It's a Boat.....
17 May 2022 | Vuda Marina, Lautoka, Fiji
First the good news, after a generally good but grueling six month air/road trip, we are back in beautiful Fiji and very ready for our version of aquatic domesticity. Not so fast.... Leela had been due to have her topsides repainted after the current paint started to blister badly. Initially this was delayed by incessant rain but it looked like it might still get done around the time we arrived back - until the "senior painter" quit.
Anyway, we came back to the sad sight of our lovely boat stripped of paint and an interesting shade of 'old fiberglass' brown. We are not going anywhere for quite a while.... We contemplated changing contractors to speed things up but the work done to date has been done well and saving about a week was not worth the commercial morass and uncertainty of a mid-project contractor change. Done that on a house remodel - it was not fun. The current contractor has a solid plan to get us completed and is very committed to doing a good job.
Bottom line is at least another month before we can launch AND we are still living out of a suitcase, now on a good friend's boat in the marina - what fun! There are some glimmers of good news in all this. We were very concerned that the blistering on the hull was a symptom of fiberglass osmosis, a very difficult problem to deal with. In any event, it turned out to have been a VERY ratty paint job, done just before our purchase. The fiberglass is in great condition. The other good news is that, when faced with the loss of the senior painter, the contractor did not decide to let the junior painter 'have a go'. The painter who will be moving over to Leela in a week(ish...) is doing a really good job of his current project so it should all end well.
We are not quite sure what to do with our extended month of land-based homelessness yet. We will have intermittent access to Leela so there will be jobs to get done and we might even be able to partially move back onboard. We contemplated a land trip but this delay is already going to be expensive without factoring in a hotel so that is fairly unattractive. Still working on a plan. Not an ideal situation, but there are a lot of people much worse off in these troubled times so we will just have to keep our chins up and battle on. Adversity is purported to be character-building so both Leela and her crew will come out of this in better shape 😊.
Hopefully my next post will include fishes!
A Change is Coming
26 January 2022 | Australia
I'm afraid this blog has gone off the boil a bit recently. I set it up to document our journey in Leela and she has been parked in a Fijian cyclone pit for a couple of months now. None the less, the world has not stopped and neither have our travels so an update is much overdue.
We have been visiting family and friends and exploring the East coast of Australia checking out whether we want to return to live there and, if so, exactly where. The first question was easy to answer. We both felt at ease and at 'home' for the first time in a while. We have enjoyed the relaxed friendliness of the communities we have visited and our interactions with the people we meet. We love the smell of the gum trees and all the wonderful birds and we have been surprised by the geographic diversity of the east coast, an area neither of us were familiar with. Another thing that has surprised us is that Australia seems to have grown up in the twenty eight years we have been away. The political situation here is far from perfect but there has been a definite awakening of awareness regarding Australia's place in the world. This is most apparent in the wide recognition of indigenous peoples, their earlier claim to the land and their subsequent maltreatment. We have not had the chance to see how this translates into practical results but it is certainly a refreshing attitude shift.
Another less welcome change is that the society has become considerably more affluent than when we left. The downside of this for us is that it is now VERY expensive. Our unfortunate timing, selling a house pre-Covid and wanting to buy one now, has dramatically reduced our purchasing power. Such are the vagaries of life. We have thoroughly enjoyed getting not quite as well off as we thought we were 😊.
This was pretty distressing at first, when we realized that a lot of places that attracted us were quite simply out of reach but we pressed on with the mission, made more complex by the ongoing pandemic, and quite suddenly it all fell into place. The place being Tasmania.
What a treat the island is. I will write more about that later but we were instantly charmed by the people, the wildness and the old fashioned charm of the communities, with local shops and local culture. It feels like an Antipodean Newfoundland, which is one of our favorite places on the planet. Hobart is a fabulous little city, a mix of the maritime history of Bristol in England with a good dash of the 'WAY out there'. of St Johns, Newfoundland.
Anyway, having been quickly hooked by the place, we started looking more seriously at real estate. This is a dangerous game with us and we kept telling one another that this was just exploratory and the journey was not over. Then a modest little house in a fantastic position popped up on the radar. Oops..... We now appear to be the proud, and slightly nervous, owners of a new house. Continuing our attraction to edges, the ocean that we will glimpse from our house is pretty much uninterrupted to Antartica. The position is awesome, one minute from a great little beach and coastal path but far enough back to be cosy and sheltered, a few minutes walk to a track up into the mountains and a twenty minute cycle to downtown Hobart, all on cycle lanes. Here
is the location and some pictures here
So.... a VERY big change coming up. Where does that leave Leela and the Pacific crossing? The honest answer is we are not sure. We are not ready to part ways with her but we realize that there will be new demands on our time. We don't (yet) fancy having a boat in Tassie so the most likely option is to have her as a a winter escape in either Fiji or Queensland. Strangely, we know Fiji quite well but know very little about Queensland so we are going to drive up there and take a quick look before heading back to Tassie for closing. Life remains unboring ....
That's us for now. I'm still trying to put together a 'best of' underwater Fiji post but I keep getting distracted .... We hope you are all managing to stay well and at least partially sane in this crazy, messed up world.
Fiji and (Changing) Plans
08 November 2021 | Viti Levu, Fiji
Wow..... It's been a VERY long time since I last posted, sorry about that. We have been in a bit of a strange (emotional) place for the last few weeks. On the one hand we are LOVING cruising in Fiji, and on the other hand we have had time to contemplate our future in the light of global uncertainty and passing years. Hitting seventy while still sailing across the Pacific was a useful focus. There are older guys than me out here but not that many AND Janaki was promised a maximum two years at sea - three years ago ....
So we have been having lots of fun but always with a little anxiety in the background while we worked through the pros, cons and implications of either sailing to NZ, sailing to Australia or remaining in Fiji. All of them them are pretty nice options on the face of it, but they needed to be addressed in the context of the bigger picture ‘what does our future look like?’ which is a LOT trickier. When we set out we were pretty distressed by the domestic situation in the US so we decided to spend two years crossing the Pacific then pop our heads up and see what the world looked like. That worked well didn't it?.....
Anyway, the long and the short of it is we are now tentatively planning for life ashore again. The changeover will not be too sudden. We have decided that, rather than sailing on to Australia or NZ this year, we will keep Leela in Fiji and fly to Australia in December. This will allow us the option of one or two more seasons cruising in what has turned out to be our absolutely favorite country. It also means we are not facing another long passage this year which is something of a relief.
The rest of the plan is a little more fuzzy. We have an apartment booked in Sydney for December which is exciting and will give us a taste of city living. We were hoping to visit Janaki's mum in West Australia immediately after that, but that now looks unlikely so we have flipped the schedule and rented a camper van to take a look around whatever parts of Eastern Australia we are allowed into. We are pretty used to the uncertainty associated with travelling and Covid by now, but Australia (today) is trickier than most. Hopefully we will get to WA in March then, all being well, a trip to the UK on our way back to the boat. I’m feeling particularly bad about all the air miles this involves but our current distributed family makes it difficult to avoid. Hopefully we can evolve out of this peripatetic lifestyle, settle somewhere (the BIG question....) and actually stay in one place for a bit.
