Barracuda's Blog

The adventures of Kate and Graham and their OVNI 395

20 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
19 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
17 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
14 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
13 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
11 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
06 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
01 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
29 August 2020 | Papeete Marine, Tahiti, French Polynesia
22 August 2020
21 August 2020 | Cook’s Bay, Moorea, French Polynesia
19 August 2020 | Cook’s Bay, Moorea, French Polynesia
18 August 2020 | Cook’s Bay, Moorea, French Polynesia
18 August 2020
17 August 2020 | Cook’s Bay, Moorea, French Polynesia
16 August 2020 | Moorea, French Polynesia
14 August 2020 | Bora Bora, French Polynesia
12 August 2020 | Bora Bora, French Polynesia
10 August 2020 | French Polynesia
09 August 2020 | Tapuamu Bay, Tahaa, French Polynesia

The Street Art of Papeete

20 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Graham Walker
As you walk around Papeete you start to notice that there are enormous paintings covering the ends of some buildings. Apparently, each year they ask an artist to do a painting on one of the buildings. Over time this has built up into an amazing collection. You really have to lift your eyes up to see some of them. We have gathered photos of some of them together here into a montage to try to give you an impression. What you won’t get here is the scale – they are massive.

Remembering Jack

19 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Kate Walker
We had sad news this week. Kate's brother-in-law Jack (husband of her sister Julia) passed away at his care home in Missouri, having been diagnosed shortly beforehand with Covid-19. We are deeply sorry not to have been able to say goodbye; Kate was due to visit in April but that visit was, of course, cancelled. I shall just reproduce the start of the obituary in the local press, as this sums up Jack better than I can.

"Jack Taylor, 83, passed away in comfort Monday, Sept. 14th, 2020. He was born to Leo and Leah (Constantineau) Taylor on July 3, 1937 in Detroit. Raised in Buffalo, New York, he served in and played baseball for the U.S. Navy before studying business at MU. He graduated in 1962 with a bachelor's degree. He remained at MU for most of his career as the director of the office of management consulting services. Jack will be remembered for his warm and energetic sociability, honest commentary, enthusiasm, generosity, and his love of family, travel and sports."

A much-loved part of our family for over thirty years, he will be sadly missed.

Living the Dream in Papeete

17 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Kate Walker
We're a bit short on exciting tales of tropical islands and derring do right now, so today's blog is going to focus on the more mundane aspects of daily life in harbour.

We should start by saying that we are very happy here in mini-France with its blue skies and palm trees. City life has its pleasures - on tap baguettes, frozen yoghurt, easy shopping, restaurants, chandleries and a meeting place for pretty much everyone who has sailed across the Pacific. Yes, we wish we were moving west and continuing with our travels - but if we can't do that, this is really OK. A good adventure is one where you don't really know when or where it will end.

Here in Marina de Papeete, there is a hard core of permanent liveaboards, some local and some visitors like ourselves. On the pontoon opposite us are a French-Tahitian couple in their sixties, who live on board their 35 foot boat with frequent visits from daughters and grandchildren. Their cockpit is shrouded in canvas shades, their stern dangles bunches of bananas and the bow is festooned with laundry. On one side of us is a small and very pretty restoration project owned by an American single-hander, a film-maker who is following the migration patterns of the whales. On the other side is a big aluminium self-built boat, with no one on board. Further down the pontoon, past Polynesian and Dutch liveaboards, is Passepartout, owned by our Australian friend Doug; he locked up and left in April, hoping to make it back here one of these days. There are at least half a dozen boats waiting here for clearance to go to Australia or NZ; others have come in for a burst of convenient living - doctors, dentists, eye checks, boat repairs, faster wifi and cheaper provisioning. Immigration and other legalities can only happen here, so everyone comes through Papeete at some point.

