09 July 2020 | Papeete, Tahiti
Interesting times.... We were punching into 20kts plus in 2m seas a few days ago to get to Tahiti from Moorea when the engine died. I swapped the Racors, nothing, I changed the primary filter, nothing. I checked the supply line - no fuel coming from a full tank.
Anyway we got the right sails up (not much) and managed to beat our way back upwind far enough to be able to sail in through the port entrance but there was no space inside the port to tack up to the marina or get to a safe anchorage so we had to declare an emergency and request assistance.
The authorities were awesome. JRCC put us in touch with Port Control who were very helpful and clear (this is a busy port entrance) and when we sailed in the harbourmistress was waiting for us in the harbour boat with her son in a bigger boat. He gave us a very professional side tow to the one remaining outer berth in the marina and gently tucked us into the fairly tight space better than if we had done it ourselves. No recriminations, no fees, just big smiles all round, delightful.
I have often bitched about people not being able to differentiate between doing the right thing and getting away with doing the wrong thing. This was definitely my 'getting away with it' event. Our diesel tank has no inspection ports and is really hard to access so it has not been cleaned since the boat was built. I knew it should be done but I had no idea how so I kept putting it off.
The 'getting away with it' part? For the past year we have been cruising some of the most remote locations on the planet. We have been thousands of miles from technical supplies and services, and from land come to think of it. Just the day before we were more than a hundred miles offshore in very iffy wind conditions. Given all that we managed to break down less than ten miles from the largest port and technical resource for a couple of thousand miles. AND we got the last outside berth in the marina AND we have found a great diesel mechanic (not my strong point). All in all we are feeling about as lucky as we could possibly be. We should find a horse race .....
Getting the tank out is going to be an absolute bear. It is directly under the helm station with only a couple of inches of clearance. The water heater and the exhaust system will have to come out and, hopefully, it will then fit through the starboard lazarette. We will have to cut a hole in the tank to create an inspection port and manufacture a cover plate but that should not be too hard, compared with getting it out and back in. The picture is taken through the hole it has to come out through.... Anyway, we are safely alongside and we have plenty of time.
1. If something is bothering you deal with it. It will be so much less pleasant if it chooses the time to bite.
2. We had forgotten how well Leela goes upwind if you make an effort to set her up properly. We need to be less quick with the engine.
3. If you can't be good be lucky.
21 June 2020 | Taha'a, French Polynesia
The last couple of weeks has been a crazy mix of good and bad but the good first.
We went to the 'tourist mecca' of Bora Bora with some trepidation. I guess we expected the sort of development you get in the US or Australia, massed apartment buildings along the foreshore and music bars everywhere else. We knew they would be closed but they were not even there. The tourist industry consists of a large number of resorts made up, mainly, of thatched roof bungalows on stilts over the water, remarkably tastefully done. Apart from that it is a typical Polynesian island, fishermen, family compounds and small villages. There was not the communal sense we have had in other islands and the town was remarkably scruffy. The tourists are clearly picked up from the airport and whisked off to their all-inclusive resort. That is, when there are tourists.... With zero fly-in tourists and only six cruising boats around the whole island it turned out to be the quietest place we have stayed. We did not actually talk to anyone except the mooring fee collector for nearly a week.
We went round the lagoon to the SE corner and had a wonderful few days with no people, and miles of shallow, crystal clear water over pure white sand. It was the first time we had seen these conditions since the Bahamas, several years ago. We had lots of exercise swims and a couple of great snorkels. The coral was in poor shape but the water was crystal clear and the fish were amazing. We, as ever, spotted a couple of new fish that our guide shows extending east only as far as the Solomon Islands so we expect more new stuff as we head west. I have not been able to post photos for a while but be prepared for yet more fish when we finally get some internet access.
All good things must come to an end and very strong SE winds were forecast that would make that location pretty unpleasant. We checked out the west side of Bora Bora but did not find it as attractive so we used the lull before the blow to head over to nearby Taha'a. This is much less developed and very lush We are tucked into a little bay on the west side until the wind drops and we can head out to the reef to do some more snorkeling. We went round to a small family resort called Perle de Taha'a last night for a beer. The restaurant was closed but they offered to cook us dinner and we had a lovely (if pricey) meal. They let us use their mooring for the night which made for a very short dinghy ride but an uncomfortable night because the mooring was exposed to the fetch coming up the lagoon broadside to the wind - oh well. At first light we scuttled back to the shelter of the adjacent bay, much windier but flat water.
The other good event this week was Fiji opening up her borders to cruising sailboats. This is a big deal because it provides us with both a stopover on the otherwise very long sail west and some flexibility in our future options. It also bodes well for other locations like the Cooks, Tonga and even New Zealand where we have optimistically booked a berth in a marina for next southern summer.
So, why the 'Sanctuary Lost?' title? We have really cherished our dumb luck at being stuck in a Covid19-free country for the entirety of the pandemic so far but the world is catching up with us. Driven by a failing tourist economy, French Polynesia are opening up their borders to fly-in fly-out tourists on July 15th. This, in itself might not be a bad thing but, unlike the very strict two weeks quarantine and multiple tests being imposed by Fiji, French Polynesia will require no quarantine. The preventative measures they are proposing to put in place are frankly pathetic and have been shown to fail elsewhere. Bottom line is that it is pretty much inevitable that the virus will get loose in the regional hub of the Society Islands in the next couple of months. Unless they re-impose the very unpopular ban on inter-archipelago travel it could get really bad. Remote communities with no concept of social distancing, extremely limited or no medical facilities, an elderly population, high levels of obesity and diabetes, what could possibly go wrong?
This will have a limited but significant impact on us. The tentative idea of hiding out here for another year is definitely off the table. We have to stay until early August to finish Janaki's dental work and receive a shipment of supplies but we will be extraordinarily defensive after the opening up and get underway to Fiji as quickly as we can. For now we will spend a while exploring Taha'a and Raiatea as they share the same fringing reef. At the first opportunity (light winds are the best we can hope for) we will have to push back upwind to Moorea so that we can get the ferry over to Papeete to visit the dentist.
We hope this finds you all well and dealing OK with this very disturbing period we are in. Hopefully one day it will be consigned to history.
A Plan at Last
29 May 2020 | Cook's Bay, Moorea
Oh boy..... Have we been going round in circles. Leave now for Australia? Leave later for Australia? Stay here? Hell, let's go to New Zealand instead? Anyway, after much discussion and analysis the current plan is to stay in (Covid19 free) French Polynesia until August or September then head to New Zealand, hopefully via Tonga if they are allowing transits by then. In the unlikely event that NZ remains closed we will just shoot through to Australia then, probably heading for a landfall near Brisbane. The main thing that pushed us in this new direction was French Polynesia allowing us to sail between the different archipelagos. This happened much faster than we anticipated.
There are a number of benefits to this plan; we spend longer in a Covid19 free area, Janaki gets to finish her dental implant in a safe place, we get to see parts of French Polynesia we have not been to yet, we possibly get to stop off enroute to NZ, we get to see parts of NZ neither of us have been to AND we get back together with Jeff and Molly on Chanticleer, who we lost in Panama (a big deal).
Interestingly, having a 'firm' plan has significantly reduced our stress levels and we are both much more optimistic about the future. We still have some serious sailing to do but we feel good about both our and the boat's readiness and we have a few more months to get fitter.
We are currently in beautiful Cook's Bay (pictured) on the island of Moorea, very close to Tahiti. We will go back to Papeete on the 8th for Janaki's next dental appointment then head up to the western Tuamotus for about six weeks before coming back to Papeete again to complete a much needed electrical update that will be the subject of a technical post to follow.
We think a lot about our friends scattered across a troubled world and hope you are all well and finding good things in this mess.
Time on Your Hands?
14 May 2020 | Tahiti, French Polynesia
I’ve finally found enough bandwidth to upload photos. Unfortunately I have not found enough time to annotate them or sort them logically - oh well... The Gambiers Underwater album is here
and the Gambiers album is here
They will also be in the link index if I can remember how to do it.
We continue to get ready for the big one. Looks like we may be setting off on my birthday. I guess sailing half way across the Pacific in a small boat is one way to celebrate the ripe old age of sixty nine. Not everyone’s cup of tea perhaps but we are still enjoying it.
The Practice Passage
08 May 2020 | Enroute Gambiers to Tahiti
We are into day five of our 900nm (1,800km) passage from the Gambiers to Tahiti. The weather window seems to have worked out well so far, with 15-25kts on the stern allowing us to keep up a respectable average pace of 6.1kts, using the same double genoa and trailing warps configuration we used crossing from the GalÃ¡pagos. We have had a few squalls but nothing scary and only the seas have been a little challenging.
With some trepidation we departed the calm of the Gambiers into a forecast 5m sea. It was indeed 5m but on the stern quarter and with a very long period. Leela gently lifted up and down as if on a slow elevator. The change in horizon was very interesting, down in the wave trough the whole world only extended to the next wave, towering over us. As we rose up more and more waves came into view until the horizon seemed vast. Then it all happened again and again and again.....
Day three was completely different. The seas had come down to under 4m but the period had come down a lot more. The waves were short and steep with a confused cross sea. The gentle elevator became a bucking bronco, throwing us around quite violently at times. Getting around the boat became pretty tricky and even staying in a seat was hard work. Fortunately those seas have moderated. They are still more than 2.5m but again with a longer period and it looks like they will moderate further over the remaining two days. The wind is down to less than 15kts true and the warps are in. Hopefully the forecast is accurate and it will not go any lower. The double headsail is very efficient but they are heavy sails and an apparent wind of less than 8kts will not keep them full.
We have enjoyed having a full moon for the trip. The amount of light it provides is remarkable and it can be quite beautiful. Janaki took this picture during her long watch last night. This is a VERY empty piece of ocean. All we have seen since we departed is a couple of pelagic seabirds, no land, no boats, no planes. It is a strange feeling being so alone. Our charts show that we are moving relative to unseen land masses but it could be a blue continuum otherwise, a little unnerving if dwelt upon too long.
It looks like we are going to arrive at night. We could slow down but that goes against the grain and going slowly downwind makes for a wallowy and uncomfortable ride. Fortunately there is a very easy anchorage at Point Venus, on the northern tip of Tahiti so we will be able to get in there after dark and get some real rest before dealing with the complexities of Papeete Harbor. Point Venus is so named because it was there that Captain Cook set up his observatory to record the transit of Venus across the sun in 1769.
As always it took three tiring days to settle into the passage-making routine. We use a two/five/five/two night watch. We have dinner and check in on the SSB (short wave radio) net at 6pm. I get my head down until 8pm then go on watch until 1am. Janaki does 1am to 6am then gets her head down again until 8am. We have meals together and follow an informal one on, one off routine during the day. This works well as long as the conditions are OK. Sometimes we both need to be on deck and catch up later. We managed this routine in pretty lively conditions for nineteen days on the big crossing so we are reasonably confident we will be able to do it for the thirty to thirty five day crossing from Tahiti to Australia. There is nowhere we can stop enroute but there are a number of emergency bailouts if things go really pear shaped.
We are not sure how long we will spend in Tahiti. We have talked to our buddy boat, Kris and David on Taipan, about being ready to go on the 15th but that feels a little fast. We have a strange problem with the regulator we use to charge the batteries from the main engine and that needs to be resolved before we go. We don't know how much sunshine we will get enroute and we definitely cannot be without some power.
Time to Move On
30 April 2020 | Rikitea, Gambiers, French Polynesia
We are in the final stages of preparation for passage making. We've done a host of little jobs to get ready, cleaned the hull, polished the propeller and decanted some propane from the French bottle to our US bottles. One utterly still morning we set up the double Genoa headsails. Today we sailed over to the village of Rikitea for final provisioning before setting sail for Tahiti, probably on Sunday.
We wrapped up our wonderful three months in the Gambiers with some delightful island visits and a couple of really enjoyable scuba dives, our first and last dives here. We would have done more but weather conditions have rarely been suitable for getting to the outer reef and all the inner reefs are at snorkelling depth.. The deep coral gardens were, to our surprise full of small fish of all kinds. For those of you not yet tired of fish pics I will be able to post more when we get to Oz. My edited fish pics from French Polynesia are now at 743 so I guess some more editing is needed....
