Tumultuous Uproar

A cruising boat with a racing problem...

09 August 2020 | Faa Roa, Raiatea
30 July 2020
25 June 2020
21 June 2020 | Opunohu Bay, Moorea
29 April 2020
26 April 2020
01 April 2020 | Tahiti
28 February 2020
27 February 2020
10 February 2020
25 January 2020
03 January 2020
03 January 2020

Andre the wild boar slayer

09 August 2020 | Faa Roa, Raiatea
Russ Whitford | amazing
“It's about the people we meet...” Jeff and Terry McClellan did a video of Lisa and me when they visited in the Spanish Virgin Islands. Terry asked about some highlights of our first year cruising.

We continue to treasure the chance meetings with amazing people everywhere. I spent some time alone on Uproar and a few weeks with Jim Leguizamon while Lisa was back in the US visiting family. Several times Jim and I dinghied up the river at the foot of Faa Roa (Polynesian for big bay). It's an interesting jungle river with a few homes along the way. James is the unofficial tour guide. The first time in the river, James paddled up to us in his plastic kayak and gave us a running commentary as we putted along. James is a simple guy and not at all the pushy tour guides who sometimes latch onto cruisers for an expected fee. He told Jim and me to visit his brother, Andre's farm, further up the river.

We found Andre working hard on his patch of paradise. Andre eagerly showed us around and filled our bag with fruits and vegetables. He lives in the adjacent mountain and runs up and down every day. Andre also competes in local marathons. He told us once he ran down a wild boar and killed it with his machete. I asked if he had “dent de cochon savage” wild boar teeth. He replied, oui, but the one he killed had only one tooth, the other one was broken. I asked if he would part with it. He said it is a great honor to give someone a wild boar's tooth. In return, I had pay him the great honor of $10!

The next day, Jim and I returned with some fellow cruisers. Andre had not only the boar's tooth but handed me the entire lower jaw. Gross! But I got my prized tooth after hacksawing the jaw apart.

Andre is one of the most enthusiastic people we have met. He speaks very little English but his running commentary in French and animated gestures are easy to understand. He tells stories about the mountains, one being the profile of a woman and one a man and how they marry to form the fertile valley. He expertly plucks fruit from his laden trees and generously fills our bags. With Jim and our cruising friends, Andre insisted we take a 40 pound banana bunch! Good thing we had three boats to share.

Yesterday, Lisa had her first visit to Andre's farm. Andre was busy with a weed whacker but quickly shut it down and spent an hour with us. He shared everything growing and even gave us some fruit from his own backpack. Several times he threw his hands back, looked up and exclaimed, “Paradise!” It is a paradise and this happy man has very little but lacks for nothing. His sharing is not just his farm's bounty but the Polynesian Spirit we love.

Bernard Moitessier, my sailing hero

07 August 2020
Russ Whitford
“Because I am so happy at sea and perhaps to save my soul.” That is the note Bernard Moitessier shot via slingshot onto a freighter explaining why he was dropping out of the Golden Globe, around the world, solo race in 1968. He was by far in the lead and had to just sail north to England and claim the prize. But all along he thought the race was vulgar and he didn't want to commercialize voyaging by sailboat.

Instead, after a lap around the world, he kept sailing to Tahiti, a place never far from his heart after a previous visit. His voyage was about 360 days solo! He just loved to sail.

Logan was in an Optimist race when he was about 12. He was in the lead but at the next mark he just kept sailing. The instructor chased after him in the crash boat and asked what was wrong. Logan said, "I was having such a good sail, I didn't want to turn." I told him he just did a Moitessier.

A few weeks ago, my friend, Dorothy, American who has lived in French Polynesia most of her life, mentioned Moitessier in conversation with a group of women learning to weave palm leaves. Lisa and some other cruising friends attended and I came along. Dorothy is already a special person to me as she took care of Bobby Holcomb, the cultural hero of Polynesian lifestyle, from 1976 until his death in 1991.

