Rina and I have enjoyed our week on the *very* relaxed island of Niue. We knew we were not in French Polynesia anymore when the customs office was in the same building as the duty free liquor, which they provide an allocation to cruisers upon arrival (one case of beer, 4 bottles of wine, or 2 liters of liquor per person, per week) and then allow unlimited purchase upon departure. The prices are refreshing after French Polynesia, at the grocery store, as well as duty free. There were exceptions of course... a quart jar of best food mayonnaise was $22.50 NZD.
We have been in good company, with Kalalau, Victory Cat, Brick House, Bagheera, Tender Spirit, Wayward Wind and Quiver from our travels in Bora Bora. We also met cruisers from Dosia, Crazy Diamond, Amikuk and others in this small community.
We day-tripped the island in a rental car with Dosia and Honeymoon, seeing the windward side of the island and climbed many a trail into limestone and coral caverns, got swamped with waves in caves, and had lunch 100 feet down a chasm near the shore.
Later in the week Rina and I decided to head to the only hotel on the island (24 rooms) for a rare night off the boat. It has been 8 months since we slept off the boat, and it's a good thing we did as the swell shifted to the South, keeping all the boats rocking back and forth all night. Nobody slept in the anchorage. Our remaining time on the island was filled with local sightseeing, reading, potlucks with Honeymoon and Dosia and just having fun.
Oh... the whales... did I mention the whales? Try sleeping with the whales talking to each other every night, or lazily making their way through the anchorage. We're talking huge humpback whales too. We'll be sitting in the cockpit or down below and hear a huge breath outside, look over the side and see whales not 10 feet from your bow. "They mostly come at night...mostly" (movie reference time) which is why we didn't get a ton of pictures of them, but by the end of the week we were all getting a chuckle about how blasÃ© we had become about the whales around us all the time. We need Donna to slap us back to our senses again!
Weather has been so-so lately, with overcast or significant cloud cover most days. Sunday was non-stop rain. While the air temp was still low 80's, the water temperature has plummeted from 80 to 72, so there's not much swimming or diving going with this fair weather crowd. Those that did dive took quite a while to get their temperatures back up, given the 3-mill suits they have been using.
We're off today to Vava'u, in the Tonga group to find some sun and a non-rolly anchorage. Short 250 mile, 40 hour passage in pretty benign conditions. We'll be hosting brother Phil and his wife Josie in late August. It'll be nice to have visitors again.
For the last 30 days Rina and I have been contemplating our next passage, networking with cruisers, hitting all the cruiser websites for the latest info from boats that have arrived this season, and one of the best ways to get a sense for what the place will physically be like.... Google Earth. Our earlier plan was to do short passages from Bora Bora to the Cook Islands, then to Samoa, then down to Vavau and Tonga. The closer we looked, the less appealing the Cooks and Samoa became... In many of the Cook Islands, there are only a small anchorages or shallow passages that we can't navigate given our 6.5' draft. In American Samoa, the harbor is dirty, and new reports suggest that the only places to come ashore have now been fenced off... It's a long way to go just to be able to shop for familiar foods, often cited as one of the benefits of heading that direction. Western Samoa is nice, but when we started looking at timing, we would not be able to spend much time there, as we are due in Tonga at the end of August to meet my brother Phil and his wife Josie. And that was because we stayed an extra couple of weeks here...
In the end we decided to sail 1071 miles over 8-10 days to the small Island Nation of Nuie, which is a protectorate of New Zealand. Niue is geologically very different and much older than most islands we have visited. No reef, just steep walls rising 100 feet out of the water over most of the island. Inside the island, the primordial remains of a lagoon support a lush forest with many caves for snorkeling and diving. The Nuie yacht club has 20 mooring balls, making it an easy stop as long as the trade winds are coming from the Southeast. If not, we'll continue on another day and a half to Vava'u.
The other challenging aspect of this passage is the weather. This part of the South Pacific has less consistent winds and you can get caught in lows coming up from New Zealand or "squash zones" that create lots of rain and winds from varying directions.
As we haven't done a long passage in awhile, we have had to work a bit to get the right mindset and stop being tourists...creating a punch list to prepare ourselves and the boat. A sample of the stuff we are working on:
- Plot waypoints to Niue into chartplotter
- Research and mark dangerous reefs near our expected passage on the paper charts and chartplotters.
