Kingdom of Tonga
Barefoot is departing Neiafu in the beautiful Vava'u island group; working our way south, ready to set sail for NZ with the right weather window. We expect to reach Marsden Cove, Whangerei, NZ around mid November, or a little later and might even manage a break at Minerva Reef (weather dependent).
We've had a wonderful month in Tonga, starting in the north at Niuatoputapu in the Niau group. The extensive damage done to Niuatoputapu by the tsunami 3 years ago is still very evident, particularly in the village near the anchorage. Huge concrete bollards were washed off the wharf and the coastal homes were largely destroyed. The people saw the first wave coming over the reef and fled up the nearby hills to safety. When they returned, their village and homes were largely destroyed. The World Bank is constructing new villages up the hills, a point of contention with many of the seafaring villagers. The island has 3 villages and a population of around 800. They generally live off the land with little opportunity for earning income. We got the feeling that this rather sad and isolated island had been 'left behind' (especially when someone forgot to send them the national school exam papers! A call went out for any yacht heading that direction to take them!). The people were very friendly and children delightful; hopefully conditions will improve for them.
An overnight sail south took us to the Vava'u Group. This was very different, with a bustling town, bursting with yachties and tourists. The highlight of our visit to the Vava'u group has been swimming with a Humpback whale and her 2 month old calf - amazing experience! Thank you Phil Smith and the 'Whales in the Wild' team.
We enjoyed several beautiful anchorages in the Vava'u Group, but have left many unexplored 'for next time'. And we still have the Haapai Group and Tongatapu to explore too. You could spend a whole season just in the Kingdom of Tonga.
Robert Louis Stevenson
09/27/2012, Apia, Samoa
The highlight of our brief visit to (Western) Samoa was a visit to Robert Louis Stevenson's (author of Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde) beautiful old house, Villa Vailima, which is now a museum and an excellent record of the last years of his life, which he spent there. He was apparently writing a book every 3 months until his death in 1894. He was only 44. We climbed the hill behind his home, to his grave. A steep 45 minute climb through really nice rainforest; to the summit with the wide view 'under the starry sky' that he wanted. It was very moving to read the famous epitaph he wrote before he died, inscribed in bronze on his tomb.
We got drenched in a tropical downpour on the top, and again near the bottom, but it cooled us down (the weather was like Darwin in the build-up). We returned on a longer, easier path; the one they made to carry his coffin up - an effort that required many big Samoans!
"Home is the sailor home from the sea
And the hunter home from the hill"
09/13/2012, Northern Cook Islands
"Pukapuka - where's that?" The usual response whenever this island is mentioned. It was also my response when we were selecting Barefoot's library in Seattle. Along with Captain Cook's Journal, the HMS Bounty trilogy, Charles Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, David insisted on adding 'The Book of Puka-Puka', (1929), by Robert Dean Frisbie. "After reading this book, I've always wanted to visit Pukapuka" David replied. So the book came along, and as Pukapuka drew closer, I read it too. The book was very funny, rather like 'Alice in Wonderland' on a remote South Sea island. That did it! Onto our Passage Plan from French Polynesia to Samoa, went the remote little island of Pukapuka, in the Northern Cook Islands. Several kindly fellow cruisers pointed out that it was also called 'Danger Island', with due cause, and that there didn't appear to be any anchorage. Such talk has never stopped Captain Dave when he sets his mind on a remote island!
Our approach in the early morning light was along the 'love fest beach' described by Frisbie, then rounding the reef to the western side, revealed a really beautiful, 3-pronged atoll, completely ringed by coral reef, with 4 islands densely covered with coconuts. It was true - no anchorage or mooring buoy. The shallowest water we found was 300ft and the narrow, winding boat pass through the reef into the lagoon looked tricky, even for a dinghy. Further down the reef we could make out 2 small boats; locals out fishing. We were amused to find the first fisherman too shy to even look at us as we came alongside his 12ft tinnie; it felt like Barefoot was invisible. Eventually David asked him if this was Pukapuka; he glanced up briefly with a 'yes', continuing to focus hard on his fishing line. The second fisherman was a little more talkative and told us the only place to anchor was at the mouth of the small boat pass; hanging off. Unfortunately this would only work in the usual SE trades, and we had a NE breeze, so too risky. The 'officials' on the island eventually realized there was a yacht on their doorstep, and came out to check us in. David decided the Immigration Officer had the best job. Only about 4 yachts per year come by, and they couldn't remember the last time they had a plane land on their airstrip!
