08 September 2015 | Vava'u Tonga
The people that live in the Vava'u Island group of the Kingdom of Tonga know they have something to be proud of. When the Health Department Officials cleared us in at Neiafu they hand-wrote on our paperwork that we were approved for entry into "our beautiful island of Vava'u". And beautiful it is! The island group is nearly surrounded by an outer reef that keeps the larger waves away while letting the cooling breezes in. It makes it a wonderful place to sail. The islands are close enough together to allow easy anchorage-hopping, and the water is crystal clear in many places. Palms and other greenery line the little top-knot islands with their undercut shores - a bit like Palau. We spent the last couple of days at a most scenic anchorage at Port Maurelle on Kapa Island. The sun was out, the seas were calm, and we finally reaped the rewards of our six weeks of repairs and open-ocean passages. We explored Swallows Cave by dinghy, and found under us huge schools of tiny fish. Their patterns shifted and swirled, and formed a shimmery work of art. The next day we tried to find Mariner's Cave, which can only be entered by diving underwater. After finally locating what looked like "a rock with three sort of stripy marks on it" I dove under to take a look. A bit daunting that - deciding to take the plunge into an opening and trusting you will emerge in an air-filled cave! But there it was, the legendary hiding place of a Tongan princess while invaders scoured the island looking for her. It was a bit magical, floating in the semi-darkness of the cave by myself. We'll return on a calmer day with a lower tide so the rest of the family can enjoy it too. Our much-appreciated crew member, Chris Riegle, left to fly back to the states today. We'll miss his sailing skills, good company and cockpit serenades on his guitar. He experienced both the trials and tribulations of ocean voyaging, and we hope he's returned home with many good memories. Tonight we were treated to a wonderful meal at the home of friends here, and we are so full of fresh fish, watermelon juice and rum that we're heading for our bunks a bit early. Tomorrow will bring another day of arranging for sail repairs, etc., and then an hour or two of sailing to explore yet another local island. Maybe we'll be lucky enough to see again the mother humpback whale and her acrobatic calf practicing its belly-up breaches!
Another passage underway!
27 August 2015 | en route to Tonga
We are at last at sea again, heading from Raiatea, French Polynesia, to Vava'u, Tonga. Our first day had brisk winds and sunshine, the next held stronger winds, rain, and confused seas. Now we are motoring through a large lull, but the SE Trades look to be finding us again. We've acquired a 5th crew member: Bernie the Ternie is a Brown Noddy that landed on board yesterday, full of burrs. His/her feathers were all stuck together, so we caught her and removed about 12 of them. She left in a huff, only to return 15 minutes later and take up residence on the kayak. She's been here all night and is a rather cute, if messy, new friend.
Testing our position reports
26 August 2015
Our position now, Aug 26, 2015 5:40 pm local, Aug 27, 2015 03:40 UTC is 17deg 19'S x 154deg 47'W pre VHF, COG 252 degmag SOG 7.4 kt. Hal bearing 248 deg but position data on this template says 16deg 41.10'S x 151 deg 44.62'W, and course: 264 Speed 7.5, Date: 205/08/27 03:32:38 We are enroute to Tonga!
31 July 2013 | Tahiti
Ia'orana! We are prepping Macha for her long nap while we return to California. She is safely settled into a small, protected marina in Port Phaeton at the isthmus joining Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti. She will be closely watched but it is still hard to leave her here alone. We will miss Macha very much, but we'll be back! Our flight leaves Papeete August 3rd, crossing the equator much higher above the sea than on our sourth-bound crossing. We arrive the next morning at LAX. Then it's off to find a house, car, school, and all those things we packed into our storage locker. What a year it's been... with so many adventures. We're looking forward to sharing our stories and photos with friends and family when we return.
A Humpback's Belly
31 July 2013 | Moorea
Some moments are a bit too surreal to take in fully, and so it was when I found myself watching the very-white belly of a humpback whale drift closer and closer to me. One part of me was thinking “Amazing! Swim closer, swim closer! The chance of a lifetime… it’s not worried about us, it looks like it rather likes an audience!” Another part of me was thinking “Sheez, that thing’s big! It has no idea I’m just a floundering human, and if it flick its flukes during the next belly roll I’m toast! Not smart to swim with big animals….” Curiosity and fascination of course won out over caution, and I drifted with the waves, watching this youngish whale roll and cavort just a few dozen meters away from me. Knowing that two whales had dived and only one was on the surface, I kept glancing down to be sure the other one didn’t rise up under me. I soon saw a thin white line, which was the pectoral flipper of the second whale, and the only part of her that was visible. Not fancying the thought of being airlifted when she surfaced, I shifted my attention back and forth between the two whales. The youngster was drifting closer, rolling over and flashing her belly. She extended her flippers out towards us, and just hung in the water while we admired her. It was surreal, being so close and not having her swim away.
