09/27/2008, South Pacific
We arrived in Palmerston this morning around 9AM. A great group of Cook Islanders checked us in and out and fed us a wonderful lunch. These people are amazing. The atoll is beautiful. I would stay here a week if we could. We stayed the day on one of their moorings but weather is kicking us out. We will be making for Niue this evening or Tonga if Niue is untenable (lots of west wind going around. Steve on Independent Freedom helped us get our traveler jury rigged to actually move again but still hold the boom down. Thanks Steve! More tomorrow.
09/26/2008, South Pacific
We had a nice sail last night. Our pace with a reef in the main has lined us up for a morning arrival tomorrow at Palmerston atoll. My final jury rig on our traveler car seems to be holding well.
We have port and starboard control lines on the boom just in case. Fortunately, as far as emergency duty goes, the control lines have been idle. They did calm the boom in the boisterous seas that cropped up this morning (I may use this trick even when the traveler is working again). There are no hard points up on the bimini so the control lines run to deck cleats. This causes them to chafe on the hard top unless the traveler is hard over. We have duct tape protecting the gel coat and chafe gear (fire hose) on the dynema lines.
After a lovely night with only a little pounding, the seas moved more to the beam and got up. It has been a rolly ride today with a good 2.5 meter swell and perfect 15 knot winds from 110 off to port. We sailed tody with reef one in to stay slow so we don't arrive at night.
Weather is always a prime interest when on passage. We are pulling spots for every two degrees of longitude on our track for detailed local forecast information (wind speed/dir, wave height/dir/period, & pressure every 3 hours). We grab a three day GRIB of the general area to see macro weather trends. We also pull the wether report for the area from Honolulu to get the weatherman's take on the computer models. Add to this Buoy Weather data from Frank on Independent Freedom (also sailing to Palmerston) and the Anzac net check ins and you have a pretty good picture of what is going on.
We are particularly sensitive to wind direction and strength with our traveler car immobilized. If the wind stays south of east (as predicted until 8AM tomorrow) we can sail to Palmerston. The wind is predicted to move into the north quadrant shortly after 8AM. If we are caught out in this it will complicate our sail plan. We also don't want any gales with duct tape holding out traveler bearings in.
Once in Palmerston the weather complications continue. The wind is going north and then NW because a low is passing to the south. If it is light and the seas are moderate the Palmerston mooring field may be ok. If wind or seas are strong we'll have to leave Palmerston that evening, or early morning, at the latest. We're hoping to get to spend at least a couple days in Palmerston.
It is looking like a New Zealand rigger can get out traveler parts to Niue in a week. Niue is a two night hop from Palmerston and with luck we'll be able to sail it.
We'll be eating well tonight regardless as we just pulled in a perfect little tuna.
96 nm to Palmerston
09/25/2008, South Pacific
All things considered we are having a fairly nice, albeit slow, passage. We set out from Maupiti for the 625 nm trip looking forward to smooth sailing and 200 mile days. We plan for 160 nm days but hope for 200. We've been barely making the minimum with the help of the diesel. We sailed our first day and then had the traveler melt down. We motored the first night and then motor sailed the second day until the traveler gave out again, then went into trawler mode. Last night we crossed the fading SPCZ sheer line. It rained almost all night and we had no sky from about two hours before sunset until dawn. This morning early we had a little 20 some knot squall and the seas got really sharp, building into the 3 meter zone, but it passed in an couple of hours.
Today we are back to sailing with the full main and jib up, making five to eight knots in the light air on a deep reach. We can't move the traveler without surgery so we can only sail on a port tack reach anyway. The traveler car is heavily duct taped and a sufficient number of bearings are in place to keep the car on the track, hopefully. Because the port cap is broken the car is only secured on the starboard side and simply jammed on the port side. The light conditions (10-15 knots true from 150 off the port bow) combined with the 4-8 foot swell is really working the rig. Not a good thing while trying to limp into port with a broken traveler.