We are both a bit concerned about what we will do then as we don’t have a lot of practice with ‘settled’ but we are definitely up for giving it a try at this point. Our stretch goal is to have defined the ‘where’ by the time we get back to Leela next year - urk.....
Anyway, big changes afoot involving LOTS of lists. Right now we need to:
1. Prepare Leela for a cyclone season in a cyclone pit in Fiji - not trivial.
2. Sort out the administrative challenges of going to Australia and onward from there.
3. Prepare the information needed to sell the boat remotely in the event that we cannot get back here - it's a VERY uncertain world at the moment so contingency plans are essential.
4. Do as much exploring, snorkeling and diving as we can cope with in case we cannot get back here.....
At this moment we are anchored in a bay on the NW corner of Viti Levu, the main Fijian island, and feeling a tad isolated. All our recent buddy boats have now left for Australia or New Zealand or stacked their boat and headed home. It would be a good time to find a noisy bar but there probably isn’t one within twenty miles and we are not allowed ashore anyway. Cruising in Covid times.....
Tomorrow we will make a short, six hour, crossing to Yadua, a small island off the western end of Vanua Levu. Our friends tell us it has great snorkeling and is only one day’s downwind sailing to Vuda Marina and our cyclone pit in the unlikely event of an early storm.
Fiji? We are still loving it. The islands are varied and beautiful, with pleasantly short passages between them. The photo is of us anchored in an amazing area in the northern Lau, taken by a friend’s drone. The people are a delight. They are always cheerful, helpful and very generous. In many ways they remind us of another island people, Newfoundlanders, and that is a high bar.
The underwater world is amazing. I will do a separate post describing some of our sightings and post an album soon. Until then, stay safe.
Diving Fiji - week one
02 September 2021 | Paradise Resort, Taveuni
We had heard that the diving in Fiji is world class but it has exceeded our expectations by a long way. It reminds us of Bonaire thirty years ago, perhaps even better. Only Bonaire and early Cozumel come close in our experience. There is an amazing variety of fish life, at least equal to French Polynesia with loads of new stuff more common in the Western Pacific, but what really stands out is the vast number of different colorful corals, all completely healthy with zero sign of bleaching and the equally vast array of invertebrates, particularly Crinoids and lots of sponges. Just a much healthier diverse ecosystem than we have seen for a long time. I have posted an album at the link below and in the menu but I will document a few of them here where more information might be useful.
There is a wide variety of very healthy hard corals that would need a book to fully document.
but it is the soft corals that are truly amazing
Many varied sponges and Tunicates
This piece of 'candy' is built by a colony of absolutely tiny Bryozoans
There are anemones galore, most with their specific type of resident clownfish
We missed seeing Crinoids in French Polynesia but this place makes up for that in spades. There are countless different variations. At first glance they look like plants, most of them are found nestled in a crevice, but they are in fact animals. The array of 'branches' are feeder arms surrounding a central mouth. They have legs underneath that allow them to move around. This is the first time we have seen them out and about in daylight.
A lot more Nudibranchs and slugs than we have seen previously. Most of these are less than an inch long so not easy to find despite their flamboyant patterns
There are plenty of large clams but these burrowing clams are tiny
This Sea Krait is actually a true snake that has adopted a semi aquatic lifestyle. It hunts in the water but digests its food and breeds on land. It is extremely venomous but entirely placid so no threat to careful divers (us!)
I've concentrated on the other creatures here but there are fish a plenty
This beauty is a large Clown Triggerfish
The ubiquitous Stone Fish is an absolute master of camouflage
We first saw Shrimp Gobies in French Polynesia. This is a different variety. Each Goby cohabits with a blind shrimp. The shrimp excavates the living quarters while the goby keeps watch. The shrimp keeps one feeler on the goby's back at all times and if the goby moves it retreats rapidly into the hole. Each type of shrimp goby cohabits with a single and unique shrimp. Its a strange world down there....
You don't always have to go far. These wonderful immature (but large) Spadefish are hanging out under Leela
Lest you think this is all 'Blue Lagoon' life, this is our dive buddies huddled down and masked up to protect themselves from the driving rain. It was COLD but the diving made it worth the pain.
Again, there are many other pictures in the album linked at the top of the post. I have included comments where more information might be useful but feel free to ask questions. I wonder what week two will bring....
Arrival in Fiji
29 August 2021 | Paradise Resort, Taveuni, Fiji
I was going to just write about the passage from Tahiti to Fiji but I have let time slide by and Fiji is much more interesting so a quick note on the passage then onto the good stuff.
The central Pacific is a surprisingly different proposition to the eastern Pacific. Weather systems are much more complex and trade winds less reliable. Because of this we employed the services of a weather router, Bob McDavitt
. This definitely helped keep us in reasonable conditions but it still proved to be quite challenging. When we crossed the eastern Pacific from Panama to French Polynesia we basically set the sails and did not have to touch them for eighteen days. This time we had a bit of everything, upwind for a couple of days, about eighteen hours of motoring through calms, a few horrible days when big, confused seas and high winds made being on the boat feel like being inside a piñata and then a lot of fast bouncy sailing anywhere from dead downwind to on the beam. With Bob's help we managed to avoid very squally conditions and we had no serious convective activity.
We finished the passage with several sublime sailing days on a beam reach in twenty plus knots of wind averaging 6.5kts. We sailed the 1,900nm (3,800km) passage in fourteen days using only ten gallons of diesel so we were pretty pleased with the whole experience but very glad to have it behind us.
Arrival in Fiji was a delight. We were helped to the quarantine anchorage by smiling and friendly young men from the Fijian navy. They asked us if we needed any supplies, which we didn't, then they returned shortly after with a welcome pack in a hand-made bag containing information brochures, sunscreen, insect repellent, coffee, lotions, masks AND a data SIM card. What more could you ask for?
Because the passage took fourteen days we only had to stay in quarantine until our arrival test, taken by a delightful couple of nurses bought out to us by the navy, showed negative, then we went into the small marina for a couple of days to complete the formalities and get the boat cleaned up after the passage, prematurely as it turned out.
The embrace of the Fijian people has been remarkable. To a person they have been smiling, welcoming and helpful. Away from the town everyone we pass greets us with a smile, a hearty wave and cries of "Bula Bula". No subtle western nods here. Workmen stop to wave, drivers reach out of the window, kids run to the street. It really is remarkable. The last time we met people as spontaneously friendly as this was in Newfoundland. Anyway, back to the story.
We spent a couple of days in Savu Savu reprovisioning and getting used to the country. SS is a fairly typical island town, dusty and bustling. There is a strong Indian (sub-continent) presence here so it felt like a less frenetic and crowded version of India. There is a good market and a pretty wide range of general shops so it was not hard to get what we needed.
We had crossed with a couple of other boats and Fergus and Nev on Two Drifters
had arrived shortly after us so we decided to travel together to Paradise Resort
on the adjacent island of Taveuni. The weather conditions were not ideal but how hard could 40nm be? WAY too hard as it turned out.... The wind got up to 25kts on the nose accompanied by short, steep seas and it quickly turned into some of the nastiest sailing we could remember. It became obvious that we were not going to get to Taveuni in daylight - or one piece - so we decided to head along the coast of Vanua Levu to Viani Bay to wait out the bad conditions. Even getting there required tacking and we were cutting it fine for entering the reef before dark so Fergus identified a small reef break and inlet called Nasasobu a couple of hours nearer and we headed there.