Our chance to get so close was fortuitous and unexpected. We had joined my friend and colleague, Dr. Michael Poole, on his whale watching eco-adventure tour at Moorea. Having many years of marine mammal research under my belt, I knew better than to expect to see anything but the blue lagoon. Probably a spinner dolphin too, since they frequent the passes and Michael has studied them long enough to know where to find them most days. But it was the very start of the humpback season and only a few whales had been seen, and they’d been outside the lagoon. Luck was with us, though, and no sooner did the tour start than we sighted a school of spinner dolphins. We left them soon, however, because large blows were seen outside the reef. We headed out in their direction, then carefully slowed and searched for the whales. Michael is extremely careful with the animals, always putting their welfare first. He knows their behavior well enough that he’ll find them if they’re to be found, and without disturbing them. Too many boats and jet skis will race up to whales and dolphins, surrounding them or pinning them against the reef. Not a good idea, and the animals retreat when this happens. So we watched and waited from a reasonable distance until finally two whales surfaced in “resting” mode, and just lolled about near the boat. How wide their backs are!! How powerful their blows! When Michael said that the animals were calm and stationary enough that we could go in the water to watch them, I thought he was kidding. Once I realized he wasn’t, I was off the boat in a flash. His assistant guided us to a prudent distance from the whale, and we gaped (as much as one can with a snorkel in your mouth!) at the spectacle. I have no idea what was going through that whale’s head as we hovered a few body lengths (hers) away. Maybe nothing, maybe she was just enjoying being in the beautiful warm waters of Moorea, as was I. Or maybe this was amusing to her, watching us bob like clumsy plankton. Thankfully I managed to get a few quick photos of her, because once I was out of the water it was hard to believe I’d really been so lucky as to just float there, watching a relaxed whale lazing around in the sunny seas.
The rest of the guests onboard were from the Paul Gauguin, a nice cruise ship that specializes in the islands of Tahiti. I kept telling them how lucky they were to have a morning like we’d just had. The animals had cooperated beautifully and Michael had showed and explained so many things to the guests. (He has a special knack for teaching you in the manner of a great storyteller, which makes everyone want to listen.) But the next day Michael texted me to say that our great day had been surpassed by the next tour! They’d had a male humpback singing underwater near their boat, and had seen spinner dolphins, pilot whales, and rough-toothed dolphins. Moorea is definitely paradise for whales and whale-watchers alike!
See the photo gallery for pictures of the whales, dolphins, and Moorea’s beautiful lagoons. There are also photos showing a bit of the research techniques used by Michael to study the humpbacks and dolphins. You can see the tiny bits of floating whale skin that they scoop up after the whale dives; they use this for genetic analysis. There are also pictures of their dolphin dorsal fin ID catalogue, some teeth used for aging, etc.
Paddling and Sailing. Moorea, French Polynesia
09 July 2013
Finally, I got back in an outrigger at Hiva Oa, and it was great. There is something about paddling where it all began… The water was beautiful, and the view was wonderful too, when I could look up from the paddle in front of me. The canoe was built a bit differently than those in California, so that we sat a little lower in the water, and felt quite stable yet fast. I was glad for the stability when we headed out of the port and skirted rocky cliffs to leeward. I traded paddles with others for a bit – they loved the carbon fiber blade and I loved the beautiful wood ones. Afterwards I sat on the shore and heard some of their stories about how they came to live in the Marquesas and what they’d learned about the place. Some were born there, while some were French and there to work for a few years. Others had come for short stints and were planning to stay much longer. It’s an interesting mix of cultures, French and Marquesan. To hear the languages side by side is such a contrast. I think of French as being elegant, soft, and beautiful to listen too. The indigenous languages of French Polynesia are also beautiful, yet they sound strong, powerful, and down-to-earth by comparison. And when put to music they are magical. The two cuisines are a great blend, and we are happily eating anything and everything we can find.
But back to paddling…. There are outriggers EVERYWHERE in French Polynesia!! Pulling into Papeete for the first time, we saw racks of them along the main quay, stretching for a city block. There were more in one place than I’ve seen at any of the races in California or Hawaii. And then, as we rounded the island, we saw little groups of them every half-mile or so. The 6-mans and 1-mans are popular, and there are some built for 3, 4, and even 8 paddlers. We watched part of a race recently that included 2 8’s tied together for a 16-person canoe! Timing could be tricky there…
Not having much access to the paddling clubs, I mostly content myself with my kayak. But a few days ago we were most excited to have a chance to race outriggers as part of the Pacific Puddle Jumpers regatta here on Moorea. It was held at the Club Bali Hai in Cook’s Bay, and the races were short sprints in front of the resort. Having three paddlers in our family, plus guests on board that paddle or row, we figured we had a ready-made team on Macha. It was of course just a fun little race, but you know how it is once the starting flag drops! Off we raced, up in the front of the pack, until we suddenly ground to a stop. Another canoe had gotten sideways and run their ama up over our hull. Nice little anchor, that! After breaking free, our local steersman did a super job making the best of a bad position, pulled off a great turn, and had us back near the lead. But then another canoe got a bit sideways in front of us, and we were too far back to advance to the semi-finals. So it was a fun burst of energy and cheering, which was the point of it after all!
We did not go away without a trophy, however. The event started the previous day with a sailboat non-race (for insurance purposes, it is a regatta) from Papeete on the island of Tahiti, over to Cook’s Bay on Moorea. Macha had never done a real race before, so we had little idea how she would do. She did well in those conditions and we were happily surprised to finish 3rd across the line, and take 2nd place in the multihull division. The festivities that followed included music, dancing, food, and a chance to catch up with fellow cruisers. We discovered that some of our crew can really shake it! Thanks, Latitude 38 and all those in the Puddle Jumpers who made this such a great event!