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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Heading West Again
09/15/2008, Bora Bora

We got the boat set for sea this morning and dropped the mooring to motor out into the bay. Hideko and I were certainly rusty, we haven't sailed in the ocean in over a month! Strange given we live on a sail boat. We have a good preparation check list though so we put it to use.

Once away from the other yachts we turned head to wind and put up the main. I have heard a lot of opinions on how and when to raise the main. Every boat is different but opinions seem to be most relevant when applied to the owners boat, a good thing to keep in mind when considering adopting someone else's ideas.

I have found that on a yacht of 40 feet or less, raising the main at anchor or on a mooring is a reasonable and often easier approach. As the boat approaches 50 feet it becomes a bit more dangerous and less reasonable, particularly in windy conditions. The power behind a 1,000 square foot sail in a gust is not something you can man handle.

After bringing the main up we headed north toward the Paipai pass. This pass is pretty deep and wide and some of the cruising guides make it sound a bit scary. You would have to have some pretty severe southerly weather to make it dangerous in my estimation.

Once out from behind the headland the wind funneling through the cut between the islands picked up into the high 20s. We had to jib half way down the lagoon as the wind was right behind us. Once near the pass we made a gentle turn into the wind bringing the apparent wind back into the 20s.

There was a French Navy ship making its way through the wide pass at the time. We thought about standing off until she was through but the pass is so wide we decided to slow down a bit until the ship was through the breakers and then move on. We waved at the cheerful navy crew on the way by. Tuff life patrolling the viscous Polynesian waters...

Given the forecast, we had some pretty brisk wind on the 20 mile trip across. I think the draw between Raiatea and Tahaa has something to do with it, even out in the channel. The seas between the two groups also get a little mixed up.

The Tahaa Paipai pass exits in a southwest direction and once out we could not clear the south end of the Bora Bora reef on one tack without sailing deeper than 145 apparent. Without the spinnaker we can't really do much better than 145 and double handed with 20 some knots of true wind is decidedly not spinnaker territory.

Once around the Bora Bora southwest reef marker we headed up which brought the wind onto the beam. The wind was gusty on the west side of Bora Bora and although the gradient wind was out of the east, the island seemed to whip it up a bit with some directional variability. Shortly we were surfing down the gentle four footers on the back side of the island as speeds up to 13 knots. This is always fun but things happen fast at 13 knots. We were coming up on the pass and the next thing you know there's a slow sailboat preparing to enter the pass under power, two small power boats exiting, four open fishing boats moving around the area, a sport fisher zig zagging back and forth in front of us and fish aggregation buoys flouting around all over the place.

You do have a lot of steerageway at 13 knots though. Snaking through the various hazards (none of which were apparently interested in our right of way status as a sailboat) took all of our attention. Once close to the pass we rolled up the jib, headed up and dropped the main quickly, so that we didn't run anyone down, and then followed the monohull into the pass.

Though we have spent a fair amount of time in Bora Bora we had never stayed at the Bora Bora Yacht club. This is perhaps the oldest of yacht hang outs in Bora Bora. It is often crowded as well. It is late in the season however and we were lucky enough to find a mooring. Within minutes of picking it up the last two were gone.

The yacht club is in a nice little bay just across from the pass, easy in and easy out. It is a short hop to town but far enough from it that you aren't "in town". The yacht club itself is a mooring field and a nice dock with a bar and grill. The food is supposedly fantastic with a Los Angeles trained chef. They also have bikes for cruiser use and a nice barbeque area for yachts to use.

We arrived on a Monday and the kitchen is closed on Mondays, as are most things in Bora Bora. We met some kindred spirits at the bar, which was open. Thulani, Decorse Spirit and Chante Foc all yachts we have run into at various points along the run from Panama.

French Polynesia
More Rain
09/14/2008, Tahaa

The weather is finally coming around but this morning it seemed like we ware in for one last gasp of disturbed air. It rained most of the day to day. We spent the day enjoying the beautiful harbor and calm, if wet, conditions. The Marina Iti/Yacht Club is a perfect cruiser hang out especially in these conditions. The manager, Maui, is a very friendly and helpful fellow. He is from Bora Bora but went to collage in California and speaks perfect French and Californian. They have a full bar and fantastic food.

There is a pearl farm base next door to the Yacht Club and you can take a walk through the Marina Iti gardens to visit. They will give you a complete run down and demonstration of the pearl making process.

French Polynesia
Tahaa and Marina Iti
09/13/2008, Tahaa

After a rough night with squalls and stink exhaust from the Paul Gauguin, I was woken by a wrap on the hull. It was 7AM and the guy who runs the fuel dock wanted us off. As it turned out we wanted to top up with another 60 liters or so now that our tanks had fully equalized.

