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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Exploring Huahine
07/25/2008, Huahine

We called the Raiatea Carnage first thing in the morning and talked to the yard manager. He had no concerns about making the rudder repair and booked us in for the 18th of August. After some discussion I was upbeat on their facility. There is a Moorings charter base on the island and the facility is known as the primary yacht center in FP. We, as always, have lots of little projects we are looking forward to completing (after the rudder ding is glassed up of course).

That behind us we dropped the dinghy in the water and set about heading up to the Fare Pote'e on the north side of the island. This overwater structure houses the Marae museum of Huahine. Huahine is unique in that many of the Marae here have been restored by the industrious Japanese professor Sinoto. Working with the University of Hawaii, Dr. Sinoto has almost single handedly recovered huge amounts of Polynesian cultural history. In particular he discovered the only remains of an early voyaging canoe ever to be found in the area.

The dinghy trek follows a marked channel up into the area of the Tiare Pass. After a skinny bit just north of the Farerea pass you enter a large lake like area. A small island in the middle of the lake serves as the black pearl farm's visitors center. The setting is enchanting and it is well worth a stop. There is a nice gift shop where wonderful local pottery and pearl jewelry are sold and the ladies at the facility will actually walk you through the pearl making process with real oysters.

Heading north you wind up toward a false pass where on the point you find the deserted Hotel Sofitel Huahine. There's a big shoal in the middle of the open water here but it appears plenty deep for a dinghy though we didn't try every track. We walked around the hotel grounds in awe. It was really in reasonable shape. Almost as if everyone was spirited away in the night by the ghosts of old who want to keep the island to themselves. The most recent round of hurricanes seems to have ended the interest in maintaining a major tourist foothold here.

Huahine is the most natural of the main societies, having no major hotels (left), many rebuilt Marae, and a history of independent spirit (they fought the French off several times, were the last island to receive French citizenship, and voted as an island for independence in the referendum mid last century).

Moving north from here becomes tricky. Our AB VS12 is very shoal and with the engine tilted up one notch we can motor along in a foot of water with no problem, the prop being protected above the hull draft. As we headed up the river we came across many Huahine residents who all greeted us warmly. You need to be careful in the river as the foot of tide can double the depth in places and there are also nets and even stone fish traps farther up. You will also see many boats cranked up into the air amid stands with four posts and bicycle like wheels attached to straps that lift the boats clear of the brine.

The ancient stone fish traps are interesting. Sinoto also assisted with the reclamation of some of these. Lac Maeva in the north of the island is salt water but otherwise much like a shallow lake. The river flows with the tides in and out of the lake. On the way out the stone fish traps, shaped like a big V, funnel fish into a round basin at the bottom of the V. Here the Polynesians can easily spear lunch or dinner.

We pulled to the side of the river just past the first stone fish trap. A friendly young lady indicated it would be ok if we tied up to the old post near a vacant lot. You could probably navigate under the bridge and into the lake if you wanted to. We were parked just next to the first two of the restored Marae. The walk along the coast of the lake takes you through the largest section of restored Marae. You can just imagine what the area must have looked like at its peak. It is a sight to see. The museum inside the Fare Pote'e was closed the whole time we were in the area, which was disappointing. They supposedly have maps of various trails you can follow to visit some of the Marae up on the surrounding hills. We took a hike mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide up to a Marae almost consumed by a humongous banyan tree. We pressed on looking for the continuation of the trail but after thrashing through the jungle for a while we gave up and turned back.

As we walked back along the coast we went by the school where a local group was rehearsing Polynesian song and dance. A great free show to be sure. We mixed in with the other locals and tourists who were looking on. Back at the dinghy the tide was up a few inches which made getting back much easier than coming in. It was a lovely day in Huahine and we will likely come back to spend more time here. However we need to be off to Bora Bora tomorrow to make sure that Nobu has some time to enjoy the most famous of the pacific isles.