This turned out to be a very fortuitous decision. What a delightful place! It is a small and wonderfully protected inlet with superb anchoring, in heavy mud with no coral bommies to worry about. The entire bay is lined with mangroves, capped with a mixture of forest and grassland. Apart from the birdsong it was utterly silent, far from the crashing reef, no roads, flat calm water. AT dusk large fruit bats flew overhead. After the sail from hell it was an almost surreal experience.
There was one occupied group of buildings at the head of the inlet so we went over to say hello and make sure they were happy with us anchoring in their bay. Happy was a slight understatement. They were delighted that we were there and more delighted that we came over to talk to them (apparently not everyone does).
Anyway, they pretty much adopted us for the next few days. They walked us through the Kava ceremony
A couple of the young men took us on a boat ride through the mangroves then a hike up onto the ridge
There were wonderful views from the ridge.
We (mainly Fergus) put some fiberglass patches on a couple of their kayaks and I had a go at repairing their inverter/charger. Unfortunately it had turned into a hornet's nest which was clearly not good for electronics but also discouraged diagnostics... In between this we sat around drinking tea, eating pancakes and playing with the delightful kids. It was a fabulous experience.
The weather was improving and we really wanted to do some diving so we somewhat reluctantly moved on to our original destination, the Paradise Resort on Taveuni, promising to return.
Paradise Resort is turning out to be another slightly surreal experience. Fiji is closed to tourists so the resort is keeping the staff employed and the lights on by catering to us cruisers. They are providing free moorings, good food, spa services and very reasonably priced diving in a delightful location. We will happily spend more here than we intended to.
We did a couple of nice dives on Vanua Levu before we left and a few snorkels enroute and the undersea life looks amazing. I will write more about that later but this little jem is a good taster.
For anyone with even more time to spare here
are a few of our first look underwater photographs.
Take care and stay safe.
Half Way to Fiji
10 August 2021 | Western S Pacific
Now well into the seventh day we look to be about half way in time. We are a little under half way in distance because of the slow start. We now have a about 1,000nm (2,000km) to go. The forecast was quite dicy for several days but it is now looking like something between good and awesome. Of course, it can change again but the closer we get the more reliable it becomes so looking good.
After a couple of days upwind at the start we have been running downwind along the 15s latitude under a twin genoa rig. This setup is extremely efficient, yesterday we managed 161nm, but you have to live with quite a lot of roll. We would have liked to put up a small main on the centerline to damp the roll but we only have one pole so the boom has to act as the second pole - oh well.... We do put a small staysail up on the centerline which helps damp things down a little but really we just get used to it after a while. Only one meal has gone orbital so far. The resulting hissy fit nearly saw our favorite pepper grinder tossed to Neptune. Fortunately it was a bad throw....
The forecast is for a couple more days of this, a brief lull, then a beam reach into Fiji. We will use the lull to dismantle the bird's nest of rigging that the double headsail entails and go back to conventional sailing.
I've pontificated about this before but it is astonishingly big and empty out here. Since leaving the Society Islands a week ago we have seen nothing. No ships, no land, no planes, just sea, sky and utterly amazing stars that fill the moonless sky and reach right down to the horizon. It really is a priceless experience, if a little unnerving at times. Apparently we have a significant meteor shower coming up so the show will go on.
It took us longer to get into the swing of this passage than previous times. The boat was ready but we were poorly prepared. Lots of overseas travel and visiting people broke up our fitness regime and we just did not make enough effort to be in good shape. Lesson learned. Anyway, we are feeling pretty good now, nothing like being tossed from side to side 24hrs a day for a week to tone things up....
At the moment we are tearing along at 6.5kts (that's 'tearing' for us ...) under a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds - bliss. We are making water in the sunshine as it is forecast to get cloudier and we would like the tanks to be full when we arrive to deal with a bunch of salty clothes. Enough for now, more when we get to Fiji.
Stay safe and take care.
You Want to Do What?
19 June 2021 | New Jersey
It's a long time since I last posted because recovering from hernia surgery is not terribly exciting. We actually had a pretty pleasant couple of months in our 'waterfront apartment' in Papeete and were contemplating, with some ambivalence, sailing to Fiji in the midst of a Covid outbreak there, with severe restrictions on cruising. Then French Polynesia finally relaxed travel requirements to the extent that a trip to the US and the UK seemed at least feasible. Of course, feasible does not mean straightforward. Several spreadsheets and large sums of money ($1,272 just for Covid tests alone) later we found ourselves in New Jersey where we proceeded to demonstrate that a couple of years on coral atolls turns you into a total rube.
We had a simple project - go one stop down the train line to the airport station, walk across the parking lot from the station to the hotel where we were hoping to leave some luggage during a flying visit en route to the UK, a six minute walk on Google Maps, check it out and make sure the plan would work and come back to Elizabeth North. The whole trip looked like about an hour. Piece of cake....
It started out fine, the train from Elizabeth North was on time, the weather was delightful and we got to Newark Liberty feeling very buoyant. That didn't last..... We could see the hotel a short walk away so we wandered around the station for a while looking for the appropriate exit. Should be an easy one. EVERY station has an exit doesn't it? In the end we admitted defeat and asked a staff member. That's when we got the "you want to do what?" that we remembered so well from our early days in the US when we naively thought you could be a pedestrian in Houston.
Turns out there are actually zero exits from the Newark Liberty station. It is just the rail link between the regional rail service and the Airtrain that connects the terminals. So how do we get to that hotel we can see just over there? "Sir, you need to take the Airtrain into the terminal, get off at the airport parking and wait for the hotel shuttle". Oh well, more adventure, we got the Airtrain to the shuttle stop just in time to see our shuttle pulling out and spent a not unpleasant twenty minutes sitting in the sun, waiting for the next shuttle and surveying the parked de-icing trucks. We were still very close to the hotel so it would be a five minute ride there. Not so fast. The shuttle took about thirty minutes to get to the hotel, most of which seemed to be a vertiginous ride round almost all lanes of one of the largest intersections we had ever seen. We got occasional glimpses of the hotel from a confounding variety of directions before eventually escaping from the tarmac covered maelstrom to arrive at the, by now familiar, hotel. A five minute discussion with the very pleasant staff then it was 'rinse and repeat'. By the time we got back to the station our "twelve minute walk" had taken something over three hours. The Google caution about walking directions was their most accurate piece of information.
The fun was not over yet. As we entered the rail station we could see a train pulling into platform 5 the southbound line to Elizabeth. I quickly asked one of the staff if that was the train to Elizabeth and she answered in the affirmative. In her defense I might have asked "is that the platform for Elizabeth" which seemed like an innocent mistake at the time.... Anyway, we rushed down to the platform. The train doors were already closed but a wave to the distant guard got them open again and we bundled into the now moving train feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. Once again, that did not last. Janaki noticed that the next stop was - Rahway?.... Now, we had no idea where Rahway was but we did know that Elizabeth North was the next stop so all was not well. That was soon confirmed when we rolled slowly through Elizabeth North, Elizabeth and a couple of other unmemorable stations and eventually pulled up at Rahway. Trust me, Rahway is NOT a tourist destination....
