We arrived in Tahiti after two great days of sailing. We were making 7 knots (and sometimes more) most of the way. We had to slow down on the last night to make sure we arrived in Tahiti in the daylight. In a few days we head to California for a short one-month visit. Need a family fix!
We left Apataki atoll in the Tuomotus at slack tide just after high tide, around 1600 and are headed to Tahiti. We plan to sail by Makatea, which is an atoll that does not have a pass into its lagoon and whose barrier reef is higher out of the water. If the port there looks good, we'll stop overnight to rest up. But if not, we'll just continue onto Tahiti. It would only be a 2-3 day passage without that stop. We have good wind and are sailing!
Happy Birthday to our son Darren! We arrived at our second atoll in the Tuomotus yesterday about noon. This time we did enter the lagoon. Our electronic charts had good detail and we had some hints from cruising guides about bearings to use. The water is incredibly clear blue and calm - not a ripple last night as we went to bed so we got a great night's rest after our rolly passage here. Don and Phyllis of Solstice are here with us.
We arrived in Takaroa, our first atoll in the Tuamotus, Saturday, June 9, about an hour before sunset. We had been to sea 3 nights and caught three fish (small bonita which we released), We were within radio range of one other boat the first couple days and checked in with them periodically. Our buddy boat, Solstice, had left a day earlier and were waiting for us when we arrived at Takaroa. We had decided to anchor outside the atoll until we checked the entry passage out with our dinghy in the morning, given the reputation of these "dangerous" atolls. But after getting new grib weather files, we noticed that we were going to have reasonable sailing wind today and then it would drop off to nothing for a couple days, so Solstice and Libertad headed for the next atoll, Apataki, about 0900. We had lighter winds then expected, but it should still be just an overnight trip, arriving tomorrow afternoon. We have a reservation for a mooring in Apataki as we might decide to leave the boat there and fly home for a month. Original plans were to fly out of Tahiti, but if the wind predictions are for light winds, it will take us longer than we want to sail to Tahiti.
The Tuamotus with their flat low lying atolls are so different than the steep mountainous Marquesas - but equally beautiful.
Since we made brief posts every couple days on our 23 day passage across the Pacific from the Galapagos to the Marquesas we won't do a daily blog this time; we'll just make some overall comments about the passage and then fill you in on our activities on the five islands that we visited.
Communications: We pulled up our anchor on Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos on Thursday April 19 at about 1530 (3:30 pm). Fifteen minutes later we were sailing! It was wonderful and a good start on a voyage that would cause anyone to be a bit anxious. Actually we made excellent distances the first four or five days out leaving us to believe we would have a very short passage. Three boats leaving from Isla Isabella (about 30 miles to the west of Santa Cruz) had formed a radio net and Alex and Iris of Alaeris (whom we met in Isla Isabella when we were there) invited us to join in. We agreed to talk on the SSB radio each evening at a specific time and on a specific frequency (with a backup frequency in case our primary one was busy). The first four days we could hear them but at our turn to provide our position and weather conditions, they couldn't hear us. Virginia was so frustrated but finally figured out what she had done wrong in setting up the channel and by the 5th day we were fully participating. Participating boats were Alaeris, Sea of Time, Solstice, and us on Libertad. It was fun because we would give our positions and could track each other, see who had a good day, and ask what sail configuration they were using. It was also interesting in that although there was only a couple hundred miles between the first and last boat, the weather conditions were quite different for each boat most of the time. Sometimes one of us would have an equipment problem and we could brainstorm ideas for resolving the issue. As we neared the Marquesas some in our group encountered vessels Happy Bird and Katydid (both of these boats were having very long passages, experiencing several becalmed days) and invited them to join us too which they were happy to do having been en route for so long. We used our SSB radio email to post position reports with short blogs frequently and to communicate with vendors of some of our equipment when we had questions or problems.
