Things you don't want to know
31 January 2019
Parrot Fish poop makes up 75% of the sand in the Tropics. At least that's what they told us in Bonnaire. Parrot Fish are everywhere and they crunch coral and crap sand all day and all night long.
Someone told us, “The first Pamplemouse you eat will be the best one you ever have. No others will measure up.” Now why did I need to hear that? We made our first landfall in Marquesas in Fatu Hiva. Sopi and his son came out and asked if we wanted fruit. I jumped in their boat with a big bag. They took me ashore and filled it with delicious fruit. The Pamplemouse was our favorite and yes, since we have left Marquesas, other Pamplemouse just doesn't measure up.
“You are only as happy as your most miserable child.” Uncle Larry told me that. Again, not a seed I want planted in my mind. Seems our kids are all pretty happy now, let's keep it that way. If not, we will bring them down to French Polynesia for an adjustment!
Lisa and I have (I'm sorry to say, pirated) a lot of songs on our Ipod. We play on “shuffle” a lot. Sometimes we hear an oldie and I'll comment that I like that song. Lisa sometimes says, “Yes, but that's a WKLH song.” WKLH is a classic rock station in Milwaukee that we listened to on our clock radio in mornings. They had a limited play list and we would often comment, “I never need to hear that song again.” Yes, they spoiled a lot of great rock music for us.
Showers on a sailboat don't drain like in a house. Your feet are below the waterline. Any actual drain in the floor would quickly sink the boat. Instead, there is a small, Teak grate over a sump. When you are finished with your shower, you push a button and a pump, pumps the waste water overboard. I often shower off the back of the boat, rinsing with fresh water. But if I take a Hollywood shower (Hunt for Red October reference), I get to see the water in the bottom of the shower before pumping it out. That can be a shock. We shower every day even underway, sometimes twice. It keeps the sheets clean and we make lots of fresh water with our watermaker. At sea there is no dust or dirt. Still that water from just my skin and hair is a sickly gray color. But on land, water drains right out of the shower and you don't know anything about that. But now you do.
“Cruising is getting to fix your boat in exotic places.” Lynn Pardee mentioned she hates that expression. It is cited often among cruisers. Boats are complicated and delicate. Stuff breaks. We always have a “to do” list. But everything works on Uproar and the list is simple stuff, like fixing a drawer latch or caulking a deck drip. We do know some boats that constantly struggle with fixing stuff. Worse are the cruisers who rely on others to fix their boats. It is rare to find competent mechanics, refrigeration or electrical technicians when you need them. No one touches Uproar but me, unless sanding the bottom is concerned. And I enjoy most of the maintenance challenges and learn something every time I dig into a boat system.
Our last two passages were moderately challenging. We had squally conditions and at times, waves broke right over the boat. During these passages, I did not get any of my clothes wet. Do the math.
Speaking of passages, I'm the net controller, Sundays, for the Polynesian Magellan SSB net. We broadcast twice/day looking for anyone with an emergency, tracking boats on passages, and just general chit-chat from cruisers at anchor. It is a fun way to get to know other cruisers. One boat with a guy singlehanding, was sailing from Fiji to San Francisco. He reported in twice/day and was making slow progress. Someone asked if he was going to stop in Hawaii for a rest. He said, “No, starting a passage is like getting the flu, you feel like crap for the first three days. I don't want to go through that process another time.”
As I mentioned our last two passages were not comfortable. The first one was only three days and the second one, four days. We felt like crap on both of these, not seasick but just lethargic. I wish I had never heard the flu theory from that singlehander, sailing to San Francisco!
Party 'til the Flowers Turn Red
17 January 2019
Herve and Valorie live in the village on Taravai. The village has only 6 inhabitants and the bay around the corner, Pepito, has only 2. This island was once inhabited by 500 people. But that was before the Catholic missionaries came.
