02 May 2019
Preface: I have been sitting on this one for awhile. I wrote this some time ago but hesitated about posting it. True to my pledge, I'm going to write the good with the bad. The tipping point for me to post this was when we were anchored in Moorea with Bill and Judy from S/V Whisper, visiting us from the Bahamas. We went ashore and left our dinghy at the prescribed spot in Opunohu Bay. There was an identical dinghy to ours with two French sailors fussing with their non-working motor. We spent the day in a rental car. When we returned, one of our oars was missing! Their dinghy was no longer at the dock either. Twice now I have heard, “British sailors outfit their boats to go sailing, French sailors go sailing to outfit their boats.” Do the math!
I'm a Francophile. I am part French, love their food, wine, culture and beautiful country. They also have some pretty darn, beautiful islands in the Caribbean and South Pacific. I resist the stereotype of the French as arrogant people. I have had some lovely encounters with French people, cruisers and dirt dwellers. I hope my French Canadian and French friends will not take any offense with this blog. In fact, I know some are in complete agreement with what I am going to spew about.
French cruisers have a bad reputation everywhere we have sailed so far! It started in the Bahamas. We were warned that French Canadian cruisers would anchor too close. They did. They also did not mix much with the Americans and Europeans in the crowded Georgetown Anchorage. But that's to be expected with the language barrier.
The Staniel Cay anchorage was another matter. We anchored during a cold front (bad weather) quite a distance from Sea Turtle, a French Trawler. Before we finished anchoring, they were waving their arms and on the radio, warning us that we were too close. That's a big breach of etiquette. When a crew is anchoring, never interrupt. They need to communicate with each other at that moment. We settled back on our anchor and were certain we were well away from ST. Friends in the anchorage called us on the radio and warned us about ST.
The lady on ST sat on her bow, arms folded and just glared at us for an hour. That evening, we were on River Rat having cocktails and ST called Uproar on the radio. The skipper of RR said, “Russ, take this call, this is going to be good.” The skipper ST again berated me for being too close. All on RR were certain that Uproar was well away. I told the skipper on ST, “My responsibility is to keep clear since you were anchored before us. We intend to do so.”
Another boat anchored even closer to ST than we did. That brought the focus and stares of hate from us to the new arrival....who was also French Canadian. The new arrival was eventually chased away from ST and struggled for hours to find a safe place to anchor. It is sad that these people were obsessed with other boats and not enjoying the Bahamas.
But one incident does not a trend make. That would come much later. When we were in Grenada, we were warned that the French sailors at the marina would steal our water and electricity. I thought that would be impossible. The marina actually warned us about the potential problem!
About a year ago, we were in Shelter Bay Marina, Panama. The measurer for the canal authority visited us to measure Uproar and finalize paperwork for our transit. He said we may be rafted against other yachts. His exact words, “It will be a pleasant experience, unless you are rafted to a French boat.” Wow, this is from a Panamanian official for the Canal! Friends of ours were rafted against a French boat and they did have problems!
Now we are in French Polynesia. There are a lot of French boats here. We have made some nice friends with them. But! When we talked with the manager of the Papeete Marina, he, unprovoked by us, went into a rant about how rude and obnoxious the French sailors were. We were just laughing as he continued. He finished by saying, “Now that they have won the World Cup, it is even worse. We are French of course, but we are Polynesian first. Just because they fly the blu, blanc, and rouge, they think they own the place.” We were flying the French flag under our Polynesian flag. We quickly removed the French Flag.
What prompted me to write this blog is an incident here in Gambier, a remote area of French Polynesia. A friends of ours (French boat btw) anchored in an idyllic spot. Soon after, three, French catamarans anchored all around them. And those boats were full of kids who are a little noisy. Our friend moved their boat to a more secluded spot. You would think that would be a hint to the intruders. It gets worse. The storm of the previous week wreaked a lot of havoc on the gardens and orchard of Pauline and Gerrard, the elderly inhabitants of the island. Our friends (French and New Zealanders) spent two days clearing fallen banana trees and other debris. The three French cats came ashore with their kids and filled huge sacks of fruit and vegetables from Pauline and Gerrard's crops, without asking, and carted them off without a word or offer to pay.
