10 February 2020
Living aboard a sailboat does involve sailing. This is somewhat overlooked as many cruisers live on a sailboat to get to where they want to visit. But we love sailing! Sailing up and down the east side of Fakarava is perhaps my favorite sailboat ride in the world.
Imagine a sailboat ride in 8 to 15 knots of wind, mostly reaching but sometimes a tight fetch or spinnaker, broad reach. The water is that mythical blue, temperature low-80s, the shoreline is filled with palm trees and white sand beaches. Waves are only about 3 inches high as we are sailing in the lee of land. The ride goes for 30 miles from Rotoava to Hirifa. We can stop anywhere and anchor near shore where no one lives for many miles. Uproar just glides along, at times we can't even feel that we are moving except for the quiet, hiss of our wake. Sailing just doesn't get any better.
Rotoava is the main town with several hundred people and three grocery stores. Hirifa is a motu with extensive, white sand spits where only 4 people and a lot of pigs live. There are a few pearl farms closer to Rotoava and some nice vacation compounds in the area. But a few miles south of Rotoava there isn't much in the way of civilization.
Fakarava is about 35 miles long and 14 miles wide, almost exactly the size and shape of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. Lake Winnebago is quite shallow, averaging under 15 feet. The lagoon surrounding Fakarava probably averages 80 feet deep BUT, there are coral reefs inside the lagoon, everywhere. Any one of them is capable of ripping the bottom out of Uproar! There are some marked channels but “bombies” are perilously close to the channel. The rest of the lagoon is not surveyed for depth. We have to be watching whenever we sail outside the channel.
The extensive coral formations are teaming with fish. Jacques Cousteau said the highest concentration of fish he has ever seen is in the Tuamotus. Snorkeling the reefs and the south pass through the reef rank as our favorite snorkeling sites of any place we have visited.
Don from Huakai, took a Google Earth shot of Fakarava and marked the bombies with waypoints. We loaded these hazards into our chart plotter. Our chart plotter also shows all of our previous tracks. We know if we just follow the previous track, we will be safe. We no longer have to keep watch when we make this passage. It is a relaxing, beautiful and refreshing ride.
Uproar is a performance oriented boat. She was designed by Bruce Farr as a race boat but with comfortable living quarters. We have high tech, composite sails and just love the performance feel when Uproar is sailing in the groove or sweet spot. Sailing this passage, in flat water, best shows Uproar sailing at her finest.
Perfect conditions, beautiful scenery and the boat we love to sail. Sailing the east shore of Fakarava combines the best of sailing and fills our hearts on every passage.
Geology lesson on atolls:
Fakarava is an atoll in the Tuamotus, the Dangerous Archipelago. This area was avoided by mariners until GPS made navigating much safer. These atolls are ancient volcanic islands without the island. The islands slowly sunk over millions of years due to tectonic plates moving around under them. Coral reefs grew continually while the island sunk. Now all that is left is the coral ring surrounding the lagoon. Some of the coral reefs have built up enough to be land and some are submerged. The land is called motu. The east motus of Fakarava are extensive and have about 10 miles of road. At most the motu is ¼ mile wide and only about 20 feet above sea level. But the motu has a barrier reef on the ocean side. This shallow, barrier reef protects the motus from storm damage.
French Polynesia's newest island group is Marquesas. These islands, like Hawaii, are not old enough to have extensive coral reefs surrounding them. Next oldest are the Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, etc) These islands have coral reefs surrounding most of the island. There is navigable water inside these coral reefs, space the island has left as it began to sink. These islands still have the mountainous beauty, safe anchorages and great snorkeling reefs. We love this group, especially Huahine. But the Tuamotus have a stark, wild beauty and amazing waters, perhaps our favorite group in French Polynesia.
25 January 2020
One major difference between the life aboard a sailboat vs. the life of a dirt dweller is plumbing. And most of you will skip the rest.....TMI!
Let's start with the fact that fresh water is a precious commodity aboard a boat. Especially for a boat in salt water. When we cruised in the Great Lakes, we used lake water for all of our washing; dishes, clothes and showering. Uproar has a kick-ass watermaker. We make 30 gallons/hour of pure, drinkable fresh water from sea water. With modest conservation, that lasts 3 to 5 days. Those without watermakers must carry water from a source on shore (if available) or collect rain water. That could take care of drinking water but little else.
