Friday, June 29, 2012

Back to Tahiti

We left the lovely island island of Moorea and enjoyed a great sail back to Tahiti. The wind shifted just enough to allow a reach most of the way in fairly flat seas. During the transit we tried our luck at fishing and had two lines over. The hand line was rigged using one of Barbara's favorite lures they call the "Mexican Flag" (the colors of the streamers are the colors of the flag) and we tried one of the LL Bean lures I brought on the pole and reel. Neither had any success. No fish tonight for supper!

We tried to moor at the Tahiti Yacht Club, but they were full, so we worked our way back to the Taina Marina. On the way we had an exciting rescue of a young Tahitian boy whose single outrigger canoe had capsized, breaking off its outrigger and the empty canoe was floating in the channel. We saw him in the water clinging to the broken outrigger about 300 yards away from the canoe and upwind in a freshening 20 knot wind. He was very tired and scared. Barbara was called on deck as she was making supper (chicken pie) and she dug out a floatation device tied a quick line to it as Michael skillfully maneuvered Astarte in a very narrow channel as we tossed the float to the young boy who spoke no English. As we brought him on board he kept pointing to the drifting canoe and was more worried about his canoe. So while Barbara comforted him (her French is much better than Michael or me), Michael turned the boat 180 degrees and we chased after the canoe which was approaching the reef. We managed to capture the canoe and our crazy turns in the channel must have been seen ashore as a dive boat came zipping out to help. The boy was grateful to being returned to shore with his canoe and we continued our journey to the marina because it gets dark here at 17:30 and we need to anchor or find a mooring.

Tomorrow, the day will be spent trying to get gifts for everyone back home (and my family knows how much I hate shopping).

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Taking in the History, Culture and Tour of the Island

Today, Wednesday, we started our day by arranging for and taking a guided tour of the island. The tour bus was a yellow Toyota 4X4 pickup truck with two benches installed in the bed running longitudinally and facing each other. There was a green vinyl canopy covering the seating area with huge 4" extra heavy pipe roll bars (we would soon find out why). We were picked up at the beach off of which we are moored by Ron, a Dutch immigrant who has lived here since 2005. He spoke English very well and looked like a surfer dude from California. He was barefoot the entire time. We were told that besides the three of us (Barbara, Michael and myself – I'm still the guest writer) we would have to pick up one more customer. - she never showed so we had a private tour.

Our first excursion left the main perimeter road and headed up a mountain. The road was barely wide enough for this truck. We passed fields of grapefruit, papaya, and oranges as Ron maneuvered us though one switchback after another. Near the top of this 2,000+cliff called Magic Mountain the trail was only wide enough for the truck with shear (and I mean shear) cliffs down each side. We stopped about 50 ft. from the top where we had to walk a narrow trail with rope handrails on one side. The view at the top was spectacular as we could see about 1/3 of the island's coastline. From were we snorkeled with the Sting Rays to Cook's Bay. Astarte was just a speck moored in Opunohu Bay. Interesting story that our guide told us was that Captain Cook landed in Opunohu Bay not Cook's Bay – the same bay we are in.

The next stop was inside the extinct volcano, where today Pineapples are grown and cover the ground. The spot where we were standing was the scene from the movie about the Bounty starring Mel Gibson where Mel and the tribal Chief exchanged gifts. The two tallest mountains on the island also surrounded the caldera and rise up to 1,300 meters (about 4,000 ft). A mountain to the west has a large hole through it about 50 feet from the top. Legend has it that one god tried to steal the mountain for his island and was stopped when another god shot an arrow through the mountain. Where the arrow supposedly landed with the rock from the hole is considered the holiest ground in Tahiti.

Additional stops included the Agricultural Station where pineapple research and other plant research is conducted. Moorea is known for it's pineapples which are said are the sweetest in the world – but none are exported. Moorea is known as the pineapple island and other islands in this chain are known for black pearls, watermelons and vanilla beans. Each island has a distinct personality. We did stop at the pineapple distillery but the plant has been shut down for three weeks waiting for a part from Australia. Many people have been left unemployed and the pineapples are rotting in the fields.

We stopped at ancient ruins to view what is left. There were 40,000 people on Moorea at one time – they were happy and content and had a great society until the English missionaries came. They brought western diseases and made the locals wear clothes which caused more disease as the clothes got wet and mildewed causing lung problems. Today the population of Moorea is 14,000.

