12 June 2018 | Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Yep, we depart for the hard upwind slog back to French Polynesia, Bora Bora, in particular. Conni says that we'll have some lumpy weather with 20 knots on the bow for a few days: not our favorite. It means that we'll be tacking a lot and losing ground toward our target, but it's not to be helped.
Conni, as captain, will do the honors of paying dues and signing forms, and I'll stay behind and prepare the boat for the journey. We've loaded provisions and fuel, and I've got only 5 more gallons to haul to the boat. Sheesh! We'll jockey around to another quay for filling our water tanks, too, before leaving. We hope to have everything completed by early tomorrow afternoon.
We fetched Julia, so we're ready for the crossing by crew, too.
Yesterday, as we were walking along in Avarua near the government offices, a nicely dressed gentleman began to walk beside us and we greeted him, "Kia Orana", and he began a nice conversation, asking, as people will do, where we're from and such. As we told him that we planned on an around-the-island bus trip today, he offered to take us himself. We agreed. He provided his business card, and it was none other than the New Zealand High Commissioner to Cook Islands, Peter Marshall! Wow! Astounding. We did show up and he did take us on a round-island tour and answered questions that we would not have had answered.
I did post a page on the site with photos of His Excellency, and some other sights.
Wish us luck.
10 June 2018 | Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Yesterday, Saturday, was market day at the local and wonderful Punanga Nui Market, a 3-minute walk away. The market is very large and items as diverse as mango-wood ukuleles and fresh fruit smoothies are for sale, along with locally made clothing, and foods, and lots of black pearls.
The aft berth (the "after berth", as we call it) is our garage and when just Conni and I are aboard, all sorts of items are stowed there: blue boxes of engine lubrications and water maker parts, extra lines: all manner of things. When we have crew or guests, that stuff must be stowed elsewhere, sometimes a challenging task. We've been stripping the boat of rarely-used items for several years, so we were able to find homes for the stuff pretty easily, but she still has the 4-person life raft as a bed mate. We had fabricated a small holder for the raft, but a 70-pound, 3-foot-long cylinder, could still provide an unwelcomed awakening if it moved freely.
With that necessary task complete, we headed to the market, our first stop being the booth where the best smoothie that either of us has ever consumed is made. The big Maori guy lops the top off of coconuts with a large cutlass right, holing the coconut in his bare hand, sloshes the milk into two blenders, and adds banana and such for one blender, and passion fruit for the other blender and homogenizes away. When done, the slush from each blender is poured in layers into a big cup, a star fruit with straw punched through it goes in the top, and it's in your clutching hands. Man! Banana plus on bottom, passion fruit plus on top, it's a rich and refreshing drink to sample as one walks around the market. And judging from the number of other market-goes who are holding similar cups, we're not alone in that enjoyment.
The small stage has local children in age and gender groups displaying their growing mastery of local dances. Some of the younger girls are obviously so stage-shy that little hip gyration is visible and they seem more apt to burst into tears, than shimmies, but some are taking to the opportunity enthusiasticly, and are impressive. The young boys then go on stage, with the same (of course) range of comfort. Still, the master of ceremonies tells the assembled crowd that the kids do get to travel to many countries and that if they (the audience) don't pony up the donations, there will be no Macdonald's burgers for the kids. The general laughter is telling about the burger's ubiquity. Is giving money right or wrong?
We do buy some fruit and bread for the boat, then rush back to close hatches for a sudden squall. After the squall subsides, we return, but at noon the market simply disappears, the vendors pack and depart, and we wander an empty parking lot. Sheesh!
