Well we are back and finally getting off the dock! Exit Strategy has been tied up for 41 days and she is getting restless (read "we are getting restless").
We've been back in Tahiti for 10 days after a great trip home to visit family and friends. Although hectic we managed a road trip to Alberta, a night of Wednesday night racing at the Yacht Club and more dinners with friends than we can count. Tom was even able to fit in a week of work.
Most of our time since returning has been spent doing a variety of boat projects including adding an extra strut to the hydrovane, getting the engine on the diving compressor running, climbing the mast to investigate the VHF radio antenna (the problem ended up being solved by installing a second antenna on the radar pole), replacing the pump on the forward head and a number of smaller projects. Whew! Time for some R&R!
We took time out to do a bit of sightseeing, and rent a car for a few days to tour the island with our friends on Red (Fran and Richard) and Huck (Heidi, Joe and Richard). We managed to circumnavigate Tahiti in one (long) day. Along the way stopped to see Venus point where both Cpt. Cook and Bligh have landed in the past, and where Cook observed Venus eclipsing the sun. He was attempting (unsuccessfully) to calculate the distance from the earth to the sun. We also hiked up to three waterfalls and stopped at a blow hole to watch the spray fly into the sky. To top off the tour we stopped at a small restaurant and all had streak frites (steak and fries) as that was all they had on the menu!
We've made a number of trips to the city of Papeete both to buy boat parts and supplies as well as to go to the Roulette (a series of food wagons that set up in a downtown parking lot for the evening) The food was excellent and the setting was, shall we say "unique"? We are fortunate to have a large supermarket a short walk away from the marina so food provisioning has not been the challenge it had been for the past few months. The girls spent a day shopping and black pearl hunting in numerous boutiques.
Later today we are going to ease back into cruising gently by picking up a mooring buoy inside the reef, where we'll spend a couple of nights before moving on to Moorea. We really hope to get back into the water tomorrow and say hello to our aquatic friends!
(we've uploaded a few more photos in the gallery)
We left Fakarava North anchorage at 7 am to make it to the north pass at slack tide enroute to Taou. After an uneventful trip through the pass we settled in to a comfortable sail of about 40 miles to Anse Amyot on the Northwest side of Taou. We had pleasant 15-18 knots of wind on our aft quarter and were making about 6-7 knots. The sun was shining. Life was good. By lunch time we were in the middle of a large squall with 25-30 knot winds that had shifted to forward of the beam. This combined with 9-12 foot seas, and a horizontal downpour changed what started out as a perfect day into an "interesting and challenging" day on the water. We spent part of the passage near a large motor yacht named 'Dr. No', who Kim chatted with on the radio. She asked them how the weather was on their boat as we knew they would be inside and much more comfortable than we were! Later that afternoon we tied up to a mooring ball in Anse Amyot. 'Dr. No' had arrived earlier and came over on their launch (the upscale equivalent of our dinghy, but over half the length of our sailboat) to chat. They are a private 'world exploration' vessel with a submarine on board and spend their time observing and filming sea life. Their submersible is very spaceship-like and actually "flies" through the water. (Sadly they didn't offer us a ride).
Anse Amyot is a small bay with two permanent residents and a number of relatives who live there more transiently. Gaston and Valentine maintain about 8 mooring buoys and make dinners 2-3 times/ week for cruisers, usually waiting for a commitment of 8-10 people before committing to cooking a meal. We were treated to a wonderful spread of seafood including parrot fish and lobster. Valentine also baked bread and cake for the occasion.
The next morning I was lucky enough to play 'dodge the bommies' with a true professional!! Gaston asked 3 of the cruisers in the bay to come fishing with him and picked us up in his small runabout with a large outboard motor. He then proceeded across the atoll at high speed dodging coral heads - often by inches. I think local knowledge is a huge advantage in this game!! We ended up at his fish trap and then after he located a school of parrot fish we literally herded them into the trap by slapping the water and shuffling our feet as we slowly moved forward and converged from the two sides into a line. We continued to move forward until the fish were into a wire mesh trap or corral that Gaston quickly closed. I estimated that there were at least 50-60 parrot fish in the trap. There was also one small shark so Gaston climbed over the fence of the trap, picked up the shark and threw him out. (That is why he is the boss!) We then went for another hair raising trip back to the anchorage. The fish will stay in the trap until the supply ship arrives at which point fresh fish will be traded for supplies. (Trading is a common form of commerce in the Tuomotus).