Our final stop was the shrimp farm where pond raised shrimp are raised. The were good looking shrimp but they wanted almost $25 per kilo. - we passed.

Tomorrow we leave Moorea to sail back to Tahiti. My time is short and we want to take a tour around Tahiti.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

In Love with Moorea

Moorea has to be one of the most beautiful islands in the French Polynesian archipelago and it epitomizes what you may picture as paradise.

Yesterday was a quiet day of snorkeling the reef close to where we are anchored after surviving the big squall of the night before. The fish are too numerous and varied to describe but go to the local aquarium shop and look at the salt water fish then multiple that by miles and miles and that describes the reefs around Tahiti and Moorea. Most fish are much bigger here than I remember seeing off of St. John's in the Virgin Islands a few years ago when we went snorkeling there.

Today we took the dinghy for a 45 minute trip to a place where the tourist boats feed the Sting Rays. It was a shallow (5 feet deep) sandy reef where the Rays come right up to you and are looking for food handouts. We brought a can of tuna fish but apparently their taste is much more in the sardine or fresh tuna category than the canned variety. They still swam right up to you (we had put our Steve Irwin inspired Sting Ray repellant prior to going in) and are very docile curious creatures. Their topside skin feels like suede and the underside like velvet. Most of our visitors were 4 to 5 feet wing to wing and 1 or 2 were over 6 ft. Overall their length was almost twice their width and the "stinger" on their tail was always very visible. The most surprising thing to me were the numerous backed tipped reef sharks (4 to 6 ft) that were swimming right up to us and were as curious as the rays around people. I did not feel threatened but maybe I should have! Sharks are such interesting creatures.

In the afternoon a walk along the perimeter road was in order. The vegetation, flowers and tropical plants are everywhere and the people live simply but are very happy. Each small house had solar panels and a solar water heating system on the roof. All the electric cables were buried underground so as not to obstruct the beautiful views all around. Around every turn there are postcard views of towering green peaks and sparkling Pacific waters. Pictures will follow when we get a faster internet connection.

Finally, meals aboard Astarte have been fabulous. Breakfast this morning was banana and walnut pancakes (previous breakfasts have been eggs, pork chops, croissants, and baguettes) Dinner's have included turkey, the best New Zealand lamb chops I've had in a long time, hamburgers with homemade baked beans, and tonight's shrimp, artichokes and pasta.
Bravo Zulu to Barbara for terrific meals.

Tomorrow, we will take a guided tour of Moorea visiting the archeological sites, the agricultural station, pineapple plantation and most important, the distillery.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The French Polynesian Games

Sunday saw us involved in a full day of festivities ashore and a great traditional Tahitian lunch buffet, thanks to sponsors and a small fee. With only 30 boats it was very much a private party and so much fun. We went ashore at 09:00 and were greeted with demonstrations on how to tie a pareu (traditional sarong), how to husk a coconut and crack open the nut and always had music in the background (the Polynesian people just love their music and love to play). The first competitive event was racing 6 person outrigger canoes. Our team consisted of 4 people from the boats and two experienced Polynesian paddlers. Michael, Richard, Chris and Yoshi made up the team known as Mild Stroke. The course was 200 meters and despite our best efforts we finished 3rd in our heat. The winning team was a bunch of big guys with a team called Funky Water.

Barbara was part of an all woman's team (Barbara, Ronnie, Vicky and Ann) who looked good, were very vocal and wore fake Maori tattoos. They finished a respectable 3rd – beaten by the eventual winner. Tough to compete with the "meat".

After a great lunch of traditional Polynesian fare including raw Mahi in coconut milk (Poisson Cru); pork with oyster mushrooms, chicken and spinach, fermented fish (Barbara tried it and Michael and Richard did not) white rice, breadfruit, taro and poe. The drink was a fresh coconut cut open with a notch and a straw inserted for the coconut water.

Afternoon competition included relay racing while carrying two bunches of bananas on a pole set on your shoulder and coconut husking. Young and strong won – the older generation was not competitive. This was followed by traditional Polynesian dancing and singing. Barbara was front and center for the hula demonstration and was chosen to exhibit her skills with the professional dancers. She did really well and has hidden talent.