French Polynesia
Daysail to Huahine
07/24/2008, Huahine

We exited the Oponohu pass just as the sun was coming up today. We raised the main but unfortunately the wind was not as far around as it was supposed to be and we were motor sailing with the wind about 20 degrees off the port bow. As the day progressed the wind vacillated between 25 and 45 degrees off the bow. We pulled the jib out a number of times and made as much as 9 knots and as little as 6 depending.

We were making for Passe Farerea, the main east side pass on Huahine. You can supposedly anchor in the bay but we have been liking the water in the lagoons much better. The bay is also rumored to be gusty and the east lagoon should be pretty sheltered with the westerly wind.

The pass is clearly marked and though the sun was in my face we had no difficulty coming in on the transit marks on the big island and clearing all of the lateral marks. We were planning to hook up in the Guide to Tourism and Navigation's H10 anchorage in the elbow of Motu Murimahora, to the south.

The marks led us cleanly down about half way. This area is very dramatic in its bottom changes and there's lots of hard stuff mixed in with the sand. You can go from 80 feet to zero feet quickly. Hideko and Nobu were up on the bow as we worked our way down the motu. When we were in the neighborhood of the anchorage as depicted on the chart we tried to head toward an expanse that looked to be the right depth of sand.

While things were pretty calm and the sun was behind us it was far too low to provide optimal visibility so I was really relying on the sounder as my principal tool after Hideko and Nobu. We were in 25 feet of water and then rapidly came into 10 feet, then 8 and 7. I stopped the boat quickly and Hideko reported too many coral heads to have a prayer of finding a spot. I turned the boat and the wind picked up. We were now off of our entry track. I made for the track watching the bottom as best I could.

We have only one sounder but two hulls 8 meters apart. With the sounder never reading less than 10 feet (we draw 4' 8") the boat bumped with a quiet crunch and then we were back in deep water. Hmmm, something was now wrong with the steering. We made our way back to the small bay (Rate Bay?) on the island side just south of the pass using the engines to steer and anchored up.

I dove in to take a look at things and discovered that the port rudder looked as if it had clipped a peaky coral head. This is odd because the keel which is slightly deeper than the rudder showed no damage, though Nobu discovered a small area missing some bottom paint. The damage was not severe but we would need to haul out to grind it clean and epoxy it back into perfect form.

A nice feature of the Saint Francis 50 is the flexibility of the haydraulic steering system. I opened the loop shutoff on the port side, bypassing the port ram, allowing the boat to be steered with the starboard rudder alone. The boat would not handle quite as well with one rudder but if you didn't know the boat you might not even notice. All the same we would be checking in with the Raiatea Carnage in the morning.

There was much crying in the pretzels about the dinged rudder. Hideko and I had sailed Swingin' on a Star for almost two years and over 6,000 miles through the shoal Bahamas, the poorly charted Dominican Republic and everywhere else from Florida to Trinidad and from Trinidad to Huahine without once touching bottom. I suppose if you want to consistently creep into the best spots away from other boats and choose to do so without waiting for perfect creeping conditions (it was late in the day this time) you run the risk.

There is some scuttlebutt to be found on the net regarding Saint Francis rudders. A number of 44s have lost theirs at sea. Usually two at a time. Every 48 owner I have talked to has had to replace both rudders after losing them in heavy conditions. Losing both rudders would be a worst case scenario. I believe the factory has handled repairs under warranty for all boats so covered (though I hear a few 44s were out of warrantee and not covered). I do not believe all 44s have this problem and I am now very confident that it does not exist in the 50. We have sailed in some nasty stuff, particularly around Barnquilla where a 48 we know lost one of their rudders and suffered enough strain on the other to have it come off on the next leg. Now we have even clipped a rudder on a reef and it is still securely attached.

Would we do it again? Probably. Finding the magical anchorages that you never forget, where your boat floats alone in an idyllic snorkelers paradise, is part of what cruising is all about to us. It was good that we were moving very slowly (always important) but perhaps we could have gone even slower (hard to say without a perfect recollection of the wind and current). Noon sun would have almost surely allowed the bow crew to have guided us around the bump and a sounder in the other hull might have also allowed me to steer around it. I am now more interested than ever to add a forward looking sounder in the port hull.