Weather: It was nice that the boats in our net group were relatively close to each other (we started later and from a more easterly island so we were last in the pack, about 250 miles behind the first) as we could share information on our weather conditions and which direction to go to find wind or avoid areas of excessive convection, etc. While we were all getting weather (grib) files over our radios, Alex on Alaeris did a complete weather workup each day which was wonderful. Virginia had had more experience than some of the others in using the grib files and was able to help them improve their data collection via net tutoring. Overall none of us were becalmed for more than a few hours (usually the result of a passing squall) although we did have light winds at times which had us scrambling to find a good sail combination to make the most of it (with five different sails to choose from on Libertad, this became quite an exercise until we became comfortable with just a few) . On Libertad we motored a couple hours on two different days to find some wind, but otherwise we had a constant though occasionally light breeze. We ran the engine almost every day for a couple hours to charge the batteries as the solar panels and wind generator were not keeping up (light, downwind sailing and gusts with the spinnaker up could not be handled by the wind vane -not uncommon with most types of wind vanes according to other cruisers -so we relied on the autopilot which sucks up power during these times and that is when the solar and wind generator could not keep up). Also, we ran the refrigerator on the inverter and discovered that to be an unexpectedly excessive energy draw. We used to run it on propane almost exclusively, but were told we should not use the flame and propane when at sea so we made that change earlier this year. We checked our fuel level often to monitor our consumption, making sure we didn't run short as we heard others had. We also checked in with some of the larger nets most days but the info wasn't as relevant as with the smaller/closer group and roll call took quite awhile with each boat giving their position, wind, and weather conditions. We heard of boats that had many days of no wind and it was taking them 30+ days to make the passage. We had squalls almost every day. Some of the other boats in our group got just the wind but we had rain with all of them. Timing the arrival of the next squall became a game as we could see them coming from astern a long way off. It wasn't hard rain most of the time and didn't last for hours, but we did put on our foul weather gear because it was uncomfortable sitting on wet benches. We were warned to watch for chafing on these long passages but we only thought they were referencing running rigging.
Sailing: We admit to being disappointed and frustrated at times that we didn't have the trade winds and seas as advertised in the glossy brochure - namely "fair winds and following seas..." such that you set your sails with the wind coming from astern and don't change them for days. We made numerous sail changes each day, especially as the squalls blew through and the seas were so confused that with any breeze less than 10 knots apparent the sails would flap incessantly as the boat was tossed about. Dennis had fun trying out various sail combinations. Common ones we used were wing-on-wing with the main out to one side and the jib poled out on the other (this became standard for overnight sailing as it didn't require any maintenance other than checking the wind direction), wing-on-wing with both sails on the forestay - jib poled out on one side and drifter on the other; spinnaker (asymmetrical only) and drifter, standard set of 3 sails - main/mizzen/jib. But we tried lots of other variations on these themes. We also discovered that running a sheet through a block on the end of either the main or mizzen boom increased the sailable angle and helped prevent the jib or spinnaker from collapsing while surfing down a swell. One time we had 4 sails flying and we hooked a fish. Normally Virginia would slow the boat down by taking it into the wind while Dennis reeled in the fish; but with 4 sails going Virginia told Dennis he'd be getting a workout this time as she wasn't turning the boat. The 20 lb. bonito was quite finished after being hauled in a boat doing 7 knots -and so was Dennis.
Sleeping: We did 3 hour watches through the night (9pm to 9am) and this worked well for us. We were expecting to feel sleep deprived and exhausted when we arrived, but we didn't. If one of us was especially tired, we'd nap during the day as watches were much more flexible in the daytime. Passing through numerous time zones during the 3,000 miles would mess up our schedule a bit.
Eating: We cooked dinners every night. We only had a couple nights with especially rough seas where we snacked and didn't cook a full meal. The fresh vegetables (except potatoes and onions) and fresh fruit ran out after about 2.5 weeks. It's not that we didn't have enough to last - they started to spoil (refrigeration woes) and so we ate them instead of trying to ration them and then having to toss them out. The last 5-7 days we were using canned fruits and veggies. We had plenty of meat from our freezer to last the trip, especially when supplemented with the fish we caught! Our freezer worked great. Our 12 yr old refrigerator struggled in this tropical heat, but has hung in there so far - just not as cold as we would like. We plan to order a new one to be delivered to Tahiti. Our watermaker pump died one day out of the Galapagos, so we started conserving water immediately (dishes washed in salt water with fresh water rinse and showers as rarely as we could stand it) and after monitoring our usage a few days, we determined we'd have plenty. We also captured some rainwater which gave us a cushion. We didn't even break out our 12 gallons of emergency purified water that we have stored in jugs under the floorboards.
Mal de Mer: Virginia was slightly nauseas on a couple days - but only briefly. The Meclazine seems to be doing the trick for her. She takes one every day and then pops an extra one if the seas start to get rough. It is making cruising so much more enjoyable for her. Dennis is unaffected; Virginia hates him and he has no sympathy for her.
Entertainment: People ask us what we did with all our time. We did load up our Kindles with books and did get some reading done. But it is amazing how much time is spent just sailing (sail changes, tracking progress, deploying the hull-cleaning line daily -we arrived with very little sea growth on our boat) and handling the other items mentioned above.