We visited Herve and Valorie and their dog, Taravai, when we hiked over the mountain from our anchorage. They treated us like valued guests, giving us cold water and bananas as we sat under their Hibiscus tree. Herve explained that the flowers bloom yellow in the morning and turn red in the evening, then drop off. He said his grandfather used to build boats out of the Hibiscus wood as it is very strong and light. Valorie explained that they have a picnic every Sunday and we should join them. We readily agreed.
We loaded up Houdinky, our dinghy, with a rice dish to pass, beverages, and our Kubbe, lawn game. It was a 2 mile dinghy ride through shallow reefs to the village. I had to stand up and run slowly the entire time to avoid the prop-killing rocks. Four other yachts were anchored right in front of the village. Word is out about the Sunday fetes at H and V's.
Three local pangas (25 foot open boats with 150 hp outboards) also showed up. Two of them were headed to a remote island for a picnic. Seeing the crowd at H and V's, they just decided to join us. Valorie welcomes all. Tables became piled high with food and the open fire grill was loaded up. Ten cruisers and about twenty locals made for quite a crowd.
We played volleyball, Kubbe and Pedonc, a French version of Bocce ball. Kids ran around and swam, dogs begged for food and lively conversation never ceased. Later in the afternoon, guitars and ukuleles came out. Spoons and other percussion instruments joined in. We were treated to an hour of Polynesian songs. They even played, “My Island Home,” the only island song I know.
After a game of Pedonc, Lisa and I looked up an saw the Hibiscus flowers were a dull red. With the sun low, it would be even more difficult to navigate the reefs back to Uproar. We said our goodbyes and thanks and loaded up Houdinky. Slow going got us back to Uproar as the red Hibiscuss blossoms were floating on the sea. Thanks Herve and Valorie for sharing. We will be back for another Sunday in Taravai Village.
Contrast part 2
16 January 2019
Yes, French Polynesia is a large archipelago, covering an area the size of Europe. These volcanic islands were formed during different geological events and vary greatly in their land and sea formations. By contrast, the Hawaiian Islands are relatively new. They aren't old enough to have extensive reefs. Gambiers is an archipelago of 5 major islands, a dozen smaller ones and motus or solid land formations on the surrounding reefs. One of these motus is long enough to have been made into the airport. The lagoon inside the reef is full of coral formations and almost as dangerous, thousands of pearl farm floats.
Gambiers is renown for the finest black pearls in French Polynesia. Racks with oysters are suspended by floats to help these filter feeders thrive. Sailing among them is far more difficult than the crab traps in the Chesapeake. Pearl floats are everywhere. Coral heads are everywhere. Any time you move your boat, someone must be watching on the bow for hazards. No problem, distances between islands are seldom more than an hour sail (we motor only to be safe).
We knew all of this as we entered the SW pass with Off2Sea. The steel, gray seas turned to the most brilliant, indigo blue we have ever seen. We could see the bottom at 80 feet. What a sense of relief to drop anchor in the tranquil bay of Taravai. Anchor beer never tasted so good! Uproar sat as still at anchor as if we were on land. We slept about 9 hours straight. The next morning the sun rose, coffee brewed, and we awoke to a bay, more beautiful than we could imagine. We were encouraged to go ashore and meet Edouard and Denise, the only residents in this bay. They greeted us like family. Adrianne, 17, their grandson was visiting from Papeete. It was Christmas break.
Adrianne offered to guide us through the pass over the mountain to the village. We readily agreed and set off. Adrianne is a real student of Polynesian history and explained a lot about the islands and Gambiers during the hike. He also had a lot of knowledge about the plants, animals, and sea. This city boy sure loved the remote Gambiers.
We arrived in the village where only 6 people live. The island of Taravai once had a population of 500. The Catholic missionaries brought mayhem as well as religion to Gambiers, their first attempt at bringing Christianity to the Polynesians. The people were decimated by disease and the enslavement to build churches. The church in the village is impressive, built in the 1840's. It is so sad that these gentle people suffered under these missionaries. But the local people are devoutly Catholic and keep the grounds of the churches as pristine as their yards.