- Notify family of float plan
- Create catalog of google earth screen shots of Niue and Tonga Islands
- Start Yotreps position reporting
- Climb mast to inspect all shackles, sails, halyards, shrouds, fittings
- Inspect new clank in steering system
- Work with CNI boatyard to extend the fuel pickup for the genset to the bottom of the tank - currently only goes 2/3rds of the way down, as a dumb precautionary measure
- Top off water, propane and fuel
- Fix 3 broken screw-snaps that allow water into the boat
- Change primary Yanmar fuel filter
- Change genset oil and adjust valves
- Secure cabin for extreme heeling
- Make Niue Courtesy Flag
- Move kayaks and all the other crap strapped midships to aft stateroom
- Start monitoring weather files daily
- Test satphone email
- Defrost fridge/freezer to reduce amp usage
- Rig jacklines
- Provision food for passage
- Prepare main dishes for easy preparation on passage
- Get lots of sleep
We motored 3 hours from Bora Bora to Raiatea on a wind-less Thursday, only to be pounded by 2 days and nights of 30 knot winds and constant rain. Sleep was difficult, even when on a mooring ball, as the howling wind made the boat shudder all night, and all Rina could think about was the mooring ball coming unhooked and us slammed against a reef in the middle of the night. Normally we sleep well when on a mooring ball as you don't worry about your anchor dragging...unfortunately; we have seen two boats drift off recently due to faulty lines securing the mooring ball to the bottom. Today we moved to the guest dock at the Moorings Yacht Harbor to work on the boat and hopefully get a good night sleep.
Right now it looks like a Wed-Thursday departure, when the trade winds return after a week of unsettled weather. Inspecting the steering today uncovered a rod end that has lost some of its plastic coating, making it clank when the autopilot moves the wheel back and forth. Very low risk of failure, just a sloppy ball joint right now, but we'll order a replacement and have Phil bring it to Tonga. If it gives out, we have an emergency tiller that we can rig to get us there.
07/20/2009, Bora Bora
Since linking Sailblogs to Facebook via and RSS feed awhile ago, we have received many questions and comments, and we very much enjoy hearing from you. Unfortunately we have not always been able to respond, so below we do a little catch up, before we head off to Samoa in a couple of weeks, where internet availability is an unknown.
Mary Lee and Lewis,
Thanks for the kind words on the blog, and you're right, it does take a lot of time to write them, especially without feeling like you are repeating yourself, or god forbid, become predictable and boring! Read about your bash up the Baja coast and it sounds like you are enjoying being home in Marina Del Ray and the family. Who knows, maybe we will see you in Mexico next season. One of our many "plan B's" for getting home next year is to ship the boat from NZ to La Paz and enjoy another season in Mexico, then bash home.
Sandy and Chris,
Well, you can stop your drooling, as you will be here in Bora Bora soon enough! You will have a blast on Carinthia, and as it looks like Carinthia will be going to NZ this year, we should see each other a lot. Congrats on the engagement and you should have an awesome ceremony here in Bora Bora. I'm sure you have checked into the formalities of getting hitched here, and there are some interesting constraints, but we have seen a couple of local weddings for honeymooners at places like the Four Seasons, with a great Polynesian flavor. Check Frommers Guide for more info... See you next week!
Ken and Lori,
You asked about passagemaking with crew vs. without and which one liked better. Short answer is we like them both. We've been blessed with fantastic crew, from Jan, the Dutch sailing chef, to a procession of family members who have made it much easier to be away from home, especially for Rina. It's nice to be alone again after 4 months of crew, and as we prepare for our first long passage without crew, (1200 miles) we'll let you know if we still feel the same way!
Hey my drumming brutha, glad you are enjoying following our adventure. With all the drumming going on here lately, and the drum corps season in full swing, I could not help but miss attending shows this year.... As you know, it's almost like the annual pilgrimage for us age-outs. Get to see any top 12 corps this year in their swing through Texas?