I told him I wanted diesel (in French) and he said go in 5 minutes and walked away. We were having communications problems? I asked again to get diesel. He got nasty and once again insisted I get off of his dock (which was really the city's dock).

Of course the wind was up over 20 again and blowing from about 20 degrees off of the port bow with us starboard to. Swingin the stern out would be tough due to how close Jellyfish was behind us, our wide beam and the wind trying to put us back on. Also once backing off I would have to stay on it hard to clear Jellyfish and avoid the dock that curved around on the far side. Springing off by the stern was a no go with the ship on the dock off the port bow.

As I was considering all of this I began stripping the lines down to just a bow and stern. At this point I had apparently over run my allotted five minutes. The owner or manager of the Shell station returned and untied our bow line and threw it aboard the boat without a word. I was standing on the dock watching the 20 some knot wind begin to peel our bow off the dock with the stern still tied up.

After a few seconds on time stop disbelief I jumped on the rub rail and grabbed the bow line and quickly made it fast again. Fortunately the wind hadn't gusted around to starboard and I had enough line to make fast.

So not only was this lunatic not willing to sell me diesel but he was also willing to put our home and the yacht behind us at risk. I was on the fuel dock, yes, but no one was waiting and I wanted to buy fuel! This nut was a westerner as was the guy who owned Raiatea Marine who would not let us stay on his mooring after finding we had done business with the Carenage, I am ashamed to be related. I can't imagine a Polynesian ever acting so.

There was no room for us to slide back and I didn't want to wake the Jellyfish crew. There was a tight spot behind them but given the wind and chop we decided to just head out.

We left a forward spring looped onto a bollard and drove up on a fender. This boat seems big to me only when doing this type of thing with the wind howling. It was really hard to get the stern out in the conditions. Once out is was even trickier to pull back quickly to avoid slipping into Jellyfish. The key is keeping the rudder centered or a little to port. If you let it run to lock it will act like a break.

Once out of the harbor we headed for Tahaa. The channel that runs east of the central bank between the two islands is gusty and choppy in these conditions. I would have preferred to have brought our dinghy up but given the hospitality of the non indigenous business interests we decided to leave it in the water.

We circumnavigated the whole island of Tahaa over the day. It is a beautiful island with deep winding bays which we explored fully. There is a cruiser friendly pension and restaurant in Haamene Bay with a Turtle nursery and free moorings for guests. Tahaa itself is not long on beaches but there are many lovely sand spots on the motus at the north end of the island. You can anchor off of the southern most motu on the west side near the Tahaa Private Island Resort and Spa for a nice but expensive meal. The west pass of Tahaa, Pass Paipai, faces southwest but seemed pretty reasonable even with the 25 knot winds coming through the break in the islands. Late in the day we saw the Paul Gauguin cruise ship come through this pass so I would imagine that it is large enough to serve in most conditions.

We wrapped up our day in Apu Bay on a Marina Iti Mooring (aka The Taravana Yacht Club). The marina is really a restaurant with cruiser services (such as laundry, water, internet and the like) and a mooring field. The moorings are nice since the anchorage is about 100 feet in most spots. The restaurant is also fantastic. Hideko and I went in for a late lunch and greatly enjoyed it. Many of the charter boats bound for Marina Apooiti across the bank in Raiatea spend their last night here, so you may want to radio or call ahead to reserve a spot. Maui runs the Marina and is a wonderful host.

The mooring field is well protected but still has some breeze from the trades. It is a great spot to enjoy a day or two at Tahaa.

French Polynesia
09/12/2008, Raiatea

We finally left the Carenage mooring field today. The wind is still cranking pretty good but the skys are blue and we need to be somewhere else for a bit. We also need diesel after all of the experimentation and cloudy days.

We motored out past Marina Apooiti and around the end of the airport. We hailed the air strip to ask permission to cross, per the cruising guide, but got no response. After a couple of tries we gave the sky a careful once over and, seeing the coast was clear, we headed around.

Shortly after the air strip is the municipal marina. This marina is full up with local boats of all types but there are some spots for transients also from time to time. They have a dive shop and basic facilities but the real advantage is that it is close to town. Just outside the marina is a Total Station fuel dock. This was just what we were looking for so we entered the little bay only to discover that the Maupiti Express II was on the dock, and there's no dock left when the MEII is in port.

We floated around in the bay battling the 20 something knot winds for a bit trying to hail the shuttle. No one answered on VHF 16 and the guy we finally waved down on deck didn't do English and my French only got a vague idea of their etd, which was 2PM.