I was excited to find out that there were still many Frisbies living around the atoll, including Charlie, Robert's eldest son. The Pukapukan officials took me back to the island while David, unfortunately had to remain aboard, standing off the reef. I was not disappointed as the Pukapuka of the book, unfolded in front of me. After a ride through the village on the back of the Immigration Officer's motorbike, I was shaking hands with Charlie Frisbie. The island air is obviously healthy; although now 82 years old, Charlie could have passed for 60 (photo in the gallery). We had a great chat over 'afternoon tea' of fresh coconut milk, cookies and banana, while he told me more funny stories, and signed my copy of 'The Book of Puka-Puka'.
Later, as I was wandering around the island, I was surprised and delighted to find the strange cemetery, looking exactly as Frisbie had described it in his last chapter. In the book, he had sat in the cemetery one night with old 'William the Heathen', sharing a bottle of rum, while William described the occupants, mysteriously 'reading' the coral stones surrounding a grave. There was no inscribed headstone, but different arrays of stones, which told the story. I couldn't help laughing to myself as I looked across this strange cemetery (photo in the gallery), just as Frisbie had described it; each grave marked quite differently with black coral stones.
I hope the photos in the gallery will give you an idea of this special little island on a remote atoll in the Northern Cooks, which we both felt was well worth the visit.
(Robert Dean Frisbie was one of, and friends with a group of well-known South Seas writers in the 1920's to 40's, including Nordhorf and Hall (Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy) and James A. Mitchener.)
The Good, the Bad, and the BANG
09/12/2012, 107 miles ESE of Puka Puka
Ocean passages in a small sailboat are mostly Good, i.e., more comfortable moments than uncomfortable moments, but even that can be a close call. Occasionally events occur such as inadvertently pumping all the fresh water overboard, wrapping the fishing line around the propeller, or ripping the leech of the mainsail from head to foot that merit the term Bad. Bads usually ruin the entire day resulting in the expression-"We had a bad day". A BANG is not a Bad-it is much worse and seldom occurs. A BANG is always accompanied by a startlingly loud noise (sounding like a gunshot or a resounding thunk), a vibration throughout the boat, and instant "dry- mouth" (the Russian army has marched across your tongue in stocking feet). A BANG has two possible sources: (1) a wire, toggle, chain plate, turnbuckle, gooseneck, or block has failed and the mast is about to fall down or the boom drop off; or (2), the boat has collided with a hard object and seawater may be entering the boat.
Last night we had a BANG of the second variety when at a moonless midnight while sailing wung out at 7 knots we collided with a hard, unseen object. The extremely loud thunk and boat shudder frightened me. (Our only prior BANG was the loss of the backstay in a gale one night and my memory is still fresh). Ros and I quickly checked the mast rigging and then started lifting cabin sole expecting to see water flowing in. We found none, but the loud thunk must have left evidence somewhere. I checked the rudder function, our course, and that the boat speed had recovered. Flashlight in hand I walked the deck and leaned over to view the topsides (hull)-nothing appeared amiss. However, in the morning light we saw on our aluminum hull the consequences of a collision. On the starboard bow at the waterline, about 2 feet aft of the stem there is a deep 12 to 18 inch scrape and a 12 inch diameter dent 1/8" to 1/4" deep streaked with what appears to be black paint. Fortunately, the hit was at a frame and a stringer, a strong point on the hull.
I told Ros that the chances of such a collision occurring are miniscule given the size of the ocean and smallness of Barefoot's footprint. Moreover, because it has already happened once, the odds of it occurring again are even less. She completely disagrees with the latter and insists the odds, while small, have not changed. We are speculating about the former ownership of the black paint streak on our hull. Most likely it was a buoy of some sort, but given the damage resulting from a mere glancing impact the buoy would have to have had substantial mass. Ros suspects a submarine and is on the look out for one sporting chipped paint on its conning tower
09/12/2012, A wave between Bora Bora and Puka Puka
Standing in the cockpit just after sunset a disturbance in the first wave behind the boat, about 40 feet off to starboard, drew my eye. Two long shapes were surfing 2 or 3 feet beneath the surface of the wave. The 10 to 12 foot waves were long and regular. The stern of the boat rose smoothly to permit the waves to slide under and the whole parade-waves, boat and whales-were whooshing along at 7 knots. At first glimpse I thought it was a pilot whale. I had been watched before, in Chile, by a bulky headed pilot whale that moved in unnecessarily close to give me the eye. He submerged, checked my fin and rudder, and surfaced again, still too close I thought.