I promised to tell all in this blog. There you have it. Sorry to say, the stereotype of French cruisers as bad neighbors has a ring of truth. Again, we have some wonderful French cruiser friends who will readily agree with the above.
PS. A French boat just anchored...pretty close to us. We aren't sensative about that but their screaming kid is pretty annoying. They don't have very nice potty manners either. They just shit in a bucket and throw it overboard. Viva La France!
Baby Shark doo doo doo doo doo doo
11 April 2019
We haven't exactly been living under a rock...but nearly. We live next to some beautiful rocks, above some beautiful rocks, and unfortunately, one time stuck on an ugly rock. The past five months we have had only three hours of decent internet. But even as isolated from the outside world as we are, we have enjoyed the Youtube ditty, "Baby Shark."
Swimming and snorkeling in French Polynesia means you are swimming and snorkeling with not only Baby Shark but Momma Shark, Daddy Shark, and Grandpa Shark! We are quite used to them but they still can be startling when they appear out of the corner of your eye. They are also hugely entertaining, some of the largest and most beautiful creatures in the sea.
Fakarava South Pass is world renown for the diving and snorkeling. This pass from ocean into the lagoon is about ¼ mile wide, ½ mile long, and 70 feet deep. The entire pass is full of beautiful coral and teaming with fish. Above all, there are hundreds of sharks in the pass. Water is so clear we can see the bottom easily from the surface. We see all the flora and fauna right from the surface but free dive down to get a closer look and take pictures.
We snorkeled the pass with Frank from Maxim and Silke from Ocean Maiden. There is a buoy near the outer edge of the pass where we tied the dinghy. If there is current (incoming please!) someone hangs on to the dinghy and it drifts through the pass with us. Yesterday there was no current so we were able to leave the dinghy and explore. Silke suggested we snorkel out from the edge to the "wall of sharks." We did!
The sharks were thick near the bottom, at least 50 feet down. When they saw us they came up for a visit. Within a few minutes there were at least 50 sharks circling us. It made for some great photos and videos. There were Blacktips, Whitetips, and Gray Sharks. Some were pretty big, none were Baby Sharks!
Fear turned to euphoria as we enjoyed these magnificent creatures. After about 10 minutes, they tired of us and returned to the deep. Throughout the pass, at least one shark is always within sight. I almost touched one that passed quite closely. Some play a little game of chicken, swimming right at us and turning when only a few feet away.
Strangely enough we didn't see anyone eat anyone. All the fish seem to be swimming in a relaxed ballet, with the snarks steadily roaming. Sharks need to be moving to keep water flowing through their gills or they would drown. Only when the current is strong can they sit on the bottom and let the current oxygenate their gills. We have spent approximately 15 hours in that pass on numerous trips and everyone from sharks to small fish seem to get along.
But at night we can hear the verse, "Let's go hunting, do do do do do do..."
Alfa Romeo at Sea
05 April 2019
“How are you going to get an Alfa Romeo on the boat?” More than one person asked us that when Lisa and I sailed away from Milwaukee, almost four years ago. We decided to give up the life of a dirt dweller for the sea. Our travels on Uproar have taken us through the Great Lakes, Erie Canal, Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay, Bahamas, Caribbean, Panama Canal, Galapagos, and French Polynesia. We still have our 156, 166, and Giulietta Veloce Spider tucked away in Milwakee but certainly no Alfa on Uproar. We have seen a few Alfas in French Caribbean islands but usually beat up 146s or Mitos.
Alfa Romeo is never far from my heart though. For years I have been dreaming and planning construction of a vintage race boat with an Alfa engine. Alfa has a history of providing superb engines for hydroplane racing. The Laura series of hydroplanes used the powerful 159 engine and set records. During the 1960s Alfa made marine 1300 and 1600 engines available for hydroplane racing. A book on hydroplane racing mentioned that the Alfa Romeo engines were expensive but one could depend on several years of good service without rebuilds. Tom Zat had some literature for Alfa marine engines at one time. If anyone has copies, I would love to see them.