I'm on the left with Janaki looking trim, as always, in the middle. The third diver is twelve year old Marin from SV Soteria. She is a great little diver. Her dad James took the picture. Even after several months of almost continuous snorkeling and diving we still managed to find a number of new fish.
This is an unidentified Coral Goby tucked deep inside a finger coral.
This beauty is again unidentified but we believe it is an Anthais.
A pair of Dacilus(sp?) and a Flame Angel Fish
And, after many attempts, a good picture of a Regal Angel Fish
Sorry, there HAS to be a shark pic. I was trying to get a picture of this young White Tip with Janaki in the background but he decided that the camera looked interesting and shot in for a closer look. He actually ran into it as I pressed the shutter. You can just see Janaki behind him.
We have been very lucky to be in this remote archipelago during this strange time. After the the cessation of inter-island travel and the subsequent strict quarantine there were no cases of CV found here so we have been free to move about the various motus and islands that make up the primary Gambier archipelago as long as we do not land on any inhabited island without the locals permission. We had already spent a lot of time at the delightful island of Taravai. There are anchorages to suite most weather conditions and only a very few people live there so we had got to know some of them quite well and they were happy to see us post-confinement.
Édouard has a wonderfully fertile property. We have helped in the garden in exchange for bananas, papayas, breadfruit, lemons, limes and even rosemary and mint.
Further round the island are Hervé and Valérie who host a barbecue for cruisers every Sunday. Everybody brings something to share, we eat too much then play boule and volleyball. They are wonderfully hospitable and a lot of fun.
When we are not socializing, snorkelling or fixing stuff, there are really interesting walks on the island with an amazing variety of conditions.
Meanwhile, back on Leela, preparations continue. Janaki's 'just one plant' continues to expand. The crop is not huge but it is very pretty and we had home grown coriander in our spring rolls today. We are both hoping it will survive the rigors of an offshore package. Mind you, it will all have to be eaten before we go through Australia's rigorous bio security checks.
We will be very sad to leave. We discussed staying another year - there is no middle option - but we both feel like we need to move on with our lives. Another driver is that neither we nor Leela are not getting any younger and the lack of both technical and medical services in this very remote spot is a bit of a concern over the longer term. We are excited about getting to Australia at this point.
This is going to be a pretty tough couple of months. It is nearly 1,000nm to Tahiti and the weather is going to be lively so it could be a vigorous one week passage. Once we get there we will finish off our provisioning, refuel and get ready for the much longer passage direct to Australia. All the intervening islands are closed so that will be a nearly 4,000nm (8,000km) non-stop passage, taking between four and five weeks. This was not something we aspired to but that's life at the moment.
We are still really enjoying living on the boat so we are hoping we will be able to sail up to the western Pacific (Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia) and to Indonesia once the world opens up again - if we haven't had enough after the next two months......
Maybe sailing will be the way to travel ACV, it has a built in quarantine. Mind you, it appears that not everyone gets it. Shortly after receiving a message from Australian border protection that the two weeks quarantine commences on departure from your last port (sensible) but that states are at liberty to add requirements, we heard that a couple of cruisers who recently arrived in Queensland after sailing direct from Tahiti taking over four weeks at sea were placed in two weeks hotel quarantine at the government's expense (completely daft).
We hope this finds you all safe and well. We will be able get emails offshore so it would be great to hear from you. When passage making isn't actually frightening it can get a little monotonous.
Take care and stay safe
Graham & Janaki
Response to Comments
26 March 2020
It is really wonderful to hear from you all, particularly in these troubled times when we are so far away. For technical reasons we cannot respond via this blog but we will definitely email each of you so please keep it coming.
Update from Spaceship Leela
24 March 2020 | The Gambiers, French Polynesia
I have been trying to write something for several days now but things have been changing so fast that it did not make sense. There appears to be some temporary stability at the moment so I can take a deep breath and document our status.
For a short time we felt quite disconnected from the craziness elsewhere but, unsurprisingly, things have now become distinctly weirder here. There are a number of cases in Papeete (Tahiti), probably because they were slow to clamp down on tourist arrivals. We don't think there are any cases in the Gambiers at the moment but information is sparse and a lot of people were repatriated from Papeete recently so there is definitely some risk. At this point French Polynesia is on two weeks of total lock down. No travel into the region, no inter-island travel, no local movement without a special permit. For cruisers (and locals) it is absolutely no movement of vessels, no going ashore, no use of dinghies, no water sports, no swimming, all designed to discourage community gatherings. Hopefully this will allow them to find and isolate any new cases. They are clearly taking it very seriously, given the total absence of medical facilities, the mortality risk in these remote islands will be very high if it does get here.
We had the good fortune to have provisioned up and left town before the lockdown edict came down so we, and our friends, Birgit and Christian on Pitufa are ‘locked down' in a well sheltered and isolated bay on an almost uninhabited island. We have been traveling with Pitufa for several weeks now and have practiced the same care with isolation so we are happy to socialize together, a great boon. We have plenty of fuel, water and food so we will sit out the lockdown right here. We both have books and some TV series to watch so I guess we are as well off as we can be in the circumstances. We are also completely used to, and happily so, being in one another's company 24/7 in a VERY confined space, so no stress there. There was a time when the first thing we did when we arrived somewhere was get the dinghy ready and head ashore but, for a couple of months now, we have sometimes gone several days at anchor before we were even inclined to venture off the boat.
Leela has been a little temperamental recently so we seem to have a constant list of boat projects. A solar panel failed last week. This would have been a big deal but we managed to fix it with Christian's help. Then part of the water-maker stopped working, fortunately a good strip and clean seems to have revived it. Yesterday was cleaning out and disinfecting the aft water tank to deal with an algae problem. This morning was ‘hunt the cockroach', unsuccessful so far but traps are set. It appears to be a single roach and no sign of eggs so we suspect it came home in a backpack and is not a breeding risk. Anyway, We seem to be staying on top of things but we are essentially in an orbiting spaceship at this point. There are no marine services and no supply lines so we will have to manage with whatever we have onboard and hope that nothing serious goes wrong with either the boat or us. I had a chunk fall off a tooth the other day. The nearest dentist who could fix it is about 800 miles away but it might as well be a million miles at this point.
One recent project has been decanting liquid Butane from a rented French cylinder to our smaller boat cylinders (see pic). It is a pretty safe operation if care is taken, gloves, safety glasses, no naked flames, and I was pleased to find that the transfer hose worked well. We have enough propane to last about six months now. This is actually very important for us because the bulk of our provisions are in dried form and would be inedible without cooking. We are being very conservative with use of equipment, collecting rainwater to minimize water maker use and the like. We are also being super careful moving around to minimize the risk of injury.
We have absolutely no idea what happens next. The French authorities could decide we are too much trouble and tell us to leave. In any event our visas expire in August with no likelihood that they will be renewed so we would have to head west fairly soon after the cyclone season ends in May. To where? Pretty much the whole western Pacific has closed its doors. At the moment Fiji, 1,800 nautical miles (3,600km) from Tahiti, is the only open port but that might change. We would need to go on from there directly to Australia, another 1,500 nautical miles and, frankly not an attractive destination at the moment as they appear to have shed all pretense of social responsibility, something they will pay a heavy price for. It is troubling that all of the countries that we have a right of abode are currently being ‘run' by complete imbeciles. Makes one wonder about this democracy idea. Anyway, a LOT of long distance sailing in our future, something we thought was largely behind us, oh well.... We are just going to keep our heads down for the next few weeks, practice extreme social distancing and see if anything improves, much like many of you I suspect.
Our hearts go out to all our families and friends in more difficult circumstances. Please stay safe.
We don't have any phone service or real Internet out here so it will be email only for a while. We would love to hear from you at mail(at)janakilennie.com if you have the time. One saving grace of our complete isolation is that we don't have enough internet access to watch our retirement savings evaporating. Life post CV is going to be different.....
Please take care and stay safe.
Graham & Janaki
Weather (lots of it....)
08 March 2020 | Taravai Island, The Gambiers
We are having quite a time of it with the weather down here at the moment. The locals are saying they cannot remember a wetter summer and we can easily believe it. We are getting the odd blue sky day but most of the time it has been very cloudy, wet and windy, with some quite violent squalls to keep us on our toes. It is a tad stressful getting suddenly swung round and hammered by a 30kt wind gust. The noise level shoots up, the boat heels over a surprising amount and the reef, only two or three boat-lengths behind us in any event, starts to look unpleasantly close. The anchor chain begins to feel a bit inadequate, you hope that the distant sound of thunder remains just that - distant - and there is a strong urge to sit under a tree for a while.
On which subject, we realized this morning that we had not been ashore for five days and, somewhat surprisingly, were not really bothered by that fact. Time was, when the sight of land had us grabbing our shoes and leaping into the dinghy. Not any more. Mind you, the fact that it tips down every few minutes and the outboard motor is not running (again) might be coloring our thinking.....
Leela is looking after us very well. There are a couple of leaks but only in âI'll have to fix that one day' spots and we are warm and dry, with plenty of books to read and indoor projects to at least contemplate if not actually do. Power is a challenge. We are having to deplete the batteries more than I would really like (it reduces their working life) and we are having to run the engine every other day for several hours to boot them back up to an acceptable level. I regret not installing a wind generator now. Solar-only was fine in the Caribbean but it does not cut it here, at least not in the current conditions. One upside of the appalling weather is that we are getting plenty of practice at collecting rainwater (very quickly) so there is no need to use power on the water maker.
We are currently anchored in a fairly well protected bay between the islands of Taravai and Agakuaitai. I say fairly well protected because it can get a bit hairy when the weather comes in from the W to NW which it managed to do all day yesterday despite a forecast to the contrary. It got pretty âinteresting' for a while and we were at the point of discussing bolting for the E side of the island but the forecast reasserted its slightly bruised credibility and things settled down enough for me to be able to dive on the rudder and ruin the day of a quite impressive collection of barnacles that had established themselves inside the rudder post tube, making steering a worryingly muscular activity. By evening it was calm enough for us to actually row over (no outboard...) to Pitufa for a very enjoyable dinner. Birgit makes an awesome gluten-free lasagne.
We are tucked in here with Pitufa, Sugar Shack and Yelo. It is a small international community of Austrian, Swiss, Canadian, American, English and Australian citizens - not bad for eight people.
The weather looks like it will improve considerably in a couple of days so, if that actually happens, we are planning to head back to the outer reef to do some more fish-watching. It will certainly be nice if we get some sunshine. Maybe summer is coming late?... I’m posting this via satellite so only one picture I’m afraid. It is looking back towards Aukena from the false pass anchorage near the airport during one of the better weather spells - when you could actually see the island....
The False Pass and Other Tales
03 March 2020 | Airport Anchorage, Gambier
Long one - get a cup of tea first.
A 'false pass' is a gap in the outer reef where water flows in and out of the lagoon but it is not deep enough for navigation. However it is great for snorkeling as all sorts of fish like to hang out in the tidal currents. We spent a couple of days there before the weather turned bad and it was probably the best snorkeling we have ever done. There were masses of fish, from tiny wrasse to large sharks and rays and everything in between. Most of the big stuff was hanging about in the deeper pools near the outer reef. The smaller fish were mainly on the shallow corals further into the lagoon.
Anyway the weather has turned bad, lots of cloud and rain with unpredictable squalls so we have been back in the main (and very sheltered) anchorage of Rikitea for a few days, eating pizza (pretty much the only 'restaurant' food available) and meeting cruising friends. The monthly supply boat came and went without much to offer. We did manage to get some potatoes and carrots and a few tomatoes but nothing green. There were cruisers wandering the main (only) street asking if anyone had seen a cabbage.
We did go to a barbecue and dance performance to help fund a group of kids to go to a Pacific cultural festival in Hawaii at Easter. The dancing was in the sports hall but you had to queue for the barbecue outside the adjacent community center. It was absolutely tipping down with rain so the barbecue was in the same tent. We are going to smell of barbecued goat for some time.....
The dancing was fairly interesting. We did not have an interpreter and the rain beating on the roof made it impossible to hear anyone anyway but it looked like a blend of a Christian nativity play with Polynesian mythology. The missionaries have a lot to answer for....