Adrianne took us to his aunt and uncle's house, Herve and Valorie. We were again welcomed, given cold water and bananas as we sat and talked under their Hisbiscus tree. Valorie invited us to visit on Sunday when they have a traditional picnic for anyone who comes. We got a tour of their garden and sack full of produce. Herve was bringing part of a goat and pig he hunted to the other side of the island where Uproar was anchored. Instead of another hike over the mountain, we got a boat ride back.
We gave Adrianne $20 for the day he spent guiding us. He protested but I insisted explaining that we have kids and students always need some pocket money. I told him to take his girlfriend out for coffee. The next day he brought out a bag of fruit and dropped it in our dinghy. The $20 was in the bag with the fruit.
The difficult passage became a distant memory in this land of paradise. It wasn't the first tough passage we have had and will certainly not be the last. I guess it is a bit like prison rape. Hurts like hell, no one likes it, but it is just part of the program. Our passage through paradise has some bumps along the way but it doesn't take much paradise for them to be forgotten.
Contrast part 1
15 January 2019
French Polynesia occupies an area the size of Europe. Each island group has its unique geology and culture. Gambier is the furthest SE, only 350 miles from Pitcairn Island, first inhabited by the Bounty mutineers. It is also quite safe from cyclones and now is cyclone season. Gambier is unique in that numerous volcanic islands in the archipelago are surrounded by reefs.
We left Raevavai to sail to Gambier, a course 740 miles straight east. Since the trade winds come from the east, this could be a difficult sail upwind. But we watched the weather forecasts in Raevavai and waited for low pressure systems south to pass by. These low pressure systems counter the trade winds and promise westerly or northerly winds. Anywhere in between would make for fast sailing. The only problem was that passing lows also bring squalls and some rough weather. Still, we needed wind from the right direction to make this tough passage.
The Grib files we get on our satellite link suggested we would have favorable winds for the 4 or 5 days we needed to sail the 740 miles. We left Raevavai on January 4, Friday. So much for sailors superstition to never leave port on a Friday. We had light winds and gray skies when we left. We quickly determined there was not enough wind to sail. It is quite disappointing to have to motor at the start of the passage. But after two hours the wind filled in and never let up!
Uproar settled into a fast reach through choppy seas and frequent rain. Then more wind, more rain, and bigger waves. It was too rough to fish. It was too rough to do much of anything. We set a pot of chicken soup in our thermal cooker the night before we left. This fed us for three days along with the bunch of bananas hanging in our cockpit. It always takes a day or so to get into the rhythm of a passage. But it was a rough one and that rhythm was more chaos than cadence.
The wind blew and the sea flew. We single or double reefed the mainsail and rolled up some of our new genoa in the stronger winds. When winds lightened, we put up more sail. My arms really got a workout. Since all of our reefing lines are led to the cockpit, I could do this in relative safety, not having to go on deck. But there was almost always a mean spirited wave that gave me a drenching. We stayed mostly below, watching our instruments for AIS alarms or radar signals from approaching ships. Being in a remote part of the ocean, we saw none along route.
Some of the waves hit us so hard broadside they knocked things off shelves that never seem to get dislodged. Green water went crashing clear over the deck. From below, we saw so much water going over our clear hatches, we thought we were in a glass bottom boat, upside down! Some of those hatches leaked a bit, adding a soggy boat to our misery. But Uproar just kept sailing along. Thank you autopilot!
Lisa and I put our dining table down to make a large bed and spent much of our days there. We binge watched “The Wire” netflix series. We tried to sleep and sometimes just lay with our eyes closed. I thought how nice a couch by a fireplace and mindless TV would be. We questioned our own sanity, “What are we doing out here?” This wasn't the first time we have had a rough passage and will certainly not be the last.