The 1936 Crandall Flyer appeared on my computer screen and I had my boat design. This sleek, mahogany double ender really caught my eye. The original construction article from 1936 can easily be found on the internet as well as Youtube videos of replicas. The Flyer is a 15 foot single-step hydroplane designed for the 135 cu. in. engine class. The Universal Blue Jacket, four cylinder engine could easily be replaced with an Alfa 2 liter. The Alfa engine would be at least 200 pounds lighter and have almost double the horsepower.
I started collecting drivetrain parts before departing on our cruise. The batwing oil pan would not fit well between engine stringers. Ignazio gave me an Alfetta oil pan. I will probably have to cut the aft corner off and weld a plate on to accommodate the slanted installation. Marine transmissions are heavy so I found a sprint car in-out box to at least give me neutral. Race boats don't have a transmission. When you light them up, they go! Neutral would be very useful for docking, etc. a canoe paddle would work fine for reverse for this small boat. An Alfetta flywheel would be ideal due to the coupling that would hook up to the sprint car box.
Marine engines use a water jacketed exhaust manifold. I found one for a V-8 that could be modified to fit the Alfa head. Cooling would be with seawater pumped through a heat exchanger for both oil and engine coolant. I have toyed with the idea of buying an aftermarket engine management system for ignition and fuel injection. Four motorcycle coils on the firewall hooked up to the system would replace a distributor. Sparks from a distributor are dangerous in a boat.
I have designed this boat over and over in my head. But a few months ago I took another step in the project. The photo is a 1/12th scale model I constructed on Uproar while we were hanging out in French Polynesia. The model is built with scale bulkheads from the magazine article. I learned how to do old fashion “lofting” in a naval architecture class at Purdue. The entire model is built out of 1/8” balsa and bamboo skewers. For paint and stain I used acrylic paints from Lisa's paint set, not ideal but it worked.
I can just imagine the throaty rumble of the Alfa engine, racing the Flyer at 50 mph. But that is best I can do from my seafaring lifestyle. Lisa and I have no plans to “swallow the anchor” and return to shore. If we do, I have a unique Alfa Romeo project waiting for me.
S/V Tumultuous Uproar
Halfway around the world last 12 months
24 March 2019
We left Panama for Galapagos one year ago. Since then, we have sailed a distance more than half-way around the world!
Total distance we have sailed in the past 12 months is 12,877 nautical miles (14,800 statute miles). The earth circumference is 21,639 nautical miles (about 25,000 statute miles). We have sailed more than half way around the world in the last year. To get to French Polynesia we sailed less than 5,000 miles. But French Polynesia is huge, about the size of Europe. We have criss-crossed the island chain numerous times to see the wide variety of beautiful spots here.
Mini lesson about nautical miles. The earth is divided into 180 degrees from the North to the South Pole. Equator is 0 degrees. North Pole is 90N and South Pole is 90S. Each degree is 60 geometric minutes. Each minute is 60 geometric seconds. A second of latitude is defined as one nautical mile. This makes it easy to measure distances on a chart that shows lines of latitude.
Some more numbers. Average speed is around 7 knots. That's 3,100 hours or 129 days of sailing! A lot of those miles have been short hops so we haven't spent 129 days and nights at sea. I would guess it has been less than 100 days total.
By comparison, we sailed only about 1,500 miles/summer on Lake Michigan. That was a lot compared to most boats in our area. We spent three weeks cruising the North Channel of Lake Huron, an idyllic cruising ground....3 months of the year. The start of the North Channel was 300 miles from Milwaukee. Across Lake Michigan is about 70 miles. We made that trip several times a year.
Our first year cruising took us all the way from Milwaukee to Grenada, 5,000 miles. Once in the Eastern Caribbean, the cruising ground is only about 330 miles long, the length of Lake Michigan. But our second year in the Caribbean we made longer trips to Tobago, Barbados and Bermuda for the America's Cup races. That added a lot of miles.
One would think these miles have been hard on Uproar. Not at all. I have often said, “You don't wear a sailboat out by sailing it.” We have put some age on our sails but that's all. What is more remarkable, we have hand steered a tiny fraction of those miles. Our Raymarine autopilot is the best crew (besides Lisa) one can have. He tirelessly steers Uproar day and night and just sips a bit of battery.
Last year we only burned 230 gallons of diesel. That is probably less than 1,200 miles motoring. We use diesel for battery charging and for our watermaker too. Other years we burn about 140 gallons/year.