Unfortunately the weather looks a bit iffy for the next week or so but we will probably head out again tomorrow to do some more exploring. Anyway, back to the fishies; I have realized that, unless you are there, there is no way to determine the size of them from the photos so I have organized these from small to large and will gives some indication of scale.
These two Fang Blennies are a couple of inches long and are the only type of fish that has actually attacked us so far. They feed by stealing scales from passing fish so I guess they needed to taste us. Not very painful but a bit of a surprise. The yellow 'glow' round their tails looks like a light is being shone on them but it is solely pigment. There are a number of fish with these bright spots and the way the color fades into the surrounding areas is so convincingly a light source that you start looking for the battery compartment. We need to do some research on tropical fish evolution because you can sort of work out appearance and purpose with land animals and birds but this lot are crazy and there is no clear reason.
I have been trying to photograph this small (@3") Sunset Wrasse for weeks. They swim quickly and are normally very skittish but I just floated quietly in the shallows and they started to ignore me, sometimes coming too close to photograph.
This aptly named Bird Wrasse is transitioning from the intermediate phase, mainly brown and green to the mature phase which is almost black with dark green fin edges. There are a lot of them about but they are very cautious and fast so hard to photograph well.
Parrotfish, a close relative of the Wrasse family, come in a wide variety of colors but are generally not highly patterned. This Spotted Parrotfish is very distinctly marked. It is about 18" long.
These Blue Spotted Groupers are a regular sight here and vary between 12" and 24" long. Behind it there are a number of different parrotfish.
This intermediate phase Humphead Wrasse is the largest of the Wrasse family and it is already more than 2ft long. The mature phase gets to be more than 5ft and is a massive fish. They are beautiful fish but they have been much deeper and shier in other parts of French Polynesia so it was a treat to be able to get good shots of this one.
These two Spotted Eagle Rays were patrolling one of the deeper sand holes near the outer reef along with numerous sharks. They get to be 11 feet wide but the larger of this pair was probably 4ft across.
A closer shot of the larger ray shows that, far from being flat, they have a very solid body. This one has a small Remora swimming above his back.
These two White Tipped Sharks, patrolling the shallow reef top, are about 5ft long. We pretty much ignore them now although they can be a bit of a surprise, particularly in shallow water, but they have never shown any sign of aggression (unlike the 2" Fang Blennies....). They are just very inquisitive and are probably hoping we will kill something and leave some scraps in the water.
This is not a great picture of a Black Tip Reef Shark but what is 'on' it's nose is interesting. We have seen single Golden Trevally accompaning larger sharks but never a small school of them and not right on the shark's nose. Many mysteries here. First is how the trevally stay in absolute formation with the shark, like they were mounted on wires - from the front. Second is why the Shark does not get driven crazy by this bright yellow mass right in front of its eyes and have them as a snack. It is indeed a strange world underwater.
That's it for now. Just need to find somewhere with enough bandwidth to post this lot. The nearest good internet access is about 400nm away in Hao so that's out. I would really appreciate some feedback on this more pictorial approach to the blog. Ideas for improvement are always welcome.
I had just finished writing this. The weather was gray but actually quite bright when a dark cloud came over the mountain behind the anchorage. The next thing we knew the wind was howling, Leela was heeled over at about 45deg (at anchor....), things were flying about the cockpit, the dinghy that was alongside came out of the water and reared up level with the deck and the rain was coming down so hard we could barely see. Luckily the dinghy landed in the water upright and we think the motor is OK. The boat next to us was not so lucky. Their dinghy flipped over and they now have the motor on deck trying to get the salt water out of it. I would estimate the wind at around 35kts (70kmh) but it could have been more. A friend on a boat further down the bay said he thought it looked like a waterspout. Anyway, we seem to have survived without much loss or damage. We routinely keep the decks clear and everything tied down so nothing went overboard as best we can tell. A couple of lines broke on the cockpit canvas but no fabric damage. Fortunately our rainwater collection system was all set up so we even managed to collect about thirty gallons of rainwater in one squall, a good thing we did because we are not getting nearly enough sun to run the water maker at the moment.
It is completely calm now, like it never happened. Such is life on a boat.
21 February 2020 | Kouaku, Gambier Islands
After a week in Rikitia and some dire weather conditions improved and we headed out to a tiny motu on the SE corner of the outer reef. It is uninhabited and free of cultivation so a great place to watch birds.
The outer reef (on a good day....)
This Motu is little more than a bank of sand
The anchorage, looking back towards the main islands
There are hundreds of white terns and black noddies nesting here
They are amazing fliers
They nearly always fly in pairs or more. We think this is a mating ritual but needs more research. It looks very smooth most of the time but sometimes gets robust
This is a noddy coming in to land. Like all good fliers he takes a good look at the landing before flaring out.
We had some great snorkeling here (pics later) and the weather was great but the swell became uncomfortably high so we headed back into the main islands to do our tax and other such stuff that does not go away no matter how far you run....
17 February 2020 | Rikitea, Mangareva, Gambier Islands
This post has a couple of functions. I want to talk about hiking and living here but I'm also trying to find a way to provide images with VERY limited internet access. It looks like embedding smaller images into the post is a good way to go. I will still post albums when I get the opportunity but this does have the advantage of quick access so let's give it a try.
This shot was taken on one of the outer islands last week but it shows the layering of the different types of tree really well. The lower levels are different types of Acacia and others not known to us. Higher up these give way to fir trees.
In pré-colonial times these islands were completely deforested by over-population and the subsequent collapse of the ecology so few of these trees are native. More can be read here
Birgit and Christian from the Austrian boat Pitufa invited us to join them hiking up one of the two mountains on Mangareva. There are many ancient structures in the lower forests like this platform.
The day we went up kids from the local high school were on a field trip to help clear the path. As you can see traditional teenager clothing is global....
We chose this peak because the top is treeless, providing great views. It was quite a climb after too long sitting about on the boat.
Looking back along the island you can see the extent of the forest, the many pearl farms in the shallow bays and the barrier reef just below the horizon.
Taking a break just below the summit.
This is a strange place. It is probably the wealthiest island away from Tahiti because of all the pearl farms but, there is no bank, no ATM, no gas station, almost no communications or places to eat. You cannot buy vegetables because no one here eats them and you cannot buy fruit because everyone grows it. You can buy expensive tinned goods, VERY expensive beer and occasionally, eggs. You can buy baguettes but only between the hours of 4am and 5:30am. The shop adjacent to the bakery does not carry fresh bread but will sell you a frozen baguette (as bad as it sounds....) at any time of day. As I say, strange.
We have managed to find someone who will sell some fish and we can probably get some more vegetables back on Taravai in exchange for a bit of digging.
After a couple of days of horrendous weather, heavy rain and 80kmh squalls, the weather is improving and we are heading out to one of the small islands on the barrier reef to get back in the water. More soon.
12 February 2020 | Rikitea, Mangareva Island, The Gambiers
We are now a long way from anywhere, in the Gambier Islands, eight hundred miles SSE of the Marquesas.
After swinging back to Nuku Hiva to resupply and see friends we headed down to Fatu Hiva, the most southerly of the Marquesas, fully intending to go back north to Hiva Oa before heading south to the Gambiers. Fatu Hiva has a dramatic bay (see image) but was otherwise quite limited so we decided to move on quickly.
Anyway, as we were looking at the weather for our sail north we spotted a really promising weather window for heading south so we decided to give Hiva Oa a miss and headed out. It was definitely the right thing to do. We had an amazing sail covering the 800nm in just over five days at an average speed of 6.5kts. There was enough north in the wind early on to allow us to grab some eastings so that we would not get too close hauled as the wind veered south and we managed to maintain an apparent wind angle of about 60deg the whole way, probably our best sailing angle. Apart from a couple of large squalls and the subsequent lulls in the wind it was a comfortable and uneventful passage.
The notable event occurred when we arrived at the Gambier pass. For some months we had been communicating with Birgit and Christian on the sailboat Pitufa. They have posted lots of very useful information on their website
, including advice on when and how to visit the Gambiers. Without their guidance I am not sure we would have ventured this far off the beaten track.
Anyway, Pitufa were also using that weather window to get to the Gambiers from the Tuamotus and fate conspired to bring us to the entry pass within thirty minutes of each other. They proposed that we join them visiting the small island of Taravai before heading to Rikitea. We had a lovely week with them there, snorkeling and doing a little gardening for Eduard, a local farmer, in exchange for some fresh fruit and vegetables, something very difficult to find in the Gambiers.
We have both moved over to the main town of Rikitea now to do a little shopping and get some Internet (both with limited success) and to do some much needed walking before our legs atrophy completely due to sitting around on the boat. We would like to go and explore the outer islands but there are uncharacteristically strong easterly trade winds blowing at the moment so we are waiting here and hoping that the more settled summer weather kicks in soon.
The Gambiers are a major pearl farming location now. This has a couple of consequences, firstly navigating between the islands can be tricky, with pearl farm floats and lines everywhere, reminiscent of the lobster pots in Maine, and secondly, Rikitea is a little more 'industrial' than we have seen elsewhere in French Polynesia. It is not terrible but neither is it particularly picturesque. We are a bit spoilt on that score..... Like everywhere we have been in FP, people take great pride in their gardens which are beautifully kept and immaculately clean. I will try and photograph a couple.
The rest of the island looks lovely, with dense tree coverage and there are some great hikes that we are working up to.
I very much doubt that I will be able to post any photo albums from here so I will work out how to put a few more lower resolution images into these posts.
Photo Albums Posted
25 January 2020 | Nuku Hiva
We decided to ‘pop' back to Nuku Hiva before making another push south so we have finally found some Internet access. Here are the photo albums I promised. For those interested in the underwater world I have added a lot of interesting photos to the Marquesas Underwater album
including octopi, dolphins and other strange creatures. I have added comments where it might be helpful.
I have also posted an album
covering the feast in Hapatoni village on Tahuata and our brief visit to Ua Huka.
Having spent a couple of lovely days catching up with old friends, we are about to set off for an overnight sail to the southernmost island in the Marquesas. From there we will wander round the southern islands waiting for a good weather window to head down to the Gambiers. The normal NE winds have not materialized this year so it could be tricky.
Failing to Head South
22 January 2020 | Ua Huka
Another long gap I’m afraid. I think this is becoming less of an ‘adventure’, in the classic sense, and more just life so it feels like there is less of note. Anyway, we have had a pretty busy time so there is enough to write up.
We had a great visit with my family and some old friends in the UK. The weather was typically English Christmas, cold and damp, which was a bit challenging for our thin blood but it was really good to reconnect and particularly nice to find everyone doing well. The flights were tough. It is a long way and we are increasingly concerned about our carbon footprint when we travel. It is all well and good crossing the Pacific on a few gallons of diesel but that is lost in the noise when you jump on a jet. Difficult decisions.... As usual we came back laden with boat parts and foodstuffs that we cannot get here so we are hopefully in pretty good shape until we get to Tahiti later in the year.
Back on the boat we decided to start moving towards the Gambier Islands, our summer destination. So far we have made it to the small island of Tahuata, just south of Hiva Oa. The main aim was to find some clear water to clean the hull. We had a VERY slow passage down from Nuku Hiva, dragging a fairly large ecosystem with us but we got to the sandy bay of Hanamoenoa, at the north end of Tuahata and the fun began.
I guess I got about 25% of the bottom cleaned before the sharks arrived. They were a pair of Gray Reef Sharks that our guide describes as “occasionally aggressive and dangerous”. I’m not sure how one defines ‘occasionally’ in these circumstances but they were way too friendly for my liking. At first they just made passes on the bottom, about 20’ below me, then they started to come up to nearer the surface and circle tightly - not good. I hung in there for a while until they started running straight at me. In the past I have driven them away by swimming straight at them but that did not work this time so I beat a hasty retreat to the dinghy. There I found a breathless Janaki who gone for a swim and had already been chased back to the boat. Enough for one day..... I was hoping they would lose interest by the next day but they obviously did not have a lot going on because they were circling underneath the boat before I even got in the water. Hull cleaning was going to have to wait....