Last night around 22:30 a strong squall came through with 40 knot gusts and torrential rain. Thanks to a good sandy bottom and a good anchor set by Barbara and Michael, Astarte came through it unscathed. About 10 other boats weren't so lucky, dragged their anchors and crashed into other boats. Today is a snorkeling day with a beautiful reef just off out anchorage. Tomorrow we will take a hike up the cliffs to the high ground.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Not Racing to Moorea

Saturday was the big Rendezvous from Papeete to Moorea. Thirty boats participated in the event over the 20 nautical miles and although it was continually stressed that this was not a race, times were kept and posted at the end. Astarte finished a respectable 20th (and if Michael and Barbara had a more competent crew (me) they would have moved up a couple of spots). It was a great sail in 15 to 20 knot winds and 6 to 10 foot seas. We managed to average 6 knots boat speed for the trip.

This event started on Friday with a cocktail party; blessing of the fleet by the local holy man and dancing (the local variety of hula - Grass skirts and coconuts, male Polynesian - young men in skirts- and fire dancing) accompanied by a great local ukelele and drum band. They were good! The troupe got all the boat captains out to dance as they were taught (unsuccessfully) how to do the local Polynesian dance.

After the event we walked a few 100 feet (50 m) to a plaza with dozens of food trucks serving a wide variety of fare. This gathering occurs every night in the plaza and is THE happening spot in Papeete. Every truck serves steak frittes (fries) and dozens of other entrees. I had ½ duck perfectly cooked with rice and a Coke for $15.00 (cheap eats in Tahiti).

Saturday was rendezvous day and started by leaving the marina at 08:00. getting permission from the Port Authority to transit past the end of the airport runway, and meeting the rest of the fleet just outside the harbor entrance. We had a good start and were in the top 10 to leave the start line. As noted the "house" finished 20th. Moorea is a 50 island with a population of 14,000. It is what one would expect Hawaii and Tahiti to look like in the 1800's. It has a rim road and the mountains are very steep, green with vegetation and beautiful.

Finding anchorage in this tiny harbor of Opuunohu was a challenge but Barbara and Michael are good at it and gave us a good set on the first try. Good thing they did because the wind gusted to 30 knots overnight and little sleep was had. In the morning the winds subsided and the sky cleared. We were greeted at 7:00 am by a boat delivering two fresh baguettes to each boat participating.

Today it's onshore with a Tahitian barbeque and war canoe races. Michael and I are on the Mild Strokes team and Barbara is on a womens' team. More on this event tomorrow.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Another Day in Paradise

Please be patient as this blog entry is being written by Barbara's brother Richard (Soby), who is more used to technical writing and proposal development than the eloquent prose styles you have been used to reading.

First, the luggage arrived and was delivered to the marina – thank you Delta and Air France for that joy. It was like Christmas aboard Astarte when Barbara and Michael received their: engine mounts, prop zincs, flags, TDS tester (by the way the water aboard Astarte is of excellent quality), lures, books and rain gear. First impressions of Tahiti: this is a beautiful tropical island, very mountainous with a ring of flatland along the coast and surrounded by coral reefs. We are moored inside the ring of coral at a marina in Papeete with hundreds of other boats. Astarte's anchorage is at a mooring ball in 16 ft. (5 meters) of water surrounded by coral and rock that pop out at low tide. The way we are moored we are constantly looking at the breaking surf over the reef and amazing to watch 10 ft (3 M)T waves crashing into the reef yet 200 yards inside we are in flat water. The water is so clear we can see the bottom easily and the array of tropical fish surrounding the boat is like being in a tropical aquarium. We just witnessed a large sting ray glide past us. It had a "wing" span of about 4 ft. (3.2 meters).

Wish I knew more French than I do because it is the dominant language, but one can survive with English here. Everything is so expensive in French Polynesia. We went to the Carrefour grocery store yesterday, similar to a mini Walmart where you can get sporting goods, clothing,and food all in one store, and bologna was $9.00 per pound. The store was well stocked with cheese, pates of all kinds, vegetables but no eggs or fresh green beans – things we take for granted in the states.