The station was unmanned and unsigned but, with the help of a guy cleaning the floors and a local commuter we eventually managed to determine the platform and time of the next train back to Elizabeth North that avoided the utter ignominy of ending up back at the airport. After another pleasant half hour sitting in the waning sunshine we managed to board the next train to our station. When the ticket collector came by and was interested in why we had the wrong tickets it was remarkably easy to play the dumb, lost foreigner.
Back at last. Our "one hour" exploration had managed to take about five hours but we arrived back at our delightful Airbnb thoroughly informed on what not to do, so a pretty successful mission all told. Tomorrow we need to get the NJ train into Penn Station NY and then on to Buffalo so we really are going to have to lift our game or we could end up anywhere or nowhere.....
I will double back to our recent time in Tahiti in another post as it was not without some interest. Now we need to continue the remarkably complex endeavor of traveling during a pandemic - not for the feint of heart....
The Futile Loop
14 March 2021 | At sea
Here we are, on our way back to Tahiti after a 1400nm (2,800km) six week sailing jaunt. I have already written about our misbegotten trip to the Australs but how did we end up on our way back to Tahiti so quickly? The plan was to escape Raivavae and go back to the lovely atoll of Raroia, in the Tuamotus, and hang out there for a couple of weeks snorkeling before wending our way westward through the atolls.
It started well. We sailed up to Raroia, met a couple of very nice new boats and had a few great snorkels - until - Janaki developed an ear problem.... These have to be taken seriously and there are no medical facilities in Raroia so we made a two day "dash" to Fakarava to see the doctor there. Diagnosis - severe inflammation, and probable infection - steroids and antibiotics needed.
Oh well.... Absolutely no swimming for about three weeks. Hanging about in a coral atoll and not being able to go in the water is a sublime form of torture so we may as well get back in the big city. We need to be there in April anyway to get Leela hauled out and anti-fouled. There we can have access to medical specialists if needed (and pain au chocolat!), exercise in the park, get all our admin done, post more fish pics -sorry , get our Covid shots - Yay! and generally get ready for the journey west.
So, that was the futile loop. A little galling because we could have spent that time exploring the Society Islands in the company of friends. That's the price you sometimes have to pay for 'adventuring'.
It was not completely futile. We made a few good modifications to the rig and honed both our light wind and heavy weather sailing techniques, including using our Assymetric for the first time in several years. It was certainly a very thorough check out trip. We dealt with some of the worst squalls we have experienced and had to motor enough to precipitate the failure of our fuel supply hoses which contaminated both Racor filters with shreds of black rubber - not nice but MUCH better now than on the long passage west. Fortunately we had enough fuel-rated hose onboard to completely replumb the engine fuel system, a messy and unpleasant job but done and dusted and the scars will heal soon . Leela is ready now so we just have to get fit again after spending a LOT of time sitting on the boat.
It is hard to appreciate how big and empty this region is. French Polynesia covers an area the size of Europe but is very sparsely occupied. In 2,800km of sailing and about twelve days at sea we did not see a single other boat or a single plane. Nada. No sign that there are other humans on the planet. A rare but slightly unnerving privilege.
We do have some contact. There is an SSB radio net twice a day and we really enjoy and appreciate the ability to hear other voices and give our position report. It is also reassuring to know that someone is listening out on a known frequency twice a day if we need assistance.
This has been a delightful sail so far. A perfect beam reach in ten to twelve knots of steady wind, a long lazy swell and no squalls. We should arrive tomorrow morning at the current leisurely pace of five knots. The calm may not last. The CAPE (Convective Available Potential Energy) is forecast to build during the day and substantial cumulus clouds are already starting to pop up at seven in the morning so it will probably be more exciting later today. Light wind conditions, where you need a lot of sail up, mixed with squalls is always a bit challenging.
Oh, and Janaki's ears are improving well - all good.
Anyway, enough rambling. We hope this finds you all well and even vaccinated. We may be slowly coming out of the dark.
05 March 2021 | Raroia, Tuamotus
What a relief to be back in the tranquility of Raroia, in the Tuamotus. You never can tell how things are going to work out but the trip to the Australs was probably our most unpleasant month in seven years of cruising. It was misbegotten from the start, based on a romantic fantasy and way too little research compared with our normal rigor.
The three day sail down was OK. We then spent the first two weeks in self-imposed isolation and the subsequent two weeks largely trapped on the boat by the awful weather. The combination of squally conditions, poorly protected anchorages, weird tidal currents and the aforementioned bommies made for pretty continuous stress. Scrabbling around on the foredeck in pouring rain and high wind at night to unravel the anchor chain floats is just not relaxing....
We wanted to get moving back north sooner than we did but a huge high pressure system in the 40's latitudes was pushing low pressure systems up and over us. In the end we left in a very skinny window between two systems. We planned it very carefully, studying the weather every day. We saw that the different weather models were converging on a forecast that would provide reasonable wind most of the way to the Tuamotus. It was only one day that looked like it might work. A day earlier and we would get beaten up by the not quite departed front. A day later and we would fall into a complete wind hole. It could easily have gone wrong. Modern weather forecasting is remarkable but not always reliable. In the event it worked out remarkably well, although the middle two days were very squally and it rained a LOT as we pushed through a trough that was stretched across our route. We had to motor for about six hours in all. The rest was pretty much a beam reach with 10-15kts of wind. Apa
rt from the impressive 35kt squalls to keep us on our toes it was a delightful sail.
What a difference! We are now anchored in 3m of water in good sand with no perishing chain floats to get tangled up. The water is flat calm, the sky is blue, we have some good company and we are very happy. Today we went for a snorkel with 2K and KP (yes - confusing....) on a bommie about 2km out into the lagoon. It was as good as we remembered from our first visit here eighteen months ago, with dramatic terrain and great fish. The picture is a Titan Trigger Fish. Normally they are too skittish to get this shot. When they are not skittish it means they are probably guarding a nest and contemplating taking a chunk out of you so I did not hang around.... Now we are relaxing with a drink in the windless evening under a cloudless sky.
Having sufficiently de-stressed we will probably start to make our way slowly up the Tuamotus next week. We would like to get back to Tahiti in time to have both our Covid shots before we head further west and we need to haul out and redo the bottom paint. We have really enjoyed our time in French Polynesia and will be forever grateful to the French for their gracious hospitality during this epidemic but it definitely feels like the vacation that went on too long and we are very much looking forward to Fiji.
Stay safe and GET VACCINATED!
05 February 2021 | Raivavae, The Australs Group, French Polynesia
Bommie: Aussie clipped form of Bombora, an early Australian term for a shallow isolated piece of reef located a distance offshore, probably of Aboriginal origin. The term seems to be widely adopted in the cruising community.
