09/07/2013, Cook Islands
We are in Suwarrow in the Cook Islands and Zack is turning 8!! Time for a party! He woke up at 5:30am very excited with a pile of presents on the table. A new shovel, hoe, a nerf type gun he had liked in Tahiti, some chocolate bars, markers and a new Android tablet. A nice haul, and he was very happy. David (Sueno) and Will had gone fishing with one of the rangers early in the morning so Nathalie called to see if we would like to come in and watch the fish cleaning. The smaller scraps are thrown to the sharks and it is interesting to watch. We hurriedly finished up the birthday breakfast of crepes and she picked us up. They had caught 9 BIG fish, Wahoo and Barracudas and the sharks were swarming for scraps. There were mostly blacktips about 2 to 3 1/2 feet in length. The kids were standing on a rock ledge at the edge of the water and the sharks were coming within 2 feet of shore, there were at least a dozen sharks. The show went on for about an hour with the kids running back and forth jockeying for the best position to watch the sharks. Zack's birthday was off to a good start.
The day before Nathalie had come over and we made a pinata for the party, fortunately I had a large bag of candy that I had purchased in Panama for just this occasion. We didn't have a lot of supplies because we don't keep cardboard on the boat. Nathalie had 3 juice cartons and we put them together to make a sort of helicopter, you need to use some imagination here. We paper maiched it and it came out pretty good. So we sent the kids on their way to play on the swing and we started planning a treasure hunt. We made a map and cut it into 6 pieces each with a clue that led to the next piece. When you found all the pieces you put the map together and this should lead you to the treasure. Nathalie then went to her boat and thankfully finished up the map. I went to our boat and got to work on the cake. Zack has some pretty high expectations in the cake department so no pressure but I needed to do something special. He wanted both chocolate and yellow cakes (so he could claim 2 pieces.) I made a chocolate cherry caramel and a vanilla caramel cake, put them together and frosted the whole thing in chocolate. Drew a sailboat on it and a few sprinkles and Voila! Maybe not his fanciest cake ever but definitely acceptable.
The Suwarrow Rangers host a pot luck every Friday night for the cruisers and so we joined Zack's party onto this because he wanted everyone to come in for his birthday. One of the rangers, Charlie, took some time to teach the kids how to climb a coconut tree, and Zack was able to get up a small tree. Charlie wove together some palm fronds to make a ring that you put around your feet and use to grip the trunk. It was good fun and all the kids were able to climb the tree. Next was the treasure hunt, which proved to be a fair challenge. The kids kept at it and came back in less than an hour toting the pinata. David tied it up to a tree and the kids took turns whacking it. We had done a pretty good job of it and all the kids got 3 turns before it came apart. So that was a success.
Charlie announced that it was time to feed the sharks so we all went to the other side of the island. He had the buckets of scraps from the morning fishing trip. He feeds the sharks most days so they are trained to come. There were at least a couple dozen sharks there. Black tip, White tip, and Grey sharks, ranging in size from 2 foot to 7 foot. Charlie gave a yell and then took a 5 gallon bucket of scraps and tried to throw it out to the sharks, unfortunately he missed and the contents of the bucket landed on top of his feet. He very quickly picked up the fish carcasses and tossed them further out. It was pandemonium! The sharks went crazy fighting over the food. Charlie was picking them up by their tails and at one point he threw one back towards us, right at Zack. Zack tried to pat the thing but the shark was quick to get back into the fray for fish scraps. The shark feeding was really cool and David got some great video footage which we will post the next time we have internet, which may be a few weeks from now when we reach Tonga. Don't miss this video, it's great!!