Fortunately we spoke to some cruising friends on the short wave radio (SSB) and they told us the bay to the south end of the island, Baie Hanatefau, was normally shark free, possibly due to the large number of Dolphins. We are so glad we headed down here. It looked an unlikely location on the charts, just a nick in the coastline with no beaches, but it is a delightful spot. We are nestled in near the rocky shoreline under a very steep and high mountain. The wind loops over the mountain top to create an onshore airflow but without the usual wave action one associates with that wind direction. The scenery is magnificent although too close and large to photograph easily, and the snorkeling is much better than anticipated.
It is also locally known as Baie des dauphines with good reason. They are not there every day but there are sometimes dozens and dozens of small spinner(?) dolphins cruising the bay and leaping out of the water. I managed to snorkel out to them once and it was a remarkable experience. The water filled with high pitched chirps that even my old ears can hear and pods of dolphins swam below me. They are not inquisitive and make sure they maintain a reasonable distance but otherwise seem to ignore me. It was very difficult to keep up with them so I have dug out my free diving fins so that I may be able to keep up with them next time.
There is a small village at the other end of the bay. Like all the Polynesian villages we have seen, it is pretty and immaculately clean and the locals are a delight. Everyone greets you, no one pesters you. There are no shops but we have been given as much fruit as we can eat and a lovely lady called Taihena(sp?) provided lemonade and Internet access. We could do with some vegetables but that will probably have to wait until we go to Hiva Oa as no one seems to grow them here.
We are going to somewhat reluctantly head out on Sunday to go over to the town of Atuona on Hiva Oa and gets some diesel and provisions. Hopefully there will be some left. The supply boats take a remarkably long vacation over the Christmas break and all the Marquésan islands ran out of diesel, gasoline and most everything else. Everyone seems to take it in their stride so I guess it happens every year. Once we are topped up and the boat has been checked out we will head down to Fatu Hiva, the most southerly island in the Marquesas, and look for a suitable weather window for the one week passage down to the Gambiers. They are at 23S and out of the trade winds so we are having to brush up on our temperate zone weather forecasting, particularly in cyclone season. We are a good way out of the normal cyclone area, particularly in an El Niño neutral year such as this, but we are being VERY cautious.
I would like to post some photos but the little internet access we can find is not up to that so it will have to wait a while.
There in no Internet here so I will just keep writing. Our departure has been delayed by the locals preparing a feast for us. Actually it is everyone mucking in and the boundary between cruisers and locals is not really apparent. Many of the French cruisers have been here for many years and we are all treated like family. The whole thing deserves a separate post and photo album so more later.
Finally, a very slow Internet connection and more changes. The feast was great and I will post commented photos once I get the chance. We were ready to head over to Hiva Oa when someone showed us pictures of the museum at Ua Huka and we just had to go so we headed back North, the way we came.... and are somewhat precariously anchored bow and stern in a narrow canyon on Ua Huka and heading to the museum today. The museum is several miles away and the only way to get around on this small island is to hitchhike (le stop) but everyone is very friendly so it shouldn't be a problem.
After that we think we will head back to Nuku Hiva for a few days to reprovision before we make a second attempt to go south. We don't actually need to be anywhere in particular so all is well.
14 December 2019 | Tahiti
No posts for a month - wow, how time passes. Sorry about that. I passed the time while Janaki was in the US giving the boat a deep clean that was very satisfying and got me a bunch of brownie points. After her return we started to plan another sailing trip and think about our longer term plans. This led us to the realization that this Christmas was the last time we could safely leave the boat for at least a year and a mad plan was hatched to spend Christmas in the UK with my family.
Making this happen turned out to be a Herculean task requiring at least three lists (we have a LOT of lists....) and many hours on bad Internet connections - why do flight ticketing sites always crash AFTER you have entered three pages of information? Anyway, it finally all came together and we are now sitting in the airport in Tahiti having completed the first leg of what will be a three day journey. This leg took us about eight hundred miles in the wrong direction but that's air travel.
In the interim we did manage to fit in a few interesting scuba dives, some good hikes and a sail back round to Tai Pi Vai to see a dance festival there. This was by way of a dress rehearsal for a larger, multi-island festival taking place on Ua Pou while we are away.
The festival was very interesting with tattooing and weaving demonstrations as well as lots of dancing. I've written before about how gentle these people are now but when these dances were developed they were a series of warring tribes that were apparently not at all adverse to eating one another.
There are a bunch of photos in this album
. I make no apologies for making the young girl who danced with the men the feature performer. She was absolutely the star of the show, utterly poised and engaged. There was a young boy who danced with the women but he had an attention span problem - typical I guess.... These child dancers presumably had some cultural significance but I've not been able to determine what yet. They may just have been for entertainment value. They certainly delivered.
Leela is now safely anchored back in Taiohae Bay under the watchful eye of Kevin, the local yacht services owner while we gad off around the world. When we get back and get over the inevitable lurgy we catch whenever we visit the northern hemisphere in winter we will start moving south for the 800nm passage to the very remote Gambier group.
If you are pining for fish pics there are more here
My next post will be more about what it is like to live on a boat in the S Pacific. In the meantime we hope you all have joyful festive season and stay well.
Cruising Life and Further Ramblings
16 November 2019 | Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva
The circumnavigation of the island was very enjoyable but this post finds me in something of a strange place. The past year has been full on excitement/fear/adventure/delight. The long passage across the Pacific was a huge challenge for both of us and the South Pacific experience has been everything we hoped for and more, but, without immediate plans and in a cyclone season holding pattern, it is turning into 'normal life', with all the stuff that goes with that.
By way of example, yesterday was spent as follows; dinghying into the beach and sitting on a rock for several hours chipping rust and old paint off a propane tank that needs to last another year, dismantling the head (toilet) and removing a partially decayed dead fish from the saltwater intake, replacing the manky hoses in the galley salt water supply, relocating the autopilot breaker to a safer spot on the panel so that it does not get knocked off when reaching for something, battling with Google Fi customer support to understand why they are quite willing to store all our "secondary payment method" credit card details on their server but will not actually use it if the first method fails due to "security concerns" - go figure.... The rest of the day was filled with normal cruising stuff, making fresh water, commuting to the Internet access by dinghy, collecting the laundry and scuba tanks, reading the news then seriously regretting it, listening to the Polynesian HF radio net, going out to dinner with West Australian cruising friends and so it goes on. Normal life.....
Janaki is in the US at the moment, sorting out some admin, getting specialist supplies and keeping up with friends so I am alone on the boat for the first time in a VERY long time, maybe ever. You would think, after a year of never being more than a few yards apart, it might be a refreshing experience but it feels distinctly empty and I am really looking forward to the status quo being restored. My 'helpless male' act is getting me fed (I am pulling my weight) but I do need to revive my culinary skills and use what is in the refrigerator before it rots.
Once Janaki gets back I will shake off my lethargy and we will probably sail off to explore some of the other islands in the Marquesas. Being under sail always cheers us both up. We love that part of the lifestyle (thank goodness). Until then I will keep chewing away it the to-do list. There is plenty on it.... I really need to clean the waterline but the occasional large hammerhead swimming by, combined with the limited visibility, is a little off-putting so it will have to wait.
Apart from the rolly anchorage (good for the core muscles) this is a delightful place to hang out. The surroundings are dramatic, the small town is pretty and immaculately kept. There is no trash anywhere and no graffiti. There are a few general stores, a couple of reasonably priced restaurants, a pretty well stocked hardware store, a real farmer's market with fresh produce and fresh fish down on the dock.
What makes it really special is the Polynesian people (there are remarkably few French residents). There is no sign of wealth but neither is there any sign of serious poverty. They universally exude a sense of contentment and calm. They greet one another, and us, with a smile and talk and laugh together like the long term friends they clearly are. Kids are always running around and playing. No-one plays loud music and everyone is generous with our dubious language skills. Not once have we heard a raised voice or seen any sign of agression. Absolutely no-one hassles us, we don't lock up the dinghy at all and rarely lock up the boat. This is all a startling contrast to the noise, hassle, and palpable agression of the Eastern Caribbean and without the underlying danger of Central and S America. I'm sure this is a slightly optimistic view of things, everywhere has issues, but it sure is nice.
Do drop us a line any time. Either here or via our normal email. It is hard to stay in touch over such great distances but it is always a pleasure to get missives from distant friends.
07 November 2019 | Baie Marquisienne, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Archipelago, French Polynesia
We finally got to Scuba dive for the first time since Galapagos and it was awesome. There was too much surge to secure the dinghy at the edge so we swam from Leela using snorkels to conserve air. We did not go deeper than easy free diving depth (about 20') but being able to just stay in one spot and wait made all the difference. This crazy lot are just a sampling of the things we saw. It was very different to the Tuamotus, big boulders and very little coral, but the marine life was spectacular, lots of first sightings and schools of fish that we had only seen as rare individuals previously. We could have just stayed on one boulder for the whole dive and not got bored. Unfortunately we decided to save half our air for the next day but a big swell came up so no more diving fore a while. We really need a compressor to dive these super-remote locations.
It was also too rough to land the dinghy on the steeply sloping boulder beach but we did swim ashore with all our stuff in a dry bag in an effort to walk up the beautiful valley - no chance. There are absolutely no paths and it is an impenetrable thicket of thorny bushes. I guess that's why we have the place to ourselves.....
I will put up an album of Nuku Hiva photos once we get back to Taiohae, the main village.
A Place of Our Own
05 November 2019 | Baie Marquisienne, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Archipelago, French Polynesia
After several days hiking and surf swimming in the Anaho Bay area we decided to check out the snorkeling on the drier west coast so we sailed round until we found a small nick at the southern end of the west coast that had a sandy bottom to anchor and sufficient protection from the ever-present swell. We are at the head of a steep valley with no roads or trails visible so we have seen no-one apart from a distant fishing boat on the horizon. It is certainly peaceful, just us, the birds and the fish, and fish there are a plenty.
The snorkeling is challenging but very rewarding. The cliffs drop straight into the water which is full of large boulders. There is too much surge to secure the dinghy so we have to swim over from the boat. Once at the rocky edge we need to get used to being swept from side to side but there are plenty of fellow travelers. The place is loaded with fish, many of which we have not seen before in such large numbers. The school pictured are Fusiliers but there are numerous schools of fish such as grunts, tangs and surgeon fish that we have previously only seen in ones and twos and there are many small and interesting individuals such as the spotted box fish. The visibility is not up to Tuamotus standards but it is better than anything we have seen in the Marquesas to date. Underwater photography is particularly challenging in the surge but I'm getting a few passable shots that I will upload once we get back to 'civilization' later in the week.
It looks more interesting Down deep here than we have seen previously and we have two full dive tanks so we are planning our first scuba dive in a while for tomorrow morning. Apart from getting in the water there is not much to do here. The beach is steep pebbles and the scrub behind it looks impenetrable. In the past we would launch the dinghy and head to the beach as soon as the anchor was secure. Now, after a few longer passages, we seem to be content on the boat or in the water and we may well leave here without touching land.
Life onboard has settled into a routine of swimming, snorkeling, reading, processing photos and relaxing. The basic chores go on, washing a few clothes, meal prep, cleaning the boat, making water but major boat projects are on hold until we can get some supplies.
We will probably head round the corner to Daniel's Bay after the dive tomorrow. There is likely to be a few other boats there and there is a farm where we can stock up on fresh vegetables.
Using the Iridium GO - Update
03 November 2019 | Nuku Hiva
WARNING: Unless you are a current or potential Iridium GO user you should probably ignore this post.
NOTE: All content is my opinion based on my limited experience and is not represented as definitive fact.
I wrote about this a few years ago but we use it differently now so our impressions need an update. We have a love/hate relationship with the GO. On the one hand it is remarkable that we can communicate relatively easily from anywhere on the planet. On the other hand it is partially crippled by some of the worst software I have come across since the 1980’s. More on that later. The following is a summary of how we use it and how we get round some of the limitations.
The GO tools that we use come in three parts:
1. The basic GO app that we use to configure the device, send and receive texts, make phone calls and set up tracking.
2. The Iridium mail and web app that we use to access our Iridium mail account and access the Internet. It has other tools that we have no need for.