Today I talked to Independent Freedom (an unstayed Freedom yacht) and Plan B (a Privilege cat) over the SSB and both have experience with this traveler system. Each had some good advice for repairs to the traveler car. It is a Lewmar traveler and is less than 3 years old! In a fairly shocking oversight, bordering on negligence in my book, Lewmar decided to use plastic end caps for the traveler car to capture the Torlon bearings and hold the car on the track. The plastic they picked falls apart when exposed to UV after two seasons. Hmm, let's see, sailboats, tropics, intense sunshine 24/7, yes these things go together. I know Lewmar is from England where they don't see the sun too often but come on. Apparently the new Lewmar cars have aluminum end caps. We will be having a few of these metal caps shipped to Niue if possible. Plan B has also offered to meet us in Niue and they may have some spares to offer that will fit our car. You have to love cruisers, what wonderful folks.
We have to keep an eye on the fuel because we're pretty much out in the middle of no where. Closest possible fuel is Niue a good three nights out. We could motor the whole way there with what we have left (this boat has good tankage) but I prefer to come in with a safe reserve so we're sailing. If has been a near perfect afternoon of it as well. Wind about 130 to port at 11 apparent and a close together but reasonable 6 foot swell on the quarter. We're gliding along at 7 knots into the sunset.
255 nm to Palmerston
09/24/2008, South Pacific
Well the traveler deteriorated today. It was holding together most of the day and toward the end of the day we tried to set up for a jibe. As we carefully pulled the traveler to port the forward side of the traveler car began to spit out plastic ball bearings. It now looked ready to come off the track.
We dropped the main and put a line around the end of the boom to the starboard quarter cleat to control the boom if the traveler let go. We tried to move it back to starboard all the way to the lock (it is about a foot or two out) so that if it came off, the starboard control lines on the car would be as short as possible and keep it under control. It moved a little and then jammed. I didn't want to mess with it further because we have a 2 meter swell and there is just no way to control the flow of ball bearings up there in the bimini.
So we are now a trawler. We are doing 6 knots with one engine at 1,750 RPMs. We are burning about 1 to 1.3 gallons an hour and in the worst case can motor 5-6 more days. Our destination in Palmerston but we are considering ditching at Aitutake (218nm away). Tomorrow during daylight we're going to try to jury rig the boom so that we can get some main back up. The main adds at least a knot to the motor even in this very light wind (10 knots True, less than 10 apparent).
The South Pacific Convergence Zone is a wind convergence area much like the ITCZ which forms up at times in this area creating conditions like the ITCZ. It is the cause of our light wind and mildly squally weather. The frontal bit and sheer line is running from Roratonga to Niue right now and conditions south and west of there are tough. We are trying to stay north of the mess. Ten know of wind from astern is not optimal but 3 meter choppy seas and 25 knots with 35 knot squalls is certainly no fun when you have issues.
So we are now heading to the place with the best weather, a supply of diesel and the ability to have our part flown in quick. All is well on board of course. We have the boom secured, the sails down and the starboard motor humming.
399 nm to Palmerston
09/23/2008, South Pacific
We got up with the sun this morning. From the anchorage I could see the break on the south reef was much subdued as compared to the conditions on our entrance. With that green light we got the boat ready for sea.
We exited the Maupiti pass at about 7AM. The breakers on either side of the pass were not half the size of the surf when we entered. It is still an exhilarating experience, motoring right between two sets of breaking water. The shelf stays 30 some feet deep for quite a ways making the exit area a little choppy. As you make your way out it almost seems like you're standing still. I looked at the SOG but it said 9.5 knots.
Once outside we raised the main in a good two meter seaway. We thought about putting it up in the lagoon but I decided I'd rather have fewer variables exiting the pass. Once the main was flying we headed off and pulled the jib out. Palmerston and Maupihaa lie about 262T from the Maupiti pass. We would arrive near Maupihaa after sunset. Maupihaa has claimed more than one cruising yacht. It is a low atoll with another challenging pass.
The combination of the location of Maupihaa and the wind direction put us on a course of 251T. This allowed us to keep the wind on the port quarter and sail south of Maupihaa by a good 6 miles. The French charts have been very good in French Polynesia (which Maupihaa still is). The paper and the electronic charts agree on the Maupihaa position so hopefully it is where it is charted. We are leaving the radar on just in case.