Barbara cooked a delicious turkey dinner last night with turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and carrots. After an afternoon of snorkeling around the boat it was a big hit and was truly a Thanksgiving meal. Today, we do some island exploring, starting with downtown Papeete and ending up at the boat "rendezvous" (it is not a race) meeting for Saturday's event to Moorea. More on that in the next blog.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ia Ora, Ia Ora Na

That's the Tahitian greeting for "hello/welcome." "Ia ora, Ia ora na" Richard (Soby). He made it to Tahiti after a rocky start and an LA connection that involved having him paged at the airport because it was so tight. That also meant no stop at the "duty free" shop for boat "beverages." But he did arrive bright and early on Wednesday morning. He cabbed to the marina where we would meet him and somehow he missed us and we missed him as he drove through the front gate. So he got dropped off at the docks and we finally connected. The bad news, he had no luggage – it was somehow lost in transit. So no "Christmas" aboard Astarte (yet.) Luckily he did pack some shorts and comfortable shirt in his carry on bag.

We got to the boat by 0630 and enjoyed some breakfast (pain de chocolate (chocolate croissant) and pamplemousse (local giant grapefruit). 22 hours he kept going all day long without a nap! We did a short walk around the area (to pick up our propane tank, some more fresh veggies and cash). Lunch and dinner aboard Astarte (including a local tuna caught by Michael). Astarte rum punches and then an early bedtime for the entire crew (after a last minute luggage check).

Hope the luggage gets here today – because tomorrow (Friday) is sign up day for the Tahiti to Moorea boat rally.

It's great having our guest!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Prepping for Richard

Barbara's brother Richard is making the trek to the southern hemisphere for a Tahitian "adventure." We hope his travels aren't adventurous but it is a long way and his arrival is at 0400 (that would be 4 am!) He is delivering about a half metric ton of stuff for us so will have to do the customs dance upon arrival. Sure glad we paid an agent!

We've been giving Astarte the thorough cleaning – and trying to reorganize space so he can fit aboard. Because we provisioned up so heavily in Panama (the last inexpensive port) we still have bins of tinned food, tissue, TP and stuff around. The cases of beer have somehow managed to go missing – but we still have lots of corn, peas and cooking oil! It's always a challenge to find homes for the stuff that fills the V-berth and forward head! But we'll manage and hopefully he'll have a good time. We're planning to sail to Moorea as part of the Pacific Puddle Jump Tahiti - Moorea Sailing Rendez Vous (for those of you who know Richard (aka Soby), he's a bit competitive so he sees this as a race.) He just hasn't gotten that we don't "race our house!"

We are excited about his visit.

We've also had the chance to see and meet some folks here. We finally met Marcel and Bruce on "Adventure Bound." These folks were on our ad hoc radio net crossing the Pacific (the POST group) and you may remember Bruce as the crazy guy who jumped overboard in the middle of the ocean to spear a mahi! They had us over last night for a great evening and dinner. We've taken the local bus into town twice and we've enjoyed seeing the city. It is a pretty large city with lots of traffic. The buses are very nice. Everything here is quite expensive though. We were so used to really cheap buses in Panama($0.25usd/person). Here they cost 130 CFP (that's the French Polynesian Franc) – so around $1.35usd per person each way. It is still way cheaper than taxis. A 5-10 run from here to the airport is $28/.00usd. The town has a beautiful waterfront park. It has gardens, a memorial for the nuclear testing that the French did in the Tuamotus, and waterfalls and ponds. Its a nice walk. Town is filled with shops – black pearl jewelry stores and high end boutiques. There is a large farmers market that has produce, fresh flowers, fish, bakeries etc. Near the marina where we have grabbed a mooring ball, there are also shops including a big grocery/department store. Laundry got done the other day – except it cost $8.50 per washing machine load – ouch!

Last minute preps today as we await Richard's arrival.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Astarte is in Papeete, Tahiti

After a good two day/two night sail, we arrived to an incredible sight – Tahiti rising out of the sea lit by the rising sun. The island is quite large with hills and peaks surrounded by the sea and a coral reef. The sail here was good, mostly a downwind sail with the head sail (with or without the pole depending on how hard the wind was blowing.) If the wind is strong enough we don't require the whisker pole to keep the sail full. We had really good wind on the last night of passage – a few squalls, a bit of rain -but nothing too dramatic. We made great time and only used the engine to get into and out of the passes and anchorages. Michael picked a good weather window for us to make the transit. And we're here in time to get the boat all tidy, plus, get some local info on taxis, buses, propane, money etc., before Richard arrives on Wednesday. But, that should be easy with so many boats we know already here.