3. Our add-on Xgate account that we use as an additional mail portal and to download weather from Weathertrack.
The Iridium mail and the Xgate mail are basically the same software, written by Global Marine Networks (GMN), with some puzzling differences. More on that later.
Initially we used the native email accounts but that resulted in chaos with people having to send to different addresses depending on where we were. Now we just auto-forward emails from our personal account to Xgate and from our business account to MyIridium. Both are configured with the appropriate reply-to address making this transparent to the senders. We set a bigmail filter limit of 50kb on the business account and 300kb on the personal account to catch egregiously large emails. As we know there is still a copy on our native email accounts we normally delete bigmails unless it is something we need to see quickly, in which case we start the download and go have a cup of tea (using the GO requires a LOT of tea....).
There is a good reason not to use the native MyIridium account. The Xgate account can be accessed over any network such as wifi. In their dubious wisdom Iridium have seen fit to have this capability removed in their version of the app, presumably to force more airtime use in the days before ‘unlimited’ plans. This means that if you have bigmail on the account and you are sitting in Starbucks using their wifi you can still only download the email over the satellite link. This limitation was why we got the Xgate account in the first place but using the forwarding strategy deals with this as well.
The Xgate email software is seriously buggy. There are some addresses that it refuses to reply to. The app crashes as soon as you try and send the response to the outbox or save an edited response. Once it takes a dislike to someone thats it. It will always crash. After losing many replies we have taken to composing responses in a text editor, in our case Google Keep, and pasting them into the response so that we don’t lose the whole effort. The only way to deal with these recalcitrant accounts is to cut and paste the received email into the text editor, compose your reply and paste the whole lot into a new email message. What fun.... I have a group email from the SSB net admin that I simply cannot respond to without resynthesizing the address list - yuk. This is an enormously frustrating bug that I have communicated to GMN with zero useful response.
More seriously It sometimes goes through the complete download process, apparently normally, only to find that there are no new messages in the inbox. There is no way to either recover the missing message or find out who it was from. This is very disturbing and a major no no in an e-mail app. Again, I am getting no useful response from GMN. This lack of responsiveness to significant failings that I know others are experiencing is very strange. I am beginning to wonder if the original software author has departed and they have no idea how to maintain it. It needs a rewrite from the ground up anyway.
Strangely, we seem to have less of these problems with the MyIridium version of the software but we probably use it less. I might try switching apps for some tasks to see if it is actually more stable.
We use email as follows:
1. As normal email
2. To retrieve GRIBs into WeatherTrack (we have a backup Predictwind account but we really do not like the PW philosophy or software. That needs to be a separate post)
3. To retrieve weather data such as synoptic charts from Saildocs
4. To post blog posts to Sailblogs (with image - subject to the limitations below).
The following is not a bug; it is a ‘feature’. When downloading a larger file/image there are occasional random timeouts. Most of the time the software recovers from them automatically but very occasionally you need to manually restart the process. Sending even a small image is a different challenge altogether. During send there are fake timeouts. The first occurs at (as I recollect) 90secs, it might be 30secs but it is always the same, the second after another 60secs and the third after another 60secs. At that point the transmission always shuts down and has to be manually restarted. These are not timeouts. They are programmed break points. This artificially limits the send to small chunks before a manual restart is required. The impact of this is that you might need to monitor the send and restart it dozens of times over several hours just to send one file. It is difficult to see a technical reason for this as it ends up using much more airtime with repeated restarts. Given this, in my opinion, it is hard to see this as anything other than a mechanism to make the process as difficult as possible to discourage use. It does this well but it is utterly infuriating. This definitely occurs in Xgate but I need to test more with the MyIridium account.
Unlike shore-based email accounts, Xgate email is POP3 so only received once, then it is no longer available on the server so it can only be downloaded to one device. in order to prevent Xgate emails being scattered across different devices we use the iPad as the primary email device. We have found the Android software even less stable than the IOS version and no longer use it. We keep a backup IPad configured for all our critical tasks.
The unlimited texting capability seems very attractive but we use it less than expected as there are caveats.
The problem is that we can send and receive texts at no additional cost to us but if the recipient texts back from a land service to the iridium phone it can be very expensive and it is difficult to find out the actual cost. If there is someone you particularly want to hold text conversations with then it might be worth them contacting their provider and determining the actual cost. They can send a text from an Iridium website. This is good for emergency communications but it does not allow the normal flow of texting because they cannot just reply to your response without incurring charges.
Text conversations with other boats are somewhat useful but Inreach users and those without an unlimited plan may incur significant costs. Text conversations are most useful between two iridium GO users with an unlimited account as both have free unlimited texting (you need to make that clear on your boat card).
We mainly get weather data via email but occasionally via the Predictwind Offshore App. If we want to use a Predictwind GRIB in a different app such as getting a European model into WeatherTrack we just request the file through the app but via email. It can then be used elsewhere. We used to do this a lot when the Euro model was more reliable than the GFS model but since the launch of the completely rewritten GFS model this year we think it now has the edge over the Euro model and use it exclusively. We have never had much luck with the PW models.
This has definitely exceeded expectations but is a little complex and may not always be possible. With the setup described below we can access and interact reasonably well with a surprising large number of websites including Facebook, the Bing search engine, Wikipedia (DONATE PLEASE), The Guardian, NYT. Sailblogs (including the console which works remarkably well) and many others. No Google sites seem to work.
Our setup is as follows:
We do not use the built in browser in the Mail and Web app. It is very clunky and works with very few sites. It does not work with Facebook.
We use the IOS Opera Mini browser configured for maximum savings, no images. A connection can be established in one of two ways:
1. Using the (very clunky) connection control in the Iridium Mail and Web app.
2. Using the menu options on the GO itself.
The latter seems to be more stable but you need to go into the wifi settings and set the proxy to automatic then restart the wifi.
We have images switched off normally but occasionally we need to download them, often because buttons cannot be identified due to poor HTML coding. In that case we just modify the browser settings to download low quality images and reload the page. This will need another cup of tea.....
Here are the catches:
1. There is no automatic proxy option in Android and I have not been able to find the actual proxy address.
2. Starting the connection from the Android Mail and Web app does not appear to allow access from the Opera Mini browser. I’ve not been able to make this work at all.
3. If you have a US Apple account the Opera Mini browser is no longer available in the App Store unless you have previously downloaded it.
TIP: If a page is loading correctly the screen will go blank before the green bar extends to 50%. If this does not happen restart the browser and start again (more tea.....).
I am still trying to find another browser to replace the capabilities of the Opera Mini browser but no luck so far. I have also written to them imploring them to restore it to the App Store with no response - surprise surprise.
MAKING PHONE CALLS
We have 150 minutes a month of voice calls that we rarely seem to use. One inhibitor is that it is impossible to monitor usage from offshore and overages are expensive. This is frustrating because the phone knows how many minutes it has used but will not tell you. Another ploy to limit use or encourage overages?
IMPORTANT: Do NOT make voice calls from a device with the wifi proxy set to automatic as all the voice traffic will route through the proxy server. We use a phone for voice calls to avoid this issue.
When we are on passage we set up tracking for every four hours and send it to followingsea.net (previously cruisersat.net). They autoforward it to our Sailblogs tracking. This needed some help from both support services but works well.
AIRTIME ACCOUNT CHOICE
At the moment Predictwind seems to have the most flexible account options. Most importantly the account can be suspended when not in use without either losing your number or incurring ridiculously high costs. They can also send a notification email when you have used up 80% of your allotted minutes.
Predictwind have a satellite portal allowing you to monitor usage but it cannot be accessed via the satphone - go figure......
Summary? A great device but much harder to use than it should be.
If I have missed the point anywhere or you have additional information please do let me know. I certainly don’t consider myself an authority on using this device and would like to know more.
Exploring the Island
30 October 2019 | Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Archipelago, French Polynesia
Only a few hundred miles apart, the Marquesas are remarkably different to the Tuamotus. The latter are just coral atolls that formed as fringing reefs on volcanic islands that have long ago sunk beneath the waves. The Marquesas are much younger volcanic islands, steep and high, with no fringing reefs and little coral. This makes for a very different cruising experience. The anchorages are deeper and unprotected, sometimes making for a rolly experience that varies between mild and unpleasant. At the moment we are in a small bay on the SW corner of Nuku Hiva that is perfectly calm and quite beautiful.
The other difference is the experience onshore. The Tuamotus consist of just reefs and coconut palms and bushes with only a couple of meters of elevation and very few people (thankfully....). The Marquesas are highly contoured and lush with small communities in the valleys.
The valley where we are currently anchored is one of the most beautiful we have ever seen. The surrounding hills are a delight and the valley is amazingly verdant with a few small farms that produce an astonishing variety of fruits and vegetables. Just in this small valley there are coconuts, mangoes, grapefruit, avacados, guava, limes, lemons, oranges, bananas, soursop, custard apple, breadfruit, taro, tamarind, ginger, and vanilla. We are sure there is more that we are not spotting. As we walked down the valley yesterday we were given grapefruit and limes and offered bananas but we already have more of them than we can eat.
The place has such a peaceful feel to it, horses are used a lot and there is barely any traffic on the few roads. There is absolutely zero sign of tourism. The population is pretty much entirely Polynesian and the place is utterly spotless. Nearly everyone we met walking through the village was carrying a rake or a brush and all the gardens were immaculate and beautiful with a heady mix of frangipani, jasmine, hibiscus and bougainvillea along with many beautiful trees and plants we don't recognize at all.
One highlight of our walk was eating fresh tamarind straight from the tree. It is an amazing flavor, recognizable from the dried variety but quite different. Today we are going to the annual (?) village fair that seems to be quite a big deal. I will report later on that.
For those of a literary bent. This valley is called Taipivai or Taipi Valley and is the subject of Herman Melville's first book 'Typee' before he became famous for writing Moby Dick. Before the local population was decimated by western diseases there were 20,000 people living here in a tribal culture that seemed to spend their time playing, carving statues, fighting and eating one another. There are ancient ruins everywhere in the woods and museum quality statues in people's yards and by the roadsides.
There are a few other apparently lovely bays on the island so we are doing a slow and weather dependent circumnavigation.
UPDATE: We grabbed a weather window and headed round to the more rugged north side of the island and we are now anchored in Anaho Bay (pictured). Unlike the southern shore we can snorkel here. The visibility is nothing like the Tuamotus but the marine life is interestingly different. There are half a dozen other boats here so we are having a pleasant social life. There is no road into the bay but there is a small boarding house that brings their guests in by boat so we will try their lunch today with a few other cruisers.
Yesterday I managed to help fix an obscure electrical problem on another boat's generator which was very satisfying but also confirmed our 'keep it simple' 12V only system that does not require the complexity of a generator. This does limit us to camping mode without the luxuries of washing machines, induction hobs, microwaves and the like but Leela is too small for all that stuff anyway. There are many different approaches to this cruising life. They all have pro's and cons.
As long as the weather holds we will probably stay here another week before continuing our circumnavigation.
Raroia Photos Posted
20 October 2019 | Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Archipelago, French Polynesia
We are back in the Marquesas and managed to find enough Internet access to post our photos of the Raroia Atoll. They can be found here
as well as a side link on this page. I'm afraid there are a lot.... Where it might be informative I have added a brief description in the comments. I was going to try and add the names of all the fish but life is too short.
We had a very difficult passage back up here. The winds at this time of year trend to the NE so it has a bit of a reputation but we picked a doozie - entirely our own fault. I think we were suffering from post-Pacific cockiness but our preparation for the trip was way too casual. We decided to ride a frontal system thst promised to supply plenty of wind. It did. We spent the first two days in winds up to 30kts on the nose, 3m seas and torrential rain. We had more boarding waves (into the cockpit) than all of the last six years put together. I was very glad we had finally got round to making a watertight cover for the poorly located engine control panel.
We emerged from that tired and soaked then had to spend the next three days close hauled into 2m+ seas in order to make the Marquesas. The boat movement made it difficult to cook and moving around inside was decidedly tricky. Most of the time the person on watch had to huddle in the dry(ish) corner of the cockpit while the off-watch just slept. We heaved to to take breaks, something Leela does exceedingly well, when we could get a bit cleaned up and have a meal. It was a long five days.... I must admit it left us wondering how long a pair of old farts could keep doing this, and dreaming about campervans.
