An “i” sounds like a long “e”.  An “o” is usually a long “o”.  Now you can practice Hanamoenoa.  It might be easier to start with Tahuata.

Tomorrow we will return to Hiva Oa to pick up our Duty Free Fuel Permit.  This will allow us to purchase diesel for approximately $5 USD per gallon vs. the normal local price of about $8 USD per gallon.  And you people back in the states think you are paying a lot for gas or diesel! 

Not sure if we will visit any more of the Marquesan islands.  We have learned that the sail loft in Nuku Hiva will not be able to repair the UV panel on our genoa because the sailmaker is in Papeete and not expected to return soon.  So there is no point in us going 150 miles north to Nuku Hiva as there doesn’t appear to be anything there of particular interest to us,  We might head out for the Tuamotus soon after buying more diesel.  That is roughly 600 miles and we are ready to get started soon.  We are now about half-way to New Zealand and would like to get some more miles behind us. 

These logs are being updated to the website by our son Trey.  We send text emails via SSB radio and he updates the website for us.  That is why there are no photos yet.  Also, FWIW, earlier I had said that internet access costs $26 per hour.  That figure came from another cruiser who was here last month.  Well, he was way wrong!  Internet access really costs only $6 USD per hour.  You have to purchase a 10-hour card for roughly $60 USD; scratch off to get a code; and then go into the post office with your laptop to get internet access.  Others tell us that the service is excruciatingly slow.  It is about 2 ½ mile walk to town at Hiva Oa, mostly uphill and I do not want to walk 5 miles through hills just to spend hours on the internet.  Not likely that we will hang around Hiva Oa when we go to buy diesel tomorrow so photos will have to wait until we reach Tahiti. 

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hanavave (Bay of Virgins), Fatu Hiva

Log covers 5/28/2008 to 6/01/2008

Hanavave (Bay of Virgins), Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands
10.27.889S; 138.40.068W    Distance sailed 42.5NM

Early Wednesday morning we departed Hiva Oa for the 42 mile sail down to Fatu Hiva.  Guess we have forgotten the proper way to sail because we forgot to check the GRIB files for weather prediction.  It was a very rough little passage that took the entire day.  We had 20-25 knots wind right on the nose and seas were 6-ft wind waves on top of 8-ft swell.  It was just plain awful with all the pounding.  The other 2 boats making the same passage that day opted to sail way off course and then tack back to destination.  That would have involved an additional 21 miles of sailing so we opted to just motor directly on the rhumb line and arrived there first.  Glad we did because we had an easy time anchoring in the spot of our choice and spent a pleasant night.  The other 2 boats arrived after dark and had to “anchor” in depth of 125 feet at the outside section of the bay and they had to stay awake all night for anchor watch.

The Bay of Virgins at Fatu Hiva is unbelievably gorgeous.  I do not see how any place could top this anchorage for sheer beauty.   In archaic Marquesan, the bay name of Hanavave means “strong surf bay” and it is a most appropriate name.  They have recently constructed a breakwater and it was easy to land our dinghy at the protected concrete wharf.  Supposedly the original name given by early explorers was the Bay des Verges (Bay of Phalli or Bay of Penises).  The later Christian missionaries were appalled by this name and inserted an “i” making it Bay of Vierges which translates to Bay of Virgins.  Erosion has caused rock pillars that are very suggestive of male virility so it is easy to see why this was called the Bay of Penises

We stayed at this anchorage for 4 nights and the winds howled down between the high mountains and through the bay at 30-35 knots every day.  It also rained many times each day.  One day we hiked to the waterfall behind the village.  This was supposed to be an hour hike but it took us about 2 hours.  There were 12 of us for this hike, including one local Marquesan man.  It rained several times and the lichen-covered boulders and stones on the path and climbing up the mountain were very slippery.  This was not an easy hike as it was mostly uphill over mud and slippery rocks.   At the end there was a 200-ft waterfall with very little water falling into the pool beneath it.  All the other hikers went swimming in the pool but both Bill and I opted not to join in.  The area was swarming with mosquitoes and I felt that it would be wiser to stay covered in my long pants and long-sleeved shirt.  There were large fresh-water shrimp in the pool.   One of the other couples had brought freshly baked sourdough bread, smoked bananas and pampelmouse and several people shared a small picnic.  The walk back down to the village was hard on the knees and quads and people slipped and fell several times.  We are glad that we did this hike.  Definitely do not want to attempt any hikes that one bit more difficult than this one.   It was probably our physical limit these days.

Friday evening we joined a pot luck dinner on another sailboat.  It was an enjoyable evening visiting with new people.

Saturday evening we ate dinner at a local house in the village along with another cruising couple – Bill and Amy on S/V ESTRELLITA.  A couple of German men who had arrived from the Galapagos that afternoon also joined in this dinner.  The 2 German men had been learning French during their long passage and it really paid off for them as they were able to communicate with Terez, our hostess.  Terez is Tahitian and is married to a local Marquesan man; so she speaks 3 languages – Tahitian, Marquesan and French.  We don’t speak any of those languages and would not have been able to communicate with her without the assistance of the 2 German men.  Local people volunteer to cook meals for cruisers; the cost was 1100 French Polynesia francs (about $15 USD) each.  Our meal consisted of sliced French baguette, poison cru (raw fish in coconut milk—sort of like ceviche and very good), plain white rice, chicken cooked in coconut milk, baked breadfruit, boiled pink bananas and shredded manioc cooked in a citrus liquid.  This was definitely not the best meal we have ever eaten but we enjoyed the local flavor and appreciated being entertained in the home of a local person.  Best thing served was the raw fish in coconut milk.  Worst was the boiled pink bananas (which I thought when eating them were some kind of weird sausage and later learned were bananas).

On our first day in Fatu Hiva a small boat with 3 native men came out and asked to trade with us.  They wanted beer or rum or gun ammunition or ropes.  We did not have gun ammunition or extra ropes to trade and did not want to part with our few bottles of rum, but Bill did agree to trade a six-pack of beer for 7 enormous pamplemouse and some bananas.  They delivered the pamplemouse and promised to bring bananas the following day.  Of course, we never saw these 3 guys again and never got the bananas.  But at least they never came back to ask for more beer.   Several days later another boat refused to talk beer trade with these guys.  The next morning this cruiser found his dinghy turned upside down in the bay --- with his outboard engine still in place and now ruined by salt water.   Better to part with a six-pack of beer than to chance angering the natives and sustaining some sort of damage to your boat.  BTW, the pamplemouse were delicious.

We very much enjoyed the Bay of Virgins at Fatu Hiva.  Cannot describe how beautiful it is.