We didn't get our watermaker running until we spent three months in the Bahamas. I can tell you carrying water is a pain! Lisa threatened to cut her hair off unless I got the watermaker fired up. I did! Watermakers are rather troublesome devices with high pressure pumps, filters, etc. During the four years ours has been working, we have spent nearly $1/day on maintenance parts (no charge for the captain's labor)!
But back to our use of water. We tell our guests they are limited to three showers/day. Really, we can make a lot of water. Lisa and I shower at least once/day and often twice. If we are clean before bed, the sheets don't get, well sweaty. I mostly shower off the back of the boat. It is a lot like going for a swim. In fact it is going for a swim. I jump in and soak for a bit. Then, I climb out and rinse my hair with a squirt of fresh water. I shampoo with "man wash" (diluted shampoo) which I work down the rest of my body to get clean. A jump back in the water washes off the soap. Back on the swim platform, I spray down to thoroughly rinse off the salt water. I often just air dry in the cockpit. This whole procedure requires about ½ gallon of water. And I can do it without getting a swimming suit wet!
Lisa normally uses the forward shower. I call it a hollywood shower (Hunt For Red October reference). The heads both have a shower. It is just a spray nozzle on a hose from the sink. A home shower has a nice drain in the bottom. If a boat shower had a drain out to the ocean, the boat would sink. Water would flow back in the drain, fast! Instead, there is a pump to pump water out of the shower basin overboard. Just push a button.
The real fun of a boat shower is getting to see what you have just washed off your body. It is right there in the white, bottom of the head. Now we believe we are clean people and we don't use brown shampoo. One look at the shower drain says otherwise. Even days at sea when we aren't near any land, the shower water is disgusting. No wonder we shower before bed! Dirt dwellers never get to look at the results of their ablutions. Good thing.
There is another kind of waste that needs mentioning. We have two toilets or heads. Just where does it go? You have two choices, you can save it or dump it. Uproar does have a holding tank for each head. But there are no facilities outside the US where you can have the tanks pumped out. Every marina and fuel dock in the US has a pump-out but there are none in the Bahamas, Caribbean or South Pacific. It all goes into the ocean!
Do we feel bad about this? Well, just a little. We look at the density of cruisers in most places we anchor and the impact is less than can be measured. Especially with Remoras under the boat. Yes, we have a school of 12 poop-eating fish right under the boat in Fakarava. Just how do I know they eat what we pump overboard? We used to have our dog, Sophie, on board (and we miss her). Clean up would be to fling her poop overboard. The Remoras would fight over it. They also eat any food scraps we throw over.
I was snorkeling with Jim in Huahine while Lisa was back in the US. We were in a beautiful spot full of reefs and fish. Let's just say breakfast wasn't agreeing with me. Things became urgent. I swam away from Jim and ....solved the problem. The fish went nuts! We sometimes feed fish Ramen noodles or bread. I discovered something they like better! Speaking of TMI, I never told Jim.
When we get to New Zealand, they have a regulation that a yacht have a sewage disposal system. We have heard it is not enforced. But if it is, I hope those Remoras can swim fast enough to stay with Uproar on our passage there.
There is a lot more to say about boat plumbing. Stand by for TMI part 2.
Our Fifth Christmas at Sea
03 January 2020
Counting this as our fifth Christmas on Uproar puts time in perspective. It has flown by like the miles at sea.
First Christmas was at Elbow Cay, Bahamas. Uproar's draft did not allow us to anchor in Hope Town so we anchored on the south side of the Cay. There was an abandoned resort on shore inhabited by Haitian squatters. We assembled books and toys to bring to their children. They were characteristically shy but appreciative of the gifts. We then dinghied with Nancy Hancock from Moon Dancer into Hope Town. We went from boat to boat offering shots of Lisa's home-made lemoncello. A great way to make new friends. This was followed by lunch at a nice resort and a game of Kubbe on the beach with fellow cruisers.
Second Christmas was anchored in Saint Anne, Martinique. We were invited aboard Emily Morgan as the only Americans joining their British Christmas Eve celebration. Christmas Day was organized by John from Out of Africa, a South African brai (bbq) on the beach. About 50 cruisers attended bringing meat to grill and a dish to pass. Being our first Christmas in the Caribbean, we were introduced to a lot of new friends whose company we would enjoy for another year cruising there.
Third Christmas was in Santa Marta, Colombia. We were tucked into the modern, municipal marina, enduring 30+ knot winds daily. We organized a White Elephant Christmas gift exchange along with the ubiquitous covered dish dinner. This was mostly a new set of cruising friends with only a few we knew from the Caribbean. We braved the strong winds and made a joyous celebration in this new land for Uproar.