Equipment Failures: the watermaker was the one item that gave us issues that Dennis was unable to fix. It wasn't able to maintain the required pressure to force seawater through the reverse osmosis membrane. He took it apart and rebuilt it several times, changing all the o-rings and inspecting the innards. He was communicating with Spectra via email and running all the tests they suggested, but nothing resolved the issue. We'll bring the pump back to California and have it rebuilt (and buy a spare). The jib furler was becoming difficult to rotate, in both deploying and retracting the sail; at times Dennis would go forward to unfurl it by hand while Virginia took up the slack with the winch. He had tried to clean and lubricate it just before we left but cleaning seemed to make no difference and it's not supposed to require lubricating. He then loosened the tension on the halyard and that helped. Smoother now and can be done without the winch again but will need further attention. Various small things would need attention such as rotating the sheets so that they didn't chafe through and an occasional rivet would tear out and need replacing. But the watermaker and furler were the only two major sources of trouble for us. And we didn't run out of fuel. We were using some as we needed to run the engine to charge the batteries, but we had plenty to get us there and through the five islands we have visited here. We got fuel on the fifth and final island before heading out to the Tuamotus. Compared to what we heard other cruisers having to deal with, we had it easy.
Sites: We had many beautiful sunsets, sunrises, and a few rainbows. We saw lots of stars and the Super Moon on May 5th. We saw a few seabirds. At times we thought we were looking at a big flock of very small birds skimming across the water, but then we realized it was a school of flying fish. They are fast and travel an amazing distance before going back into the water. We caught a few fish. We did not see any other boats - not a freighter, not a fishing boat, not another cruiser, until we had the Marquesas in sight and were about 1 hour from our first anchorage. Solstice, another boat in our radio-net group was entering the anchorage just ahead of us. We finally got to meet Don and Phyllis later that day after having talked to them on the radio daily for weeks.
We arrived in Hiva Oa on Sunday May 13, Mothers' Day after 23.5 days at sea. As mentioned above we expected to be exhausted, but we weren't. We expected to be ready to run ashore and kiss the ground (well Virginia anyway), but didn't feel that need either. Overall it was an enjoyable passage.
We visited five islands of the Marquesas and each had a little something different to offer. All of the islands are mountains jutting straight out of the ocean so you don't get long sandy beaches like you see in Hawaii. But you do have gorgeous scenery as these mountainsides are covered with lush greenery and have some very unique and dramatic formations. We learned that the Marquesan language uses only 14 letters and so many of the words look similar - it did get confusing when talking with other cruisers about where we were going next as the names of the islands are often the same words, just rearranged. The people speak French and the Marquesan dialect of the Polynesian language. All the islands we visited had fresh baguettes each morning in the markets. But they are gone before noon so you have to get there early. They don't have many vegetables. They have lots of fruit growing natively, but vegetables are not a big part of their diet; potatoes, onions, and cucumbers are the only vegetable items generally available. We found frozen vegetables but didn't want to take up room in our freezer for them.
Hiva Oa: The island was covered in clouds as we got hit with one last big squall as we approached. So we didn't see land from far off as would be expected. We saw it on our radar and knew it was there, but no sighting until the clouds started to clear - which they did just as we approached the anchorage fortunately. The site of the steep green mountainsides was startling and as the clouds cleared and the sun came out it just kept getting greener. We anchored at Atuona as that is the check-in port. There is a breakwater and we were able to anchor behind it. It was crowded so all boats were on two anchors (which we hate to do as it is so cumbersome). We had signed up with the Pacific Puddle Jump group so that we could use the agency benefits that Latitude 38 had arranged for that group - namely a waiver of the bond that is required for French Polynesia (the price of an airline ticket home for every person on board -they don't want any illegal aliens) and could get duty-free diesel throughout French Polynesia. An added bonus is that they have agents at the various islands that meet you and help with check-in, making that a very simple process. Sandra was our agent on Hiva Oa. She was very friendly and arranged taxis, tours of the island, laundry service, etc. After check-in the first morning we ran into 4 other cruising couples that we had met in some part of the Galapagos and had lunch ashore. Marie Jo and her husband John were the local couple Sandra recommended for the few times we needed a taxi and for our tour of the island. Our tour netted us a huge squash from the side of the road that lasted two or three meals. John also prepared a typical Marquesan meal, where most of the food is cooked in covered pits/underground, for a group of us one night. Roasted pork, bread fruit, squash, fish, poi, bananas, poisson cru (raw fish in coconut milk) were all delicious. We had internet in this anchorage. There was also drinkable water near the breakwater. We bought 4 "Sparkletts" size bottles of water in town and had John give us a taxi ride back to the boat with these. Dennis emptied them into the water tank, then took the emptied jugs across the anchorage in the dinghy to fill them (Those of you who enjoy thought problems: How many dinghy trips did it take him to get 500 liters of water with 4 of these jugs?). We returned the jugs as they required a $65 deposit on them and we really don't have room on board for them. The village had several small magazins (markets) and several restaurants. We were able to do very reasonable provisioning.