French Polynesia
Free Day in Moorea
07/23/2008, Moorea

Well as luck would have it there are a collection of weather features surrounding the area forming some odd and interesting wind patterns. Of course the outcome is that the wind is coming from where we are going. A northwest wind! Come on. Oh well, tomorrow the wind is supposed to strengthen and move southwest, which would be just about perfect.

This gave us the chance to do some of the things we had not had a chance to do our last visit to Moorea. Top on our list was exploring the lagoon to the west and visiting the string ray city.

We dropped the dinghy and followed the markers over to the village just west of the mouth of Oponohu Bay. We motored around the little harbor and waved at the kids playing by the waterfront. The channel this far was pretty deep. Moving on, the markers take you through some very skinny stuff. No problem for a carefully piloted dinghy but I would stay close to the marks (not too close though as most of them are set into a coral head) and try it first with good light. Just past the Intercontenental Hotel (on the left) we came across the sting ray city (on the right toward the reef). You can usually spot the sting ray area due to the fact that there are many boats in the neighborhood supporting various groups of snorkelers.

The sting rays here have certainly been well trained by fleets of tourists with hand fulls of bait on offer. We avoid feeding the wildlife so it was funny to watch the droves of rays converge on our boat and then after a few minutes leave in disgust when no free food appeared. There are always a few rays in the area food or no. We anchored the dink in about 6-8 feet of water with a beautiful sand bottom. There are some pretty coral heads to snorkel on closer to the reef and the sand drops off to about 30 feet on the island side. In the deeper water we saw several black tip reef sharks, no doubt hanging about for scraps as well.

We continued around toward the motus off of the northwest end of the island. This is a spectacular area and we found a lone catamaran anchored in an incredibly idyllic spot, very protected inside the motus. There is a pass over this way and I assume he came through there as the dingy route inside the reef from Oponohu would be nearly impossible for a large boat of any draft.

The motus form a little lagoon which seems to be a popular tourist spot for the local hotels. It was very picturesque with impressive and vibrant coral heads cropping up from the 15 foot bottom. After touring the motus we headed around to the west side of the island. The dinghy channel seems to wind up in this area, just as well because we were getting to the end of our daylight. This far side of the island seemed much less touristy with more local people playing at the beach and boaters out enjoying the sun or returning from fishing.

On the way back we stopped at the Intercontinental for lunch. Another outrageously gorgeous hotel in paradise, and the food was not bad either (not always the case). We have never had anyone say a thing to us for tying up (out of the way of course) at a hotel's dock.

We made an early night of it back at the big boat. The weather still looked good for a long (80 mile) day sail to Huahine tomorrow so we stowed the dinghy and went to bed with everything ready to go.

French Polynesia
Really Leaving Tahiti
07/22/2008, Tahiti

We got up early this morning and rinsed down the boat to get all of the city's soot off of the decks while we still had ample fresh water. Once the boat was cleaned up we prepared to cast off. There wasn't much wind in the harbor so things were pretty mellow. We removed the stern cross ties first which does little to the boat's attitude when the wind is clam. Next the stern lines were loosed, the plan being to ride up into the channel between the docks on the very tight bow lines (they were tight to keep the transom off of the dock when the ferry wake comes in but close enough to use the pasarelle).

Well you know what they say about the best plans. What actually happened was much more interesting. The bow lines run down to moorings and have messenger lines back to the docks. The messenger lines are however much too tight (IMHO). At rest they don't drop straight down they actually run just under the surface angling down to the seabed from the dock making avoiding them careful work.

We had one line on the port side which angled off to port but once we released the port stern line the boat pulled onto the starboard bow line. This put the messenger in the rudder. With all lines off I asked if the messenger was clear of the prop and I got a yes. The messenger was clear at the stern but little did any of us know the line was looped up over the rudder and right in the prop.

I put the starboard engine in gear and within an instant, "beeeeeeeeeeep", came the report from the control panel. It is never good when your diesel stops without you telling it to. I started her again and tried an instant of reverse to see if it would spill loose. "Beeeeeeep". So now we had the starboard prop wrapped and a breeze blowing the bow onto the concrete quai (we were at the inside end of the floating dock). Nobu and Hideko quickly marshaled more fenders to the starbnoard side of the boat and a couple of guys from the next boat over helped us get a bow and stern line onto the dock. There was a nasty water pipe sticking straight out at our topsides but our fenders and rub rail put just enough space between us and the dock to keep it from gouging.