It's a bit of a hot spot for gossip too. We are right at the end of our pontoon but people wander up throughout the day for a chat or for help with something. There's less talk on New Zealand now, as the chance of clearance disappears into the mist, but there's still plenty to talk about: local Covid cases, the possibility of huge marina price increases, the procedure for getting a Carte de Sejour (temporary residence permit), where to get health insurance, who's using who for their rigging/sails/autopilot repairs, which boats are where, and why. One of the nearby superyachts, a giant three-master, has been replacing its rigging in a 72-hour non-stop operation, including banging away with sledgehammers all through each night. Lots of comments about that.

Our daily routines are focused on 'the List'. Top items are: getting the rigging replaced (all now agreed and ordered); getting new sails (just completing the fiendishly tricky and detailed measurements); mending the autopilot (with the sterling help of John from S/Y Saorsa); replacing our rather porous sprayhood (pending). Items keep creeping on, like little bits of revarnishing, replacing the flattened foam in our cockpit cushions, mending the various flags, refurbishing gas bottles. Daily chores always include a walk to the supermarket and/or open market for the daily provisions, bug patrol, and some laundry (everything now gets hand washed, in a big trug on the pontoon). Graham strolls up to the bakery for the lunchtime baguette; I experiment with breadfruit recipes. We fill our tanks with water from the pontoon every few days, double-filtering it as it comes in. (We can't use the water-maker in the marina as the water is pretty filthy, but have to flush it with fresh water every few days to keep it sweet.) Propane tanks have to be trundled to the petrol station for refilling, and collected a few days later. So somehow, we manage to fill the days until it's time for sundowners.

What is everyone else doing?

14 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Graham Walker
(sorry – this one turned out longer than expected)

Papeete is one of those sailors’ crossroads, where everyone passes by at some point, to provision, repair, rest up or check out. It’s been great catching up with the cruiser news, and as we realised that we’ve been hearing a lot of different decisions for ‘next move’, we have been doing an analysis of what all the other boats that we have met along the way are doing next. Here are some examples:

Visa expiries have created an issue for the Americans and some other non-EU nationalities. Quite a few American boats have headed to Hawaii; others have headed for Fiji, although there is no exit strategy from there at present.

Boats going to Fiji are aware that they may not be able to move on from there and Fiji really is in the centre of the Pacific cyclone zone. The options are then to lift the boat out into a cyclone pit (keel sunk into a hole in the ground) and go home, or to stay with the boat in the water cruising the islands, and be ready to move it if bad weather comes. If you fly out of Fiji just now it’s with a one-way ticket: you really can’t get back in. Obviously, if either NZ or AUS open to foreign-flagged yachts, they have another option, and this is what most are hoping for.

Australian boats have headed for Australia and New Zealand boats are heading for NZ. So long as the boat and all the crew are registered in the relevant home country then it seems to work – albeit with lengthy quarantine requirements. NZ is still not accessible to foreign-flagged yachts on either economic or humanitarian grounds. Ditto AUS - the penalties for foreign flagged yachts entering AUS are severe.

A couple of boats are up for sale. If they find a buyer in French Polynesia then that can be a good exit strategy. One of the ‘for sale’ boats may ship to America, to try to get a better price.

Three boats that we know are going home on a ship in November, a hitching a ride back to the UK; another taking a ship to the US. The cost to do this from this part of the world is really serious.

Some of the younger sailors who have taken a career break to do some big sailing are now desperate to get back to paid work. Some will have to sell the boat to have money to buy a home again.

A couple of boats have had to call it a day, due to crew health issues. We are also aware of boats that have had deaths or illness in the family, giving rise to a change of plan.

Some boats are just being left here in Papeete or Taina Marina (the two floating options in Tahiti). This leaves them potentially exposed to storms during the cyclone season - although the probability this year is supposed to be low in this area. For boats that are being left, the crews don’t necessarily know when they will get back to them, although at the moment you can fly out and in.

Some crews looking to stop in the coming months are trying to make arrangements to lift their boats out into boat yards. There are a couple of places where this is possible, though space very short. This gives the boats a bit more protection against cyclones (although not complete) but again gives the challenge of getting back to the boat if restrictions tighten. Any travel out and in also has some health exposure, and of course rules and restrictions can change.