Fourth Christmas was in Raiavai, Australs, French Polynesia. The Australs are the southern-most archipelago in French Polynesia. We were nearly on the Tropic of Capricorn. Raiavai is very remote with only a few hundred people populating this beautiful island. Before Christmas, during a visit to the main village, we were pulled into a municipal tent where school children were performing song and dance routines. We were seated at a table and brought a large plate of chicken, beef, fish and vegetables for lunch. It was heart-warming to be with children for Christmas. Christmas day we rode our bikes around the island giving model airplanes and little toys to all the kids we saw. Then we had a quiet Christmas dinner on Off2Sea with Vaughn and Leslie. We were the only two cruising boats in the island lagoon and so appreciated being able to spend a special Christmas together.
This Christmas was in Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia. We entered the lagoon several days before with Caroline Tyson, visiting us from Milwaukee. The main anchorage contained numerous friends. Emails ahead of time suggested Fakarava as where we should meet for Christmas. Most boats nervously headed for an anchorage near the north pass as stormy weather raging out of the north was predicted. In spite of constant rain, we enjoyed a hearty Christmas Eve on Ocean Blue with Derek and Leslie and other cruisers. Christmas Day was on La Mitsu with Laurie and Sue and cruising friends. The White Elephant gift exchange yielded imaginative and hotly fought over gifts and a lot of fun. Great food and drink made for a joyous afternoon and evening.
The nomadic life of a cruiser has the sad consequence of missing out on special holidays with family at home. Phone calls help but fellow cruisers gather together as close friends and surrogate family for Christmas. We so appreciate this fellowship to help fill the void of not being home. When we returned to Uproar after Christmas on La Mitsu, we realized we were the only Americans at the party. But Christmas celebrations are alike wherever one sailed from.
03 January 2020
“beautiful bones, not the clown!”
That's how Beaux Os (pronounced Bozo) corrected spelling of his name when we wrote down his phone number.
Lisa and I arrived in Rangiroa the day before. Word was that dinghy gas and diesel were available in the other village, Avatoru, 5 miles away. We were pretty sure we had enough dinghy gas to get there and back to Otetou. We also loaded up some five gallon jugs for diesel. We arrived in the Avatoru and were told the service station was back a kilometer or so. Dinghying along the beach, we saw nothing but a skinny, old man fishing. He spoke English and told me the gas station was not far from his beach but north again. He offered me to take his old, pink bike to see if they were open. I pedaled away while Lisa struck up a conversation with Beaux Os.
The gas station was closed but would re-open the next day. Lisa was shown Beaux Os's artwork of coconut fiber weavings, incorporating black pearls. We promised to visit him another day when our friend, Caroline arrived. We would bring some of our pearls for him to make into bracelets.
Beaux Os and his son Hopi lived in palm frond huts on the beach. They are not tall enough to stand up in but have just enough room to lie down. Beaux Os insisted we call him in advance to visiting with Caroline. We rented a car a few days later and arranged to meet Beaux Os at his beach just after lunch. We pulled in near his hut and were whistled into a beautiful beach house next door. Beaux Os told us the owner was away and often asked him and Hopi to look after the place. It was full of Polynesian art as the owner was a professor of history. Beaux Os laughed and said it was a bit of an upgrade from their huts.
I was reminded of the Buffet song, “Gypsies in the Palace.” We sat on the porch and he showed us some of his work. Beaux Os delighted in weaving a ring with a big pearl into Caroline's hair. Sold! He looked at the pearls we brought with approval. He recognized the beautiful colors from Gambiers where we haunted the pearl farms last season.
His son, Hopi wove coconut fiber rope for use in native drums. They showed us how they select specific coconuts from only three trees on the motu, soak them in sea water and pound them into individual fibers. The fibers are cleaned and woven. Hopi made a meter of rope for me and showed me how to continue weaving in more fibers. I treasure this piece of local art and the lesson.
Beaux Os explained that Hopi was named after the Southwest American Indians who he believed make up part of his lineage. That brought up questions about his family. Beaux Os has 16 daughters and one son. He also adopted more sons, most often troubled boys out of detention. He told his kids to move far away from French Polynesia. Why? So he would have places to stay when he traveled. Beaux Os was well traveled.