I had done everything possible to stay out of the nasty water around the Quai. We sailed all the way to Moorea with our new prop in the cockpit before installing it to avoid this water. Yet there I stood, mask and snorkel in hand staring at the black murky surface of the harbor. The pollution level chart at the harbor master's office came to mind with the harbor rating off the scale, "do not enter, health risk".

So I jumped in. After the obligatory quivering associated with entering the cool water and my mental image of its contents I took a look at the prop. Everything looked good, except for the twenty millimeter three strand wrapped around the shaft of course. The Varifold had folded up and was in perfect condition, nothing was loose and the sail drive looked fine. I had already checked the engine room and no water was coming through the seal.

I tried as hard as I could to loosen things up but the rope had wrapped the messenger line and there was no budging it. Out came the Myerchin. It took me a few dives and I had to cut the three strand and the messenger line to get everything clear. I was sorry to leave the clean up work for the harbormaster but hopefully they will tie a longer messenger line on next time around.

In retrospect I probably could have avoided the situation if I had left the port line on the bow and had Nobu haul us out into the channel on it to clear the starboard line. Not sure if this would have cleared the line from the rudder or not but certainly would have made a clean getaway more likely. Wide can be challenging some times. Another option would be to have someone untie the messenger at the dock and cast it loose (no fun for the harbormaster who has to recover it of course).

So after the morning's excitement we called into the harbor control on 16 to get clearance to go around the runway with a pole that sticks up 72 feet above the water. They told us to stand by and cleared things with the airport, then told us to proceed. It was around eleven o'clock by now and this is a good time to transit the airport as most big international flights come in early or late in the day.

The Tahitians love paddling. On any given day you will find may hardy souls out stroking away in teams or solo, almost all in narrow canoes or kayaks with Polynesian style outriggers. On the way to the fuel dock we picked up a few. They seemed tot have a great time riding our wake and showing that they could paddle faster than we could motor (for short bits of course).

We arrived at the Marina Taina's fuel dock at 5 minutes to noon. Lunch is at noon and the fuel dock guy was not entertaining any last minute clients. So we tied up and went to lunch as well. The casual restaurant at Taina is Italian, so we all enjoyed a nice pizza and pasta lunch. It worked out well because Nobu and I wanted Hideko to see the marina anyway.

We fueled up the port tank and our 5 gallon jug once one o'clock came around. The guy at the fuel dock was very helpful and we were off in no time.

Our current plan was to get Nobu to Bora Bora so that he can see the island before he heads home on the 28th. We planned three hops: Moorea, Huahine and Bora Bora. We were all reading the book called "Huahine, island of the lost canoe", and each of us had become very interested in seeing all of the reconstructed Marae (old world Polynesian temples).

We arrived at the east lagoon of Oponohu, our favorite anchorage in Moorea, at around four o'clock after a nice 8 knot sail. It was pleasing to see the main set so beautifully with the new battens installed. Everyone enjoyed a swim in the perfect water once we were settled. We left the boat in passage mode hoping for good wind to Huahine tomorrow though the forecast was not favorable.

French Polynesia
Checking out for a cruise of the Leeward Islands
07/21/2008, Tahiti

After a relaxing pain au chocolate and a latte at the local bakery (did I mention I love French countries?) we set about getting the final preparations complete for our departure to Huahine. Final preparations for Hideko means shopping, so Hideko set off for the market to stock up on fresh milk and the like. In the mean time Nobu and I checked in with customs and immigration. We were already checked in to the country but the officials seem to want to keep fairly precise tabs on your movements. You are free to wander Tahiti and Moorea when checked in at Tahiti but they ask you to check back with an itinerary if you sail farther afield. This is generally impossible because you never know what your movements will turn out to be exactly, particularly in the face of weather and such a vast landscape of islands. We did out best of course.