Anyway, there are a lot of them about here, a lot...... We have never sailed in a more demanding area than the Raivavae lagoon. The bommies here rise up from a 6m seabed in narrow peaks that terminate between 0.5m and 4m from the surface which they steadfastly refuse to break. They are everywhere and dense, much too close for waypoints to work. Even following a track without good visuals would be tricky. This is compounded by slightly murky water due to the suspended fine coral sand that makes judging bommie depth a tricky call.
The only way to move around is with someone wearing polarized sunglasses on the bow giving directions and avoiding every bommie to be safe. Even then you have to go within a few meters of obstructions as you weave through the maze. This only works in the middle of the day in light winds. This has strategic implications. You cannot afford to be anywhere you might need to leave in a hurry or in poor conditions.
If getting about is tricky anchoring is horrific. In 6m of water you really need a minimum of 25m of scope (anchor chain out). Add the 12m for the boat length and 5m for 'safety' and you need an 84m diameter clear space to anchor in.
Forget it. It does not exist, as you can see from the satellite image. The 41m radius circle is centered on our anchor and we are the red dot. There are several large bommie's in the N quadrant of our 'safe' circle. The way we manage this is as follows:
1. Find a promising spot (or the least awful).
2. Anchor in consistent winds and put out the minimum chain.
3. Jump in the water and visit every bommie within the circle to check it's depth.
4. Adjust the position to get anything shallower than 2.5m out of the circle. If that cannot be achieved, try somewhere else.
5. Get the anchor well set. Fortunately the sand between the bommies here has great holding.
6. Float the chain to minimize the risk of wrapping the chain round a deeper bommie during a light wind rotation.
7. Set a tight anchor alarm and make sure the boat is ready to go quickly.
8. Have a beer, maybe a few....
The pictures clockwise from the top left:
1. A typical local bommie, under 1m from the surface.
2. A satellite image of our current anchorage showing the anchor position at the center of the circle and the boat as a red dot. It is worth noting that satellite images vary widely in quality.
3. A bommie a little less than 10m behind Leela. The lighter patch just to the left of the outboard hoist line is the dangerous bit.
4. The chain floated to prevent snagging in light winds.
You need a lot of confidence in your ground tackle to play this game - so far so good. Generally we will avoid this sort of struggle unless rewards are high or there is no other choice. It's just too easy to make a mistake and a damaged rudder way out here would be a serious challenge.
Another relaxing day in the cruising life....
A Special Experience
04 February 2021 | Raivavae, The Australs Group, French Polynesia
We are now in the north eastern lagoon of the very remote island of Raivavae, in the Australs group of French Polynesia. It is a delightful spot, probably the calmest and quietest anchorage we can remember. The snorkeling is not great due to the very fine coral sands creating a mistiness in the water but apart from that it is perfect. We have found a great spot under the trees to exercise and we swim regularly so we are getting steadily fitter. Which brings me to the tale.
We were just packing up the gym (pictured) and walking on the sand by the water's edge when Janaki spotted a 'ball of weed' that was moving strangely. On closer inspection it turned out to be a small octopus, a Coconut Octopus as we found out later. There were a number of small balls of weed that had drifted into the water's edge. The octopus managed to look exactly like one of them. It moved from ball to ball enveloping them in it's tentacles to drive anything hiding inside towards its mouth. Each ball only took a few seconds. Wrap, release, move on, all very business like.
It was the moving on bit that astounded us. The little octopus would ball up six of its tentacles, perhaps to hold it's shell home, or just to look more like a weed, we couldn't quite see, then it loped - the only word that works - gracefully along the bottom to the next ball of weed using it's remaining two tentacles in a clearly bipedal motion. It was a smooth and practiced movement, covering ground remarkably quickly. We watched this behavior for about five minutes, at which point the octopus transformed into a streamlined fish shape and jetted off.
We could barely believe our eyes and were still unsure we had actually seen it until we read about this particular behavior in one of our marine books. Unfortunately I did not have a camera that day but a search of Google or YouTube for 'coconut octopus walking' should turn up some stuff - definitely worth a look.
Octopus are truly the most remarkable creatures. We love to watch them. Unfortunately that privilege is becoming increasingly rare as they are severely over-fished. The fact that we used to eat these spectacularly clever beasts horrifies me now.
We will probably stay here for a couple of months. It is well away from anywhere and very low risk, particularly now that French Polynesia has clamped down on new arrivals. Now that we have completed our post-Tahiti quarantine we have a six person bubble with our Austrian friends on Pitufa and a French couple so that's our community for the foreseeable future - all good.
I'm not even going to speculate on future plans at the moment. The world is way too uncertain to be sure about anything. We will decide our next move in May. This is when the weather window for a possible westward move opens up.
Always room for Improvement
17 January 2021 | Tahiti
After nine years of ownership and two years of living aboard we have tweaked most of the boat but it is surprisingly still evolving. Having settled into 'normal' life on the Tahiti waterfront, waiting for deliveries, we needed some projects to get our teeth into and the fridge offered it's services.
The fridge has always worked well but been a horror to use. Following the line of the hull, it tapers towards the bottom and also towards the back. This created multiple wedge shaped slots that everything slides into when you move something.
We decided that custom shaped bins would make life easier so we set off. It seemed like a pretty easy job. We decided to go with plexiglass as it is readily available and you can see what is inside. We made rough cardboard mockups then I measured up the angles and drew plans to scale in Powerpoint. We have found this to be a remarkably useful 2D technical drawing tool and have completed a number of projects this way.
Unfortunately this was a complex 3D problem and extracting the sloping face dimensions from the plan proved troublesome so we assembled the other four sides and traced those panels.
Assembly was a slow process of one edge at a time. We had to use the end of the sofa as our perpendicular former.
The clear epoxy seems to be holding fine. We did not use plexi glues because they are not readily available here and require tighter joint tolerances than we can achieve. Anyway, it all took several days but we are very happy with the results. Time will tell if it is robust enough.
On the subject of boat improvements, I have put together a slide pack outlining all the major improvements and most of the small tweaks that we have done to make Leela more suitable as a world traveler. The file can be downloaded here
We are now ready to start adventuring again so we are watching the weather for an opportunity to head about 400 miles south of here to Ravavai, in the very remote Australs archipelago. Satellite comms only down there so no pics for a while.
Sailboats Shrink in the Rain....
13 December 2020 | Papeete, Tahiti
It is a little known fact that sailboats shrink in the rain....
Our living space on a 38' monohull is pretty tiny at the best of times so we spend a lot of time either in the cockpit, on deck or out playing. When it tips down, as it has done for a couple of weeks, it all gets pretty tight. Bored and damp I decided to measure our entire walkable floor area. It comes to 54sq ft (5sq M) including the shower. About 10' x 5' ? you might have a rug that size.....
Mind you, it is a lovely space. It is nearly leak free and we are very used to small living at this point. Fortunately, we continue to really enjoy one another's company.
Anyway, the sun has come back out and Janaki is out in the dried up cockpit, communing with her garden and studying French and we are shaking ourselves out of our lethargy.
We actually managed to go snorkeling yesterday. It was an inauspicious spot at the side of the channel going past the airport. The vis was mixed and the coral in poor shape BUT - two new fish! This is after more than a year of underwater exploration and over a thousand fish pics - it quite amazing really. The first was a number of pairs of Blue Streak Gobies, larger than most of the Gobies we have seen they live in holes that they excavate in sandy bottoms. I will try and get a picture of a couple but they are very shy.