On to fetch our crew mate. We arrive early, even after an interesting conversation with a local marine purveyor, Keith. Keith owns a second-hand yard, full of old boats and boat parts. He buys cheaply and sells less so. Usually, people who decide that cruising is not for them, for one reason or another, determine this further east, and French Polynesia and Papeete, the capital, is full of abandoned boats that were simply left there by disconsolate or now-divorced owners. It is not uncommon at all. Last year, Keith bought a 50-footer, fully outfitted for cruising, for US$3000! The owner arrived, his now-ex-wife departed, and the owner dawdled right up to his Cook Island Immigration-forced departure from the country. Keith had offered $50,000 a few weeks earlier, but the owner had declined. When the owner suddenly agreed to the price, being broke and days away from forced departure, Keith had dropped the amount to, basically, airfare and a few night's hotel stay. Ouch! He who hesitates is lost. It's not a pleasant story for the ex-owner, but a wonderful parable about cruising. As Hendrix said, "Castles made of sand slip into the sea, eventually."
Since we were still a bit early, we took the opportunity to stop for a drink at a hotel bar just across the street from the airport. We figured that, as close as we were, we'd hear the plane land, as indeed we did. After a short wait, we saw Julia with her enormous and heavy duffle exit the Arrival gate. To be able to manage this kind of meeting, all from locations remote from each other, is fairly amazing, although boats and crews join and split all the time.
After arrival back at Wings, and waiting out a rain squall or two, we walked down to Trader Jack's restaurant and bar and enjoyed the late afternoon with a pitcher of beer and lots of talk. A slow walk back to the boat, the short dinghy ride to the boat from the quay, and we settled for the evening.
So, it's tasks this morning in preparation for our departure on Tuesday or Wednesday. Tomorrow, we plan on taking the around-the-island bus.
08 June 2018 | Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
After some consultation with a very helpful and knowledgable moderator on the Raymarine Forum, we know have a working autopilot. It won't take commands from our chart plotter, but it will accurately steer the boat, and that beats the heck out of hand steering! We're working the bugs from several other Raymarine systems and I think that we'll be in much better shape when we depart. Thanks to moderator Derek!
Today has been spent in working on the electronics, but last night, we were invited to the next-door vessel, S/V La Quinta, owned by two Aussies, Terry and Jan. They're delightful people with similar politics and values. It was very refreshing. Until a rain squall preempted our conversations and we were forced to scurry to the boat to close hatches, we enjoyed a lovely evening. We hope to host them before we both depart, they toward home and us to return to Polynesia.
Rarotonga is a gorgeous island with a delightful mix of Polynesian and New Zealand culture. There seems to be a workable and collegial relationship among the various ethnic groups, not something that is universally common in island cultures. Public signs are often in the Maori/Polynesian language, and everyone greets others with the local, "Kia Orana!", or "hello". The people are very kind to one another in their day-to-day interactions, a noticeable attribute of this combined culture.
The island is volcanic, of course, with the old caldera plainly visible. The steep caldera sides are now covered in heavy and lush vegetation. There are cliffs rising from the caldera sides that are vertical and on which no plants can exist, so it's quite a sight. The fact that the surrounding coral reef is so close to the land indicates that the volcano is relatively recent and has not yet begun to subside and erode, increasing the gap between it and the reef. The Tuamotus, in French Polynesia, are very old and the inner volcano is completely gone, leaving only the surrounding reef: an atoll. The brilliant Charles Darwin first explained the process and his treatise is worth the read. Hey, it's out of copyright!
Being a full three degrees further south than French Polynesia, it's noticeably cooler (by no means is it COOL!), and much less humid. Today has been very hot with no breeze, but usually the breeze puts a lid on the sweltering heat. We do like Raro and its citizens, their friendliness and welcoming nature. Truly, if there were a harbor here, we might leave the boat here, but there just isn't. As I've mentioned, the fact that I can speak my own language is also nice.
There is an interesting governmental situation going on here, about protective tariffs. We learned of it when we dropped by a small grocery to buy some local eggs. None to be had. There was a sign on the cooler, though, that read, "No Local Eggs. Ask Your Government!" The salesperson, when asked, said that local eggs were priced from competition because of imported eggs, and that that kind of problem existed in many areas of the economy. Hmmm...