We did a noon site and an afternoon sun line today. While I was taking the last shot I heard a clicking noise like a plastic ball bouncing on the deck. I could find no evidence of it when I looked around so it remained an uncomfortable mystery. The celestial running fix, our ship's GPS and our hand held all agreed on our position so we felt pretty good about our reef avoidance planning.
In the afternoon Hideko took a nap. While she was sleeping I heard the noise again. This time I found a plastic ball bearing! Not good. I got Hideko up and climbed around under the rig until I found the problem. The aft edge of the traveler car was bleeding ball bearings. In fact I think it had none left. At first I was concerned that these actually were instrumental in holding the car on the track. Losing the traveler car would not be pleasant. Upon inspection I believe that the car will stay on the track with no ball bearings on one side but I haven't made a definitive study. The main is up and loaded.
We had reefed earlier when a little squall came through and we decided to leave her reefed until we get to Palmerston. We are losing sunlight so I don't have time to drop the main and do a detailed investigation. Once reasonably sure the car wasn't going anywhere I put the two bearings we had caught back and duct taped the broken plastic end of the car that was letting the bearings fall out as the boat rocked.
Life would be no fun if we didn't have little surprises to keep us on our toes, no?
551 nm to Palmerston
The last of the stragglers are leaving French Polynesia. We're on our way tomorrow, some friends on Thulani were on their way across this morning when we listened in on the Anzac Net. There are still a few boats we know of in Bora Bora but they're leaving within the week. Most are targeting New Zealand by mid November to avoid Cyclone season. Some are heading for Australia. Only one other boat that we have met is heading north however.
Our current plan is to cruise up the Solomon Islands and from there Yap, Palau, Truk (Chuk) and Guam and then on to Japan in May. We would really like to go to New Zealand but they have ridiculous dog regulations for visiting yachts. Australia is still possibly in the running but they are almost as bad as New Zealand. Fiji will be the last stop before we'll have to make a call and turn left or right. We have also considered just spending a season in Thailand.
After our standard morning of breakfast, weather and radio nets, we set off for Maupiti proper with socks and shoes. It is strange wearing socks and shoes for me now. I think the last time I did was hiking around in Tahiti almost three months ago.
We had 8,000 francs (about $110 US) left and our goal was to see the island and spend every last cent. We had called the only hiking guide from the Lonely Planet Book in the morning but he didn't answer. We tried again from town with a different number we found on a poster but still to no avail. We were on our own.
We dinghied down the marked channel to the town quay in short order. This stretch can be a little choppy due to the large fetch offered by the sizable lagoon. That said, we always enjoy our dinghy rides. During various trips in the lagoon we have seen Sting Rays, Eagle Rays and Manta Rays, among other interesting creatures.
We pulled into the little harbor and were the only boat there. It was a little before noon and the gas station attendant was still on duty. We bought 5 gallons of diesel for our Jerry Jug and asked if we could leave our dinghy there. He said no problem. We left a full 5 gallon gas jug and the recently filled 5 gallon diesel jug sitting in the dinghy with a handheld VHF and various other things in the anchor locker, all unlocked. We normally would have locked it all up out of habit but the attendant told us that he would move the boat if need be while we were doing our hike, so locking wasn't going to work. We did not have a minute of hesitation though. Maupiti is the kind of place that you just can't imagine getting robbed in. The other Societies, yes, Maupiti, no.
We set out on foot to the north and the more populous part of town. Before long we reached a cute little snack. It looked like a lady's out door kitchen. We ordered a Panini and a couple of soft drinks which came to 550 francs. This is by far the cheapest meal we have had anywhere in Polynesia. The sandwich was a nice toasted ham and cheese on a fresh baguette and the sodas were ice cold, what more could you ask for.
We headed on through town stopping in at the Marie (Town Hall). They have a photo timeline of Maupiti over the last hundred years in one of the conference rooms that we were allowed to look over.
The road around the entire island is paved now and most everything is on the lagoon side or the mountain side of this one closed loop street. You can't get lost in Maupiti.
Further into town we saw several schools, a couple churches, the town's big restaurant and bar (about the size of a Dairy Queen) and lots of friendly people who all smiled and waved back when we said Iorana.
The entire walk around the island is picturesque and I couldn't help but notice how much cleaner Maupiti was than most of the other Society islands. The cleanliness really comes out when you walk the streets of an island. Most have plastic bottles and other trash laying on the side of the road. This was very rare in Maupiti and we noticed several anti pollution promotions at the town hall.