So that's it for the numbers. Jumping off from Panama into the vast Pacific did produce some butterflies. Once underway, it became a way of life. Our 18 days from Galapagos to Marquesas sounds like a long time. Well it was! But when we get in the groove of a passage, our bodies adapt and we enjoy the ride. Now when we undertake a passage of several days duration, it seems like just a day sail.
Everyone asks about storms. I asked Lisa what passages included storms. She said none. But we have had some rough rides where waves swept over the boat. They were not at all pleasant but short lived. When the wind blows, we reef the sails smaller and Uproar just keeps going. We sometimes just go below and ride it out while Uproar does the heavy lifting. We peek out to look for traffic and monitor our AIS (commercial ship and yacht transmitted signals) which can monitor from below.
Plan for the next year will be to stay in French Polynesia. It would take a lifetime to see everything there is to see here. No way will we sail 12,800 miles but passages between islands can be over 700 miles. What we really look forward to is living in FP at anchor, among cruising friends, local friends, and some of the most beautiful water in the world.
Even in Wisconsin, we like it hot!
28 February 2019
“We didn't think people from Wisconsin liked spicy food.” Lisa and I laughed. We spotted “Montana” on the transom of Allora as we anchored in Opunohu Bay, Moorea. We dinghied over and invited Marcus and Diana for cocktails on Uproar. They brought a delicious appetizer with the above disclosure. We have enjoyed numerous BBQs and sundowners with Marcus and Diana and realize we all like it hot!
Months later we arrived in Gambiers. The little town of Rikitea has a few small stores. One store summoned their English expert when our French failed us, asking to buy a “sparky” stove lighter. James appeared with his perfect American English and we were able to buy a lighter ($16!). We had a nice conversation with James who runs a one-room hardware store. James explained that he had gone to high school and college in the US, and Arizona.
James studied and trained to be an airline pilot. Months before he became certified, he had a mild seizure from a previous football injury. He switched to business school and now works at his family store and his mom's pearl farm. He seemed resigned to life in the remote Gambiers.
Lisa asked him what he missed most about the US. He sighed and said, “Mexican food.” Polynesians don't like spicy food either, Diana. The next day we brought James a small bottle of Uproar hot sauce. Two days later we saw James again. He and his stepfather finished the hot sauce. He loved it. We told James if he provided us with hot peppers, we would make him some more sauce. We saw huge pepper bushes (trees actually) in several gardens.
A week later, James provided us with about two liters of tiny, red, hot peppers. Stems had been removed and they were nicely washed. Here's how we do this:
1. Scorch the peppers in a dry frying pan or sear on a grill. Leave whole.
2. Chop onions to about equal the volume of peppers.
3. Add a few cloves of garlic, chopped.
4. Optional items are chopped carrots or sweet, red peppers.
5. Combine in sauce pan and cover with liquid (1/3 citrus juice and 2/3 cider or white vinegar).
6. Add a little salt and simmer 30 minutes.
7. Let cool and puree with immersion blender or similar.
8. Carefully taste and add more salt or vinegar.
The sauce will mellow out after a week. It will be very hot at first. No need to refrigerate if you add enough acid (citrus and vinegar). If it starts to grow mold, add more vinegar and shake up. The peppers James provided yielded 3 liters of hot sauce. He was very pleased to get two wine bottles full.
We started our hot pepper sauce craze in the Abacos, Bahamas. We ate at a Haitian restaurant that served picklees, a slaw with plenty of hot peppers. They told us about the goat peppers that grow on the island. We found them in the grocery store and were hooked. Down island we couldn't find more goat peppers until we anchored in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera. A local man who specialized in killer, goat pepper sauce reluctantly sold us some of his prized peppers.
We thought that would be the last of the goat peppers until two years later we arrived in Marquesas, French Polynesia. We bought some peppers in a local market. The minute we cut into them we knew for sure they were goat peppers. Some of the seeds have been carefully preserved. Liz has them in Milwaukee. We hope she populates the neighborhood with these fearsome, distinctly flavored peppers.
28 February 2019
It has been over a week. I can finally write about this. The title should give a pretty good indication that I'm not going to write about sandy beaches, smiling locals, or great snorkeling. Snorkeling was part of this but with a sharp knife in my hand.....