You would think that fueling up in the largest city in this part of the world would be easy. Not the case. Asking around the dock I received many pieces of advice from the cruiser contingent. All cruisers (self included) like to help any time they can. Often faced with no relevant first hand data the grape vine is invoked. This is where the most interesting advice comes from. I can certify that there is no truck that will come and fuel you while tied up on the Quai, nor is there a Mobil station available to yachts by the ferry dock, nor can you tie up near the bridge to the barge. In fact, according to the harbormaster, who I interrogated fully, you can not fuel a yacht up anywhere in the principal port of all Polynesia.

Your near by options are south to Marina Taina, which requires clearing your trek around the airport, and the Tahiti Yacht Club to the north, which requires a trip outside the reef. We had been to the Tahiti Yacht Club and the dock was way back in a spot where it would be difficult to squeeze a 50 foot catamaran. The fuel dock there is also about 30 feet long. The average boat in the yacht club is a 25 foot power boat and it is set up perfectly for that.

The two rumored options on Moorea are the ferry quai and Cook's Bay just past the Bali Hai. Nobu and I checked out the Cook's Bay option and found only gas on the dock, no diesel. It is also a very small dock, again designed for jet skis and small power boats. The approach is easy, the dock is sticking out in the bay all by itself, but I saw no diesel and, more interestingly, I saw no one to ask about it.

Prior to taking the big boat to Marina Taina Nobu and I decided to zip over there in the dinghy to make sure it would work out. This was the first trip we took in the new dinghy where there really would have been no way to do it in the old Walker Bay. We got up on a plane and moved very quickly through pretty large chop. It was a nice and quick 4 miles.

Marina Taina is a well polished and new looking facility. It is also pretty large. They have one fancy and one casual restaurant, a nice bar that serves fresh 3 Brasurres beer (2 Ambers please), a small chandlery, Internet access and most other things you'd expect. There's not much outside the marina with the exception of a large supermarket. The fuel dock is situated in an easily accessible spot and was prepared to fill us up whenever.

We also stopped in at the office to check into availability out of curiosity. When we originally emailed from the Marquesas the marina had no availability. It turned out that things were opening up now with the cruising fleet beginning to thin out, various groups of boats headed for the Cook Islands and beyond. The outside had some huge sailboats tied up such as the Marie Cha III and Obsession 2, which we went through the Panama canal with. I watched a guy on Obsession 2 walk to the rail and throw some raw trash into the water as we went by. Bad enough to pollute your own country much worse to come out here and despoil paradise.

The marina is out in the lagoon area so the water is very clear and there are many boats in the anchorage just off the dock. I would even call it crowded. There is a floating bar and what looks like a floating restaurant also out on the bank inside the reef. Many folks use this area for water-sports, playing around on jet skis and wake boards.

The pass just south of the Taina is well marked and said to be good in most conditions. We took a look at it and on this particular day it looked a little dicey. I draw the line when people are surfing between the markers. Kidding of course, but the break in this area was rather big today and there were many surfers out. The pass seemed doable but I think if it looks this way when we come with the big boat I may go back out at Papeete.

After exploring the marina Nobu and I headed back to the big boat. We had another fun ride inside the reef marveling at the wonderful colors of the lagoon. Just snorkeling out on the bank over the sand is fun when the water is so clear. Tahiti has so much to offer I think that it is too bad so many only see only Papeete (which is fun in its own way). You could easily spend a week or more circumnavigating Tahiti and never spend two nights in the same anchorage or see more than a couple of other boats.

Back home we realized that there was no way we were going anywhere today. Such is the cruising life. So off to the Le Roulotte we went for a nice dinner and a tasty chocolate, banana and vanilla ice cream crepe (with lots of whipped cream).

French Polynesia
Last Night in Tahiti
07/20/2008, Quai des Yachts

We spent our last full day in Tahiti getting caught up on the internet (the blog was getting very behind), provisioning and cleaning the boat up. Hideko did the majority of the cleaning, bless her.