We cleared into the Port of Papeete which was another pass to negotiate. But this is a big port so it is all well marked with channel markers as well as range markers and the tides and current aren't as big an issue. After clearing in with the port authorities, we had to also get clearance to pass the airport runway which runs right next to the channel. Guess the masts could interfere with a low landing! You get permission on both ends of the runway. Once cleared through the airport, we made our way through many boats anchored, moored and at the docks of Marina Taina. We grabbed a mooring ball (actually two different ones – we changed our mind) and Barbara got them on the first grab both times. We normally prefer our own anchor to mooring balls – mostly to save those cruising dollars. Here, the anchorage was very, very crowded and very deep (55 feet of water). So we opted to splurge for the convenience of Richard's visit. That's if we don't get thrown off this particular mooring. They said they were filled on moorings 1-20 which are the short term stays. But we grabbed #23 as it was empty (the guide books suggest doing that). We figured it's harder to throw you off once hooked on then to ask in advance! So we may or may not be here for awhile – but hopefully it will work out.

At daybreak, there was another boat nearby also underway. We found out after sunup, that it was our friends on Namani. So we hope to connect with them later today. We did already see several people we know. This seems to be the place to be with the upcoming regatta. The next few days will be lots of information gathering and errands – propane refills, Polynesian money refills, fresh fruit and vegetable shopping and lots of organizing and cleaning the boat for our guest.

But today, we get the lay of the land (water) and see a few friends and relax after a successful passage. We made it to Tahiti!

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tahiti Bound

The second group of the French Polynesian islands is behind us. We did the Marquesas first, then we went to the Tuamotu Archipelago, and now, our first stop in the Society Group will be Tahiti. We are currently underway having departed from the pass of South Fakarava (over where we went shark diving) on Wednesday morning. We had a difficult time getting the anchor up. Despite our best effort with two sets of floats, the chain had managed to wrap itself around a rock ledge and it was stuck good. Luckily a nearby boat from Spain had a guy who dove down on it to free it for us. Very nice of him to do so as early as it was and with so many sharks circling because of all the rattling noises we were making with our attempts at freeing the anchor. Then we went through the pass which was much shallower than we anticipated – at one point we saw 12 feet. The tide was coming in and for a while we were barely making 2.5 knots against it. But good ol' Astarte made it through and we were clear of the reefs on both sides.

We've been sailing in our typical very lumpy seas. They are running about 6 to 7 feet, but very close together. Less than a few seconds apart. The good news is we have a pretty steady wind to keep the sails full. We should make the 250 mile passage in two overnights arriving sometime Friday.

The fishing line is in and we are going more than five knots, so hopefully we'll snag something to share with Richard when he arrives. But we'll see – we didn't get a nibble on day one.

Next post from Papeete, Tahiti!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In the Water

In most places, when you see sharks you get out of the water. Here in South Fakarava, sharks are the reason to get INTO the water. But it is certainly unnerving to knowingly dive in with the toothy demons of the deep.

The first day here, we went to a spot called the "swimming pool" that is a small beach area with shallow water and lots of fish. Unfortunately, some folks were actually cleaning fish in this area so the sharks were plentiful – and feeding! So we chose not to get into the water here. So we went back towards where we were anchored and went snorkeling around some fabulous coral heads. It was incredible. But the sharks do make you nervous. We saw several black tipped reef sharks right after we got into the water. The colorful and varied shaped tropical fish amongst the corals though were unbelievable. There are many varieties we have never seen before and can't wait to get our "Pacific Fish" book when Richard comes to visit so we can identify them.

After a great snorkel, we decided to take the real plunge and splurge on a dive in the South Pass. This is supposedly one of the best diving spots in the world and we decided we couldn't pass up the chance. So we booked a trip with the local dive operation "Top Dive" and it would be just the two of us. They only dive on the incoming tide through the pass – and unfortunately for our timing, that meant a very early morning dive. That meant not exactly the best light. And we always heard sharks feast at dawn and dusk – though the dive master said that is not true. According to him, :"they eat whenever they feel like it and the opportunity for a meal is there." We hoped we wouldn't be that "opportunity."