So we headed on to Uturoa. Uturoa is a small harbor and the good bit is reserved for local boats, mostly shuttles and the like. The town dock is free for cruising yachts but it is also pretty exposed. It is inside the lagoon of course but this is a big lagoon and Uturoa is on the east side of the island right in the path of the wind acceleration zone. The dock is outside of the little harbor area and more less open to the lagoon. It can get pretty choppy on the dock in big winds.

We pulled onto the fuel dock which is the slightly more sheltered end of public dock. We had acquired a duty free permit in Papeete when we cleared in that saved us a lot of money on our fill up. We also filled up our two gas jugs and the diesel jug we carry with full duty as it seems only the big boat gets duty free treatment.

Hideko grabbed us some Special Chow Mein for lunch while I handled the arduous job of fuelling through the baja filter. The fuel turned out to be fine but you never know until afterwards and I never let the anxious attendants talk me out of using it (they always try). I did have to take a break to let a taxi boat fill up as they only have one diesel pump.

The wind was really ripping through the harbor, sticking around 23 knots. We did manage to back the boat up along the dock to get out of the fueling area. This gave Hideko a chance to hit the Champion shopping store while I cleaned up around the boat. The Champion is about as large as the Chin Lee in Bora Bora, which is about as big as markets get outside of Tahiti.

After the Shell station closed a shuttle came into port so we had to move forward again into the fuel dock area. Normally the shuttles pick up on the outer dock but it was too choppy today. We met some friendly Kiwis on a yacht called Jellyfish and they moved up behind us to try to get out of the chop.

It was kind of fun to be tied up in town but I think one day would be enough. It is pretty busy, rough on the boat with the wakes and chop in big winds but the worst bit was the Paul Gauguin. The PG is a cruise ship that does the Cooks and French Polynesia. It is big but small enough that it can get into most of the lagoons. Unfortunately it spews nasty diesel fumes day and night and the wind was blowing them right into our boat half the time. At least it was blocking the wind a bit.

Hideko and I though about leaving when she got back from the store but it was late and we were in no rush. It was also blowing pretty good and if it calmed down tomorrow (as, once again, it was supposed to) it would be easier to get off the dock in the crowd.

French Polynesia
Waiting on weather
09/11/2008, Raiatea

Another overcast and rainy day. Again we have the same forecast that we have downloaded for the last five days. I checked today to make sure that the dates were advancing on the reports and that everything else was in order. All seemed in order. After reading some of our weather reference works I have come to believe that the southern hemisphere weather forecasts coming out of Hawaii and the GFS model are less accurate than those for the northern hemisphere. This is certainly my experience and it seems to fit the literature I have as well. It is also the case that the forecasts are far less detailed down here. In the Carib you can get very detailed reports for small areas that are pretty darn accurate, particularly up to three days out. You are certainly more on your own sailing about down here.

French Polynesia
Big Rain
09/10/2008, Raiatea

Big rain today. In between squalls Fred managed to redo the diesel fitting layout to avoid tight bends on the diesel lines.

Every day for the past few we have been checking weather. Each day the report says, tomorrow the wind will be 20-30 knots but the day after that it will go to 15 knots for the foreseeable future. The only problem is that we keep getting the same forecast each day, kind of like ground hog day or something. We need to get past tomorrow at some point.

French Polynesia
More diesel fitting work
09/09/2008, Raiatea

We ran the genset today with interesting results. There are four fuel tanks on this yacht and they are set up in two banks of two. The two port tanks feed the port aux and genset and the starboard tanks feed the starboard aux. Each tank has a shut off and there is a combiner that connects all four.

Yesterday was nasty so we ran the genset for a bit, made ice, charged batteries in the absence of sun, etceteras. The port bank was low so I opened the combiner but the port and starboard tank levels stayed independent. Hmm, one item to check on.

Today the genset died in the middle of a morning run. Sounded like it was out of fuel. I checked the port fuel bank level and it had more fuel than when we fired the genset up. Hmmm, nothing like a nice puzzle on a rainy day.

This ad hoc experiment inspired an inspection which turned up a kink in the hose between the inside tank and the fitting that leads to the engine bank. There was plenty of fuel in the outside tank though so why the failure?

After a bit of research I determined that the problem was that the return from the diesels comes into the filler hose. The filler hose goes down to the level of the top of the tanks and then hangs a 90 degree turn, running across the tops of the tanks. Of course this means that, when there is room, the inside tank gets all of the return fuel. I'm not sure of the exact ratio but from this experience I would guess that at least as much fuel is returned to the tank as that which is burned in the engine, perhaps twice as much. Given this data you run out of fuel two to three times faster than you should if you don't reuse the returned fuel.

Certainly a condition we are not going to sail off across the south pacific with. What's one more day...

French Polynesia

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