The second was a small school of Irridescent Cardinals tucked under a ledge, hard to photograph in the iffy vis and made a little harder by me forgetting to put my contact lenses in.....
After six weeks in Marina Pape'ete we are getting over our cruising funk, getting healthy again and thinking about heading back out to make use of our lovely new anchor chain. It will be great to not get covered in wet rust every time we move.
We are having to be VERY careful here now which is a drag, particularly over the holiday season. After an almost Covid free start, French Polynesia now has the very dubious honour of having the fifth highest per capita CV rate in the world. To get that in perspective, the US is eleventh and the UK fortysixth. Fortunately, being in a secure marina makes self isolation relatively easy and our brief trips to town can be highly controlled. We are getting used to slaloming down the sidewalks to avoid the maskless (yep, here too). Our favorite place to go is still the coastal park to get some exercise. It is beautiful and there is plenty of space.
Although social distancing can get tricky.....
Janaki is really enjoying painting again although acrylics in the heat can be decidedly challenging (I'm getting used to the language...🤭
I'm not going to bore you with all the different short-term plans we keep cycling through. The big picture (at the moment....) Is departing for Fiji as soon as it is safe to do so, probably next June. From there we will make our way to Australia before the end of the 2021 sailing season in November. Celebrating the 2022 New Year in Sydney Harbour is a vague aspiration. Hopefully the world will be in better shape to celebrate by then.
A detour down to to New Zealand is probably off at this point. I will hit seventy before we leave for Fiji and we are both starting to look forward to sitting under a tree for breakfast. What continent the tree will be on is a still up for grabs.....
We hope you all have the best holiday season you can in the circumstances. STAY SAFE!
Just Hanging Out
14 November 2020 | Pape’ete, Tahiti
Wow.... it's been six weeks since my last post. I guess this strange lifestyle starts to normalize after a while and it feels like there is not much to say. It's actually been a pretty chaotic time as we continued the 'shall we stay or shall we go?' spiral. We spent most of October poking around the small atolls to the north of Fakarava with our friends on Pitufa which was very enjoyable. When we finally popped our heads up we discovered that a number of boats had, to our surprise, been given permission to enter NZ. At that point CV was starting to get out of control here so we made a late call to try and get permission to go. I won't drag you through all the administrative foul ups but suffice to say, our late call was too late.
Anyway, here we be until probably next June. Kudos to the French Polynesian authorities for extending their welcome for yet another year with the minimum of fuss and bureaucracy. As part of the process we ended up sailing back to Tahiti and we are still here, at the downtown marina. The city is infection central so we keep ourselves to ourselves but we are quite enjoying the change. It is easy to stay isolated on the boat and our trips into town are highly controlled. We cross the street if there is someone without a mask and we spend minimal time inside shops. There are a couple of restaurants nearby with large open patios where we feel comfortable having the occasional meal. There Is a lovely waterfront park with plenty of space where we walk and exercise. We cannot swim here but heaven knows we have done a LOT of swimming this year.... My edited collection of fish pics is at well over a thousand now so a break is not a bad thing. Here
is a link if you need a screen saver.....
We are getting a few things done on the boat now that we know we have another year 'in the wilds'. The new anchor chain is installed so no more rust showers. Tomorrow I will haul the dinghy out onto the dock and see if I can find a couple of annoying leaks. We have friends in nearby islands who we would love to see but, to be honest, we are inclined to loiter here for a bit, without the need for anchor alarms or bumpy rides in dinghies. I guess we will get bored at some point and head out to sea but time is in plentiful supply at the moment.
I'll probably pop out a few technical posts while we have this cruising hiatus. We know everyone is experiencing some degree of trauma and disruption at the moment so our thoughts are with you. It will end.
Battery Upgrade Notes
14 November 2020 | Tahiti
We recently bit the (financial) bullet and switched to Lithium batteries or, more precisely, Lithium Phosphate batteries, LiFePO4. This technology has been around for the skilled home builders and techies for a while but it has only recently matured sufficiently for the 'average' cruiser. I will go through the whole process below but first. "Why did we do it?" and "did it work?"
Why we did it:
Lead acid batteries have a couple of significant problems that, in combination, can make life miserable on a blue water cruising boat. The first is the need to get them to 100% charged pretty much every use cycle to prevent sulphation. The second is that their ability to take charge tapers off significantly as they become charged. This is not a problem if you are plugged into shore power and popping out for the weekend or the odd longer trip but when you are at anchor for months at a time, relying on solar power or the engine it is a real challenge. There are simply not enough charging hours in the day for the solar to get the batteries to 100% at a low rate of charge. It is particularly infuriating to have solar panels that can push 30A into the batteries only able to provide 10A or less due to charge tapering. Running a 59hp engine with a 120A alternator to provide 10A is even more annoying. The other issue is that you should only discharge them to 50% capacity and even that is not ideal. The end result of this is that a lot of time is spent managing a limited power budget and trying to keep the batteries 'happy'.
The key benefits of LiFePO4 batteries are that they can be discharged to less than 20% capacity without damage, they don't need to be charged to 100% and they take all the charge you can give them until they are almost fully charged. In theory we could hit the new batteries with 150A continuously until they are charged. This means the solar will be maxed out until the batteries are full and likewise the engine if required. No throwing needed power away due to charge tapering.
Did it work?
Amazing. Power management has gone from being a major preoccupation to almost forgotten. We can run the watermaker whenever we want. We can defrost the refrigerator whenever we want. It is pretty much a non-issue. Slight disclaimer, we did increase the solar capacity from 400w to 600w as well but without the battery change this would have been a largely worthless exercise.
Other benefits were shedding 170lb. We went from 425ah of AGM batteries (4 x 6v in series/parallel) to 375ah of LiFePO4 batteries (3 x 12v in series), more than enough given the increased ability to discharge. This weight loss was actually a mixed blessing as I'm still trying to get some weight migrated to the Stbd side to re-trim the boat.... The stable voltage (the batteries are theoretically capable of sustaining an astonishing 240A continuous discharge rate so there is negligible voltage drop) improves watermaker efficiency a little.
This is not a trivial exercise. Every component in the power system has to be checked for compatibility with the particular requirements of LiFePO4 batteries. A few will need to be replaced. This is not my particular area of expertise and the consequences of getting it wrong are serious so I enlisted the help of Rod from Compass Marine
. Over the years Rod has been helpful on a number of challenges, particularly when we were newbies. I would not hesitate in recommending him. We discussed various battery options and went for the Lithionics 12v 125A G31
. They have a built in BMS (Battery Management System) with bluetooth communications that allow monitoring by app. They are not the cheapest batteries but they have a good reputation and the support was stellar. Importantly, the dimensions worked for our battery box. No regrets there.
Anyway, here was our system analysis.
Solar charger - Morningstar Tristar MPPT45
- reprogram. This was a doddle. Lithionics not only provided all the setup parameters but also a configuration file that I just had to load into the solar controller.