We will be taking a much more conservative approach in future. There were a few specific lessons learned:
1. 'Short' passages can bite. You need to prepare for the worst case every time.
2. Gradient forecasts might be great for forecasting trade winds but they can significantly under-forecast wind in frontal systems
3. We need to make more effort to stay fit and strong to cope with the physicality of rough weather sailing.
4. Leela is very reassuring in bad conditions. The boat always feels solid and the rig, with the triple reefed main and the staysail, is very flexible. We can continue to point reasonably well with very little canvas up.
We are going to spend a couple of months in the Marquesas so time to regroup and address #3.
Time to Go
11 October 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
We have had an awesome six weeks here in the Raroria Atoll but it is time to take our leave for this season. We have loved the isolation and the underwater experience has definitely lived up to our expectations for the South Pacific but we are completely out of fresh food, our administrative 'life' is a shambles and just to make sure we get the message, the propellor on the outboard AND the spare failed so our 'car' will only go in first gear so to speak.
So, tommorow we head back out to sea for a four day passage to the Marquesas. We are the only boat here at the moment so this end of the atoll will return to its normal deserted state, just the fish and the birds.
We will be hard on the wind to get up to Hiva Oa but the seas will be on the beam so it should not be too unpleasant. It is going to be strange to be moving again after the tranquility of this place but we should get into the swing of it pretty quickly and it is a short passage by recent standards.
Once we arrive I should be able to post some (a lot of....) photos so I will write more then.
David from Perigee took the photo from the top of his mast while he was doing some checks before heading out. We will catch up with them before long.
05 October 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
Wow! Time has both ceased to exist and flown by. We are still in the very remote NE corner of the Raroria Atoll. There is only one other boat here now and, apart from a French boat that stopped for one night, we have seen no-one else. We have settled into a routine of boat chores, snorkelling, swimming or walking, reading, board games and movies. The snorkeling continues to amaze. We have been going for a couple of hours pretty much every day for about six weeks and we cannot recollect an occasion when we did not see something new and interesting. I am looking forward to being able to post more pictures but these little composites are all I can manage for now.
From top left clockwise:
1. An aptly named Shrimp Goby. These gobies consistently share a hole with a particular type of shrimp. The shrimp does all the excavation while the goby acts as lookout. The shrimp is blind and only comes out of the hole while the goby is there. It keeps one feeler on the back of the goby and if the goby moves, rapidly retreats into the hole. Remarkably, there are many different shrimp gobies, each with their particular type of shrimp. How all this gets set up is a mystery. It is indeed a strange world.
2. Talking about strange worlds, this is a juvenile Rock Mover Wrasse. Like many fish it looks nothing like its mature form. It swims like a drifting piece of weed, twisting and turning as it tries to avoid being eaten while it hunts its own prey.
3. We have not seen many nudibranchs yet but this one is a beauty and we should see more as we head west.
4. I was taking a photo of two Convict Tangs in about eighteen inches of water when this Black Tipped Reef Shark photobombed me. They do not normally get that close but it was a pretty confined area and he clearly had places to go. Sharks are ubiquitous here. We treat them like stray dogs, largely ignoring them but remaining cautious. There are four types of sharks we have seen so far. The Black Tips are everywhere but we see the occasional Grey Nurse shark, White Tip Reef Shark and Grey Reef Shark (given a wider berth).
Anyway, the clock is now ticking on our little escape. Our administrative affairs continue to collapse due to lack of Internet access. This morning's fun was our Paypal account being suspended 'please go online to resolve the issue' - business as usual.... We pay a lot of small bills with Paypal so that one is going to be a big mess. Almost every program on every device is now complaining that it cannot call home. It is really scary what a busy life our communication tools are having, normally behind our backs.
There are other reasons for partially rejoining the world. We are running out of fresh food and we need to be further north by the start of the cyclone season in November so it is time to take more interest in the weather forecast and look for a window to head back up to the Marquesas. At this time of year the winds tend to be from the NE (where we are going) so we will look for the least bad window then pay the price for our time in paradise with a tough four or five day upwind sail. Once we are there we should be able to sort out all this administrative chaos and, hopefully, make it all more robust before we head down to the VERY remote Gambier Islands in January as we will be there for several months. We will also be able to post all the fish pics we are accumulating.
That's it for now. This morning's boat chore is to go up the mast and try and sort out our failed masthead light, not my favorite activity but someone has to do it. All part of the fun.....
On (not) Getting Away From it All
15 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
One of the many things we are learning out here is how utterly dependent we have all become on ubiquitous Internet access. All of us have administrative threads back into âcivilization' that need to be maintained; stuff in storage, phone services, satellite services, credit cards, cash cards and so it goes on. It is very easy for this house of cards to come tumbling down. In the last couple of weeks we have had our primary credit card gratuitously repaced with âupdated technology' and our backup card that we NEVER use in a retail establishment fraudulently used by someone else. Then our (fixed) primary credit card gets blocked by the over-zealous (and frankly dumb) âsmart' security system. None of these issues would be overly disruptive IF we had internet access - but we don't. Well, we sort of do, via the satellite phone but most administrative websites are so badly built that they fall apart over low bandwidth connections.
The first indication of a problem is the phone bill does not get paid. This has to be fixed in three days so we get to a cell tower (without Internet access) and call customer service to change the account. Sorry, there is absolutely NO way to add a credit card to the account except via the (non functional) website. Customer service won't do it. Can't be done by email. When we tell them that it is simply not possible to get Internet access in the required time we are met with an utter lack of comprehension and a degree of suspicion. Everyone has Internet access all the time don't they?
So, back to the credit card to try and fix it there. âWe just need to send you a security code to your mobile appâ. No Internet access so the app does not work - back to the lack of comprehension and suspicion.... After providing my life history and, managing to receive a text message they are willing to talk to me. âWe just wanted to check that it was you that authorized the payment to Google Fi (that we happily paid last month)â. OK, credit card fixed BUT the only way to get Google to retry the charge is through the website, remember? The one that does not work via satellite. Argh.....
I'm pretty much resigned to the phone getting cut off at this point. We don't use it much but it is one more broken thread in the tenuous web we depend on. This is just part of a long running saga but there is a cautionary tale for us all here. One day the Internet is really going to go down. If we persist in electing imbeciles to âgovernâ us that day might come sooner rather than later. When it happens we are totally and utterly screwed. The veneer of civilization will fall away amazingly rapidly when the power goes off, fuel cannot be purchased and food supply systems collapse (remember New Orleans?). Maybe the preppers have a point....
OK. Back to the illusion of getting away from it all....
Enough Fish For a While
13 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
We are still hiding out at the NE corner of Rarioa Atoll with Perigee and Capel, Mara, two Australian boats. A spell of calm weather has allowed us to get out to the mid-lagoon deepwater bommies, which are fantastic and I am getting the hang of photography while snorkeling so LOTS of fish pics are forthcoming. Unfortunately one of the downides of remote anchorages is only having satellite communications so they will have to wait, possibly for quite a while until we get to an island on the fiber optic cable that has recently been strung through parts of French Polynesia.
I have now dragged out the big camera and started to get some bird pics. We are not sure if this is a Tern or a Petrel but I'm sure someone out there will know. Anyway they are beautiful birds that often fly around in pairs in such tight formation that they can be mistaken for the white wing tips of a larger bird. This formation flying appears to be an important part of their mate selection process because we sometimes see a second male join the formation for a fly-off. They are impossible to tell apart so the victor is uncertain but it ends with one male flying off alone.
We motored down to the village yesterday as a group on Perigee to see if we could get online and visit the only store to buy some veggies as the monthly boat came in the day before. Slim pickings, carrots, cabbage, onions and garlic was all we found. The village satellite internet link was down so no internet either. We did manage to find some beer and some Tim Tams (the Audtralian equivilant of US Oreos or UK Kit Kats) and it was a very nice day out.
A fourth boat is arriving later today so our little community of six people will become eight - very exciting.
Back in the Water
07 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
There is no dive shop here to get tanks filled. In fact, there is no anything here..... so we are just snorkeling. There are plenty of small reefs around us with an interesting range of different creatures. Taking good pictures snorkeling is a challenge, particularly in three feet of water. The dappled sunlight is distracting and it is very hard to keep the camera still enough. None the less I'm managing to get a few interesting pics.
From the top left, clockwise:
1. An as yet unidentified goby cleaning out his home. He would disappear inside for thirty seconds or so then come out and spit out a large mouthful of sand and gravel.
2. The head of a reef top pipefish. Our first pipefish ever in decades of diving. This one is slightly thinner than a pencil and about four inches long. The patterning is fabulous.
3. The biggest marine life in this region are the sharks. These are black tipped reef sharks. They can get to eight feet long but the ones we see are typically three to five feet. We have never been in the water without seeing them and we are beginning to take them for granted. Most of the time they pretty much ignore us as they cruise the reef looking for someone (small) who is not paying attention. Sometimes they circle us, getting a little closer at every pass. When they get too 'friendly' We swim at them aggressively and they shoot off (so far....). They are actually quite beautiful to watch once you get past the 'shark' thing.
4. There are giant clams everywhere, in an amazing variety of patterns and colors. They can get to more than four feet across but the ones we are finding are generally four to eight inches. What is odd is the crazy diversity within the species. Most marine life is very uniform in appearance within the species but these guys are all over the map.
We go for a snorkel pretty much every day but the weather has been a bit nasty (30kts of wind and a steep chop) for the past day or so and the visibility is going to be poor tomorrow so probably no photography. The longer range forecast is good so more soon.
I Think We Have Arrived
03 September 2019 | Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus Archipelago, French Polynesia
It was hard work getting here but the payoff is astonishing. We are tucked into the NE corner of the Rarioa Atoll (red arrow on chart). We can hear the Pacific Ocean crashing on the outside of the reef but in here the turquoise water in perfectly flat (a real luxury at this point), the palm trees are swaying gently and it looks and feels like the epitomal South Pacific scene. The temperature is just about perfect, the humidity is low, the sky is mainly blue and there really is nothing you would want to change.
Getting into the atoll was interesting. It is a coral ring, about 40km long and 12km wide. It has a tide of 1m and only one significant pass. This means that about 450 million cubic meters or 119 billion gallons of water rush through that pass four times a day so timing was important. We arrived well before the calculated slack tide and monitored the pass. It was not too hard to see the flow. Even with wind with tide there was a remarkable tidal rip where the outflow hit the Pacific swells so we hung about and watched as it gradually settled down. A mother humpback whale and her calf and a small pod of dolphins entertained us while we waited. Eventually we started nosing into the flow to check the current. The north side of the pass was reasonably flat and we only saw a couple of knots so we pushed on through. The max current we saw was 3.5kts which was easily managed and we were through our first atoll pass.
Once inside we had very precise waypoints provided by our friends on Capel Mara, already waiting for us at the anchorage. We used those, geo-referenced Google Earth images and mark 1 eyeballs to navigate through the many coral outcrops or bommies between us and our destination in the NE corner of the atoll. There we met up with our sailing buddies (and waypoint providers) Sal and John on Capel Mara and Leanne and David on Perigee, the main culprits who helped us talk ourselves into this crazy endeavor a couple of years ago and many miles away in Lagoonies bar in Sint Maarten.
Since then life has been slow and easy. The boat was a tip after two passages so we are still working on that and we have the inevitable list of boat chores but we work for a few hours each morning the either go snorkeling, walking on the Motu (area of reef that has built up enough to support vegetation) or hanging about in the shallows chatting. The marine life is always entertaining. If you look at the bottom left corner of the bottom right image that smudge is a 3ft black tipped reef shark doing his rounds. I am posting this via satellite so I can only post one image at the moment so I will do another short post about the underwater scene.
There are some challenges involved in 'getting away from it all'. There is only a very small village on the island and that is about ten miles away on the NW side of the atoll. The nearest actual town is probably Papeete on Tahiti, a four day sail from here so we need to be pretty self sufficient. There is on store in the village but the supply boat only comes once a month so pickings will be slim. We are well stocked up on food and making water so we can go a couple of months or more before we need to move. We have no phone service so the satellite link is our only communications. It is nice to be able to get emails and post this but, to be honest, a spell with zero internet would be fine by me. I know it is going to upset me but I cannot resist the occasional look at what passes for news these days, even if it does take fifteen minutes to download an image-free web page.