At 0700, we went to the dive shop and got ready to head out to the pass. Our dive master, Matthias Fatout spoke great English and instilled confidence. He did a great description of the dive and explained that we would see a variety of types of sharks. He had signals for each type as he'd point them out to us. We would all stay relatively close together as we drifted in the pass. The boat drops you off at one end and meets you at the other end. We descended and immediately saw a few sharks – some actually sleeping on the sandy bottom. The place we were at was called "shark observatory." After a short drift you came upon a hundred sharks – above you , below you and to the side of you. We stayed near the wall of coral and saw gray sharks, long nose sharks, silver tips and black tips. They each had different characteristics – the long nose being the largest. We saw a few pregnant sharks and just lots and lots of swimming, circling sharks. This place was amazing, because as we watched the sharks, we unfortunately missed many of the massive amount of incredible fish along the coral wall. We would stop regularly and just hold on to a piece of rock and watch the sharks. They didn't seem at all interested in us (that was a good thing). As we made our way down the pass, we encountered a huge barracuda that was more interested in us than any of the sharks. And the biggest treat at the end, was what is locally called a Napoleon wrasse. This is a massive fish about 6 feet long, three feet high, iridescent blue like a parrot fish with a toothy grin and eyeballs that rotate out of the side of its head like lizard eyeballs. It came right up to us and was magical. Its weird eyes were going round and round and it was just as calm and unafraid as could be (I guess when you're that big – not much scares you). The dive was over and we lived to tell you about it. It was an experience we'll never forget.

We also took another afternoon snorkel because we just can't get enough of the clear water and amazing fish. The sharks when we were snorkeling though seem more frightening than the hundreds in the pass.

If you are a diver, you should put Fakarava on your wish list. Pretty amazing.

We also had a great local experience last evening. There is a small resort on shore and the owner, Manihi, came out to the two sailboats here and invited us in for pizza. He has a traditional wood oven and makes the pizza himself. Dressed in the tradtional polynesian wrap and bare to the waist. The price was fair for all we could eat pizza and we'd bring our own drinks. The resort is quite incredible with these very traditional bungalows made with local woods, thatch, bamboo. The dining area was right on the water with a shallow area that you could watch fish and of course, sharks, swimming around. We enjoyed a great evening especially when the locals Manihi and his friends, cousins and the other resort guests, took up the guitar and sang some traditional Polynesian tunes. The pizza was unbelievably delicious – and it was "fish pizza" made with locally caught fish – that was really fresh. It was one of those wonderful nights.

We have really enjoyed Fakarava and will be sorry to leave here tomorrow . But the weather is good and we'll hopefully get out the pass and be heading to Tahiti. Richard arrives in less than ten days and we want to be sure we're there when he arrives.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fakarava South Pass

We spent a second day at Hirifa and took another long walk on the windward side of the island in search of floats, tide pools, critters, shells and generally just exploring. It was a great walk and we found a pair of floats and a really good orange one. We passed up on the pair as they had no place to tie a line (they were bound in a net). The massive reef is incredible to see as the waves simply crash over it and you can tide pool just on the inside of it. Back on Astarte, we enjoyed watching the pigs and chickens on the beach scrounge for food.

After two lovely days anchored off the sandy beach of Hirifa, we had an early sail the seven or so miles to the South Pass of Fakarava. The wind was blowing about 15 from the southeast, we put the head sail up and away we went. We had a great sail inside the reef thanks to a well marked channel and only a few shallower spots. Visibility was good so we could see things clearly.

We anchored amongst many, many, many coral heads. There were two other boats here, including Gaku, our Japanese friends. They told us there were many bommies – but we had already heard that and you could see them under the hull. We dropped the anchor with two sets of floats to try to keep the chain off the coral. These were the new floats we did find after the second day of beach-combing and a gift from the folks on Lady Bug who had a lot of extra floats. Michael then snorkeled to see how we were set (we miss "anchor boy"), and as he entered the water, the very first thing he saw – a five foot black tipped reef shark. The shark was just cruising by. The anchor was just lying on the bottom (though we backed hard on it) and was very near a coral – but there was no other place that wouldn't be "very near a coral" - and the floats were doing what they were supposed to be doing. We'll see as we try to pull it up how tangled we are.