Alternator regulator - Balmar MC612
- reprogram. Lithionics provided all the parameters but these things are a pain to reprogram using a magnet on a reed switch so I learned from the web that taking it out of the engine room, powering it up on the bench, reprogramming it and then reinstalling it was MUCH easier. We now have a custom loom set up in case we need to do this again in the future.
Alternator - AMP 125SE SER 125se2363
with serpentine belt
- keep but derate. This alternator is theoretically rated for 120A continuous but lead acid batteries never really test it. LiFePO4 batteries WILL test it and, in a small and poorly ventilated sailboat engine room in the tropics it is not going to last. We derated the alternator to 50% via the Balmar regulator, or 60A max current. This reduced the risk of overheating and we replaced the defective regulator alternator temperature sensor as a backup. This sounds drastic but we rarely use the engine for charging and 60A continuous is still way better than the previous 10A or less.
Starter battery charger - Xantrex Echo Charger
- replace. The echo charger needs both battery sets to have the same charging profile and we chose to leave the starter battery as an AGM. We replaced the echo charger with a Victron energy Orion Tr Smart DC/DC charger
that can be (Bluetooth) configured to support a wide range of charging profiles. This has been problem free.
Battery Monitor - Xantrex
- reprogram. Lithionics provided all the parameters and it matches the battery charge state reasonably well but with Bluetooth access to the batteries and the reduced need to monitor charge state this is only used to monitor current flow. Newer models probably have Li settings.
Shore Charger - Xantrex Truecharge2
- toss. This (fairly new) shore charger is just not configurable for LiFePO4 batteries. We cannot envisage needing a shore charger for the foreseeable future so we will replace it when required. Apparently Xantrex are coming out with an Li compatible shore charger but others are already available.
Alternator Protection Device - previously not required - install. One of the less pleasant characteristics of the LiFePO4 BMS is it's ability to instantaneously go open circuit if it sees something it doesn't like. If the alternator is cranking out current when this happens the back-EMF will fry the alternator. We installed a Sterling ProProtect APD
to address this problem.
We procured new battery leads and made sure we had all the breakers and fuses needed for the different components then wrote up a step by step procedure for the changeover while we were waiting for the stuff to get delivered. This proved to be invaluable. We had basically rehearsed and reviewed the whole process and we managed to complete the change out in two days, including the solar upgrade. It has been trouble free ever since. Not a small project but definitely one of the most impactful upgrades we have made to Leela.
1. If you spend most of your time at a dock this is not a good investment. For anyone spending a lot of time on passage or at anchor it has huge benefits.
2. Unless this is your area of expertise get good engineering support. There are lots of potential pitfalls.
3. Plan very carefully, particularly if you are doing this in a remote area. It only takes missing a tiny thing to stop you in your tracks.
4. These are not Lithium Ion batteries. They have an entirely different chemistry and can be shipped internationally without problems.
There is a lot of good information about this and many other topics on the Compass Marine website
01 October 2020 | Fakarava
We have finally found some internet access so I have posted a new album here
but I shall tell a bit of a story below.
This is part of the view from the anchorage in Hirifa, at the SE end of Fakarava. The red building is an occasional cafe/restaurant. When the owners are there you can sometimes get a meal. They organized a pig roast for the kite surfing school while we were there. We went with no great expectations, for one thing Janaki does not eat pigs.... Anyway, we were delightfully surprised. The owner is a really good cook and there was Marlin carpaccio and really nice vegetable dishes. The gathering was reasonably relaxed because everyone there had been in the out islands for several weeks but this is going to get less easy as Covid19 inevitably creeps towards us.
We also had a couple of fish barbeques nearby.
One fun event at Hirifa was the Noddy show. These elegant birds would put on quite a performance all round the boat.
Small baitfish would gather under the boat at night and in the early morning they would be attacked by a mixed school of queenfish, crocodile needle fish and large surgeon fish. This was pretty wild in itself. We would be woken up by the thumping as the predators crashed into the hull during their chase. The noddies would then start wheeling round the boat trying to get above the attacks to pick off baitfish driven to the surface.
When they timed it right there would be an amazing display of aerobatics as the noddies plunged into the water and the fish came to the surface.
When there was a break in the action we provided a useful rest stop. Unfortunately this required a significant cleanup job afterwards.
Eventually I hung some flags along the rail to discourage them and they seemed just as happy to sit on the water and rest up.
The other notable experience has been diving and snorkeling the South Pass of Fakarava. This has a worldwide reputation as a shark dive and it did not disappoint.
There were several hundred sharks patrolling the pass, mainly Gray Reef Sharks but also Black Tips and White tips. The big gatherings were mainly down about 80' so best viewed on scuba, although the vis was so good they were clearly visible when snorkeling
There were still plenty of them coming to shallow water to make the snorkeling more entertaining. This is a Black Tip passing a Grey Reef in about 15' of water.
Mostly we snorkelled along the wall of the pass and over the nearby coral beds. The coral is in great condition and, apart from the sharks the snorkeling was amazing.
There were large schools of fish all along the wall of the pass.
And many spectacular individuals.
This is a remarkable wrasse called a Slingjaw. To catch prey it projects its mouth forward about one third of its body length as a tube. You can just see the structure under it's head.
This happens VERY quickly so photographing it is a challenge. I followed this one for a while and did manage to get a shot of it hunting - in a hole.... Oh well, lots of time.
We are now back up at the town resupplying before heading out to a more remote atoll for a while. It is not very pleasant here, with high winds, a nasty swell and occasional rain squalls but that's life in 'paradise' so you take the rough with the smooth, realizing that our 'rough' is still pretty smooth.
It feels a little weird to be even writing this stuff while the world goes barmy but I guess we just have to keep on keeping on.... Take care and stay safe.
Back in the Wilds
24 September 2020 | Fakarava South Pass
I have not posted for a while and much has happened. I have lots of new pics but no real internet access so this is a quick update until I can post more images to tell the story better.
We left Pape'ete and headed back into the Tuamotus Archipelago with some sense of relief as the Covid19 numbers were growing fast in Tahiti. We and our friends on Pitufa
had hoped to get to Toau but the wind did not cooperate so we made an uncomfortable upwind passage to Apataki. There was not much going on there but it was a good place to self quarantine for a couple of weeks before moving on to other Covid-free islands.
When we got a break in the wind we headed down to Fakarava expecting a busier, more commercial atoll but were pleasantly surprised by its laid back charm. The town of Rotoava was fine, with a great little harbor and some useful general stores, but our favorite place so far is Harifa, a Motu down in the SE corner of the atoll. There is no snorkeling there but it is very beautiful and incredibly well sheltered from the prevailing winds. The picture is Janaki doing 'laps', something we try to do every day. As you can see social distancing is not a big problem....
We were there for about ten days practicing just hanging about (not our natural state), exercising and birdwatching, but we now have a spell of calmer weather and we have gone down to the Fakarava South Pass to dive and snorkel. This is a world famous spot, mainly for the sharks, and it did not disappoint. There are LOTS of sharks but there are also masses of other fish and great coral. We will stay here until the wind gets up next week then head back up to the town to shelter and reprovision. This is probably a six hour sail as the atoll is over 30nm (60km) long.