One comfort was the Polynesian Magellan net. This is a SSB radio check-in at 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. The net controllers (I am the net controller for Sunday) take position reports and conditions for boats underway. This is followed with any boats who want to report where they are and what's happening, the gossip part of the program. Off2Sea, or NZ friends from Raevavai left the day before us in their large catamaran. They would report on the Polymag net their position and conditions. Seemed like their conditions were even worse than ours. They dropped all sails and hove to during a 35 knot squall. It was nice to know others were out there and those at anchor lending words of encouragement. Some were in disbelief that we were making 9 knots in the heavy going. Halfway through, we did the math. It is important to arrive in daylight to safely enter through the reefs. If we kept up our 7+ knot average, we would arrive shortly after noon on day 4.
Vaughn and Leslie from Off2Sea had been to Gambier before. We talked on the SSB and they suggested a SW anchorage would be best in the northerly winds. They arrived at the SW pass a few hours ahead of us. They kindly motored back and forth outside the reef, fishing, to help pilot us in through the pass. What a kindness. One wants nothing better than a quiet anchorage and shower after a rough passage. As we neared the anchorage, we received a call on VHF that Philippe from Tao offering to come out in his dinghy and pilot us through the reefs to the anchorage behind Taravai, our destination. What a welcome and relief to get through these uncharted waters to safety.
Anchor went down around 4pm. The contrast from the rough passage to a tranquil anchorage in an idyllic spot can't be described. But I will try in part 2 of this blog.
I can't say enough about Uproar. She, with little tending from us, transported us through a wild sea, 740 miles at an average speed of 7.4 knots. And she does it with grace, in spite of the conditions around her.
Raivavae, about as remote as we get
03 January 2019
If you haven't been to a South Pacific atoll, it will be hard to imagine the geography of these island groups. I won't take the fifty pages Michner does to describe the formation of Hawaii but here goes:
Volcanos forced these islands up from the ocean floor. Magnificant, jagged peaks and protruding rocks make for striking appearances. Reefs of coral form around the island over millions of years. Eventually the islands start to sink but the reef remains and grows. As the mountainous island retreats, a lagoon of water forms between the island and surrounding reef. The surrounding reefs will eventually become low islands of their own accord called motus, and the central island will disappear in the lagoon.
Raivavae is one of the older formations that still has the main island with mountain peaks, about 10 miles in circumference. The lagoon is quite large, sometimes over a mile between the main island and surrounding motus. The motus are large and well formed with beautiful, white sandy beaches. They are the most beautiful we have seen anywhere. None of the motus are permanently inhabited but have camps or huts for picnics, etc.
The sand is so fine that the water in the lagoon is a bit cloudy. This makes navigating the lagoon hazardous. There are huge coral heads just waiting to tear the bottom out of your boat. Lisa or I stand vigil on the bow whenever we go anywhere in the lagoon. There are decent charts but not all of these coral heads are shown. We have circumnavigated the lagoon and anchored in half-a-dozen spots, perilously close to dangerous coral but haven't touched yet.
Even though the water in the lagoon is a bit murky, the silt gives it a beautiful, turquoise color. We were initially disappointed in what we could see snorkeling but moved to some spots near the outer reef that were crystal clear. The forests of coral, giant Pacific clams and schools of small fish made for some memorable snorkeling.
Raivavae is the highest latitude we have sailed since leaving the Bahamas. We are at 23.7 degrees south, right on the Tropic of Capricorn. They have planted pine trees in the mountains and we were able to pick wild raspberries. It is summer here but that means the rainy season. Not only rain but squally weather have been a large part of the month we have spent here. We had one stretch of bad weather that kept us boat bound on Uproar for 5 days (see previous blog). Then we had a week of perfect weather. Now as we prepare to depart it is yucky again.