We did a few boat projects – had to wash the mattress cover that we were airing out that somehow took flight overboard in a heavy wind. Michael also put netting in one of the storage spaces that was a pain when you opened the door at sea in any roll or heel. Barbara cleaned out the "munchies/cracker/storage" area under the stairs and we just generally did some organizing and tidying preparing for our upcoming guest.

It was pretty windy and squally most of the day after we anchored, so we decided we'd get in the water the next day.

This morning, it was still pretty squally – but is clearing. The water is very clear and its like being anchored in an aquarium. Two or three sharks have been cruising around the boat (they seem to like sliding under the dinghy. There are colorful large fish, an eagle ray and many smaller fish around the boat. A beautiful water to water rainbow was just off the stern of the boat as well this morning. Lovely.

Some snorkeling this afternoon – amongst the toothy critters.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Fakarava Adventure

We spent a few days in the village of Rotaova in north Fakarava. We were able to get internet here ($4 pr hour) so we could order lots of stuff for Barbara's brother, Richard to bring when he comes to visit us in Tahiti. We think it's only gonna be a half metric ton! Internet also meant we could get some pictures on – so check them out(MIchael screwed up the first attempt but our fast responding friend Junab alerted us and it's fixed).

Between internet spending - we did enjoy a good walkabout to see some of the island. Many of the homes have lovely gardens which is amazing in this dry area where the only water available is rain water. We had a "cook's night off" - and as we mentioned everything in French Polynesia is very expensive – so we had $11 hamburgers (each) with fries from a local "van." That seems to be a common restaurant style here – a van parked with a grill nearby and a nice area with tables and chairs. We had gone by the ice cream store at least three times with no joy (closed!) but on the last day here we did have some real dipped ice cream.

The harbor at Rotaova was getting packed – a group of five cataramans from a charter company came in (one anchoring quite on top of us). Plus a very lovely, and very large, sailboat named "Genevieve" anchored. It seemed they were all awaiting "guests" that were probably scheduled to fly into the small airport. The last night there we had a pretty good size squall roar through and we ended up facing west giving us a large fetch (which created waves) to deal with for several hours. It was a bouncy anchorage for a bit.

We took off to make our way towards the south pass of Fakarava. This is supposed to be some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. Everyone seems to talk about it. We've gotten notes from many friends who have already made this passage and they all have terrific memories of the South Pass at Fakarava. But we decided we'd stop at a few other spots along the way as this would probably be our last atoll before heading to Tahiti.

There is a well marked channel from the north to the south – so it is easy sailing – though we had no wind so had to motor. We were disappointed as we looked forward to sailing through the atoll lagoon. We anchored at Tukaega about midway between the north and south pass. We dropped the hook in 20 feet of water with a sandy bottom but with lots of bommies (coral heads) scattered about. The water was crystal clear though so we could see the anchor on the bottom. We tied several floats (a fender and a found float) to the chain at the 50 feet and 75 feet intervals to keep the chain above the corals. This is a common practice here to help save the corals and keep your chain from tangling. We enjoyed a lovely snorkel to a nearby reef loaded with colorful tropical fish – many new Pacific varieties for us. Plus the cool and colorful giant clams embedded into the coral. We had the place to ourselves so it was fun to really explore the reefs.
Later that afternoon though, the clouds rolled in – big time The skies darkened and we watched as a New Zealand catamaran anchored just before the big squalls hit. The winds were from the south and a steady 20k plus for a few hours. Another boat came in during this weather just before sunset, and then the catamaran decided to move closer to us and the shoreline. We thought he'd be on top of us but ultimately was okay. The night was a sleepless one as the winds stayed up all night and we had little protection from southerlies. We needed the wind direction to swing just a tad east of south to be out of the swell. Luckily our little reef was now in front of us and helping us a bit – but it was still very wavy at anchor. It was a pitch rather than a roll – so a bit more comfortable, but nerve wracking. Luckily we had checked the anchor so we knew it was well dug into the sand. We just didn't know what corals might now be around us in the new direction. During the evening squall we saw one of our floats drift away (this was the large one we found on the beach in Raroia). Unfortunately it also had a nice piece of line on it as well. Bummer – that meant the chain was now not staying floating above the corals. Plus it was a good float and good line!