I've seen you in a swim suit... The algae has always been on your bottom. I just want to know why Suzie didn't clean it off for you ;-}
It was a tough climb indeed. Pirates attacks are localized to a couple of places only. The Red Sea near Somalia gets all the press these days, given how brazen they have become targeting tankers and such. Cruisers still transit the Red Sea however, usually by putting together a flotilla of many boats and staying well offshore. The navies in the area have recently stepped up patrols and now provide a registry of sorts for transiting yachts so they can better monitor the situation. The last yacht to get attacked was late last year. A French Yacht ignored the French Navies advice to stay well offshore. He went within 30 miles, and was kidnapped. As I recall, the French Government paid some kind of ransom.
The Malaca Straights near Indonesia is another area with a recent history of piracy, although it is almost always against freighters. Have not heard much from this area recently. Other than these two areas, there really isn't much classic piracy against yachts, but you do have to be careful in places like Central America, Venezuela, Columbia, as theft and robberies are fairly common. It's one of the reasons we decided to head west, rather than into the Caribbean this year. The South Pacific is MUCH safer. We have never felt unsafe out here and have only lost a pair of sandals, which I stupidly left in my unattended dinghy in a busy dock in Nuku Hiva... my fault really.
You can check out www.noonsite.com for updated piracy reports. It's the best resource we found to stay current.
You will love Bora Bora, but yes, the hike up the mountain is not your typical vacation fare. No markers, no safety net... There's plenty to do elsewhere between diving, snorkeling with the stingrays, touring the island, dining at Bloody Mary's, etc.
Hmmmm... if you want remoteness and privacy, most of the major resorts are not where you will find it... actually, I take that back. Occupancy rates are WAY down... like 20-30% occupancy at many of the over water bungalow places like the Intercontinental or Sofitel. Something tells me that's not the kind of remoteness that you are looking for, however. Actually, it's kind of depressing. There will be a line of 30 overwater bungalows with only 2-3 occupied. Restaurants are ghost towns at the resorts and very few people by the pools.
The best way to get privacy, variety and remoteness is to leverage that Coastal Cruising Certificate and rent a catamaran at the Moorings base in Riataia. You have 3 islands to choose from within a 3 hour sail. Riataia and Taha'a are within a single reef, so no big ocean swells, and Bora Bora is a 3 hour sail, where you can then stay inside the reef in smooth water for weeks.
Another option would be to seek out the smaller properties on the island, typically called Pensions. They are older properties, some with rustic beachside huts, away from the hustle and bustle of the large resorts. The better ones are on the surrounding reef rather than on the island itself.
07/20/2009, Bora Bora
We had been cautioned by Seth and Elizabeth from Honeymoon, who had done the climb the week before... 720 meters, about 2100 feet, most of it a 60% grade. Rina was smart enough to decline, mostly due to her reconstructed knee, but I could not resist the challenge. After taking it easy for weeks here with only light exercise... walking, swimming, biking, it was time for a serious hike to the top of Bora Bora. It took them 3 hours each way the last time, so we were prepared with LOTS of water and some protein. Rina the safety officer told me to take two water bottles rather than one, which I declined (mistake!) and a handheld VHF, which would come in handy up the mountain.
10 of us from 5 boats started the trek from the center of town, leaving our dinghies in the central marina. After hiking a half mile up a relatively flat dirt road flanked by houses and lots of aggressive dogs but friendly people, we entered a lush jungle as the grade started to increase. After 30 minutes of jungle roots attempting to trip us up in the deep underbrush, we entered a steep climb that would take another 1.5 hours. It was one of the most technical hikes I have done since I was a counselor at a camp in northern California that taught mountain survival skills some 30-odd years ago. I don't have to remind all you fellow old guys how the mind is always willing but the body, shall we say, lags just a bit. The first hour was fine. I paced myself, monitoring heart rate and stayed hydrated even as the group was sweating profusely in the late morning sun and humidity. Frequent breaks provided enough recovery time to make the hike invigorating and fun.
As we neared the summit, the hike got more technical, with several sections with fixed ropes and plenty of footholds to scramble up the steep face. Even though the elevation was just nearing 2000 feet, the combination of fatigue and living at sea level for a year had taken its toll on my stamina. More frequent stops were required to get my heart rate back into a safe zone and recharge the now throbbing thighs.