One morning I decided to clean the barnacles off the bottom of our boat, using mask, flippers and a spatula from our galley (Kim doesn't want the spatula back). I noticed that the dropping barnacles attracted a large group of fish who saw them as free food. I also noticed that the group of fish attracted three midsized reef sharks who drifted through the center and then disappeared. When the sharks came I cautiously headed for the surface and waited for them to leave before carrying on with my cleaning. On the third of these episodes one of the sharks decided that this many fish was too good to be true and began feeding (shifting from casual drifting to aggressive pursuit). I watched this from the surface until one of the other sharks decided to head straight for me. He veered of once and then came at me again. That is when I decided that the rest of the barnacles would have to wait!
We spent 4 days in Toau and then headed to Tahiti, a 220 mile sail. We left at dusk, and planned to arrive a day and a half later at dawn. By mid-trip we found that we were actually going too fast, and unless we slowed down we would arrive too early (before sunrise, which is never a good idea). We initially put a third reef in the main and used our staysail. Still too fast so for the last 120 miles, we dropped the main and used only the staysail, still averaging over 5 knots (we had lots of wind!).
We are now tied up at Marina Taina in Papeete across the quay from 3 super yachts. Our neighbour is 'Mazu', who we hadn't seen since Nuku Hiva. We plan to take a one month holiday from our adventure and come home. We leave this evening. Looking forward to seeing a lot of you in the near future!
06/07/2013, Fakarava, North anchorage
We have learned a new game since coming to the Tuamotu. We call it "dodge the bommie". The game can be played by anyone and only requires a boat and a playing field (anchorage). In the big boat version (professional level) we advise a minimum of two players. The dinghy version (apprentice level) can be played with one or more players. There is only one rule in this game and it's very simple: avoid the bommies (coral heads) at all cost while trying to get to your destination. Variables include such things as time of day, water clarity, waves, angle of the sun and number of bommies. With time and practice (and by necessity) you tend to get very good at the game. The goal is to end the game with the fewest deductions and the shortest time. Here's how it works: Your first game is generally a professional one, which makes it really tough to begin with. This is necessitated by the fact that you need to go through the playing field (anchorage) with the big boat before you can gain further practice with the dinghy. Stakes are higher in the professional version compared to the apprentice version, and points accrued have 5 times the value. Working out your game plan ahead of time is recommended. This includes a series of hand signals that indicate direction and varying degrees of urgency, proper placement of the players on the boat and a well defined starting and end point. We generally play with just the two of us. I take the forward position, perched on the bow and Kim mans (or womans?) the helm. We proceed slowly. The whole game is a series of wild gesticulations by me that Kim tries desperately to figure out in time to turn the boat in the appropriate direction to avoid the coral heads. As there are often a large number of these 'bommies' and best time wins, it is also my job to judge the depth of each coral head seen so we can go over the deeper ones and around the shallow ones. Generally, the player at the bow uses the color of the coral heads to judge their depth. Dark is good, light sandy brown is not! This may sound easy but with a 40 foot boat at stake it can be very stressful.. Practicing with the dingy is highly recommended! So far we have a perfect record in terms of deductions for collisions but our time scores have been on the high side!! Our latest and possibly hardest game was played this morning when we left the Southwest anchorage on Fakarava and headed back up to the North end. Tomorrow we head for Toau where we have been told the anchorage is clear.
05/30/2013, Fakarava, South East anchorage
Today feels like the equivalent of a 'snow day' back home in Canada. The blustery winds and rain showers show no sign of retreat so we're taking a day off from snorkeling and exploring the beach. We have oodles of books to read and movies to watch (thanks to our friends back home), and lots of cruising guides to help us plan future passages. Oh yes, and many incredible underwater photos to review from our recent 'drift diving' adventure in the south pass of Fakarava - which is probably the most memorable, fun thing we've done so far!!
We were told that this area has been named a World Heritage Site because of the spectacular living coral and the vast numbers and varieties of sea life they attract. (This is likely why a ship that looks very much like a research vessel is anchored nearby). The strong current that runs in and out of the atoll twice per day supports a very healthy underwater environment and creates a virtual water park for scuba divers and snorkelers. When the tides shift from ebbing out towards the sea to flowing inside the atoll you can drift along below the surface and watch the spectacular scenery in an underwater aquarium that is unparalleled in beauty. With little effort you can literally fly just above the coral, adjusting your arms and legs slightly to change your glide rate and position. Its like an underwater amusement park!!
In the south pass we snorkeled among fish of almost every shape and color and shared the seascape with numerous sharks. Most were 'black tipped' sharks between 3 and 4 feet long who didn't seem to be bothered by us in the least. Friends of ours went scuba diving a bit further out of the entrance of the pass at depths of 60-100 feet and saw literally hundreds of sharks of various types and sizes. An adrenaline pumping thrill for sure, enough for some of them to admit feeling a bit uncomfortable!