Fatu Hiva: Some boats visit this island first as that makes sense given the direction of the trade winds. But since it isn't an official check-in port (and we have a former Registrar on board) we stayed legal and did our check-in at Hiva Oa and then sailed 'back' to Fatu Hiva. We had good winds and a nice sail so it wasn't a problem, although if we had left a little later in the day we would have had stronger winds 'on the nose'. We had left Hiva Oa at midnight and done an overnight sail and we both stayed up pretty much the whole time so we took a big nap after arriving. We anchored at Hanavave/Baie des Vierges. The rocky spires at the head of the bay are an outstanding feature and one we had seen in pictures of the Marquesas. This was a smaller anchorage without a breakwater and again crowded, so we stayed out near the entrance of the bay and anchored in about 100 feet of water which worked out best -others were anchored close to each other and strong winds down the canyons were causing some to drag and threaten to bump others. Normally we like to anchor in 30 feet or less. We walked the small village of Hanavave. The people were very friendly as they have been throughout the islands. Some of the women were interested in trading fruit for lipstick or jewelry. We took a nice hike trying to find a waterfall, but never did find it. They had potable water ashore here too. This time we didn't have the Sparkletts jugs, but Dennis had the ingenious idea to fill up our kayak dry bags which are large and have backpack straps on them. With a few buckets added, it allowed him to carry 100 liters each trip. We, along with Don and Phyllis of Solstice, hired a local fisherman to take us via his motorboat over to the next anchorage/village of Omoa as that is where the tapa artists reside. We were told just to ask at any house as many of the residents are such artists or know where one resides. We saw women pounding the wood into a fine sheet and some artists inking the drawings. We bought a few small ones which we hope to put onto a tray or something we can use on the boat. On the way back to our anchorage we learned that the fisherman transporting us was a wood sculptor. He invited us to his house to see his work and we were overwhelmed. We all bought one of his pieces. Limited provisioning available here, but we didn't need anything yet.
Tahuata: We anchored in Hanamoenoa Bay, specifically because there was no village. It was a very quiet bay which was visited by large manta rays early each morning. The water was very warm and refreshing. We swam among the rays one morning - it was an amazing experience. We also snorkeled in a bit of coral that we found on one side of the bay. Many of the boats in our radio net happened to be in this anchorage at that time so we had a potluck dinner aboard Libertad with Alaeris, Sea of Time, Solstice, Katydid, and another neighboring boat Desolina. Happy Bird was the one missing boat from our net. They were still in Fatu Hiva. It was a fun time. We did not go ashore on this island - enjoyed the waters of the bay with swimming, snorkeling, kayaking.
Ua Pou: We anchored (two anchors again) behind a breakwater at this island. Solstice had arrived a day earlier and scoped out the village. We walked the town with them, visiting the several small markets and scored some tomatoes - the only island where we found them. On this island they don't sell any fruit in the markets. You approach the residents and ask them if you can buy their fruit. Phyllis and Don had already arranged with one local couple to get some mangos. The man got a bagful of mangos from their huge tree, the woman took us next door to get pampelmousse (grapefruit like but larger and sweeter), and they told us to pick as many lemons as we wanted. Then they wouldn't take any payment - just "wanted to make a new friend". We bought bananas at another home. Again they had good drinking water and Dennis used the dry bag/bucket brigade to top us off.