By this time we had broken into 2-3 groups, and Elizabeth, the trail veteran, had powered ahead by herself. A fairly standard rule of long hikes is to buddy up and always stay in touch with the first and last person on the trail. As the summit neared, Seth called out several times to Elizabeth with no response. Seth assumed she had gone on to the summit by herself, so we continued on. At this juncture I should mention that the first time Seth and Elizabeth did the hike it took 3 hours up because they took a wrong turn 3 separate times. We climbed to the summit up a 100 foot face with the help of a rope but did not find Elizabeth. With a slight look of concern, Seth reversed direction and headed back down the mountain with a handheld VHF to search for his wife. Long story somewhat shorter, Elizabeth had taken one of those wrong turns for about 20 minutes before realizing her error and then backtracked, only to run into Seth on the trail. The picture above is Elizabeth's triumphant and slightly embarrassing ascent to the summit.
We spent about an hour on the summit recharging our batteries. The summit ridge allowed us to spread out, and I sat for 30 minutes in lush green grass by myself, just taking it all in. *Alone* is not something we get to do often, so I relished the opportunity. The scene overwhelmed my senses. While a stiff breeze chilled my sweat drenched shirt, the juxtaposition of this view from our normal sea level view was jarring at first. In the distance, several boats were headed out to sea towards the Cook Islands and beyond...passagemaking once again after 90 days of comfortable anchorages and sleeping through the night. It was east to put myself in their place, and it's a special feeling when starting a passage. It all added up to a very special experience, one that I will not forget.
After obligatory picture-taking, rejuvenated blood-sugar and rested muscles, we started our trip back down. This would be MUCH easier I thought, without the super-cardio workout. Instead, one set of challenges was replaced by another. The same muscles that powered us up the hill now had to work very differently, braking our descending bodies as we searched for secure footholds. After 45 minutes, we all complained about our toes being jammed into the front of our shoes. Normally not a problem, but remember, most in this group has not worn a pair of shoes in months. As we neared the end of the steep sections, fine-grain leg muscle control began to wane and keeping good footing became increasingly difficult. Periodic sliding bodies required us each to keep some distance from one another. Luckily, we came away with nothing more than a few slight scrapes and bruises, some very tired legs, mild dehydration and one very slightly bruised female ego.
07/19/2009, Bora Bora
Plans are meant to be broken I guess... Between the snotty weather (>20 knots wind and 10-12 ft seas) we decided to hang out longer in Bora Bora, and it's a good thing we did. A gregarious (and lit) cruiser who had heard Hypnautical and I in Moorea in a "cockpit concert" talked the owner of the Bora Bora Yacht Club into letting us perform last Tuesday Night. He liked it so much that he invited us back to play Wednesday night. He liked *that* enough to invite us back to play next week. We got a great deal, as the French owner, who is also the chef and an aspiring drummer, offered us free mooring, dinner and unlimited drinks for our efforts. That's no small deal, given dinners cost 25-40 bucks each and drinks are 6-8 bucks each. He also included dinner and drinks for Rina, sweetening the pot even more. He's married to a So-Cal lady who helped put on a great 4th of July bash a couple of weeks ago. Bottom line is that we are spending lots of time in Bora Bora, kicking waaaaaaay back and enjoying a lot of doing nothing, along with some pretty cool events now and then.
Hypnautical is Roger and Bobbie Joe Curley, former LA musicians and recording studio owners who checked out a couple of years ago. Roger plays a mean folk and progressive guitar, is excellent at improv, and loves 80's fusion, as do I. Bobbie Joe plays Celtic Harp, flute, percussion and has a great voice. With me on Djembe and percussion, we have put together a fairly entertaining set list of folk, rock and original music. When the harp is mic'ed well as it was for our sets, it fills out the sound nicely, providing a nice bass line as well as good lead lines backed up by the guitar playing a backing rhythm.