Weather systems pass about 500 miles south of us moving west to east. The trade winds at our latitude are mostly easterly. The squash zones between create troughs of converging winds which equals convection...squally, rainy weather. Our satellite weather data suggests that we will have unusual west to nw winds for the next week, perfect for our 700 mile passage east to Gambiers. Weather there should be better and we are exciting about exploring this new island group. The premium black pearls in Tahiti come from Gambiers.
This is not the way I like to write blogs, spouting facts and statistics. But thought I should paint the picture as best possible. The beautiful waters surrounding Raivavae are eclipsed only by the 500 people here. Lisa and I bike around the island's 10 mile road about every other day. Christmas Eve we passed out candy canes and small toys to the children on our ride. The people here are a bit shy but have a ready smile.
We have been invited to several village celebrations, given fruit from gardens and help in any way possible. Raivavae does not seem like a vacation stop along our way, we were made to feel at home. Perhaps weather improves in the winter but for now, we are looking for the sunny, tropical weather we have been pointing Uproar toward for 3 ½ years.
Boat Bound, day 5
21 December 2018
Boat bound, day 5.
Lisa and I haven't left Uproar for five days. We anchored a week ago behind some motus (islands forming the surrounding reef) of Raevavai. We are right on the Tropic of Capricorn which is quite far south in French Polynesia. Weather is not as settled as the rest of FP. Fronts haunt this area as highs and lows pass to the south of us. That's why we are boat bound. Wind has been raging for 5 days.
Wind has been a solid 20 knots with some squalls and gusts over 30. Rain and clouds are predominant. We are inside the lagoon but about ½ mile behind the line of motus and 2 miles from the main island. Wind kicks up a constant chop of whitecaps all around us. We are isolated except for Off 2 Sea who is anchored 200 yards away. They visited 5 nights ago for dinner and cards. We meant to get together again soon but it is so rough, neither of us want to get in our dinghies in this weather.
The Raevavai lagoon is 25 feet deep where we are anchored. We picked this spot carefully a week ago. Coral heads are everywhere and grow right up to the surface. We anchored in a clear spot but they are all around us. If our anchor loses grip, we will surely crash into the coral heads with our 8 foot deep keel. As Uproar swings and rocks in the rage, that thought is not far from us. The nearest repair yard is 400 miles away. A bad grounding here means loss of the boat. Even if we could travel in the dinghy, we wouldn't want to leave Uproar unattended. But we trust our anchor. I snorkeled on it when we arrived to make sure it was well buried in the sand.
Not only are we boat bound but we are spending all or our time in the cabin. Uproar never seems small to us as we have all of the outdoors when we sit in the cockpit. Now we are driven below in a space the size of a small kitchen or large bathroom. This is not the tropical boat life we have enjoyed for the past 3 ½ years.
But we have everything we need, food, water, electricity, and some communication with the outside world. Uproar is well sealed so we have comfortable beds and a salon where we hang out and play cards. We have 1,000 videos and 2,000 books on our Kindles. Our IridiumGo satellite system gives us limited email capacity and weather files but no internet. The Google FI phone works with the island cell system and we can make phone calls. The SSB radio keeps us in contact with other cruisers. I am the PolyMag net controller on Sundays where I MC a scheduled check-in program. It is fun to hear what other boats are up to where they are going.
Meals are a highlight of the day. We eat only a light breakfast and a dinner. Dinners have been elaborate affairs, steaks, roast duck, etc. always with a good bottle of French wine. Popcorn and movies are the evening entertainment. We often watch two or 1 ½ when we fall asleep. During the day, we keep busy with boat projects or arts and crafts. Lisa has done a bit of painting. I built a small wooden toy called a “nasty box” and am working on a Chris Craft model.
We read, talk, and play cards. I play the ukulele or guitar. More movies, read some more, eat, and repeat! Groundhog day? Of course. But these are activities most do on vacation. The overall feeling on Uproar is one of hugge, the only Danish word I know. Hugge is a Danish attitude that means coziness, comfort, and contentment. Even though there is an underlying element of danger in our lives, it is still an enjoyable time in Uproar.