I later asked Dorothy if she ever met Bernard Moitessier. She explained that she was one of the first people he met when he arrived in Tahiti. I said, “So you are the reason he stayed.” Dorothy became quite for a moment. After further conversation, it became clear that Dorothy was Moitessier's lover when he arrived in Tahiti!

Dorothy explained that Moitessier's last wife, Veronique, was re-launching his boat and sailing to Huahine. She said Bernard told her, “Always feel free to go to Dorothy for help. There will be no jealousy.” I knew his last boat was in the yard on Raiatea, 25 miles away, but had never looked for it. Now I was determined to make this connection with my sailing hero.

After a languid, six weeks in our beloved Huahine, Lisa and I sailed to Raiatea. It was just time to move on. We biked to the Raiatea boat yard. In a back lot, I found a young man talking with a lady on deck of an old boat. I asked where I could find Moitessier's boat. He pointed to the very boat we were standing next to and the lady on deck. I could hardly believe I was about to step into history.

Veronique invited me to climb the ladder aboard Tamata. She explained she was getting her ready to launch after years on the hard. Tamata was built in California where Moitessier was invited to work on a documentary in 1982. His famous boat, Joshua, was wrecked in Mexico, en route to California. Tamata is a simple boat built from steel and built like a tank. Below decks she has an air-cooled engine and rudimentary accommodations. I have never seen so many lines hanging from the walls everywhere.

Tamata seemed to be in good shape for a boat that had been sitting for so long. She was well built with very little rust and peeling paint. She is a sailor's boat with no frills but one that could take her captain anywhere.

How privileged I am to have met two of my sailing hero's lovers and his last boat. The book “A Voyage for Madmen” is a great read about the race even for non-sailors. Bernard Moitessier has also written several books that are quite interesting. I am still in awe that I had a brush with my sailing hero who shares my love for sailing and French Polynesia.


Woodworking on Uproar

30 July 2020
Russ Whitford
I have always enjoyed woodworking. Back in Milwaukee, I had a nice wood shop, especially in Whitefish Bay where the entire garage was set up for making kitchen cabinets, sleigh bed and other furniture projects.

On Uproar, opportunities for woodworking are limited. At least that's what I thought initially. I had an assortment of woodworking tools from the start. My tools were just a few, Japanese pull saws, block plane, chisels and sandpaper. But during a 3 day cold front storm in the Bahamas, I discovered some virgin, Southern Yellow Pine flooring in an abandoned fishing camp. I brought a few pieces back to Uproar and made a marking gauge. The smell and feel of that ancient pine was intoxicating.

Throughout our travels, I try to meet local woodworkers, see what they are making and ask about local woods. As you can imagine, the tropics have a wide assortment of interesting hardwoods. I would collect a few pieces more out of curiosity than having projects in mind.

St Lucia yielded some Spanish Cedar which I used for a magazine rack. Barbados had a dealer who specialized in Madeira Mahogany which became a cockpit table. In Carriacou Grenada, I acquired another nice piece of Mahogany to make the MAST Cruiser Racer trophy Lisa and I donated to our sailing club.

We then kept moving throughout the Caribbean and to Bermuda and back. Then on to Venezuela, Bonnaire, Colombia and Panama. If I had only known Vera Wood was grown in Colombia, I would have stocked up. This greenish wood has a waxy feel and smells like vanilla! There was not much time to engage in the wood hobby as we sailed thousands of miles in the South Pacific.

But a lengthy stay in Gambiers gave me the bug again. I met a French sailor who arrived in French Polynesia, many years ago, and never left. That's quite common around here. Robert was a woodworker and gave me some nice pieces of Rosewood, he considered scraps. Gambiers is in a very remote corner of FP but is also the home to over 100 pearl farms. Lisa started collecting pearls and I made a Rosewood box to keep them in.