This time my audience suddenly vanished from the wave. I called for Ros to come and join the show and we waited hoping they'd return for another look. Yes they did; a whales' curiosity is a mysterious thing. In our best stage whisper we determined they're not pilot whales. They're about 30 feet long, some brownish whitish coloring on the back, a brownish, falcate (hooked like a quarter moon) dorsal fin (way back), a blow like a dispersed puff rather than a spout, and a purposeful visit to watch us not a random crossing of paths. But they're impatient observers and having satisfied their curiosity again they vanished and now it was night.
We've been watched by the Minkes announced Ros. I don't know much about whales but with two whale books and one plastic identification card and using location, size, color, fin type, blow characteristic, and behavior in a process of elimination we settled on a Minke whale. What fun; we'll hang out in the cockpit again at sunset in case more whales come to watch us
Departing Bora Bora
09/04/2012, Bora Bora, Society Islands, French Polynesia
Too much fun and frivolity here - time for some sea-time recovery. We're about to set sail again, WNW to American Samoa (approx 1,150 Nm), hopefully via Puka Puka in the Northern Cook Islands - weather permitting.
We've stayed in Bora Bora a little longer than anticipated, waiting for a low pressure system to pass. A bonus of waiting was the opportunity I had to snorkel with the manta rays. They inhabit a particular trench inside the lagoon where they have a 'cleaning station' - some of them were wearing a 'cleaning wrasse' as they glided by. It was incredible to swim around with up to 4 mantas at one time. Bora Bora has been a great stop.
We will try to put brief updates on this blog while at sea, but not sure how it will go. We should be in American Samoa in a couple of weeks where we'll be able to go on line again.
Angelfish are Dunkers
09/04/2012, French Polynesia
I love baguettes and have the waistline to prove it. Baguettes are French--the long, skinny, airy loaf that, during its first 4 hours of life offers an aroma and taste as desirable as Mommy's breast. But, like everything intensely satisfying, it doesn't last. The baguette life cycle is undeniable: fresh baked and delicious in the morning; for lunch--soft and spongy but still flavorful; late afternoon snack--tough and chewy; dinner--slightly stiffer and crumbly when sliced, midnight browsing--firm enough to be a weapon, and finally, the next day--excellent fish food for snorkeling (angelfish are dunkers).
To defeat the cycle, I buy a loaf in the morning and late in the afternoon return to the store for the PM-baked loaf. (Not all stores offer a PM-loaf). Moving the boat to a different island, or even to a new anchorage, often delays finding a store selling baguettes; and even if found, one must arrive at the store before the baguettes are sold out (empty bread baskets are common). To cope with the uncertainty of obtaining a baguette for the next morning, we buy two baguettes (cost 53 cents each). We start eating one when we arrive back at the boat. The tactic for the second loaf depends in part on our ability to focus (which is diminishing as we get older). On good days we cut the second loaf into thirds, stuff it into a ziploc and into the freezer. (the full loaf would need to be folded for the freezer). Once or twice we've remembered to date the bag to distinguish it from the two or three other "second loafs" already in the freezer. When the freezer is full or we forget to freeze the second loaf (more common) it simply resides on the galley counter beside the prior days' second loaf that we forgot to freeze. We always eat the loaf fresh from the store first--perhaps this is why we have many second loaves on the counter.
When no fresh loaf is available, we eat yesterday's second loaf if we can find it; we try to line them chronologically on the counter. (The frozen second loaves from earlier days are better, but unfortunately are frozen). Yesterday's second loaf is toast. If another day passes with no fresh loaf we either toast the day before yesterday's second loaf or failing to determine which loaf is which, the softest of them all--an event that causes us prepare for the next day by defrosting the second loaf from four or more days previous.
We are now prepared to weigh anchor bound for Puka Puka, an island not part of French Polynesia and not offering a chance in hell that baguettes will be available. I knew my baguette fantasy wouldn't last forever, but at least I know that tomorrow we'll have yesterday's second loaf. The day after tomorrow we can enjoy the second loaf from the day before yesterday. The day after that we'll either have the frozen second loaf from three days before we departed or we'll chuck the whole lot overboard and bake fresh bread ourselves.
Coco has a worried look
09/03/2012, French Polynesia
A charming part of French Polynesia is the coconut culture. I know only the basic things about coconuts. The meat tastes good, especially when shredded on a frosted cupcake, one can drink the refreshing juice from the nut, it is called "copra" when harvested, dried and sold to industry for soap and beauty products, and removing the husk from the nut requires experience and should not be tried at home.