We left three sets of pearls for bracelets and Beaux Os promised to have them ready by 4:00 the following afternoon. The next day it was raining steadily. With no rental car, I volunteered to dinghy the 5 miles to pick up our jewelry. Beaux Os and Hopi were still in the professor's house. The bracelets were stunning. He picked them up and said, “This one is for Caroline. And this one is for Lisa.” He clearly was taken by the ladies and did his best work.
We chatted on the dry porch for a bit. Beaux Os said he was so pleased that we took the time to visit him and get to know him. I said, “That's why we travel the world, to meet people like you.” There may have been a few tears shed as we hugged goodbye.
Why Beaux Os for a name? He explained he is just skin and bones but beautiful bones!
Tikehau, back to the Tuamotus
06 December 2019
Our beat to weather brought us to Tikehau. Ah, to be back in the Tuamotus. The only thing in common with Tahiti are smiling Polynesians. With wind from the SE, we found a quiet anchorage in the SE end of the atoll. But first we had to enter the pass into the lagoon.
Much has been written and discussed about the Tuamotu passes. The Tuamotu atolls are rings of coral surrounding a lagoon. Motus are islands that have built up on the coral rim. Older atolls have extensive motus that may be 15 miles long. Other areas have just dots of small motus and coral reefs awash with waves.There are usually only one or two passes in the atoll where boats and rushing tides can enter and exit.
Even though tides are only about a foot, there is a lot of water forced through the passes when the tide changes. Wind and ocean swell bring additional water into the lagoon over the coral reefs. That water too has to exit the narrow passes. There is even a Tuamotu Pass Calculator in circulation that a scientific minded cruiser compiled to predict the safe times to enter and exit the passes.
Current in the passes can be in excess of 6 knots. That's fast for cruising boats with a top motoring speed of less than 8 knots (some far less). One look at the standing waves when this current is against the wind will turn even a seasoned sailor pale! It can look like the devil's own tempestuous sea!
We have studied the Calculator and come up with our own, easy formula. We negotiate passes an hour after high tide or an hour before low tide. If we don't hit these times, we judge for ourselves if the pass is safe. So far, we have just forged ahead. There have been some exciting rides but nothing dangerous. But we don't underestimate the sea and know we must always use sound judgment.
The Tikehau atoll is about 12 miles long and 8 miles wide. As with all atolls, coral heads can be anywhere. We always watch carefully when sailing or motoring in an atoll. Depth can change from 150 feet to 2 feet in a boatlength!
Weather forecast indicated a trough of low pressure was coming. We were just getting comfortable in the SE corner of Tikehau but with a passing trough, wind would swing west then north. There was a small anchorage just north of the pass that would be good protection in these conditions. Uproar made the trip back to the pass, just to be safe. We were able to follow our breadcrumbs (previous track line on chart plotter) without watching for coral heads. Yes the wind did swing around but was light. We would have been fine in our initial anchorage. But near the pass was a small motu we explored. Two men were living there with three nice dogs. They harvested copra (dried coconut meat for coconut oil) and lived on fish. These guys were most welcoming. It is hard for us to imagine their lives in such primitive conditions. Their house was the size of a garden shed and not as nicely built.
Back to the main village, we found settled weather and a quiet anchorage. The village is cute. There are some high-end resorts nearby and the village provides infrastructure and employees. We were able to visit some snack restaurants for typical Polynesian dishes (steak, chicken or fish and fries, or chow mein). Ocean Blue was also anchored nearby. We met Derek and Leslie in Tahiti. We enjoyed a few cocktail hours and dinners with them.
Tikehau has a Manta Ray cleaning station! This is a coral head where Manta Rays visit to have small wrasses swim in their mouths and eat parasites. We dinghied there with Ocean Blue on a gray day but were rewarded by the sight of a huge Manta getting dental work done. He was about 8 feet across. We watched him slowly circle for about 20 minutes. These majestic creatures are some of our favorite friends in the ocean.
Sailing north in the atoll, we anchored near the Garden of Eden. We were told it was an amazing organic farm. It was much more! Elijah Hong, prophet of the New Testament Church of Taiwan, visited in 1993 and had a vision of the original Garden of Eden. He established a commune there inhabited by his followers. They readily show visitors their farm and sell produce to cruisers. As far as we could determine, their mission is simply to teach people to eat clean food and stay away from GMO or chemical laden foods. Our guide had lived there for 20 years. He is married and has two small children they home school. There are only 3 or 4 families living there. The church has similar farms in California, Taiwan and South Africa.