We had a really delicious pot luck dinner. Unfortunately 2 days previous Zack had been hit in the face by the swing and had a decent gash on his lip, about 15 minutes before we were going to cut the cake he was on the swing and got hit in the face with a flying football. He was knocked off the swing and now had a few more bloody cuts on his face. Nothing huge but he was pretty wiped out by now and didn't even want cake. We all sang Happy Birthday and decided that he should open his presents first. He got some nice gifts with the highlights being some fishing lures and the true highlight was a quiver for his bow and arrows. His friend Guillaume had found a piece of bamboo on Moorea and has been working on carving it for Zack. He did and amazing job and it is very artistic. It has Zack carved down it with leaf pattern and Flour Girl written on it, It is a work of art that I am sure Zack will treasure for years to come. We cut the cake, Zack had a small piece but we saved him a big piece for the next day.
09/03/2013, Societies, French Polynesia
If you recall from a previous blog we did a fairly difficult hike in Bora-Bora. Well, here we are in Maupiti many days past the sore muscle agony of Mount Otemaun. Our "friend" Gavin from Pacific Flyer has told us that this hike is no where near as strenuous as the mountain on Bora-Bora. Great, we love a good hike but are maybe not up for another straight uphill scramble. Voyageur decided to do the hike a day earlier than us, Nikolai came by to report that although it was about half as long as the infamous Bora-Bora hike it may well be a little more difficult. Oh boy! We are committed at this point and so the next morning we get up and dutifully prepare for the hike. We are going with Full Monty and Sueno. The hike starts out with a steep climb up about 50 concrete stairs. These actually lead to a house that looks like it may have been destroyed in the last cyclone. I cannot imagine doing these stairs daily, never mind with groceries. (But think of the chiseled legs you would have) We continue straight uphill, just as steep as our last hike and more in the hot sun, but no crying for these seasoned hikers. The male children (Zack, Guillaume, Max and Colin) have raced ahead and meet us occasionally only to tell us how long they have been waiting for us slow pokes before they race off again. They don't even look tired and they are definitely not sweating, unlike us who are panting like dogs. The first rope climb is simple, the second a little longer and more challenging. We are nearing the top and there is a rock cliff about 100 feet tall and I cannot imagine we are going to climb this even with a rope. We get to the base and the trail does continue upwards, except as steep as this is there is no rope to help you up. I would have turned around at this point except that my son is already at the top and is throwing down taunts. He has scaled this cliff, in crocs, like it was absolutely nothing. OK, here we go. Up was actually not all that bad, a few tough spots but definitely doable. The view from the top is amazing, absolutely worth the hike, we can see the whole island and the fringing reef and Motus. (small outer islands) The only issue is Zack walking around like he is in a field somewhere safe and not on the top of a sheer cliff. I do my best not to lecture and over mother because he is 7 and his buddies and 11 and 13, so if I baby him I get a big lecture myself when we get home. Fortunately he does not fall and we all have some lunch and get ready to go back down. I am very nervous about the descent, it is always more difficult going down. Zack races ahead and is down the cliff face before I can get to him and make him go down with David behind him. He is very good at getting away from me if he thinks I will baby him in front of his buddies. As it was David had to help me down the cliff. We hustled on to catch up with the group and met them at the rope climb. Only one person can go down at a time so we caught up with Zack. I told him to go down with David and if looks could kill I would not be writing this blog now. He went down by himself! The rest of the hike down was easy and the kids met us at the bottom. I had nightmares that night and vowed to never hike anything that steep again, because what kind of mother would let her 7 year old do that. David laughed at me the next morning when I told him and Zack said the hike was easy. So I guess I am just over protective and anyway I was out voted I guess we will be doing all hikes in the future. We spent the next day provisioning for our passage to Suwarrow in the Cook Islands. We found a nice little bakery with baguette and pastries. I got an eclair, a Paris Breast and a huge cream puff to surprise Zack, which we ate in one sitting as soon as I got home, right before lunch. You only live once. We also found a good vegetable stand and were able to get very fresh lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and cucumbers.