Insurance is an issue for all of us. There are few insurers that cover this area anyway, the majority of those are withdrawing ‘named storm cover’ (ie, for losses caused by cyclones) and most impose restrictions. So if you leave the boat you have to take this into account. If you stay with the boat in the water, at least you have the option to sail away or prepare if bad weather approaches.

For boats/crews in their first season here in FP, it seems it is easier to stay, as there is a lot still to do. Those in their second season seem more motivated to move on westward (though the only choice is Fiji for now).

After all the decisions made above there are some, like us, who will stay and sail and live aboard for the ‘summer’ and see how things are at the end of the cyclone season when it may be easier to either sail west or leave the boat. A few of our friends are doing this so we will have company. We hear there are quite a few other boats already out in the islands to the east that will just stay there. Some of these are full-time live-aboards with no alternative home; many of the Americans we meet have sold their house to buy the boat.

What drives people to make the various decisions they are making really varies – it can be health issues, age, finances, visas/nationality, businesses needing attention, grandchildren being born, children getting married or some other life event. It is surprising how many of our friends have had a significant home or health issue that has required a change in plan. Everybody has complicated lives. It will be interesting to revisit this theme in 6 months and see how it has worked out for us and our friends.

Today’s photo – Papeete Marina taken from the ferry from Moorea.

A step to the dark side – a day out on a catamaran

13 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Graham Walker
Today we had an offer to sail with friends on their lovely Catana 47 catamaran over to Moorea. Neither of us has ever sailed on a large cruising catamaran, and we have been intrigued to see if this might be a platform for future voyages. We have many friends who have been committed monohull sailors, but who have then made the jump to ‘the dark side’ and have become fully signed up card carrying multihull sailors. So, we jumped at the chance and joined our friends in Papeete Marina for an early start, to see how the other half sail.

The wind was pretty perfect for our intro. A beam reach in 15 knots of wind for the first half had us scudding along at 8-9 knots, before the wind dropped off towards the end and we drifted home to Moorea. It’s whale season still, and we were hopeful of seeing some – but no luck. We anchored in Cook’s Bay (where, we discover, South Pacific was filmed) and were then dinghied to shore so we could get the ferry back to Papeete. A lovely journey home, on the top deck with the mountains of Moorea astern and the hills of Tahiti ahead, the sun shining, gulls flying and the sound of three young men playing their ukuleles behind us.

So, what’s the verdict on catamarans? They are hard to beat for accommodation and stability; there is space for anything you might want (Nespresso machine, microwave, full upright fridge) and no risk of anything tumbling over as of course there’s no heeling. A huge cockpit, with all the lines led back and electric winches (which are quite necessary for the scale of the sails, and made the hoisting of the main and genoa a doddle). Deck stowage (for warps and fenders) is extensive. Visibility is pretty good and in fact night watches are as easily done inside the saloon as out on deck making it a very comfortable passage maker. Although we did not have a chance to sail upwind we were told that this particular model does extremely well because of the large dagger boards it can deploy. For a round the world, predominantly downwind passage the combination of accommodation, stability and speed makes this a really good option. It really is horses for courses, and the Catana 47 is a great horse for this course.

Thanks to Julian and Lynn for having us on board and for their wonderful hospitality as we enjoyed our day on their lovely boat.

The Fautau’a Waterfall Walk

11 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Kate Walker

We have been working on boat jobs for ages and really needed to take some time off so today we headed out with Claire from Tintamarre to walk up to a waterfall in the hills behind Papeete. There was much laughter at our pronunciation of the name Fautau’a but we now know it is pronounced Fa-Ta-Oo-A. And while we’re on the subject, Papeete is Pa-Pa-Ay-Tay.