He explained that with coconut palms, you can grow almost anything. Their ingenious methods are an example of determination and hard work. They shred coconut fronds and mix with chicken manure. This compost is the only soil available on the motu. From it they grow lettuce, cabbage, beans, vanilla, bananas, papaya, eggplant, citrus, etc. There were even cherry and mulburry trees! They have to dig ditches around the coconut groves to keep their roots from invading the vegetable gardens. Pigs and chickens are special breeds that are naturally healthy, not bred for rapid growth. They even have a sea salt house for essential minerals.
Our host filled our bags with veggies including hot peppers he claimed were too hot to eat. That's a challenge to the Uproar crew. We made some hot sauce from them named Black Devil sauce!
They do have a gift shop where they sold their own pearls, salt and coconut oil. We bought some but the veggies were free. We sure enjoyed the visit and learned that with determination, farming on the rocky motu is not only possible but can be prolific.
From the Garden of Eden to the pass was uncharted water. We rely on our GPS chartplotter for safe navigation. This part of the atoll was simply a blue patch on the chart. Even though the afternoon was gray, we carefully motored 6 miles to the pass anchorage for our departure. We are learning to be self-reliant as are the farmers at the Garden of Eden.
Beating to weather and beaten up
25 November 2019
We have started our journey back into the Tuamotus from the Leeward Islands (Bora Bora, Huahine, Raitea, Tahaa). Many cruisers migrate east during typhoon season where it is considered to be safer from tropical storms.
Leeward means downwind. Traveling east is decidedly upwind. Uproar is a good boat for sailing upwind with her racing design. She even seems to enjoy beating (term for sailing upwind). But for her passengers it is a different story. Beating is an appropriate term. Waves and wind are against us and we have to claw through, often with waves washing over the deck.
Since we have left the Leewards we have had three upwind beats of over 100 miles. From Huahine to Moorea, our forestay pulled out of the deck. As previously blogged, we were extremely lucky to not have lost the mast. I flew to LA to bring back the necessary parts and spent about $7,000 on the repairs. We enjoyed a month in Tahiti making repairs but our confidence was surely shaken!
This made leaving our protected anchorage in Tahiti difficult but several weeks ago, we departed for Maketea, the nearest Tuamotu. Yes, it was another beat. The seas were confused which made for yet another uncomfortable ride. We left in the afternoon, beat through the night and arrived in the morning. When we arrived, the anchorage was so rolly, we didn't even launch the dinghy to go ashore.
“Let's try to sleep and leave at 3am for Tikehau.” said Lisa. We were beat from the beat so actually slept on the constantly rocking Uproar. Fortunately, the 80 miles to Tikehau were not too bad, more of a close reach than a beat. But the anchorage that first night was again rolly. We moved around Tikehau and found some quite spots to anchor and loved the place. We were there almost two weeks.
Two days ago, we anchored near the Tikehau pass preparing to exit the next day. It was so windy (and rolly) that we couldn't even lift our dinghy on deck. The next morning, still windy, we decided to wait another day. Neither of us slept well the night before. That day, the wind laid down, we stowed the Houdinky on deck, grilled steaks and had a good night sleep. Weather looked good for departure the following day.
Yesterday we motored through the pass and had to continue motoring north before we could round the tip of Tikehau and head ENE to Ahe, 130 miles distant. Weather forecast said it would be a close reach, not a beat! But we would have to motor directly into the wind for 10 miles or so to round the north end of the atoll. As they say, the wind blew and the sea flew! We finally could raise sail but it was a beat, once again.
I yelled, “I've had enough of this!” Lisa was disgusted and uncomfortable too. An hour later, the wind settled down. We were finally sailing in some decent conditions. After a big squall, wind and seas settled down again. Our last 110 miles were a beat, but in smooth, rolling seas and only 10 knots of wind. This was perfect for Uproar and us. She showed us just what a great sailboat she is by averaging over 6 knots with reefed main straight at Ahe.
We entered the Ahe pass to a very tranquil lagoon and proceeded to a quiet anchorage. Looking at our tentative plans, this should be the last of beating upwind we will do for the season. After reaching up and down the western Tuamotus, we will sail downwind to Tahiti, Moorea and the Leeward Islands for our last cruising in French Polynesia.
For now we are done beating and being beaten up. But we know well, we will visit those conditions again in our travels. It's just part of the cruising lifestyle.
PS. The picture is Uproar beating to weather in the Tahiti Pearl Regatta in ideal conditions, quite the opposite of what we experienced.