We headed out of Maupiti with very light winds that were predicted to increase moderately during our passage. Perfect. As we came out of the pass the winds were almost non-existent and "increase" was a bit of an overstatement. We poled the jib out and put the staysail on the opposite side, wing on wing and we were off, at about 2 knots for a 700 mile passage. The winds remained light but did increase a bit. We were making OK time and the sail was very pleasant with calm seas. That and we were dusting Full Monty and Sueno!! We check in on twice-daily SSB nets and we were 60 to 70 miles ahead of them for most of the trip. This was great and all until the end of the trip when we realized we would not be able to make Suwarrow in the daylight and would be there between 7 and 9 PM. We had to slow down and hold off all night. The winds were very light but as soon as we pulled in most of our sail the winds and seas picked up. We bounced around like a cork for the entire night. It was miserable and we got no sleep at all. Teach us to gloat about being fast!
Suwarrow is a nature preserve in the Cook Islands, which belong to New Zealand, We are back into English speaking countries which is easier but less exotic. Zack was working hard on learning French so hopefully we can keep going with that. As we pulled in and were looking for a spot to drop our anchor David spotted a guy in a dinghy motioning for us to come to him. We guessed it must be one of the rangers and headed over. He was waving for us to put the boat a lot closer to shore that we were comfortable with and right on top of a bunch of coral. We dropped the hook and he left to "help" another boat anchor. He came back and got on board and proceeded to tell us how this is his job and people don't want to listen to him and if they don't he pulls up their anchor and tells them to leave. We just placated him, but I really wanted to tell him he would have a better response if he used actual words when dealing with the cruisers instead of just hand motions, but that sort of thing never goes over that well so we just stood there nodding our heads and agreeing. We have since watched him parking other boats and one can only wonder why he does not see the need to change his approach.
As soon as he left Zack was ready to go for a snorkel. The issue was that there were numerous sharks swimming around our boat. Mostly black tips and reef sharks. Zack said "they are more afraid of you than you are of them" so we jumped in and snorkeled over to say hi to Waka Irie and Voyageur and than into the beach for a bit. After that it was nap time!!
08/26/2013, Societies, French Polynesia
The whale watching as we came into Maupiti was so much fun we decided to take the dinghies out to see if we could see more whales and perhaps get even closer to be able to swim with these amazing giants. The wind had picked up a little and when we got to the pass it was a bit rougher than we had expected it to be. No biggie, and on we went, with Micheal and Nikolai from Voyager in the lead, Flourgirl next followed by Will, Jenn, Colin and Justine from Full Monty, Sueno opted out of this one. The waves were pretty steep and when Voyager turned around we followed suit, Full Monty decided to keep going. We were not about to be outdone so we turned around and kept going out the pass, Voyager followed. As we came out of the pass the waves did calm down and all was fine, the sea was a bit rough but not uncomfortable. The view from the dinghy was not a good as from the big boat, and we did not have a long range view. We did manage to see a few whales but mostly far off. The highlight was two tails at about 200 yards. We were zooming around having a great time when we saw Pacific Flyer coming out of the pass on their way to the next island. They came straight to us and warned us that the pass was getting very rough and that we should head back in immediately. We spent another 10 minutes hoping for one last whale encounter and headed for the pass. Zack was a bit nervous and sat in the bottom of the dinghy, but no real need, the pass was rough but not an issue, we didn't even get wet.
We headed next to the Manta Ray cleaning station. The rays come in to a certain coral head and the small fish clean the parasites off of them. We tied to the mooring ball and jumped in. We were rewarded with three large mantas. One was the biggest we have seen yet with a wingspan of about 8 feet. We were able to dive within a few feet of it. The mantas seem to have no fear of humans and do not leave when you get close, they do not allow you to touch them but only swim slowly away. We were in the water for about half an hour and as always it was a treat to swim with the mantas.
Zack and his friends have been having a great time playing on the beach here. The beach makes a sort of river into the island and they have been using nets and buckets to catch the small bait fish. When they fill the bucket they then "save" the fish by putting them back into the bay. At low tide the access to the bay is cut off by the receding water and the kids fear the fish are stuck and might die. Poor fish are most likely eaten the minute they are put into the bay, but what can you do. The kids are having a great time.