It was quite a walk. We had to get permits in advance from the Mairie, and show them to a security guard at the start of the trail; this is because the trail takes you through land owned by locals and across rivers operated by the water company – so you are traipsing through the Papeete water supply.

The first part is quite straightforward; a gentle flattish path through rather wonderful wooded areas, nicely shaded and very pleasant. A couple of kilometres of this took us to a fork in the road where both options headed to the waterfall, and both were flagged as ‘difficile’, taking about two hours. Option one (involving a rather rickety bridge up into the mountains) went to the top but was closed, so off we went up the option two path, stopping almost immediately to splash on the mosquito repellant. Lovely to start with, as we entered the jungle path into the deep ravine; but after about 20 minutes we found the first challenge: crossing the river. Off came the trainers, on went the duck-feet (water shoes) and we wobbled our way across the rocks. Then came one big splash, as Kate skidded on a slimy rock and got a wet bum.

We worked our way back and forward across the river as needed – with only one other wetting for Kate - and up and down the sides of the ravine, working our way through the jungle. Crossing the river was challenge enough and we soon decided not to bother keeping trainers dry; easier just to walk through the water, which seldom came much above the knees. Sensible crossing places were – mostly - marked by cairns. The trail got increasingly rocky and we found ourselves clambering over boulders, sliding down them where necessary and using roots and branches as grab-handles to haul ourselves up muddy slopes. In one place there’s a steep flight of rock stairs with a somewhat moth-eaten rope and a bit of electrical flex as a bannister; in another it was a back-sliding haul up a steep and slippery track only to find we’d gone the wrong way; time to slither down.

But eventually we did start to hear the roar of the waterfall across the ankle-jarring boulder field, and after another tantalising ten minutes there it was: a strip of torrent falling through a deeply incised narrow channel in the high rock-face, into the impossibly calm pool below. It was cool in the spray and what a relief to take off our boots and cool our feet, rest our limbs and dig out our water bottles and casse-croutes (a bit squashed and damp in K’s case).

The journey downhill was easier though it was still a challenge to find the true path in places, and our feet and knees were starting to grumble at the boulder fields. But we made it – a bit damp, certainly very muddy and less than photogenic (thanks, G). We trudged on down to the village just below the trail, and spent half an hour at the bus stop watching the (un-masked) youth of Tahiti riding their bikes and flirting, demob happy at the start of half term. The afternoon was rounded off by introducing Claire to the local Frozen Yoghurt store. Well deserved, all round.

Putting the new plan together

06 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Graham Walker
We have lived with our decision to stay in FP for about a week and it just gets more comfortable. We find more reasons to stay here and fewer to go. So we are still very happy with that decision. As we start to implement the plan to stay we are realising that we really do need to start this now. It will take a couple of months to get through our list, by which time we will be heading into the cyclone season and need to be able to sail east.

Here are some of the ‘big ticket’ items we need to get done.

Replace the standing rigging (the wires that hold up the mast): This is generally regarded as having a working life of 10-12 years, and ours is now over 10 years old. We know directly six boats that have had failed rigging this year – many with rigging age well below those numbers. There are lots of variables. Metal boats tend to get longer life because there is less flex and associated stress from the hull. However, ocean sailing results in lots of stress cycles, due to the constant rolling from side to side. Simply sitting at anchor and rocking in the swell for days on end can be hard on a rig too. There are good riggers here in Tahiti and the costs seem comparable with New Zealand. We have now been surveyed, and will place an order today and should have new rigging by the end of September.