Later, we went to the larger CITC store (Cook Islands Trading Company), a store that imports heavily from New Zealand (a shelf full of Vegemite, for example) and an indicator of how the local politicians might work. Imposing import tariffs on imported items to protect the local producers would hurt companies like CITC that import so much produce and perishables, and they can afford to support the politicians. It's the same as anywhere, of course: money talks. There seems to be a move afoot to dump these politicians and replace them with the "Cook Island Party" folks, that say that they'll impose tariffs on certain imported foods in order to protect locals. That process is probably not the better one, in my opinion, but they'll do what's expedient. It's interesting to see these issues acted out somewhere else.
A group of harbor workers moved a set of sea steps to the dock. Nice thought and typical of their generous nature. The steps were not designed for the configuration of the sea wall and the treads slope downward at 25° or so. They're difficult to climb, but they sincerely wanted to offer some more resources. Thanks, folks.
Julia, our crew mate for the return to French Polynesia, arrives tomorrow afternoon. Conni and I are excited to see her and she seems excited to join us. She's an experienced sailor and DIYer sailboat worker, but she's never been on a blue water crossing. We expect the crossing to take a week, since it's upwind, but hope for better conditions for her first trip.
It's 2000 and we were out in the cockpit looking at weather information, when a group of 8 local kids, early teens, arrived on their little motor scooters. About 6 were female, 2 male, and they played for an hour or more by jumping off the sea wall, screaming and laughing. That's how they have fun: they play in the water. At some point, they hopped back on the scooters, soaking wet with seawater, and jetted somewhere else. No fear of the ocean at night, no fear of being in deep water, no fear of being wet or "catching cold", just kids being kids. There's a lot to be said for a childhood spent like this.
07 June 2018 | Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
We departed Uturoa as scheduled at 0800 on 1 June, motored through the Raiatea lagoon to our planned exit on the NW side of the island and then continued to motor for the next 24 hours.
By our days of weather research, we expected a 1/2 day's motoring and then sailing, then some slow days of sailing for the next few days, and then a faster (but manageable) ride into Rarotonga. Weather prediction is not accurate.
On my first watch of the second day, I had to dodge some huge storm cells, squalls, in the distance, but finally we could dodge no longer. We had a single reefed main and jib, usually sufficient, but we both wished for double reef of everything by a few hours later.
The seas were terribly confused: that is, coming from all directions. The ride becomes jerky, viscously violent, and completely unpredictable. When Conni came on deck, she was violently seasick, and remained so for the next 24 hours. She was so sick that I was essentially on my own and could not drop the main sail to provide some relief from the increased boat speed that added to the violence of the ride in those seas. We weren't in danger, but we were in a "pickle" as I called it. All we could do is ride out the storm and do our best. The seas were so violent and the wind so high (constant at 25 knots, much higher gusts) that we didn't trust any of our steering systems, so I was at the wheel for most of the time. It's wearing, but it also meant that I could only watch Conni suffer in the conditions and could do nothing to help. I hate that.
Not surprisedly, when the ride moderated in 24 hours, so did Conni's sickness, and we immediately dropped the main to a double reef and shortened the jib to the same. With the boat in less horrid conditions, the Hydrovane was able to steer quite well and we both took a breather. We'd eaten and drunk little and both were exhausted, bruised and thinking poorly. It's that last that's my greatest fear in dangerous conditions. We had read and discussed a recently-released NTSB report on the sinking of a large cargo vessel in a Caribbean hurricane, in which the captain made a series of lethal decisions based on poor information. I kept wondering whether either of us had started the failure cascade of bad decisions: very concerning, but being aware is important.