We had to replace our starboard RuleMate 1100, which was only about two months old. On the Pacific crossing when had water coming into the starboard bilge fairly frequently. This is because the bilge pump outlet drains through the bridge deck but has an aft facing scoop to keep out water splashing from the bow. This is the right way to do it of course but when you have 3-4 meter following seas they pass you and pound up under the bridge deck from the wrong direction as they go by. Thus the leeward hull is often getting salt water forced into the scoops. With no check valve (something I will add in the future) water comes straight into the bilge.

The first day I heard the bilge alarm I was concerned and could not figure out where the water was coming from. Extra concerned because the boat was being tested in the big seas and the water was salt. The flow rate was slow though and I happened to catch the process in the act at one point. Once I knew what was happening I was content that all was well.

The 1100, which was new as of Panama, ran for most of the way across but about four days from Fatu Hiva it stopped working and we had to use the manual once or twice a day. I am happy we have the manual Whale pumps but the location of the starboard one makes only a half pump possible due to its proximity to the stairs. Nit picky I know but one always strives for perfection especially given the relative expense and newness of this boat.

The old 1100 seems to have no excuse for failing, much like the last 10 or 15 we have piled up. I still intend to take the factory up on their offer to inspect a few of the deceased to try to get to the bottom of the problem.

It being Sunday, the big market day, we went to the market. The open air market in Papeete is open everyday but Sunday the whole perimeter is packed with distant and local farmers who only come once a week. We picked up lots of nice fruits and vegetables, typically for a discount over store prices. The indoor area has a butcher and lots of fish mongers as well as a nice upstairs bar (ridiculously priced) with a jammin' uke band.

French Polynesia
Tahiti Yacht Club
07/19/2008, Tahiti

We took the dingy out to the Tahiti Yacht Club this afternoon. It is nice to go fast with the new dinghy but you have to be sure you know the channel before you do. The harbor is pretty safe but as soon as you cross under the bridge at the north end of the main port it gets more interesting. The channels behind the reef are marked with red on the island side and green on the ocean side and in general are pretty clear. However the farther you are from primary traffic the few marks there are.

It can also get interesting when there is a channel behind the reef and another close to shore with connectors between. Which side is red on again? You can take a dinghy channel along the shoreline all the way to the yacht club but if you come in with a big boat you need to go outside from the main port, come back in through the pass near the yacht club and then head left (northeast) behind the reef, then right toward shore, then right again toward the yacht club. The large reef in the middle of the lagoon makes this requirement.

The yacht club is a funky little place mainly serving local power boats. That said they have an active sailing club from the looks of it and cruising yachts are found here and there on the moorings (about $10 a day) and sometimes on the dock. It would be a nice get away. There's a bar and grill and a little snack shop with the obligatory Croque Monsieur (Grilled ham and cheese), croissants, ice cream and the other beloved necessities of a French snack.

A short walk down the way from the yacht club is a huge Care Four market. This thing is huge by American standards. It even has small stores inside of it for electronics, banking, hair cuts and the like. Pricey but you could get anything you want there. They even had some stuff for the boat!

Back at the yacht club we found the fuel dock offered diesel and unleaded gas. It would be a tight squeeze for our boat and other than a few metal rings on the side of the hybrid wood/concrete structure there are no cleats or bollards for fast attachment. In a flat calm this would be a great place to fuel. If conditions were difficult I think I would order another Hinano and enjoy the lagoon one more day.

We saw our friends James and Amelia on Rahula tied to a mooring. The were tuning things up and getting ready to head down island. They had stopped by to visit with us on the Quai a couple days ago but the last time I had seen Rahula was when I crewed for James and Amelia on their Panama canal transit. They had made for the Gambier instead of the Marquesas and reported a wonderful time.

We fueled up the dink at the yacht club. We ran our first break in tank at 20 to 1 as per the instructions. Tank two was at 40 to 1. We mixed this tank at 60 to 1. One more tank at 80 to 1 and we'll be fully broken in and ready to run at the much cleaner 100 to 1 which will be very nice (not to mention saving a lot of money on two stroke oil).

We headed back to the big boat just before the sun set and set about prepping the boat for a Monday departure down island.

French Polynesia

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