New sails: We still have our original sails – also over 10 years old. We have looked after them well, but the time has come. Our Genoa is a bit stretched and losing performance. The frequency of patching and re-stitching on the main is increasing. Our new sails will, we hope, come from France from a company who make a lot of sails for OVNIs so they know our pattern. Hopefully this gives us a fighting chance of them fitting first time. It takes about three to four weeks to make them; shipping them here will be another story. One decision left – horizontal cut Dacron or Tri-Radial Hydranet? Mmm…

New spray hood: This is the cover at the front of the cockpit that forms part of our shelter. It is made of canvas and clear plastic for the windows. The canvas gets really destroyed by the sun and looses its waterproof-ness. The plastic windows become opaque. You can keep it going with wax treatments for a while. The photo shows the rain coming through the hood and the plotter under an umbrella before we relaxed it. (Who says you can't use an umbrella on a boat.) The stitching is constantly destroyed by UV, and Kate is regularly re-stitching it. A new one will come from the original manufacturer in France – again, they have the exact pattern so hopefully it will fit first time.

Autopilot ram: This may be a tale of woes. This week we removed the hydraulic ram for servicing. It had a small hydraulic leak and we wanted to change the seals, having all the parts needed in hand. Not major, but better to fix it now before it gets worse. However, we discovered that the last company who worked on it (FKG in St Maarten – who are approved agents for L&S autopilots) had rebuilt it incorrectly, so that it cannot now be dismantled for service (as confirmed with the approved L&S agents in Tahiti): and FKG have washed their hands of the issue. The outcome may be a whole new autopilot hydraulic ram – we are trying to talk to the manufacturers in France to see what we can do. We would not use FKG in St Maarten again if we had a choice. They are not cheap and they left us with another problem like this that we only discovered after sailing away. The longer we sail, the more we realise that we are better off doing things ourselves if we possibly can.

Renewing the top rudder bearing: the steering gets worked pretty hard on these trips, and the rudder bearings get worn. We can replace this one whilst still in the water (famous last words) once the bearing reaches us: another item coming from France.

As you can tell, logistics is going to be key. What can possibly go wrong?

As we work through these and a myriad of other smaller items we are also sorting out extended travel insurance and the post-Brexit temporary residency process. The challenge with all this is finding time, as we seem to have a pretty hectic social life in Papeete Marina.

OK – Decision Time

01 September 2020 | Papeete Marina, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Graham Walker
OK. So here’s the plan: we have decided to stay in French Polynesia for the cyclone season. We have gone backwards and forwards on this for weeks but the decision is now made. We will outline some of the reasoning here, and also some of the implications.

We have two main considerations: firstly, the cyclone season starts in November, and affects from Tahiti to Fiji. Secondly, the passage between Tahiti and New Zealand, via Fiji or direct, is not simple and needs careful timing, particularly as there are no other ports open en route. New Zealand has not yet given a clear signal that it will accept foreign yachts any time soon. Cutting a long story short – we have passed our deadline. We had hoped to leave Tahiti by 1st September, which would give us time in hand to wait for weather windows both here and in Fiji, and get us to NZ by the end of October. As it stands, the earliest we could leave here now would be mid- to late-September – if permission is granted. We are not prepared to make the potentially difficult passage to Fiji and/or New Zealand on a schedule being determined by someone else’s process (we always say the most dangerous thing on a boat is a schedule). In this case, we would get pushed into long passages, short handed and with little margin for weather issues of which there can be plenty on these legs. That’s not how we sail. So all that, combined with the costs associated with leaving FP & entry to Fiji, isolation requirements in NZ, a requirement to spend significant monies to justify entry on economic grounds, have moved us onto Plan B.

Plan B: our alternative plan is to stay in French Polynesia for the cyclone season. The area from Tahiti eastwards is generally not affected by the cyclones, particularly in non-El Nino years, which this is. Expectations are for a quiet season in this area (famous last words). The safest areas are the archipelagos of the Gambiers and Marquesas, where we are happy to spend time. We will stay with the boat as we are unlikely to get ‘named storm’ insurance cover as many insurance companies have withdrawn that this year. Our immediate plan is to get our refit works done here in Papeete, and then head east for the season. We are happy to have more time to see French Polynesia – everyone says the biggest mistake you make in sailing the Pacific is to rush through the area – and we have barely scratched the surface. If things generally improve next year we might even get to the Cook Islands and Tonga before New Zealand and Fiji. No need to rush.