Nuka Hiva: We anchored at the most famous anchorage, Taiohae. It is a huge bay so lots of room - no need for two anchors here. But it is a bit rolly so we used our flopper-stoppers. We stayed here about a week. They had a produce market (mostly fruit as mentioned above) and four magazins (general markets). One of these actually had some vegetables - we got eggplant and green beans. We rented a car with Don and Phyllis and toured the island one day. We saw at least 4 archeological sites and got to see how varied the geology is on this, the largest Marquesa island. At one point we were travelling high up along the mountain ridges in a forest of pine trees. These are not native and were planted by the Marquesans many years ago, but they are thriving and multiplying like crazy. Other parts of the island were the more typical tropical vegetation with lovely flowering plants. Sections of the road were unpaved and rutted so travelling was slow going at times. But we thoroughly enjoyed that day. One day when we were walking in town we visited the Cathedral. When it was built in 1974 they commissioned artists from the various islands to carve items for the church. It is gorgeous. Virginia was so enamored with it that she wanted to stay in the anchorage until Sunday so she could go to the services. This was a holy week for them so the services may have been more elaborate than usual. The singing was absolutely beautiful with multiple part harmonies. There appeared to be one section of the church reserved for the choir, but really most everyone in church joined in. All the songs were in Polynesian, the mass itself was in French, and the scripture readings were a mixture of the two with some of them being sung. Check out the picture gallery to see the photos of the church. We got diesel here...and have the souvenir markings on the boat to show for it. Big swell, big concrete fuel dock, big boat.....you can imagine. We visited a second anchorage on this island called Daniel's Bay. Many cruisers don't stay long in the Marquesas because they say they can't stand the rolly anchorages. This anchorage was flat calm. In fact, most of the anchorages were no worse than what we were used to in the Channel Islands. Whenever it got a little rolly, out came the flopper-stoppers and that made a big difference. Daniel's Bay had potable water available whereas Taiohae did not, so we had a chance to top off our tank again before heading off to the Tuamotus. Also, this anchorage offered a hike to one of the five tallest waterfalls in the world, so Dennis packed a lunch and made the hike, taking several pictures for Virginia along the way. While he was hiking we got an exceptionally low tide and Libertad started bouncing off the bottom of the anchorage, so Virginia had an exciting afternoon pulling up anchor, moving the boat, and reanchoring. Jerry and Rankin on Gypsy Heart came over to help, which Virginia really appreciated. She normally would have loved to do the hike, but for some reason decided to stay back at the boat....fortunately.
Next stop is the Tuamotus. There are so many atolls there that it was hard to choose which ones to visit. So we got together with Solstice one night and compared notes on selection criteria and decided we both would like to hit Takaroa first. It is one of the closest ones with no obstructions between it and the Marquesas. It also has an anchorage outside of the atoll so that you don't have to go in through the pass immediately upon arrival (or at all). Maybe we can take our dinghy into that lagoon. We've read all kinds of warnings about navigating amid these coral atolls and having to take care with anchoring so your chain doesn't wrap around a coral head. But they can't be missed as they are beautiful and so opposite from the Marquesas (think no higher than the palm trees growing on the sand and with no image on the radar, the first you see of them as you approach is the ocean breaking on the coral reef). We hope to leave tonight or tomorrow at the latest and get on our way. It should take 4-5 days, weather permitting. We'll hit just a couple of these as we are anxious to get onto Tahiti and fly home to California for a visit. We'll probably only stay in the US a month as we'll need to get back and get the boat moving again so that we can get to Australia before the cyclone season hits.
We left Tahuata about 10pm Fri May 25 to do an overnight trip to the island of Ua Pou. Solstice went one day ahead of us as we decided to stay an extra day and finish up an underwater project where we had run out of daylight. We are at the Hakahau village/anchorage. There is a breakwater here that we can tuck behind so it's nice. Quite a few boats so the downside is that we had to put out two anchors - we hate putting out our stern anchor - it's so heavy and cumbersome. But with some help from Solstice who already had their dinghy in the water the work was made easy. We went ashore that afternoon with Don and Phyllis. They had scoped things out the prior day and knew where to get provisions. There are four small stores, but they don't sell much fruit - you need to approach locals who have it in their yards and most will sell it to you. We gathered mangos, lemons, and pampelmousse (spelling?) from one couple and then they wouldn't take any payment. We bought bananas at another house. They have great fresh water and so Dennis is filling our tanks. We gathered together every largish container we had that would hold water, the two largest being our dry bags that we got as a gift years ago to use with our kayaks. Dennis is porting 100 liters with each trip - 3 down, 3 to go. Baguettes are the treat all the cruisers enjoy at each of these french polynesian island; we count on them for our bread. But we went into town too late yesterday and they don't bake for Sunday. So Virginia made bread today. We did some laundry, messed with the jib furler trying to get it to run smoother, and basically bummed around the boat all day. There are two other Amels in this anchorage; one, C'est La Vie, we met in Cabo San Lucas as we were headed down last year and this is the first time we've seen Bob since. Visited with Bob and Jody briefly. We head to Nuka Hiva tomorrow morning where we should have some internet again. That is our last planned stop in the Marquesas. It will be onto the Tuamotos from there.