I'm the only one of us who an drop the main, by the way, since Conni simply can't reach most of the moving parts and I have the strength to move the main up and down. I'm always wearing my lifejacket and tether, anyway, as per our offshore rules, so I'm prepared at all times. I connect my tether to the jack lines, crawl or creep forward to the mast, and clip in-clip out of attachment points until I can reach the reefing lines and halyard on the mast. All of this is done with the deck bucking and seas/rain drenching me. It's not my favorite thing to do in poor conditions. Ideally, we try to preempt that problem and get things prepared prior to the arrival of poor conditions, but missed this one since it came up so quickly. Squalls usually last, at most, an hour, but this was an entire system that hit us and lasted a long time and built the bad seas over such a large area. Conni stays in the cockpit at the wheel, and must sprint from the wheel to the halyard winch to hoist or lower the main halyard. One of the last things that we did prior to departing Uturoa was to break down and clean those winches, and it certainly paid dividends this time. And let's not forget the screaming commands as we attempt to communicate. Conni has a will of steel since she still had some aftereffects of the seasickness as well as boat management and winch work to handle.
The next few days were a mix of motoring and sailing, with the added complication and worrisome failure of our autopilot. We hand-steered for the next few days when motoring (no wind), using only 1.5-hour shifts since it's so demanding to hold course. We tried to use the wind steering Hydrovane, but we were not able to manage it. I tried some various wiring methods to bypass probably wiring issues, but had no success. Until I can find some more information, we've lost that sometimes-important device. More on this later.
We had been making 6.5-7 knots with the storm wind, and both of us anticipated an early arrival in Raro, but conditions relegated us to arriving within 10 miles of the island considerably after dark. We discussed a nighttime arrival in the harbor, but I'd done that in my return from Fiji and opposed it. We decided to simply drift, all navigation lights on, until morning and sail and motor the remaining distance. We took our normal shifts and drifted with the conditions. At 0400 the next morning, I went below to awaken Conni for her shift but we both decided that we were safe and we both had a few hours of sleep. In the end, we had drifted only a 1.5 additional miles, worth the sleep. By the way, Rarotonga is a stunningly gorgeous island to approach in the early morning light. It's high, obviously volcanic, and as rugged as Moorea.
Up early, we arrived in the harbor and, after a few radio exchanges, were greeted by Customs, Immigration, Security, and Biohazard representatives. The boat was fumigated, papers signed and submitted, and we were officially entered in the Cooks.
We both hate Mediterranean Mooring (Med-Mooring, as it's called). We drop the anchor out, back up close to the concrete quay, and attach the boat via a pair of lines from our stern to the quay. We sit in this suspension with other vessels around us. It requires a dinghy to reach land, so that was our first chore: unpack, inflate, hoist from deck, and splash alongside.
We were mistakenly told that we had to pay some fees, so after some minimum boat-tidying, we inflated the dinghy and went ashore. First stop, the harbor master's office to check in there and pay for our shower/restroom key. Luckily, it was in an air conditioned office and we both hoped that it would be a long process. On our traipse to the payment locations, we got money and remembered how much we liked Raro. It's much less humid and hot, being so much further South from the equator than French Polynesia. Hot, yes, but with lower humidity, it's not sweltering. If there were anyplace to store a boat, we'd be here, but there just isn't. The islands here are so far apart, too, that it's probably not a good area for us, but my English, as poor as it is, is still better than my French.
We're both suffering from the odd malady of having balance centers accommodated to the passage so we're just reeling around as if drunk. After fruitless wonderings to pay our fees, we dropped by "World Famous" Trader Jack's bar and grill for a local beer, which did not, it turns out, help with my ataxia.
Stroll to the harbor, dinghy to the boat, grab shower gear, dinghy to shore, and enjoy unlimited hot water in a standup shower. It's one of the more under appreciated joys of civilization. The local burger joint is about 100 m from the boat, so we enjoyed our 30-minute wait and each devoured a huge burger and fries. On our return to Wings, we lasted minutes before sinking into a deep sleep with no watches to disturb us.