A large low pressure system was tracking south of Gambiers. We all knew there was going to be a big blow from the northwest and had to seek shelter. Trade winds are from the east. Most of the anchorages are protected from the east. There are only two places to anchor in strong west winds. Rikitea, the main town and Taravai, a smaller island with a reef protected anchorage. We chose Taravai for several reasons. First of all, we hadn't visited that anchorage yet. We had enjoyed the beach BBQ and volleyball Sundays at Herve and Valorie's, right in Taravai Bay. We also had a group of friends who would be there and thought a “cyclone party” among friends would be fun.
There are only about 35 cruisers in Gambiers. Eight of us were in Taravai and the rest in Rikitea. The eight of us had a hell of a time while those in Rikitea were in relative comfort. Taravai Bay is not well protected from the north. Winds were supposed to start out NNW then go to NW. They stayed closer to NW and were much stronger than predicted. The slot between Taravai and Mangereva also created a wind tunnel, intensifying the wind in Taravai.
Getting into Taravai Bay is a real challenge. There is a narrow, winding channel with some depths of only 10 feet. We followed Allora through the channel. They had been there before and led the way. We saw no less than 12 feet and were happy to have a pilot boat going through. Our GPS keeps our tracks and we could easily follow the track to leave the bay. It was Friday and weather was still fine. We had an impromptu volleyball game and drinks that evening at Herve and Valorie's.
We anchored in a hole, 35 feet deep but there were coral reefs all around. Lisa set the anchor well and we were satisfied with our position. Winds were light the first night. That evening and the next morning was a bake-off among Allora, Kinnipopo, and Uproar. Dan and Staci from Kinnipopo brought over a delicious breadpudding with whipped cream. Diana followed up with fresh, hot beniets. Wow, what a treat. Lisa made scones and we dinghied them around the next morning. That afternoon, Diana from Allora made Foccia. Their dinghy was nestled aboard on davits for the blow so I ferried the goods around to the other boats in Houdinky.
The second night the wind blew. I would say not much more than 30 knots the first night but that's a lot of breeze. The boats were swinging at anchor but waves were slight in the small bay. The next day wind was even stronger, gusts well into the 40s. We anchored expecting NW winds. With the winds staying more N. There was a reef of coral only a 50 feet behind us. By afternoon, it was clear that we were gradually slipping toward the reef.
With increasing wind, we had to take action. We started the engine. The plan was for Lisa to motor up and to the east of our anchor. I would drop our spare anchor and we would be held off the reef. It was wild in the screaming wind. Lisa put the boat in position and I dropped the anchor. She put Uproar in neutral and the wind instantly drove us sideways, tearing downwind. The spare anchor line got caught behind the keel!
We stopped short of the reef but Uproar was being held sideways to the wind by the second anchor line around the keel. Not good! We made several attempts to motor up and free the line. It almost worked but on the third try, the line wrapped around the propeller! Not good! We were driven back onto the reef.
Our primary anchor was slowly dragging. We entered the reef with the bow pointing directly into the wind. As our keel crunched into the coral, we were held straight into the wind with no swinging. We were locked in place. It was fairly comfortable except for the fact that that the reef could eventually break up our boat.
I dove overboard with a sharp knife. The propeller was well wrapped with the second anchor rode. The prop had severed the rode so our second anchor was lost. I was able to clear the line with about 6 breathes and dives. I could see our keep had punched several feet down into the coral. There were a few scratches on the rudder but it was sitting above the coral. That was quite a relief. The rudder is not nearly as strong as the keel.
Dan from Kinnipopo snorkeled over to us. He climbed aboard to help. Pierre from another boat was dinghing around collecting kiteboarding gear that had been blown off Kinnipopo. Pierre lived on Taravai for 5 years. He said, “Keep motoring out, the coral is soft and you can break through!” That's exactly what we did. With the engine maxed out at 3,600 rpm, I swung the rudder port and starboard. Uproar sawed through the coral and eventually pulled clear. We had been on the coral about half an hour. What a relief to be floating again.