When we arrived in Moorea, I learned about a sawmill that specialized in Mahogany. Their Mahogany is a descendant of the rare, Madeira Mahogany. I stocked up on a supply to build a cradle/dinghy for our soon-to-arrive grandchild. But it took the Covid 19 lockdown in Tahiti to get me really going on that project. There is nothing like confinement to help one concentrate on a project. I built the dinghy and framework in just one month. Using only hand tools made work difficult but I had not much else going on.

Lisa expressed an interest in making boxes. I showed Lisa, Kaia and Silke all how to make hand-cut dovetail joints. These ladies produced some nice work! Lisa has made about eight boxes to date and I have made about ten. We have collected some interesting woods from Tahiti, Raiatea and Huahine. To aid our work, I have continued to build tools. I find this very satisfying as it combines engineering with some art. There is nothing like the swish of a self-made plane shaving a board. I'll continue to make tools as needed or just for fun.

Tools pictured are: Smoothing plane, jointing plane, shoulder plane, marking gauge, dovetail gauge, sliding bevel gauge, magnetic ruler stop, marking knife, marking saw, groove router, square and three hammers. I'll bet I have the only black pearl inlaid hammer!

Our fifth year cruising

12 July 2020
Russ Whitford
Today is our five year anniversary of the cruising life. We left Milwaukee five years ago, today. It was a Saturday, like today. We purposely waited until Saturday. Sailors don't embark on a voyage on Friday, bad juju.

I was preparing a blog for today. Lisa and I went through Uproar's log and determined we have sailed 27,700 miles in the past five years. There are many stories. But what we encountered this evening tells it all.

We went ashore to have cocktails and dinner with friends. I persuaded Lisa to wear her couronne de tete, traditional Polynesian head dress for the occasion. During drinks, we passed the couronne around and all took turns wearing it for pictures.

As I was wearing it, a young, Polynesian lady came to me and said in broken English, “You are a man, this is what you should wear.” She had woven from palm leaves a man's head dress. She placed it on my head and kissed me on both cheeks.

Jump the Shark

25 June 2020
Russ Whitford
Experts say the episode that killed Happy Days was when Fonzie jumped a shark while water skiing (wearing his leather jacket of course) in Lake Michigan. “Jump the shark moment” is a pop culture term for making a very bad mistake. Well, I had my own jump the shark moment yesterday.

We were anchored in the lagoon, just outside Opunohu Bay, Moorea. As usual, we seek a shallow, sandy bottom to anchor, just deep enough for Uproar's 8 foot keel. Anchoring in shallow, crystal clear water lets us see all the sea creatures and we love the light, turquoise color. We swim every day. Jumping off the back of Uproar, I often just sink down, enjoying the bubbles and weightless feeling, then push off the bottom back up. I wrote a blog “Five second meditation” about this.

Yesterday morning, I sanded some woodworking projects, drilled a few pearls and husked three coconuts. Typical Polynesian morning. I was covered with dust and grit. Nothing could be easier or more refreshing to just jump in the water to clean off. I went right to the swim platform and jumped.

In mid-air, I saw a big blacktip shark right under me! Too late, I had already jumped. We have all seen the cartoon where the character tries to defy gravity by climbing up thin air. I'm sure that's exactly what I looked like. Instead of hitting the water, pencil straight, I hit the water flailing. I'm surprised I even got wet.

The shark was surprised too and after I clamored up the swim ladder, he was nowhere to be seen. I jumped back in and finished my morning bath.

Paradise Lost

21 June 2020 | Opunohu Bay, Moorea
Russ Whitford
A fellow sailor once mentioned to me that he was anxious to get out there cruising "while the world is still a great place to cruise." I thought his concern was nonsense but now I'm not so sure.