The implications of this are that we will continue sailing and living on the boat, rather than stopping and getting off in NZ for a while. Air travel routes in and out of French Polynesia are open at the moment, but who knows if they will remain that way. We don’t plan to travel but, for the time being, we can if we need to (which would not be the case in NZ or Fiji).

We are now getting on with implementing our ‘Stay in French Polynesia’ plan. Before the cyclone season starts in November we want to replace our 10-year-old standing rigging, sails and sprayhood, as well as having a raft of other key maintenance done. On a domestic level, we need to apply for French Polynesia temporary residency (complicated by Brexit), find extended medical insurance, get phone contracts, etc. We will be busy here in Tahiti for a wee while.

What to do with our extended time here? The list is growing – improve our French, learn the ukulele, more diving … we will let you know. Suggestions appreciated.

Back for more city life.

29 August 2020 | Papeete Marine, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Graham Walker
Sorry for the gap in blogging. Don't know what went wrong there. We have been pretty busy and our minds have been very occupied with our 'what next' plans. Anyway, here's what's been happening on Barracuda.

We had a very enjoyable finish to our time in Moorea with Sunday lunch at the Moorea Beach Café with Martin and Cheryl from SV Zan. We are really quite fond of Moorea although we have been told that it is currently very quiet due to the lack of tourists. In normal times it is a very busy place, so we are seeing it at its best. Worth noting that at our last anchorage there we dropped the hook in a perfectly legal spot, quite a way from the shore, but were in no uncertain terms asked to move by a local as we were in front of his garden. OK - so we moved, but...

Next morning it was up early for a sail across to Tahiti. We had another OVNI 395 to sail with on the way over and we know it's not a race but... let's just say we were very pleased with Barracuda's performance. We came across a seagull walking on water - then realised it was hitching a ride on a flip-flop, like a little surf board. Sorry, no photo.

We got into Papeete Marina and found a berth straight away. Someone was smiling down on us because it is usually a total bun-fight to get in there, and it can take a few days before a space comes free. This marina is by any standards very cheap and right in the centre of town - very handy. It's also very sociable, as many of our buddy boats are in here. In fact it's hard now to go anywhere and not find buddy boats. One big family!

We have started working through a list of technical and domestic maintenance stuff for us and the boat. This is just about the only place for hundreds (thousands?) of miles around that you can really get stuff done, and whatever direction we head in next, the prep starts here.

Lots more conversations on 'what next' with ourselves and other boats. So, our decision is now made, but we just need to dot some i's and cross some t's before we go public. Watch this space.

Looking back at Raroia

22 August 2020
Graham Walker
This post is to share a link to a video made by our friends on Sea Tramp - a German boat. This young couple have taken a career break to enjoy some sailing adventure. This link will take you to their YouTube channel where they share their adventures with their friends and followers. The video gives a lovely view of a Tuamotu atoll. Makes us want to go back.

Click here to go to YouTube and see the Raroia video
Vessel Name: Barracuda of Islay
Vessel Make/Model: OVNI 395
Crew: Graham and Kate
About: Learning as we go
Extra: One day at a time
Barracuda of Islay's Photos - Main
81 Photos
Created 30 April 2016
60 Photos
Created 16 September 2015
a pre-retirement holiday
19 Photos
Created 21 June 2015
some shots from our lovely trip around the Aegean with Ailie
8 Photos
Created 16 January 2015
9 Photos
Created 19 July 2014
2 great weeks with Steve and Bibi Rainey.
11 Photos
Created 18 July 2014
A long weekend with Catherine and David.
4 Photos
Created 18 July 2014
4 Photos
Created 18 July 2014
14 Photos
Created 18 July 2014
Barracuda, K & G head south to a new home.
14 Photos
Created 18 July 2014
Barracuda does the Western Isles of Scotland.
12 Photos
Created 18 July 2014
Kate and Graham Chillin'
7 Photos
Created 18 July 2014

Previous | List | Random | Next