The whale video is now on the blog, over to the right side under "Links" - but here is the address in case you missed it:
08/23/2013, Societies, French Polynesia
We left Bora-Bora at about 4:30am bound for Maupiti. Bora-Bora was nice but as is the case with the more famous islands, there is no real magic going on there. We tried to sail but the wind was almost non-existent and after a couple of hours, and all of Full Monty and Voyageur passing us, and poking fun at us, we gave it up and pulled the sails in and fired up the iron geniker. We had heard there were whales by the pass into Maupiti. We could hear Full Monty and Sueno (who had left at 2 am) talking about their whale sightings and could not wait to get there. When we did arrive both Sueno and Full Monty were still out whale watching. It was amazing! There were whales everywhere, breaching, blowing water in the air, slapping their tails. We must have seen twenty whales, different groups surfacing all around us. We spent hours circling around and yelling to each other as whales would surface by each others boats. At one point we had three whales within 3 meters of our boat, we could have jumped in and landed on them, one swam right under our boat. When some came close to us I jumped in with my mask and fins on and was able to sort of swim with 2 whales, I got close enough to be able to see them beneath me but not close enough to touch, I also saw three dolphins swim under me. There were pods of dolphins swimming around the boat as well, but they were overshadowed by the whale. How spoiled we are! Zack and David wanted to swim with the whales as well but unfortunately none came close enough again. We did see some great breaches and tail slaps though. We hope the seas will be calm enough to go out in the dinghy tomorrow.
The pass into Maupiti is rather narrow and although we have heard it is straight forward and well marked we need to make it in with good light so we left the whales to follow Full Monty and Sueno into the pass. This is one of the narrowest and longest passes in French Polynesia. The waves are crashing on either side and it is difficult to see the pass until you are basically into it and at a point of no return. No problem, we came through just fine.
A few of Zack's buddies have been coming into anchorages standing on the first spreader up the mast. The thing is that they are eleven and Zack is seven (almost 8). He really wanted to go, so we put him in a harness and David started to crank him up. He got a little scared about half way up and decided to stay there. Two minutes later he wanted to go a little higher. Two minutes after that he was ready and I cranked him up to the spreaders. He was hanging out there having a great time and as he gained confidence he started swinging around from one side of the mast to the other. I wish he had a little bigger fear factor sometimes. We anchored the boat and he would not come down. Eventually he got hungry and we were able to get him down. I think we have created a monster. We have videos but I don't think we will have internet to post them for another month. We had a little pot luck on the beach and called it a day.
On another note, Zack has learned to start the dinghy. We had told him he could only drive the dinghy by himself if he could start it. Who knew this day would come. This is the equivalent of a seven year old with the keys to the family car. YIKES! It is cute to watch him drive around and pick up his friends, and useful when we need to send things between boats. Our little man is growing up.
08/16/2013, Societies, French Polynesia
We had a great, fast sail from Tahaa to Bora-Bora with Full Monty. We met up with MacPelican, after saying good-bye in Huahine, so that was nice and Yindi Plus was also in the anchorage. The wind was howling, which in my opinion made it too cold to snorkel. We had a couple of nice days on the beach and David went for a short snorkel with Paul which they both regretted.
Full Monty hosted a cocktail party on their boat and invited about half the anchorage. We met a few new boats from Australia and New Zealand and were able to gather some good info about both countries. We are really excited to get to New Zealand and spend some time exploring that country. We will be there for about 5 months so if anyone would like to visit you are all welcome to come.
We have moved to the anchorage in front of the main town of Bora-Bora. As with most of these islands the anchorage is very deep, we are in 82 feet of water. We were a bit anxious about this at first, because the wind is still quite strong. The wind is supposed to settle down this afternoon and the holding is said to be good. so we will most likely be fine. David decided to stay on the boat and the woman went ashore to shop. Bernadette had found a woman with a road side stand that had good prices on trinkets, unfortunately Diane was not working her stall today. We went to the handicraft co-op building which houses many artisans, most selling similar tourist trinkets, nothing very exciting although the carved pearls were pretty cool. There are pearl stores lined up here side by side, pearls seem to be the big business and they are not cheap. While we were there Zack and some of his friends planned their own business going boat to boat selling necklaces and cookies, I will post updates of the success if this venture gets off the ground!