French Polynesia has been one of our favorite cruising grounds, we have been here more than two years. One of the things we love about FP are the people. They are some of the most genuinely friendly on earth. Sure, in Bermuda, everyone says "good day." But it goes no further. Polynesians want to talk and share stories. Lisa has one friend who literally says, "Lisa, come sit and let's talk stories." They also share readily from their gardens.

We were told to check in at the police station when we sailed to remote Raiatea. The police officer gave us some huge pamplemous (grapefruit on steroids). He said, "If you want fruit or vegetables from someone's garden, just ask. They will probably give it to you or charge a small amount." At one point we were the only cruising boat in Raivavae. Everyone knew who we were, we would ride our bikes around the island every day. One day we went to our bikes and someone came to us, happy to see us. A resident nearby called the police and expressed concern that we were lost in the mountain. We were just on our boat, about a mile away.

Our landing in FP was at the magnificent Fatu Hiva. A man and his son came out in a boat, asking if we wanted fruit. They took me ashore and filled a bag with fruit. We later became friends, having their family on Uproar for dinner. This was our first encounter, 1 hour after we anchored!

One remote village in Gambiers, we helped an elderly couple land their powerboat at their home. Without asking, the lady took us into her extensive garden and filled bags with fruit. They spoke no English but we had a nice conversation at their outdoor table over a drink of cold water. They had a huge pepper plant, we picked some peppers, made hot sauce that night and brought them a bottle the next day. We were treated to another bag of fruit.

Everyone waves, smiles and some strangers even kiss us on both cheeks. FP is a sailor's paradise and Polynesians welcome us to share it with them. We have heard stories that there were a few places where locals didn't want cruising boats anchoring but these were very few. I did anchor in one of the forbidden spots during a Maramu (strong wind storm) when I was alone. It was the only safe place at the time. I was asked to move but allowed another night as I mentioned I was alone.

It would be too easy to say Covid 19 changed things. There were rumblings against cruisers last year. We went to a meeting where anchoring restrictions in Tahiti were discussed. There is an anchorage in a bay where a large, hotel development was planned. Local "sailors" live on their boats there year round as they work in Tahiti. Some of these boats are derelict and some even uninhabited. They are an eyesore that gives cruisers a bad name. The plan was to close that anchorage and all anchorages in Tahiti. Moorings were planned and marina expansions to accommodate boats. But we were told, this comes up every year and nothing is done. The most alarming part of the meeting was a statement by the head of maritime affairs that "Anchoring is prohibited in French Polynesia except where it is specifically allowed."

Bora Bora, the more touristy atoll, now has moorings everywhere. Francis zooms around in his boat and is a nice concierge as well as collector of money for the moorings. Most cruisers avoid Bora Bora. We just don't do well anchored where the meter is running and restrictions are in place. Now, it costs $30/night! Visions of this everywhere in FP would just ruin it for us.

Covid 19 caused a big change. The world gave up an intimate part of our humanity with lockdown restrictions. We were forced to stay anchored for over 60 days in one place in Tahiti. Boats arriving from Panama were mostly funneled to Tahiti. A little used anchorage by the airport now became Hotel California. There were 50 boats there at one time. We heard rumblings of discontent in the media. Polynesians were not allowed to swim or boat during lockdown. Here we were living on the boats in their beautiful lagoon. Polynesian smiles turned to looks of fear behind masks. We don't know if there was fear that foreigners would bring Covid 19 or whether they were jealous of us able to use the lagoon when they could not. There was concern about us polluting the lagoon. Nonsense, the river in the nearby bay ran like coffee au lait when it rained. Water in Hotel California remained clear.

I'm the last person to believe the attitudes toward cruisers is changing in FP. But there are enough incidents (dutifully reported on Facebook) to make me believe we may have seen this paradise at its best, never to be again.

Vessel Name: Tumultuous Uproar
Vessel Make/Model: Beneteau 42s7
Hailing Port: Milwaukee, WI
Crew: Russ Whitford & Lisa Alberte plus Sophie our Jack Russell Terrier
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Added 21 August 2015