We think we will probably stay here for another month then move down to a nearby atoll, Makemo, that apparently has a dive operation. After that we are not sure. Janaki needs some dental work in Tahiti so we might sail there and then back to the Marquesas, just another 1,200nm.....
I will pop up a short post to get an underwater pic up and, as soon as I get some half way reasonable internet I will put up a photo album but that might be a ways off.
Moving on (a Little too Quickly)
27 August 2019 | S Pacific Ocean
After only a few days in the Marquesas we decided to push on quickly to the Tuamotus. There were some strong drivers for this. The Marquesas are visually splendid and the perfect arrival destination but there are drawbacks; the anchorage was so rolly we would wake up at night wondering why no one was on watch, the water is murky and not good for swimming or diving and the islands themselves are not particularly accessible. In any event we are coming back there in November for the festival on Ua Pou. The Tuamotus, on the other hand, are classic coral atolls. Clear blue water caressing white sand beaches lined with coconut palms, FLAT water anchorages, snorkeling and swimming. Add to that our sailing buddies on Capel Mara and Perigee, who we have not seen for a while, are hanging out there. Why not?
Here is why not. We really had no idea how depleted we were from the two big crossings and the rapid scuttle round the Galapagos. One day into this thankfully short three day passage and we are both feeling our age. Just run down and bone weary. Not dangerously so, just uncomfortably so. The boat is still a tip from the long crossing and we are ready for a break. So, two more days, into the lagoon, and both the crew and the boat are going to get some much needed TLC. We have an ample to-do list for Leela, much of it involving cleaning and the crew is going to work half days then laze about, swim, play games, whatever.
The first day was more on the nose than we expected and quite boisterous but the wind has now backed to a more comfortable beam reach. The seas are down and the sky is bright blue and dotted with little, picture book, cumulus clouds. At night the Milky Way lights our path south in a moonless sky. All good.
I'm struggling to post photos to the album with the generally dreadful internet access here but I will let you know when I have managed to do that.
The Passage Making Setup
23 August 2019 | Nuku Hiva
For the long downwind passage we used a modified Twizzle or Simbo rig
This consists of two genoas on the furler that can either be deployed 'wing on wing' or used as a single genoa with the sails laid on top of one another. Normally it requires twin poles that we do not have so we used the pole on the upwind side and the boom on the downwind side. This worked fine but prevented us using the main in conjunction with the genoas. If I did it again I might try not using a pole on the downwind side and incorporating the reefed main. It is well described in the attached article.
The setup worked very well. We went several days reaching with the sails laid on one another without problem then switched to the downwind setup. It was fast and could be reefed by one person from the cockpit very quickly. The boat was well balanced, despite the different sized genoas and showed no tendency to broach, even at the occasional 10kts, although we still needed warps to deal with the aft quartering seas (more on that later). Despite the benefits I remain somewhat ambivilant.
It put enormous strain on the furler and furling line, enough to destroy most of the furler line running blocks. We have an oversized furler system that seems none the worse for the trip but it felt like unnecessary risk at times. As we had configured it, the operating window was from Port 120deg to Starboard 160deg which happened to work OK for us but got tight. With the boom and the pole out it was not a trivial job to reconfigure for broad reaching.
The Hydrovane was remarkably effective, even downwind in difficult conditions. I was expecting to get it set up and tested then put it away for emergencies but we ended up using it most of the way. It was subtle but it actually seemed to provide a smoother ride than the very sophisticated autopilot. The only time it was insufficient was when we needed to sail close to the edge of the working envelope of the rig. The Hydrovane did not hold us to the angle tightly enough causing the sails to flog. Using both the autopilot and the Hydrovane together worked well in those circumstances although care was needed to make sure they worked together and did not fight one another.
In big following seas (most of the passage) we trailed warps to help keep the stern in line when surfing off wave faces. This consisted of 109' of 3/4" nylon anchor rode, 10' of chain and a fender. Above 18kts it had no apparent effect on boat speed and may have been faster because it helped prevent the boat slewing sideways then rolling on the waves. Apart from being very uncomfortable, this sideways slide unbalances the sails. This use of warps made the Hydrovane more effective and also make the ride much more comfortable and (so far) has prevented boarding seas. It is pretty much our go to solution for following seas in anything over about 18kts true now.
We had very few equipment failures on the passage. The whisker pole went from being a telescopic long pole to being a fixed length short pole when the extension line broke. This meant we had to stay quite heavily reefed to keep the sail shape. Fortunately there was enough wind to make this necessary anyway. The furler line blocks were easily bypassed or replaced. The masthead light has gone intermittent. It is probably an electronics problem in the LED light but I will check the masthead connection when we get to flat water (SOON I hope). The SSB radio worked as well as ever (not at all....).
We did discover a bit more play in the rudder shaft than is ideal. It has probably been like this for a while but it is only noticable when using the Hydrovane downwind with the main rudder tied off amidships. It clunks ... A repair plan is being developed.
All in all we were very happy with Leela's performance. We were much faster than we anticipated. We were reasonably comfortable in the robust conditions and we got here pretty much in one piece. What more could you ask for?
20 August 2019 | Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia
This afternoon we made landfall in Baie de Taiohae, Nuku Hiva,in the Marquesas Islands, one of the archipelagos in French Polynesia. The passage from the Galápagos Islands was 3,076nm (3,540 Statute miles, the distance from London to New York), completed in exactly 19 days at an average, current assisted, speed of 6.8 knots. As our estimate was 24 days at 5.5 knots we are pretty pumped by this result. The other surprising fact is that we are already more than half way to New Zealand from Panama. We will do the second half at a more leisurely pace.
While the winds were ideal for a fast passage, conditions were decidedly robust and it was definitely not the serene experience we have heard about from others. Moving hand over hand in a sometimes violently moving boat for weeks at a time is hard and slightly risky work. I know that my balance and upper body muscles have benefited enormously. It will be interesting to see how bad the dry land vertigo is this time.
So, how do I feel about it now? Firstly very pleased to have done it. It was the culmination of several years of boat preparation, skill development, incremental challenges and learning. I think this is probably the most serious adventure I have ever undertaken and I've undertaken a few. Then I feel relieved. It might be something to do with my background in the offshore oil industry, constantly doing risk assessments, but I spent too much of the trip in a state of heightened anxiety. "What's going to break?". "What have we forgotten?". "How would we deal with the many hundred failure scenarios I managed to conjure up? I think we did a really good job of preparing the boat and ourselves but the difference between 'succeeding' and 'getting away with it' is always fuzzy and we were a LONG way from any help. I was particularly concerned about injury in the rough conditions so we were very careful how we moved about and protected ourselves and each other. As soon as we were within motoring distance of land some of the anxiety fell away. Now the rest has gone. We did have a buddy boat, Kelvin and Caroline, a couple of New Zealanders on SV Ondina. We managed to stay within 50nm of one another for the entire passage which provided a potential source of help but, perhaps more importantly, a sense that we were not completely alone in a VERY big ocean. During the entire passage we have only seen two other vessels, both tuna fishing boats waiting for calm enough weather to fish.
I have really enjoyed working with Janaki to manage the operation of the boat. She has been developing her cruising skills and we have become a more balanced sailing team, working really well together. She has remained resolutely upbeat (apart from a couple of well justified galley melt-downs). I cannot conceive of anyone I would rather do this with. We discussed getting crew to help but we are very glad we did not. Getting enough sleep has been a non-issue and crews bring all sorts of other challenges. Just being the two of us has made it a great experience. We have actually been quite surprised by our resilience. Neither of us feels too depleted and we agreed that we could continue pretty much indefinitely if we were so inclined - we are not.
We do still have a few pink and blue jobs. Janaki does the provisioning and cooking and I do the cleanup and the fishing. J did a lot of planning for the trip and it worked out amazingly well. We are still eating salads and fresh fruit on the last day. The meals have been fantastic, with plenty of rough weather options. My fishing was pretty meager due to the conditions (and some competence issues) but we have supplemented our menu with some very nice Wahoo steaks.
So, the few serene days were just that. The rest was rugged but OK. I enjoyed the isolation but it was somewhat marred by ubiquitous internet access. It would have been nice to avoid my daily dose of unpleasant reality but I couldn't resist. This is about the only aspect of the passage where I envy the early navigators. Janaki did a much better job of staying offline.
Overall I'm very pleased to have done it but equally pleased that I don't need to do it again. There are lots of five day trips in our future and maybe a few ten day passages but nothing like this. Fine by me.
I will do another post on the more technical aspects of the passage when I've had a good sleep.
Galapagos- Marquesas Week Two
13 August 2019 | On passage S. Pacific
I'm not going to torture you with a blow by blow account of week two as it followed a remarkably consistent pattern. The seas were 10-12', steep and confused. The ride was between uncomfortable and plain nasty. We made great progress every day. We saw two other vessels apart from our buddy boat, both tuna fishermen waiting for better weather.
As of this writing we have averaged 160nm per day at an average speed of 6.6kts. This is, of course, current assisted but it is way faster than we expected. Mind you, a slower but more comfortable passage might have been nicer. You get what you get. We are a little bit short on sleep, not because we are short handed, there is plenty of time to sleep. We have just found it difficult with the noise and the motion. The seas are down a little for the next couple of days so we should be more comfortable. We are eating really well despite the galley being a little challenging.
We thought boredom might be an issue but the days have passed remarkably quickly. Managing the boat, doing checks and chores and napping seem to fill the available time. Janaki has listened to a couple of audio books and I have fitfully attempted to brush up my French, now thoroughly contaminated with Spanish.
We have another 1,000nm to go and the forecast is good so, barring other issues, we should be in on the 20th, possible even the 19th, just a ‘few' more days eh? It is certainly an experience. I will qualify that statement after a couple of beers next week. The only significant boat problem to date has been our telescopic whisker pole turning into a short fixed length pole when the extension line parted (inside the pole unfortunately). This slightly limits both our wind angle range and the amount of sail we can put up. With the present forecast that should not overly impact progress.
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Galapagos- Marquesas Week One
08 August 2019 | On passage S. Pacific
One week completed and 1,000nm sailed, about 2,000 to go. Our average daily mileage has been 151nm at an average speed of 6.3kts. This has wildly exceeded our plan of 120nm per day. Let’s hope it continues. We did motor for four hours at one point but, with the benefit of hindsight, that was completely unnecessary, requiring only a little patience.
Thankfully the passage has been largely uneventful so far. We did have a remarkable encounter one afternoon. I was on watch when I heard a snort on the port side. I looked out to see a very large whale just off our stern quarter. I called Janaki up and we were just looking at the slick created by that whale diving when, with a great snort, a second, larger whale came to the surface right alongside the boat, maybe ten feet from the hull. It rested there a few moments before diving and turning to go right under us. That was a trifle unnerving. It was a fairly light gray on top and white underneath. The skin was very smooth. Longer and slimmer than a humpback, perhaps 45' with a relatively small tail and dorsal fin. Thanks to Kris for the onshore research, we established that it was a Fin Whale. We thought it was huge but it turns out that, at something over forty feet, it was quite a small Fin Whale as they are the second largest whale species after the Blue Whale and get to eighty five feet long. It was a very elegant beast and a real, if slightly scary, privilege to see from so close.
There was a bit of a learning curve using the double genoa but we seem to have tamed that. The Hydrovane was really struggling with the big seas from the stern until we deployed the stern warps, consisting of 100' of anchor rode, 10' of chain and a fender to create some drag. We last used this offshore Colombia and it does a remarkable job of settling down the yawing motion as we drop over the waves. Right now, as long as the wind is above 14kts true we have a good setup of reefed double genoa, the windward sail on the pole and the leeward sail on the swung out boom, the Hydrovane doing the steering, ably assisted by the stern warps. If the wind drops, with the big seas, it all gets a little ugly but, apart from a period around dawn and sunset, that is becoming rarer.
After several days of constant intervention we are now along for the ride. We have been a bit surprised by both the constant variability of the conditions and, more recently, the sea states. We did have a few days of the promised slow rolling swells. Now we have 11ft+ seas with an eight second period which is a lot more robust. We have a few more days of roller coaster then it should settle down again. We hope so because this makes every little task pretty hard work.