The Kiwis on the catamaran next door, Bruce and Dinah, invited us for beer and conversation last evening. They live in New Zealand, of course, and sail to and from there to points East for months at a time: they've got the chops in my book. She's an attorney so she and Conni quickly drifted off on that life, and Bruce and I talked cruising. He related several stories of interest but we ended up discussing the expectations that we have for electronics longevity. Kiwi insurance companies give electronics coverage for no more than 5 years! We decided that 8-10 years is probably the limit, the reasonably-expected life span, especially for cruising boats. Here's the point, and I referenced this earlier: I've been complaining about the longevity and robustness of our electronics and I installed everything prior to 2010, our departure year. They're probably at, or past, their useful life spans. Rather than repair, we need to be considering replacement, and the suite that we have can't be interfaced with the new stuff: it's all or none. I think that we're correct in our new understanding: it was an epiphany. Our gear was made in the infancy of networked marine electronics. Our railing about lack of support is unreasonable, then. The new systems will not communicate with the old, and we should probably be glad: the new physical network components are simpler, smaller, and more robust. The electronics, many of them at least, are greatly more efficient and offer much enhanced capabilities. Radar, for example, has undergone the digital revolution and the units use no more power than a cell phone, power on instantly, and use multiple frequencies that produce much more target detail at all ranges. Digital signal processing also produces greater detail, of course. Other components are also equally improved. For me, since I'll install everything, simpler networking components speak loudly. The cable from the newer radar, now completely digital, requires only an Ethernet-sized cable rather than a thumb-thick cable, difficult to bend and handle.
Before waxing enthusiastic, It's also true that the new stuff is very expensive. Any system that I can make work with the existing stuff is worth considering. Poor Conni married a school teacher, not a neurosurgeon.
Today is rest day. We've got some recon work to do, a mountain of laundry to deliver for washing, and some odd chores, but we're both physically whipped and need the rest. Cook Island money/New Zealand money, is $1.5:$1 to US dollars, so we're ahead here. We need fuel, and I gasped at $NZ8/4 L, but it's a bit more palatable with that ratio. Perhaps we'll enjoy another meal off the boat, too.
Departure Papers in Hand
31 May 2018 | Uturoa
We awakened this morning at 0730, planned a great breakfast of fresh baguette (the patisserie is about 100 m from here), French butter, orange marmalade, and pamplemouse, the local "grapefruity thing". At 0800, a very rude skipper on a 62-ft catamaran from DreamYacht Charters, accosted us and demanded that we leave the dock. Conni was incensed and confronted him, but to no avail. We had to pull lines and tie up at the big wharf with no sea protection and rubbing on large black fenders, deeply staining our hull. Grrr...
We made friends with a pair of guys from SoCal in a big Beneteau when they pulled in front of us on the wharf. We know the place so well that we could direct them to grocery stores and restaurants.
We had chores to complete, regardless of our location. We strung our jack lines, the life protecting strap onto which one attaches a tether when leaving the cockpit. We did some sail work. We bought some groceries.
Conni and I traipsed through town to the local Gendarmerie to submit our paperwork for cleaning from French Polynesia. The officer with whom we spoke gave us grief for our terrible French, but was very helpful, and damn, that air conditioning was great! Unfortunately, he said that he couldn't guarantee our paperwork would be completed tomorrow and perhaps not until Friday. Damn!
To enter the Cook Islands, our destination, we had to submit a full schedule of forms and documentation but at least it was all done on-line. With our delay, I had to re-submit our advance declaration for entry. I do hope that it will be sufficient. If we depart on Thursday sometime, we'll arrive a day before Julia, our crew, arrives in Rarotonga. If we leave on Friday, we'll arrive on the same day. Interesting.
A 46-foot Nordhavn trawler docked near us today, a truly beautiful vessel. It's got at least two of everything: well outfitted. Her name is "Starlet" but we know nothing else about her other than that she's American-flagged.
If things go as planned, and when do they ever, I posted a photo page of a collection of photos since my last page.