Dan helped a lot by communicating between me and Lisa as she pulled up the anchor. We were free, motoring around the small bay. What to do next? It was clear that other boats were having anchor problems at that point. If we re-anchored, would it hold? Taravai Bay now felt like a trap. We made the decision to get the heck out of there and motor back to Rikitea, 4 miles away. But first we had to negotiate the hazardous pass through the reef.
We motored close to Kinnipopo, Dan jumped off with our sincere thanks for his help. Lisa was on the bow watching and I was glued to the GPS as we entered the pass. Wind was sideways to Uproar and we were heeling 30 degrees on bare poles alone! I had to keep the speed up or we would have no control. But ideally we wanted to creep through the pass at slow speed. That deep keel that could trap and destroy us in the pass was our friend, keeping Uproar on track at only 3 knots of speed in the blow. We were heeled over so far our 8 foot draft was reduced to about 5 feet at that angle. We made it through!
I have never been so relieved to be clear of danger. We were moving and in deep water. While I was underwater, cutting the prop free, I was pretty sure we hadn't sustained major damage. We checked and no water was flooding the bilges. We motored across the open channel to Rikitea. Wind was funneling down that channel. Everything on shelves was tumbling onto the floor we were heeling so much. No matter, I couldn't have been happier.
Rikitea anchorage was crowded. We circled around and decided to anchor out a bit into the channel. We knew the bottom was muck even though it was 65 feet deep. We let out all of our anchor chain (200 feet) and about 100 feet of rode. Uproar stuck fast. The next two days were still stormy. The wind over the mountains swirled around and Uproar swung like a terrier on a leash. But we knew we were safe.
Zamovia, a Maple Leaf 50, was anchored near us. During one hard puff, their heavy, 12 foot dinghy with 30 hp outboard motor just flipped over! Lisa saw it happen. We filled the bottom of our Houdinky with water to weight it down in the blow. In the driving rain, Garrett quickly righted his dinghy and went to work on the motor. He soon got it running. It saved his brand new motor!
Two days later the wind died enough for us to go ashore. Boats further in the anchorage swirled around from the wind coming off the mountain but rode in relative comfort. We later learned that the low that passed south of us was a true, tropical depression. No kidding! We had four days of blow. I rank this as in the top 5 storms we have been through with Uproar. Our friends in Taravai Bay said it only got worse after we left. They clocked gusts of 54 knots! I'm sure it took that much wind to flip Zamovia's dinghy. But the winds in Rikitea were just violent gusts. Wind was stronger and more steady in Taravai Bay and they still had the gusts.
For the next few days we were shell shocked. I'm not embarrassed to admit we were questioning the whole cruising program. A week later, now I can write about it. I dove to inspect the bottom. There are no stress cracks around the keel. I didn't expect to find any, Uproar has an extensive grid framework supporting the keel with internal aluminum structure. The keel is lead which absorbs energy. We didn't feel a lot of hard bumping in the soft coral either. The bottom 2 ½ feet of are scratched up a lot with all bottom paint ground off. Much of the epoxy barrier coat is intact. We will have to sand and recoat the keel to keep it in racing trim but it is perfectly fine as is. The rudder has some scratches and the aft corner at the bottom was clipped off, smaller than a penny. I'll just sand it smooth. Lucky!
After any mishap it is important to analyze our mistakes. Mishaps are often an accumulation of small errors that lead up to a problem.
1. We chose the wrong anchorage. Always go to the most protected one when weather threatens.
2. We didn't have enough scope out for storm conditions. This was due to the restricted space we anchored in and our unquestioning faith in our Spade anchor (still our favorite anchor).
3. We underestimated the wind strength. Early forecasts were wrong. Plan for the worst.
4. After deploying the second anchor, putting the engine in neutral was not the right move, we should have gradually throttled back and gently come back on that anchor. That would have prevented the line wrapping around the keel and eventually propeller.
5. Perhaps we got lucky through the Taravai reef pass in the storm. Someone was watching out for Uproar. Merci!
We love the island of Taravai. Herve and Valorie do not run a restaurant or bar. They are one of three homesteaders on the island and just love to entertain on their beautiful beach. Oh, we are sorry about the damage to coral. Couldn't be helped. But we are told it grows up to 3 feet/year here. There is no shortage of healthy coral in French Polynesia. Unfortunately their bay will forever be known to us as Terrify Bay.