The sheer mountains tower over the main road for much of its length adding contrast to the beautiful blues in the lagoon. Just outside of town we found the dirt road leading up into the mountains to the site of some prehistoric petro glyphs. Nothing on Maupiti, including the petro glyphs, is as grandiose as you might expect in other more developed locales, but that is part of its charm. We found the petro glyphs in a dry river bed just lying there as if we were the first people to find them.
A ways back down the road some talented artist had carved an impressive monument out of a large stone. We weren't really sure what it was for but it seemed to commemorate something and had been adorned with various talismans by the local folks. It was a lovely collage of creatures with a whale, turtle and others coaxed from the surface of the rock.
Passing onto the north side of the island we found the one dive shop. It is the guy's house, like so many shops here, but there is a Plongee sign out front. The view out across the lagoon and back up into the mountains continued to evolve into new an striking vistas. As we walked down the west side of the island we reached the one fork in the road. You can follow the pavement to the left up over a little arm of the island to continue on to town or you can head straight ahead to the Tereia Beach.
It was getting into the afternoon at this point and we had more or less given up on finding a path up into the mountains so we headed for the beach. The beach here is sandy and lovely and faced with a huge sand bar carrying all the way out to the motu across the lagoon. We ran across a couple of folks from the motus loading copra from a skiff into a truck on the beach. They greeted us with a hearty Iorana as we passed by.
Back on the south side of the island we scrambled over volcanic rocks as we made our way back to the road. This is a fun little beach hike and was easy to do at low tide, which is when we made the transit.
Back on the road we kept a look out for the one marked Marae (though we saw at least one other). We arrived back at the docks having missed it. The one little store, that actually is a store, on the island is just south of the dock and they packed a surprising amount of goods into the single isle that reminded me more of a walk in closet than anything. They are attached to the town bakery however so we availed ourselves of some fresh Chocolate Croissants and a few bottles of water.
As we were leaving I asked one of the ladies outside if she knew where the Marae was. She said sure and told us to hop in her jeep, which was covered in vanilla vines. She drove us back up the road a bit and dropped us off right in front of the large sign that said, "Marae". In our defense you can not really see it when walking in the other direction. Really.
We thanked our ad hoc guide and walked down to the beach to take a look. This is not the most well kept Marae. That said it is supposed to be one of the more sacred of the Marae in French Polynesia and the most sacred on Maupiti. There is also a monument here in remembrance of the devastating cyclone that hit Maupiti in 1997.
After a nice day on the island we walked the short distance back to the fuel dock. It had taken us almost four hours to circumnavigate the island by foot with various stops and detours, you could certainly do it faster. We gave the fuel man every last cent we had and asked him to put it in our dinghy gas tank. He obliged and we said a sad farewell to French Polynesia as we motored back to Swingin' on a Star.
It was cloudy most of the day today. Rain threatened in the morning but never came. After a slow first part of the day Hideko and I tossed our snorkeling gear into the dinghy and set out to circumnavigate the lagoon. Things are slow on Maupiti, but today was Sunday and things were down right comatose. We ate lunch on board doubting we would find an opportunity to eat elsewhere.
We set off to the west along the long sand bank that covers the southern end of the lagoon past motu Pitiahe. The deep water portion of the lagoon between the bank and the island has a lot of coral heads, many high enough to take a bite of fiberglass. It would be imprudent to take a large boat farther than the anchorage behind Pitiahe.
Much like Bora Bora, the one really nice beach on the main island is at the southwest point, Tereia Beach. As you reach the southwest part of the lagoon between Motu Auira and Tereia Beach the sand bank becomes a bridge between the main island and Auira with about a foot of water over it. We lifted the dinghy motor and "sailed" across the bank. The wind was up in the 15-20 knot range so we made good time by standing up in the boat broadside to the wind.
I think we saw perhaps 6 locals on the motu and mainland and perhaps two tourists up to this point. We identified the tourists walking from the motu to the island over the sand bank as we were going by (the Polynesians seem to use Carolina Skiffs or locally made craft to get around).