Bora-Bora is a beautiful island with a huge center mountain/cliff. We decided to hike to the top with Full Monty. Even from the boat it looks very steep but we are not scared, Mount Pahia is only 2,159 feet, piece of cake! This was the steepest hike we have ever done, it started out steep and just kept getting steeper. We had heard there were some places that were so steep you had to climb up ropes. We figured we would turn around at the first rope, Yeah right, Zack and Colin were all about climbing the ropes and did the first one a couple of times, up and down. So forward we go. Up, up ,up. More climbing lines, some pretty steep and long, Zack is so into climbing these ropes we cannot turn back. At some points we stop and take in the view, it is stunning but if you look straight down it is almost terrifying. If you fell it is a long way down with little to block your fall. Zack is not in the least bit afraid, oh the joy of being 7. We meet some friends of ours coming down the mountain, as we are pulling ourselves up yet another steep line. I am lagging behind and they are giving me some grief. Gavin tells me there is chocolate at the top and this gets me up the line pretty quick. He lied, there was no chocolate. He said it was at the top of the mountain and that there was also ice cold beer up there, and only 100 meters to go! Paul on Monkey Fist converted that into feet for me, gee thanks. (I think his comment came from the party on Full Monty where I had said that the metric system needed something between a centimeter and a meter, nobody can understand why America refuses to convert to metric and that was my defense) The last climbing rope was straight up a cliff that was over 50 feet high. When I got there David and Zack were about half way up the line. I told David I didn't think it was such a great idea and he said if I was afraid that I should wait for them at the bottom. I was thinking more about my 7 year old son up this line with the only way down a fraying line. Not to worry, Zack was up and down the rope like a monkey. The hike up was challenging, but going down this mountain was almost worst. It was so steep that we spent most of our time on our butts hanging on to grass and branches sliding down the hill. Repelling down the ropes was more fun than going up and by the time we got back to the base of the mountain, 7 hours later were exhausted,sore and hungry. We went straight to the grocery store for some sugar. On our way back to the boat we saw Gavin and Paul and told them they were liars! No chocolate, No beer.
We have been separated from Sueno for over a week, but they have arrived today. They came straight from Moorea to Bora-Bora to catch up with the group. They stayed in Moorea because Nathalie's brother and family were visiting. We sent Zack over with a baguette and they sent him back with our new computer, and a can of maple syrup!!!! and a Quebec flag. Thank you Matthew!!! The flag was perfect when we woke up the next morning to find a boat anchored very close to us, too close. They were flying a Canadian flag, so I told David to run up the Quebec flag. It was funny, but when the people on the Canadian boat woke up and realized they were so close they were really nice and we felt bad. We got our due when about a half an hour later the wind picked up and the wind generator ripped our new flag to shreds.
More pictures have been added to the Photo Gallery and a new video is on the blog.
08/10/2013, Societies, French Polynesia
We left the southern bay of Huahine and were on our way to Fare, the main town. We were having a beautiful sail inside of the reef with nice winds when we saw a boat coming towards us that looked familiar. We were trying to determine whom it might be when Zack says "that's Voyager". We hailed them on the radio and sure enough it was them. We haven't seen them for a while and they turned around to join us in Fare. Michael had the idea to rent a car for the afternoon and we set out to explore the island. We were going to do the botanical gardens and the pearl farm but never made it to either. We did have a nice drive and caught up on each other's adventure since we had left Kueahi. A very pleasant day and Zack was happy to have Nicolai to hang with for the day. When we got back Mina and Nicolai came over to learn how to make vanilla pudding with the vanilla beans we had purchased. Nicolai and Zack started playing poker and Nicolai stayed for dinner. We were up till 10 playing poker and having a great time.