After that - who knows? We are keeping an eye on the spread of Covid19 and will try and stay one step ahead of it but we are not thrilled with French Polynesia's half-baked containment plans so we are sadly expecting it to spread throughout the islands. If/when it does things are going to get tricky. There are extremely limited or no medical facilities in the more remote areas. I guess we have to plan for the worst and hope for the best. We are very self contained and can go remote for several months if need be.
Unfortunately we do get enough Internet to get the world news and, much as I would like to ignore what is going on 'out there', it has the same horrific, compulsive draw as a traffic accident that you cannot look away from. It feels somewhat immoral to be sitting here watching it all go down from afar but that's where life placed us when it hit the fan. Please stay safe and resolute wherever you are.
Enough for now. I will post some more distracting pictures when we get back to town.
19 August 2020 | Papeete, Tahiti
First, the pictures have nothing to do with the subject of the post but I wanted to show something of Pape'ete and the two most notable features are the so-called footpaths that dump you into the street at irregular but frequent intervals and the amazing murals scattered throughout the downtown so here they are.
Back on topic. Like much of the world we are being shoved around by rapidly changing circumstances. Our recent plan to head to Fiji was driven in part by the reemergence of CV here in French Polynesia and also by the reasonable likelihood of being able to get into New Zealand with Queensland providing a viable backup. All change.... Getting into New Zealand looks extremely unlikely this season and Queensland has re-imposed severe constraints on arriving yachts so they both look out for now. We are considering staying in Fiji for the cyclone season but it comes loaded with risk and challenges.
So, another cyclone season in French Polynesia is probably the best option. We will keep an eye on the NZ status and be ready for a late run but it's a low probability. If we do this we will head west in May, to Tonga if it is open or Fiji. Then it will be Oz if we have had enough of our micro-'house' or NZ if we feel inclined to journey on. This all feels a bit like marking time but we are acutely aware that our choices are, by any standard, luxurious, particularly at the moment.
The original plan of a two year journey to Oz then settling down feels almost quaint in this strange new world we find ourselves in. Being adrift on the open seas seems to make more sense right now. We are making this up as we go along so it could all change tomorrow...
There is a big blow coming but we will head out to the Tuamotus as soon as conditions allow to avoid getting trapped in Tahiti for a lockdown. We are hopeful that they will get the current outbreak under control but tourists keep on coming. Anyway, it will be good to get back 'out there' after several weeks of marina living.
On the subject of pictures, I have posted some more selected underwater shots from the Gambiers here
and for anyone with a LOT of time on their hands here
are all the French Polynesia underwater photos. There are more than 800 so approach with caution (or make a screensaver.....
We hope this finds you all well. Do write if you have time.
The Fuel Tank Saga
02 August 2020 | Pape’ete, French Polynesia
We are finally back in full working order after the saga of the contaminated fuel tank. I promised to document this so here goes.
The Bristol 38.8 has a tricky fuel tank. It is inaccessibly located under the cockpit floor with no inspection port. Consequently, this one had not been internally inspected since 1983 - asking for trouble... It has been on my worry list for a while but, without an obvious solution, I kept putting it off - mistake. The consequences were documented in my last post so this is about the fix.
The first thing we did was create a temporary fuel tank using a 10ltr plastic fuel container so that we could run the engine if we needed power or had to move suddenly. I also got off my butt and finally made up the proper cable to connect our multi-voltage battery charger up to 220v dock power. Naturally, since then the sun has shone pretty much continuously so plenty of solar power, but best to be prepared....
Plan A was to repeatedly flush the tank and hope for the best but there was no way to be confident that this had solved the problem. Plan B was to get the tank out to clean it but that involved removing the water heater system, the exhaust system and probably some of the steering system with no guarantee that it would come out then. So, onto plan C. We found that we could get at one side of the tank by removing the side wall in the port lazarette so we felt that we could cut a hole in the side of the tank and install an inspection port there. There was absolutely no access to the top of the tank. A side port is a slightly dodgy move because it is hard to prevent inspection ports leaking but the characteristics of the Bristol tank made this less of a concern. The tank is fairly thick Aluminium and very structurally stiff, so the flexing likely to occur in thinner steel tanks was not a big issue if the project was well executed.
This is trickier than it looks. You cannot put your hand inside the tank to do up bolts. One option is to tap the tank wall and bolt into that but we decided it was not thick enough to support that method reliably so we went for a doubling ring with pre-installed bolts. The doubling ring can be maneuvered into the tank (hence the rectangular shaped hole) and the bolts pushed through from the inside to the outside for tightening. To make sure the bolts did not leak or slip they were tapped through the doubling ring and Loktited into place. A double nitrile gasket seals the whole thing up.
The bolts need to be perfectly vertical to feed through the holes in both the tank and the flange. Because of these tight tolerances we decided to have this manufactured at the local shipyard, Techni Marine
, rather than a DIY project. Given that they build quite large boats there I was concerned that they would see this as too small a job to bother with but that could not have been further from the reality. An engineer spent quite a bit of time with me discussing the project and making thoughtful recommendations before the work and they had it finished and waiting for me the next afternoon. It was not cheap at @$290 but awesome value considering the fiddly nature of the work. They did a lovely job. It is shown here with the Nitrile gaskets in place.
Before drilling holes in the fuel tank we had to make sure it was completely free of potentially explosive fumes so we drained the grubby fuel into jerrycans, flushed the tank bottom with gasoline, drained it again, flushed the bottom of the tank with degreaser then did a couple of cycles of filling the whole tank with soapy water. All the steps before the soapy water required a 10km dinghy ride to and from the closest oil disposal facility - such is the cruising life.... Having got to the point where we were confident it was safe it was time to drill the tank. We taped the flange in place to drill the first two holes then ran bolts through to position the flange and used it as a hole template which worked fine.
Next step was to jig saw out the access hole. It went OK but you can see why we got the rest done by professionals. This is the tank after cleaning and getting rid of a lot of fibrous crud. The central baffle is a pain but we managed to get a pressure hose behind it and then inspected it with an endoscope so we are happy it is clean. I cannot decide if the staining on the tank walls is from it being left empty for too long (not a good thing) or the lower line is where the degreaser got to. In any event thirty-five gallons of industrial degreaser was not an option so the staining remains. In the event that it is biological we address that later in the process.
Getting the doubling plate into the tank went well thanks to the fine manufacturing process.
Here is the finished flange. We did a water-based leak test then removed the flange again and thoroughly dried out the tank before putting the fuel back in. Clearly the fuel was a little suspect so we put it back by a complex process of pouring it into the temporary fuel tank through a simple cone filter then pumping it through one of the engine Racor filters and into the tank. We then hit the tank with a shock dose of biocide and changed all the fuel filters in the system to make absolutely sure we had not reintroduced the problem. I failed to mention that most of this project was executed from inside the port lazarette - such is cruising.....
So far so good. The flange does not leak and the engine runs fine. The fuel filters look clean. All you could ask for. We are now hanging out in Marina Pape'ete waiting for our new batteries and solar panels to arrive so I will put a post together about life here soon. The view is different but still dramatic. One day there might even be more fish pics although that seems to be becoming a distant memory.
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.