The Bora Bora Yacht Club has become quite a center of activities for us, and they have made the cruisers here feel very much at home; easy access to water, garbage disposal, wifi, and an easy going bar bill. And when the wind gets blowing, being on a mooring means the difference between being up all night worrying about if you are going to drag an anchor (Rina!) or a good nights sleep. On top of that, being able to get into a gigging state of mind again has been great. The high associated with playing with other musicians in front of a crowd is quite intoxicating, and exercises the left brain nicely. After several years of a single-minded focus on sailing and preparing to cruise, it was nice to return to a bit of my former life.
The picture gallery has several pics of the yacht club and the surrounding area.
For the last couple of years, Rina and I have had a screen saver picture of Bora Bora, taken from the air on both our computers. It has served as a form of inspiration for us, and as we have talked with many other cruisers, we have found that the island has also held a mystique for many of them. After spending the first week on the more populated side of the island, Rina and I made our way to the back side of the island. Navigating this side requires some pretty complex maneuvering, and for 2 hours, Rina conned from the bow while we crept through tricky passes, dodged coral "bommies" and reversed hard several times when the depth gauge showed less than 4" under our keel.
The payoff was worth it, as our first night was spent as guests at the Four Seasons Bora Bora, who welcome cruisers with open arms. Just go up to the front desk like any other guest, throw down a credit card, and you have the run of the pool, spa, bars and restaurants. Of course you are paying Four Seasons prices for some things, but luckily not the beer. The next day we continued our tricky navigation to the far reaches of the inner lagoon where the best snorkeling can be found. We hung out for 2 days anchored in the clearest water yet. There was only 3 feet of water under our keel, but we might as well have been on the beach, given the water clarity. We dinghied the half mile to the edge of the reef and were rewarded with a private rendezvous with sting rays and great snorkeling. We went back a second time while a sightseeing boat was there, chumming the water with fish guts, which brought out 15 black tip sharks.... Suffice to say, Rina did NOT get into the water. The best anchorage in Bora Bora can be found in the small pick above, in the upper right corner. I'll put a bigger version of the screen shot in the gallery for a better view....
We are back at the Bora Bora Yacht club for one of our last nights. We must check out of French Polynesia tomorrow, and plan on heading to Taha'a and Riataia tomorrow to begin preparing for a 6-7 day crossing to the Cook islands.
07/12/2009, Vaitape, Bora Bora
After a couple of relaxing days following 4th of July, a bunch of cruisers went to a show in the village of Vaitape. This was one of several evenings where local district dance and drum troupes compete in front of 5 judges for top honors. The parallels to Drum Corps could not be avoided... There are 6 districts on Bora Bora, and each has its own group of singers, dancers, drummers, ukulele's and singers. It's very much a family affair as the moms and dads are singing and strumming while the younger boys are drumming, and the teenagers are doing traditional dance. In the middle left of the picture above is the judges booth, populated by local dignitaries. The pit containing 21 drummers, 6 ukelele's and 5 singers were reinforced by a top notch sound system, with the house speakers on each side of the sandy performance area. The performance area was large enough to host the 75 dancers, who, while doing traditional Tahitian dance, were also doing quite a bit of drill work. In this pic, the guard is set up for a traditional "off the line" move....seriously...The drummers rocked the place hard as the dancers moved forward with some great moves and flashes of color from their costumes. I was able to infiltrate the local crowd next to the drummers to get a better sense for what was going on within the group. The most advanced drummers were in the middle row playing toms, with accents on hollowed out logs. The back row consisted of younger drummers keeping the beat, while the front row played mostly one stick rhythms on a slotted log. After watching these guys for 30 minutes you could tell who was leading, and the kid, all of about 15, had incredible hands with great single and double stroke riffs. Given how long I've been here and how many shows I've seen with Polynesian drummers I really should know more about the fundamentals of how they construct the beat... oh well. What I *can* say is that each troupe of dancers and musicians, except for a couple of standard songs, create very individual songs and rhythms, with dancing that tells very specific stories. After a 45 minute show we got some better pics of the group, since we could not use flash during the show. See the gallery for those shots.
07/07/2009, Bora Bora
What happens when you throw a bunch of Americans, 6 wired 10 year old boys, a drunk dutch guy, a british MTV video director, an Italian singer, and a recently deceased king of pop on a 65 foot wooden ketch?