Weather predictions call for more of the same wet, blustery weather conditions with big waves to match, so we'll be staying put for a while. If we're lucky the tide schedule will shift enough for us to catch another ebb tide during daylight hours so we can drift dive again before we move on to another atoll further North, enroute to Tahiti. We look forward to posting some of our favorite underwater shots in our photo gallery as soon as we get an internet connection again!
05/28/2013, 16 03.651'S:145 37.193'W
Our 8 hour journey from Kauehi (our new favorite paradise) started out a bit lumpy with a massive looking squall creeping up behind us. Fortunately it slid just behind us, and the remainder of the sail was very pleasant.
By the time we reached the North entrance of Fakarava the sun was shining, the surf had calmed, and the winds were on our aft quarter. We entered the wide channel and headed straight for the Northeast anchorage, situated by the town of Rotoava. Fakarava is 30 miles long and 10 miles wide (HUGE!) and conditions can vary greatly from one end to the other.
Our first evening was perfect - a light breeze and flat calm sea. We learned for ourselves the next morning that this is an anomaly. Once the typical Southeast winds pick up, an uncomfortable swell curls around the North entrance. By the next morning the winds picked up and we understood completely why fellow cruisers stay in the North anchorage only as long as they need to (stocking up on provisions in town, connecting to the internet, and getting their fill of civilization again). Cruisers are eager to head to the southern aspect of the atoll, where the focus shifts back to enjoying some of the best diving and snorkeling in French Polynesia (rated number 10 in the world!).
In the couple of days since we arrived we've taken advantage of everything available in the North anchorage: stocking up on provisions (lucky for us the supply boat had just arrived and so we were able to scoop up some fresh fruit and vegetables which people had been waiting for weeks for!), we've gone out to dinner with fellow cruisers at a small outdoor restaurant (the menu consisted of steak and fries, chow mein, or raw fish with vegetables), taken a tour of a small pearl farm, visited a small farm, made a pit-stop at a cute little seaside hotel to have lunch on the beach , refilled our depleting wallets with Polynesian Francs at the ATM (our wallet seems to have a hole in it...), used up many hours of our prepaid internet service by phoning family and uploading blog photos (internet is slow and intermittent, but its' better than nothing!). We also splurged for a French Polynesian SIM card for our cell phone (a service that the post office provides), and rented bikes from a little Pension so we could do some sightseeing and get a bit of exercise.
We're starting to feel the pressure to keep moving as the rules still limit non-EU citizens to a maximum 90 day stay in French Polynesia - and there is SO MUCH to see! So time's a ticking, and tomorrow we plan to make the 30 mile trek south within the atoll to the Southeast anchorage for some incredible snorkeling and diving before we venture on to another atoll.
If you're interested in catching a glimpse of some of our more recent adventures we have added some photos to the photo gallery to capture the highlights.
We have now been on the atoll of Kauehi for eight days, the longest we've spent in any one place since leaving Mexico. And it feels great. This is what we imagined the South Pacific to be. Long deserted beaches of white coral sand, warm turquoise water, coral heads scattered out from the beach teaming with thousands of tropical fish and no one around. Our closest neighbour is at least a quarter mile away. (In spite of the distance we get together practically every day). The past eight days have flown by. Days are filled with boat projects - and after our less than ideal crossing from the Marquesas there were a few more than usual. Usually one project per days has seemed about right. The rest of the time we have snorkelled (I saw my first sharks two days ago), explored the beach, socialized on each other's boats and relaxed. Yesterday we guided in another boat with our dingy after hearing that they were worried about navigating through the atoll without knowing where all of the coral heads were. Today they rewarded us with coffee and fresh banana bread. An interesting couple of German origin who live in Australia, bought their boat in Spain, have sailed it across the Atlantic, and are now the Pacific having never sailed before buying the boat! We've met a great number of interesting people with a wide variety of backgrounds but with the common interest of sailing and exploring the world. One of the minor problems of being on an isolated atoll is provisioning. Eager to stock up on fresh food, we plan to head for Fakarava tomorrow. Fakarava is about 25 miles long, and it is slightly more populated than Kauehi. There are a couple of stores and restaurants, dive shops, and a pearl farm. If we time it right by getting through the channel at the south end of Kauehi at slack tide in the morning, and reach the north entrance of Fakarava by slack tide in the afternoon, we should have time to do a bit of exploring and perhaps treat ourselves to dinner off the boat. Our buddies on the morning 'Magellan Net' who are already in Fakarava have told us that there is internet coverage in the northern part of the atoll, so we hope to post more photos. We're also looking forward to touring a pearl farm before heading to the southeast anchorage where there is good 'drift diving' with the current in the pass through the reef. It will truly be hard to leave Kauehi and we know we will miss how calm the anchorage is, but its' time to move on!