We set off with a buddy boat (Kelvin and Caroline, a couple of Kiwis on SV Ondina) with a degree of ambivalence about the concept and, for the first few days, they were no more than an occasional satellite text or incomprehensible noises on the completely useles SSB radio. Now we can see them behind us and talk to them on the VHF radio and we are very thankful to have them there. This is a very big very empty place. We have seen one other vessel in seven days and that was several days ago. We seem well matched for speed and are going the same way so all is good.
As I write this Leela is in the groove, doing seven knots over what feels like flatter seas. The stars are down to the horizon and the Milky Way shines brightly above. It is both beautiful and a little scary. I am suffering a degree of anxiety over potential gear failures and their consequences. Did we do everything we needed to do? Did we miss anything? Much as I am enjoying the experience I will be very relieved when we get to Nuku Hiva.
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Ready for the Off
30 July 2019 | Puerto Aroya, Galapagos
The hull is clean, the water tanks are full, the rig is set up, the provisioning is nearly done and the crew are feeling good. I guess we better do it...
We are planning to depart the Galapagos at midday local time tomorrow enroute to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. We will be on passage for between three and four weeks, depending on the wind, which tends to be a bit too light on this route. We will drop down to the 5S latitude and maybe a little further to find the southern trades and a favorable current.
We will be traveling with a buddy boat, Caroline and Kelvin on SV Ondina, which will be a good feeling because it is a VERY big piece of ocean....
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After considerable soul searching we are looking forward to the experience. The very tough sail from Panama certainly improved our confidence in both the boat and ourselves. This passage is much longer but more benign. Hopefully boredom is the only problem.
We have done a little more tourist stuff amidst the preparation. Seen enough giant tortoises for a while.... This land iguana was impressive.
More from French Polynesia.
24 July 2019 | Galapagos
We have had a fabulous few days on Isla Isabela. The weather has been remarkably cold and wet but that has failed to detract from the experience. On the way there we tested our double genoa setup in preparation for the long downwind passage to the Marquesas. It worked really well and we are hoping it will knock a few days off our passage time. I will do a tech post about that one later.
We spent one day going up the still active (last eruption 2018....) Volcano, Sierra Negra, using a combination of truck, horses and boots. It was fascinating to see the 15km wide caldera full of recent black lava and to crunch over the fresh lava pebbles. They are incredibly light and some are beautiful, with coloration from pyrites. The sky cleared on the leeward side of the volcano and the views north towards the equator were spectacular, if hard to photograph.
The next day we went for a long walk along the coast. We thought about renting bikes but, after a day on horseback, the idea was unappealing.... The highlight of this one was Janaki spotting a pair of giant tortoises in the bush. We were planning to go and see them on a tortoise 'sanctuary' but this was much better.
The next day was amazing. We went on an organized tour to Los Túneles. This is an area on the coast where the lava had hit the sea and the crust had hardened while the molten lava continued underneath forming a web of lava tunnels. Over time some of the roofs had collapsed creating a remarkable landscape.
Getting there was an experience in itself. First was a 45min blast in a powerboat doing 25kts over big Pacific swells, only punctuated by a couple of stops to look at Manta Rays. By the end of that I was very glad we only do a relatively comfortable 6kts in Leela. When we 'arrived' all we could see was an apparently unbroken line of large offshore breakers between us and the calm lagoon. It did not look remotely enticing. The skipper picked a spot and waited for several minutes apparently studying the surf then suddenly gunned the motors and rode a large wave through the reef. A couple of sharp twists through exposed rocks and we were behind the reef in utterly flat water - phew....
It is hard to describe the area in words but there are several photos in the album here
. The combination of ocean, lava bridges and cacti was visually stunning. There were large green sea turtles everywhere and blue footed Boobies nesting in the rocks. Like everywhere on the Galapagos, the wildlife was completely indifferent to our presence, even the nesting birds. On the two snorkels we did we swam through lava tunnels and saw turtles, sharks, seahorses and a range of Pacific fish. The only downside for me was that the weather was kind of nasty and I got way too cold snorkeling. You cannot have everything.
Getting out of the reef made getting in look pretty benign. Again, the skipper waited for several minutes behind the reef studying the waves then suddenly gunned the 350hp motors and roared into the oncoming surf, weaving through rock outcrops. I'm not sure if we actually got airborne but it sure felt like it. I wish I had managed to get some pics but I was preoccupied with hanging on. All in all it was a memorable day.
We spent yesterday doing some final boat prep before heading to Santa Cruz for a few days before clearing out. As I write this we are on our way there at our stately 6kts. Slow but comfortable.
The Booby? She (the male was looking after the chick) very carefully stretched into this pose on one side, held it for about twenty seconds then repeated on the other side. It looked exactly like a yoga pose. She was totally Indifferent to our presence.
17 July 2019 | Isla San Christobal, Galapagos
We have had a delightful ten days on Isla San Christobal. There is plenty to see and do yet the place is so laid back it is pretty much horizontal. We have become fairly reluctant to leave but we are told that Isla Isabella is wonderful so off we go.
It is an overnight sail to make sure we arrive in daylight because the anchorage is a bit tricky so we will leave tomorrow afternoon. We will take the opportunity to test the double headsail setup we have rigged for the long trip.
We have posted an album here
that starts with the canal passage. It is organized with the newest images at the top so that you don't have to scroll through all the old stuff when we post more. Anyway, enjoy.
By the way, the rather strange photo is a young (inverted) sea lion closely checking out my camera...
First Galapagos Dive
13 July 2019 | San Christobal, Galapagos
After a day working through the to-do list we went diving yesterday at Kicker Rock
. It was a suitably spectacular experience. The rock itself is awesome, jutting high out of the sea. As soon as I can get some decent bandwidth I will post more pictures. For 'mature' divers, used to gentle Caribbean conditions the diving was extremely challenging. The water is COLD so we needed much thicker wetsuits than we are used to, requiring more weight. The visibility at this time of year is relatively poor and there was considerable surge around the rock.
Was it worth it? Definitely! The sea life is totally different to the Caribbean, much bigger for a start. We saw large turtles that were completely unafraid and inquisitive, a school of big tuna, something I've always wanted to see in the water, a number of black tipped sharks and one Hammerhead shark! Actually I, who was very keen to see a Hammerhead, missed it completely and Janaki, who was distinctly more ambivalent about the idea, got a very good look at it, such is the fickle nature of wildlife watching.
One of the more remarkable experiences was swimming through a large school of smaller fish known, unfortunately, as a baitball. We have done this before but normally with small silver fish that are beautiful but do not obscure the light. This was very different. The fish were larger and darker and the ball was much bigger. The result was they could completely obscure both your surroundings and the light. It was like swimming in a moving cave, very strange and disconcerting. It became quite hard to maintain depth control and orientation. The photo does not really do it justice as I was a bit preoccupied at the time.....
After the dives we went to a beach and saw sea lions and marine iguanas. It was remarkable to watch these ungainly reptiles climbing into the surf and swimming away.
By the end of the day, having dragged our gear back to Leela and cleaned up, we were utterly exhausted so today will just be a local walk and a quiet day. The wind is up and there is a big swell coming into the bay making us roll a lot. I have set up a bridle that is helping but some time on land is going to be good.
Galapagos First Impressions
09 July 2019 | Wreck Bay, San Christobal, Galapagos.
1. We are horizontal again
2. It is COLD
3. Sea lions run this place
4. It's wonderful
I better clarify those....
It is wonderful to not be inclined at 20deg and bashing, sometimes violently, up and down. Ten straight days of sailing close hauled is exhausting. Being able to walk down the boat instead of swinging from the monkey bars is such a luxury.
Cold? Well night time temperatures fall to about 63F (17C) and it is often drizzling. For us delicate tropical flowers that is cold. We have had to unpack blankets and clothes we did not expect to see until New Zealand. This is not all bad. We are really enjoying the cool air after the oppressive heat and humidity of Panama and the afternoons seem to be bright and warm.
Sea lions along the foreshore go where they want and stay where they want. People have to adapt. We went to a restaurant for lunch that had a sign up asking people to use the other entrance as the sea lions had decided they liked the access ramp. There is a catamaran anchored near us that clearly spent some time preparing their defences. No matter, a young sea lion has decided he likes their cockpit and there he lives. He pops into the water for a cooling dip every now and again and climbs back onboard over large, carefully placed, ball fenders with apparent ease, a remarkable sight given he just has a pair of flippers.
We are SO glad we did not let all the alarmist online chatter put us off. The entry bureaucracy was impressive but not unpleasant. The town is attractive and quiet with low key tourism. Fresh fruit and vegetables are readily available and astonishingly cheap. The people are delightful, cheerfully greeting one another and always ready to smile and help. There is absolutely no sign of the aggression so often just below the surface in the Caribbean islands. All good so far.
We are not ambitious to do all the plethora of tourist things that are available. We have about a month here so there is no rush. We are going diving on Friday and will get a taxi over the highlands some time. Mainly we are happy to just chill out and enjoy the ambience.
There is, of course, the job list. Our shakedown cruise went really well but it did expose some things that need to be addressed before we head out. Tomorrow maybe.....
PS. Look up Boobies diving on YouTube. They are awesome.
More Like It
06 July 2019 | 200nm ENE of San Christobal, Galapagos
We seem to have timed our tack to the west well. We are still hard on the wind but holding the rhum line to our destination uncannily well. The Hydrovane continues to do all the work with us along for the ride.
We are pretty well heeled over while close hauled so we contemplated heaving to for meals but that is a bit of a palaver and it seemed a pity to disrupt a well balanced setup so we experimented with just easing the sails. There seems to be a sweet spot where they are not flogging but boat speed drops from around 6kts to 3kts and the heel angle goes to about 5deg from the normal 15-20deg. This is much more comfortable and safer for doing chores and eating meals. When we are done we just have to tighten back up and away we go. This is not going to work downwind but I suspect we will just have to reef the double headsail.
We should be in San Christobal, Galapagos on Monday morning. I will be glad to get the bureaucratic nonsense, that is apparently inflicted on you there, done and we can enjoy a couple ofp weeks of R&R before embarking on the big one. The current passage is about 850nm although we will have sailed a lot more than that due to the contrary winds (we have already done 927nm). The next leg is about 2,800nm but both the wind and the seas will be with us so probably three times as long. We are feeling much better about that now. Management of the key commodities, water, power and sleep, have all gone better than we anticipated.
Anyway, plenty of time to think about that later. Right now we are looking forward to some dry land and unbroken sleep.
Making (slow) Progress
02 July 2019 | N Pacific Ocean
320nm of the route covered 439nm sailed doing it.... Dodging or failing to dodge thunderstorms and battling current and winds coming straight up the rhum line. Seas lumpy and sky completely overcast. I thought the Pacific was all about lethargically running downwind on slow rolling swells and worrying about sunburn??
Actually it is quite invigorating beating upwind again and the new Hydrovane is working AMAZINGLY well. I expected it to be tested then packed away for emergencies but we have used it pretty much continuously. Good thing given the total lack of sun.... We seem to be south of the worst of the ITCZ so no more firework displays, just the odd rain shower and light squalls that need little action.
We have hardly seen a thing for the last two days, a few distant boats, a solitary dolphin and a few boobies checking us out then moving on to look for more luxurious accommodation. We plan on pressing on westward tonight then putting in a long southerly tack in the morning once the east setting current subsides.
All good onboard. We were very tired for the first couple of days but they were VERY busy and we are starting to settle into a watch keeping routine and get enough sleep. As I write this it is 11pm. Janaki is asleep below and I am on watch. The stars have finally come out on a moonless night and we have a trail of phosphorescence streaming behind the boat. The 6kts close hauled into a lumpy sea feels like 90mph and It seems, for all the world, like riding some crazy bucking rocket ship across the ocean.
Life at a churning 20deg tilt takes some getting used to. Every move feels like a gym workout. I will not be sorry when we find the southern trades and some nice flat downwind sailing but that is a long way off. We will be beating upwind all the way to the Galapagos and I think that could take another seven days at this rate. Crazy way to travel.....