The weather is picking up so we decided to make our run to Tahaa the next morning. The weather seems lighter here early in the morning with winds picking up during the day. We got out of the reef around 9 am and had a beautiful sail to Tahaa. All the islands here have a fringing reef with small passes into them. We made it to the pass and sailed right in with a pod of dolphins following us. We were supposed to meet Full Monty on the other side of the island and we passed up what looked like a fairly shallow anchorage and kept sailing. The seas inside the reef were much smaller but the winds were still high and we were doing 7 to 7 1/2 knots, it was exhilarating! We were coming to the tip of the island and decided to pull in the jib, good thing the wind started gusting to 30 to 35 knots, which is a little much when trying to negotiate through some of the markers. We came around and found Full Monty. The anchorages here are super deep, the water will go from a depth of 65 feet to 3 feet making it very difficult to anchor, add that to the strong winds and what a nightmare. Full Monty was anchored with a few other boats on a small patch of shallow sand. Fortunately we were able to come in and drop in about 12 feet and fall back. We were about 30 feet off of a concrete marker but the holding was good and we were only staying one night. Full Monty came over and we had some cocktails and snacks and caught up with them. Zack and Colin hung out and were throwing playing cards at each other. Zack saw this on Myth Busters and is into it.
There is a pearl farm on Tahaa so we decided to give it a visit the next day. We pulled up anchor and sailed around to the bay where the pearl farm is. It was blowing stink and we had a bit of trouble picking up the mooring, we were blown off on our first try and got it on the second. The people who run the farm provide free moorings if you take a tour with them. They do diving and land tours as well. We went in to find the farm and tied to a dock that said private, thinking it may be the farm. Not so. We did find the farm but we needed to make an appointment for a tour. We would need to return in the morning at 8 am. We went back to our boats and Colin spent the afternoon with Zack. The woman at the pearl farm told us we could leave the dinghy in by a blue sign on the beach. We returned at 8am and had a brief but informative tour/demonstration of how to seed an oyster to produce a pearl. With the tour we had in Kauehi I now feel I understand the process fairly well. Zack found it interesting as well. The tour of the pearl farm is free but you are expected to buy a little something afterwards, no big deal, right? We were shown lots of very beautiful jewelry, very expensive jewelry. We were wishing we had bought more dollar pearls in Kauehi. The perfect pearls were super expensive and the quality of pearls we had from Kauehi were selling on simple cord as bracelets for $50 US. It was crazy. I did purchase a small pearl charm for myself as a keepsake and David got a couple of polished oyster shells. Zack got a couple of shells because he wants to polish them himself. Jenn on Full Monty purchased a nice bracelet made of uncultured or natural pearls that was very pretty. As we were leaving our host asked when we would be leaving the mooring. I said most likely in the morning because the winds were high and she said we would need to leave the moorings as they needed them for other boats. We felt a bit put out because we had made purchases and spent a fair bit of money. Oh Well. We went back to the boats and headed off for Bora Bora. We were hoping to wait for Sueno to catch up to us. They are in Moorea with Nathalie's brother and family visiting. They also are having an issue with their sail drive that they are hoping to fix in Raiatea, which is an island inside of the same fringing reef as Tahaa. The winds are just too high to anchor out by the reef and the bays are just too deep to anchor so we will have to wait for them in Bora-Bora.
We had a screaming sail to Bora-Bora. We were seeing 8 knots and Zack swears he saw 9 knots surfing down a wave. We found a large flock of birds and sailed thru it but no fish. We have not caught any fish in the Society Islands and the boys have been eating chicken and hamburger! We came thru the pass and tucked into a beautiful bay with a lot of boats that we know. MacPelican heard us on the radio and came around from town to join us. We spent a nice day on the beach. David and Zack started a fire using a magnifying glass. That evening Full Monty hosted about half the boats in the bay for Cocktails and music. It was a great party and we met a few new boats from New Zealand and Australia. Zack and the other kids had a great time playing on the front of the catamaran.
We were able to upload one movie to the blog, but that one minute video took over twelve hours to upload. Hopefully we will find faster internet access in Bora-Bora to upload more videos. Stay tuned...