Once across the sand the deep water lagoon runs pretty much from shore to shore. It is not however an easy dinghy transit because there are coral heads running in long lines and exotic patterns from seabed to surface everywhere. It is like a maze trying to get through to the north. Every once in a while we had to cheat and tilt up the outboard to coast over one of the lines of coral after failing to find a pass to the other side.
The motus are all a lovely mix of coral shoals and sandy beaches. The motus themselves are all covered in coconut palms. Most of the motus seemed sparsely inhabited and the majority seem to have small 1-5 room Pensions on them.
Maupiti itself is very dramatic as well. The mountains rise up from a thin skirt of lush greenery in sheer cliffs colored with blacks, grays, whites and speckles of color from the seabirds soaring along. There are no radio towers at the tops of these flat topped mountains but rather the odd towering palm tree rising up here and there like spikes in a crown. The coastline is rugged in most places with jutting blocks of black volcanic rock along the shore and scattered out into the shallows. Palm trees reach precariously out over the lagoon. It all reminds one of the proverbial lost island of the south pacific.
As we reached the northwest end of the lagoon the maze of coral relented and we turned into the wind to head east. The island affect in the lagoon is similar to that on the north and south sides of Bora Bora when the trades are up. There was a lot of chop and the gusts were up to 20 knots or so. Another large sand bank reaches down from the northern motus which allows you to get out of chop a bit.
We beached the dink in about 6 inches of water on the windward side of the northwestern tip of Motu Tuanai to take a look around. This is the east side of the big northern sand bank and there are some small sand islands here along with some sheltered lagoons that reach north to the barrier reef. We walked along the shore through hundreds of coconuts and coconut husks. The coconut crabs here were the largest we had ever seen, the size of normal eating crabs. Got me thinking.
The lagoon between little Motu Paeao and Motu Tuanai is filled with crystal clear water. The sun had come out and we could see squads of fish flying in all directions from the shallows as we walked along the beach. We found a mooring buoy here and a flat bottomed skiff with a guy spear fishing. Amazing the places you can get into if you know your way around. The motu seemed to be presently or perhaps formerly involved in Copra production (dried coconut meat used for its oil). We found several drying racks but it didn't look like they were in heavy use.
Our next stop was the air strip farther down Tuanai. Surprisingly we saw two ATRs come and go as we dinghied about today. The airport here is quite a public work. The strip reclaimed a fair bit of lagoon and the small harbor is perfect for the need and well done. Other than perhaps the Canaima Park near Angel Falls in Venezuela it is the most remote looking air outpost I have ever seen short of an unattended airstrip. They have one traditional Polynesian pandana roofed structure with a counter in the middle that says "Maeva Maupiti", guests on one side, bags and employees on the other. Much of the town seems to hang about here when planes arrive though no one is pushing crafts or souvenirs, they're just visiting.
Another huge sand bank runs from the area south of the airport down to Motu Tiapaa on the east side of the pass. There is deep water in front of the town however. You can anchor just after the pass, where we are, off the town quay, or come through the deep water all the way to the area of the airport for a third anchorage if you are getting board (watch for the occasional coral head though).
On Maupiti, the flat bit at the bottom of the towering cliffs has just about enough room for one street and that is a fair description of town in Maupiti, one street. All bearings can be taken from the red roofed church, which is roughly in the center of town (i.e. we're one mile north of the church).
At the southeast end of town is the commercial wharf and a little basin where smaller boats can tie up. The gas station is right here as well. You might be able to fuel a small yacht up here directly if you were compact enough (and brave enough) to back into the little basin on a day when it was not congested with island boats.
To wrap up our tour we decided to head down the channel to the pass to see what conditions were like. I have been trying to get a look at it everyday in the AM and PM to gauge conditions. From our anchorage we can see the breakers south of Motu Pitiahe, matching this to what we see at the pass has been instructive.
This afternoon the pass was formidable but not as nasty as yesterday when we watched the Express blast its way out. Again we saw many fisherman plying the waters inside and outside the pass. It was Sunday but I guess you have to eat on Sunday as well, and in Maupiti, it looks as if autonomy is a valuable trait.
We returned to the boat just in time to get in an hour of reading before the sun boiled into the ocean on the western horizon. It was quite a day.