The next morning, we decided to leave. The winds were supposed to stay both strong and southerly - and this was not the place to be. So we crashed into the seas and went to Hirifa – another 10 miles south. The sun was out so we could see the shallows and reefs along the way. Our friends from Chapter Two were anchored here and told us it was flat calm and lovely. The catamaran also left and we saw another boat also heading south – so we hoped it wouldn't get packed. But it's a nice long beach so we hoped there would be room.

We arrived in Hirifa around 1100 and found a great spot to drop the hook. Twenty feet of sand and just a few bommies. The anchorage was flat, beautiful turquoise water, white sandy beach with palms, a reef with crashing waves in the distance. Lovely. There are now seven boats here and each has plenty of space.

We took a long walk along the beach – in search of new floats for our anchor chain. The beaches seem to have a regular supply of them – but here there are some houses, so you can't take stuff from the front of people's homes. We trekked way out on the windward side along a very rocky shore. Its good ankle exercise as you hike along the broken coral and rocks. Michael quickly found one float.

We then made our way back and walked the beach in front of the anchorage. We saw an incredible eel swimming in the shallows along the beach. He was probably in inches of water. The designs on this three-foot eel were incredible as it gracefully swam the beach shallows. We scored another float and came back. The Chapter Two's came over for sundowners and a lovely evening of info. They have been our "advance team" much of the way – being ahead of us by a few weeks. They spent about a week at the south pass diving and snorkeling.

We'll enjoy this spot for another day for sure as the wind is still really blowing and this is such a beautiful spot.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Another Atoll

New photos on … because we have internet for a day!

After a pleasant, almost full moon, two night passage we arrived at daybreak at the north pass of Fakarava Atoll. We sailed the entire way and it was a pretty comfortable passage – only bad news was NO fish. We made it into the pass at Fakarava yesterday (Sunday) on the morning tide. It is a large pass so the timing was not quite as critical. In fact, we rode in on the last of the incoming tide – actually we "flew" in – hitting a new speed record on Astarte. At one point, the boat was hitting 8.8 knots over the bottom thanks to the tide shooting us in. Michael still had steerage though – so all was good. The channel to the village is well marked so we made an easy passage to the anchorage and set the hook. These areas are tricky because of the scattered coral heads everywhere and you just hope you aren't around one with your chain. It is too deep to really see the bottom here – so you take your chances.

The town is pretty – again quite modern structures with underground power. There is a small airport here as well. We went into the village bright and early this morning knowing there was a boulangerie here (bakery) and hoped to score some baguetttes. Unfortunately, unless you ordered them in advance there were no extras. Luckily though, across the street there is a small grocery that had a half dozen breads left and we snagged two. We did get some yummy chocolate croissants at the boulangerie and a few local tangerines. The first fresh fruit we've had in several weeks- so much enjoyed.

We are able to get internet here (about $4 an hour ouch!). But we've got some photos on and some parts ordered as Barbara's brother is coming to visit in Tahiti in a few weeks. Our poor guests always have to pack as much stuff for us as for themselves!

We'll explore the village again later today when we are not just driven by fresh bread!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Destination: Fakarava

We departed Raroia on Friday after a great week there. We enjoyed the unpopulated side and on our last evening there a very large manta ray came by the boat and did all kind of underwater dances – full circle turns – it was amazing to watch. He stayed quite awhile until it was too dark to watch him anymore. Before leaving the atoll, we went back to the other side of the lagoon and anchored near the village. We had to anchor amongst way too many coral heads (or "bombies" as the Australians call them) and had to be very careful about the spot we chose – so it took several tries. Then we went into the village to walk around and met Tatiana and Regis, two local folks who are very friendly to cruising sailboaters. They gave us lots of good local info and explained the process of black pearl farming. We got to see lots of pearls with no pressure to buy any. It was a lovely afternoon. The village is very modern with solar arrays at every house; solar street lights and paved roads. The airport had a very nice terminal and the people throughout the village were exceptionally friendly.

On Friday, we left bright and early to catch the early slack tide to get out the pass. We did have to circle several times before the water was calm enough to make our exit. It is really all about patience and waiting until the water is not running with a 7 knot current. The trip one out the cut was 197 miles to the north entrance into Fakarava. This is a more populated atoll and quite large with two entrances. They say that the south entrance has some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world. The attraction is sharks – hundreds of them (and that's an attraction???) We have to get some internet and hopefully we'll be able to get it on this atoll.

Arrival should be Sunday morning – and then another pass to time and enter.