Controlled mayhem, that's what. The Americans were looking to recreate a little bit of home, with a classic backyard bbq menu... dogs, burgers, potato salad and a bunch of kids running around on a sugar high made for a high energy environment. Our hosts, Aaron, a retired NFL tight end, and Lauren, his girlfriend, hosted on Wayward Wind, a 65 foot wooden ketch, providing a TON of room for more than 50 people to enjoy themselves. Aaron's excellent sound system played a stream of great tunes, and after dinner, when the dance floor got going, a Michael Jackson tribute got the vibe going. While it was mostly dark on the dance floor-slash-afterdeck, I found a light that made a decent strobe light... Aaron kicked up the volume and we had a serious party going. The kids eventually burnt off their sugar high in front of the 45" big screen TV while the adults brought out the jello shots and kept things rolling. The coach top became "the birdcage" with many of the ladies surrounding a seriously drunk dutch guy "cookie" who got the royal treatment... If it wasn't for Dietmar flashing pictures with his strobe, nobody would have seen or remembered half of this.... There was a lot of cringing the day after as these pictures saw the light of day.... The primary instigator of this mayhem was Mike Lipscombe, a retired MTV video director, who inspired the coachtop dancing, and his girlfriend Veronika, an excellent vocalist, who has fronted the rapper "Tricky", among other credits. Aaron and myself will also take some credit (blame?) for the mix and the light show, which helped get the boat hopping.
A great time was had by all, no deaths, no drowning, no truly embarrassing moments, just a fun 4th by a bunch of people looking for a little bit of home away from home. The gallery has photographic evidence of this gala event.
07/03/2009, Bora Bora Yacht Club
After 2 tries to leave Cooks Bay, Moorea, we finally found a weather window to my comfort...or we thought....Seas were quite bumpy, approx 6-8 feet, quick to come, and the winds were anywhere from 15-25, then gusts to 28 or more. Thankfully all the winds were from behind us, but still getting pooped from the waves on our stern. The rollers kept both of us awake for most of the night's passage, banging jib, banging boom, and lots of swaying back & forth in our bunk. We made it to the pass on the east side between Riataea & Tahaa at sunrise(6:30am), through the passage and out the other side and off to Bora Bora. It was beautiful to see it in the morning light. Even more beautiful when the clouds cleared and the sun showed us the coral reef surrounding the island with breaking waves and teal blue seas. Today we've been enjoying the Bora Bora Yacht Club's mooring ball to get some rest. This has been our first passage alone since we were alone in Mexico...boy, it's been awhile, right?? Alone till we get our next family visitors, Phil & Josie in Tonga her surrounding islands. Should be another great adventure and good to have visitors every once in awhile. Well, off to expore Bora Bora's towns and other anchorages. More later, watch for more pictures soon as we get around the island and celebrate the 4th of July! To everyone, have a safe & fun 4th of July weekend!
We have thoroughly enjoyed our time with daughter Megan over the past two weeks. Since putting Alyssa on a plane home for summer school after nearly 3 months aboard, we sailed back to Moorea as part of the Tahiti-Moorea Rendezvous Regatta. We placed 11th overall and 5th in our class (out of 53) in light winds and owe our strong finish to a great start and luck. After the race we were welcomed by traditional Tahitian canoes and partied on the beach the rest of the day and night. It was sailing heaven, with most of the boats we have met over the past 3 months all in one place. The sea stories were thick and deep.
After renting scooters to drive around Moorea, hiking to waterfalls and swimming with sting-rays, we reluctantly headed back to Papeete to put Megan on a plane home. At this point we were going to head to Huahine, but strong winds and big seas have conspired to keep us tucked safely in Cooks Bay for the past 4 days. Not a bad place to be stuck, by a long shot.
With some luck, we will brave the 9 foot swells and 18-20 knot winds tomorrow and head directly to Bora Bora for the 4th of July party at Bloody Mary's and the Bora Bora yacht club. Our time in French Polynesia is almost at an end, as our 90 day visa is up on July 15. From French Polynesia, we plan on heading to the Cook Islands, Samoa and then Tonga, before ending the season in New Zealand in November.
Surrounding Rina, Allan and Megan on the beach on Moorea are our Carinthia friends Susan, Suzanne and Kurt. The gallery has a bunch more pictures of our time here.