Normally one finds 'Coco' hidden inside the husk that has fallen (or been knocked) from the palm. We found it inside the store. Roslyn was certain she could poke a screwdriver through one of Coco's eyes, insert a straw and drink the refreshing juice. Unsure which eye, she blinded it in both eyes and then successfully stabbed it in the mouth to access the juice. No wonder Coco looked worried. The next step to obtaining the cupcake frosting (in our case), or the soap and beauty products (for industry) is to remove a thin brown shell surrounding the nut. Skilled machete swingers do this rapidly nicking the shell with a rotating motion. The shell drops off. We have two machetes on board but I reserve them for hacking kelp from the anchor and chain (in high latitudes). I worry that my blood would stain the machete if I tried to use it as tool.
Another way to remove the thin brown shell is to detect the three seams around the nut and lower one of the nut's seams decisively onto a hard, angled edge. This fractures the nut at its weak seam. Twice more, once on each seam and the shell will fall away, and the nut will open exposing the tasty white, ¾" thick coconut meat. We used this 'whacking method', employing the edge of the transom of our aluminum boat as the angled edge. It was a perfect solution except that with the vigorous final fracture one third of the nut jumped over board (Coco's revenge). We all know coconuts were disseminated in the tropics by dropping off palms and floating around the Pacific Ocean. We were surprised to have to add to our lessons of the day that fractured nuts don't float.
(also see Coco's Album in the Gallery)
Fruit Flies to Rapa
09/03/2012, En route to Rapa, Austral Islands
Occasionally this blog offers information about gear that Barefoot has found useful while cruising. After departing the Galapagos Islands bound for Rapa Island (one of the Austral Islands of French Polynesia) we noticed our fruit basket of bananas and passion fruit besieged by fruit flies. I know nothing about fruit flies except they're small, fecund and artful dodgers of human hands.
Move the fruit and keep it covered was our first response. We assumed the present generation of fliers came with the fruit and if deprived of it would expire. Instead, many took up residence in the tiny garbage bin at the galley sink and around the drain. "What are we going to do?" asked Roslyn. "We can't take fruit flies to Rapa". I was more bothered by two larger flies of the house variety that had absentmindedly stayed aboard while we motored out from the Galapagos Islands. They were now unhappily at sea and one of them, Buzzer, would not leave me alone. This is where the "tech talk" comes in. On a prior cruise I visited the "land of the flies" and was instructed on the purchase and operation of the ubiquitous (in the land of flies) spring-loaded fly gun. The photo shows it all. If the fly is within the length of the string, pull the trigger and chuckle as the fly vanishes. The corpse usually surfaces at the next cabin sole cleaning. The rolling and pitching boat, the breeze from the cockpit, and the antics of a fly on the wing add to the arcade-like charm of the chase. I retrieved our fly gun from a locker, renewed the worn string, and five minutes later Buzzer was on the "no-fly" list and his mate had vanished.
"Shoot the fruit flies" suggested Roslyn. Nice thought, but the breeze from the on-coming fly slapper seems to push the tiny, light fruit fly out of the way of danger. Our final solution for the fruit flies was to alter course slightly and visit Mururoa Atoll (in the Tuamotu Islands of French Polynesia) where the French government, while conducting both atmospheric and underground nuclear testing detonated more than 175 nuclear bombs. Although seldom discussed these days, the atoll is understood to be highly radioactive. Curiosity motivated us to want to see the island in any event and this offered the opportunity to turn the fruit flies into fire flies. We sailed onward to Rapa with only captain and crew aboard.
Ile Bora Bora
08/31/2012, French Polynesia
Bora Bora is undoubtedly spectacular - so many hoteliers can't be wrong! One wonders at the occupancy rate of over-the-water thatched bungalows? And the wake of the Hilton's airport water taxi puts any freighter to shame!
We've enjoyed beautiful anchorages in clear shallow water over sandy bottom (dodging bommies of course); nice snorkelling, tame fish eating from your hand, a great place for our overdue 'vacation'; and more time with my ship-mate Gunilla, before we set sail on different routes again.
The local Yacht Clubs have been a good place to catch up with cruisers we haven't seen in ages, those we have only 'met' on the radio and new folks. A highlight for me was meeting the crew of the Aussie yacht, 'Clementine' and discovering our shared history from the remote mining port of Dampier in the NW of Western Australia. What a small world we roam.
Getting ready now to set sail for American Samoa, hopefully via the remote northern Cook island of Puka Puka - we'll see how the wind blows.