Our fifth year cruising
12 July 2020
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
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.
21 June 2020 | Opunohu Bay, Moorea
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.
Hotel California Dinghy
01 June 2020
My bed is like a little boat;
Nurse helps me in when I embark;
She girds me in my sailor's coat
And starts me in the dark.
At night I go on board and say
Good-night to all my friends on shore;
I shut my eyes and sail away
And see and hear no more.
Robert Louis Stevenson
(recited to me by Grandma Whitford as she tucked me in)
The Covid 19 pandemic emerged as Lisa and I had sailed Uproar from Moorea into Papeete, Tahiti. We anchored inside the reef, near the airport. This is our favorite anchorage in Tahiti. The airport is not that busy, there are sandy spots to anchor and coral reefs to snorkel.
French Polynesia, like most of the world, put in place some tight quarantine restrictions. We could go to shore, only for essential groceries or medical needs and must carry a form signed and dated for that day and destination. We were only allowed to swim around our boats. We felt lucky for this as cruisers in the Marquesas, FP were not allowed to swim, even to clean their boat bottom. About 40 boats anchored in this anchorage. We knew many of them from our two years cruising French Polynesia. We got to know many more as we started the Hotel California net, every morning at 9:00 on VHF, ch 68.
We and all cruisers in Hotel California hung on the world news daily. Our futures remained uncertain. Sure, we were in an idyllic place but we were virtually prisoners in a gilded cage. Airline flights were suspended. Other countries in the South Pacific would not accept cruisers. We could check out but we could not go anywhere else! The range of emotions changed daily. At least we were safe in an area with very few cases of the virus. We had each other, plenty of food and friends nearby but social distancing.
We also had a nice stack of local mahogany in the quarter berth. Our daughter was pregnant again, due in August. I had always wanted to build a dinghy cradle and a new grandchild gave me the incentive. The Warren Jordan Baby Cradle caught my eye and I ordered the plans. Mail delivery ceased to FP but Warren kindly sent me PDFs of the plans. I was able to scale up the mold formers and transom which is all I needed for the general shape. The lapstrake, copper riveted construction was going to be too difficult for me, building the dinghy on Uproar. I planned to use strip plank construction.
A private sawmill in Moorea supplied the wood. I like to do simple wood projects on Uproar and seek out local sources for beautiful, tropical woods. Michel's father planted 6,000 mahogany trees on Moorea, many years ago. He sold me a rough plank to check out the qualities of the wood. I hand planed it and sawed it into the uprights of the dinghy davits. It was beautiful wood but pretty hard for strip planking. Lisa and I made another trip to Michel's and selected some other planks. After some coaxing, Michel agreed to plane it and rip to the sizes I needed. When I saw his elaborate wood shop, I asked him to rip all of the 1/4" strips I would need to plank the dinghy. Access to someone with these tools is quite limited and I believe I took advantage of Michel. I told him I should have brought glue and let him build the boat!
Michel drove us back down the hill in his pick-up truck with a bundle of wood in back. Lisa and I dinghied it back to Uproar. The project had begun. A local building supply store had the sheet of plywood we needed for the mold. We brought the Japanese rip saw with us and cut the 4' x 8' sheet into strips we could use and get into our dinghy. Everything disappeared into our quarter berth along with three cases of beer we bought just because we were near the grocery store. Little did we know alcohol sales would soon be curtailed in FP.
We sailed to Tahiti because we were expecting a shipment from the US with a new Mercury 20 HP, EFI outboard (love it) and bicycles from our son Steve's shop, South Shore Cyclery in Milwaukee. Right after we received the shipment, quarantine rules came into play. We would not be allowed to ride the bikes. We were able to go to the big Carrefour store and re-fill our wine locker. We had spent the past six months in the remote Tuamotus. Days later, alcohol sales were banned. Our timing was spot on!
Working with wood on a sailboat has its challenges. There is not one flat and level surface except for the cockpit floor. I made a small work surface with vice to put over our cockpit snack table. To cut, plane or sand a piece of wood, I had to find a place to anchor it in place by sitting on it and not damage the cockpit of Uproar. Sawing was particularly challenging because the wood was always held at an angle. We do have a 110 volt inverter but the only power tools I have are a sander, cordless drill and jig saw. The jig saw was used only for curves. Hand, Japanese pull saws work great for straight cuts but are slow and tiring. No problem, I had all the time in the world. Good thing, I ran out of strips and had to hand rip them from 1 1/2"thick planks, then saw again to 1/4" thickness.
The mold was completed and strip planking came next. I was worried that the mahogany would be quite stiff for planking. It was! The strips would bend without breaking but strips need to bend in two planes and twist to conform to the mold. Light cedar does this perfectly, hard mahogany fights back! But again, time was of no concern and with a lot of cutting and fitting, the boat shell was completed. It was a special day when I was able to pull it off the mold. Now we had a real, little boat.
The design of the frame or davits came partly from the plans and partly my own design. I wanted to make all joinery self-locking without metal fasteners. I did install threaded rods to hold the davit feet in place but the feet fit quite tightly on the uprights. The horizontal stretcher is mortise and tenoned into the uprights and held with Rosewood, tapered wedges. I had scrounged some scraps of hard, Black Coconut wood and pearl oyster shells I used for the inlay in the stem. I needed a rabet plane to size the tenons so I made one, using an old chisel as the iron.