We decided to keep the battery that we mistakenly bought just as a backup. If we need it, fine, if not, too bad. It's stored low and near the centerline so shouldn't be in the way.
Update Thursday: We have our departure papers in hand and we depart French Polynesia on Friday morning, early. Wish us luck!
Uturoa Quay Side
29 May 2018 | Uturoa, Raiatea
We're not in the yard, and not on a mooring but 5 nm away from the yard, tied against the concrete quay in downtown Uturoa. Hurray!
The engine performed perfectly, and the new engine-start battery had no problem in starting the engine.
A long story to arrive here...
Nick, the owner's son, was furious when he arrived on Monday morning and we were still in the slip. I explained that our engine start battery was dead, but it helped not at all. Eventually, he was forced to drive to the battery shop (actually a pneumatic supply store named, "Pneumo" and pronounced "Pee Numo") and bought two automotive Group 24 batteries. Of course we requested AGMs, and the store might have had stacks, but Nick was in a snit.
The more interesting thing that I learned, other than that Nick is an asshole, is that my multimeter was faulty. Damn! I've worked with them for 30 years, and never seen of one go bad, and certainly never owned a faulty one. Nevertheless, this one was faulty and provided bad information on which I made some expensive and consequential decisions. After a lot of searching, today I did find a new digital multimeter, a French, China-made one, and it seems to work. It was probably the very last one for sale on Raiatea, and the only one that I've seen.
The engine start battery tested at 8.7VDC on my old meter and wouldn't start the engine. Did it need a charge or replacement? That's quite different, monetarily. I made the decision to replace the batteries, engine start and windlass, based on my meter readings: they were wrong. The windlass battery also measured, by my old meter, about the same 8.7VDC. That's lower than the 10.6VDC that's the limit for a totally dead battery. It's difficult for even a professional company to revive a battery so low. My decision was to buy two new batteries, but to buy Group 25 AGMs like we have. Nick, of course, bought what was convenient. One battery replaced the engine start battery and started the engine a few times, so I can't return it. I'm going to try tomorrow to return the windlass battery and even check the voltage of the old AGM that we left at the Carenage. I'd love to have all of the same battery types.
I fabricated a system to manually combine the engine and windlass banks with the house bank, and after 4 hours, got it installed. It's installed in the "man cave" below the cockpit, so no ventilation and on a hot day. It works but it's not convenient, and it'll get us through the problem. It's a circuit breaker, actually, attached to a double stud arrangement for the two other banks (engine and windlass). It's not the better use for the breaker, but it provides a switch that's protected. It won't get used often and it's all that I had.
We arrived in Uturoa yesterday and sidled up to the fuel dock. We took on 70 gallons of diesel (US$350!), some assorted engine oil and ice, and after asking permission, made fast for the evening. After a bit of a sponge bath, we went out to hunt dinner, and found a roulotte (a family-owned food wagon) that served us $10 "steak frite" or steak and French Fries. Man, what a dinner! We walked our overstuffed bodies back to the boat for the evening.
At 0630 this morning, we were rudely awakened by someone hammering on the hull, saying that we couldn't be there. Well, we asked permission! No matter. We motored to the big concrete quay nearby and will spend the night tonight, and perhaps tomorrow, here. The Gendarmes have already been by to check us.
Tomorrow, Conni will buy some last minute groceries and complete a few chores, and I'll do what I can to return one of the auto batteries that Nick bought for us. The windlass battery, by the way, measures at 12.2VDC, not high, but not a bad battery, either. I'd like to return the new windlass battery and use the old one now that it's tested as usable.
Thursday, we're outta here. The weather is as good as it'll get and we know that as we approach Rarotonga that we'll have 20 knots on our stern. That's livable. Conni will clear us from French Polynesia tomorrow and we'll depart from here, sailing SSW for 537nm. We've got good supplies: food for a few weeks, 140 gallons of water, 85 gallons of diesel fuel, 5 gallons of generator gasoline, the engine works, we both think that we're on track for departure.