The stretcher was a massive plank, way out of proportion to the rest of the project. I used some ship's curves I had to draw the waves. It lightened the plank and added some interest. Planing, sanding and finishing completed the project. We assembled the parts on our deck and hung the dinghy with some vintage-looking line. Several dinghies came by to admire the work. Those close to us had heard lots of pounding, sawing and perhaps a smattering of the King's English coming from Uproar. Not all of it was from me. Lisa had to endure quite a mess for the entire month. Not only was sawdust everywhere but the tanins in the mahogany stained the gelcoat like strong tea. Lisa would take over when I was exhausted from a days work and bucket out the sawdust. When the project was completed, she bleached the gelcoat back to white. Thanks, Lisa for hanging in there with me.
There is nothing like the anticipation of a new life to bring hope and joy. Lisa asked me why the dinghy was hung, sailing into the waves. I hadn't planned it that way but told her it is a metaphor for life. Life involves a lot of sailing upwind but with proper guidance one can sail through the storms into calm waters. We are certain Liz and Victor will provide that guidance for our new grandchild. The dinghy will be christened, "Miss Sylvia" after my mom. We are confident the world will return enough to normal to allow us to visit our new grandchild this fall, in her little boat.
29 April 2020
French Polynesia lifted many of the quarantine sanctions and we are so happy! Today we were able to go for a bike ride for the first time in 40 days. This was also the first time we got to try out our new bikes. I have always loved the feeling of gliding along on a bike. Bikes have been an important mode of transportation for our cruising lifestyle. We can go places too far to walk without depending on anyone else for transportation. Biking is important exercise. We can tell a noticeable difference in our health when we are at an island where we can bike.
These bikes were custom built by our son, Steve at South Shore Cyclery just for our conditions and easy storage on Uproar. They are perfect! We had such a great ride today. There is nothing we would change about either of these great bikes. Thanks Steve!
I have only one complaint. My bike has tires marked, “E-bike 50.” So why do I have to pedal? I haven't found the E-bike drive on my bike but will keep looking.
We are grateful for the freedom of getting on these bikes and being able to go anywhere, without having to show papers to any police who asks. The past 40 days, we had to carry a form for that day and time showing exactly where we were going and why. That ended today, we have complete freedom of movement. We still can't sail Uproar to any other island in FP but that may come in a few weeks.
Let's not take freedom for granted and be extremely careful about compromising freedom for any reason.
26 April 2020
I'm having to force myself to write this blog. Quarantine has been a difficult time for all and continues to be.
Everyone's situation is different so I'll tell about quarantine life in French Polynesia. There are only 57 confirmed cases so far in FP, no one has died and only a few have been hospitalized. As of April 26, quarantine has been about 5 weeks. Covid 19 cases are only in Tahiti and nearby Moorea. French Polynesia is a huge area, about the size of Europe, with hundreds of islands and only 280,000 people. But the quarantine regulations are being strictly carried out throughout the area.
Cruisers in FP can apply for an indefinitely renewable visa which we have. We are essentially permanent residents as long as we pay $90/year. We have been here two years and have renewed for a third, not knowing when we can head west toward Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand. We are especially visible as we sail into an anchorage. Local people are beyond welcoming and readily share whatever they are growing in their gardens. Several times we were given fish by local fishermen.
Being visible is not a good thing during quarantine. Since we can move about, and since we resemble the missionaries who brought plagues to these people 150 years ago, we are under extra scrutiny. Cruisers were told to stay in place wherever they are anchored or sent to Tahiti. Some villages would not initially let cruisers come ashore. But regulations were put in place that allow cruisers to go ashore with a form filled out specifically for that day, time and destination. I was stopped by a police boat once to check the form. We are in a visible anchorage near the airport with 40 other boats. Police boats have visited us all to check our paperwork and discuss regulations. We are fortunate that we are allowed to swim around our boats. In Nuku Hiva and other places, cruisers are prohibited from swimming. There is a ban on boating and swimming and it was thought that cruisers swimming would be unfair to those on land. Fortunately not the case for us.
Our anchorage has been dubbed “Hotel California.” We have a radio network every morning at 9:00 (started by Uproar). We have trivia at 5:00 and a cooking show and other broadcasts. This has been a lot of fun and helped us stay connected. We have visited other boats, staying in our dinghy and are fortunate that Kaia from 2K has done a lot of canvas projects to give us more shade and other beautification projects. I fortunately stocked up on Mahogany for the baby dinghy/cradle project. This has kept me very busy for most of the past month.
Tahiti is not our favorite spot in FP but we do like it. Hotel California is a beautiful anchorage with sandy bottom and clear water. We see Eagle Rays, Stingrays, turtles and a variety of fish clearly from the boat. We do snorkel around the boat and enjoy the critters. The local grocery store is first class which is a rarity in FP. We get ashore about twice a week for shopping and sometimes just using that as an excuse to go for a walk. The sunsets over Moorea are priceless. Yes, this is paradise and a beautiful place of confinement.
We hear that quarantine will be eased shortly. We are hoping we will be able to sail to the Leeward Islands, 100 miles away, Huanine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora. The OCC, Ocean Cruising Club is petitioning New Zealand and Australia to allow cruising boats to enter their countries. We are on the list for New Zealand and hope to be able to sail there in October. If these places don't open up, we may stay in FP another year. There is certainly a lot more to explore here. But will it remain the FP we know and love?
The real heartbreak of quarantine is the effect on the friendly Polynesians (named the Society Islands due to their friendliness). The first few weeks, smiles changed to fear. We were always greeted prior to Covid19. Now there is little eye contact. We haven't interacted with children in over a month. I was able to give Uproar airplanes to three small children but did not stop and assemble them as we normally do. We have not petted a dog in 40 days. These people depend on tourism for most of their income. This has come to a standstill and will only come back in a dribble when restrictions are lifted. These people's fragile economy will suffer.
It has been at least 40 days since I have kissed a stranger on both cheeks. I wonder if I ever will again.